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Shoot around with John Nonemacher: New Year = Conference Play

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New Year = Conference Play

With the end of the year come broken resolutions, writing the wrong year on paperwork and conference play in college basketball.  Some teams have already played a few games, but for the most part the closing of the holiday season brings old familiar matchups.  This year, however, it comes with a little bitter sweet edge as many conferences are going to add/lose teams next year.  Don’t get me wrong, I think that overall the realignment is a good thing, just it’s going to take some getting used to.

On that note comes the last game at “The Mac”.  Most of the time it’s after the season that the university closes one building with the opening of another in the fall., but the University of Oregon had its last basketball game at McArthur Court (mid season) and will play the rest of the year in the beautiful Matthew Knight Arena.  I was lucky enough to see a game last year at “The Mac” and it was truly taking a step back in time with wooden walkways, seats, and railings, low head room in the second and third decks, and tough parking. “The Mac” was a unique stop in today’s scouting trips and will be missed.


Injury:
Injuries are a part of the game and it is always tough on a team to lose a starter heading into conference play, but it is even harder when it is the reigning Player of the Year.  Outstanding Weber State guard Damian Lilard, Player of the Year last year and preseason pick to do so again this year, in only his junior year, suffered a broken foot and will miss the rest of the year.  It is a tough blow to a talented team but leaves the Big Sky Conference wide open for their NCAA bid.
Players to watch:
Anytime a player comes into Big East play averaging over 23 points per game you take notice.  Providence guard Marshon Brooks is doing just that.  It’s not that Brooks hasn’t performed at a high level in the past, he has a lot of playing time and averaged 14.2 points last year, but it is how he is doing it this year.  Marshon has more free throw attempts and makes than all of last year, same total rebounds as all of last year (doubling his average in the process) and improved his percentages in field goals, 3 pointers, and free throws from a year ago.  Basically, Marshon Brooks has improved in all aspects of the game.

Iowa State has 5 players averaging over 10 points per game but Diante Garrette is leading that group.  At 16.6 points and 4 rebounds a game, the 6’4” guard out of Milwaukee is proving himself to be a force heading into Big 12 play.  For his career he has over 1,000 points and 500 assists and is only the third Iowa State player to achieve that accomplishment.

Sophomore San Diego State forward Kawhi Leonard is picking up right where he left off.  Leonard has 9 double-doubles already and 26 for his career giving him more than any other player in the Mountain West Conference today.  The young forward is averaging 15.7 points and 9.6 rebounds per game shooting 47% in the field and 70% from the line.  Kawhi is going to get more attention from teams and the press as the year goes on and it doesn’t hurt that the San Diego State is undefeated heading into conference play.
Scouting tip of the week:
Rebounding, it’s not just for the post.  Anyone who can rebound needs to be able to play physical (strong box outs), understand positioning, and if all else fails, just want it more than the other guy.  I have seen some great rebounding recently from the guard spot and it tells me a lot about how competitive a player is.

Happy new year.

Shoot Around with John Nonemacher: Finding a Rhytm

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Finding a Rhythm

Coming out of the summer and fall workouts one never knows exactly how a team will look coming into a season.  Now that we are a month in, teams start to take shape as they prepare for the upcoming conference schedule.  Players settle into their roles, practice gets more into the details and less about philosophy and a rhythm starts to develop with road trips and home games.  One of the tricky elements of being a college player is that you have to find a balance with school and basketball, and just when you seem to find it winter break is here.  But within a couple of weeks the coaches, players and staff find a rhythm and time starts to fly by.

Finding the tempo can go one of three ways: A team may play a “cupcake” schedule, challenge themselves by playing tougher competition, or a blend of the two.  Cleveland State is a team that I think will be very good this year in the Horizon League but coming into this past week had played 6 of their 8 games at home, 1 of the 2 away games was a short bus ride to Akron Ohio.  None of the teams they played were from the big 6 conferences (PAC-10, Big 10, Big 12, ACC, SEC, Big East) and this past week they had to go on the road to play 2 conference foes in Wisconsin-Green Bay and Wisconsin-Milwaukee, both have played Marquette.  What does Cleveland State do?  They win both shooting a combined 24-38 from the three.  They look ready to go and any worries about their schedule up to this point were unfounded.

On a side note; I was able to make it to the Wisconsin-Green Bay vs. Youngstown State game Saturday.  Lots of young talent, on both sides, and I think that UW-Green Bay may have something to say about what happens in the Horizon this year.  Good guard play with solid post presence and a veteran leader in Rahmon Fletcher.  Youngstown State had two exciting players in freshman PG Kendrick Perry and sophomore transfer Damian Eargle, both long and athletic with some great plays.

One team that all signs pointed to finding a tempo that could lead them a long way this season is Old Dominion.  Already beating teams like Clemson and Xavier along with winning the Paradise Jam while losing a close one to Georgetown, it looked as though they would walk into a good Delaware squad and flex the muscle that had them ranked #1 in the recent Mid-Major Top 25 by collegeinsider.com.  Instead, they fall in their first conference game to a team that returned all 5 starters but finished dead last in the conference last year.  ODU is still a very talented team and worthy of being mentioned among the best in all the Mid-Majors, but the loss is a setback.

Next week I will focus more on teams in the big 6 but I wanted to mention the Mid-Major Top 25 poll by collegeinsider.com as a great way to stay up on the smaller schools.

Scouts Tip:
My tip-of-the-week is for players looking to play pro next year or sometime down the road.  Last time I mentioned that your focus needs to be on your team right now, don’t look down the road or your resume will be affected.  This time it is understanding game situations and what you need to do for your team.  When I scout a game I keep track of the game situation (clock, score, who is hot, pace of the game, etc.) and see if players can understand what is needed.  Being able to recognize the situation shows that you are in control and have a high basketball IQ.

 

Shoot Around with John Nonemacher: The Marathon to March

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The Marathon to March

There are a lot of things to enjoy about November but there are few better than the tip off of NCAA basketball.  It is here, at last.  As a scout I look forward to seeing if all the hard work players put in during the offseason has made them better, or have they focused on the wrong fundamentals and skills.  While the games are great, they are (as the old saying goes) won and lost in the offseason.

It is early in the season but every game counts.  Some teams seem to pick up right where they left off and others struggle to find their identity and mesh on the court.  There is UNLV that return all their starters from a year ago and beat a talented Wisconsin team, granted it was at UNLV.  North Carolina has a wealth of talent but fall to teams like Minnesota and Vanderbilt on a neutral floor in Puerto Rico.  The result of those games may have more to say about Minnesota and Vanderbilt than it does about the quality of North Carolina.  Minnesota (picked to finish 6th by the Blue Ribbon Yearbook) will have a big say in what happens in the Big Ten this year with strong guard play and solid post players.  There is a lot of upside, barring any big injuries; they should finish higher than 6th.

Dark Horse Teams:

There are a couple teams that I have watched last year that I think are poised to have a big impact on college basketball this year.  The first is Washington, don’t sleep on the Huskies.  They return 4 starters from last year’s team that won the Pac-10 tourney and have the best big man in the Northwest in Matthew Bryan-Amaning.  He is a strong big man who really took some big strides last year and should continue them this year.  Match that with a small, but quick and talented back court of Isaiah Thomas, Abdul Gaddy, and Venoy Overton and you have a team the poses a matchup problem for a lot of teams.  Offensively gifted, they will get down and play sold defense which make them my dark house for a #1 seed in the NCAA Tourney in March.

One of my favorite mid-major leagues is the Missouri Valley Conference and this year is no different.  Wichita State and Missouri State both have, on paper, what it takes to make some big waves on the national landscape.  Missouri returns all their starters but will still have to prove that they can win big games in a tough conference.  If they do that look for them to frustrate many teams in the MVC and even win it.  Wichita State on the other hand has already proven they can win in the MVC (finishing second to a strong Northern Iowa last year) and with losing only 1 starter they look ready to introduce themselves to teams in major conferences, starting in the Maui Invitational.  With a strong field again this year, Maui should be a good gage of where Wichita State is right now.  I look for them to compete well there.

The last dark horse comes from the WAC.  Utah State is loaded with talent, poise, strength and the balance it takes to make a run in the NCAA Tourney.  Losing one starter from a team that won the WAC last year they are looking to take the next step and blow up brackets.

Year of the Big Man?:

As a big man myself, I am very excited to see what comes from the potential of the post players in my scouting area.  I have already talked about Mathew Bryan-Amaning at Washington whose upside is huge and his team should be in the spotlight much of the year.  Add to the players like Jon Leuer and Keaton Nankivil (Wisconsin), Luke Sikma (Portland), and Mike Tisdale and Mike Davis (Illinois).  While I am on my dark horse teams I will throw in my dark horse post player, Brian Qvale of Montana.  He has the size, footwork, fundamentals and basket awareness that make him tough to guard in a guard dominated league.  He also moves very well, gets up and down the floor, and can hit an outside shoot.

One final note on the premier of my blog series: the question I get the most from college players is what the single most important thing they can do to improve their resume for the next level.  So, if there are any college players reading this, the answer is to focus on the team your on now.  As a pro you will have to be 100% focused on your job, a.k.a. doing what it is your team is asking you to do to the best of your ability.

I am looking forward to writing more about college basketball and scouting, until then, may your defense be strong and your shooting accurate.