James Southerland

Five Thoughts: James Southerland, Louisville’s struggles, Vegas in March?

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James Southerland’s impact: One of the reasons that the Syracuse offense bogged down while James Southerland was dealing with clearing up his academic issues was that they suddenly lacked perimeter shooting. The Orange don’t have much in the way of an interior presence offensively, which puts an emphasis on penetration for them, especially with a player like Michael Carter-Williams. Having a sharp-shooter on the perimeter only helps to create space. You want proof? Southerland is by far the favorite target of MCW.

But what makes Southerland so important — and why he changes Syracuse so much as a team — is that he’s not just a jump shooter. He also happens to be a rangy, 6-foot-9 athlete that has just about the same affect in Jim Boeheim’s 2-3 zone as a guy like CJ Fair or Jerami Grant. He’s the perfect player to put on the wing. With Southerland out, Syracuse was forced to use Trevor Cooney if they wanted to upgrade their shooting, and that meant that either Brandon Triche or MCW would have to slide to the back-line of their zone. For a defense predicated on length and athleticism, that’s a massive blow.

With Louisville struggling, Syracuse with Southerland back in the mix looks like the favorite to win the Big East.

Speaking of Louisville: The loss to Notre Dame was just a microcosm of an issue that has been plaguing the Cardinals this season: they simply cannot execute down the stretch, and it’s largely the result of an inability to play in the half court. Everyone of their losses can be attributed to awful offense in end-game situations. There were the two turnovers in the final 30 seconds against Syracuse. There were the passes that went through Chane Behanan’s hands in the loss at Villanova. Louisville played horribly offensively all game long in their loss to Georgetown, but they had two chances at the end of the game to tie it and on both possessions, ended up with long, contested pull-up two-pointers. And that’s not even counting the ugly possessions that Louisville had late in some of the games that they actually won.

Against Notre Dame, Louisville seemingly had a chance to win at the end of each period and blew it. If Louisville can’t turn you over, they can’t score. It’s a serious issue for Rick Pitino’s team.

Indiana’s most impressive performance of the season: The Hoosiers looked as good as they have looked all season long in Sunday’s win at Ohio State. Victor Oladipo had a career-high. Cody Zeller played as aggressive as he has since Big Ten play started. The threes fell, the defense was tenacious and the Hoosiers won a grinder convincingly.

The last six words in that paragraph — “the Hoosiers won a grinder convincingly” — are the most important. The Hoosiers have built a rep for jumping out to big leads and spending the rest of the game trying to protect those leads. They haven’t been the kind of ‘closer’ that you want to see out of a national title contender. But the win over Ohio State had nothing to do with big runs or quick starters. The Hoosiers simply executed on every possession at both ends of the floor slowly but surely pushing their lead out to as much as 16 points.

Alex Oriakhi’s, instigator: I can’t condone the way that Oriakhi behaved this past week. In Tuesday’s loss to Texas A&M, there was one possession where he got tangled up with Fabyon Harris on a rebound and tossed him to the ground. In the win over Ole Miss on Saturday, he nearly started a full-on brawl when he intentionally tripped Reginald Buckner and then squared up to box Murphy Holloway.

You simply cannot do those things.

Missouri needs leadership. They need someone to light a fire under them emotionally. They need someone to carry them in road games. While I realize that Oriakhi may be trying to play that role — and is probably frustrated by the way that his team has performed this season — he’s going to need to find a different way to channel that intensity.

Vegas for Championship Week. Who’s down?: Over the course of an 11 day stretch in March, the Mountain West, the Pac-12, the WCC and the WAC will be hosting their conference tournaments in the City of Sin. I’ve already pitched my bosses, but I’m not sure that I would survive those 11 days.

You can find Rob on twitter @RobDauster.

No. 5 Xavier stumbles at Creighton, lose 70-54

Creighton's Cole Huff (13) and Toby Hegner, left, guard Xavier's Jalen Reynolds (1) during the first half of an NCAA college basketball game in Omaha, Neb., Tuesday, Feb. 9, 2016. (AP Photo/Nati Harnik)
(AP Photo/Nati Harnik)
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Mo Watson went for a career-high 32 points, seven boards and five assists as Creighton jumped out to an early 21-4 lead and never looked back, beating No. 5 Xavier, 70-54, in Omaha on Tuesday night.

 

It was a massive win for the Bluejays, who still have an outside shot at earning an at-large bid this season. (We wrote all about that here.)

As well as Creighton played, the bigger story here may actually be Xavier, who lost for just the third time this season; they had been the only top ten team with just two losses to their name.

The issue for the Musketeers tonight was two-fold, but they both are a symptom of what could be an issue down the road for this team: Xavier doesn’t really have a true point guard.

They certainly didn’t have anyone to stop Watson. By the second half, they had essentially asked Reynolds, who was playing the middle of their 1-3-1 zone to matchup with Watson. It was weird but was actually somewhat effective.

The Musketeers also started out ice cold from the floor, missing 11 of their first 13 shots, and those misses led to leak outs from Bluejays, who got layups and open threes in transition to build that 17 point lead. Once Xavier got behind, it turned into scramble mode for Xavier. They forced shots early in the clock and didn’t start pounding the ball into the paint until it was too late. What they needed was someone to be able to settle things, to ensure that offensive would get initiated and sets would get executed when they were able to get the lead down to single digits.

That 1-for-19 shooting performance from beyond the arc certainly didn’t help matters, and neither did the fact that they got just nine field goals all game from players not named James Farr or Jalen Reynolds. The most frustrating part for head coach Chris Mack? They had good shots. It wasn’t like Creighton took away everything that Xavier wanted to do.

The kids just had one of those nights where nothing went down.

Those happen.

And when you combine them with a total inability to contain the opposing team’s point guard, what you get is a 16 point loss on the road against a team that was desperate to get a good win.

Gill’s 16, ‘D’ lead No. 7 Virginia past Virginia Tech, 67-49

Lehigh Virginia Basketball
AP Photo/Andrew Shurtleff
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CHARLOTTESVILLE, Va. (AP) Anthony Gill scored 16 points and No. 7 Virginia turned the tables on state rival Virginia Tech with a 67-49 victory Tuesday night, the Cavaliers’ seventh straight.

Isaiah Wilkins added a career-best 14 points and Malcolm Brogdon had 12 for the Cavaliers (20-4, 9-3 Atlantic Coast Conference). Virginia avenged a 70-68 loss to the Hokies in Blacksburg on Jan. 4 in what rates as their worst performance of the season, and extended their winning streak at John Paul Jones Arena to 17 games.

Freshman Justin Robinson scored 16 points and classmate Chris Clarke had 11 in his first action for the Hokies (13-12, 5-7) since breaking his right foot in late December. Virginia Tech’s top two scorers, Zach LeDay (16.0 ppg) and Seth Allen (14.5), were limited to seven and six points, respectively, in part because of foul trouble.

Virginia coach Tony Bennett said his team wasn’t ready to play when it lost to the Hokies earlier, but they have been surging of late and were focused from the outset. They were credited with assists and 14 of their first 15 baskets and forced 10 turnovers in the first half; they forced just eight in the last meeting of the teams.

For most of the game, the Hokies had more turnovers than field goals.

The Cavaliers led 32-20 at halftime and extended their advantage to 47-29 on a three-point play by Mike Tobey with 12:11 remaining. It capped an 11-4 run for Virginia, during which LeDay was whistled for his fourth foul. On Virginia’s next trip down court, it got the ball to Gill inside and LeDay basically backed off and let him score, quickly earning a spot on the bench.

The Cavaliers’ lead never dipped into single digits again.

The Hokies had just eight turnovers and outscored Virginia 26-6 off turnovers in their first meeting. This time, Virginia Tech had 10 turnovers by halftime and the Cavaliers had already turned them into 15 points. Virginia Tech finished with 16 field goals and 15 turnovers.

Already leading 9-6, Virginia got scoring from eight players in a 23-8 run that spanned about 8 1/2 minutes.

Gill started it with a dunk, Brogdon hit a 3-pointer, London Perrantes had a four-point play and Wilkins finished it with two free throws, giving the Cavaliers a 32-14 lead with 2:06 left in the half. They didn’t score again, and the Hokies closed within 32-20 by halftime.

TIP-INS

Virginia Tech: The Hokies shot 57.1 percent (15 of 26) from the field in the second half of their 70-68 victory against Virginia on Jan. 4. … Virginia Tech’s starting five totaled four points in the first half.

Virginia: The Cavaliers have held four consecutive opponents to 50 points or fewer.

UP NEXT

Virginia Tech plays at No. 12 Miami next Wednesday.

Virginia plays at Duke on Saturday.

Follow Hank on Twitter: http://www.twitter.com/hankkurzjr

The AP’s college basketball page: http://www.collegebasketball.ap.org