Xavier head coach Chris Mack urges his Musketeers on during Friday night’s win over Weber State. (Cara Owsley/The Cincinnati Enquirer)
It Felt Like Weber State Was Good Enough to Hang With Xavier: The Wildcats were frequently in the game with the Musketeers tonight. They knocked a 15-point lead down to seven or eight points in both halves. They matched Xavier bucket for bucket to start the second half. These are very important ingredients to pulling off a monumental upset. Weber State had to be in the game or in control of the game to make it happen. At the very least, it competed successfully. Only at the very end of the game did Xavier pull away.
It Never Felt Like Weber State Was Going to Beat Xavier: As I said, the Wildcats matched the Musketeers shot for shot for much of the game, which also means they weren’t able to get stops and get out of their own way. Xavier controlled the boards (+16 advantage), but the Wildcats missed critical free throws (5-of-11) and got killed in the paint by (42-30 Xavier advantage). The upset was possible but ultimately incomplete.
Xavier’s Primed To Take Michigan State’s Vacated Spot as Potential Title Contender: I’m not saying the Musketeers have successfully claimed Michigan State’s throne as one of the top teams left in this Tournament, but their chances got a lot better tonight. So did Oklahoma’s. And Oregon’s. And a host of other clubs. An early exit from the Big East Tournament appears to be just that regarding the Musketeers and not indicative of a hangover effect.
Star of the Game: This honor goes to Musketeers’ big man James Farr. The senior went for 16 points and 15 rebounds (seven offensive rebounds!) while also showing us he can dunk and drop a skyhook with the best of them. He also had two blocked shots. All in a day’s work for the… Farr of the Game.
Posted by Adam Stillman & Tommy Lemoine on March 16th, 2014
As we move through the final stages of Championship Week, we’ll continue to bring you short reviews of each of the automatic qualifiers to help you fill out your bracket next week. Here’s what you need to know about the most recent bid winners.
North Carolina Central
North Carolina Central is headed to the NCAA Tournament for the first time ever. (ETHAN HYMAN/News Observer)
MEAC Champion (28-5, 18-1)
RPI/Pomeroy/Sagarin = #104/#78/#84
Adjusted Scoring Margin = +8.9
Likely NCAA Seed: #14
Three Bruce Pearls of Wisdom.
Head coach LeVelle Moton began shedding tears in the waning minutes of North Carolina Central’s MEAC Championship victory over Morgan State on Saturday, and why not? The former NCCU player had just clinched his alma mater’s first NCAA Tournament birth in school history, capping off an outstanding 28-win campaign that has the chance to get even better. It was the Eagles’ 20th win in a row, a 71-62 outcome that featured many of the same components that made them so tough throughout the regular season: great defense, lots of free throws and lots of Jeremy Ingram.
NCCU dominated the MEAC this season and its defense is a big reason why. The Eagles hold opponents to the fifth-lowest effective field goal percentage in the country and force a bunch of mishaps – their 24.0 defensive turnover rate trails only VCU, Louisville, Stephen F. Austin and Eastern Kentucky. They make life difficult for ball-handlers, rarely find themselves out of position and crowd the paint when opponents try dumping the ball inside. In fact, aside from some sub-par defensive rebounding numbers – due in part because of their limited size, in part because they force a lot of outside shots (and thus long rebounds) – NCCU is well above average in most other defensive categories.
The Eagles start three seniors and two juniors and their top reserves are both upperclassmen, altogether making up a roster that’s the fourth-most experienced in America. The leader among them is Jeremy Ingram, a 6’3’’ guard who averages 20 points per game and just about always gets his fill, even on off-nights. He scored at least 14 points in 27 of 33 games this season, including six 30-plus point outings, and does large chunk of his damage from the free throw line. Ingram attacks the basket and draws fouls when he doesn’t finish – he shoots 76 percent from the stripe – but he’s also the best outside shooting threat on a team that doesn’t shoot many threes. Still, NCCU might be at its best when other guys step up alongside Ingram. He scored 37 in the team’s nonconference loss to Wichita State, but no other player reached double figures. In the Eagles’ upset of North Carolina State? Ingram dropped 29, but there were strong offensive contributions across the board. Undersized big men Jay Copeland and Jordan Parks are also crucial for NCCU – they each rank among the better offensive rebounders in the nation and will need to continue generating second-chances if the Eagles are going to do damage next week.
With most of America tuning into the London Olympics — brought to you in living color on tape delay — college basketball is considerably off the radar of most sports and Olympics fans alike. But there are still a few connections to the sport we love during the Olympics fortnight, and one of those is St. Mary’s star guard Matthew Dellavedova‘s representation as the lone one of only two collegians participating in this year’s basketball competition [ed. note: as noted in the comments, Andrew Lawrence of College of Charleston is the other]. A member of the Australian squad that dropped its first game on Sunday, 75-71, to Brazil, Dellavedova provided six points and three assists in 27 valuable minutes of action. The rising senior will no doubt use his experience in London this summer to prepare for what could be an All-American campaign in 2012-13. Another player with recent collegiate ties is quite obviously the 2011-12 NPOY Anthony Davis, who only saw spot action in Team USA’s convincing win over France Sunday, with three point and three rebounds in eight minutes on the floor. His head coach, Duke’s Mike Krzyezewski, was recently “got” by Deron Williams while stretching out his back in a yoga pose at a team practice. Funny, at first glance, we thought he was just instructing his stars on the finer details of how to slap the floor on defense.
While on the topic of Davis, Coach K, and the game that just won’t quit even 20 years later, it appears that the Kentucky superstar (born in March 1993) found some recent time in London for shenanigans with Public Enemy #1 in Lexington, Christian Laettner. The duo decided to re-enact the infamous “Laettner Stomp” on Wildcats forward Aminu Timberlake, only this time the roles were reversed. Of course, this does nothing to exorcise any lingering demons that UK fans may have toward the Duke superstar, but in the last calendar year Laettner has shown up in Rupp Arena to act as a “villain” — even going so far as mopping up the floor — and now this? Maybe in his middle aged years, he just really, really wants to be liked.
One current UK villain is Louisville head coach Rick Pitino — perhaps you’ve heard of him. Like him or hate him, he could always coach young players, though. Some of his motivational techniques are legendary, but he’s always been skilled in relating to his athletes by making comparisons to current NBA stars. In one such example as reported by the Courier Journal, Cardinal sophomore Kevin Ware has reconstructed his admittedly broken jump shot by reviewing frame-by-frame comps with Celtics star Ray Allen’s perfect form. It goes without saying that knocking down Js in practice during July is incredibly different than doing so in Madison Square Garden in March, but if Ware can provide scoring punch from the wing next season, the Cards’ might actually be the team to beat.
Although we don’t believe any sea changes are coming where elite recruits start to eschew high major programs in favor of mid-majors where they can become stars right away, the idea that the next group of Damian Lillards could go middie is interesting in the context of the transfer epidemic and the reality that high draft picks can come from anywhere. In just the past four NBA Drafts, lottery picks have come from Davidson (Stephen Curry), Butler (Gordon Hayward), Fresno State (Paul George), BYU (Jimmer Fredette), and Weber State (Lillard) — the average is a little more than one per year these days, so it’s definitely an attainable goal for players who find themselves somewhat off the beaten basketball path.
Could former Phoenix Suns and New York Knicks head coach Mike D’Antonibe signaling his interest in exploring college coaching through some of his latest comments made while at the London Games? The long-time professional coach whose unique offensively-oriented style of play would certainly find a willing suitor if he were indeed available, but he said that there’s a sense of “fun” and “energy” surrounding the college game and experience, which is more or less the exact difference between going to an NBA game versus an elite college basketball game. The two things simply are not comparable in most cases.
Georgia Tech incoming freshman Corey Heyward will likely miss the entire 2012-13 season because of a torn ACL injury that he suffered in a pickup game late last week. The six-foot guard who spent a postgraduate year at Hargraves Military Academy was expected to contribute immediately as a backup for starting point guard Mfon Udofia, but short of a miraculously quick recovery between now and the new year, Brian Gregory will have to wait on Heyward’s first minutes in a Yellow Jacket uniform. Gregory has an experienced group of starters returning next season from a 4-12 last-place ACC finisher, but it remains to be seen whether all that returning talent will equate to wins.
A total of 10 schools lost lottery picks in last week’s NBA Draft, with Connecticut, Kentucky and North Carolina combining for seven, equivalent to half of the lottery selections. Jason King takes a look at how each team plans on replacing the lost talent, ultimately concluding that most of the programs that put players in this year’s lottery will just move on to its next generation of stars. A couple of programs are notable exceptions, though — Weber State’s Damian Lillard was a once-in-a-lifetime type of player for the Wildcats, while Illinois’ Meyers Leonard‘s ascent up the draft boards this year was a bit flukish and, as such, it will take John Groce some time to get his program turned around in Champaign.
It’s a light news week, so what the hell… ESPN’s college basketball and football princess, Erin Andrews, has left the network and will move on to Fox Sports as a college football, MLB and NFL reporter. For a period in the middle part of the last decade, Andrews’ basketball broadcasts were very nearly must-see TV for males under the age of ever 50. As her personal brand grew, her hoops appearances became increasingly fewer but it appears that in her new gig at Fox she’ll no longer have access to the hardwood where she earned so much of her cred. We certainly want to wish her nothing but the best as she moves on to the network featuring none other than Joe Buck and Terry Bradshaw.
If you’re not cheatin’, you’re not tryin’ — so goes the old adage about life in the SEC. Charles Barkley minces no words about his stance on the issue of paying amateurs to attend certain schools (ahem, Auburn) with this hilarious clip from a celebrity softball game where he describes a teenage Dirk Nowitzki destroying Team USA in a 1997 exhibition game. The choicest series of quotes went like this: “So I call Nike and I said, ‘find out about this kid and tell him I’ll give him anything he wants to go to Auburn. Just tell him, anything he wants, we’ll get it done.’ […] “In the SEC, dude, we make sure you’re well taken care of.” Barkley went on to say that an alleged payment of $200,000 for Cam Newton seemed like a pretty good deal, considering that he led the Tigers to a national championship in his only season on the Plains. When is the Chuckster running for governor again?
Kraig Williams is an RTC correspondent. He filed this report after last weekend’s Weber State vs. Montana game.
It was a scene that Damian Lillard had seen before. His Weber State squad was up big on conference rival Montana at home in the Dee Events Center at halftime, victory almost certainly in sight. The last time this played out was nearly two years ago, and the ending was one of the most memorable performances in recent college basketball history. Montana’s Anthony Johnson came out of the locker room and went bananas, scoring 34 points in the second half, including the Grizzlies’ final 21 to carry Montana to the Big Dance and send Weber home for the summer.
Lillard Is the Nation's Leading Scorer
Flash forward to present day. There would be no epic comeback. Weber State, aside from a five-minute drought in the second half that allowed Montana to cut the lead down to eight, cruised to a relatively easy 80-64 victory to take control of the Big Sky standings after playing a third of the conference schedule. While Montana threatened a comeback in the second half it was never meant to be, partly because Lillard was not willing to live that nightmare for a second time. “At halftime that was the main thing I was harping on,” Lillard said after the game in reference to the last time he saw Montana. “We had been in this position at home at halftime up on a good team. I just let the guys know we have to step on them. Last time we let that happen we ended up losing the Big Sky championship.”
This Weekend’s Lede. Saturday was one of the wildest afternoons of college basketball in recent memory. Within a five-hour window from around 2:30 PM to 7:30 PM EST, we experienced one of the ugliest incidents in the modern history of college basketball, followed by both the nation’s #1 and #2 teams losing their first games of the season on the road. The afternoon’s action had the feeling of March in the intensity and drama of the games played, but the added bonus of insane home crowds hungry for key December victories over a bitter rival or, just because. Let’s jump into a busy weekend of storylines…
Your Watercooler Moment. Malice in the Cintas.
We will have much more to say on this in our sister ATB focusing exclusively on the events that occurred with 9.4 seconds remaining in the Crosstown Shootout on Saturday (the post will go live at 6:45 AM EST). Look, we all know that fights sometimes happen in sports, and they’re more likely to happen in volatile situations involving bitter rivals who don’t like each other. The fight was bad enough — in our view, Cincinnati’s Cheikh Mbodj should face criminal battery charges for his stomp to Kenny Frease’s head while the player was already lying on the floor — but the real shame in all of this was the aftermath. Not only did Xavier completely embarrass itself as a school and program in allowing Tu Holloway and Mark Lyons to get on the dais and act like they were representing XU straight outta Compton, but both schools failed to step up Sunday and properly punish the players involved — the most any player was suspended was six games (UC’s Yancy Gates, Octavius Ellis and Mbodj). We hate to say it, but the image-conscious NBA would have been much harsher in its punishments of these players, and given that all of the adults at both schools went to great pains afterward to suggest that such an out-of-control incident was unconscionable, this appears to be yet another example of actions speaking louder than words.
Grab a Coffee While You’re At It. #1 Kentucky Loses at the Buzzer.
Perhaps the best thing we’ve seen from this weekend is this mash-up put together by an IU student (@dbaba12) which shows clips from the camp-out, the game itself (including his halftime prediction of an RTC), the final play, and the aftermath. It’s stuff like this that reminds us why we love college basketball.
Weber State off with injury problems – Kyle Bullingerdislocated his elbow last weekend, and is expected to miss 4-6 weeks. Frank Otis got injured in the loss to BYU, and it is not sure how long he will be out. That is two front court starters down, and I’m not sure Weber State has the horses up front to really absorb injuries that easily. The Wildcats will struggle scoring down low, and need Byron Fulton to give them some quality minutes. In the backcourt, the Weber State coaching staff decided to pull the redshirt on Gelaun Wheelwright to give them more depth. There is obviously a lot of season left, but December is not going as planned.
Damian Lillard as a national player – After scoring 36 points in a road loss to St. Mary’s, Lillard (26.3 PPG, 6.1 RPG) became the nation’s leading scorer and national pundits began to take notice. In the next game, the Oakland native really broke out, scoring 41 points and hitting the game-winner against San Jose State, before facing a BYU defense on Wednesday that locked him up somewhat (15 points). Lillard became the Big Sky Player of the Week and received an article on ESPN, almost immediately becoming one of the more well-known players among the mid-majors. Lillard is lightning quick with a solid (though not spectacular) outside shot. Lillard’s play this season is proving more and more why some people say he is a legitimate NBA prospect.
Damian Lillard Has Broken Out In a Big Way This Year
Will the real contenders please stand up? – It has been a bit of a wacky, up-and-down start for the Big Sky, with teams missing out on big chances to assert themselves. Thus far, it seems like the clear top-5 are as below in the power rankings, but the order is very fluid right now. On some nights, it seems like any of them can win the league, and on other nights, it looks like they will struggle to make the conference tournament. There is work to do up top.
Kraig Williams is an RTC correspondent. He filed this report after Wednesday night’s game between BYU and Weber State in Provo.
You don’t have to be a huge college basketball fan to know the story of Brandon Davies last season. As the calendar turned from February to March, BYU was America’s darling. The team was ranked #3 in the nation and had vanquished conference foe and #4 San Diego State on the road in its last outing.
Davies Is Back on the Team and Keeping a Low Profile (Salt Lake Tribune)
The national spotlight that had shown so brightly on BYU quickly turned into an interrogation lamp with the news that Davies had been kicked off the team and out of school for an honor code violation. The violation was widely reported as him having premarital sex with an undetermined female. [ed. note: the actual facts surrounding the honor code violation remain unknown to us at this time, and we make no further claim as to the identification this female or any other sexual partner.] Something that would be so commonplace at many colleges and universities around the country ended Davies season in March and consequently sparked a firestorm of national debate regarding BYU’s honor code. Without him in the post, the Cougars still went on to have a dream season before being knocked out in the Sweet Sixteen by Florida.
Whether you believe Davies deserved the punishment or not, he accepted it without complaint. After the season ended, Davies quietly went about getting himself reinstated to the university and did just that and on August 26 when he was readmitted for the fall semester. When BYU had its first exhibition game against Midwestern State in late October, Davies was noticeably cheered louder than the rest of the starting lineup. The BYU faithful had forgiven and forgotten, his sins had been redeemed, and basketball could again become the focus.
That’s Debatable is back for another year of expert opinions, ridiculous assertions and general know-it-all-itude. Remember, kids, there are no stupid answers, just stupid people. We’ll try to do one of these each week during the season. We’re fairly discerning around here, but if you want to be included, send us an email with your take telling us why at firstname.lastname@example.org.
This Week’s Topic: Many of the small conferences are starting their tournaments this week. Which one do you find the most compelling in terms of the possibility of upsets and/or creating chaos for the NCAA Selection Committee in a little over a week? Also, pick a relatively unknown team that you’d like to see make a run through their conference tourney so that America will get to watch them play on the big stage in March Madness.
Walker Carey, RTC contributor.
I think the Horizon League Tournament is the small conference tournament that is the most compelling in terms of creating chaos for the NCAA Selection Committee. In my mind, Butler, Cleveland State, and Milwaukee are the only teams that have the capability of winning the tournament. If Butler loses (which is very possible), it will be very interesting to see how the committee will view the Bulldogs’ resume. I tend to believe that Cleveland State will win the Horizon League championship because they have the best player in the league on their team in senior guard Norris Cole. I would enjoy to see the Vikings make a run to the Horizon League championship and shake things up in the tournament like they did when they were a #13 seed and upset #4 seed Wake Forest two seasons ago. With Cole, I think this is very possible for Gary Waters’ Cleveland State squad.
John Stevens, RTC editor.
I’ll take the Colonial. You’ve got six 20-win teams out of twelve, and you’ve got to figure George Mason has a bid locked up with Old Dominion looking good, as well. Let’s say someone like Drexel (a 20-9 team with a resume that includes a win at Louisville, mind you) gets hot and wins this thing. Could we be looking at a four-bid year for the Colonial, with James Madison or VCU sneaking in as a function of the soft bubble this year? And how can you not root for William & Mary, a team that’s never been to the NCAA Tournament, after the fantastic case they made for at-large inclusion last year? As far as a team I’d like to see make a run, I’ll go with Morehead State. It wouldn’t be much of a run, of course, since as a 2-seed they earned that weird double-bye in the OVC Tournament and only need to win two games (same situation as 1-seed Murray State) to claim the title. But the world needs to see Kenneth Faried play at this level one more time. He and the Eagles won a preliminary round game in 2009 before getting cooked by 1-seed Louisville, and two NCAA Tournament games for the Fabulous Faried just doesn’t seem like enough.
Danny Spewak, RTC contributor.
Vermont won the America East Conference by one game and rightfully earned the top seed in the tournament by avoiding slip-ups against the league’s lower-tier teams. You’ll want to keep an eye on this tourney, though, because Vermont hasn’t exactly faired well against the top of the AE. Second-seeded Boston University swept Vermont this year, including an overtime win Sunday. And the third seed, Maine, routed the Catamounts on their home floor back in January. The Black Bears, a preseason favorite, have since collapsed and lost seven of eight games to finish the season. Regardless, either team could still pose a threat to Vermont’s NCAA tourney hopes at some point during the next week. For sympathy’s sake, I’d like to see Weber State win the Big Sky this March and pluck a spot in the Big Dance. How can you not feel bad for this program? Two years ago, the Wildcats ripped through the league with a 15-1 record but slipped to the NIT. Last year, Anthony Johnson’s legendary performance helped Montana stun the regular season champs again. Finally, 2010-11 appeared to be “The Year,” with two-time POY Damian Lillard returning for his senior year. Naturally, he broke his foot and played just 10 games this year, and he’ll now wait on the status of a medical redshirt. It’d be nice to see the third-seeded Wildcats win three games for their tragic hero.
Jason Spencer is the RTC correspondent for the Big Sky Conference.
First off Merry Christmas to all the Big Sky Conference fans out there! After we all get done opening presents, we get to open up the conference season. It should be one of the most competitive in years.
A Look Back
One of the most bizarre free throw shots ever captured on video was from Idaho State’s own Kamil Gawrzydek. The ball seemed to just sit down right on the rim after bouncing high into the air. What was it waiting for? Forget everything that you think you know about physics and take a look for yourself.
Northern Arizona is becoming a force not only within the Big Sky Conference, but is scaring the heck out of the big boys. In back to back games on the road against USC and Arizona, the Lumberjacks came within single digits of both of these behemoths. Northern Arizona is looking more and more the team to beat in the Big Sky Conference.
The term “Road Warriors” is usually a positive statement made about a team that racks up “Ws” on the road. Northern Colorado fans cringe when they hear that term. The Bears have only played one game at home since November 16! It is safe to say they will be looking forward to playing in their home gym. Only problem is that they still have to wait until January 6!
1. Northern Arizona: (8-4)
Recent Games: 60-52 Loss at USC 12/11, 63-58 Loss at Arizona 12/16, 74-63 Win vs. Air Force 12/22
Upcoming Games: at Montana 12/29, at Montana State 12/31, vs. Idaho State 1/6
2. Weber State: (6-5)
Recent Games: 77-71 Win at Southern Utah 12/11, 81-79 Loss at Tulsa 12/16, 94-54 Win vs. Southwest 12/18, 72-66 Loss vs. BYU 12/21
Upcoming Games: at Montana State 12/29, at Montana 12/31, at Northern Arizona 1/8
3. Montana: (8-4)
Recent Games: 50-48 Loss at San Francisco 12/12, 71-66 Win vs. Oregon State 12/15, 64-63 Win at Idaho 12/18, 71-57 Win at Cal State Fullerton 12/22
Upcoming Games: vs. Northern Arizona 12/29, vs. Weber State 12/31, at Northern Colorado 1/6, at Sacramento State 1/8
4. Portland State: (6-5)
Recent Games: 93-89 Win vs. Cal State Fullerton 12/12, 92-77 Loss at Cal State Bakersfield 12/15, 78-67 Loss vs. Portland 12/18, 79-73 Loss at Nevada 12/20, 73-53 Win vs. Utah Valley 12/23
Upcoming Games: vs. Northern Colorado 12/29, at Idaho State 1/2, vs. Eastern Washington 1/8
5. Northern Colorado: (4-7)
Recent Games: 86-76 Loss at Illinois 12/12, 71-68 Loss at Denver 12/18, 75-61 Loss at Colorado State 12/20, 78-75 Loss at Louisiana-Monroe 12/22
Upcoming Games: at Portland State 12/29, at Eastern Washington 12/31, vs. Montana 1/6, vs. Montana State 1/8
6. Montana State: (6-6)
Recent Games: 94-60 Win vs. Johnson and Wales 12/10, 78-67 Loss at UC Riverside 12/19, 75-59 Loss at UCLA 12/21
Upcoming Games: vs. Weber State 12/29, vs. Northern Arizona 12/31, at Sacramento State 1/6, at Northern Colorado 1/8
7. Eastern Washington: (3-8)
Recent Games: 70-69 Loss at San Jose State 12/12, 95-91 Win vs. Seattle 12/15, 72-42 Loss at Nebraska 12/18, 78-72 Loss at South Dakota 12/20
Upcoming Games: vs. Sacramento State 12/29, vs. Northern Colorado 12/31, at Seattle 1/6, at Portland State 1/8
8. Idaho State: (4-8)
Recent Games: 78-57 Win vs. UMKC 12/11, 66-60 Loss at Creighton 12/18, 71-48 Loss at Utah State 12/21, 77-73 Win vs. Troy 12/22, 63-60 Loss vs. Western Michigan 12/23
Upcoming Games: vs. Sacramento State 12/31, vs. Portland State 1/2, at Northern Arizona 1/6
9. Sacramento State: (3-8)
Recent Games: 65-54 Win vs. William Jessup 12/10, 65-63 Win at McNeese State 12/19, 66-53 Loss at Oklahoma 12/21
Upcoming Games: at Eastern Washington 12/29, at Idaho State 12/31, vs. Montana State 1/6, vs. Montana 1/8
A Look Aheadto Conference Play
Predicted Conference Order of Finish
The conference season is going to be one of the most competitive in years. However the returning fire power of Northern Arizona is going to be too much for this conference to handle. However, as last year’s Big Sky Conference has shown, anybody can win the automatic bid to the NCAA tournament. This year’s Big Sky Conference representative will be…
Weber State Wildcats
The Big Sky Conference tournament is going to be a showcase for NBA scouts as Damian Lillard will put his team on his back and into the NCAA tournament. The question for Weber State fans is can something like this happen? I wonder what size slipper Lillard wears? The most interesting development will be does the committee consider Northern Arizona as an at-large team? They have been very competitive against the big boys and will have quite a good resume come March.
Your Watercooler Moment. This is something we don’t see much and it may be a long time before we see something like it again, so Butler’s banner unfurling from Saturday night was this weekend’s best moment. Jump ahead to the 2:20 mark if you’re the impatient type (a shorter alternate version is also available).
Emmanuel Negedu. Hey, if you can literally come back from the dead and contribute 8 points, 6 rebounds, a steal and a block in your first game as a New Mexico Lobo merely a year after you were resuscitated, you deserve all kinds of props. Can’t root for this guy enough.
Chris Singleton. Quite possibly the best defensive player in the country, Singleton pulled off a very difficult triple double by going for 22/11/10 stls on Sunday against UNC-Greensboro. Oh, he also added four blocks just for show.
Illinois Backcourt. Bruce Weber’s backcourt of Demetri McCamey, DJ Richardson and Brandon Paul off the bench was outstanding on Saturday against Southern Illinois. The three combined for 43 points and 16 assists in that game, and in three games this season all of them are shooting over 50% from the field and 40% from deep. With the solid play inside of the two Mikes (Davis and Tisdale), the Illini look very strong right now.
Kyrie Irving. As good as advertised, with 17/4/9 assts to prove it against Princeton on Sunday. Everything seemed completely natural and smooth with very little wasted motion.
Matthew Bryan-Amaning. MBA’s been getting a lot of hype all offseason, but we weren’t completely sold due to his inconsistency over the last three years. After a 28/13 performance against McNeese State on Saturday, we might be coming around. As a side note, the Huskies had an inconceivable 67 rebounds in that game.
Matt Howard’s Foul Trouble. Sure, we know the game was against Marian College, but the fact that Howard failed to commit a single foul in 23 minutes of action is encouraging. Without Gordon Hayward around, Brad Stevens must have his star big man on the floor most of the time this season, so committing nearly four fouls a game again isn’t going to work.
DJ Cooper. Keep an eye on Ohio University again this year — the MAC champions who took out Georgetown in last year’s first round NCAA game return MAC POY candidate Cooper, who debuted the 2010-11 season with a strong 25/5/7 assts/3 stls evening.
James Rahon. SDSU’s transfer guard from Santa Clara hit three straight threes in the mid-second half to give the Aztecs breathing room to win a true road game in front of a packed arena in Long Beach. If the Aztecs can get solid guard play to match their dominant post play, Steve Fisher could have a MWC juggernaut on his hands.
Jeremy Hazell. Seton Hall might be able to put together a surprisingly good season if it can continue to get the types of games it got from Hazell today. 28 points on 8-11 FG and 8-8 from the line is extremely efficient, something that Hazell hasn’t always done well.
Game #8. It is opening night up in the Wasatch Mountains for a Beehive State rivalry between Weber State and Utah State.
You might remember Weber State from last season’s Big Sky championship game where they were Anthony Johnson’d and had to settle for an NIT berth. The Wildcats bring back Big Sky MVP Damian Lillard, a 6’2 point guard with a sweet jumper and plenty of ability to drive to the hoop. He will be matched by Utah State’s new point guard Brockeith Pane, who has been billed as one of the best defenders on the team and will get a chance to prove that right out of the gate. Up front the Wildcats will have to find someone to defend Utah State’s do-it-all forward Tai Wesley, the only active player in the NCAA to have at least 1,200 career points, 600 career rebounds, 250 career assists and 100 career blocks. Combine all of that with an intriguing coaching matchup (Weber’s head coach Randy Rahe was an assistant at Utah State under Stew Morrill from 1999-2004), the always fanatical Utah State home court advantage (Utah State has won 66 of their last 68 in the Spectrum) and a “guess what Wild Bill is going to be” contest and you have all the makings for a great way to start the season.