Larry Brown, Ryan Manuel

Break up the Mustangs? Larry Brown’s team off to a 7-1 start

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There were questions from the moment Larry Brown took the head coaching gig at SMU. How long would he be there? And even with his status as one of the game’s best teachers, was Brown good enough to work his magic at a program that’s struggled for years?

Eight games into his debut season in Dallas, Brown has the Mustangs off to their best start in six years. The latest triumph was a 62-55 win over Utah on Wednesday night, with Jalen Jones leading the way with 20 points and 16 rebounds.

SMU didn’t shoot well from the field, making just 33.9% of their shots and second-leading scorer Nick Russell (14.5 ppg) made just one of his eight shots from the field, but the Mustangs made up for it on the defensive end and at the foul line. Utah made just 38.6% of their shots from the field and was outscored 18-2 at the foul line (SMU: 18-of-21; Utah: 2-of-3).

No one will confuse the Utes with a Pac-12 contender, but winning a game like this is a step in the right direction for an SMU program that finished last season with a 13-9 record (4-12 Conference USA).

“The first half was as good as we’ve played all year by far,” Brown remarked after the game. “The second thing, we got 6-for-25 (shooting) in the second half and win. Great teams control things they can control, like rebounding and defending, sharing the ball and playing hard.

“You can’t control whether the ball goes in the basket,” he said. “We shoot 34 percent and win. Hopefully, that’s going to be a staple of this program for a long, long time.”

While limiting teams to 42.6% shooting as SMU did last season the number did rank 10th in Conference USA, and that was an even bigger issue when considering how much the Mustangs struggled offensively (59.7 ppg; 41.9% FG).

Five Mustangs are averaging at least 8.9 points per game with three in double figures; by comparison just three players averaged at least 8.0 ppg last season. While it’s definitely good for SMU to be able to pull out a victory on a night that saw them struggle from the field, it should be noted that through eight games they’re better offensively than last season.

“I’m sure he’s putting it all together. He’s a great teacher of the game and it’s early on for them,” said Utah coach Larry Krystkowiak. “To be 7-1 at this point with some of the turnover and different things that are going on, he’s doing a heck of a job.”

With their next three games on the road a little more will be learned about SMU, but it’s quite obvious through eight games that this group has improved a great deal since last season.

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.