Eric Atkins

Pregame Shootaround 1.7.2013: Notre Dame plays … Cincinnati?

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Game of the Day: 6:30 p.m.: No. 21 Notre Dame at No. 14 Cincinnati (ESPN2)

We know how good Louisville is and we think we know how good Syracuse is, but what we don’t quite have a firm handle on yet is where Notre Dame and Cincinnati fall in the Big East’s pecking order. We should get a chance to gauge that on Monday evening, as the Irish visit the Queen City to take on the Bearcats. (Note the 6:30 tip!)

I think Notre Dame is a better team than the Bearcats this season. I love their back court almost as much as I love Jack Cooley. The problem, however, is that Cincinnati matches up particularly well with Notre Dame. The Bearcats can really pressure the ball defensively — watching Jerian Grant and Eric Atkins go up against Cashmere Wright and Sean Kilpatrick may be the best back court battle we get in the league this year — and they play four perimeter players, just like the Irish. They also have enough size inside to potentially negate Cooley.

How does Cincinnati respond to losing their last two games at home?

Who’s Getting Upset?: 7:00 p.m.: No. 5 Indiana at Penn State (Big Ten)

Ranked Big Ten team on the road in league play. That’s usually my standard for picking an “upset”. The problem here? Penn State isn’t all that good and Indiana is really, really good. We’ll call this the exception that proves the rule.

Mid-Major Matchup of the Day: Illinois-Chicago at Cleveland State

UIC has been one of the nation’s most pleasant surprises after putting together wins against the likes of Mercer, Iona, Northwestern and Colorado State. A recent three-game losing streak aside, the Flames look to be a serious contender in the Horizon. Cleveland State was a favorite to win the league in the preseason, but after a series of injuries — including one to stud sophomore Anton Grady — the Vikings have fallen back to the pack.

Five Things

1. Parker Smith of North Florida went for 33 points and hit nine threes on Saturday. The last two times he’s suited up against Florida-Gulf Coast, he went for 23 points, combined for 11 threes in those two games. How many can he hit tonight?

2. Southern Utah is currently sitting at 3-0 in the Big Sky, two games ahead of the teams behind them but a half-game behind Weber State and Montana at the top of the league. SUU travels to Sacramento State tonight. Can they keep pace with the Big Sky favorites?

3. Afternoon hoops! Florida International and Bethune-Cookman tip-off at 1 p.m.

4. The Southland title will likely go through Oral Roberts or Stephen F. Austin, but neither Northwestern State not Sam Houston State have a league loss yet. They play tonight at 8:45 p.m.

5. Lipscomb’s Stephen Hurt and USC-Upstate’s Torrey Craig are two of the better forwards in the Atlantic Sun. They go toe-to-toe at 8:15 p.m.

No Other Top 25 games scheduled

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.