Joe Harris, Justin Anderson

Don’t dismiss Virginia’s NCAA tournament hopes just yet

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One week after suffering a bad loss at Georgia Tech, Virginia could not afford to lose at Maryland if they were to keep alive their hopes of returning to the NCAA tournament.

And thanks to their shooting from beyond the arc the Cavaliers picked up the result they needed, shooting 11-of-19 from three in an 80-69 win over the Terrapins. Paul Jesperson hit all four of his three-point attempts and Joe Harris hit three on his way to scoring a game-high 22 points to lead Virginia (17-6, 7-3), which is now in sole possession of third place in the ACC.

Shorthanded in the front court due to injuries suffered by Darion Atkins and Mike Tobey, Virginia needs to produce even more from the perimeter in order to be successful. And in their last two games, the first of which being a 78-41 whipping of Clemson, the Cavaliers have done just that.

But there are concerns for Virginia due to the front court issues. Even though they out-rebounded Maryland 34-29 (Justin Anderson grabbed nine rebounds in addition to scoring 17 points) the Cavaliers gave up 18 second-chance points and were outscored 42-20 in the paint.

With Tobey out indefinitely with mononucleosis and Atkins dealing with a stress reaction in his shin, there’s a chance that this is the group Tony Bennett has to finish out a large portion of Virginia’s remaining regular season slate with. So when it comes to their work on the boards it will have to be “all hands on deck” for the Cavaliers.

Over their last two games Virginia’s shot 21-of-43 from beyond the arc, hitting the bonus shot at a higher clip than their 39.6% rate in ACC play, and with games against North Carolina (who they’ve already beaten once), No. 8 Miami and No. 4 Duke remaining on the schedule the Cavaliers will need to hit perimeter shots at a comparable rate.

There’s no arguing the fact that Virginia’s resume will make things difficult (no shortage of either good wins or bad losses) on the selection committee when the time comes, provided they don’t collapse down the stretch.

But they’ve got a shot, and that’s something few were willing to allow them a week ago.

Raphielle also writes for the NBE Basketball Report and can be followed on Twitter at @raphiellej

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.