Lehigh Mountain Hawks guard C.J. McCollum (3) works to shoot against the Xavier Musketeers during a college basketball game in Greensboro

Handicapping (way too early) the national scoring leader race


Points are the way teams win games. You can argue defense, you can argue rebounding. But if you don’t put the ball in the basket, you don’t win.

I know, that’s expert analysis.

Now that we’re a few weeks into the season some players are starting to show how good they are at putting said ball into said basket. With that in mind, let’s check out the leaders among points per game in Division I basketball, and their odds for ending the season as the nation’s top scorer, with a few dark horses at the end.


C.J. McCollum, Lehigh (25.8 ppg)

Why?: Scored 20-or-more in six of eight games, including three 30-point outings so far. He’s the main focus on a good team and can do it all. That means that teams will have to guard him for the pass and box him out, not just play him for the shot.

Future outlook: Games against VCU and Bucknell loom, but the rest of the seasonal competition within the Patriot League will be sub-par (outside of the Bison) compared to McCollum. He’s also averaged at least 19 points in his four seasons. There’s something to be said about that.

Odds: 5-to-2

Kyle Vinales, Central Connecticut State (25.6 ppg)

Why?: This guy is a name not a ton of people know, but should. Only a sophomore, Vinales led all freshman in scoring in Division I last season at 17.9 points per game, albeit for a pretty bad team. Through six games, Vinales has played a ridiculous 40.8 minutes per game and has eclipsed the 20-point mark in the last five. He’s hit 45.6-percent of his shots overall and 39.5-percent from three.

Future outlook: A game at Indiana on Saturday will be the true test. In-conference, games against Wagner, Quinnipiac and Long Island loom. Those will be the proving ground.

Odds: 8-to-1

Isaiah Canaan, Murray State (22.5 ppg)

Why?: He’s everybody’s All-American and it’s mainly because he’s one of the best scorers in the country. The senior is connecting on 49.5-percent from the field and a crazy good 42.6-percent from three  in 33.6 minutes per game through six games. He’s the main perimeter scoring option and has the tools around him to fend off double teams.

Future outlook: Games at Dayton and at home against Valparaiso loom, but it’s the Ohio Valley Conference slate that worries anyone thinking Canaan can top the scoring charts. Belmont, Tennessee Tech and Tennessee State know how to defend, especially the latter two, who have seen Canaan over the past four years.

Odds: 15-to-1

Doug McDermott, Creighton (21.2 ppg)

Why?: Because he’s D-Mac. Because he’s one of the top contenders for National Player of the Year. He’s got the outside game (46.9-percent), hits his free throws (87.8-percent) and the post game (53.8-percent overall) to be the efficient scorer that everyone expects, and do it well. He’s got Grant Gibbs and Greg Enchenique to taper the double teams, too. So that helps.

Future outlook: A game at Nebraska on Thursday, with games at California and at home against Tulsa will be challenging. But the Missouri Valley Conference brings the contest of Illinois State (Jackie Carmichael), Northern Iowa (Seth Tuttle) and Wichita State (Cleanthony Early). It’s going to be tough.

Odds: 18-to-1

Stan Okoye, VMI (20.8 ppg)

Why?: Because Okoye plays for VMI and VMI always has someone who contends for that title every season in Duggar Baucom’s system. They run, they score. The 6-6 senior is hitting 48.1-percent of his shots overall in 31.2 minutes per game through eight games.

Future outlook: Outside of Wright State and George Washington, the rest of the Keydet’s non-conference slate is Charmin soft. In the Southern Conference, the biggest defensive threats to Okoye are Winthrop, Coastal Carolina and UNC-Asheville.

Odds: 25-to-1

Other potential candidates

Lamont “Momo” Jones, Iona (23 ppg); Erick Green, Virginia Tech (24.8); James Kinney, San Jose State (22.8); Kevin Foster, Santa Clara (22.5); Ray McCallum, Detroit (21.1).

VIDEO: Kris Dunn wills Providence to win over No. 11 Arizona

Kris Dunn, Elliott Pitts
AP Photo/Mark J. Terrill
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Kris Dunn spent the first 35 minutes of Friday night’s game against No. 11 Arizona in foul trouble, splitting his time between sitting on the bench and trying to avoid finding himself, again, on the wrong side the whistle.

With 11 minutes left in the game, and with Dunn yet to find a rhythm, the all-american point guard was whistled for his fourth foul as he battled for a rebound with Arizona’s Mark Tollefsen. Head coach Ed Cooley say his superstar beside his for six game minutes, time enough for Arizona to turn a 49-47 deficit into a 58-54 lead.

There were just over five minutes left when Dunn reentered the second semifinal of the Wooden Legacy, and he proceeded to show everyone in the country why he was named the NBCSports.com Preseason Player of the Year. Providence had nine possessions after he reentered the game. Dunn scored 11 points and had a pair of assists on those eight possessions, and if Ben Bentil had stuck a wide-open three — that was setup by Dunn — the Friars would have scored on all nine.

In total, Dunn was responsible for all 15 Friar points in a game-changing, 15-7 run in the final 4:30. It was capped off by this Kobe-in-his-prime-esque game-winner:

The win for Providence is huge for a couple of reasons:

  • Dunn showed a killer instinct against a marquee opponent, something that we didn’t necessarily see out of him a season ago. He wasn’t going to let his team lose, and given that Providence doesn’t have anyone else that can consistently create good shots, they are going to need that from him a lot this year.
  • It makes a statement for the Friars. Arizona is overrated at No. 11 in the country, yes, but going out on national television against an elite program and getting this kind of performance from Dunn is a confidence-booster and a tone-setter. Providence hasn’t been accustomed to winning in recent years. This is a way to set a trend.
  • Ben Bentil continues to play like a star. Dunn had 19 points and eight assists on Friday, but Bentil followed up a 24-point performance in the win over Evansville with 21 critical points on Friday.

This win sets up a matchup between No. 3 Michigan State and Providence on Sunday night, which means that Denzel Valentine and Kris Dunn — the two best players in the country, sorry Ben Simmons — will be going head-to-head.

Oh. Hell. Yes.

No. 14 Cal goes 0-2 in Las Vegas Invitational

Jaylen Brown
AP Photo/Ben Margot
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After midnight on the east coast on Thanksgiving, No. 14 Cal blew a 15 point second half lead against San Diego State, allowing the Aztecs to use a 30-6 run to put away the game and advance to the final of the Las Vegas Invitational. That’s the same San Diego State team had scored 43 points in a loss to Arkansas-Little Rock last week.

Not 24 hours later, the Golden Bears were shredded defensively by the Richmond Spiders, losing 94-90 in the consolation game of a four-team tournament they were considered to be the heavy favorite in.

It’s a disappointing two-game stretch for Cal, who entered the season as a Pac-12 favorite and had looked the part for the first four games of the season.

And the issue appears to be on the defensive end of the floor.

Richmond is a good Atlantic 10 team. Terry Allen and Marshall Wood are high-major big men, Shawn’Dre Jones is a jitterbug at the point and Chris Mooney runs a Princeton-esque system that is very difficult to prepare for without a day in-between games. So it’s not really surprising that the Spiders gave Cal a fight.

But 94 points?

On the heels of giving up 44 points in the second half against the offensively-challenged Aztecs?

That’s a problem, one that I’m sure that Cuonzo Martin is going to address this week in practice. Martin has managed to put together a roster that is build for small-ball, with four talented perimeter players surrounding a first round pick in the post. But that’s not the style that he’s known for. Martin played his college ball at Purdue in the Gene Keady days. He cut his teeth as a head coach at Missouri State in the Missouri Valley. His team’s at Tennessee were known for being tough and physical defensively.

That’s how Martin coaches, which is part of the reason Cal had such hype entering the year.

The talents of Tyrone Wallace, Jaylen Brown, Ivan Rabb, Jabari Bird and Jordan Mathews on a team with a coach that gets teams to defend the way Martin does? It’s no surprise that pundits would be optimistic.

But as of now, they have some work to do defensively if they want to live up to that hype.