Player of the Week
Precious Achiuwa, PF, Memphis Tigers
It was not a great week for the Memphis Tigers from a team standpoint, but Precious Achiuwa was one of the few players on the Tiger team who showed up to play for both of their games this week. We may have been robbed of a showdown between the probable top two picks of the draft on Saturday when Memphis played without James Wiseman against standout freshman Anthony Edwards, but Achiuwa did not disappoint in his emergence as Memphis’ top player.
For anyone that watched, it was fairly clear who the best player on the court was, and it was not the favorite for the #1 pick in Anthony Edwards. It was the 6’9 freshman forward for the Tigers. Achiuwa scored 20 points and hauled in 15 rebounds on Saturday afternoon, but what stood out the most was his defensive display with 3 blocks and 3 steals to keep his Tigers in the game. He also showcased a perimeter scoring game, which is the only clear knock on his game in his transition to the next level.
Another double-double followed Achiuwa into Wichita, Kansas against the Wichita State Shockers. The developing freshman scored 22 points, grabbed 12 rebounds, and swatted four more shots in another loss to the surging Shockers.
While these two losses may overshadow the performances Achiuwa put together, there is no doubt that scouts paid attention to Achiuwa’s well-rounded week. In fact, we may see Achiuwa jump into the lottery or possibly the top ten of this year’s draft if he continues to succeed without his seven-foot friend James Wiseman.
Orlando Robinson, Center, Fresno State Bulldogs
The Bulldogs sit at 5-11, but the one bright side has been Robinson’s freshman season. According to 24/7 sports, Robinson was only 6’9, 200 pounds in high school. Now, he is listed at 6’10, 235 pounds and he utilizes all of that frame to rack up 13 points and seven rebounds per game.
Since a humbling three-game losing streak capped off by an 11-point, three rebound performance against San Diego State, Robinson has averaged nearly 20 points and 13 rebounds in his last two games. Another matchup with the Aztecs awaits the Bulldogs on Tuesday, so it will be interesting to see how Robinson can respond to not only a humiliating loss, but also a disappointing performance against the same exact team only three games ago.
The physical talent is clear, but this is a huge test for Robinson’s resiliency, a trait every NBA team admires in young players. If Robinson can respond with a huge game, this could be the breakout game that gets him into the national spotlight.
Liam Robbins, Center, Drake Bulldogs
The love for big men in this week’s blog continues as another is recognized for his remarkable play of late. I, like many others, have not heard much at all about Liam Robbins. It is not all too surprising since the sophomore hardly played as a freshman and saw limited minutes to begin this season. But lately, Robbins has seen increased minutes and he has taken advantage of them.
One of the biggest criticisms of big men at smaller schools is the fact that they do not have the size to compete with more talented prospects. Considering Robbins stands at seven feet tall; I do not think this applies to him. Another common criticism for 7-footers is that they are too lanky or not bulky enough to play physical basketball. Again, Robbins laughs at this as he is only 15 pounds lighter than indisputable lottery pick James Wiseman.
In only 23 minutes per game, Robbins is leading his team in scoring with 13 PPG and unsurprisingly, blocks with over two and a half per game. The Bulldogs won two huge conference games this week against Indiana State and Loyola Chicago to jump to a tie for first in the Missouri Valley.
If Robbins is given the attention he deserves, NBA teams could very well take a chance on the sophomore in the second round of April’s draft, should Robbins declare. He will definitely be a major project for any team who chooses to give him a chance, but a 31% three-point shooter at seven feet tall reveals a ton of upside.
Utah State Aggies, 13-5, Mountain West Conference
The Aggies started this season ranked in the top-20 in the nation. A seven-game win streak to start the season, including a comeback win on the road against the LSU Tigers, found the Aggies in the top-15. Expectations were high and only growing until a three-game losing streak started up last Wednesday.
Losses against UNLV and Air Force on the road and a home loss against San Diego State have not only lowered expectations, but now have the Aggies sitting at 7th in their conference and fighting for a NCAA Tournament spot. In fact, the latest bracketology by Joe Lunardi actually has Utah State out of the tournament.
The person who needs to reach the tournament more than anybody is Neemias Queta. He has not played much this season, but if the Aggies can claw their way into their tournament, Queta could boost his draft stock through the roof with all eyes on him. We saw last year how much the NCAA Tournament can boost draft stock through Ja Morant. Sure, everyone knew he was good, but his dominating performance against Marquette made him the sure-fire number two pick in the draft. I am not saying that the seven-foot sophomore, yes, another big man, will get himself into the top two picks, but a great performance could see him shoot into the first round and possibly close to the lottery.
DJ Jeffries, SF/PF, Memphis Tigers
I know, finally someone that is not about a big man. DJ Jeffries is a slashing small forward for the Memphis Tigers desperately searching for a complement to Precious Achiuwa. With Wiseman gone, Penny Hardaway has been searching for a second star to fill into Achiuwa’s role while he leaps to the star of the team. Many believe Jeffries can be that guy; however, a last-minute scratch against Georgia and a disappointing bounce-back game against Wichita State have those people questioning whether Jeffries is the guy.
The game against Georgia would have been an excellent showcase of his abilities versus one of the premier players in college basketball. Instead, he had to watch from the sidelines as he was battling an illness and lost the chance to prove to scouts that he belongs in the same category as Wiseman, Edwards, and Achiuwa. A game more for college basketball fans than scouts pitted the Tigers against the Wichita State Shockers. Jeffries scored three points and had four rebounds in 29 minutes. That sentence was as bland as his performance in the biggest conference game of the season so far.
Even with tremendous upside, the recent struggles have Jeffries outside of our latest mock draft and if he fails to turn around his season quickly, he may be forced to return to school next season if he wants an NBA future.
Top Five Teams to See
In the spirit of New Year’s Resolutions, I have compiled a list of the top five “mid major” teams that you absolutely have to watch before the tournament starts as a part of your new year’s hoops resolutions.
Whether it is watching for one specific player, beautiful team basketball, or an exciting style of play, there are plenty of reasons to watch the sensational sport of college basketball.
#15 Dayton Flyers, 13-2, Atlantic-10
Obi Toppin by himself is enough to want to watch the Dayton Flyers play. He is a potential lottery pick, he plays great, physical defense, and he can shoot. But Dayton is more than just Obi Toppin. They are second in the nation in assists per game, showcasing a great deal of team basketball and they score over 80 points per game, showcasing efficient and exciting team basketball. All around, this is one of the best teams to watch in all of college basketball.
#1 Gonzaga Bulldogs, 17-1, West Coast Conference
I think it goes without saying that you should want to watch the #1 team in the country. Gonzaga is probably the most well-rounded team in the country with six players averaging double-figures. They can put up a lot of points, they can win even if they don’t, and most importantly, they can win. Stay up late one night and reward yourself by watching the top team in the nation.
Wofford Terriers, 10-6, Southern Conference
For those that love the revolutionary style of play that revolves around letting it fly from deep, Wofford is the team for you. The Terriers have four different players shooting 44% or better from three-point range. Either they did not extend their three-point arc to the modified distance this year, or somebody forgot to tell them that the percentages are supposed to go down this year. Either way, if you are looking for a game that will make you say, “WOW”, look no further than the Wofford Terriers.
Liberty Flames, 17-1, Atlantic Sun
The Liberty Flames may just be the best one loss team that nobody is talking about. In a year where there is so much uncertainty about who will win it all, why can’t this be the year for a double-digit seed? I know it sounds crazy now, but the Liberty Flames have a solid foundation of returning players who pulled off an upset as a 12-seed a season ago and they do not rely on one great player. Consistency is required when you want to make a run in the NCAA Tournament, and the Liberty Flames are the perfect model of consistency.
Stephen F. Austin Lumberjacks, 13-3, Southland Conference
Everybody was in love with Stephen F. Austin after they knocked off one of the most hated teams in the country, the Duke Blue Devils, earlier this season, but there is no longer much attention for the Lumberjacks. They force the most turnovers with their aggressive defense, and they have a star player to drool over in Kevon Harris. There is not too much more you can ask for when you are looking for excitement.