Sunday, June 29, 2014

Post-Draft BP68

This is my first bracket projection since April and it will be my last until Midnight Madness. The goal here is to take into account everything that has happened since April, including coaching changes, transfers, NBA defections, suspensions, signings, etc.

There are a few changes since the last bracket. The biggest is Kentucky moving to #1 overall. I've talked before about how I'm still not a total believer in this Kentucky team because Calipari is going to have to pull some kind of magic act to keep all of his players happy. But at this point, the safe pick is putting them #1 overall. I can say with pretty high confidence that they'll be #1 in the preseason media polls.

As for the teams making up the Field of 68, there have been two changes. Elfrid Payton's defection to the NBA has flipped the Sun Belt favorite from Louisiana Lafayette to Georgia State. Meanwhile, Colorado State (the first team out of my last bracket) moved into the field while UNLV dropped out after the losses of Khem Birch and Deville Smith.

There are other teams that moved up and down in terms of seed, but one change that didn't get made is Kansas/Texas for the Big 12 favorite. I've talked about this already on the blog, but while the media is likely going to pick Texas as the Big 12 preseason favorite, I'm sticking with Kansas. As much of a strong prospect as Myles Turner is, Texas is already well-stocked in good big men who need to play in the paint. They need another perimeter player, or they need significantly improved shooting from Isaiah Taylor, to finally stop Bill Self's reign of terror atop the Big 12.

For now, here's how I see things ending up on Selection Sunday 2015:


2. KANSAS (BIG 12)
2. North Carolina
2. Texas

3. Florida
3. Virginia

4. Oklahoma
4. SMU (AAC)
4. Louisville

5. Utah
5. Michigan
5. Ohio State
5. Iowa

6. West Virginia
6. Iowa State
6. Dayton

7. UConn
7. Pittsburgh
7. Illinois
7. Colorado

8. Stanford
8. Xavier
8. Nebraska

9. Georgetown
9. Cincinnati
9. Syracuse
9. Maryland

10. Miami-Florida
10. Northern Iowa
10. BYU
10. Oklahoma State

11. Richmond
11. Michigan State
11. Arkansas

12. Tennessee
12. Colorado State
12. Butler
12. Oregon





Teams seriously considered that just missed the cut:
Memphis, Tulsa, Clemson, Notre Dame, Wake Forest, Rhode Island, Creighton, Providence, Minnesota, Purdue, Baylor, Kansas State, Illinois State, UNLV, California, Georgia, Saint Mary's

Other teams with a decent shot to get onto the bubble:
Houston, Temple, Florida State, NC State, Virginia Tech, George Washington, UMass, Marquette, St. John's, Seton Hall, Indiana, Northwestern, UC-Irvine, Northeastern, Louisiana Tech, Green Bay, Iona, Western Michigan, Missouri State, Fresno State, New Mexico, Arizona State, Washington, Alabama, Auburn, Mississippi, Missouri, South Carolina, Texas A&M, San Francisco

Other teams I'm keeping my eye on:
Boston College, Georgia Tech, Duquesne, Penn State, Texas Tech, Delaware, Charlotte, Old Dominion, Columbia, Princeton, Yale, Northern Illinois, Evansville, Southern Illinois, Boise State, Wyoming, Oregon State, USC, Washington State, LSU, Vanderbilt, Portland, San Diego

Tuesday, June 24, 2014

Previewing The 2014 NBA Draft

It's that brutal time of the year.

The NBA Draft? Nah, that's kind of fun. I mean the run-up to the NBA Draft.

As with all things, there's a sensible middle ground. When I criticize Chad Ford-type draft analysts for being too impressed by how high guys can jump or how good they look in workouts against chairs, the typical pushback I get (on twitter at least) is that potential and athleticism matter and you can't just pick the best college players. And my response to that is: Yeah. No kidding. Nobody anywhere thinks Doug McDermott should get drafted before Andrew Wiggins just because he was better in 2013-14.

But at the same time, college performance matters, too. Throw out straight-out-of-high-school guys and European guys, and ask yourself how many guys you can think of who were non-elite college players yet who went onto become elite NBA players. You can have all the athleticism in the world, but if you can't translate it into quality play in college, why are you going to magically translate it into performance in the NBA? Particularly if you're buried on the end of the bench?

Every year there are one or two lottery guys who just tickle the fancy of draft analysts. They jump through the roof, they dominate every drill, and they look fantastic in an open gym... and everything that gets written about them in the run-up to the draft confuses the hell out of everybody who just watched them play actual basketball games in the NCAA. Last year that guy was Alex Len. And this year, we have a tie for the winner of the draft analyst love affair award between Joel Embiid and Zach LaVine. You think "love affair" is too strong of a phrase? Well...
Let's just say, Joel, that if you get some flowers with an anonymous card, we've got a leading candidate.

Anyway, I do these draft previews every year. Here is last season's, and from there you can find links to previous ones. As usual, I'm only going to talk about college players, as I have nothing educated to say about the European picks. So let's do this:

Green Room Guys:


TJ Warren - The full list of Green Room invites appears to be here. Warren turns 21 years old between the draft and the start of the regular season, which is a concern, but he did improve significantly between his freshman and sophomore seasons, so he doesn't appear to be close to peaking yet. If you didn't watch a lot of ACC basketball, you might not have seen Warren much prior to the NCAA Tournament. But be assured that what you saw of him in March was what he did all season long. The 37.3% of his team's shots he took while on the floor were third most in the nation, and he managed to do it efficiently (a 54.8 eFG%) and while physically dominating his opponents.

Warren is far from a sure thing. He's not a prolific rebounder, so he might have a bit of a "tweener" body. But he's a guy who, if he was on a more prominent team and fit better into media narratives, could easily be talked about as a Top 5 pick. He has superstar upside. Anywhere outside the top ten he'll be a good value. And right now, many are projecting him out of the lottery altogether.

Marcus Smart - It's funny that Smart ended up here since he was one of the most overrated players in the nation as a freshman. But narratives can be powerful, and the perception that he hasn't progressed blew up with all of his flopping and the shoving incident. But let's debunk these in reverse order. The shoving incident was dumb, but he's a very young guy and he had a momentary lapse in judgment - there's nothing else that we know about him that makes him seem like a troublemaker or thug. Can't give up on a kid over one small incident like that. As for the flopping... did you see Lebron and Dwyane Wade in the playoffs this past season? Elite NBA players flop. And as for the idea that he didn't progress? Well, between his freshman and sophomore seasons, Smart shouldered a significantly larger fraction of OSU's offense while shooting better, scoring more efficiently, assisting on more baskets and dropping his turnovers. But other than that...

Outside of Jabari Parker and Andrew Wiggins, Smart is the surest commodity in the draft. You can plug him into just about any NBA starting lineup right now. If he goes anywhere lower than third overall (which he surely will) he'll be a good value.

Aaron Gordon - Because he's not a big scorer, Gordon is unlikely to ever be an NBA superstar. He gets compared to Blake Griffin, but I think that's just because he physically looks like Blake Griffin. He even wears the same facial expressions as Griffin. But their games are very different. Griffin was a much bigger college scorer. But Gordon is a fantastic defender, and he clearly has NBA size and athleticism. But even if Gordon probably will never be 1st team All-NBA, I'd bet on him starting in the NBA for the next dozen years. And that will make him a good value late in the top ten, which is where he's projected to go.


Joel Embiid - The thing with Embiid is that it looks like he might plummet in the draft now that a stress fracture was announced last week, which is a bit bizarre. His back injury this past season should be seen as a much more significant red flag than a freak foot injury. Maybe it's all a case of recent-ism.

Anyway, I've talked about this plenty, so I'm going to repeat myself here, but the Joel Embiid Phenomenon this past season was a narrative blown out of control. Andrew Wiggins was hyped up as the greatest prospect since Lebron James, meaning that there was no way that there wouldn't be media narrative blowback anytime he had a down game (everybody has down games, but nobody has each one dissected more than Wiggins). And part of the blowback was the over-hyping of his teammate. Embiid was a pretty good player, but via Ken Pomeroy, here were his top freshman statistical comps: Tony Mitchell, Eric Moreland and Joel Bolomboy.

An additional concern is that Embiid played smaller than his height as a freshman. He repeatedly struggled against teams like Texas, Baylor and Florida that had NBA-sized big men, while he piled up his best performances against undersized teams like Iowa State and Oklahoma State. There's a big difference between looking good in the paint against 6'7" guys and against 6'11" guys, and in the NBA you're not going to see much of the former.

I feel like the Joel Embiid Crazy is summed up by this tweet, which isn't coming from Skip Bayless or Chris Broussard, but from ESPN Stats & Info:
If you really believe the worst case scenario for Embiid is Yao Ming, who made 8 All-Star games, 5 All-NBA teams and averaged 19 points per game over his NBA career, he's a no-brainer #1 overall pick. But that's not the real worst case. The real worst case is Sam Bowie. The fact is that Embiid ticks every "draft bust" box. He's 7-feet tall, he's super raw, he struggled most against NBA size, he's media hyped and he has a significant injury history. Ask yourself: How many raw 7-footers with injury history have ever gone top ten in the NBA Draft and paid off? I can't think of one. But I can think of a lot of busts.

Zach LaVine - The thing with Joel Embiid is that as much as I think he's going to be a bust, at least he was one of the two or three best players on one of the best teams in the nation. Zach LaVine was something like the sixth or seventh best player on UCLA. Meh. If you draft him, be aware that he's almost guaranteed to play in the D-League as a rookie. He's just so incredibly far from being a quality NBA player.

Ask yourself why all the draft analysts who harp on one or two down games that Andrew Wiggins had never mention that LaVine averaged 4.2 points, 2.3 rebounds and 0.8 assists per game over six Pac-12 and NCAA tourney games, or that he had at least as many fouls committed as points scored in four of their final seven games. Yet every mock I've seen lately has him going before TJ Warren, who as a sophomore absolutely carried NC State to an NCAA tourney win? Please. Take the Warren, leave the LaVine.

Rodney Hood - Hood was a very overrated college player, too. He scores a lot, and he's a good shooter, but he's a 6'8" guy who doesn't rebound and is a poor defender. It's ironic that Jabari Parker gets hammered all the time for being a zero-defense guy, yet Parker is a defensive monster compared to Hood. It's pretty tough to play in the NBA if you're 6'8" and don't rebound or play defense. To overcome that, you need to be an explosive scorer, but Hood is more of a jump shooter. Only 18.9% of the shots he took from the field at Duke were at the rim. Late in the lottery, you can do a lot better.

Late 1st/Early 2nd Round Guys:


PJ Hairston - I'm going to put a little bit of an asterisk here because I haven't seen Hairston play a game in more than a year. It's possible that his training went off the rails during his year of ineligibility. But Hairston was an incredibly efficient scorer for North Carolina as a sophomore, showing dramatic improvement in all aspects of his game. He has a nice outside shot and he can also beat his man off the dribble and finish at the hoop or draw fouls. There are enough question marks that you'd want to lay off him in the first 15 picks, but he'll be a really nice value late in the first round.

Kyle Anderson - Anderson is a hard player to figure out because he doesn't fit into any mold. He's a 6'9" player who looks so slow when you watch him run, yet he put up the stats of an elite point guard. When you watch him play, he seems to glide as he moves in apparent slow motion past his man to the basket... yet he always beats his man to the basket. He needs to fall into the right situation, but if he gets a coach who knows what to do with him and how to fix his flaws, he has the raw potential to be an NBA star someday.

Mitch McGary - This is a risky pick, of course. Back injuries for big guys are something that can ruin a career. But of course, Joel Embiid had one, too, and you're going to have to use a really high pick to get him. Later in the first round, if you have a chance to get a guy who has NBA All-Star potential, you absolutely have to take him. Remember, McGary was going to likely be a top 5 draft pick a year ago. He's physical, he's a strong rebounder, and he's an effective finisher around the rim. He might end up a bust, but late in the first round that's a risk you've got to be willing to take.

Khem Birch - This is another "upside" pick, which if you haven't noticed the trend, is what I think NBA teams should be picking late in the first round and into the second round. At his size, Khem Birch needs to develop a mid-range jump shoot to be anything more than a defensive specialist, but he's a big time defender with NBA size and length, and he's a strong rebounder as well. Think of him as a poor man's Serge Ibaka, and remember how Ibaka quickly turned into an elite player once he developed a mid-range jump shot.


Jordan Clarkson - If you're a poor outside shooter who hasn't improved your shooting in three seasons, you need to be elite at something else to become an NBA point guard. But what is Jordan Clarkson elite at? He's not even much of a passing point guard either. He'd make a better shooting guard than point guard if he could shoot, but he can't. Seems bizarre to use a first round pick on him when a guy like Shabazz Napier could easily still be on the board.

Jerami Grant - Most mocks have Grant very narrowly behind his college teammate Tyler Ennis. Huh? Ennis has a significantly higher ceiling and has proven to be an elite college point guard. Grant's reputation seemed to grow because of the mistaken media narrative that Syracuse fell apart when he missed a couple of weeks. Jerami Grant is a solid player, but he wasn't an elite college player and he doesn't have an elite skill. He's a 6'8" guy who doesn't shoot well, yet who will likely never be physical enough to play in the paint in the NBA. Ennis deserves to be a borderline Top 20 pick. His teammate does not.

Patric Young - It's weird to think of a four year player at an elite program as a "workout guy", but that's what Patric Young is. He looks fantastic - he's the most physically imposing player in college basketball jogging out of the tunnel. But he's just never been elite, and he never improved much over his four seasons, meaning that there's little hope for a dramatic improvement from him in the NBA. Most mock drafts seem to have Young going in the early second round, and that's just an uninspired pick in that location, in my opinion.

Everybody Else:

Jordan Bachynski - Once you get past the lottery, you're probably not getting an NBA starter with your draft pick. So you want to go with upside guys, or else you want a guy who has a clear NBA skill. And Bachynski is the latter. He's never going to be much of a scorer, but he might have been the best shot blocker in the nation this past season, and at a legit 7'2" he's likely going to be able to continue that in the NBA. Bachynski is a guy who probably will play 10-15 minutes per game in the NBA, and late in the second round that's excellent value.

Bryce Cotton - Cotton doesn't have the profile for a guy you want to draft. He doesn't have superstar upside and he doesn't have an obvious NBA skill (he's very good at everything, but not elite at anything). The fact that he was a four year player at Providence (and honestly it felt like he played for six years) means that you'd generally lay off of a guy like him. But first of all, Cotton was very young for his year. He's 21 years old, and younger than Mitch McGary. Second, Cotton is such an incredible basketball player. He never sat on the bench, and gave maximum effort at all times, absolutely carrying a Providence team that had very little of anything else. If anybody in his situation can find a way to adapt and become a useful NBA rotation piece, I'd bet on Cotton. He's worth a flyer in the latter half of the second round.


Johnny O'Bryant - Is O'Bryant supposed to be an upside guy? He didn't improve much over three seasons at LSU. He's only 6'8.5" in shoes, yet he has no outside game and isn't much of a paint scorer. And he's not a great rebounder or defender either. He's a big, strong guy, but that means a lot more for 6'8" guys in college than it does in the NBA. I just don't see what anybody sees in Johnny O'Bryant as a prospect.

James Michael McAdoo - There was a running joke I had going the past two seasons, which was to watch out for the announcer of every North Carolina game to say that this was a "disappointing" or "sub par" performance from McAdoo. There were maybe one or two games in his entire career that you didn't hear it. In a sensible world, these repeated disappointments would cause the media to lower their estimation of how good McAdoo was. But they didn't. McAdoo was not a particularly good college play and he has no specifically elite skill either. You look at him wearing a uniform and he physically looks like he should be a superstar, but he's not.

Sunday, June 22, 2014

Morning News: Catching Up On A Month Of News

"Wassup, guys?"

It's been close to a month since I had a Morning News post, so it's time to catch up on some of the bigger news stories in college basketball that I haven't covered yet. As a side note, be aware that I'll have an NBA Draft preview post up later this week. I'll also post another complete bracket projection sometime during the week following the draft. So stay tuned for those two posts.

Jerian Grant Officially Returning To Notre Dame There had been talk about this for a few months, but it's now official that Jerian Grant will be back. This is really big news for them, of course. The Irish were never one of the 25 best teams in the country this past season (though they were ranked in the official polls briefly in November), but their season went into a total tailspin after they lost Grant, and they ended up just 6-12 in the ACC. Getting Grant back doesn't mean the Irish will be elite again next season (the loss of Garrick Sherman will be huge), but it should at least get them back to the Tournament bubble.

Byron Wesley To Gonzaga USC basketball was obviously a dumpster fire this past season, but the one bright spot was Byron Wesley, who was legitimately one of the better players in the Pac-12. He now takes his talents to Gonzaga, where he'll have one year of eligibility left which he will use right away. This fills a bit need for a Gonzaga team that is going to have a lot of size and length but needed perimeter ball handling after the loss of David Stockton. I already had Gonzaga as a 4 seed in my projected bracket, and I'm not going to move them higher than a 3 seed now, but this strengthens their position as a clear Top 25 team and a dark horse Final Four contender.

Oklahoma Adds Houston's TaShawn Thomas This transfer may or may not matter for next season since, as far as I'm aware, Thomas is still awaiting word from the NCAA whether he'll be immediately eligible or not. But if he can play, he'll provide Oklahoma with an explosive front court scorer, as well as a very strong paint defensive presence. And while most see next season's Big 12 as a battle between Texas and Kansas (the media will likely choose Texas while I'm choosing Kansas), TaShawn Thomas would have the ability to put the Sooners right into that discussion. They'll likely be Top 25 to start next season even if Thomas is ineligible.

Bruce Pearl Adds KC Ross-Miller And Antoine Mason Mason was the nation's leading scorer at Niagara last season. Ross-Miller, a point guard, was one of the best players on New Mexico State last season. And Auburn had already added Kareem Canty from Marshall. We knew Bruce Pearl would upgrade the talent level at Auburn, and he certainly has. Should Auburn fans start printing NCAA Tournament tickets? Well, no. But they'll have a supremely more entertaining team, and they should if nothing else be competitive in SEC play after five consecutive seasons of winning fewer than 40% of their SEC games, and no NCAA Tournament appearances in more than a decade.

Lots Of Maryland News It feels as if Maryland has had total roster turnover. They've had something like eight players transfer out and five transfer in (that might be a slight exaggeration, but only slight). I've already covered plenty of Maryland news already this offseason (see here for links to all of that). What are the newest Maryland updates? Well, they have added Richard Pack from North Carolina A&T and Robert Carter from Georgia Tech, while losing Charles Mitchell to Georgia Tech. And Nick Faust, who was already announced as a transfer, is officially going to Long Beach State.

Faust will have to sit out next season, so while that's a big pickup for Long Beach State, it will have no bearing on next season. Robert Carter also will have to sit out next season. The change for Maryland here is losing Mitchell while getting Pack eligible for next season. Mitchell was the team's best rebounder this past season, so that's a significant blow for the Terps heading into the Big Ten. Pack was a monster scorer at North Carolina A&T, though a big part of his game was getting to the free throw line, and that's the sort of ability that often doesn't translate from the lowest tiers of college basketball to the highest tiers. I've basically thrown up my hands at figuring at Maryland, though. The roster is just too different. If I have to guess? I'll say they're a likely Tourney team, but unlikely to be Top 25. But nobody really knows.

The Charles Mitchell pickup, by the way, is really nice for a Georgia Tech team that had to get totally rebuilt this offseason. They lost four of the top six players from a team that was pretty poor to begin with. But Brian Gregory has aggressively gone after transfers, and Mitchell will join Demarco Cox, Nick Jacobs and Josh Heath. It's not a Tournament team yet, in my opinion, but they should at least be competitive in the ACC next season.

USC Adds Elijah Stewart Stewart, a shooting guard, joins point guard Jordan McLaughlin as cornerstones of a very strong 2014 recruiting class for USC. This has led to another round of fawning articles about Andy Enfield (like the one I linked to), but as regular readers know, I continue to be skeptical about him. The reality is that Stewart and McLaughlin are good recruits, but they're not Andrew Wiggins or Jabari Parker. And this USC team lost the only good player from an awful team that went 2-16 in Pac-12 play. Enfield also adds Katin Reinhardt, who started at UNLV as a freshman in 2012-13, but again... what roster are they adding these guys to? Enfield still needs to add a whole lot more talent. At some point, he has to win games or the media will start to forget about him.

Creighton Adds Ricky Kreklow From California With basically everybody graduating, Creighton was in need of a massive influx of talent to stay in the top tier of the Big East. The problem is that while Kreklow will play right away, he'll have only one year of eligibility left and the other two prominent Creighton transfers (Cole Huff from Nevada and Maurice Watson from Boston University) will likely have to sit out next season. So I don't think this move is going to win Creighton any Big East titles. But it gives the Bluejays just a little bit of hope of sneaking back into the NCAA Tournament.

LSU Transfer Anthony Hickey Will Be Eligible For Oklahoma State We already knew Hickey would be heading to Oklahoma State, but now he knows that he'll be eligible to play immediately. The point guard will provide a significant boost to a Cowboys team that will likely be in the vicinity of the Tournament bubble after significant offseason losses. With Stevie Clarke gone for good (and with Marcus Smart off to the NBA), point guard was a particular need.

Eron Harris To Michigan State This is an important transfer, but not for next season, when Harris will have to sit out. Harris, a sharpshooting combo guard, was the second best player on West Virginia this past season. He'll be a weapon immediately after becoming eligible in the Big Ten.

Deville Smith Leaves UNLV Deville Smith is no superstar, but he was UNLV's starting point guard this past season. And that makes it official that the Runnin' Rebs will lose their entire starting lineup, despite only one leaving via graduation. Dave Rice does have a really nice recruiting class coming in next season that features three blue chippers, highlighted by Rashad Vaughn, who might have been the top shooting guard recruit in the nation. But without much of anything returning from last season, UNLV will be a bubble team at best.