Thoughts on Meechie Johnson, Collin Murray-Bowles, and Ta’Lon Cooper in the South Carolina-Kentucky Game

January 24th, 2024

By Alan Lu

Yesterday, I took the time to watch Kentucky play against South Carolina, because Zvonimir Ivisic had a terrific first game of the season, and I wanted to see how he would follow that up against an underrated South Carolina squad.  Unfortunately, he didn’t play nearly as well in this game, and South Carolina played surprisingly well, as they shot the ball very well, made good use of screens to help get their players open shots and dunks around the basket, and they also defended well, which enabled them to get a surprising blowout win over Kentucky.  Kentucky’s guards just didn’t play very well, and most of their big men ended up in foul trouble, as they had trouble handling the mobility and strength of South Carolina’s big men.  Here are my thoughts on how various players fared on this day.

Meechie Johnson had a strong showing to help lead his team to a surprising blowout win over Kentucky.  He is an athletic guard that showed off solid all-around skills to help his team get the victory.  Johnson showed a solid ability to make threes as well as score on strong, right-handed drives to the hoop, and he was able to pull up to make a very deep three late in this game.  He also managed to score off of a backcut another time.  Though he did sometimes miss on tough drives in traffic, Johnson did a good job of making shots, especially from long range.

He also showcased satisfactory playmaking skills.  He is a quick, agile guard that would be able to consistently get into the lane, and he would get the ball to open shooters to notch assists.  Though he didn’t grab many rebounds, he was able to get a pair of defensive boards.  He also was able to block a shot to himself to help his team defensively.

Overall, Johnson played very well to help lead his team to a win over Kentucky, and he did a great job of making plays all game long.  He is an underrated prospect that can knock down shots, and he could be a solid pick for an NBA team in the second round range of the 2024 draft.

Collin-Murray Boyles also played very well to help lead South Carolina to a surprising blowout win over Kentucky.  Boyles is a strong, athletic big man that showed a knack for making plays to help shore up the interior on both ends of the floor.  He would finish plays around the basket to score on offense, and he was able to score on a thunderous dunk.  

He also is an unselfish player that passed the ball very well, and he did a good job of passing out of the post to find open shooters to notch assists.  Plus, Boyles also rebounded and defended very well.  He also would block a plethora of shots due to possessing a solid blend of length, athleticism, and timing.  Overall, Collin-Murray Boyles is an athletic, high-motor big man, and he is an underrated prospect that could project to be a solid rotational big man in the NBA.

Ta’Lon Cooper also put forth a strong performance to help his team get a surprising double-digit win over Kentucky.  He is an agile, skilled point guard that showed off solid all-around skills to help his team get the victory.

Cooper showed off versatile scoring skills to help his team on offense.  He would make open, spot-up threes off the catch.  He also would score on strong drives to the hoop.  He also was able to make a step-back, long two from the baseline.  Also, Cooper showed a solid ability to score out of the post, and he even spun to make a turnaround jump hook from the baseline.

Plus, he also passed and handled the ball well.  Cooper showed a knack for throwing solid interior passes, and he also can make passes off the dribble to notch assists.  Also, Cooper did a very good job of rebounding the basketball.  Plus, he also defended very well.  Cooper showed a knack for blocking shots due to possessing solid athleticism, timing, and instincts.

Overall, Ta’Lon Cooper played a very good, all-around game to help his team get a win over Kentucky.  He is a solid, team-oriented point guard that played very well against a very good team, and Cooper is a smart, skilled player that may have what it takes to make it to the NBA.

Jacobi Wright also had a strong showing to help lead his team to a surprising, double-digit win over Kentucky.   Though he’s not normally known for his jump shot, he did a terrific job of knocking down open, spot-up threes, as he showed range and a proficiency for making corner threes.  Wright is a fairly solid athelte, and he also was able to make a nifty drive and dish pass to notch an assist.  Overall, Wright played very well in this game, and if he can shoot as well as he did in this game, he could end up making his way to the NBA someday.

South Carolina’’s 7-0 senior center, Josh Gray had a strong showing to help lead his team to a stunning, blowout win over Kentucky.  He played very well, especially from the get go.  Gray showed a knack for finishing plays at the rim, and he would throw down powerful dunks to give his team a boost.  He also did a great job of rebounding the basketball.  Plus, he also played satisfactory defense in this game.  He was able to hustle back to poke a ball away to nearly get a steal, but sometimes he would be late on his rotations, which would lead him to be a bit foul prone.

Overall, Josh Gray played very well, and he is a strong, athletic big man that made an impact in this game, even if he didn’t play as much as the other prospects in this game.  He is a high-motor player that excelled at making plays in the paint, and he is a strong, mobile center that may have what it takes to make it to the NBA someday.

Tre Mitchell had a decent showing in his team’s loss to South Carolina.  He showed off versatile scoring skills to help his team on offense.  He showed off solid strength and scoring touch to score in the post, and he also was able to make an open three-pointer.  Plus, he also was able to score on a put back off of an offensive rebound.

Also, he showed off decent playmaking skills in this game.  He is an unselfish player that would throw accurate passes to set up scores for his teammates.  However, he would sometimes be careless on offense, which would lead him to commit some turnovers. He threw one bad pass that got intercepted.  He also had a ball poked away when posting up to commit another.

Though he didn’t get many rebounds for a player his size, Mitchell was able to haul in multiple boards on both ends of the floor.  He also played adequate defense in this game.  He was able to hustle to block shots off of drives to help his team protect the paint.  He also would contest shots both out on the perimeter and in the paint to force misses. However, he would sometimes give up too much space to shooters, which would allow them to score on three-point shots.  He also got outmuscled when defending in the post once, which led him to commit a foul that time.

Overall, Tre Mitchell played fairly well in his team’s blowout loss to South Carolina.  On one hand, he struggled to defend on the ball, but on the other, he did a very good job of making shots, passes, and shot blocks to help his team on the floor.  He is an agile, skilled big man that can help his team on both ends of the floor, and he could be an intriguing option for NBA teams to consider in the second round range of the 2024 draft.

Aaron Bradshaw had his ups and downs in his team’s loss to South Carolina.  He made an impact early, but then was plagued by foul trouble.  He is a strong, athletic big man that can make some plays in the paint.  Bradshaw was able to score on a couple of strong put backs off of offensive rebounds, and he showed that he can score in traffic.  However, despite taking a three-point shot in this game, he missed that time.  He didn’t take any more shots after he took three field goal attempts early on, but it’s also because his guards were being rampant shot chuckers that prioritized their own willingness to score above trying to get the rest of their teammates involved on offense.

He did a great job of rebounding the basketball, and Bradshaw was able to haul in plenty of boards on both ends of the floor.  He also played adequate defense in this game.  Bradshaw was able to block a shot hard to help his team protect the paint contest shots to help his team force misses.  However, sometimes he would play too aggressively, which would lead him to be foul prone.

Overall, Bradshaw didn’t have his best game, but he still had some solid moments.  He could’ve had an even better game if his guards made an honest attempt to get him the basketball, but they didn’t.  However, his guards played way too selfishly, and Bradshaw was often left fending for himself on offense.  Kentucky didn’t run a very good offense in this game, and therefore, his opponents didn’t really have to make an honest attempt to guard Bradshaw after the early going.  Still, Bradshaw is a talented big man that could be an intriguing option for NBA teams to consider, especially if he’s available in the late first to the second round range of the 2024 draft.

Other Notes:

Rob Dillingham didn’t have a great game, but he had a better game amongst Kentucky players compared to some of his other teammates.  On one hand, he took way too many dribble, mid-range jumpers and missed them, and he showed a lot of chucking tendencies that resulted in too many misses.  On the other hand, he was able to make some of his mid-range jumpers, and he even pulled up to make a three-pointer in this game.  He also showed a decent ability to score off the dribble when he would look to go all the way to the basket.  However, he had a tendency to take rushed, contested shots, which would result in misses.

Dillingham showed perhaps above average playmaking skills in this game.  Despite looking to score too much and not really doing a good job at that in this game, he was able to pass off the dribble and make an assortment of passes to help his teammates get the basketball.  However, sometimes he would play too fast and out of control, which would lead him to commit turnovers.

Though he didn’t get many boards, he was able to get a pair of rebounds when he was on the floor.  Defensively, he struggled in this game.  For the positives, he was able to run in to intercept a pass to get a steal, and he also tied up an opposing ball handler another time to nearly get another one.  However, he would often gamble too much and help off his man unnecessarily, which would lead his team to give up open baskets to their opponents.  On one play, he ran away from a player that was close to the rim, and it resulted in Kentucky giving up an open basket at the rim that time.

Overall, Dillingham did not have a great game in his team’s loss to Kentucky.  He will need to play more under control, improve his shot selection, and he will need to be a more focused on-ball defender.  He’s a talented prospect that can make a barrage of shots when he’s on his game, but he will need to focus on the little things to be a better all-around player.  Still, he could be a solid pick for an NBA team in the mid to late first round range of the 2024 draft.

Zvonimir Ivisic followed up a great game against Georgia with a pretty bad performance in his team’s loss to South Carolina.  But it’s not fully his fault.  After all, head coach John Calipari took a long time before putting him in the game, and they didn’t seem to make much of an effort to get him involved in their offense.

For the positives, Ivisic was able to score on a strong dunk around the basket, and he showed that he can excel as a finisher at the rim.  He also was able to draw fouls on hustle plays.  However, Ivisic missed on a corner three, and he also completely missed on a jump hook after looking to score out of the post.  Surprisingly though, he didn’t play very much, so it was hard to fault him too much for this game.

Ivisic is an unselfish player that showed a willingness to move the basketball.  On the downside, he was called for setting a moving screen on offense once.  He didn’t grab as many rebounds as was expected, but Ivisic was active at crashing the offensive glass to get offensive rebounds.

Defensively though, he struggled in this game.  For the positives, he showed a knack for blocking shots to help his team protect the paint.  However, he often would get outmuscled when defending in the post, which would lead him to commit fouls and allow scores.  Another time, he got beat off the dribble to allow a score.  Ivisic often had trouble guarding stronger opponents, and he looked kind of slow when defending against quicker players out on the perimeter.

Overall, Ivisic’s performance was disappointing in his team’s loss to South Carolina.  Maybe there are better days ahead of him, but this game wasn’t good at all.  Still, he showed a lot of potential in that one game against Georgia, so based on that, maybe he could still end up being a first round pick in the 2024 draft.

Justin Edwards turned in a poor showing in his team’s loss to South Carolina.  It was frustrating to watch Edwards, because he is a very athletic, energetic swingman that has shown flashes of his potential in other games, but in this game, he really struggled to score, was not involved much on offense, and he and his team were making plenty of mistakes defensively.  It also was infuriating because the guards made no honest attempt to get him involved on offense whatsoever, but it’s also concerning because it’s not certain if he has a vital skill when his team plays in the half court.

Edwards was able to draw free throws by running the floor to get the ball prior to driving to the hoop in transition.  He almost was able to make a mid-range jumper after using a spin move, but it didn’t count because he had lowered his shoulder into an opponent, which resulted him committing an offensive foul and a turnover.

Another time, he drove hard to his left, but missed it short on a half-court drive.  He didn’t look to shoot the ball much at all though, so his opponents didn’t really have to guard him.

Also, Edwards was able to push the pace at times, and he showed that he can handle the basketball.  It would be better if they were to let him handle the ball more, as that may be one of his better skills, and they need to find a more specific role for him when he is out there in the half court.  Also, it would help if they were to use him as a cutter and screen setter, and they need to use his athleticism to help him get easier opportunities to score on offense.

Though he didn’t get many rebounds in this game, he was able to get a pair of defensive boards against South Carolina.  Defensively, he and his team struggled in this game.  For the positives, Edwards is a good athlete, and he has good length and physical tools, which makes him a promising on-ball defender.  He was able to contest a shot in the post to force a miss, and he also deflected a pass out of bounds another time.  However, he’s still not polished as an overall player.  He would tend to sag to far off of shooters, and he would tend to be too late on his rotations, which would lead his team to allow three-point baskets.  Another time, he and his teammate didn’t effectively communicate to each other who they should guard on the defensive end, and they ended up allowing an opponent to score on a back cut.

Overall, it was frustrating to watch Justin Edwards spend so many moments of this game being pretty inactive despite being on the floor, and it was even more infuriating watching Kentucky’s guards chuck a bunch of questionable shots that led to a lot of misses.  At this stage, Edwards’ draft stock is tumbling, and there is no doubt that his inability to make outside shots, lack of feel in the half-court game, combined with his guards’ rampant chucking are the reasons why that is the case.  In spite of that, he is a terrific athlete, and in the right system, he could end up being worthy of being selected in the late first to the second round range as an upside pick for the 2024 draft. 

D.J. Wagner didn’t play very well in his team’s loss to South Carolina.  Though he is a very athletic combo guard, he took a lot of questionable shots that resulted in misses, and he made a lot of questionable decisions throughout the course of this game.

Despite having great athleticism and being able to score early on a left-handed drive, Wagner would often miss on wild, fallaway misses, and he also would tend to get his shots blocked.  He would often tend to take tough shots into the teeth of the defense, and he would usually miss those shots.  It wasn’t much better when he would look to take outside shots.  He was able to make a pull-up, mid-range jumper, but he missed on a contested floater another time.  The one time where he would’ve made a pull-up three didn’t count, because a non-shooting foul was called earlier on the play, so therefore Wagner did not actually make a three-point shot in this game.

He also showed off adequate playmaking skills.  Despite shooting the ball poorly, he actually passed the ball well when he made an attempt to get his teammates the basketball.  Wagner showed that he can make passes on the move, and he can find teammates open in transition to get them the basketball.  On one play though, he tried to be too fancy by trying a behind-the-back dribble move, but he ended up losing the ball to turn the ball over instead that time.

Wagner did not grab a rebound in this game.  Defensively, he looked to be fairly average.  For the positives, Wagner excelled at jumping passes to get steals, and he also jumped on a loose ball to get one early on.  He also would contest threes to force misses.  However, his lack of size would make it tough for him to contest outside shots or in the post, and it would lead him to allow scores as a result.

Overall, Wagner didn’t have a great showing, as he didn’t shoot the ball well at all in this game.  He’ll need to improve his shot selection and ability to score, but he is a talented prospect that could be worth taking a flier on in the second round range of the 2024 draft.

Reed Sheppard did not play very well in his team’s loss to South Carolina.  To be fair, he came in the game late, much later than expected, and so his rhythm appeared to be off, but he didn’t shoot very well nor take good are of the basketball in this game.

Sheppard was able to run off the ball to get it on a dribble handoff three, which enabled him to make an open, three-pointer.  However, he missed an easy shot around the basket off of a cut, and he also missed on a pull-up, mid-range jumper.  He didn’t shoot very efficiently, and he generally had trouble making shots in this game.  In addition, he tended to throw inaccurate passes due to playing too fast and wildly.  He threw an inaccurate pass that sailed out of bounds, and a low pass that was dropped and intercepted another time.

On the plus side, he rebounded the ball well relative to the amount of time he was in the game.  He also was able to jump a pass to help his team get a steal.  Overall though, Sheppard didn’t play very well on offense, and his team didn’t defend well either, as they left a lot of shooters open and had trouble guarding stronger big men in the post.  He’ll need to shake off this bad performance, and he is a skilled guard that could still end up being a first round pick in the 2024 draft.

Ugonna Onyenso had some good moments in his team’s loss to South Carolina.  He is a very athletic, high-motor big man that was able to make hustle plays on both ends of the floor.  Onyenso was able to catch a lob pass off of a roll to score on a high-flying alley-oop dunk.   On the downside, he didn’t take many shots and didn’t grab many rebounds in this game.

He also played adequate defense.  He also managed to rotate to block a shot to help his team protect the paint, and he would ably contest and alter shots to force misses.  However, he also would sometimes tend to be late on his rotations and sag too far off of shooters, as his team would be out of position to guard them, leading them to give up open jump shots to allow scores to them.  Overall, Onyenso was able to make some strong plays in this game, and he is a very athletic center that could be an intriguing option for NBA teams to select in the second round range of the 2024 draft.

Antonio Reeves did not play very well in his team’s loss to South Carolina.  Though he scored points in volume, he shot the ball poorly, took plenty of questionable shots, and he didn’t look to pass the ball nearly enough in this game.

For the positives, Reeves showed an adequate ability to score off the dribble, and he would sometimes score on floaters or draw fouls upon opposing defenders.  He also was able to score on an acrobatic layup off of a cut, and he also pulled up to make a three-pointer another time.  However, Reeves took way too many contested, dribble mid-range jumpers, and he would tend to miss his shots due to rushing.

Reeves didn’t look to pass the ball very often, but he showed that he can do so when he wanted to.  On offense, he was able to throw an interior pass to a cutter to find a teammate on the move, which helped set up a scoring chance for him that time.  However, Reeves would sometimes get the ball poked away when handling the ball, and it led him to turn the ball over once.

He also was able to get his fair share of boards when he was on the floor.  Defensively, he struggled in this game.  For the positives, he was able to block a shot off of a drive, and he also contested a three to force a miss.  However, he would tend to get beat off the dribble, which would put his team in scramble situations and lead his team to allow scores.  Other times, he would be late on his rotations, which would allow his opponents to score on open jump shots.

Overall, Reeves didn’t play very well, and he took too many questionable shots and didn’t seem to take them within the flow of the offense.  Still, he is an athletic, agile combo guard that can make shots when he is on his game, and he is a borderline second round candidate for the upcoming draft.

All in all, those are my thoughts on how Meechie Johnson and other various prospects fared in this game.  Thanks for reading.

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