George Mason Richmond Basketball

Conference Catchups: Mason best of shrinking CAA

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Conference play is right around the corner, so to help you get out of that post-holiday haze, we’ll be catching you up on all the happenings in the country’s top 12 conferences. Here’s our CAA Conference Catchup:

Favorite: George Mason

The more things change, the more they stay the same in the CAA. As the league’s power base of Virginia schools has been gradually eroded by realignment — most notably the absence of VCU in this year’s schedule — the time seemed ripe for a geographical shift. Drexel and Delaware were atop our preseason preview list, with Mason coming in third.

Well, here we are again, with the Patriots standing tall. They started the season with an upset win over Virginia, came within a point of knocking off New Mexico at the Pit, and drained a three to beat Richmond in the Spiders’ hometown. The Patriots have lost a few games they should have won, but that’s been an epidemic in the CAA this season, so they’re still the best of the bunch right now. Mason has one particular stat to hang their stocking caps on: their 91.6 Kenpom defensive efficiency number reflects a staunch inside presence led by Erik Copes that gives them a great chance night in and night out. If the Patriots can just get some offensive help for sharpshooting Sherrod Wright, they’ll be so much tougher to beat.

Contenders: Drexel is still the league’s most dangerous offensive team, even without senior Chris Fouch, who broke his ankle and will miss the rest of the season. Most bafflingly, the Dragons can’t stop anybody, so they’ve lost to good teams (St. Mary’s, Xavier, St. Joe’s) and mediocre teams (Rider, Tennessee State) alike.

William & Mary has played a pretty weak schedule, but they’ve won the games they should win, and that’s more than the rest of the league can say after non-conference season. Signs of life for the star-crossed Tribe include 1) excellent shooting (53.9%) inside the arc, 2) excellent defense on the perimeter and 3) unlike half of the league, they are eligible to win the auto-bid this season. Heartache is a familiar feeling for Tribe fans, who have never had an NCAA tourney team, but this could be their year.

Biggest Surprise: Jerelle Benimon, Towson

Benimon was a bench-riding afterthought at Georgetown. Granted, the Big East is a tough gig, but Benimon has been flat crushing it in his first post-transfer season as a Tiger. His 20 point, 21 rebound effort in last week’s upset of Oregon State put him on the national radar, but he put up 30 points in 40 minutes in an earlier loss to Temple, and 29 in a road win over Vermont. The Tigers as a team aren’t much of a threat just yet, but the 6’8″, 245-lb. Benimon is as scary as they come.

Biggest Disappointment: Drexel

Nobody in the CAA — possibly the nation — has been screwed over by the NCAA at-large process more than Bruiser Flint. His strongest teams have been thrown over in favor of dubious power-conference teams far too often. Flint knows as well as anyone that the only sure way to make the Dance is to get the league’s auto-bid, but a slew of uninspired non-conference losses has made certain that the committee’s folder on the Dragons is thin indeed.

Player of the Year: Sherrod Wright, George Mason

Other players score more points than Wright, but they’re making use of the volume-shooting method. Wright has a mighty fine 17.5 points per game average, but his shot selection and accuracy blow everyone else in the league away, easy. Wright is shooting 54% overall, and a stunning 45% from deep. Devon Saddler (Delaware) and Damion Lee (Drexel) might make up ground before it’s all said and done, but right now, I’ll take Sherrod.

Best Freshman: R.J. Hunter, Georgia State

The coach’s kid is no joke. The 6’5″ swingman is averaging 15.5 points and 5.8 rebounds per game. He can stroke it from deep and leads the team in free-throw percentage. He’s one of the team’s better defensive players, as well, and you’d better believe that Ron Hunter wouldn’t play anybody, including his own son, who didn’t put in the effort on defense. It’s a shame this team is on its way out of the league, with such bright days ahead.

Three Predictions

  • The CAA is a one-bid league. With VCU gone, the lowering tide was taking all ships down with it anyway, but the league’s decision to hold Old Dominion and Georgia State out of the postseason to punish them for leaving, and APR problems dinging UNCW and Towson, the league’s auto-bid won’t even be worth the paper it’s printed on. To top that off, the league’s non-conference record this season is atrocious – there will be zero thought given to an at-large bid this year.
  • An ineligible team will embarrass a contender. Some of the league’s best individual players (Keith Rendleman, R.J. Hunter, Jerelle Benimon) are on teams that can’t play in March. One or more of them will make the rest of the league feel his pain.
  • Drexel will rally. This team’s slump is really difficult to explain. And I’d rather drink muddy water and sleep out in a hollow log than go to practice every day and disappoint Bruiser Flint. I suspect his players feel the same. The Dragons will find their rhythm, as they did with last season’s 19-game win streak. But timing is everything. A simple three-win streak in March is all anyone is looking for.

Power Rankings (* = ineligible for CAA tournament):

1. George Mason
2. Drexel
3. William & Mary
4. James Madison
5. Delaware
6. Towson*
7. Northeastern
8. Georgia State*
9. UNCW*
10. Old Dominion*
11. Hofstra

Eric Angevine is an Old Dominion grad, which no doubt led to his controversial decision to rank his alma mater 10th instead of dead last in the league.

No. 8 Gonzaga throttles Washington

Gonzaga guard Nigel Williams-Goss, right, shoots while defended by Washington guard Markelle Fultz during the first half of an NCAA college basketball game in Spokane, Wash., Wednesday, Dec. 7, 2016. (AP Photo/Young Kwak)
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SPOKANE, Wash. — Nigel Williams-Goss scored 23 points as No. 8 Gonzaga beat poor-shooting Washington 98-71 on Wednesday night in a resumption of their cross-state rivalry.

Przemek Karnowski added 17 points and Jordan Mathews had 14 for Gonzaga (9-0), which dominated from the opening minutes.
Freshman Markelle Fultz had 25 points and 10 rebounds for Washington (4-4), which has lost three straight. The Huskies came in averaging 88 points per game.

NBCSports.com’s Rob Dauster writes about how Fultz may be destined to relive Ben Simmons’ year at LSU in which the No. 1 NBA draft pick missed the NCAA tournament

Noah Dickerson had 12 points and 15 rebounds for Washington, which shot just 30 percent for the game. Gonzaga shot 53 percent.

Williams-Goss, who played for Washington before transferring to Gonzaga and becoming eligible this season, made 9 of 13 shots against his former team.

Johnathan Williams scored Gonzaga’s first three baskets and Mathews added consecutive 3-pointers as the Zags jumped to a 16-4 lead.

Mathews’ hit another 3-pointer as Gonzaga pushed the lead to 27-6. Washington made only two of its first 16 shots.

Gonzaga led 35-10, after shooting 73 percent from the field, while Washington made just four of its first 25 shots.

Mathews had 14 points as Gonzaga led 47-22 at halftime, after making 64 percent of its shots from the field. Washington shot just 21 percent (9 of 42) and missed all seven of its 3-point attempts. But the Huskies did have a 17-0 advantage in offensive rebounds at halftime.

Washington’s shooting picked up early in the second half, but so did Gonzaga’s and the Huskies could not make up any ground. Silas Melson’s 3-pointer lifted Gonzaga to a 68-34 lead.

The teams first played in 1910, and have played intermittently ever since. Washington ended the home-and-home series in 2006, after Gonzaga won eight of the previous nine games.

Washington and Gonzaga actually renewed their rivalry in the Bahamas last season in the first round of the Battle 4 Atlantis tournament, an 80-64 Gonzaga win.

Washington’s last victory in Spokane occurred in 1944.

The Huskies still lead the all-time series 29-16, with their last win in 2005.

BIG PICTURE

Washington: Fultz came in averaging 22.7 points per game, 13th in the nation and tops by a freshman, while four other Huskies score in double digits. Washington is third in the nation with 7.7 blocks per game. The Huskies seek to end a five-year drought in going to the NCAA Tournament.

Gonzaga: The Bulldogs have been to the NCAA Tournament every year since 1999. They last opened 9-0 in the 2013 season, before losing to Illinois. Six Zags are averaging at least 9 points per game, led by Josh Perkins at 13.1 ppg.

UP NEXT

Washington hosts Nevada on Sunday.

Gonzaga hosts Akron on Saturday.

No. 7 North Carolina holds off Davidson

North Carolina's Isaiah Hicks (4) dunks against Davidson during the second half of an NCAA college basketball game in Chapel Hill, N.C., Wednesday, Dec. 7, 2016. North Carolina won 83-74. (AP Photo/Gerry Broome)
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CHAPEL HILL, N.C. (AP) — Justin Jackson buried shot after shot from behind the arc in the best performance of his career for No. 7 North Carolina. Coach Roy Williams didn’t have much to feel good about otherwise.

Jackson matched his career high with 27 points and hit a career-best seven 3-pointers to help the Tar Heels beat Davidson 83-74 on Wednesday night, though they struggled both to slow down high-scoring Wildcats guard Jack Gibbs and find much of a rhythm with top point guard Joel Berry II sidelined by a sprained left ankle.

“Well it’s been a lot of fun watching this basketball team at certain times this year,” Williams said. “It was not fun tonight.”

The Tar Heels (9-1) didn’t get in any kind of groove offensively, with the 6-foot-8 Jackson largely carrying the offense on a night when they got little production from the front line. He had shot 30 percent from 3-point range through his first two seasons and was up to 35 percent coming in before matching his previous high of four 3s by halftime.

“Confidence and stepping into it — I think that’s all it was,” Jackson said. “I knew I had to step up more but then whenever I got my shots, I just stepped into it like it was another shot.”

 

But UNC shot just 38 percent, while only Isaiah Hicks (13 points) and reserve Luke Maye (career-high 10 points, all before halftime) reached double figures.

Gibbs — ranked seventh nationally by averaging 23.3 points — finished with 30 points for the Wildcats (5-3), who trailed by 16 midway through the second half before making a late push to get within three in the final 2 minutes.

But Kennedy Meeks answered with two free throws, then Hicks followed with two more after getting a big rebound in traffic with 52 seconds left to help UNC hang on.

“They made some good plays, they got some key rebounds,” Gibbs said of the final minutes. “They’ve got athletes and sometimes it’s tough to get those rebounds. Down the stretch, they made the plays and we didn’t.”

BIG PICTURE

Davidson: Gibbs is the kind of scorer that can scare any opponent when he gets hot, while Peyton Aldridge (22 points) provides his own matchup troubles. And with a veteran coach like Bob McKillop, this is the kind of team that scares big-name teams come tournament time.

“I loved the way they fought,” McKillop said.

UNC: The Tar Heels got a glimpse of life without arguably their top player in Berry. Nate Britt got the start and had six assists but missed all eight of his shots, while Seventh Woods and Stilman White (career-high six points) saw plenty of minutes at the point. But the Tar Heels missed Berry’s finish-through-contact toughness, leadership and scoring ability.

DEFENSIVE HELP

Gibbs and Aldridge combined to make 17 of 35 shots, with Gibbs hitting five 3-pointers.

“As teammates, we ‘ve got to do a better job of helping off and helping out on players like Gibbs,” Meeks said. “Like (Williams) probably said in the press conference, either we’re going to be a mediocre team or we’re going to be a good team. We’ve got to decide before it’s too late.”

CONFETTI?

The game was 5 seconds old when there was a brief stoppage due to falling confetti-like material fluttering to the court from the rafters of the Smith Center. Arena staffers swept it up and the game resumed within a minute or two.Team spokesman Matt Bowers said at halftime it was believed to be pieces of a padding used to absorb leaks near the ceiling.

UP NEXT

Davidson: The Wildcats get a 10-day break before playing their fifth power-conference opponent this year, facing No. 3 Kansas on Dec. 17 in Kansas City, Missouri.

UNC: The Tar Heels begin a two-game set with Southeastern Conference opponents, first by hosting Tennessee on Sunday before facing No. 6 Kentucky on Dec. 17 in Las Vegas.

LATE NIGHT SNACKS: Indiana State, Colorado score upset wins

Indiana State guard Brenton Scott (4) celebrates a 72-71 win over Butler in an NCAA college basketball game in Terre Haute, Ind., Wednesday, Dec. 7, 2016. (AP Photo/Michael Conroy)
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GAME OF THE NIGHT: Indiana State 72, No. 16 Butler 71

Don’t play road games against mid-majors in the Hoosier State, apparently. Two weeks after Indiana lost at Fort Wayne, Butler goes down in Terre Haute to the Sycamores. Yet another example of why such scheduling practices remain the oddity. Butler probably should have known better than to play at Indiana State on Larry Bird’s 60th birthday, though.

IMPORTANT OUTCOMES

No. 6 Kentucky 87, Valparaiso 63: In their first game back since losing to UCLA, the Wildcats carved up Valpo in a game that said much more about UK than the Crusaders.

No. 10 Creighton 77, Nebraska 62: The Bluejays jumped out to an 18-4 lead early, but led by just one at halftime. Then, Creighton’s offense went into overdrive and used a 15-4 run break the game open early in the second half and then cruise to a comfortable victory in Lincoln against the rival Huskers while showing off its potent offense.

Colorado 68, No. 13 Xavier 66: The Musketeers shot just 38.3 percent from the floor while Derrick White had 23 points, six rebounds and four assists to power the Buffaloes in the upset victory. Xavier has now dropped two-straight, with the losses coming in its only two true road games of the non-conference schedule.

SMU 74, TCU 59: The Horned Frogs were off to an 8-0 start to a season that signals its commitment to basketball, but fell short in their attempt to deliver a truly signature win after an otherwise relatively soft non-conference schedule. Winning at Moody Coliseum, with a presidential audience no less, probably won’t be the difference in wherever TCU lands this spring, but now their fate will rest almost exclusively in how they navigate the Big 12. SMU got its second Power 5 victory after dispatching Jamie Dixon’s previous employer, Pitt, earlier this season.

STARRED

Deng Adel, Louisville: Put up a double-double of 12 points and 12 rebounds for the Cardinals.

West Virginia’s defense: Maybe it wasn’t the 40 turnovers the Mountaineers forced against Manhattan, but Bob Huggins’ group tallied 34 takeaways from Western Carolina.

A.J. Astroth, Belmont: It happened in a losing effort, but Astroth had 16 points and 15 rebounds in 37 minutes in the Pirates’ 69-63 setback to Gardner-Webb.

STRUGGLED

VCU: The Rams dropped their second-straight game, this one at home, in an overtime setback, 76-73, to Georgia Tech. The Yellow Jackets’ previous best win was against KenPom No. 166 Sam Houston State – at home, no less.

San Diego State: The Aztecs lost their second straight game, this one coming on the road against Grand Canyon. It looks like the Mountain West is going to be a one-bid league again.

TOP 25

  • Davidson made them sweat, but No. 7 North Carolina held on late for an 83-74 win over the Wildcats.
  • No. 11 Louisville held Southern Illinois to 35.2 percent shooting in a 74-51 victory.
  • On top of forcing 34 turnovers, No. 15 West Virginia held Western Carolina to 26 percent shooting in a 90-37 victory.
  • Bronson Koenig went for 21 points and Ethan Happ had 12 points and 12 rebounds in No. 17 Wisconsin’s 78-44 win over Idaho State at the Kohl Center.

NOTABLES

  • George Mason won its sixth-straight game by thrashing Penn State in the second half to win 85-66. The Patriots outscored the Nittany Lions by 20 after halftime in Happy Valley. Marquise Moore had 25 points for George Mason.
  • Tommy Amaker became the winningest coach in Harvard history with a 74-66 win over Boston College in Chestnut Hill.
  • Seton Hall survived a half-court heave from Jabari Bird that just missed its mark to beat Cal, 60-57, at the Pearl Harbor Invitational.
  • JC Hampton hit 5 of 7 3-pointers to score 21 points and Texas A&M beat Denver, 80-58.

No. 13 Xavier’s cold-shooting continues in loss at Colorado

NEW YORK, NY - NOVEMBER 21:  Xavier Johnson #11 of the Colorado Buffaloes reacts against the Notre Dame Fighting Irish in the second half of the 2016 Legends Classic at Barclays Center on November 21, 2016 in the Brooklyn borough of New York City.  (Photo by Michael Reaves/Getty Images)
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Derrick White scored 23 points and Xavier Johnson chipped in with 18 points and seven boards as Colorado knocked off No. 13 Xavier, 68-66, in Boulder on Wednesday night.

The Musketeers got 25 points from Trevon Bluiett, but the rest of the roster struggled to score as Xavier once against had issues shooting the ball from the perimeter.

It’s been the Achilles’ heel for this team all season long. On Wednesday night, the Musketeers shot 38.3 percent from the floor and 7-for-26 (26.9%) from three. On the season, Xavier is 272nd nationally in three-point shooting at 31.3 percent. They’re ranked in the bottom-half of the country in effective field goal percentage, and that lack of perimeter shooting really limits what they are able to do on the offensive end of the floor.

Edmond Sumner is shooting 22.7 percent from three. J.P. Macura isn’t much better, checking in at 28.8 percent. Those are the two best ball-handlers and playmakers in Xavier’s perimeter attack right now, and with Myles Davis’ return unclear, the Musketeers haven’t exactly made themselves difficult to guard.

In the long run I think they’ll be fine, especially if Davis does eventually return to the country.

But they’ve now lost back-to-back games against the two best teams they’ve faced this season. Yes, both of those games came on the road, but that doesn’t change the facts here.

As of right now, Xavier is a perimeter shooting team, and until they get that fixed, their ceiling this season is limited.

Big men push No. 11 Louisville over Southern Illinois, 74-51

Southern Illinois' Mike Rodriguez (1) has his shot blocked by Louisville's Mangok Mathiang (12) during the first half of an NCAA college basketball game, Wednesday, Dec. 7, 2016, in Louisville, Ky. Louisville won 74-51. Left is Louisville's Jaylen Johnson (10). (AP Photo/Timothy D. Easley)
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LOUISVILLE, Ky. (AP) — Louisville’s frontcourt led the way over an outmatched opponent.

Mangok Mathiang scored 15 points to help No. 11 Louisville to a 74-51 victory over Southern Illinois on Wednesday night.

The 6-foot-10 senior got the Cardinals (8-1) off to a hot start as he scored the team’s first seven points, and Louisville settled in from there, extending the lead 21-4 in the game’s first 8 minutes.

Sophomore Deng Adel, who finished with his first career double-double, said the team came out focused at the start.

“I think it was just our ball movement,” said the 6-7 forward, who finished with 12 points and a career-high 12 rebounds, besting the seven he grabbed against Boston College last February. “Guys were looking to run. A lot of it was easy points. We threw it into the bigs a lot. Mangok ignited that run got a couple day post-ups.”

In making six of nine shots, Mathiang finished two points shy of his career high in just 22 minutes.

As Southern Illinois (5-4) came to the Yum! Center with no one taller than 6-9, Louisville used its size to its advantage. The Cardinals blocked nine shots and outrebounded the Salukis 43-31.

Southern Illinois coach Barry Hinson said he knew there would be a bit of a shock factor in play, and he thought his team got over that as they cut the Louisville lead to 37-26 at halftime, thanks to an 8-0 run over the final 1:32. However, in the first 4 minutes of the second half, Louisville built the lead back to 18 points.

“Their length, obviously, their size bothered us, specifically in the first half,” Hinson said. “You’ve got to give credit to coach (Rick) Pitino. They went down at us. We knew they were going to.”

Jaylen Johnson, a 6-9 junior, finished with nine points, 10 rebounds and six blocks. Mathiang, Johnson, 7-footer Matz Stockman and 6-10 Ray Spalding combined to shoot 15 of 20, with all the baskets coming inside the paint.

“We have size,” Pitino said. “We throw to the low post. If they’re not doubling, then we’re going to get easy shots.”

Sean O’Brien led the Salukis with 15 points and 11 rebounds while Mike Rodriguez added 15 points.

BIG PICTURE

Southern Illinois: For the third time this season, the Salukis fell to a Power Five foe on the road and all of the losses have been by double digits. Not only could the Salukis not deal with Louisville’s size, they also failed to stretch out the Cardinals’ defense as they made just 5 of 24 3-point shots.

Louisville: For a team that has struggled at times on offense, the Cardinals looked strong in the first half. Even without Anas Mahmoud, their main big man who missed his second game because of a concussion, Louisville’s frontcourt more than held its own against the smaller Salukis. Four Cardinals who stand 6-9 or taller combined to go 8 of 10 from the field in the first half, helping the team shoot 55.2 percent in the first 20 minutes.

HE SAID IT

“I don’t think we’re great at anything. I think we’re good at a lot of things. I don’t think we’re great at anything, but we hope to get there, though . in a hurry.” Pitino, assessing his team in the post-game news conference. Two weeks from tonight, the Cardinals will host No. 6 Kentucky, starting a three-game, 10-day stretch against teams currently ranked 14th or higher.

POLL IMPLICATIONS

Louisville got out to a hot start, and while the shooting cooled to just 36.7 percent in the second half, the Cardinals still built the lead to as many as 25 points in the second half. The Cardinals did as most expected, enabling them to stay on the fringe of the Top 10, ready to re-enter should a higher ranked team fall this weekend.

UP NEXT

Southern Illinois returns home to play Sam Houston State on Saturday.

On Saturday afternoon, Louisville hosts Texas Southern, which lost 74-70 to the Salukis on Saturday.