College basketball outside the BCS is in for a GREAT year

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For those of you that watch college basketball strictly as a way to become familiarized with the next generation of NBA stars, next year may not be ideal for you.

That’s because, as a whole, the upper echelon of college hoops in 2012-2013 isn’t really all that impressive. Indiana has one guy that’s a lock for the lottery in Cody Zeller. Kentucky has Nerlens Noel, who will go somewhere near the top of the 2013 NBA Draft, but the rest of their roster still has to prove themselves to NBA scouts. It’s unlikely, but it’s still possible that Louisville doesn’t see a player from this year’s team go in the first round.

And those are the consensus top three teams in the country?

For college hoops junkies, this is, in fact, a good thing. As entertaining as it was to watch Kentucky steamroll their way through the 2011-2012 season, having a number of teams jumbled at the top of the rankings, without much in the way of separation from the second or third tier programs, creates excitement and uncertainty. We may not be watching many future all-stars, but there will be many upsets and exciting finishes and box scores that leave you scratching your head.

College basketball is wide-open this season, and it couldn’t be more perfect timing for fans of mid-major hoops. There is as much power outside of the BCS conferences as there has been in recent years.

Think about it like this: Andy Glockner put together a primer for non-power conference teams over at SI.com on Tuesday, and in that primer he ranked the top ten teams. It looked like this:

  • 1. UNLV
  • 2. SDSU
  • 3. VCU
  • 4. Creighton
  • 5. Saint Louis
  • 6. Murray State
  • 7. Butler
  • 8. Memphis
  • 9. Northern Iowa
  • 10. Gonzaga

That’s scary.

Why?

Because both Butler and Memphis are potentially top 20 (if not better) teams this season. Butler loses Ronald Nored to graduation, but returns a young, talented and more-athletic-than-you-think team that adds senior Rotnei Clarke, arguably the best shooter in the country, and top 100 recruit Kellen Dunham. The Bulldogs are changing conferences, they might still be a year away from peaking and there’s no telling how much the loss of Nored is going to hurt. But that doesn’t change the fact that this could end up being Brad Stevens’ best team at Butler.

As for Memphis, we’re looking at a team that is finally able to call themselves experienced. The core of the roster — Joe Jackson, Chris Crawford, Tarik Black — are all juniors and Memphis natives eager to bury the disappointing finishes of their first two years. Adonis Thomas is back and healthy. Shaw Goodwin has been added to their front line, and Geron Johnson is a talented x-factor in the back court. The deck is set for Memphis to have a memorable final year in the Conference USA.

And, to be frank, the only quibble I would have with Glockner’s rankings is that I think both Butler and Memphis should be a notch above Murray State. Could there really be seven top 20 teams from outside the power six conference this season?

Absolutely.

But that’s not even the end of it, because there are a number of teams that didn’t make this list that will see their names pop up in the top 25 a time or two this year.

St. Mary’s returns one of the most underrated back courts in the country in Matthew Dellavedova, Stephen Holt, Jorden Page, and Paul McCoy and has enough of a front court presence to be a favorite to win the WCC. They didn’t make the top ten. Neither did BYU, who returns Matt Carlino, Brandon Davies and Tyler Haws.

That’s not it. Colorado State returns the majority of the roster of a team that made the NCAA tournament while adding a pair of high-profile transfers, and the Rams may not even be a top three team in the MWC if Nevada figures out a way to put all of their talent together. If Norvel Pelle gets eligible, Iona has the talent to compete in the Big East. Lehigh returns the majority of their roster, including CJ McCollum, from a team that beat Duke in the opening round of the tournament, and they may not even be the best team in their conference with Bucknell around. Should I mention the fact that Davidson brings back all five starters from the team that beat Kansas in Kansas City or that Ohio brings back everyone from a team that made the Sweet 16? (Edit: It’s worth noting that mid-major hoops is good enough this year that I completely blanked on mentioning Drexel — and, for that matter, George Mason — and St. Joseph’s in this post.)

This is a great year to be a fan of mid-major hoops.

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

President Trump fires back at LaVar Ball on Twitter

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The never-ending war of words between President Donald Trump and LaVar Ball escalated to another level on Wednesday morning.

Starting his early-morning tweets with some messages aimed at Ball, President Trump continued to double down on his insistence that he helped play a role in the safe return of three UCLA players arrested in China for shoplifting. LiAngelo Ball, LaVar’s middle son, was one of the three players involved in the international incident as fellow Bruins Jalen Hill and Cody Riley were also arrested. The trio returned to the United States last week after UCLA left China without them following a win over Georgia Tech in the Pac-12 China Game.

LaVar has drawn the ire of President Trump for downplaying the President’s role in the return of the UCLA trio as Ball maintains that others had more to do with the release. All three UCLA players publicly thanked President Trump and the United States government during their return press conference on Nov. 15. The three players remain suspended indefinitely from all activities with the men’s basketball team.

In an interview with CNN earlier this week, LaVar was critical of Trump’s role in the whole ordeal while also questioning why the President would spend so much time bothering for a thank you from the father of one of those arrested.

No. 22 Baylor comes from 12 down to beat Creighton

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It was another rough night for the Scott Drew Can’t Coach crowd.

No. 22 Baylor got 15 points apiece from Jo Lual-Acuil and Terry Maston and closed the game on a 37-19 run as they knocked off Creighton, 65-59, in the title game of the Hall Of Fame Classic in Kansas City.

King McClure led the way for the Bears with 19 points, picking up the pieces for Manu Lecomte, who struggled to deal with the defense of Khyri Thomas.

Creighton jumped out to a 33-24 lead at the break and extended it to 40-28 with 18 minutes left in the game, but that’s when Baylor turned the game around. A couple of tweaks to the way that they played their zone coupled with the Bluejays missing some shots that they were capable of making led to the comeback. Instead of simply writing another ‘See, I told you Scott Drew can coach’ column, I figured it would make more sense to show exactly what I mean when I say that.

Creighton had a smart, simple game-plan offensively on Tuesday night. Get the ball into the paint, whether it was via dribble penetration or finding one of their big guys near the foul line or at the short corner, and then find a shooter on the perimeter, a cutter going to the rim or, simply, score from 8-10 feet out. That’s the best way to beat a zone, especially a zone that has the amount of length and athleticism that Baylor’s does. Notice in the clip below how extended Baylor’s guards are and, as a result, the space it creates:

Once Baylor got down by 12, their game-plan changed. Instead of extending, their defense became more compact. What is usually something of a 1-1-3 zone turned into more of a 2-3, with the focus seemingly being cutting off penetration. Baylor dared Creighton to let Ronnie Harrell be the guy that beat them, and it worked. The result was that the open threes dried up, and the jumpers that Creighton shot in down the stretch were much more contested than the looks they were getting earlier in the game:

That’s coaching right there.

Game-planning is a part of coaching. Player development is, too, as is recruiting. But making in-game adjustments like that, figuring out how a team is beating you, devising a way to stop them from doing that and getting your players to execute those adjustments is arguably the most important part of being a coach.

Here’s another example of what I mean.

Khyri Thomas might be the best on-ball defender in college basketball, and I don’t say that lightly. He essentially eliminated Manu Lecomte from the game. He is to point guards what Darrelle Revis was to No. 1 receivers. Whoever he is guarding is on Khyri Island.

Lecomte is typically Baylor’s closer, but Drew ran actions that allowed Lecomte to be a facilitator and a decoy, taking Khyri out of the play and taking advantage of matchups he thought his guys could win. That involved running a double-high ball-screen, which confused Harrell and Martin Krampelj defensively a couple of times, and resulted in a high-low action between Maston and Lual-Acuil on a number of possessions down the stretch.

But then there was also this set he drew up, using McClure as the ball-handler in that double-high ball-screen and while putting Lecomte in the same side corner. McClure refused the ball-screen, drove straight at the gap where Thomas was not going to help off Lecomte and got a bucket out of it:

That’s coaching!

And I’m not trying to say McDermott got out-coached here. His game-plan worked. Drew’s adjustment turned out to be just a bit better.

But Creighton also has players that can make the tough shots that they were forced into in the second half. If two more of them go down – if the Bluejays shoot 37.5 percent from the floor instead of 34.4 percent, if they go 7-for-30 from three instead of 5-for-30 – then they probably win this game.

Sometimes that’s how basketball works.

It’s why you always hear coaches refer to it as a ‘make or miss game’.

The larger takeaway from this game should be this: Both Baylor and Creighton are good teams. Both landed good non-conference wins during this event. Both are likely headed to the NCAA tournament.

And both took part in a fun, tactical battle between head coaches on Tuesday night that one of them had to lose.

No. 13 Notre Dame drubs LSU 92-53 to reach Maui title game

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LAHAINA, Hawaii (AP) — T.J. Gibbs scored 26 points, Matt Farrell added 17 and Notre Dame dominated LSU 92-53 on Tuesday night to reach the Maui Invitational championship game.

The Irish (5-0) expectedly breezed through their opener against Division II Chaminade did the same thing to LSU in their first game against a power program this season.

Notre Dame shot well, shut the Tigers down on defense and were in control from the opening tip in a superb all-around game.

Bonzie Colson had 12 points and 11 rebounds for the Irish, who shot 52 percent and hit 15 of 32 from 3-point range.

Next up: A top-of-the-marquee title game against No. 6 Wichita State on Wednesday night.

LSU (3-1) lost starting guard Brandon Sampson to an ankle injury in the game’s opening minute and struggled without one of its top defensive players.

The Tigers had trouble slowing the Irish on defense and labored from the perimeter on offense, hitting 6 of 23 shots from the 3-point arc while shooting 36 percent overall. Duop Reath led LSU with 17 points.

LSU beat Michigan 77-75 in its Maui opener behind the stellar play of Tremont Waters. The talented freshman point guard had 21 points and set up the go-ahead basket with a spectacular over-the-shoulder, no-look assist from his knees.

Notre Dame had a much easier road to the semifinals, dominating Chaminade from the start of an 83-56 rout.

The Tigers had a tough break on their first possession of the semifinals, when Sampson came down on someone’s foot and rolled his left ankle. He had to be helped off the court, leaving LSU without arguably its best defensive player.

The Irish took advantage, scoring at the rim and the 3-point arc during a 15-2 run that put them up 25-10. Farrell had the highlight-reel play of the spurt, bouncing a pass between the long legs of 6-foot-11 Reath to set up Martinas Geben for a dunk.

Notre Dame didn’t let up, hitting seven 3-pointers, 15 of 31 shots overall and holding the Tigers to 1-for-8 shooting from the arc for a 40-24 halftime lead.

The Irish continued to stretch the lead in the second half, using a 6-0 burst midway through to go up 61-35.

THE TAKEAWAY

Notre Dame turned its first game against a power program into a laugher with a strong effort on both ends of the court.

LSU was hurt by the loss of Sampson, but it may not have mattered the way the Irish played.

UP NEXT

Notre Dame plays No. 6 Wichita State in Wednesday’s championship game.

LSU gets Marquette in the third-place game on Wednesday.

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For more AP college basketball coverage: http://collegebasketball.ap.org and http://twitter.com/AP_Top25

Hot shooting leads No. 3 Kansas past Texas Southern, 114-71

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LAWRENCE, Kan. (AP) — Kansas shot the ball from 3-point range better than it ever has in its illustrious history.

Once the Jayhawks found their rhythm from deep, their offense was virtually impossible to stop. Texas Southern coach Mike Davis was in awe.

“I’ve never seen a team pass the ball and shoot the basketball as well as they do,” Davis said.

Svi Mykhailiuk scored 21 points, Udoka Azubuike added 20 and No. 3 Kansas cruised to a resounding 114-71 victory over Texas Southern on Tuesday night in the Jayhawks’ first game of the Hoophall Miami Invitational.

They got after it early, as with just under 5 minutes remaining in the first half Lagerald Vick hit the team’s seventh 3 of the half — a program record. A similar feat was achieved in the second half, when Devonte’ Graham hit No. 17, the record for 3s in a game.

“It’s super fun,” Graham said. “Being active, sharing the ball, it’s contagious. Just making that extra pass, and when the ball’s going through the hoop like that, it just feeds energy into us.”

Graham, Vick and Marcus Garrett all finished with a double-double for Kansas, as Vick posted 19 points and 10 rebounds, Graham had 17 points and 11 assists, and Garrett logged 13 points and 11 boards.

Texas Southern’s Demontrae Jefferson led all scorers with 24 points. Donte Clark added 19 and had a game-high 14 rebounds as well.

Davis has seen plenty of high-powered offenses run by Bill Self, as the pair used to meet regularly when they coached at Illinois and Indiana, respectively. After watching a performance like this, he has no doubts over his former rival’s future chances.

“I’ve been around for a long time,” Davis said. “If you play basketball like they play basketball, they’ll be cutting the net down in April.”

BIG PICTURE

Kansas continues to thrive without freshman Billy Preston, who remains benched as the school investigates a single-car on-campus incident involving him earlier in the month. His absence has left Self with just two big men, but the lack of depth has yet to truly hurt the Jayhawks.

Texas Southern is still searching for its first win after facing a daunting schedule to start the season. Even though the Tigers have yet to find themselves in the win column, games against bigger schools like Kansas will continue to provide invaluable experience regardless of the score.

“It was a great opportunity for us,” Davis said. “We leave tomorrow to go play Clemson on Friday, and this game right here will get us ready for our next game.”

T’ED UP

Azubuike earned a technical foul midway through the first half when he hung on the rim following a thunderous dunk.

“He deserved it,” Self said of the technical. “I told the official — he said ‘I hate calling that,’ I said ‘but you got to call it.’ I mean, that’s good for us … he has a bad habit of doing that, and I was glad they called it because that may end up not costing us where we really need it, in a close game.”

SARCASTIC SELF

While Self agreed that the Jayhawks shot the ball about as well as they possibly could have, he wasn’t overtly enthused by the record, as per usual.

“I couldn’t be happier. I think we should celebrate for a week,” Self said. “My reaction is we made shots. That doesn’t mean anything to me.”

MODEL FOR SUCCESS

“Love the way they play,” Davis said of the Jayhawks. “That’s the way I want my team to play. When we get to January and play in our conference, that’s the way we want to be playing basketball.”

UP NEXT

Kansas will continue Hoophall Miami Invitational play Friday night with another home game against Oakland, which has already dropped its first two games of the tournament.

Texas Southern will once again face an uphill battle for its first victory as it travels to Clemson on Friday.

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For more AP college basketball coverage: http://collegebasketball.ap.org and http://twitter.com/AP_Top25

No. 12 Cincinnati uses strong start to defeat Richmond 75-48

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GEORGE TOWN, Cayman Islands (AP) — Unlike the previous night, Cincinnati didn’t need a hero on Tuesday night.

Instead, the 12th-ranked Bearcats relied on their defense, smothering Richmond in the first half and cruising into the championship game of the Cayman Islands Classic with a 75-48 win over the Spiders.

Cane Broome led a balanced attack with 13 points and Jacob Evans added 12 for the Bearcats (5-0).

Jarron Cumberland opened the scoring with 3-pointers on consecutive possessions and Evans hit another before the Spiders scored and when Justin Jenifer hit a 3 just beyond the five-minute mark Cincinnati was up 14-4.

The Bearcats hit 8 of 14 3-pointers and shot 54 percent overall to race to a 40-14 lead at the half and Wyoming’s opponent for Wednesday’s championship game was never in doubt. Five different Cincinnati players had six to nine points while forcing the Spiders (1-3) into 13 turnovers and 4-of-18 shooting.

“The first half, we played great defensively and on offense, when we did make the right pass, we found open shooters,” Cincinnati coach Mick Cronin said. “We try to start the best defensive lineup. We want to focus on things that win games, defense, rebounding, physicality, and guys that play together.”

Jenifer went 3 of 4 from behind the arc, scoring all nine of his points in the first half. Gary Clark, the leader in a hard-fought 73-68 win over Buffalo in the opener on Monday night with 24 points and 14 rebounds, had his eight points — all in the first half — and finished with eight rebounds and seven assists.

Richmond made five 3-pointers and went 12 of 24 from the field but never challenged in the second half.

“Obviously Richmond has a young team,” Cronin said. “I thought Buffalo made us better last night. We were able to jump out to an early lead and put the game away with our defense.

Freshman Jacob Gilyard led the Spiders with 12 points.

BIG PICTURE

Richmond: Gilyard was leading the nation’s true freshmen in playing time, averaging 37.3 minutes a game. He played 32 in the loss. … Grant Golden, a redshirt freshman, had 26 points in a win over UAB in the opener, the most by a Spider freshman in 10 years and with his seven rebounds was the first UR frosh with a 20 and 7 line since 1999. The Bearcats held him to four points and one rebound on Tuesday. … Khwan Fore, Richmond’s leading scorer last year, made his debut after missing the first three games recovering from a stress reaction in his left shin. He went 1 for 1 from the foul line with a rebound and an assist and three fouls. … The Spiders have one senior and five juniors.

Cincinnati: Freshman Sam Martin scored his first points, making a pair of free throws. … The Bearcats had 20 assists on 25 baskets but they also had 20 turnovers, 11 in the second half. But in that first half had a 16-0 advantage in points off turnovers. … With reserves seeing plenty of time, Cincinnati’s bench outscored Richmond’s 38-17, 28-15 in the second half.

NEXT GAME

Richmond will face Louisiana-Lafayette in the third place game Wednesday night.

Cincinnati meets Wyoming in the championship game Wednesday night.

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For more AP college basketball coverage: http://collegebasketball.ap.org and http://twitter.com/AP_Top25