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Oklahoma grabs third place at the Old Spice Classic, winning the first of three meetings with West Virginia

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Conference realignment has led to the disappearance (for the time being) of some of college basketball’s best rivalries. But it pulled off a new “trick” at the Old Spice Classic.

West Virginia and Oklahoma both committed to the event before the Mountaineers left the Big East to join the Big 12, and as a result of WVU’s move there was a chance that the two programs could meet in Orlando.

The Sooners (4-1) struck the first blow in the season series, winning the third place game at the Old Spice Classic by the final score of 77-70 (this one obviously isn’t a conference game). Wyoming transfer Amath M’Baye paced the winners with 19 points and six rebounds, and freshman guard Je’lon Hornbeak added 14 and five rebounds.

Juwan Staten (15 points) and Deniz Kilicli (13 points) were the lone West Virginia (1-3) starters to reach double figures (Gary Browne added 13 off the bench), but the Mountaineers shot just 36% from the field in a game that featured 48 fouls and 59 free throws.

If there’s anything to be taken out of this game with an eye toward their two Big 12 meetings it’s how physical the game was, although it can be argued that the officials were a little too active when it came to keeping things “under control”. The last time two Big 12 teams met in a regular season non-conference game was back in 1996, when Texas played Nebraska. The Longhorns won 83-81.

Both Oklahoma and West Virginia are teams more than a few pundits believe are capable of surprising people in the Big 12 this season, with the Sooners picked to finish 7th and the Mountaineers 6th. Both are incorporating key transfers into the rotation, so early season growing pains were to be expected.

West Virginia entered the tournament with three transfers in their starting lineup but head coach Bob Huggins made the decision to move Matt Humphrey (Boston College transfer) to the bench. Terry Henderson was productive off the bench (14 points, six rebounds) in the blowout win over Marist on Thursday, but struggled in his first start of the season on Sunday (1-of-6 FG, two points).

The hope in Morgantown is that with time and on-court experience Humphrey, Staten and Aaric Murray will mesh with their teammates, and the same can be said of a partnership between M’Baye and senior Romero Osby (foul trouble limited him to just 17 minutes) for Oklahoma.

The next meeting between these two teams is on January 5 in the Big 12 opener for both.

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

Battle 4 Atlantis title proves Syracuse will be relevant this season

rad Horrigan/The Courant via AP
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Michael Gbinije scored 20 points and Trevor Cooney added 15 points and five assists as Syracuse left the Bahamas with a title, beating No. 25 Texas A&M 74-67 in the finals of the Battle 4 Atlantis.

I guess it’s time to start taking the Orange seriously.

There’s a lot to like about this group. Gbinije and Cooney are both fifth-year seniors that not only understand how to operate at the top of the 2-3 zone that Jim Boeheim runs, but they both have developed into versatile offensive weapons. Cooney was known as nothing more than a jump-shooter when he arrived up north, but he’s now averaging 3.5 assists on the season.

And Gbinije?

He has been one of the best players in the country through the first two weeks of the season. Through six games, he’s averaged 19.7 points, 4.2 assists, 3.0 boards and 2.8 steals while shooting 51.3 percent from beyond the arc.

Freshman Malachi Richardson, who had 16 points in the win over A&M, has scored double-figures in all six games this season while another freshman, Tyler Lydon, was against terrific on Friday, finishing with 13 points and eight boards. He’s now shooting 58.8 percent from beyond the arc this season.

And that’s where this team is going to do the majority of their damage this season.

Through six games, they’re shooting 41.1 percent from beyond the arc. In the three wins in the Bahamas, the Orange knocked were 34-for-73 from beyond the arc, a 46.5 percent clip. The question isn’t whether or not that rate can continue — four of the six players that saw action on Friday are dangerous three-point shooters while the other two, Tyler Roberson  and DaJuan Coleman, aren’t going to be shooting threes — but what happens on the nights where the threes aren’t going down.

There are going to be nights where they shoot 5-for-25 instead of 11-for-25. Will they have enough firepower then? Will their defense be good enough? Will guys like Roberson and Coleman be able to supply a scoring punch? Will Cooney, Gbinije and Richardson attack the paint instead of settling for jumpers?

Because at the very least, these three games in the Bahamas have proven that the Orange are going to be relevant this season, even in the loaded ACC. Whether that means they’re going to push for a top four finish or simply end the year as a tournament team remains to be seen, but this much is clear: Jim Boeheim has himself a squad Upstate.

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.