Kelly Olynyk

Pregame Shootaround 1.10.2013: Gonzaga and St. Mary’s square off

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Game of the Day: 11:00 p.m.: St. Mary’s at No. 10 Gonzaga (ESPN2)

The WCC will consistently be one of the nation’s best mid-major conferences, and it’s not just because Mark Few has turned Gonzaga into a national power. While the addition of BYU made this perennially a three-bid league, it’s the growth of the St. Mary’s program that has really turned the WCC into a two-horse race.

This season, unfortunately, that doesn’t look to be the case, as Gonzaga is slowly but surely making the statement that this is the best team Spokane has seen since — Adam Morrison? Matt Santangelo? John Stockton? Tighten up their defense, get those threes to start falling, and teach Kelly Olynyk how not to turn the ball over in the post, and we’re looking at a legitimate Final Four contender. The Gaels? As good as Matthew Dellavedova is, they simply do not have enough offensive firepower around him this year.

But with Stephen Holt healthy? In a rivalry game on national TV? Don’t count anyone out.

Who’s Getting Upset?: 7:00 p.m.: No. 4 Arizona at Oregon (ESPN2)

Arizona is one of three remaining unbeaten teams, but they’ve been a long way from dominating in those performances. And they have yet to truly be tested on the road, which should happen against an underrated Oregon team. Winning close games is a skill; Arizona isn’t simply lucky.* They’ll need that skill to be on display in Eugee tonight to beat an Oregon team that matches up with them fairly well.

* – Yes, the win over Colorado was lucky. Mark Lyons hitting his last 23 free throws in crunch time is skill.

Mid-Major Matchup of the Day: 9:00 p.m.: Weber State at Southern Utah

Southern Utah is 3-1 in the Big Sky right now. Weber State and Montana are both undefeated in league play. Will SUU truly be a contender this season, or is their record simply a by-product of the schedule they’ve played? If it’s the former, they need to beat the Wildcats at home.

Five Things to Watch For

1) No. 22 Michigan State heads to Iowa to take on the 0-2 Hawkeyes, who had the misfortune of playing Michigan and Indiana in their first two league games. Iowa has some talent on their roster. Can they pull an upset at home? (7:00 p.m., ESPN2)

2) North Carolina is coming off of a loss at Virginia, who went out last night and lost at Wake Forest. The Heels really need to get a win to get their season back on the right track. They host Miami, who is without Reggie Johnson, tonight. (7:00 p.m., ESPN)

3) The Atlantic 10 is going to be one of those leagues that provides us with action every night, and Thursday is no different. Temple takes a trip to Cincinnati to play Xavier (7:00 p.m.) while UMass and St. Louis do battle later on (9:00 p.m., CBS Sports Net). The Billikens haven’t lost since Rick Majerus passed away, but they’ll have their hands full with Chaz Williams and company.

4) Northwestern State and Oral Roberts are two of the three undefeated teams left in the Southland. They’ll face off at 8:30 p.m. tonight.

5) The best thing about Thursday nights? Late-night Pac-12 and WCC games. Beyond what’s listed above: UCLA heads to an improved Utah team. Arizona State tests their 2-0 Pac-12 mark on the road against Oregon State. USC-Colorado. Pepperdine-BYU. Santa Clara-Anthony Ireland, I mean Loyola Marymount. I’m ready.

Other Notable Games

9:00 p.m.: Kentucky at Vanderbilt (ESPN)

You can find Rob on twitter @RobDauster.

POSTERIZED: Wyoming’s Josh Adams takes flight

Josh Adams
Associated Press
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Not only is Wyoming senior guard Josh Adams the lone returning starter from a team that won the Mountain West tournament last season, but he’s also one of college basketball’s best dunkers. And if anyone may have forgotten about his jumping ability, Adams put it on display Saturday during the Cowboys’ win over Montana State.

After splitting two Montana State players at the top of the key Adams attacked the basket, dunking with two hands over a late-arriving help-side defender. If you’re going to rotate over, have to do it quicker than that.

Video credit: Wyoming Athletics

Defensive progress will determine No. 4 Iowa State’s ceiling

Monte Morris
Associated Press
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Even with the coaching change from Fred Hoiberg to Steve Prohm, No. 4 Iowa State remains one of the nation’s best offensive teams. Given their skills on that end of the floor many teams find it tough to go score for score with the Cyclones, and that’s what happened to Illinois in Iowa State’s 84-73 win in the Emerald Coast Classic title game.

Georges Niang scored 23 points and grabbed eight rebounds, with Monté Morris adding 20, nine rebounds and six assists and Abdel Nader 18 points as the Cyclones moved to 5-0 on the season. The three-pointers weren’t falling in the second half, as Iowa State shot 0-f0r-12, but they shot 19-for-24 inside of the arc to pull away from a team that lost big man Mike Thorne Jr. late in the first half to a left knee injury.

Illinois’ loss of size in the paint opened things up offensively for Iowa State, and the Cyclones took advantage. But where this group grabbed control of the game was on the defensive end of the floor, and that will be the key for a team with Big 12 and national title aspirations.

Nader took on the responsibility of defending Illinois’ Malcolm Hill (20 points) in the second half and did a solid job of keeping the junior wing in check, with that serving as the spark to a 12-2 run that put the game away. There’s no denying that the Cyclones can put points on the board; most of the talent from last season is back and the productivity on that end of the floor hasn’t changed as a result. Niang’s one of the nation’s best forwards, and both Morris (who now ranks among the country’s best point guards) and Nader have taken significant strides in their respective games.

Iowa State will add Deonte Burton in December, giving them another option to call upon. Front court depth is a bit of a concern, as Iowa State can ill afford to lose a Niang or Jameel McKay, but there’s enough on the roster to compensate for that and force mismatches in other areas.

But the biggest question for this group is how effective they can become at stringing together stops. Illinois certainly had its moments in both halves Saturday night, but Iowa State also showed during the game’s decisive stretch that they can step up defensively. The key now is to do so consistently, and if that occurs the Cyclones can be a threat both within the Big 12 and nationally.