NCAA Basketball Tournament - North Carolina State v San Diego State

Steve Fisher: “Right now, it’s not the best team we’ve had”

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The last time Steve Fisher coached a team with this much hype he was 20 years younger in Ann Arbor and his starting lineup consisted of the Fab Five.

Not even in 2010-2011, when his Aztec team went 34-3 and produced two NBA Draft picks, including Kawhi Leonard, has Fisher had a team that entered a season with this kind of expectation.

He brings back four starters from an NCAA tournament while adding three impact transfers and a vaunted recruiting class headlined by Winston Shepard, one of the nation’s top 25 recruits.

With a student fan base that’s rapidly become as rabid as any in the country, you can only imagine the kind of talk that’s going on around campus. Top ten ranking? Final Four? NATIONAL TITLE?!?!?

Fisher’s already been forced to enter ‘slow down, ya’ll’ mode.

“I would say it’s probably the most talked about team that we’ve had,” Fisher told the AP. “To be honest with you, right now it’s not the best team we’ve had. I’ll harken back to the first time we ever got ranked two years ago. I knew how good that team was because they had all those guys at a very high level that had done it the year before and were returning. You might say, `Well you had guys returning from last year.’ We do, but not to that degree in terms of the numbers that we had then, and they were all going to be seniors, too, with the exception of Kawhi, who played like a senior.”

“Yeah, it’s the most hyped-up team. We won’t match the record we had two years ago. 34-3. There is nobody in the country that’s going to do that, but we’re going to have a good team.”

I’ll agree with one thing here: SDSU won’t match that gaudy 34-3 record. They may not make it through conference play with less than three losses. The conference is strong and balanced, and the Aztecs play a a couple of quality opponents in their non-conference schedule.

Beyond that, however, this sounds like Fisher trying to keep his team from buying into their own hype. He brings back experienced players that have been in the program for years, including an All-American in Jamaal Franklin, and adds enough front court strength — Dwayne Polee, JJ O’Brien, Winston Shepard, James Johnson in December — to their vaunted perimeter attack that the Aztecs will be able to play with anyone in the country.

Obviously, there are kinks that are going to have to be worked out with this group. That many news faces will take time to mesh. But if you think that Fisher is anything but ecstatic with the team he has at his disposal, you’re crazy.

No. 5 Xavier stumbles at Creighton, lose 70-54

Creighton's Cole Huff (13) and Toby Hegner, left, guard Xavier's Jalen Reynolds (1) during the first half of an NCAA college basketball game in Omaha, Neb., Tuesday, Feb. 9, 2016. (AP Photo/Nati Harnik)
(AP Photo/Nati Harnik)
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Mo Watson went for a career-high 32 points, seven boards and five assists as Creighton jumped out to an early 21-4 lead and never looked back, beating No. 5 Xavier, 70-54, in Omaha on Tuesday night.

 

It was a massive win for the Bluejays, who still have an outside shot at earning an at-large bid this season. (We wrote all about that here.)

As well as Creighton played, the bigger story here may actually be Xavier, who lost for just the third time this season; they had been the only top ten team with just two losses to their name.

The issue for the Musketeers tonight was two-fold, but they both are a symptom of what could be an issue down the road for this team: Xavier doesn’t really have a true point guard.

They certainly didn’t have anyone to stop Watson. By the second half, they had essentially asked Reynolds, who was playing the middle of their 1-3-1 zone to matchup with Watson. It was weird but was actually somewhat effective.

The Musketeers also started out ice cold from the floor, missing 11 of their first 13 shots, and those misses led to leak outs from Bluejays, who got layups and open threes in transition to build that 17 point lead. Once Xavier got behind, it turned into scramble mode for Xavier. They forced shots early in the clock and didn’t start pounding the ball into the paint until it was too late. What they needed was someone to be able to settle things, to ensure that offensive would get initiated and sets would get executed when they were able to get the lead down to single digits.

That 1-for-19 shooting performance from beyond the arc certainly didn’t help matters, and neither did the fact that they got just nine field goals all game from players not named James Farr or Jalen Reynolds. The most frustrating part for head coach Chris Mack? They had good shots. It wasn’t like Creighton took away everything that Xavier wanted to do.

The kids just had one of those nights where nothing went down.

Those happen.

And when you combine them with a total inability to contain the opposing team’s point guard, what you get is a 16 point loss on the road against a team that was desperate to get a good win.

Gill’s 16, ‘D’ lead No. 7 Virginia past Virginia Tech, 67-49

Lehigh Virginia Basketball
AP Photo/Andrew Shurtleff
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CHARLOTTESVILLE, Va. (AP) Anthony Gill scored 16 points and No. 7 Virginia turned the tables on state rival Virginia Tech with a 67-49 victory Tuesday night, the Cavaliers’ seventh straight.

Isaiah Wilkins added a career-best 14 points and Malcolm Brogdon had 12 for the Cavaliers (20-4, 9-3 Atlantic Coast Conference). Virginia avenged a 70-68 loss to the Hokies in Blacksburg on Jan. 4 in what rates as their worst performance of the season, and extended their winning streak at John Paul Jones Arena to 17 games.

Freshman Justin Robinson scored 16 points and classmate Chris Clarke had 11 in his first action for the Hokies (13-12, 5-7) since breaking his right foot in late December. Virginia Tech’s top two scorers, Zach LeDay (16.0 ppg) and Seth Allen (14.5), were limited to seven and six points, respectively, in part because of foul trouble.

Virginia coach Tony Bennett said his team wasn’t ready to play when it lost to the Hokies earlier, but they have been surging of late and were focused from the outset. They were credited with assists and 14 of their first 15 baskets and forced 10 turnovers in the first half; they forced just eight in the last meeting of the teams.

For most of the game, the Hokies had more turnovers than field goals.

The Cavaliers led 32-20 at halftime and extended their advantage to 47-29 on a three-point play by Mike Tobey with 12:11 remaining. It capped an 11-4 run for Virginia, during which LeDay was whistled for his fourth foul. On Virginia’s next trip down court, it got the ball to Gill inside and LeDay basically backed off and let him score, quickly earning a spot on the bench.

The Cavaliers’ lead never dipped into single digits again.

The Hokies had just eight turnovers and outscored Virginia 26-6 off turnovers in their first meeting. This time, Virginia Tech had 10 turnovers by halftime and the Cavaliers had already turned them into 15 points. Virginia Tech finished with 16 field goals and 15 turnovers.

Already leading 9-6, Virginia got scoring from eight players in a 23-8 run that spanned about 8 1/2 minutes.

Gill started it with a dunk, Brogdon hit a 3-pointer, London Perrantes had a four-point play and Wilkins finished it with two free throws, giving the Cavaliers a 32-14 lead with 2:06 left in the half. They didn’t score again, and the Hokies closed within 32-20 by halftime.

TIP-INS

Virginia Tech: The Hokies shot 57.1 percent (15 of 26) from the field in the second half of their 70-68 victory against Virginia on Jan. 4. … Virginia Tech’s starting five totaled four points in the first half.

Virginia: The Cavaliers have held four consecutive opponents to 50 points or fewer.

UP NEXT

Virginia Tech plays at No. 12 Miami next Wednesday.

Virginia plays at Duke on Saturday.

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The AP’s college basketball page: http://www.collegebasketball.ap.org