April 30, 2019

The Jordan Brand Classic and the Future of Women's College Hoops

                                                                                         Warren Grimes

            A week or so back, 24 of the best high school seniors played an all star game in Las Vegas: The Jordan Brand Classic.  These high school all star games don’t always show the players at their best.  There’s “hot-doggery” and “run-and-gunnery” – and usually not much focus on defense. 

            This all star game was well above average.  There was some defense, lots of blocks and steals, and some notable intensity in the second half as the home and away teams competed to win a close game.  Here are two examples, both involving the top-rated recruit in the country (and Stanford bound) Haley Jones.  The first involved Jones defending a would be dunk by her future Stanford teammate, Fran Belibi.  In that play, Belibi ran to the hoop to accept a high and very dunkable pass from a teammate.  Jones kept pace with her on the cut, staying between Belibi and the hoop.   Belibi lept above Jones to gain control of the pass, but could not get close enough to the hoop to convert.  

            In the second play, a loose ball was bounding in the direction of the basket.  Jones dove to the floor to gain possession, scooting the ball ahead to a teammate heading for the hoop.  Then Jones popped up in time and was there to tip in the miss.

            These plays showed focus and intensity, and Jones was not the only player to demonstrate this.  All three of the future Stanford players (Jones, Belibi, and Ashten Prechtel) acquitted themselves well, as did many others on the court.

            On a broader level, the 24 players selected for the game suggest the continuing dominance of the big-name schools.  South Carolina and Stanford had three players each while Notre Dame, Ohio State, and UCLA had two each.   Other power teams had representatives, including Baylor, Louisville, Maryland, Mississippi State, Oregon State, Tennessee, and Texas.

            Perhaps a bit of a surprise: two final four teams, Connecticut and Oregon, had no representatives in the Jordan Brand.  But don’t expect either of these teams to falter.  U Conn has had numerous players in recent Jordan Brand games, and will surely have one or more in next year’s game.  Oregon, which lost only one starter, has brought in two outstanding players from Australia and Germany (neither could be considered for the Jordan Brand Classic). 

            Overall, the lineups for the Classic showed the preeminence of the Pac-12 conference.  Seven of the 24 players (that’s 29% of players) have chosen to play for Pac-12 schools (three for Stanford, two for UCLA, and one each for Oregon State and USC).  This suggests that the conference’s strong performance in recent NCAA tournaments is likely to continue.

            During the run up to the game, Tennessee was busy finding a replacement coach.  They chose Kellie Harper, a former star Tennessee point guard and experienced coach who had just taken Missouri State to the Sweet Sixteen, only to be bumped by Stanford.  Harper’s Missouri State team was well organized and played very disciplined defense against Stanford.  I expect Harper to have Tennessee, with its roster of highly rated recruits, back in the top ten. 

            Harper will be Tennessee’s second attempt to replace Pat Summit.  The problem of replacing a legacy coach is one that will confront a number of other top programs in the next years.  Among the top programs with relatively senior coaches are Baylor, U Conn., Notre Dame, and Stanford.  When these replacements occur, there is a possibility of shaking up the established order. 

            But now let’s return to the Stanford story.  With three players among the 24 (12 on each team), Stanford, along with South Carolina, had preeminence in this game.  South Carolina’s recruits were rated the best in the country, above Stanford.  One can argue about this.  Much of the dispute centers on how highly Fran Belibi is rated.  She was not in the top fifteen in recruiting rankings, but was chosen as a member of USA Today’s first team high school All American list, suggesting a top five ranking. 

            In the game, Belibi played roughly half the minutes and still had a double-double: 16 points and 15 rebounds.  The rebounding performance was, by my count, the best of any player.  Belibi’s strength and slashing style drew a number of fouls, and she converted 8 of 10 at the charity stripe.  Belibi also had 2 assists, 2 blocks, and 2 steals.  I don’t care where the rating services place Belibi: I’m glad she’ll be playing for Stanford next year.  She’ll get lots of minutes, much to the chagrin of opposing coaches. 

            As for Jones, she won the MVP for her team, with a game high 17 points, 5 boards, 4 assists, and 2 steals.  Her leadership, smarts, and intensity were impressive.  She’s a player.  And Prechtel was no slouch.  In her time on the court, she had 5 points, 5 boards, and 3 blocks.  Prechtel is a mobile post player who can run the court, shoot the three, block shots, board, and pass the ball.  She’s for real.  Maybe a Shannon Coffee with a bit of Alanna Smith mixed in.

            Overall, Stanford’s three players put up 38 points.  South Carolina’s group of three contributed 34 points and had their own MVP (Zia Cooke).  I’ll let the experts debate the ranking of these two recruiting classes.  As for me, I wouldn’t do the trade.  Stanford’s class includes Hannah Jump, who, according to her high school coach, was likely the most reliable three point shooter in the high school game.  If she can play defense, she’ll get minutes too, maybe lots of them. 

            To quote the Stanford band, “Alright now!”

1 comment:

Stephen Perlman said...

Nice analysis.

Despite the justified accolades for Jones and Belibi, how far the Cardinal go in 2019-2020 will largely depend on the development of Prechtel. Fingal (assuming she is fully healed and ready to play) is a strong, solid defender who can score around the basket and hit the 3. Dodson is still finding her way offensively in terms of post moves and finishing- but neither are replacement for Smith.

Prechtel will have to get stronger, but her length and mobility could be a huge asset come conference time.