Team USA Finishes Fifth at World University Games: Notes On Player Performances

Posted by rtmsf on August 22nd, 2011

Team USA came out of the World University Games in Shenzhen, China, with its pride intact after sporting a 7-1 overall record, but because of an untimely loss over the weekend in the quarterfinal round versus Lithuania, they will leave Asia without a medal.  The twelve-man roster comprised of some of the best returning players in the college game finished fifth in the tournament despite sporting a 28.2 PPG scoring margin over its eight opponents.  The Americans did not earn a chance to play the top two finishers — Serbia (gold) and Canada (silver) — although the team that knocked them out of contention, Lithuania, ultimately took home the bronze.  We’ve already established the weak predictive power of the WUG experience (e.g., 2009-10 NPOY Evan Turner hardly played in the 2009 WUG), but we still thought it would be worth a quick look to see which players rose to the top and which did not during the last two weeks of action.

Trevor Mbakwe Was USA's Best Interior Player

Some of our thoughts on player performances:

The All-American Backcourt Was Solid, If Not Spectacular.  Simply glancing at the roster going into the World University Games, the two names that immediately jumped out as the best players were in the backcourt — Pitt’s Ashton Gibbs and Vanderbilt’s John Jenkins.  Both players will be on the short list next season as NPOY types who should also land on several of the major All-American teams.  In China, they both played the most minutes and shot the ball considerably more than the rest of their teammates.  Jenkins alone attempted 57 threes, more shots than anyone but Gibbs (73) on the entire team.  They both made enough shots to keep defenses honest (Gibbs: 46.6%; Jenkins: 42.4%), and were automatic (90%+) from the line, but on a team sorely lacking in the point guard department, neither player truly stepped up and separated himself in that manner (only 28 assists between them, one for every combined 12 minutes they were on the floor).  In the loss against Lithuania, the two guards combined to shoot 4-13 from behind the arc and dished out only one assist (versus 5 TOs).  Clearly this team could have used a better floor leader.

Trevor Mbakwe Was a Monster.  If we had to pick one player who came out of the WUG experience with the most hype for the upcoming season, it has to be Minnesota forward Trevor Mbakwe.  In just under 20 minutes per contest, Mbakwe averaged a near-dub-dub of 11.4 PPG and 9.4 RPG (or, 23/19 per 40 minutes!).  What’s more impressive is that international players simply could not handle his quick feet balanced by a bulky frame, bullying his way to the foul line 61 times, or 7.6 times per game.  He only was able to convert 57.4% of those attempts, but his 60.9% field goal percentage on the interior more than made up for it.  Mbakwe averaged a double-double in the Big Ten last year, but his maturity and continued improvement may have him on target for a DeJuan Blair type of senior season in 2011-12.

JaMychal Green Excelled in Limited Minutes.  Alabama’s JaMychal Green played fewer minutes than Mbakwe and other big men Draymond Green and Tim Abromaitis, but he made the most of his 15.9 MPG.  He averaged 12.6 PPG and 5.9 RPG in that time, but he proved himself to be as efficient as Matt Painter could have hoped, grabbing an offensive board for every five minutes he was on the floor and cleaning up around the basket by converting 69% of his shots.  He was clearly Team USA’s most productive bench player, bringing significant energy and hustle to bear in each of his appearances.  Green was already an all-SEC player, but if he can become the dominant player we caught glimpses of in China, he could find himself on several All-America lists next season.

Big East Duo-sappointment.  A couple of the bigger names on the team had disappointing performances at the WUG.  Syracuse guard Scoop Jardine and Notre Dame forward Tim Abromaitis in particular had trouble getting comfortable in limited action.  The usually accurate Abromaitis never found his range, shooting a rough 41.3% from the floor and an icy 22.2% from behind the arc.  Considering that he plays as a face-up forward who scorched nets from behind the collegiate arc at a rate of 42.9% last season, he was clearly out of sync in Shenzhen.  Jardine was somewhat crowded out by a four-man guard rotation that included Gibbs, Jenkins, UCSB’s Orlando Johnson and Kentucky’s Darius Miller.  Although he shot the ball well while on the floor (55.8% from the field), he simply did not receive enough regular minutes in the rotation to markedly influence the close games (only 36 total minutes in the final three contests).

Mid-Major Players Were Outclassed.  Every team at any level, no matter how talented, has to have a few bench-warmers, and Detroit’s Ray McCallum, Jr., and Yale’s Greg Mangano were the duo on this team.  We hate to pick on our mid-major representatives, but USCB’s Orlando Johnson was the only mid-major player to earn significant minutes on this team.  He generally performed OK, but the tandem of McCallum and Mangano received most of their minutes in the four blowout games of the round-robin, and it’s clear that they both have work to do to reach the talent of the names above them on this roster.  Mangano is heading into his senior season, but McCallum at least can take solace in the fact that he was the youngest player on the team and will substantially improve in coming seasons.

Team USA Continues Its Slide Toward Mediocrity.  It’s interesting that in the past six World University Games competitions that Team USA has only won gold once (2005), bronze twice (2001, 2009) and finished out of the medal race two more times (2007, 2011).  [ed. note: Team USA did not field a team in 2003]  Is it disconcerting that a team with at least a handful of 2011-12 college All-Americans are finishing fifth while a team of Canadians are finishing second?  Before you start thinking that elite players like Tristan Thompson, Myck Kabongo or Cory Joseph played for Team Canada in the WUG, well, they didn’t.  In fact, its entire roster consisted of players from the CIS, Canada’s version of NCAA basketball that is roughly on par with Division III.  We’re all aware that he world is catching up in international basketball to a certain extent, but it’s still hard to believe that an American team with really good collegians cannot finish with a medal given the competition.

rtmsf (3774 Posts)


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