Other Observations in Thursday’s Round 1 Games

March 16, 2018

by Alan Lu

Also on Thursday, I watched an abundance of games, as I was channel surfing to see which prospects would stand out on Day 1 of the 1st round of the 2018 NCAA Tournament.  Mostly, Keenan Evans and Rob Gray stood out, as they played well to lead their respective teams to victories over their opponents.

Texas Tech’s senior point guard, Keenan Evans played very well to lead his team to a win over Stephen F. Austin, as he would repeatedly score on strong, left handed drives off the glass to get scores for his team.  He is a tough, physical guard that possesses a good first step to the hoop, and he can get buckets at will when he wants to at the collegiate level.  He is an undersized, ball dominant guard that seems to display heavy score first tendencies, but his ability to make shots combined with having good physical tools could enable him to be a potential second round pick in 2018.

Texas Tech’s 6-5 freshman guard, Zhaire Smith excelled as a scorer on off-ball motion plays, he scored on a nifty 360 alley-oop dunk, and he also threw down a two-handed dunk off of a cut.  He is a talented basketball player that could project to be a Ronnie Brewer type of player in the NBA, but with a better jump shot, as he could be a worthwhile pick for a team in the late first round range of the upcoming draft.

In the Houston-San Diego State game, I was able to watch a couple of prospects, Houston’s senior point guard Rob Gray, as well as San Diego State’s senior big man, Malik Pope.  Both played well, but Gray had a really good showing as he scored the ball at will, and was able to make the go-ahead basket to get his team the win.

Houston’s 6-1 senior guard, Rob Gray played very well as he made shots and scored the ball at will.  He showed a knack for knocking down pull-up jumpers, especially from beyond the arc, and he can use step back moves and crossovers to do so.  He also would score on strong drives to the hoop, as he can take on the contact, and he also has the body control to score on acrobatic layups.

He is a crafty player that has good agility as well as a better than advertised first step to the hoop, and Gray can change speeds to create separation between him and his man to get his shot off, but he seemed to be much more of a scorer than a facilitator, and while he would occasionally kick the ball out to shooters off the dribble, Gray did not actually pick up an assist despite scoring 39 points and the go-ahead basket in his team’s win over San Diego State.  He also threw a wild pass in an attempt to kick the ball out to a shooter once that ended up getting deflected as it led to a tie-up and a turnover.

In summary, Rob Gray had a strong showing, as he undoubtedly played an integral role in helping his team get the win over San Diego State to advance to the second round of the NCAA Tournament.  But while he showed off solid shooting and scoring skills, as well as good strength for a player his size, the other elements of his game may need significant improvement. 

Gray tends to hold the ball for long stretches, as he tends to be ball dominant, and he did not always show great decision-making skills when he would look to distribute the basketball.  While he may possess less than ideal athletic gifts though, Gray did a good job of creating ways to get buckets for his team.  Right now, Gray may be a potential second round pick for the upcoming draft, if he can prove he can effectively run the point, he could end up being an effective role player in the NBA.

San Diego State’s 6-10 senior big man, Malik Pope did not have nearly the same impact on the game as Rob Gray, but Pope did manage to throw down an emphatic dunks off of a roll to the rim.  He also did a good job of passing the basketball and setting screens when he was on the floor.  Pope ran the floor to catch a long outlet pass, and he found the open man to set up a score late in the game.  Plus, he would set plenty of on-ball screens, and he was able to help set up a score for a teammate on a drive once.

He also showed off some rebounding and defensive skills.  Pope managed to swat a pull-up mid-range shot to a teammate once, and he would actively contest shots to help his team protect the paint.   However, sometimes he would not make the right rotation, which would lead his team to commit fouls and allow scores on occasion.

In this game, Malik Pope did not always look for his own shot, but he generally excelled as a team player as he would play within the system.  He is an athletic big man that can make high motor plays on both ends of the floor, and he could end up being a potential second round pick, as he could project into an energetic, defensive specialist role at the next level.

Early on Thursday, Illinois-Chicago’s 6-6 senior swingman, Donte Ingram made a deep three-point shot off the catch that ended up being the game winning basket, as his team prevailed over Miami to get the first round win, as they will advance to face Tennessee in the second round of the NCAA Tournament.  Ingram is a sharpshooter that can knock down threes, and he could end up being a good addition to an NBA team’s summer league roster.

The most interesting development in Thursday’s games was that Buffalo absolutely demolished Arizona to get a blowout win in the first round, as they will advance to face Kentucky.  Buffalo really excelled at knocking down threes, as Arizona had no answer for them.  Conversely, Arizona really struggled to shoot the basketball, and DeAndre Ayton did not look like his usual dominant self, as it was a combination of Buffalo’s tough defense, and Arizona’s guards not really being able to get him the ball in prime spots often on offense.  Definitely, Arizona was out of sync, and Buffalo played really well, and the result of Buffalo’s win was that it probably ended up busting a lot of people’s tournament brackets.

Lastly, much has been mentioned online about Florida’s junior swingman Jalen Hudson, and the terrific put back slam he had, as he is a solid athlete that can really get up to finish plays around the basket.  He ended up scoring 16 points in his team’s win over St. Bonaventure, and Florida could be a team that could be scouted more in the future.

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