Indiana v Illinois

Team of the Week: The impact of good Tyler Griffey on Illinois

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Team of the Week: Illinois

Plenty of words have been written about the importance of this past week for Illinois. When you’re in the midst of a losing skid — the Illini had lost eight of their last 11 games — there really is no better way to snap yourself out of it than to beat the No. 1 team in the country (Indiana) and follow that up with a win over the No. 18 team in the country (Minnesota) on the road. All of a sudden, the Illini are back in bubble contention and, more importantly, are playing with confidence.

Personally, I think the reason for this turnaround is Tyler Griffey, and that’s before you factor in the game-winning layup he had to beat Indiana at the buzzer. Griffey had been mired in a devastating slump, missing 22 straight threes. He played just eight minutes against Wisconsin last Saturday. He had become a non-factor, and that was a huge problem for John Groce because Griffey’s versatility — his ability to pull an opposing center away from the rim — created more space for penetration and forced defenses into longer rotations. And while no one is going to confuse Griffey with Nerlens Noel, he’s big enough to block a few shots and grab a few boards. Illinois needs him on the floor, playing well and hitting shots. This week, he averaged 15.0 points and hit 6-13 from three.

Teams that deserve a shout-out:

Memphis: Is this a new year for the Tigers, or simply the same old narrative? Struggle through non-conference play only to turn things around against their weak Conference USA slate? Memphis took a two-game lead in the league standings thanks to an impressive win at Southern Miss on Saturday afternoon.

Oakland: Thanks to 54 points in two games from sharp-shooter Travis Bader, the Grizzlies were able to knock off both North Dakota State and South Dakota State this week, climbing into fourth place in the Summit League standings, just two games behind Western Illinois and a game behind both NDSU and SDSU. With WIU visiting the Dakota schools this weekend, Oakland has put themselves in a great position to make a run at a league title.

Miami: As of this moment in time, the Hurricanes are playing the best basketball in the country. They don’t have the best resume, they may not be the favorite to win the national title come March, but at this very second, there isn’t a team that I would pick to beat them on a neutral court. This comes after handing North Carolina a 26 point beatdown on Saturday afternoon.

Murray State: The Racers let the nation know that they’re still the biggest name in the Ohio Valley as the knocked off Belmont at home on Wednesday and followed that up with a 21 point win over Tennessee State on Saturday.

Wisconsin: After beating Iowa in double-overtime, the Badgers took down Michigan in OT thanks to this shot from Ben Brust. They’re now tied for second in the Big Ten standings.

They were good too: Colorado, Georgia, Indiana State, Kansas State, Oklahoma, Pitt, Virginia

You can find Rob on twitter @RobDauster.

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.