Big East Basketball Tournament - Syracuse v UCONN

Oriakhi’s value to Missouri should not be understated

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On Friday evening, Alex Oriakhi, the nation’s most sought-after transfer, officially made his commitment to play his final season at Missouri.

And while the former UConn big man let the decision-making process play itself out, it turns out that Missouri was the desired destination all along.

“This is where I wanted to go from the beginning,” Oriakhi told the Kansas City Star. “It was just a matter of me visiting. Why should I delay it when my heart was telling me to commit?” Oriakhi said. “To be honest, I wanted to get it over with so I could relax and focus on getting better.”

The importance of Oriakhi’s commitment cannot be overstated, so much so that I think the only thing holding the Tigers back from contending for an SEC title will be whether or not their plethora of transfers are able to come together.

Missouri has loads of talent on their roster. It starts with the return of the Tiger’s dynamic back court of Phil Pressey and Mike Dixon, and while the loss of Kim English and Marcus Denmon will hurt, adding Pepperdine transfer Keion Bell and Oregon transfer Jabari Brown (at the end of the fall semester) will certainly make their graduation easier to endure and will provide an additional scoring pop. Auburn transfer Earnest Ross should be able to contribute at the small forward spot where he will lineup alongside the now-healthy Laurence Bowers, a guy that was arguably the best player on Missouri’s 2010-2011 team.

That’s a solid core before you include the good-but-not-great, seven-man recruiting class Haith has brought in.

But what that group was missing was a big man in the middle, which is precisely the role that Oriakhi will fill.

Oriakhi got lost in the shuffle at UConn this past season. His minutes were wiped away by the late-August addition of Andre Drummond, and between his inconsistent playing time, his deteriorating relationship with head coach Jim Calhoun and the issues that the Huskies dealt with as a unit all season long, Oriakhi saw his minutes and his production dwindle as the season went on. What people tend to forget, however, is that Oriakhi averaged 9.6 points and 8.7 boards for UConn’s 2011 National Title team, providing an invaluable presence in the paint as a shot blocker and a rebounder.

That is precisely what he will be asked to do for the Tigers next season.

Oriakhi is a similar player to Ricardo Ratliffe. Both are big, both are strong, both can rebound and both take up a lot of space in the paint. But where Ratliffe was probably a little more refined on the offense end of the floor, Oriakhi is a much better defender and shotblocker. Oriakhi’s mediocre back-to-the-basket game won’t be much of a factor, either, as he’ll feast off of the wide-open dunks he gets playing with Phil Pressey.

With four transfers joining the three returning members of the Missouri rotation, Haith is going to have his work cut out for him getting his team to buy into his system. But that was something he had to do this year, as he took over a senior-laden team that struggled with selfishness at the end of the 2011 season.

Haith did a masterful job coaching up the Tigers last season, and next year will likely require much of the same.

But if he can pull it off, Missouri will again spend much of the season in the top ten.

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

No. 14 West Virginia takes care of No. 15 Baylor

West Virginia forward Devin Williams (41) dunks the ball during the second half of an NCAA college basketball game against Baylor, Saturday, Feb, 6, 2016, in Morgantown, W.Va. (AP Photo/Raymond Thompson)
AP Photo/Raymond Thompson
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Not exactly noted for their ability to knock down shots from the perimeter, No. 14 West Virginia grabbed sole possession of first place in the Big 12 thanks in part to their perimeter shooting. The Mountaineers shot 7-for-14 from three and 49.1 percent from the field in a 80-69 win over No. 15 Baylor that wasn’t as close as the final margin would lead one to believe.

Bob Huggins’ team led by as much as 19 in the second half, and the way in which they did it is what makes the win so impressive. “Press Virginia” yielded just ten Baylor turnovers, but that low number didn’t matter much thanks to West Virginia’s execution offensively.

They found quality looks against Baylor’s 1-1-3 zone in the first half and made them at a good clip, forcing Scott Drew to switch to man-to-man. That change didn’t do much to slow down West Virginia either, as Daxter Miles Jr. scored 20 points and sixth man Jaysean Paige added 17 off the bench. And with Devin Williams chipping in with 16 points and seven boards in the post, outplaying Baylor’s Rico Gathers Sr. (five points, seven rebounds), West Virginia grabbed control of the game in the first half and did not relinquish it.

The usual formula for West Virginia offensively is to attack the offensive glass, as their offensive rebounding percentage (43 percent) is tops in the country. “Their best offense is a missed shot” is a familiar refrain heard when people discuss the Mountaineers, who entered the game shooting just over 30 percent from three.

They didn’t need to lean on those second chances as heavily as they normally do Saturday night, not only because of the improved accuracy but also the improved work in finding shots. The ball moved against the Baylor defense and so did the players, resulting in an offensive attack that proved tougher for the visiting Bears to stop that one would expect given the statistics entering the game.

West Virginia was already established as a contender in the Big 12, but thanks to their win Saturday night the Mountaineers are the current pace setters. With a showdown at No. 7 Kansas set for Tuesday night, this was a big win for Bob Huggins’ team to get. And with it coming in spite of a low turnover (forced) count, this should only help West Virginia in the confidence department moving forward.

No. 22 Indiana falls at Penn State

Penn State's Shep Garner (33) moves towards the basket during the first half of an NCAA college basketball game against Indiana in State College, Pa., Saturday, Feb. 6, 2016. (AP Photo/Ralph Wilson)
(AP Photo/Ralph Wilson)
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Brendan Taylor scored 24 points to lead Penn State to a 68-63 upset of No. 22 Indiana on Saturday night.

The Nittany Lions were 2-8 in Big Ten play entering the weekend. Indiana? They were 9-1 and tied for first in the conference. It’s the second loss in four games for the Hoosiers following a 7-0 start to Big Ten play, a fact made all the more concerning by the fact that their league schedule is finally about to get difficult.

The Hoosiers play No. 5 Iowa at home and No. 10 Michigan State in East Lansing next week. The following week they get No. 18 Purdue at home. In the final week of the regular season, Indiana squares off with No. 5 Iowa on the road and close the regular season with a visit from No. 4 Maryland.

That’s a lot of good teams that the Hoosiers to close out the year.

The question has been asked since Indiana’s hot start to league play: Are they for real? Did the Hoosiers really somehow turn things around defensively, or was that winning streak simply a by-product of their schedule?

The truth is that it was probably a combination of both. Calling them a fraud would be unjust — if you watched those games, there wasn’t much fluky about them; Indiana earned the Ws — but it does seem fair to say this is something of a regression to the mean.

They were going to slip up eventually.

And it will totally be forgotten if the Hoosiers can find a way to close the regular season with a winning record in their final seven games.