Doug McDermott leads undervalued seniors; more Hoop Thoughts
Hoop Thoughts (contd.)
I get it. Really, I do.
It's human nature to get excited about what's next. We treasure our first glimpses of young, transcendent athletes, just as we get a thrill discovering a new band or an up-and-coming movie star. I also understand that some of the people who tune into college basketball are NBA fans looking for a sneak peek at next year's crop of newcomers. The NBA draft is a veritable industry in itself, and college basketball is its primary feeder system.
And yes, I readily concede that we at Sports Illustrated have contributed to (and benefited from) this zeitgeist. Within a 17-month span, we put two players on our magazine cover that had yet to play a college game. On this website, like all the others that cover sports, you will find mock drafts and loads of analysis breaking down the pro prospects of just about every player in a college uniform.
But I am also here to say: Enough. It's time for the pendulum to swing back. Remember that old Saturday Night Live skit where Faux Jan Brady complains that all she hears about is "Marcia! Marcia! Marcia!" That's how I feel about the coverage of college basketball right now. Everything is "Freshmen! Freshmen! Freshmen!"
Every game broadcast includes a graphic listing their names and stats. Every website and highlight show features a "Freshman Watch." Even beyond the freshmen, we are obsessed with everyone's pro prospects. Their "draft stock" is charted not just week to week, but game to game, maybe even half to half. Every article, podcast and tweet seems to weigh in on the players' pro potential. How about we discuss their college potential first?
By promulgating this dialogue, I honestly believe those of us who cover the sport are doing a great disservice to hard-core college basketball fans, who still make up the vast majority of our readership, viewership and listeners. I don't believe real college basketball fans care all that much whether Jabari Parker, Andrew Wiggins or Julius Randle will be the number one pick in next year's NBA draft. I believe they're more curious as to whether they will lead Duke, Kansas and Kentucky to the Final Four. The NCAA tournament is at least as popular as the NBA Finals, probably even more so.
And so, as a service to my fellow Hoop Thinkers, I hereby introduce the Hoop Thoughts Senior Watch. I will update these rankings every Monday from now until the end of the season. This is not just a sentimental journey. If it's one thing we've learned in the first two months of this season, it's that seniority still matters. Yes, we have some exciting young stars in our game, but the more experienced teams have been playing better ball, and I expect that will continue over the next three-and-a-half months.
Here, then, is my first lineup of college basketball's senior citizens -- not based on their pro potential, but their current abilities. If you want to read about who's got next, read it elsewhere. I prefer to talk about who's got now.
1. Doug McDermott, 6-8 forward, Creighton
Last week: 25 points (13-13 FT), 9 rebounds vs Arkansas-Pine Bluff; 20 points, 11 rebounds vs. Cal
The Dougie's three-point shooting is a little down from last season (44.1 percent compared to 49 as a junior), but he is still the most lethal offensive player in the country. Because his supporting cast isn't quite as good, McDermott is facing even more defensive attention as a senior. I can't wait to watch him take Creighton through its first season in the newfangled Big East.
2. Adreian Payne, 6-10 forward, Michigan State
Last week: 19 points, 7 rebounds, 3 steals vs. North Florida; 33 points, 9 rebounds, 2 assists vs. Texas
Payne has been dealing with plantar fasciitis in his foot that has limited his ability to practice, but he showed his value to the Spartans with his career-high scoring performance in the win at Texas on Saturday. For a guy his size, Payne is a terrific three-point shooter (he has made nearly 46 percent from behind the arc this season), but he is at his most effective when he is attacking the rim. He went 11-for-12 from the foul line against the Longhorns.
3. Aaron Craft, 6-2 point guard, Ohio State
Last week: 12 points, 2 assists, 4 steals vs. Delaware; 10 points, 3 assists, 3 steals vs. Notre Dame
Craft is the poster child for why a Senior Watch is necessary. I don't care one iota if he never takes a dribble in the NBA. Craft is arguably the best perimeter defenders to play college basketball in last decade, and he showed his value on both ends of the floor while spearheading the Buckeyes' dramatic comeback win over Notre Dame last Saturday in Madison Square Garden.
4. C.J. Fair, 6-8 forward, Syracuse
Last week: 15 points, 5 rebounds, 2 steals vs. High Point
The smooth lefty got off to a slow start before capturing the MVP of the Maui Invitational. He is averaging a career-high 17.8 points per game. Although he has not shot the ball well from three (28.1 percent, down from 46.9 as a junior), I expect it's just a matter of time before he finds his groove.
5. Melvin Ejim, 6-6 forward, Iowa State
Last week: 14 points, 11 rebounds vs. George Mason
Ejim was a member of my All-Glue team last year, but he has graduated from role player to featured performer. He is still a beast on the glass (7.7 rebounds per game) but his scoring average has gone from 11.3 as a junior to 18.7 this season. I also love that he is converting a career-best 78.3 percent from the foul line.
6. Chaz Williams, 5-9 guard, UMass
Last week: 11 points, 11 assists vs. Ohio; 10 points, 6 rebounds, 3 assists vs. Florida State
If you haven't seen this little dude in action, do it soon. Williams has incredible quickness and a wonderful long-range touch (41.5 percent from three), but the best thing about him is his feel for the game. He knows how to change speeds, manage the offense and set up his teammates. The only reason I have him this low is because he did not have a good week.
7. Casey Prather, 6-6 forward, Florida
Last week: 22 points, 4 rebounds vs. Memphis; 16 points, 5 rebounds, 2 assists vs. Fresno State
It's not often a player makes a huge improvement between his junior and senior seasons, but Prather has done just that. He went from averaging 6.2 points in 17.1 minutes last season to 18.5 points in 30.3 minutes so far this year. He shot 8-for-13 from the floor in the Gators' big win over Memphis last week.
8. Shabazz Napier, 6-1 guard, Connecticut
Last week: 12 points, 8 assists, 5 rebounds vs. Stanford; 20 points, 6 rebounds, 1 assists vs. Washington
Napier might be ranked higher if not for his subpar peformance (4-for-13 from the floor) in the loss to Stanford. But he had been spectacular up to that point. My main concern about Napier is that he has to do so much in order for his team to win that I wonder if he's going to mentally wear down at some point.
9. Russ Smith, 6-0 guard, Louisville
Last week: 11 points, 8 assists vs. Missouri State; 18 points, 3 assists vs. FIU
Smith has been quiet this season largely because Louisville has played such a weird schedule, but no Senior Watch would be complete without him. His scoring average of 16.8 is slightly off last year's 18.7 pace, but his field goal and three-point percentages are slightly improved.
10. Cameron Bairstow, 6-9 forward, New Mexico
Last week: 25 points, 5 rebounds, 3 assists, 3 steals vs. New Mexico State; 20 points, 10 rebounds, 5 assists vs. Marquette
The big Aussie is one of the nation's most improved players. He went from averaging 9.7 points on 45.6 percent shooting as a junior to 20.6 points on 55.1 percent shooting this season. He is also adding 7.1 rebounds and 2.5 assists per game.
Also considered: James Bell, 6-6 forward, Villanova; Mike Moser, 6-8 forward, Oregon; Xavier Thames, 6-3 guard, San Diego State; Roy Devyn Marble, 6-6 guard, Iowa; Jerrelle Benimon, 6-8 forward, Towson; Cory Jefferson, 6-9 forward, Baylor; Markel Brown, 6-3 guard, Oklahoma State; Maurice Creek, 6-5 guard, George Washington
Read More: Southern Illinois coach Barry Hinson speaks out; Top 25 ballot
SI.com: By now we've all seen the clip of your "rant" after the loss to Murray State. When you walked out of that press conference, did you have any idea the entire country would be talking about it by morning?
Hinson: No idea whatsoever. You haven't been to very many of my press conferences, but that's just me. Well, I'm sorry. I'm a leopard, and I can't change my spots. I've done something like that a lot, maybe not quite to that degree of length, but I've exploded and I've said things.
SI.com: So when did you realize it had become a big deal?
Hinson: I got a text at six o'clock the next morning from my athletic director. He said it's gone viral. I'm old school -- I thought he was on the way to the hospital. I had no idea what he meant by viral.
SI.com: How did the discussions go over how you were going to address the fallout?
Hinson: He offered to handle it for me, but I said nobody's going to handle anything. I'll handle every bit of it. I don't need anybody doing a press statement or telling me what to say. That's a very sore spot with me, when people hind behind statements. I'm talking coaches, government officials, bosses, CEOs, whatever. I tell my players all the time, "You gotta buck up and bow your neck. Stand on what you believe."
SI.com: Do you regret it?
Hinson: The only thing I regret is singling out an individual player publicly. I deserve every bit of criticism for that, but I will not apologize for having passion and wanting our guys to do better than they think they can do.
SI.com: The most memorable part of your press conference was when you shouted how your wife could shoot better because she knew how to shot fake. What was Angie Hinson's reaction to that?
Hinson: We listened to it twice and I always ask her what she thinks. She said, "You shouldn't have mentioned Marcus. That's absolutely wrong." Then she looked at me and said, "But I think I could have gone 4-for-11." It was light-hearted, but I felt bad.
SI.com: What was the one thing said about you this week that bothered you the most?
Hinson: I went on Dan Patrick's radio show, and he had alluded to this as some kind of bullying thing. I speak all across the country to high schools about bullying. I just spoke two weeks ago at a high school where a kid had just committed suicide because of bullying. I told Dan I disagreed with him about that.
SI.com: What was the coolest thing that happened?
Hinson: We were at practice Friday afternoon. One of our guards drove into the paint and got his shot blocked. I said, "Son, dadgummit, get in there and shot fake." And then Marcus said, "Coach is right. Angie would have done that." The whole place erupted. I thought it was hilarious. That's when you know your kids know that you love 'em and you respect 'em and care for 'em.
SI.com: Is it safe to say you're going to be tied to this for a long time?
Hinson: Until I die. I go back to what Colin Powell wrote: "The price of leadership is criticism." I acknowledged my mistake, but I stood by what I said, and I still do.
*Last week's rank on my ballot in parentheses
1. Arizona (1)
2. Syracuse (2)
3. Ohio State (3)
4. Michigan State (4)
5. Duke (5)
6. Louisville (6)
7. Wisconsin (7)
8. Florida (8)
9. Wichita State (9)
10. Oklahoma State (10)
11. Memphis (11)
12. Iowa State (13)
13. Villanova (14)
14. Baylor (15)
15. Kansas (17)
16. Colorado (18)
17. Iowa (19)
18. Oregon (20)
19. UConn (12)
20. North Carolina (16)
21. Kentucky (21)
22. San Diego State (23)
23. UMass (22)
24. Texas (NR)
25. George Washington (NR)
Dropped out: Missouri (24), Gonzaga (25)
It was another quiet week and this week will be even quieter, so don't expect much movement until the start of conference play. The biggest drop was UConn's because of its loss at home to Stanford. The Huskies have a slew of trap games coming up (at Houston, at SMU, home versus Harvard and UCF) before they play at Memphis on Jan. 16. UMass also lost to Florida State on a neutral site (in Florida), but given how well the Minutemen have been playing, it would not have been fair to drop them out altogether for losing one lousy game -- on the road by a close margin, no less.
The losses by Gonzaga and Missouri opened up two spots. I would like Texas to have finished stronger against Michigan State, but a 10-2 record with a road win at North Carolina should count for something.
As for that coveted final spot, there were a lot of really good candidates. I went with George Washington partly for sentimental reasons -- it has been a long time since the Colonials were relevant on a national stage -- but mainly because of all the teams I looked at, GW had the most impressive wins (Rutgers at home, Maryland and Creighton on a neutral court).
As for the teams I left out, Toledo is still undefeated with an 11-0 record, but ranking the Rockets would feel a little too much like charity. There's just no win among those 11 that makes you sit up and believe this is truly one of the 25 best teams in the country. Utah has a better case. The Utes' only loss came by two points at Boise State, and last week they waxed a good BYU team by 17 points. Ditto for Saint Mary's, which has beaten Murray State (home) and Boise State (neutral) this season.
Illinois warranted consideration after its win over Missouri in the Braggin' Rights game, but that was not quite enough to eradicate a road loss at Georgia Tech. Four of the Illini's first six Big Ten games are in Champaign, so they will have ample opportunity to make a good impression.
Believe it or not, I was tempted to add Notre Dame despite its meltdown against Ohio State. I decided against it even before I learned that Jerian Grant is academically ineligible for the rest of the season, but that news made it easy. It's going to be awfully hard for this team to recover.
I also took a closer look at SMU this week. Larry Brown's Mustangs are off to a 10-2 start, but they lost the only tough games they played (at Arkansas and neutral court vs. Virginia). We're about to find out just how good this team is. Look at its next four games: at Wyoming, at Cincinnati, home vs. UConn, at Louisville.
Oklahoma is 11-1 with the lone defeat coming against Michigan State in Brooklyn, but I couldn't rank a team that has yet to play a true road game.