Team of the Week: St. Louis Billikens
The Billikens have not exactly had a smooth ride this season. At the start of practices, their star point guard Kwamain Mitchell broke his foot, which almost certainly made things more difficult for new head coach Jim Crews. Then, in early December, the man that had put this team together and built it into an Atlantic 10 favorite, Rick Majerus, passed away.
But since the death of Majerus, the Billikens have turned their season around. They haven’t lost since, winning all eight games they’ve played. That includes a 60-46 win over then-No. 20 New Mexico that wasn’t even that close. All of a sudden, the team that started out the year 3-3 and looked a long way from some of the powerhouses at the top of the A-10 is round into form. And while they have Mitchell back in the mix, he’s still a ways from being “Kwamain Mitchell”; through three games, he’s averaging just 7.3 points, shooting 25.0% from the floor and 9.1% from three and averaging a career-high 3.0 turnovers.
What happens when he finally gets healthy? If you take anything out of the win over the Lobos on New Year’s Eve, it’s that the A-10 needs to be forewarned.
Seven Teams Deserving a Shoutout
- Gonzaga: We’ve written plenty on the Zags over the last few days, but it is worth noting here that this group not only went into Gallagher-Iba and knocked off a good Oklahoma State team, they did the same to a Santa Clara team that was leading Duke midway through the second half in Cameron. And it’s only now that Kevin Pangos is starting to find his perimeter stroke. If this team ever figures out how to defend, watch out.
- Minnesota: I think it may be time to officially designate the Gophers as ‘for real’. I had my doubts heading into Big Ten play, as some of their big non-conference wins have gotten less and less impressive as the season has gone on. But with Trevor Mbakwe starting to look like pre-ACL Trevor Mbakwe and with the two Hollinses starting to play like all-Big Ten candidates, Tubby Smith has a team that will make quite a bit of noise in the Big Ten. Ask Michigan State, who watched the Gophers use a 22-4 Fatality (Finish him!) in their Big Ten opener.
- Marquette: For all the question marks that we had about the Golden Eagles after a less-than-stellar non-conference season, Buzz Williams’ crew has jumped out to 2-0 in the Big East with a pair of nail-biting wins over UConn and Georgetown. Marquette got a game-tying, buzzer-beating three from Junior Cadougan to force over time — where they benefited from an official brain-fart — against the Huskies, and survived when Greg Whittington missed a free throw with 2.3 seconds left against the Hoyas.
- Creighton: Not a bad start to league play for the Bluejays, as they knocked off Illinois State on the road on Wednesday and followed that up by beating Indiana State at home on Saturday. It looks like the MVC is going to once against be Creighton, Wichita State, and everybody else.
- Weber State: Damian Lillard may be gone, but that doesn’t mean that Weber State is finished as a program. Thanks to a 2-0 week, the Wildcats are 11-3 on the season and 4-0 in Big Sky play.
- Arizona State: It’s time to start paying attention to the Sun Devils. DePaul loss aside, this team is 13-2 on the season after defending their home court in the Pac-12’s first weekend with wins over Utah and Colorado.
You can find Rob on twitter @RobDauster.
GAME OF THE DAY: George Washington vs. No. 24 Cincinnati, 1:30 p.m.
Two 6-0 teams clash at the Barclays Center in what could be an important game for NCAA tournament resumes of both teams. The Bearcats picked up their most legitimate win over Nebraska, but the Colonials pose as a more real threat after they beat Virginia at home earlier this season. Cincinnati hasn’t shot the ball well in recent wins, but they’re beating up opponents on the glass and the defense has been solid. George Washington is coming off of a win over Tennessee in which they held off the Volunteers in the second half. The Colonials have lost 20 of their last 23 against ranked opponents, but another win over a top team would look great for them going forward.
THIS ONE’S GOOD TOO: No. 4 Iowa State vs. Illinois, 6:00 p.m. (CBSSN)
This game is apart of the Emerald Coast Classic in Niceville, Florida as the Illini could desperately use a win after a 3-3 start. Illinois head coach John Groce and his team are feeling the pressure for a big win on a neutral site after falling to North Florida, Providence and Chattanooga earlier in the season. The No. 4 Cyclones easily dispatched Virginia Tech earlier in the event and have found a nice balance on offense with the emergence of senior big man Jameel McKay inside.
SIX THINGS TO WATCH FOR
- N0. 2 Maryland has struggled to put away teams early at times this season and they’ll try to change that behavior when they host Cleveland State.
- Staying in the Big Ten, No. 16 Purdue hosts Lehigh. With a game at Pitt and against New Mexico looming, could this be a trap game for the Boilers?
- Nebraska and Tennessee take the floor in consolation action at the Barclays Center. The Huskers need someone besides Shavon Shields and Andrew White to step up in the scoring column while Tennessee is getting huge numbers from senior guard Kevin Punter.
- Two 4-0 teams will meet in Brooklyn as Louisville takes on Saint Louis (7:00 p.m., ESPN3). Neither team has faced a significant test this season and this is the Cardinals’ first game away from home.
- An intriguing night game to keep an eye on is Belmont traveling to BYU (8:00 p.m.). The Bruins are as well-coached as any team in the country and forward Evan Bradds has been playing great ball to start the season. The Cougars don’t have a high scorer like they did in the past, but Kyle Collinsworth is a triple-double threat every time he steps on the floor and BYU has a lot of weapons around him.
- UAB and Virginia Tech battle in one of the more intriguing consolation games of the Emerald Coast Classic. Both teams are coming off of disappointing losses but have a shot to make things better on the trip with a solid win on Saturday.
OTHER NOTABLE GAMES
- Bryant at Georgetown, 11:00 a.m. (FS2)
- Bucknell at Penn State , 12:00 p.m.
- Tennessee-Martin vs. Mississippi State, 12:00 p.m. (SEC Network)
- Ole Miss at Bradley, 1:00 p.m. (ESPN3)
- Old Dominion at VCU, 3:00 p.m.
- Hawaii at Texas Tech, 3:00 p.m.
- Kent State at Pitt, 3:00 p.m. (ESPN3)
- SIU-Edwardsville at Butler, 4:00 p.m.
- Georgia at Seton Hall, 6:30 p.m.
- Western Illinois at Creigton, 7:00 p.m.
- Colorado State vs UTEP, 7:30 p.m.
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 NBCSports.com 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.
Here is all of Kris Dunn’s work in the final 4:30: