After sitting in the same seats at the Moda Center for 12 games in Portland, Oregon (well, we did sneak down near courtside for two of the lesser-attended games), 3MW was bound to have some opinions on the events that transpired. Below are a few notes on each team - some things I liked, some things I didn't like, and even a completely fact-based takedown of Andrew Dakich. Enjoy!!
After Michigan State’s loss to Duke at the Champions Classic, the biggest worries for the Spartans were dynamic guardplay and turnovers (aside: I’ve now seen three Michigan State games live this year, which is kind of wild). After PK80, the Spartans appear to have answered concern #1 – Cassius Winston was excellent, earning the Victory Bracket’s MVP with 20 assists to just 7 turnovers while cashing 7/15 from deep – but concern #2 is even more pronounced. All eleven players who saw the court against UNC registered at least one turnover (the team had 24!!!), including seven from the starting frontcourt of Nick Ward and Jaren Jackson, and it goes to show just how poor the Heels were on that night that Sparty still won by 24. Tom Izzo-coached teams play a true “campaign,” continually improving as the season goes, but another performance as sloppy as Sunday night’s could doom them come March.
UNC’s abomination of a performance against Michigan State was likely an aberration – there’s no way they shoot 15/61 from the field again – but it did magnify concerns that this team lacks dynamic scorers. Joel Berry is a perfect college lead guard, and Luke Maye has certainly looked better than everyone expected (although a certain 3MW writer did project him as an All-ACC Third-Teamer) (that writer was me), but only Kenny Williams has really emerged around them. Theo Pinson is as bricky as ever (2/19 from deep – that’s 11%!!! Stop shooting, Theo!), Seventh Woods has the decision-making of an actual 7th-grader and is completely devoid of confidence, and the three freshman bigs vanished into thin air against Sparty’s deep front line – I think Nick Ward still has leftovers from eating all of Brandon Huffman’s lunch:
Cam Johnson can’t come back soon enough for this squad, and the young guard trio of Jalek Felton/Woods/Brandon Robinson needs to give them some production ASAP.
The main takeaways with Duke are relatively obvious – Marvin Bagley is Sauron-with-the-Ring-level dominant, Grayson Allen’s threes have a depressing inescapability to them, particularly during comebacks, Trevon Duval shoots like a confused fan contest participant – but one small thing that intrigued me was Coach K dabbling in a 3-big-man lineup featuring Bagley, Javin DeLaurier, and Wendell Carter. Bagley and DeLaurier have enough athleticism to not get crushed by guards – although Florida’s three-headed backcourt monster gave them some issues, that may be the best backcourt in the country, so that’s not entirely repeatable. The fun part of that lineup is Bagley/DeLaurier putting a guard in jail inside (especially Bagley), opening up all kinds of shots/cuts when they’re inevitably double-teamed. I'm hoping K breaks out that lineup more as a legitimate weapon in the future, ideally with Allen and Alex O'Connell in the backcourt to space the floor.
The Gators were universally hailed by PK80 observers as tremendously fun to watch, and deservedly so – they spread the floor with a plethora of shooting and skilled guards, firing away on offense and taking the quickest available good shot (21st-shortest average offensive possession nationally). In a sense, they’re trading some defense for offense, as nominal posts Egor Koulechov and Keith Stone got worked by two “III’s” – Johnathan Williams and Marvin Bagley - to the tune of 69 points and 27 rebounds combined. It mostly worked, though, due to UF’s blistering three-point shooting and terrific ball security (11 turnovers vs. Stanford, 13 in 50 minutes vs. Gonzaga, 9 vs. Duke).
This point becomes most interesting when looking at the Gators’ upcoming schedule. The offense/defense challenge will continue against intimidating frontcourts such as Cincinnati, Texas A&M, Missouri, Georgia, Kentucky, Baylor, Arkansas, and South Carolina. Thus, Mike White will need to find the right ways to send help on troublesome post-ups or strategically mix in zone defenses until the returns of John Egbunu and/or Isaiah Stokes allow them to play lineups featuring two true bigs. Of course, UF could just simply outscore opponents, and maybe that's what we should root for after the classics provided by Florida/Gonzaga and Florida/Duke.
The drastic improvement of Johnathan Williams III from his days at Missouri compared to him now at Gonzaga has never been more stark than when he was treating Florida’s undersized forwards like folding chairs, driving through and around them at will en route to 39 points on 22 shots in 44 minutes. He struggled against Texas’s length in the third-place game, but Williams’s dizzying array of sky hooks, spins, and step-throughs should give the Zags a legitimate go-to weapon who can go around bigger defenders and over smaller ones.
He simply didn't have the confidence or footwork to try things like that as a freshman or sophomore, and make no mistake, that move is gorgeous. Honorable mention to Corey Kispert here, as he was impressive in a bigger wing role.
Press more! Where art thou Havoc, Shaka? Texas has pressed on 36 possessions this year, per Synergy, and has given up a mind-bogglingly low 0.25ppp (yes, 9 total points) while forcing a 44% turnover rate. The Longhorn press is what got them back into the game against Gonzaga, but as soon as they had tied the game up, Shaka called off the dogs. It’s strange to see him almost distancing himself from what made him great at VCU – be you, Mr. Smart.
A couple other quick hitters: Mo Bamba has a long way to go, particularly physically. I was struck by the amount of rebounds he had to tip to himself, rather than securing position and going up with two hands. On the other hand, Dylan Osetkowski was fantastic almost throughout, and his quick hands and flowing hair at the top of the Longhorn press elicited memories of Nathan Adrian for West Virginia.
I’ll start by saying this: I was impressed with Arkansas. I had watched a lot of their Bucknell and Samford games prior to the tournament, and I thought a lot of the Razorbacks’ success was predicated on unsustainable tough shot-making by Jaylen Barford and Daryl Macon. However, they shut me right up and continued making those shots against very good defenses. Big ups to you fellas!
My main takeaway, though, was that Arkansas could be even better if they maximized their frontcourt rotation. Trey Thompson is a skilled passer and effective rebounder at his size, but he’s also kind of a pudge monster who struggles to play the breakneck pace that Macon, Barford, and Anton Beard facilitate. I’d love to see even more of Daniel Gafford (and I suspect that we will as the freshman gets used to the college game), and Dustin Thomas was an on/off monster last season (only player with a defensive PPP lower than 1). Here’s each big man’s on/off stats this season – note that Thomas’s are skewed because he wasn’t a part of the Bucknell/Samford slaughterfests:
Also of note – the Gafford/Adrio Bailey combination is burning the world down so far at +50 points per 100 possessions (small sample size, etc.), while the Gafford/Thomas combo is allowing a scarce 0.73 points per possession on D. As the season goes on, look for Gafford and Thomas to get on the floor even more often.
I started out extremely impressed by UConn after its impressive defeat of Oregon, but then it turned out Oregon might stink while UConn got soundly beaten by Michigan State and utterly humiliated by Arkansas (aside – this was one of the games we moved down to the 10th row for, where my colleague Ky bellowed “three-dash-man-dash-weave dot com!!!” to the 400 people that were still in attendance). After Jalen Adams and Terry Larrier, I think UConn’s third-best player is Alterique Gilbert when he’s healthy. I have absolutely no idea who comes after that, as Christian Vital, Antwoine Anderson, and the young bigs all make feel cold and empty inside.
One last fun note: Cornell grad transfer David Onurah, a real player on the Huskies, has TAKEN one shot in 68 minutes this season (he made it). Per KenPom, he’s taking 1.0% of the team’s shots when on the floor, which is only 1.0% more than you’ve taken for UConn.
The Bulldogs are going to be heavily reliant on both Kelan Martin and Kamar Baldwin this year, so they can ill afford performances like the two had against Texas in the opening round Thursday. They combined to go 10/34 from the field (29%), including 3/15 from deep (20%), and added just three assists versus five turnovers, contributing to the team’s putrid 0.77 points per possession (albeit against a Texas defense that will likely frustrate a lot of teams this year). Of course, role players like Paul Jorgenson and Tyler Wideman also vanished in this one, but the Bulldogs will go as their stars go this season, so it was nice to see Martin and Baldwin finally awaken during the final five minutes against Ohio State.
This won’t surprise anyone who knows my basketball opinions, but my Ohio State takeaway is that IT’S ABSURD that Andrew Dakich plays real minutes for this team!! He’s 6’2 with a 5’2 wingspan, he had 5 assists and 6 turnovers in the three PK80 games, and he’s a defensive nightmare – he has yet to record a block or a steal in 105 minutes this season (let’s bring Charles Barkley in for some analysis on that: “That’s turrible, Ernie!”). What about the on/off numbers, you ask? Oh, what about them!
Ohio State is an absurd 26 points per 100 possessions worse defensively with Dakich on the court, and the decline is universal – the Buckeyes are worse at literally every measurable stat listed by Hoop Lens. It turns out that playing the walk-on, garden gnome-proportioned son of a blowhard announcer cripples you when facing Division I opponents! My proposed fix for when CJ Jackson is off the court: let Kam Williams or Jae’Sean Tate bring the ball up and play through the high post (let Tate facilitate). Alternate fix: find a better walk-on at the Ohio State rec center, or the Columbus YMCA, anything at all really.
Obviously, Trae Young is the story, but as Oklahoma battled through the second half of their quarterfinal game against Arkansas, one player stood out to me (and the other Weavers) as a crucial part of their second-half production – freshman and New Zealand native Matt Freeman. As his man repeatedly trapped phenom point guard Young or Jordan Shepherd to get the ball out of Young’s hands, Freeman was left with 4-on-3 situations on several plays in a row, and he acquitted himself beautifully over a three possession sequence that featured two assists and a nice floater to tie the game at 67 - look at him drop a dime at full speed to tie the game:
Not bad for a 6'10 freshman! Lon Kruger then buried him for the final 8+ minutes, and OU never tied the game again. We would have loved to see Kruger give Freeman more run late in the game, perhaps even alongside fellow freshman big Brady Manek, a lineup combo to which Kruger appears totally averse.
Side note: the second half play-by-play is a wild read, if only to see Oklahoma never trail by more than six until the final minute, but also never actually take the lead. You’d think by staying that close, they’d take lead at some point, even by accident, but nope – they floated closely along, never able to summit the mountain.
The Pac-12 went 1-5 in Portland, and Oregon’s 1-2 performance was very alarming to me (I was extremely high on this team in the preseason, even dabbling a national title future bet on them). Despite the presence of a great coach in Dana Altman, some growing pains were to be expected given how much turnover the roster had (currently sits at 341st in minutes continuity, a measure of how many minutes are played by returning players). Payton Pritchard’s brilliance rescued a total disaster, as his 29-8-6 line helped steal an OT win against DePaul, but the disjointed Ducks have a lot of work to do.
Unfortunately, two reasons I was high on the team – grad transfers Elijah Brown (New Mexico) and MiKyle McIntosh (Illinois State) – were the two biggest disappointments for me. Brown was the epitome of a ball-stopper, catching and considering all his scoring options rather than moving the ball within Altman’s free-flowing offense, and his poor shot selection led to him shooting a hideous 5/22 (23%) from deep during the three PK80 games. McIntosh, on the other hand, accumulated 9 turnovers and 11 fouls while shooting 8/22 from the field over the holiday weekend, generally looking out of sync with the rest of the team’s newbies.
As good as Duke and Michigan State played, I’d argue that no team exceeded its expectations to the degree of the Portland State Vikings. PSU was competitive for 2.75 of its three PK80 games (like Florida and Texas, they were skewered by the Duke last-ten-minutes buzzsaw), and they were able to hold on to that lead against Stanford, likely driving a tree-shaped stake into the heart of the Cardinal’s at-large hopes. They scored more than 1 point per possession against three straight Power 6 defenses, and the prolific backcourt of Deontae North, Holland Woods, Bryce Canda, and Michael Mayhew will be a nightmare in the Big Sky on both ends of the floor.
With the possible exception of the vastly overmatched Portland, this was the most dire team I saw over three days, especially given that some (read: Matt Cox) thought they would be an NCAA Tournament team this year. Remarkably, high school teenager Robert Cartwright is the only rotation player with a positive net rating, but that in itself tells me how much the team is struggling: it needs Robert freakin' Cartwright on the floor to keep it afloat! Stanford desperately needs guards Dorian Pickens and Marcus Sheffield back from foot injuries; though I like Daejon Davis’s potential, he’s taken a crowbar to the knees of Stanford’s offensive efficiency (0.94ppp with him on the court, 1.16ppp with him off).
The Cardinal have also stunk defensively, and Jerod Haase even resorted to trying out Scott Drew’s 1-1-3, amoeba-like matchup zone in the game we saw vs. Ohio State. This is a wise choice, as Isaac White (too small) and Cartwright have fared horribly defending the pick-and-roll. For the season, the Cardinal have allowed 0.93ppp in halfcourt when in man (19th percentile nationally), while that number improves to 0.85ppp in zone (63rd percentile), per Synergy. This may be a lost campaign as Reid Travis looks to prove he can play on the perimeter (3/14 on threes, gross) and the team crumbles around him.
Shout out to DePaul for showing up while Georgetown cowered in fear, playing their only non-conference road game (@ Richmond). The part that stood out most about the Blue Demons to us was how little Eli Cain asserted himself. We weren’t able to watch the Oregon game (where he amassed 19 points in an OT game), but his low usage game against Michigan State was bizarre (only 4/9 from the field). Obviously, some of the credit goes to Sparty’s vicegrip D, but some blame must also go towards the chucking of Max Strus and Devin Gage. Strus in particular has been lauded by every college writer with a Twitter account, but he’s currently 6/28 from deep in three games against “A”-level competition, per KenPom – Max, defer to your stud and quit forcing against good defenses. Dishonorable mention to Austin Grandstaff, who was a complete zero all weekend (0/1 with a turnover in 9 total minutes), despite transferring from Ohio State to Oklahoma to DePaul. The Summit League is calling your name, Austin.
I just have to mention that a light-skinned wing named “M. Porter” hitting threes right as we arrived to the Moda Center on Thanksgiving was cruel and unusual punishment for Ky and I as Mizzou fans. Of course, this was Portland coach Terry Porter’s son Malcolm Porter, not a sneaky reincarnation of Michael Porter, and he’s only 6’4. Malcolm and his brother, Franklin Porter, provide a nice nucleus to build around, but the young Pilots struggled mightily. Their top seven players by usage are freshmen or sophomores, so 2017-18 will likely be a long rebuilding year: