NCAA Basketball Tournament - Saint Louis v Memphis

College Hoops Preview: Identifying this year’s X-Factors

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Throughout the month of October, CollegeBasketballTalk will be rolling out our previews for the 2012-2013 season. Check back at 9 a.m. and just after lunch every day, Monday-Friday, for a new preview item.

To browse through the preview posts we’ve already published, click here. To look at the rest of the Top 25, click here. For a schedule of our previews for the month, click here.

Preseason talk is always dominated by all-american teams and all-conference teams, player of the year candidates and who is headed for early-entry into the NBA Draft.

And, generally speaking, the players that have their names brought up in those conversations are usually the guys that dominate the headlines — and the box scores — for much of the season. But quite often, the difference-makers for the best teams in the country aren’t necessarily the leading scorers or the best pro prospects, they are the guys that the most important role. They are the guys that will be called upon to do what no one else on the roster is willing or able to do.

Here are 18 of this season’s most important x-factors (it’s by no means a comprehensive list, so feel free to chime in with oversights in the comments):

Tarik Black, Jr., Memphis: Black was expected to be a breakout performer for Memphis last season, but that didn’t happen. In fact, he put together a fairly disappointing season. One of the biggest issues was his inability to rebound the ball, which was a major reason Memphis was routinely beat up on the glass last year. With leading rebounder Will Barton gone, Black will need to become a presence on the back boards.

Austin Chatman, So., Creighton: The Bluejays returned the majority of their roster from last year, but the guy they lost was point guard Antoine Young. Chatman is the leading candidate to try and replace those 12.1 points and 4.4 assists, but more importantly, he’ll be asked to be a defensive sparkplug. Creighton’s season will hinge on whether or not they can improve on that end of the floor.

Patrick Connaughton, So., and Scott Martin, Sr., Notre Dame: Notre Dame has a pair of terrific play-makers in their back court and a big-bodied, all-conference center in the middle. In Mike Brey’s ‘Burn’ Offense, those three will need space. If Connaughton and Martin can consistently knockdown perimeter jumpers, they’ll have it.

Quinn Cook, So., Duke: The Blue Devils were missing a number of things from last season’s team, but nothing was more difficult to overcome than the lack of a play-maker at the point guard spot. While the roster will have a bit of a different feel this season, there are still plenty of weapons on it. No one will be more important than their point guard, Cook.

Gary Harris, Fr., Michigan State: It’s always tough to peg just how good an incoming freshman is going to be, and it is no different with Harris. But with the tough and physical front line that Michigan State will put on the floor, they’ll need Harris to be a serious scoring threat. Because Tom Izzo doesn’t have many others.

Andre Hollins, So., Minnesota: While Trevor Mbakwe’s legal status may be the most pressing issue for this team, Hollins’ development is a close second. It took him some time to learn the point guard spot as a freshman, but after averaging 16.8 points and 2.8 assists in the final nine games (including four points and no assists in the NIT title game when he fouled out), Gopher fans are expecting a lot out of him this season.

Elijah Johnson, Sr., Kansas: You know about Jeff Withey defensively and you know what it expected of Ben McLemore as a scoring guard, but who will be the Jayhawk’s leader? Who will be their play-maker and ball-handler? Johnson was promising at the end of last season. Can he build on that heading into his senior campaign?

Philip Jurick, Sr., Oklahoma State: Even with Brian Williams’ injury and J.P. Olukemi’s eligibility questions, the Cowboys have plenty of wing and perimeter options. What they’re lacking, however, is a presence in the middle. Jurick averaged 4.9 boards and 1.7 blocks in just 16.5 minutes last year, but he’s battling back from an achilles injury and dealing with some legal issues stemming from an offseason arrest.

Alex Len, So., Maryland: The Terps have a number of talented perimeter options and a couple of live-bodied athletes in their front court, but if Len can live up to some of the expectation he has, Mark Turgeon’s club has a chance to be very good. He’s a legitimate seven-footer and a scoring threat inside.

Mark Lyons, Sr., Arizona: Ok, Lyons may be more than simply a role player, but his role is so important for the Wildcats that I left him on this list. Arizona has a ton of talent on their roster, but it’s young talent. Lyons is a veteran guard, but can he be a facilitating leader at the point?

Anthony Marshall, Sr., UNLV: Marshall’s in a similar situation as Lyons. He’s a veteran guard being asked to play the role of facilitating point guard when it’s not exactly his strong suit. There is a lot of talent on the UNLV roster, and Marshall is the guy that can bring it all together.

Victor Oladipo, Jr., Indiana: Oladipo is the best athlete and the best perimeter defender on a team that doesn’t have much a ton of athleticism and will struggle on the defensive end of the floor. If he can consistently force opposing wings to struggle to score the ball, it’ll be a boon for Tom Crean’s team.

Alex Oriakhi, Sr., Missouri: Lost in his disappointing performance as a junior at UConn was just how dominant Oriakhi was as a sophomore, dominating the paint as the Huskies won the national title. With ball-pressuring guards and versatile, athletic forwards on the roster, if Oriakhi can revert back to that form, Missouri can become an elite defensive team.

Marcus Paige, Fr., North Carolina: The point guard spot on the Tar Heels may be the most important position in the entire country. Paige is a freshman taking over the role. He’ll have talent on the roster with him, but that’s no guarantee that UNC will be successful with Paige running the show. Ask Larry Drew.

Lenzelle Smith, Jr., Ohio State: We know what to expect out of Deshaun Thomas and we know what Aaron Craft is going to give the Buckeyes. Thad Matta has plenty of highly-regarded recruits that can fill in and play roles. What the Buckeyes need is a secondary scorer to emerge on the wing, and Smith showed signs of being that guy last season.

Peyton Siva, Sr., Louisville: Siva had quite a bit of expectation entering last season, and he struggled dealing with them early on. Louisville struggled as well. Remember the 31 point loss to Providence? I do. But down the stretch of the regular season and into March, Siva started to become the kind of play-maker that we all expected from the beginning. And the Cardinals won the Big East tournament and made the Final Four. Louisville is not a good offensive basketball team, which is why Siva’s role is so important.

JT Terrell, So., USC: USC will look like a brand new team this year, with the number of transfers getting eligible and returners getting healthy. And while they have size up front and a quality point guard in Jio Fontan, they are missing some scoring pop on the wing. Terrell can be that guy.

Patric Young, Jr., Florida: From a physical perspective, Young may as well be a Greek God. The problem? That physicality hasn’t quite produced the kind of numbers you’d expect. On a team with a lot of guards and a power forward that shoots a lot of threes, Young needs to become a guy that controls the paint offensively and defensively if Florida is to become elite.

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

No. 6 Baylor uses late spurt for 62-53 victory at TCU

Baylor forward Johnathan Motley (5) reacts to a play against Texas in first half of an NCAA college basketball game, Tuesday, Jan. 17, 2017, in Waco, Texas. Baylor won 74-64. (Rod Aydelotte/Waco Tribune Herald via AP)
Rod Aydelotte/Waco Tribune Herald via AP
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FORT WORTH, Texas — Sixth-ranked Baylor and TCU kept trading the lead in the second half, with a 9 1/2-minute gap when neither team could muster consecutive scores.

Then the Bears finally closed out their 10th straight Big 12 victory over TCU since their instate rival joined the league four years ago.

Ishmail Wainright swished a go-ahead 3-pointer with 4:16 left, and there was then a TCU miss and more than a minute before Johnathan Motley’s layup for the Bears. Manu Lecomte added a layup to cap the 7-0 spurt that finally put Baylor (18-1, 6-1 Big 12) ahead to stay.

“This was typical of the Big 12. Hard-fought game, both teams playing extremely hard. The day after the game, it’s amazing how drained everybody is,” Baylor coach Scott Drew said. “I hope fans enjoy it, because we’re worn out.”

There were five ties and 13 lead changes after halftime.

The partisan sellout crowd of 7,276 might not have enjoyed it as much, but the Horned Frogs (14-5, 3-4) have shown great progress in their first season under coach Jamie Dixon, the former TCU point guard.

While the Frogs have already won two more games than all of last season, Dixon feels like they have let their last two game slip away late.

“Obviously got some disappointed guys in that locker room, me included,” Dixon said. “Really thought we were here to win this game. … My feeling we were ready to win them, and we were prepared, and we did things right, did things necessary.”

Lecomte scored 17 points while Motley had 15 points and eight rebounds, along with a punctuating dunk in the final minute. That came soon after Lecomte’s alley-oop pass for a dunk by Jo Lual-Acuil, who finished with 11 points.

Vlad Brodziansky had 19 points and 10 rebounds for TCU, while Kenrich Williams had 16 points and 12 rebounds.

BIG PICTURE

Baylor: This is the first time the Bears have ever been 18-1 overall or 6-1 in the Big 12. They have won their last three games since losing in their first game after reaching No. 1 for the first time in school history.

TCU: Brodziansky and Williams didn’t get much help from the rest of their teammates. TCU shot 29 percent from the field (17 of 58) — Brodziansky and Williams were a combined 12-of-26 shooting; the rest of the team was 5-of-32. “We outrebounded them (38-37), we had lower turnovers (8-10), things we want to do,” Dixon said. “But simply put, the shooting percentages always stand out.”

COMING FROM BEHIND

Baylor is 6-1 this season when trailing at halftime, and has outscored its opponents by more than 10 points in those second halves. “Blessed to have great leadership from the upperclassmen. They don’t panic, they don’t rattle, they stay together,” Drew said. “And they believe in each other.”

TCU led only 24 seconds in the first half, but grabbed a 28-26 halftime lead on Williams’ 3-pointer with 7 seconds left. Baylor opened the second half with four straight layups.

CATCHING AIR

When asked about Wainright’s go-ahead 3, Motley called it a “big shot. I air-balled one, Al (Freeman) too. The fans made sure they let us know. It didn’t matter, we just stayed aggressive, and my teammates trusted me to shoot again.”

UP NEXT

Baylor is home against Texas Tech on Wednesday before consecutive road games, including the SEC-Big 12 Challenge next Saturday at Ole Miss.

TCU plays its next two Big 12 games on the road, starting Monday at Oklahoma State. The Frogs then host Auburn before going to Kansas State.

No. 11 Oregon tops Stanford for record 16th straight win

SPOKANE, WA - MARCH 20:  Tyler Dorsey #5 of the Oregon Ducks shoots a jump shot against the Saint Joseph's Hawks in the second half during the second round of the 2016 NCAA Men's Basketball Tournament at Spokane Veterans Memorial Arena on March 20, 2016 in Spokane, Washington.  (Photo by Patrick Smith/Getty Images)
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EUGENE, Ore. — Chris Boucher announced his return to No. 11 Oregon’s starting lineup with one dramatic slash-and-slam move.

In the process, he helped answer what the latest version of the Ducks would look like without injured preseason All-America forward Dillon Brooks again.

Boucher had 16 points and 10 rebounds, Dylan Ennis scored 15 and Oregon rolled to a 69-52 victory over Stanford on Saturday.

With Brooks on the bench and his left leg in a boot to protect a sprained foot, the Ducks (18-2, 7-0 Pac-12) broke a 104-year-old school record with their 16th consecutive win and 38th in a row at home.

Jordan Bell and Tyler Dorsey each had 11 points for Oregon, which overcame 19 turnovers by shooting 11 of 25 from 3-point range and outrebounding Stanford 40-29.

The Ducks share a 1 1/2-game lead atop the Pac-12 with No. 14 Arizona, but Oregon coach Dana Altman, ever the taskmaster, wasn’t satisfied.

“I’m disappointed. We were sloppy, but there were some good things,” he said, pointing to the eight rebounds and seven assists from freshman point guard Payton Pritchard. “That’s a big plus. We need our guards to rebound.

“But 19 turnovers is just unacceptable. The (12) turnovers in the second half took away from what could have been a good performance.”

It was the 11th career double-double for 6-foot-10 Boucher, whose swooping drive and dunk from the left wing late in the first half showed no lingering effects of the ankle sprain that cost him his starting spot eight games ago.

“I felt like it was always there,” said Boucher, who had come off the bench the past six games after sitting out two to recuperate. “Their bigs were kind of slow, so I felt I had the opportunity to do that.

“It’s always good to know you’re capable of doing it.”

Marcus Allen had 13 points as the only scorer in double figures for the Cardinal (11-9, 3-5). Stanford went more than eight minutes of the second half without a field goal, shot just 32.3 percent overall (20 of 62) and had two players foul out.

Oregon spotted the Cardinal the first five points and then hit four straight 3-pointers in taking a 16-7 lead. The margin grew to 20 late in the half as the Ducks went 8 of 17 beyond the arc and 14 of 26 (53.8 percent) overall.

Stanford, meanwhile, went the last five minutes of the half without a field goal and trailed 40-22.

“I think it was a combination of great shooting on their part, and poor defense on ours,” first-year Cardinal coach Jerod Haase said.

The Ducks, who led by as many as 25 late in the game, have won their last six games by an average of 24.3 points.

There’s no timetable for Brooks’ return after Oregon announced his injury status two hours before tipoff. The Ducks were ranked as high as No. 4 early in the season before he came back from offseason surgery for a broken bone in the same foot.

“You never know what’s going to happen,” Altman said, “but hopefully it’ll all work out and he’ll feel better quick.”

BIG PICTURE

Stanford hasn’t swept a conference road trip since 2010. The Cardinal hope to have leading scorer Reid Travis (16.6 ppg) back from a shoulder injury in time for a visit to California in eight days.

Oregon finishes the first half of the Pac-12 season next week at Utah and Colorado, a road trip it hasn’t swept in four tries since the Utes and Buffaloes joined the conference in 2011.

POLL IMPLICATIONS

Oregon’s chances of rejoining the Top 10 were helped Saturday when both No. 3 UCLA and No. 7 Creighton lost at home.

HE SAID IT

Oregon has five players scoring in double figures, led by Brooks at 13.4 points per game, but none among the Pac-12’s top 20 this season. “I think our balance is our identity, and I like to see that,” Altman said. “When guys are making plays for each other, we’re pretty good. When the ball’s hitting the floor too much, we’re not nearly as good.”

WHAT STREAK?

Boucher said he wasn’t aware that Oregon’s 16th win in a row was a school record until told by a Pac-12 broadcaster during a postgame interview. Meanwhile, Pritchard insisted such things don’t matter to the Ducks. “We’re not worried about any streaks,” he said. “We just want to make a run to the Pac-12 tournament and the NCAA Tournament.”

STAT OF THE GAME

The announced crowd of 12,364 was Oregon’s fourth sellout of the season and 12th in 119 games since Matthew Knight Arena opened six years ago — though there were at least 1,000 empty seats. The Ducks have drawn more than 10,000 for each of their five Pac-12 home games.

UP NEXT

Stanford, now 0-6 against ranked teams, hits the Pac-12 midpoint at California on Jan. 29.

Oregon goes for its first 8-0 start to conference play in 91 years at Utah on Thursday. The Ducks finished 10-0 in the Pacific Coast Conference in 1925-26.

Williams-Goss leads No. 4 Gonzaga over Portland 73-52

SPOKANE, WA - DECEMBER 07:  Nigel Williams-Goss #5 of the Gonzaga Bulldogs drives against the Washington Huskies in the first half at McCarthey Athletic Center on December 7, 2016 in Spokane, Washington.  Gonzaga defeated Washington 98-71.  (Photo by William Mancebo/Getty Images)
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SPOKANE, Wash. (AP) No. 4 Gonzaga beat undermanned Portland by 21 points on Saturday, but the Zags were not happy.

Portland, playing without its leading scorer, out-rebounded the Zags 41-33, and held Gonzaga, the nation’s last remaining undefeated Division I team, to 45 percent shooting.

“We have to start rebounding better,” said center Przemek Karnowski, who scored 12 points but had just three rebounds in Gonzaga’s 73-52 victory. “Five guys have to go and rebound the ball. That’s one of the things we need to fix.”

Nigel Williams-Goss led Gonzaga with 15 points, but left the game with about five minutes left with an injury. Coach Mark Few could not say exactly what the injury was or how serious.

But he was also unhappy with the rebounding.

“They pounded us for 21 offensive rebounds,” Few said. “They beat us to some balls.”

“It was a choppy game,” Few said. “Portland did a nice job. They played us physical.”

Zach Collins added nine points and nine rebounds for Gonzaga (19-0, 7-0 West Coast), which has a nation’s best 19-game winning streak. It is the best start in program history.

Gabe Taylor scored 13 points and Jazz Johnson 12 for Portland (9-10, 2-5), which has lost five games in a row. The Pilots played without leading scorer Alec Wintering, who earlier Saturday was declared out for the season with a torn ACL.

“Sometimes when you lose your leader like that, it wipes you out,” Portland coach Terry Porter said. “But the guys responded well with a great effort.”

“We knew it was going to be a tall task,” Porter said. “I loved the way we fought and got after it.”

Gonzaga, which has won seven straight over Portland, never trailed despite shooting 45 percent from the field. Portland was worse, shooting just 32 percent.

“We had a lot of good looks we didn’t knock down,” Few said.

Gonzaga opened the game with a 12-1 run and the Pilots did not make their first field goal until five minutes were gone. The Zags hit four 3-pointers in the first 10 minutes and built a 24-11 lead. They were up 34-23 after a sloppy first half in which neither team shot better than 40 percent.

Early in the second, Gabe Taylor hit three consecutive baskets for Portland to knock Gonzaga’s lead down to 38-31.

But Killian Tillie’s 3-pointer ignited a 15-3 run that put Gonzaga in control and the Pilots did not threaten again.

BIG PICTURE

Portland: Under first year coach Terry Porter, the Pilots started strong but have been suffering offensive woes in recent weeks. The problem may get worse as Wintering, who was averaging 19.5 points per game, suffered a torn ACL in Thursday’s loss at San Francisco and is done for his college career.

Gonzaga: The Bulldogs have dominated at home this season, outscoring opponents by 29 points per game in their first 10 contests in the McCarthey Athletic Center. They have trailed a total of 13 minutes in their first 11 home games.

QUOTABLE

“They fought us and did a good job of competing with us,” Few said.

TURNOVERS

The Pilots turned the ball over 16 times, to 10 for Gonzaga.

UP NEXT

The two teams will play again on Monday in Portland, in a make-up date for a Jan. 7 game that was postponed by severe winter weather. Saturday’s game started a run of four games in eight days for each team. “We’re trying to get guys rested a little bit,” Few said.

More AP college basketball: http://collegebasketball.ap.org and http://www.twitter.com/AP-Top25

VIDEO: Grayson Allen suffers gross finger injury vs. Miami

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Grayson Allen suffered a pretty nasty looking injury to the pinky on his left hand right at the end of the first half against Miami.

His reaction to seeing the injury is to recoil in horror … :

And you may do the same thing when I post the picture of what his finger looks like:

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I’m not going to speculate as to the nature of the injury, whether it was just dislocated or broken, but this is just another blow for a team that has had some dreadful injury luck this season.

Kansas State beats No. 7 West Virginia, whose press may be broken

LAWRENCE, KS - JANUARY 03:  Head coach Bruce Weber of the Kansas State Wildcats reacts to a call during the game against the Kansas Jayhawks at Allen Fieldhouse on January 3, 2017 in Lawrence, Kansas.  (Photo by Jamie Squire/Getty Images)
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Kansas State had five players score between 13 and 15 points as the Wildcats finally landed the marquee win that has eluded them this season, picking off No. 7 West Virginia in the Octagon of Doom, 79-75.

Kamau Stokes and Barry Brown both scored 15 points to lead the way for the Wildcats, who improved to 4-3 in the Big 12 this season.

Here are three things to take away from this game:

1. The Wildcats needed this result so badly: Kansas State has pretty good computer numbers and a record that looks pretty on paper, but entering Saturday, they really hadn’t won all that much this season. They didn’t land a single non-conference win over a team ranked higher than 142nd in KenPom, and their wins in league play were over arguably the three worst teams in the conference – Texas, Oklahoma and Oklahoma State.

So yes, this is a massive boost to Kansas State’s NCAA tournament chances.

But it’s also a morale boost that they needed. The Wildcats have been on the wrong end of some brutal late game calls, from the no-call on Svi Mykhailiuk’s travel in a loss to Kansas to the referees swallowing their whistles down the stretch in a loss at Texas Tech. Throw in the fact that Bruce Weber is more or less coaching for his job this season, and you can imagine the pressure that’s starting to build in Manhattan. This should help alleviate some of that.

2. West Virginia has played themselves out of the Big 12 title race: With 11 games remaining on the schedule, West Virginia is now three games behind Kansas for first place in the Big 12 standings. I don’t know how much you know about Kansas and the Big 12 – they’ve won 12 straight conference regular season titles, no big deal – but you don’t come from behind on the Jayhawks. You just don’t.

We’re just 12 days removed for the Mountaineers putting together a 21-point beatdown of then-No. 1 Baylor. Seems like a long time ago, doesn’t it?

3. Is West Virginia’s press broken?: In the win over Baylor, West Virginia forced 29 turnovers, or a turnover on 37.2 percent of Baylor’s possessions. After that game, the Mountaineers were forcing turnovers on more than 33 percent of their possessions on the season, which is a number that is totally insane.

But in the three games since then, Press Virginia has been no where near as effective. In a two-point win over cellar dweller Texas, WVU forced turnovers on 26.4 percent of Longhorn possessions, well below their season average. In a loss to Oklahoma on Wednesday, that number was 15.2 percent. Against Kansas State, it was 21.3 percent. If West Virginia isn’t forcing turnovers and if they aren’t getting easy baskets in transition out of it, they are a limited basketball team. Something to keep an eye on.