Three-Point Play: AP Top 25, NBA rookies, Cuonzo Martin
In today’s Three-Point Play, Rivals.com national basketball analyst Eric Bossi takes a look at the preseason AP Top 25. Also up for discussion are rookies who have caught his eye during the first week of the season and Cuonzo Martin’s knack for luring players to Missouri that were once committed elsewhere.
1. TAKING A LOOK AT THE PRESEASON AP TOP 25
The preseason AP Top 25 was released on Monday and it wasn’t a surprise to see Kansas leading Kentucky, Gonzaga and Duke in the top four. You would be hard-pressed to get much disagreement from me about those four teams leading the way as we head into the 2018-19 season.
However, if I had to question something about any of those four teams I would be worried about Duke’s lack of an interior game. Don’t get me wrong, the Blue Devils have plenty of perimeter firepower but for all of the talent guys such as R.J. Barrett, Zion Williamson and Cameron Reddish have, they are all streaky jump shooters and until Duke can establish an interior scorer it may be tough to open up the floor and create the space those guys will need to operate.
Looking at the rest of the list I do have some thoughts.
... The first real surprise to me is that West Virginia is so highly regarded. I love watching Bob Huggins' teams get after it and the frontline of Sagaba Konate, Esa Ahmed and Lamont West has a chance to be real dangerous. But the heart and soul of that program has been Jevon Carter and I’m not sure I’m seeing a replacement for him on the roster. I’m not doubting Huggins, but I’d like to see how that backcourt performs before forming much of an opinion on the Mountaineers.
... I had been thinking that Buzz Williams and Virginia Tech could sneak up on some teams this year but I guess I wasn’t alone. The Hokies begin the season at No. 15 and I don’t think it’s expecting too much for their fans to be looking at making at least the second weekend of the NCAA Tournament as a legitimate preseason goal. Forward Chris Clarke doesn’t put up crazy numbers, but if you like toughness he’s an under-appreciated guy to watch.
... Maybe the biggest surprise to me is that the Big East only managed to land one team in the preseason Top 25. Villanova is the defending national champion and checks in at No. 9, and that’s it. I’ll be shocked if that’s still the case at season’s end and the sleeper team I would keep an eye on is Providence.
... Finally, I’m not big into teams playing the media disrespect card. But, wow, how on Earth did Loyola of Chicago not make the preseason top 25? The Ramblers just made a Final Four and return the defending Missouri Valley Conference Player of the Year in Clayton Custer. It just seems, well, disrespectful.
2. TALKING NBA ROOKIES
The NBA season has kicked into full swing and the first week has been incredibly entertaining. The games have been high scoring, there are compelling storylines – LeBron James in L.A., Jimmy Butler vs. the Timeberwolves, Rondo Spitgate, etc. – and the league remains a fun watch. As I always do, I keep a particularly close eye on the young players who aren’t too far removed from playing high school ball. With that in mind, a few rookies have stood out to me.
I’ll start with the guy who has to be the biggest surprise of the rookie class, Allonzo Trier of the Knicks. Despite putting up big numbers at Arizona, the former five-star prospect went undrafted and had to fight his way into the league. I know we are only four games in but I don’t know how anybody couldn’t be impressed with what he’s done. Trier is already playing productive rotation minutes (10.5 points in 21.0 minutes per game), is productive and as much as a guy can look like they are here to stay after a week, he looks like he’s here to stay.
The most impressive rookie so far? That’s an easy call for Trae Young. Look, the Atlanta Hawks are in total rebuild mode and don’t have a lot of weapons. So, they’re putting a lot on the shoulders of the 20-year-old Young. Because some media outlets went completely over the top on their coverage of his big freshman year at Oklahoma, Young began his NBA career with an inordinate number of haters. He’s doing one heck of a job of silencing them. Fresh off of a ridiculous 35-point, 11-assist game in just his third pro outing, Young is averaging 23 points and 8.3 assists per game. He looks very much like the face of the Hawks and a budding star.
I could go on all day about rookies around the league but the last one I want to mention is Luka Doncic of the Dallas Mavericks. Born in Slovenia, the 19-year-old was a Euroleague sensation before making his way to the NBA Draft and raised some eyebrows by skipping the summer league to rest. He was a lightning rod for conversation leading into the season and I had sat out discussions because, outside of YouTube clips, I knew nothing about him. After watching him for a few games with the Mavs, I’m onboard with him as a legit NBA player. He has a well-rounded game, is a creative passer, plays with some flair and, as a 43-year-old dad, how can I not at least root a little for a rookie with a body that looks an awful lot like my own?
3. CUONZO MARTIN MASTERING THE ART OF “FLIPPING” PLAYERS
For years, one of the things that kept me from enjoying baseball was all of the stupid unwritten rules. As time goes by, those rules have gone by the wayside and the game has become enjoyable. For years, one of the unwritten rules of college basketball has been to not recruit committed players.
However, let’s be real, unwritten rules have never stopped coaches from chasing a player they want and more than ever kids are committing early, backing off of early commits, looking elsewhere and looking to find greener pastures after coaching changes. Because of that, it’s foolish to not at least keep a good pulse on what is happening out there with committed players that were once on your radar or could be down the road. I’m not saying go out and tamper with guys or be over the top, but at least know what the temperature is.
Missouri’s Cuonzo Martin and his staff seem to be grasping this concept as well as any program in the country. Over the weekend the Tigers flipped four-star forward Tray Jackson from Minnesota to the Tigers. Given how badly Missouri needed to land a versatile frontcourt player it is a big deal for the Tigers and a really tough blow for Richard Pitino and the Gophers.
Look at Missouri’s recruiting since Martin arrived in the spring of 2017. Finding players who were once committed elsewhere has worked out incredibly well for the Tigers so far. Michael Porter Jr. and Jontay Porter were both headed to Washington to play for Lorenzo Romar and their father Michael Porter Sr. Romar gets fired, so Martin hires Porter Sr. and lands the Porter brothers (and Blake Harris who ultimately transferred). He capitalized on coaching turnover at Illinois to land both Jeremiah Tilmon and Javon Pickett. Four-star freshman shooting guard Torrence Watson was initially committed to Ohio State, freshman point guard Xavier Pinson was originally ticketed for Kent State and now Mizzou added Jackson.
While opposing fans may not like it, I see recruiting heading more in this direction. Martin and his staff deserve credit for making it work to their advantage.