Last season’s Kansas Jayhawks appeared to have the talent to win Bill Self’s second national title before the NCAA tournament cancellation on COVID-19 concerns broke the championship dream for KU and many others. The Jayhawks team presented a new look for Self, a four-person cast with the tall man Udoka Azubuike in the paint.
This season? Self just got smaller, with a line-up that offers functionality Jalen Wilson, a versatile 6-foot-8 wing forward, acting as an inside-out threat throughout the game. Wilson played a key role in his team’s 65-61 win over North Dakota State on Saturday. He collected 14 points and 15 rebounds while slowing that of North Dakota State Rocky Kreuser, a 6-foot-10 post player.
Wilson is one of the most influential players in America and he has no real position. That’s becoming more common in college basketball, Self said.
“I think the NBA is showing us that this is the wave of the future,” he said.
While Wilson and Kansas face Creighton (5:00 p.m. ET, ESPN) and his own positive standout in Damien Jefferson, here’s a list of some of the best non-position players who are already swaying the college basketball hierarchy.
Jalen Wilson, Kansas: WIlson can play 3, 4, or 5. In the exciting win on Saturday against NDSU, he protected several points, led the team in quick breaks, scored from outside the arc and played big in the color of the edge with his strong spin move. He’s an incredibly important contributor to a Kansas team that keeps the defense on all the time. So far, the Jayhawks have been significantly better at defending with Wilson on the ground, forcing sales to one-fifth of their opponents’ possessions and keeping them at just 85 points per 100 possessions per hooplens.com.
“He’s just competing,” said Kansas Christian Braun said. “He doesn’t care where [Self] puts him in position. “
Damien Jefferson, Creighton: He’s not Creighton’s best player, but Jefferson is certainly one of the main contenders on the roster. He can protect opposing post players, but is also fast enough to defend himself on the edge. One of the best games after his team’s 93:58 win over Kennesaw State on Friday? Jefferson, 6-foot-5, 220 pounds, intercepted a pass at the top of the key and finished with a one-handed flush on the other end. The Bluejays are a difficult matchup for any team in the country with Jefferson (10.0 PPG, 3.7 RPG, 2.3 APG) on the field.
Jeremiah Robinson-Earl, Villanova: What can you do with a 6-foot-9 striker who can put the ball on the ground and make his own shot from dribbling with ease? Texas couldn’t find him in the 68-64 defeat on Sunday – Robinson-Earl had 19 points, eight rebounds, two assists and one block. With Villanova in the final minute of 62:60, all five Longhorns were ready to help when Robinson-Earl hit the lane after hitting a pass at the free-throw line. Instead he found Jermaine Samuels, who took advantage of pressure on his teammate to cut between two defenders for the bucket that increased Villanova’s lead to four. Robinson-Earl also looked for loose balls and made important defensive stops on the route. Robinson-Earl is one of the best players in the country.
Andrew Nembhard, Gonzaga: Gonzaga’s 87-82 win over West Virginia on Wednesday showed the worth of Nembhard, the Florida transfer authorized just before the start of the season. The 6-foot-5 guard helped the Gonzaga Offensive maintain its momentum afterwards Jalen Suggs Missed time with an ankle injury, an effort that helped Nembhard win West Coast Conference Player of the Week.
With Nembhard (19 points, six assists, five rebounds against West Virginia), Mark Few has a guard with whom he can carry out his offensive as a backup for Suggs or play alongside the dynamic newcomer. Who wants to deal with that backyard in March? He’s not vulnerable to larger players on defense and his combination of speed and size makes it difficult to stop Nembhard when he’s going downhill. Proof? According to hoop-math.com, he took 80% of his shots on the edge.
Micah Peavy, Texas Tech: He’s a freshman with a lot to learn, but Chris Beard has a special player in Peavy. He has a high basketball IQ, is strong, does not waste games, and is happy with doing the chores on the court. In a 64:53 loss to Houston on November 29, the 6-foot-7 peavy points came mostly from grit: backdoor cuts, hard drives, and powerful finishes (12 points, four rebounds). He’s an athlete who may not get a lot of praise for his raw numbers yet, but he should get a lot of love from the analytics crowd.
Peavy averages 6.8 PPG in just over 22 minutes per competition. But Texas Tech averages 117 points per 100 possessions on the offensive, forcing sales on 26% of its opponents’ possessions, with Peavy – who fired 59% of his shots inside the bow – lying on the ground, according to hooplens.com. Synergy Sports lists him as an “excellent” defender. He could develop into a young star for the Red Raiders.
Moses Moody, Arkansas: Moody kicked off his team’s 86:50 win over Lipscomb on Saturday with two consecutive 3-pointers at the start of the game. Towards the end of the first half, he hit a jump shot over the outstretched hands of Lipscomb’s 6-foot-8 striker Ahsan Asadullah. Eric Musselman is only letting the freshman, who won the SEC newcomer of the week on Monday, use all of his skills. At 6-foot-6, Moody – a planned selection for round two in ESPN.com’s latest draft – is an intentional grand piano with a large frame. He made 38% of his 3-point throws and 86% of his free throws, points that should persist even if his team’s schedule in the SEC game gets tougher. He’s just a baller.
Joe Wieskamp, Iowa: Yes he opens the floor for Luka Garza but also creates drama for opposing coaches on their own. You can’t give Wieskamp too much room to shoot – the 6-foot-6 athlete is so far 6-on-12 away from the 3-point line and two years away from a 42% campaign of the 3 as a freshman. With Garza and Wieskamp, Iowa has a one-two combination that is difficult for any team in the country to defend. The fact that Wieskamp can comfortably float or get touched on the edge when needed is an incredible advantage for Fran McCaffery’s program. You can’t really put Wieskamp in a box this season.
Keyontae Johnson, Florida: COVID-19 forced Florida to postpone its season, but its first three games were a showcase of what Johnson can become for Mike White’s team. A year after joining 38% of his 3-pointers, 60% of his shots within the arc, and 77% of his free-throw attempts, Johnson – a planned first-round selection ESPN’s newest NBA draft – scored 16, 24 and 19 points in his team’s first three games. He can play like a traditional guard, but his athleticism gives him the ability to influence the game over the edge. His alley-oop dunk in the first half of his team’s 86:40 win over Stetson on Sunday is already one of my favorite games of the year.
The anatomy of a 40-point run
Ohio posted a 40-0 run during Sunday’s 101:46 win over Cleveland State, an NCAA record for a game with two Division I teams. In the second half of the historic effort, an Ohio assistant tried to get head coach Jeff Boals’ attention.
“He said, ‘Coach, do you want to take Jason Preston Out? ‘”Boals remembered.” I’m like ‘No. Why?’ He said, “Coach, we’re up at 47.” … I had no idea it was happening while it was happening. “
From the 1:41 mark in the first half, when Ohio was leading 46-25, to the 8:03 mark in the second half – Ohio had an 86-27 lead after two free throws from Cleveland State – the opposing team failed to score.
Boals said his team will enjoy the moment without overemphasizing it because it’s a rare thing.
“You look back and you can’t write something like that,” he said. “Everything had to go perfectly.”
Boals said he was on the other end of a similarly dominant effort. During the 2001/02 season he was assistant to Marshall in a 116-76 loss to Kent State.
“They just sit there and see if they can make it AAU style,” he said, “and keep a running clock.”
The wild 3-point explosion at Liberty continues
Liberty’s 4-2 record includes two wins against SEC teams, Mississippi State and South Carolina.
The boxing results of these games intrigued me. Liberty shot 65 3-pointers in those two games, making up 46% of them. In Saturday’s 86-64 win over Bluefield, an NAIA school, Liberty shot 43 shots from a distance.
Last season roughly four out of ten shots were 3-point for head coach Ritchie McKay’s squad. This year? It’s almost six out of ten. When this number holds, the program sets a KenPom record for the percentage of 3-point attempts – the percentage of a team’s total field goals that are 3-point points. But there’s something else to note here: Liberty also made 37% of its attempts to become a national top 60 brand.
“We just thought that would be better [version of our offense] for this group, “said McKay of the move from last year’s team.
McKay told ESPN that Chris Parker and his other guards helped stabilize his offense after the team lost several veterans with 30 wins last year. Keegan McDowell and Elijah Cuffee both shoot over 37% from outside the bow.
McKay said he hoped his team can be effective against an emerging Missouri team when they meet on Wednesday. He didn’t reveal many details about his team’s offensive strategy. Judging by the numbers, he probably didn’t have to.
“I want to be as hard to find as possible,” he said.