Beyond the Lottery: Perry Jones III

Baylor University sophomore Perry Jones III announced on April 9th that he would throw his hat in the NBA ring. Jones came out of high school as one of the top players in the country and had a solid couple seasons in Waco, helping the Bears to a 38-8 record in 2011-12.

The 6’11”, 238-pound combo forward averaged 14 ppg and 7.6 rpg while shooting 50% from the field this past season. His top translatable pro strengths are his size and elite athleticism. At almost 7 feet tall, Jones can play down low or on the perimeter. He is also extremely fast and fluid going end-to-end, and his jumping ability is off the charts.

The 20-year-old Duncanville, Texas native posted season highs of 31 points, 14 boards, 4 blocks and 4 steals. Jones moves well without the ball, makes sharp cuts and is skilled in the pick-and-roll. He uses both hands off the dribble and can get to the rim consistently with his arm length and quick, long first step.

PJ3 has big, sticky hands and is able to catch tight passes in the post or in transition. Once he has the rock, he finishes well, especially when he faces up slower-footed big men. Jones possesses a promising jumper and should become a legitimate long-range threat with time and practice.

Jones’ rebounding upside is enormous. As with many young, natural talents, Jones will be a glass-cleaning menace, both defensively and offensively, once he locks in mentally and decides to crash the boards. On the defensive end, Jones has all of the tools to one day match up with 2’s, 3’s and 4’s thanks to his wingspan, footwork and shot-blocking abilities. As with his rebounding, Jones’ overall defensive game will be determined as much by his mental toughness and dedication as his physicality.

Though Jones displayed his potential for greatness at Baylor, he was inconsistent. The consensus seems to be that if Jones can add fire to his furnace, work on his body strength and build confidence, he’ll enjoy a long, productive NBA career. Look for Perry Jones III to go midway through the first round on June 28th.

Beyond the Lottery: Reggie Jackson

Boston College guard Reggie Jackson stands 6’3” but has a 7’ wingspan. He is exceptionally fast and gets to the rim easily and fluidly, either with his great first step or effective crossover dribbling. Once at the rim, he possesses tremendous jumping ability and body control.

This past season Jackson averaged 18.2 points per game (third best in the conference), 4.5 assists and 4.3 rebounds. He shot 50% from the field, 80% from the line and 42% from 3-point range. Jackson’s ability to attack the basket as well as shoot from bonus-point land makes him a tough cover for the other side’s lead or off guard. And that tremendous wingspan gives Jackson a great natural advantage when he’s getting his hands in passing lanes and disrupting ball movement.

The 21-year-old Colorado Springs native improved across the board during his three seasons in Chestnut Hill. He was named to the All-ACC First Team for the 2010-2011 season. Jackson is a natural scorer who can take control on the offensive end. The Eagles were a team in re-group and re-building mode this year, and the combo guard didn’t have a lot of help which allowed opposing teams to ‘key’ on him. This season-long pressure to be ‘the man’ for the young BC squad will serve him well at the NBA level where the challenge of competing with bigger, veteran, more talented perimeter players will be a nightly occurrence.

Esteemed long-time Boston Globe sports columnist and BC alum Bob Ryan has written that Reggie Jackson is the most athletic and explosive guard in school history. With his above-average offensive arsenal and the potential to be a lock-down defender, Jackson will be a good addition to a team in need of backcourt depth If he can improve his passing and court vision to become more effective at the point guard position.

Beyond the Lottery: Kenneth Faried

Morehead State University power forward Kenneth Faried ranked third in the NCAA in rebounding his sophomore year. After his junior season, the 6’8” 225-pound Faried finished in the number two glass cleaning spot nationally. And in this past 2010-11 hardwood collegiate campaign, the four-year starter led the 345-team Division 1 in boards (averaging 14.5 per contest) and was named a second-team All- American. Faried is the all-time collegiate leader in total rebounds with 1,673. He passed a record that had stood since 1997 by a guy with some basketball cred – future Hall-of-Famer Tim Duncan.

The 21-year-old New Jersey native wasn’t heavily recruited out of Newark’s Technology High School, but found a great home with the Eagles at the fairly small, rural public college in northeast Kentucky. Over his four seasons in the Ohio Valley Conference, the ultra-energetic 2X OVC POY improved not only his bread-and-butter skill of rebounding, but also his scoring, shot-blocking and field goal percentage.

His NBA-caliber athleticism, jumping ability and constant willingness to bang and perform the dirty work of an effective, smothering defense-focused player are his main strengths. Although he racked up most of his numbers in a smaller D1 conference, Faried played well against top-quality, ‘glamour’ programs when MSU faced off against bigger foes. In fact, he collected 17 rebounds in 13th seeded MSU’s stunning upset of 4th seeded in-state rival Louisville in the 2011 Big Dance.

Scouts have stated that Faried may be too small to play the 4 at the next level and that his offensive repertoire is limited, especially his face-the-basket skills and free throw shooting. However, the pluses with this hard-working Garden Stater are difficult to overlook. His intangibles in regard to hustle, motor, body-positioning and active hands cannot be taught. Not to mention there is the huge potential upside of landing on an NBA team where he’ll get to focus on sharpening his strengths without the burden he faced at Morehead, where he was often asked to do everything in order for the scrappy Eagles to succeed.

Mike’s Take: 2011 NCAA Championship

Like last year’s NCAA Championship, we have a classic matchup between a basketball powerhouse from a big school in a major conference, Connecticut, and a darling, mid-major team with the small school image, Butler, who has already pulled off a number of upsets in this tournament. One thing both teams have in common is that neither was expected to make it this far.

UConn is a very young squad with a roster full of gifted athletes, a number of them top recruits from across the country. The Huskies bounced back from a mediocre regular season and wound up playing their best ball when it counted most, winning five games in five days to capture their seventh Big East championship. Led by superstar junior Kemba Walker, Jim Calhoun’s squad has continued its winning ways throughout the NCAA tournament.

After falling just one basket shy of the title to Duke last season, America’s favorite underdog has earned its second consecutive chance at winning an NCAA Championship. It’s remarkable that Butler has made it back to the Finals again after losing one of their key guys. The first Bulldog to be selected in the 2011 NBA Draft since 1950, forward Gordon Hayward was drafted ninth overall by the Utah Jazz after commanding Butler’s NCAA campaign his sophomore season. Their continued success is a tribute to Butler’s program, to head coach Brad Stevens and to his coaching staff. Butler has a great mental toughness about them. They also have some talented players who may have slipped under the radar until now, but ultimately Butler has been successful because they play so well together as a team.

Tonight we’re going to enjoy a very intense, low-scoring game. But, whereas the Blue Devils were the overwhelming favorites in the 2010 Finals, most won’t be surprised if the Bulldogs wind up winning the championship that eluded them last year.

Fired Up: NCAA Postseason Tourneys Are Tough on Top Teams

Sweet Sixteen action gets underway tonight. Hope you filled out your NCAA brackets in pencil. With teams like Vanderbilt, Villanova, Georgetown and No.1 seeded Kansas out of the running, it seems there have been more upsets than ever before. This is truly March madness.

All collegiate players dream of the chance to compete in the electrifying NCAA Tournament. But before getting there these kids have to battle through intense regular season schedules followed by postseason conference tournaments. As many have argued, these end-of-year tournaments might be hurting some of the higher seeds. Tournament play wears them out before the real show gets underway and causes some bubble teams to lose bids as well.

Photo by Ronald Martinez/Getty Images

Years ago there weren’t post season tournaments in most conferences, but now they are requisite. For teams that normally don’t have a shot at they NCAA Tournament, they offer valuable opportunities. Not only are they moneymakers, but they also offer different regions a chance to recreate the excitement of the NCAA Tournament and are as close as most teams will ever come to the real thing. For some lucky underdogs with mediocre or even losing records, winning their conference tournament winds up being their golden ticket to the NCAA Tournament. The automatic bid even benefits some teams in small conferences that have impressive regular season records and successfully capture their postseason tourney titles, but would never get a bid otherwise because the NCAA knows they don’t play tough schedules.

Photo by Ronald Martinez/Getty Images

On the other hand kids who play through a whole season in major conferences like the Big East, Big Ten, Big 12, Pac 10, ACC and SEC are beat up by the time they enter the NCAA Tournament. They go up against difficult rivals all season long and then have to get through their demanding postseason tournaments. Four or five days later, a one or two seed may have to go up against a lesser known but nonetheless challenging opponent in the NCAA Tournament.

Oftentimes the stronger teams from tough conferences are not mentally ready to play at the tops of their games at this point because so much has been taken out of them in postseason tournament play. Teams coming out of smaller, less competitive conferences are fresher and since any NCAA Tournament game is the biggest game of their lives, they are ready to play. They get a chance to knock off Goliath – so a matchup in the NCAA Tourney is their equivalent of a Super Bowl or the World Series and they are amped for the opportunity to topple a top team.

Also an upset in a smaller conference tournament can ultimately prevent a team that’s on the cusp in a big, competitive conference from getting in due to the auto-bid. With the fourth best overall record in the ACC, Virginia Tech is an example of a team that arguably should have been in the NCAA. But as a result of getting knocked out of the ACC Tournament by last place Miami in conjunction with an upset in the Conference USA Tournament, there was no room for them this year. University of Houston finished seventh in the regular season, but upset number one UTEP in the Conference USA Championship game to make the NCAA for the first time in nearly two decades thanks to the automatic bid. Because UTEP dominated the regular season they earned a bid anyway. So two teams from the small Conference USA got in, whereas normally only one team would make it to the NCAA Tournament based on its size.

While it’s always a thrill to see an unlikely hero have his moment in the sun, in the end the postseason conference tournaments can really hurt deserving teams from big conferences – whether they forfeit their bids to one hit wonders from smaller conferences or come up short in the NCAA Tournament itself.

Do you think postseason conference tournaments should be eliminated?