Tony Mitchell, George Fant

Some ‘under the radar’ individual battles to keep tabs on tonight

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The season is finally here, and with that are some fun individual match-ups for college basketball fans to watch. One of the best duels will take place in Omaha as Creighton host North Texas.

A game featuring Doug McDermott and Tony Mitchell doesn’t qualify for “under the radar” status given how much we know about the two players. McDermott is one of the early favorites for National Player of the Year if you go off of the early straw polls, and Mitchell is considered by many to be a future lottery pick.

What makes this contest under the radar? The fact that there’s no television.

McDermott averaged 22.9 points and 8.2 rebounds per contest last season, winning the Larry Bird Award that goes to the Missouri Valley Conference’s best player. Mitchell had to wait a while for his college debut but the moment he stepped on the floor at North Texas his presence was felt, and he helped lead the Mean Green to the Sun Belt tournament final with averages of 14.7 points and 10.3 rebounds per game.

McDermott can score from anywhere on the floor, as evidenced by his 48.6% shooting from behind the arc last season, and while Mitchell may not shoot as often from the perimeter he’s no slouch himself. Both teams have plenty of talent, but it’s the two likely NBA Draft picks (whenever they decide to end their college careers) that will be the focus of the NBA scouts in attendance.

Here are a few other “under the radar” individual match-up to keep an eye on tonight:

Robert Covington (Tennessee State) vs. Brandon Davies (BYU)
Davies’ name has been well-known for quite some time, but it took an upset win at Murray State last year for Covington to receive some national pub. The thing is, that while Covington’s 17-point, eight-rebound outing in the Tigers’ 72-68 win was a solid showing he put together some masterpieces in other games (30 and 15 at Austin Peay being one example). Both are capable of posting double-doubles on a consistent basis, which should make for a fun battle in Provo.

Eric Ferguson (Georgia Southern) vs. Ryan Broekhoff (Valparaiso)
While Broekhoff (reigning Horizon League POY) had the better perimeter shooting and rebounding numbers of the two last season, Ferguson’s been hard at work to improve his ball-handling and perimeter skill set during the offseason. Valparaiso will once again be one of the favorites in the Horizon, but if Georgia Southern is to reach the point of contending with Davidson and Charleston it will be Ferguson who leads the way.

Frantz Massenat (Drexel) vs. Randal Holt (Kent State)
Both players averaged at least 30 minutes per game last season, with Massenat entering this season as the choice to win CAA Player of the Year. Massenat was the more productive of the two last season when factoring in assists (4.8 apg to 2.6 for Holt) and rebounds, but Holt has increased his number in each of his three seasons at Kent State.

Kareem Jamar (Montana) vs. Wes Eikmeier (Colorado State)
No Will Cherry (broken foot) for the Grizzlies, which means even more will be asked of Jamar given the youth of that lineup. Jamar, a first team All-Big Sky selection last season, averaged 13.6 points and 5.6 rebounds per game. One of the CSU guards he’ll encounter is Eikmeier, who averaged nearly 16 points per game for a team that reached the NCAA tournament as well.

Warren Niles (Oral Roberts) vs. Julian Washburn (UTEP)
Oral Roberts is in a new conference (Southland) but one reason why many have made them the favorite to win the league is the presence of Niles (12.1 ppg, 3.7 rpg), their leading returning scorer from last season. Washburn was one of Conference USA’s best freshmen last season, posting averages of 11.2 points and 3.5 rebounds per contest, and he should only get better as a sophomore.

Raphielle also writes for the NBE Basketball Report and can be followed on Twitter at @raphiellej. 

No. 10 Gonzaga outlasts No. 18 UConn despite late offensive struggles

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No. 10 Gonzaga survived a furious rally from No. 18 UConn to win the third place game in the Battle 4 Atlantis, 73-70.

The Zags were up by as much as 21 points early in the second half, leading 48-27, but UConn slowly chipped away at the lead. Kyle Wiltjer led four players in double-figures with 17 points while Eric McClellan added 15 points, making a number of key plays in the second half when it looked like the Zags were in danger of giving away the lead.

As good as Gonzaga looked in the first 22 minutes of this game — and they looked really, really good — the second half exposed the concerns that many had with this group entering the season. Kevin Pangos and Gary Bell Jr., who both shot around 40 percent from beyond the arc and started for four years, graduated, meaning that Gonzaga’s point guard situation is, more or less, Josh Perkins.

Perkins was terrific in the second half of a loss to Texas A&M on Thursday. He played 17 foul-plagued minutes against UConn. When UConn’s defense ratcheted up during the second half, Gonzaga struggled finding a way to consistently get good shots on the offensive end. Part of that was due to ineffective point guard play and part of it was a result of not really having anyone on the offensive end that can create a look on their own. As skilled as Wiltjer is, his impact can be limited when pick-and-pop actions aren’t working and he’s getting doubled in the post.

Perkins is talented, but this is essentially his first season of college basketball; he was a medical redshirt last season after breaking his jaw last November. There are going to be ups-and-downs, and that’s problematic on a team where he is essentially the only point guard on the roster.

The good news?

Gonzaga beat a good UConn team on a day when their best players struggled in crunch-time. It was McClellan and Kyle Dranginis that made the big plays down the stretch, not the big names on the Gonzaga roster.

Wichita State’s Anton Grady ‘awake, alert’ after getting stretchered off court

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Wichita State big man Anton Grady was stretchered off of the floor in the second half of a loss to Alabama after a nasty collision with Dazon Ingram.

The video can be seen above. There was nothing malicious about the way that Grady was injured. When he turned to run up the floor after missing a shot in the lane, he went face first into Ingram’s shoulder. He neck bent in an awkward directions and, after stumbling a few steps, he laid motionless on the floor.

It took 10 minutes for the training staff to strap Grady to a backboard and wheel him out of the arena.

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A Wichita State spokesman told that Grady was taken to a local trauma center for evaluation and that he is “awake, alert and is answering questions appropriately”.

We will have more updates as they come available.

From a basketball perspective, the No. 20 Shockers lost their second game in a row and are now 2-3 on the season.

While for some the Shockers’ résumé is up for questioning following losses to USC and Alabama, two teams projected to finish in the bottom half of their respective leagues, the team’s health is the biggest concern.

Fred VanVleet has been dealing with a hamstring issue since the season began, and an ankle injury limited him in a loss at Tulsa earlier this month. He won’t play again until at least Dec. 5th. and who knows when he’ll be back to full strength. The same can be said for back up point guard and freshman Landry Shamet, who underwent surgery to address a stress fracture in the fifth metatarsal in his left foot. Their injuries have led to even more being asked of senior guard Ron Baker, and the loss of Grady for any significant amount of time certainly isn’t going to help matters..

These early-season losses won’t help Wichita State when it comes to the NCAA tournament, but it’s important to make note of the circumstances surrounding those defeats. To be shorthanded, with one of the absent players ranking among the nation’s best point guards, has an impact that has to be accounted for when evaluating Wichita State. The Shockers will add Conner Frankamp in mid-December, which will help them on the perimeter.

But with their rotation currently being in flux, it’s tough to make any definitive statements on what Wichita State will have to do in order to make another trip to the NCAA tournament. At this point Gregg Marshall and his staff will look for other contributors, one of whom being Markis McDuffie (14 points, seven rebounds vs. Alabama), to emerge and show themselves capable of picking up the slack.