Jalen Brunson Should be Player of the Year: Making a Case

Trae Young has been doing things we have not seen in college basketball. If the season ended today he would lead the country in points and assists. No one in college basketball has done this for a whole season. Young’s play this year in college basketball has been very similar to the MVP campaign Russell Westbrook had last season in the NBA. They both put up numbers that very few before them have, but also used a high volume of shots at times to do so. There are some great games, an there are some sloppy games. Young’s year is not quite as Jekyll & Hyde was Westbrook’s was, but there is some inconsistency.

There’s no doubt what Young is doing is special. His freshman counterparts Marvin Bagley and DeAndre Ayton are having extraordinary seasons themselves, but half the country has no idea just how good they have been because they don’t compare to some of the things Young has done. A month ago most people would say the gap between Young and second place for Player of the Year was extremely large. They probably would have been right. Fast forward and that gap is much closer than many think. Here’s why Villanova’s Jalen Brunson deserves consideration for Player of the Year.

Making The Case

From first glance, Brunson’s numbers don’t compete with Young’s at all. He’s averaging 19 points to Young’s 29, 5 assists to Young’s 9, and one less rebound per game. As Stephen A. Smith would say….HOWEVER, Brunson is a more efficient and smarter player. That’s not entirely fair to Young since he is two years younger than Brunson. Brunson has a turnover-assist ratio of 5.0 to 1.5. The most he’s turned the ball over in a game this year is three times.Young has a T/A ratio of 9.3-5.3.  And while Young has had a crazy 22 assist game, he’s also has a 12 turnover game against Kansas State.

Young’s points per game are so much higher than Brunson’s because he shoots a high volume of shots every night, and that’s okay. Oklahoma is built differently from Villanova, they need Young to do that in order to win. Yong averages 19.5 shots a game. This is not including the 39 he took against Oklahoma State, or the 9 against Kansas. Those two games are extreme outliers to his typical shot output. Brunson has only eclipsed 20+ shots twice. Again, the Wildcats don’t need him to do that in order to be the best team in America.

In games where he’s gotten a majority of shots (15+), Brunson is averaging 26 points per game, seven higher than his season average. In those games, he shot 57% from the floor. Is it likely he would sustain that percentage over a whole season if he got as many shots as Young does? Doubtful. But he’s still shooting 56% from the floor on the season and 48% from three, compared to Young’s 45% and 39% respectively. Whether he’s shooting 20 times or 7 times, Brunson has shot it well.

Lastly, you can’t discount the fact that Villanova is the #1 team in the country. This should not be the deciding factor obviously, since not all teams are created equal. But if players can be penalized in these awards for putting up great numbers on bad teams, why shouldn’t they be rewarded for putting up good numbers on great teams. Brunson’s numbers are good. Any team would take 19 points, 5 assists and just 1.5 turnovers a game from their starting point guard. Villanova is a great team; they are rolling through everyone they play, including nationally ranked and NCAA tournament bound teams. Brunson is the most important piece to that success.

The Player of the Year voting comes down to if you think a great player on a good team should win, or if a good player on a great team should win. Jalen Brunson is very, very good. He’s not as viral as Trae Young has been, and so it seems like he is flying under the radar. Villanova is rolling through the Big East, a strong Big East, again, and he is a big reason why. He may not have the crazy numbers and single game performances that Young has had on the surface, but a closer look shows that this race is, and should be, closer than many think.

Big12/SEC Challenge: Predicting Saturday’s Winners

via SECSports.com

The Big 12/SEC Challenge is a nice break in conference play for both fans and players. After a couple weeks of battling out with conference foes, it gives teams a break from their treacherous schedules and provides fans with some marquee in-season match ups we are not always accustomed to. Last year the conferences tied at five wins apiece. Prior to that, the Big 12 won the first three challenges, with an overall record of 20-10 in those three seasons. This year looks to favor the Big 12 again, but the SEC has a number of exciting players and teams. It should lead to fireworks on Saturday.

Baylor at Florida

No one may be happier to get a break from Big 12 play than Baylor. The Bears are 2-6 and tied at the bottom of the Big 12. In typical Big 12 seasons, this team would be middle of the pack, but in this year’s Big 12, they are struggling to win the close games against stiff competition. They will head to Gainesville to face a Florida Gator team that finds themselves a half game out of first in the SEC. The Gators, while falling in and out of the Top 25, are still waiting for consistent play from last year’s leading scorer, Kevaughn Allen. If they get that, this team can be SEC champion good. I like the Gators at home; I don’t think they will drop two games at home in the same week.

Tennessee at Iowa State

This is not a favorable game for Tennessee. It’s easy to look at Iowa State’s record and say the Vols should role, but the Cyclones are at home. Iowa State’s two conference wins come at home, and one is against Texas Tech in a game where they walked all over the Red Raiders. Lindell Wigginton is one of the best freshman that no one is talking about. That said, I’m not letting my Big 12 bias get the best of me. I’m going with the Vols. I think Tennessee has the advantage upfront and Grant Williams could have a big game. Give me Tennessee, but it will be close.

Texas A&M at Kansas

This is the most challenging game to predict, in part because Texas A&M has been hard to predict. Kansas is at home, they don’t lose at home. Except this year they’ve already lost twice at home, three times if you include their loss to Washington in Kansas City. Texas A&M hasn’t been able to put a full roster together yet this year, so they’re hard to evaluate. Their biggest advantage is playing Robert Williams and Tyler Davis together down low. They are two legit post players, and Kansas really only has one, Udoka Azubuike. Their advantage down low will be a disadvantage on the other end, trying to guard Kansas’ four guard perimeter attack. I’ll take Kansas at home, coming off a loss.

Georgia at Kansas State

Kansas State has been one of the biggest surprises in the country. The Wildcats are tied for second in the Big 12, and sit 15-5 overall. Of all the Big 12 stars, Barry Brown flies under the radar more than anyone. The junior is averaging close to 18 points a game this year. Georgia has the best individual scorer in Yante Maten, but he has zero support. Brown, along with Dean Wade will be more than enough for KSU to win at home.

Oklahoma at Alabama

This is the premier ‘match-up within the match-up’ game. Everyone knows about Trae Young, but Colin Sexton is one of the most exciting freshman in the country as well. A week ago I would have leaned Alabama after seeing the Sooners struggle. Seeing Trae Young bounce back Tuesday night against Kansas though, is making me take Oklahoma. Young didn’t force anything. He shot only nine shots and took exactly what Kansas gave him. He also had role players step up. I think he takes more than nine shots in this one, but continues to efficiently distribute the ball. Oklahoma wins.

Oklahoma State at Arkansas

Oklahoma State has the best player on the floor in Jeffery Carroll. Arkansas has the major advantage in the backcourt with Jayln Barford and Daryl Macon. If this game was at home, Oklahoma State would fair a little better, but I’ll lean towards a seasoned Arkansas team at home here. Oklahoma State can score, but I think Arkansas is good enough defensively to lock down anyone not named Jeffery Carroll. With no support, it would be tough for the Cowboys to pull off a win. Chalk one up to the SEC here.

TCU at Vanderbilt

This game is tough. Vanderbilt’s home court is a big advantage for them. But TCU is the better team in this game. Even without guard Jaylen Fisher, the Horned Frogs were able to top West Virginia at home this week. Alex Robinson has been great in place of Fisher though, averaging nearly 13 points and 11 assists in three games. Give me the better team and the better coach on the road in this one. The home court advantage could make it closer, but not enough to overcome TCU.

Mississippi at Texas

This may be the most lopsided game of the showdown. Texas is a strong home team, with a record of 9-2. Their only losses are to Kansas and Michigan, not bad opponents. They have one of the nation’s best shot blockers in Mo Bamba. His presence in the paint will be effective in keeping Ole Miss’s trio of guards out of the paint. Texas has had their best wins of late when Kerwin Roach is scoring. At home, I think Roach can tally 15+ and Bamba will protect the rim. Texas at home.

Texas Tech at South Carolina

Texas Tech is another team that has cooled off slightly after routing Kansas in Phogg Allen earlier in the year. The Red Raiders still have one of the nation’s best defenses, but have struggled at times to put the ball in the basket. It seems as if Keenan Evans isn’t scoring 20+ a game, TTU doesn’t have much on offense. South Carolina is similar in the sense that Chris Silva is the focal point of their offense. Whoever has the better game between Silva and Evans, their team has the edge. I think Silva will have a strong game, but Evans will be just a bit better. He will get just enough support and Texas Tech will squeak out the road win.

Kentucky at West Virginia

This game has potential to be the ugliest game, but knowing this Kentucky team, they’ll step up just enough to keep it close. This game comes down to one thing. Kentucky is still looking for that point guard play that makes a Joan Calipari team thrive, and West Virginia has the best defensive point guard in the country in Jevon Carter. West Virginia is a scary place for any team to play, let alone the youngest Kentucky team Calipari has ever coached. I think Kentucky comes out with an edge coming off a loss, but this is too tall of a task for a young team on the road. I’ll take West Virginia.

So there are the ten games. My predictions have the Big 12 winning at 7-3. Couple games wouldn’t surprise me if they went the other way, but we’ll see how it pans out this weekend. It stinks that Auburn was left out, but it’s tough to anticipate them having the season they are when this schedule was made. It’s also unfortunate to see Tremont Waters left out of the challenge. He’s one of the most exciting players in the country. He’s also a Hoop Group alumni. Nonetheless it should be another fun day of basketball.

Zion Williamson Commits to Duke

The 2018-19 college basketball season took a turn last night, when Zion Williamson announced his college commitment. Williamson, who plays high school ball in South Carolina, was deciding between local schools Clemson and South Carolina, as well as blue blood programs Kentucky, Duke, UNC and Kansas. Going into Saturday, 247Sports gave Clemson an 87% chance to land Williamson. Kentucky was the dark horse to make a last minute steal if Williamson choose to go out of state. In the end though, it was Duke who got the good news Saturday night.

Williamson is one of the country’s most talked about recruits, thanks to his freak athleticism and dunk show warm up routines. He’s a massive body and is able to bully his way to the basket in most situations at the high school level. Some scouts have described him as Charles Barkley-esque at times. It is uncertain if that will work at the college level, but with the athleticism that he possesses, he should be just fine.

In a season plagued by recruiting scandals, the surprising choice of Duke forces you to wonder just a bit. Not insinuating foul play, but it was a huge upset on Duke’s part to land Williamson. For Clemson, it would have been a monstrous commitment for Brad Brownell and his staff. The Tigers are enjoying one of their best seasons under Brownell, and are on track to reach the NCAA tournament for the first time since the 2010-11 season. Adding Williamson to a solid core of players returning would have given the Tigers a lot to look forward to.

“When I went on my official visit (to Duke), I already felt like I was a part of the family. It just gave a very positive family-type vibe,”

For Duke, it undoubtedly catapults them back to the nation’s top recruiting class. Williamson adds to an already loaded class. That’s something we are getting used to say about Duke. Last year it was the addition of Marvin Bagley. This year, it’s Williamson. He will join RJ Barrett, Cam Reddish and Tre Jones, all fellow ESPN Top 10 recruits, in Durham next year. It remains to be seen who will return for Duke next year, but they have a strong core coming in to replace some of their departed players.

With Trae Young choosing Oklahoma over Kansas last season, and proceeding to take the college basketball world by storm, many wanted to see the same story unfold with Zion. With the season Clemson is having, and who would be coming back, it could have been another great story. In the end though, the rich get richer. Coach K showed once again why it’s hard to beat him not just on the court, but in recruiting as well.

7 Storylines in College Basketball This Weekend

Photo via SB Nation

It’s a big football weekend, with Conference Championship games being played on Sunday. Before you look forward to Sunday, here’s what you can look forward to this Saturday in college hoops.

Wichita State Tries to Avoid Back to Back Losses

Wichita State had the most embarrassing loss in program history under Greg Marshall on Wednesday, at home against SMU. As Rob Dauster pointed out on his College Basketball Talk Podcast, the Shockers gave up 1.38 points per possession, which is the worst by a Marshall coached team. The Shockers, while still one of the best teams in a weak AAC, need to up their defensive intensity if they want a long March run. On the flip side, Houston sits at 14-4 and 4-2 in the AAC. They hold above average wins against Arkansas and Providence. A win against the Shockers would really catapult them to a potential at-large bid come March.

Get Familiar with the Mountain West….Really

First place for the Mountain West Conference is at stake Saturday night, as Nevada hosts Boise State. If you haven’t paid attention, and I’m sure not many have, Nevada is a good basketball team. They are a Top 20 KenPom team, with a win against Rhode Island and close losses to Texas Tech and TCU. Nevada’s Caleb Martin is worth the watch, and is an under appreciated player in the country. The Wolf Pack sit at 6-0 in the Mountain West, hosting the 6-1 Boise State Broncos. Boise State is no slouch either, but needs a win to keep potential at-large or conference championship hopes alive. Senior guard has been the driving force between two close wins for Boise of late. He went for 44 a few games ago versus San Diego State. Offense is not an issue in this one. It will probably be the best late night game on Saturday night.

Can Notre Dame Finally Steal a Win

Notre Dame could use some comfort. The Fighting Irish lost a heartbreaker last Saturday, as a TJ Gibbs put back was halfway down before coming out. They followed up with a double overtime loss to Louisville earlier this week. Notre Dame no doubt got a boost with the return of Matt Farrell against the Cardinals, but they need to start winning some close games if they want to keep their tournament hopes alive. They won’t get punished for losses against good ACC teams without Bonzie Colson, but they need to steal some wins to keep their tournament dreams alive. For the Tigers, it could be a big weekend for them on and off the court, with Zion Williamson expected to make his college commitment.

Will Trae Young Bounce Back

Trae Young had his worst game of his brief college career this week against Kansas State. Major props to the Wildcats, who game planned and defended Young and the Sooners magnificently. Young finished with 20 points on 21 shots and a glaring 12 turnovers. It was a blip on the radar for Young. He and Oklahoma will look to rebound against Oklahoma State. The Sooners trounced OSU at home earlier in the year. Young finished with 27 points and 10 assists. On paper, this looks like a favorable way to bounce back.

The Only Ranked vs Ranked Match-Up of the Weekend

There is only one game on Saturday that features two nationally ranked teams and that is #11 Xavier travelling to Jersey to play #19 Seton Hall. This game has two storylines to it. For Seton Hall, they need a win to stay in the race in the Big East. They’ve lost two of their last three, and the two losses were blowouts. Xavier needs to win to keep pace with Villanova. A loss here wouldn’t doom the Musketeers, but it would basically ensure that Villanova gets at least a share of the Big East regular season championship. You also get two senior led teams in this game, and great individual match-ups. Desi Rodriguez versus Trevon Blueitt would probably the best match-up within the match-up

First Place Game in the Pac 12

After non-conference play, the Pac 12 seemed like a two team race between Arizona and Arizona State. Three weeks into conference play, Arizona sits atop the standings, but they don’t share it with the Sun Devils. Instead it is Stanford that is tied with the Wildcats at 5-1 in Pac 12 play. The Cardinals were 0-4 in non-conference play against KenPom Top 50 teams. They’ve been strong in conference however, with wins over UCLA, USC and Arizona State thus far. They have one of the best players in the conference in Reid Travis. He will have his hands full against probable conference POY, DeAndre Ayton. Winner has sole possession of first place in the Pac 12.

Kentucky NEEDS a Big Win

You never want to throw around the words “must win” this early into conference play, but this is close to a must win for Kentucky at home against Florida. The Wildcats are just a game behind the Gators in the SEC and could either end the weekend potentially tied for first or sitting 4-3 with a number of tough games looming. The Wildcats have games against Tennessee, who beat them, at Texas A&M, who should have beat them, at Auburn, at Arkansas and at Florida to end the season. Also jammed in there is a trip to West Virginia, though not a conference game. Kentucky still controls their fate, but with what we’ve seen of them so far, they cannot afford to dig themselves too deep a hole.

In addition to these storylines, you also have other ranked teams such as West Virginia, Gonzaga, Tennessee, Auburn and Arizona State looking to rebound after losses during the week. Honestly, there probably isn’t as much flareas prior weekends. With the way this season has gone though, expect nothing to go according to plan, and a lot to talk about on Monday.

7 Teams That Have Surprised Us This College Basketball Season

By now it’s pretty widely agreed upon that this season has been crazy in college basketball. Upsets all over, blue chip programs struggling to put it together, and teams that were overlooked, turning heads. You often see teams start hot and fade away once conference play begins, but let’s look at seven teams who appear to be legitimate here in mid January.

Auburn

Take a second to realize just what Bruce Pearl has done this year at Auburn. His program was linked to the FBI report that was released in the Fall. He lost one of his assistant coaches just before the start of the season. And, his two best players are out for the entire season. Recipe for success? For sure not. However, the Tigers have a 16-1 record, and a perfect 4-0 record in SEC play this season. While they played a relatively soft non-conference schedule, Auburn has two strong SEC wins at Tennessee and against Arkansas. This team is playing with confidence and their head coach is coaching with a swagger. Auburn may be the most surprising team so far this season.

Ohio State

Speaking of non-ideal scenarios, take a look at what Chris Holtmann inherited at Ohio State. In June, he took over a team that won just six Big Ten games, and were losing their top four leading scorers. His only option would be to weather the storm and begin making serious changes after what was expected to be a rough first season, right? Wrong. Although they got off to a shaky start, failing to secure any signature non-conference wins, what Holtmann has done at Ohio State so far is fantastic. Behind the All-American play of Keita Bates-Diop, the Buckeyes already have six conference wins, and are tied with Purdue at the top of the standings. And while they may not have been able to secure any resume boosting non-conference wins, they announced themselves as contenders with an absolute drubbing of Michigan State a few weeks ago.

Clemson

The Clemson Tigers were supposed to make the NCAA tournament last season, at least that’s what their expectation was. Jaron Blossomgame was finally a senior and be was going to lead them to the Big Dance before he left. Unfortunately that story never panned out, but Clemson appears to be on their way this season. What losing Blossomgame did was turn them into one of the more balanced scoring teams in the country. They have five players who average 11 points a game or more. They hold wins over Ohio State, Florida, Louisville and Miami. Three of those four wins were at home, a place they defended pretty well this season.

Oklahoma

If you watch a lot of college basketball, you know the Oklahoma Sooners are a lot more than Trae Young. Sure, Young is a sensational player and well on his way to being named Player of the Year, but this team is blossoming after going through many growing pains last year. After being extremely young last season, Oklahoma is seeing a lot of players make big jumps in their game, year over year. Young might be a straw that stirs the drink, but his strong supporting cast is the reason the Sooners are a top 5 team in the country.

Arizona State

Arizona State has had a humbling start to Pac 12 play, but they are still light years ahead of where anyone thought they would be. They have a top 10 offense in the country, though that has slowed down some as well. Despite their conference struggles, the Sun Devils still have wins against Xavier and at Kansas to hang their hat on. They have a favorable stretch coming up that should (hopefully) be what this team needs to get back on track. Regardless, this team is 14-3 and a real threat to win the Pac 12. That is something not many people expected coming into the season.

Texas Tech

If you are unaware, the Big 12 Conference is really, really good. One reason why is the ridiculous play of Trae Young. Another reason is the emergence of Texas Tech and the tenacious defense Chris Beard has instilled in this team. While they don’t generate the turnovers that West Virginia does, the Red Raiders defense is Top 10 in the country in terms of points per game. A mix of strong senior leadership and tough defense can take a team far. This Texas Tech team is good enough to reach a Final Four, just ask Kansas, Baylor, Nevada and West Virginia.

Purdue

The Purdue Boilermakers are tied for first place in the Big Ten. They haven’t lost since the day after Thanksgiving. In that time they’ve beaten Arizona (albeit without Rawle Alkins), Louisville, Michigan and Butler. The Boilermakers made a statement in a 34 point slaughter of a Minnesota team that has some problems. With Purdue, you have another rare exception of a team losing an All-American (Caleb Swanigan) and seemingly being better without him. Despite the departure of Swanigan, Matt Painter still had the pieces to have a successful season. Right now he is getting the most out of all those pieces, with three upperclassmen averaging over 13 points a game, and a sophomore, Carson Edwards, leading them with 16 a game. The Big Ten was supposed to be a bad league dominated by Michigan State. Three weeks into conference play however, it is Purdue that looks dominant.

We’re still a long way from March. That is fortunate and unfortunate news for some teams. And as I mentioned before, there are plenty of teams who have played better than expected. Right now though, these seven teams and coaches deserve a lot of credit for the the job they’ve done in the first half of the season.