Ranking the Most Dynamic Freshmen Scorers in College Basketball in 2014-15

The youngsters are putting quite a stamp on this young college basketball campaign.

These elite freshmen, with their invisible ceilings, capture imaginations and headlines around the country. But their impact is also very real on the court, whether they are the well-known blue-chippers or those who arrived to less fanfare.

Here are 10 freshmen who have, thus far, proved to be adept at putting the ball in the hole for their teams. Some of the names may be familiar—some less so. They are ranked based on scoring output, scoring versatility and scoring efficiency.

And don’t forget: This is a list of the most dynamic freshmen scorers right now. It’s not a list of the best freshmen overall or the highest offensive ceilings. It’s all right now. 

 

Stats courtesy of ESPN.com and NCAA.com.

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College Basketball 2014-15: Latest Rankings of the Top Conferences

The Big 12 remains the best college basketball conference in the country, but the bigger news might be that the Big Ten has slipped to No. 4 in our latest rankings of the top conferences.

With the start of conference play only about 10 days away, we’re rapidly running out of chances to watch these conferences go to war with one another.

By the time we flip the calendar to January, there will be no more early season tournaments. No more ACC/B1G or SEC/Big 12 Challenges. No more AAC and A-10 losing seemingly every game it plays.

Soon, it will just be a bunch of civil wars playing out across the country as teams take turns chopping rivals down to size.

The following 11 conferences were ranked partially by percentage of teams expected to make the NCAA tournament and partially by noteworthy wins and bad losses.

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Holiday Wish List for Each Top 25 College Basketball Team

What do you get for the college basketball teams that (seemingly) have everything?

For those currently ranked in the Associated Press Top 25, life has been pretty good so far in the 2014-15 season. But no team is perfect, and all of them have something they’re lacking, something that might make for a great holiday gift.

Most of what these teams need can’t be wrapped—though putting a bow on a player would make for a fun picture—but the thought is there. We at Bleacher Report have put careful thought into the gifts that every current Top 25 team would like this holiday season.

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The Best Dunks so Far in the 2014-15 College Basketball Season

The name of the game is hang time.

These athletes make video games look unreal. They are anti-gravity. The laws of physics are mere suggestions to these gravitational contrarians.

That’s enough of that nonsense.

Sometimes it’s best to just get out of the way and let these cats rattle the rim and raise the roof.

These are the best dunks that I was able to curate in this young season. Hopefully you don’t end up posterized.

You’ve been warned.

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College Basketball Coaches Whose Stock Is Soaring Early in 2014-15

It’s the holiday season, which is a good time to reflect on the previous year and analyze who has been naughty and who has been nice. This applies to the college basketball world too—particularly the coaches.

Though conference play won’t seriously get underway until the new year begins, there have been enough games so far this season to figure out who is on the right track and who needs to regroup entirely. In this list, we’re going to get into the holiday spirit and only focus on the positive.

Coaches usually don’t receive a lot of attention until March when seasons are on the line (and jobs are up in the air), but there are a handful of men who are already standing out and making a name for themselves early in the season.

Here are a few college basketball coaches who aren’t quite household names yet, but they have a chance to be come March.

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Odds on the Last Undefeated Team in College Basketball: Handicapping the Field

Could we be headed for a second straight college basketball season with an undefeated team at the start of the NCAA tournament?

Perhaps a better question: Are we more likely to have two 34-0 teams or zero?

After a little more than one month of play, only nine undefeated teams are left in the country. Today, we’re ranking those teams by the likelihood that they will serve as the last undefeated team remaining in 2014-15.

It’s a delicate balance of strength of roster and strength of schedule, but it won’t come as any surprise that Kentucky is No. 1 and TCU is No. 9. It’s in between where things start to get interesting. Duke at No. 5, for instance, might surprise some people, but you have to factor in who each team is playing, when and where.

On these slides, we list each team’s percentage of being undefeated on January 1 as well as on February 1. We determined those numbers by their chance of winning each game as calculated on KenPom.com (subscription required).

TCU, for example, has at least a 95 percent chance of winning each of its remaining games between now and New Year’s Day, but it goes downhill in a hurry after that.

We’ll also note which game we think will result in each team’s first loss, list up to five other games that could also result in losses and then provide each team’s odds of lasting the longest without a loss.

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D’Angelo Russell Emerging as Top 2015 NBA Draft Guard Prospect in College Hoops

Though no doubt a terrific talent out of Montverde Academy, there were some questions prior to the season regarding freshman D’Angelo Russell’s outlook as an NBA prospect. But those questions have become less pressing after a month at Ohio State, as they’ve been overshadowed by the upside his versatility and potent attack ultimately fuel. 

Russell has looked like an offensive tornado through nine games, averaging 17.7 points, 5.6 assists and 4.7 rebounds on 47.5 percent shooting. 

And there’s just something convincing about his early-season production and strong first impression, even if he has had a few hiccups along the way. 

Russell operates with a ton of confidence, which plays to his believability. But his sales pitch to the pros revolves around his unique blend of strengths—the size and scoring arsenal of a 2 to match the floor game of a lead guard.

With Shannon Scott running the point on a more exclusive basis, Russell has spent a good amount of time off the ball so far this season. And he’s been effective in that role, thanks to a refined perimeter game and what’s been a lethal outside stroke.

He’s averaging 2.2 three-point makes at a scorching 43.5 percent clip. Russell doesn’t get much elevation, but at 6’5″, he’s got a quick release and the ability to connect with defenders in his face.

The fact that he’s 6’5″ and can shoot speaks to the safety he offers as a prospect, but it’s the firepower he’s capable of unloading off the dribble that really drives his potential.

Russell is a scoring playmaker. He reminds me of a mix between Goran Dragic and Monta Ellis—guys who could go out and get their own, on or off the ball, as well as set the table for teammates as their facilitator.

He certainly proved he can get his own against Sacred Heart, when he went for 32 points in just his third career game. “I just told myself whoever was guarding me I was gonna destroy them,” Russell told Cleveland.com’s Bill Landis. 

From pull-ups off two feet and floaters off one to hard drives and finishes on the break, he’s flashed the ability to generate offense in a variety of different ways. 

As a point guard, Russell tends to get a little reckless, but his passing instincts look legitimate. 

He’s got excellent vision on the move, whether he’s driving off a screen or pushing the ball off a defensive rebound. 

Russell displays a tremendous command of the ball in terms of his ability to get to his spots on the floor. And with point guards nowadays almost required to shoot and score, you get the impression that could be the position where Russell’s future lies in the pros.

Given his physical tools and quickness, Russell could offer some serious mismatch potential at the point. 

Right now, he’s turning the ball over a little too much (3.2 times per game), although feel free to place some blame on his monster 32.08 percent usage rate, an incredibly high number for an 18-year-old freshman on a top-15 team.

But that’s the level of trust and responsibility Ohio State’s coaching staff has given to Russell, who has the ability to impact a game in more ways than anyone else on the squad. Even in Russell’s worst outing of the year (6-of-20 from the floor, as his jumper just wouldn’t fall) against a tough Louisville defense, he still managed to put up 17 points, seven assists, six boards and two steals. 

Russell won’t blow anyone away with above-the-rim hops or explosiveness, but he’s no stiff out there, while his feel for the game and skill level are both far ahead of the curve. 

Looking down the list of eligible guards for the 2015 draft—well, there just aren’t many exciting ones outside of Emmanuel Mudiay, who’s finishing up in China, and Mario Hezonja, who plays for Barcelona in Euroleague and the Spanish ACB. 

This year’s projected field appears to be heavily populated by 4s and 5s, while I’d consider guys like Arizona’s Stanley Johnson and Duke’s Justise Winslow more as small forwards or wings. 

In what looks like a weak class of guards, Russell has quickly made the case for being the most promising of those playing at the Division I level. 

And it’s a little unexpected, given the traditional fear tied to combos. But Russell is one of the rare ones—a guy with the physical tools to play either position along with a balanced offensive repertoire built to score, create and orchestrate. 

He’s immediately entered the 2015 lottery conversation, where I’d imagine he’ll stay until June 25.

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King’s Court: No College Basketball Goliath Is Safe in Year Filled with Upsets

A few days before what most believed would be a walkover game against a former Division II school, Nebraska’s Tim Miles received a warning from a friend in the coaching profession.

“Be careful,” Miles was told. “Incarnate Word is going to be a lot better than you want them to be.”

Miles paid attention to the advice.

Whether his players did is another question.

As a Pinnacle Bank Arena crowd of 10,586 looked on in disbelief, Incarnate Word forced a late turnover and then capitalized with a game-winning shot in last week’s 74-73 victory over a Nebraska team that entered the season ranked No. 21.

“There’s no question that we got tight,” Miles said earlier this week. “You could sense a vibe of, ‘This isn’t supposed to be happening to us.’ But it did.”

Along with gaining national recognition for Incarnate Word—which is now in its second year as a Division I program—the win continued the trend of stunning upsets that have helped define the college basketball season to date.

Defending national champion Connecticut lost to Yale, South Carolina Upstate beat Georgia Tech and Wofford shocked North Carolina State.

No power conference team has been infected by the upset bug as badly as Michigan, which dropped back-to-back home games to New Jersey Institute of Technology and Eastern Michigan.

“This is something that is humbling,” Michigan coach John Beilein told reporters after the NJIT debacle. “We have to grow through that humility.”

Indiana coach Tom Crean was hoping for the same following his team’s 88-86 home loss to Eastern Washington on Nov. 24.

According to Crean, the factors that lead to an upset are often visible on the practice court days before the game.

“Too many times,” Crean said, “when your opponent isn’t a household name because you don’t ever see them on TV, you lose that competitive mindset in everything you do. Concentration in practices wander and intensity dips. Those things manifest themselves in the game.”

Crean said it’s easy for a player to view a game against a mid-major opponent as an opportunity to shine individually by putting up gaudy stats or to get more playing time off the bench.

“When players are centered on themselves and not the team, it creates problems,” Crean said. “Eastern Washington was flat out on a mission when they played us. We played hard, but playing hard isn’t good enough. We didn’t compete at the level they did.

“It’s a great lesson for players to learn. Playing hard isn’t good enough. Competing to win and having a high concentration level and the same excitement level that you have for other opponents are the keys.”

Just as coaches at high-major institutions want their players to have the same intensity for smaller-name opponents as they do for big ones, coaches at mid-major schools say keeping their players even keel is a priority, too.

Matt Driscoll said North Florida has played 30 games against teams from power five conferences during his five-plus years as head coach. During that span the Ospreys have dropped single-digit games to Florida (a Final Four team) and Florida State, and they lost in overtime at Kansas State.

“I never tell our guys, ‘Great try. You should proud of yourselves. Let’s shower and go get a steak,’” Driscoll said. “They don’t want to hear the ‘Atta Boy!’ speech. They’ve played against players from these other teams growing up in AAU ball. They see them on TV every week. They know they can compete with them.”

Driscoll said his players were irate with themselves for squandering a seven-point lead with 3:55 remaining in a 69-67 loss at Northwestern on Nov. 20. When they took the court against Purdue a few weeks later, they made sure it didn’t happen again in a game that saw the Ospreys rally from a seven-point deficit in the final three minutes for a 73-70 win.

“They told themselves that they were going to get it done,” Driscoll said. “There were no miracle shots, no banked-in threes. It was stuff that we’d done all year long.

“Am I shocked? No, because we feel like we’re capable of doing those things and competing against those people.”

Indeed, having confidence and swagger and acting as the aggressor are vital to pulling an upset—or, when it comes to playing No. 1-ranked Kentucky, keeping things close. Buffalo and Columbia both held halftime leads at Rupp Arena before the Wildcats’ depth and talent prevailed in the second half.

The close calls clearly ignited a spark in Kentucky’s players, most of whom were simply going through the motions. Miles said the loss to Incarnate Word had the same effect on his team at Nebraska.

Three nights later the Cornhuskers defeated Cincinnati 56-55 in double overtime.

“It wasn’t a pretty game,” Miles said, “but we competed so hard and showed so much toughness and resolve. I’m not sure we’d have beat Cincinnati if we hadn’t have lost to Incarnate Word. It was a teachable moment.

“You’d prefer not to lose, but sometimes you have to take that punch in the gut to learn your lesson.”

 

Report Card

A’s

Scott Drew: The Baylor coach has his team on the cusp of the Top 25 despite losing Isaiah Austin, Cory Jefferson and Brady Heslip from last season’s Sweet 16 squad. The Bears’ only loss (to Illinois) came without standout point guard Kenny Chery, who was sidelined with turf toe.

Upperclassmen: As always, college basketball fans (and media members) are infatuated with freshmen. But juniors and seniors such as Louisville’s Montrezl Harrell, Duke’s Quinn Cook, Gonzaga’s Kevin Pangos, Kansas’ Perry Ellis, Kentucky’s Willie Cauley-Stein and Wisconsin’s Frank Kaminsky and Sam Dekker have been vital to their teams’ success.

Delon Wright: The Utah senior might be the best point guard in the country. Wright had 23 points (on 9-of-13 shooting) in Saturday’s loss to Kansas and is averaging a team-high 16.2 points this season. Equally impressive is his shooting percentage (59.8) from the field. At 6’5″, the sinewy Wright will shoot up NBA draft boards if he continues to perform at this level. Wright’s brother, Dorell, plays for the Portland Trail Blazers.

 

B’s

Kentucky shooters: The Wildcats entered Saturday’s game against North Carolina shooting 27.7 percent from beyond the arc and had combined for just six three-pointers in their previous three games. Kentucky had swished that many treys by halftime against the Tar Heels and ended up going 7-of-15 for the game. Outside shooting had been the one perceived weakness of John Calipari‘s squad. If the Wildcats become a good three-point shooting team they’ll be unbeatable.

Stanley Johnson: The Arizona freshman is validating his reputation as a likely lottery pick in next summer’s NBA draft. A small forward, Johnson is averaging 15.6 points and 6.6 rebounds in his last five games while shooting 62 percent (29-of-47) from the field. Johnson’s swagger is perfect for a Wildcats squad that prides itself on toughness.

Tyler Haws’ ankle: Initial indications were that the ankle sprain Haws suffered in Saturday’s victory at Weber State would keep BYU’s leading scorer off the court for at least two weeks. But Gary Parrish of CBSSports.com reported Monday that Haws could return as early as Saturday’s home game against Stanford.

 

C’s

Cal-Santa Barbara: I expected more from the Gauchos, who return four starters (including All-American candidate Alan Williams) from a 21-win team. But UCSB is 4-5, with losses to Florida Gulf Coast and San Diego. Williams is doing his part, though, with 18 points, 12.1 rebounds and 3.3 blocks per game.

Wichita State’s frontcourt: I love what I’m seeing from Darius Carter (12.7 points, 5.8 rebounds). But otherwise the Shockers lack quality depth in the paint. It’s never a good sign when your shooting guard (Ron Baker) is your second-leading rebounder. Still, reserves Shaq Morris and Rashard Kelly should improve significantly in the next month or two.   

Illinois: It’s tough to get a feel for the Illini. The best win for John Groce’s squad was against Kenny Chery-less Baylor on Nov. 28. Since then they’ve dropped contests to Miami, Villanova and Oregon, the latter of which came after Illinois blew a 13-point lead. Illinois should win its next three games (against Hampton, Missouri and Kennesaw State) and take a 10-3 record into Big Ten play.

 

D’s

Memphis: There’s a lot of angst surrounding the Tigers program following a 4-4 start. With three straight winnable home games, it’s important for Josh Pastner’s squad to establish some momentum before opening conference play against Houston on New Year’s Eve.

Marcus Paige: Countless media outlets (including this one) tabbed Paige as a first-team preseason All-American. But the North Carolina point guard has been underwhelming thus far. A junior, Paige is averaging 13.1 points per game but is shooting just 34.8 percent from the field. He made just four of his 16 field goal attempts in a home loss to Iowa last week.

Bruce Pearl: It’s way too early to cast judgment on Pearl in his new job at Auburn, but I thought he’d have the Tigers playing at a higher level than they’ve been. As if toting the worst record (3-5) in the SEC wasn’t bad enough, Auburn has suffered some brutal losses against teams such as Clemson, Texas Tech, Tulsa and Coastal Carolina. Hopefully, the return of scoring machine Antoine Mason from injury will help (although it didn’t Sunday against Clemson).

 

F’s

SEC: One of the main reasons the Kentucky-going-undefeated talk is picking up steam is because the Wildcats play in an incredibly weak league. Other than Florida (which is getting better) it’s hard to think of one surefire NCAA tournament team in the SEC, although Arkansas certainly appears to have a good chance.

Andy Enfield: Enfield went 11-21 in his first season at USC and lost 17 of his last 19 games. The former Florida Gulf Coast coach is off to a rough start in 2014-15, too. The Trojans are 6-4 but lack a quality win. And their losses are against Army, Portland State, Penn State and Akron.

TCU’s schedule: At 10-0, the Horned Frogs are the only undefeated team in the Big 12. But don’t be fooled. While TCU is definitely much-improved, Trent Johnson’s squad has played one of the country’s weakest non-conference schedules. TCU’s top wins are against Mississippi State, Washington State and Ole Miss. With upcoming games against Texas-San Antonio, Grambling State and Tennessee State, I expect the Horned Frogs to be 13-0 entering league play.

Texas A&M’s rebounding: The Aggies didn’t have a single offensive rebound in their loss to Baylor. That’s the first time that’s happened to an SEC school in 19 years.

 

A Dozen Words About My Top 12 Teams

1. Kentucky: Here’s a scary thought: Kentucky hasn’t come close to reaching its ceiling.

2. Duke: One of college basketball’s best teams is also among the most likable.

3. Wisconsin:  I’m hardly down on the Badgers for losing to red-hot Duke.

4. Arizona: Brandon Ashley continues to improve, which makes the Wildcats that much tougher.

5. Gonzaga: Kentucky transfer Kyle Wiltjer is averaging 20 points in four December games.

6. Villanova: The Wildcats’ resume gives them the slight edge over Louisville–for now.

7. Louisville: Love the starting five, but depth is a concern for the Cardinals.

8. Kansas: Getting embarrassed by Kentucky apparently lit a fire under Bill Self’s Jayhawks.

9. Texas: The Longhorns surrendered just 27 points in Saturday’s win over Texas State.

10. Virginia: The Cavaliers’ nine wins have come by an average of 22.3 points.

11. Iowa State: The Cyclones will challenge Kansas, Texas and Oklahoma for Big 12 title.

12. Utah: Utes erased a 21-point deficit against Kansas Saturday, but still lost.

 

Making A Statement

• Kansas is the best team in the Big 12 and will win an 11th straight conference title. It certainly won’t happen with ease, as Texas, Iowa State and Oklahoma are more than capable of winning the league crown. But Kansas has a higher ceiling than any of those teams and will make bigger, more significant strides in the next few months. The toughness—both mental and physical—that Kansas has shown in recent wins against Michigan State, Georgetown and Utah has been encouraging. I’m picking Bill Self’s squad to win the Big 12 with a 14-4 record.

• Michigan State is in a transition year, but I’m still impressed with the coaching job that Tom Izzo is doing in East Lansing. The Spartans lost their best three players (Adreian Payne, Keith Appling and Gary Harris) from last year’s team along with projected starter Kenny Kaminski—and they didn’t replace any of them with high-profile recruits. Branden Dawson and Denzel Valentine are good players, but they’re not exactly stars. Still, Izzo’s team has been competitive in every game it’s played, and that includes losses to Top 25 opponents Duke, Notre Dame and Kansas.

• Kentucky’s Willie Cauley-Stein should be in the conversation for National Player of the Year. The 7-foot junior leads the Wildcats in points (10.7), rebounds (6.8) and steals (1.7) and is also averaging 1.6 blocks. Those numbers don’t seem gaudy, but remember, Cauley-Stein averages just 24.5 minutes per game in Kentucky’s platoon system, and he’s surrounded by more talent than any player in the country. Still, he’s clearly been the best player on the nation’s best team. At least so far.

• VCU’s 93-87 double-overtime victory over No. 23 Northern Iowa Saturday was the best game I’ve watched all season. And no offense to VCU, but I actually came away more impressed with Northern Iowa. The Panthers responded again and again in clutch moments despite playing in a hostile road environment. Whether it was point guard Wes Washpun (wow, he’s good) penetrating for a basket in the paint or Matt Bohannon hitting a timely three to force a second overtime, Northern Iowa showed tons of resolve against an excellent VCU team. Even with the loss, Ben Jacobson’s team deserves to be in the Top 25. I can’t wait to see Northern Iowa and Wichita State play (at least twice) this season.

 

Starting Five

Teams that should be better:

LSU: The most maddening team in college basketball could be a force in the SEC if it ever develops consistency. The frontcourt of Jordan Mickey and Jarrell Martin is one of the most talented in America. And point guard Josh Gray averaged more than 30 points in junior college last season. Still, LSU lost to Clemson and Old Dominion and barely escaped Texas Tech.

VCU: There’s no shame in losing to Villanova and Virginia. But by 24 and 17 points, respectively? C’mon now, Rams. You’re too talented and too experienced for that. And that defeat against Old Dominion… what happened there? Hopefully Saturday’s double-overtime win will get Treveon Graham, Briante Weber and the rest of VCU’s talented roster back on track.

Kansas State: The same team that opened the Maui Invitational with a convincing win over Purdue and a near-upset of Arizona was walloped by 23 points against Pittsburgh. The experienced Wildcats have also lost to Long Beach State and barely beat UMKC and Bradley at home. Marcus Foster, Nino Williams, Thomas Gipson and Co. are better than this.

Colorado: With Askia Booker, Josh Scott and Wesley Gordon, the Buffaloes have too much talent and experience to be losing to Georgia, Wyoming and Colorado State. And yes, I realize Colorado State is 10-0. But at this stage in his program, Tad Boyle needs to win that game. And only scoring 33 points against Wyoming is indefensible.

UNLV: The Runnin’ Rebels are 6-2, but they lack a quality win. And Dave Rice’s squad was annihilated against the two decent teams it has faced, losing to Stanford 89-60 and Arizona State 77-55. UNLV features a lot of new faces, so growing pains were to be expected. But this program has clearly dipped under Rice.

 

Welcome To My Radar

Brannen Greene, Kansas: The sophomore sharpshooter’s role is increasing at Kansas, where his 19-point effort keyed a 75-70 win over Georgetown on Dec. 13. Three days later Greene made four huge free throws in the final 21 seconds to help the Jayhawks stave of Utah 63-60 in Kansas City.

Wayne Tinkle, Oregon State: Early indications are that the Beavers made a tremendous hire when they tabbed the former Montana coach to replace Craig Robinson. OSU is a long way from becoming an upper echelon Pac-12 team, but the 6-2 record thus far is encouraging.

Sons of Famous Fathers: Detroit’s Juwan Howard Jr. was dominant in a 28-point effort against Wichita State. Gary Payton II had a triple double (10 points, 12 rebounds and 10 assists) in Oregon State’s win over Grambling State. It was the first triple-double by an Oregon State player since his dad, Gary Payton, accomplished the feat in November of 1988.

Dillon Brooks: Oregon’s freshman small forward scored 24 points in the Ducks’ come-from-behind victory over Illinois Saturday and is averaging 15.8 points and 6.2 rebounds on the season. Brooks has scored in double figures in each of Oregon’s nine games.

 

Rapid-Fire Thoughts

That’s what we’ve been waiting for: TaShawn Thomas, Oklahoma

Still waiting: Kelly Oubre, Kansas

About to get better: Florida

About to get worse: Texas Tech

Hotter than donut grease: Amida Brimah, Connecticut (40 points on 13-of-13 shooting against Coppin State)

Cold as ice: Anyone in the Nebraska-Cincinnati game (each team shot below 33 percent)

In line for a Christmas bonus: Larry Eustachy, Colorado State

May get a lump of coal: Andy Kennedy, Ole Miss

Love to interview: Nigel Hayes and Sam Dekker, Wisconsin

Would rather not interview: Jim Boeheim, Syracuse

 

Press Row Chatter

The All-Christmas-Character Basketball Team:

C: Cousin Eddie from Christmas Vacation—The Bill Laimbeer of this unit would mow over fools down low

F: Karl from DiehardWith his menacing scowl and long blond hair, the German terrorist would be modern day Detlef Schrempf

F: Animal from The Muppet Christmas CarolWhen your offense breaks down, it’s good to have a bad mofo that can just go make a play

PG: Harry Lime from Home AloneJoe Pesci was clumsy as a burglar, but the bad-assery he exhibited in GoodFellas and Casino is still inside of him.

SG: Billy Ray Valentine (Capricorn) from Trading PlacesA gunner, Valentine is streaky from beyond the arc, but he has no memory and shows no pain. “I’m a karate man! A karate man bleed on the inside!”

Head coach: Old Man Parker from a Christmas StoryRalphie’s dad cusses a lot and he looks a bit like Gene Hackman, the greatest movie coach of all time. That’s reason enough.

Assistant coach: Sgt. Al Powell from Die HardThe cop that communicated with Bruce Willis throughout the hostage standout is the spittin’ image of Wayne Morgan, who had moderate success as the head coach at Iowa State and Long Beach State.

 

Favorite food stops in airports…and what I order at each:

• Gold Coast Dogs, Chicago Midway (Chicago Dog with extra sport peppers)

 Interstate BBQ, Memphis (Fried bologna sandwich and a side of barbecue spaghetti)

 Earl of Sandwich, Detroit (Full Montague)

• Shapiro’s Delicatessen, Indianapolis (Pastrami and corned beef sandwich)

• Whataburger, Dallas Love Field (Double-meat cheeseburger with grilled jalapenos and the bun toasted on both sides)

 

Chain restaurant appetizers I crave:

• Chips and salsa at Chili’s

 Egg rolls at Jack in the Box

 Chili dog at Freddy’s

 Spicy Garlic wings at Buffalo Wild Wings

 Chicken Tortilla Soup at Chick-fil-A (seasonal)

 

Pit Stops

Henderson Chicken, Dallas: Gus’s in Memphis has a stranglehold on the No. 1 spot on my list of the nation’s top fried chicken joints. But Henderson may have moved into second place.

There are a lot of good spots for battered bird in Dallas: Bubba’s, Babe’s, Sissy’s. But Henderson has become a staple in my restaurant rotation each time I return to the home city. For one thing, Henderson is incredibly cheap. Last week I bought an entire chicken (10 pieces) for $11.91. That’s unheard of, especially when you consider that fries, jalapenos and pickles are included. Before your bird is bagged, the good folks at Henderson sprinkle a secret seasoning over the batter, providing a flavor that makes Henderson unique. And when it comes to size…my goodness. These are Foghorn Leghorn-sized pieces, people. I challenge you to find a place that does a better job of matching quality with value.

There are several Henderson locations in Dallas, but I’m a regular at the one on Abrams Rd. and Royal—mainly because it’s owned by Hillcrest High School graduates Shumone Burnett and Jerry Freeny. #pantherssupportingpanthers

 

Jason King covers college sports for Bleacher Report. You can follow him on Twitter @JasonKingBR.

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Stock Watch for Top College Basketball Teams After First Month of 2014-15 Season

Has it really been a month already?

After having to wait seemingly forever for the 2014-15 college basketball season to begin, quickly the first month of competition has breezed by and we’re only a few weeks from getting into the thick of the conference slates. A lot has happened in this first month, particularly for some of the game’s top teams, so much so you might have missed a few things along the way.

For the purposes of this article, the definition of “top” isn’t based on preseason (or current) rankings, but rather identifying teams based on how notable and popular they are. These are the ones who, more than other schools, tend to have each and every result factor into their evaluation.

With that in mind, check out our stock watch for 10 of the top Division I teams through the first month of the 2014-15 season.

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Moore Hoops: Are NBA Mock Drafts Bad for College Basketball?

KANSAS CITY, Mo. — Every year a handful of college basketball players make dumb decisions based off bad information when it comes to the NBA draft.

And if there’s a whipping boy for those deeds of misinformation, college basketball coaches have chosen the folks who pen NBA mock drafts to unload their wrath upon.

Kansas coach Bill Self became the latest on Saturday—sparked by a question about KU freshman Kelly Oubre—and it’s a tangent that just about any coach in America when teed up would go off on. Syracuse coach Jim Boeheim voiced his displeasure recently as well.

“The mock drafts don’t mean anything,” Self said. “And I would tell the guy if he was here doing the mock drafts. They don’t mean anything. They’re ridiculous.”

Self wasn’t done yet, and we’ll get to the rest of his rant momentarily (as well as a thoughtful response from DraftExpress.com’s Jonathan Givony), but this is a rant that more coaches should go on. 

Mock drafts, when taken as gospel by players and families, can be toxic. 

Now I say this with some hesitation, because I do respect some of the people who do mock drafts. They have created jobs in media. That’s a good thing. But mock drafts are for entertainment purposes, and when they’re not taken that way, that’s where the trouble begins. 

“You really get saddened when you look at players who end up making decisions based on mock drafts,” an NBA scout told Bleacher Report. “They go to their coaches or end up disrupting the team because they have certain expectations based on coming into this season or something they did in the offseason. 

“They move up to a first-rounder, and they expect so many touches based on where they were in a mock draft.”

The same scout called the mock drafts grossly irresponsible, because they are affecting families. Players and parents take them seriously, and that’s one reason you see so many bad decisions made by underclassmen each year. 

This past year 45 underclassmen declared for the draft, and only 28 of them were drafted. In 2013, there were 45 who declared and 28 were drafted. 

“You can follow the mock drafts, and they will have 120 players that are going to go in the first round this year,” Self said. “That is true. You can count them. That is going to be true. So obviously they don’t know, and they’re guessing. And some kids it takes more time in the system.”

The 120 players may be a bit extreme, but Self has a point. A lot of players will slide in and out of the mock drafts because it’s entirely way too early to be predicting these things.

That’s what really troubles NBA people. The more time you get to see a prospect, the better evaluation you get. If they had to make their choices in December, they would make a lot more mistakes.

“It’s kind of a joke,” the scout said. “From an NBA perspective, you don’t take them seriously at all.”

The feedback that players should buy into is that of the NBA Undergraduate Advisory Committee. At the end of the year, underclassmen have a chance to get an assessment of where they are likely to go in the draft from that committee and then make an informed decision.

The problem is that some players who will end up declaring do it because they’ve quit going to class and know they won’t be eligible next season. And some of them have quit going to class because they’re convinced by Christmas that they’re ready to go pro.

That’s why we need more coaches and NBA decision-makers speaking up, as both Self and Boeheim have. The more players and parents hear this message, the better.

When players get drafted in the NBA, the league holds a rookie transition program to help the young fellas prepare for how their lives are about to change. College basketball could use a similar program for players and their families, and No. 1 on the agenda should be how to block out the noise from the outside.

Mock drafts don’t need to go away. They just need to be consumed with some perspective.

 

A Voice from the Other Side

The value in what Self said was starting the conversation, and it wouldn’t be fair not to hear from someone on the other side. I went to Givony because he is respected in the basketball community and DraftExpress.com provides a lot of value outside of just the mock drafts.

The videos that his crew produces are really well done—check out this breakdown of Texas freshman Myles Turner against Kentucky as a great example—and Givony gets to a lot of events, covers the sport well and puts a lot of thought into his rankings. 

So I gave Givony a chance to respond to what Self said and then followed up with him after he sent his answer.

Here’s what he wrote over email in response to Self’s rant:

“It’s not really up to me to say what ‘mock drafts’ mean or don’t mean. It’s difficult to lump all ‘mock drafts’ into one mold, just like it’s difficult to say that all college coaches are one thing or another.

“I would like to believe that the website I started 11 years ago is more than just a mock draft, but I can understand why Bill Self would be frustrated as it would be much easier to bring along a guy like Kelly Oubre if no one had heard about him prior to arriving at Kansas.

“That’s just not the way things work these days anymore unfortunately, and that’s why people like me watch guys like Oubre dozens of times before they enroll in college, because there is a great deal of interest in them, both from the public and from professional scouts who do this for a living.‎

“Thankfully for Oubre, the six or seven months he’ll spend at Kansas are just one part of the evaluation NBA teams will make about his pro prospects, and they’ll factor in whatever they learn from his time there with additional info from high school and the NBA predraft process leading up to June 25.

“My advice to the general public would be to do exactly what Coach Self says: follow the different mock drafts, see how they evolve throughout the year and over the course of a couple of years and see how ridiculous they are or aren’t and then decide what they mean or don’t mean to you. “

 

Here are the highlights of the rest of our Q&A: 

Bleacher Report: I think Self’s stance is a little extreme, but I do think it’s good for players and families to hear important people in the game say these things because sometimes families put too much value in the mocks at this point in the season. I think decisions are made, or at least plans are made, before they should be, and it’s not just the mock drafts that are responsible for this. It’s a lot of others in their ear. But at this point, especially, mock drafts should be consumed for entertainment value. Would you agree with that?

Givony: I don’t run an entertainment website. We’re not TMZ. If it was an entertainment thing, then I would raise guys and drop them on a whim.

 

B/R: Would you tell any players or families to make a decision based off mock drafts?

Givony: No. Absolutely not. I think the NBA has an Undergraduate Advisory Committee, which can give them very valuable information, and they can unofficially talk to scouts, general managers, etc. The challenge in making the mock draft is there’s 30 NBA teams. Every team has six or seven decision-makers, and things can vary very wildly, based on who you talk to.

I talk to NBA guys very frequently. I’m always at many of the same events as them, and one guy in an organization can say ‘I think he’s a top-five pick,’ and another can say ‘I’m not sure he’s an NBA player. I’m not sure he gets drafted.’ Things really vary wildly. That’s why this is not an exact science, and there’s a lot of variables that go into this.

… I think the most unfair thing is to lump everybody together. Bill Self is not the same as some D-3 coach, and I’m not the same as some guy who is 14 years old who started a website two weeks ago.

If you want to call out certain people, mention them by name. … If he’s mad at Chad Ford, then call him out. If he’s mad at Jonathan Givony, that’s a way to do this. Not just to hide behind this mock draft. I think that’s a little bit cowardly to me.

 

Oubre Starting to Come Around

Now let’s get back to Oubre…

He’s the one who sparked this conversation, and his slow start has been a big topic of conversation in the sport. The light is just starting to glimmer for the Kansas freshman, although he’s not exactly looking like a pro just yet. 

After playing single-digit minutes in five of KU’s first seven games, Oubre scored seven points in 16 minutes last Wednesday in a win at Georgetown and scored nine points in 17 minutes in the victory over Utah on Saturday.

Self even went as far as to say Oubre was one of KU’s best two players on the floor against Utah. He made only two of five shots, but his defense was promising—he did as good a job as any Jayhawk on Utah star Delon Wright—and he looked more comfortable than he has all season. 

“(He) never played guard,” Self said. “(We’re) asking him to do some things that he’s never really done. … I’m proud of Kelly, and he’s hung in there. He’s going to be really good. You can see it. It just hasn’t quite gotten there yet. I think these last two games have done wonders for his confidence.” 

This is an example of the right way for a freshman to handle a slow start. Take your medicine, learn and improve.

The difficult transition makes sense when you step back and look at the big picture, but it has still been surprising to anyone who saw Oubre play before he got to Kansas. No one, and you can include NBA scouts in that group, anticipated that it would be a struggle for Oubre to get consistent minutes.

“Really, it’s just kind of confusion,” the scout said. “You’re trying to figure out why are we seeing what we’re seeing. Here’s a guy who was able to do several different things when he didn’t have to worry about a system, and he was just going up and down and playing and not thinking, and he was good.

“Maybe it’s basketball IQ. Maybe he’s struggling to handle some concepts as a freshman. That’s not necessarily unusual. Maybe it’s him learning to get adjusted to playing with teammates of equal caliber to himself.”

The good news for Oubre is there’s no rule against coming back for a sophomore year. At this point, it looks like that would be in his best interest, and there is no shame in being a two-and-done lottery pick. 

 

The Chalkboard

Props to Wichita State coach Gregg Marshall for this quick-hitter to get star guard Ron Baker a three. Baker sets a ball screen for Fred VanVleet, which serves as distraction for his defender, and then Shaquille Morris sets a flare screen for Baker to get him wide-open.  

Baker has taken well to being Wichita State’s go-to scorer, and he’s shooting a career-best 51.0 percent from deep even with the added defensive attention.

That means the Shockers have had to get creative to get him his looks, and obviously Marshall is doing a fine job. Baker has made at least three treys in each of the last six games. 

 

Put the Kids to Bed or Set the DVR

It’s finals week, so the pickings are a little slim. (All game times are in Eastern time.)

*Alabama at No. 11 Wichita State, Tuesday (9 p.m. on ESPN2): This is the final major-conference school on Wichita State’s schedule. Plus, take any chance you can get to watch VanVleet, Baker and Tekele Cotton.

Prediction: Wichita State 71, Alabama 60

 

*Georgia State at Old Dominion, Wednesday (8 p.m. on American Sports Network): Not sure I’ll be able to find this on the dial, but it’s a game worth watching if you can. Old Dominion already has wins over LSU and VCU.

Georgia State has one of the best guards in the country in R.J. Hunter. For more about how much of a stud Hunter is (shameless plug alert!), I have a profile coming out on the junior guard this Thursday.

Prediction: Georgia State 72, Old Dominion 71

*Connecticut vs. No. 2 Duke, Thursday (8 p.m. on ESPN): The Huskies are struggling, but this is a chance to see Duke freshman big man Jahlil Okafor with the rare opportunity to go up against a legit 7-foot shot-blocker in UConn’s Amida Brimah.

Prediction: Duke 81, Connecticut 69

 

*Saint Mary’s at No. 20 St. John’s, Friday (7 p.m. on Fox Sports 1): The matchup of Saint Mary’s big man Brad Waldow (21.1 ppg) against the defense of Mr. Short Shorts, Chris Obekpa, will be a fun matchup. The Gaels once again look to be Gonzaga’s best competition in the WCC.

Prediction: St. John’s 68, St. Mary’s 61

 

*Eastern Washington at California, Friday (10 p.m. on Pac-12 Network): The winner could end up ranked next week. The Bears have only one loss (against currently 10th-ranked Texas), and new coach Cuonzo Martin has improved their D. The Eagles could ruin somebody’s March. They’ve already won at Indiana and led by 13 on the road at Washington on Sunday.

Prediction: Cal 68, Eastern Washington 67

 

*No. 24 North Carolina vs. No. 12 Ohio State, Saturday (1 p.m. on CBS): Love these schools forming their own version of the Champions Classic. I’ll be in attendance on Saturday, and this should be the best game of the two. Ohio State is better than last year thanks to the offensive production of freshman D’Angelo Russell, but UNC will finally get a signature win in the first game of the CBS Sports Classic.

Prediction: North Carolina 68, Ohio State 64

 

*No. 1 Kentucky vs. UCLA, Saturday (3:30 p.m. on CBS): Game 2 of the CBS Sports Classic would be a better contest most years, but UCLA just doesn’t have enough horses to hang with the ‘Cats.

Prediction: Kentucky 82, UCLA 60

 

*No. 15 Oklahoma vs. No. 16 Washington, Saturday (9 p.m. on ESPNU): This is another good litmus test for the undefeated Huskies, and the Sooners have their best team since Blake Griffin was rim-hating in college.

Prediction: Oklahoma 76, Washington 71

 

Leftovers

This is where I empty the notebook with some good stuff that was left out of a feature or column.

In an October interview with VanVleet for a Baker profile (you can read that here), I asked VanVleet if he had any good stories about Baker that show his Western Kansas roots. He delivered. 

This summer Baker and VanVleet were working a camp in Western Kansas. Baker would drive them in his Ford pickup truck, and one morning VanVleet beat Baker out to the truck. Between the hotel and Baker’s truck sat a stray dog. 

“And where I’m from, we run from dogs,” VanVleet said. “You don’t play around. You don’t even get close to them.”

VanVleet froze until Baker came out, and as soon as he unlocked the truck door, VanVleet booked it.

“I couldn’t warn him that the dog is out there,” VanVleet said. “I’m thinking, ‘I hope he doesn’t get bit.’ So he walks out and the dog runs up to him. He doesn’t flinch. He starts petting it. I’m like, ‘What the hell?’ Then he picks up the dog and puts him in the back of the truck and drives to the gym.

“I didn’t even ask him. I just thought maybe that he knew this dog. Maybe it was his family’s dog. The whole time I’m just sitting there quiet, and this dog is in the back of this pickup truck, and I don’t say nothing. I’m just thinking, ‘What is wrong with this dude?’”

Turns out, Baker had seen the stray dog the night before in the hotel lobby. He ended up calling the local cops when they got to the gym to come get the dog.

So there you have it. In addition to his fearlessness in big games, Ron Baker has no fear of canines.

“That just blew my mind,” VanVleet said.

 

C.J. Moore covers college basketball for Bleacher Report. You can follow him on Twitter @CJMooreBR.

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