Paul Hewitt, Patrick Holloway

College Hoops Week in Review: Five Thoughts

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Is the CAA now overrated?: ‘Overrated’ might not be a fair term to use here, as most expected the CAA to take a hit with VCU leaving for the Atlantic 10 this season. ‘Incapable of getting two teams to the tournament’ is probably the better descriptor here. Only three teams in the league having winning records, and none of them have fewer than three losses less than a month into the season. The two favorites in the conference, Drexel and Delaware, are a combined 4-11, and while a number of those losses have come against good competition — Delaware made it to the semifinals of the Preseason NIT, but they’ve lost five in a row, including a game at Lafayette, while Drexel recently lost to Rider, the fifth school outside the BCS leagues they’ve dropped a game against — simply playing a tough schedule won’t get you a trip to the Big Dance.

George Mason may now be the one team that can potentially carry the torch for the conference, but they failed to follow up their season-opening win over Virginia with wins against Bucknell, New Mexico or, on Sunday, against Maryland. With Northern Iowa being the only quality non-conference opponent left on the schedule, there likely isn’t going to be enough there for the Patriots to earn an at-large bid. League play will only hurt, as the CAA is currently 1-20 against RPI top 100 teams.

Two years ago, three CAA teams made the NCAA tournament. But two of those three — VCU and Old Dominion — have left the conference. We knew there was a chance this would happen, but that doesn’t reduce the sting of one of the nation’s most entertaining mid-major leagues losing some of their pluckiness.

What’s up with Kentucky?: After losing two straight games last week, which included the first loss at Rupp Arena in the Calipari era, the Wildcats are going to likely see themselves fall out of the top 25. And that’s probably fair; they lost to two unranked teams, including one that was coming off of a loss at home to Charleston. But I must stress to you that how good Kentucky ends up being is still a complete unknown. This team is very, very young and in the midst of trying to find an identity and pinpoint individual roles while getting on-the-job training for how to play college basketball. Most importantly, Ryan Harrow is still a long way from 100%. The Wildcats ceiling is simply unknown at this point.

But that’s not necessarily a positive thing, because the simple fact of the matter is that this team could end up simply OK. What happens if Harrow never figures out how to play the point for Coach Cal? And what happens if Kyle Wiltjer never learn how to play defense, or Nerlens Noel and Willie Cauley-Stein can’t figure out a way to share the front court without being massive liabilities offensively? What if Alex Poythress never becomes ‘The Man’? Most importantly, what happens if this team simply doesn’t have the mental toughness and leadership to perform under the pressure of Big Blue Nation’s expectations?

At the end of the day, my point is this: for better or for worse, Kentucky is still a complete question mark at this point.

The nation’s most underrated freshman: Xavier is 6-1 on the season, including a dominating win over Butler and a win at Mackey Arena over Purdue, which is a far cry from what was expected of these Musketeers heading into the season. The biggest reason for their improvement has been the play of freshman Semaj Christon. After sitting out the opener and despite scoring just two points in the win over Butler — his first game of the season — Christon is now averaging 16.0 points and 6.2 assists on the season. An athletic, 6-foot-3 freshman, Christon excels at using a crafty handle, long strides and an explosive first step to get to the rim. Did Chris Mack have a feeling that Christon would be this good? I wonder if that played a role in Mark Lyons’ departure.

In San Diego State the best team in California?: At this point, there really is no way to argue that fact. It’s certainly not UCLA, who not only was beaten by SDSU on Saturday, but who lost to another California school in Cal Poly. It’s not USC, either, as the Trojans lost at home to the Aztecs despite the absence of Deshawn Stephens and Chase Tapley. And to think: this team is only going to get better when James Johnson gets eligible.

If someone can figure out Florida State, do share: Nothing surprises me about Florida State anymore. Is there a program in the country that is more capable of pulling off thrilling upsets and head-scratching, you-gotta-be-kidding-me losses? Last season, Florida State lost to Harvard, Princeton and Clemson (by 20!) while going 4-1 against North Carolina and Duke. That included a 33 point home win over the Tar Heels, a win at Cameron and the ACC tournament title. This season, they won the Coaches vs. Cancer Classic at the Barclays Center, but have now lost to South Alabama, Minnesota and, on Sunday, Mercer.

The Seminoles are at their best offensively when they have Ian Miller, Michael Snaer and Devon Bookert on the floor together at the same time, but that takes away from their ability defensively. Leonard Hamilton is still trying to figure out his rotations — Where does he fit in Montay Brandon? How many minutes should Terrence Shannon play? — so that might have something to do with it. Regardless, this group has proven to be Team Schizophrenic.

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

UT-Arlington dominates, upsets No. 12 St. Mary’s

Texas-Arlington's Kevin Hervey, left, reacts to a 73-68 NCAA college basketball game win as Ohio State's Jae'Sean Tate looks on  in Columbus, Ohio, Friday, Nov. 20, 2015. (AP Photo/Paul Vernon)
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UT-Arlington made a statement on Thursday night, completely dominating No. 12 Saint Mary’s in a 65-51 upset win in a true road game in Moraga.

Back in October, I ranked both the Gaels and the Mavericks in the top-5 of my Mid-Major Power Rankings. Saint Mary’s was the obvious top choice, one of the nation’s most efficient offenses that returned Emmett Naar and Jock Landale. UT-Arlington, ranked fifth, served as a dangerous opponent. The Mavs had defeated Ohio State and Memphis in 2015, but their season was derailed once Kevin Hervey, a player with serious pro potential, tore his ACL.

With five starters back, including Hervey, who is just now getting back to 100 percent, UT-Arlington looks every bit the part of a March Cinderella.

The Mavericks jumped out to an early lead and forced the Gaels to play out of character. Saint Mary’s had only committed a season-high 14 turnovers before the midway point of the second half. The Gaels, who entered shooting 40 percent from three as a team, was held to 8-of-27 (30 percent) from beyond the arc.

UT-Arlington did an incredible job of closing out on shooters. And it didn’t matter the matchup, at times we saw Hervey, a 6-foot-9 junior, come out and run a guard off the 3-point line. While those statistics mentioned above show up in the box score, the amount of deflections don’t. The Mavericks used its length and athleticism to get their hands everywhere on the defensive end of the floor, making it difficult to find good looks.

In the first half, UT-Arlington controlled the glass. Saint Mary’s found more success in that department after halftime, as Kevin Clark’s offensive putback capped an 11-2 run, which cut the deficit to 52-41. However, the Mavs were able to counter each time the Gaels threatened, never letting the lead get to single digits.

Aside from the struggles the typically-efficient Saint Mary’s offense had, the Gaels struggled to keep UT-Arlington guards Erick Neal and Kaelon Wilson out of the lane, whether it be on a high ball screen or a handoff. Saint Mary’s never seemed to have a help-side defender there to protect the rim. Neal had 13 points and eight assists (five turnovers), while Wilson had 10 points off the bench. Hervey had a game-high 15 points and seven rebounds.

UT-Arlington is winners of eight straight after losing three straight. One of those wins includes a double-digit win over Texas in Austin. The Mavericks are the clear-cut favorite to win the Sun Belt. Come Selection Sunday, I’d say plenty of at-large teams would not like to be paired up with Scott Cross’ team.

Iowa cruises past No. 25 Iowa State

NEW YORK, NY - MARCH 20:  Head coach Fran McCaffery of the Iowa Hawkeyes reacts in the first half against the Villanova Wildcats during the second round of the 2016 NCAA Men's Basketball Tournament at Barclays Center on March 20, 2016 in the Brooklyn borough of New York City.  (Photo by Elsa/Getty Images)
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Iowa picked up a major win on Thursday night, defeating in-state rival No. 25 Iowa State, 78-64, in a contest the Hawkeyes thoroughly dominated.

Let’s put it this way: the Hawkeyes have played four top-100 teams, according to kenpom. In those games, all losses by the way, their defense has surrendered 91 points to Seton Hall, 74 points to a Virginia team that plays at the slowest tempo in the country, 100 points to Memphis and 92 points to Notre Dame.

On Saturday, on the same floor Iowa demolished the Cyclones, its defense allowed 98 points in a loss to Nebraska Omaha.

This is exactly the sort of win Fran McCaffery and Co. needed to right the ship as we inch closer and closer to conference play.

When the Cyclones went to their bench in the first half, Nick Baer sparked a 10-0 run which helped set the tone for the remainder of the half. Iowa State went without a field goal for more than six minutes during that span.

Iowa kept Iowa State from getting out and running, holding the Cyclones to zero fast break points through the first 20 minutes and limiting them to only 36 percent from the floor as a team. Iowa, on the other hand, shot 47 percent, including 59 percent in the first half, which led to a 15-point halftime lead.

Peter Jok torched Iowa State to the tune of 23 points (4-of-7 from distance).

Monte Morris was held in check with 10 points, while Naz Mitrou-Long and Matt Thomas shot a combined 4-of-13 from three (they each hit a three with less than three minutes to play and the outcome all but decided).

Iowa State’s offense is becoming a bigger concern. Just like against Gonzaga, the Cyclones dug a first-half hole they could shoot out their way of. And like last week’s overtime loss to Cincinnati, they struggled from beyond the arc.

Iowa landed a marquee win it needed, while its rival headed home with questions to answer after losing three of four.

 

Alabama wing sidelined due to weight loss

ORLANDO, FL - NOVEMBER 29: Head coach Avery Johnson of the Alabama Crimson Tide during the game against the Notre Dame Fighting Irish at HP Field House on November 29, 2015 in Orlando, Florida.  (Photo by Rob Foldy/Getty Images)
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Alabama junior wing Nick King will not be with the team for Sunday evening’s matchup against No. 24 Oregon in Eugene.

According to Rainer Sabin of the AL.com, Alabama head coach Avery Johnson said King undergoing a series of tests after losing more than 10 pounds in less than a week and a half.

Johnson told reporters that he is “very concerned” and estimates that as of now King will be sidelined for “a week or two.”

King, who played his first two seasons at Memphis, has appeared in all seven games for the Crimson Tide, averaging 3.3 points and 2.9 rebounds in 12.7 minutes per game.

Damonte Dodd out with MCL sprain

COLLEGE PARK, MD - FEBRUARY 13: Melo Trimble #2 and Damonte Dodd #35 of the Maryland Terrapins react to a call as Alex Illikainen #25 of the Wisconsin Badgers looks on in the second half at Xfinity Center on February 13, 2016 in College Park, Maryland. Wisconsin won 70-57.  (Photo by Rob Carr/Getty Images)
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Maryland could be without the services of starting center Damonte Dodd for the remainder of the non-conference slate, the team announced on Wednesday.

Dodd suffered a MCL sprain in his left knee during practice earlier this week. The injury caused him to miss Wednesday’s 76-56 win over Howard. He will not be available for matchups with St. Peter’s and Jacksonville State. The Terrapins then close out the non-conference slate at Charlotte on Dec. 20 before opening up Big Ten play a week later.

Dodd has started in six of seven games he’s appeared in this season. He’s averaging 5.9 points, 5.3 rebounds and 2.4 blocks per game. Michael Cekovsky started in place of Dodd on Wednesday night. Ivan Bender, who returned to the lineup against Howard after missing the previous contest, should also see an increase in minutes with Dodd sidelined.

Federico Mussini goes coast-to-coast, beats buzzer with and-1

CINCINNATI, OH - FEBRUARY 03:  Chris Mullin the head coach of the St. John's Red Storm gives instructions to Federico Mussini #4 during the game against the  Xavier Musketeersat Cintas Center on February 3, 2016 in Cincinnati, Ohio.  (Photo by Andy Lyons/Getty Images)
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St. John’s capped the first half with a 6-0 run.

Sophomore guard Federico Mussini went coast-to-coast to beat the buzzer, and draw the foul, as the Johnnies went into the break up 42-33 on city rival Fordham.

The 6-foot-4 guard had gone cold during a five-game stretch, but since Thanksgiving he’s scored in double figures in four consecutive games, including on Thursday night.