Josh pastner

Weekend Preview: Storylines to follow

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The drama surrounding the continuation of the Memphis-Tennessee series: If you’ve missed the latest, here’s a quick catchup: Josh Pastner has never wanted to play Tennessee. He doesn’t want to help the Vols recruit in the city of Memphis by allowing them to play there once every other year. The old Memphis athletic director overruled him and understood the importance of the rivalry, and Pastner played ball. The new athletic director, however, allowed Pastner to go out in front of the media and talk all week about how the series was coming to an end and how Memphis needed a new opponent.

And then the AD went and negotiated with Tennessee about keeping them on the schedule behind his head coach’s back.

If you can’t see why this is a problem, go ahead and read this eviscerating column from Geoff Calkins. Then, go and read through his twitter feed. This story has become about so much more than simply the game — which, it just so happens, is a game that both Tennessee and Memphis desperately need to win. How long will Pastner want to work for a man that has no problem publicly humiliating his most high-profile, highly-paid and prominent employee?

Gauge games: The most frustrating thing about allowing teams to put together their non-conference schedules on their own is that so many teams end up playing nothing but rolls of Division II charmin for he first two months of the season. Thus, when we hit league play, it’s impossible to get a good read on those teams. Two of the biggest culprits this season: Seton Hall and Maryland.

The Terps host Virginia Tech on Saturday, and while the Hokies have come back to earth since their 7-0 start, they do have a guard in Erick Green that is capable of going for 30 on any given night. Maryland is 12-1 this season, but they haven’t played anyone other than Kentucky, who they lost to. Seton Hall, on the other hand, is 12-2 on the season and travels to play at Notre Dame. The Pirates won their Big East opener by … beating DePaul by one on the road.

Also keep an eye on Purdue’s trip to Michigan State. The Boilermakers struggled through the first two months, but they are healthy now and just knocked off Illinois at home.

Does anyone want to be the best team in Texas?: Texas A&M can’t seem to put together a convincing win, regardless of opponent. Texas Tech sticks. North Texas has been a massive disappointment. TCU? Rice? Houston? SMU? C’mon. The two best teams in the state are Baylor and Texas, who have been almost as disappointing as UNT this year. The Bears have as much raw talent as anyone in the country, but they have lost to Charleston and Northwestern, which makes up for that win at Kentucky. Texas finally got Jaylen Bond back from injury, but he’s not the difference-maker Mykc Kabongo will be.

Conference play kicks off for real: This will be the first “real” weekend of conference play. Who gets upset? Who stands out? Who did we undervalue in the non-conference? Who did we overvalue in the preseason? This is when it really starts to get fun.

Grab your popcorn.

You can find Rob on twitter @RobDauster.

Syracuse upsets No. 18 UConn as Tyler Lydon stars again

St Bonaventure Syracuse Basketball
AP Photo/Heather Ainsworth
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Michael Gbinije and Trevor Cooney combined for 34 points as Syracuse overcame an early 10-point deficit to knock off No. 18 UConn in the semifinals of the Battle 4 Atlantis, 79-76.

The talking point at the end of this game is probably going to end up being UConn’s decision not to foul Syracuse with 36 seconds left on the clock. Trevor Cooney dribbled out the clock and, with six seconds left, missed a 35-foot prayer, the offensive rebound getting corralled by Tyler Roberson, sealing the win.

But that’s not the real story here.

That would be Tyler Lydon, who suddenly looks like he may end up being the difference maker for this Syracuse team.

If you don’t know the name, I don’t blame you. Lydon was a low-end top 100 recruit that had been committed to the Orange for a long time. He’s not exactly a game-changing prospect, but he’s a perfect fit for Syracuse. At 6-foot-9, Lydon has the length to be a shot-blocker in the middle of the 2-3 zone — he entered Thursday averaging 3.3 blocks — but his biggest skill is his ability to shoot the ball from beyond the arc. When he plays the middle of that zone, when he is essentially the five for the Orange, they become incredibly difficult to matchup with defensively.

The question is whether or not he can consistently be that guy on the defensive end of the floor. Against UConn, Lydon had 16 points and 12 boards. Against Charlotte, he finished with 18 points, eight boards and six blocks. But neither the Huskies nor the 49ers have a big front line that crashes the offensive glass.

Lydon is great at using his length to make shots in the lane difficult, but at (a generous) 205 pounds, he may run into trouble against bigger, stronger front court players.

The perfect test?

Texas A&M, who the Orange will play in the title game on Friday.

USC holds on to beat No. 20 Wichita State

Andy Enfield
Associated Press
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With guards Fred VanVleet and Landry Shamet both sidelined due to injury, No. 20 Wichita State arrived at the Advocare Invitational shorthanded. But even with that being the case the highly successful Shockers represented quite the opportunity for USC, and Thursday afternoon the Trojans took advantage.

Despite turning the ball over 23 times Andy Enfield’s team found a way to win, hanging on to beat the Shockers by the final score of 72-69. Freshman forward Bennie Boatwright, a tough matchup for most teams as a 6-foot-10 stretch forward who can score from the perimeter, shot 5-for-9 from three and scored a team-high (and career-high) 22 points.

The tandem of he and junior Nikola Jovanovic, who added 14 points and 11 rebounds, outplayed the Wichita State front court on a day in which the Shockers needed greater contributions from those players. Add in 15 points and four assists from Jordan McLaughlin, ten points off the bench from Katin Reinhardt and a 12-for-23 afternoon from three, and the Trojans were able to do enough to make up for their high turnover count and Wichita State’s 24 points off of turnovers.

Given the absence of VanVleet and Shamet there’s no reason to panic regarding Wichita State. Ron Baker, who was exhausted by the end of the game due to the heavy load he was asked to shoulder, scored a game-high 25 points and the play of freshman Markis McDuffie was a positive to build on.

McDuffie, who entered Thursday’s game without a made field goal in his first two appearances as a Shocker, shot 5-for-9 from the field and contributed 14 points and three rebounds off the bench. With their current perimeter rotation being what it is McDuffie will have opportunities to contribute, and the Shockers will need him to take advantage as they await the returns of VanVleet and Shamet (and the addition of Conner Frankamp).

Doing so will not only help Wichita State in the short term but in the long-term as well, thus giving Gregg Marshall another option to call upon on his bench.

Thursday’s outcome, even with the desire to see more from Anton Grady (eight points, seven rebounds), says more about USC at this point in time than Wichita State. Enfield’s first two seasons at the helm were about amassing the talent needed to compete in the Pac-12 while also gaining valuable (and at times painful) experience. In year three the Trojans hope to take a step forward within the conference, and wins like this one provide evidence of the program’s growth.