What Tai Wynyard means for Kentucky 

January, 25, 2015
Jan 25
Tai Wynyard, who committed to Kentucky on Sunday over Villanova and Texas, is one of the best young 16-year-old players in the world at the moment.

That doesn't necessarily mean that he's ready-made to step in for the Wildcats. But they are getting a 6-foot-9 power forward who plays with terrific physical toughness inside for his age. He has an ability to make shots away from the basket, but his bread and butter is around the rim. In many ways he reminds me of a young Enes Kanter, a Turkish import who never gained NCAA eligibility at Kentucky and still ended up as an NBA lottery pick with the Utah Jazz.

Wynyard was discovered by George Raveling, Nike's head of global basketball, at the Nike All-Asian camp a couple of years ago. Along with being the best young player in New Zealand, a country that has recently turned out Oklahoma City's Steven Adams, he nearly made the New Zealand national team that competed in the FIBA World Cup this past summer. The 16-year-old phenom was the last cut on a team that included former Wisconsin Badgers star Kirk Penney and current Nebraska guard Tai Webster.
Jahlil OkaforRich Graessle/Icon SportswireDuke center Jahlil Okafor has 140 post-up points this season, good for one of the highest rates ever.
Players such as Duke’s Jahlil Okafor don’t come around college basketball very often. In fact, unlike in the days of Patrick Ewing, Hakeem Olajuwon and even Tim Duncan, they don’t stay very long, either.

So enjoy watching this 6-foot-11 freshman now before he leaves for the NBA draft in June. He will be the No. 1 pick.

I’ve watched Okafor since after his freshman year at Chicago’s Whitney Young High School. I worked with him at the LeBron James Skills Academy and saw him dominate international competition at the FIBA Under-19 World Championship in Prague before his senior year.

What makes Okafor so special is that he knows who he is as a player. Blessed with a unique combination of great agility, soft hands, keen timing and fundamentally sound footwork, he operates almost exclusively in the low post. This is his playground, even though he could operate on the perimeter effectively if he chose.

I’ve tried to watch every offensive possession of Okafor’s freshman season, and I have come away impressed as a coach. He is shooting 68 percent from inside the arc, with most of those shots coming at the rim. I can’t remember, in the past decade or more, a freshman who has more back-to-the-basket polish than he does. In fact, according to Synergy, since 2006-07 only six major-conference players have scored at least 250 points on post-ups. Okafor is poised to join this group.

Let’s look closer at Okafor’s game and break down some of the things he does exceptionally well as a post player.

1. Catch and Look Middle

In the low post, Okafor almost always catches and looks middle. By doing this, he gets to read 95 percent of the floor.

When he looks over his inside shoulder, Okafor can locate where his own defender is.

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Jahlil OkaforAP Photo/Ellen OzierDuke's Jahlil Okafor is a matchup nightmare on both ends of the floor.
Before the 2014-15 season began, I provided a list of the biggest matchup nightmares in college basketball. The players mentioned all featured different skill sets, but had one major attribute in common: They kept opposing coaches up at night. Often, it’s not creating a game plan to stop their ability, but rather limit it.

Now that we’re at the midpoint of the college season, let’s take an updated look at the top 10 list, with some familiar names from before and some new:

1. Jahlil Okafor, Duke Blue Devils
2014-15 stats: 18.9 points, 8.9 rebounds, 68.1 field goal percentage, 3.7 offensive rebounds

Okafor is the most complete low-post player in recent years. At 6-foot-10 with a 7-4 reach and huge hands, he is impossible to construct a game plan against.

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Tony Bennett and Justin AndersonToni L. Sandys/The Washington Post via Getty ImagesVirginia guard Justin Anderson is shooting almost 60 percent from 3-point range this season.
Fran Fraschilla and Seth Greenberg got together to discuss the keys to Virginia's undefeated start, where the Cavaliers are vulnerable and their chances both in the ACC and nationally.

Fran Fraschilla: What I saw in the last two games is a team that we all expect to be perfect defensively, yet knowing Tony Bennett, he is going to be tweaking his half-court defense after the Miami and Davidson games. Little Angel Rodriguez proved the notion that you can drive the ball at them and you can run different multiple pick-and-roll looks and attack them that way. There aren’t many guys in the ACC who can do this in terms of getting into the teeth of that Virginia defense, but I thought Rodriguez was brilliant Saturday attacking it and getting into the lane and making plays. I also thought they had some issues blocking out, especially on the foul line -- they were caught flat-footed at times defensively.

The reason I point these out is because we all believe that they are as good of a defensive team as there is in the country, yet we are in early January and coaches like Tony Bennett are continuing to work on and tweak the things that don’t go well.

Seth Greenberg: I think every game is different. You’re playing Miami in Miami, and what are they going to do? Spread you out, have a lot of spread ball screens, make you guard the floor because they can make shots -- and that’s going to give everyone a problem. I think we tend to overreact. The reality is that even the best defensive teams are going to have some games where they aren’t as good.

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Calipari/SelfGetty ImagesThis will be a key time of year for many coaches, including John Calipari and Bill Self.
Fran Fraschilla and Seth Greenberg got together to discuss what college coaches go through with their program and players during winter break. They specifically looked at what John Calipari, Bill Self and Roy Williams -- always among college basketball's most scrutinized coaches -- will be doing with their respective teams in the coming weeks.

Greenberg: I think this is the most difficult time of the year for a team, especially when you have young players. If you’re playing over Thanksgiving, it’s usually in a pretty good place, so it’s a good experience. But the reality is, when the campus empties up at the end of a semester, it’s basically you and your team for six weeks. It’s really hard on your players -- it’s a balancing act. It’s an important time to develop your team, but it’s also team-building time.

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Inside Louisville's stifling defense 

December, 8, 2014
Rick PitinoAP Photo/Ricardo ArduengoLouisville coach Rick Pitino has consistently had one of the nation's best defenses.
Over the past four seasons, no team has played defense at a high level as consistently as Louisville. Since 2011, the Cardinals have never ended a season lower than fourth in the nation in defensive efficiency (according to kenpom.com), and the Cardinals are on that pace once again this year.

When you think of Rick Pitino’s defensive philosophy, from his first coaching job at Boston University to now at Louisville, it has been built on panicking opponents with pressure and harassment in multiple full-court and half-court defenses. But his tactics have evolved with time and experience.

One constant through the years for Pitino, regardless of defensive scheme, is maniacal ball pressure.

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Okafor/KaminskyGetty ImagesJahlil Okafor and Frank Kaminsky, who square off on Wednesday, are both All-American candidates.
With Wednesday’s highly anticipated matchup between the Duke Blue Devils and Wisconsin Badgers (9:30 p.m. ET, ESPN) fast approaching, ESPN Insiders and former coaches Fran Fraschilla and Seth Greenberg weigh in on what to watch for, keys for both teams and offer their score predictions.

How Duke beats Wisconsin

Fraschilla: You’re attacking a team that plays great team defense. The Badgers are always in the right spot, and will play great team defense on Wednesday. If there is a soft spot, so far, it’s Wisconsin’s defensive protection of the rim. If I’m Mike Krzyzewski, I’m thinking of playing this game inside-out from the start. I’m going inside to Jahlil Okafor, trying to attack Wisconsin’s guards off the dribble, get into the lane and try to force them to defend in the paint.

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Should Kansas be worried? 

November, 21, 2014
Perry Ellis and Wayne Selden, Jr.USA TODAY SportsPerry Ellis and Wayne Selden both struggled against Kentucky this week in the Champions Classic.
Fran Fraschilla and Seth Greenberg got together to discuss the biggest topics in college basketball. This week, they look closer at Kansas following its 72-40 loss Tuesday to Kentucky in the Champions Classic.

Seth Greenberg: It’s a process. I’ve said this before: Kansas is not close to where it's going to be. The Jayhawks have a young and developing point guard situation with Devonte Graham and Frank Mason. They’ve gotten inconsistent play from two of their freshmen, but it’s just their second game on this stage. Kelly Oubre is learning how to be part of a basketball program, how to be a player at a high level where you must understand the commitment and how hard you have to play and everything that surrounds it. Cliff Alexander will be a terrific player. But they are both a work in progress.

The young players must buy in and understand how hard they need to work on a daily basis, and Bill Self is a master teacher. But it’s not going to happen overnight, that’s the reality of it.

Wayne Selden and Perry Ellis need to play and be difference-makers. Ellis has to be a guy who understands how to lead, even though he’s quiet. Selden needs to play better than he did Tuesday night. If they don’t play well, then Kansas is going to be in trouble. They need to set the tone to teach these young guys what it takes.

Frank Mason
Peter G. Aiken/Getty ImagesKansas is hoping for more consistency from point guard Frank Mason.
Fran Fraschilla: In a strange way, an embarrassing loss like this is exactly what Bill Self needs to teach a young team what it’s going to take to be as good as some of these recent Kansas teams have been.

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Most vulnerable title contender 

November, 13, 2014
Stanley JohnsonChris Coduto/Icon SportswireIs Arizona freshman Stanley Johnson ready to be his team's featured scorer from Day 1?
Fran Fraschilla and Seth Greenberg like to get together to discuss the biggest topics in college basketball. This week, they provide their biggest concerns for the four most prominent preseason title favorites -- Arizona, Duke, Kentucky and Wisconsin.

Which national title contender is the most vulnerable?

Fran Fraschilla: I’m going with Arizona. As talented as Sean Miller’s team is -- and the Wildcats certainly have their share of high school All-Americans -- my concern is this: Who is going to be the go-to scorer on this team? It actually could be freshman Stanley Johnson, but I’m not so sure he’s ready to take that role on.

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GoodwinJamie Rhodes/USA TODAY SportsShaq Goodwin and Memphis could provide problems for UConn and SMU at the top of the AAC.
This week, we decided to put Fran Fraschilla and Seth Greenberg together to discuss and debate the dark-horse teams to look for across every major conference.


Seth Greenberg: You gotta go with Memphis. The Tigers have a great home court and great sense of ownership and passion with their fans. Kedren Johnson, who will be eligible to play, gives them an experienced point guard. Shaq Goodwin and Austin Nichols are two of the toughest frontcourt matchups in the conference. Nick King also gives them a lockdown defender on the wing.

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Jahlil Okafor and Marcus PaigeIcon SportswireDuke's Jahlil Okafor and North Carolina's Marcus Paige are both expected to thrive this season.
Fran Fraschilla and Seth Greenberg got together to discuss the biggest topics in college basketball. This week, they provide their Player of the Year selections as well as dark-horse picks.

Player of the Year

Fran Fraschilla: It’s not often that you say this, but I’m going with a freshman in Jahlil Okafor. I just think his combination of size, athleticism and what he has to do for Duke to be good means he’s going to have an excellent opportunity to be a dominant player in college basketball. Because he’s been out of sight, out of mind by most fans, it might be controversial, but not to most fans who have seen this young man play.

I think it’s unfair to compare him to anybody currently playing. He’s just a 6-foot-11 kid with terrific athleticism for his size, outstanding fundamentals and he’s not making any adjustment to his position. He’s always been a low-post player and is very comfortable and effective.

Seth Greenberg: I love Okafor, but I’m hesitant to make any freshman -- even one as talented as him -- the Player of the Year. I do agree with Fran that he has the feet, hands, ability to play out of a double-team and is an alert defender. He’s everything that you’re looking for in an elite player. But Okafor is going to be playing potentially with a freshman point guard, so what impact does that have on the team? The Blue Devils will have to play through Okafor, and it’s been rare recently that Duke has played through a post player. However, in terms of talent, as Fran mentioned, it’s impossible to argue.

My guy is someone who last season separated himself: Marcus Paige.

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Ten biggest takeaways from Kansas 

October, 23, 2014
Perry EllisDenny Medley/USA TODAY SportsKansas forward Perry Ellis is one of the most complete players in college basketball this season.
Despite losing Joel Embiid and Andrew Wiggins, Kansas will once again be in the discussion for a national title. The Jayhawks have a championship pedigree and are led by Bill Self, one of the best coaches in college basketball. They also added another talented recruiting class to a strong, veteran core.

I spent time this week in Lawrence, Kansas, to check out the Jayhawks in person. After speaking with Self and watching Kansas practice, here are my biggest takeaways.

1. Perry Ellis is a unique talent

The junior forward really understands how to play. He has great footwork and seals in the high-low offense as well as any player in the country. Ellis shoots the ball to 17 feet comfortably, and moves and reads the defense on the block to create angles. Though he’s not the vocal leader you expect at this point of his college career, he simply “does his job."

2. Kansas is a legitimate title contender

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Up close with Texas hoops 

October, 16, 2014
TexasHoward Smith/USA TODAY SportsTexas returns essentially its entire rotation from a team that finished 24-11 last season.
The Texas Longhorns struggled through a 2012-2013 season that saw them miss their first NCAA tournament under coach Rick Barnes since he took over in 1998. Poor team chemistry led to the exodus of his four leading scorers to professional basketball and the transfer route. Unexpectedly, last season was a turnaround year for Barnes and his young as they finished 24-11 and made their 15th NCAA appearance in 16 seasons. Things are back to normal in Austin. Texas has every key player returning to go along with a very strong freshman class, and optimism is high. After spending time watching the consensus top-15 team practice last week, here are my biggest takeaways. 1. Rick Barnes is rejuvenated

Rick Barnes and Javan Felix
Jamie Squire/Getty ImagesTexas coach Rick Barnes has a team built for a long March postseason run.
With a roster constructed of two former McDonald’s All Americans -- Cameron Ridley and Myles Turner -- and a bunch of solid top-100 high school recruits, the Longhorns are back to being the type of deep, tough, blue-collar team that defined them when they were more successful. While Barnes was never bothered by the talk of being on the hot seat after the one truly down year, he was bothered by the 2012-2013 team’s selfishness and “me first” attitude and believed it was a reflection on him. Anyone who has coached a team like that dreads stepping onto the practice floor every day. But it was completely different for Barnes a year ago and it is carrying over to this season.

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Kentucky confirms loaded roster 

October, 13, 2014
Andrew Harrison, Aaron HarrisonJamie Squire/Getty ImagesSophomore guards Andrew and Aaron Harrison impressed NBA scouts at last week's draft combine.
Kentucky's NBA draft combine by all accounts was a tremendous success. It was a win-win for the program, coaches, players and pro evaluators in attendance.

Ninety scouts and 30 NBA teams got an opportunity to get a baseline look at nine prospects ranked in the top 50 in various mock drafts. The Kentucky staff provided a booklet for all personnel with a player profile that included analytic frame analysis (height with and without shoes, standing reach, hand size, wing span and body fat), strength, functional movement and the same speed and agility testing that the NBA uses in its combine. The Wildcats even purchased the same equipment to ensure the testing was not compromised.

Scouts were able to make their evaluations against similar athletes, and it’s rare for them to see so many big bodies compete in one venue. They not only got a chance to watch one practice, but three -- which is not the norm. The players were in a no-lose situation in that if they played well, they made a great first impression. If they struggled, they will have the remainder of the season to show what they can do and display improvement that teams are looking for when evaluating young prospects.

After watching in person last Friday, here are my individual player evaluations and observations from the combine.

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Top matchup nightmares for 2014-15 

October, 2, 2014
Delon WrightAP Photo/Ben MargotUtah guard Delon Wright 15.5 points, 6.8 rebounds and 5.3 assists per game last season.
Welcome to the preseason edition of the 2014-15 college basketball “matchup nightmares” series. A matchup nightmare is not just a talented scorer or rebounder, but, more importantly, a player against whom it is extremely difficult to construct a game plan to stop. He does things that you cannot control as an opposing coach. His versatility makes it tough to decide what exactly you want to give and what you want to take away.

This initial list will be void of incoming freshmen, as you must earn it by getting it done in college. Instead, it’ll be comprised of players who’ve positioned themselves due to exceptional seasons last year and/or strong summer development. You’ll also notice a few under-the-radar guys from non-Power 5 conferences.

Here’s my list of the biggest matchup nightmares in college basketball today.

Delon Wright | G | Utah Utes

Wright is one of the most unique, durable and complete players in college basketball, as he impacts the game every time down the floor on both sides of the ball. He does things for which no opposing game plan can account.

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