Weekend Preview: Should Syracuse be on upset alert?

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Who’s getting upset?: Sat. No. 2 Syracuse @ UConn, 9 p.m. (ESPN)

I’m probably going to end up regretting this decision, but I think that the Huskies nip Syracuse on Saturday. Starting with the Syracuse loss to Notre Dame back in mid-January, the Orange have been less-than-impress offensively. In six of those nine games, the Orange have posted an efficiency of 1.032 PPP or lower, which is a long way from being the ninth best offensive team in the nation. The first UConn game isn’t included in that group, but the 85 points they scored is a bit deceiving; that game was much closer than the final score indicated.

Throw in the massive struggles that the Orange have had on the defensive glass, and all of a sudden Cuse looks like they may end up being beatable. Where the Orange have kept themselves afloat is in their ability to turn teams over in a live-ball setting — they are third in the country in steal percentage and fifth in turnover percentage — and they are absolutely devastating in the open court. So if you get a team that can attack the gaps in their zone without turning the ball over while having enough size to take advantage of second chances, Syracuse could be in trouble.

UConn certainly has the size, but do they have the pieces to avoid turnovers? That, I’m not so sure of. Who is going to play the high-post in their zone offense? Can Shabazz Napier and Ryan Boatright be trusted to protect the ball and take good shots? Will Jeremy Lamb continue to be as aggressive as he has been the last two weeks? For UConn to have chance, that is precisely what needs to happen. And having Andre Drummond and Alex Oriakhi show up and get Fab Melo in foul trouble wouldn’t hurt, either.

Who else is on upset alert?

Fri. No. 10 Marquette @ West Virginia, 9 p.m. (ESPN2): This is less about Marquette than it is about West Virginia. Frankly, I think Marquette is one of the most dangerous teams in the country. They are versatile, they can defend in the full court and they are currently playing as well as they have in Buzz Williams’ tenure. That said, West Virginia is better than they have showed of late and they are currently playing with their backs up against the wall. After the loss they suffered to Notre Dame, you can bet practice this week was equivalent to hopping in a cage with a rabid pitbull. In front of their home crowd, I expect the ‘Eers to play with some fire.

Sat. No. 12 Florida @ Georgia, 4 p.m. (ESPN3/SEC Network): Will Yeguete is done for the season, which is a massive blow to the Florida roster. He was their glue guy, the piece that did the dirty work on the glass and ran the point on their pressure defense. The last time he was injured, Florida lost their first game without him to Tennessee in the O-Dome. Tennessee is better than Georgia and the Gators have had some experience playing without him at this point, but I just don’t trust Florida on the road even after the win at Arkansas.

Sat. No. 20 Notre Dame @ St. John’s, 7 p.m. ESPN: This St. John’s roster is and always has intrigued me. They are quite athletic and a couple of those freshmen — Moe Harkless and D’angelo Harrison — have been quite thrilling to watch at times. No team in the country is playing as well as Notre Dame right now, but with the athleticism that the Johnnies have at their disposal, I wouldn’t be surprised to see them make a run at the Irish. These freshmen may be too naive to realize that they aren’t supposed to win this game.

Sat. No. 18 New Mexico @ TCU, 7 p.m. (MTN): I don’t think that the Lobos are going to come out as flat as they did against Colorado State on Wednesday. That loss was understandable. When, all of a sudden, you become the talk of the country while soundly beating the other two contenders in your conference and moving into a two-game lead in first place, its easy to become complacent. UNM became complacent. Hopefully, they learned their lesson. That said, TCU is not terrible this season, they’ve upset UNLV at home after coming back from 18 down in the second half and they have a kid named Hank Thorns that is one of the nation’s best kept secrets. The Lobos have to show up to win this one.

Sun. No. 15 Florida State @ Miami (FL), 6 p.m. (ESPNU): Miami will be playing for their tournament lives. They have the size to matchup with the Seminoles on the interior and a matchup nightmare in Kenny Kadji at the four. The issue is going to be their back court. You cannot beat Florida State’s perimeter defense going one-on-one, and that is what Miami’s back court tends to do.

Rob Dauster is the editor of the college basketball website Ballin’ is a Habit. You can find him on twitter @robdauster.

VIDEO: Kris Dunn wills Providence to win over No. 11 Arizona

Kris Dunn, Elliott Pitts
AP Photo/Mark J. Terrill
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Kris Dunn spent the first 35 minutes of Friday night’s game against No. 11 Arizona in foul trouble, splitting his time between sitting on the bench and trying to avoid finding himself, again, on the wrong side the whistle.

With 11 minutes left in the game, and with Dunn yet to find a rhythm, the all-american point guard was whistled for his fourth foul as he battled for a rebound with Arizona’s Mark Tollefsen. Head coach Ed Cooley say his superstar beside his for six game minutes, time enough for Arizona to turn a 49-47 deficit into a 58-54 lead.

There were just over five minutes left when Dunn reentered the second semifinal of the Wooden Legacy, and he proceeded to show everyone in the country why he was named the Preseason Player of the Year. Providence had nine possessions after he reentered the game. Dunn scored 11 points and had a pair of assists on those eight possessions, and if Ben Bentil had stuck a wide-open three — that was setup by Dunn — the Friars would have scored on all nine.

In total, Dunn was responsible for all 15 Friar points in a game-changing, 15-7 run in the final 4:30. It was capped off by this Kobe-in-his-prime-esque game-winner:

The win for Providence is huge for a couple of reasons:

  • Dunn showed a killer instinct against a marquee opponent, something that we didn’t necessarily see out of him a season ago. He wasn’t going to let his team lose, and given that Providence doesn’t have anyone else that can consistently create good shots, they are going to need that from him a lot this year.
  • It makes a statement for the Friars. Arizona is overrated at No. 11 in the country, yes, but going out on national television against an elite program and getting this kind of performance from Dunn is a confidence-booster and a tone-setter. Providence hasn’t been accustomed to winning in recent years. This is a way to set a trend.
  • Ben Bentil continues to play like a star. Dunn had 19 points and eight assists on Friday, but Bentil followed up a 24-point performance in the win over Evansville with 21 critical points on Friday.

This win sets up a matchup between No. 3 Michigan State and Providence on Sunday night, which means that Denzel Valentine and Kris Dunn — the two best players in the country, sorry Ben Simmons — will be going head-to-head.

Oh. Hell. Yes.

No. 14 Cal goes 0-2 in Las Vegas Invitational

Jaylen Brown
AP Photo/Ben Margot
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After midnight on the east coast on Thanksgiving, No. 14 Cal blew a 15 point second half lead against San Diego State, allowing the Aztecs to use a 30-6 run to put away the game and advance to the final of the Las Vegas Invitational. That’s the same San Diego State team had scored 43 points in a loss to Arkansas-Little Rock last week.

Not 24 hours later, the Golden Bears were shredded defensively by the Richmond Spiders, losing 94-90 in the consolation game of a four-team tournament they were considered to be the heavy favorite in.

It’s a disappointing two-game stretch for Cal, who entered the season as a Pac-12 favorite and had looked the part for the first four games of the season.

And the issue appears to be on the defensive end of the floor.

Richmond is a good Atlantic 10 team. Terry Allen and Marshall Wood are high-major big men, Shawn’Dre Jones is a jitterbug at the point and Chris Mooney runs a Princeton-esque system that is very difficult to prepare for without a day in-between games. So it’s not really surprising that the Spiders gave Cal a fight.

But 94 points?

On the heels of giving up 44 points in the second half against the offensively-challenged Aztecs?

That’s a problem, one that I’m sure that Cuonzo Martin is going to address this week in practice. Martin has managed to put together a roster that is build for small-ball, with four talented perimeter players surrounding a first round pick in the post. But that’s not the style that he’s known for. Martin played his college ball at Purdue in the Gene Keady days. He cut his teeth as a head coach at Missouri State in the Missouri Valley. His team’s at Tennessee were known for being tough and physical defensively.

That’s how Martin coaches, which is part of the reason Cal had such hype entering the year.

The talents of Tyrone Wallace, Jaylen Brown, Ivan Rabb, Jabari Bird and Jordan Mathews on a team with a coach that gets teams to defend the way Martin does? It’s no surprise that pundits would be optimistic.

But as of now, they have some work to do defensively if they want to live up to that hype.