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Player preview: Jamal Branch, the team's most improved player, looking for consistency

John Alber

Talking about Jamal Branch inevitably leads to chatter about Rysheed Jordan; both play point guard, both are tall players with a defensive reputation. And given Rysheed Jordan's accolades and preseason hype - including a preseason Freshman of the Year prediction - Jamal Branch's role looks to be reduced.

Not so fast.

In preseason play, Steve Lavin has started Branch and Jordan together, giving the Johnnies two heady guards on the court. And Jamal Branch is on board, saying "we know each other's games. We're going to mesh well."

Lavin has called Branch, a former top-50 guard, the most improved player on the roster.

Having two passers on the court to find the scorers JaKarr Sampson and D`Angelo Harrison, to add length to the defense, and to ensure a semblance of solid penetration against any team sounds like a good idea; but it also requires a level of unselfishness. And it requires players to know how to switch roles - how much dribbling is too much probing? Who directs the traffic?

And how will last year's struggles affect Jamal Branch ?

Last season

Vitals for 2012-13: 6 points/ game | 3 assists/ g (22.6% assist rate) | 2 rebounds/ g | 2 turnovers/ g | 41% 2-point shooting | 18% 3-point shooting

Last year, Amir Garrett was the end-of-semester addition to the Red Storm. This season, Jamal Branch was that acquisition, ending his redshirt time on the bench after his transfer from Texas A&M.

The addition of Jamal Branch added a facilitator to an athletic squad that needed direction and structure; his first game, against UNC Asheville, saw him provide a first half spark (before that second half collapse in the loss to the Big South visitors).

From last year's preview:

Added offensive cohesion will put the wings Garrett and Pointer in the position to be finishers, not creators; their high-flying finishing skills should benefit from a deft passer. Branch's abilities should be able to find easier catch-and-shoot opportunities for a team that struggled to shoot.

How much impact will he have? His shortened season doesn't give a lot of context to his stats, but he was a very good passer (assisting on 29% of his teammates' shots at Texas A&M), but needed to cut down on turnovers.

Branch drew some fouls and provided a good change of pace from D'Angelo Harrison and Phil Greene IV's play. Jamal shot a crisp 50% from the field in the first half of Big East play, averaging 9 points, 2.6 assists and 1.6 steals in 26 minutes of time.

He turned the ball over on 20% of his possessions, which was a little high, but he had a sense of adventure in his passing... for good and bad. Some of those passes were creative for a team that struggled to get shots at the rim. And some were just bad ideas.

Then he injured his knee - an MCL sprain - in the second loss to Georgetown, and he did not return quite the same. Maybe it's the wall the whole team hit, but Branch's play was markedly different - more tentative, with less penetration against Pitt, Providence, Notre Dame, and Marquette. And the success rates were abysmal.


#0 Branch
Big East Games 1-9
Big East Games 10-18 (post-injury)
By range
Success rate/ FG% at range
% of shots taken
Success rate/ FG% at range
% of shots taken
At Rim
Three pointers
Free Throws

He took a higher rate of three-pointers (missing all six attempts), and his mid-range jump shot just didn't fall. Even more curiously, his efficiency at the rim went from excellent to poor.

Overall, he shot 16% from the field in the final four Big East regular season games, and 17% overall once he returned from injury, adding an average of 3 assists and 3 rebounds.

Competition is a factor; playing last year's DePaul makes many players look like all-stars. And Branch did have a solid games against Marquette (8 assists) and against Saint Joseph's in the NIT, (9 points and five assists).

But his impact on the team was not as strong as some may have hoped, and this year he will be pushed by the touted freshman Rysheed Jordan, a similarly-built point guard with explosive scoring ability on the high school level.

This season

For a Red Storm team that favors aggressive, attacking scorers, Jordan may supplant Branch's role - and more - especially if Branch can't regain his scoring touch. His turnovers need to improve as well; the Red Storm value the ball, and a player who isn't scoring and isn't valuing the ball will find himself observing much of the action from the bench.

Last year's Big East games in the early season showed flashes of the good Jamal Branch, a player who is very good taking a secondary role and occasionally attempting the spectacular. And the Marquette game showed that he can run a team that's starting to feel its confidence and playing against a man-to-man defense.

How much of this Jamal Branch will we see this year?

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