Team basketball is a sight to behold, but when an individual player is in a zone, sometimes the best strategy is simply to get the heck out of his way and let him dominate.
Across the country, we see these kind of epic performances on a nightly basis. It’s part of what makes college basketball so great — talented student-athletes showing off their spectacular abilities in front of millions.
Each week at NCAA.com, we’ll select a college basketball All-Week team. Comprised of five positions, the squad is selected based on games and performances from the week prior. Let’s get to this week’s edition.
RELATED: Last week’s team
G Dennis Smith Jr., North Carolina State
This is the best rookie point guard class we’ve seen in a long time, and going into the season, some thought Smith was the best of the bunch. And though he hasn’t garnered the headlines counterparts Markelle Fultz and Lonzo Ball have thus far, he’s starting to find his groove for the Wolfpack.
In N.C. State’s two wins this week, the freshman point guard averaged 19.5 points, 7.5 assists and 2.5 steals per game. And he’s evolving each time he takes the floor.
Earlier in the year, Smith settled for long 2’s far too often. If you’re an excellent mid-range shooter, that’s perfectly understandable. But that’s not Smith’s game – he’s basically impossible to stop from getting into the lane, and he’s a crafty finisher near the hoop. On Wednesday, he attempted 12 free-throws against Appalachian State and made 11 of them.
Smith can be inconsistent from the outside, but when he’s on, look out. The freshman buried five 3-pointers on Saturday against Fairfield in seven tries; when he gets to the point where opposing defenders can no longer duck under ball screens against him, Smith will be lethal. We may be there now, and with ACC play approaching, it’s excellent timing.
G Malik Monk, Kentucky
Monk was so good on Saturday that he probably doesn’t even need four teammates on this fictional all-week team. Oh well – it’s merely four more guys that get an up-close view of one of the most electric young scorers we’ve seen in college basketball in a long, long time.
Some players get in a zone for five or seven minutes; they’ll score on a handful of consecutive possessions, and it’s extremely impressive.
Monk was legitimately in a zone for all 38 minutes he was on the floor against North Carolina. The freshman scored 47 points on 28 shots and canned eight 3-pointers along the way; there was really nothing the Tar Heels could do to disrupt him. He was clutch at the end, too, knocking down key shot after key shot in the waning moments.
Those who critiqued Monk’s game going into the season noted that while he’s a great scorer, he had a habit of taking bad shots. Monk’s shot-making ability is clearly on another level; one could argue that a “bad” shot for any other player is a decent one if it leaves the Kentucky freshman’s fingertips.
But against North Carolina, just about all of Monk’s looks were clean. He’s an expert at losing his defender off of screens, and he knows exactly where to spot up in the Wildcats’ vaunted transition attack. With his combination of shooting ability and first-step quickness, he’s a problem for any opposing coach. Clearly, the biggest moments are not too much for this stud freshman.
F Justin Jackson, North Carolina
Monk was the story of the Kentucky-North Carolina heavyweight clash, but that takes nothing away from how good Jackson was for the Tar Heels on Saturday.
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It only took the junior 17 field goal attempts to score 34 points; Jackson nailed four 3’s and got to the foul line 15 times against the Wildcats. And he did it against one of the best on-ball defenders in college basketball, Isaiah Briscoe; Jackson’s size was an issue for the 6-3 Briscoe, as the former shot over the top of his counterpart all game long without much resistance.
Jackson is a very talented player, but he had plenty he could improve upon going into his junior year in Chapel Hill. It’s looks like he’s doing just that. Jackson hovered around 30 percent from the 3-point line in his first two years at UNC; this season, that figure is up to 37.7. He’s also upped his free-throw percentage by double-digits in comparison to his sophomore year mark. North Carolina lost the game on Saturday, but it has to be encouraged by the performances it got from Jackson and Joel Berry. Had Monk not left the planet Earth, the Tar Heels might have cruised to victory.
F/C Chris Boucher, Oregon
Boucher continues to be one of the most unique players in college basketball, and his performance against Montana on Tuesday exemplified that.
The Ducks’ big man scored 23 points and collected 19 rebounds in Oregon’s 14-point win; he also blocked five shots and nabbed two steals. Listed at just 200 pounds, Boucher is rarely pushed around inside – he’s averaging 3.2 rejections on the season and is second on Oregon in rebounding with 7.8 per game. His Tuesday stat line was the best he’s produced all year, but it hardly comes as a surprise.
Boucher is also hitting 35.5 percent of his 3-pointers this season. So to recap: he’s a rim-protecting, stretch center that weighs less than most shooting guards. Yes, he’s as fun to watch as it would seem. Boucher missed the Ducks’ game against UNLV on Saturday with an ankle injury, but his Tuesday performance was so dazzling that he earned a spot on this team anyway. Hopefully, he can get healthy soon.
C Tacko Fall, UCF
Fall took 30 shots this week. He made 26 of them. Granted, putting the ball through a 10-foot hoop is easier when you’re 7-6, but wow. This guy has been remarkable in 2016-17.
In UCF’s three games this past week, Fall averaged 21.3 points, 11.3 rebounds and 2.3 blocks per game. He’s now shooting 83(!!) percent from the floor this season. His best game of the week came in UCF’s overtime win against Miami (OH) on Saturday, where he went 11-for-12 from the floor and scored 31 points. Being massive helps, sure, but Fall has developed an impressive array of post moves and touch that’s helping him become an impact player. Perhaps more importantly, he understands angles better than he did last season, and he uses his size to reach the ball at its highest point.
Fall already has 42 offensive rebounds this season; he registered a total of 54 last year. The Knights’ center is soaking up basketball intel with each passing game, and it’s showing in his gaudy averages.