College Basketball Teams with Scary Small-Ball Lineups in 2013-14 Season
In today's college basketball, traditional position definitions are breaking down. Terms such as power forward, center and shooting guard are being replaced by 6'10" guys who can shoot the three and 6'5", 240-pound post players who don't fit typical molds.
In particular, skilled big men are becoming scarce. It's increasingly difficult to put together a classic two-post lineup, but this season, we're going to find a growing number of coaches who simply don't care.
Just like every situation, some coaches adapt better than others to a lack of quality height. Some of the game's top strategists favor a lineup with four perimeter players working around one post. The eight schools listed here—presented alphabetically—could operate for extended minutes with only one big man and be better for it.
All heights and weights from official school rosters. All stats and rankings from StatSheet.com unless otherwise noted.
Anthony Drmic, 6'6", 195
Jeff Elorriaga, 6'2", 180
Igor Hadziomerovic, 6'4", 202
Derrick Marks, 6'3", 206
Ryan Watkins, 6'9", 229
The Boise State Broncos were one of the nation's best three-point shooting teams last season, largely thanks to the unconscious gunning of Drmic and Elorriaga. The two combined for 622 field goal attempts last season, 392 of them from behind the arc.
With gunners like those spreading the floor, playmaker Derrick Marks (pictured) has no trouble finding openings for mid-range shots. According to Hoop-Math.com, 64 percent of Marks' shots were two-point jumpers, and he made a very respectable 44 percent of those attempts.
Watkins doesn't see a ton of looks—his 180 shot attempts ranked fifth on the team, even behind reserve Mikey Thompson—and most of what he gets comes from offensive rebounding. Still, he's a highly underrated post presence who's been among the nation's top 35 in offensive rebounding percentage (OR%) in both of the past two seasons.
Ryan Boatright, 6'0", 168
Omar Calhoun, 6'6", 200
DeAndre Daniels, 6'9", 195
Lasan Kromah, 6'6", 201
Shabazz Napier, 6'1", 180
This lineup is not likely to be the starting five for UConn, but it could be the best five that Kevin Ollie can put on the court.
Boatright, Napier and Calhoun comprise one of the nation's best guard trios, and it's likely that two of them could be first-team All-AAC selections at season's end. Around them, however, there's still some mystery to be solved.
Freshman forward Kentan Facey, a 6'9" native of Jamaica, is still awaiting word from the NCAA on whether he can play this season. Senior Tyler Olander has only recently been reinstated following offseason DUI charges and could be walking on thin ice. Sophomore Phil Nolan and freshman Amida Brimah, both in the 6'10" and 215-pound range, could use some more meat on their bones.
The latter charge could also be applied to the skinny Daniels, who nevertheless showed flashes of dominance late in the 2012-13 season. Over his final four games, Daniels put up 21.3 points, 9.0 rebounds and 3.3 blocks per game.
Kromah is a more than capable scorer who averaged at least 10 PPG in each of his seasons at George Washington.
This lineup might struggle defensively against teams with capable scoring bigs, but it can outrun and outscore any opponent.
Tracy Abrams, 6'2", 190
Joseph Bertrand, 6'6", 200
Nnanna Egwu, 6'11", 250
Kendrick Nunn, 6'3", 180
Rayvonte Rice, 6'4", 235
Two seasons ago, then-Illinois coach Bruce Weber regularly played a four-out lineup around eventual NBA lottery pick Meyers Leonard. Abrams and Bertrand were two of those four, with Bertrand playing the role of undersized power forward.
The precedent is there if Weber's successor John Groce wants to build a similar grouping around junior Nnanna Egwu. Bertrand is a very good mid-range scorer who should be a consistent 12-point scorer if he can get close to 30 minutes a night. Abrams has been highly praised for his leadership ability since coming to Champaign, and he'll have to prove it by pulling together a roster full of new faces.
Rice can play a similar role if his odd proportions fit in the Big Ten. He's bulkier than most wings, and Groce has gone on record with his belief that the Drake transfer can play four positions.
Nunn is likely to see major minutes because there aren't many other perimeter threats on the Illini roster. If his shots aren't falling, there are plenty of other rookies looking for minutes.
Tyreek Duren, 6'0", 190
Tyrone Garland, 6'1", 185
Sam Mills, 6'2", 200
D.J. Peterson, 6'5", 190
Jerrell Wright, 6'8", 255
La Salle coach Dr. John Giannini likes to utilize four perimeter players in order to put extra pressure on ballhandlers and deny three-point shooters. Duren, Mills, Peterson and Wright flourished in a lineup like this, especially during the NCAA tournament while center Steve Zack was out with a foot injury.
Garland is a natural replacement for departed top scorer Ramon Galloway. But he's not the same caliber of three-point threat, shooting only 28 percent from deep for his career. The other three guards, however, can make up the slack. All three shot between 38 and 40 percent last season.
Wright proved in March that he is more than capable of working alone inside. During the seven games that Zack missed, Wright stepped up with 13.4 points and 7.1 rebounds per game.
The Explorers were among the top 35 nationwide in both three-point offense and defense last season. With most of the same personnel back, don't hold your breath expecting a major drop-off.
Wayne Blackshear, 6'5", 230
Luke Hancock, 6'6", 200
Montrezl Harrell, 6'8", 235
Chris Jones, 5'10", 175
Russ Smith, 6'0", 165
The recent suspension of Louisville forward Chane Behanan could be merely a routine offseason warning shot designed to scare a player back into line with team rules. If coach Rick Pitino is trying to shame Behanan back in line, he's putting everything into it. Behanan has even been evicted from his athletic dorm, according to the Louisville Courier-Journal's Tim Sullivan.
Behanan was expected to help Harrell carry the load inside. Without him, Pitino can either give full-time starter's minutes to center Stephan Van Treese or roll with a lineup like the one above. Look for him to frequently choose the latter and drive opposing offenses nuts with heavy ball pressure.
Smith's resume as one of the most dangerous scorers in America speaks for itself. He'll get two steals a night, frequently turn them into easy layups at the other end and usually foul someone out by night's end.
Hancock came up huge with 42 points en route to Final Four Most Outstanding Player honors. His shooting stroke will make it easier for Blackshear to make better decisions on shot selection. At his size, the 32-percent three-point shooter could stand to try his luck at the rim once in a while. Hoop-Math.com put Blackshear down as a 71-percent shooter at the rim, albeit on less than 20 percent of his shots.
Jones doesn't have the been-there-seen-that calm of predecessor Peyton Siva, but he's a much more dangerous scorer who should be capable of running the Cardinal offense.
Defensively, Harrell is no Gorgui Dieng, so don't expect three blocked shots per game. Harrell does, however, have a much more aggressive mindset, especially on the offensive end. Hoop-Math noted that 72 percent of Harrell's shots came at the rim, compared to 43 for Dieng.
Chris Crawford, 6'4", 222
Michael Dixon, 6'1", 200
Shaq Goodwin, 6'9", 242
Joe Jackson, 6'1", 174
Geron Johnson, 6'3", 197
It's hard to find a four-guard attack anywhere in the country more equipped to frustrate opponents than the Memphis Tigers'.
Jackson is coming off a tremendously efficient season, one that saw him sink more than 54 percent of his two-point shots. That's an incredible figure for a player Jackson's size, especially one who also drew a free throw for every two field-goal attempts.
Johnson is the No. 2 returnee in rebounds, assists, steals and blocks. Unfortunately, he's also second to Jackson in turnovers. Crawford, a 39-percent three-point shooter in each of his last two seasons, was one of the nation's top sixth men last year.
Dixon's familiar with the sixth-man role from his time at Missouri, and he'll be yet another body who can score, disrupt passing lanes and operate the offense when needed.
Goodwin's blend of muscle and athletic ability equip him to clean up after the pests that surround him. He played 25 or more minutes 13 times last season. In those games, he averaged 12 points and eight rebounds. With full-time minutes this year, he's capable of putting that up for a full campaign.
Zak Irvin, 6'6", 200
Mitch McGary, 6'10", 255
Glenn Robinson III, 6'6", 220
Nik Stauskas, 6'6", 205
Derrick Walton, 6'1", 185
The Michigan Wolverines lost a pair of NBA first-round picks out of their backcourt, so it should be a simple matter to replace them with two touted freshmen, right? (Note: sarcasm.)
While veteran Jordan Morgan will often work inside next to McGary, expect coach John Beilein to spend plenty of time in a four-out lineup similar to last season's national runner-up.
The key to Walton winning the starting job outright over national title game hero Spike Albrecht will not be scoring as well as Trey Burke did, but keeping the ball secure as Burke did. Burke turned the ball over on only 13 percent of his possessions last season.
Irvin can be a capable replacement for Tim Hardaway Jr. with the ability to score at the perimeter and on the drive. His key will be playing defense well enough to crack the rotation ahead of sophomore Caris LeVert.
Robinson is expected to lead the team in scoring in preparation for a run at the 2014 NBA lottery. He'll need to establish himself as an outside shooter to go with his outstanding athletic gifts. Stauskas has the opposite problem, hoping to prove himself more than just a spot-up sniper who stands in the corner and waits for the pass.
If McGary is fully healthy after being limited with lower back problems in early practices, expect more performances along the lines of his star-making March Madness games. He's more than capable of doing the Wolverines' heavy lifting, so much so that he's drawing preseason All-American nods.
Rob Brandenberg, 6'2", 190
Jordan Burgess, 6'5", 215
Treveon Graham, 6'6", 220
Juvonte Reddic, 6'9", 250
Briante Weber, 6'2", 165
Shaka Smart's lineup could conceivably go 12 players deep, and the VCU roster is versatile enough to build dozens of combinations. The five men listed here blend scoring ability, athleticism and defensive quickness that will infuriate opposing players and fans.
Incorrigible thief Briante Weber, who's averaged 2.4 steals per game through his first two seasons, has the toughest task in replacing steady point guard Darius Theus. Weber's not a deadly perimeter shooter, but with all the transitions he starts, he generates plenty of layups and dunks.
Graham and Reddic are the top returning scorers, and there's no reason to expect that to change. Graham's big enough to back down the smaller guards and quick enough to leave forwards in his wake. He's just as capable as Reddic of racking double-doubles and getting easy scores off the offensive glass.
Brandenberg is another double-figure scorer, and his job is to replace at least some of the shooting of mad bomber Troy Daniels. Daniels hit 124 of the Rams' 278 three-pointers last season, nearly 45 percent.
Burgess will be a wild card. Ineligible last season, he's a former top-100 recruit who's expected to take the wing scoring mantle from Graham when he graduates. Like Graham, he has the ability to get his points from anywhere. Most of his minutes are likely to come in relief of Graham, but watch out for when the two take the floor together.
For more from Scott on college basketball, check out The Back Iron.
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