In his mailbag, Seth Davis answers questions about Gonzaga's future in the West Coast Conference, Adam Woodbury's eye-poking and more.
Note: Seth Davis will periodically answer questions posed to him over Twitter, Facebook and emails sent through SI.com. Be sure to check out his Hoop Thoughts column every Monday and to send questions during his Twenty for Tuesday Q&A on Twitter at @SethDavisHoops. Tweets have been edited for clarity. Trolls have not been included.
Player of the Year as of now? — Griffin Sexton (@run_g_run7337)
This topic is going to draw a lot of really fun conversation over the next month. It makes me wish—again—that college basketball had a dramatic moment to decide this question like college football does. Call it Heisman Envy.
This week, SI.com published a “One Month To Go” spread asking me and three other members of our college basketball cognoscenti to weigh in on certain categories. Player of the Year was one of them. I was the only one of the quartet to pick Duke’s Jahlil Okafor. The other three went with Wisconsin’s Frank Kaminsky. Luke Winn went so far as to call Kaminsky the “clear front-runner” for the award and added “he’d have to go into a profound slump” for someone else to claim it. I’ve also noticed that colleagues whom I respect like ESPN’s Jeff Goodman and The Sporting News’ Mike DeCourcy are also calling Kaminsky the lead dog. So once again, it appears that I’m the outlier.
Frankly, I was surprised at this emerging consensus, so I took another look at the numbers. The last thing I found was clarity. First, even though Okafor plays slightly fewer minutes (30.3 per game, to Kaminsky’s 31.6), he averages more points (18.0 to 17.3), more rebounds (9.1 to 8.3) and shoots a considerably higher percentage (66.5 to Kaminsky’s 54.0). Yes, Duke tends to have more possessions (the Blue Devils are ranked 70th in the country in tempo; the Badgers are 333rd), but Kaminsky also gets to take higher percentage of his team’s shots (27.7 to Okafor’s 25.9). He has more assists—2.5 per game to Okafor’s 1.5—but Okafor has a much better offensive rebound percentage. Okafor grabs 16.3 percent of his team’s misses, which is ranked ninth in the country. Kaminsky grabs just 6.7 percent.
On the other hand, there are a few areas where Kaminsky has the upper hand on offense. He commits just 1.4 turnovers per game; Okafor commits 2.6. (Although again, more possessions means more chances for turnovers.) Kaminsky is also the superior free throw shooter, making 76.5 percent from the stripe compared to Okafor’s 56.6 percent. Yet, Okafor also attempts 0.5 more free throws per game. Remember, besides adding to your team’s point total, the ability to get to the free throw line means getting other big men in foul trouble. Okafor draws 5.7 fouls per 40 minutes, while Kaminsky draws 5.5. Finally, Kaminsky has made 24 three-pointers this season to Okafor’s zero, but I don’t think it’s a big deal how a player scores his points. The bigger deal is how many.
There’s a widespread assumption that Kaminsky is the better defender. I don’t disagree. Okafor’s struggles with the pick-and-roll were a big reason Mike Krzyzewski went to the zone for the first time in his career. Still, for all the criticism that Okafor is weak as a rim protector, he’s blocking about the same number of shots: 1.5 to Kaminsky’s 1.7. Kaminsky has a higher defensive rebound percentage (26.5 percent, to Okafor’s 18.7), but not by nearly the same ratio as Okafor’s advantage on the offensive glass.
I also don’t fall into the argument that Kaminsky should get the edge because he’s a senior and Okafor’s a freshman. The idea here is to decide the best player, not the best upperclassman.
When the race is this tight, I tend to channel my inner Charles Barkley, step back from the numbers and ask a basic question: If I were starting a college basketball team and could only pick one player, whom would I choose? Notice I didn’t say who will make the better NBA player. Nothing could be more irrelevant. Still, at this moment, my answer to that question would be Okafor. I could be wrong, but I imagine if we polled 100 head coaches, a majority of them would agree with me.
Is that the best way to decide? Who knows? We have a month to go and a fun, lively debate ahead. I won’t disagree with anyone who would choose Kaminsky. But I will disagree with anyone who tells me it isn’t close.
Kentucky or the field? — (Dennis Steinly @drs116)
This may surprise you since I’ve been been playing first trombone in the the Kentucky-could-go-undefeated parade, but this is the NCAA tournament. I would always take the field against any one team.
Yet, regardless of whether Kentucky gets there with a perfect record, my confidence in this team’s ability to win the national championship has grown in recent weeks, even as the Wildcats’ margins of victory have shrunk. After Kentucky won at Florida on Saturday night, I wrote on Twitter that I thout it was UK’s most impressive win of the season. My mentions column was quickly awash with umbrage from followers who pointed out that Kentucky had beaten the likes of Kansas and UCLA by a bajillion points.
To me, however, it was far more noteworthy that UK was able to win a road game in a hostile environment when it was not at its best. The Wildcats made 21 of their 22 free throw attempts, and they held off the Gators even though freshman forward Trey Lyles was out with an undisclosed illness. I realize that Florida also played most of the second half without Michael Frazier, its leading scorer, but the point is that the vast majority of teams in Kentucky’s situation would have packed it in and called it a day.
Kentucky’s great escape at LSU on Tuesday night was even more impressive considering it trailed for most of the last eight minutes. If Kentucky does in fact enter the NCAA tournament undefeated—which, frankly, I’m hoping it does, because it would be a phenomenal story—it’s not hard to envision the weight of history getting heavier as this team moves through the bracket. But if the Cats do not end up pulling this off, it won’t be because they weren’t tested. It will be because they got outplayed.
Will Gonzaga ever leave the WCC? — CK mets (@bkmets1)
If you’re asking me whether they will leave the West Coast Conference, the answer is, I highly doubt it. Where are they going to go? Gonzaga doesn’t have a football team, so joining a power five league like the Pac 12 is out of the question. Besides, even if Gonzaga were qualified to move to the Pac 12, the two schools that are also in the state of Washington would prevent that from happening.
The more interesting question is whether Gonzaga should go to another league. My answer is still a resounding no. I’ve had this conversation with Mark Few many times. It’s the same reasoning behind his decision to turn down jobs in those so-called power conferences. The entire point of being a college basketball coach is to play in the NCAA tournament. In his 15 years as the head coach at Gonzaga, Few has never missed an NCAA tournament. Not one! Sure, he has a tough time recruiting against the UCLA’s and Arizona’s of the world (and lately, San Diego State has made a lot of inroads out west), and that has hurt his chances to break through and advance past the Sweet 16. Still, consider that only Kansas (25 years), Duke (19) and Michigan State (17) have longer NCAA tourney streaks. So why would Few want to coach anywhere else? And why would Gonzaga want to play in any other league?
Adam Woodbury's eye poking is getting ridiculous, McCaffrey's indignance makes it worse. Should Woodbury be suspended? — Mike Mazur (@mmaze1)
Let’s take these questions individually.
First, I disagree with the idea that Woodbury’s eye poking is getting “ridiculous.” Unfortunate, yes, but not ridiculous. Look at the play where Woodbury poked Maryland point guard Melo Trimble in the eye, and explain to me what Woodbury did that was so improper. He is 7’1”. Trimble is 6’2”. Trimble was driving by his man, and Woodbury reached in to try to strip the ball. Even if it was Woodbury’s intent to poke Trimble, that’s a very difficult thing to pull off at high speed. As Maryland coach Mark Turgeon said on Monday, “you have to be pretty talented to be moving full speed and poke a kid in the eye and try to do it.”
I’m glad Trimble wasn’t too badly hurt, but it’s a real stretch to say Woodbury did this on purpose. The referees did not call a foul on that play, but when they reviewed it on a monitor, they assessed Woodbury with a flagrant-1 foul. I believe that was the wrong decision.
Of course, this play would not have been noteworthy except this happened twice in Iowa’s loss at Wisconsin. And even that wouldn’t have gotten much notice if it weren’t for the nasty dustup that Iowa coach Fran McCaffrey got into with ESPN’s Dan Dakich. Woodbury was more culpable for those eye pokes—against Wisconsin’s Nigel Hayes and Frank Kaminsky—because in that case, he was guarding them directly, which was not the case with Trimble. Then again, it’s a pretty common defensive tactic to put your hand in front of an opponent’s eyes to block his vision. Woodbury may have gone too far when he tried to pat Kaminsky on the head, but to me that still is not a high crime.
So no, I don’t believe Woodbury should be suspended. But I do agree that McCaffrey made things much, much worse by sniping at the reporter who raised this issue in the postgame press conference, saying that he should “ask an intelligent question.” Not only was the question intelligent, but it would have been malpractice if no one had raised it—and in fact, the press conference was several quesitons in before this reporter asked McCaffrey about the eye pokes. So if you’re keeping track at home, that’s three eye pokes and two dustups between McCaffrey and the media. It was McCaffrey’s actions, not Woodbury’s, that turned this into such a big story.
To his credit, McCaffrey handled the question much better during Monday’s Big Ten teleconference. “I know the kid. I know what we teach,” he said. “I know him. I know his character. I know his background. He does not want this attention. He doesn’t deserve it. It’s not anything malicious or intentional.”
If McCaffrey had answered that way on Sunday instead of the way he did, this story would have had a lot less legs. He took a bad situation and made it worse. I hope things will get better from here.
Can we make the "Overrated" a technical foul? Just for stupidity? — Dave Spencer (@daspen10)
I’m guessing this is a reaction to Florida State fans, who cheered “Overrated” at Duke late in the second half Monday night, even though the Blue Devils were leading at the time and would go on to win by three.
Still, the “overrated” cheer has always struck me as, well, stupid. It’s the fans’ way of saying the opponent their team just beat is not good, so therefore the win is not all that significant. And here’s the thing: What would those same Florida State fans have done had the Seminoles pulled off the upset? You got it—rush the court! A court storm is the fans’ way of saying, “This other team is so superior to ours that the mere act of outscoring them is cause for a raucous celebration!”
So which is it?
If SFA [Stephen F. Austin] wins out but loses the Southland tourney, still get a bid? — Alex Achorn @alexachorn
I admit that there is a big part of me that roots for this type of scenario. It makes for an interesting debate, and it forces the men's basketball committee to make an important choice.
The numbers would work against the Lumberjacks. By the time Selection Sunday rolls around, many of the bubble teams will have two or three wins over teams ranked in the top 50 of the RPI. Stephen F. Austin will have none. And it’s not for a lack of chances, either. The Lumberjacks lost by two points at home to Northern Iowa on Nov. 18, by four points at Baylor on No. 24, and by 18 points at Xavier on Nov. 21. They did beat Memphis by 12 on the road on Dec. 2, but the Tigers have had a lousy season, so that won’t help them much. Since all SFA has remaining are games against Southland Conference opponents, it is very possible that this team will not be playing another team that is even ranked in the top 100 of the RPI in the next four weeks.
And yet, I find it highly unlikely that the committee would leave off a team that is 27-4 in favor of some power conference team that is barely .500 in its own league. We all know how much the deck is stacked against the Stephen F. Austins of the world. They have a hard time putting together strong résumés because the higher-profile teams are too smart to play them, especially on the road. In playing Baylor and Northern Iowa so close, the Lumberjacks passed the eye test. And even though this is technically not supposed to be taken into account, those committee members will be fully aware that this is pretty much the same team that beat VCU in the first round of last year’s tournament.
Trust me when I tell you that the basketball committee is doing more than just finding the best 37 at-large teams. It is sending a message to the better programs that they have to play a tough nonconference schedule. If the committee members have a chance to throw a lifeline to a mid- or low-major program that has done just about everything it could do prove it belongs in the tournament, then they usually do just that. As well they should.