John Calipari

Weekend Preview: Top storylines to follow


The Weekend’s Top Storyline: Who bounces back on Saturday, No. 8 Kentucky or Baylor?

If you were paying attention, Kentucky’s loss in South Bend to the Fighting Irish shouldn’t have come as a surprise to you. The Wildcats are the youngest team in the country and were playing their first game on the road this season, and it just so happened to be against a veteran, disciplined Irish team in front of one of the toughest home courts in the country that was already fired up because their football team is headed to the national title game and their Heisman candidate was front row in the student section.

For the cynics and Scott Drew haters, Baylor’s start to the season isn’t a surprise, either. With enough talent to be a top ten team and win the Big 12, Drew has once again watched as his program struggles to live up to the hype and expectation, losing to Charleston at home after struggling with Boston College despite having as many as four future draft picks on the roster.

So who bounces back on Saturday at 12:30 ET? Will Alex Poythress be motivated? Will Pierre Jackson be distributing? Which athletic front line earns control of the paint?

Five More Storylines to Track:

Battle of the unbeatens: Ok, so it’s not a huge surprise that Alabama and No. 17 Cincinnati (Saturday, 3:00 p.m.) are both undefeated at this point in the season. Cincy was woefully underrated heading into the year, and Alabama appeared to have some addition by subtraction going on with Tony Mitchell and JaMychal Green. (You like back court battles? Sean Kilpatrick and Cashmere Wright vs. Trevor Lacey and Trevor Relelford should make you salivate.) But get this: Oklahoma State and Virginia Tech (Saturday, 2:00 p.m.) are also both undefeated heading into December. How many people saw that coming?

Missouri without Mike Dixon: At 3:00 p.m. on Saturday, the Tigers will take on Appalachian State at home as they take the floor for the first time since Preseason All-Big 12 guard Michael Dixon left the program amid multiple sexual assault allegations. How will the Tigers respond without him? We may not know that answer until mid-December, when Jabari Brown gets eligible.

UCLA without Joshua Smith: It’s been a rough week to be a Bruin fan. They blew an 18 point lead to Cal Poly with 12 minutes left to lose at home on Sunday night, and then watched as two former starters — Tyler Lamb and Smith — transferred out of the program this week. The Bruins now have depth and roster make-up issues, but they bounced back nicely with a big win over Cal Cat.-Northridge on Wednesday. But what happens when they are forced to play a top 25 program like San Diego State, one that can matchup up with them wing for wing? Jamaal Franklin vs. Shabazz Muhammad will be fun.

Jerod Haase is back: Jerod Haase played for Roy Williams at Kansas. He was an assistant there from 1999-2003, when he followed Williams to North Carolina. He’s a lifer … well, was a lifer. This offseason, Haase accepted the head coaching position at UAB, and on Saturday, he’ll be taking his Blazer team into the Dean Dome for the first time.

Can Villanova or Vanderbilt turn their season around?: Neither one has been impressive this season, and while we knew that both the Wildcats and the Commodores would be rebuilding this season, how many people expected Jay Wright’s team to lose to Columbia and La Salle, or Kevin Stallings’ team to put up 33 points in a blowout loss to Marist? Both programs really needs a bounce back win.

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

POSTERIZED: Wyoming’s Josh Adams takes flight

Josh Adams
Associated Press
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Not only is Wyoming senior guard Josh Adams the lone returning starter from a team that won the Mountain West tournament last season, but he’s also one of college basketball’s best dunkers. And if anyone may have forgotten about his jumping ability, Adams put it on display Saturday during the Cowboys’ win over Montana State.

After splitting two Montana State players at the top of the key Adams attacked the basket, dunking with two hands over a late-arriving help-side defender. If you’re going to rotate over, have to do it quicker than that.

Video credit: Wyoming Athletics

Defensive progress will determine No. 4 Iowa State’s ceiling

Monte Morris
Associated Press
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Even with the coaching change from Fred Hoiberg to Steve Prohm, No. 4 Iowa State remains one of the nation’s best offensive teams. Given their skills on that end of the floor many teams find it tough to go score for score with the Cyclones, and that’s what happened to Illinois in Iowa State’s 84-73 win in the Emerald Coast Classic title game.

Georges Niang scored 23 points and grabbed eight rebounds, with Monté Morris adding 20, nine rebounds and six assists and Abdel Nader 18 points as the Cyclones moved to 5-0 on the season. The three-pointers weren’t falling in the second half, as Iowa State shot 0-f0r-12, but they shot 19-for-24 inside of the arc to pull away from a team that lost big man Mike Thorne Jr. late in the first half to a left knee injury.

Illinois’ loss of size in the paint opened things up offensively for Iowa State, and the Cyclones took advantage. But where this group grabbed control of the game was on the defensive end of the floor, and that will be the key for a team with Big 12 and national title aspirations.

Nader took on the responsibility of defending Illinois’ Malcolm Hill (20 points) in the second half and did a solid job of keeping the junior wing in check, with that serving as the spark to a 12-2 run that put the game away. There’s no denying that the Cyclones can put points on the board; most of the talent from last season is back and the productivity on that end of the floor hasn’t changed as a result. Niang’s one of the nation’s best forwards, and both Morris (who now ranks among the country’s best point guards) and Nader have taken significant strides in their respective games.

Iowa State will add Deonte Burton in December, giving them another option to call upon. Front court depth is a bit of a concern, as Iowa State can ill afford to lose a Niang or Jameel McKay, but there’s enough on the roster to compensate for that and force mismatches in other areas.

But the biggest question for this group is how effective they can become at stringing together stops. Illinois certainly had its moments in both halves Saturday night, but Iowa State also showed during the game’s decisive stretch that they can step up defensively. The key now is to do so consistently, and if that occurs the Cyclones can be a threat both within the Big 12 and nationally.