Greetings to all of our beloved Weave fans, and Happy Thanksgiving/Black Friday! I am in lovely San Diego for the holiday weekend, soaking in sunshine and college basketball at alarming rates (I’m not sure if there’s a “too much hoop” equivalent to sunburn, but I think I have both). Given how much basketball I’ve been watching, I naturally have had some thoughts, so here they are: complete with a gimmicky, alliterative column name and a “Part 1” to make sure I do this again. I’m hoping to write up more later this weekend; that is, if I don’t die of happiness while relaxing and watching the Wisconsin/Virginia rock fight that’s to come…
1. The Excellence of Rui and Clarke
The biggest and best game of the week was undoubtedly the Gonzaga/Duke battle in Maui, a thrilling affair overflowing with professional talent. It was the kind of game that made me wonder how I ever played the same sport as these aliens (and really, I didn’t), an up-and-down and above-the-rim display that had the college hoops world in a frenzy. My biggest takeaway from that game (non-Duke edition) was how potent the frontcourt duo of Brandon Clarke and Rui Hachimura is. As we discussed on our podcast, Killian Tillie’s injury forces Few’s hand into playing those two at the 4/5 (and not having Rui out of position at the 3), two NBA-caliber athletes that each possess some impressive ball skills.
IMPORTANT NOTE: Tillie is tremendous, a smooth-shooting big man who’s also a defensive general and a force on the glass. We actually ranked him the Zags’ best overall player in the preseason – but once he’s healthy, Few will likely be tempted to play the three bigs together in a supersized lineup. Tillie’s elite shooting from the center spot can still make that viable offensively, but on D, the Zags will struggle to guard slashing wings (shouts to Corey Kispert, who did yeoman’s work against the Blue Devils). Small sample size caveat applies, but the defense has been 6 points better per 100 when they share the frontcourt so far:
It’s not a terrible problem to have – oh no, what will they ever do with another stud?? – and thankfully, the Zags have Mark Few at the helm to pull the right strings.
2. Stagnant Gators
Florida sits at 1-1 in the Bahamas with a matchup against Butler still to come (of note: both schools are lucky that they’ll get an NCAA-caliber game on the losers’ side of the bracket), and the big story around the Gators is their defensive demolition of Stanford: 0.77 points per possession, 20 turnovers. But to me, it’s been more about Florida’s lukewarm offense, where the Gators have struggled to consistently generate quality shots. Mike White benched last year’s leading scorer, Jalen Hudson, for the second-round matchup (7 minutes, 0 shots), instead starting two freshmen in the backcourt (Andrew Nembhard, Noah Locke) alongside the Trap King himself, KeVaughn Allen (because he gets steals and has massive trap muscles, nickname pending). Deaundrae Ballard ended up having a career night, but even so, the Gators noticeably lack a reliable go-to bucket-getter, either in the post or on the perimeter. Nembhard is a wonderful passer, but he was a nightmare trying to finish at the rim against OU’s size, and Allen still hasn’t rediscovered the offensive pop he had as a sophomore. Until they figure out an offensive pecking order (and/or Hudson figures it out), Florida will need to continue to rely on its defense to create a few easy baskets every game.
3. Winning the Wisconsin Way(s)
Wisconsin’s two wins in Atlantis – by 16 over Stanford and 20 over Oklahoma – have been impressive in their variety. The Cardinal opted to not double Happ and take away shooters, and the Badgers didn’t hit a single three until the game’s final minute. They had only 2 assists, but Happ’s post skills and D’Mitrik Trice’s impressive drives managed just enough points to get it out of reach. Oklahoma, on the other hand, sent constant doubles, and the Badgers ended up hitting 14 threes and tallied 16 assists. Of course, the wins were as easy as they were because of the defense, surrendering only 108 points combined (shouts to Nate Reuvers’s 9 blocks against Stanford).
4. In the case of Goodman vs. Atlantic 10…
I have to acknowledge Jeff Goodman’s call-out of the Atlantic 10, which stirred the conference’s rabid fanbase and sparked some jabs from both sides on Twitter:
Unfortunately, I’m not going to be a hot take artist and pick a side – rather, I think this is a case where both sides are partially right. To Goodman’s point, the A-10 has been supremely disappointing as a collective entity thus far, as no undefeated teams remain barely two weeks into the season, and the league currently places zero teams in KenPom’s top 75. However, I don’t think the league is already doomed to being a one-bid horror show, either, as SLU, Dayton, Davidson, St. Joe’s, and VCU all look poised for solid seasons. The league certainly has its share of disappointments (looking at you, George Mason) and outright bad teams (hi, George Washington), but it’s too early to condemn the league to auto-bid or bust status.
Arizona State’s Luguentz Dort has been something of a West Coast mini-Zion, and that’s probably the first time the 6’4, 215-pound Dort has ever been called a “mini” anything. He’s a power guard with a smooth shooting stroke and the explosion to dunk on would-be shot-blockers; his highlights from the Utah State game are a thing of beauty, showcasing the wide variety of ways in which he gets buckets. He’s also a dogged defender, using his quickness, strength, and anticipation to wreak havoc on that end. For a Sun Devil squad with a bevy of impact newcomers, Dort has been the best one – and if he continues to play this way, the Canadian tank engine may not be in Tempe for long.
6. A Fresh Batch of ‘Clones
Two years ago, I nearly cried (okay, maybe there actually was a tear or two) when Iowa State’s senior class of Monte Morris, Naz Mitrou-Long, Deonte Burton, and Matt Thomas was eliminated from the NCAA Tournament. After watching those Cyclones develop into studs over the course of their careers, I felt like a widow who would never love again (wow I’m dramatic). But this year’s new crop freshmen has me feeling butterflies once again. Talen Horton-Tucker is a stud already, Tyrese Haliburton is “he just makes the right play” all-star, and George Conditt and Zion Griffin flash some long-term potential, as well. THT may not be in Ames for four years, but I’m excited about the ‘Clones once again – hopefully Steve Prohm can successfully manage minutes/egos once everyone returns from injury/suspension.
7. Marquette’s Disappearing Act
Marquette’s chance at a massive neutral court win over Kansas vanished simultaneously along with the Golden Eagles’ offensive aptitude, as they put up a big donut for the first 9 minutes (!!) of the second half against the Jayhawks. What makes that even more remarkable is how scorching the Golden Eagles were in the first half, torching the nets with 11 triples. The encouraging takeaway is that Joseph Chartouny continues to look more comfortable, racking up 8 assists to 3 turnovers in 28 minutes.
Random aside – it’s kind of absurd that Chartouny has only 1 steal in his first 103 minutes in a Marquette uniform after averaging 3.3 and 3.2 per game the last two years, respectively. It’s a different scheme, but still, you’d expect that skill to translate at least a little bit.
8. Creighton: King of the Caymans
Staying in the Big East for my final bit, Creighton was quietly one of the week’s most impressive teams, winning the Cayman Islands Classic by beating a decent Boise State team, drubbing an excellent Georgia State squad (who then boat raced in-state big brother Georgia), and finally knocking off Clemson in a game which the Bluejays never trailed. The two obvious breakout sophomores have done just that: Mitch Ballock starred against GSU, slapping up a 23-7-6 line with 1 turnover, and two steals (he totaled 16 assists to just three turnovers over the three games), while Ty-Shon Alexander thoroughly dominated the championship game, racking up 36 points on just 16 field goal attempts. Creighton once again looks like a tournament team, and given the struggles that Villanova and Marquette have experienced, who knows – maybe the Bluejays could be a dark horse Big East title contender.
Lastly, I leave you with this brilliant possession from Georgia’s Nicolas Claxton - 11 dribbles, zero rim (with time on the shot clock!):