Thanksgiving is a time to be thankful, watch football, and eat turkey with family, but for hoops junkies, it is also a time to get their first real taste of college basketball for the new season. Thanksgiving week was stuffed with a multitude of exciting games, including powerhouse matchups between No. 1 Duke vs. No. 3 Gonzaga and No. 2 Kansas vs. No. 5 Tennessee. The clashes between teams throughout the week gave fans more to digest than just turkey and mashed potatoes.
Naz Reid’s early-season struggles are only growing pains.
Since the start of the college basketball season, and even prior to it, fans and media sites have been gushing over how silky smooth Zion Williamson moves and elevates above defenders like no other. With the spotlight on Williamson, many forget about LSU’s top freshman recruit, Naz Reid, a power forward who stands at 6-foot-10 and weighs in at 240 pounds. For the most part, he has a typical big-man build, but his mobility and agility on the perimeter sets him apart from many other players of his size.
Last week, a very young LSU squad faced its first real tests of the season (vs. Florida State and Oklahoma State). The Tigers lost both games, and Reid totaled just 18 points on 6-of-19 shooting from the floor. In those contests, the powerful freshman spent a lot of time on the perimeter, which undoubtedly contributed to his struggles. He understands that only having an inside game will not catch the eye of NBA scouts, but impressing scouts and winning college basketball games do not always go hand in hand.
The combination of Reid’s size, strength, skill is impressive, but there are concerns. He has good ball-handling skills and is improving his outside shot (32 percent from 3), but he is spending too much time sitting on the three-point line rather than driving to the rim for an easier finish. When he does drive, he uses his quick first step to blow by defenders and his overpowering strength to hold off his opponents for an easy bucket in the lane. He also appears to be carrying a bit too much weight; specifically, he struggles to move laterally on defense and to get off the floor for rebounds (averaging just 4.3 per game). His development over the course of the season will be monitored closely, but as of now, Reid is a looking like a late first-round pick.
Kerwin Roach II is proving to be an all-around star for the Longhorns.
Entering Thanksgiving week, Texas was unranked and was slated to play two ranked teams, No. 7 UNC and No. 11 Michigan State, in the Continental Tire Las Vegas Invitational. The Longhorns upset the Tarheels 92-89 behind senior guard Kerwin Roach’s 32 points, 7 assists, 6 rebounds, and 4 steals. Roach’s terrific play and leadership brought the Longhorns back from an early 17-4 deficit. He was a force on the defensive end, swiping passes and finishing with emphasis on the other end. Roach went head-to-head with UNC star point guard Coby White. The Tarheel dropped 33 points shooting 59 percent from the floor and 70 percent from distance. Despite being outscored by White, Roach and the Longhorns came out on top of the contest.
Roach’s career night led the Longhorns to the championship game against Michigan State, but Texas fell short of eclipsing two top 15 teams in two days. Roach struggled in the second game against junior point guard Cassius Winston. Roach scored 15 points, 5 assists, and 3 steals on 29 percent shooting. Winston topped the Longhorn with 20 points and 10 assists on 45 percent shooting. Although Roach failed to lead Texas to a victory, his leadership on both ends of the floor was felt. He led Texas to a 25-6 run to start the contest, but the Longhorns ultimately fell apart in the second half.
Being that Roach is a senior, he may not get many looks by NBA scouts, but his athleticism, will to win, and aggressiveness on both ends of the floor are difficult to ignore. Standing at 6-foot-4, he can excel at either guard position. His ability to drive, shoot, and find open teammates should be appealing to scouts looking for an experienced guard in the draft. As of right now, he seems to be a late-second-round flier, but with few point guards to choose from, he may fly up NBA teams’ draft boards come June 2019.
Shamorie Ponds is underrated.
The Barclays Center hosted two of the most dominant scoring outputs of all the Thanksgiving tournaments. Both were recorded by St. John’s junior guard Shamorie Ponds. He dropped 32 points on 73 percent shooting in a win against California in the semi-final of the Legends Classic tournament. The next night, Ponds lit up VCU for 35 points and the game-winner in overtime.
Ponds is a high-IQ player, who possess elite ball-handling and shot-creating skills. The 6-foot-1 point guard uses his ability to change directions and speed to find openings in the defense to either pull-up or take a floater. His midrange game is his strongest offensive weapon, but he also adds deep range and a crafty finishing ability to his arsenal. Ponds can score at all three levels at a high degree, but he will need to continue to improve his playmaking ability to boost his draft stock.
Currently, most see Ponds as a borderline first-round pick, but he sits solidly at No. 20 in our latest rankings. Both opponents and draft analysts overlook his mamba-like mentality and ability to take over a game at will because of his 6-foot-1 stature. Despite his size, Ponds could sneak into the first round due to his skillset and the lack of point guards in this draft class. His ability to score the rock is valuable to any NBA team, so his future is bound to be on an NBA roster.
Moses Brown has a long way to go.
Moses Brown has stuffed the stat sheet with points, rebounds, and most notably, blocks to begin his first collegiate season. The freshmen center is averaging 13.5 points, 10.3 rebounds, and 2.8 blocks per game for UCLA. On paper, these stats look very promising for a freshman, but don’t let the numbers mesmerize you. Brown’s last two games in the Continental Tire Las Vegas Invitational were horrendous.
In the first round of the tourney, the Bruins matched up against Michigan State, and Brown was overpowered by the shorter, yet stronger junior forward Nick Ward. Brown was limited to five points and 10 rebounds in 21 minutes of play. In similar style, the UCLA center only played eight minutes in the third-place game against UNC, but this time, he didn’t finish the game – he fouled out. Brown’s performance was rather pathetic, and shows his immaturity as a basketball player. He has a sixth-sense for blocking shots, but at this stage of his career, he is not disciplined and commits too many fouls.
Without a doubt, Brown hurt his draft stock during the tournament, but there are plenty of games to be played. Although the New York product is unpolished, his 7-foot-1 stature, 7-foot-4 wingspan, and 9-foot-3 standing reach should have scouts gushing. His physical features and game matches that of Mitchell Robinson. Robinson is a bit stronger, but nonetheless, both players have the same playstyle. If Brown enters the 2019 draft, he might be selected due to his long-term upside, but as of now, it appears that he would benefit from another year in college.
Gonzaga is the best team in the country.
Gonzaga’s seasoned veterans outmatched Duke’s highly touted freshmen in the Maui Jim Maui Invitational championship. With the 89-87 win last Wednesday, the Bulldogs are snatched the top spot in the AP Top 25 rankings from the Blue Devils. Raising the trophy and climbing to the top of the rankings in the same week is quite the feat, but the Bulldogs are far from peaking. The Zags are not only the top ranked team, but also, the most talented and deep team in the nation.
Gonzaga beat Duke without its starting sophomore center Killian Tillie, who averaged 13 points and six rebounds last year. The big man is one of the best pure shooters in college and is in the top 40 in our player rankings. In addition to missing his shooting, the Zags struggled on the glass without him, but still played terrific defense, led by junior wing Brandon Clarke’s six blocks. Clark is averaging four blocks per game, and is on pace to shatter Gonzaga’s single-season record for blocks (70). Without Tillie manning the paint, Clarke has been spectacular in protecting the rim despite being 6-foot-7. Clarke, a transfer from San Jose State, is forcing himself into the conversation for a late-second-round selection.
Junior forward Rui Hachimura emerged as the leader of the Bulldogs, as he dominated both ends of the floor. He recorded 20 points, 7 rebounds, 5 assists, and 3 blocks on 50 percent shooting from the field. Hachimura scored a late bucket in the post on the top prospect on our draft board, freshman wing R.J. Barrett, to put the Bulldogs up by two with a minute to go. On the final possession, Hachimura walled up on defense, forcing Barrett into missing the game-tying shot. The Japanese-born Bulldog finds himself in the top 15 of our rankings. If Hachimura continues his terrific play and aggressiveness throughout the season, he will be locked in as a lottery pick, and may even slide to as high as top five.
Sophomore shooting guard Zach Norvell (18 points, 3 steals) and freshman center Filip Petrusev (11 points, 4 rebounds) also made valuable contributions vs. Duke. This pair, combined with the Tillie, Clarke, and Hachimura, gives the Zags five prospects among the top 125 on our latest draft board.
Despite losing to Gonzaga, the Duke freshmen will not be forgotten. Barrett, Zion Williamson, and Cam Reddish fall in the top 5 in our rankings, while Tre Jones finds himself in the top 40, and he may sneak into the first round by the end of the season.
The Zags are the team to beat now, and it will likely stay that way for a while. The team looks strong as ever, and that’s without a key piece in Tillie, who is expected to return around the new year. It’s early, but the Bulldogs look like a Final Four team, and the Duke-Gonzaga matchup may be revisited in March.