Stellar early-season helps make the case for summer practices
Added practice time over the summer has contributed to great early-season play
PG Lorenzo Brown was MIA in NC State's disappointing loss to Oklahoma State
When Khem Birch, Jabari Brown become eligible, UNLV, Missouri will get a boost
As you might imagine, I watch a lot of college basketball. Between live games, the TV, the DVR and my laptop, I can pretty much watch from morning til night. I hit this especially hard during the first few weeks of the season so I can familiarize myself with all the new faces in new places.
The season is just a couple of weeks old, but I have noticed something significant: These games are good. I don't just mean that they're close; a game can be close but poorly played. I'm talking about the quality of play -- particularly on offense, which is usually lagging this time of year. Passes seem crisper. Shot selection seems better. I'm also seeing smarter defense, fewer fouls, more teamwork.
You may have noticed this while reading the coverage of last week's Champions Classic featuring Michigan State, Kansas, Duke and Kentucky. The message from the courtside scribes was the same. Is it really only November?
I asked myself the same question while while attending the Coaches Vs. Cancer Classic at the Barclays Center in Brooklyn last weekend. In a Friday night semifinal, Saint Joseph's beat Notre Dame in a scintillating overtime game in which neither team committed a foul in the first 13 minutes. The next night, a Florida State team with seven new players beat Saint Joseph's by shooting 54.5 percent from the field, committing just 11 turnovers, and dishing 21 assists on 30 made field goals. Keep in mind this is not a program that is known for its offensive efficiency even late in the season.
It occurred to me that there might be a reason for this. This past summer, for the very first time, coaches were permitted to conduct full team practices for players who were enrolled in summer school. During a seven-week period, coaches were allotted eight hours of floor work, and no more than two hours per week. Eight hours might not seem like much, so I asked a few coaches if my theory was on the mark. Here's what they said:
Florida State's Leonard Hamilton: "No question about it."
Maryland's Mark Turgeon: "I don't think there's any question."
Notre Dame's Mike Brey: "No question."
Kansas' Bill Self: "No question it was helpful."
I guess that answers my question.
I concede the evidence for this is purely anecdotal. I asked the folks at Stats LLC to run some numbers for me comparing this season to the previous five in various offensive categories. There was no discernible difference. Still, I know what my eyes are telling me, and these coaches' eyes are telling them the same thing. "I see a lot more attention to detail," Hamilton said. "I'd hate to think where we'd be right now had I not had the opportunity to work with them in the summer."
Each coach used the eight hours for his own purposes. Since Hamilton has all those freshmen, he spent much of that time installing aspects of his motion offense. Brey returned most of his starters from last season but has added a transfer and some freshmen, so he carved out extra time for five-on-five work so he could watch them play. Self and Turgeon both installed a variety of offensive sets. "We got zoned last night [by LIU-Brooklyn], but we were ready for it because we were able to practice six or seven times already against a zone," Turgeon said. "I wouldn't have been able to do that in the past."
The coaches also pointed out ancillary benefits. "We have a much closer relationship with our players than we've had in earlier years," Hamilton said. "Our guys are more comfortable coming around the office because we've been in communication a lot more. I see a close bond." Brey also noticed that the extra workouts helped his freshmen deal with the academic adjustment. "Usually they're getting beat up in summer school, but this gave them a chance to develop their basketball, which is what they do well," he said. "They leave with their heads up." Self thinks the extra time has helped his players relate to each other better. "The chemistry was forged in June instead of August. Players aren't as shell-shocked when practice starts."
The new rule came on top of a change made several years go providing similar opportunities in the fall. A lot of these teams are also taking off-season foreign trips, which gives them 10 additional days of practice. During an era in which scoring has been on a steady decline, college teams need all the practice time they can get to sharpen their skills and develop chemistry.
Frankly, I don't know why there are any restrictions on when and how long coaches can work with their own players. As far as I'm concerned, they should be able to start full practices whenever they want. Part of the reasoning behind making everyone wait until Oct. 15 is the concern that coaches would overwork their players, but I don't believe that would be the case. The last thing a coach wants is for his guys to be burned out before the season's first game.
The rule change regarding summer workouts has helped the game, but in this case, eight is not enough. I hope the NCAA continues to allot more hours so coaches can interact even more with their players. These guys got into this profession because they love to teach. Their players want to get better. This is college, after all. Let 'em go to school.
After visiting Columbus last month, I called Ohio State's 6-foot-11 sophomore center Amir Williams the Buckeyes' X-factor. In Ohio State's first three games, Williams has a total of eight points and seven rebounds. Guess he's not much of a factor yet.
I'm really rooting for Memphis junior point guard Joe Jackson. He's a local kid who came in with ridiculous be-our-savior expectations, and for a while it screwed with his head. He seems to have settled in now, and I think that he (and the Tigers) are gonna have a big year.
BYU may have lost two games at the Coaches Vs. Cancer Classic in Brooklyn, but the Cougars have some kind of player in 6-5 sophomore Tyler Haws. Unlike most players coming off a two-year LDS mission, Haws is sharp and in terrific condition. Plus, he does it all: He's averaging 22 points (on 36 percent three-point shooting) as well as seven rebounds, 3.8 assists and 1.8 steals.
Saint Joseph's can also leave Brooklyn believing it has a great chance to win the Atlantic 10, but that chance will be greater if C.J. Aiken stops hoisting ill-advised threes. The 6-9 junior is one of the nation's top shot blockers, but for some reason he thought it was a good idea to launch five three-pointers against the Seminoles. He made none. Get on the block, big fella, and go to work.
I still like San Diego State, but the Aztecs have got to find a way to get some more inside scoring.
It takes an entire team to get blown out by 20, but I have to say N.C. State point guard Lorenzo Brown is not off to a good start. Though he played well in the Wolfpack's win over UMass (10 assists, three turnovers), Brown was MIA in the win over Penn State (1-for-10 shooting) and the loss to Oklahoma State (one assist, seven turnovers). ESPN's Dan Dakich may have said it best: "It looks to me like he has been reading his own press clippings."
Nice bounceback win for Washington against Seton Hall on Saturday following the loss at home to Albany. Scott Suggs must be real important to that team. The 6-6 senior left the Albany game in the second minute after suffering a concussion, but he played 32 minutes against the Pirates and had 15 points. He scored 11 in the loss to Ohio State.
Michigan is not your father's John Beilein-coached team. These dudes can get out and go.
Let's get this out of the way early, shall we? When you're at home, you can shoot threes. When you're on the road, you've gotta shoot free throws. Class dismissed.
If UConn keeps winning, there will be a lot of pressure on athletic director Warde Manuel to give Kevin Ollie a long-term deal before the season is over. I think he should resist. Since the early signing period for recruiting is done, and the spring signing period doesn't begin until after the season is over, there is no need to rush this. If Ollie deserves the job, he'll get it. (It doesn't hurt, incidentally, that he just donated $100,000 towards a new practice facility.)
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