Why Lavar Ball Doesn’t Matter

Lavar Ball has been making far more headlines than his son lately. In the past week he has been hyping up the playing ability of his three sons, bragging about the Ball brand and claiming that he could have beaten Michael Jordan in a game of one on one. The media can’t get enough of him.

Unfortunately for his oldest son Lonzo, his father’s press seems to be having a negative impact on the perception towards him. It has now gotten to the point where some people are questioning whether Lonzo’s draft stock may be hurt by his father.

Quite simply, that is crazy. Lavar Ball has been overzealous, arrogant and flat out wrong over the past few weeks. But, there is no reason that the comments he made should impact how Lonzo is viewed as an NBA prospect.

Lavar Ball (Photo courtesy: youtube.com)

Suns head coach and former UCLA point guard Earl Watson made some interesting comments about the Balls. Watson claimed that Lonzo is the exact opposite of his father, and that he just wants to play basketball. Lonzo himself made a similar comment when he stated, “My dad is who he is, I just got play basketball, I can’t worry about who he is.”

Ball’s teammate Bryce Alford had high praise about Lonzo’s mindset and off court presence earlier in the season. Alford said, “For someone who has that kind of hype around him, he does an unbelievable job of handling it and keeping himself humble.” Lonzo also started the season by stating his mindset when he said, “Just basically play like you haven’t made it yet . . . I haven’t made a name for myself yet, so I have to go out there and prove myself.”

Despite his father’s comments, Lonzo Ball has done nothing but prove that he is a humble guy, and that his focus is foremost on basketball. He has helped execute a swift turnaround of the UCLA basketball program and has been leading am outstanding team into the tournament. Regardless of the buzz surrounding his father, teams should not hesitate to add Ball come draft day.

However, players are already saying that they want to face Lonzo, and there is always a risk of his teammates not getting along with him. If he truly is as humble as his UCLA teammates say he is, that should not be a problem. Also, there’s nothing that can’t be proven with hard work and talent. Those are two things that Lonzo seems to possess.

Of course, there is always the problem of the hype surrounding Lavar Ball to create unnecessary attention for an NBA team. Guys in other sports like Tim Tebow and Johnny Manziel have created attention that has caused trouble for their teams.

If Lonzo truly possesses NBA level talent, that problem won’t persist. Proof of that lies in somebody like Bryce Harper. Harper came into the league with a lot of hype surrounding him, and his attitude and arrogance drew even more attention to him and his team. After two outstanding seasons and an MVP award, all criticisms of Harper’s attitude seem to have faded.

In the case of Lonzo Ball, teams will be quick to forget about his father if he can prove his talent. No matter how much Lavar Ball runs his mouth, Lonzo can leave it on the court.

 

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NCAA Tournament Teams to Cheer For

Tournament Time: Who You Should Cheer For

As Dick Vitale would say, “It’s tournament time baby!” I don’t know who is more excited, the fans or the players. Even if your team didn’t make it to the dance, there is still a lot to cheer for.

I know the term bandwagon fan carries a lot of negative connotation, however for bragging rights, you want to be cheering for the right teams. Now fair warning, these might not be the teams that have the best statistics or record. Half of the battle is figuring out how the bracket is set up, which has a large impact on how teams do rather if it is admitted or not. Here are the teams to root for if yours didn’t make the cut.

The underdog: Middle Tennessee State

The beauty of tournament time is that anyone can win on any given day. Pay attention to the season statistics but also expect the unexpected when the final buzzer sounds.

Middle Tennessee State is that Cinderella team that could get out of the first round and surprise us all. The Blue Raiders are 20-1 in its last 21 games and they only have three underclassmen. So if they want it to happen, this is the year to do it.

Their team is ranked in the top 50 for overall defensive efficiency. All four of their losses this season have been relatively close and they only allow 63.3 points per game (ranked 21st). Let’s not forget MTSU beat Michigan State last year and could very well do the same to Minnesota.

NCAA Tournament Teams to Root For

Giddy Potts of Middle Tennessee State (DNJ.com)

Giddy Potts is leading the charge for his talented squad. Potts is averaging 15.8 points per game and 5.5 rebounds per game. What makes him special is his work effort and ability to score at all three levels consistently.

He was named MVP for their conference tournament after putting up 30 points against Marshall. Potts is the guy who will hit contested threes, but burn his opponent with a quick first step if they close out too hard.

Potts may be getting buckets, but he isn’t out on an island. He has the help of JaCorey Williams who is shooting 54.1 percent from the field right now.

Reggie Upshaw and Tyrik Dixon are also contributing large minutes and statistics for the Blue Raiders.

After beating Minnesota, the Blue Raiders will take on either Butler or Winthrop. Butler is a good tournament team and known for upsets in the past, but Middle Tennessee State has proven to be a tough team.

Keep an eye on notre dame

The Irish have proven to be a wholesome team over the duration of this season. They are coming off a close loss to Duke which should propel them throughout the tournament.

The key to success for Notre Dame is sharing the ball. They are 37th in the nation for assists, averaging 16 per game. They have strength at all positions and when they share the ball, they can’t be stopped.

NCAA Tournament Teams to Cheer For

Bonzie Colson of Notre Dame (Photo Credit to Zimbio.com)

If Bonzie Colson is having a game for himself, Notre Dame is just as good as any team in nation. Duke may have won the ACC tournament but Colson put up 29 points and pulled down nine rebounds in a stellar performance.

Colson isn’t putting on a one man show though. Matt Ferrell is a special point guard dishing out 5.5 assists per game and shooting 41.3 percent from behind the arc.

The Irish are killer from behind the arc because of Ferrell and a few other key players. Steve Vasturia and V.J. Beachem are shooting over 36 percent from three-point range. This will be tough to guard for their opponents.

The Irish often are over looked when it comes to tournament time. Last year they made it to the Elite 8 and lost to UNC. This year they have a better record coming out of regular season play and more experience.

Arizona deserves a lot more respect than they’re getting

All of the talk regarding the PAC-12 has been about UCLA mostly because of Lonzo Ball and his father’s interesting comments. Most recently LaVar Ball said he could’ve beaten Michael Jordan in his hay day and his son is better than Steph Curry. One could see why the press would jump on that. UCLA is also ranked 78th in adjusted defensive efficiency according to pre tourney data (kenpom.com) which is a weakness for sure.

However the real team to watch from the PAC-12 is Arizona. They just won the conference tournament, and beat Oregon and UCLA to do so. They likely won’t see any true competition until the Sweet Sixteen if they play to the best of their ability.

Right now it’s the combination of Lauri Markkanen and Allonzo Trier that are making offense flow for the Wildcats. Markkanen is a freshman with the skills to play inside and out. Trier is basically doing it all from scoring and rebounding to distributing the ball. Both guys are shooting over 40% from behind the arc.

The team itself is highly efficient from three point and on offense in general. Their top five player of Allonzo Trier, Lauri Markkanen, Rawie Alkins, Dusan Ristic and Kadeem Allen are all shooting over 37% from three-point land. They are also all over 44% from the field. Not only that, they also allow only 65.4 points per game on the defensive end.

The west is a tough region but the Wildcats have the personnel to do some damage.

Iowa state could go far in the midwest

Lots of people are saying that Kansas has a cake walk to the National Championship game. Everyone seems to forget that Iowa State has gone 10-2 in its last 12 games including a road win against Kansas.

They beat Miami early on in the regular season. They only lost to Baylor by two early on, then beat them by three in late February. The Cyclones also beat Kansas in overtime in early February as previously mentioned. To sum up, they have the heart and the gumption to beat some high caliber competition.

NCAA Tournament Teams to Cheer For

Monte Morris flexes on the baseline after a big play (Photo Credits to YouTube)

The team itself is comprised of a bunch of guys who put up good numbers. They aren’t anything out of the ordinary, they just get the job done. Monte Morris leads the team with 16.3 points per game but the next few guys are all putting up anywhere from 12-16 points on average.

After a win over Nevada, they will likely see a very good Purdue team.

When it comes down to it, all the statistics in the world can only tell so much. March is the month of madness for a reason.

 

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2017 NBA Mock Draft

2017 NBA Mock Draft 1.0 (Pre-Lottery)

This mock draft will factor in team needs heavily rather than who is the best player. The draft order won’t be set in stone until the lottery takes place, but the talk is already starting on who will go number one overall.

Many scouts and experts are picking Markelle Fultz to go first, but it depends on who wins the lottery. Right now these predictions will be based solely off current standings and will continue to be until the draft lottery takes place. Here is Hagan’s Haus 2017 NBA mock draft.

1: Boston Celtics (via Brooklyn): Josh Jackson sG Kansas

2017 NBA Mock Draft

(Photo Credit: Allen Kee / ESPN Images)

The Boston Celtics do not need a point guard. Fultz may be the best player in the draft, but Isaiah Thomas isn’t going anywhere anytime soon. Thomas is also a proven player while any player coming out of college is unproven.

Fultz may be the best player in the draft but doesn’t fit what the Celtics need. The Celtics play great team defense and need a scorer to take the load off of Thomas.

Josh Jackson could prove to be a valuable scoring option for Boston as he averages 16.7 points per game. Jackson in a two-way player capable of becoming a superstar. Boston would be smart to add him to their core.

2: Los Angeles Lakers: Markelle Fultz pG Washington

Picking what the Lakers will do is extremely difficult. They just spent the 2015 second overall pick on a point guard. The Lakers issue is veteran leadership. They have a core of young players who just need time to develop. L.A. could trade this pick for a star player, but if they do keep it expect them to take the best available player.

That would be Washington guard Markelle Fultz. Fultz is averaging 23.3 points, 5.9 rebounds and six assists per game. Fultz also has a player efficiency rating (PER) of 28.6 and is clearly the best player in the draft. The Lakers can not pass on that just to fill a position of need.

3: Phoenix suns: Jayson Tatum Sf duke

Jayson Tatum has a well-polished iso game that is NBA ready. The Suns have a star in the making with Devin Booker and need to find a player to grow alongside him.

Tatum could grow to be a solid second option in the NBA. He can score anywhere on the floor due to his ability to create off the dribble.

One of his biggest weaknesses is his shot selection. Due to his height and ability to shoot over defenders, Tatum tends to settle for difficult shots. Shot selection will improve over time and the Suns may be able to find a Robin for their Batman.

4: Orlando Magic: Lonzo Ball Pg UCLA

2017 NBA Mock Draft

(Photo Credit:https://www.bostonglobe.com)

Everyone is talking about LaVar Ball’s opinions rather than the play of Lonzo Ball. Ball can ball. It is as simple as that.

His father may be onto something when talking about how good his son can be. However, talking so openly may hurt his son’s draft stock.

Sticking strictly to Lonzo and his basketball ability, it is clear that he is a top prospect. Ball is a great passer with a high basketball I.Q. In the NBA Ball will be a floor general capable of running the team from the court.

Many scouts compare him to Jason Kidd, which is a pretty accurate comparison. Having a Kidd-like career would be an amazing accomplishment for anybody. Orlando needs a franchise player and that is exactly what Lonzo Ball will be.

5: Philadelphia 76ers: Malik Monk Sg Kentucky

Trusting the process hit yet another bump in the road this season. Joel Embiid suffered another injury after appearing in just 31 games. If that wasn’t enough, last year’s first overall pick, Ben Simmons, will not make his debut this year either. The 76ers still believe those pieces will result in playoff appearances and maybe even titles.

Interestingly enough, reports came out that Philadelphia brass believes Simmons will be the point guard. That is why they will use this top-five pick on Malik Monk.

Monk has proven to be a flat-out scoring machine and that will translate to the NBA. Drafting Monk will allow the Sixers to develop Simmons as their point guard while putting a scorer in the backcourt beside him.

Creating a powerful backcourt could be the key to a deep postseason run. They already have a great frontcourt player in Embiid.

6: New York Knicks: Dennis Smith Pg N.C. State

2017 NBA Mock Draft

(Photo Credit: William Howard/Icon Sportswire)

The Knicks need a young explosive point guard who will grow alongside Kristaps Porzingis. Carmelo Anthony is on the back half of his career and will most likely be out of the picture soon. Derrick Rose has been very respectable in New York, but he is not the same player that won the league MVP.

Dennis Smith is a top-five talent who will fall a bit due to some of the other needs teams have. Not all are looking for a point guard.

The Knicks would get a Russell Westbrook type of player by drafting Smith. He can score, pass and rebound with the best of them in college. He also has insane athleticism that allows him to posterize defenders.

Smith would be a great pick here if the Knicks want to take steps towards becoming a playoff team.

7: Sacramento Kings: Jonathan Issac PF Florida State

The Kings need to start from scratch. Buddy Hield seems to be the guy that Sacramento will build this team around. It looks like Willie Cauley-Stein will be the man up front with DeMarcus Cousins now out of the picture.

Jonathan Issac would be a great fit with this team. Issac is a great rebounder and can run the floor well for a big man. He also shoots well from all areas of the floor. He could play at small forward or power forward in today’s NBA style. The Kings would find a great player with lots of potential.

8: Sacramento Kings (Via Pelicans): De’Aaron Fox PG Kentucky

The Kings can afford to be risky with one of their two top-10 picks. Buddy Hield will need a backcourt partner in crime, and Fox could fit that mold.

Fox is unique because he is left handed. It is sometimes hard to defend left-handed players because defenders are used to right handed defenders. He is also extremely quick and defenders may have trouble keeping up with him.

Fox will need to work on shooting with more consistency. With Hield alongside him, all Fox needs to do is run the offense.

9: Dallas Mavericks: Lauri Markkanen PF Arizona

2017 NBA Draft

(Photo Credit: http://www.wildcat.arizona.edu)

Dallas got their center when they traded for Nerlens Noel. The guard positions seem to be held down as well with the emergence of Yogi Ferrell and Seth Curry. That makes Lauri Markkanen a perfect option for the Mavericks.

Dirk Nowitzki will be going into his final season and the Mavericks need to find his future replacement. Markkanen is a 7-foot stretch big who will be able to shoot the three in the NBA. He has all the intangibles to replace the greatest European player in NBA history.

Drafting Markkanen will allow him to develop in his first season before Dirk rides off into the sunset.

10: Minnesota Timberwolves: Harry Giles PF Duke

The Minnesota Timberwolves are right on the cusp of becoming a great NBA team. Karl Anthony-Towns and Andrew Wiggins are continuing to grow and will be one of the most dangerous duos in the NBA in the coming years. They have already begun to show signs of it. Point guard is not an issue as they have Ricky Rubio, Zach LaVine, and Kris Dunn. Picking Giles would be a shock here at number 10, but could be a huge steal.

Giles was considered the best player coming out of high school and was projected to be the number one overall pick before he began having injury problems. We have not seen what Giles is fully capable of, but his potential is through the roof. He is an athletic finisher who can be molded into a great defender under Tom Thibodeau.

This pick could be a bust, but it will more likely create a young core in Minnesota capable of winning championships.

11: Charlotte Hornets: Miles Bridges SF Michigan St.

2017 NBA Mock Draft

(Photo Credit: Mike Carter-USA TODAY Sports)

The Hornets need a solid wing player and Miles Bridges would be a good fit.

Bridges is a dunking machine and plays with an extremely high motor. One of Bridges’ weaknesses is that he has no true position. Shooting guard, small forward and power forward are all in play for Bridges. Charlotte would likely play him at small forward.

Bridges has also shown consistent improvement in his shooting since high school.

12: Portland Trailblazers: Robert Williams PF Texas A&M

Robert Williams can jump out of this world. He can put anyone on a poster and loves to do so. There are countless highlights of him dunking on opponents.

Williams has a 7-foot-5 wingspan, and he knows how to use it. That wingspan allows him to excel as a rebounder and shot blocker.

One thing going against Williams is that he is raw as a big man. He lacks consistency like many raw prospects. The better competition gave him trouble, but with development from NBA coaches, he can turn into a solid NBA starter.

13: Miami Heat: Isaiah Hartenstein PF Germany

The Heat have been amazing in the second half of this season. Hassan Whiteside is a franchise centerpiece at center. Their guard play has been tremendous, and Justise Winslow is really coming into his own. That leaves the power forward position as their biggest need. The Heat need a power forward that can stretch the floor since Whiteside is the inside presence.

Isaiah Hartenstein would be a great fit in Miami. He is a versatile left-handed player who can not only score inside, but outside as well. Hartenstein is a great passing big man with a high basketball I.Q.

The downside with Hartenstein is his immaturity and lack of experience against tough competition. However, his potential makes him a lottery pick.

14: Chicago Bulls: Frank Ntilikina Pg France

2017 NBA Mock Draft

(Photo Credit: https://hardwoodhoudini.com

One thing is clear in the NBA: teams need a franchise point guard. The Bulls do not have a franchise point guard on their roster and will be looking for one in this year’s draft. Drafting at the end of the lottery does not leave them with many options, but it will allow them to take Frank Ntilikina out of France.

Ntilikina has excellent size for a point guard. He is listed at 6-foot-5, 190 pounds. Ntilikina is a pass-first point guard with a high I.Q. He has developed a mid-range game and excellent floater, but is a really inconsistent shooter. Ntilikina also has great lateral quickness that makes him an elite defender.

All the skills are there for Ntilikina to become the franchise point guard the Bulls desperately need.

15: Denver Nuggets: John Collins Pf Wake Forest

Denver has a lot of young talent, and Collins is a bit of a project. If the Nuggets take a year or two to develop Collins, then he can become a valuable asset.

16: Milwaukee Bucks: Justin Patton C Creighton

There have been a lot of problems with Greg Monroe in Milwaukee. The Bucks have found a star in Giannis Antetokounmpo and need a big man inside to feed off of him. Justin Patton from Creighton can be that guy.

17: Detroit Pistons: Ivan Rabb C Cal

There have been swirling rumors that Andre Drummond was going to be traded just before the deadline. That still may happen in the offseason, and the Pistons need to prepare for that. Ivan Rabb would be a great fit with Stan Van Gundy.

18: Indiana Pacers: Luke Kennard SG Duke

2017 NBA Mock Draft

(Photo Credit: Winslow Townson-USA TODAY Sports)

Kennard has been unbelievable in the second half of the season for Duke. Paul George is rumored to be on his way out of Indiana via trade or free agency in two years. Kennard may not become a franchise player, but will come into the NBA as a scoring machine.

19: Atlanta hawks: TJ Leaf PF UCLA

Drafting a power forward may not make sense with Paul Millsap around, but TJ Leaf is a bit of a project. Millsap will want to be on a contending team as his career unwinds. Everyone knows the Hawks are not winning a championship. Drafting Leaf now gives him time to develop until Millsap leaves.

20: Portland Trailblazers (Via Memphis): Justin Jackson SF North Carolina

Justin Jackson would be a great fit in Portland alongside Damian Lillard and C.J. McCollum. The two guards can focus on the scoring and Jackson can be the team’s wing defender. Jackson is capable of guarding multiple positions and would be a solid pick by the Trailblazers.

21: Oklahoma City: DILLON BROOKS SF OREGON

2017 NBA Mock Draft

(Photo Credit: Scott Olmos-USA TODAY Sports)

It is clear that Russell Westbrook needs help. He is an animal but can’t do it on his own. Dillon Brooks is one of the most underrated players in all of college basketball. Brooks is capable of being the second option to Westbrook and a true sidekick that Westbrook desperately needs.

22: TORONTO RAPTORS: DWAYNE BACON SF FLORIDA STATE

Toronto has one of the best backcourts in the NBA. Bacon can come in and be a solid rotation player allowing the Raptors to deepen their bench as they continue to chase a championship.

23: ORLANDO MAGIC (VIA LOS ANGELES CLIPPERS): TYLER LYDON PF SYRACUSE

Orlando is a tough team to gauge and need a lot. Lydon would be a head-scratching pick, but something they would do. Lydon won’t become an All-Star but will be a solid rotation player in the NBA.

24: Brooklyn Nets (via Washington): JOSH HART SG VILLANOVA

2017 NBA Mock Draft

(Photo Credit: AP)

Brooklyn needs anything and everything and is nowhere close to being a good NBA team. Josh Hart could bring a culture change to the franchise. He is a leader and a winner and the Nets could use some of that in their locker room.

25: BROOKLYN NETS (VIA BOSTON): BAM ADEBAYO PF KENTUCKY

Adding Bam Adebayo to pair up with Hart could be the start of turning things around. They won’t win many games, but the rebuild has to start somewhere. Adebayo is a solid prospect with lots of potential.

26: UTAH JAZZ: CALEB SWANIGAN PF PURDUE

The Jazz are in as good of a position as the Celtics. They will finish as the fourth or fifth seed in the tough Western Conference and have two first-round draft picks. Swanigan can come right into the NBA and contribute off the bench.

27: PORTLAND TRAILBLAZERS (VIA CLEVELAND): RODIONS KURUCS SF LATVIA

Kurucs is a project and Portland can afford to draft a developmental player this late in the first round. Kurucs is versatile and can be a valuable scoring option in the NBA.

28: LOS ANGELES LAKERS (VIA HOUSTON): DONOVAN MITCHELL SG LOUISVILLE

2017 NBA Draft

(Photo Credit: By Pat McDonogh, The CJ)

The Lakers have youth on their side and drafting Mitchell will allow them to continue to build assets as trading blocks so that they can get superstars back in Hollywood. Mitchell is a solid shooting guard who can be a solid sixth man in the NBA.

29: UTAH JAZZ (VIA GOLDEN STATE): JOHNATHAN MOTLEY PF BAYLOR

Utah needs some frontcourt athleticism. Derrick Favors has only had one really productive season and looks to be on the decline. Motley’s offensive I.Q. makes him a perfect fit in Utah to be a solid role player on a solid playoff team.

30: SAN ANTONIO SPURS: THOMAS BRYANT C INDIANA

The Spurs are like the Patriots. They know what they are doing and you don’t question them. LaMarcus Aldridge’s future is in jeopardy due to health concerns. With Kawhi Leonard being a two-way star, the Spurs need a big man who can protect the paint.

 

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Here is Your New Year’s Resolution: Watch More College Basketball

So you have not thought of a New Year’s resolution yet? No problem. Here is an easy one for you: watch more college basketball. Not only will this be significantly more enjoyable than anything else you can think up, but you only have to keep it until April! Kick off 2017 with a sense of accomplishment and renewed interest in the sport. There are plenty of reasons for you to watch:

Great Players

Markelle Fultz has is the top freshman prospect thus far this year. (Photo courtesy of espn.com)

This season is jam packed with young talent. There are dozens of players whose mere presence on the court merits tuning in for a game. Perhaps one of the best examples is Washington’s Markelle Fultz. He is currently topping many NBA mock drafts and is widely considered the top overall prospect. Despite the fact that the Huskies are a lackluster 7-5, Fultz makes it worth your time.

He is an elite scorer with 22.0 points per game so far as a freshman while adding 6.2 rebounds and 6.3 assists. He has the size and athleticism of an NBA guard and will surely be a top pick in the draft.  For now, he is a contributor to the attention of college basketball fans.

Other stellar freshman include UCLA’s Lonzo Ball and Kansas’ Josh Jackson. Ball is a lights out shooter with extreme precision. He averages 13.7 points per game, but shoots over 52% from the field and over 42% from deep. He also is one of the nation’s best passers and it shows with his 8.1 assists per game.  Ball uses his lanky size to grab 5.6 rebounds per contest.  There are a few questions about his game, but he is another college player beyond his cohorts and a good reason to make this resolution.

Josh Jackson, in turn, is a freak athlete. Jackson stands at six foot eight and 207 pounds of lean muscle. He has the ability to jump out of the gym. The scary part is that now his shot is coming around.  He is at 52.9% from the field.  His range could use some work, but as a guard averaging 1.5 blocks per game and 6.5 rebounds there is little lacking in his game. He came into the year as the top overall recruit and has lived up to that honor.

Other young players like Jayson Tatum of Duke, Malik Monk and Bam Adebayo of Kentucky, Miles Bridges of Michigan State and Florida State’s Jonathan Isaac are coming along nicely. So far this is a deep recruiting class.

Let’s not forget the guys that came back, though. Ivan Rabb makes California games more than watchable. The six foot ten power forward was projected to be a back end lottery pick, but made the decision to return under Cuonzo Martin. Rabb is nearly averaging a double-double with 14.7 points per game and 9.8 rebounds. He supplements those figures by throwing in 1.6 assists and 1.1 blocks per game. The tremendously talented sophomore is the center of the Bears offense and worth this New Year’s Resolution on his own.

Other players that made the tough choice to return, but also are worth watching include Clemson’s Jaron Blossomgame, Indiana’s Thomas Bryant and North Carolina’s Justin Jackson.

Great Teams

So tuning in to see one player is not your thing? No problem. There are plenty of great teams to meet anyone’s tastes.

Creighton and Villanova just finished off 2016 with a titanic clash in Omaha. Villanova had several players return after their adrenaline-inducing tournament run. This year there is no hangover from their dramatic finish. Without Ryan Arcidiacono (graduation), Daniel Ochefu (graduation) and Omari Spellman (eligibility) the team is still kicking on all cylinders. The Wildcats move the ball well and have some great finishers in Josh Hart and Kris Jenkins.

Jalen Brunson has been terrific in his new role as the team’s main point guard, leading the team with 4.0 assists per game. Nova has eight players averaging more than 5.7 points per game and that has led them to a team average of nearly 80. Yes, Josh Hart does a lot of the scoring (20.5 points per game) but there is still plenty of unselfishness. Their tenacious defense and deep seeded athleticism has allowed them to be one of the best defensive teams in the country, only giving up 61.5 points per game. Additionally the team is 17th in the nation in turnovers. There is a reason they are the number one team in the land.

Maurice Watson Jr. currently leads the nation in assists per game. (Photo courtesy of foxsports.com)

Despite Creighton losing this game at home by ten, they are still one of the best teams in the country. Creighton was supposed to be good, but the level that they have been playing at is totally unexpected. Before the match-up against Villanova, the Bluejays stood at 8th in the country with a whopping 89.8 points per game. Nine players average more than four points per game.  This team is a lot deeper than last year thanks to transfers Marcus Foster (Kansas State) and Maurice Watson Jr. (Boston). They are now the two leading scorers on the team which has caused some returnees to take a back seat.  This only makes the team deeper than ever. Watson Jr. helps the Creighton offense flow with his 9.1 assists per game. Creighton is 22nd in the nation as a team in assists, which they have on 56% of their made field goals. There are too many contributors to speak about on this team and it is one of the reasons for their success thus far.

There are plenty of other teams worth making a resolution to watch more of. West Virginia and Virginia each have suffocating defenses that keep games tight from beginning to end.  Gonzaga is making a lot of noise out west with a combination of returnees, transfers, and freshman. North Carolina is coming around health wise and now is returning to the form that they were at in Maui. The Tar Heels are an elite team and every game is full of action. Justin Jackson is one of the best players in the country, Kennedy Meeks and freshman Toney Bradley help North Carolina be a top 5 rebounding team in the country and Joel Berry’s return will make this team even better still.

Great Games

The conference season is just beginning and so is your resolution to watch those games. Creighton and Villanova was just one example of the type of game that college basketball has to offer in 2017. There are still plenty of games to come this year.

Duke and North Carolina will face off twice this year, with the first game on February 9th. Their second game is in the final week of the regular season. Both teams are slated to be high seeds come March. These two match-ups will shape the college basketball playing field to see who the best team in the ACC is.

The way things are right now there are several other in conference games with potential.  Kansas and Baylor will square off for the first time February 1st. Despite all of the madness that has transgressed at Baylor this year they have still managed to compile the beginnings of a great basketball season. Kansas boasts some of the top players in the country in Josh Jackson and Frank Mason. An injury to Udoka Azibuke is a set back for the Jayhawks, however, and should make the interior game quite interesting being headed by Landen Lucas who has struggled thus far. Jonathan Motley is a physical presence for the Bears with 9.1 rebounds per game. Miami transfer Manu Lecomete leads the Baylor offense into battle.  he currently averages 5.3 assists and only 1.8 turnovers per game.

As Dillon Brooks returns to form, so do the Oregon Ducks. (Photo courtesy of collegebasketball.ap.org)

UCLA and Oregon will face off again on February 9th.  Their first contest ended with Dillon Brooks hitting a game winning shot and UCLA being dealt their first loss of the season. There is no reason to think that the second chapter will be any less exciting. UCLA is one of the most prolific offenses in the country, averaging 93.9 points per game, second in the country. Had Thomas Welsh not missed some time, the Bruins may still be close to 100 points per game as they were at the beginning of the season. They do not just score, though, they pass as well.  They lead the nation in total assists as a team, doing so on 66.3% of their field goals.  The Ducks, on the other hand, had a slow start after making the top five in many preseason lists. The Ducks lost to Baylor early (which does not look as bad now) and dropped their first game in Maui. They have not lost since.  In addition to their victory over UCLA, they took down the red hot, previously undefeated USC Trojans. The Ducks are beginning to look like the team they were picked to be as star Dillon Brooks returns to 100%.

After the regular season contests are over there will be so much more fun with conference tournaments and that little known tournament labeled March Madness. So if you have not yet made a New Year’s resolution or you would like another one, just put more college basketball on your calendar.

 

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10 Things to Watch For in the NBA in 2017

2016 comes to a close as one of the most exciting basketball years in the history of the NBA. From Kobe Bryant and Tim Duncan’s last seasons, to Russel Westbrook’s triple doubles, to the ridiculous Finals series, this year was full of memorable moments that will go down in NBA history. However, a new year brings new possibilities. Here are the ten best things to look forward to in the NBA in 2017.

10. Trust The Process?: Will Joel Embiid win Rookie of the Year? Can Ben Simmons make his long awaited return? Will the Sixers end up with two top ten picks? Can Dario Saric make the leap to consistent NBA starter? The New Year brings loads of questions for the NBA’s perennial doormat and not many clear answers. It will be interesting to see whether the 76ers will be able to escape the NBA’s cellar in 2017.

9. 2017 NBA Draft: This draft is considered to be one of the most talented ones in recent years. Markelle Fultz remains the prize at the top of the draft, and names like Lonzo Ball and Josh Jackson highlight an unusually deep lottery pool. The lottery looks to be a mix of familiar teams (Philadelphia) and newcomers (Miami and Dallas) as teams try to find a future superstar. Summer league will no doubt be a spectacle this year as well.

8. 2017 Trade Deadline: The trade deadline this year will be full of stories, especially with the loaded draft coming up. Greg Monroe looks to be a possible big-name trade candidate. Portland, a team with a weakness in the frontcourt, may look to target Monroe or one of the big men from Philadelphia. Rudy Gay remains a big name for teams in need of a three-and-D wing presence. For teams with a need a guard, Goran Dragic and Will Barton look to be high end options on the market. With a talented draft class this year, teams may be less likely to part with picks. But the plethora of young talent around the league makes this deadline an especially interesting one.

7. MVP Race: This year brings one of the best MVP races we’ve seen in years. Right now, James Harden and Russell Westbrook look like the favorites. However, the award usually goes to a player on either the one seed or the two seed. Can the Rockets or Thunder grab that distinction? If not, voters may be compelled to look to former winners Lebron James and Kevin Durant, who have each put together noteworthy seasons. This MVP race is one of the most wide open in recent memory and looks to go down to the final weeks of the season.

6. The Greek Freak’s Takeover: Giannis Antetokounmpo has been incredible this year as his astronomical rise to stardom has continued. He’s taken the NBA by storm over the past calendar year by showing a Magic-esque ability to play every position on the court. He’s a freak athlete, a superb defender, and a great distributor. If he can develop a jump shot, the league better watch out. The Greek Freak’s continual rise to superstardom will no doubt be something to marvel at in the coming year.

5. Free Agency: This summer an exploding cap, combined with stars hitting the market, will make for an eventful free agency. Steph Curry is the biggest name as he becomes an unrestricted free agent this summer. Blake Griffin, Chris Paul, Kevin Durant, Gordon Hayward, Kyle Lowry, Paul Millsap, and many other players have player options that they can exercise to become free agents this summer. Madness will no doubt ensue as free agency opens this summer and teams have a historic amount of money to spend. Watch for a shakeup of the power balance in the league.

4. New All-Stars: 2017’s NBA All Star Game could play host to a slew of first time All-Stars. Second year guys Karl-Anthony Towns and Kristaps Porzingis look like they have a decent chance of making their first appearance. More established league stars such as Giannis, Kemba Walker, and Hassan Whiteside have a chance at making their debuts. All-Star weekend should be a blast to watch as some young guys get a shot at making their NBA All Star Game debut.

3. Golden State Warriors in the Playoffs: The new-look Warriors are capable of putting out a lineup that looks seemingly impossible to stop. Meanwhile, their Western conference foes seem to have taken a step back compared to last year. This Warriors team lacks rim protection and depth, and it’s fair to wonder whether that will come back to haunt them in the playoffs. The Warriors will need their superstars to step up if they want to make it through to the Finals again this year.

2. Russell Westbrook Chases History: Russell Westbrook is currently averaging a triple double, a feat nobody has accomplished in over 40 years. Can the Oklahoma City star continue his dominance in 2017? With a motor that seems to never stop, the answer could be yes. A triple-double season may even be enough to secure the MVP on a low-seeded playoff team. Westbrook has truly been something to behold, and his dominance of the NBA will be something to watch in 2017.

1. The Cavaliers Title Defense: Lebron James and Kyrie Irving kicked it up a notch on Christmas Day. They outperformed the Warriors in the stretch and buried them on a Kyrie buzzer beater. Is the trio of Lebron, Kyrie and Kevin Love enough to beat the juggernaut in Golden State? Well, having the best player in the world doesn’t hurt. The NBA playoffs will no doubt be a appointment television as Lebron tries to win his fourth title for Cleveland.

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“From Our Haus to Yours”

 

Can the Flying Ducks Keep Their Streak?

Oregon basketball has started a streak. They have won their past nine games of this season and have a 33-game win streak at home. The last time the Ducks lost at home was on March 14, 2015, against Arizona, who was ranked fifth in the nation at the time.

Since their last loss at home, winning has been a commonplace for Oregon. The Ducks finished their 2015-2016 regular season at 14-4 in conference play and earned a number one seed in the NCAA Tournament. They knocked off Holy Cross, Saint Joseph’s, and Duke to make it to the Elite Eight. The moral of the story is that this team knows what they are doing.

This raises two new questions: Who got them to this point? More importantly, what is to come?

PERSONNEL


Oregon has five players putting up double figures as they enter conference play. First on the stat sheet is senior Chris Boucher, who is averaging 14.1 PPG while playing 26.4 MPG. However, Boucher currently has a boot on his right foot (ankle injury) and is not expected to return until later in conference play. He leads the team in blocks with 35 on the season, which ranks 10th in the nation overall.

The void of Chris Boucher being gone has been filled quite well by Jordan Bell. He had a career-high 23 points against Fresno State last Tuesday. He also chipped in 16 points against UNLV (the first game Boucher was out). Bell is averaging 10.3 PPG, 8.3 RPG and has 33 blocks in total this season.

The absence of Boucher also allowed Dillon Brooks to make his first start of the season against UNLV and contribute 20 points to the victory. He also added nine points against Fresno State. He is a 6-7 threat who averaged 16.7 PPG last season and as a junior, he has the experience and knowledge to impact the game greatly.

Scorers for the Ducks are coming from all classes in addition to Brooks and Bell. Tyler Dorsey is a sophomore and he is averaging 13.5 PPG just behind Chris Boucher. Senior Dylan Ennis distributes the ball well and averages 3.3 assists per game. Finally, Payton Pritchard, who is playing 27.5  MPG, a rather large amount for a freshman on an experienced team.

Experience is the name of the game for the Ducks. However, the UCLA Bruins’ combination of fresh talent and experience could be road block to this long home win streak.

UPCOMING OPPONENTS


Oregon opens conference play against the UCLA Bruins on Wednesday. They do not get a “warm-up” game. They are taking on the second team in the nation that is led by freshmen. TJ Leaf averages 17.5 PPG and Lonzo Ball is adding 13.7 PPG in addition to 8.3 APG. Isaac Hamilton and Bryce Alford provide the experience for the team and contribute major points as well as high free-throw percentages, which will be key in late-game situations.

Oregon basketball

UCLA Bruins forward TJ Leaf (USA TODAY Sports)

UCLA has the personnel to end this streak. The meeting of these two teams is a rivalry with some bad blood in the past. From 1970 to 1976, UCLA had a home-game win streak of 98 games which included four National Championships. This streak was ended by the Ducks.

This however, is what great games are made of. First, there are two teams with history. Second, both teams have a lot at stake. UCLA puts up 95.8 points a game and leads the nation with 23.6 APG. Their untarnished record for this season would also dissipate. The Ducks risk a 33-game win streak and a win could would be tremendous for their overall ranking.

A win against UCLA does not mean the road gets any easier. After UCLA, the Ducks will take on USC just two days later. USC and Oregon are relatively close in many of the statistical areas. The Trojans are averaging 83.2 PPG while the Ducks average 78.3 PPG. Field goal percentage, rebounds per game, and assists per game are relatively the same. The teams are quite evenly matched and the Trojans are also on a 13-game win streak.

The Ducks can keep their streak if they can contain the Bruins’ large scoring margins by limiting the damage done by impact players like TJ Leaf and Isaac Hamilton. If they can handle UCLA at home and gain some confidence going into USC, then the Ducks should maintain their streak for another week.

 

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A Blue Christmas: College Basketball is Being Dominated by Teams in Blue

We all know how the lyrics to Elvis Presley’s Blue Christmas go: “I’ll have a Blue Christmas without you, I’ll be so blue thinking about you.” After watching a thriller this weekend between two of the top blue teams in the nation, how could one not be thinking about the game between North Carolina and Kentucky? If we are discussing true blue, Duke is definitely in the conversation as well, and let us not forget about Villanova, the #1 team in the nation.

Kentucky Wildcats

Malik Monk takes on Kenny Williams III (review journal.com

Malik Monk takes on Kenny Williams III (review journal.com

Let’s start with the Kentucky Wildcats. There is one name we all need to be concerned with: Malik Monk. If you have not heard, he put up 47 points for the Wildcats with a 64% field goal percentage on the night. He made his final three-pointer to win the game against Coach Calipari’s wishes, who wanted Monk to drive on the last play. He shot it anyway, and Kentucky came away with the win. How is that for some freshman guts?

However, Monk is not the only talent that deserves recognition. De’Aaron Fox added 24 points on Saturday and he is averaging 15.9 PPG on the season. Isaiah Briscoe also added 10 points and Edrice Adebayo contributed 13 points before fouling out.

Kentucky is 10-1 on the season and still has a lot to prove. This is only their second win against a ranked team this year. They beat #13 Michigan State (who is no longer ranked) early on in November and lost to UCLA by 5 points who is led by standout Freshman Lonzo Ball. This is a key win on their resume as they head into conference play in January.

On Wednesday, the Wildcats will take on Louisville which will be another test of their abilities. Kentucky has won the last three in the series against the Cardinals, but the great part about basketball is that anyone can be beaten on any given day.

North Carolina Tar heels

North Carolina's Joel Berry II (goblueridge.net)

North Carolina’s Joel Berry II (goblueridge.net)

Now for the North Carolina Tar Heels, who were equally as impressive, but came up short. Joel Berry II was one point shy of a career high with 23 points. Josh Jackson put up a staggering 34 points and Kennedy Meeks also added 12 points. UNC played a great game, despite the outcome.

The name of the game was free throws and foul trouble. Berry and Meeks fouled out, and the Tar Heels missed seven free throws overall, which would have been the game right there. This is not a large worry for the Tar Heels though. Joel Berry II is just coming back from an ankle injury and they still had good production from their bench (Tony Bradley and Luke Maye added a combined 19 points).

Kentucky’s bench only had five points to add. It also could have been a very different outcome if Kenny Williams’ last second three-pointer hadn’t missed the mark.

This game was March Madness material, so one can only wonder what March will bring and if Malik Monk will be able to create similar performances in the games to come. Joel Berry II will hopefully continue to impress and Josh Jackson has been nothing short of thrilling. I know I will be counting down the days until February 9th when the Tar Heels take on Duke, another top team in blue.

Duke Blue Devils

Our third team up for discussion, the Duke Blue Devils, are 10-1 and the ACC is not going to be a walk in the park this year. Duke will have to take on Florida State, Louisville, Notre Dame and of course North Carolina before they can talk about dancing on the big stage come March. Luckily, the combination of Luke Kennard, Grayson Allen and Amile Jefferson has been sufficient to top Michigan State, Florida and Rhode Island early on. They also have Jayson Tatum, Frank Jackson and Matt Jones who are making an impact, and are some names to definitely keep in mind.

I am reminded that the color blue often symbolizes depth and stability. The Blue Devils embody these characteristics and Coach Mike Krzyzewski brings in some of top recruiting classes each year. The point is, Duke is consistently above average and sports fans can look for that to continue this season as well. They are firing on all cylinders and they have depth that should logistically carry them far into the NCAA tournament.

Villanova Wildcats

Josh Hart of Villanova (fox sports.com)

Josh Hart of Villanova (fox sports.com)

This article would not be complete without mentioning the top-ranked team in the nation, Villanova. They sit at 11-0 and one man is doing most of the dirty work. They are led by Senior, Josh Hart who is averaging 20.1 PPG, 6.5 RPG and 3.7 APG while shooting 45.3% from behind the arc. Hart is aided by senior Kris Jenkins who is averaging 13.4 PPG and sophomores Jalen Brunson and Mikal Bridges are contributing good numbers as well.

Recall Jenkins is the player who hit the game winning shot against UNC last year to win the National Championship game. Needless to say, these Wildcats have talent and the experience. They also have key wins over Temple and Notre Dame that will only add to their resume when discussing bracketology.

As we approach Christmas, these teams in blue have gotten our attention and will continue to be all the talk leading up to March. It would be a very “blue” Christmas without these teams putting on the performance that they have in preseason matches.

And with that, Merry Christmas to all my fellow college basketball fans, and happy holidays!

 

 

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Five Lessons from Feast Week 2016

Thanksgiving week is a time for family, food, football and of course basketball! Over the past week, dozens of NCAA teams have made apparent their strengths and weaknesses. Here are the five most important insights that fans can pull from the plethora of Feast Week tournaments:

The Tar Heels are Elite

North Carolina won a not so climactic Maui Invitational and moved to 7-0. They won it with an average margin of victory of 30 points. Granted, one of those games was against Division II opponent Chaminade. Despite that, they obliterated the two Division I teams they faced, Oklahoma State and Wisconsin, by 32 and 15 points respectively.

These are not normal, run-of-the-mill teams. Wisconsin was on the preseason top ten list for many behind Ethan Happ and Nigel Hayes. Jawun Evans leads the Oklahoma State Cowboys as an elite scorer at 24.7 points per game. Evans was one of only two Cowboys in double figures against the Tar Heels.

Freshman Tony Bradley (5) is an excellent back-up for Kennedy Meeks. (Photo courtesy of newsobserver.com)

Freshman Tony Bradley (5) is an excellent back-up for Kennedy Meeks. (Photo courtesy of newsobserver.com)

North Carolina currently has five players averaging over ten points per game. They can spread the ball well and do not rely on one player to stay above water. Returnees Kennedy Meeks, Joel Berry II, Justin Jackson and Isaiah Hicks have made it business as usual for Roy Williams. Five star recruit Tony Bradley is a nice addition at 10.7 points per contest and 6.3 rebounds.

This is a very long Tar Heel team that possesses the ability to frustrate defenses by tipping balls away. Kennedy Meeks and Isaiah Hicks dominate the boards, keeping teams from getting too many second chance points. Each also possesses the ability to protect the rim with good size and length. North Carolina is not one-dimensional.  They are a threat to the two-headed monster of Duke and Kentucky come Phoenix in April. Their next test is Wednesday against Indiana.

Oregon is a Work in Progress

Dana Altman’s team was elite last year, achieving a one seed in the 2016 NCAA Tournament. With the big three returning for the Ducks, fans and analysts expected much of the same. With the early pre-season injury to Dillon Brooks, that has not been the case.

At the Maui Invitational, the Ducks dropped their first game to the Georgetown Hoyas. Rodney Pryor had 26 points and 10 rebounds for a stellar offensive performance against the Ducks. Despite that, Oregon’s problem has been offense, not defense. With Brooks still not at 100 percent, the team has struggled to put up points while holding every opponent below 70. That is including an overtime game against Tennessee.

Chris Boucher (25) had 13 blocks in three games at tghe Maui Invitational. (Photo courtesy of fox5vegas.com)

Chris Boucher (25) had 13 blocks in three games at the Maui Invitational. (Photo courtesy of fox5vegas.com)

Chris Boucher is the face of Oregon’s defense. He averages a whopping 3.0 blocks per game so far after setting the school record in 2015-16 with 110. As a side note, Boucher also leads the team with 15.0 points per game. That should change as Brooks transitions back into the line-up. As of now, Brooks has only 18.7 minutes per game. The most he has played all year is 25 against Tennessee which included overtime.

The bright spot in all of this is the development for the Ducks players in Brooks’ absence. Freshman Payton Pritchard has amassed a mountain of minutes, getting used to the collegiate game speed. His 29.7% three point mark is not the best but this should rise. As Pritchard’s role decreases and Brooks gets back into the swing of things, the freshman will see better looks with less defensive attention.

Despite the Ducks dropping a game to Georgetown and struggling against the Volunteers they showed some promise during Feast Week. Jordan Bell and Tyler Dorsey are each looking like their old selves, Brooks is settling in, and the Ducks have proven the ability to gnash their way to a win in a physical game. As Altman’s boys continue to mesh, watch for them to climb back up in the rankings.

 

Virginia Maintaining Identity without Austin Nichols

Examples of things that are certain in life: death, taxes and the Virginia Cavaliers as a defensive based team. Tony Bennett coaches this team year after year to the same sort of style. This year he has the added stress of doing it without key transfer Austin Nichols. Nichols played in only one game before being released by the team. He had previously violated team rules in October.

Virginia took down Providence for the Emerald Coast Classic Championship. (Photo courtesy of washingtonpost.com)

Virginia took down Providence for the Emerald Coast Classic Championship. (Photo courtesy of washingtonpost.com)

Regardless of the reasons for his dismissal, Virginia still looks like the top tier team that they have been over the past few years. Since Nichol’s discharge, the Cavaliers have been nothing short of brilliant. The team’s Feast Week exploits consisted of a dominating performance at the Emerald Coast Classic. They held their opponents to 42.3 points over the three game span of the tournament. While Grambling State is lesser competition, Iowa and Providence do not operate in the same category.

Better yet for the Emerald Coast champs are the two contests they played outside of Feast Week show their consistency. Virginia held Yale and St. Francis (NY) to under 40 points. Their points allowed average since Nichol’s left is 39.4 points.

The one detriment to the Cavaliers is that they do not score. Their 72.8 points per game through six games ranks them 214th in the NCAA. The only game which holds that average above water is the 90 point showing against Grambling State. Additionally only one player averages double figures in scoring: Darius Thompson at exactly 10.0 points per game. Virginia does play ten players, but they need someone to step up. Balance is great but they have no go-to player at this point. London Parrentes should turn into that player at some point this season.

UCLA is an Offensive Juggernaut

Okay, so with the exception of Texas A&M, UCLA has not exactly played anyone yet. Still, the offensive accomplishments and efficiency the team has put together is daunting. Putting up the numbers they have against anyone is impressive.

Lonzo Ball (2) has been one of the most impressive freshman in the country. (Photo courtesy of usatoday.com)

Lonzo Ball (2) has been one of the most impressive freshman in the country. (Photo courtesy of usatoday.com)

Lonzo Ball is the major recruit of this class for Steve Alford and he has not disappointed. Nothing short of brilliant, he averages 16.0 points, 9.1 assists and 5.3 rebounds per game.  Nearly averaging a double-double as a freshman is impressive. What about having two freshman nearly averaging a double-double on the same team? T.J. Leaf was the other stellar recruit for the Bruins and he sits at  17.1 points (leading the team), 8.9 rebounds and 2.6 assists.

Additionally, four other players are averaging double-digit scoring figures totaling six for the team as a whole. Bryce Alford is second on the team with 17.0 points per game. He also is first in shots made from behind the arc with 19 and is shooting at 44.2%.

There is a laundry list of personal accomplishments, but the team’s overall statistics are the most astounding. Through six games the team is second in the nation in field goal percentage, sixth in three point percentage and first in total assists. They average 96.9 points per game. UCLA has 249 made field goals and 169 assists meaning they assist on 67.8% of their baskets. Not only are they extremely efficient, but they also share the ball well.  That should be more than apparent with the aforementioned six players in double figures.

NCAA Champions Points Per Game
Year Team Points Forced Points Allowed
2015-16 Villanova 78.0 63.6
2014-15 Duke 79.3 64.2
2013-14 UConn 71.8 63.2
2012-13 Louisville 74.5 58.8
2011-12 Kentucky 77.4 60.6
*UCLA 96.9 Forced, 75.3 Allowed

The one caveat would be the lack of defensive efficiency. Sure, the team does not rely on one player for its scoring. However, they currently allow 75.3 points per game. They may have a high powered offense, but their defense needs to improve when they do hit the tougher schedule. Generally, championship teams do not allow that many points.

The Bruins won a lackluster Wooden Legacy tournament during Feast Week. The only game that caused them any trouble was the grind-it-out match-up Texas A&M. The Aggies have some surprising new faces contributing, but are not of the same caliber as the Bruins. December 3rd they will face Kentucky in Lexington. This will be the first true test for Alford and company.

Michigan State is Still Difficult to Trust

Tom Izzo’s teams are the epitome of March basketball. Right now they are searching for a legitimate identity. Between a rough early schedule and some early individual struggles the Spartans they have yet to establish consistency.

Michigan State started off the year 0-2 after a last second loss to Arizona and a less than stellar performance against Kentucky. After a 100 point performance against Mississippi Valley State, the Spartans won a controversial game against Florida Gulf Coast 78-77.

Miles Bridges (22) is the most dynamic athlete for the Spartans. (Photo courtesy of zagsblog.com)

Miles Bridges (22) is the most dynamic athlete for the Spartans. (Photo courtesy of zagsblog.com)

Tom Izzo’s squad spent their Feast Week at the Battle 4 Atlantis. They took down St. John’s 73-62 to start. They were then dominated by Baylor 73-58. Miles Bridges was the only player in double figures for the Spartans with 15 points. Bridges is the highest rated member of a stellar Spartan recruiting class. Bridges has had some up and down games, including struggles against Kentucky and Florida Gulf Coast, but is still the team’s leading scorer at 17.4 points per game. His dynamic athleticism has him averaging 1.7 blocks per game and defensive win shares. Bridges decision making is still a point of weakness with 3.4 turnovers per contest, also leading the team.

Michigan State finished up with a 77-72 win against Wichita State, but the Shockers nearly willed their way to a win in this one. Bridges led the team with 21 points, but this time four other players also achieved double figures. Senior Eron Harris, a West Virginia transfer, has had the most inconsistent year. In the contests against Arizona, Kentucky and Baylor this year he averaged 4.0 points. On the flip side he had 31 against FGCU. The Spartans will need Harris this year to have a deep tournament run and find some sort of team identity.

2017 NBA Mock Draft November 13

1. Boston Celtics (via Brooklyn Nets)- Josh Jackson, SF, Kansas, Fr.

(courtesy usatoday.com)

Josh Jackson on team USA. (courtesy usatoday.com)

Jackson was the best wing player in the 2016 recruiting class. His athleticism and length make him look like and Andrew Wiggins clone wearing the Kansas uniform.

2. Philadelphia 76ers- Dennis Smith Jr., PG, NC State, Fr.

Most teams don’t draft by position need in the draft, but the 76ers really need a point guard.

3. Los Angeles Lakers- Markelle Fultz, G, Washington, Fr.

Fultz is a combo guard that could compliment D’Angelo Russell down the road.

4. Denver Nuggets- Jayson Tatum, SF, Duke, Fr.

Denver has Emmanuel Muddiay and Jamal Murray at the guard spots and some good players down low so taking the talented wing from Duke makes sense.

5. Phoenix Suns- Harry Giles, PF, Duke, Fr.

A lot of guard play still for the Suns, they need more good post players.

6. Sacrament Kings- Lonzo Ball, PG, UCLA, Fr.

What a mess the Kings have. If they keep Demarcus Cousins for the rest of the season, they need a point guard to feed him the ball.

7. Orlando Magic- Jonathan Isaac, F, Florida State, Fr.

Isaac is a lot like Brandon Ingram, but probably has a lower ceiling.

8. New Orleans Pelicans- Frank Ntilikina, PG, France

The Pelicans need more perimeter players to surround Anthony Davis with. Ntilikina is a big, athletic, play-making point guard.

9. Miami Heat- De’Aaron Fox, PG, Kentucky, Fr.

Fox is already getting compared to John Wall. He is one of the fastest players in the class.

10. New York Knicks- Bam Adebayo, PF, Kentucky, Fr.

A lot of scouts think that Adebayo is the most NBA-ready player in college basketball. His body is a lot like a young Dwight Howard’s.

11. Milwaukee Bucks- Grayson Allen, G, Duke, Jr.

(courtesy carolinablitz.com)

(courtesy carolinablitz.com)

The Bucks need guys who can hit shots. We know what Allen is, some freshmen we don’t know a lot about will pass him up by season’s end.

12. Washington Wizards- Ivan Rabb, PF/C, Cal, So.

Rabb has some good post moves, but needs to work on his rebounding for NBA-level competition.

13. Chicago Bulls- Marques Bolden, C, Duke, Fr.

He has really good control of his body on both ends of the floor, but needs to add strength.

14. Houston Rockets- Isaiah Hartenstein, PF/C, Germany

Porzingis’ great start in the NBA helps out all verastile European big men in the eyes of scouts, including Hartenstein.

15.Charlotte Hornets- Tyler Lydon, F, Syracuse, So.

Lydon has the shooting ability to stretch the floor for NBA teams.

16. Minnesota Timberwolves- Jaron Blossomgame, F, Clemson, Sr.

He isn’t great at anything, but Blossomgame is solid at every facet of basketball.

17. Dallas Mavericks- Edmond Sumner, PG, Xavier, So.

There are a lot of big point guards in this class and Sumner could be the most athletic in the class.

18. Detroit Pistons- Malik Monk, SG, Kentucky, Fr.

(courtesy kentucky.com)

(courtesy kentucky.com)

Fran Fraschila has compared Monk to Russell Westbrook already. He might have a better three point shot and lack some of Westbrook’s athleticism.

19. Atlanta Hawks- Rawle Alkins, G, Arizona, Fr.

Alkins got off to a slow start at Arizona, but will have plenty of chances due to their thin roster.

20. Oklahoma City Thunder- Terrance Ferguson, G/F, USA

OKC needs wing players and Ferguson is a good shooter that can also slash to the basket.

21. Indiana Pacers- Miles Bridges, F, Michigan State

Bridges scored 21 points in his debut game, but needs to hit more jump shots to move up draft boards.

22.Denver Nuggets (via Memphis Grizzlies)- Moses Kingsley, PF/C, Arkansas, Sr.

In order to be a very effective at the next level he needs to develop more on offense, but does have great energy and production.

23. Portland Trail Blazers- Malik Pope, PF, San Diego State, Jr.

Pope needs a jump in production to earn a first round grade from scouts, but stretches defenses with his shooting touch from deep.

24. Utah Jazz- LeGerald Vick, SG, Kansas, So.

Vick has potential, but has to fight for time on the court at Kansas.

25. Nets (via Celtics)- V.J. Beachum, G/F, Notre Dame, Sr.

He has great size and a good shooting touch, but needs to work on his ball-handling.

26. Toronto Raptors- Tyler Roberson, F, Syracuse, Sr.

Roberson isn’t a great shooter, so therefore needs to add some strength to play on the inside in the NBA.

27. Toronto Raptors- Monte Morris, PG, Iowa State, Sr.

(courtesy youtube.com)

(courtesy youtube.com)

The best quality that Morris has is how well he protects the ball. His assist to turnover ratio last year was 3.67/1.

28. San Antonio Spurs- Thomas Bryant, PF/C, Indiana, So.

In his first game against Kansas, Bryant came out of the gates hot. He can score, but isn’t really athletic and needs to work on his defense.

29. Utah Jazz (via Golden State Warriors)- Chris Boucher, PF/C, Oregon, Sr.

Defense and Rebounding are issues, but he is a decent shooter, with decent size.

30. Cleveland Cavaliers- Jarrett Allen, C, Texas, Fr.

Allen has potential, but has to work on his passing from the post.

 

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Who Should Be Considered For The Postseason AP All-American Teams?

There is a lot of talent dispersed throughout the NCAA this year. Knowing that, it is difficult to call anyone a “snub” for not making the AP Preseason All-American team. The guys that did not make it are simply non-selections.  Composed of Grayson Allen, Ivan Rabb, Josh Hart, Monte Morris and Dillon Brooks there is not much room to debate the merit of these picks. There are still plenty of players out there that could be All-Americans by season’s end.  The AP will name a 2nd and 3rd team at the end of the year leaving space for ten more players.  So who will make those teams? Which players have the possibility of slipping into the first team, replacing one of the current five?

London Perrantes, Virginia, (G)

London Perrantes is a very complete ball player.  He is the perfect guy to be at the helm for Tony Bennett’s Cavalier squad. Perrantes is the only returning double digit scorer from the 2015-16 Elite Eight team. While there were notable losses, Austin Nichols is an excellent gain. He provides some scoring while being the defensive specialist that is key to Bennett’s teams. He was 6th in the AAC in defensive rating in 2014-15 before sitting out last season as a transfer.

Being a deep threat is just one of the things that London Perrantes brings to the table. (Photo courtesy of cbssports.com)

Being a deep threat is just one of the things that London Perrantes brings to the table. (Photo courtesy of cbssports.com)

Nichols and the rest of the Cavalier roster is full of talented rebounders and defenders meaning that yet again they will only need to score 65 points to win a game. Perrantes went from 6.4 points per game to 11.0 in 2015-16. Additionally his PER escalated from 12.3 in his first two seasons to 18.2, so he can be quite efficient. Without any other returning elite scorers there should be another jump in the scoring element of his game. That is not all that Perrantes does for his team, however. He also provides 4.4 assists per game coupled with 3.0 rebounds, 1.1 steals and a three point average of nearly 49%. Between his efficiency, magnitude of importance on his team and his all-around ability the senior is a lock for a great season.

Melo Trimble, Maryland (G)

Melo Trimble is Coach Mark Turgeon’s guy this year.  The junior is the one saving grace from the mass exodus of Terp talent. He needs to prove that he has NBA ability so it behooved him to remain at school. Trimble’s numbers dropped across the board. Especially prevalent was a 10% decrease in his three point shooting mark from 41% to 31%. This is just a pure lack of precision but his overall field goal percentage dropped as well. Some of that can be attributed to the additional talent on the team inside meaning some of his easy baskets were taken away in favor of Diamond Stone. However his usage percentage was nearly identical to his freshman mark of 25%, but his win shares dropped, mirroring the drop in efficiency seen across the board.

This year, he is the big man on campus and must show that he is worthy of a first round pick. That is exactly why he should be on the All-American watch list: that is what his team needs him to be. He can accomplish this by creating shots for himself, actually hitting those shots that he creates and by assisting others in opportunities for scoring. The Terrapins have a five player freshman class coming in including marksman Kevin Huerter. Huerter’s deep threat should open up the spacing on the floor for Trimble to create for himself or he can run some pick-and-roll in a two man game with Damonte Dodd. Trimble was good last year, but with improved efficiency he can catapult himself into the All-American race.

Jaron Blossomgame, Clemson (F)

Jaron Blossomgame decided to return for his senior campaign at Clemson. (Photo courtesy of tigernet.com)

Jaron Blossomgame decided to return for his senior campaign at Clemson. (Photo courtesy of tigernet.com)

The Clemson Tigers did not experience much roster change this offseason. The three leading scorers and three of the top four rebounders are returning. As it so happens, Jaron Blossomgame led the team in both categories and was rumored to skip his senior season to go pro.

At 18.7 points per game and 6.7 rebounds (which was actually a lower number than previous years), Blossomgame was statistically near the top of the ACC in several categories. He was third in the conference in scoring, shooting 51% from the field, he hit a 27.1 PER, good for second in the conference, showing his ability to be efficient with his touches.

Blossomgame finished the year with 5.6 win shares in the 31 games that Clemson played. His presence is critical to his team and will be the deciding factor in Clemson’s season. Blossomgame’s talent will shine through and put him on a fast track to cracking the All-American team.

Moses Kingsley, Arkansas (F)

The senior tripled his minutes for the Razorbacks last year. Simply put: he filled the stat sheet. Nearly averaging a double-double with 15.9 points per game and 9.3 rebounds, Kingsley showed a multi-faceted attack. He also tacked on a steal and an assist per game. He was third in the SEC in PER with a whopping 27.4 in 2015-16.

Despite all the offensive numbers, Kingsley actually is also statistically efficient on the defensive end. He rebounded on 23.3% of the opportunities he had on defense which was good enough to be third in the conference. Kingsley also was fourth in the SEC in defensive box plus minus and eighth in defensive rating, allowing 97.1 points per 100 possessions. It is also no small detail that his 76 blocks were good enough for second in the conference.

As a junior, his program asked him to step up and he did just that. This year should be no exception for the stat-stuffer.

Freshman Candidates

An interesting factor this year is age. Even with a very talented freshman class, there are still plenty of players that made the decision to remain at school. Despite the overwhelming amount of talented upperclassmen, the freshman star power cannot be ignored. In past years, the end of season team has featured freshman. 2015-16 saw only Ben Simmons (2nd) and Jamal Murray (3rd). The AP selected two freshman, Jahlil Okafor and D’Angelo Russell, to the first team in 2014-15. Karl Anthony-Towns earned second team honors. Since 2006-07 a freshman has made either the AP voted a freshman to either the first or second team. Between their prevalence in the past and the depth of this class we really should consider them as a legitimate threat to overtake the upperclassmen on these lists.

There is a plethora of guys that could make this list: Josh Jackson is the best player in the class in the eyes of some and a freak athlete. Lonzo Ball is a prolific passer and can score the ball well. Harry Giles Jr., if healthy, could put up both scoring and rebounding numbers. D’Aaron Fox and Malik Monk are both freakish athletes for Kentucky. Markelle Fultz is a player that seems to be moving up scouts and analysts draft boards. He is a good lead ball-handler and can create his own shot. Fultz is an NBA talent and will likely be one of the best players in college, undoubtedly considered for the All-American team.

 

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