Marshawn Powell

Arkansas’ Marshawn Powell scores 33 in a win over Oklahoma

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The big question mark for Arkansas coming into the season was Marshawn Powell.

After turning heads with a dominating freshman season in 2009-2010, Powell’s career took a turn for the worse. He struggled during his sophomore season, seeing his output drop across the board, and after averaging 19.5 points through two games as a junior, Powell blew out his ACL.

Early on this year, Powell didn’t quite look like himself. He was averaging 17.0 points through the first three games — against powerhouse programs like Longwood and Florida A&M — but managed all of 10 points in 37 minutes in the two losses that Arkansas suffered in the Las Vegas Invitational.

Last Friday, however, Powell looked better. He 19 points on 5-10 shooting to go along with seven boards in a loss to Syracuse at Bud Walton Arena, but it wasn’t until Tuesday night that Powell really came alive.

In an 81-78 win over Oklahoma, Powell finished with 33 points on 11-17 shooting — including 4-6 on threes — while adding six boards and five assists. The Razorbacks needed every single one of those points, as well; BJ Young struggled throughout much of the game, finishing with just 10 points on 4-12 shooting.

A healthy Powell is a difference maker for Arkansas. Everyone knows how good Young is. He’s a lottery pick perfectly suited for Mike Anderson’s run-and-gun system, and even when Young is struggling like he did tonight, he’s capable of scoring in the clutch. Young scored on two tough drives in the final minute, the latter giving Arkansas the lead after a Steven Pledger three gave Arkansas their first lead of the second half at 78-77.

With Powell proving that he’s capable of putting up numbers like he did tonight, the Razorbacks have two go-to guys. And while he’s never been known for his ability to shoot, those four threes are meaningful. Powell is a power forward in a league with some big power forwards. If he’s a threat from the perimeter, that creates just that much more space for Young and the rest of the Arkansas wings in the paint.

In a league that looks more wide-open by the day, Powell’s presence makes Arkansas a team that could sneak up on people in the SEC.

Oklahoma, on the other hand, looked better than they did in their last two games. They have a trio of talented big men — Romero Osby and Amath M’Baye combined for 36 points in this one — and a talented back court, headlined by scorer Steven Pledger and setup man Sam Grooms. They hung with Arkansas in one of the tougher home-court environments, putting a run on the Razorbacks in a game they trailed for much of the second half.

I’m not sure Lon Kruger is in the business of moral victories, but after beating Northwestern State and Oral Roberts by a combined five points in the last two games, this is a promising performance.

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

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 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.