Rotnei Clarke

College Hoops Week in Review: Five Thoughts

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Rotnei Clarke’s progression to the point: Butler knocked off Temple in Rotnei Clarke’s return to the court on Saturday night. Clarke was the savior, spurring the Bulldogs on to a win after Temple erased a big second half deficit. Clarke finished with 24 points, but that statline will mislead you, because all-in-all Clarke had an off night after the first couple of minutes. He was 4-14 from the floor and 3-10 from three.

No, the way that Clarke won that game for Butler was through his distribution of the basketball. The most dangerous sharpshooter in the country finished with nine assists on the night, many of which came down the stretch as he was able to draw the attention of the defense and find his open teammates. The biggest concern for Butler heading into the season was whether or not Clarke would be able to succeed as a point guard, and while he’s done a fine job through the first two months of the year, Saturday was the best that he has played the position all year long.

What’s wrong with VCU?: The Rams are 16-5 on the season, but heading into this week they were 16-3 with a top 25 rankings. That’s likely gone, after Shaka Smart’s club lost back-to-back games to Richmond and La Salle this week.

So what happened?

It’s simple, really. VCU’s defense stopped creating turnovers. You see, the Rams run a system called ‘Havoc’ which, more or less, means they are going to press for 40 minutes and try to force as many live-ball turnovers as possible. Those turnovers lead to transition, which gives VCU open layups and good looks from three. They lead the nation in defensive turnover percentage — their opponent’s turn the ball over 29.3% of the time — and steal percentage. VCU is 16-0 when they force at least 15 turnovers.

But they’re 0-5 when they don’t. In fact, in VCU’s five losses, their defensive turnover percentage is 19.0%, which would be good for 250th in the country. That’s not all that havocy.

56% of the Top 25 lost this week: We said this season was going to be a wild ride, and this week may have been the best example of it to date. There were 14 teams in the top 25 that lost this week. Of those 14, ten of those teams lost to unranked opponents while four of them lost to another ranked team. There were also four ranked teams that lost twice this week — No. 5 Louisville, No. 11 Kansas State, No. 12 Minnesota and No. 19 VCU. Three teams earned wins over top five teams — Miami over No. 1 Duke, Villanova over No. 3 Syracuse and No. 5 Louisville, and Georgetown over No. 5 Louisville.

O.D. Anosike’s big day: O.D. Anosike is a name that most hoops heads are going to recognize because of his ability to hit the glass. He led the nation in rebounding last season and is well on his way to doing the same this year. On Sunday, he put together one of the most impressive performances of his career: 20 points, 21 boards, five assists, two steals and two blocks in a win at Marist.

That’s a statline you don’t often see. The last time a player went 20/20/5/2/2 was on February 11th, 2012, when Tony Mitchell of North Texas had 22 points, 21 boards, five assists two steals and six blocks.

Mason Plumlee’s dunk was nicer: Alex Len and Mason Plumlee traded poster dunks in Duke’s 20 point win over Maryland on Saturday. Count me in the Plumlee camp here:

Who you got?

VIDEO: Kris Dunn wills Providence to win over No. 11 Arizona

Kris Dunn, Elliott Pitts
AP Photo/Mark J. Terrill
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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 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.

No. 14 Cal goes 0-2 in Las Vegas Invitational

Jaylen Brown
AP Photo/Ben Margot
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After midnight on the east coast on Thanksgiving, No. 14 Cal blew a 15 point second half lead against San Diego State, allowing the Aztecs to use a 30-6 run to put away the game and advance to the final of the Las Vegas Invitational. That’s the same San Diego State team had scored 43 points in a loss to Arkansas-Little Rock last week.

Not 24 hours later, the Golden Bears were shredded defensively by the Richmond Spiders, losing 94-90 in the consolation game of a four-team tournament they were considered to be the heavy favorite in.

It’s a disappointing two-game stretch for Cal, who entered the season as a Pac-12 favorite and had looked the part for the first four games of the season.

And the issue appears to be on the defensive end of the floor.

Richmond is a good Atlantic 10 team. Terry Allen and Marshall Wood are high-major big men, Shawn’Dre Jones is a jitterbug at the point and Chris Mooney runs a Princeton-esque system that is very difficult to prepare for without a day in-between games. So it’s not really surprising that the Spiders gave Cal a fight.

But 94 points?

On the heels of giving up 44 points in the second half against the offensively-challenged Aztecs?

That’s a problem, one that I’m sure that Cuonzo Martin is going to address this week in practice. Martin has managed to put together a roster that is build for small-ball, with four talented perimeter players surrounding a first round pick in the post. But that’s not the style that he’s known for. Martin played his college ball at Purdue in the Gene Keady days. He cut his teeth as a head coach at Missouri State in the Missouri Valley. His team’s at Tennessee were known for being tough and physical defensively.

That’s how Martin coaches, which is part of the reason Cal had such hype entering the year.

The talents of Tyrone Wallace, Jaylen Brown, Ivan Rabb, Jabari Bird and Jordan Mathews on a team with a coach that gets teams to defend the way Martin does? It’s no surprise that pundits would be optimistic.

But as of now, they have some work to do defensively if they want to live up to that hype.