En route to the National Championship last season, Villanova went 13-0 in games in which the Wildcats shot fewer than 20 three-point field goal attempts. In fact, in four of the five times Villanova lost a game last season, they shot more than 25 three-pointers (going 13-4 in those games). Yes, an undersized team playing a 4-Out Offense with a huge focus on guard play actually played its best ball when it limited its overall number of long-range shots.
Villanova Scores on Shots of the Non-Three Point Variety? Who Knew? (USA Today Images)
A deeper dive into Villanova’s three-point offense last season reveals that Jay Wright’s squad underwent a dramatic shift in philosophy when Big East play began — a shift that continued all the way through six games of the NCAA Tournament. The Wildcats won 14 of their first 15 conference games by shooting no more than 25 three-pointers only twice during that run (31 in a loss at Providence and 29 in a win against Creighton). At some point, it seemed to click that simply firing three-pointers isn’t the formula for success; rather, creating more-efficient, high-percentage, uncontested perimeter shots is where Wright wanted his team. The Wildcats finished the season eighth in the nation in effective field goal percentage (eFG%) at a very healthy 56.1 percent. This focus on good shot-taking (and making) translated into a championship run. Look at Villanova’s total number of three-point attempts in its six NCAA Tournament victories: 28 (vs. UNC-Asheville), 10 (Iowa), 15 (Miami), 18 (Kansas), 18 (Oklahoma) and 14 (North Carolina), for an average of 17.2 attempts per game.
The Big East microsite will be rolling out previews on all 10 teams this week, sorted into three tiers. Today we review the projected top tier of teams — Creighton, Xavier and Villanova. RTC’s bottom and middle tier previews were published earlier this week.
Maurice Watson Jr leads a Creighton team poised to make some noise. (AP)
Since joining the Big East, Creighton has mainly been on the outside looking in. Yes, the Bluejays’ first year in the league was great with NPOY Doug McDermott leading the way, but Creighton has yet to be the same since he departed Omaha. That’s bound to change soon as the Bluejays are poised to return to the NCAA Tournament for the first time since the 2013-14 season. They’ll do so behind the play of point guard Maurice Watson, Jr. Not only is Watson a very good scorer, averaging a team-high 14.4 points per game last season, but he’s also a tremendous distributor. His 6.5 assists per game led the Big East and represented the 12th-highest assist rate (38.8%) in college basketball. Teammates flourish off of Watson’s setups.
Unlike those McDermott teams, last year’s Creighton squad excelled at scoring inside. The Bluejays sported the 14th best two-point shooting percentage (54.5%) in America, but fell around the middle of the pack in shooting from three-point range (35.5%). Creighton hopes to improve on its perimeter shooting weakness with the eligibility of Kansas State transfer Marcus Foster and freshman Davion Mintz. Foster in particular hopes to replicate the success he had during an all-Big 12 freshman year when he made nearly 40 percent of his three-point shots. Aside from the issue with perimeter shooting, the Bluejays also need to replace highly efficient center Geoffrey Groselle, a big man who averaged 11.2 points and 6.1 rebounds per game last season while shooting at a 70 percent clip. Creighton recruited a four-star forward in Justin Patton, who is likely to be tested early as Toby Hegner nurses an injury that will sideline him for the beginning of the season. Can head coach Greg McDermott make the new pieces jibe?
Villanova is #1 in the AP Poll for the first time in school history. At no point in the successful tenure of Jay Wright or even back to the Rollie Massimino era have the Wildcats reached this kind of regular season heights. But Nova Nation shouldn’t be celebrating just yet. Since its magical run to the national championship in 1985, Villanova has spent time among the top 10 of the AP Poll in nine different seasons but only advanced as far as the Elite Eight twice in that span. In this year of nationwide parity, every fan base worries that it will be their team that will be an early upset victim in March, but that’s a feeling already well-engrained among Villanova faithful.
Josh Hart And Villanova Have It Rolling In Philadelphia (Photo: Getty)
Even as the Wildcats have steadily climbed the rankings this season, fans had reasons to be wary. This is, after all, a team with an eight-man rotation that prominently features two freshmen and a sophomore. It is also a team that scores more than a third of its points from beyond the three-point arc, but ranks among the 100 worst three-point shooting teams in the country by percentage (32.9%). Cold shooting nights – the fear of any jump-shooting squad — have proven to be Villanova’s kryptonite, as it has shot a paltry 22-of-80 (27.5%) from long range in their three losses this season. When the cornerstone of its frontcourt, Daniel Ochefu, missed several games with a concussion, it seemed like Jay Wright’s team might have yet another issue to contend with.
To a casual fan, Villanova’s woes appear painfully obvious: The Wildcats are shooting — and missing — too many threes. But approach the issue at the next level and shooting isn’t the problem as much as the quick tempo it produces. Jay Wright’s most successful teams have thrived by forcing turnovers and attacking with a well-balanced offense. In recent years, however, its healthy ratio between points in the paint and from three has faltered, with the Wildcats becoming increasingly dependent on perimeter shooting. The numbers show that Villanova has shot over 40 percent of its field goal attempts from long range over the last three seasons and that share has gotten frighteningly close to half of all of its shots (48.3%) this year. As a result, the team’s overall accuracy (32%) has experienced a sharp dip (from 39 percent a year ago to 32 percent this season). We should expect Villanova’s outside shooting to revert to the mean somewhat, but all signs so far suggest that this year’s squad performs best in a low-possession game in which its offense finds greater balance beyond such voluminous use of the three-point shot.
In somewhat of a surprise, Jay Wright’s crew has been more efficient when they have limited their possessions per game. (H. Rumph Jr./AP)
On one hand, Villanova currently leads the country in two-point shooting percentage at 63.1 percent. This is largely a testament to the skill sets of its personnel: Jalen Brunson and Josh Hart are excellent at getting to the rim; Ryan Arcidiacono and Kris Jenkins are strong mid-range shooters. Despite the team’s relative struggles from beyond the arc this season, opponents still have to respect its shooting pedigree and volume, which opens their driving lanes. As a result, Villanova has proven capable of getting into the lane and scoring. Still, the Wildcats haven’t taken enough of those high-percentage shots, instead often passing it back out to the perimeter in search of an extra point. Despite Villanova’s exceptional 72.1 percent shooting at the rim (ninth nationally), these looks represent fewer than a third (32.4%) of the team’s total shot attempts (273rd in the nation). This aversion to attacking the rim is also revealed by the team’s free throw rate, in which Villanova ranks 314th this season after finishing among the top 100 in each of the last seven years. Needless to say, this squad’s large number of three-point attempts is hurting its offensive efficiency in a number of ways, some more notable than others. Read the rest of this entry »
Jim Boeheim finally heard from the NCAA in his appeal of his nine-game suspension that was supposed to coincide with the start of NCAA play. Unfortunately for Boeheim, it was not the ruling he wanted as the NCAA decided to start the suspension immediately with the Syracuse‘s next game, which is against Georgetown on Saturday. Boeheim will still miss the same number of games, but will only miss three ACC games. Boeheim is also not allowed to have any contact with his players during that time. Many pundits have chimed in claiming that it is unfair of the NCAA to wait so long to make a decision that begins so quickly. We can agree with that to a degree, but as usual we tend to side with Luke Winn on his thoughts about Boeheim and the reaction to the NCAA’s decision.
BYU freshman Nick Emery has been suspended for one game for punching Utah’s Brandon Taylor late in their game on Wednesday. For his part, Emery apologized to Taylor and basically everybody else in attendance. The one-game suspension is an automatic suspension by the NCAA and the West Coast Conference issued a statement calling it “unacceptable”. Interestingly, BYU has not issued a comment on the matter and Emery will not face any additional punishment from the school (apparently, punching your opponent isn’t a violation of the Honor Code).
Stephen Curry may be putting together one of the greatest offensive seasons we have ever seen in the NBA and he is the most famous person ever to go to Davidson (ok, he’s probably the only reason most of the country has even heard of Davidson), but that doesn’t mean the school is going to break its rules for him. To be honest, we weren’t even aware that Davidson had not retired Curry’s jersey yet (they probably could have done it after he led them to the Elite 8 his sophomore year and before he returned for his junior year), but the school has a policy that it only retires the jerseys of players who have graduated (Curry says he will eventually go back and get it). While we applaud Davidson for sticking by this (something other more prominent programs in the state did away with years ago), we have to wonder how long they will wait if Curry doesn’t go back and get his degree.
For a program that has been so successful over the past few years Villanova tends to fly under the radar. This year is no different as despite their high rankings in the polls we don’t see them on TV that much as the featured game of the night. So there is a chance you might not have seen (or possibly even heard) of Jalen Brunson yet despite the fact that he was one of the top recruits in the class of 2015. Lee Jenkins has an excellent piece about Brunson and how his father’s career and the struggles he had helped shape Jalen into the player he is today. It’s well worth your time even if you don’t see Brunson play much during the regular season because you could be seeing a lot of him in March.
We usually don’t touch on media matters here in the Morning Five outside of TV contracts and things like that, but we thought Ed Sherman’s article on the changing landscape of media access to be fairly interesting. The concept/complaint is not particularly new and it is part of the reason that you won’t find as many in-depth pieces as you used to see (also a reflection of the desire of the public to read short pieces instead of more intricate stories). Sherman focuses on college football, but we are sure the issues are the same in college basketball. One of the things that Sherman doesn’t talk about, but is worth mentioning is that many schools are trying to brand themselves as media entities and control the message and the way their student-athletes and program is presented to the public.
Posted by Joe Dzuback (@vbtnblog) on November 30th, 2015
Rankings come in two varieties, those based on statistical metrics (e.g., the RPI, KenPom, Sagarin and Massey ratings systems) and those based on individual votes (e.g., the RTC, AP and USA Today/Coaches polls). Changes in specific rankings tend to follow certain patterns — the “numbers” rankings do not tend to change all that much with a single win or loss; the human polls tend to change weekly as a reflection of the voters’ reactions to the latest batch of wins and losses. This season’s plethora of upsets has already introduced an element of chaos to the rankings and each type of system has responded in ways that break with their historic patterns for dealing with upsets and overlooked teams.
Jay Wright and Villanova have been on point. (Getty)
The metrics-based systems have shuffled their top 10 to 25 teams radically, while the polling systems have resisted a common tendency to drop teams that lose below those that remain undefeated. Villanova’s treatment by each system can be viewed as this season’s Exhibit A. Both systems were consistent in the preseason on where Jay Wright’s Wildcats belonged. KenPom (which ranked his team around #11) as well as the AP and the USA Today/Coaches polls (#11 and #9, respectively) agreed that Villanova was very good but not among the elite handful of teams that the Selection Committee rewarded with top-two seeds during the last two NCAA Tournaments. Through the first two weeks of the season, however, the two ratings systems have diverged greatly on this squad. As of today, the trio of KenPom (#2), Sagarin (#1) and Massey (#4) all agree that Villanova is the working equivalent of a #1 seed, but the humans voting in the polls largely remain skeptical. The AP has moved Villanova up only three spots from preseason #11 to #8, while the USA Today/Coaches have kept the Wildcats in limbo at #9. Only RTC, which moved Villanova up five spots to #5 in its latest poll, seems to feel a promotion has been earned. Read the rest of this entry »
With the season tipping off on Friday, there’s no better time to roll out our the RTC Preseason All-America Teams. More than anything, these three groups of outstanding players are here to foster and encourage discussion over the next four months. Our crack panel of seven national columnists provided ballots over the last week and this is where we ended up.
First Team All-Americans
Kris Dunn, Providence (UNANIMOUS) – Dunn enters his junior season after a finally healthy campaign where he averaged 15.6 points and 7.5 assists per game in leading Providence to its second straight NCAA Tournament. While his numbers show he is a triple-double threat every night, he needs to be watched in order to understand just how good he is. He ranked first in the country last season with a 50.0 percent assist rate; he was named co-Big East Defensive Player of the Year; and he recorded a steal once every 20 defensive possessions for the Friars. The quintessential floor leader does it all for his team and he does it at an awe-inspiring level. Factoid: The television show “Friends” may have aired its last episode in 2004, but that has not stopped Dunn from apparently becoming an avid fan of the series. Could we see the likes of Matthew Perry and David Schwimmer show up at Dunkin’ Donuts Center to root Dunn’s team on before season’s end?
Melo Trimble, Maryland – Maryland was quite successful in its inaugural Big Ten season as the team advanced to its first NCAA Tournament since 2010. Those Terrapins were unquestionably led by senior guard Dez Wells, but now that he has graduated, Trimble will take over as the team’s heart and soul. The sophomore guard turned in a highly impressive freshman season where he averaged 16.2 points per game and shot a respectable 41.2 percent from behind the three-point line. Expectations are high this season in College Park, and Trimble will be a big reason why if Maryland ultimately meets its goals. Factoid: Trimble spent a portion of last summer playing for Team USA at the Pan American Games. At 20 years old, he was the youngest player selected to the squad by Gonzaga coach Mark Few.
Ben Simmons, LSU (UNANIMOUS) – The 2015 Gatorade National Player of the Year arrives in Baton Rouge accompanied by a great deal of hype. When looking at the freshman’s prep statistics, it’s easy to understand why expectations surrounding him are so high. In 29 regular season games as a senior, he averaged 28.0 points, 11.9 rebounds, 4.0 assists, and 2.6 steals per game while shooting 70.7 percent from the field and collecting 24 double-doubles. Factoid:Former LSU great Shaquille O’Neal called Simmons “the best player in the world” when he introduced the prep star to his many Instagram followers last November.
Kyle Wiltjer, Gonzaga – Wiltjer returns to the fold at Gonzaga after a junior season where he averaged 16.8 points and 6.2 rebounds per game on his way to becoming a consensus second-team All-American. At 6’10”, Wiltjer’s long-range shooting makes him a nightmarish match-up for Zags’ opponents — he shot a sizzling 54 percent from the field and 46.6 percent from behind the three-point line a season ago. Factoid: When Wiltjer arrived in Spokane following his transfer from Kentucky, Wildcats head coach John Calipari called Gonzaga coach Mark Few and told him how good of a post scorer Wiltjer can be, even though he never really had a chance to show that part of his game in Lexington.
It has been quite a while since we did our regular Morning 5s for a variety of reason (work, life, etc), but we’re back now and will be doing these more regularly. We won’t be posting these daily until the start of the season at earliest, but we will probably be posting once or twice weekly depending on how much news is out there. We won’t be going over all the news that happened since the last time we did one of these because that would be a 10,000-word post and that is only if we kept it brief.
Lost in the hysteria around the Women’s World Cup title was the fact that the US also won another significant world title on Sunday: the FIBA Under-19 championship. While their win over Croatia wasn’t the prettiest thing you will ever see, it was nice to see some of our top prospects play together against high-level competition. There are a ton of places we could point you recap the action and highlight the guys you should be keeping an eye on, but we will just direct you to a pair of excellent columns from Luke Winn and Jon Givony. Winn’s column is a sweeping overview of Team USA with particular attention to Jalen Brunson (going to Villanova) and Harry Giles (a rising high school senior who is the projected #1 pick in the 2017 NBA Draft). Givony is still putting together his review posts, but his look at the top five point guards is informative and helps you look outside of Team USA, which is important because many of these international players will end up playing college basketball. We expect that Givony will review the other positions in the coming days so watch out for those.
Having a top-tier player decide to transfer is not shocking in the current era, but when that player announces his intent on July 7–like Austin Nichols did yesterday–it certainly catches your attention. The rising junior forward, who averaged 13.3 points and 6.1 rebounds per game last year, informed Josh Pastner of his decision last week, but did not publicly reveal his decision until yesterday afternoon when he announced his intendt to transfer from Memphis. Pastner, who says he was caught off-guard by the decision, has stated he will not release Nichols for his transfer. While most people will be quick to criticize Pastner and his staff for not granting Nichols a release, the timing of this announcement is at just about the worst possible time for Memphis since every high-level recruit and transfer for the upcoming season has already committed to play elsewhere. In the end, we suspect that Nichols will get his release, but that may depend on what we find out about why Nichols decided to transfer in early July. As for Pastner, Nichols will be the seventh player to transfer from the program since last year. Given how underwhelming the program has been during his time there, we are not sure how much longer he will last in Memphis.
Coming into this season, Eron Harris was expected to play a big part in Michigan State‘s attempt to make another run to the Final Four, but that may be in jeopardy as the junior transfer was arrested early on July 1 for driving while intoxicated leading Tom Izzo to suspend him indefinitely. Harris, who averaged 17.2 points per game as a sophomore at West Virginia in the 2013-14 season, sat out last season as one of the few transfers in the country who did not qualify for a transfer waiver. Harris will be arraigned on July 17 and faxes a maximum of 93 days in jail and a $500 fine. Given what we have seen in these case we doubt that Harris will spend any time in jail. At most he might get a suspended sentence or do some community service and then it will be up to Izzo to decide how much time Harris will have to miss.
We will admit that we don’t pay that much attention to high school prospects until they are seniors and even then it is mostly around the time that high school All-American teams are announced that we start to recognize names. So when we saw posts on Twitter about how Florida State had landed a 5-star recruit, we initially assumed it was for football because even with their surprising incoming freshmen class the Seminoles have never been considered a threat for top basketball recruits. That was not the case with 6’9″ forward Jonathan Isaac, who climbed up the rankings rapidly in 2015, as the rising senior announced that he was committing to FSU. The decision took some by surprise particularly since Isaac had previously stated he was considering 12 schools including Kentucky and LSU (we know it seems weird to mention them, but with their incoming class they deserve it). In the end, it appears that FSU’s early pursuit of Issac–they had been recruiting him for two years even when he was less highly touted–paid off. Of course, there is still quite a bit of time before Isaac would start playing in Tallahassee so we wouldn’t write this one in pen just yet.
The NCAA released its annual attendance report earlier this week and while the figures aren’t exactly shocking they are worth looking at for some interesting trends. You can read plenty of articles or tweets about how you can play with the numbers in the NCAA report, but attendance was basically steady (up or down a little bit depending on how you calculate it). Syracuse repeated as the leaders in home attendance narrowly edging Kentucky for the second year in a row in that category after Kentucky had finished first 17 of the previous 18 years. While that is particularly impressive for Syracuse with a mediocre team that self-imposed a NCAA Tournament ban, it is worth noting that the Carrier Dome has the capacity for more than 10,000 more fans than Rupp Arena can seat and if they built 10,000 more seats in Rupp they would have been filled for Kentucky this past season. Although Kentucky was not able to overcome its seating disadvantage in that category, Big Blue Nation came through giving the Wildcats a decisive edge in overall attendance (home and away). It is worth noting that Duke would have been much closer to Kentucky in that category (Wisconsin came in second) if they did not have their own home seating disadvantage with almost 13,000 fewer seats for home games. Duke will just have to comfort itself with taking home the national title.
Seven Sweet Scoops is a weekly column by Sean Moran, the RTC recruiting guru. Once a week he will bring you seven notes from the high-stakes world of college basketball recruiting. We also encourage you to check out his contributions at The Intentional Foul, dedicated to recruiting coverage and analysis. You can also follow Sean at his Twitter account @Seanmohoops for up-to-date news from the high school and college hoops scene. If you have any suggestions as to areas we are missing or different things you would like to see, please let us know at firstname.lastname@example.org.
1. Duke Attracts Five-Star Recruits For Rivalry Game
It was a great last Wednesday night in Durham. Not only did Duke notch a thrilling comeback victory against their Tobacco Road neighbors from Chapel Hill, but it also did so in front of a few high-profile recruits from the classes of 2015 and 2016. From this year’s senior class, five-star senior power forward Caleb Swanigan (No. 11) was in Cameron Indoor Stadium on an official visit along with Luke Kennard, a five-star shooting guard who has already committed to the Blue Devils. Last week we touched on some of the schools interested in the 6’8” Swanigan, but since then the Indiana native has taken in Purdue’s victory over Nebraska in addition to the UNC game. The Duke coaching staff is looking to add another big man to the mix to replace the expected loss of freshman superstar Jahlil Okafor. So far Duke has 6’10” Chase Jeter, a five-star power forward, locked up in addition to Rice transfer Sean Obi, who is currently redshirting after averaging 11.4 points and 9.3 rebounds per game at Rice. In addition to Swanigan and Kennard, the Blue Devils also hosted Harry Giles, the No. 1 prospect in the junior class, as well as the top two point guards in the junior class in Derryck Thornton (No. 5 – 2016) and Dennis Smith (No. 6 – 2016). Giles and Smith are both local North Carolina products and have offers from both Duke and UNC in hand. Giles noted, “I’ve been to every Duke and UNC game at both places, and this was the craziest and best game,” he said. “I plan on attending the March 7th game at UNC, too.” It could have turned out to be a somber ending for Duke and its prized recruits in attendance, but instead they were treated to another Duke home win and a raucous celebration.
2. Derryck Thornton and Reclassification
While senior Caleb Swanigan was taking his official visit to Duke, junior point guard Derryck Thornton was making an unofficial visit all the way from Nevada. After the game, ESPN’s recruiting staff caught up with the two propsects with the most noticeable quote coming from Thornton. “They want to know if I would consider going to the class of 2015 because Tyus Jones could be leaving,” he said. “I believe I could take that step both academically and on the court. It’s something I definitely have to think about and discuss with my family.” That quote sticks out for a few reasons. While Tyus Jones was a top 10 recruit coming out of high school, his NBA stock wasn’t nearly as high due to concerns about his height and athleticism. Right now, DraftExpress lists him at No. 26 in the draft, but with his recent play Jones could be getting more serious about his draft potential. Duke has not recruited a point guard in the 2015 class yet, and given the aforementioned quote, Coach K is most likely trying to prepare his program for a possible departure. Thornton is one of the top point guards in his class and might be considered the best “pure” point as well. He has strong interest from Kentucky in addition to Louisville, California, and Miami. Will he think about re-classifying? Read the rest of this entry »
Who’s Got Next? is a weekly column by Sean Moran, the RTC recruiting guru. Once a week he will bring you an overview of what’s going on in the complex world of recruiting, from who is signing where among the seniors to discussing the recruitment of the top uncommitted players in the country. We also encourage you to check out his contributions atThe Intentional Fouldedicated to recruiting coverage and analysis. You can also follow Sean at his Twitter account @Seanmohoops for up-to-date news from the high school and college hoops scene. If you have any suggestions as to areas we are missing or different things you would like to see, please let us know at email@example.com.
The rosters for the 38th McDonald’s All-American game were released last week, with 24 of the top high school players in the country set to play in Chicago’s United Center on April 1. But before they play in front of a nationally-televised audience for fans hoping to catch a glimpse of the next big thing, they will compete against each other in a series of practices that will be highly scrutinized by media and NBA scouts. Let’s take a look at some of the top practice match-ups that will only be seen by a select few as well as several to keep an eye on during the actual game.
Top Practice Match-Ups:
No. 1 Jaylen Brown, 6’7”, SF, Wheeler (GA) vs. No. 2 Ben Simmons, 6’8”, SF, Montverde (FL)
NBA Scouts will be salivating with this one. The top two players in the country will have two practice sessions to compete against each other in drills and scrimmages. Ben Simmons and Jaylen Brown already faced off once this year at the City of Palms tournament in December, with Brown getting the better of the individual match-up while also leading his team to the championship. While they didn’t spend a lot of time guarding each other in that game, it will be interesting to watch how they attack each other in the practices leading up to the McDonald’s game. Simmons is a unique wing with stellar passing skills and a strong ball-handling ability that allows him to act as a point forward. Brown is very reminiscent of current Arizona freshman Stanley Johnson, someone capable of using his strength to attack the basket and punish smaller and weaker defenders. Perimeter shooting is not a strength for either player at this point in their development, but both have markedly improved over the last year and are more than capable from hitting a few from deep.
Simmons will head to LSU next year to play for his godfather and assistant coach David Patrick, while Brown is still undecided on his collegiate destination. He has taken official visits to Kansas, Kentucky, UCLA, UNC and most likely Michigan while taking numerous unofficial visits to in-state Georgia and Georgia Tech.
No. 11 Malik Newman, 6’3”, G, Callaway (MS) vs. No. 14 Allonzo Trier, 6’4”, SG, Findlay Prep (NV)
Malik Newman and Allonzo Trier are two of the most prolific scorers in the prep game and have been scorching the nets from the moment they both entered high school. They spent three years playing on the U-17 Nike EYBL AAU circuit and as a result have had numerous individual battles. While Newman and Trier are similar in their ability to put points up in a hurry, their high school careers have been quite different. Newman has spent all four of his years in Mississippi while Trier has played in Oklahoma, Maryland and Nevada. Trier is also the more methodical of the two while Newman gets shout-outs from NBA players who drop 52 in a game.
Allonzo Trier will lace up his shoes at Arizona next year and Newman will wait until the spring to decide on his destination.