UConn wasn’t supposed to be relevant this season. Not with their postseason hopes taken away. Not with two players entering the NBA Draft and two others transferring out of the program. Not with Jim Calhoun retiring. This was supposed to be the year where UConn scrapped and clawed and did everything in their power to ensure that Kevin Ollie remained their head coach next season, when they would actually have something to play for.
And then something funny happened: the Huskies went out and punched Michigan State in the mouth at Ramstein Air Force base in Germany. They jumped out to a lead that was as big as 15 points and held on down the stretch, out-executing Sparty down the stretch. Shabazz Napier led the way with 25 points while Ryan Boatright and Deandre Daniels added 13 and 12, respectively. This group may end up being the nation’s biggest spoiler this season.
And I think it’s safe to say that Ollie’s bid to get a contract extension has gotten off to a perfect start.
Teams Deserving of a Shoutout
Creighton Bluejays: It was supposed to be one of the most exciting games of the weekend, but Creighton wasn’t having that. Instead of exciting the nation with a battle featuring all-american Doug McDermott and future lottery pick Tony Mitchell, what Creighton’s 71-51 win over North Texas proved was the difference between a team that knows how to execute offensively and one that doesn’t. What makes this win all the more important for Creighton is that UNT is the kind of team they normally struggle with. Quicker, more athletic, penetrating guards. Factor out Mitchell, and UNT shot 14-54 from the floor and 0-11 from three, a promising sign for Creighton’s defense.
George Mason Patriots: Mason was the forgotten about team in the CAA heading into the season. Drexel was the favorite and Delaware was the contender. But after one weekend, Mason is the only one of those three to remain unscathed. The Dragons lost in overtime to Kent State and La Salle dropped Delaware. The Patriots, on the other hand, knocked off Virginia at home despite playing without Erik Copes or Vaughn Gray. Not a bad way to start out the year.
Bucknell Bison: The simple fact that the Bison went into Mackey Arena and knocked off Purdue is impressive enough to earn a spot on this list. But how they did it makes the win that much better. Center Mike Muscala, a former Patriot League Player of the Year, played far from his best game, finishing with just 14 points on 5-13 shooting.
Syracuse Orange: There is only so much that we can take out of Syracuse’s win over San Diego State in the Battle of the Midway on Sunday afternoon, and none of it can be a negative response to the Aztecs. They walked into an impossible matchup. But I think it is fair to say that the Orange proved that they have the pieces to compete with Louisville for the Big East title. Michael Carter-Williams and Brandon Triche combined for 32 points, eight assists, eight steals and seven boards with CJ Fair added 17 points and ten boards.
Kent State Golden Flash: Kent State has traditionally been one of the strongest mid-major programs in the country, but with the hype that Drexel had coming into the season, there wasn’t much talk about the Golden Flash heading into their matchup with the Dragons. That changed after Kent State dropped Drexel 66-62 in overtime on Friday night.
Twelve minutes is a staggering amount for a video like this, but it captures multiple seasons and even goes into the future.
But it definitely doesn’t beat this Villanova song released by MRG after the Wildcats’ NCAA tournament run.
So now that we’ve seen the baseline for videos and songs, do any other fanbases have anything better in them this summer? There’s still a lot of time until college hoops begins next season and there are plenty of fans who can jump in with a submission.
Throughout the summer, we’ll post the best fan submissions on CBT (as long as they’re clean and original) and see which group of fans has the best at the end of it all.
Canisius finds a new head coach following Jim Baron’s retirement
Canisius has found a new head coach following the retirement of Jim Baron, as the Griffins have hired former Buffalo coach Reggie Witherspoon, according to a report from Mark Gaughan of the Buffalo News.
The 55-year-old Witherspoon was formerly the head coach at Buffalo from December 1999 until after the 2012-13 season and was recently an assistant coach at Alabama and Chattanooga the past two seasons.
During his time at Buffalo, Witherspoon went 197-225 while making four postseason appearances. He takes over a Canisius program that went 14-19 and 8-12 in the MAAC last season.
As a Buffalo native who has coached in the area as a high school, junior college and Division I head coach, Witherspoon should be familiar with the landscape of being a basketball coach in that city. It’s hard to say if Witherspoon can lead Canisius to prominence at this stage in his career, but he’ll certainly know the area enough to hit the ground running.
UNC’s Roy Williams recovering from knee replacement surgery
CHAPEL HILL, N.C. (AP) North Carolina Hall of Fame men’s basketball coach Roy Williams is recovering from knee replacement surgery.
In an email Friday, athletics spokesman Steve Kirschner says Williams is “resting comfortably” after the procedure on his right knee performed by Dr. Walt Beaver in Charlotte. Kirschner says there’s no exact recovery timetable but Williams is expected to be on the road for July recruiting “as usual.”
The 65-year-old Williams had procedures on both knees last year but experienced discomfort during the season as the Tar Heels won the Atlantic Coast Conference regular-season and tournament titles before losing in the NCAA title game on a last-second shot to Villanova.
A week later, Williams said he was considering surgery options for a “bone-on-bone” condition and noted: “I’ve got to be able to move around.”
Utah to play rival BYU in basketball again in 2017
SALT LAKE CITY (AP) Utah will play rival BYU in basketball again in 2017 in a game that will end a “cooling off period” Utah demanded due to events at recent games.
Utah said in a news release Thursday that the two schools have agreed to play in 2017 at BYU. The school’s athletic directors are talking about scheduling future games.
The decision to cancel the rivalry upset BYU and ignited a controversy that lit up sports talk radio and triggered legislators to order a state audit of Utah athletics. The game had been played every year since 1909 except for during World War II.
Utah coach Larry Krystkowiak said in January that the rivalry had become a “venomous and toxic environment.” BYU guard Nick Emery was ejected from December’s game for punching Utah’s Brandon Taylor.
Looking Forward: Defense will help Arizona sort out loaded rotation
The NBA Draft’s Early Entry Deadline has come and gone. Just about every elite recruit has decided where they will be playing their college ball next season. The coaching carousel, which ended up spinning a bit faster than initially expected, has come to a close for all of the major programs.
After going on a two-year run in which they went 67-9, won two Pac-12 regular season titles and made two Elite Eight appearances, Arizona took a step back in 2015-16. Sean Miller’s Wildcats saw their grip on the Pac-12 loosen, with Oregon taking advantage, and their NCAA tournament stay was a short one thanks to a tough Wichita State team. Many programs would sign up for a season that included 25 wins despite injuries to freshmen Ray Smith (torn ACL) and Allonzo Trier (broken hand).
But Arizona isn’t your “run of the mill” program, which is a testament not only to what the retired Lute Olson accomplished during his time in Tucson but to what Sean Miller’s managed to do as well. Since his arrival Miller’s pumped new life into the program, with Arizona racking up highly regarded recruiting classes and the wins to match.
All that’s missing from his time at Arizona is a trip to the Final Four, an accomplishment Arizona hasn’t been able to boast since 2001. And after last year’s disappointing finish, Arizona’s work on the recruiting trail in the spring has them in a position where they can get that done. There’s talent, depth and versatility on the roster heading into the 2016-17 season, with some key returnees being joined by one of the nation’s best recruiting classes.
And with that will come an important question for the Wildcats: how will they sort everything out from a rotation standpoint?
Competition within the ranks is hardly a bad thing; “as iron sharpens iron, so one person sharpens another.” The same can be said for versatility, which will be another positive trait for Arizona in 2016-17. At first glance the roster has just two players seemingly locked into one specific position: Parker Jackson-Cartwright at point guard and Dusan Ristic at center. Outside of that, Arizona boasts a host of players capable of filling multiple spots based upon the desires of their head coach and the flow of the game.
The front court includes a mobile 7-footer in sophomore Chance Comanche, who managed to earn more consistent appearances down the stretch thanks to his activity on the defensive end of the floor. Newcomers in Lauri Markkanen and Keanu Pinder who can fill multiple roles in the front court, with Markannen’s ability to step out and hit perimeter shots being especially key, and the same can be said of the talented Smith provided there are no lingering effects from his second ACL tear in as many years.
With the injury and the time away from live action Smith will likely have some rust to shake off, but this is something Arizona can work through given their depth. There’s role versatility and this sets up to be a more mobile group defensively as well, which can only help the Wildcats moving forward.
The bigger area for Arizona from an options standpoint is on the perimeter, as they’re loaded with established returnees and high-caliber newcomers. And with the players available, how everything shakes out with regards to roles and minutes that come with them will be very interesting to watch. Trier’s back after a successful freshman season in which he averaged 14.6 points per game and shot 46.6 percent from the field, and with his ability to attack defenses off the dribble he’ll figure prominently in the Arizona rotation again in 2016-17.
Also returning are Kadeem Allen and Parker Jackson-Cartwright, who shared the point guard duties with Allen getting the starting nod thanks in large part to his ability on the defensive end of the floor. Losing Gabe York, who was second on the team in scoring and Arizona’s best three-point shooter a season ago, can’t be overlooked. But with the additions to the program, Arizona can more than account for the production lost there.
Last year Trier was the Wildcat best capable of attacking defenses off the bounce, but even with the relative “lack” of such options Arizona still managed to average 80 points per game and shoot 48 percent from the field. Things will be a bit different in 2016-17, thanks to factors such as the loss of York and Ryan Anderson and the fact that they’ll have more players capable of breaking down opponents off the dribble. Freshmen Kobi Simmons, Rawle Alkins and Terrance Ferguson can all create shots via dribble penetration, with Ferguson also being one of the top shooters in the class of 2016.
But could this turn out to be a case of having too much of a good thing? While considered a point guard, Simmons proved to be better at getting himself looks than doing so for others, and Alkins was also considered to be a “ball dominant” guard at the high school level. How will that change at the college level, and how will the pieces fit together within Arizona’s rotation?
These are important questions to address, and how Arizona can do that is on the defensive end of the floor.
After two straight seasons of producing defenses that ranked in the top three in the country in adjusted defensive efficiency per Ken Pomeroy’s numbers (first in 2014, third in 2015), Arizona was ranked 41st in that category last season. After two consecutive seasons of limiting teams to less than 40 percent shooting from the field, Arizona allowed teams to shoot 41.3 percent in 2015-16. Also of concern was the turnover department, with teams committing an average of just 11.4 per game against the Wildcats last season.
By comparison, those two Elite Eight teams managed to force an average of 13.8 turnovers per game in 2013-14 and 12.4 per contest in 2014-15. The pack line defense isn’t one that people would necessarily categorize as a “pressure” system, but one of the strengths for Arizona during those two Elite Eight runs was having athletic options on the wings who can make life difficult for passers and the players looking to receive those passes. That wasn’t the case last season, but it may not be a problem in 2016-17 thanks to the roster additions.
Ferguson’s athleticism is noted above, and he’s also a long-armed player who more than holds his own defensively. Alkins also has the physical tools needed to cause trouble on the wing, which will give Arizona a good shot at playing defense at the level we grew accustomed to seeing them reach.
Physical tools aside, there’s always the “carrot” of playing time to dangle in front of the players. When discussing the adjustment process for freshmen many rush to the offensive end, and that’s understandable to a certain extent. But the biggest adjustment comes on the other end of the floor, and being able to prove that you can defend your position and carry out the team’s defensive game plan.
Arizona will certainly have offensive talent across the board next season. But the reason why they can rebound from last season and possibly reach the Final Four is the fact that some of that talent will make a difference defensively as well.