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Notes On The 2014 Jordan Brand Classic

Relative to the Nike Hoop Summit, which features real defense and some hope of evaluating players thanks to the international format, the Jordan Brand Classic is mostly just another all-star dunk contest. The lack of defense was particularly apparent this year as both teams combined for over 300 points in 40 minutes.

Occasionally, the Jordan Brand Classic has been a chance to evaluate some player who we didn’t see much of previously. In 2011, Otto Porter was an elite prospect who had not played on the AAU circuit, so the JBC invited him to see him compete against the top players. In 2013, Cameroon born Joel Embiid truly had his coming out party, as we saw the first real signs that he might be a Top 5 pick in the NBA draft.

This year, there were few players we had not seen featured in the previous high school all-star games. Daniel Hamilton, a tall guard prospect for UConn, looked like a natural scorer, calmly scoring 10 points in 11 minutes (including 2 of 2 shooting from beyond the arc.) Rick Pitino would be happy to see that in a game with virtually no defense, Louisville recruit Shaqquan Aaron grabbed 3 steals, which allowed Aaron to have a nice 6-of-7 evening from the floor. (In one of those moments of strange bedfellows, the Louisville recruit Aaron seemed to have great chemistry with Kentucky recruit Tyler Ulis.) And Georgetown recruit LJ Peak had one of the games signature dunks in the final minute.

But none of those players really made us reconsider where they are ranked nationally. Perhaps the breakout moments belong to Indiana recruit and scoring guard James Blackmon. Blackmon has played in the other all-star games, but after spending much of the Nike Hoop Summit on the bench, Blackmon was aggressive on Friday night. The player known for his three-point shooting was empty from deep, but 10 of 11 inside the arc, including some nice intermediate jumpers.

Or perhaps, the breakout was really by the players we already knew were great. While Paul Biancardi noted that Duke’s Jahlil Okafor has not always had great conditioning, or a great full-court presence, we were dazzled by a number of plays where Okafor beat the defense in transition or hustled for a secondary-break put-back dunk. And as LaPhonso Ellis pointed out, if Okafor adds that to his game, it could be lethal. If Okafor can tire out an opposing starting center with Duke’s high octane attack, his high skill level on post moves will eat backup centers alive.

I thought the most impressive play of the whole game came at 16:44 of the first half, when Duke PG recruit Tyus Jones hit Okafor with a bounce-pass for a transition lay-up. The reason the play was so spectacular was that Jones released the bounce-pass from the half-court stripe and hit Okafor perfectly in stride at the free throw line. But then at 16:46 of the second half, Kentucky recruit Karl Towns one-upped him. Towns had a behind-the-back pass from the half-court stripe for a lay-up. Towns pass was probably a bit of a fluke, but it still went down as the more jaw-dropping play.

Regardless, the fact that Okafor and Jones are already building chemistry is a huge benefit for the Blue Devils. You can’t really tell in a game like this (because there really was no defense), but there’s a reason most people list Jones as the top PG prospect in America right now. Jones just has an uncanny ability to get into the lane and find teammates in position to score.

But we’ve been raving about Duke’s incoming players for weeks. I also think it is time to admit that Cliff Alexander and Kelly Oubre are going to be very good for Kansas next year. Sure, Alexander and Oubre do not have nearly the same potential as Embiid or Wiggins. But there is no reason those two players cannot be just as dominant at the college level. Alexander is already a high-motor, aggressive rebounder, and that’s exactly the Embiid skill that Kansas most needs to replace. (While we fell in love with Embiid’s surprising post moves, the reality was that Embiid wasn’t a huge scorer for Kansas last year. But Embiid was one of the nation’s top defensive rebounders.) And while Wiggins was a raw athlete with length, that’s exactly what Oubre brings to the table. He doesn’t have nearly the same upside as Wiggins, but if you are looking for a player with a 7’2” wingspan, and natural athleticism to slide into a wing role at the college level, Oubre is perfect. And in a game where just about every key prospect scored in double figures, the Duke and Kansas prospects shined the brightest.

The Myles Turner Question

Myles Turner did not play in the Jordan Brand Classic after twisting his ankle in the Nike Hoop Summit. But Turner did give a sideline interview, and Turner came across very well. He appeared polished, bright, and mature.

We sometimes think of these kids who make late decisions as indecisive, immature, or egotistical. But the reality is that the late-deciders are probably making the smartest decisions of anyone. They get to see what each team’s roster really looks like. Could Turner have committed to Kentucky or Arizona last fall? Perhaps, but by waiting he now gets to see that Kentucky and Arizona both have crowded frontcourts, with no room for major minutes for an elite center.

And the seven teams Turner has evaluated could all use him.  (Of course if he joins Kansas or Duke, those two teams will just have an embarrassment of riches across the lineup.)

But while I was flipping through some data this weekend, I thought of a related question. If I was an elite prospect, would I want to commit to a coach that tends to use a deep bench, or a coach that tends to use a short bench and give his starters major minutes to develop chemistry? I think if I was an elite prospect, I think I would prefer to play for a coach that traditionally plays a short bench. Here are how coaches in the elite conferences have allocated their playing time in the last eight years. The tables show the average bench minutes for these coaches in those eight years (minimum three seasons.)

Average Percentage of Minutes Given to Bench

(Coaches that utilize a Deep Bench)

Coach

Current Team

APM

Mike Anderson

Arkansas

38.2

Dana Altman

Oregon

36.1

Bruce Pearl

Auburn

34.8

Frank Martin

South Carolina

34.8

Tubby Smith

Texas Tech

34.8

Brian Gregory

Georgia Tech

34.5

Gregg Marshall

Wichita St.

34.0

Tad Boyle

Colorado

33.8

Billy Kennedy

Texas A&M

33.3

Kevin Willard

Seton Hall

33.2

 

Average Percentage of Minutes Given to Bench

(Coaches that utilize a Shallow Bench)

Coach

Team

APM

John Thompson

Georgetown

26.5

Pat Chambers

Penn St.

26.1

Jim Boeheim

Syracuse

25.3

Herb Sendek

Arizona St.

25.3

Fran Dunphy

Temple

25.0

Bo Ryan

Wisconsin

24.6

John Beilein

Michigan

24.4

Thad Matta

Ohio St.

24.3

Mike Brey

Notre Dame

23.3

Fred Hoiberg

Iowa St.

22.9

Quick Notes: You see more coaches that use full-court pressure on the upper list, but that doesn’t have to be the case. VCU’s Shaka Smart has a relatively tighter bench (APM of 31.0) and uses full court pressure. On the lower list, you see a lot of coaches that tend to get credit for developing less heralded players into stars. But the reason they are good at building strong offenses is that they tend to play short rotations that strongly feature their best players.

This list says a player like Myles Turner would be better off choosing Ohio St. relative to say, Texas A&M, because Thad Matta will build a tight rotation of quality players around Turner, and feature Turner in the middle. Obviously there are other huge factors, such as tempo, style of play, and the ability of the coach to develop previous top prospects. But I do wonder whether the fact that a coach like John Thompson tends to really ride his star players and turn them into draft prospects doesn’t help with Georgetown’s recruiting. Win or lose, star players want to play.

But the reality is that Turner doesn’t have to make guesses about these types of factors. He doesn’t have to guess how he will fit into a team’s lineup. He’s already spoken to the coaches and teams on his list and he knows how he will be used. By waiting until 4pm on April 30th, he is making the most informed decision of anyone.

Not every D1 player can wait to give a verbal commit or sign a letter of intent, but if you can, it sure seems to make a lot of sense.

Blue Blood Schools Again Taking Country's Best Talent

The McDonald’s All-American Game is no longer the only big event on the all-star circuit, but it is still the most prestigious. If you look through the game’s rosters over the last decade, you will recognize most of the names. Even the guys who didn’t make the NBA usually had great NCAA careers. The programs who reel in multiple players from the McDonald’s game are the sport’s blue bloods - not every elite player from the class of 2014 was in Chicago, but most were.

You can see that in the distribution of this year’s crop. There were 13 schools represented at the game, but only five with multiple recruits - Duke and Kentucky with 4, UNC with 3, Kansas and UCLA with 2. In college basketball, the ability to consistently attract elite recruits is what separates good jobs from the great. If any of those jobs came open, every coach in the country would at least listen. There’s no substitute for talent and those schools always have it.

For a school like Seton Hall, securing the commitment of even one McDonald’s All-American can be a program altering move. Isaiah Whitehead is the first player from the McDonald’s game to go there in 14 years. Getting the first is always the hardest - elite players want to play with other elite players, whether it’s in college or the NBA. Whitehead, the only player in this year’s game headed to the new Big East, will be a marked man for the next four seasons.

Kentucky, in contrast, has so many McDonald’s All-Americans they don’t even know what to do with them. There will be more elite recruits coming off their bench next season than there will be in the entire Big East conference. John Calipari is the only coach in the country who can run off a kid from this game and not think twice - Kyle Wiltjer (2011) averaged 17 minutes a game in two years in Lexington before deciding to transfer to Gonzaga this season.

His recruiting class last season was considered one of the best of all-time and you can make the argument that this year’s bunch is even better. Karl Towns and Trey Lyles aren’t as big as Julius Randle, Dakari Johnson and Marcus Lee, but they are more skilled and more comfortable playing on the perimeter. It’s the same story in the backcourt - Tyler Ulis and Devon Booker project as better shooters than the Harrisons, who shot 42 percent and 37 percent from the field as freshmen.

In five seasons at Kentucky, Calipari has made an Elite Eight and three Final Fours. No matter who decides to go pro in 2014, he shouldn’t miss a beat in 2015. Towns has a chance to be the No. 1 overall pick while Lyles and Booker both have first-round measurables. Even without the five projected first-rounders from this year’s team - Randle, Johnson, Willie Cauley-Stein, James Young and Andrew Harrison - the Wildcats have a McDonald’s All-American at every position.

Duke could lose two lottery picks - Jabari Parker and Rodney Hood - and be a better team next season. Jahlil Okafor, the consensus top player in the class of 2014, gives the Blue Devils a legitimate post presence at the center position, something they have not had in many years. Okafor means Marshall Plumlee, a McDonald’s All-American in 2011, will spend another year on the bench after averaging six minutes per game in his first two seasons in Durham.

On the perimeter, the three other McDonald’s kids from this year’s class - Tyus Jones, Grayson Allen and Justise Winslow - will be competing for minutes with one from 2011 (Quinn Cook) and 2012 (Rasheed Sulaimon). For the most part, everyone on Duke can shoot 3’s, which will allow Okafor to play in a tremendous amount of space around the rim. If there’s a weakness on next year’s roster, it’s at PF, where they might have to get by with a four-star recruit.

Even with the addition of Louisville, things should be back to normal in the ACC, with Duke and UNC fighting for the crown. The Tar Heels never recovered from losing PJ Hairston to eligibility issues and they struggled to space the floor and score from the wings all season. Next year, they are bringing in two McDonald’s All-Americans on the wings (Theo Pinson and Justin Jackson) to complement the one they have at PG and the four they have in the frontcourt.

Kentucky might be the only team in the country with the size to bang with Brice Johnson, Kennedy Meeks and Joel James. NBA scouts will learn more from watching the UNC big men in practice than they will from watching them against most of the ACC. The Tar Heels didn’t have enough perimeter shooting to exploit their size this season, but next year’s group, with Marcus Paige running the show, should blow most teams off the floor.

Kansas has a chance to be better without Joel Embiid and Andrew Wiggins. Bill Self runs the most consistent program in the country because he doesn’t need his McDonald’s All-Americans to dominate as freshmen. Cliff Alexander and Kelly Oubre won’t have to carry the Jayhawks - they will be playing off Wayne Selden, Perry Ellis and Jamari Traylor. With no other Big 12 team represented in Chicago, Kansas will be favored to win their 11th consecutive league title.

UCLA’s lack of size was exploited by Florida in the Sweet 16, but that should change in the coming years with the additions of Kevon Looney (6’9 210) and Thomas Welsh (7’0 230). With Brice Alford, Jordan Adams and Norman Powell still in the fold, the Bruins will just need their young big men to catch and finish around the rim next season. When Looney and Welsh start putting on weight, they are going to be way too big and skilled for the vast majority of the Pac-12.

When a coach can throw multiple McDonald’s All-Americans at every hole on his roster, it makes his life pretty easy. And when you are bringing in 2-3 a year, you aren’t held hostage to every recruiting mistake or off-court incident. Imagine the Miami Heat getting a lottery pick in every draft and you can see why there isn’t much parity in college basketball. A single-elimination tournament gives every team a chance, but some teams get more chances than others.

The blue-bloods were a little down this year, which opened up room for a team from the Missouri Valley Conference to get a 1 seed and made the NCAA Tournament more wide open than usual. However, with so much of the elite talent in the class of 2014 concentrated in so few schools, 2015 could look a lot more like 2012, when Kentucky and UNC dominated the sport. In college basketball, the rich don’t stay down for too long. They just get richer.

The Bigs Of The Incoming 2014 College Class

At this time last year, Andrew Wiggins, Jabari Parker and Julius Randle were already household names, at least among households who follow the NBA. This year’s group of McDonald’s All-Americans, in contrast, is relatively anonymous. After a week of practices in Chicago, there doesn’t seem to be a consensus No. 1 overall prospect in the incoming college class of 2014. The talent is concentrated among the big men, who develop at a slower pace and aren’t as flashy as perimeter stars.

The biggest name is Jahlil Okafor, the Duke-bound center coming off a dominant showing at last summer’s U19 world championships, where he posted a 40.2 PER. Okafor is a throwback - a 6’10 270 post player with an advanced back to the basket game. As an undersized center who can’t shoot 3’s or play on the perimeter, it’s unclear how his style of play will translate to the modern NBA, where everyone wants to push the pace, spread the floor and run pick-and-roll.

Okafor, for all his skills, plays more like the No. 1 overall pick in 1994 than 2014. For a glimpse at where the game is going, you have to look at Karl Towns and Myles Turner, two of the other top big men in the class of 2014. Towns, a Kentucky commit, pulled off a blindfolded windmill in the dunk contest and says his favorite player is Len Bias. Turner, who is still undecided, grew up rooting for Kevin Durant and finished in fourth place in the three-point contest.

At 7’0 250, Towns is a fluid athlete who can play inside or out. He’s the most skilled big man John Calipari has recruited since Anthony Davis, far more comfortable playing on the perimeter than Randle, Nerlens Noel, Willie Cauley-Stein or Dakari Johnson. Towns played for the Dominican Republic and backed up Al Horford in the FIBA Americas Olympic qualifying tournament last summer. He wouldn’t look out of place coming off an NBA bench right now.

The LaMarcus Aldridge comparisons were inevitable for Turner, a skilled and athletic 7’0 from the Dallas area. The biggest difference is generational - Turner has been encouraged to play out on the floor from an early age while Aldridge’s desire to float to the perimeter was viewed much more skeptically. Like Aldridge, who improved every year from 18-28, Turner has only begun to scratch the surface of his potential on the high-school and AAU levels.

Like with most big men, Towns and Turner’s college production will depend as much on their guard play as their own development. Unlike Anthony Davis, a high school guard until a late growth spurt out of Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles, they have been big men all their lives. For the most part, they won’t be bringing the ball up the floor and initiating the offense next season. They will need guards who can slow the pace, spread the floor and get them the ball.

After Kentucky’s unlikely run to the Final Four, the situation Towns will be walking into next season is more in flux than it was a few weeks before. Before the NCAA Tournament, Willie Cauley-Stein seemed all but gone and the Harrisons looked like they would have no choice but to stay in school. Now the dynamic has flipped - Cauley-Stein may have to come back if his ankle injury is serious while the Harrisons draft stock has been boosted by their postseason heroics.

If Andrew Harrison opts for the NBA draft, Towns will be depending on the rapid development of Tyler Ulis, a 5’9 McDonald’s All-American from the Chicago area. Ulis has the athleticism and floor game to make up for his lack of size, but it’s unclear how much of an adjustment period he will need against much bigger and more physical guards in the SEC. James Young is all but gone already, so Kentucky won’t have much experience on the perimeter to take the load off Ulis.

If Cauley-Stein comes back, the Wildcats will have an embarrassment of riches in the frontcourt. The Cauley-Stein and Johnson duo would take most of the minutes at C, which would push Towns to the forward positions, where he would be sharing time with fellow McDonald’s All-American Trey Lyles as well as Alex Poythress and Marcus Lee. While Towns has the skills to manage the transition, how many shots and minutes he will get next season is unclear.

Most of the recruiting consensus has Turner choosing between Kansas and Texas, but he shot down that notion on Media Day. As the only All-American still on the board, Turner has been pursued by every program in the country and he has shown no indication of making his decision anytime soon. He’s playing things close to the vest - at this point, the only thing we know is that if Joel Embiid returns, there probably won’t be enough playing time for Turner in Lawrence.

If Turner goes to Texas, he will join a crowded frontcourt that already includes fringe NBA prospects Cam Ridley and Jonathan Holmes. None of the Longhorns guards are proven three-point shooters, so if Turner comes to Austin, opposing teams will pack the paint and force him to give up the ball. That’s why I think SMU has a real chance at Turner, since Larry Brown can pitch playing with two PG’s in Nic Moore and Emmanuel Mudiay, the best guard prospect in the class of 2014.

Either way, whatever happens with Turner and Towns next season shouldn’t have too much of an impact on their NBA potential. With the league becoming smaller and more perimeter-oriented by the season, big men with the skill and athleticism to play on the outside are worth their weight in gold. Okafor, in contrast, will have to be placed in a very specific situation at the next level, a la Al Jefferson in Charlotte, with a team that builds its offense around him.

And while Okafor may be close to his ceiling as a player, Turner and Towns have a lot of room to expand their game. The next step for both is learning how to make their teammates better - either by drawing double teams with their back to the basket or facing up and putting the ball on the floor. There’s just not many big men at any level of basketball with the size and athleticism to bang with Turner and Towns around the basket or run with them on the break.

As athletic big men who can shoot the ball, Turner and Towns can slide into almost any situation at the next level and be successful. They can be small-ball 5’s on an uptempo team that spreads the floor or they can be face-up 4’s on a huge team that pounds the ball inside. Their versatility is what makes them so intriguing - they could conceivably share a frontcourt in the NBA. A franchise that puts two 7’0 like that on the same team would have something really special.

Coaches That Peak Early In The Year

Explaining how an Iowa vs Iowa St. basketball game can be better than Kentucky vs North Carolina, and how Mike Krzyzewski can show up on a list about coaching disappointment.

Notes On 2013 ACC-Big Ten Challenge

Although there wasnít a conference crowned the champion of the ACC-Big Ten Challenge because of a tied 6-6 outcome, plenty of story lines and questions emerged from the event. We take a glance into some intriguing aspects seen in the challenge.

Why The NCAA Loses Nothing By Eliminating Amateurism

The NCAA can act like the NBAís disinterest is a burden for the NCAA, but itís really an opportunity to make $11 billion over 14 years to put on a March basketball tournament. There are plenty of people who want to watch the best 18-20 year old basketball players in the world.

2013 Holiday Tournaments (Part 2)

In the second of a three-part series, we breakdown the NIT (with a potential Gordon vs. Parker matchup), Maui Invitational, Legends Classic, CBE, Gulf Coast Showcase and the Cancun Challenge.

A More Meaningful McDonald's Game

With a few exceptions (Anthony Bennett, Marcus Smart) last yearís class didnít quite live up to typical McDonaldís All-American game standards. But with Andrew Wiggins headling, we are confident that this yearís class will be different.

Comparing The Conferences

The Pac-12 has been suffering through a long dark period. The Big Ten has been dominant (at least in the pre-conference schedule) for the last few years. Should we expect a change this year? Is the Pac-12ís slump over? Is the Big Tenís boom about to come to an end?

Unconventional Thinking On Michigan, Duke

In beta-testing a new predictions model, we look at whether Michigan is still a top 25 team and if Duke should be considered the favorite of the ACC.

Team-By-Team Gold Medal Winners

The Jazz and Thunder have had the most Gold Medalists since the USA began bringing NBA players in 1992, while Duke leads amongst colleges. How do the other 29 NBA teams rank?

Notes On The 2012 Jordan Brand Classic

Anthony Davis wanted to wear Michael Jordanís number in this game last year. This year no one chose to wear #23. Maybe people are right when they say this yearís class of high school seniors is missing a larger than life star.

Major Conference Tournaments Day 4

Baylor broke through, Michigan and Tennessee had huge game tying 3's, but the true action on Friday took place in the A10.

Rivalry Week Musings And More Conference Shuffling

Breaking down Duke/North Carolina, Syracuse/Georgetown, Kansas/Baylor and Florida/Kentucky, along with which conferences are improving with the new round of shuffling.

Top NCAA Coaches Of Past Five Years

There are a lot of complicated ways to evaluate college coaches, but in this edition we look at the coaches with the best per possession numbers over the last five years.

Freshmen Bring Hope

Teams that play a lot of freshmen are the most likely to improve as the season goes on, while those with a lot of experience are more likely to plateau. In this piece, we examine freshmen minutes for every major school in the country.

The Census: RealGM's NCAA Rankings For Dec. 12

Syracuse has yet to leave New York and have played a relatively soft schedule, with their only impressive wins coming against Florida and Stanford, but they are 10-0 and now No. 1 in RealGMís weekly poll.

The Census: RealGM's NCAA Rankings For Dec. 5

Aaron Craft, Jared Sullinger and Ohio State were ready to trounce on the No. 1 slot in RealGM's rankings if not for an Anthony Davis block.

College Continuity

The average BCS team loses 38% of its minutes each offseason. Teams that have more returners also have more continuity and more early season wins. Here is how they rank.

The Census: RealGM's NCAA Rankings For Nov. 28th

Kentucky at No. 1, North Carolina drops to No. 4, while Saint Louis, Harvard, San Diego State and Creighton enter RealGM's rankings.

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