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College Hoops Week in Review: Five Thoughts

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VCU’s ridiculously ‘havocy’ this season: VCU may not be sitting atop the Top 25 this season, but that doesn’t change the fact that this is the best team that Shaka Smart has had in his tenure in Richmond. Let’s look past the fact that, you know, this group has the kind of talent that you usually find in the Big East or the ACC, not in the Atlantic 10’s newest addition.

VCU thrives on creating ‘Havoc’, which is the name that Smart has given his system. They press, they trap and they try to force turnovers. And thus far this season, the Rams have been the best team in the country at forcing turnovers. VCU’s opponents have turned the ball over on 30.4% of their possessions this season. But where VCU thrives is on steals, the live-ball turnovers that they can turn into layups and open shots at the other end of the floor. The Rams steal percentage is 19.0%, which is far and away the highest number in the country.

Illinois’ issues are on the defensive end: The knock on Illinois earlier this year was that they were too reliant on Brandon Paul; when he had an off night, the Illini were vulnerable. Well, Paul was awful against Auburn — 3-12 shooting, six turnovers — and the Illini still won, thanks in very large part to a 27-point, five-assist performance from Tracy Abrams.

The bigger issue was that Auburn was able to score 79 points against the Illini, a week after Missouri put up 82 on them. Illinois is 71st in the country in defensive efficiency, a number that has gone down after giving up 1.08 PPP and 1.09 PPP in their last two games. Illinois has a ceiling unless they get better on that end of the floor.

LBSU adds Keala King and Tony Freeland: Long Beach State was waiting all year to get Keala King and Tony Freeland eligible, and on Saturday, they saw their first action for the 49ers. Freeland, a transfer from DePaul, started and scored 15 points. King, who averaged 13.7 points as a sophomore at Arizona State, finishing with just one points and four turnovers in 19 minutes off the bench. We’ll go ahead and assume that performance was the result of first game jitters, because the possibility of a lineup consisting of Michael Caffey, Peter Pappageorge, Janes Ennis, Danny Jennings and Freeland with King coming off the bench is scary.

Phil Pressey isn’t the difference maker for Missouri, defense is: The Tigers are 58th in the country in defensive efficiency, which is surprising given how many good defenders there are on Frank Haith’s roster. It’s not because they struggle keeping teams from getting good looks at the rim; they are 20th in the nation in defensive effective field goal percentage. It’s not because they can’t rebound; the Tigers are one of the best in the country on the offensive glass and they’re way above average on the defensive glass. They don’t foul too much.

The problem? Missouri isn’t making plays defensively. They are 331st in the country in defensive turnover rate. They are outside the top 200 in block and steal percentage. Frank Haith doesn’t like pressuring defensively, which doesn’t make much sense based on the pieces that he has at his disposal, but it does explain why Missouri isn’t an elite defensive team.

Who is the best team on the West Coast?: Arizona will be the popular pick, and frankly, if you’re going based on record, they’ve earned it. The Wildcats are one of just four undefeated teams left in the country, they have a win over Florida and they’ve beaten San Diego State. But the win over Florida was a gift-wrapped collapse by the Gators, and the win over SDSU came thanks to an unbelievable defensive play made by Nick Johnson. Not exactly dominant.

Then again, who is better than them? I love Gonzaga, but their defensive issues in the back court worry me. SDSU has been promising, but they are still unproven. UNLV looked downright bad in their trip to UNC. UCLA looked good in their win over Missouri, but that was the first time they’ve looked good this season. Could it be New Mexico? I’ll give the Lobos the benefit of the doubt after losing to South Dakota State and Nate Wolters, especially considering their win at Cincinnati on Thursday. If Alex Kirk continues to be a force in the paint, the Lobos have the perimeter weapons to be scary come March.

You can find Rob 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.