Kenneth Faried is not necessarily a mathematician but he has a good understanding of how odds have helped him become a ferocious rebounder.
“You have to play the percentages,” the Morehead State junior forward said. “For example, if someone takes a shot from the corner and misses, there’s a 70-percent chance that the ball is going to come off on the other side of the hoop. So much of it is having an understanding where a missed shot is going to wind up. It’s just become natural for me.”
Few players in the nation played the percentages better or had better rebounding percentages last season than Faried. He finished second in defensive rebounding percentage (33.8) and eighth in offensive rebounding percentage (16.4) in helping Morehead State to its first NCAA Tournament appearance in 25 years.
Though Morehead State is off to a 1-3 start, Faried has again been a rebounding machine. He is pulling down 12.5 boards a game to go with a 19.3 scoring average in 31.5 minutes a game.
However, it is not surprising that Faried is such a great rebounder. After all, he was raised to be one while growing up in Newark, N.J.
“My mother and father wouldn’t let me play unless I rebounded,” Faried said. “They wanted my game to be more than about shooting all the time and scoring points. They insisted that I had to have an all-around game and work hard on the boards, and it’s paid off.”
It has paid off to the point where Faried is drawing the notice of NBA scouts despite playing at a mid-major program and rarely getting national exposure. Draft Express ranks the 6'8", 215-pounder as the 13th-best junior in the country and the 51st-best prospect overall while ESPN’s Chad Ford has Faried at No. 61 on his top list of top 100 prospects.
Faried isn’t worried about coming out early for the draft at this point. Morehead State has high hopes despite the early losses to Kentucky, Louisiana-Monroe and Kent State. The Eagles begin OVC play tonight by visiting Tennessee-Martin and Faried believes it’s a big step in getting back to the NCAAs.
Morehead State was a surprise team last season, going just 16-15 in the regular season before winning the OVC tournament then beating Alabama A&M in the play-in game of the NCAA Tournament before losing to Louisville in the first round. This season, Morehead State and Murray State appear to be the top two teams in the conference. The Eagles have four returning starters, including junior guard Demonte Harper, who is averaging 11.3 points, 2.7 rebounds, 2.7 assists and 29.7 minutes a game this season.
“We feel like we have a really good shot to win the conference again,” Faried said. “We have a lot of guys with experience. It’s going to be different this year, though. There is that bulls’ eye on our back now. Everybody in the conference is going to be gunning for us because we’re the champs but we’re excited to get started with conference play. We want to get off to a good start.”
Faried had 17 points and seven rebounds in the opener against a Kentucky team that has as many as three players on its frontline that could eventually be first-round draft picks. His coming-out party, though, occurred in the loss to Louisville in the NCAAs last season when he recorded 14 points and 11 rebounds against a No. 1 seed.
Ironically, Louisville was one of the major schools that began recruiting Faried late in his high school career. However, he had already committed to Morehead State because coach Donnie Tyndall offered a scholarship when many other schools were concerned that Faried would be a non-qualifier.
“The first time I got a letter from Morehead State, I’d never heard of the place,” Faried said with a laugh. “I was a 16-year-old kid and all I cared about was playing ball. I didn’t keep up with my grades and that scared a lot of schools off. I got more serious, got my grades up and then Big East and SEC schools started recruiting. But Morehead had been there from the start and didn’t back away when other schools did. That meant a lot to me.”
Faried has meant a lot to the rejuvenated Morehead State program and he is showing an improved game this season. After being just a 57-percent free throw shooter last winter, Faried has raised that mark to 82 percent. He also has improved his bench press from 200 to 300 pounds since the end of last season.
“I feel a lot stronger, that I’m holding my ground more against bigger guys and feeling stronger late in games,” Faried said. “You always want to keep improving every season. Going to the NCAAs pushed me to work even harder because I want to get back.”
Marquette Opens Eyes
Marquette is picked to finish in the lower half of the Big East this season after losing standout guards Dominic James, Wesley Matthews and Jerel McNeal from last season’s 25-10 team. Yet, the Golden Eagles are off to a 6-1 start this season and are only one point away from being perfect.
After rolling to four wins over easy opponents to begin the season, Marquette opened some eyes last weekend at the Old Spice Classic at Disney World. The Eagles beat Xavier and Michigan before losing 57-56 to Florida State in the championship game.
Michigan coach John Beilein, whose team was ranked No. 15 in The Associated Press poll at the time, was quite impressed with Marquette’s quickness on offense as the Eagles shredded the Wolverines’ 1-3-1 defense.
“That was as quick a team as I can recall,” Beilein said. “That gives them a lot of ways to score. Stopping them from getting into the lane is really hard when they’re quick at so many positions. We dialed up everything we could do but they’re super-quick. They’re extremely crafty and quick.”
Senior forward Lazar Hayward, Marquette’s lone returning starter, is leading the way with averages of 19.6 points and 6.7 rebounds a game while junior wing Jimmy Butler is averaging 16.0 points and 7.6 rebounds. Sophomore guard Darius Johnson-Odom, a junior college transfer, has a 11.9 scoring average and is shooting 50-percent from three-point range.
Marquette, who hosts North Carolina State on Saturday, is 23rd in the nation with a 115.1 adjusted offensive efficiency and 65th in adjusted defensive efficiency with a 91.2 mark.
“They play really good defense, too,” Beilein said. “I don’t how many times we got open, clean looks.”
Izzo Passes Heathcote
Tom Izzo became Michigan State’s all-time winningest coach last Saturday when the Spartans clobbered Massachusetts 106-68 in the consolation game of the Legends Classic in Atlantic City. Izzo notched his 341st victory, one more than Jud Heathcote.
Michigan State’s players celebrated the milestone by drenching Izzo with a cooler full of water then presented him with a plaque to commemorate the accomplishment. The plaque read in part, “341 leaves a footprint in the sand.”
“I wasn't expecting it,” Izzo said. “I'm happy that they appreciate that even I want to leave a footprint. That's what meant more to me than anything."
Izzo is 341-193 in 15 seasons since being elevated from top assistant coach to replace Heathcote, who was 340-220 in 19 seasons before retiring.
“I'm thrilled for Tom and I'm proud of him,” Heathcote told the Lansing State Journal’s Joe Rexrode. “And I’m proud of the continuity the program has had. Every program needs continuity and we've had it at Michigan State. I want to be the first in line to congratulate Tom.”
A&M Enters Top 25
Texas A&M cracked the AP top 25 this week at No. 22 after beating No. 19 Clemson and No. 22 Minnesota last weekend and losing by seven to West Virginia in the 76 Classic at Anaheim. The Aggies are 6-1 after drubbing Prairie View A&M 84-59 on Wednesday night and stand at No. 6 in the Pomeroy Ratings.
Not bad for a team that was rather lightly regarded by most analysts coming into the season.
“There was no one talking about Texas A&M and I thought we were pretty good,” Aggies coach Mark Turgeon told the Bryan/College Station Eagle’s Richard Croome. So the guys had a chance to earn it or fall on their face and they went out and played three pretty good games, so I think they earned it.”
Senior guard Donald Sloan is leading Texas A&M in scoring with a 16.0 average. The Aggies are sixth with a 119.7 adjusted offensive efficiency and 25th with an 87.0 adjusted defensive efficiency. Their next big test will come Dec. 22 when they visit Washington.
John Perrotto is an author of Basketball Prospectus.
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