Assessing Joel Berry, Isaiah Hicks, Nigel Williams-Goss, and More in the Title Game

April 4, 2017

By Alan Lu

In the 2017 National Championship game between North Carolina and Gonzaga, many expected a showdown of some of the finest basketball that the world has to offer.  Well, it ended up being far from that.  The actual game itself ended up being quite close, and the last two minutes were riveting.  But the contest was riddled with sloppy play such as missed shots and too many turnovers, and far too many fouls were called as stoppages in play became too frequent.

The title game may not have exactly reflected the NCAA Tournament finest hours, but the last two minutes were quite compelling to watch.  In a match where many prospects struggled to shoot the basketball, one player came away as the Most Outstanding Player, which was North Carolina’s junior point guard, Joel Berry II.  Here are my thoughts on how he and other various players fared, as well as how they may rate as prospects for the next level.

North Carolina’s junior point guard, Joel Berry II had a fairly solid showing in his team’s win over Gonzaga.  He showed off versatile scoring skills, as well as fairly good ability to defend his opponents when he is on the floor.  Berry did an adequate job of knocking down jumpers to space the floor for his team.  He showed a knack for making deep threes from beyond the arc, even if he also tended to be fairly streaky as a shooter.  He did have some bad misses, but he also made some timely shots, and he also made a quick, pull-up mid-range jumper once.

He also showed a decent ability to get scores off the dribble.  Berry did a better job of scoring on the break than when he would look to attack the defenses to score in the paint in the half court.  He also excelled as a low post scorer, as he scored on a jump hook once.  Plus, he also showed off adequate playmaking skills.  He played unselfishly, as he would find shooters, and he would occasionally throw accurate, long passes to set up scores for his teammates.  But sometimes, Berry would also occasionally throw hasty passes, and every once in a while he would drive recklessly into the teeth of the defense to risk committing turnovers, as opponents would knock the ball away from him at times.

Also, he showed off fairly good defensive skills.  Berry is a solid athlete that displayed a knack for getting some steals and blocks.  He managed to jump a pass to get a quick steal once.  On another play, he also rotated to block a shot on a bigger player from behind in the post.  But he also was late to rotate to shooters at times, which would lead him to allow opponents to make threes.  Also, he would commit reach-in fouls on occasion.

In general, Joel Berry II put forth a good performance to lead his team to win the title over Gonzaga.  He showed off clutch shooting, and he showed the skills, the grit, and the smarts to help get his team the championship.  With his skill set, he could be a good pick for an NBA team in the late first round range of the upcoming draft.

If everything was going wrong for North Carolina’s senior forward Isaiah Hicks against Oregon, then everything was going right for him in his team’s win over Gonzaga.  Hicks did a great job of scoring the basketball, and he also rebounded and defended well to help get his team the victory.  Hicks did a very good job of getting scores in the post.  He gets nice elevation when he releases his shot in the paint, and he can score on numerous turnaround jump hooks.  Plus, he also can garner numerous buckets off of hustle plays, as Hicks can do so off of cuts, put backs, and off of broken plays around the hoop.  Also, Hicks did a good job of scoring off the dribble, as he managed to get a key score on a high post drive late in the game.

Also, Hicks showed a gifted ability to rebound the basketball.  He excelled at collecting boards on both ends of the floor, and he also would box out his opponents to do so.  Plus, he also played solid defense.  Hicks showed very good leaping ability, timing, and instincts to block a shot off of a drive, and he contested another one to force a miss.  But there was one play where he ended up getting backed down to allow a score in the post, as he also committed a foul that time to give up an additional free throw to the opposition.

In summary, Isaiah Hicks put forth a solid performance in his team’s championship game victory over Gonzaga.  He will likely need to improve his jump shot, but Hicks has played quite well this season, and he could be a good pick in the second round for an NBA team in this year’s draft.

Gonzaga’s junior point guard, Nigel Williams-Goss looked to play the best among all of the players on his team that participated in this game.  It was not enough to get his team the victory over North Carolina, but he continued to make some solid plays in this contest, as he ended his season by having a terrific NCAA Tournament this year.

Williams-Goss showed an adequate ability to garner scores off the dribble.  He is a patient player that can draw numerous free throws, as he can change speeds to throw his defenders’ timing off, and he also possesses very good footwork, as he can use a jab step to create separation, and he can also score on a fadeaway jumper.  But sometimes, he may overtly look to force the issue, which led him to missing and getting his shots blocked in traffic on occasion.

He also really excelled at getting scores in the post.  Williams-Goss has surprising strength for a player his size, as he would get deep position on the block, and he would score on turnaround jumpers.  He did struggle to make jumpers consistently, but he did make a deep three once to space the floor that time.

Williams-Goss also displayed very good playmaking skills.  He tended to throw solid interior passes, and he also is a good passer from the post.  But he did throw one pass that was picked off, and he also traveled on a drive another time.  Generally though, he tended to throw accurate passes as he possesses solid patience and court vision.  He also did a terrific job of rebounding the basketball.  Williams-Goss excelled at hauling in boards on both ends of the floor, especially defensively, as he would leap up to get some, and he would box his opponents out to get others.

However, he struggled to defend in this game.  Williams-Goss struggled to move his feet and contest shots in a timely manner, as he would commit fouls on shooters and he would also be late to rotate, which would lead him to allow opponents to score on jumpers.  Plus, he also would commit fouls on cutters, as he would be caught guarding a taller player, and his lack of length in defending a swingman cutting to the hoop showed late in this contest.

In summary, Nigel Williams-Goss has played well all year long.  Even though he has flown under the radar as a draft prospect, he is a smart basketball player that may have the basketball IQ, skills, and intangibles to succeed in the NBA, as he could be a good pick for a team in the late first to the second round range of the upcoming draft.

North Carolina’s senior center, Kennedy Meeks struggled at times in the early going, but he ended up having a solid second half, as he played terrific defense to help get his team the championship.  Early in the game, Meeks struggled to score consistently in the post.  He was having trouble going up against players his own size, as he in particular struggled against Collins in the first half, but he eventually found his rhythm on offense later on as he would score on hustle plays.  Meeks managed to score on a hard roll to the rim, and he also drew free throws on a put back.

Plus, he showed a willingness to find the open man, as he would keep the basketball moving.  Also, he did a great job of rebounding the basketball, as he would haul in boards on both ends of the floor.  Meeks also played great defense, especially late in the game.  He did a tremendous job of quickly jumping passes to obtain steals, as he possesses surprising athleticism for a player his size as well as superb instincts.  He also managed to block a shot on a floater, as that helped seal the win for his team.

In general, Kennedy Meeks did not look to score nearly as often as he did against Oregon, as Gonzaga would make a concerted effort to box him out, and they were able to match up to him in size, at least in the first half, but Meeks played significantly better as the game wore on, as he would outwork his opponents for points and rebounds, and he would make big plays on defense.  Meeks’ great defensive showing helped catapult the Tar Heels to win the title, and he would be a solid pick for an NBA team in the second round of the 2017 draft.

North Carolina’s junior swingman, Justin Jackson did not play nearly as well as he did against Oregon, but if you take away his poor three-point shooting night in his team’s win over Gonzaga, then a case can be made that Jackson had a fairly good showing in spite of that.  Jackson did a great job of scoring on hustle plays.  He showed a knack for scoring on smart cuts to the hoop, as he is a long, athletic swingman that would dive quickly to the basket to get the basketball, and he would get numerous scores and free throws for his team.  Also, he managed to score on a timely tip in after collecting an offensive rebound another time.

He also showed a good ability to garner scores off the dribble.  Jackson did not look to create his own shot often, but he was able to throw down an emphatic dunk on a fast break drive to the basket.  He also drew free throws on a pull-up, mid-range jumper.  However, Jackson really struggled to make threes or floaters on this day.

Plus, he also showed solid defensive skills.  Jackson managed to block a shot off of a drive due to possessing good timing.  Also, he would help get his team steals, as he would jump a pass and heap upon loose balls to come away with them.  But he did get beat on a quick baseline drive once when defending a smaller, quicker player when he was on the floor.

In general, this was not Justin Jackson’s best game, but it can be argued that he may have had a good game if he could have been able to make at least some of those threes.  It was disappointing that he did not knock them down from beyond the arc, but he showed off a solid set of other skills in his team’s win over Gonzaga.  Right now, Justin Jackson looks to be a jack-of-all-trades type of player that could contribute to an NBA team right away, and he could be a solid pick in the mid first round of the 2017 draft.

Gonzaga’s freshman big man, Zach Collins had a monster showing in his team’s Final Four win over South Carolina.  He did not play nearly as well in this game, as he eventually fouled out, but he show some solid inside scoring and rebounding skills when he was on the floor.  Collins showed a good ability to get scores in the low post.  He struggled to make shots in the first half, but he played better on offense later on.  He showed off very good footwork and shooting touch, as he managed to score on a jump hook, as well as on a tough, step through move.

However, he displayed below average playmaking skills in this game.  He committed an offensive foul in the post once, and he also threw an inaccurate entry pass that prompted his teammate to get tied up, which led to another turnover because the arrow possession was pointing to the other team.  Also, he rebounded the ball very well, as he was quite active at crashing the glass when he was on the floor.

He did show off adequate defensive skills.  Collins did a good job of contesting shots in the post early to force misses, as he possesses very good length and athleticism, as well as the instincts to do so.  However, he tended to commit fouls, and sometimes he would go over the back on opponents’ put backs, as he may need to add more strength.  As a result, Collins eventually fouled out of this game.  In general, Zach Collins had a decent showing for his team, though he did not dominate like he did in the previous contest.  Still, this should not hurt his draft stock, as he has really helped his case to be a lottery pick this year by having a strong NCAA Tournament overall.

For North Carolina’s freshman big man Tony Bradley, he had an up and down game as he had his highs and lows in his team’s win over Gonzaga.  He struggled to score in the post, on the move, or generally when he was in traffic, but he did manage to do a better job of scoring off of put backs.  He did rebound very well and play solid low post defense, as his length and athleticism made it difficult for Gonzaga’s big men to consistently score on the block.  Right now, Bradley may need to be a more consistent player on offense, but an NBA team may decide to take him in the late first to the second round range based on his talent level and upside.

North Carolina’s Theo Pinson had a fairly good showing, even if he has not shown that he can shoot the basketball or score off the dribble in the half court in this tournament.  For the positives, he is a gifted scorer in transition as he threw down a thunderous dunk on the break at the onset of this game, and his speed and overall athleticism enable him to thrive when he is able to score in the open floor.

Plus, he passed the ball well as he possesses solid court vision, and he also is a very good defender that would jump passes to get steals, and contest shots to force misses.  On top of that, Pinson showed a tremendous ability to haul in rebounds, especially on the defensive end.  However, he was unable to make any of the threes he took, and he struggled to score in the half court.  Also, he would occasionally have lapses on defense, as he committed a reach-in foul once ona drive, and allowed a score in the post another time.

Right now, Theo Pinson may be an old school point forward type of player, as his game is like a throwback style.  But he really struggles to shoot or make shots in the half court, and the NBA has been changing to the point where most players need to prove that they can shoot.  Regardless, he is a smart, skilled player that plays well in all of the other areas, and he could be worth a selection in the second round of the NBA draft.

Gonzaga’s senior center, Przemek Karnowski did not have his best game, as he struggled to score consistently on offense, and also with foul trouble.   But the latter can perhaps be due to questionable at best officiating, as they were quick on their whistles on game long.  On offense though, he really struggled to find his shooting touch in the post, despite often getting deep position to take jump hooks or to try to score on drop steps.  Karnowski did manage to score off of a cut to the hoop, and he was able to draw numerous free throws in the paint.

However, he also struggled to defend in this game.  He struggled to move his feet at times, as he would struggle to get back when defending screens, as he once allowed his man to score on a quick roll to the rim.   Right now, Karnowski may be a bubble second round candidate, but this game did not really serve him very well, as he had trouble making shots or staying away from foul trouble.  Still, he is a smart, skilled big man that will likely make an NBA team’s summer league roster, as his play this summer and in the fall could potentially help him land a roster spot in the NBA.

Other Notes:

Gonzaga’s freshman big man, Killian Tillie did not play often, but he showed off a great ability to rebound the basketball, as well as solid passing and defensive skills.  On one play, he managed to grab an offensive rebound, and made a pass from the ground to find Karnowski on a cut to set up a score for him.  As a scorer though, he had trouble getting many scores from he post.  Tillie also defended fairly well, as he blocked a shot on a drive, and jumped a pass to get a steal.  However, he did commit a foul inside the paint once, which led to a three-point play for the opposition.

Right now, Killian Tillie is an interesting prospect that could be due for a big year in 2018.  He has been buried on the depth chart at Gonzaga, but he is a mobile big man can help his team in a variety of ways on both ends of the floor.  While he may not be ready yet to play in the NBA, he could be a potential second round pick in next year’s draft.

Gonzaga’s sophomore point guard Josh Perkins played really well in the first half, as he did a terrific job of knocking down threes for his team in that time span.  But he did not play nearly as well in the second half, as he made some pretty bad passing turnovers, and did not look for his shot nearly enough.   Perkins has not received much draft buzz, but his offensive skills could make him a prospect to watch next season.

Gonzaga’s junior big man, Johnathan Williams showed off versatile scoring skills, as he would score on hustle plays, and he also made a bank three-point shot off the glass in the second half of this game against North Carolina.  He did struggle with foul trouble, though.  Still, he will likely be a player to watch next season, as he could be a potential second round pick in 2018.  In all, the evaluation of these prospects should be gently taken in stride, as most of the players that participated here did not play well at all.  But they have fared much better in all of the other previous games, so that should be taken into account, too.

The most intriguing aspect of this match was in the final stretch, where Isaiah Hicks scored from the high post to put his team up three, and then Kennedy Meeks made two key defensive stops that helped result in a Josh Jackson breakaway dunk, as all of that put North Carolina up 5 with the ball, with less than 10 seconds remaining in the game.  North Carolina’s strong defense in the final two minutes helped make them the 2017 NCAA champions, but Gonzaga had a terrific year as well, as they too should hold their heads high.

As for the draft prospects, a strong NCAA Tournament may certainly help boost their stock, but it is also important for NBA teams to look at how well they have played in all of the other previous games.  In all, this was a fun season of college basketball, and the 2017 NBA Draft should be interesting as to see who will get picked in June.  Thank you for reading.