Whenever a player transfers from a mid-major to a high-major league there is always one question that is asked.
“Will his game translate?”
This is, of course, a totally fair question. All 350ish programs in college basketball are not created equal, and accomplishing certain statistical marks in one league doesn’t mean those numbers can be copy and pasted into another. This is especially true for mid-major to high-major “up” transfers, some of which have had tremendous success and others who haven’t been as lucky.
Florida has a point guard in Tyree Appleby that just sat out his redshirt season after two productive years at Cleveland State, a historically middle or lower of the pack Horizon League team. Here were his stats as a sophomore:
Those are outstanding numbers, but the Horizon League and SEC are two conferences in two separate tiers of college basketball.
So–how do we think Appleby’s game will be able to translate?
For starters, if you haven’t read it yet I did a statistical analysis of Horizon League to high major transfers over the last decade, figuring out the average statistical carryover and applying it to Appleby’s numbers to make an educated guess at what his numbers could be at Florida. I think it’s pretty interesting stuff, and you can read it here. In that same article I did the same for Louisiana Tech transfer Anthony Duruji and how CUSA to high major transfers have done.
That statistical analysis is interesting and could very well give an accurate depiction of what could be expected from Appleby but another way to see how he might do in the SEC is to look at how he played against high major competition when he was at Cleveland State. The Vikings, like most mid-major teams, have an opportunity to play a number of high major opponents in the non-conference portion of the season, something that gives us a chance to see how Appleby has fared against elite competition.
In his career at Cleveland State Appleby played against Rutgers, Michigan State, and Cincinnati* as a freshman and Ohio State and DePaul as a sophomore.
*Yes, I am aware that Cincinnati isn’t a high major team. However, in this season (2017-18) the Bearcats were 4th in KenPom and one of the best teams in the country. This helps with the sample size of Appleby against quality competition and I have no problem with it due to how good Cincinnati was this year. For example, the Gators haven’t reached as high as 4th in KenPom since their hottest streak in the 2017 Elite Eight season, something that should indicate how good that Cincinnati team was.
Here are Appleby’s stats from each of those games:
3-8 Shooting (0-2 3P)
7-11 Shooting (0-1 3P)
3-9 Shooting (0-3 3P)
4-10 Shooting (1-4 3P)
4-13 Shooting (3-10 3P)
As you can see, his numbers against quality competition weren’t great which certainly brings in a bit of concern. For starters, his point totals weren’t massive and the points he did get didn’t come with great efficiency. Going through the film, there definitely were some bright spots offensively. Take a look at a few highlights here:
— Eric Fawcett (@Efawcett7) October 2, 2020
There are definitely a few things you like to see here. First, Appleby is able to generate space around long, athletic players using a combination of shiftiness and explosive lateral footwork. One of the concerns with guards up-transferring is that they won’t be able to generate the same amount of space in the higher levels as they did in lower leagues. As you can see in a few of those clips, creating space wasn’t an issue for him.
Another positive was how he was able to finish around the rim around bigger rim protectors than what he would be used to in the Horizon League. Appleby shows toughness and creativity at the cup, something that every undersized player needs to be effective. What also makes his finishing at the rim impressive is that Appleby isn’t actually a great finisher at the rim. Actually, by the numbers, he’s a below average finisher converting only 46% of his attempts. That is a number that could rightfully bring some concern to his fit in the SEC, but in this brief sample of clips you’ll see he does have some creativity and burst to finish.
Looking at his missed shots, a lot of them came from great scouting by the opposition as well as this key fact–Appleby was at the center of every opposing teams’ scout.
Appleby was far and away Cleveland State’s best offensive initiator and there was a massive dropoff in talent after him. For that reason teams were trapping him, hard hedging him, and generally doing whatever it took to get the ball out of his hands to make other Viking players beat him. Appleby is a player that took most of his shots off the dribble in rhythm, and a lot of the shots in these games were off the catch as teams forced the ball out of his hands and made him a floor spacer.
The number one threat with Appleby as a scorer is his ability to hit three-point shots off the dribble, but in all these high major games he never got going from behind the arc. You can interpret this in a glass half full or half empty way. On the optimistic side–well, he was able to generate some offense from inside the arc, something that wasn’t his strength. On the pessimistic side–you could point out that his number one strength as a basketball player is his shooting and he hasn’t shown he has been able to do that against great competition and if he isn’t an above-average shooter for the Gators his potential severely drops.
Something else concerning about his history against quality competition is the turnover numbers. One thing about Appleby that you need to know is that he has definitely been prone to turnover problems at times. Here are some of the turnovers he had in these high-major games:
Unfortunately Tyree Appleby did have some turnover problems against high-major competition, often as he tried to force offense for his team that struggled to score. pic.twitter.com/vJCScqBuxw
— Eric Fawcett (@Efawcett7) October 2, 2020
Some of the turnovers were mental errors and some were miscommunications. Watching Appleby’s time at Cleveland State, it definitely wasn’t uncommon to see him throw a ball away trying to make a play for his teammates. Remember, Appleby was a one-man show tasked with dragging around below-average offensive talent while opposing teams did everything they could to make him uncomfortable knowing there weren’t secondary options that could hurt them. Appleby definitely had some head scratching turnovers he should be blamed for but at the same time he shouldn’t get a scathing review for all of them as he tried to force offense when his team couldn’t really generate any.
For the record, Appleby was one of the highest-usage players in the country a year ago at 30.9% (43rd in the country) so his raw average of 3.4 turnovers per game as a sophomore is somewhat misleading. His turnover percentage, a much more sophisticated at truthfully better way of evaluating turnovers, was a decent 20.6%. For comparison, Andrew Nembhard’s turnover percentage was 21.4%.
If you’ve gotten to this point of the article and have found yourself concerned at Appleby’s skillset translating to the SEC based on his numbers against high-major competition in the past, that is totally fair. However, to reiterate, in these games he was in his freshman and sophomore seasons, something that shouldn’t be lost.
Florida has a pair of 5-star freshmen in Scottie Lewis and Tre Mann who had immense struggles in non-conference games against high major teams. Remember Lewis going for 4 points against Xavier and Florida State and 3 against Butler? Or Mann going for 5 against Florida State and struggling to get on the floor against UConn? Noah Locke as a sophomore even had trouble in these high major non-league games with 2 points against Florida State and 6 against Miami.
If you want to look at other Florida players who have struggled as freshmen look no further than Ques Glover, Mike Okauru, Deaundrae Ballard, Eric Hester, and well…most of the frontcourt players.
This isn’t to slander these players or be negative in any way, it’s just to point out that if you isolate Florida’s proven high-major commodities in non-league high-major competition you’ll see some ugly numbers. Take a look at how those freshman and sophomores did against high-major opponents in non-conference play and then look at Appleby’s and you will have a very, very different outlook. Plus, Appleby was on an island without any quality teammates to relieve pressure, adding to the context of his numbers.
Fortunately, Appleby is no longer a freshman or a sophomore. He’ll be in his fourth season of basketball, a veteran who has seen a lot of minutes on the floor and has now had the chance to acclimatize to Florida’s style of basketball.
Until Tyree Appleby has the opportunity to play there are always going to be questions about how his game will translate to the SEC but looking at how he performed as a young player there is lots to be optimistic about.