Category Archives: Basketball

Notre Dame WBB continues to roll…but tests are coming

The early portion of the Notre Dame’s women basketball season has been all about fine-tuning things for a challenging December schedule.

Over the next two weeks, they face national power UConn and the 14th-ranked Maryland Terrapins. UConn shooting guard Azzi Fudd, the number one recruit in the class of 2021, averaged 30 points per game through the season’s first three contests. The Huskies have five players averaging in double figures.

None are as dangerous as Fudd, however, who has developed a lethal ability to stop her dribble and pull up in the mid-range game. Her quick release means defenders have to close out in a hurry when she shoots from beyond the arc. Fudd sees the floor well and finds her teammates with bounce or chest passes in transition. Her euro step going left is complemented by an ability to finish with her left hand going to the cup.

The Huskies will use high post back screens to free Fudd up cutting to the hoop (2nd QTR/3:17, Texas ’22). She finishes well near the rim.

Her quick hands make her a viable defender as well (2nd QTR/1:10, Texas ’22) and she’s averaged nearly three steals per game through the team’s first three contests.

But it is her three-point shooting prowess that Notre Dame has to contain. She will most likely be the best guard they’ve faced since 2021-22 Pac-12 Freshman of the Year (media) -Cal’s Jayda Curry- put up 24 points on them in a 90-79 victory earlier this month. In that contest, Curry hit on 44-percent of her nine three-point attempts and the Golden Bears knocked down 41-percent of their 22 three-point attempts.

Maryland is led by first-team All-Big Ten guard Diamond Miller. Miller, a former New Jersey Gatorade Player of the Year, actually committed to Maryland despite interest from Notre Dame during the recruiting process. Miller was also one of the nation’s top recruits back in 2019.

She runs the floor in transition, attacks defenders going to her right or left and finishes with strength around the basket. In addition, she is a factor cutting to the basket in the team’s half-court sets. Miller was named the Big Ten’s Player of the Week after scoring 32 points and putting up 10 rebounds versus Baylor on November 20th. Miller is shooting a career-high 40-percent from beyond the arc. It has been a bounce-back year for Miller thus far.

Before they get to either of those battles, the Fighting Irish have a tall task with Arizona State (4-0) this Saturday.

Notre Dame allows opponents to hit just 34-percent of their field goals through four games. Their guards rebound the ball extremely well and have for the past two seasons. Maddy Westbeld leads the team with two blocked shots per game and 6-foot-1 sophomore guard Sonia Citron -the 2022 ACC Freshman of the Year- leads the team with nearly eight rebounds per game.

Notre Dame forward Maddy Westbeld's activity complements fellow guards Dana Mabrey and Olivia Miles
Notre Dame forward Maddy Westbeld (No. 21 pictured), a 2021 first-team All-ACC selection and ACC Freshman of the Year, has averaged nearly 13 points and seven rebounds (6.8) per game in her career.

On the offensive boards, they are led by former Longhorn center Lauren Ebo. The former Penn State Nittany Lion started 30 games for Texas in 2021-22 and scored in double figures 13 times. Against California earlier this season, she posted eight points, three offensive rebounds and made all six of her free throw attempts before fouling out. She had five turnovers in the contest.

Olivia Miles shooting a free throw versus California in 2022
Notre Dame guard Olivia Miles excels on both the offensive and defensive ends of the floor. She averaged nearly four steals per game (3.5) through the team’s first five contests.

The Fighting Irish have a backcourt that complements each other well. First-team All-ACC guard Olivia Miles is a slasher who is still trying to gain a level of consistency shooting from beyond the arc. She runs the floor well, finds teammates with vision and wrecks havoc defensively. Through five games, Miles -the team’s leading scorer- was averaging three-and-a-half steals per contest. Turnovers have been an issue for Miles, as she averages less than a 2-to-1 (1.88:1) turnover-to-assist ratio.

If you’re looking for an equalizer, it would have to be Notre Dame point guard Dara Mabrey. She is savvy, competitive and never afraid to take the big shot. The former Virginia Tech Hokie is a 39.5-percent career three-point shooter and ranks as nearly automatic from the free throw line (84-percent career). Turnovers have also been an issue at times for Mabrey.

Notre Dame HC Niele Ivey giving a hand to 2021 ACC Freshman of the Year Maddy Westbeld
Notre Dame head coach Niele Ivey stood out as a player at Notre Dame, assistant coach and led the Fighting Irish to the Sweet 16 in just her second season as head coach.

Head coach Niele Ivey is beginning to put her stamp on the program after following legendary head coach Muffet McGraw. The team’s combination of young talented players like Westbeld (2021 ACC Freshman of the Year), Miles and Citron complement a tough mix of veteran transfers in Ebo, Mabrey and Kylee Watson (Oregon). Could the recipe take the Fighting Irish from last year’s Sweet 16 appearance to a Final Four appearance in 2023?

The upcoming tests this month could provide some clarity.

Collins’ vision and calm stand out

St. Louis Billikens point guard Yuri Collins -the nation’s assist leader through five games- has improved his assist-to-turnover ration in his third year on campus. His best performance came against Memphis earlier this month, when he produced 22 points and nine assists in the team’s home upset of the Tigers.

He has been nearly automatic from the stripe (81-percent), but has surprisingly taken a step back shooting from long range (27-percent). Collins, a first-team All-Atlantic-10 performer in 2021-22, led the NCAA in assists per game as a sophomore.

So how does he get it done?

Generally, it starts with allowing the game to come to him. Rarely out of control on the floor, he changes speeds as a ball handler to draw defenders. In many of these instances, Collins already has an outlet in mind.

His entry passes (particularly bounce passes) are accurate and offer his low post options to catch the ball in rhythm on the way up to the cup.

People are beginning to take notice of his multi-faceted skill-set, but none one is more grateful his own head coach, former Kentucky point guard Travis Ford to have him back in the mix.

“(It was) an incredible phone call. It was a great feeling,” Ford said about talking to Collins after he had made the decision to return. “We talked, and when I hung up there was a celebration in the office, no question. We’re so excited that he’s going to be running our team, as he should be.” (https://www.ksdk.com/article/sports/college/slu/slu-point-guard-yuri-collins-returns/63-244b5ce3-5937-4aa5-8690-9352cad281e9).

Many remember Ford from his time at Kentucky as a starting point guard in the early 1990s after transferring from Missouri. At the time, he set a single-season record for three-point field goals at Kentucky on his way to All-SEC honors.

As for Collins, he can be posted up by taller personnel on the low block (see McCadden, 1st half, Memphis ’22) if caught with an unfavorable switch during half court possessions.

Yuri Collins PG-St. Louis shooting a free throw vs. Memphis
St. Louis point guard Yuri Collins is currently hitting 81% of his free throws in 2022-23.

The 6-foot frame could become a problem for him defensively in certain matchups, although he does compete favorably on that end of the floor.

His range does not allow him to shoot with a quick trigger release, so the team often sets ball screens for him to attempt some of those shots from the wing (2nd half, left wing, Memphis ’22).

The postseason will be huge for the senior point guard if he decides to enter the NBA Draft. If he can prove capable of hitting consistently from outside to extend defenses, then his NBA prospects would increase three-fold.

If not, then he may be regulated to playing overseas, but the floor general plays with a calm that definitely creates some future possibilities.

In fact, he went through the NBA evaluation process a year ago before deciding to come back for the 2022-23 campaign.

Bates progresses…but how much?

Early against Michigan on November 11th, former Memphis and current Eastern Michigan star guard Emoni Bates worked without the ball. On one out of bounds play in particular, he re-set and hit a jumper from the corner. His long range stroke has continued to improve or at least remain intact.

Bates is more of a quick than high-riser. This aids above average foot speed in the open floor (1st Half/17:42, UM ’22). That burst actually enabled him to finish a follow dunk in the lane (1st Half/6:48, UM ’22) and cut to the basket (one-hand dunk) in the second half. His overall width can make up for any deficiencies in terms of true bounce.

Dating back to his prep level playing days, the range has always gone well beyond the arc. He hit a 25-footer from the wing against Michigan.

During the first half of this contest, Bates actually was part of an Eastern Michigan squad that led the 22nd-ranked Wolverines at one point. There were fallaway jumpers off one foot, step back three-pointers from 28 feet and drives to the basket through contact.

A strong suit in his game revolves around handle. It is more reminiscent of a 6-foot-1 guard than 6-foot-10 wing player.

Emoni Bates dribbling the ball during the 2021 Nike EBYL
Months after starring in the 2021 Nike EBYL, Bates reclassified to the 2021 recruiting cycle before enrolling at Memphis.

There have been more stretches this season where Bates has played within the scope of the offense. It is important to remember that he skipped his senior year of high school. The inaugural season at Memphis basically represented his senior year after re-classifying to the 2021 recruiting cycle.

After a tumultuous 2022 offseason that featured a number of off the court headlines, Bates has settled down.

Playing with one of his old teammates from the Bates Fundamentals AAU squad could be part of the positive acclimation to the MAC.

Orlando Lovejoy -a 6-foot-2 freshman guard- is currently averaging nearly nine points per game for the team.

But starting a season fast isn’t anything new for Bates. As a freshman at Memphis in 2021-22, he began the year by making 50-percent of his first 18 three-point attempts (three games).

And the rest of the season?

Bates connected on just 27.5-percent of the remaining 58 three-point attempts.

He was marginally effective as a free throw shooter, did not distribute the ball efficiently and turned the ball over too often in his minutes on the floor. Increasingly, he relied on low percentage shots.

In the four games since the breakout Michigan performance, some of those trends have reappeared. The three-point shooting has not slowed down at all, as Bates continues to connect at nearly a 45-percent clip. Prior to his collegiate years, Bates was at least a competent distributor. Increasingly, the Eagles (1-5) use him as both an on or off the ball performer.

Emoni Bates G-Bates Fundamentals
Eastern Michigan small forward Emoni Bates has connected on 44-percent of his three-point field goals through the team’s first five games in 2022-23.

The results have not always yielded succinct ball distribution.

In fact, he has a nearly a one-to-three turnover-to-assist ratio (1:2.8) through five games.

The most notable regression has been the shots inside of the three-point stripe. If you strip away the nine two-point field goals against Michigan, Bates has hit just 30.4-percent of the two-point field goal attempts in his last four games.

Defensively, he continues to be a work in progress. Getting stronger will be a key for Bates as he transitions to the next level. Injuries were a major part of the inconsistent freshman season at Memphis.

Overall, the first five games of the year for Bates has shown notable strides, but there is still work to be done.

But the most important part of the progress may very well be defined by how those around him have accepted him.

“He wanted to come here because he felt at home, he felt comfortable, he felt connected to his teammates,” Eastern Michigan head coach Stan Heath said. “All those things matter. Fit matters. When players choose schools, they should go where they fit.

“He fits here and he feels real comfortable.” (https://www.detroitnews.com/story/sports/college/2022/11/12/he-fits-here-comfortable-back-home-emoni-bates-puts-on-a-show-at-lca/69640228007/)

Paolo Banchero PF-Orlando Magic: 2022 NBA Draft, 1st overall pick

Banchero, the 2022 ACC Rookie of the Year, stood out as a versatile chess piece for the Blue Devils. He comes from athletic bloodlines and his basketball intelligence shines on the court. At 250 pounds, his strength has been evident since his playing days for the Seattle Rotary AAU in the Nike EBYL.

The consensus second-team All-American registered 12 double-doubles for the team this past season. Banchero, a former high school quarterback and Washington Gatorade Player of the Year in basketball, led the team in rebounding and finished second in assists.

Banchero finished his freshman season at Duke shooting nearly 48-percent from the field.

Duke had a number of players from its national runner-up squad selected in the draft. Three of Banchero’s teammates (Wendell Moore, Jr., Mark Williams, A.J. Griffin) went in the first round and a fourth, Trevor Keels, was selected with the 42nd pick in the second round. It marked the school’s most draft picks since the 2018 NBA Draft, when it had four players selected in the first 37 picks.

Jabari Smith PF-Houston Rockets: 2022 NBA Draft, 1st Round, 3rd overall

Former Auburn Tigers second-team All-American Jabari Smith was arguably the top prospect in the 2022 NBA Draft. It ranked as a minor surprise that he was still on the board with the third overall pick. In 2021-22, the 6-foot-10-inch power forward shot 42% from three-point range while averaging over seven rebounds per game.

Jabari Smith PF-Houston Rockets
Smith’s ability to shoot over the top of defenders makes him a tough matchup for the opposition.

His silky smooth mid-range game complements deep shooting capability. In addition, his defensive skill allows him to switch on that end of the floor. Smith, the 2022 SEC Freshman of the Year, joins fellow All-SEC performers Tari Eason and TyTy Washington as three Rockets first-rounders who could pay dividends for years to come.

Shaedon Sharpe G-Portland Trail Blazers: 2022 NBA Draft, 1st Round, 7th overall

Sharpe’s eye-opening athleticism is subsidized by fine size for a shooting guard. The former Kentucky guard never played a minute for the ‘Cats, but maintained his reputation prior to entering the 2022 NBA Draft.

The former No. 1 overall recruit in the class of 2021 averaged nearly 22 points per game for UPlay Canada in the 2021 Nike EBYL last summer. Sharpe reclassified from the 2022 recruiting class prior to signing and then redshirting with the Wildcats in 2021.

The Trail Blazers recently re-signed Anfernee Simons to a four-year deal and this makes the drafting of Sharpe more significant. If he can work his way into the backcourt rotation for the team, then it only adds to the team’s scoring capability in its second rotation. Scoring will be important after losing SF-SF Joe Ingles in free agency to the Milwaukee Bucks this offseason. Ingles never played for the Trail Blazers after injuring his knee last season.

Will Sharpe have a transition to the league that mirrors Simons’ or former 2013 seventh overall pick Ben McClemore? McClemore averaged just over 10 points per game for the team in 2021-22 and is currently an unrestricted free agent. The Trail Blazers recently signed former Golden State Warriors guard Gary Payton II, so playing time will not come easy in the team’s backcourt.

Jalen Duren C-Detroit Pistons (via Charlotte): 2022 NBA Draft, 1st Round, 13th overall

Duren was involved in a draft night trade that sent him from the Charlotte Hornets to the Detroit Pistons. The Pistons young roster brings plenty of opportunity for Duren, once considered the No. 1 prospect in the Class of 2022 before reclassifying to play for head coach Anfernee Hardaway at Memphis. The excitement of Cade Cunningham as a former number one overall pick could signal the start of a Pistons resurgence.

Last summer, Duren was competing for the No. 1 spot in the 2022 recruiting cycle with his soon-to-be teammate at Memphis, Emoni Bates, now heading to play at Eastern Michigan. Duren led Team Final to a 2021 Peach Jam title while averaging 23 points and eight rebounds per game. The Philadelphia native then reclassified to the 2021 class. Fast forward a year later and the AAC Freshman of the Year could become a starting center in the NBA.

Duren averaged over 12 points per game for the Memphis Tigers in 2021-22.

The Hornets traded his draft rights to the Detroit Pistons after taking him 13th overall. Purdue’s Jaden Ivey, whom the team took fifth overall, could pave a driveway for the team’s foundation through this draft. Duren’s NBA-ready frame may be put to the test early, where his rare length (7’5″ wingspan) should be relied upon to protect the rim for teammates.

Ochai Agbaji SG/SF-Cleveland Cavaliers: 2022 NBA Draft, 1st Round, 14th overall

Agbaji, yet another Mokan Elite AAU product to star at Kansas, earned 2022 NCAA Final Four Most Outstanding Player honors. The 2022 Big 12 Player of the Year improved his three-point percentage each season while on campus, finishing at a 41-percent clip from behind the arc this past year. His 6-foot-10-inch wingspan complements a 6-foot-6-inch, 217-pound frame.

Agbaji heads to an improving Cavaliers roster that already sports quality personnel on the wing. He could share minutes with Isaac Okoro, who we spotlighted prior to the 2020 NBA Draft. Okoro produced four straight double-digit scoring games in December 2021 and had two 20-point efforts this March. In addition, he improved his shooting from behind the arc by nearly six percentage points from his NBA all-rookie campaign. The pairing provides insurance in case they are unable to retain the services of 2023 free agent Caris LeVert, who was picked up in a midseason trade this past season.

Tari Eason F-Houston Rockets: 2022 NBA Draft, 1st Round, 17th overall

After transferring from Cincinnati, Tari Eason made the most of his 24 minutes per night at LSU, earning 2022 SEC Sixth Man of the Year honors. Along the way, he averaged nearly 17 points and 6.6 rebounds per game.

His 7-foot-1-inch wingspan did him wonders on the defensive side of the floor, as he finished fourth in the conference in steals per game (1.9). No place better exhibited the growth in his game than the free throw line, where he improved by nearly .23 percentage points (80%) from his Freshman All-AAC campaign at Cincinnati (57%).

Christian Braun SG-Denver Nuggets: 2022 NBA Draft, 1st Round, 21st overall

Former Kansas shooting guard Christian Braun starred for the Mokan Elite AAU basketball squad before becoming a second-team All-Big 12 guard. Over the course of his career, Braun was active on both ends of the floor.

He stood out during athletic testing of the 2022 NBA Combine, posting a 40-inch maximum vertical jump and 3.13-second time in the NBA shuttle. His athletic prowess should come as no surprise. Braun -who hails from Kansas and was named the state’s Mr. Basketball in 2019- has had an entire family play college basketball. His brother, Parker, is currently a 6-foot-10-inch forward for Santa Clara.