Over here at Liberty Ballers, we've been dying for the college basketball season just as much as we would like a Sixers win. The action kicked off Friday night and carried through the weekend, and myself plus three other staff members were excited to break down some of the action.
LSU vs. McNeese State
From Jake Pavorsky: After spending most of the past year drooling over his highlight mixtapes, college basketball fans finally got their first real taste of what Ben Simmons can do. He didn't disappoint either, stuffing the stat sheet with 11 points, 13 rebounds, 5 assists, and 2 blocks. Part of what makes the Aussie sensation's game so bewildering is that he looks like a positionless player (in a good way). He'll never be LeBron James, mostly because there is only one LeBron James ever, but Simmons impacts the game from multiple position in a way that rivals James (and Magic Johnson too). He's comfortable handling the ball out on the break like a point guard, finding open teammates without even looking in their direction. Even posting up as a front court player, Simmons does a real good job of diagnosing defenses and finding open teammates. He was also much more effective rebounding than I realized, positioning himself well to get a couple of difficult tip-ins.
Simmons wasn't as involved in the offense from a scoring standpoint as I thought he would be, but those touches will certainly come as we get into the thick of the season. But all things considered, it was a really solid debut from the 19-year-old Swiss Army knife. He's got big things ahead of him.
Duke vs. Siena/Bryant
From Max Rappaport: It feels like every year a prospect like Brandon Ingram comes along… impossibly long, perilously raw, and, like, totally the next KD. I’ve fallen for these types before – the Kelly Oubres, the Otto Porters, the Austin Dayes, and each time I’ve been left heartbroken by their overwhelming meh-ness. I assured myself coming into this college basketball season that I wouldn’t let myself do the same with Brandon Ingram, but dammit does he look really, really good.
Something that I think is really important to note right off the bat is that Brandon Ingram is not, nor will he ever be, Kevin Durant. He simply not that type of scorer. Despite the freshman forward's freakish measurables and smooth outside stroke he's not anywhere near the caliber of prospect that Durant was in 2007. Having just turned 18 a couple months ago, Ingram is still has a lot of room to grow offensively, but he's definitely way less raw than I expected him to be.
The North Carolina native stands 6'10" and has a 7' 3" wingspan and 9' 1.5" standing reach. And although he currently weighs right around 200 pounds, his frame looks like it could support another 20-30 pounds of muscle. To me, his body reminds me way more of a young Giannis Antetokounmpo than of a young Kevin Durant, which is still awesome. He's high-waisted with long legs that allow him to run the floor ease and get from the three-point line to the rim with one long stride. I mean, just look at him in a defensive stance:
What differentiates him from Antetokounmpo, though, is his ability to score from the perimeter, and he put that on display in Duke's 113-75 win over Bryant on Saturday. After going 1-9 from beyond the arc in his debut game against Siena on Friday, Ingram knocked down four of the six threes he took and scored 21 points in 24 minutes on 7-11 shooting against Bryant. His offense was largely what I expected - excellent in transition but definitely a work in progress in the half court. He had a handful of really nice isolation drives that surprised me a little bit, and while he's not much of a playmaker with the ball in his hands he seemed to make the right play more often than not in the two games I watched. He also moved off the ball better than I thought he could, especially against Bryant. Still, he still had the appearance of a guy who doesn't yet know what to do with his gangly body, moving somewhat awkwardly and at times deferring to his teammates too much instead of forcing the issue himself.
Ingram's one of a handful of college players I'll have my eye on all season. And while I believe that LSU's Ben Simmons is the top prospect in this year's class by a pretty wide margin, the Duke freshman is someone whose name could creep into that conversation come June.
While I chose to watch Duke this weekend entirely for the sake of scouting Brandon Ingram, Grayson Allen was the most dominant player on the floor in both of the Blue Devils' games this weekend. The sophomore combo guard scored 26 points against Siena on Friday night and followed that up with 28 points against Bryant on Saturday.
Allen didn't play much as a freshman, averaging 9.2 minutes per game last year. In 34 games, he logged 20 minutes or more on just three occasions, most memorably in Duke's National Championship victory over Wisconsin, in which he scored 16 points on 5-8 shooting in 21 minutes off the bench. The 20-year-old, who plays like Russell Westbrook but looks like a young Corey Feldman, is an explosive athlete with a penchant for flair. Through two games, he's scored 54 points on 16-31 shooting (51.6 FG%) to go along with eight assists, eight boards, and just three turnovers.
In reality, Allen is more White Wroten than White Westbrook and figures more as a microwave scorer off the bench than as one of the best players on a playoff team. But Allen's stock remains very much in flux, and he's another player who could quickly climb draft boards if he continues to score so prolifically and efficiently. On the year, he's converted five of the 12 threes he's attempted and has gone 17-for-18 from the free-throw line. If he comes out this year, he's likely a target for the Sixers with either the Heat or Thunder picks, but I'm curious to see where his stock stands in a month or two once he's gotten some more games under his belt against stronger competition.
On Tuesday at 7:30pm, Duke and Kentucky square off on ESPN, so definitely tune in for that if you get the chance.
Wisconsin vs. Siena
From Wesley Share: Wisconsin looked good last night, and Nigel Hayes was handsome as ever.
What I can't shake is that I really wish Nigel Hayes had come out after last season. He'll have a larger role this season, and his numbers will be gaudier, but he had a real nice showing late last season that surely would've locked him into a moderate slot on draft night, and he probably would've been much better off developing in an NBA system too. Player development isn't always the first thing on Bo Ryan's mind (and that's being kind), and I don't think that system will do him many favors in the long run.
Hayes is super intriguing as a new-age four man, too. He possesses a really well-rounded offensive skill-set, can create for himself and others and he's already a fairly versatile perimeter defender with good size (6' 8", 7' 3.5" wingspan) and mobility.
The bounce-back win for Wisconsin, and Hayes' strong second-half showing after getting in early foul trouble were nice to see, but did nothing to amend my feelings on that situation.
Temple vs. UNC
From Matt Carey: North Carolina's veteran bigs opened the season with what was expected to be a pretty tough test against a normally defensively stingy Temple squad.On gameday, however, the Owls learned that sophomore forward Obi Enechionya, possibly their best big man, would miss the game with an injury, and from that point on, it became open season for Carolina's veteran bigs, senior Brice Johnson and junior Kennedy Meeks.
Johnson is an athletic forward at 6-9, 225 pounds and looked explosive against Temple, scoring 16 points and pulling down 10 rebounds. He also didn't exactly endear himself with an emphatic poster dunk in the last minute of the game where he hung on the rim and got dumped by freshman guard Levan Alston. Meeks was a force that Temple had no answer for. He simply overpowered Temple's bigs, most notably Temple center Devontae Watson, who was outclassed. Meeks finished with 25 points (on 10-14 shooting) and 11 rebounds. Defensively, both were impactful. Johnson was solid, forcing Temple senior Jaylen Bond into a couple jump shots that could politely be called "regrettable." He also had two blocks, while Meeks racked up three blocks and was effective, although a lot of that was just as a result of his superior size.
It was a strong showing for both, but I'd like to see them go up against a larger and more skilled backcourt to really get an idea of where they are at this point.