College Hoops Week in Review: Five Thoughts

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Could an injury to Moser actually be a blessing in disguise for UNLV?: Before I get to my line of thinking, I want to emphasize something: this is no way, shape or form a good thing. Miker Moser dislocated his elbow — according to head coach Dave Rice, it was “very dislocated” — in a win at Cal on Sunday night, an injury that didn’t cause a fracture but will force Moser out of the lineup for an extended period of time. Maybe even the rest of the season. Considering this kid’s talent and the fact that he passed up on a chance to enter the NBA Draft after a breakout sophomore campaign, the pain from popping an elbow out of place isn’t the only reason this injury hurts. No one wants to see him sitting on the bench. No one.

But this will make Rice’s decisions easier to make in the near future. You see, Moser is a natural four in today’s college basketball. He’s 6-foot-8, he can rebound and defend in the paint, but he can also step out and knock down a three. Spread the floor offensively and protect the rim defensively. It’s ideal. It’s also a position that is currently being manned by Anthony Bennett, whose 25 points and 13 boards pushed his freshman year averages up to 18.5 points and 8.3 rebounds per game. Khem Birch returns next week, and if he’s as good as the hype says he is — I know we always hear a transfer being forced to sit out is the best player in practice, but sometimes that turns out to be the case — than that means Moser would be forced to the small forward spot.

Because you don’t sit a talent like Mike Moser, even if it means playing him out of position.

With Moser out of the lineup, however, that means that the Chuck Brothers — Bryce Dejean-Jones and Katin Reinhardt — can take up residence on the perimeter with Anthony Marshall manning the point, and while I don’t love that trio being tasked with distributing the ball when the front court is where UNLV’s strength lies, it may end up being a better option that using an out-of-position Moser.

Kansas is on track to become one of the nation’s elite: The thinking about Kansas throughout the preseason was that this would be an elite defensive team that will slowly develop into a very good offensive team as Elijah Johnson learns to be a point guard and Ben McLemore becomes more comfortable in a feature role offensively. Well, the former is true, as Withey has become the nation’s premiere defensive force in the paint, anchoring a defense that currently ranks sixth in defensive efficiency, according to Kenpom. And McLemore? He’s averaging 16.0 points with an offensive efficiency rating of 116.0 (a really good number) and a usage rate of 25.6% (meaning he’s the focal point offensively). As he becomes a more consistent three-point shooter (he’s currently at 31.4%), those numbers will only improve.

The only thing Kansas is really waiting on is Johnson, or Naadir Tharpe, to learn how to protect the ball offensively. Kansas is going to be right there in the mix all season long, and a 36 point shellacking of Colorado on Saturday is only further evidence of that.

How many teams constitute ‘the nation’s elite’?: Here’s the way I see it right now: Duke and Indiana are the nation’s top two teams as of this moment. It doesn’t really matter how you rank them — I still have IU in the top spot, but if you want to put Duke there because of who they have beaten this season, I have no qualms with that — but those two need to be No. 1 and No. 2. I think Michigan is the third best team in the country, followed very closely by Syracuse at No. 4. The next tier is made up of Louisville, Kansas and Florida.

I consider those seven teams the ‘nation’s elite’. Arizona, Cincinnati, Ohio State, Gonzaga, Missouri, Illinois, Creighton, anyone from the Mountain West — they’re not on that same level.

What does the loss to Illinois tell us about Gonzaga?: I’m torn over this. Illinois was quite impressive in winning at Gonzaga on Saturday night, but just what does a win at Gonzaga mean right now? The Zags have one of the biggest and most versatile front lines in the country, and their back court is loaded with talent and athleticism, but there are two major concerns I have with this group:

  • Kevin Pangos is a terrific player, but he’s not a point guard; he’s a scoring guard that can handle the ball. The only point guard on Gonzaga’s roster is David Stockton, and he turns the ball over far too often and is a defensive liability, especially when he shares the floor with Pangos. And while Pangos is struggling a bit early on this year, he still needs to be on the floor for this team.
  • The Zags are going to have an advantage in the paint in every game, and they certainly had one against a much smaller Illinois team. But they couldn’t get the ball to Elias Harris, Kelly Olynyk or Prmezek Karnowski in the second half against the Illini. Some of that was due to a zone that Illinois was in, but there was also an issue with perimeter players hunting shots. Is this going to be a consistent issue? Because if it is, Gonzaga won’t be playing to their strength.

It’s too early to write off the Zags, but this loss was a worrisome development given the way the past couple of seasons have gone.

Brandon Triche, the nation’s most prolific starter?: Here’s a cool stat for you: Brandon Triche has started all 115 games of his college career. He’s never missed one and never come off of the bench for one. The record for most starts in a college career was set by Kyle Singler, who started 147 games. Singler came off the bench once as a sophomore, however, which is why former VCU Ram Bradford Burgess holds to current NCAA record for most consecutive starts with 146. Syracuse has played eight games this season, which means that if they can make it to the finals of both the Big East tournament and the NCAA tournament without coming off the bench or missing a game, he’ll be able to break Burgess’ record and tie Singler’s record while setting his record for most career starts without missing a game or coming off the bench in a career.

No other senior in the country has started every single game in his career. The closest is Drew Crawford or Northwestern. He’s currently at 110 career starts, but he came off the bench once as a sophomore. Ohio’s DJ Cooper has started 114 games in his career, but he’s come off of the bench four times. Kenny Boynton has 112 career starts, coming off the bench once in each of his first three seasons. Elias Harris has 108 starts, but he missed a game as a freshman and as a sophomore and came off the bench once as a sophomore.

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

Jim Larranaga believes he’s ‘Coach-3’ in FBI investigation

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Despite losing key contributors Davon Reed and Kamari Murphy from last season’s NCAA tournament team, the Miami Hurricanes are expected to be a player both within the ACC and nationally this season. But instead of having the focus solely on the likes of JaQuan Newton, Bruce Brown and Lonnie Walker, Jim Larrañaga’s program is also having to deal with the impact of the ongoing FBI investigation into corruption and fraud in college basketball.

While no one connected to the Miami men’s basketball program was arrested last month, the program is referenced in the FBI report. On Monday, Larrañaga stated during a press conference that he believes that he is “Coach-3” in the FBI report. Larrañaga also maintained his innocence, saying that he had done nothing wrong while also being thankful that none of his assistant coaches were involved.

“It’s been a strain, physically, emotionally, mentally and spiritually,” Larrañaga said according to the Palm Beach Post. “It’s something that’s there. I have to deal with it. I have the support of my wife and a wonderful family. I have the support of the university, my staff and players.”

According to the FBI report, “Coach-3” requested that payments totaling $150,000 be funneled to “Player-12” in order to ensure his commitment to their university. It has been reported that “Player-12” was 2018 five-star prospect Nassir Little, who has also stated that he had done nothing wrong. Two of the schools recruiting Little at the time, Arizona and Miami, have been entangled in the FBI investigation to varying degrees.

While Miami has not had anyone connected to its program arrested, Arizona assistant coach Emmanuel “Book” Richardson was one of the four Division I coaches were were indicted. As a result Little removed both Arizona and Miami from consideration before ultimately committing to North Carolina earlier this month.

There’s no telling what the FBI investigation will ultimately uncover, which for the schools involved could take a heavy toll not only for the 2017-18 season but for future years as well. The FBI case has been comparatively quiet since the first set of indictments, with future moves likely to be influenced by what authorities learn from the ten individuals named in the first announcement.

Miles Bridges discusses being offered money during recruiting process

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With the FBI launching an investigation into corruption and fraud in college basketball last month, the entire sport has found itself under the microscope. Ten people, including four Division I assistant coaches, were arrested and there’s no telling just how long the FBI’s investigation will last or what information it will produce.

Michigan State forward Miles Bridges is considered by many to be the leading candidate for national Player of the Yeah honors, and he had the opportunity to turn pro after a good freshman season. But Bridges made the decision to return to East Lansing, and with that comes questions as to why he would do that as opposed to cashing in on his NBA potential as soon as possible.

In an interview with Brendan Quinn of The Athletic (subscription required) Bridges discussed a host of issues, including being offered money by people while going through the recruiting process.

“I mean, if you get caught, that might be the end of your career. I wanted to play in college really bad,” Bridges told Quinn. “I don’t know — materialistic things, they don’t really get to me. So when people were offering me money, I would say no right away, because I wanted to be able to live out my college experience. But really, I don’t know, it is hard, especially because I was so young at the time — 17.”

Given the ongoing investigation, high-profile players and teams will be on the receiving end of increased scrutiny even if they aren’t part of the FBI probe. It’s an unfair situation for a player like Bridges to deal with, as even in the actual cases of alleged wrongdoing the players themselves are essentially commodities whose services are being auctioned as opposed to the main characters looking to cash in.

Unfortunately, due to recent events a decision like the one made by Bridges will result in some questioning whether or not the player received something from the school or another entity/individual. And that’s a tough — and unfair — thing for a young player to have to deal with.

Broken hand sidelines North Carolina PG Joel Berry II

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North Carolina’s defense of its national title will likely begin without its most important player, as it was announced on Monday that senior point guard Joel Berry II will miss approximately four weeks due to a broken bone in his right hand.

Berry started at the point each of the last two seasons, earning Most Outstanding Player honors in April as the Tar Heels defeated Gonzaga to win the national title. As a junior, Berry averaged 14.7 points, 3.6 assists and 3.1 rebounds per game and started 37 of the 38 games in which he played. Berry shot 42.6 percent from the field and 38.3 percent from three, with the latter percentage being the best on team amongst players who attempted at least two three-pointers per game.

Berry was named an NBC Sports Preseason Third-Team All-American in late September.

With Berry out of the lineup, North Carolina loses its floor general as well as one of their top perimeter shooters. Sophomore Seventh Woods and freshman Jalek Felton become more important options at the point as a result of Berry’s injury, and the team doesn’t lack for perimeter shooters either with Cameron Johnson, Brandon Robinson, Kenny Williams and freshman Andrew Platek all being capable of helping to pick up the slack.

North Carolina opens its regular season on November 10 against Northern Iowa.

Bill Self’s stance on Kansas/Missouri series remains unchanged

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Sunday afternoon in Kansas City, bitter rivals Kansas and Missouri got together on the basketball court for the first time since 2012, with the Showdown for Relief raising $1.75 million for recent hurricane victims. In what was an entertaining game, the Jayhawks won by the final score of 93-87 with point guard Devonté Graham leading the way for the winners with 25 points and ten rebounds.

Kansas finished the game with five players in double figures, including Mississippi State transfer Malik Newman (17 points) and center Udoka Azubuike (16). On the other side freshman Michael Porter Jr. paced four Tigers in double figures with 21 points while younger brother Jontay grabbed a game-high 12 rebounds off the bench.

However despite the excitement for the two rivals being on the same court in any capacity, Sunday’s meeting was different given the circumstances. Following the game Kansas head coach Bill Self was asked about the possibility of the two teams meeting in a regular season game, and he maintained the stance he’s held since Missouri left the Big 12 for the SEC.

“I’m not going to say never, but I don’t think there’s been any change in our position as far as the university goes,” Self said following Sunday’s exhibition. “I’m the spokesman, I guess, on this but trust me, I’m not the only one that feels that way.”

While it would certainly benefit college basketball if Kansas and Missouri were to renew acquaintances down the line, it is understandable that Self — and maybe some others on the Kansas side of things — would have reservations. The programs, even with the arrival of Cuonzo Martin in Columbia and the freshman class led by the aforementioned Michael Porter Jr., are in different places right now.

The Jayhawks have their sights set on a 14th consecutive Big 12 title and a run at their first national title since 2008, Missouri is looking to fast-track a rebuilding process after struggling mightily under former head coach Kim Anderson. Yet with that being said, the state of the two athletic departments during realignment likely has more to do with the teams not playing each other.

Missouri was a school with options earlier this decade before joining the SEC, but that was not the case for Kansas. Had the Big 12 broken up as some believed would be the case, where would the Jayhawks have landed? Fortunately for the school the Big 12 survived the realignment craze, losing four schools (Missouri and Texas A&M to the SEC, Colorado to the Pac-12 and Nebraska to the Big Ten) and adding TCU and West Virginia to get their membership number to ten.

Given that, the best bet for college basketball fans who want to see this rivalry played during the regular season may be to hope for the programs wind up in the same in-season tournament. Even better, how about the same NCAA tournament region?

Top 100 Players Countdown

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Starting on Monday morning and continuing throughout the week, we will be counting down the top 100 players in college basketball on the College Basketball Talk twitter account.

Check back to this page – or to the CBT twitter account – throughout the week to get caught up on the rankings.

MOREThe Enigma of Miles Bridges | NBC Sports Preseason All-American Team
CONTENDER SERIES: Kentucky | Kansas | Arizona | Michigan State | Duke
Big Ten Preview | ACC Preview | Big 12 Preview | Pac 12 Preview