CJBL Tournament - Final Four Preview
- By Michael Miller, Day 167, 2021
-Record: 29-4 (.879 pct)
-Pac-12 Regular Season and Conference Tournament Champions
-Final AP Poll Ranking: #1
-Leading Scorer: SG Trendon Knox (24.2 ppg)
-Pro Prospects: Knox (Projected Top 10), Connor Maitland (2nd round), Xavier Maxwell (2nd round).
-Key Team Stats
***Points - 2,828 (4th best in CJBL)
***Assists - 889 (11th best in CJBL)
***Rebounds - 1,395 (5th best in CJBL)
***eFG% - .546% (4th best in CJBL)
***Offensive Efficiency - 123.9 (99th percentile)
***Defensive Efficiency - 96.5 (99th percentile)
-Road to the Final Four: After losing Jamaya Sprinkle, Mitchell van Bree and Sergio Loyola to the JBL, 2021 was expected to be a rebuilding year for the Wildcats. Junior SG Trendon Knox was a reserve on the 2020 team that finished with a loss in the Elite Eight, averaging only 8.4 minutes per game behind established starter SG D.J. Hempy. Out of nowhere, however, Knox has risen from afterthought to sensation, leading the CJBL in points. Arizona faced few real significant challengers, as they won their conference tournament final by double digit points and were not challenged in the tournament until the Sweet 16. After a one point win against Kansas, the Wildcats were again pushed to the brink by Georgetown, securing the win near the final buzzer by a 79-75 score. The Hoyas went blow for blow with the Wildcats, and there were 12 lead changes throughout the game as no team was able to generate more than a 6 point lead at any one time. Georgetown did a great job containing Trendon Knox, as he was only able to put up 22 points on 9 of 20 shooting. Connor Maitland stepped up, however, chipping in 18 points and 7 rebounds to keep Arizona in the game at times. Ultimately, Georgetown did not have the scoring punch to keep up with Arizona, as you need to connect on more than 7 three pointers to keep up with the Wildcats. As such, Arizona finished their wire to wire run and made it one further step than they did last year, getting into the CJBL Final Four.
-Team Strengths - As can be seen by their performance in all statistical categories, the Wildcats really have few deficiencies. By efficiency rating, there is no other team within the CJBL who is close to them. They avoid costly mistakes, as they have the lowest turnover rate of any team left in the tournament. They can win in a shootout and they can win in a low scoring affair.
-Team Weaknesses - Although the offense is quite efficient, Arizona ran into close games when Knox was not putting out a huge output. In the last two tournament games, both single point margins, the Wildcats receive a sufficient scare when they were not able to put up 80 points. As such, the strategy to stop Arizona will likely be to double-team on Knox and hope to basically outshoot the Wildcats so that the margin cannot be overcome.
-Record: 24-8 (.750 pct)
-AAC Regular Season and Conference Tournament Champions
-Final AP Poll Ranking: #5
-Leading Scorer: SG Tyrese Porter (20.4 ppg)
-Pro Prospects: Porter (Projected Top 10), Alexi Davydov (2nd round)
-Key Team Stats
***Points - 2,598 (30th best in CJBL)
***Assists - 847 (25th best in CJBL)
***Rebounds - 1,327 (10th best in CJBL)
***eFG% - .524% (50th best in CJBL)
***Offensive Efficiency - 116.9 (85th percentile)
***Defensive Efficiency - 99.6 (95th percentile)
-Road to the Final Four - After recruiting elite prep scorer Tyrese Porter, Connecticut did expect to get here and finished at the top of a very difficult conference. Indeed, the AAC landed 3 teams within the Sweet 16 and two in the Final Four. While Knox seems to have stolen some of the limelight from Porter, Porter's ceiling might be higher. It is remarkable that an 18 year old freshman would average more than 20 points per game in an elite conference. Additionally, Connecticut does not seem to be a team with elite pro talent. PF Alexi Davydov was a former top prep recruit, but while he has played well as a "glue guy", there really is no second banana to take some of the heat off of the Huskies. Much like their Final Four opponent in Arizona, however, Connecticut did not face a ton of resistance while winning both the regular season and conference tournament championships for the AAC. Similarly, Connecticut won their first 3 matchups in the CJBL tournament by double digit points, and withstood a tough initial shot from Duke in the Elite Eight before going up by 15 points with five minutes to go in the second half. Porter put up an absolutely elite Elite 8 performance, scoring 34 points on 13 of 23 shooting (7 of 13 from beyond the arc) along with 10 rebounds and 5 assists. He won Regional MVP and may take home Tournament MVP if he puts up two more performances like that.
Team Strengths - The Huskies finished with one of the best defenses in the CJBL, Duke has been the only team to really put up points on Connecticut late in the season. Davidav is clearly their best defensive player, and their efficiency on that end of the floor soars when he is on the court. Short of Knox on Arizona, Connecticut has the only other guy left in the tournament who can probably go off and put up a 40 points performance, if necessary, to win a game.
Team Weaknesses - Connecticut has a lack of size on the interior, and that may pose an issue where Arizona and Cincinnati have true big men in the front court. Additionally, like Arizona, Connecticut may be a bit too reliant on Porter for offense at times.
-Record: 23-12 (.657 pct)
-SEC #4, lost to Texas A&M in Conference Tournament Final
-Final AP Poll Ranking: #13
-Leading Scorer: SF Demarr Wilson (17.1 ppg)
-Pro Prospects: PG Mehdy Brown (Lottery), SG Malik Phillips (Late 1st), PF Justin Delgado (2nd)
-Key Team Stats
***Points - 2,883 (3rd best in CJBL)
***Assists - 918 (5th best in CJBL)
***Rebounds - 1,488 (1st best in CJBL)
***eFG% - .529% (27th best in CJBL)
***Offensive Efficiency - 118.2 (90th percentile)
***Defensive Efficiency - 102.8 (85th percentile)
-Road to the Final Four - As the lowest seed in the Final Four, it would be expected that Kentucky would have failed in the Sweet 16 or definitely in the Elite 8. Without a true go to scorer, the Wildcats are certainly easy to overlook. Nevertheless, they are a balanced and efficient team that does not turn the ball over significantly and they have a balanced approach that makes them a threat to win it all. Mehdy Brown is the unheralded leader of the team. While he has the ability to shoot effectively and take a game over, he would much prefer to spread the ball around. He had 10 assists in both the Sweet 16 and Elite 8 victories. In the Elite 8 upset over heavily favored Texas, Brown only scored six points, but had an incredible offensive efficiency rating of 184.1 and was key in allowing Delgado, Phillips and Wilson all put up an egalitarian 20+ points a piece. Kentucky led Texas the entire way, and it was the only game of the Elite Eight that was not really in doubt since the tip off.
Team Strengths: This Kentucky team just fits together, arguably, this is how a basketball team should be put together. Just look at how Kentucky led the CJBL in rebounds despite not having one of the top C/PF prospects expected to go into the JBL draft. This appears to be a team that can win in a variety of ways, which will make them a tough out against Cincinnati.
Team Weaknesses - The issue with having a balanced team is that there is no one who can step up and take control if necessary to win the game. While both Brown and Phillips seem to have the capability, Brown seems reluctant to do so and Phillips is wildly reckless when the ball is in his possession for too long. As the 3 other teams left have established stars in Knox, Porter and Mason, if they step up, it make be difficult for the Wildcats to have a counterpunch.
-Record: 23-10 (.697 pct)
-AAC #2, Lost to Memphis in Conference Tournament Semifinals
-Final AP Poll Ranking: #12
-Leading Scorer: C/PF Latrell Mason (20.4 ppg)
-Pro Prospects: Mason (Projected Top 3)
-Key Team Stats
***Points - 2,652 (17th best in CJBL)
***Assists - 890 (10th best in CJBL)
***Rebounds - 1,344 (8th best in CJBL)
***eFG% - .534% (16th best in CJBL)
***Offensive Efficiency - 116.4 (80th percentile)
***Defensive Efficiency - 101.1 (90th percentile)
-Road to the Final Four - Latrell Mason established himself as the top pro prospect early and never looked back. This Bearcats team does not have any other player seriously considered to be a pro prospect, so they were going to go as far as Mason took them. And, well, Mason has taken them really far. He has put up dominant performances in the CJBL Tournament, most recently against the heavily favored Ohio State Buckeyes in the Elite 8. On offense, Mason put up 25 points on 11 of 20 shooting and 12 rebounds. On defense, Mason shut down fellow elite prospect C/PF Jarnell Doaks, holding him to 13 points on 6 of 14 shooting and only 6 rebounds. Mason is a two-way player, and perhaps nothing can stop him from getting all the way to hoisting the CJBL National Championship.
-Team Strengths - No team has been able to stop, slow or contain Mason, and it is fair to question whether any other team left in the tournament has the ability to. Out of the top big prospects expected to declare for the draft, including Stackhouse, Haslem, Weir and Doaks, Mason has withstood them all and no other team left has a similar prospect. If he wants to win the whole thing, perhaps he can?
-Team Weaknesses - Turnovers are a huge issue for the Bearcats, as Cincinnati had the third most in the CJBL throughout the entire season. A team aggressive on the press can cause the Bearcats fits.
FINAL FOUR PREDICTIONS
Arizona over Connecticut - I think it is impossible to pick against Knox now. This will likely be a high scoring matchup, but I suspect Porter will have some ill advised turnovers allowing the Wildcats to get into the Championship Game.
Cincinnati over Kentucky - Mason just will not be stopped, and he puts up a 30+ point, 10+ rebound performance as Kentucky is steamrolled in the second semi-final game.
CJBL CHAMPIONSHIP GAME PREDICTION
Arizona over Cincinnati - It is the dream matchup between two Top 5 prospects. In the end, the Bearcats propensity for turnovers, and Arizona's ability to cause them, are the deciding factor. Knox takes home Tournament MVP and leaves nothing left to do in the CJBL.