The RTC Podcast: January Doldrums Edition

Posted by rtmsf on January 24th, 2015

It was a pretty dry week of games last week, but that didn’t stop the guys from getting together for another RTC Podcast. In this week’s episode, host Shane Connolly (@sconnolly114) guides us through some of the big results of last weekend’s action, a few rapid-fire thoughts on topics such as favorite player, Coach of the Year, and biggest disappointment, and with special guest Bennet Hayes (@hoopstraveler) in tow, we look forward to a semi-busy weekend of games. The full rundown is below.

  • 0:00-2:27 – DePaul!
  • 2:27-6:58 – Duke Wins in Louisville
  • 6:58-11:46 – Re-evaluating the Big 12 Title Race
  • 11:46-15:46 – Arizona Reaffirms Spot at Top of Pac-12
  • 15:46-18:48 – Other Results of Note
  • 18:48-27:01 – Rapid fire
  • 27:01-32:23 – You, Me & the AP (VCU, Villanova)
  • 32:23-40:17 – Weekend Preview
  • 40:17-43:48 – #CBBSurvivor Update
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Big 12 Saturday Preview

Posted by Brian Goodman on January 24th, 2015

This weekend’s slate of Big 12 action isn’t quite as loaded as last week’s in terms of games expected to have a significant impact on the league race, but with the conference being arguably the best one in the country, that’s all relative. The biggest match-up on Saturday’s schedule features league favorite Kansas traveling to Austin to take on the Longhorns, who are looking to reassert themselves in the conference race. 

Oklahoma State at Kansas State (12:00 EST) – The 3-3 Cowboys have a win over Texas in their back pocket, but on the whole, their resume isn’t particularly impressive. If the NCAA Tournament started today, they would almost certainly be in, but a rough go of it on the road has prevented Travis Ford’s team from compiling a stronger case for seeding. They’ll look to reverse their fortunes when they shoot for just their second true road win of the season (the first being a convincing victory over a mediocre Memphis team) with an early afternoon tilt in Manhattan. The Wildcats, meanwhile, are still trying to prove their worth as a potential NCAA Tournament team, and a big component of that equation is holding serve on their home court against competitive teams. The battle between Marcus Foster and Phil Forte should be a fun one, and whether Nino Williams (20 points per game in his last two contests) continues to emerge as a dependable complement to Foster could play a decisive role. Prediction: Kansas State 66, Oklahoma State 63.

Everyone is Waiting on Kansas State to Regress (USA Today Images)

Everyone is Waiting on Kansas State to Regress (USA Today Images)

TCU at West Virginia (2:00 EST) – It’s still crazy to believe that after missing the NCAA Tournament in consecutive seasons, the Mountaineers are just a few bounces away from 16-1. Their offense hasn’t been pretty, with sub-200 rankings in both two-point shooting and three-point shooting, but it’s still been one of the most effective units in the country thanks to an aversion to turnovers. Of course, there’s also West Virginia’s stifling pressure defense, which has created barrels of extra possessions for Bob Huggins’ team. They’ll look to speed up a TCU offense that is much more deliberate at 62 possessions per game, so the Horned Frogs will have very small margin of error as they try to get their second league win. Prediction: West Virginia 70, TCU 59.

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The Big 12’s Most Important Transfer? Iowa State’s Jameel McKay

Posted by Chris Stone on January 24th, 2015

The Big 12 began the season with a couple high profile transfers projected to make big impacts on their respective teams. Oklahoma received word that TaShawn Thomas would be immediately eligible, and he has helped the Sooners round out their starting five after leading former team Houston in points and rebounds last season. Fred Hoiberg snagged another potential gem in Bryce Dejean-Jones, a player who led UNLV in scoring a year ago. Hoiberg was also sitting on Marquette transfer Jameel McKay, a 6’9″ forward who played his first two seasons at Indian Hills Community College before committing to the Golden Eagles in 2012. McKay left Marquette without playing a game. That didn’t stop Iowa State from being optimistic about the transfer. “He’s going to impact the game the minute he steps on the floor,” Hoiberg told the Ames Tribune in November, “because he can protect the rim and he can run.”

McKay has helped the Cyclones to a 4-1 Big 12 record. (Andrea Melendez/The Register)

McKay has helped the Cyclones to a 4-1 Big 12 record. (Andrea Melendez/The Register)

After sitting out the first nine games of the season, McKay has made the immediate impact on both ends of the floor that Hoiberg was expecting. Defensively, he is the first true rim-protector that Hoiberg has had in Ames. McKay has blocked 12.4 percent of opponents’ shots when he’s been on the floor, a number that would rank in the top 20 nationally but he doesn’t yet have the minutes to qualify yet. Additionally, despite a step up in competition, the Cyclones are also doing a better job of guarding shots at the rim. According to data from hoop-math.com, opponents’ are shooting 5.7 percent worse on those chances in games that McKay has played.  He’s earned the respect of other coaches in the league as well. “I thought he did a good job of protecting the rim,” Bill Self said in the aftermath of the Jayhawks’ defeat last week. McKay blocked three shots against Kansas.

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Marching to Vegas: On Pace of Play in the Pac

Posted by Adam Butler on January 23rd, 2015

Adam Butler (@pachoopsab) of Pachoops will again be joining us all year, providing us with his weekly take on our favorite conference as we begin the March to Vegas.

Earlier this week, our very own Andrew Murawa wrote thoughtfully and critically of college basketball. BLASPHEMY. But he’s not wrong. He was sure to cite his love of the sport no matter its flaws and I’d like to note a few of the tempo-related items concerning our Pac-12. Historically it’s been a frenetic pace. During a Thursday morning Twitter conversation, I was brought to this 1988 Arizona Wildcats highlight. In it you’ll notice the Wildcats crashing the offensive glass (possessions!) and sprinting out on the break off a turnover (more possessions!). Arizona would win that game, 78-70, a point total far lower than their season average this year. In 1988, Arizona scored 84.8 point per game, 15th-best in the nation. That would be a top-five scoring total in each of the last 14 seasons.

Up-tempo Exciting Basketball Used To Be The Norm In The Pac-12

Uptempo Exciting Basketball Used To Be The Norm In The Pac-12

Of course Total Points isn’t a statistic we love to note. It bypasses many important factors and qualifiers in understanding how the game is played. Unfortunately, tempo isn’t readily available for that historical context. A Google search, however, can easily deliver a handful of articles that articulate the slowing of the game. What I really want to do, though, is look at the history of this conference. One that saw UCLA and Cal split their 1995 series by a cumulative score of 197-188. That’s two games. By comparison, Cal’s 2012 sweep of UCLA looked like this: 132-158. This is anecdotal and perhaps not indicative of the quality of those respective games; however, there’s been a shift to how the game has been played, particularly in our conference. The century mark is a jaw-dropping feat. It used to get me tacos in McKale.

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ACC Stock Watch: 01.23.15 Edition

Posted by Lathan Wells on January 23rd, 2015

Some of the ACC’s squads righted the ship in a relatively quiet week, while still others affirmed their descent to the cellar of the conference standings. With six weeks remaining in the regular season, there is still plenty of time for teams to ascend or plummet, and we’ll continue to track their progress on a week-to-week basis. Below is this week’s ACC Stock Watch.

Trending Up

  • North Carolina. While the Tar Heels’ win over Virginia Tech was less than enthralling, their more impressive road win over a Wake Forest team that was competitive with both Duke and Louisville at home lends credence to the notion that they may be hitting their stride. However, mounting injuries in the backcourt are a concern for Roy Williams.
  • Duke. After the entire college basketball nation wondered what was wrong with the Blue Devils with consecutive losses to NC State and Miami, Duke responded with an impressive road win over Louisville and an easy dismantling of Pittsburgh on Monday night. Coach K may have found some defensive relief with the zone he’s employed much more heavily in the past two contests.
  • Justin Jackson, North Carolina. Jackson’s emergence over the last week has finally given everyone a glimpse into the player he can become: an efficient offensive threat to complement Marcus Paige on the perimeter. In wins over Virginia Tech and Wake Forest this week, he scored 33 points on a combined 11-of-18 shooting (3-of-6 from three).
Justin Jackson continued his impressive stretch for the Tar Heels in a win over Wake Forest (espn.com)

Justin Jackson continued his impressive stretch for the Tar Heels in a win over Wake Forest (espn.com)

  • Tyus Jones, Duke. The Blue Devils’ freshman point guard endured a rough initiation to ACC play but rebounded with two strong efforts this week. His 10-point, eight-assist performance in a hostile environment at Louisville was steady and important, but he really broke out with a 22-point effort against Pittsburgh, including four three-pointers. Jones made his recent freshman jitters appear to be just that, rebounding individually very nicely along with his team.
  • Rakeem Christmas, Syracuse. His week began by being named ACC Player of the Week on January 19 and ended with a demonstration on just how important he is to this Syracuse team. Riddled with foul trouble and available for only 23 minutes, the Orange’s big man still contributed 12 points and seven boards against Boston College. His absence made it possible for the Eagles to hang around in that game, showing once again that Jim Boeheim doesn’t have many options outside of his star center.

Flat

  • Clemson. Holding serve against Syracuse at home was nice, but losing to Florida State was something the Tigers couldn’t afford. Clemson still appears to be a team trending towards the bottom of the standings as its inconsistent offense remains a major issue.
  • Syracuse. 5-1 in the ACC and not trending up? Get back to me when the Orange actually beat a good team. While it was nice that Jim Boeheim’s team held on against Boston College with Rakeem Christmas barely on the floor (see above), this team had better improve dramatically before it enters the final phase of a lopsided schedule (its final seven games include Duke twice, Louisville, Virginia, and Notre Dame). Having one of the least productive benches in the country doesn’t bode well for the Orange’s NCAA Tourney chances.

Trending Down

  • Louisville. Perhaps the loss to Duke wasn’t unexpected with the Blue Devils coming off of consecutive defeats, but the Cardinals’ continued offensive struggles is a major concern. They’re still only shooting 42.7 percent as a team, and Rick Pitino can’t seem to find consistent shot-making from Chris Jones or Wayne Blackshear. Their admittedly outstanding defense can only carry them so far in a conference this loaded with offensive talent.
There are suddenly serious questions marks about Montrezl Harrell and the Cardinals (credit: adam creech)

There are suddenly serious questions marks about Montrezl Harrell and the Cardinals (credit: adam creech)

  • Virginia Tech. The Hokies’ 8-10 overall record and 0-5 ACC start aren’t a surprise, but with the recent announcement that leading rebounder Joey Van Zegeren is leaving the team, their outlook for the remainder of the season became even more bleak. The notion was that Buzz Williams could perhaps coax some surprises out of this roster, but that doesn’t appear to be the case.
  • Georgia Tech. Now 0-6 in the ACC. And yes, Virginia is a great team, but scoring a mere 28 points for an entire game (12 in the second half)? Brian Gregory’s team may not be able to recover from such an awful start to the conference season. The Yellow Jackets are at or near the bottom in the ACC in both scoring and stopping their opponents from doing so. That translates to 0-6.
  • Montrezl Harrell, Louisville. As we noted last week, it’s not just that his shots and productivity are down; but now the junior has been stripped of his captaincy by Rick Pitino (later clarified, to some extent, by Pitino on his radio show). Even if this maneuver was a mutual decision or some kind of motivational ploy, it’s not a good sign for the Cardinals if their star needs to tone down his act. Coupled with his earlier suspension for throwing an elbow, Harrell is on the precipice of becoming a bit of a malcontent to the detriment of his team’s success.
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SEC Stock Watch: 01.23.15 Edition

Posted by David Changas on January 23rd, 2015

We are now nearly one-third of the way through SEC play, and it’s time to take our weekly look at which teams, players and trends are heading in the right direction, who isn’t going anywhere, and who needs to turn things around. This is the SEC Stock Watch.

Trending Up

  • Rick Ray. Last week, the Mississippi State coach looked to be well on his way to the unemployment line. A home win over Vanderbilt and a road win at Auburn — the Bulldogs’ first in their last 22 tries — have changed that momentum, however, and Ray’s program may finally have something cooking. Whether his squad can keep things heading in the right direction remains to be seen, as Mississippi State faces several of the league’s most capable teams over the next few weeks.
The emergence of Armani Moore is a big reason for Tennessee's success (sportsanimal99.com)

The emergence of Armani Moore is a big reason for Tennessee’s success (sportsanimal99.com)

  • Tennessee. Prior to the season, Donnie Tyndall’s squad was picked to finish 13th in the league by the media. The Tennessee coach guaranteed that would not happen, and so far, his prediction looks pretty good. The Volunteers have won their first three road games for the first time in six years, and play three of their next four contests at home. They sit alone in second place at 4-1 and could be 7-2 in league play before embarking upon a brutal second half of the SEC schedule.
  • Devin Booker’s shooting. The one real criticism leveled against Kentucky this season has been its relative inability to consistently knock down outside shots. Booker has silenced a lot of that yammering by shooting a robust 11-of-18 from beyond the arc in league play. The freshman’s keen ability to make long-range shots opens up the Wildcats’ dominant inside game, and makes John Calipari’s team even more lethal than it already was.
  • Georgia. The Bulldogs finally appear to be headed in the right direction, playing like a team many thought could make the NCAA Tournament. After an 0-2 start in which they blew large leads, Mark Fox’s team has now won three in a row and faces three more winnable games before a trip to Lexington on February 3. There is no good reason why Georgia can’t separate itself as the second-best team in the SEC in coming weeks.

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What Happened to the ACC’s Preseason All-Americans?

Posted by Brett Thompson on January 23rd, 2015

On Tuesday, Louisville head coach Rick Pitino told the Louisville Courier-Journal that he had stripped junior star Montrezl Harrell of the Cardinals’ team captaincy. While Pitino claims that the decision was “no big deal,” it is yet another disappointment from one of the ACC’s two preseason AP All-Americans. Statistically speaking, Harrell has not regressed from his sophomore season, but he hasn’t really improved all that much either. His scoring is up about a point per game (14.0 to 14.9 PPG) and he is grabbing nearly an extra rebound per game (8.4 to 9.2 RPG), but while the junior shot the ball more efficiently last year, his level of impact looks and feels about the same. Still, Harrell turned down NBA Draft riches to return to Louisville, and expectations were that he would develop into elite impact territory. Perhaps the most concerning aspect of Harrell’s season has been his play against good competition; in Louisville’s three losses to Kentucky, North Carolina and Duke, Harrell scored nine, nine and 10 points, respectively — shooting 12-of-29 from the field in those games. With so much of the Cardinals’ offense dependent on him for success, it’s no surprise that Louisville lost each of those contests.

UofL and Cincinnati split two games in their final season in the same league (Jamie Rhodes / USA TODAY Sports)

Montrezl Harrell hasn’t been the superstar Louisville hoped for this season. (Jamie Rhodes / USA TODAY Sports)

Harrell isn’t the only preseason All-American from the ACC who has been underwhelming this season. North Carolina guard Marcus Paige entered the year as the highest vote-getter in preseason All-America polls, returning to Chapel Hill following a stellar sophomore campaign in which he had often carried the Tar Heels offensively. Expectations were certainly very high for his junior campaign. Paige limped out to a slow start, shooting only 35 percent in North Carolina’s first four games, including an unlikely loss to Butler. And like Harrell, Paige’s statistics in the Tar Heels’ four losses tell the story: 15.0 points per game on 33 percent shooting. To his credit, Paige has been dealing with plantar fasciitis, and he may be turning the corner in conference play given his “clutch gene” play against Louisville and a 23-point, nine-assist outing at N.C. State. Still, Paige needs to find better consistency and efficiency to support his candidacy for any postseason award.

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How Can Saint Mary’s Beat Gonzaga?

Posted by Andrew Murawa (@AMurawa) on January 22nd, 2015

According to Ken Pomeroy’s latest prognostications, Gonzaga is better than a 90 percent favorite in 10 of its 12 remaining games. The two games in which that is not the case come in late February when the Bulldogs travel to Saint Mary’s (February 21) and when they host BYU in the final game of the regular season (February 28). Tonight, Saint Mary’s gets its first crack at the Zags and, despite being a 15-point Vegas underdog and the Gaels having just an eight percent chance of winning this game, this is a match-up between teams that are a combined 14-0 in West Coast Conference play. Furthermore, the Gaels have been the only team in recent history to seriously and regularly challenge the Bulldogs’ spot atop the conference. Still, the Bulldogs have won all six games in this series in the past two seasons, and in several cases, decisively. So, the question becomes: What can Saint Mary’s do to beat Gonzaga?

Brad Waldow Will Need To Shine Against The Big Gonzaga Front Line (Getty Images)

Brad Waldow Will Need To Shine Against The Big Gonzaga Front Line (Getty Images)

As those Pomeroy odds indicate, the Gaels’ actual chances in tonight’s game are not strong. We could point out several minor data points – like the fact that the Zags won at Pepperdine by only two points while the Gaels won by nine there; or those unblemished conference records – to convince ourselves that this game of WCC titans is bound to be a battle. But the fact is that there isn’t a lot on St. Mary’s resume this season to suggest that it’s got the horses to win in Spokane tonight. The Gaels beat BYU on Saturday night in what easily represents their best win of the season, with wins over Pepperdine, UC Irvine and a fading Creighton team really the only other things of substance (note: “substance” used with great looseness here). But more than anything else, the Gaels have winning experience going for them. Of their seven players who factor most significantly into their rotation, they’ve got five seniors – four of those who have spent time at other schools before landing in Moraga. All of these guys have played plenty of road games against elite teams and rivals many times before, so when they roll into The Kennel tonight, they won’t be scared.

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A Column of Enchantment: On Charter Planes, Losers & Bill Self Crazy Like a Walrus

Posted by Joseph Nardone on January 22nd, 2015

This past week was a good one in the world of college basketball. We had things ranging from last second shot attempts to schools imposing some “stiff” penalties on their own beings to finding out that the NCAA is incapable of properly booking flights. All in all, really, just some good ole fun courtesy of some unpaid labor doing terrific things and people who keep the unpaid labor from being paid being about as smart as a bag of rocks. Good times.

Obligatory. (USA Today Images)

Obligatory. (USA Today Images)

Those types of things are not trends, however. Rather, they are themes that seem to keep happening and happening. If this were the world of pro wrestling, it would be like fans who are all upset because John Cena has never left the title picture despite the odds always being stacked against him. Weird analogy, I know, but it truly seems like any person with any sort of resemblance to power in college basketball is doing the same thing over and over, none of them being that swell or beneficial to anyone but people in other power positions, yet there is nothing we can do about it because, well, the Sam Cassell Jr. if I know.

Arm-drag.

———

Holy charter planes, Batman! Reports have come out that teams may have to pack for an extra day when the NCAA Tournament begins. While it would be a lot funnier if this was because Mark Emmert didn’t know how to properly use Expedia, it is essentially as simple as there being more men’s and women’s teams traveling too near the same time as there will be a proper number of charter planes. So, yeah, some kids will have to stay a full extra day after they are eliminated from the Big Dance.

Never mind the fact, though, that these kids should have never been rushed to go back to school, home or wherever it is they go back to, to begin with. I was never comfortable with the NCAA using them for a single night, only to shuffle them away as quickly as possible. Like college football bowls, first dates and encounters with aliens from outer space, the NCAA Tournament should feel like an experience for these kids — not just a business trip. You know, because it isn’t a business, right Mark Emmert?

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Inside the ACC Numbers: Volume I

Posted by Brad Jenkins (@bradjenk) on January 22nd, 2015

With approximately three weeks of conference play now in the books, it’s time to take a closer look at the ACC season. This is the first edition of a weekly look at the current ACC standings and team performances, focusing on which teams are playing better or worse than their records may indicate. We will also delve into some advanced metrics to find a few interesting team or player stats and trends. Finally, we will forecast how the final standings may look, and what that means for ACC schools’ postseason aspirations.

Note: All numbers are current for games played through Tuesday, January 20th.

Current Standings

Jan21ACCPPP

It’s no revelation that Tony Bennett’s Virginia team has been the best team in the league to date, holding a larger points per possession (PPP) margin over second place North Carolina than the Tar Heels have over the sixth-best team, Louisville. And the Cavaliers are doing it at both ends of the floor, leading the league in offensive and defensive efficiency. It’s hard to understand why many of the experts only seem to talk about Virginia’s defense — which is great by the way — seemingly blinded by the fact the this is an equally outstanding offensive team as well. Not just “also pretty good,” but… “Outstanding!” Syracuse fans should probably be hesitant based on the discrepancy between the Orange’s gaudy 5-1 ACC record and their possession-based performance. Note that they have benefited from playing the least challenging conference schedule thus far, facing six teams that populate the bottom of the standings. Eventually the ACC heavyweights will show up on the docket, and that record is likely to backslide. Georgia Tech’s situation — dead last in the standings, but eighth in PPP — is what happens when the Jackets lose games by margins of one, three, five, seven and seven points. Pittsburgh may be in a similar spot as its former Big East rival from upstate New York, sporting a fortunate .500 record given their easy schedule.

Advanced Stat of the Week: North Carolina’s Rebounding (Both)

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A Swing Around the Pac-12 After Five Games

Posted by Andrew Murawa on January 21st, 2015

Just a collection of thoughts, compiled over the course of the past two weekends of Pac-12 play.

Arizona – This Utah game actually set up really nicely for the Wildcats. Utah was on a roll and feeling invincible despite the fact that it hadn’t beaten a good team since early December. Arizona, meanwhile, had plenty to prove amid accusations of selfishness and overratedness. The ‘Cats weathered the storm early, rode T.J. McConnell while settling in, and then turned on the juice in the second half. But, really, there are two big takeaways from this game. First, my impression all year long was that this vintage of the Wildcats does not have the high-end defensive ceiling that last year’s team had. And then, I look up on January 17 and they’ve got basically the same defensive efficiency numbers as they had last season and just finished a game where they completely shut down everything Utah wanted to do. This squad still needs to prove an ability to bring that intensity on a regular basis, but they absolutely have the ability to be just about as good defensively as last year’s team (although I still have a concern that they don’t have the type of individual stoppers that they had in Nick Johnson and Aaron Gordon). Offensively, my eyes tell me this team has some problems in the half-court and that, while Stanley Johnson is clearly the team’s most talented player, Sean Miller has yet to figure out a good way to find shots for him. Then I look at the stats and I see that this team is pretty much the same offensively as last year’s group, getting similar percentages of shots from all three ranges on offense. And the best part? They’re still feeling their way around. Make no mistake, Arizona in mid-January is still a top 10 team — maybe top five — and the exciting part is that the Wildcats have enough upside that they could be significantly better by March.

With Stanley Johnson Just Beginning To Reach His Potential, Arizona's Upside Is Staggering (Rick Scuteri, AP Photo)

With Stanley Johnson Just Beginning To Reach His Potential, Arizona’s Upside Is Staggering. (Rick Scuteri, AP Photo)

Utah – The Utes lost. Bury ‘em, right? Not so fast, but we do need to have a talk about a couple of players in particular. First Jordan Loveridge, the team’s junior power small forward. What’s to complain about? In the five Pac-12 games since he returned from injury, he’s averaging better than 10 points per game and shooting at a 54.2% eFG rate, knocking in 11-of-24 shots from deep. In that same time frame, he’s taken twice as many shots from behind the arc as he has from inside; he’s attempting free throws at about a third of the rate of his field goal attempts; and he’s grabbing a rebound about every five minutes. In short, Loveridge has gone from being one of the more promising interior players in the conference to a three-point shooting specialist. That’s about all he does anymore. I understand that at 6’6” his upside at the four is limited, and if he is ever going to play in the NBA, it will be at the three. But this is college ball. And while his ability to hit the three and pull bigs away from the hoop is a useful skill, it’s only a fraction of what Loveridge could be doing for this team. For what it’s worth, I promise that this is the last time I will rip a guy with an offensive rating of 115.0 and a three-point percentage of 47.5 percent. The other guy I want to touch on briefly is Jakob Poeltl. We still like him as a player: like his skills; like his effort; like his upside. And sure, NBA scouts love him. But he really needs a lot of work, especially in the weight room. He got pushed around by the Wildcats all night long on Saturday. And if you go back and look at the results, anytime he has gone up against long interior players (San Diego State, Kansas, UNLV, Colorado, Arizona, even BYU), he has struggled. You can’t really throw the ball into him in the post because he doesn’t know what to do with it yet, so you have to rely on him to get his own miss off the glass if he’s going to have any offensive impact, and he’s not strong enough to do that on a regular basis. He’s still an important part of this Utah team, but his major leap forward probably won’t come until next year, at which time he should hopefully still be in college. Read the rest of this entry »

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Handicapping the Wooden Award Finalists

Posted by Bennet Hayes on January 21st, 2015

The Wooden Award released its midseason top 25 list last week. College basketball’s top individual honor will likely go to a player named on that list, but there’s still time for others (attention: Wichita State’s Fred VanVleet, Virginia’s Malcolm Brogdon and Syracuse’s Rakeem Christmas) to work their way into the picture. However, it’s also true that the field of real contenders for the award is thinning as we near February and March. RTC handicaps the race for the Wooden…

Jahlil Okafor, Duke. Odds To Win = 3/2.

Any national Player of the Year discussion must begin with Duke’s freshman sensation. Okafor’s averages of 18.6 points, 8.9 rebounds and 1.6 blocks per game begin to explain his value to the Blue Devils, but the impact of his presence runs much deeper than that. His steadiness (double-figure points in every game this season) has stabilized a Duke attack that was far more reliant on the three-point shot a season ago, while his unselfishness has helped the Duke guards find space on the perimeter. The presumptive top pick in next June’s NBA Draft has looked like the best player in college basketball from opening night, but an April coronation as the National Player of the Year will surely depend on Duke’s success. Balance has fueled the rise of other national title contenders (Kentucky and Virginia most notable among them), but there is no question that Okafor will continue to lead the Duke charge. Pole position has been well-earned: This is Okafor’s award to lose.

At The Midway Point Of The Season, Duke Freshman Jahlil Okafor Is The Frontrunner To Win The Wooden Award. (Photo Credit: Getty Images)

At The Midway Point Of The Season, Duke Freshman Jahlil Okafor Is The Frontrunner To Win The Wooden Award. (Getty)

Frank Kaminsky, Wisconsin. Odds To Win = 5/2.

Kaminsky nabbed the national spotlight last March with a show-stopping regional final performance against Arizona. He has not given it up since. ‘Frank the Tank’ is grabbing more rebounds (8.2 RPG this season), blocking more shots (1.8 BPG) and even handing out more assists (2.4 APG) than he did a year ago. The Wisconsin center has been outstanding all season, but his value to the Badgers may have been best exhibited in a 40 minute stint on the bench. As their star sat out with a concussion on January 11, Wisconsin fell to Rutgers in one of the most shocking results of the season. The loss showed just how important the versatile center has become for Bo Ryan’s team. A balanced Badgers’ lineup may pose some threat to Kaminsky’s Wooden Award chances, but that surrounding talent is also what’s made the his team legitimate national title contenders. And as Wisconsin chases that elusive championship, its versatile big man is making a serious push for the most prestigious of individual accolades.

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