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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.

Evaluating Recent Coaching Hires And The Meaning Of Coin Flips

How a Failed Inbounds Play Can Change Everything

In today’s column, I look at which recent coaching hires have been able to improve their team’s performance. But I want to point out that getting better on the court isn’t everything. Tom Crean is a poster-child for efficiency margin improvements. From 2009 to 2013, he improved Indiana’s margin-of-victory numbers every year. Last year he brought Indiana its first outright Big Ten Title in 20 years, and he did it in a year in which the Big Ten was considered to be the toughest conference in the nation. That was also good enough for Indiana’s first 1-seed in the NCAA tournament in 20 years. And while the Hoosiers lost in the Sweet Sixteen, anything can happen in a one-game elimination format. Meanwhile, Crean has upgraded Indiana’s recruiting, and that means the team should never again hit rock-bottom like it did when he first took over.

But Indiana lost virtually all its scoring from last season. And youth, combined with the team’s lack of outside shooters, has been devastating to this year’s offense. Future NBA first round pick Noah Vonleh is a great team player, but with opponents sagging off so many Indiana shooters, the Hoosiers often can’t even get Vonleh a touch in the paint.

(Vonleh is also total team player who doesn’t force shots. My favorite statistic is that Vonleh is 13 of 24 from three-point range right now. While he has shown he can make wide open threes, he refuses to become Baylor’s Isaiah Austin and just jack up perimeter shots to get his points. Vonleh continues to run the team’s offense and hope it will produce points.)

This year the Hoosiers got hot enough to beat Wisconsin and Michigan at home, but they’ve also lost to each of the six worst teams in the Big Ten. And suddenly, within the last week, Indiana fans have begun to turn on Tom Crean. The message boards are lighting up with fans vehemently expressing their frustration.

This isn’t about a fanbase with unrealistic expectations. Objectively, given the Hoosier’s scoring difficulties and the team’s incredible youth, even ravenous Indiana fans could forgive the losses and look forward to next year. This is a fanbase that once sold out the arena and channeled its positive energy for a 6-25 team. This is a fanbase that in a recent season rushed the court after beating a Minnesota team that hadn’t had a winning record in the Big Ten since 2005. Hoosiers faithful have shown they will support every team, as long as they believe in the plan.

But that’s the thing about evaluating coaches. It doesn’t just come down to wins and losses. It doesn’t always come down to per-possession performance. It often comes down to selling the fans that the team has a plan that works.

John Calipari’s focus on one-and-done athletes isn’t perfect. It often results in young teams like the one he has this year. But when you listen to him on College Gameday, explaining how a school needs elite athletes to be in the hunt for a national title every year, most Kentucky faithful are willing to buy what he is selling. Where Billy Gillispie couldn’t sell a bottle of water to a thirsty man in the desert, John Calipari has 1.25 million twitter followers. The Gameday crew speculated that this is more than every other D1 head coach combined.

And at Indiana, Tom Crean has been the master salesman. But right now Indiana fans are starting to doubt the plan. Last year in the NCAA tournament, Indiana didn’t just lose to Syracuse, they looked like they had no idea how to attack a zone defense. Then on Wednesday, Indiana failed on multiple occasions to inbound the ball, blew an 11 point lead with under 3 minutes left in the game, and lost at home to Penn St. Finally, state-rival Purdue, a team with its own issues with young players and inconsistent offense, absolutely crushed the Hoosiers on Saturday. Fans can forgive losses. But when they start to believe their team is less prepared than the opposition, the coach is officially on the hot seat.

Logically, one setback season shouldn’t mean that Tom Crean is a bad coach. But that’s why a failed inbounds play and a blown home lead can be so devastating. The attitude of the fans matters. The opinion that Tom Crean’s players are unprepared matters. It filters down to recruiting. It filters down to donations. And in the end, Tom Crean is at a crossroads. With four Top 20 teams left on the schedule, the season could spiral out of control. Or maybe, just maybe, Tom Crean will get enough out of his players, to remind Indiana fans that his blueprint works.

Efficiency Margins for Recent Hires

Each table below shows how a team’s efficiency margin (opponent adjusted offense minus defense) has changed between the previous head coaches and the current head coach.

First Year Coaches

Former Coach

2009

2010

2011

2012

2013

New Coach

2014

Texas Tech

Pat Knight/Billy Gillispie/Chris Walker

8

10

4

-7

-6

Tubby Smith

10

UCLA

Ben Howland

22

4

12

11

13

Steve Alford

21

Northwestern

Bill Carmody

11

8

13

10

3

Chris Collins

4

Minnesota

Tubby Smith

14

15

11

12

17

Richard Pitino

15

USC

Tim Floyd/Kevin O'Neill/Bob Cantu

17

8

11

-7

5

Andy Enfield

2

New Mexico

Steve Alford

14

13

14

17

17

Craig Neal

13

Rutgers

Fred Hill/Mike Rice

0

1

9

5

5

Eddie Jordan

-2

Butler

Brad Stevens

14

21

15

5

14

B. Miller

5

Quiz question: In 2013-14, which first year coach on a high profile team has caused the biggest improvement in margin-of-victory? The answer is Tubby Smith.

Ironically, Tubby Smith perfectly fits the situation I was describing in the introduction. He eventually lost his job at Minnesota, not because he couldn’t get his teams to play quality basketball. He lost his job because the fanbase no longer believed in his plan.

Now if you want to doubt Tubby Smith’s turnaround this year, it is fair to emphasize that Texas Tech hit rock-bottom with the recent coaching carousel. Most power conference coaches could have improved on the numbers Texas Tech put up last season. But don’t take this initial improvement for granted. Even in his fourth season, Oliver Purnell has not been able to take that first step at DePaul.

Second Year Coaches

Former Coach

2009

2010

2011

2012

New Coach

2013

2014

SMU

Matt Doherty

-4

1

0

-4

Larry Brown

-2

17

Nebraska

Doc Sadler

10

8

10

1

Tim Miles

3

11

LSU

Trent Johnson

13

-3

-7

6

Johnny Jones

6

9

S. Carolina

Darrin Horn

9

7

1

0

Frank Martin

-4

3

Connecticut

Jim Calhoun

26

12

23

13

Kevin Ollie

12

18

Illinois

Bruce Weber

16

12

18

7

John Groce

14

7

Saint Louis

Rick Majerus

1

7

2

19

Jim Crews

18

18

Kansas St.

Frank Martin

12

23

16

16

Bruce Weber

18

14

TCU

Jim Christian

2

-2

-2

0

Trent Johnson

-9

-4

Colorado St.

Tim Miles

-2

2

8

7

Larry Eustachy

17

3

Virginia Tech

S. Greenberg

11

14

13

6

J. Johnson

0

-2

Mississippi St.

Rick Stansbury

10

13

4

8

Rick Ray

-7

-5

I think it says a lot about how far SMU has come this season that the team lost at Temple on Sunday and it actually felt like a real upset. But let’s not focus on that one game; let’s focus on how far SMU has come this year.

SMU returned a number of starters, but as I articulated last week, even with most players back, we should not have expected this type of rapid improvement. Moreover, SMU’s resurgence has not been led by its returning players. Players like Cannen Cunningham and Shawn Williams have seen their playing time plummet.

That seems to suggest that maybe the turnaround has been sparked by great recruiting. But while SMU’s recruiting is getting better, the best recruits aren’t coming in until next year. This year’s two big recruits, elite JUCO center Yanick Moreira, and freshman wing Keith Frazier have been outstanding. But even when healthy, both have been playing less than 20 minutes per game. The turnaround hasn’t been built on great recruiting.

But it has been built on new players. Two transfers, the 3-star, turnover prone, soft Villanova big man named Marcus Kennedy has grown into a physical finisher around the rim. Meanwhile a sub 3-star PG named Nic Moore has suddenly combined his great passing skills with outstanding shooting (and allowed Nic Russell to move off-the ball and upgrade his efficiency too.) Meanwhile freshman like Ben Moore and Sterling Brown have far exceeded their recruiting rank.

This ability to bring unknown pieces along rapidly has turned a team that was second to last in CUSA into the kind of team that is competitive with the big boys in the American. And while it may be painful for some NBA fans to admit it, Larry Brown deserves a ton of credit for the turnaround.

Third Year Coaches

Former Coach

2009

2010

2011

New Coach

2012

2013

2014

G. Washington

Karl Hobbs

-3

4

-1

Mike Lonergan

-1

4

13

Oklahoma

Jeff Capel III

23

5

2

Lon Kruger

5

13

15

Utah

Jim Boylen

15

3

1

L. Krystkowiak

-12

5

13

Arkansas

John Pelphrey

2

4

4

Mike Anderson

3

7

12

Tennessee

Bruce Pearl

15

16

10

Cuonzo Martin

10

9

17

Providence

Keno Davis

9

8

6

Ed Cooley

5

9

12

North Carolina St.

Sidney Lowe

9

10

6

Mark Gottfried

13

16

9

Missouri

M. Anderson

23

17

13

Frank Haith

23

16

14

Maryland

Gary Williams

13

20

12

Mark Turgeon

3

12

12

Georgia Tech

Paul Hewitt

5

16

5

Brian Gregory

-2

5

3

Miami FL

Frank Haith

13

13

11

Jim Larranaga

12

20

8

Penn St.

Ed DeChellis

13

6

14

Pat Chambers

3

1

7

UNLV

Lon Kruger

9

14

15

Dave Rice

12

13

8

Texas A&M

Mark Turgeon

15

19

12

Billy Kennedy

4

5

1

Duke’s interior defense looked substantially improved on Saturday. Maryland drew up two straight plays to get the ball to Charles Mitchell in the paint while trailing by 1 point in the final seconds, and both times Duke’s defenders held their ground and denied him the basket. Mark Turgeon looked incredibly disappointed after the loss. His team has really been lacking a marquee victory to build some momentum this season, and the Terrapins came so close.

But a one point win shouldn’t have change the overall picture here.  Somehow Texas A&M is worse without Mark Turgeon and Maryland has been worse with him. And perhaps that is the final lesson. There is no magic formula for when a coach turns things around. Sometimes it happens in year one, sometimes it happens in year two, and sometimes it never happens at all.

Close Losses are Less Damaging, But Don't Push it Too Far

We’re reaching that point in the year where the computers (the margin-of-victory based predictions) and team’s resumes are often irreconcilably different. This week Pittsburgh lost another heartbreaker to Syracuse on a Tyler Ennis buzzer beater, and then lost at North Carolina after Lamar Patterson missed a wide-open game-tying three in the final seconds. Pittsburgh is a good team. Their riveting comeback after North Carolina went up by 12 points late in Saturday’s game, shows their ability. But having lost to every elite team on their schedule, there is now nothing Pittsburgh can do, outside of winning the ACC tournament, to earn an elite NCAA seed.

Meanwhile, smart fans everywhere are expressing how Syracuse is “lucky” to be undefeated because of all their close victories. If Syracuse were given the top overall seed in the NCAA tournament right now, a substantial number of observers would complain that they don’t deserve it.

Others (perhaps more likely to live in upstate New York) will argue that Syracuse is not “lucky” and that Syracuse has a special ability in close games. After all, Tyler Ennis has a historically low turnover rate for a freshman PG, and his ability to remain calm in pressure situations has won games for Syracuse time and time again.

I’m not willing to go that far. Tyler Ennis is a brilliant point guard, but as he showed with his late-game charge when trailing NC State by one point, he isn’t superhuman. Ennis can’t bail Syracuse out in every close game. On Saturday, it was Syracuse’s pressure defense that caused two turnovers in the final 25 seconds, including the live-ball TO that led to the go-head basket, not Ennis’ clutch play. Ennis is a special player whose decision-making will cause Syracuse to win a lot of close games. But like Shabazz Napier, whose game-winning three rattled out forcing UConn to overtime against Memphis Saturday, Ennis won’t make the winning play every time.

Given all this, you might assume I’d side with the “margin-of-victory” crowd over the “resume” crowd. But in fact I want to argue the opposite.

The point that people miss every year when looking at the computer rankings is that you play to win the game! That is the objective criteria by which teams should be judged. I know we tend to get confused in college basketball because teams are not selected for the NCAA tournament based on their winning percentage. The NCAA often issues vague guidelines about how they are supposed to select the “best” teams and then goes and implements an even more illogical procedure based on how teams have fared against the top teams in the RPI.

But to argue for seeding or selection based on predictive modeling is to argue that Pittsburgh shouldn’t have been heartbroken when Ennis hit the three point buzzer beater on Wednesday. To argue that close losses should count nearly as much as close wins essentially makes the season a hopeless marathon.

Hey Arizona St. fans, don’t storm the court on Friday after beating Arizona. (Well, technically you shouldn’t have stormed the court anyhow because there was still 0.7 seconds left on the clock. And Jahii Carson should not have been hanging on the rim either. That could have drawn a technical foul. And Carson’s bucket was a huge mistake because it gave Arizona another chance when Carson could have easily run out the clock. But I’m getting off track here.) Arizona St. shouldn’t have rushed the court because all they did was improve their margin-of-victory numbers from 33rd to 30th nationally.

Most people agree with this, but a problem we often struggle with is that if we reward teams based only on wins and losses, the NCAA tournament is inevitably unfair. Pittsburgh is going to be seeded far too low for their ability, and that is going to punish some unlucky team that has to face Pittsburgh early. And it isn’t just Pittsburgh. Assuming the 15-10 Tennessee Volunteers make the tournament, they will probably be one of the strongest 12 seeds a five seed has ever faced. And let’s not count out Oklahoma St. Despite a hideous losing record in the Big 12 right now, no coach wants to face Oklahoma St. and Marcus Smart early in the tournament. Assuming the Cowboys make it, they will probably be criminally under-seeded given their overall talent-level. If you earn a high seed this year and have to face Pittsburgh, Tennessee, or Oklahoma St., you will be screaming that the tournament is not fair.

But fairness isn’t always about equal outcomes. In my eyes, the fairness question is this one: Does the committee have an objective process based on wins and losses to evaluate teams, and do they fill in the brackets randomly (so that everyone has an equal chance of drawing a team like Pittsburgh in their region.) I think the current NCAA process comes pretty close to that.

Certainly, I would like to see some refinements to the process. I’d like to see the committee use a team’s record vs the Pomeroy Top 50 instead of the RPI Top 50. Right now, Utah’s poor non-conference strength-of-schedule means Pac-12 teams aren’t getting enough credit for beating a solid Utah team. I would like to see an AP reporter allowed in the selection committee room to allow for greater transparency. Part of having an objective process is having a transparent process.

But Jim Boeheim shouldn’t have to apologize just because a lot of the Syracuse wins have been close. You play to win the game. And even if the Orange might not be my personal bracket pick right now, they are 25-0.

Why Comparing Players By High School Class Makes More Sense

When a player is drafted, he becomes linked with those taken before and after him. However, early in an NBA career, the more relevant comparisons are players from their high school class. The top prospects in an individual class have been rated against each other since they were 12. They played together in All-Star tournaments and were recruited by the same colleges. They have a lot more in common than a 20-year old and a 23-year old taken in consecutive picks.

Once players leave AAU basketball and enter college, their careers diverge quickly, even those with similar amounts of talent. Some declare too early, others too late. A lot depends on the strength of their respective draft and how many who play their position are taken. None of that, of course, has much to do with what type of player they end up being. These things take a few years to shake out. At 25, it is pretty obvious who the best players in each class are.

At 22, the jury is still out. This year’s group of 21 and 22 years old, the high school class of 2010, have already been picked clean by NBA teams. Seven were drafted in 2011, 13 in 2012 and 12 in 2013. A few stragglers will be taken in 2014, but for the most part, the NBA knows who it wants from the class of 2010. However, where those players rank within that group is more fluid than you might think. Victor Oladipo and Jeremy Lamb are a good example of that.

Surprisingly enough, while Lamb and Oladipo became lottery picks, neither was rated all that highly in high school. Lamb was a 4-star who just missed the Top 75 and Oladipo was a 3-star who snuck into the Top 150. Jeremy wasn’t even the highest-rated Lamb in the class, checking in behind Doron (Kentucky) and Tyler (UCLA). Both wound up at elite college programs, but that was no guarantee they would ever play in the NBA.

As a freshman, Lamb walked into a huge role at UConn. He was the only player besides Kemba Walker in double digits. The Huskies, who started three freshmen and a sophomore next to Walker, struggled with inexperience but caught fire in March. Lamb emerged as a legitimate second option, averaging 16 points a game in the NCAA Tournament. UConn won a national title and Walker left for the pros, leaving a huge void for Lamb to fill as a sophomore.

At Indiana, Oladipo was part of a recruiting class that helped turned the program around. As freshmen, though, they mostly struggled. The Hoosiers went 12-20, including a dreadful 3-15 mark in Big 10 play. Oladipo established himself as a legitimate player but was far from a star, averaging seven points and four rebounds a game. Most of the optimism in Bloomington centered around Cody Zeller, the highly-touted local big man a year behind Oladipo.

As sophomores, Lamb and Oladipo grew into bigger roles. Lamb was the primary option at UConn, averaging 18 points, five rebounds and two assists per game on 48 percent shooting. Oladipo moved into the starting lineup, becoming a key two-way player for Indiana. He was still only the third or fourth option, averaging 11 points and 5 rebounds a game, but the athleticism was there. The big concern was his jumper, since he shot 21 percent from three in 2012.

At the same time, the fortunes of Indiana and UConn switched. A perfect storm of off-the-court issues hit the Huskies program, forcing Jim Calhoun out at the end of the season. Lamb, as well as freshman center Andre Drummond, took a lot of blame for things that were out of their control. The Hoosiers, meanwhile, made a dramatic emergence on the national stage, stunning Kentucky in the regular season before losing to them in the Sweet 16.

At the end of the season, Lamb declared for the NBA. He didn’t have much left to prove at the college level and UConn was ineligible for the postseason in 2013, resulting in an exodus out of Storrs. Lamb wound up being taken at No. 12, behind three SG’s - Bradley Beal, Dion Waiters and Terrence Ross -- in what was a loaded draft. Oladipo, if he had declared, would have been a second round prospect with a chance of sneaking into the late first.

Everyone knows the story from there. Lamb became the key piece in one of the most controversial trades in recent history, a lightning rod for those who blamed Oklahoma City for dealing James Harden. He was a rookie on the bench of a 60-win team, shuttling back and forth to the D-League and never getting a chance to get consistent minutes. Back in college, Oladipo emerged as a two-way star, electrifying fans with aerial displays and an improved all-around game.

In what was regarded as a weak draft, Oladipo shot all the way up to No. 2. Orlando had been linked to Oklahoma State point guard Marcus Smart, but his surprising decision to stay in school opened up a spot on their board. Kelly Olynyk, the only other junior taken in the lottery, was also a notable late-bloomer. No one is expecting the other juniors taken in the first round -- Tony Snell, Gorgui Dieng, Reggie Bullock and Andre Roberson -- to become stars.

What would have happened if Lamb had stayed for his junior season and been in the 2013 NBA Draft? Against older and more experienced competition in the D-League, he averaged 21 points, five rebounds and three assists on 49 percent shooting. Translate those stats over to the Big East and you’re looking at a Wooden Award candidate scoring nearly 25 points a night. The SG crop was weaker too; Kentavious Caldwell-Pope and CJ McCollum would not have been Top 10 picks in 2012.

When you look at the totality of their basketball careers, it’s hard to say Oladipo is more talented than Lamb, despite the difference in where they were drafted. Lamb isn’t as versatile, but he is the better shooter and ball-handler. And while Oladipo was more efficient in college, he benefitted from being a secondary option. Even last season, Indiana’s offense ran through Zeller and Yogi Ferrell. The jump to being a point guard in the NBA will not be easy for him.

This season, both will be the first guard off the bench in the NBA. Oladipo will have a longer leash on a rebuilding team, but he’s hardly in a better position to succeed, at least initially. Lamb has a year’s worth of experience at the next level under his belt, even if it comes mainly from practice, where he went up against Kevin Durant, Kevin Martin and Russell Westbrook. At this time last year, Oladipo was hounding future dentists like Aaron Craft around the floor.

According to #NBARank, Oladipo is the 114th best player in the league while Lamb is all the way down at 263. That could be right; after all, neither has proven anything at the highest level. If it’s wrong, though, don’t be too surprised. Projecting young basketball players isn’t easy. Who knows? Maybe Will Barton ends up being the best of all of them. Three years ago, he was the No. 11 player in the class of 2010, a five-star guard rated far above Lamb and Oladipo.

A More Meaningful McDonald's Game

With a few exceptions (Anthony Bennett, Marcus Smart) last year’s class didn’t quite live up to typical McDonald’s All-American game standards. But with Andrew Wiggins headling, we are confident that this year’s class will be different.

Sweet Sixteen Day 1

Grading Doug Gottlieb, analyzing the Syracuse zone, Ohio St.'s under-rated athleticism, and Ramon Galloway's memorable father.

Using The RPI To Group Teams Can Lead To Bias

There is nothing inherently wrong with the NCAA selection process. Unfortunately, not everyone agrees about what should be changed about the process. Here are four improvements we typically see mentioned.

After Being The Man In China, D.J. White Ready To Restart NBA Career

D.J. White has struggled to establish himself as an NBA player, but hopes his return from China after playing a bigger role again changes his career trajectory.

Is Youth An Excuse?

If you want your team to have a great season, it isn’t enough to simply get better. You have to get better at a faster rate than your rivals. One thing I have said in the past is that teams that play a lot of freshmen have the potential to improve the most.

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?

Sweet Sixteen Day 2

What does every coach in the Sweet Sixteen have in common? A great efficiency margin over the last 5 years.

NCAA Tournament Day 4

Twelve of the 16 teams in the Sweet Sixteen were in the preseason AP Top 25, and Michigan St. was among the first teams in the “others receiving votes” category. But Indiana, Ohio, and NC State have all exceeded expectations this season by making it this far.

NCAA Tournament Day 3

How the Syracuse lineup has evolved without Fab Melo, and more notes on Day 3 of the NCAA Tournament.

2012 Big Ten Power Rankings

The Big Ten was incredibly close at the top, with a three-way tie in the standings and also in our statistical rankings.

Big Ten Power Rankings (Jan. 9th)

With teams having played either three or four conference games, it is an opportune time for a Big Ten power rankings.

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.

Ranking The Big Ten Recruiting Classes For 2012

Mitch McGary and Gary Harris are two of the most highly prized recruits to pick Big Ten schools in recent years.

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 RealGM’s weekly poll.

Show Me Something

We single out three players that are on the precipice of becoming stars, but need 'wins' more than 'made buckets'.

Important NCAA Injury Splits

Michigan State, Pitt, Villanova, North Carolina and Seton Hall are just a few teams impacted with specific players either in or out of the lineup.
 

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