Elias Harris, Milton Jenings

College Hoops Player of the Week: Elias Harris, Gonzaga

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Player of the Week: Elias Harris, Gonzaga

Harris didn’t put up eye-popping stats this week, as he averaged 18.3 points and 7.7 boards in Gonzaga’s run through the Old Spice Classic down in Orlando. He did, however, look like a first round draft pick as the Bulldog’s knocked off Davidson in the title, game, 81-67. Harris had 24 points and 10 boards on 9-11 shooting in that game, but his value extended beyond the box score. Harris is a much improved defender this season, and he’s really taken on something close to a point forward role this season. He’s not Kyle Anderson and he’s not Draymond Green, but he’s capable of pushing the ball up the floor and leading the break, which becomes especially useful when Kevin Pangos and Gary Bell are in the back court.

For the first time since his freshman season, Harris looks 100% healthy. He’s explosive, making a couple of athletically-impressive plays over the weekend. Perhaps more importantly, he’s embraced his role with the Zags. There’s simply too much talent on that roster for him to be concerned about how many points or shots he gets; he’s a complimentary piece, a rebounder and a defender, that just so happens to be able to get you 24 points on a night when you need it. Fran Fraschilla had a great line about Harris in Sunday’s title game broadcast: Harris was one of the most overrated players in the country during his freshman season, but he’s one of the most underrated players in the country as a senior.

The All-They-Were-Good-Too Team:

G: Quinn Cook, Duke: Cook was terrific for the Blue Devils this weekend, as they picked up three very impressive wins to bring home the Battle 4 Atlantis crown. Cook isn’t the star of this Duke team — that award goes to Mason Plumlee, with Seth Curry being the runner-up — but he may be the most important piece. In three games, Cook averaged 13.7 points and 6.3 assists, which included playing 73 minutes on back-to-back nights against two of the toughest full-court presses that he’ll see this season in wins over VCU and then-No. 2 Louisville. Cook’s role this season is to be the facilitator: protect the ball, get Duke into their sets, create open shots for teammates off the dribble, and knock down an open jumper when it’s given to him. After struggling with turnovers in the preseason, it’s pretty clear Cook’s embraced this role.

G: Andre Hollins, Minnesota: No one in the country woke up on Sunday morning with a bigger smile on their face that Hollins. On Friday, the Memphis native went for 41 points against his hometown Tigers, who chose Joe Jackson over him, as the Gophers beat a roster full of his former AAU and high school teammates. Then on Saturday, Hollins finished with just eight points, but hit three free throws with 0.4 seconds left on the clock to beat Stanford; he was fouled taking a three from half court.

G: Brandon Paul, Illinois: Paul was going to be the Player of the Week this week until he needed a last-second three from Tyler Griffey to help him lead the Illini past Gardner-Webb at home. Paul was terrific in three games out in Maui, however, scoring 26 points in a rout of USC in the opener and closing the event with 20 points in a win over Butler. Here’s the million dollar question, however: are the Illini truly contenders for a tournament berth, or was this simply an early-season tease?

F: Doug McDermott, Creighton: Here’s the crazy thing about how good Doug McDermott has been in his career: he averaged 29.5 points and 8.5 boards in wins over Wisconsin and a much-improved Arizona State, yet I still came away from the weekend feeling like he didn’t play all that well because he shot 47.6%. Granted, McDermott’s legendary stroke has been a bit off early in the season — he’s down to 51.9% from the floor and 30.0% from three from 60.1% and 48.6% last year — but that’s still an impressive way to have a mediocre night.

C: Colton Iverson, Colorado State: The Rams won at Denver and at Washington this week, to improve to 4-0 on the season. They look like a team that can make a serious run at the MWC title, and the addition of Iverson is one of the biggest reasons why. The Minnesota-transfer averaged 14.5 points and 12.5 boards this week, giving CSU a low-post scoring threat and a big-body on the block that they lacked last season.

Bench: Tim Hardaway Jr (Michigan), Sean Kilpatrick (Cincinnati), Markel Starks (Georgetown), Jeff Withey (Kansas)

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

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.