Blogging through the Conference Tournaments

Blogging through the Conference Tournaments
Mar 11, 2009, 10:15 pm
Blogging through the Conference Tournaments

While the Big East tournament in Madison Square Garden will be our home base for the entire week, we’ll still be keeping a very close eye on all the happenings from around the country thanks to our trusty TIVO. Needless to say, this is a phenomenal week for college basketball, and a very important scouting time from an NBA draft perspective. This is our last chance to evaluate the prospects that will not be advancing to the NCAA Tournament or NIT, as well as an excellent opportunity to evaluate how those that will be advancing perform under pressure.

For more college basketball analysis, check out the new website launched by our good friends over at Fantasy Sports Ventures, Survive and which will be featuring exclusive commentary from legendary Bob Knight and Billy Packer.

Big East

-The first day of the tournament was a near worst-case-scenario for a basketball purist—virtually nothing was at stake, the atmosphere was similar to that of a D-League game, and the players all pretty much looked like they wanted to be elsewhere. That’s probably why there were so many “upsets” right off the bat, with DePaul breaking an 18-game losing streak to knock off Cincinnati, and St. John’s taking down a soft and disinterested Georgetown team. For a hilarious take on what me and two of my esteemed colleagues from the Italian league are doing here at Madison Square Garden, check out Luke Winn’s blog entry over at SI.

Pretty much the only reason we, and a host of NBA scouts and executives, decided to show up here was to take in possibly the last game of potential lottery pick Greg Monroe. As far as last impressions go, this couldn’t have been any weaker. Monroe confirmed many of the concerns that most talent evaluators we’ve talked with over the last few months have cited. He looked soft and apathetic and did very little to help his team avoid being defeated for the second time in the past week. Monroe’s athleticism looked particularly underwhelming, as he ran the floor awkwardly and struggled to finish around the rim, lacking strength, explosiveness, and toughness when trying to go up through traffic.
His teammate DaJuan Summers, once considered a top-10 pick according to some mock drafts (certainly not this one), had an even worse showing, not really attempting to do much more than jack up tough shots from the perimeter, get cut-off when he tried to penetrate, and perform his typical disappearing act when it came to trying to help his team out on the glass. Summers, a chiseled 6-8 power forward with solid athleticism for the NCAA level, has yet to record even a single double-digit rebounding game, and hasn’t cracked the 5-rebound mark in the last seven (incredibly important) games.

A player we’ve watched pretty closely the past two days has been DePaul sophomore Dar Tucker. A 6-4 monster athlete who recently declared his intentions to test the NBA draft waters this spring, Tucker is a player we need to pay extra attention to. He was in foul trouble for most of the first half against Cincinnati, but then put on a pretty impressive performance over the next three halves, finishing with 17 points and 8 rebounds against the Bearcats, and then 30 points and 8 rebounds in a loss to Providence.

It is pretty obvious why Tucker is considered an NBA draft prospect, at least using a pretty loose definition of the term. He’s a long, chiseled and incredibly athletic shooting guard who puts a ton of pressure on opposing defenses with the aggressiveness he shows when he attacks the rim. He gets to the free throw line at a great rate and has finished some extremely acrobatic shots in the paint, showing a great first step, terrific leaping ability, and the ability to hang, take a hit, and still finish strong amongst the trees. He makes big plays all over the floor with his ability to grab rebounds and come up with blocks and steals, proving to be both extremely unpredictable and highly entertaining over these first two days.

Unpredictable would be a good way to describe Tucker in other ways as well, as you never quite know what you are going to get from him on any given possession. Tucker’s decision making can look downright atrocious at times. He repeatedly settles for tough, contested 3-pointers and pull-up jumpers, despite the fact that he only converts 28% of his shots from behind the arc and 27% of his off the dribble attempts (from anywhere on the floor), according to Synergy Sports Technology. Tucker shoots an astounding 6.4 attempts from 3-point range per game, which constitutes 40% of his overall shot attempts, and tells you quite a bit about how poor his shot-selection is. It may also help explain why DePaul lost 18 Big East games in a row going into this tournament. He ranks 6th amongst all players in our database in field goal attempts per-40 minutes, despite possessing a fairly marginal skill-level, leading many to label him as a selfish player. One scout here affectionately began to call him “Chucker-Tucker”, which tells you just about everything you need to know.

As a slasher, Tucker is outstanding going to his right in a straight line, but continues to be mediocre attempting to change directions with the ball or drive left, often looking like an out of control freight train in the process. His ball-handling skills clearly need work (with his left hand in particular), as he averages twice as many turnovers as assists.

Defensively, Tucker has terrific tools to get the job done, but often looks completely disinterested is putting the effort in on this end of the floor, gambling excessively for steals and generally showing poor fundamentals. He can make an impact as noted as a rebounder and in the passing lanes, but for the most part can’t be considered anything more than an average defender.

Tucker obviously has excellent potential, but has an incredibly long ways to go before he can be considered a solid basketball player. His approach to the game and overall mentality would need an overhaul before he’d be able to see playing time in the NBA, but that’s not something you could rule out in the long-run. It’s questionable how much better Tucker is going to get by staying at DePaul for the next two years, but he’s no sure thing to get drafted either if he decides to keep his name in the pool this year. Ultimately Tucker may have to play in Europe for a couple of years under a good coach before trying to make the NBA.

Other Conference Tournaments

Colonial Athletic Association (CAA)

The Colonial conference tournament final was somewhat of a bust, as VCU dismantled George Mason 71-50, but this was still very much a noteworthy game from our standpoint due to the presence of Eric Maynor and Larry Sanders.

Maynor was at his absolute best in the first half, draining shot after shot from the perimeter and floater after floater inside the lane to build up a lead that proved insurmountable for George Mason. More than just a 22-point per game scorer, Maynor’s creativity as a point guard was on full display in this contest, as he showed the type of court vision and playmaking instincts that you just don’t see from any other point guard in this year’s draft class. He does much more than just run the pick and roll to pass backwards or drive and dish—he’s liable to whip the ball to anywhere on the floor at any moment, with skip-passes, post-entries, lobs and everything in-between. He controls the flow of the game categorically, playing the game at a terrific pace in nonchalant fashion, while never showing the least bit of emotion—which is incredibly rare for a playmaker his age.

Maynor looks equally as effective pushing the ball up the court in transition as he does slowing the game down and orchestrating his team in the half-court—a quality that makes him fairly attractive to different teams and should help his transition to the NBA greatly. The fact that he’s repeatedly proven to be at his best in the clutch is another great sign for his future.

Clearly not a freakish athlete, Maynor can get to where he needs on the floor at this level thanks to his tremendous ability to change speeds with the ball and create his own shot going either left or right. He struggles finishing around the basket at times, but shows the useful ability to make floaters with either hand, shots that will benefit him greatly down the road. His perimeter shooting continues to show improvement as well—he’s already knocked down 15 more 3-pointers this season than last year, even if his percentages have dropped off from 39% to 36%. Maynor has NBA range on his jump-shot and is not afraid to show it, looking just as capable (possibly even more) of knocking down jump-shots off the dribble as he is on the catch and shoot.

Maynor at times has a tendency to force the issue a bit on the offensive end, trying to do a little too much with his dribble and taking some questionable shots. He takes quite a few shots for someone who shows such excellent potential as a playmaker, although a big part of this may have to do with the role he plays for his team—VCU obviously needs him to score if they want to win most games. He needs to do a better job cutting down on his turnovers, though, he has a tendency to penetrate too deep or take excessive risks with the ball.

Defensively, Maynor is definitely not a standout at the collegiate level, and you have to wonder about his potential on this end of the floor at the next level. He lacks great physical tools first and foremost, showing an average combination of size, strength, length and lateral quickness, and also doesn’t display great intensity either. His fundamentals are not great on top of that—as he tends to bites on pump-fakes, gamble excessively in the passing lanes, not fight through screens and just take too many risks rather than trying to be solid and effective. To really convince NBA decision makers that he has starting potential, he’ll have to show more defensive ability in private workouts.

All in all, Maynor is a very unique prospect who might just turn out to be an excellent NBA point guard depending on how the cards fall for him. Similar to some NCAA quarterback prospects who find a way to succeed in the NFL despite not being prototypes for their position—he just might be the type of guy that surprises people once he steps foot on an NBA court.

Besides Maynor’s heroics in the first half, this game might be remembered more than anything for being the day that Larry Sanders burst onto the national radar screen. Sanders completely dominated this contest, pulling down an obscene 20 rebounds, blocking 7 shots and scoring 18 points. While his rebound and blocks numbers obviously stand out, this game was noteworthy as a showcase for the unbelievable amount of progress Sanders has made on the offensive end, at least compared to where he was a year ago. Once restricted entirely to being a catch and finish player within 2 feet of the basket, Sanders impressed with his ability to make basic moves in the post with his back to the basket, finish with authority through contact and even knock down an 18-foot jump-shot –things he couldn’t even dream of doing at this point last season. He still has a substantial amount of work to do before he can be considered ready to enter the NBA draft, but considering his physical tools and terrific upside, that doesn’t seem to be as far-fetched as once thought. He’s already drawing comparisons to Theo Ratliff thanks to his ridiculous 7-7 wingspan and the way he changes the game on the defensive end and on the glass. Considering that he’s likely to return for his junior season, we’ll be back this fall with a more comprehensive breakdown of his all-around game.

West Coast Conference

While the AP reports after this game led with headlines for Gonzaga’s leading scorer (Josh Heytvelt) and rebounder (Micah Downs), there was absolutely no question who was the key to the humiliating blowout St. Mary’s suffered. Gonzaga shooting guard Matt Bouldin has begun to shoulder a big portion of his team’s ball-handling responsibilities, and the Zags' offense has never looked better in turn. Bouldin picked apart St. Mary’s defense all night with a series of pick and roll plays and bounce passes—racking up 7 assists but only 0 turnovers. His court vision and basketball IQ was on full display, as was his perimeter shooting. He knocked down three of five attempts from beyond the arc. Bouldin has finally become the lights out shooter many expected him to develop into when he first stepped foot on Gonzaga’s campus with his picture perfect stroke—he’s making 44% of his 3-pointers this season on five attempts per game. His efficiency numbers are up across the board this season while his scoring rate is up. His assist to turnover ratio now sits near a sparkling two-to-one mark, a big improvement over last season. It will be interesting to see how Gonzaga performs in the NCAA tournament—they missed out on picking up some high-quality wins in their very demanding out of conference schedule, but look to be on a terrific roll now, having won their last nine straight games.

Summit League

With the game tied and just a couple of seconds left on the clock in the Summit league conference final, it was only fitting to see North Dakota State senior point guard Ben Woodside rise up for a difficult pull-up jumper after crossing over to his left—a shot he swished to send his team to the NCAA tournament in their first year of eligibility after coming up from Division II just five years ago.

Woodside is a guy we’ve watched from a far with a lot of curiosity this season—not only is he the first player to score 60 points in a game since Eddie House did so in 2000 (just two days after we wrote his initial scouting report in fact), he also ranks in the top-10 in the nation in both scoring (23 points per game) and assists (6.3).

Woodside has already accepted his invite to the Portsmouth Invitational Tournament and will be one of the most closely scrutinized players there, so we’ll wait until then for a full scouting report. In the meantime we can say that he’s a very quick but undersized pure point guard who can shoot the ball with his feet set or off the dribble, but is equally effective finding teammates. He gets to the free throw line at a nice rate and is very crafty in the lane, showing a great feel for the game and a real winner’s mentality. The biggest concerns about him likely lie in his slight frame, below average height and the fact that he projects as a weak defender at the next level. Still, he shows great intangibles and obviously would be considered one of the best point guards in college basketball if he were playing in a BCS conference. North Dakota State looks like quite a dangerous team if they get the right matchup in their bracket, so take a close look at who they are slated to face on selection Sunday.

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