Fantasy College Basketball Game(s) of the Week: Adjusting for Pace
College basketball coaches exert more authority on the court of play than coaches in any other major sporting endeavor. The effect of baseball managers is negligible. Football coaches have more control over play calling, but are limited by their personnel. Professional basketball coaches often serve at the whim of their superstars. Coaches in college basketball can dictate their team's pace and style. For some fans, this may be a frustrating situation. For me, it leads to interesting clashes of style and philosophy. Usually, the game is a contest of differing paces: one team (often the less talented team) will try to slow the game down, while the other presses and tries to force the action. This weekend, I saw two games in which teams teams played with similar styles.
The first game was Friday's Big East-SEC tussle between Tennessee and Georgetown. I had forgotten that Tennessee no longer wants to speed things up like they did under Bruce Pearl. Cuonzo Martin, who came from Missouri State, brings his Midwestern brand of slow-down basketball to the Volunteer state. Georgetown was in no hurry to put up shots either. The result was a game in which the two teams combined for 73 points. Now, you may expect me to complain about the glacial pace of the game as many people seem to do on Twitter and other places, but I will leave you disappointed in that regard. In fact, I am disappointed by basketball people who complain about slow-paced games. While neither team shot well (32.6 percent for the Volunteers, 36.4 percent for the Hoyas), this was mostly due to the excellent defense being played. College basketball fans should enjoy defensive battles as much as track meets, in my opinion. If you really have to complain about it, feel free to turn it off.
As for the personnel on the court, the two players I most wanted to watch were a pair of sophomores: Jarnell Stokes, forward from Tennessee, and Hoya forward Otto Porter. Stokes did a nice job of clearing the boards, but only took three shots. Both defenses packed into the lane, so there was very little room to maneuver for the bigger players. The potential return of Jeronne Maymon at the end of the month should help open up things for Stokes. Point guard Trae Golden seems to be struggling with Martin's style. I think he'd rather push the pace, but he appears to be listening to Martin and it looks awkward.
Porter was more impressive. He was smooth as a freshman and looks even more confident in his second year. In an average game, his eight points, seven rebounds, four assists, and three steals would not be impressive. In a slow game like this one, there is a tendency to prorate stats. For example, he had his four assists on 16 made baskets. The 6-8 Porter looks like a future pro to me in the Kawhi Leonard mold. The fact that Porter is from Sikeston, MO, home of the Famous Throwed Rolls, is a nice bonus. Fellow sophomore Greg Whittington is a nice complement to Porter. He has 3-point range and is a decent rebounder.
The nightcap of the weekend doubleheader featured a bevy of talented freshmen when Baylor went to Kentucky and beat the Wildcats. This was a much more open game, although it wasn't quite as fast-paced as I would have expected. It is natural to compare this year's UK squad to last year's, but it does a disservice to this year's crop of first-year players. Archie Goodwin is a good-looking guard, but he played out of control against the Bears. The Wildcats could use another ball handler, but I think point guard is the most overrated position in basketball. Nerlens Noel is much more skilled offensively than I thought he would. He is a decent passer out of the low post, but he also looks out of control at times. Noel's offensive game is still in development and one could say the same thing about fellow freshman Willie Cauley-Stein. The seven-footer had an impressive dunk on an offensive rebound, but got in quick foul trouble. The Wildcats will be fine eventually and may coalesce into a beast of a team in March. For now, they are just too young and have too little experience playing together to be consistently successful.
I've written in many places that I thought Pierre Jackson was the best guard in the country last year. There are better shooters (like C.J. McCollum) and better passers (such as Phil Pressey), but no one player who does both as well. He takes a lot of difficult shots and was just 5-of-17 against Kentucky, but he is a lot of fun to watch. If he were three inches taller, I think the NBA would have called him already. He has plenty of professional potential.
Baylor is one of the few teams that can match up size-wise with Kentucky. Freshman center Isaiah Austin held his ground and Cory Jefferson is a dynamic athlete who has already put up some stellar games. This was a big win for Baylor, but they cruised through the non-conference schedule last year. The Bears have already showed some inconsistency in the early going with losses to Colorado and College of Charleston. Over the season, Baylor will need more production from their bench (just five points from freshman Ricardo Gathers on Saturday). All in all, they should not have a problem making the tournament for the four time in the last six years.