Every program has one. A player who fans simply can't figure out. A guy who flashes talent one game and gets shut out the next. I'm not going to try and play armchair psychologist here, but in many cases a closer look at the numbers can provide additional insight into some of college basketball's enigmas.
The ten players listed below were compiled from either an email stream between Michael and me or from fan responses on Twitter. The ones you agree with were mine. The ones you don't were from some dude on Twitter. Just keep that in mind.
Dominic Cheek, G, Villanova
After being named a McDonald's All-American, Cheek acquitted himself well in a supporting role as a freshman, posting a 109.9 ORtg with a relatively low usage rate of 18.2. He shot 52.1 percent from two-point range but still took roughly a third of his shots from beyond the arc where he made just 31.0 percent. Cheek took a step back as a sophomore. He committed more fouls and drew fewer whistles, do in large part to the fact that exactly half of his shots came from three-point range despite a success rate barely over 30 percent. His two-point shooting dipped as well, which left plenty of question marks heading into this season. So far, Cheek has flourished without Corey Fisher and Corey Stokes. His minutes have increased dramatically and so has his shooting as evidenced by a gaudy 62.8 eFG%. Perhaps most importantly, Cheek has been far more adept at getting to the line with 24 free throws over Nova's first three games, and his 68.5 free throw rate is more than double what he posted last season. Against LaSalle, Cheek failed to connect from deep but still found a way to impact the game offensively with 14 trips to the stripe. As with all of the numbers from the early season, it's unwise to jump to conclusions with such a small sample size, but there are a number of positive signs as Cheek looks for a breakout junior year.
Andre Dawkins, G, Duke
Despite the 34th best ORtg last year according to Ken Pomeroy, Dawkins posted a usage rate under 15.0 and a 17.9 shot percentage, albeit with impressive eFG% and TS%. Despite his athleticism, he was content to linger outside the three-point line, where 150 of his 208 shots came, and consequently he attempted just 43 free throws. Even with increased opportunity in the Duke backcourt, Dawkins has remained inconsistent this season. He scored 26 points against Michigan State but has just 15 points in his other three games heading into the Maui Invitational. With 12 free throw attempts already, Dawkins is well on his way to surpassing last season's total, but his other percentages are roughly flat. In the end, I think @Tom4Duke summed it up best with this assessment: "One of most efficient offensive players in NCAA, one of best shooters, crazy athleticism... invisible." If Duke has any hope of making a run at UNC in the ACC, that has to change.
Milton Jennings, F, Clemson
Jennings was a McDonald's All-American and a highly-touted recruit heading into his freshman year, and the fact that he posted the highest usage rate on the team suggests he bought into some of that hype. He was effective on both the offensive and defensive glass, but poor shooting and a poor turnover rate led to an ugly 93.9 ORtg. Jennings attempted 82 three-pointers despite making just 29.3 percent from deep, which certainly left fans and even casual observers scratching their heads. He was also unable to parlay his size into many trips to the line, as evidenced by a 33.1 free throw rate. While I expected his playing time to expand as a sophomore, Jennings is logging just 23 minutes per game so far this season, but that hasn't kept his usage rate and shot percentage from climbing to even higher levels. In Clemson's recent loss to the College of Charleston, Jennings needed 14 shots to tally 14 points. A more telling stat is a -11 plus/minus in that game and an even uglier -19 Roland Rating.
Verdell Jones III, G, Idiana
It's tough to draw many conclusions from early in the Tom Crean era for IU given how few offensive options were on the roster, but Jones has posted usage rates of at least 26.7 in each of his three seasons in Bloomington. Jones has finisehd with solid assist rates each year, but turnovers have been a struggle for someone who has shown a tendency to dominate the basketball in the half court. His shooting has been up and down, and he has failed to post an ORtg over 100 and became a rather polarizing figure within the fanbase. It's hard to pinpoint one thing, but Jones has been a very different player so far this season through IU's first four games. His shooting has improved, particularly from beyond the arc where he has canned four of his six attempts, but he has forced the action and played out of control. His assist rate remains solid to go with a slightly reduced turnover rate, but he's taken his ability to draw fouls to another level. Through four games, his free throw rate was a gaudy 92.8, and in IU's fifth game on Monday night, he took just one shot from the floor but got to the line six times. Jones has shown flashes of talent over his first three seasons, but he seems to have finally settled into a role that suits both himself and the team best. A less statistical measure of his improved play is the fact that my dad hasn't called to see about getting his scholarship revoked.
C.J. Leslie, F, North Carolina State
Similar to Jennings, Leslie came into his freshman season with high expectations. And like Jennings, he posted a high usage rate (27.0) and a low ORtg (95.1) to go with some solid work on the glass. He drew 5.6 fouls per 40 minutes, which he parlayed into a decent free throw rate, but his shooting percentages were pedestrian. Like many of the players on this list, Leslie also insisted upon taking the occasional three-pointer despite a poor success rate from beyond the arc. This year, he served a three-game suspension to start the year, so he had just one game under his belt heading into Monday's game against Texas. For what it's worth, Leslie was efficient in that game, making 7-of-9 from the field and getting to the line 10 times against Vanderbilt. For an encore, he got to the stripe 16 times en route to 17 points in a comeback win over the Longhorns. The talent and athleticism is unquestionable; it's just a matter of whether Leslie can continue to harness it under new coach Mark Gottfried.
Reeves Nelson, F, UCLA
Given the timing of my inquiry on Twitter and his on-again, off-again status with the Bruins, Nelson was a pretty popular answer among fans. Over the course of his first two seasons, Nelson has proven to be a tenacious rebounder, particularly on the defensive end, and posted solid ORtg's in each season. He drew a ton of fouls, which he could have turned into more points if he were a better free throw shooter, but he helped to make up for that by shooting well from the field (with the exception of going 4-of-21 from deep last year). Both on and off the court, Nelson's ability to be a good teammate and a leader have come into question, and his antics this year have done little to dispell those notions. In UCLA's opener, Nelson needed 12 shots (including three missed three-pointers) to score 13 points. However, for all the concerns about him as a teammate, the Bruins were markedly better with Nelson on the floor, as evidenced by his +15 Roland Rating. How Nelson responds to his most recent issues will go a long way toward determining whether UCLA can climb out of the massive hole they dug for themselves early this year.
Ralph Sampson III, F/C, Minnesota
As a Big Ten fan, I've just been waiting on Sampson to have a breakout season, and well, I'm still waiting. He has never posted a usage rate over 19.4, and he's posted a shot percentage over 21.5 just once. Like a few of the other bigs on this list, he experimented with three-point shooting last season, but his 5-of-26 showing suggests he should head back to the lab. Sampson's rebounding rates were down last season, probably as a result of Trevor Mbakwe's relentless pursuit of each carom. At times it can look like Sampson is just sleepwalking through the game, and his lack of aggressiveness is demonstrated by his low free throw rate. His solid ORtg suggests he could be even more effective in an expanded role, but it's entirely possible the player he's been the past three years is just who he is. Sampson is shooting better early in this season, but he has attempted just two free throws while his usage rate hovers right around prior levels.
Renardo Sidney, F, Mississippi State
Come on, you had to see this one coming. Sidney's offcourt issues and conditioning have been well chronicled, but his oncourt play has been equally frustrating to watch. In his first season in Starkville, he posted a usage rate of 29.5, and even though he drew 5.1 fouls per 40 minutes, he took so many shots that his free throw rate wasn't all that high. Sidney was tremendous on the defensive glass and shot 54.7 percent from two-point range. However, he was 7-of-24 from beyond the arc (seriously, why do these big guys keep shooting out there?!), and foul trouble and conditioning prevented him from playing more minutes. Despite allegedly focusing on his health this summer, Sidney is still averaging just 22.5 minutes and has an ugly 82.4 ORtg to show for it. He's doing a better job of getting to the free throw line, but that's being offset by poor shooting from the field and a sharp decline in his rebounding thanks to the addition of Arnett Moultrie. Despite the fact that the Bulldogs have rebounded from a difficult start to the season, Sidney's plus/minus sits at -9, which helps explain why he's routinely been on the bench during crunch time. The talent is there, but the dedication to evolving and improving his game isn't.
Josh Smith, F, UCLA
Here's another one from the Captain Obvious file, and in fact, this ties in well with my crusade to nickname him West Coast Renardo. Smith had a solid year as a freshman, posting a 110.2 ORtg, drawing 6.2 fouls per 40 minutes, and ranking second in OReb%. Like Sidney though, his conditioning held him back, as did his propensity to get in foul trouble. It seems that he actually gained weight in the offseason, which might explain why he is still averaging fewer than 20 minutes. Through UCLA's first two games, his usage rate and ORtg are roughly the same as last season, and it's clear his attitude and body language haven't really improved. But perhaps the most telling numbers are the plus/minus and Roland Ratings he posted in those two losses. He had a -13 plus/minus against Loyola Marymount and followed that up with -15 against MTSU, while his cumulative Roland Rating is -25 through those contests. Like many fans of the game seeing guys like Sidney and Smith waste their talents by failing to dedicate themselves to improving their conditions is frustrating beyond words.
Tyshawn Taylor, G, Kansas
Over his first three seasons with the Jayhawks, Taylor has posted ORtg's between 104.0 and 106.8 while playing in the shadow of a slew of talented players. His usage rates and shot percentages have remained relatively flat, while his assist rate has steadily increased to last year's 24.7 mark. Taylor has posted a solid 47.1 free throw rate as well, but a 26.7 turnover rate left a bit to be desired. Offcourt questions about his leadership and ability to stay out of trouble hovered over him heading into his senior season, but with so much roster turnover, Bill Self has no choice but to make Taylor one of the focal points of the offense. Through two games, he's responded to the challenge. His usage rate is up around 25, and his ORtg is a gaudy 129.1. While he isn't shooting particularly well, he's gotten to the line 23 times compared to just 20 field goal attempts. With Elijah Johnson leading the team in assists, Taylor’s assist rate is down, but he also has just one turnover through KU’s first two games. I’m not sure he will ever shake the maturity concerns, but early indications are positive for a breakout season.
Follow me on Twitter (@AndyBottoms) for more of my thoughts on college basketball, and let me know which players you find most enigmatic.
Basketball has been everyone's favorite game. And I am one of them, I always get excited more especially with the game is close fight. Thank you for sharing this article.
I think basketball is the sport with the most enigmas. Free flowing sport where chemistry, coaching, and composure are huge.
Great article. I would put DeSean Thomas on this list as often he does look like a lottery pick but often he's just a chucker with bad defense and poor shot selection. Great article though. Glad bloguin launched a college basketball blog