RTC Live is back from the west side this evening for a trap game, as UNLV, fresh off of an upset victory over the nation’s #1-ranked North Carolina Tar Heels on Saturday night, travel to Santa Barbara to face a team that will be a factor in the Big West race this season. Join us for our live coverage tonight, after the jump.
Mark Bryant oversees multimedia at the Big South Conference. You can follow his updates on Twitter @BigSouthSports.
The Week That Was
Major Conference Assault… Big South teams threw down a few notable upsets since our last report: Presbyterian over Cincinnati 56-54 (Big East), Coastal Carolina over Clemson 60-59 (ACC), Campbell over Iowa 77-61 (Big Ten), and UNC Asheville over Utah 87-65 (Pac-12). Add that to Coastal Carolina’s victory over LSU (SEC), as noted in the last update, and the Big South has wins over teams from five of the six BCS conferences (regrettably no games against Big 12 teams remain, 0-2 in the only chances).
Temporarily Perfect… For the first time in conference history, two teams opened the season with five straight wins. Coastal Carolina and Campbell each reached 5-0 before dropping game number six (Campbell to Creighton and Coastal to FIU).
League Play Begins… Again this season, Big South Conference play gets a December preview before beginning in earnest on New Year’s Eve. Most teams will get two chances to notch an early conference win, with games on Thursday 12/1 and Saturday 12/3. High Point and Asheville are the only two teams who will have just one game against a Big South foe this weekend.
1. UNC Asheville – (3-4/0-0) The record gives an illusion of a lackluster start, but two of those losses were to top five programs (UNC & UConn) and another was to ACC foe NC State. The one the Bulldogs would probably like back is the two-point loss to College of Charleston. Of course, this team also obliterated Utah by a healthy 22-point margin. Asheville is fine, and the tough early tests should only serve to get the squad ready for the games ahead.
2. Coastal Carolina – (5-1/0-0) While we figured any reports of CCU’s death were greatly exaggerated, getting early wins against both LSU and Clemson certainly opened some eyes. The other contests on the Chanticleers’ schedule don’t offer much to go on so far, but even without some of the big-name players of past years, the two-time defending regular season champs are not going away anytime soon.
3. Campbell (5-1/0-0) – Rocketing up the charts, I present the Fighting Camels of Campbell. Okay, I was fooled before in thinking this team would be a middle-of-the-pack bunch this year because they are bringing it! Led by highlight-worthy senior Eric Griffin and rapidly-ascending freshman Trey Freeman, Campbell may well have something to say about the Big South race this season.
4. VMI (3-2/0-0) – The Keydets have knocked off equal and lesser competition so far, with losses to larger out-of-conference foes Air Force and Ohio State, those games also being the only ones with VMI held under 80 points. Led by Keith Gabriel and ESPN Top 10 dunker Stan Okoye, VMI is still running and gunning. We will soon see if they can outpace conference foes this year.
5. Presbyterian College (3-3/0-0) – The Blue Hose got deserved recognition and attention for grabbing a win at top 20 Cincinnati in a demonstration of what can happen when they are clicking. A team that has seen the bottom of the standings in recent years should be no worse than the middle of the pack this season, and could frustrate several league foes along the way.
6. High Point (2-4/0-0) – They may not have the most attractive record to date, but the Panthers have been in every game they’ve played right down to the end. Three of the four losses have been by only four or five points (the other was a 12-point margin). So while High Point has more losses than wins to show for November, the team has also demonstrated a little more fight than they have gotten credit for in the last couple of years and that could be important against familiar opposition in conference.
7. Charleston Southern (3-2/0-0) Saying your most impressive win of the year is against Stetson may not be shaking the pillars of college hoops, but the Bucs do bring a three-game win streak into league play after an 0-2 start, and that’s a very good sign for CSU. Bump them up for now, but see what comes out of the first week of December for a better barometer.
8. Liberty (2-5/0-0) – Ummm…dropping far down, at least for this week, is Liberty. The Flames have lost four straight, and not exactly against a murderer’s row. LU still has a fair chance to be in the mix this season, but the early skid does not offer much to go on. That said, the Flames have come back strong after slow starts before.
9. Radford (3-4/0-0) – What gives? Radford has lost three in a row since the last report and moved up two positions? Believe me, it says more about the other teams than it does Radford. We still think the Highlanders will have a rocky road to travel this season, and will likely finish at or near the bottom, but for now, slot them here.
10. Gardner-Webb (3-5/0-0) – Well, the record isn’t pretty, but some of that is deceptive. Yes, GWU is 3-5, and yes, that includes a four-game losing streak, but Bulldogs had to deal with five games in nine days at the Hoosier Invitational–and still had enough in the tank to pull out an overtime victory on that ninth day (76-74 over Chattanooga). So it’s bad, but it’s not ALL bad.
11. Winthrop (1-5/0-0) – Honestly, this is a “how the mighty have fallen” moment. Winthrop was the class of the Big South for years, and has found a way to matter in the postseason even when not playing from the top, but things have taken a turn this year. Winthrop needs a remedy–and fast. Their lone win came at the expense of Central Penn, a 107-68 thrashing. Outside of that game and a four-point loss to Drake, Winthrop has not seriously challenged its opponents, losing by 12, 21, 22, and 23. To be fair, two of those losses were Virginia and Marquette, and the Eagles were close for much of the Virgina game before being blown away down the stretch, but there aren’t many genuine positives to latch onto yet this season.
There are other games, sure, but the headliners right now are the conference pairings. Here are some key ones to look for…
Liberty — at Campbell 12/1 & at Coastal 12/3… a very tough 1-2 punch to take for Liberty, facing two early power teams on the road, but a sincere measuring stick for where the Flames really stand.
VMI — at Coastal 12/1 & at Charleston Southern 12/3… if you’re looking for entertaining basketball, you should find it on VMI’s road trip, with plenty of running, and threes, and dunks…defense may be optional in these games.
Winthrop — at Presbyterian 12/1 & at Gardner-Webb 12/3… talk about measuring sticks–is it the old guard or the up-and-comers who will prevail? Has Winthrop really fallen that far or was that an illusion?
Caught on Film
I’m not sure it gets much better than this–I can honestly say that it just doesn’t matter how many times I watch this dunk by Campbell’s Eric Griffin: the take-off from the Big South logo just shy of the free throw line, the posterizing of the unfortunate NC A&T player, the sheer vertical involved, you name it…I am spellbound each and every time.
A post-holiday backyard battle goes down tonight in the Steel City, as the two major programs in that town take the hardwood tonight for bragging rights. Join us for the conversation this evening, after the jump.
Duke was overmatched Tuesday night. The Blue Devils “only” lost by 22, but it wasn’t that close. From the opening tip, ignoring two short runs to cut the Buckeye lead to one in the first half, Duke was dominated on both ends of the floor. Like any early loss, it’s important to keep this game in perspective. Duke is still a top-10 team. It’s not, nor has it ever been, a top-three team (despite what some polls may say). This loss doesn’t wipe out Duke’s impressive run at Maui, but it does point to some major questions the Blue Devils need to address before they can be taken seriously as a national title contender.
First and foremost, the Blue Devils have got to find an answer to athletic teams defensively. Ohio State‘s starters, who played the entire game save the last two minutes, went 32-53 (60%) from the field including 8-13 (62%) from beyond the arc. And they weren’t just lucky. Sure, there were some shots that fell because it was “that kind of night” like Aaron Craft’s banked three in the second half. The Buckeyes shot well primarily because they got open. Between exploiting mismatches, especially at the four, and textbook ball movement (think Kansas the last couple of years), Thad Matta‘s squad rarely saw a possession that didn’t end in a good shot.
Mason Plumlee was one of Duke's Bright Spots in a Dark Game at Ohio State.
Watch Duke “pressure” defense fade away early after a few Buckeye buckets. happened in the 1st half already. key to shutting down their D…
A hallmark of Mike Krzyzewski‘s system is overplaying man-to-man defense predicated on deflections, locking down the perimeter, and playing people straight up. Coach K is also known for the effort his players give night in and night out. Needless to say, Hodge’s tweet does not support the latter statement. And he was right. Duke forced two turnovers its first two defensive possessions of the second half, but a couple of open threes put the Blue Devils on their backs (much like against Arizona in second half last year, at St. John’s last year, and at Georgetown two years ago). So far, the formula only applies to true out of conference road games (and Arizona playing the perfect game), but it’s certainly something to keep an eye on.
Duke got a shellacking from a very good Ohio State team who managed to deny the ball to and otherwise nullify the efficient scoring triumvirate of Ryan Kelly, Seth Curry, and Andre Dawkins who combined to score seven points (all Curry’s) before a disgusted Mike Krzyzewski benched the trio. On the other end, the Blue Devils were unable to stop a brutally efficient Buckeye offense that shot 59.3% from the field and included four players scoring over seventeen points. Other Big Ten beat downs were provided by Northwestern who stomped Georgia Tech with John Shurna‘s versatile offensive game and Purdue who simply devastated Miami with good looks at the basket and even better shooting. Maryland had the lead over Illinois for a nice chunk of that game, but Nick Faust’s trigger happy ways (2-11 shooting) continue to hurt the Terrapins as the Illini rallied to win the game.
The ACC Needs To Reassert Itself After Last Night's Disaster (Credit: AP Photo/Jay LaPrete)
On a positive note, Virginia got a quality win against Michigan in Blacksburg. The Cavaliers locked down Tim Hardaway Jr., holding him to only five points, while managing to get to the charity stripe at a much greater rate than Michigan. The Wolverines shot better from the field and better from the three-point line than Virginia, but making seventeen free throws while Michigan made only four gave the Wahoos the win. The other ACC silver-lining comes courtesy of Clemson which managed an impressive showing on both the offensive and defensive ends of the floor. Iowa simply had no answer for Andre Young’s five three-pointers and another ridiculous all-round game from Tanner Smith who had only seven points, but managed to get fourteen rebounds and eight assists.
Tonight’s the second night of the Challenge and the ACC has a steep hill to climb. The conference would have to win five of tonight’s six games to outright win. That seems like a tall order, but let’s at least look at the match-ups.
The Heavyweight Match-Up
#7 Wisconsin at #4 North Carolina at 9:30 PM on ESPN
This is a big one. The former overwhelming #1 takes on a Wisconsin team that’s been nipping at the heels of the nation’s top teams. A win in Chapel Hill would go a long way towards showing that the Badgers belong in the National Championship conversation. A refocused Tar Heel squad hopes to bounce back from their loss to UNLV and show the world that they mean business and that they are ready to take all comers. Much more about the contest here.
Indiana at North Carolina State at 7:15 PM on ESPN2
Virginia Tech at Minnesota at 9:15 PM on ESPN2
North Carolina State showed that they weren’t scared of the big boys by taking down Texas, but Indiana is an even tougher match-up. The resurgent Hoosiers have managed to put together a sterling campaign early in the year, including a big win over Butler, and some of the gaudiest shooting percentages in the sport. Indiana is the better team, but the Wolfpack has been battle-tested and has shown flashes of potential that hint at a team that’s on the rise. Indiana should win, but there’s something about the ferocity of this NC State team that makes me think that if Indiana comes out sluggish, they are simply toast.
Meanwhile, in the frigid north, Virginia Tech has good shot at taking down a short-handed Minnesota team. With the injury to Trevor Mbakwe, it’s no longer clear that the Golden Gophers can even be considered the favorites in this game. Playing at home helps, but the Hokies have showed toughness in taking down Oklahoma State and were impressive against Syracuse, even if they didn’t get the win. Erick Green and Dorenzo Hudson are quickly meshing into a lethal back court unit while Dorian Finney-Smith‘s versatility from the forward spot continues to impress. I think Virginia Tech wins this one, but with the injury to Mbakwe and the loss to Dayton, Minnesota has too much to prove to go down quietly.
Michael Litos is the RTC correspondent for the CAA. You can also find his musings online at caahoops.com or on Twitter @caahoops.
The Week That Was
Whew: Order was restored last week, when CAA teams went 12-10 and looked like The Association we’ve come to know. The 12 wins included several notable performances. Northeastern rolled St. John’s in Queens 78-64, and it wasn’t that close. The Huskies led all but 37 seconds of the game. Hofstra useda 20-4 second half spree to down previously unbeaten Cleveland State, 63-53. The win is doubly-notable because leading scorer Mike Moore was held to five points. Both James Madison and George Mason won their final two games of early exempt tournaments, and Georgia State (3-0) and Delaware (2-0) had undefeated weeks.Finally, VCU gave 13th-ranked Alabama all it could handle on Sunday night before dropping a 72-64 decision. The Rams led most of the second half before the Tide stepped on the gas pedal late.
Who?AJ Davis was 5-50 from three in two seasons at Wyoming, but hit eight of nine threes in a win over Rider and went 3-5 against Penn. Davis has now made 16-27 (59.3%) from three in five games for JMU. Davis scored the first 14 points of the second half for the Dukes in its win over Penn. Interestingly, Davis has scored 87 points in the second half of games this season and 27 points in the first half. His accuracy seems to be catching on. JMU as a team is hitting threes third-best nationally (46.9%). Predictably, that makes head coach Matt Brady nervous.
Wow: Delaware’s Devon Saddler is leading the country in scoring (24.5 PPG), but the CAA has seen many amazing individual performances. In fact, it forced the conference pooh-bahs to select tri-players of the week. Saddler,who averaged 26.5 points , five rebounds, and four assists in a pair of Delaware wins, was joined in the honor by JMUs Davis (23.3 and 5.7 RPG, hit 16 of 22 from three-point range) and JoelSmith from Northeastern (29 points and 10 rebounds in the St. John’s win, including 7 of 12 from three-point range) in the honor.
What? Why? Non-conference gives way, temporarily, to conference play this week. It’s weird to jam in conference games just before exams, but it’s necessary. Because there’s eight weekends in January and February and one Saturday is betrothed to Bracketbusters, the CAA is forced to play one week of Saturday-Monday-Wednesday-Saturday action, as well as play one conference game in December. This is that weekend. Ten of the CAA’s 12 teams open conference play. UNCW and VCU will face each other on Dec. 17. The move was made to allow VCU to play George Washington in the BB&T Classic this Sunday.
It's Tough To Find Anyone In The Country Stroking The Three Better Than James Madison's A.J. Davis. (CAASports.com)
Drexel (2-2): The Dragons played just one game, but it was telling. Drexel thumped Winthrop and had the look of a top-tier CAA team. The Dragons grabbed a lead and didn’t rest—they played harder and better. The result was a coach’s dream—a 10-point lead became an 18-point lead, not a four-point lead. Guard Frantz Massenat scored a career-high 23 points and hit 6-8 threes while directing the attack, and freshman Damion Lee continued to play well, contributing nine points, eight rebounds, and seven assists. What’s more, Drexel is close to getting leading scorer and top gunner Chris Fouch back from injury.
Northeastern (3-1): For lack of flowery language, the Huskies just plain look different. They are big, long, and attack gaps. They beat teams up and beat up St. John’s in every facet of the game including grabbing 53.8% of their misses on offense. The Huskies don’t give opponents the easy energy baskets, forcing opponents to shoot 21.8% from three (ninth nationally), and blocking shots on 16.8% of defensive possessions, good for 12th nationally. Because he a basketball coach, Bill Coen wants them to focus on taking better taking care of the basketball and fouling less often.
George Mason (4-2): It’s impossible to figure out what to make of the Patriots. First, they took the weekend off. Second, while they’ve improved markedly since their first game we’re not sure what we know—the schedule strength is an abysmal 322th. Still, Paul Hewitt has one of the conference’s best players playing well—Ryan Pearson has three double-doubles and scored a team-high 23 points against Brown and 24 points against Albany He is third in the CAA in scoring (21.3 PPG) and second in rebounds (9.0 RPG). It’s worth repeating that freshman Corey Edwards is beginning to look awfully comfy in the point guard spot, and incumbent Andre Cornelius—one of the conference’s best defenders—returns from a ten-game suspension in less than three weeks.
James Madison (3-2): The Dukes are firepower personified. You have read about AJ Davis and you know how well Humpty Hitchens is playing, but Matt Brady is getting yeoman’s work from Andrey Semenov. What’s more, senior Julius Wells is making a difference in stats other than FGA and Alioune Diouf passed up a redshirt to join the rotation this weekend to help defensively. All of this and their best player, Devon Moore, is still two weeks from becoming eligible. Of note, Rayshawn Goins opted for surgery and will miss the season, taking a redshirt.
VCU (3-3): The Rams have almost imperceptibly improved in every game they’ve played this season. One key has been the exuberant play of freshman Briante Weber, who plays with as much energy as anyone in the country. His defense energizes the team defense. To wit, Western Kentucky was held to one field goal and committed nine turnovers in the last 13 minutes against VCU. Shaka Smart is getting unspectacular but steady play from point guard Darius Theus, and Brad Burgess is beginning to grow into his superstar. The Rams were in control of their game against Alabama on Sunday for 34 minutes before letting it slip away. To a man they know they need 40 minutes of effort.
Old Dominion (4-3): The story of Old Dominion’s topsy-turvy season can be summed up by its last two games. The Monarchs built a 12-point second half lead against Vermont but gave it up and lost in overtime. The cause? The Monarchs were beaten on the backboards (48-37). Old Dominion just does not get killed on the boards by teams named Vermont. Next game was a brutal rock fight victory over East Carolina. Star guard Kent Bazemore is clearly pressing, and it’s impacting everyone. Bazemore is 8-37 from the field in his past three games, and when you tack on point guard Marquel DeLancey’s 1-15 you can see ODU isn’t exactly overwhelming anybody. ODU players will have to guard against standing around waiting for Bazemore–who still clearly doesn’t have the same explosion due to an injured foot–to make a play. On the bright side, Nick Wright returned from suspension and gives Blaine Taylor a different look. Wright can play high post and trigger the offense, but he can score—Wright put a 24/10 double-double on Vermont. Plus, Dmitri Batten had a confidence-booster in the East Carolina win.
Hofstra (3-4): The Dutchmen accomplished something nobody—including Vanderbilt—has done. They beat Cleveland State. The Pride got a lot of little things from a lot of players, and none were named Mike Moore. It’s significant because Hofstra has to prove to itself can beat quality competition without Moore pouring in 23 points. That’s exactly what they got. Bryant Crowder returned over the weekend from coach’s exile and gave the Pride more versatility in the post. Still, it seems like this team will rise and fall with senior Nat Lester. It seems Hofstra wins when he plays well, and struggles when he doesn’t.
Delaware (2-2): The Hens boast the nation’s leading scorer in Devon Saddler, but honestly the team is looking better and better because Saddler has tempered his shooting ways and gotten more Hens involved in the offense. To wit: Saddler had scored 32 points against Lafayette on Saturday, but in a tie game with less than a minute to play penetrated the lane and kicked the ball to freshman Kyle Anderson, who promptly buried a back-breaking three. And Jamelle Hagins played his best game of the year, a 13/14/3 block masterpiece. There is a very tangible meshing feel to this team.
Georgia State (4-3): Though the competition has been McNeese State, Samford, Liberty, and South Carolina State, the Panthers won all four games last week to even their record after the 0-3 disaster in Washington. Ron Hunter still is not playing as fast as he’d like–65.9 possessions per game is 248th nationally—but they are getting contributions that are complimentary. Jihad Ali scored 14 of his 16 points in the second half and went six-for-six from the floor, including four three-pointers in the Liberty win. That’s worth mention because if Hunter can get enough scoring from Ali and Devonta White, it frees superman Eric Buckner to make athletic plays without having to worry about carrying an offensive load. Buckner blocked a career-high seven shots against Liberty
UNCW (0-4): Point guard Craig Ponder was hobbled all season by an ankle injury and finally gave up the ghost—he is undergoing season-ending surgery. That forces Buzz Peterson to begin a revolving door approach to his point guard play. Tanner Milson, Freddie Jackson, and KK Simmons (two freshmen and a sophomore) will all take turns. We knew UNCW was young and Peterson would play the kiddies, but this stat bears out just how reliant they are on youth: freshmen have accounted for 145 of the Seahawks’ 242 points (59.9%) this season. Side note: UNCW was 0-3 from three in a loss to Davidson, marking the first time since 1996 it didn’t hit a trey
William & Mary (1-6): It’s almost Bizarro World to consider Quinn McDowell—a first team All-CAA honoree and in the conversation for player of the year—took one field goal attempt in 33 minutes against Howard on Saturday. However, that sums up the slow start for the Tribe. Brandon Britt is playing better after his awful start, and freshman sensation Marcus Thornton is starting to figure out “good shots” in college. Most importantly for Tony Shaver is that Beasthoven made his first appearance of the year. Sophomore Tim Rusthoven hit went 4-5 from the floor in 21 minutes, scoring 13 points and grabbing six rebounds (four on offensive end). In the words of someone who was there: he was the best player on the floor. Shaver could not have dreamed of a worse start to the season, but the pieces are beginning to come together.
Towson (0-5): The Tigers can say they played in front of the President, losing 66-46 in their home opener against Oregon State, coached by Barack Obama’s brother-in-law. However they are doing what Pat Skerry asks—continue to play hard and improve every night. Towson is actually a +4.8 rebound margin against the ninth-toughest schedule in the country. Sophomore Marcus Damas recorded a double-double against Oregon State with career-highs of 18 points and 10 rebounds. Skerry is near begging his team to cut down on turnovers, which continue to plague them.
Drexel at St. Joseph’s (Wednesday): The Dragons are 9-42 lifetime against the Hawks and have not won up at Hawk Hill since 1978. Drexel won this game last year and walks to the jump circle having never—ever—beaten St. Joseph’s in consecutive games. The Hawks will test them, as they’ve built a 4-2 record against a tough schedule. That said, Drexel may get Chris Fouch back and still have not played to their potential. This has all the makings of a rock fight.
Old Dominion at Northeastern (Saturday): The Huskies have a decidedly ODU look. They grabbed 21 offensive rebounds against St. John’s, while ODU was busy being outrebounded by Vermont. Matthews Arena is a tough place to play for CAA foes—it’s a hockey arena co-opted for basketball. Northeastrn has won two of the last three against ODU in the building. This is a match-up of minds: Bill Coen and Blaine Taylor are X/O, white board maniacs; and Northeastern is feeling good about itself while ODU is not, which probably puts ODU exactly where they want to be.
James Madison at Hofstra (Saturday): This game pits two of CAA teams that are outpacing expectations and this game will surely have tiebreaker ramifications come late February. Matt Brady has practically begged for defense. The old saying is that good teams win on the road, and they do so by playing defense. There you go.
Drexel at Delaware (Saturday): Drexel is a great defensive team, and I read somewhere that good teams win on the road by playing great defense. Delaware is preaching turn the corner this year, so what better opportunity to put on your turn signal than to beat the conference favorites at home? This is also the conference’s second most-hated rivalry. It’s worth noting that last season Delaware beat the CAA favorite Old Dominion in a December home game as well.
Bill Coen graduated four senior starters and the Huskies predictably lost their first eight conference games last season. However, they rallied late, winning six of their final ten games as sophomores Jon Lee, Joel Smith, and Kauri Black gained experience. Those three are bringing along a talented freshman class quickly and results are positive. NU is leading the CAA in rebounding—something they did poorly last year—and are aggressive with the basketball.
“Those guys have played here for three years,” says Coen. “They just have a different sense of confidence and a feel for one another that can only develop by playing together.”
The scary part for CAA opponents is that Ryan Pierson and Alwayne Bigby, two of Coen’s go-to players in the past two seasons, have yet to make a significant impact. What’s more, the Huskies’s biggest deficiencies are correctable: they turn the ball over and foul too much. Both are products of their aggressive play, and both can be mitigated by smart aggression.
After a tough loss to UNLV, North Carolina faces a tough match-up if it wants to bounce back: a slow, methodical, and lethal Wisconsin Badgers. Though Bo Ryan‘s team has yet to be truly tested, with the best win on its résumé a neutral court win over the Jimmer-less Brigham Young University, Wisconsin’s style seems tailor-made to challenge the Tar Heels.
The two teams are diametrically opposed in terms of pace with the Badgers plying at the slowest pace in Division I and North Carolina playing at the fifth quickest. North Carolina’s primary struggle against the Rebels was difficulty defending the three-point line; Wisconsin has shot 47.2% from beyond the arc on the season. The Badgers aren’t shy about shooting the long ball either, shooting 42.6% of all field goals from long range. North Carolina was exposed on Saturday as a team that wasn’t prepared to adequately defend the perimeter and if Roy Williams hasn’t corrected this issue, the Tar Heels are in for a long night.
Jordan Taylor Leads A Wisconsin Team With Few Weaknesses
Defensively, Wisconsin has been stout. For the past few years, Wisconsin has had a reputation as an incredible defensive club, and while the Badgers have been good, the defensive prowess of the team has been overrated because of an over reliance on “points per game” and “scoring margin.” Since 2009, Wisconsin has combined a sloth-like pace with brutally efficient offense and good, but not great defense. Folks see the low final score and the impressive scoring margin and figure that the team locked down their opponent. In recent history, that’s not really been the case. This year, however, the defensive reputation has been earned albeit against an extremely weak schedule.
Who’s Got Next? is a weekly column by Josh Paunil, the RTC recruiting guru. We encourage you to check out his website dedicated solely to college basketball recruiting, National Recruiting Spotlight, for more detailed recruiting information. Once a week he will bring you an overview of what’s going on in the complex world of recruiting, from who is signing where among the seniors to who the hot prospects are at the lower levels of the sport. If you have any suggestions as to areas we’re missing or different things you’d like to see, please let us know at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Lead Story: Britt Chooses Carolina, Gives Tar Heels Top Two Committed Juniors
Nate Britt Will Be A Force In North Carolina's Backcourt. (ESPNHS)
Roy Williams Out To Early Lead In Class of 2013. With junior point guard Nate Britt‘s selection of North Carolina last night, head coach Roy Williams has now received commitments from the top two signed prospects in the Class of 2013 — the other being power forward Isaiah Hicks. Britt has dreamed of being a Tar Heel since the age of 11 and will form a nightmare backcourt with Class of 2012 point guard Marcus Paige (North Carolina) when the two are put together. North Carolina is in great shape at the point guard position over the next few years thanks to the duo of Paige and Britt and won’t suffer a large drop-off after sophomore point guard Kendall Marshall leaves. Britt is such a valuable prospect because of his outstanding ability to score in the mid-range, knock down perimeter shots, and his consistency in getting into the lane. He’s an intelligent player who can finish well around the bucket with both hands. Britt is also a great passer and does a good job of controlling the pace of the game. A couple of other top juniors North Carolina is going after includes small forward Troy Williams and power forward Julius Randle. The Tar Heels have a good shot with Randle, although they aren’t the favorite — that would be Kentucky.
What They’re Saying
Junior Matt Jones on selecting Duke: “It’s the way they play and [head] coach [Mike] Krzyzewski, everybody respects him and what they stand for with academics on and off the court. They can get me to the next level as a person and a man and as a player to continue to improve my game.”
Junior Julius Randle on how Matt Jones’ commitment affects him: “I have to do what’s best for me and find the best fit. I know Matt pretty well and I don’t think he’s going to put pressure on me. He’ll tell me that if I don’t go to Duke he’ll love me either way.”
The Pac-12 conference has turned over a new leaf this week, actually winning games that they are supposed to win. After Tuesday night’s games, the conference is now 6-0 on the week. There aren’t a whole lot of impressive wins in the mix there, but at this point in the game, any win is a good win. The biggest news on the floor came in Las Cruces, New Mexico, where Arizona did just about everything they could to give away a late ten-point lead, but scraped out a seven-point win in a game that could go down as the game that saw the changing of the guard for the Wildcats – quite literally. Freshman guard Nick Johnson got the first start of his career against the Aggies and also stepped right into the role of the Wildcats’ go-to player on the offensive end, hitting eight of his team-high 14 field goals on his way to a career-high 19 points. Further, this was the first game of the season in which freshman point guard Josiah Turner was clearly the best point guard on the roster. While he still hasn’t regained the starting role from sophomore Jordin Mayes, that day is likely just around the corner. Turner is still a work-in-progress (he had a career-high 12 points, but still turned it over four times, including two times after the last media timeout and just before fouling out), but his ability to create offense for himself and for his teammates is undeniable.
The other Pac-12 game last night saw Oregon hold off a game UTEP team behind Jonathan Loyd‘s career-high six three-pointers. It has been a slow start to the season for Loyd, and with Devoe Joseph becoming eligible in ten days, he’ll see more competition for the Ducks’ precious backcourt minutes. But the 5’7” guard’s quickness combined with his ability from deep means he’ll continue to provide energy for Dana Altman in whatever role he plays. And, we learned after the game that even more backcourt minutes have opened up for the Ducks as it was announced that freshman guard Bruce Barron had left the team too, making him the second backcourt recruit to leave Oregon abruptly in the first month of the season. Jabari Brown left the team ten days ago. While Altman had previously said that the door was open for Brown to return to the team, he offered no such option this time, saying “we’re past that point” and confirming that the team would be comfortable moving forward with the players remaining on the roster.
Injury problems have plagued Kevin O’Neill and USC all season; they struck again on Tuesday when it was announced that sophomore center Dewayne Dedmon had suffered a stress injury in his right foot and would be out four to six weeks. Not only is this a blow to USC’s chances, it is a blow to the inexperienced Dedmon, who already suffered a broken hand prior to the season but did not miss any games as a result of that injury. USC will shift 7’1” junior James Blasczyk from the bench into Dedmon’s spot, with sophomore Garrett Jackson finding more minutes for himself and 6’5” freshman Byron Wesley possibly getting some time at the four.
Bouncing back across town to UCLA for a moment, Jeff Eisenberg reported on Tuesday that there were exactly 34 UCLA students at the Bruins’ temporary home at the Sports Arena when their game against Pepperdine tipped off Monday night. And in the 14,500 seat facility, the announced crowd was 3,885 – a generous number at that. With UCLA struggling to find any rhythm early in the season, the fact that the team can’t even count on a student section to stir up some momentum seems to cast an even more dire glow over an already disappointing season.
Finally, there’s some interesting news out of Arizona State, as their star wing Trent Lockett is taking 21 credits both this semester and next in the hopes of graduating after three years. Clearly the kid has an amazing work ethic, because in addition to handling such a huge class load, he has improved his basketball game every season he has been in Tempe. But – and this is just pure speculation – one has to wonder if maybe, just maybe, the reason he is so intent on finishing up his degree in three years is so he can take advantage of the rule that allows graduates to transfer between academic institutions without having to sit out a year. And really, who could blame a guy as good as Lockett who is mired in a pretty miserable situation with the Sun Devils.
Patrick Marshall is the RTC correspondent for the Missouri Valley Conference. You can also find his musings online at White & Blue Review or on Twitter @wildjays.
The Week That Was:
Creighton Continues Up the Top 25—With a lot of teams in the lower part of the top 25 losing this week, Creighton moved up in the coaches poll from #25 to #23 while also receiving more votes in the AP poll putting them at #26. So far the Bluejays have not disappointed including their 104-81 victory over Campbell and winning the Dale Howard Classic.
Valley Stock Rising—The Missouri Valley Conference has had some great success so far in the non-conference season. There are only 27 teams in Division I still undefeated. Only three non-BCS leagues still have undefeated teams. Two of those teams are Creighton (5-0) and Missouri State (4-0). The Valley is 37-16 so far including a 24-4 home mark.
Northern Iowa Bounces Back—The Panthers made an impressive showing in South Padre by getting wins against Rice and Providence. Since the loss at St. Mary’s, Northern Iowa has won their last four and are getting good contributions from players like Seth Tuttle, who averaged 11 points and 6.3 rebounds in the last three games.
Greg Lansing And Jake Odum Have The Sycamores On The Rise. (Matt Kryger/Indianapolis Star)
Creighton (5-0)— Creighton continues to roll along. In their only game this week, the Bluejays started the game hitting their first 13 shots of the game putting them up 18 points early on Campbell. Creighton continued to blister the nets the rest of the game and set a school record shooting 70.4% from the field for the game. Creighton also dished out 30 assists on 38 baskets for the game. They currently lead the nation in assists while placing third in points per game.
Indiana State (6-1)—The Sycamores continue to build upon last year’s success by playing with a lot of poise during the Old Spice Classic. After beating Texas Tech in the first round, the Sycamores took it to the wire against Minnesota before losing to the Gophers. Indiana State rebounded to get a win over Fairfield to take third place. Five players finished in double-figures. The balanced scoring right now by Indiana State will keep opponents off balance. Read the rest of this entry »
Perry Jones is back and he returned in style from a suspension last night, scoring 29 points in a rout of Prairie View A&M. Jones’ suspension for improper benefits dates back to last season (it included the Baylor‘s lone game in the Big 12 Tournament), but with the suspension behind him, Jones appears ready to live up to his billing as the league’s pre-season Player of the Year. Playing a cupcake schedule, the Bears did just fine without Jones during a 5-0 start, but the competition stiffens this weekend with a road contest at Northwestern. Baylor needs a sharp performance out of Jones to win that one.
Jones may have returned, but Baylor’s other star forward, Quincy Miller, did not play against Prairie View A&M due to a sprained ankle although the team reports that he will be ready for the Northwestern game. Hopefully, the Bears won’t have to deal with too much rust from Miller or Jones, or else they could be in for a long night against what appears to be a solid Northwestern team.
Northern Iowa and Iowa State play each other every year these days, but newcomer Chris Allen has a different relationship with the Panthers. The former Michigan State guard called Northern Iowa “that purple team,” in reference to the 2010 NCAA Tournament squad that lost to the Spartans in the Sweet 16. Allen will play an important role for the Cyclones as they attempt to defend their home court. In their one previous game against Missouri Valley competition, they fell on the road to Drake. There are only a few leftovers remaining from the 2010 team that defeated Kansas in the second round, but Allen said he knows “that they can beat anyone on any given night. I saw it happen.” Coach Fred Hoiberg has to like that attitude.
With so many newcomers it is not surprising that Texas Tech is struggling to take care of the ball. The statistics are staggering, though as the Red Raiders are close to dead last in Division I basketball in turnovers per game. The exact average is 18.7, and that’s “good” for 320th in college basketball. It is not just one guy either. Point guard Ty Nurse averages two turnovers per game (against only one assist per game). The rest of the team varies from about 1.5 to 3.0 turnovers per game. That has to improve for Billy Gillispie, but that goes without saying.
Nobody will question LeBryan Nash’s talent, but people are starting to question his attitude. Coach Travis Ford says not to worry about Nash’s negative body language, however. He defended his young star, telling reporters that Nash’s natural demeanor often gives fans a misperception of his actual work ethic and attitude. According to Ford, Nash hasn’t had any sort of chemistry issues, and he is fitting in with the team just fine. By all accounts, it sounds like Nash’s game will eventually come around.
There are many extremely talented freshmen in the nation this season, several of which are in the SEC. Mike Miller of Beyond the Arc says that Florida guard Bradley Bealmight just be the best of them all. Miller cites Beal’s consistency, his shooting efficiency (58.8 eFG%), and his significance in the Gator offense despite the glut of talented guards in the Florida backcourt. Beal is averaging 17.0 points, 6.5 rebounds, 2 assists, 1.2 steals, and 1 block per game. He was named SEC Freshman of the Week for this past week for his performances against Jacksonville and Wright State. The Freshman of the Week award has become a difficult honor to win within the SEC. A different freshman has won the award in each of the three weeks of the season thus far with Kentucky’s Anthony Davis and Mississippi State’s Rodney Hood as the other two winners. Davis might be Beal’s biggest competition for the title of the top freshman in the country. While Davis is still developing a consistent offensive game, he has been an absolute beast on defense. He is averaging 12.7 points, 8.2 rebounds, 1.2 steals and is fourth in the country in blocked shots with 4.3 blocks per game.
Vanderbilt suffered a heartbreaking loss to Xavier on Monday night, but the Commodores had to be satisfied with at least a couple aspects of their game. CBS Sports RapidReports points out one positive from the loss was the continued improvement from the charity stripe. The Commodores rank 216th in the nation in free throw percentage (68.5%) yet they shot 75% from the free throw line on Monday making nine of 12 attempts. Jeffery Taylor was 5-6 for 83% despite averaging 60.5% from the line thus far this year. Although 75% is an improvement Vanderbilt has to get to the line more often than the 12 shots they attempted on Monday. For comparisons sake, Xavier went to the line 27 times. Vanderbilt must attack the rim off the dribble rather than settle for jump shots in order to improve this number, and this has not been an aspect of Vanderbilt’s game that they have displayed thus far this season.
The guys at Anchor of Gold are not exactly sure why Vanderbilt lost, but they offer up a couple of suggestions. The stat I found most interesting is that Xavier walked away with a 51% offensive rebounding percentage against the Commodores’ depleted frontline. The Musketeers grabbed 25 offensive rebounds explaining how they were able to shoot just 37.2% from two-point field goal range and come away with the win on the road. Festus Ezeli‘s return has to significantly affect this deficiency. Ezeli won’t erase all of Vanderbilt’s struggles, but he will be a difference maker on both ends of the court. I’m not hopping off the Vanderbilt bandwagon just yet as I think it is important to see how this team plays with the big man in the middle before casting judgement on the quality of this team. Vanderbilt has another huge test on Friday as they face Louisville in the KFC Yum Center.
CoachCal.com editor Eric Lindsey gave us a full report from John Calipari‘s Tuesday practice with the Wildcats as they prepare for St. John’s on Thursday and UNC on Saturday. Similar to two recent posts about UK on the SEC microsite, Calipari spent some time focusing on their low post game. Cal has worked with big man Anthony Davis to stay lower to the ground to avoid getting pushed around by stronger defenders. By bending his knees, Davis can create a lower center of gravity. Calipari also worked on having low post players seal off their defender and make quick, one bounce moves to the basket. By establishing a low post presence, Kentucky opens up a number of options within their offense, which was covered in our most recent Breaking Down the Play post. Expect to see the Cats go down low early and often this week.
Rupp Arena will be on display on Saturday afternoon via CBS for the Wildcat’s showdown with North Carolina. The Lexington Herald Leader reports that the University of Kentucky could renovate Rupp rather than build a new arena as previously discussed and better meet the needs of the school. Kentucky is looking to upgrade spaces for the media room, interview room, and training room; add premium seating for the University president and others; and add a new center-hung scoreboard that displays the score, player stats, instant replays, and close-ups of players and coaches. Kentucky has led the nation in average attendance for 15 of the last 16 years, but seemed to be motivated by a brand new arena 85 miles to the west in Louisville. Now the plan appears to be to renovate Rupp Arena to make the improvements needed without building a new arena. In the long run, it would be a mistake to neglect the history that Rupp Arena brings to Kentucky and to college basketball as a whole.