Wednesday, November 30, 2011

Addendum to Report - Darrell Miller

In my previous segment, "Scouring the Nation (Part 2)", I reviewed NAIA prospect Darrell Miller in some detail. And, while this report was a comprehensive review of his strengths and weaknesses, Fisk's contest against Lincoln University shed new light on Miller's capabilities.

First, it should be mentioned that Lincoln University does not have a typical lineup. Their tallest player is 6'6, and their star, Denzel Mooney- a player I will also review in this article- is forced to play on the block.

Playing against Mooney for several possessions, Miller displayed some of his strengths. He was able to get past Mooney in the lane due to his superior quickness at 6'8. Additionally, Miller hustled down the floor for every possession and beat most guards back, despite typically running a longer distance. He was able to draw contact and get to the line on several occasions, and he demonstrated some ability to finish through contact.

Despite these strengths, Miller did not look to post up frequently enough against his smaller opponents. With that said, this has a lot to do with the guards of Fisk playing out of control and not settling down for true halfcourt sets. The pace of the game was sloppy, with both teams trading turnovers. While a fast pace is ideal for a player like Miller, Fisk's backcourt does not look to get him involved enough offensively. Part of it has to do with Miller's inability to sustain position on the block at times. But, as I alluded to previously, Fisk's backcourt did not look for him even when he was open. Defensively, Miller did a good job of contesting without fouling, but he should step in to draw more charges due to his solid footspeed.

With regard to the opposition, Denzel Mooney stood out as Lincoln's best player due to his efficient offensive game. Because of their limited frontcourt, Lincoln generally plays Mooney on both the interior and on the perimeter. On several occasions, Mooney posted up in a AJ Moye-esque fashion. But, he also demonstrated his potential to play on the wing, knocking down several jumpers off the dribble and in the lane. Mooney has a good first step and was able to beat his man off of the dribble on several occasions. Further, he has a strong build at 6'4, and is a good enough slasher to bully his way into the paint at the D2 level.

Defensively, it is really difficult to make an assessment given how out-of-position Mooney is for his Lincoln squad. He fought valiantly against bigger opponents on the block and was forced to play in the paint when his Lincoln squad switched to zone. This masked Mooney's ability (or inability) to defend the perimeter, as he was rarely involved in enough closeouts to make a determination either way. What can be said, though, is that he will be undersized professionally at 6'4, but he may be able to compensate with physical play. On the glass, Mooney asserts his will and does a good job of fighting for position. He is a fundamentally sound rebounder for his size.

With that said, Mooney must amend his shooting form. His mechanics are very poor, evincing an obvious hitch in his shot. He also tends to move the ball from side to side and shoot from his chest. At higher levels of basketball, his slow release will be unacceptable, as he will likely get blocked on almost every possession if he keeps his current shooting form. Additionally, Mooney struggled taking the ball into traffic, as he forced the issue against multiple defenders on several instances. His decision making and basketball IQ must improve a bit in order to stand out at the next level. All in all, Mooney is a very good college player, but he will have to adjust his game in order to fit in with any professional basketball system. The style of play on any professional squad almost certainly will represent a departure from Lincoln University's system.

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Tuesday, November 22, 2011

Small School Review: Spencer Liddic

In this edition, I review Muhlenberg College's Spencer Liddic.

Spencer Liddic is a prototypical D3 athlete who is undersized at the forward slot, but compensates with tremendous effort and basketball fundamentals. The 6'5 215 lb forward plays predominantly inside, utilizing his girth to attack with his back to the basket. He is fundamentally sound on the block and employs several pivot and reverse pivot moves to get his shot off. At higher levels of basketball, he must become more vertically explosive. And, he may need to fade away against bigger players that will be capable of blocking his shot. He will have to adjust by moving to the perimeter at times, and this will require him to slim down and tone his body. While he will likely always have a low center of gravity, he must become more explosive.

In terms of rebounding, Liddic is one of the best at the D3 level. He has great hands and demonstrates solid box out fundamentals, soaring over much taller players to clean up on the glass. Further, he has a knack for knowing where the ball is going to go- a trait which can really not be taught. Even still, Liddic must get his body in shape and become more of an athlete to succeed at higher levels where length can become a supreme advantage on the glass.

On the defensive end, Liddic played on the perimeter at times on closeouts. He was able to move his body against D3 offensive players, but it is unlikely that he will be able to put in the same sort of effort at higher levels of basketball. Liddic must always maintain focus and not run down ahead of the pack when his team has not secured the ball, something which he did on several occasions against Gettysburg College. His lateral speed is going to be a weakness, but he may be able to improve in this area by slimming down.

Liddic is a decent passer out of the post, and has a solid basketball IQ. He must develop more of a lift on his jump shot and look to develop more of a perimeter stroke. He has a solid form already, but he does not look for his outside jumper often enough.

All in all, Liddic is a great player at the D3 level, but it is unlikely that his game will translate at higher levels unless he can improve his body and learn to play as a post up wing. Or maybe, just maybe he can find an AJ Moye-like reserve role somewhere in Europe. Of course, this would still require him to put in significant work on his build. After all, Moye was a physical specimen.

Saturday, November 19, 2011

Savannah St. vs. Indiana

In this contest, Indiana jumped out to an early lead, but was tested by the athleticism of the Tigers. The Hoosiers moved well without the basketball and made crisp passes to cutters. They ultimately secured the victory against a Savannah St squad that plays without any senior leadership, but with a number of juniors.

Savannah St.

Preston Blackmon- Blackmon is a quick guard with good body control and a nice change of pace dribble. He was capable slashing to the basket, and was able to draw contact against Indiana defenders. At 6'0, he has improved as a facilitator for his team, although he still should be considered a scoring lead guard. While he often moves the ball around the perimeter, Blackmon thrives finding players off the bounce once he beats his defender. This is because he has a good first step and can hit jump shots when open. With that said, he must become more efficient if he ever wants to play professional basketball overseas at any level.

Cedric Smith- Smith is an aggressive hustle player who is able to attack the basket. He regularly dives on the ball and is one of the best role players on his Savannah St. squad. Smith is a good rebounder for his size, and was willing to go head to head with Cody Zeller at times. Offensively, Smith struggles to connect on jumpers from the field and virtually never takes shots from beyond the arc. Despite this fact, he was rather efficient from the field in this one because he took high percentage shots. Further, he revealed his quick first step and was able to get to the rim with regularity. With that said, he must improve as a free throw shooter- he is hitting roughly 50% of his attempts at the line so far this season. Even though he has shot the ball poorly early on, this trend should change by the end of the year. On the defensive end, Smith is very aggressive and moves his feet well. He is capable of guarding bigger players. Overall, Smith is a serviceable role player who performed well in this contest.

Joshua Montgomery- While he has not shot the ball well in early action, Montgomery is an opportunistic outside shooter who is capable of keeping his team in the game. In this contest, he hit 40% from 3 point range and was able to nail shots from the mid range. Montgomery did a decent job pulling up off the dribble. On the defensive end, Montgomery did a good job of contesting Verdell Jones, and forced him into some tough shots. He has good hands and deceptive quickness on this end of the floor.

Rashad Hassan- Hassan is Savannah St.'s leading scorer, who was aggressive in this contest. Hassan attacked the basket and was able to get to the line frequently. He did a good job of attacking the body of Cody Zeller, the much bigger player. He is undersized at 6'7, but has some good athleticism to compensate. Hassan played virtually the entire second half with four fouls, but was able to finish through contact and avoid several potential charging calls. Defensively, he was limited and was not able to contain Cody Zeller; however, he did a good job of physically challenging him in the first half. Hassan should make an impact throughout the year and has the potential to earn attention as an Al'onzo Coleman-type player.


Cody Zeller- Zeller has great strength for an interior player. He was able to finish through contact and get to the line with regularity in this one. Zeller has a nice array of post moves and could be the best rebounder on Indiana. He is aggressive boxing out and employs considerable length to corral rebounds. Zeller has deceptive quickness and athleticism for a player his size. However, he struggled defensively against the quicker Savannah St. big men. He ended the game with four fouls and had a hard time containing the Tigers' dribble penetration.

Verdell Jones- Jones played under control, demonstrating considerable senior leadership. After entering college as a wing, Jones has since converted to the point, and he regularly looks to get his teammates involved. In this contest, he aggressively attacked the basket, but struggled to finish through contact. Further, he was not particularly efficient from the field and clearly struggled against the quick hands of the Savannah St. defenders.

Derek Elston- Elston was a surprise player in this contest, who was able to dial in from three point range. Elston is one of the most efficient offensive players on Indiana this season, hitting 10 of his 14 field goal attempts prior to this contest. At 6'9, Elston functions primarily as a spot up shooter with teammates like Watford and Zeller preferring to play inside. On the defensive end, Elston struggles and is more of a positional defender that attempts to draw charges. He is not vertically explosive, and this makes him a liability on this end.

Scouring the Nation (Part 2)

In this segment, I explore all of the talent around the nation outside of Division 1. Far too often, these players are overlooked due to a lack of media attention. It should be noted, though, that some of the top historical NBA talent has come from outside of Division 1. With a lot hard work and determination, coupled with some natural talent, these late bloomers can succeed at the professional level, be it in the United States or overseas. For my second edition of this series, I explore Fisk (Tennessee) University's Darrell Miller.

Fisk University's Darrell Miller is one of the rising non D1 prospects at the college level today. He has established his presence early on in this season and appears to have a lot of room for improvement. This 6'8 sophomore has the length and frame to develop into a special player down the road if he continues to develop physically.

In terms of his physical limitations, while Miller began his career at 6'8 185 lbs, he has since added some weight to his build. He still has a ways to go before he can be able to match the physicality at the professional level, but if he continues to develop at his current pace, he should be in good shape by the time his collegiate career is finished. With that said, it must be noted that Miller's ever-improving physical profile heavily factors into his capabilities and deficiencies on both ends of the floor.

On the offensive end, Miller is a solid post up option. He fights for position on the block as best as he can and is willing to move around in order to accomplish this task. Darrell does a good job of establishing deep post position at this level, getting low to the ground and calling for the ball. Against more physically imposing players, he may struggle a bit more, as they often have the ability to challenge the post entry. But currently, he does a good job of sealing his man. Once he catches the ball, however, Miller does not have a particularly developed array of post moves. He tends to wait a little too long before going into his move as well, which would lead to turnovers at the next level. However, Miller does a good job of moving around his man and attacking the basket after initially catching the ball with his back to the basket. He must develop more advanced drop step/pivot moves on the block as well as a jump hook shot.

So while he is not especially effective with his back to the basket, Miller has displayed excellent potential as a face up player. He has a decent handle at 6'8 and is able to blow by his man with an impressive first step and extra gear. He attacks the rim with reckless abandon and is willing to fight through contact. With that said, his backcourt at Fisk University often forgets to feed the post and is not able to get him the ball on the high post when facing high level defensive pressure.

Additionally, Miller must look to develop more of a perimeter shot to keep defenses honest. Therein, his shooting mechanics could use some work, although he has a decent feel at the line, where he converts on roughly 70% of his attempts. Darrell does a good job of picking his spots on the court, as evinced by his 52.6% Field Goal % so far this season.

Also, in terms of his unselfishness, Miller does not display tremendous vision when given the ball on the high post. With that said, he is always a willing passer when defenses collapse on him on the low block. And, it should be noted that this is another developing facet of his game.

Aside from his quickness when slashing to the basket, Miller's greatest asset is his proficiency on the glass. Miller has a knack for anticipating where the ball is going to be as he corrals it and this has allowed him to average 14 rebounds per game in the early going. (through first three games and team exhibitions) This is especially helpful on the offensive glass, which is one of his greatest strengths. Despite this ability, Miller does not have great box out fundamentals, instead opting to jump in from behind in order to secure rebounds. If he can improve in this capacity, he could lead NAIA in rebounding throughout the season. (and not just through the first 4 games or so) As he develops physically, Miller has the potential to become one of the better rebounders at any level of basketball.

On the defensive end, it is really difficult to evaluate Miller's performances because Fisk plays zone at times. However, he does allow players to get deep post position occasionally and does not challenge on the catch. Further, while he has decent foot speed for a player his size, Miller does not always get in his stance. Despite this, he does a good job of closing out on perimeter shooters, utilizing his length to challenge their perimeter jumpers. Finally, Miller struggles as a help defender, focusing too much on his man and not always putting in the best effort to contain dribble penetration.

Overall, it will be interesting to see how far Darrell Miller can develop as this season progresses. He has two more years of eligibility left and he is still getting acclimated with his teammates after transferring from Milligan College, where he played his freshman season. Miller is one of the more talented players outside of Division 1, and it will be interesting to see if his intensity and effort level can pick up as he becomes more confident with his team's dynamic.

Saturday, November 12, 2011

Scouring the Nation (Part 1)

In this segment, I explore all of the talent around the nation outside of Division 1. Far too often, these players are overlooked due to a lack of media attention. It should be noted, though, that some of the top historical NBA talent has come from outside of Division 1. With a lot hard work and determination, coupled with some natural talent, these late bloomers can succeed at the professional level, be it in the United States or overseas. For my inaugural evaluation, I examine talented lead guard Jeremy Kendle of Bellarmine University.

Jeremy Kendle is the most valuable player on the defending Division II national championship squad, Bellarmine University. At 6'2 195 lb, Kendle passes the eye test as someone strong enough to handle the rigors of basketball at the next level. And, Kendle is the most prolific weapon for his team mainly because he plays with self-assurance and poise on the court. Not only does he bring the necessary leadership to his talented team, but he is also one of the top scorers outside of Division I basketball.

In terms of his offensive tendencies, Kendle relies heavily on his jump shot. He has a textbook form and a consistent release point. Further, his good lift allows him to shoot over defenders. Kendle prefers to shoot off the dribble, and normally will drive in off of the catch, often taking one or two dribbles in order to establish himself and find a rhythm. His jump shooting ability is highly advanced for a college basketball player mainly because he can hit shots on the move, which makes him particularly difficult to defend. Additionally, Kendle uses his body well to create separation before pulling up for his shots. Other than his jump shooting ability, Kendle is fairly savvy utilizing basket cuts to score easy points inside. While he is not constantly in motion, Kendle likes to flash in the paint or slip in on backdoor cuts.

With his considerable strengths in mind, Kendle was not very efficient from beyond the arc last season and made a paltry 33.1% of his attempts. However, it seems- at least initially- that he has become more adept at dialing in from distance. In Bellarmine's exhibition matchup with Louisville, he was very effective from behind the 3 point line and really kept the game close down the stretch. Further, Kendle is not particularly explosive off the dribble and struggles to get by defenders. He must improve his change of pace dribble in order to create separation against elite athletes. At this stage, his handle is serviceable and he employs a variety of spin moves to get past defenders. However, he prefers to attack the basket with his right hand, and must learn to beat defenders by exclusively driving left.

In regards to his passing, it is difficult to gauge Kendle's ability as a facilitator because he is prone to making kick-out passes within the flow of the offense, often generating hockey assists. With that said, his inability to drive past his defender should limit his ceiling as a distributor at the next level. His teammate Braydon Hobbs often plays the role of point forward and does a better job of generating easy shots for his teammates. Kendle is a fairly good rebounder for his size, and employs good box-out techniques. Moreover, he has a decent leaping ability, but he is far from a fluid athlete.

On the defensive end, Kendle is a liability. He struggles to stay with his man due to his poor lateral quickness. Moreover, he does not always get low in a stance and often fails to fight through screens. He gives the offensive player that he is guarding way too much breathing room on the perimeter, which makes it difficult for him to close out. This will be a significant problem for him at the next level. Additionally, Bellarmine's switching defensive sets tend to mask his inability to defend quicker point guards; for instance, Louisville's Russ Smith really gave him headaches when he attacked the basket. With that said, Kendle did display considerable toughness when switching against Louisville's big men. He was able to physically hold his own at times. So while Kendle has the potential to be physically imposing on the defensive end, he does not have the quickness to really contain his man at the professional level.

All in all, Jeremy Kendle is a player to keep an eye on mainly because he excels in an area which prevents many players from reaching their potential at the next level. He is fundamentally sound on the offensive end, and plays an intelligent brand of basketball. As he is accustomed to playing within a very structured team defense, he may have more success playing in Europe after his collegiate career is finished. This is further supported by his willingness to play within the offensive team construct by making hockey assists, which are not statistically accounted for. If Kendle is able to once again take Bellarmine far in this year's Division II Tournament, he will likely earn a trip to the Portsmouth Invitational, where he can compete against the nations top senior draft prospects.

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Sunday, November 6, 2011

Preseason top 70 +2

In this edition, I outline the top 40 teams for this year's college basketball season.

1. Kentucky- This is the most talented squad in Coach Cal's tenure at UK. Gilchrist and Davis are two of the top NBA prospects in this coming draft. That's not to mention Jones, Lamb, and Teague. They have the athleticism, talent, and experience to take the title in one of college basketball's best seasons in recent memory.
2. North Carolina- The Tar Heels have the deepest frontcourt in the country with a top 5 recruit coming off the bench. With Harrison Barnes improving considerably this offseason, look for them to contend at the top of the AP polls week after week.
3. Connecticut- The addition of Andre Drummond and the return of Jeremy Lamb cement the Huskies' status as the top team in the Big East. While they will not be able to rely upon Kemba Walker, these defending champs have the requisite experience to once again earn a Final Four birth.
4. Ohio St.- With Sullinger shedding pounds in the offseason and Buford returning to provide necessary leadership, the Buckeyes should once again win the Big 10 and earn a number 1 seed for NCAA tournament play.
5. Syracuse- The Orange have one of the deepest lineups in the country. Brandon Triche and Kris Joseph should emerge as bonafide stars in the Big East, and Syracuse will challenge UConn atop the Big East standings.
6. Florida- Florida has one of the deepest backcourts in the country. Billy Donovan has said that he may start four guards ala Villanova during the Randy Foye years. If these talented players can come together and Patric Young can learn to utilize his physical gifts, Florida should live up to their billing.
7. Louisville- While injuries are a serious concern for this squad, the Cardinals are one of the deepest teams in the country. The Cardinals will win plenty of games though. Their point guard Peyton Siva is one of the best floor generals in the Big East and big man Gorgui Dieng is one of the most improved players in the country.
8. Xavier- Many people are sleeping on Xavier this year. This squad returns virtually everyone, including Wooden Award candidate Tu Holloway. Look for Mark Lyons to improve and for the addition of Redford to really bolster this squad from the perimeter. With that said, this ranking should only stand if Kenny Frease is able to come back from suspension.
9. Pittsburgh- Defensive powerhouse Pittsburgh is poised for another great season in the Big East. While their perimeter attack is gone from a year ago, sweet shooting Ashton Gibbs returns for his final season. Further, the improvements of Talib Zanna and Dante Taylor should equip the Panthers to matchup with virtually any team in the paint. Freshman Khem Birch should make an immediate impact as well.
10. Wisconsin- Wisconsin's ranking should come as no surprise to anyone who has followed college basketball over the past decade. Bo Ryan's club simply retools after losing talent. While Jon Leuer will be difficult to replace, the Badgers do return the most efficient point guard in the country in Jordan Taylor.
11. Temple- Why Temple is not a unanimous top 15 selection is beyond me. They return virtually everyone with the exception of Lavoy Allen. Michael Eric should improve and provide a presence inside. And, the Owls are exceptional on the perimeter with Wyatt, Ramone Moore, and Juan Fernandez. Forward Rahlir Jefferson was one of the more efficient offensive players last year in the A-10. He should produce with more playing time and make up for some of Allen's lost production. Sure, Lavoy's defensive presence will be missed, but Temple returns enough to earn this spot.
12. Duke- While the Blue Devils have talent at every position, only Austin Rivers really stands out as a difference maker. Dawkins and Curry will have solid seasons, but they do not create enough opportunities off the dribble. Similarly, Duke's frontcourt has talent with the Plumlee brothers and much improved forward Ryan Kelly, but they are not elite talents.
13. Kansas- Until someone dethrones Kansas, they will remain the top team in the Big 12. Taylor will have a big year, and Robinson could be the most improved player in the country. Don't underestimate the impacts of Johnson and Releford either.
14. Missouri- Without the coaching switch, Missouri would be the top team in the Big 12. They have the experience even without Bowers to really challenge the Jayhawks. Denmon should be a first team all big 12 selection.
15. Cincinnati- The Bearcats return their stars from a season ago. Gates, Dixon, and Kilpatrick are back and ready to make a splash nationally. This experienced squad will likely get to the Sweet Sixteen. The play of their newcomers and their commitment on the defensive end will determine how far they can go though.
16. Vanderbilt- After returning everyone from a season ago, Vanderbilt should finally advance far in the NCAA tournament due to their experienced lineup. With that said, these same players do not have a proven track record of winning when it counts.
17. Arizona- The Wildcats are a very talented squad who has a chance to finish much higher than this ranking. They are the best team in the Pac 12, but have some serious question marks due to their inexperience and the loss of Kevin Parrom.
18. Marquette- With D.J.O and Jae Crowder back, the Golden Eagles should contend for a Sweet Sixteen birth. Chris Otule and Junior Cadougan will be the X Factors if Marquette is to exceed expectations.
19. Texas A&M- With a new coach in place, the Aggies return one of their deepest squads in recent memory. Middleton should have an all conference year, and Elston Turner should become a household name amongst Aggies fans.
20. Memphis- This year's Tigers squad is one of the most talented squads in the country. But, there will still be some growing pains for Will Barton and Joe Jackson as they mature at the college level. While Memphis is not yet an elite team, a healthy Wesley Witherspoon should certainly help their cause.
21. Gonzaga- Harris and Sacre comprise one of the best midmajor frontcourts in the country. The Zags are poised for another standout season after they were able to upset an experienced Johnnies squad a year ago. They should beat out St. Mary's and newcomer BYU due to their experience and depth inside.
22. Baylor- The Bears have the most room for growth out of any team listed here because of their deep and talented frontcourt. While Quincy Miller and Perry Jones are both future NBA players, Baylor's backcourt still remains a bit of a question mark. Juco Pierre Jackson will look to erase some of these concerns, but all indications are that he is too ball dominant. Potential chemistry issues keep this team out of the top 20.
23. Belmont- After winning 28 games a season ago, the Bruins deserve much more recognition in preseason polls. Ian Clark is back to lead a very balanced Belmont attack.
24. Iowa St.- The transfer-laden Cyclones are a darkhorse pick because they bring in so many new faces. Coach Hoilberg has his work cut out for him. But, Iowa St. is still one of the more talented teams in the Big 12, and if Hoilberg can get his players to buy into his system, they could be one of the biggest risers by year's end.
25. Wichita St.- Despite the loss of Durley, the Shockers return virtually everyone from a 29 win team. Look for Ben Smith and Ragland to step up in his absence and for Wichita St. to win the MVC.

Best of the Rest:
26. Villanova
27. Alabama
28. Michigan St.
29. UCLA
30. UNLV
31. Washington St.
32. Washington
33. Marshall
34. Creighton
35. St. John's
36. Fairfield
37. Michigan
38. Harvard
39. Kansas St.
40. UCF
41. BYU
42. Iona
43. St. Mary's
44. Butler
45. Clemson
46. Purdue
47. New Mexico
48. Drexel
49. California
50. Oklahoma St.
51. UAB
52. New Mexico St.
53. Detroit
54. Florida St.
55. Texas
56. Rutgers
57. Kent St.
58. VCU
59. Miami (Fl.)
60. Utah St.
61. Illinois
62. Notre Dame
63. Tulsa
64. Oregon St.
65. Indiana St.
66. Long Beach St.
67. Oregon
68. Duquesne
69. North Carolina St.
70. UMass
71. Lamar
72. Houston