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College Basketball Preview Summary And Updates

Over the past 12 weeks, I have released a number of conference previews for the upcoming 14-15 college basketball season. Today, I want to provide a few updates on some of the things I wrote.

Pac-12 Preview: Since I wrote my Pac-12 preview, Jonathan Octeus and Jonah Bolden were declared ineligible at UCLA. That knocked the Bruins out of my Top 25 and it puts the Bruins in danger of missing the NCAA tournament. The problem for the Bruins is that they really only have six quality players on the roster. In the backcourt the team has Normal Powell, Bryce Alford, and Isaac Hamilton (who sat out last year due to a letter of intent issue.) In the frontcourt the team has RSCI #11 recruit Kevin Looney, Tony Parker, and RSCI #33 Thomas Welsh. But the other three scholarship players really should not be playing major minutes for a team as good as the Bruins. When Noah Allen, Wanaah Bail, and Gyorgy Goloman enter the game, the quality of play is going to decrease substantially. That likely means the Bruins are going to have to play at a much slower pace than last season. (Bill Walton will not be pleased.) And an injury to one of the top six players could cause the season to completely fall apart.

In my opinion, the biggest thing the Bruins will miss without Octeus is not his passing, but his outside shooting. Powell has shot under 30% from three the last two years and the lack of outside shooters could really hurt UCLA’s spacing this year and cause their offense to be stagnant.

Since I wrote the Pac-12 preview it also became official that JaQuan Lyle will not be competing for Oregon this year. You can’t count the Ducks out completely. Any team with a player as good as Joseph Young and a coach as good as Dana Altman is always a threat to reach the tournament. But the Ducks NCAA tournament odds are getting much longer.

Big Ten Preview: Unable to enroll at UCLA, Jonathan Octeus has enrolled at Purdue. When a scorer like Octeus enrolls at the last minute, it feels like it should substantially change a team’s outlook. But while Purdue moves up a little in my rankings, I still don’t see them as a likely tournament team. Purdue’s biggest weakness was a lack of a natural PG on the roster, and Octeus certainly helps. But remember that Octeus was not a prolific passer at Colorado St. His assist rate the last two years was 11.8% and 13.5%. (I have similar feelings about Tennessee’s transfer PG Ian Chiles. Both have shown a nice scoring touch, but it isn’t clear to me that either player has the passing skills to lead a team to the NCAA tournament.)

Unfortunately, Purdue’s Bryson Scott isn’t a natural PG either. Because I’m not sure about Octeus and Scott’s ability to lead a team, I still think freshman PG PJ Thompson is going to get a good share of minutes. In other words, I fear that Purdue may still look a bit like the team did the last few seasons, where players each had certain strengths and weaknesses, but it was hard to find a lineup that was strong in all dimensions. Having another outstanding outside shooter improves Purdue’s outlook, but I’m skeptical that this upgrades Purdue enough to really be in the tournament hunt.

SEC Preview: In my projections Cameron Biedscheid was projected as Missouri’s leading scorer this year. His departure is a major problem for the Tigers. Jonathan Williams looks like the top choice for the team’s new leader, but Williams also recently suffered a minor knee injury. That could hamper his production. Transfer Keith Shamburger can score, but if he is focused on scoring and not setting up his teammates, Missouri is in trouble.

And I’m not sold on the other veterans. Center Ryan Rosburg was very passive last year. It will take a major change in his game to make him a big time scorer. And veterans Deuce Bello and Wes Clark have been very inefficient at the college level.

Freshman Jakeenan Gant might be good, but he will probably not be the team’s breakout player because he will likely be playing behind Williams and Rosburg. Thus as crazy as it sounds, my best guess is that Montaque Gill-Ceaser and Namon Wright will end up scoring at a much higher clip than is typical for freshman with their recruiting rank. Gill-Ceaser re-classified, but he would have been about the 40th ranked recruit. His youth is a huge red flag, but he also has some real offensive skill both inside and outside the arc. And Namon Wright was only ranked 93rd nationally by RSCI. But on this team he’s going to have every opportunity to score buckets. With Biedschied out, don’t be surprised if one of these two freshmen steps up and fills the void.

That said, when you are talking about going from a veteran transfer to a shaky freshman as one of the team’s primary scorers, that is a huge downgrade. In my projections, Missouri has fallen off the NCAA bubble.

On the flip side, Texas A&M got fantastic news when the NCAA ruled that Jalen Jones could start in November instead of at the mid-semester break. Often when a player joins the lineup after the first semester they don’t have a chance to build chemistry with their teammates. Despite having immense talent, Florida’s Chris Walker couldn’t even crack the rotation for the Gators last year because of his late start. Texas A&M was a bad offensive team last season, and it makes a big difference that the team will get to reconstruct its offense around a natural scorer like Jalen Jones from the start of the season.

Finally, after I wrote my SEC preview I got some better JUCO recruiting data that elevated the projection for LSU’s Josh Gray. Thus I have LSU a little higher. But I think the Tigers are still closer to the middle of the SEC than to Kentucky and Florida.

MWC Preview: Since I wrote my initial MWC preview, Colorado St. added Grambling St. transfer Antwan Scott. We spend a lot of time talking about how Kentucky’s players are sacrificing their own offensive production to be part of a winning team. But it happens at other levels of basketball as well. I’m fascinated to see how Colorado St.’s roster fits together this year. JJ Avila and Daniel Bejarano are clearly stars. And the super-efficient Joseph DeCiman is back. But the team adds four transfers with significant D1 experience, John Gillon, Dantiel Daniels, Stanton Kidd, and the aforementioned Scott. All four could be major scorers, but someone is going to have to sacrifice shots on this team. The dynamic of who plays and who gets shots will be fascinating, but with so many efficient scorers, I’m confident that Colorado St.’s offense is going to be dominant.

Unfortunately, Colorado St. also received some bad news as Top 100 JUCO transfer Daniel Mulamba did not make it through the NCAA clearinghouse. I remain worried that a front-court of Stanton Kidd, JJ Avila, and Dantiel Daniels may be under-sized. And given that the team was poor defensively last season, I am very afraid that the defense is going to hold this team back from reaching its full potential.

A10 Preview: Dayton’s freshman center Steve McElvene was declared ineligible. That isn’t the end of the world, but it means there are only two players over 6’6” on the roster, and both had ORtgs of 93 and 96 last year. I’m not saying that McElvene was going to be a game-changer, his loss only costs Dayton three spots in my rankings, but Archie Miller would have much preferred to have McElvene as an option in his rotation.

American Preview: I had already forecast that Kedren Johnson would become eligible for Memphis, so my preview is unchanged.

Big 12 Preview: We’re still waiting for the TaShawn Thomas ruling for Oklahoma. Suffice to say I see it as a game-changer. I have Oklahoma 10 spots higher in my rankings if he becomes eligible.

Big East Preview: I don’t have anything new to add except to say that I’m a little surprised how low Villanova is in most preseason polls that I have seen. The Wildcats only lose James Bell, and they had three very good bench players (Josh Hart, Kris Jenkins, and Dylan Ennis) who were very efficient last year and who are ready for more minutes. I understand that Villanova was blown out by Connecticut in the NCAA tournament last year, and they didn’t add any Top 10 immediate impact recruits. But when I compare Villanova to a team like Texas, a team with a big hole at off-guard, I don’t understand why Villanova is the inferior team.

ACC Preview: I wrote this preview first, before I had processed the rosters for all the conferences, and before I had run 10,000 simulations of the season. I’m now a little more pessimistic about Clemson than in my preliminary look. Pitt lost Cameron Wright for two months due to an injury, and they are now a little lower in my projections.

Georgia Tech’s Charles Mitchell became eligible, and while he helps, I still have Georgia Tech in last in the ACC. Mitchell was not efficient last year, and Brian Gregory still remains the worst coach in the ACC according to all my advanced metrics.

Other Previews: WCC Preview, MVC Preview, The Rest of the Conferences

Five College Teams That Will Play Slower In 2014-15

Tulsa: Frank Haith took a Missouri team that was 14th in the nation in tempo and slowed the team down to 163rd in the nation. He now inherits a Tulsa team that is 79th in the nation in tempo, and a similar slow-down seems likely. But Tulsa fans won’t be complaining if Haith matches what he did in his first year at Missouri. Even though Missouri’s pace was slower, because his team played in a more controlled style, Missouri had the top offense in the nation and won the Big 12 Conference Tournament title.

Central Arkansas: Former head coach Corliss Williamson learned to play fast as a player under Nolan Richardson. And while Williamson didn’t win at a high level at Central Arkansas, he was able to implement a high octane attack. After he left to become an assistant in the NBA, interim head coach Clarence Finley maintained that same up-tempo attack with the team. New head coach Russ Pennell isn’t necessarily a slow coach, but he is unlikely to maintain the pace of the previous staff.

Maine: Former head coach Ted Woodard was Maine’s coach for a decade. Unfortunately, his final season was his worst, as his team won only 6 games. But if his team was going to lose, at least he let his players have some fun on the court. His final season was also his fastest team, as Maine was the 3rd fastest team in the nation. Bob Walsh is in his first season as a D1 head coach, but he probably won’t implement quite as quick a pace as he tries to let a new group of players learn on the job.

California: New head coach Cuonzo Martin’s fastest paced team ranked only 194th in the nation. Cal’s pace was never ranked that low under Mike Montgomery. Martin had dominant margin-of-victory numbers last year, and won three games in the NCAA tournament, so Cal fans may not mind if his team plays slow, as long as he wins.

Pace Rank

Mike Montgomery

Cuonzo Martin

2014

191st

323rd

2013

163rd

274th

2012

120th

194th

2011

66th

309th

2010

133rd

250th

2009

132nd

280th

Tennessee now has the oddest profile of “firing” head coaches of almost any school. They let Jerry Green leave after he made the NCAA tournament in every season as head coach. Bruce Pearl left after making the NCAA tournament in every season. And now Martin left after making the NCAA tournament. On paper, none of that makes any sense, but when you understand the background, it does. Green failed to live up to high expectations set for the team early in his tenure. Pearl was let go because of recruiting violations. And Martin was fired because he played a boring style of basketball and couldn’t live up to the high expectations set by Bruce Pearl. While I wish new head coach Donnie Tyndall nothing but the best, you do wonder whether Tennessee can every find a way to have, enjoy, and keep a winning coach. 

Oregon St.: New head coach Wayne Tinkle has traditionally had one of the slowest teams in the nation. He sped things up for two years when Montana went 15-1 and 19-1 in the Big Sky conference in 2012 and 2013, but his team still had a below average tempo. To put it another way, Tinkle has never played as fast as Craig Robinson did at Oregon St. last year.

Pace Rank

Craig Robinson

Wayne Tinkle

2014

139th

344th

2013

60th

258th

2012

15th

197th

2011

37th

304th

2010

324th

310th

2009

343rd

307th

Of course coaches do sometimes change their approach. Robinson started off as a slow-paced coach and sped up at Oregon St. when he thought he had the right personnel. It didn’t result in enough wins, because Oregon St.’s defense was too poor, but Robinsons track record shows that coaches will sometimes change their approach. But with Tinkle coming in, a slower season is the safer bet.

Reviewing The 2014 NBA Draft (From A College Perspective)

- I’m looking forward to seeing Boston Celtics head coach Brad Stevens try to properly use Marcus Smart and James Young. Both have serious flaws in their game. Smart is a terrible shooter, and Young is a terrible defender. (The later fact cannot be understated. Despite NBA size, Young blocked almost no shots, and had a terrible steal rate in college. He simply doesn’t have good defensive instincts.) But if put in a system to emphasize their strengths, both could outperform many of the players drafted ahead of them.

- I feel like Elfrid Payton’s stock shot up far too high. He put up great numbers, but you have to remember that he played in the 20th best conference in the country. He didn’t face a single Top 100 defense in his league. Moreover, in that relatively weak league, he couldn’t even lead his team to a dominating season. Louisiana-Lafayette finished just 11-7 in the Sun Belt. People always seem to be looking for the next Jeremy Lin. (Wait, people don’t seem to love him anymore.) People always seem to be looking for the next Damian Lillard, a small college guy with great college stats who translated well to the NBA. But there are lots of guys who have dominant stats in college and do not make it in the NBA. Perhaps Payton was a late bloomer and he really does have the athleticism to make it at the next level. But it is very hard to have watched a ton of college basketball and believe a player like Payton is better than Tyler Ennis or Shabazz Napier.

(Oh, and by the way, like Marcus Smart, Payton was a terrible shooter. Teams always seem to fall for the mistake that they can teach shooting. But while it is literally true that teams can’t teach athleticism or size, it is usually true that teams cannot teach shooting either. Kawhi Leonard might have learned to shoot in the NBA, but GMs are fired every year because they draft players who never learn to shoot.)

- I agree with everyone who felt Oklahoma City drafted Mitch McGary way too early. McGary was suspended this season because he used marijuana. I certainly understand the scouts that say that drug use happens in the NBA, and this isn’t a red flag. But the reason it bothers me is that McGary’s career effort appears to be so inconsistent. McGary was viewed as one of the top prospects as a junior in high school. But then he didn’t handle success well, and saw his stock plummet as a high school senior. Then, despite joining a team with a great PG and a great offensive mastermind at coach, McGary was invisible for four months of his freshman season. Suddenly, he had one great month in the NCAA tournament and was viewed as a lottery pick. Then he started the next season very slowly. He was injured, but I think we tend to forget that he struggled to be the center of Michigan’s offense. Had he continued to play, he was on pace for a very disappointing season. Basically, when you have a player who appears to have very inconsistent effort and performance, drug use should be a much bigger red flag.

- I agree with those who felt Kentucky’s Julius Randle fell too far in the draft. Bill Simmons and Jalen Rose may be right that experts picked him apart too much because they saw too much of him. But I hate the scouting reports that said that Randle depends too much on strength and overpowering people in the paint, and that won’t work in the NBA. Certainly, there will be older players in the NBA, and Randle won’t have the same size and strength advantage he did in college. But I don’t see how being the rare college player who is physically dominant counts as a major drawback. Randle was a true alpha-dog from the moment he stepped on the floor in November. The fact that six NBA franchises thought there were players better than Randle says a ton about the quality of this year’s draft.

Players Are Not One-Dimensional

NCAA fans face a key dilemma anytime they watch the draft. While they cheer for their former players to do well, the truth is that most fans are not happy to see their favorite players move on to the next level.

This was well-highlighted by John Calipari’s comments a few years ago that a draft with a large number of Kentucky players selected should be a great moment in Kentucky history. When we all step back and look at it, that has to be right. The purpose of a college is to prepare its students for their future careers. If Kentucky is doing that, the UK alumni should be proud, not angry. But as fans, that is a tough pill to swallow. On draft day, college fans are usually a little frustrated that we don’t get to see more from our favorite early entrants.

UCLA’s Jordan Adams is a great example of this. We spent the last two months talking about what a terrible decision he made to go pro. And now today, we were surprised when he was the 22nd pick in the first round. Perhaps the Memphis Grizzlies don’t know how to evaluate talent. Or perhaps we owe Adams an apology for questioning his decision.

But the truth is, we owe Jordan Adams that apology whether he was selected in the first round or not. Jordan Adams wasn’t playing college basketball to make us happy. He was playing college basketball while trying to pursue his dream of playing in the NBA. Only a curmudgeon would nit-pick the decision-making of someone pursuing their dream.

And this is especially true since returning to school is never a guarantee of success. Louisville’s Russ Smith returned to school and was told he needed to improve his passing to have a chance as an NBA point-guard. He did, upping his assist rate from near 20% to near 30%. And yet, no one noticed. Returning to school and once again becoming one of the most dominant players in college basketball didn’t suddenly make him into a first round pick.

Many of us laugh at the hypocrisy of the NCAA. We watch the O’Bannon vs NCAA trial and chortle at the NCAA’s claims that amateurism means that individuals cannot be recognized and compensated. And yet we often fall into the same trap as fans. We don’t really view the NCAA athletes as individuals who we want to succeed in life. We view them as pieces of a roster for our favorite teams.

Perhaps that’s why I really respect the NBA. While the NFL tries to limit the exposure of its players, (i.e. no one can take their helmet off after a big play without a penalty), the NBA tries to put the players front and center.

The NFL believes that if a team sport focuses on individuals, that it destroys the purpose of teamwork. And certainly this is sometimes true. Focusing on players sometimes leads you to learn that some players are show-offs, ball-hogs, and spotlight stealers. But if knowing about the players makes fans less connected to a sport, that is only because the league’s marketing has failed. The NBA has allowed us to see that players have more depth and nuance than any single highlight clip will ever show.

NCAA fans all know the Lacey Holsworth story, and how Adreian Payne did his best to provide joy for a little girl who died from cancer. And you had better believe the NBA wasn’t going to let its audience miss that story. It was front and center on draft night.

And the Isaiah Austin moment was spot on too. No, I wasn’t talking about the spot where the Commissioner came out and put a spotlight on the Baylor player who has to retire due to a life-threatening medical condition. I’m talking about the fact that during his 30 second interview, Marcus Smart chose to say he was thinking of Austin, and it reminded Smart not to take life for granted.

Marcus Smart is a reminder that we shouldn’t just try to give players one-dimensional labels. I don’t quite believe in all the love the ESPN crew foisted upon him on Thursday. His intensity is not unambiguously good. It often caused him to try to take over games himself and win by himself. It exposed the fact that he was not a pure PG. He did not respond to competitive situations by making his teammates better and rallying in the moment. He reacted with physical aggression and bad shot selection on far too many occasions.

But at the same time, Marcus Smart is exactly why the NBA is so good at what they do. We got to see his interview and see that he is not just the hyper-aggressive competitor on the court. On draft day, he wasn’t thinking about himself, he was thinking about his former rival in the Big 12.

Marcus Smart is a deep and complicated person, just like all of us. And that’s the reason we care about NBA players and teams, and not just our own local squad. Anyone who has watched the early chapters of Marcus Smart’s journey, absolutely wants to see how it ends up. Kudos to the NBA for putting the players front and center, and trying to present them as people, and not just jerseys.

David West Plays Vital Role In Helping T.J. Warren Realize NBA Dream

T.J. Warren is the first player drafted that worked directly with David West through his AAU Garner Road Basketball Club program.

Zach LaVine: Everything's Contextual

From a tools perspective, Zach LaVine is one of the most talented guards to come into the league in a long time. Heís not as big as Andrew Wiggins, but heís every bit as athletic and heís far more skilled.

The Big Mistake: Measurables Vs. Situation

When you are scouting a player in college, you have to scout his teammates and his coaching staff too. Just look at what's happened to Thomas Robinson and Andre Drummond in two NBA seasons.

The Tools: Five Basic Areas To Identify

The key to evaluating young basketball players and how their game will translate to the NBA is developing a universal framework that can be applied to every prospect.

Is The Sophomore Leap Real?

The sophomore leap is real, but it is largely about freshmen correcting mistakes. For polished and skilled freshmen, donít expect the same huge jump in efficiency.

Looking To The 2015 NBA Draft: Centers

There should be a bumper crop of behemoths in the college game in 2015, who will look to make their mark in a sport traditionally dominate by guards.

Looking To The 2015 NBA Draft: Power Forwards

In contrast to small forward and center, where very few players can fit the prototype of size, athleticism and skill, there are usually too many power forward to go around.

Looking To The 2015 NBA Draft: Small Forwards

A small forward who canít shoot 3ís has to have the game to be a primary offensive option at the next level, since the ball will naturally wind up in their hands. As a result, itís become a bit of an all-or-nothing position - thereís no such thing as a role playing SF who canít stretch the floor at the next level.

Looking To The 2015 NBA Draft: Shooting Guards

There is no shortage of big, athletic guards who can shoot the ball - what separates the best SG prospects is the ability to attack the rim and create shots for their teammates.

RealGM's 13-14 D-League Wrap-Up

With another successful NBA Development League season completed, we take a look back on some of the top stories that occurred this year. This season marked a new record in player assignments, at 187, and was second in NBA Call-Ups with 49. Itís clear that this is a league on the rise in terms of importance.

Looking To The 2015 NBA Draft: Returning Point Guards

Delon Wright, Marcus Paige, Rysheed Jordan, Andrew Harrison and Ryan Boatright are returning to college, but are the most intriguing point guard prospects for the NBA.

Portsmouth Invitational - '62 Years Running - The Best of the PIT'

Five players in particular really impressed from an NBA prospect perspective: Markel Starks, Travis Bader, Akil Mitchell, Javon McCrea, and Andre Dawkins all really helped themselves.

Notes On The 2014 Jordan Brand Classic

On Justin Blackmon, the budding chemistry between Jahlil Okafor and Tyus Jones, the potential of Cliff Alexander and Kelly Oubre at Kansas, and why Myles Turner is making the most informed decision of any high-level recruit.

Draft Report: Dante Exum Of Australian Institute Of Sport

While Dante Exum isnít quite as long and athletic as Andrew Wiggins, heís far more skilled. Heís an elite athlete in his own right and plays with more poise. You have to play Trading Places with these guys - what would have happened if Exum was on the AAU circuit every summer and Wiggins was in the AIS?

Why I Love The Nike Hoop Summit

The Nike Hoop Summit is the best of the high school All-Star games. Something happens when players put on the Team USA uniform. This isnít just an all-star dunk contest. You get to see a little bit more of the playerís character.

One And Done Model Works For Everyone

John Calipari is 18-3 in the NCAA Tournament at Kentucky. Even more remarkable, he compiled that number with four completely different teams, sending upwards of 15 players to the NBA. Itís a vindication not only of how he built his program, but of the entire ďone and doneĒ model.

A Champion Is Crowned

Should Kentucky have played more zone this year, why Niels Giffey made a lot of fans happy, and how Napier survived a few frustrated moments to lead his team to victory.

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