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.
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.
Twelve minutes is a staggering amount for a video like this, but it captures multiple seasons and even goes into the future.
But it definitely doesn’t beat this Villanova song released by MRG after the Wildcats’ NCAA tournament run.
So now that we’ve seen the baseline for videos and songs, do any other fanbases have anything better in them this summer? There’s still a lot of time until college hoops begins next season and there are plenty of fans who can jump in with a submission.
Throughout the summer, we’ll post the best fan submissions on CBT (as long as they’re clean and original) and see which group of fans has the best at the end of it all.
Canisius finds a new head coach following Jim Baron’s retirement
Canisius has found a new head coach following the retirement of Jim Baron, as the Griffins have hired former Buffalo coach Reggie Witherspoon, according to a report from Mark Gaughan of the Buffalo News.
The 55-year-old Witherspoon was formerly the head coach at Buffalo from December 1999 until after the 2012-13 season and was recently an assistant coach at Alabama and Chattanooga the past two seasons.
During his time at Buffalo, Witherspoon went 197-225 while making four postseason appearances. He takes over a Canisius program that went 14-19 and 8-12 in the MAAC last season.
As a Buffalo native who has coached in the area as a high school, junior college and Division I head coach, Witherspoon should be familiar with the landscape of being a basketball coach in that city. It’s hard to say if Witherspoon can lead Canisius to prominence at this stage in his career, but he’ll certainly know the area enough to hit the ground running.
UNC’s Roy Williams recovering from knee replacement surgery
CHAPEL HILL, N.C. (AP) North Carolina Hall of Fame men’s basketball coach Roy Williams is recovering from knee replacement surgery.
In an email Friday, athletics spokesman Steve Kirschner says Williams is “resting comfortably” after the procedure on his right knee performed by Dr. Walt Beaver in Charlotte. Kirschner says there’s no exact recovery timetable but Williams is expected to be on the road for July recruiting “as usual.”
The 65-year-old Williams had procedures on both knees last year but experienced discomfort during the season as the Tar Heels won the Atlantic Coast Conference regular-season and tournament titles before losing in the NCAA title game on a last-second shot to Villanova.
A week later, Williams said he was considering surgery options for a “bone-on-bone” condition and noted: “I’ve got to be able to move around.”
Utah to play rival BYU in basketball again in 2017
SALT LAKE CITY (AP) Utah will play rival BYU in basketball again in 2017 in a game that will end a “cooling off period” Utah demanded due to events at recent games.
Utah said in a news release Thursday that the two schools have agreed to play in 2017 at BYU. The school’s athletic directors are talking about scheduling future games.
The decision to cancel the rivalry upset BYU and ignited a controversy that lit up sports talk radio and triggered legislators to order a state audit of Utah athletics. The game had been played every year since 1909 except for during World War II.
Utah coach Larry Krystkowiak said in January that the rivalry had become a “venomous and toxic environment.” BYU guard Nick Emery was ejected from December’s game for punching Utah’s Brandon Taylor.
Looking Forward: Defense will help Arizona sort out loaded rotation
The NBA Draft’s Early Entry Deadline has come and gone. Just about every elite recruit has decided where they will be playing their college ball next season. The coaching carousel, which ended up spinning a bit faster than initially expected, has come to a close for all of the major programs.
After going on a two-year run in which they went 67-9, won two Pac-12 regular season titles and made two Elite Eight appearances, Arizona took a step back in 2015-16. Sean Miller’s Wildcats saw their grip on the Pac-12 loosen, with Oregon taking advantage, and their NCAA tournament stay was a short one thanks to a tough Wichita State team. Many programs would sign up for a season that included 25 wins despite injuries to freshmen Ray Smith (torn ACL) and Allonzo Trier (broken hand).
But Arizona isn’t your “run of the mill” program, which is a testament not only to what the retired Lute Olson accomplished during his time in Tucson but to what Sean Miller’s managed to do as well. Since his arrival Miller’s pumped new life into the program, with Arizona racking up highly regarded recruiting classes and the wins to match.
All that’s missing from his time at Arizona is a trip to the Final Four, an accomplishment Arizona hasn’t been able to boast since 2001. And after last year’s disappointing finish, Arizona’s work on the recruiting trail in the spring has them in a position where they can get that done. There’s talent, depth and versatility on the roster heading into the 2016-17 season, with some key returnees being joined by one of the nation’s best recruiting classes.
And with that will come an important question for the Wildcats: how will they sort everything out from a rotation standpoint?
Competition within the ranks is hardly a bad thing; “as iron sharpens iron, so one person sharpens another.” The same can be said for versatility, which will be another positive trait for Arizona in 2016-17. At first glance the roster has just two players seemingly locked into one specific position: Parker Jackson-Cartwright at point guard and Dusan Ristic at center. Outside of that, Arizona boasts a host of players capable of filling multiple spots based upon the desires of their head coach and the flow of the game.
The front court includes a mobile 7-footer in sophomore Chance Comanche, who managed to earn more consistent appearances down the stretch thanks to his activity on the defensive end of the floor. Newcomers in Lauri Markkanen and Keanu Pinder who can fill multiple roles in the front court, with Markannen’s ability to step out and hit perimeter shots being especially key, and the same can be said of the talented Smith provided there are no lingering effects from his second ACL tear in as many years.
With the injury and the time away from live action Smith will likely have some rust to shake off, but this is something Arizona can work through given their depth. There’s role versatility and this sets up to be a more mobile group defensively as well, which can only help the Wildcats moving forward.
The bigger area for Arizona from an options standpoint is on the perimeter, as they’re loaded with established returnees and high-caliber newcomers. And with the players available, how everything shakes out with regards to roles and minutes that come with them will be very interesting to watch. Trier’s back after a successful freshman season in which he averaged 14.6 points per game and shot 46.6 percent from the field, and with his ability to attack defenses off the dribble he’ll figure prominently in the Arizona rotation again in 2016-17.
Also returning are Kadeem Allen and Parker Jackson-Cartwright, who shared the point guard duties with Allen getting the starting nod thanks in large part to his ability on the defensive end of the floor. Losing Gabe York, who was second on the team in scoring and Arizona’s best three-point shooter a season ago, can’t be overlooked. But with the additions to the program, Arizona can more than account for the production lost there.
Last year Trier was the Wildcat best capable of attacking defenses off the bounce, but even with the relative “lack” of such options Arizona still managed to average 80 points per game and shoot 48 percent from the field. Things will be a bit different in 2016-17, thanks to factors such as the loss of York and Ryan Anderson and the fact that they’ll have more players capable of breaking down opponents off the dribble. Freshmen Kobi Simmons, Rawle Alkins and Terrance Ferguson can all create shots via dribble penetration, with Ferguson also being one of the top shooters in the class of 2016.
But could this turn out to be a case of having too much of a good thing? While considered a point guard, Simmons proved to be better at getting himself looks than doing so for others, and Alkins was also considered to be a “ball dominant” guard at the high school level. How will that change at the college level, and how will the pieces fit together within Arizona’s rotation?
These are important questions to address, and how Arizona can do that is on the defensive end of the floor.
After two straight seasons of producing defenses that ranked in the top three in the country in adjusted defensive efficiency per Ken Pomeroy’s numbers (first in 2014, third in 2015), Arizona was ranked 41st in that category last season. After two consecutive seasons of limiting teams to less than 40 percent shooting from the field, Arizona allowed teams to shoot 41.3 percent in 2015-16. Also of concern was the turnover department, with teams committing an average of just 11.4 per game against the Wildcats last season.
By comparison, those two Elite Eight teams managed to force an average of 13.8 turnovers per game in 2013-14 and 12.4 per contest in 2014-15. The pack line defense isn’t one that people would necessarily categorize as a “pressure” system, but one of the strengths for Arizona during those two Elite Eight runs was having athletic options on the wings who can make life difficult for passers and the players looking to receive those passes. That wasn’t the case last season, but it may not be a problem in 2016-17 thanks to the roster additions.
Ferguson’s athleticism is noted above, and he’s also a long-armed player who more than holds his own defensively. Alkins also has the physical tools needed to cause trouble on the wing, which will give Arizona a good shot at playing defense at the level we grew accustomed to seeing them reach.
Physical tools aside, there’s always the “carrot” of playing time to dangle in front of the players. When discussing the adjustment process for freshmen many rush to the offensive end, and that’s understandable to a certain extent. But the biggest adjustment comes on the other end of the floor, and being able to prove that you can defend your position and carry out the team’s defensive game plan.
Arizona will certainly have offensive talent across the board next season. But the reason why they can rebound from last season and possibly reach the Final Four is the fact that some of that talent will make a difference defensively as well.