Wednesday, August 31, 2011

Rising Juniors -- Nine to Watch

What We Are Looking For
Lance Stephenson is gone, he did not make it to his sophomore year. You will not find Peyton Siva on this list (Big East Honorable Mention last season) -- too high profile. Not Jamal Coombs-McDaniels nor Mookie Jones, nor Dalton Pepper, nor Isaiah Armwood either, as all have transferred to other schools. The All-Conference Teams have tended to be senior-heavy for the past few seasons (which may be a backhanded way to explain the transfers), so quite a few rising juniors could be on this list...if they had stayed. The nine listed below should all see their roles expand as the upper classmen have moved on. Using Pomeroy's classification system as a guide, I am scouting the "Role" or "Significant Contributor" player, someone who took about 16%-23% of their team's possessions last season, but could grow into a "Major Contributor" or "Go-to Guy" player over the course of the course of next season -- though most probably won't. Pomeroy discusses growth "probabilities" in "Putting Individual Efficiency into Perspective" over at The Basketball Prospectus back in 2007. One thing about these players is clear -- most pushed to the upper limit of their growth curve each of the last two seasons.

On Offense...
Dante TaylorPitt36.4124.916.416.51.22
Hollis ThompsonGTown57.9123.
Alex OriakhiUConn71.4113.
Shaun NoriegaSo Fla40.7109.418.424.11.12
Brandon TricheCuse71.6107.521.421.81.10
Mouphtaou YarouNova60.1107.019.718.41.08
Cashmere WrightNati63.3105.322.319.21.08
Travon WoodallPitt53.8105.119.918.30.98
Dominic CheekNova46.9100.617.119.20.96

Dante Taylor was one of those heralded high school recruits that everyone fought over back in the summer of 2009. Pitt won the sweepstakes and Taylor, along with classmate -- but now rising sophomore -- Talib Zanna was the heir apparent to DeJuan Blair and Aaron Gray. No one thought much about an off-the-radar transfer back then named Gary McGhee. McGhee improved every season he was at Pitt and became the low post mainstay over the next three seasons. Defensive rebounding may be one reason Taylor could not move McGhee out of the starting lineup (see the "Miscellaneous" table below...or maybe his penchant for picking up fouls?), but McGhee is gone this season, so Taylor and Zanna (and freshman Klem Birch) will divvy up McGhee's minutes. The way will not get much clearer for the 6-9 player, but he will have to control the fouling and work on his defensive rebounding. At 5-11 out of Seton Hall Prep, Travon Woodall was regarded as the one "Most Likely to Suceed"...Levance Fields at the point. Woodall took a red shirt his freshman year, Ashton Gibbs went on to lead the U19 Men's Team to a World Championship in 2009 and Woodall's role became back up to Gibbs. Tray's minutes, offensive rating and role within the offense has progressed each of the past two seasons. With Gibbs nailing three pointers at a 49% clip, I would not be surprised to see Coach Dixon play Woodall and Gibbs in tandem, with the red shirt junior taking the point and allowing Gibbs to roam. If Woodall can improve his outside shot and assists (that should not be hard since he has Gibbs, Taylor and Nasir Robinson to pass to), the Panthers will not miss a beat. The Hoyas will return less than half of their minutes (48%) and an even smaller percentage of their scoring (42%). Expect larger offensive roles for virtually all of the returning players, especially Hollis Thompson. Though the 6-7 rising junior has two years of experience, he actually enrolled at Georgetown in the spring of 2009 and practiced with the team that semester. The 6-7 wing has seen his minutes and role grow modestly even as his offensive rating (top table) exploded. With the graduation of Austin Freeman and Chris Wright look for Thompson (and rising senior Jason Clark) get more touches and scoring opportunities...and attention from the defense. If Thompson can maintain (or even improve) his offensive efficiency with a larger role, the Hoyas should have a very nice resume to present to the Selection Committee next March.

Four Factors...
Dante TaylorPitt36.461.617.012.346.4
Hollis ThompsonGTown57.963.06.713.326.5
Alex OriakhiUConn71.450.714.512.745.7
Shaun NoriegaSo Fla40.752.71.815.024.4
Brandon TricheCuse71.650.04.319.930.6
Mouphtaou YarouNova60.149.813.416.057.2
Cashmere WrightNati63.348.31.322.947.9
Travon WoodallPitt53.842.91.321.344.0
Dominic CheekNova46.943.67.515.228.0

With something of a break out season in 2011 (offensive efficiency if not offensive role), Alex Oriakhi will most definitely make more than a few Break Out/Watch lists in the next two months. Kemba Walker has moved on to the NBA (if the lock out ever ends...), so the scoring should be a bit more distributed throughout the Husky squad. Entering freshman Andre Drummond might be grabbing headlines, but don't be fooled, credible talk of a repeat National Championship will rest far, far more on the shoulders of Oriakhi, Jeremy Lamb and Shabazz Napier. The hottest seat in the Big East going into this season has to belong to South Florida's head coach Stan Heath. Shaun Noriega joined an off guard rotation that included JUCOs Jawanza Poland, Hugh Robertson and Shedrick Haynes that scrambled to replace the large scoring gap created with the departure of Dominic Jones. The Bulls' revolving door continues as Haynes left at the end of the season. Though Poland took most of the minutes, Noriega, with his 37% three point conversion rate, carved a role for himself on the perimeter. Poland's numbers were not that impressive, so the opening is there, if the local star (Noriega graduated North Port HS, about 85 miles south of the Tampa-based USF campus) can step up his defense and convert more consistently from inside the arc. Bringing in Lance Stephenson for a single season back in 2010 was costly to some of the other players on the roster. To make room for Stephenson, the Bearcats had to shift Rashad Bishop and Dion Dixon around, a move that Bishop in particular had difficulty with (he was suspended near the end of the 2010 season and not re-instated until late August 2010, in time for Cincinnati's exhibition tour in Canada). One of the other casualties (by indirection) was Cashmire Wright. The red shirt freshman (missed the 2009 season with an ACL) would have formed a back court rotation with then-senior Deonta Vaughn and Sean Kirkpatrick. Kirkpatrick took a red shirt and Wright played more back up to Vaughn, rather than in tandem with Vaughn. The point was pushed a bit by Kirkpatrick in 2011, but managed to up his minutes, offensive rating, assist rate and shot efficiency even shot rate stalled. Note his possession rate was well within the 95% certainty area (ie, he did not push the envelop) even though Vaughn graduated and Stephenson moved off to the NBA. Wright's role (possession and shot rates) should "grow" another 1-3% next season.

Dante TaylorPitt4.317.54.90.5
Hollis ThompsonGTown6.
Alex OriakhiUConn2.518.25.60.8
Shaun NoriegaSo Fla6.
Brandon TricheCuse18.
Mouphtaou YarouNova3.420.74.71.1
Cashmere WrightNati31.
Travon WoodallPitt28.610.50.32.2
Dominic CheekNova7.

Coming off of a promising freshman year, expectations were sky-high for Dominic Cheek. The rising junior's sophomore season mirrored the team's...unfortunately. Losing senior Corey Stokes left a large opening for Cheek to step into, albeit a year early. Cheek had difficulty, reflected in the decline of his offensive and shot efficiencies. The team as a whole struggled as well. Mouphtaou Yarou by cotrast, struggled his freshman season. Sidelined with a touch of Hepatitis B, the then-freshman did not get back into the lineup until the eve of February, more than half a season later than hoped for. His minutes and role grew in 2011, but his offensive rating and shot efficiency (eFG%) took a hit -- greater visibility draws greater (defensive) attention. Both are keys to the Wildcats' prospects in 2012. If they develop the Nova Nation should be happy with the results. Both Cheek and Yarou, along with point guard Maalik Wayns, were scoring leaders for Villanova on their European Tour this summer. Cheek in particular took a large portion of the shots (29.2%) while managing to convert very efficiently, highlighed by a 34 point outing versus the Israeli National Team. Yarou continued to dominate on the boards even as he stepped up his scoring, a good sign despite the Wildcats' disappointing 1-4 tour record. Syracuse had a tremendous year in 2010, despite losing some 2+ year mainstays in the program. The success of 2010 obscured the lingering problems at point guard, one of the starting position left up for grabs with the departure of Jonny Flynn. Coach Beoheim claimed that Brandon Triche would step in and the Orange would not lose a beat. And indeed in 2010 that appeared to be true, though in truth it was more "point by committee", with Andy Rautins and a brace of wing/front court players setting the table for each other. Oh, and Scoop Jardine, who after a red shirt year returned with what appears to be a more determined inclination to fit into Boeheim's system. 2011 brought Dion Waiters, a talented (if edgy) addition to the back court who was supposed to push Trich (and Jardine) for time at the point. Triche nevertheless improved his minutes, possession and shot rates (even if his efficiency numbers went sideways). Triche will likely not be pushed aside by wings Trevor Cooney or Michael Carter-Willliams (Waiters and Jardine, hampered with some bad habits may not fair as well). Like Woodall and Wright, Triche will probably have a solid season that will see his role within the Orange offense grow (but not explode). He should be a reliable and consistent (and "Major"?) contributor/leader going into his senior season.

What About...?
Marquette's big center, Chris Otule has the requisite minutes and efficiency for this list, but the rising junior (though I am a Buzz Williams fan) finds himself in a program that relies on speed and mobility to score. For Otule to carve a larger role for himself the guards would have to stop long enough to attempt low post entry passes, and I am not sure that play is in the Marquette playbook. He was not a dominant enough defensive rebounder (very good offensive rebounding numbers though) to motivate his coach to define an offensive role (beyond rebound and put back) for him. By season's end Otule was being pushed hard by freshman Devante Gardiner, a 6-9 low post player with a more polished offensive repertoire. Vincent Council (& Duke Mondy), Bilal Dixon (& Kadeem Batts) are members of that large Providence class recruited by Keno Davis in his second season. Davis is gone, and with the changeover to Ed Cooley, expect a lower tempo, more inside scoring and a larger emphasis on defense. That should benefit Batts and Dixon, two wing/forwards (think Fairfield's front court pair Anthony Johnson and Mike Evanovich here). Cooley may, however, choose to stay with the guard/outside oriented, high tempo offense run by Davis (and Tim Welsh before Davis), which should translate into more touches/shots for Council and/or Mondy.

Hits and Misses...Last Season's "Rising Juniors"
Kevin Jones had a great season and made the All Big East Honorable Mention team. Darius Johnson-Odom was named to the All Conference Second Team while Kris Joseph made the All-Conference Third Team. Cincinnati's bfc Yancy Gates led the team in minutes played, points scored (tied with Dion Dixon), rebounds and blocked shots. Gates was invited to tryout for the World University Games men's squad in July. Point guard Darryl Bryant saw his minutes hold steady even as his role in the Mountaineer offense grew marginally. His efficiency dropped slightly (though he maintained a top 500 standing on assists) as increasingly it seems he will become a volume scorer. The same can be said of Jordan Theordore. The Hall's point saw his minutes and offensive role grow, but his efficiency crashed (too many turnovers) even has his scoring efficiency did not improve. Theodore and Bryant will return to lead their teams for one more season. Among the front court players, Gus Gilchrist, Jeff Robinson, Kris Joseph and Terrence Jenningsall saw their minutes grow dramatically. Gilchrist became a "Go-to Guy" for the offense-challenged Bulls, but saw his offensive efficiency crash, a very common outcome when a player's role expands beyond the "Role Player" level. As the individual becomes more visible offensively, he also draws more defensive attention. Joseph was on everyone's "break out candidate" short list. And though the small forward saw his minutes and role in the offense grow even as he maintained relatively efficient shot conversion, his offensive efficiency decline modestly (111 down to 108). Robinson's minutes may have increased, but his role with respect to the team did not. Eligiblity exhausted, he left the program at the end of the 2011 season. Jennings was a well-regarded recruit when he joined the Cardinals in 2009 as part of a class that included Samardo Samuels. Even though many regarded the bfc as equivalent to Samuels, his inability to win more playing time from Samuels, or produce consistently enough to allow Coach Pitino to entertain Twin Tower schemes, Jennings remained firmly behind Samuels on the depth chart until the (then sophomore) jumped to the NBA in 2010. Though his role grew minimally (high-end role player to low-end major contributor), his efficiency declined, and as an appropo ending to a head scratching career at Louisville, the junior (against all advice...) jumped into the NBA draft. And went undrafted.

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