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Super Sophomore Point Guards

Typically in college basketball, point guards see the most dramatic improvement between their freshman and sophomore seasons. Last year, Michigan’s Trey Burke, Syracuse’s Michael Carter-Williams and Miami’s Shane Larkin were prime examples. There’s now a new trio of floor generals who have seen major progress over the offseason with Marcus Smart, Marcus Paige and Jahii Carson.

Smart, who was projected to be a top-five pick in last year’s draft, returned to Oklahoma State for his sophomore season and has been one of the best players in the country. The 6-foot-4, 220 pounder is averaging 21 points, 4.2 steals, 4 rebounds, and 3.6 assists per game this season and had the performance of the year in a 101-80 win against Memphis. Smart went off for 39 points, five steals, four rebounds, and four assists on 11-of-21 shooting from the field (5-of-10 from three-point range). This all came in front of NBA star Kevin Durant, who had high praise for Smart.

"He is poised," Durant told Eric Prisbell of USA Today. "And the extra year will help him out as far as knowing the game more. I wish him good luck." Durant also added that Smart could “play in the league right now. Definitely.”

The biggest question on Smart’s NBA future was his shooting ability. He could already lead an offense and outmuscle smaller defenders, but his 29 percent shooting from three-point range was a cause for concern. Early on this year, Smart is shooting an improved 35 percent (11-of-31) from behind the arc. Although he can still improve as the season progresses, his draft stock certainly hasn’t taken a hit and he has made Oklahoma State look like a legitimate contender.

Another Marcus who has shown remarkable improvement is North Carolina’s Marcus Paige. After averaging 8.2 points per game last season, Paige’s scoring ability has skyrocketed as the southpaw is now putting up 22.4 points per game while shooting 53 percent from the field and three-point range.

Despite North Carolina’s disappointing loss to Belmont, Paige led the Tar Heels to a big win over Louisville behind his 32-point effort.

''The coaches keep telling me I've got to be more aggressive and attack from the perimeter,'' Paige told the Associated Press. ''It's just something I have to do. I'm starting to feel more comfortable with it.''

Paige’s development is one of the great aspects of college basketball. The role player has developed into a star for North Carolina and it will be interesting to track his progress as the season continues.

Arizona State’s Jahii Carson has been phenomenal as well. The explosive, 5-foot-10 point guard considered entering the draft last season, but certainly made the right decision by spending another year in Tempe. He’s averaging 23 points, 5.3 assists, and 3.3 rebounds per contest while shooting both 55 percent from the field and three-point range.

Carson’s premier performance came in an 86-80 win over UNLV where he exploded for 40 points and dished seven assists. He also had 23 points and five assists to lead the Sun Devils over #25 Marquette.

"He's handled enormous expectations with poise and coolness beyond his years," Arizona State coach Herb Sendek told Nicole Auerbach of USA Today. "He has the amazing trait of performing his best when the lights are the brightest. The bigger the stage, the bigger the moment, he seems to have a special ability to rise to that occasion. He does so very matter-of-factly. He has a great even keel about him.”

Carson’s only drawback is his size, but with his quickness and talent he’s certainly made up for it. He has become one of the most exciting players in the nation and will have a national game against Creighton on Thursday. If he leads the undefeated Sun Devils past another ranked opponent, Arizona State will certainly be ranked next week.

These three sophomore point guards have already shown extensive progress in their skill sets early in the season. With plenty of games remaining, it will be fun to follow the three vastly different floor generals for the rest of their sophomore campaigns.

Post NBA Entry Deadline College Basketball Top 25 Projection

At the beginning of April, I used my lineup-based model to project the 2013-14 college basketball season. If you would like a brief capsule on all these teams, please click on that link.

At that time, I had to guess which early entrants would declare for the 2013 NBA Draft. Now that the NBA’s early entry deadline has passed, I thought I would update the Top 25 projection:

Rank

Team

Conf

Pred Off

Pred Def

Pred Pyth

Ret Min

Ret Poss

T100

Last Pyth

1

Kentucky

SEC

123.6

92.5

0.9512

44%

43%

9

0.8157

2

Michigan St.

B10

117.0

87.6

0.9510

83%

83%

8

0.9361

3

Louisville

AAC

115.4

87.4

0.9452

72%

72%

8

0.9752

4

Florida

SEC

113.9

86.5

0.9437

57%

54%

9

0.9700

5

Arizona

P12

116.7

91.2

0.9259

48%

45%

8

0.9089

6

Duke

ACC

115.4

90.6

0.9229

58%

50%

10

0.9438

7

Michigan

B10

117.4

92.2

0.9228

62%

53%

6

0.9483

8

Oklahoma St.

B12

113.6

89.3

0.9224

89%

93%

5

0.8815

9

N. Carolina

ACC

114.3

89.8

0.9223

69%

73%

10

0.8676

10

Wisconsin

B10

112.8

88.7

0.9215

57%

54%

3

0.9308

11

Virginia

ACC

112.9

89.6

0.9145

74%

82%

5

0.8591

12

Ohio St.

B10

108.6

86.3

0.9138

74%

68%

6

0.9445

13

Iowa

B10

114.7

91.1

0.9133

88%

92%

2

0.8811

14

Connecticut

AAC

114.8

92.0

0.9067

93%

95%

5

0.8098

15

Georgetown

BE

109.8

88.3

0.9027

83%

80%

6

0.9151

16

Syracuse

ACC

110.3

89.2

0.8982

52%

45%

8

0.9421

17

Marquette

BE

114.4

92.6

0.8966

47%

46%

5

0.8721

18

UCLA

P12

114.0

92.5

0.8946

67%

64%

7

0.8202

19

Pittsburgh

ACC

113.1

92.0

0.8928

59%

58%

4

0.9334

20

New Mexico

MWC

108.1

88.5

0.8866

63%

65%

1

0.8745

21

Tennessee

SEC

115.0

94.1

0.8864

74%

81%

5

0.7419

22

Kansas

B12

109.1

89.4

0.8856

23%

23%

7

0.9385

23

Gonzaga

WCC

114.6

93.9

0.8852

61%

56%

2

0.9498

24

VCU

A10

111.7

92.0

0.8798

66%

71%

1

0.9028

25

Maryland

ACC

111.4

93.0

0.8642

61%

64%

6

0.8080

My predictions about who would declare for the draft were surprisingly accurate. (I even pegged Russ Smith correctly.) But a few surprise entrants and transfers have altered the rankings slightly. Here is what has changed:

Out of Top 25

Colorado: The unexpected departure of Andre Roberson drops Colorado out of the Top 25. Don’t let Roberson’s poor efficiency in 2012-13 fool you. He was much better as a freshman and sophomore and the model fully expected him to bounce back and have a dominant senior year. Without him, Colorado will still be good, but not quite Top 25 material.

Memphis: Losing Tarik Black and Antonio Barton in addition to Adonis Thomas was enough to knock the Tigers out of my Top 25, but they are still close.

Alabama: The transfer of Trevor Lacey hurts. Alabama seems destined to remain a football school.

Creighton: While I was right about Doug McDermott returning, I was wrong about another player. I was under the impression that Grant Gibbs would return. Gibbs has only played three seasons of basketball. But because he didn’t play one year at Gonzaga and then transferred and sat out again, it does not look he will be eligible for a sixth year. Without Gibbs, Creighton will still be good, but not quite a Top 25 squad.

Into Top 25

Oklahoma St.: I did not expect Marcus Smart to return. His return single-handedly boosted Oklahoma St. from outside the Top 25 and into the Top 10.

Gonzaga, VCU: They move up because other teams dropped out.

Maryland: In the early April projections I had already projected Alex Len to leave, so Maryland moves up as other teams lose players. Several things suggest that Maryland will make a big leap this season. First, the team gave a ton of minutes to freshmen last year (namely 34%). The typical sophomore leap in efficiency for those players should improve the team’s performance. And Maryland can avoid a lot of those first-year mistakes this year because of its depth. Six quality rotation players return and those players will be joined by Michigan transfer Evan Smotrycz and highly hyped freshmen PG Roddy Peters. Among teams at this level of the rankings, that kind of depth is rare.

More importantly, none of the team’s losses will be impossible to replace. The loss of Pe’Shon Howard is really addition by subtraction. Howard was incredibly inefficient at the PG spot and #52 recruit Roddy Peters should be able to easily eclipse Howard’s efficiency. And even if Peters isn’t ready to dominate from day one, Seth Allen and Dez Wells are great ball-handlers and passers and can help ease Peters into the ACC. Alex Len will be harder to replace, but not impossible. Shaquille Cleare is the most natural choice to step in at the center spot. Cleare won’t quite take as many shots as Len, but he was efficient in limited time last year and as the #34 recruit out of high school, he is exactly the type of player who will typically become a star as a sophomore. Smotrycz’s ability to stretch the floor with his three point shooting can also take up some of the scoring load. Finally, the main reason to be high on Maryland next season is that the Terrapins have a true superstar in Dez Wells.

Note: I don’t disagree with anyone who has Harvard in the Top 25 next year. The model is skeptical of the team’s defense after the poor performance last year, but it is likely that the two players returning from suspension will upgrade that unit substantially. But the defensive stats just don’t have much predictive power, and the model doesn’t generate that result. I may think about a way to account for this (for example pretending last year didn’t happen), but this is a very unusual circumstance to say the least.

It also seems like most experts have Wichita St. in their Top 25 for next year. Even with the Final Four run, Wichita St. still only had the 17th best margin-of-victory numbers last year and the Shockers return just 48 percent of their possessions from last year. The good news is several tournament stars are back and they have a potentially dangerous lineup, but they lack the depth and incoming talent to project them for the Top 25 right now.

Finally, with the players returning, Baylor absolutely has the talent to be a Top 25 team. But the model does not respect Scott Drew as a coach at this point. Even with talented teams, he far too often fails to generate a dominant offense or defense.

Falling, but still in the Top 25

North Carolina: Reggie Bullock’s departure knocks the Tar Heels down from third to eight in my projections.

Michigan: Tim Hardaway Jr.’s departure caused Michigan to drop below Arizona and Duke. But Hardaway was the least efficient rotation player for the Wolverines last year and Michigan fans should still count themselves lucky that Mitch McGary and Glen Robinson are back. Probably the most efficient lineup for Michigan would be Jordan Morgan, McGary, Robinson, Nik Stauskas and elite PG recruit Derrick Walton on the floor at the same time. (Walton has a trivially higher expectation than Spike Albrecht according to the model but both should play major minutes.) But John Beilein seemed reluctant to play Morgan and McGary together this year, and it isn’t clear Robinson can play the wing spot in a perimeter-oriented offense. The lack of depth on the perimeter is really the only question mark on this team as the development of McGary and Robinson should help offset the loss of Trey Burke.

Marquette: The loss of Vander Blue is devastating as Marquette falls from eighth to 18th in my model. Vander Blue was projected to play the most minutes, take a ton of shots, and do so in efficient fashion. While the Golden Eagles still have plenty of good players, he was the clear star. I have also adjusted the rankings to account for Chris Otule’s return for a sixth year, but this is a mixed blessing. Otule was supposedly a substantially better defender than Davante Gardner, but by the measured statistics (namely defensive rebounds) Otule was not very good last season.

Georgetown: I had already forecast Otto Porter to leave at the start of April. But I decided to lower the projected minutes for transfer Josh Smith. The model expected that since Smith was a clear star early in his career that he should be able to play major minutes after joining Georgetown mid-season. But in his career, Smith has never been able to play 75 percent of his team’s minutes because of his conditioning. While he could get in shape, I decided his minutes’ projection was too optimistic and manually lowered his minutes to something more plausible. Without Smith’s offense, Georgetown’s projection looks worse. They still have all the pieces for an elite defense, especially with Greg Whittington coming back.

Not Falling

Arizona: With so many talented forwards, no team was probably as better prepared to lose a player like Grant Jerrett than the Arizona Wildcats.

Virginia: The transfer of Paul Jesperson is not meaningful to Virginia’s expectations next year. He never shot last year and when he did, he only posted a 91.7 ORtg. He was projected to play substantially fewer minutes in the upcoming season and that is exactly why he transferred.

A few other notes:

I cleaned up some roster issues with walk-ons which may explain why some of the numbers seem slightly different.

Also, I ran my initial projections before the Final Four was over. I have now updated the numbers to reflect the final stats. Louisville’s defensive projection fell because of what happened in the final two games. Similarly, some other teams were impacted because they had played the Final Four teams. For example, Ohio St.’s defense improved trivially on Kenpom.com over the last weekend. I wouldn’t even mention this, but it explains why Ohio St. went from being percentage points behind Iowa to being percentage points ahead of Iowa in my projection.

Finally, I had to correct one major error. My code included several “if 2013” statements to project the 2013 season. And I had to change them to “if 2014” to project the 2014 season. In my rush to get this done on Final Four weekend, I missed one line of code where I multiply each returning player by a standard player development factor. This impacts every team and essentially didn’t change the rankings, but it does explain why the offensive projections are higher here than they were a month ago. I apologize for any confusion.

March Madness Through The NBA Lens (Round Of 64)

While the NCAA Tournament has cachet all its own, one way of looking at the Tournament is through the lens of the NBA. While the lottery guys get plenty of buzz leading into the Tourney, I like to spend more time on the players on more middling teams for the first few days since it is less likely that their teams survive long enough to evaluate them further.

On that note, here is the day-by-day:

Thursday

Headline games:

Pittsburgh vs. Wichita State (1:40 PM Eastern)- This game makes the list primarily because of Steven Adams. The big man from New Zealand has not produced as much as many of us hoped during the season but has the chance to show his potential this weekend. The Shockers rebound well enough to challenge him and I am intrigued by Carl Hall.

Memphis vs. St. Mary’s (2:45 PM Eastern)- While Memphis has a slew of intriguing athletic question marks (Adonis Thomas, Joe Johnson and DJ Stephens are just three of them), St. Mary’s has Matthew Dellavedova. Matthew stands out as an unusual draft prospect because of his age (22) and subpar athleticism for his position but has the shooting stroke and basketball IQ to stick in the league longer than expected. We will learn a ton about everyone in this game. 

Other games to watch:

Syracuse vs. Montana (9:57 PM Eastern)- Michael Carter-Williams vs. Will Cherry. My bet is that one of them will massively help his draft stock in this game.

Oklahoma State vs. Oregon (4:40 PM Eastern)- Marcus Smart will have his hands full with future prospect Dominic Artis. We’ll see how Le’Bryan Nash handles the spotlight as well.

Michigan vs. South Dakota State (7:15 PM Eastern)- Senior sensation Nate Wolters gets the chance to show his value against a Michigan team full of potential NBA players (Trey Burke, Glenn Robinson III, and Tim Hardaway Jr among them).

UNLV vs. Cal (7:27 PM Eastern)- Anthony Bennett and Allen Crabbe will be the headliners but I am focused on how UNLV matches up on defense.

Friday

Headline game:

UCLA vs. Minnesota (9:57 PM Eastern)- After the injury to Jordan Adams, this could be our only chance to see lottery pick Shabazz Muhammad in the Tourney. Kyle Anderson, Trevor Mbakwe and Rodney Williams are three other likely pros worth keeping an eye on.

Other games to watch:

Wisconsin vs. Ole Miss (12:40 PM Eastern)- Marshall Henderson. That is all.

North Carolina vs. Villanova (7:20 PM Eastern)- Despite deeply disappointing this season, UNC has plenty of NBA talent in the form of James Michael McAdoo, Reggie Bullock and PJ Hariston. Each of those guys needs to make an impression over the next few weeks in order to rehabilitate their stock.

Creighton vs. Cincinnati (2:45 PM Eastern)- One of the best potential tests for Doug McDermott makes this one particularly fascinating.

San Diego State vs. Oklahoma (9:20 PM Eastern)- Jamaal Franklin has been underappreciated by the national college hoops media but has a chance to make his own statement on the opening weekend. If the Aztecs can get past Oklahoma, a potentially star-making meeting with Georgetown looms.

Freshman Prospects Before New Year's: Marcus Smart

Marcus Smart plays with a poise uncharacteristic of most freshmen just acclimating themselves to the college level. He has a great motor and works extremely hard on both ends of the floor. His basketball IQ is highly advanced relative to his age, and his body is strong enough to compete at the highest level.

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-12’s slump over? Is the Big Ten’s boom about to come to an end?

2012 Big 12 Power Rankings

It was Kansas, Missouri and Baylor atop the Big 12 for a large part of the season, but Bill Self’s Jayhawks eventually pulled away as they have in each of the past eight campaigns.

Major Conference Tournaments Day 2: Big East, Pac-12

How important is it to have Jim Calhoun on the sideline, Oklahoma's late game gamble, and other observations from Wednesday of Championship Week.

Terrel Harris & The NBA Dream

Terrel Harris has an opportunity to carve out a role as a defensive stopper for a Miami franchise that has found jewels in the undrafted ranks (Udonis Haslem, Joel Anthony) before.

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.

Bounce Back Candidates

A sudden drop in production can be a pure statistical outlier and a recovery could do wonders for their team's performances this season. We outline a few candidates for the 11-12 college basketball season.

Surprises And Flops, Part 2

Examining the surprises and flops this season in the Big East, ACC, Big 12 and Atlantic-10.

 

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