College basketball as we know it could irrevocably change. The FBI could continue to blow up notable movers and shakers. The Rice Commission may advise major overhauls. The NBA could officially or unofficially signal changes on their own. However, those are structural aspects that also may not even come to fruition for the 2018-2019 season. The game itself will not change significantly, which is fine because basketball is great, and there is a lot to look for next year. Here are three things I’ll be keeping an eye on.
Blue Devil Balance
Coach K is at again, nabbing the nation’s No. 1 recruiting class. RJ Barrett, Cam Reddish and Zion Williamson have at times been the top three overall prospects in their class and Tre Jones is up there with them. But can they work together? None are shooters. RJ Barrett is reportedly an alpha’s alpha, leading Canada to FIBA U19 Gold in 2017. He is an incredible athlete and slasher, but is shooting form, and accuracy, is wonky. Still, he is best on ball getting buckets. So is Reddish. He has elite physical potential, 6’8” with long arms and smooth athleticism. However, all reports from the McDonald’s All-American Game, Nike Hoop Summit are that he isn’t a leader, he isn’t a competitor. Reddish can be a creator and a bucket getter, but his shooting is not knock down, and his ideal role in an offense seems identical to Barrett’s. The problem is exacerbated by Jones. Like his older Brother Tyus, Jones is a diligent playmaker. He is a solid athlete and shooter, but not great, and his skillset stems from his toughness, savvy, and being a prototypical point guard. To have the ball out of his hands is to marginalize him. Which leads to Zion. The social media star is used to be the center of attention. He is a mega athlete who can overcome some slight measurable deficiencies, but it is unclear what role is best for him. He’d be a tremendous lob catcher, but is that really his best version? If he is going to Duke to become an NBA star, he needs to develop.
This year’s team struggled with their uber talent base, but even then they had some structure. Trevon Duval couldn’t shoot so he created. Grayson Allen and Gary Trent Jr. were bombers on the wing, Marvin Bagley and Wendell Carter ate on the glass and in the mid to low post. Next year the same hierarchy doesn’t seem as evident. Coach K will have arguably the greatest cache of freshman ever, at least in a long while, but can he truly get the best out of them? Or more importantly in the eyes of the players, prepare them for their apt roles in the NBA? I am dubious
Can Penny coach?
We know very well that he can recruit. His Team Penny AAU program was loaded. So was his East HS (TN) squad. He has already landed two Top-150 recruits (Tyler Harris and Alex Lomax) and a Top 100 guy (Antwann Jones). He is in the thick of things for 2019 number one James Wiseman, who played for him in high school and AAU, and some are even prognosticating Wiseman could reclassify into 2018, giving the Tigers two years of him due to NBA age rules. That kind of talent will win you a lot of games. Elsewhere Hardaway is already doing the right things, being a spokesman, being marketable etc. Season ticket prices are through the roof. But when it comes down to it Memphis fans want banners. Conference Championships, Elite Eights, Final Fours and ideally National Championships. Does Penny have the chops for this? People are asking because we don’t know. He was a winner with Team Penny and East high, but the threshold of basketball nuance and complexity was relatively low. When his squad runs up against the elite tacticians in college basketball, which they will, is he (and his staff) going to put them in the best position to win? Time will tell. Year one may not be a great litmus test. But if and when he does, watch out.
The Moreyball approach
Threes are worth more than twos. The Houston Rockets know this, and they were the winningest team in the NBA this season. The Villanova Wildcats also knew this, as they were no. 12 national in Three-point attempt rate and no. 11 in three-point percentage, and also won the national championship two years after their last one. Dan D’Antoni, brother of Houston’s Mike, has embraced this and his Marshall squad upset Wichita State in the NCAA tournament. The Thundering Herd played spread out and launched like no tomorrow. The spacing is different between the two levels, but the idea of getting Three-Point shots, shots at the rim, and free-throws still appear to be a mathematically superior formula. To do this you need agile big men who can spread the floor and a host of wings who can snipe and play defense. ‘Nova modeled this approach, and they say sports are a copy cat league. It will be interesting to see if programs embrace this new style of downsizing and taking the deep ball, or they continue to run their motion and flex offenses for whatever look it yields.
Matt Barresi is a staff writer for The Daily Campus. He can be reached via email at email@example.com.