Last season might as well served as Quinn Cook’s redshirt season. The then-Duke freshman averaged 4.4 points, 1.9 assists and shot 25-percent in 11.7 minutes per game in 2011-12 and after all the hype surrounding him, looked well on his way to being a bust. Which doesn’t happen much with Mike Krzyzewski’s recruits.
This season, we’re finally seeing exactly why Coach K wanted Cook.
The sophomore point guard is averaging 11.4 points. 6.1 assists and 3.9 boards to accompany his 1.9 steals per game and has taken firm hold of the reins of the Blue Devils’ offense. He serves as the facilitator for national player of the year candidate Mason Plumlee.
But I guess the question is, how?
The obvious answer is hard work, but what’s different?
Let’s examine? (And we’re throwing out “experience” here, that’s a given).
Increased Offensive Role
This might as well be called “the departure of Austin Rivers”. Rivers was not only the point guard — even if his skill set screamed shooting guard — but was the lead scoring threat. When essentially both guard spots were spoken for by one player, that makes it hard to pick a role for Cook. This season, with Rivers gone to the NBA, he can do what he does best, whatever he wants. That starts with being the point man. He gets everyone involved. Along with his 6.1 dimes, four other players besides Cook are averaging double-figures in points. He spreads it out. With Ryan Kelly out with a foot injury, he’ll have to get another starter involved as well.
The Rise of Rasheed Sulaimon
When the freshman Sulaimon got to campus this season, no one saw what they’re currently getting from their starting two-guard. He’s taken on an unexpected scoring load (11.3 points, 41.3-percent shooting) and when both guards spots were question marks coming into the season, this makes things easier for Cook to not only be selective with his shots — he’s 45.3-percent on the season with fifth-most shots attempted on the team — but has another reliable three-point shooter with Sulaimon taking the second-most three’s on the team, behind the obviously lead gun Seth Curry, at 56. Sulaimon has made 21 on the season, for a 37.5-percent clip.
No Need to Be the Leader
In the past, this hasn’t been the case for most star guards at Duke. From Jason Williams to Kyrie Irving to Rivers, the point guard has always been the guy to star, by way of scoring and passing. Cook is fourth on the team in scoring and, as previously mentioned, fifth on the team in field goal attempts. He’s not asked to score. And while Krzyzewski hasn’t demanded a bulk of the scoring load, he has demanded a bulk of the leadership come from the guard spot, at least on the court. With Plumlee, Kelly and Curry all seniors pacing the team in the huddle, Cook is asked only to make sure to minimize mistakes while making plays when the opportunities are presented.
Watching tape of Cook this season, compared to last, is like night-and-day. A number of pundits believed he just didn’t get the system, I’d say that, looking back, the coaching staff was just saving him, grooming him, even. He played 387 minutes all of last season, so far in 2012-13, he’s already clocked 492.
Cook has made 0ne of the largest improvements from last season to this season, and the reasons are equal-parts patience and opportunity.
Over the next day or so, we’re bring you a few superlatives we believe will pan out, or not. The choice is yours to believe. Over the weekend, we’ll have our “Superlatives of the Ridiculous” up.
For now, four serious topics, with four totally subjective answers.
Doug McDermott, Creighton – Shocker, right? The leading returning scorer in the nation at 22.9 points per game has so much in his arsenal that it’s not fair. He can score on the inside (60.1 percent from the field), the perimeter (48.6 percent from three), can get ot the foul line (79.6 percent) and can move without the ball to get open. It’s frankly not even a tough decision. He’s a future NBA lottery pick whenever he chooses to come out for the draft and with the team he has around him, it’s fair to say the Bluejays will have no problem running the Missouri Valley Conference and a deep run in the NCAA Tournament isn’t out of the question. And we all know being on a good team just helps your cause.
Most likely to lead the nation in scoring
Frank Gaines, IPFW – WHO!? That’s the general reaction I get when I tell people this. But this dude can pour it in. He averaged 21.2 last season for the Mastadons (best mascot in sports) and has been the focal point of the Fort Wayne offensive attack for the past two seasons and knows how to handle double-teams and every team’s best defender. He’s a fifth-year senior who will contend with South Dakota State’s Nate Wolters for Summit League Player of the Year honors. Though he’s not as complete at Wolters. But he has to score to help IPFW, so score he will.
Kris Davis, SIU-Edwardsville – Again, WHO!?!? This one is actually easier than you would think. Davis led the nation in 3-point percentage last season but didn’t have the amount of shots to qualify at 59.8 percent (58-of-97). This season, he’s got some eyes on him, even if he does play for one of the worst teams in the Ohio Valley Conference. He’s going to get the green light on a team that doesn’t have a ton of scoring — Davis is their third-leading returning scorer at 11.6 ppg — so expect the volume to come, but does the percentage follow? I think so.
Most likely to lead the nation in rebounding
Dennis Tinnion, Marshall – Not so much of an unknown name. Tinnion averaged 10.2 points and 10.0 rebounds last season in his first year of Division I basketball. With DeAndre Kane back, he won’t be the focal point again and he’s got the athleticism, even at 6-8, 232 pounds, to get to balls that seem impossible. Most of rebounding is positioning and Tinnon lives under the basket. He’ll make his living cleaning glass this year.
PHOTOS COURTESY OF: Creighton University; SIU-Edwardsville
-Bo Ryan is a boring coach. His offenses are boring. His defenses? Boring. One can compare watching his Wisconsin teams to watching paint dry, or getting rusty nails shoved up your eyelids.
It’s almost painful to watch the Badgers. They average 58.8 possession per game according to Ken Pomeroy and his fool-proof numbers. That’s (ahem) the second slowest pace of any team of all 345 programs in Division I college basketball — the only team slower being Western Illinois.
The snail’s pace offense that Ryan has Wisconsin run amounts to 64 points per game, also near the bottom of all D-I teams. It’s excruciating.
But this is just one of the reasons Wisconsin will be a Final Four team. Yea, I said it. Here’s why.
1.) The painfully slow offensive sets.
-The Badgers are a slow-down offense. In a time when patience is a virtue, this team makes it a demand. Being able to run means jack in the NCAA Tournament. Any team that makes the Sweet 16, as Wisconsin now has, can run the fast-break. That’s what elite teams can do. They all have top-tier point guards that can run (I could run through them all, but you can look if you want).
What wins games though? Having the awareness that while the other team wants to pressure you defensively, knowing you’re just content swinging the ball around the perimeter and waiting for the right time to feed the post. It’s a necessity.
2.) A ball-securing point guard.
-Turnovers lose games for teams at this level. Wisconsin has possibly the most reliable point guard in the game when it comes to keeping possession. Jordan Taylor is not only a senior who’s been in this position before (played in 135 career games), but he knows what to do while in it.
The most important thing? Taylor has absolutely no clue how to make the risky pass. That’s a compliment. Along with averaging an even 4.0 assists this season, the 6-1 senior gives it away an average of 1.5 times per game. In 2011-12, he has just 55 total turnovers and just 97 total over the past two seasons (he averaged 4.7 assists last season). This season, he’s got 141 assists as well. In the clutch, you can have your playmakers, for my money, I want a guy who knows not only that a team needs points, but that they need the ball, before they can score.
Speaking of which….
3.) You don’t take their ball.
-Taylor is a major reason for this, but Wisconsin doesn’t give it away very often. In fact, the Badgers only cough it up 15.2 times per game, second in the nation. In big games, holding onto the ball means just as much as having a guy who can score in any way you need. They also know how to keep it from you in the 1-on-1, giving it away on steals only 7.2 times per game, eighth in the nation.
4.) Defense, defense, defense.
-Wisconsin doesn’t just guard you, no, they suffocate you. It’s in the numbers. Checking KenPom.com can really shed some light on it. The Badgers are top 10 in the nation in effective defensive field goal percentage (2nd, 42-percent), 3-point percentage defense (6th, 28.8-percent) and 2-point percentage defense (5th, 41.6-percent). Being that consistent means that you’re doing it right against all levels of competition.
They don’t necessarily force turnovers — they only force an average of 18.3 per game — but if their opponents don’t make shots, that doesn’t matter.
They aren’t flashy, and honestly, they make a lot of crowds that aren’t decked out in their colors want to fall asleep while watching them. But if the opponent is asleep, hey, who can stop them? Another advantage?
-PHOTO: DRAFTXPRESS.COM/GOOGLE IMAGES
-Ok, obvious headline. But all I keep hearing about is how North Carolina point guard Kendall Marshall’s fractured wrist will affect the team as a whole. No one, however, has addressed exactly how.
Sure, this means one of the top distributors in the nation won’t be dishing out assists if he doesn’t play against Ohio — which by all accounts, is a winnable game without him, which is why I believe they save him for the Elite 8 — but what does it limit the Tar Heels main bigs/shooters from doing? A quick look.
Tyler Zeller (16.4 ppg, 55.4-percent from the field): By-in-large, Zeller has been the model of consistency for UNC this season. He’s a definite when it comes to ball distribution in the post (it has to go through him, a la David Padgett for Louisville from 2005-08) but it’s when he gets the ball down low, he does his best work to put it in. Zeller is hardly a face-up guy, which means he lives to get the feeds. Without a penetrate-and-dish PG like Marshall, Zeller will have to learn to possibly live 10-to-15 feet from the basket and use the mid-range jumper he’s slowly developed, or expect double-teams all night.
Harrison Barnes (17.3 ppg, 45.0-percent): By far the one player on the squad who will miss Marshall the least, should he not play. Barnes is nearly NBA-ready with the ability and size to slash in the lane and also create his own shot off the dribble. He doesn’t need Marshall to create for him, but it doesn’t hurt. He does however, benefit probably the most from the defensive collapses that Marshall draws on his forays to the bucket. Barnes will have to create more if Marshall doesn’t play, which could also shine some much-needed light on whether or not this is his final season in Chapel Hill.
James Michael McAdoo (5.8 ppg, 45.5-percent): He’s almost a Barnes-light. He does what the Super Sophomore does, only to a lesser-experienced extent. McAdoo needs Marshall because frankly, he goes off what the floor general tells him. Expect him to take more set shots, if for no other reason, because he’s not going to be able to move much with the ball.
John Henson (13.8 ppg, 10.1 rpg, 50.3-percent): As if it wasn’t bad enough when Henson when down with a wrist injury of his own, now this. Henson has since returned, but while he’s mainly a defensive presence, he’s the soundest on the court for UNC when it comes to acting on the Pick-And-Roll and knowing when to cut to the hoop for a Marshall pass (hence, the dude gets a ton of put-back slams with his insane length). Henson will have to get on the same page with freshman point-man Stilman White quickly or just hope for a lot of second-chance dunks.
Reggie Bullock (8.7 ppg, 42.8-percent): He’s in the same boat as his freshman cohort, James Michael McAdoo, but he lives in the post. Look for Bullock to become the garbage man. He’s going to be looking for a lot of second-chance points, a lot of free throws. Just whatever he can get.
UNC can survive without Marshall, but that means to key players for the Heels will be forced to take on new roles. Roles that could mean if they make a run to the title without Marshall (again, he hasn’t been ruled out yet) it could be a greater run than last year’s UConn team to the ‘ship.
-PHOTO: NATIONOFBLUE.COM/GOOGLE IMAGES
It really doesn’t matter that Temple lost on Saturday at St. Joseph’s. And neither should anyone else.
It’s really weird to think that the Owls, who had an 11-game winning streak snapped by the Hawks, haven’t been talked about more this season.
I get it, they play in the Atlantic 10, not exactly the Big Ten, or even, this season, the ACC. But look a little deeper, and Temple deserves more praise — and it has nothing to do with their no. 22 national ranking.
During their 11-game winning streak, they’ve scored at least 73 points in each game, and held six opponents to 60 points or less. At 22-6 and 10-3 in the A-10, a league hell bent on scoring in bunches, that’s pretty impressive.
Like most teams in the A-1o, their strength lies in the deep ball. They shoot 40.5-percent from 3-point range. That’s 11th in the nation, though surprisingly, second in the conference (behind LaSalle’s 40.8).
It seems like forever ago, but everyone seems to forget that this team has a win over Duke. At home, 78-73, on Jan. 4. It didn’t look like a lot against what most though was a down-trodden Blue Devils squad, but it looks better and better by the day. Throw in wins over Penn and Wichita State, two of the better mid-major programs this season, and the Owls A-10 record almost only needs to be average to get them an At-Large ticket.
Being senior-led doesn’t hurt. Ramone Moore (18.0 ppg) and Juan Fernandez (10.9 ppg) are two of the three scorers for the Owls. The second-leading scorer? Junior Khalif Wyatt’s 17.5 ppg.
And that one thing that everyone always harps on late this the season? Depth. Temple has it. Fernandez, Moore and Rahlir Jefferson-Hollis have started all 28 games this season, with With Anthony Lee playing in all 28, starting 17 and Wyat playing in 27 while starting 25. As for the rest, two of their bench players, T.J. DiLeo and Aaron Brown have notched minutes in all 28 games, while Will Cummings (20) and Michael Eric (15) have played in at least half the games this season, with Eric getting 11 starts. That’s effciency, homes.
It’s tough to define which teams will make runs when the Big Dance rolls around. But honestly, what more does a team have to do? Given the Owls’ schedule. As long as the final two games of their regular season, at home against UMass and at Fordham, are W’s, this squad should earn an at-large berth, with a no. 34 ranking in both the KenPom and Sagarin and a no. 15 ranking at RealTimeRPI.com.
Fran Dunphy has his postseason demons, which may be the only thing holding them back — the Owls haven’t been past the second round, and that was once, last season, in his six seasons in Philadelphia — but that doesn’t mean that this season is poised for a run. With Murray State riding a 28-1 record to national headlines and teams like Indiana sparking their own resurgence, it’s easy to understand why a story like Temple’s — a solid, deep, senior-led squad reeling off wins in an average conference — is overlooked.
Not that Temple probably cares. Just don’t say you saw it coming if this team gets on a roll next month.
But please, Fran, please, bring back the ‘stache. People want the ‘stache.
-PHOTO: GOOGLE IMAGES
From Saturday’s Murray State/St. Mary’s game, Isaiah Canaan alleys, Brandon Garrett oops. Boom goes the dynamite.
MURRAY, Ky. — There’s plenty one could devour when looking at no. 16 Murray State’s 65-51 victory over no. 21 St. Mary’s. I mean, a lot. And afterward, the coaches, they agreed.
But one thing that Gaels coach Randy Bennett did talk about had nothing to do with the game. Well, one name, rather. That was guard Stephen Holt, who sat out with a knee injury suffered in their home loss to Loyola Marymount on Wednesday.
Normally, that wouldn’t be an excuse in a game like this. And if you ask Bennett, it still wasn’t. But the West Coast Conference’s leader in steals not being on the court to guard arguably the Ohio Valley Conference’s soon-to-be Player of the Year, Isaiah Canaan, hurt. Bad. Just look at Canaan’s stat line: 23 points on 9-of-13 shooting, 5-of-8 from 3-point range and only three turnovers.
“It was a big factor,” Bennett said. “You could argue he’s our best player for what he does defensively. We are in a tough spot without him. We didn’t have a lot of quickness out there and were pretty much on our heels.”
It doesn’t help that Holt was St. Mary’s third-leading scorer at 10.4 points per game, on 50-percent shooting on the season (87-for-174). Those numbers could’ve helped in a game that the Gaels couldn’t get a shot to drop from beyond the arch (2-of-14), much less overall (20-of-53, 37.7-percent).
Instead, St. Mary’s was forced to suffer through a 1-for-10 shooting night from guard Jorden Page — who finished with three points — and an overall 12-for-37 shooting night from the healthy starters.
In his post-game press conference, Bennett used Holt’s name too many times for a player who didn’t factor in to the contest. He understands his player’s value. One other thing Bennett knows? That Holt probably won’t play in the Gaels’ next game against Portland on Thursday.
This is definitely not the St. Mary’s team that had folks drooling just last month. Point guard Matthew Dellavadova limped his way to a team-high 17 points, 0-for-4 from three. Racers forward Ed Daniel, all 6-7 of him (eight), out-rebounded St. Mary’s starting front line of Clint Steindl, Rob Jones (10.4 board per game) and Kyle Rowley by himself (seven). They’ve lost three of their last four games and along with the L’s have also lost any hope of an at-large berth, meaning they’ll have to survive possible dates with Gonzaga and BYU in next month’s WCC Tournament to punch a ticket to the Big Dance for the fourth time under Bennett.
“It’s not easy to figure out what the problem is,” Bennett said.
This isn’t the same team we’re used too. And while Stephen Holt may not be the whole solution, tonight, in a game that the Gaels had to win to keep up their at-large hopes, his absence spoke volumes about how far this team has slid in a short amount of time.
-PHOTO: GOOGLE IMAGES/FOXSPORTS.COM