One National CBB Thought
Each year, the John R. Wooden Award is given to the nation’s top college basketball player. It isn’t given to necessarily the most talented player, but the player who had the best season.
Last year it went to Jalen Brunson of Villanova — a second round NBA draft pick. The year prior? Frank Mason, second round draft pick. Two years before that, it was Frank Kaminsky — who was aggressively shopped at this year’s NBA trade deadline and will likely end up selling cars or playing video games professionally before the freshmen on Ole Miss’s campus have time to graduate.
However, the award does occasionally recognize pure, unbridled greatness. Anthony Davis won in 2012, Kevin Durant in 2007 and Tim Duncan in 1997. They were all No. 1 picks, destined to have their name enshrined in Springfield, Massachusetts at the Naismith Hall of Fame someday. This year’s runaway favorite, freshman Zion Williamson, is cut from the same cloth.
Williamson is averaging 22 points, 9 rebounds, 2 blocks and is shooting a ridiculous 75 percent from shots inside the three point line. He’s on pace to obliterate the previous record for PER (player efficiency rating), which measures a player’s positive accomplishments, subtracts the negatives and gives the player a rating per-minute based on a deeply-convoluted mathematical formula. It’s widely considered the best metric to measure individual player success.
Before this season, the highest recorded PER in NCAA history was 36.9 in 2015 from John Brown of High Point. Zion Williamson is averaging a PER of 42.5! The Wooden Award is his. Pack it up. Place your bets. This is the season of Zion.
Three Ole Miss Things
1) Ole Miss’s struggles on the offensive glass are teetering on the brink of disaster. Against Texas A&M, the Rebels lost the offensive rebounding battle 13-9, and were outscored 15-8 in second-chance points. Against Mississippi State, Ole Miss gave up 15 offensive rebounds and trailed in second-chance points by a margin of 19 to 6.
Against Mississippi State, neither Dominik Olejniczak nor Bruce Stevens registered a defensive rebound. It’s impossible to convey how unexplainable of a statistic that is. The two players on Kermit Davis’s roster whose primary concern is to corral missed shots weren’t able to snag one in a regulation basketball game. Missed rebounds led to second-chance opportunities, and Ole Miss eventually lost by 6.
2) Breein Tyree seems to have turned a corner. In his last four, Tyree has averaged 22.3 points per game, knocking down an average of 3.2 three-pointers per game at a 45 percent clip. Against Texas A&M, scoring a highly efficient 22 points. While a bystander’s view of Tyree’s play might suggest that he controlled the ball, Tyree only had a 20 percent usage rate and shot the ball with a 63 percent true shooting percentage.
Tyree is one of the best half-court scorers in the country, but his ability to expand his game well beyond the line and in transition has opened up Ole Miss’ offense greatly. Kermit Davis has actually encouraged Tyree to continue to line it up from beyond the arc, and with good reason. He’s shooting 40 percent from three on the season.
3) As Ole Miss has slipped since their 10 game win streak earlier in the season, their free throw percentage has not. The Rebels cracked the top-20 nationally in free throw percentage this week, shooting nearly 77 percent as a team from the charity stripe.
It’s easy to fall in love with the three point shot because it’s a sexier way to play basketball, but when you have three guys who can drive to the rim, get fouled and knock down free throws at a high percentage, it’s an easy decision on how to play; get to the line.
One Look Ahead
ESPN bracketologist Joe Lunardi actually moved Ole Miss up in his mock tournament bracket following the loss to Mississippi State. And even after a four-game losing skid, Kermit Davis’s squad is still receiving votes in the AP poll and sits just outside the top 40 in the NET rankings.
The double digit losses that defined Ole Miss’s losing skid will certainly hurt the Rebels in March, but in the eyes of the national media, this team is still tournament bound. Ole Miss will face off with Georgia on Saturday in a game that can be considered a must win. Actually, it’s more of a “can’t lose” than a must win. As the schedule wanes, bad losses weigh far heavier than wins against inferior competition.