After somewhat of a lackluster beginning, the NCAA tournament delivered with multiple high-level Sweet Sixteen and Elite Eight games. Auburn, Michigan State, Texas Tech and Virginia emerged victorious, earning themselves a spot in the Final Four. As a college basketball junkie, you better believe I will be watching. Here are four things, based on my own tastes and interests, I’ll be little extra attuned to and amped for as the college basketball season apexes.
Davide Moretti of Texas Tech
Folks, did you read the byline? Yes, I’m an Italian-American, and I have always kept a keen eye on the handful of Italian players who matriculate stateside. Moretti seduced me further in that he considered UConn, and I have tracked him ever since. But he is more than just an enjoyable ethnic side, he is a certified hooper. Those who watched the Red Raiders saw him drain two humongous 3-pointers down the stretch as Texas Tech gutted out a victory. Using a ball screen at the end of the shot clock, he maneuvered forward before pulling up off the dribble and sticking a shot in the face of a mistakenly sagging Rui Hachimura. It was the shot legends are made of. I want to see if he keeps the heroics up. You should want to see him make shots. I can promise he will. Moretti has a true shooting percentage of 69.2, eighth in the country. True shooting percentage is a metric that properly rates shooting ability by encapsulating, and weighting, 3-point shooting and free-throw shooting into traditional field goal percentage. In order to have the blanks TS percentage, Moretti is shooting 92.2 percent at the line, fifth nationally, and 46.3 percent from three, No. 24 in Division 1. His offensive rating is No. 15 nationally, emblematic of the joy and skill he is to watch at that end of the court.
The Virginia backcourt
Amusingly enough, Virginia also has an Italian player, redshirt freshman Francesco Badocchi, but he has only played 29 minutes all year. Instead I take pleasure in the performances of the Cavaliers backcourt, made up of juniors Kyle Guy and Ty Jerome, along with Kihei Clark off the bench. There is such a thing as a “good college basketball player.” While Guy, and Jerome in particular, will get NBA looks, they are realistically in their prime right now in terms of production and the agency they have as players. They are using this stage well. Guy is averaging 15.2 points per game and 42.7 percent from deep. Jerome is at 13.3 and 39.9. Clark is diminutive but comes off the bench like a spark plug and is creating action on both ends of the court. Playing for Virginia, they are of course elite defenders who play principled basketball and have led the Cavs to such a strong season. They are by no means gaudy, but they simply play the game of basketball very well, and that is something we should all enjoy.
Nick Ward of the Spartans
In my nascent basketball career, I was a big body center. Now I didn’t actually play like one, but Nick Ward does, and I will always respect that. It’s hard work being a traditional big man. Not a lot of glory, but certainly a good toll taken on your body. Especially now, in this analytics era where the great inefficiency of the post has been revealed. Yet Ward still does it, and does it well. He is a hulk of a body, plays with a temper and is your classic bully on the block. He is neither their best player nor the most integral, but they couldn’t excel without him. He draws the eighth most fouls per 40 in the country. This year he slipped, but in 2018 he was first in the country in offensive rebounding percentage; in 2017 he was second. He gets done like a big man should. Meanwhile, he will be countered by Texas Tech’s third-ranked two point percentage defense and sixth-ranked block percentage, headlined by grad transfer Tariq Owens who, although 6-foot-10, is Ward’s opposite at a twig-like 205 lbs.
Clearly, I have a type. It’s making outside shots. And the Tigers certainly deliver in that regard. They are eighth in the country in 3-point attempt rate at 49.5 percent, and 43.4 percent of their total number of points come from three, which is seventh. They shoot it at 38.3 percent, No. 15 in the nation. It is what spurs their top ten offense and 54.6 percent effective field goal percentage. Jared Harper, listed at 5-foot-11, is probably tinier and a joy to watch leading their offense. On his wings are Samir Doughty and Bryce Brown at 43.8 and 41 percent, respectively. Their bigs are good athletes and the whole operation is a basketball funhouse. They stake their claim was being the Golden State Warriors of college basketball. Now they are running into Virginia, whose methodical tactics and rock solid defense bludgeon teams to death. The Cavs hold teams to 28.7 percent from three, third in the country. For that reason, their opponents only take 41.9 percent of their field goals from there, in the bottom third nationally. Auburn will buck that trend, and I look forward to the contrast. I hope Auburn can keep the shot making up.
Matt Barresi is a staff writer for The Daily Campus. He can be reached via email at email@example.com.