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Jabari Brown Starring In SEC

Jabari Brown has been one of the best players in the country who no one is talking about. The junior shooting guard from Missouri has been on a tear during conference play and continued his stellar scoring streak in a road win over Arkansas on Tuesday.

Brown finished with 24 points on 6-of-11 shooting from the floor and a 4-of-5 display from three-point range as the Tigers topped Arkansas 75-71.

“We stayed together,” Brown said in an interview with Ben Arnet of Mizzou Network after the game. “They had some runs ­– they’re a good team – but we were able to fight through that and get a win.”

Over the past five games, Brown is averaging 24.4 points, 4.4 rebounds, and 2.2 assists per game while shooting 61 percent (37-61) from the floor and 70 percent (20-29) from behind the arc. He leads the SEC in scoring at 19.8 points per game and is making a case for Player of the Year honors within the conference.

The former five-star recruit out of Oakland, California originally signed with Oregon, but transferred after two games with the Ducks. Brown has thrived in Missouri where he has shown his stroke from deep along with the addition of a dribble-drive game where he has used his athleticism to attack the basket.

“I went back and looked at all my shot attempts from last year and just tried to tell myself that this year I knew I was going to take more shots, so I wanted to take quality shots and not try to shoot a lot more just because the team was going to need me to,” Brown told Steve Walentik of the Columbia Daily Tribune earlier this week. “So I feel doing that has helped me shoot a good percentage.”

As a result, his shooting percentages have climbed alongside his scoring average. He’s shooting 50 percent from the floor and 48 percent from three this season compared to last year’s 40 percent and 37 percent averages respectively.

“It feels real good playing like I’m playing right now,” Brown added in Walentik’s story. “I just want to keep it up and try to help turn it into some wins.”

Brown has turned his performances into back-to-back conference victories, but Missouri will have two monumental match-ups this week at home versus Kentucky on Saturday and on the road against Florida on Tuesday. The Tigers are currently 16-4 overall this season and 4-3 in conference play. ESPN’s bracketologist Joe Lunardi had Missouri listed under the “First Four Out” column in his most recent update, so a win in either contest could be a huge resume builder.

With the way Brown and his squad are playing lately, Missouri could be primed for an upset this week. The Tigers will certainly be a bubble team to follow from here on out.

Conference Play In Full Force

Ban Tournament Talk Until At Least February

I hate bracket projections this time of year. North Carolina is 0-3 in the ACC. Teams with losing conference records rarely make the tournament. But wait, the tournament isn’t held this time of year! What exactly are you projecting?

Many of us try to get away from the bracket projections, but we still fill game stories with discussions of quality wins. But even that bothers me. With teams going on the road for the first time, our evaluations of teams are very much in flux right now. Are we really certain what a quality win looks like at this point?

A few weeks Oregon was undefeated, had multiple wins over power conference teams, and with Dominic Artis and Ben Carter returning from a suspension, the sky was the limit. Now with three Pac-12 losses in a row, Oregon looks like a team with some serious questions on defense. Oregon has given up 129, 118, and 121 points per 100 possessions in their last three games and their defense has fallen to 150th nationally.

Even Oregon’s rotation is a question mark right now. Who should have the ball in crunch time? In the final seconds against Stanford, both Johnathan Loyd and Dominic Artis had the ball with a chance to win or tie the game, and neither converted. Who should take the shot in that situation? And who should be playing in the post for the Ducks? Ben Carter is shooting just 20% since returning from his suspension, and Waverly Austin looks equally inept offensively. Should the team just go back to Richard Amardi, whose dominance on the boards makes up for his more limited size?

Meanwhile a Missouri team that was so dominant early, lost at home to Georgia, and nearly lost to Auburn. In fact, Saturday’s 2 point win at Auburn is more controversial than you might think. Remember the St. John’s vs Rutgers Big East tournament game from a few years ago when the officials walked off the court and ignored a player travelling and stepping out of bounds with time still left on the clock? We nearly had the same ending in the Missouri vs Auburn game. Jabari Brown looked like he might have taken an extra step and stepped out of bounds with time left on the clock, but the officials were not looking at his feet in the final seconds.

Meanwhile other teams look like real contenders again. Iowa has been throttling opponents and finally picked up a marquee win at Ohio St. And Virginia has been throttling its opponents in ACC play. Let’s see more of this play out before we decide what qualifies as a quality win.

Red Light District

Trailing West Virginia by two points in the final minute, Oklahoma St.’s Marcus Smart drove into the lane and kicked to Markel Brown. In a move that would make Bob Knight proud, Brown pump-faked to clear his defender, hesitated, and then calmly sunk the go-ahead three pointer. And this was simply more evidence that Oklahoma St.’s offense has turned a corner this year. With Michael Cobbins out, there are questions of whether OSU’s defense can hold up for a Final Four run. But there is no question that OSU’s offense is performing at an elite level.

OSU’s offense has improved in a number of areas, from free throw rate to turnover percentage. But the stat that sticks out to me is how Oklahoma St. went from a bad three point shooting team, at 32 percent last season, to a strong three point shooting team, at 38 percent this year.

It helps that Marcus Smart and Phil Forte have improved substantially. But as I said before, one of the simplest improvements is that LeBryan Nash is no longer taking three pointers. Nash was 12 of 50 last year, and 16 of 68 two years ago, for a career mark of 24 percent from three. This year Nash has focused on finishing around the rim, and his efficiency has reached a career high. Nash had an ORtg of 89 as a freshman, 99 as a sophomore, and 114 so far this year. These things may seem small, but when you are playing on the road against a solid team, every possession counts. One wasted Nash possession could have cost Oklahoma St. the win this weekend.

So thinking of players like LeBryan Nash, I wondered what teams could benefit significantly by putting up the red light sign up for one of their outside shooters. To date, here are some of the worst three point shooters in the power conferences who also take a high volume of outside shots. I limit my list to players with at least 40 three point attempts on the season.

Player

Team

3PM

3PA

3P%

Dave Sobolewski

Northwestern

11

64

17%

D.J. Shelton

Wash. St.

8

44

18%

Joe Jackson

Memphis

8

42

19%

Brandon Young

DePaul

10

48

21%

T.J. Warren

NC State

12

55

22%

Justin Cobbs

California

9

40

23%

M. Abdul-Aleem

USF

11

47

23%

Calvin Newell

UCF

14

54

26%

Tracy Abrams

Illinois

13

50

26%

C. Miller-McIntyre

Wake Forest

11

42

26%

Xavier Munford

Rhode Island

28

105

27%

Desmond Lee

NC State

11

41

27%

Nigel Johnson

Kansas St.

11

41

27%

Aaron Harrison

Kentucky

17

63

27%

A lot of these players are PGs, and a lot of these PGs have shot better in previous seasons. For example, Northwestern’s Dave Sobolewski’s was a career 35 percent shooter prior to this year, and his ineffectiveness is a bit of a surprise. But a few names on this list deserve some discussion:

-DJ Shelton looked extremely strong as a sophomore at Washington St., posting an ORtg of 106 and dominating the offensive boards. But at some point, someone on Washington St.’s team decided Shelton was a stretch-four. He’s not. This year Shelton’s ORtg is down to 91. Fortunately Shelton’s three point shot volume has been cut back in recent games. But for a team that attempted just three FTs at home in the narrow OT loss to Colorado on Wednesday, and a team that ranks as one of the worst nationally at getting to the free throw line, Shelton needs to be fighting for offensive rebounds and not floating on the perimeter.

-Even as a senior, I’m still not sure if Memphis guard Joe Jackson is a good three point shooter. He shot 31 percent as a freshman and sophomore which suggests he is not, but then he made 45 percent of his threes last year which seemed to suggest he had turned a corner. A 19 percent clip this year seems like a fluke, but shooting has never been Jackson’s biggest strength. What separates Jackson as an elite player however is that even when his shooting stroke is off, he still finds ways to contribute. Against Louisville he dished out six assists. And against Temple, his on-ball defense was extraordinary. Near the 16:30 mark of the second half, Jackson stole the ball from Temple’s Will Cummings on two consecutive possessions after Cummings took the ball past half-court. Most players can steal the ball in traffic, but when a player can pick the ball clean one-on-one, that’s a special skill.

-TJ Warren could be our best test case for the LeBryan Nash theory. It isn’t that Warren cannot make threes. He made 14 of 27 as a freshman. But Warren would be much better off taking rhythm three point shots within the offense. Right now Warren is one of the only consistent scorers for NC State so he seems to have the green light in all situations. But next season, when NC State has more depth and experience, I wonder if Warren can cut down on his forced shots and see his efficiency improve meaningfully.

-There were other Atlantic 10 players I could include on this list, but I included Xavier Munford to emphasize how he continues to get the Marshall Henderson rules from his coach. If anyone could improve their efficiency with more limited shot selection, it is Munford.

-Finally, I wanted to emphasize the surprisingly poor outside shot for Kentucky’s Aaron Harrison. 27 percent isn’t crippling to a team, particularly with the offensive rebounders on Kentucky. But Harrison’s poor jump shot is a bit of a puzzle at this point.

The Drama of Losing

At this point in the season, I often find the games between struggling teams as fascinating as the games between winning teams. On Saturday, Virginia Tech’s Adam Smith missed a step-back game-tying two with 1 second left against Boston College. Tech’s Jarell Eddie cursed and shook his head, and walked down the court in disgust. You could clearly tell how much the game meant to him. There is no tanking in college basketball. There is no reassuring paycheck to heal all wounds. (At least in principle.) All the effort and all the practice is for the glory of the win. And when losses begin to multiply, the pain on the player’s faces is real.

Perhaps the most painful sight for me this week was watching Penn St.’s Tim Frazier. Some people pegged Frazier as a pre-season all-Big Ten player. And statistically, he has delivered. Frazier is averaging 17 PPG, 7 APG, and 4 RPG. And while his season has had some nice moments, taking a dominant Pittsburgh team to the wire in the ACC/Big Ten challenge, and beating St. John’s in OT, Penn St. is once again 0-4 in the Big Ten.

In the first week of the conference season, Penn St. built a double digit lead at home against Michigan St. But Michigan St. went on a 32-8 run to start the second half and the game became a laugher.

On Wednesday, Frazier and fellow ball-handler DJ Newbill again built the lead against Minnesota. But DJ Newbill fouled out. And then Frazier fouled out. And when Frazier went to the bench, Minnesota pounced. They pressured the ball-handler. They forced steals. And the Gophers came from behind to steal a game that Penn St. had led throughout.

Thus when Frazier picked up his 4th foul with 13 minutes left in a tight game against Indiana on Saturday, history was repeating itself. As Frazier headed to the bench with four fouls (he eventually fouled out), you could see the realization hit him. The chance to lead his team to victory was no longer in his hands.

When I see a player like Frazier, I find myself asking how these guys work so hard. How is it Frazier can give it all so often, only to realize that the margin is so slim? Penn St. now hits the road. Losses seem likely. But the beauty of college basketball is that these athletes so often take adversity and throw it to the side. When you are 18-23 years old, hope is always just around the corner. And when you are playing for your school, the journey isn’t always about the destination. Sometimes winning even one conference game would mean a lot.

Overcoming Adversity

With Butler falling to 0-4, it is easy to write off Georgetown’s win at Butler as just another game. But Georgetown’s overtime effort was one of the most impressive cases of overcoming adversity I have seen this year. In OT, Georgetown was without five of its key rotation players. Joshua Smith was suspended due to a recent academic issue, Jabril Trawick was out with a broken jaw, and Nate Lubick, Moses Ayegba, and Mikael Hopkins had all fouled out.

That meant Georgetown had former walk-on John Caprio on the floor for major minutes and Aaron Bowen played a key role as well. Bowen has long struck me as Georgetown’s biggest weakness in the rotation. Bowen has some explosive leaping ability, but he has no shooting touch whatsoever, and he kills Georgetown’s spacing because smart teams like Butler will basically leave him wide open on the perimeter.  But late in the game Bowen had a brilliant spin-move in the paint for a bucket and-one. Meanwhile, Caprio also earned a free throw trip with a solid drive. And the two combined for the game’s breakout play. With Georgetown nursing a 1 point lead, Caprio double teamed in the post, caused a tip, and the ball was passed to a streaking Bowen for an emphatic fast-break dunk. When the 9th and 10th best players in your rotation can make plays in OT, that’s sometimes what it takes to steal a win on the road.

Duke’s Offense was Bad, but the Defense Remains the Long-Run Concern

If you look at Clemson coach Brad Brownell’s career, he has always had very solid defensive teams with offensive questions. And thus it wasn’t particularly shocking to me to see Clemson hold Duke to its worst offensive performance of the season. We’ve mostly seen it with Florida St. in recent years, but when a team plays great defense, they can find a way to upset a few heavyweights, particularly at home.

But as bad as Duke’s offense was, the truly disturbing fact was that Duke couldn’t get any stops late in the game. Clemson kept getting the ball inside and getting chances for old-fashioned three point plays. A lot of people have argued that Duke’s poor defensive stats have been inflated by the Vermont game, and that the team has really turned the corner defensively. But after a promising three game stretch against UCLA, Eastern Michigan, and Elon, Duke’s defense is back to looking porous. Clemson doesn’t have many go-to scorers, outside KJ McDaniels, and if a team like Clemson can score 114 points per 100 possessions against Duke, I stick by my earlier statement. Duke simply doesn’t have enough quality interior defenders to make a deep tournament run this year.

Bullets

-Iowa St.’s Dustin Hogue and Oklahoma’s Ryan Spangler are two of the best transfers to join the Big 12 this season, and I’m not sure I have seen a more physical battle this season than the one these two engaged in on Saturday. Spangler won the day with 7 offensive rebounds and 8 defensive boards and the team victory, but this wasn’t a case where Hogue got pushed around. This was a battle of two very strong players playing grown man basketball. The rematch in Ames should be spectacular.

-UMass had trailed by as many as 13 points, and had finally taken a 1 point lead. There was a 6 second differential between the game clock and the shot clock and UMass had the ball. St. Bonaventure was hoping for one more shot to win on the road with a clean stop. But Chaz Williams remarkably turned a 1 point lead into an insurmountable lead. First, Williams drove and was fouled with just 11 seconds left. Then, on the ensuing inbounds play, he was able to get around his man, tip the ball, and cause a turnover. And with UMass making two more free throws, the game was sealed. Williams had a supbar shooting night, but star players find ways to win games even when they aren’t shooting well.

Harvard Watch

With Wesley Saunders out (with a short-term injury), Brandyn Curry played more minutes at Connecticut. But Curry still isn’t 100 percent, and his 2 for 12 performance was extremely costly in the narrow road loss.

I thought the most interesting development in the game was that while no one believes UConn’s front-court is dominant (except perhaps Central Florida), Harvard struggled to score around Connecticut’s 7’0” Amida Brimah. Harvard forward Kyle Casey tried to draw him out of the paint with some long jumpers, but that seemed like a low percentage shot, and Harvard’s overall offense seemed ill-equiped to deal with a team with a large post presence.

The problem is that even with Harvard’s biggest lineup, they don’t really have anyone who can post up a 7’0” defender. Perhaps the answer is to give a greater look to Zena Edosomwan. Tommy Amaker has been bringing him along very slowly, but he may need to give more time to his young big man in Ivy League play.

Or perhaps, Harvard should eschew the bigger lineup, and just go with the smaller offensive lineup when Wesley Saunders returns.  Last year in the NCAA tournament, Laurent Rivard played the PF spot with great success. And while Rivard has struggled a bit this season, he looked great in the last minutes on Wednesday. Rivard hit a three pointer and foul for a four point play, and he also beat his man off the dribble for another huge lay-up and one.

Regardless, even if Harvard is 28th in the Pomeroy Rankings, the offensive struggles at Connecticut show that Harvard still has some things to work on. And this is particularly true against teams with quality interior defenders.

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? Let’s take a quick look at some basic roster data and see if we can uncover any trends.

Part of predicting the season is noting the number of elite high school prospects on each roster. Not only are these players more likely to play well as freshmen, but they are also more likely to breakout later in their career. Recall, for example, Michael Snaer of Florida St. Snaer was a former Top 20 recruit, and while it took him three seasons, he broke out in a big way in 2011-12. After adding up the numbers…

- The Big East has the most former RSCI Top 100 prospects on rosters heading into the season with 58.

- But the Big East has more teams, and the Big East has only 3.9 elite recruits per team. The ACC has the most former Top 100 recruits per team with 4.6 per team.

- But James McAdoo is the only former Top 10 prospect in the ACC this season. That seems like an unprecedented lack of super-elite talent for the conference. If you want super elite talent, you probably want to watch the SEC, assuming everyone is declared academically eligible. John Calipari never lets us down on the recruiting trail.

- The SEC, however, is only welcoming ten Top 100 freshmen this year as a whole. Even the Big Ten, the land of typically poor recruiting, is welcoming more Top 100 freshmen than the SEC this season. And yes, the slumping Pac-12 brings in quite a few elite recruits this year.

Conf

T10

T100

T100 Fr

ACC

1

55

22

BE

1

58

17

SEC

4

49

10

B10

1

40

15

B12

3

33

11

P12

3

37

15

MWC

1

15

5

A10

0

11

3

The next table isn’t really roster data, but it does reflect some of my preliminary projections about playing time.

- The ACC is going to be the youngest conference in the nation this year, according to my projections.

- The Big East has a startlingly low number of key seniors on rosters this year.

- As usual, the MWC and A10 have more mature rosters. They lose fewer players to the NBA and that helps the top MWC and A10 teams compete, even without a plethora of blue chip talent.

Class

Sr%

Jr%

So%

Fr%

MWC

35%

30%

17%

17%

A10

33%

27%

19%

21%

P12

28%

32%

18%

22%

B12

32%

19%

26%

23%

BE

22%

32%

27%

19%

B10

27%

26%

23%

24%

SEC

25%

28%

24%

22%

ACC

25%

22%

23%

31%

The Pac-12 is getting older in a hurry, thanks in no small part to an influx of transfers. Note that your transfer numbers may vary slightly. I’m excluding transfer walk-ons and a few JUCOs who seem unlikely to play in the next table.

Incoming Transfers

D1

JUCO+

P12

15

8

SEC

10

11

BE

14

6

MWC

7

5

B12

7

5

A10

8

3

ACC

3

3

B10

5

1

The transfer table doesn’t mean the Pac-12 has suddenly become the conference of transfers. This is all a natural consequence of recent league history. The Pac-12 teams have struggled the last few years making those teams particularly attractive places for transfers to matriculate. If you want to transfer and PLAY in an elite league, you would have chosen the Pac-12 too.  On the other hand, the Big Ten has been on an upswing and few coaches have needed to dip into the JUCO ranks as a quick fix. Deverell Biggs of Nebraska is currently the only incoming JUCO player projected for the Big Ten this year.

Overall, the Pac-12 was a depleted league, but it is adding a number of impact freshmen and key transfers this year. The days of the league failing to field a Top 25 team are over. As for the Big Ten, the jury is still out. The teams at the top still have plenty of talent, but programs like Purdue could be in for a bit of a slip without an influx of can’t miss players coming in.

Does Missouri Possess The Best Transfer Class In History?

Has anyone ever brought in a transfer class that included a former national champion who was once a consensus Top 20 recruit, another consensus Top 20 recruit, the second leading scorer in the WCC, and the leading scorer and top minutes player on an SEC team in the same transfer haul?

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.

2012 Big 12 Power Rankings

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Top NCAA Coaches Of Past Five Years

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Freshmen Bring Hope

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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.

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Talent Squandered: College Basketball's Ultimate Underachieving Teams Since 2003

Georgia Tech in 2003 with Chris Bosh, Michigan State in 2006 with Shannon Brown and Paul Davis, Connecticut in 2010 one year before winning the championship and a 2010 North Carolina team with Ed Davis, John Henson and a host of other top recruits.

Surprises And Flops, Part 2

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

Conference Rankings (End Of Jan. Edition)

As we have commonly seen in recent seasons, the Big East has been the deepest conference in the country.

 

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