Game of the Weekend: Sat. 10:00 pm: No. 13 Illinois at No. 10 Gonzaga (ESPN2)
The consensus heading into this season was that this could end up being the best Gonzaga team that we’ve seen in a few years, and through the first month of the season, the Zags have done nothing but confirm that line of thinking. After going into Pullman and beating Washington State in a thriller on Wednesday night, the Zags are sitting at 9-0 with a title in the Old Spice Classic under their belt.
But Illinois, the Maui champ, is 9-0 as well. Their situation is quite a bit different, however. The Illini didn’t have much in the way of expectation in the preseason, but seeing them have success isn’t that much of a surprise in hindsight. They have quite a bit of talent on the roster, and their poor record last season was as much a result of them quitting as it was an issue of whether they were good enough. With John Groce at the helm, might Illinois be able to turn their fortunes around?
Through nine games, that answer is yes. But that answer has also been given with close wins over mediocre opponents and a dominating run through the Maui that consisted of wins over USC, Chaminade and Butler. The Illini haven’t been tested yet, and they’ll get that in the form of Gonzaga.
Mark Few’s club is balanced, talented and deep. Most importantly, for this game, they have a ton of size up front. Illinois is loaded with good shooters, but their biggest player — Tyler Griffey — averages the fewest rebounds of any starter. Led by Brandon Paul and DJ Richardson, the Illini are going to be able to win some games they shouldn’t win on nights they get hot, but we’ll find out on Saturday night two things: a) how they play on the road, and b) if they can handle a team with size in the paint.
Five more games that you have to watch:
- Sat. 12:00 pm: Arkansas at No. 3 Michigan (CBS): Michigan and Arkansas have contrasting styles — the Hogs like to get up and down the floor at a breakneck pace while Michigan is known for their more conservative, half court tempo — which makes this an intriguing matchup for hoop heads as it is. Throw in the fact that Michigan looks like they’re in the conversation with Duke and Indiana for the best team in the country and that Arkansas looks like they could end up being a top three team in the SEC, and the matchup gets even juicier. Trey Burke and BJ Young could end up being first-team all-americans together.
- Sat. 2:00 pm: Colorado at No. 9 Kansas (ESPN2): This is easily the second best game of the weekend. After looking complacent in their first week as a ranked team, Colorado bounced back with a dominating win over rival Colorado State. The Rams are good, but they are no where near the same kind of team as Kansas. The Buffaloes might be good enough to win the Pac-12, which will mean that this old Big 12 rivalry (which was never really a rivalry since Colorado was never really good) should be quite entertaining. This game also features the best individual matchup of the weekend: Spencer Dinwiddie and Ben McLemore.
- Sat. 6:00 pm: Wisconsin at Marquette (ESPN2): Todd Mayo’s academic issues and Josh Gasser’s ACL have taken some of the luster off of what is one of the best rivalries in all of college basketball. Both of these teams should still make the tournament, and while there will be quite a bit of talent on the floor, both Bo Ryan and Buzz Williams are still trying to figure out how all of their pieces fit together. Expect a battle.
- Sat. 9:00 pm: Valparaiso at No. 18 New Mexico: Valpo reminds me a bit of Davidson. They have a couple of talented, versatile big men in Ryan Broekhoff and Kevin Van Wjik and a slew of experience up and down their roster. Davidson gave the Lobos all kinds of trouble at the Pit earlier this season. I think Valpo will keep things interesting as well.
- Sat. 10:30 pm: No. 14 Minnesota at USC (Pac-12): The Trojans have talent on their roster. I don’t think anyone will deny that fact. But a month into the season, they look to be much closer to the team that won just six games last season than to a team capable of making a run at an NCAA tournament bid. Minnesota, on the other hand, has been really good for the first month, and they’ve done it without Trevor Mbakwe at full strength.
And the mid-majors?:
- Sat. 2:00 pm: Drexel at Princeton
- Sat. 2:00 pm: Indiana State at Morehead State
- Sat. 3:05 pm: Murray State at Evansville (ESPN3)
- Sat. 6:00 pm: Northern Iowa at George Mason (NBCSports)
- Sun. 4:00 pm: Kent State at Xavier
Rob Dauster is the editor of the college basketball website Ballin’ is a Habit. You can find him on twitter @robdauster.
With the July Live Period coming to an end, it’s time for schools to starts deciding who they’re going to target, who they’re going to offer a scholarship to and who they’re going to cut bait with.
At the same time, we’re going to see a flurry of players starting whittling down the number of schools they’re actually considering.
D.J. Harvey was once considered a top ten prospect in the Class of 2017, and while the DeMatha product has seen his stock slide a bit in the last year, he’s still a top 50 player that has a number of power programs knocking on his door.
Over the weekend, he announced that he has cut his list to ten schools: Notre Dame, Oklahoma, Duke, Texas, Villanova, UConn, UCLA, Maryland, Arizona and Louisville.
Rick Pitino hopped on the air with 93.9 in Louisville recently and discussed the stuff you expect to hear a coach discuss on the radio in July.
He talked about the players that are improving (Jaylen Johnson). He talked about how he’s worried about how his team is going to score next season. He talked about the glut of big men on his roster and how none of them have done much to separate themselves from the pack.
It was all fairly typical.
But this line did catch my eye:
“Defensively, we’re going to press more than we’ve ever pressed,” Pitino said. “We’ve pressed a lot in the past but this team is very long, very athletic. I’m very bullish on this basketball team.”
Pitino’s teams have always pressed but he hasn’t been mentioned with the likes of Shaka Smart (Havoc) or Bobby Huggins (Press Virginia) because it isn’t an all-out press. Typically, the Cards run a 2-2-1 zone press that drops back to a half-zone/half-man amalgam that’s designed, in part, to confuse opponents as much as it is to force turnovers.
Is that going to change this year?
It would make some sense. This team is as athletic, long and versatile as any that he’s coached in recent memory. Think about the kind of physical tools that Ray Spalding and Jaylen Johnson and Deng Adel have. Think about what Donovan Mitchell can do if he’s allowed to ball-hawk the way Peyton Siva and Russ Smith did in the past.
This group can cause a lot of problems if they’re allowed to fly around the floor, and it sounds like Pitino may let them do just that.
Yesterday, when we released our July Live Period Superlatives, we listed Malik Williams as being the biggest stock riser in the country.
He went from being a kid that wasn’t playing in a shoe-company affiliated league in the spring to a five-star lock that has a bright future and NBA potential.
And on Monday, he announced that he has trimmed his list to eight schools:
N.C. State, Georgetown, Louisville, UCLA, Michigan State, Purdue, Iowa and Indiana.
In two seasons as a member of the Southern Miss basketball program from 2011-13, forward Jonathan Mills made an impression based on how hard he played the game. Monday afternoon it was reported that Mills was shot and killed in Chicago, not too far away from his alma mater of North Lawndale High School.
Before attending Eastern Utah CC and Southern Miss, Mills plied his trade at North Lawndale where he helped the school win a state title in 2008 and the Chicago Public League title as a senior in 2009. North Lawndale HS coach Lewis Thorpe told the Chicago Tribune that he and Mills had plans to work out at the school Monday afternoon, only for Thorpe to receive a phone call from his nephew informing him of Mills’ death.
Mills was going through workouts with his high school coach in preparation for a move overseas to play professionally.
The coach said he heard from witnesses at the scene that Mills had gone to a corner store with some friends and, when they came out, a car drove up and someone inside shot him.
“I’m so messed up. I am so shocked,” he said. “When I say he was well liked…everybody loved him.’’
Thorpe said Mills called him “Pops” when he coached him in high school.
After word of Mills’ death made the rounds many paid tribute to him via social media including Donnie Tyndall, who coached Mills at Southern Miss.
With the NCAA allowing college basketball programs to take one trip outside of the country every four years, some coaches look at it as an opportunity to get a head start on preparations for the upcoming season. Chris Mooney’s Richmond Spiders are one team taking a trip this summer, as they’re due to leave the United States for Europe on August 8 with three exhibitions scheduled for their 12-day tour.
The trip was originally scheduled to begin in France, with the Spiders spending their first week there before making stops in the Netherlands and Germany. Monday afternoon the program announced a change to the itinerary, with the Spiders now spending their first week in Ireland and not France.
“We continue to be excited about the opportunity to travel abroad this summer,” Mooney said in the release. “We were able to make some changes to our travel itinerary, and we believe that this new itinerary will give our team a great opportunity to grow together and see other parts of the world.”
It isn’t stated as the reason for the change in the release but this news comes just over a week after a man drove a truck into a crowd of people celebrating Bastille Day in Nice, claiming the lives of 84 people and leaving more than 200 others injured.
Richmond, which returns two of its top three scorers from a season ago in forward T.J. Cline and guard ShawnDre’ Jones, is schedule to return to the United States August 20. Per NCAA rules they’re also afforded the opportunity to practice for two weeks leading up to the trip, and heading to Europe can help the team build stronger connections in unfamiliar surroundings.