April 25, 2015

Money Talks, a Little Too Much

Mark Cuban called college hoops horrible and ugly for not adequately preparing players for the NBA.  Before you tear into him, let's take a look at his experience with basketball.  Maybe he played in high school?  Maybe he studied the game, and has an understanding of fundamental play, a basis upon which to form a critique?

History 1010 - Mark Cuban and Basketball

Cuban is class of '81 at Indiana.  By all accounts (Wikipedia), he was creating and leveraging opportunities to make money as early as grade school, being a natural entrepreneur.  Again, by all accounts (google), he was a fan of Hoosiers hoops, going so far as to launch a web company catalyzed by the idea of broadcasting IU games online.  But that's about where it ends.  In fact, it seems he was more a fan of rugby sevens, or more precisely, the parties resulting from rugby sevens, than he was of Hoosiers basketball.  We might be inclined to delve into some armchair psychology, discussing his peculiar fascination with nudity, and male and female genitals.  But the point is this; entrepreneurialism, money, fandom, and rugby sevens don't translate into an understanding of basketball that would warrant commentary on the national stage.  So maybe his comments themselves will offer us insight into his understanding of the game.  After all, he's the one who preaches:

"[k]now your business and industry better than anyone else in the world."

So in basketball, he argues for a larger protected area, wider key at the baseline, and refing out contact at the rim all to unclog the key.  The logic is to reduce physical play and promote more plays at the rim.  Yea, that might work, but it's a crutch, a training-wheel, a Band-Aid, a short-circuiting of basketball fundamentals.  What inherently promotes more play at the rim, and unclogging the key?  Better perimeter play in the form of surgical passing and lethal shooting.  It stretches the defense in its need to prevent the easy mid-range jumpshot, or worse, the three pointer.

Think Frank Kaminsky making the immortal, hyphenated, Kentucky frontline of Karl-Anthony Towns and Willie Cauley-Stein look bewildered when he would step out for a three.  Man or zone, the guards weren't tall enough to get a meaningful hand in his face, Kentucky's bigs were too uncomfortable defending that far out, and too slow to get around a high pick even if they decided to step out of their comfort zones.  Kaminsky forced Kentucky's post men out, which freed up Nigel Hayes and Sam Dekker to work inside.   Classic good offense to stretch the defense.  No larger protected area or ticky-tack reffing required.  This is a concept Cuban should be very familiar with.  Dirk Nowitski has built a Hall of Fame career out of drawing bigs out with precision shooting.  He left guys like Shaquille O'Neal baffled in no man's land 15' out.  Too high to protect the rim, but too low to break up a three.  Has Cuban not been watching his own games?  Or maybe he didn't understand the game well enough to be entertained by it?

History 1050 - The Key and the Three-Point Line

Truly understanding what unclogs the key and promotes better play at the rim calls for a quick history lesson:

1. the key - the key and it's sister 3-second rule were introduced in 1936 for the sole purpose of preventing players from camping around the hoop.  It's called the key because it acutally looked like a key hole.  And here we thought it was merely a pretty place to paint team colors and put the conference logo.

The problem was that taller players would cheat the key by simply straddling it with one foot on either end.  So the NBA widened it to 12 feet.  FIBA took the baseline to 20 feet to keep the area around the hoop even more clear, but that just proves European ballers are a bunch of wimps who can't post up against a back-to-the-basket center.  Twelve feet was enough to keep Wilt Chamblain out.

... and stay out...

Now the key is unclogged, right?

2. the three-point line -  Let's give the 3 point line some historical context.  There's still no shot clock, you're up by 10, there's 00:53 left in regulation, you have the ball 25' feet away from the rim, and there's a hand in your face.  What do you do?  Pass it?  Dribble out the clock?  If you're Pistol Pete Maravich, you shoot.  The Pistol started heaving 25-footers worth the same points as a lay-up (2), and sinking them.  If you're anyone else though, you dribble out the clock while the defense packs around the hoop.  The the jump shot forced the defense to step out and contest the good shooters, and the three point line made defending the jump shot that much more urgent.

The point is this: good basketball doesn't need wider keys to unclog the lane and run offense.  It needs better play.

Mid Major Programs Play Well, are Entertaining

If entertainment in college is what you're looking for, look no further than your very own Zags.  Watch as Przemek Karnowski feeds Domantis Sabonis with a no-look pass to neutralize a bewildered double-team.  And finishing wasn't luck; the pair did it again 10 minutes later.

Here's the best part.  You'd think a pass like that might catch Sabonis off guard, that he might bumble the ball a bit having it appear on the right side of a double-team.  But watch carefully, and you'll notice that on both occasions, Sabonis was showing palms.  He knew the ball was coming and he was ready to catch and finish.  It wasn't a case of a veteran guard feeding a freshman big with more heat than the big was ready for.  The Zags have practiced and played together enough to know where their teammates' heads are.

Sabonis finishes a dunk off a baseline pass from Karnowski
in the Zags' Sweet 16 win for its second Elite 8 berth ever.

That's chemistry that leads to good passing, good passing spreads the defense, a spread defense opens the key, and an open key is good basketball.  No amount of repainting lines and refs swallowing their whistles will ever make Karnowski drop no-look dimes to an open Sabonis.

Commercializing Athletics

This is the difference between basketball as entertainment, and basketball as a study in sport.  The difference between the WWE and World Cup wrestling.  The difference between a Chevrolet Corvette and a Lancia Stratos.  One is entertaining, fun to watch, popular.  The other is heady, fundamental, strategic. The main stream might not appreciate Sean Miller's Xs and Os coaching, but Sean Miller isn't out there calling James Harden's double-teamed, cross-over fade-aways with a guy open at the rim, "horrible" and "ugly."  The truth is, save for the likes of the Spurs, Hawks, and a few others, NBA basketball is actually really bad basketball.  Cuban may not understand college ball well enough to stay awake, but then, he was never invited.

Cuban attending one of his famously entertaining games.

Cuban famously lecturing another eager pupil.

This is the difference between Cuban's "entertaining" NBA champion mavericks team who won against a Heat team still finding its chemistry with the formation of Miami's threesome, and the "boring Spurs that have put together a string of 5 titles in one of the most consistent franchises in history.  So no, it appears Cuban has no understanding of the Xs and Os.  As a result, he's simply suggesting we short-circuit the fundamentals.  His success on the financial stage doesn't substantiate a blanket license to comment on everything.  College basketball is about so much more than entertainment.  It thrives on a mix of loyalty to an amateur athletic program, and an appreciation for Xs and Os.

April 23, 2015

Vladimir Brodziansky Visits Campus gets Offered by Gonzaga

So, 247Sport's Jerry Meyer reported that we had a visitor this past weekend on GU's campus named Vladimir Brodziansky.  

Apparently, the coaching staff liked him so much they offered him a scholarship. If he accepts, he could play ball for the Bulldogs for three seasons, as he would be a Junior College transfer. He played for the top Basketball Academy in Europe, Canarias Basketball Academy, and Pratt Community College in the National Junior College Athletic Association.

At Pratt, Vladimir played as a Power Forward. He averaged approx. 15 pgg and 9 rebounds. He is anywhere from 6'9 to 6'11 depending on where you read about him. He's on the thin side, tipping in at about 205 pounds. A red-shirt year spent working with Travis Knight on technique, hitting the weights, getting stronger, and bulking up, would certainly be beneficial. 

With several open scholarships, along with losses the Zags will be facing next year that include current Bigs, Kyle Witljer and Przemek Karnowski, we will be somewhat short handed. He could forge himself a nice place on the team. 

We will keep you updated. Go Zags!

April 16, 2015

2015 Wing Dominic Green is on Gonzaga's Radar

Dominic Green emerged as a high major prospect last summer, and just about as quickly as his big offers began to emerge, he made the decision to commit to Arizona State. Fast forward 8 months later, and now, one of the west coast's top shooters is available once again.

Dominic Green is a 6'7 small forward who is graduating from Hazen high school (Renton, WA) in 2015. Gonzaga, Washington, Washington State, and USC are among the first schools to reach out to Green. In the 2015 class, Scout rated him as a 4-star and the #77 overall prospect. Rivals, 24/7 Sports, and ESPN each rated him as a 3-star, but Rivals ranked him #144 and 24/7 ranked him #176.
Before his commitment to Arizona State, he also reportedly acquired offers from Washington State, UTEP, Portland, Montana, and Portland State, with Marquette, Washington, Gonzaga, Oregon, Indiana, USC, Nevada, San Jose State, Boise State, and Idaho showing strong interest.

Gonzaga currently has 4 scholarships to fill for the 2015 season, and one of the most immediate needs is at small forward. 6'4 2015 wing Tyson Jolly was supposed to visit this weekend, but he commit to Cal a day after visiting. Dominic Green has a strong scoring touch just like Jolly. With Kevin Pangos, Gary Bell, and Byron Wesley gone, Gonzaga could use a big guard who can really strong it from deep. Green would fill that void.
Scouting report:
Strengths: Green is a lean wing-type with long arms and a frame that should fill out nicely at the next level. He is a prolific shooter off the catch and his release is smooth. He gets good lift on his shot and his release is quick. He knows how to come off a pin-down screen and slip the screen in a pick-and-pop. He gets out in the lanes in transition and has the ability to finish in traffic due to his length and knack to score. He shows a nice feel for the game due to his tendency to look for good shots and not force the issue. In addition, he has a nice demeanor for the game and never appears to get rattled. 
Weaknesses: Green is still raw in certain areas of the game. He needs to improve his ball skills, especially when being pressured. Physical defenders can give him issues and he needs to become a better ball handler while attacking pressure. In addition, showing a greater urgency at the defensive end--utilizing his length--will help his development. 
Bottom Line: Green is an exceptional shooter with size and a frame that should fill out nicely at the next level.

April 15, 2015

Gonzaga 2015 Recruiting Watch

Gonzaga has put itself in a precarious position. With the departures of Kevin Pangos, Gary Bell, and Byron Wesley due to exhausted eligibility, as well as Angel Nunez to transfer, Gonzaga has 4 scholarships to fill for the 2015-16 season, and that isn't even counting the possibility of Kyle Wiltjer and/or Przemek Karnowski leaving early. Normally, this wouldn't be such a big deal, but it's now mid April and late signing period is now upon us. It wasn't as much of an issue that the Zags didn't sign a new player back in the early signing period in November, but now it's so late in the year and most of the top 2015 freshmen are off the board or have used up their five allotted official visits, but there are a couple for us to monitor. Luckily, at this time of the year, transfers are a plenty, and we know some of them who have Gonzaga on their shortlist.

Damion Lee, 6'6" SF, Senior in 2015-16

Damion Lee2738.16.314.4.4383.98.1.4792.46.3.3856.47.2.8876.
Damion Lee is transferring out of Drexel and is eligible immediately for one remaining season. He was one of the top scorers last season and shot the ball at a high clip. He has narrowed his list to Gonzaga, Arizona, Louisville, Maryland, and Marquette. He has already scheduled visits to Arizona (April 17-19) and Louisville (April 19-21), and Gonzaga plans to make a trip out to see him on April 22. Gonzaga lost its whole starting backcourt and needs a high-level scorer to fill an immediate void.

Johnathan Williams III, 6'9" PF, Junior in 2016-17

Johnathan Williams3229.
Johnathan Williams III was the top scorer and rebounder on a very poor Missouri squad. His percentages are quite poor across the board, but I'm impressed with what he was able to do while battling through a torn meniscus the whole season. He plans to visit Gonzaga (May 1-3), and Michigan State has also been mentioned as a possible destination. He plans to improve his ball skills, get stronger, and allow his knee to heal while sitting out the 2015-16 season. Gonzaga will lose Wiltjer and Karnowski to exhausted eligibility after the 2015-16 season (if they hopefully don't leave before then) and with Sabonis's high draft stock, he could leave early, too, so an experienced frontcourt presence could be needed in 2016-17.

Nigel Williams-Goss, 6'3" PG, Junior in 2016-17

Nigel Williams-Goss3036.
Nigel Williams-Goss led Washington in scoring and assists for the past 2 seasons. He plans to visit UNLV (April 18), Providence (April 25), Texas (May 1), and Georgetown (May 8).He will also have in-home visits with Georgetown (this week), Texas (April 20), and Providence (April 21). Michigan State, Gonzaga, LSU, and Ohio State are in contention for visits, as well. Gonzaga could use an experienced playmaker in 2016-17 as Dranginis and McClellan will exhaust their eligibility after next season.

Marcus Foster, 6'3" SG, Junior in 2016-17

Marcus Foster2927.
Marcus Foster led Kansas State in scoring the past 2 seasons, but he had a dip in production after a spectacular freshman season, and has had some personal issues which led to his removal from the starting lineup during conference play, a 3-game suspension, as well as a dismissal from the team. He plans to visit Crieghton (April 17-19), and other teams which have been mentioned in contention for his services are LSU, Gonzaga, and Cincinnati.

Federico Mussini, 6'1" PG, Freshman in 2015-16

Federico Mussini932.168146.4664183.4942763.4294047.8514.

Federico Mussini is currently playing professional basketball for Italian squad Grissin Bon Reggio Emilia, but he is contemplating playing college ball. Reggio Emilia offered him a 5-year contract and Mussini plans to decide whether he will play in college or stay in Europe by the end of April. He took a visit to St. John's on April 12 after coming the states and playing in the Nike Hoop Summit. The other colleges in contention for him are Gonzaga, Davidson, and Virginia. He fits the mold of successful undersized Zags like Dan Dickau, Derek Raivio, and Kevin Pangos with a strong outside touch, scorer's mentality, and shares the ball quite well. The stats above are from his dominant performance in the 2014 U18 Fiba World Championships from last summer.

Jordan Murphy, 6'8" SF, Freshman in 2015-16

Jordan Murphy was committed to VCU before a coaching change led him to reopen his recruitment. Gonzaga, UCLA, Miami, Oregon, Indiana, Minnesota, Rutgers, LSU, San Diego, and Bradley have been among the schools interested in his services, but Murphy only has 3 official visits left after using 2 on VCU and UNLV before his commitment. He has been ranked #113 by Rivals and #213 by 24/7 Sports. He averaged 23.6 points, 10.5 rebounds and 3.1 assists in his last high school season and is currently playing in the Adidas Gauntlet AAU circuit. Gonzaga is in need of a wing for the 2015-16 season. Scouting report:
Strengths: Murphy is a long and athletic forward that excels in transition where he is capable of rebounding and taking the ball coast to coast and finish above the rim or with either hand. He is also a good straight line slasher and his rim dribble jumpers and threes off the catch with needed time and space. Murphy can score and is a pretty good rebounder as well. Defensively Murphy is a capable of defending both wing positions and even some smaller power forwards.

Weaknesses: Murphy will need to continue to add strength and work on his ball handling when under intense pressure and to make his jumper a more consistent weapon behind the arc. We think he could be a more of a factor on the glass as well given his athletic ability. Overall consistency should be improved as well.

Bottom Line: Murphy is a mid major plus forward with great upside. He is an athletic and smooth scorer that is a multiple position defender as well that is loaded with potential.

April 5, 2015

Pangos, Bell, 2014-'15 Zags Forever Elite


The best season in Gonzaga Basketball history.  The last time the Zags played for a Final Four in 1999, they tipped off the game at 28-6, and lost to then-number-one seed UConn.

The Starters huddle before getting the 35th win in the 2015 Sweet 16.

Ever since the Duke game, people have been telling me "[s]orry to hear about your Zags."  Sorry for what?  Didn't we just prove to be among the best 8 teams out of 351 division 1 programs?  It appears the Zags' accomplishments since the 1999 Elite 8 team have become so routine, they've become part of the landscape.  Our Zags have spoiled us, but we shouldn't become jaded.  So here's a reminder of

April 2, 2015

Pangos, Brown, Clean Up 3-Point Competition for a WCC Sweep, Bleacher Report goes Sexist? UPDATED

Note: Please see update below.

Your very own Kevin Pangos went lights out against the rest of the Division I mens' field, and Portland's Cassandra Brown won the Division I womens' competition.  In the Battle of the Sexes match-up between the two, Brown beat Pangos 21-20.

Congratulations to both for winning their respective contests, and to Brown for winning it all.  Congratulations also to the WCC for making a great showing at the contest.

On a separate note, was Bleacher Report's reporting on the results, and corresponding criticism of Pangos a bit sexist?  BR's Joseph Zucker:
"As if losing in the Elite Eight of the 2015 NCAA tournament weren't bad enough for Gonzaga Bulldogs guard Kevin Pangos, he lost on [sic] bragging rights as college basketball's best three-point shooter.  Although Pangos was victorious in the men's half of Thursday's college three-point shootout in Indianapolis, women's three-point winner Cassandra Brown of the Portland Pilots beat him by one point in the battle of the sexes."
As if losing in the Elite Eight weren't bad enough?  Although he was victorious in the men's half?  Where's your Elite Eight appearance and men's three-point competition title Joseph?  Care to explain why losing a three-point contest to a woman equates to losing bragging rights?

Bad reporting Bleacher Report.  Somebody needs to take down this article and try again.

Actual URL: http://bleacherreport.com/articles/2418633-college-3-point-contest-2015-winner-score-results-and-twitter-reaction

UPDATE - Battle of the Twitter Lightweights: @Zagaholicdotcom (16) vs. @JosephZucker (112)

I tweeted this article to Zucker, and he defends his position.  I leave it to the reader to decide.  Am I reading into it too much, or is he backpedaling?  This chain below can be found here.