Jahii Carson

Weekend Preview: Arizona better be ready to play against their in-state rival


Who’s Getting Upset?: No. 7 Arizona at Arizona State (Sat. 2:30 p.m. FSN)

I know. My first instinct would be to laugh too, but at this point you should know that the Sun Devils have a squad out in Tempe this year. Jahii Carson, the nation’s most-underappreciated point guard, is the real deal. He’s as athletic as anyone in the country, he’s impossible to keep out of the lane and he can score off the bounce and find his teammates if they’re open.

But he’s far from the only option that Herb Sendek has offensively. Carrick Felix has been one of the most improved players in the Pac-12, averaging 15.2 points and 8.2 boards this season, providing a perfect compliment along Arizona State’s front line to shot-blocker Jordan Bachynski, he of the first ever triple-double in Sun Devil history.

As Jon Gasaway spelled out in his Tuesday Truths column this week, Arizona has been a long way from impressive this season. All their meaningful wins have been close games; they’re a team that thrives on the last-minute comeback, which is a dangerous way to play. Especially on the road. Especially against an in-state rival.

Who else is on upset alert?

  • No. 25 Marquette at Cincinnati (Sat. 7:00 p.m. ESPNU): The Golden Eagles have won three games in Big East play this year: two went to overtime, one came when Greg Whittington missed the third of three free throws with 2.3 seconds left on the clock. Cincinnati has been on the losing end of a couple close games. Both teams have a loaded perimeter attack, but the difference is that Marquette has a scoring presence on the block in Davante Gardner. Regardless, if you like tough, physical basketball, this will be the game for you.
  • No. 15 San Diego State at Wyoming (Sat. 7:30 p.m.): Wyoming may be playing without Luke Martinez for an extended period of time, but they still have Leonard Washington on the roster, and they are still going to be hosting the Aztecs in a game that they need to help boost their tournament resume. You see, with how tough the MWC is this year, if a team wants to make the NCAA tournament or compete for a good seed in the MWC tournament, they are going to have to win their home games; there aren’t many easy road trips in that league this year.
  • Oklahoma at No. 16 Kansas State (Sat. 4:00 p.m. ESPN3): Oklahoma is slowly but surely starting to play like the team that many of us thought that had chance to sneak into the NCAA tournament this season. They also have a terrific defender in Buddy Hield to matchup with Rodney McGruder. Road trips aren’t easy, but expect Oklahoma to give K-State a fight.

You can find Rob on twitter @RobDauster.

Battle 4 Atlantis title proves Syracuse will be relevant this season

rad Horrigan/The Courant via AP
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Michael Gbinije scored 20 points and Trevor Cooney added 15 points and five assists as Syracuse left the Bahamas with a title, beating No. 25 Texas A&M 74-67 in the finals of the Battle 4 Atlantis.

I guess it’s time to start taking the Orange seriously.

There’s a lot to like about this group. Gbinije and Cooney are both fifth-year seniors that not only understand how to operate at the top of the 2-3 zone that Jim Boeheim runs, but they both have developed into versatile offensive weapons. Cooney was known as nothing more than a jump-shooter when he arrived up north, but he’s now averaging 3.5 assists on the season.

And Gbinije?

He has been one of the best players in the country through the first two weeks of the season. Through six games, he’s averaged 19.7 points, 4.2 assists, 3.0 boards and 2.8 steals while shooting 51.3 percent from beyond the arc.

Freshman Malachi Richardson, who had 16 points in the win over A&M, has scored double-figures in all six games this season while another freshman, Tyler Lydon, was against terrific on Friday, finishing with 13 points and eight boards. He’s now shooting 58.8 percent from beyond the arc this season.

And that’s where this team is going to do the majority of their damage this season.

Through six games, they’re shooting 41.1 percent from beyond the arc. In the three wins in the Bahamas, the Orange knocked were 34-for-73 from beyond the arc, a 46.5 percent clip. The question isn’t whether or not that rate can continue — four of the six players that saw action on Friday are dangerous three-point shooters while the other two, Tyler Roberson  and DaJuan Coleman, aren’t going to be shooting threes — but what happens on the nights where the threes aren’t going down.

There are going to be nights where they shoot 5-for-25 instead of 11-for-25. Will they have enough firepower then? Will their defense be good enough? Will guys like Roberson and Coleman be able to supply a scoring punch? Will Cooney, Gbinije and Richardson attack the paint instead of settling for jumpers?

Because at the very least, these three games in the Bahamas have proven that the Orange are going to be relevant this season, even in the loaded ACC. Whether that means they’re going to push for a top four finish or simply end the year as a tournament team remains to be seen, but this much is clear: Jim Boeheim has himself a squad Upstate.

No. 10 Gonzaga outlasts No. 18 UConn despite late offensive struggles

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No. 10 Gonzaga survived a furious rally from No. 18 UConn to win the third place game in the Battle 4 Atlantis, 73-70.

The Zags were up by as much as 21 points early in the second half, leading 48-27, but UConn slowly chipped away at the lead. Kyle Wiltjer led four players in double-figures with 17 points while Eric McClellan added 15 points, making a number of key plays in the second half when it looked like the Zags were in danger of giving away the lead.

As good as Gonzaga looked in the first 22 minutes of this game — and they looked really, really good — the second half exposed the concerns that many had with this group entering the season. Kevin Pangos and Gary Bell Jr., who both shot around 40 percent from beyond the arc and started for four years, graduated, meaning that Gonzaga’s point guard situation is, more or less, Josh Perkins.

Perkins was terrific in the second half of a loss to Texas A&M on Thursday. He played 17 foul-plagued minutes against UConn. When UConn’s defense ratcheted up during the second half, Gonzaga struggled finding a way to consistently get good shots on the offensive end. Part of that was due to ineffective point guard play and part of it was a result of not really having anyone on the offensive end that can create a look on their own. As skilled as Wiltjer is, his impact can be limited when pick-and-pop actions aren’t working and he’s getting doubled in the post.

Perkins is talented, but this is essentially his first season of college basketball; he was a medical redshirt last season after breaking his jaw last November. There are going to be ups-and-downs, and that’s problematic on a team where he is essentially the only point guard on the roster.

The good news?

Gonzaga beat a good UConn team on a day when their best players struggled in crunch-time. It was McClellan and Kyle Dranginis that made the big plays down the stretch, not the big names on the Gonzaga roster.