Another Close Loss, Another Step Forward for Young Knicks

New York Knicks, Noah Vonleh, Frank Ntilikina

The New York Knicks fall short to the long-time franchise rival Indiana Pacers in the 4th quarter at Madison Square Garden, as the Knicks record tumbles to 2-6.

The Build Up

The Pacers are coming off a lose 10-point home loss to the Portland Trailblazers where they got out-hustled by the Blazers, despite Victor Oladipo filling up the stat sheet. The Pacers were outscored 58-44 while shooting 41% from the field and 35% from the three-point line, led by Oladipo’s 21 points, 9 rebounds, and 6 assists on 37% shooting.

The Knicks, on the other hand, are looking to pick up where they left off against the Brooklyn Nets after snapping a 5 game losing streak. The Knicks were led by their tough Fizdale defense as they kept the Nets to 40% shooting and out-rebounded them 53-32. Of course, this game was needed as Coach Fizdale and the Knicks were desperate for a win, especially with the second stint of the new starting lineup: Frankie, Dotson (Dot), Tim Hardaway Jr. (THJ), Noah Vonleh, and Mitchell Robinson (Lobinson).

Vegas Line

Knicks +6 ; Over/under, 208.5

The line opened at +5.5 and was bet up to +6 with the O/U opening at 211.5 and closed at 208.5. Indiana Pacers are a top tier Easter Conference playoff team with a slow offensive pace, tough defense, and are looking to rebound off a bad shooting night at home. The Knicks are coming off a good inner-city road win verse the Brooklyn Nets where they shot 48% from the field and 37% from three, and the Knicks rank 26th in the league with their pace. And wouldn’t ya know, Vegas books closed right on the money, with the spread coming down to meaningless Oladipo free throws where the guard went 1-1, solidifying the under and the push.

Trends:

  • Knicks 4-2-1 Against the Spread this season. Now: 4-2-2 (66.6%)
  • Pacers 4-3 Against the Spread this season. Now: 4-3-1 (57.1%)

Knicks v. Pacers Head-to-head:

  • Last 7 at MSG, Under is 6-1. Now: 7-1
  • Last 4 at MSG, Knicks 4-0 Against the Spread. Now: 4-0-1

The Game

The Knicks hosting the Pacers in the Garden on Halloween Night, on primetime ESPN with a national audience in what could have easily turned into a scaarryy night for their ratings [see what I did there].

The New York Knicks again rolled out their new starting lineup of the French Prince, Dot, THJ, Vonleh, and Lobinson. The Knicks kept this game close, despite having an atrocious interior presence, thanks to Hardaway Jr.’s shooting, as he continues to carry the Knicks offense on his back. I shudder to think where this team would be without the volume shooting guard, a franchise draft pick who was then signed in free agency in a deal that was mocked around the league– 4 years $71 million in the 2017 offseason.

For the most part, this game went as predicted- slow pace, hustle, and the Pacers owning the paint. Domantas Sabonis was virtually perfect from the field going 12 for 13, and a career-high 30 points, to nobody’s surprise. In the 1st half, commentator Mike Breen was already pondering Sabonis’ career high in points was… we all saw it coming. Robinson, Vonleh, and Kanter’s interior defense will not cut it in the NBA, it is really that simple. Do not get fooled by the rebounding statistics.

Despite the lack of defensive propensity for New York, the guards put on a show for the home fans. Oladipo was anemic on offense for most of the game until he took over in the 4th quarter and closed the game, the way only a playoff team knows how. Frank, Dot, and THJ did well on the defensive side of the ball, but it was all overshadowed by Hardaway Jr’s. team-high 37 points and efficient 7-10 from three point land.

4th Quarter

It was a close game ‘til the very end. However, the lack of concentration for the home team was apparent. Two timeouts were called by the Knicks, one at the 3 minute mark and the other 2 minute mark in the 4th quarter, with the same message from Coach Fizdale –“STAY FOCUSED”.

The score was back to Pacers up 103-101 with 30 seconds and Sabonis finally fouled out, but the Knicks could not put it away. The Pacers got a rebound off an airball, and Oladipo put the dagger in the Knicks heart, with a corner 3 in front of the Knicks bench.

The young Knicks team showed their inexperience in crunch time as they could not close out a playoff team on their heels after the Knicks rained in 12 three pointers in the Garden. The lack of communication on defense was obvious especially in crunch time.

Knicks tried to play iso-ball and it didn’t work. Late in games is where historically young teams struggle and this team stayed on trend, going 1 for 6 in the last 3 minutes of the game. The Knicks was frustratingly stagnant as they were trying to figure out where to go with the ball and the isolation usually ended with a ‘hero-ball’ three-pointer, although Coach Fizdale did say in the postgame press conference that he was “Okay with [Hardaway’s] late game 3.”  The Knicks fell to the Pacers 107-101.

The youngest team in the NBA loses a nail biter in the 4th quarter! is burying the lead from this game. The story of this game will ultimately be that the young and gritty Knicks keep games close and losing isn’t a big deal as long as games are competitive, for free agency and draft purposes. However, the realistic outtake from this game should be, Tim Hardaway Jr. has been absolutely on fire going 7-10 from deep with a team-high 37 points and it wasn’t enough as this New York team is getting shredded on the interior, on defense in the paint, defensive switches, and rebounds. If things don’t shape up with with the stagnant offense when things get tight on the court, defense on the interior, and communication on both sides of the ball, this season losses will stack up so fast that when the Knicks and the fanbase gain consciousness again, it will be late January and New York fans everywhere are firing up the draft lottery simulator.

Notes on the Roster

  • Noah Vonleh with his second double double of the season, but 4th double-digit rebounding night in the young 2018 season
  • Frankie’s defense has always been there, but he’s trending up on the offense side of the ball, despite last game verse the Pacers. Coach Fizdale has been encouraging the young guard to shoot more as he publicly has said he wants Frank to take 3 or 4 three pointers a game.
  • Kevin Knox traveling with the team, his return is imminent– although I anticipate his minutes will be limited early.
  • THJ is easily the best player on the Knicks active roster, on his way to an All-Star bid, and the team will live or die with his shooting. It all will depend on his consistency. Yikes
  • Dot and Iso-Zo are becoming the X-Factors for this Knicks team, having 13 and 14 points, respectively. More importantly they are making timely plays, Zo off the bench and Dot in the starting lineup.
  • Communication must improve.

 

Iowa Basketball: Tyler Cook And The Hawkeyes Can Only Go Up In 2018

It’s safe to say that 2017 wasn’t a good year for the Iowa Hawkeyes basketball team. Finishing with a losing record was one thing, but they were only one spot away from being the worst team in the Big Ten in terms of record. That title went, somewhat unsurprisingly, to Rutgers. Still, to outsiders, it was likely surprising that Iowa fell this far. After all, they’re usually, at worst, a middling team.

But if you look at their record last year, you’ll notice a trend of big losses in conference play. Most of their wins came against teams from conferences like the WAC, SWAC, MAC, and Big Sky. In the Big Ten, though? They only picked up four wins. Looking at the quality, or lack thereof, of the teams that they did beat makes Iowa look even worse last year.

Things really can only go up, barring a collapse and another disaster of a season. Let’s look at some of the losses Iowa suffered. 77-64 on the road at Indiana, 91-73 on the road at Maryland, 80-64 at Rutgers, 85-67 at home against Wisconsin, 82-58 at Penn State. One trend was that the results were worse off away from home.

Fortunately, however, the team isn’t near as young this year. Top two scorers Tyler Cook and Jordan Bohannon were sophomores last year and both of them are returning, and bringing their team leading 15.3 and 13.5 point per game scoring performances with them. Bohannon is a guard and Cook is a small forward that should be one of the better ones in the Big Ten, in addition to one of the most used players.

Whether or not Iowa wins, Cook is an exciting player to watch. He’s the type of small forward that plays well around the basket and if you’re watching Iowa, you should expect to see him trying to get under the basket to dunk for a score. Most of his jumpshots will be from mid range, and Cook’s 56% field goal percentage might be inflated from his tendency to score right underneath the basket.

Out of their players that had a big impact last season, just about everyone is back. Cook and Bohannon, however, will be their big duo as both players bring scoring but outside of that, they specialize in two key areas. Cook is a better rebounder with a team high 6.8 per game, and Bohannon led the assists column with 5.4 per game.

Sophomore forward Luka Garza should also be expected to play a role as the second leading rebounder on the team with an average of 6.4 per game as well as 12.1 points per game, and redshirt senior Nicholas Baer might see more playing time with 5.0 rebounds per game.

The verdict here? Iowa was bad last season. Really bad at times, and they were blown out a number of times both at home and especially on the road. However, they were a younger team that was led by sophomores and a freshman, and with all of those players coming back, including their leader who could be a standout in the conference as a whole, they should take a step up.

It might not be a huge step up, but anything would be an improvement from what they are now.

Carsen Edwards Leads Big Ten In Preseason All-American Team

Love it or hate it, analysts love to compare college basketball players and teams before the season even begins. It’s not always the best way to determine who will actually be the last one standing come April, but preseason All-American teams are an annual tradition anyway and ESPN has released theirs for this upcoming season, which begins in a matter of days.

The ACC predictably dominated again with three players in the first team, but fans of the Big Ten can find comfort in the fact that the conference has one player in the first team in addition to one each in the second and third teams. The Big Ten’s one first team player is more than the Big Twelve and PAC-12 after all, as both of those conferences couldn’t get a single player into the first team.

Carsen Edwards is the one that made it, with ESPN effectively projecting him as the best player in the conference. Predictably, Edwards is a junior who should have an experience based edge on some of the younger star players this year, such as rival Indiana’s big name freshman Remeo Langford. He’s also one of the high scoring players whose offensive performances will likely stand out to awards voters at the end of the year.

Edwards averaged roughly 18 points per game after all, and made the second most single season three point shots in Purdue history as a sophomore. His average went up to 20.5 in the postseason and Edwards also scored double digits in 35 out of the 37 games that he played in. In other words, he was one of the most reliable options for the Boilermakers and that was as a sophomore.

Some are saying Edwards can compete to win some of the national player of the year awards, and that’s not entirely unreasonable. However, Edwards isn’t the only Big Ten player represented in the preseason All-American teams.

On ESPN’s second team, one of the forward positions is occupied by Wisconsin’s Ethan Happ. Like Edwards, Happ is an experienced player that will be expected to be a leader for his team. Happ is going into his senior year and is more of an all around player than Edwards is, scoring 17.9 points per game but also adding 8 rebounds per game on top of that. He had a pretty good amount of minutes per game last season, with 30, and was one of the three players that led Wisconsin in playing time.

There’s one Big Ten freshman that made the ESPN preseason All-American teams, but you’ll have to look all the way to the third team to find him. This is none other than Indiana’s Romeo Langford, the biggest name recruit for the Hoosiers in a long time. Lanford really needs no introduction and any time a player has so much hype for their high school games and for their college commitment, you expect them to carry the momentum into college.

The Big Ten Conference as a whole wasn’t the top one in terms of getting players onto these teams, but it was certainly represented and its three players are better than the Big Twelve and the PAC-12, as well as the Big East. But preseason predictions don’t always come true, so it will be interesting to see just how accurate this preseason team is when everything is said and done.

New York Giants Grab Starting Right Guard Off Of Waivers

While snatching starting help off the waiver wire is never an optimistic move, the New York Giants might have secured themselves a more than capable right guard.

Former Los Angeles Ram, Jamon Brown, was cut this week, landing on the waiver wire and was claimed by the Giants who had the highest priority. Brown will act as a reinforcement this season, and could even contribute as a starter once he becomes acclimated with their system and play designs.

The Giants signed Patrick Omameh to be the starting right guard this season. He has disappointing immensely, especially after receiver a three-year, $15 million deal. To be fair, his services were easily dismissed by the Jacksonville Jaguars, which was ultimately the first red-flag that I noticed upon his arrival. Omameh is a big strong player, but his lack of fundamental ability is concerning. He’s consistently off balance and fighting to regain leverage on a majority of plays.

Brown offers a 340-pound body and stands at 6-foot-4.  In four seasons, he has accumulated 30 starts. Luckily for him, the Giants are in dire need of support at that position and will likely offer him a potential starting opportunity before the commencement of the 2018 season.

An interesting fact about Jamon Brown that the New York Giants are aware of:

The new pickup was suspended for the first two games of the regular season for violating the league’s substance abuse policy. While this is a frequent occurrence across the league, we can only hope it was a one time infringement. The Rams waived him to make room for new edge rusher, Donte Folwer, which subtlety shows his worth.

The Giants would be intelligent to offer him a chance to prove himself in New York.