Arizona displays improved defensive effort in win over Colorado

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Even though they were an active participant in the Pac-12 race for the entire 18-game league schedule, something was missing for the Arizona Wildcats on most nights. What was missing was intensity on the defensive end of the floor, something that helped Sean Miller’s teams rank among the best in college basketball at defending the three-pointer in each of the two seasons prior.

If the Wildcats’ (25-6) defensive effort in the first half of their 79-69 Pac-12 quarterfinal victory over Colorado was any indication, Arizona is better equipped to win games in the NCAA tournament now than they were a couple weeks ago.

Arizona forced ten Colorado turnovers in the first half, converting those mistakes into 15 points as they took a 39-28 lead into the intermission. The Buffaloes (21-11) played much better in the second half, turning the ball over just three times, but the damage was already done as they could get no closer than two points in the final 20 minutes.

For the game Colorado shot 43.1% from the field, which is actually Arizona’s best defensive showing since limiting Washington to 30.8% shooting back on February 20.

Guards Spencer Dinwiddie and Askia Booker combined to score 30 points for Colorado but they attempted 22 shots (making eight) in doing so.

From a percentage standpoint Arizona’s defensive outing is certainly a case of “baby steps,” but their improved activity on that end of the floor is something that Miller and his staff have been looking for. And Johnson, their best perimeter defender, led the way against a team that gave them trouble in both regular season meetings.

“It’s not always that you pitch a shutout defensively as much as how much your effort level can make the other team or other player work to score,” noted Miller.

“There is no question that [Johnson’s] talent and effort level on defense, that alone, made the game harder for their guards, not that their guards didn’t play well, but our effort level was where it needed to be to win. Many times our defense starts with Nick.”

Offensively the Wildcats were balanced with Nick Johnson leading three players in double figures with 18 points, and six Arizona players managed to score at least seven points.

But outside of their occasional bouts with turnovers, offense wasn’t the lingering concern for this group (they’re 23rd nationally in adjusted offensive efficiency according to kenpom.com). Friday will provide another test in this area as the Wildcats take on UCLA, which swept the season series, in the Pac-12 semifinals.

But regardless of the outcome the following remains true for Arizona: how far they end up going in the NCAA tournament will depend on how committed they are to getting stops.

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

NCAA pushes up college hoops start date as Champions Classic will open the season

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The NCAA is pushing up the start of the college basketball regular season to begin on the Tuesday before the second Friday in November.

That means the Champions Classic will open the college basketball season in 2018-19 as announced in an official release on Wednesday. So now, we get Duke vs. Kentucky and Michigan State vs. Kansas in Indianapolis at Bankers Life Fieldhouse to open the college basketball regular season?

Yes, please.

This is a very smart move for the NCAA as men’s and women’s basketball can now open the regular season a bit earlier. The made-for-TV, neutral-court spectacle of the Champions Classic is also the perfect programming to get casual sports fans to tune in for the opening night of college basketball.

There will also be a new level of intrigue for the Champions Classic with all four superpowers making their season debuts in the event next season. Instead of getting a regular-season tune-up to begin to campaign, all of these teams will get thrown straight into the fire.

Hopefully, the sport can continue to make moves like this to generate casual interest and develop more intriguing non-conference possibilities. College basketball’s regular season has suffered from too many lulls in the past. At least now the regular season will start with a bang.

Arizona State benefits from unusual timing in landing forward Taeshon Cherry

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Arizona State has been one of the biggest surprises in college basketball this season as they’re off to a 14-3 start.

The Sun Devils are also rolling on the recruiting trail as they might have landed their signature recruit on Tuesday night. With high-end, four-star forward Taeshon Cherry pledging to the Sun Devils, it gives them a top-20 class and three different four-star caliber prospects coming in next season.

Bobby Hurley has something going here.

In Cherry, Arizona State gets a 6-foot-9 forward who was previously committed to USC but decommitted in late December. Reportedly “Player-8” in the FBI’s case of college basketball bribery, according to Nathan Fenno of the Los Angeles Times, Cherry’s relative allegedly met Christian Dawkins and financial advisor Munish Sood at a restaurant in Los Angeles on Aug. 8. The group was joined by an undercover FBI agent posing as a financial advisor as the gathering was recorded.

Dawkins and Sood were attempting to get Player-8’s relative to use their financial services for when the player eventually went pro. The FBI’s complaint also said Dawkins was given an envelope of $4,000 to give to the relative from the undercover agent.

But with Cherry not being present for the meeting, and no firsthand account of the relative actually receiving the money, it’s uncertain how the NCAA might respond to this.

So Arizona State jumped right in the mix for Cherry and started recruiting him once he decommitted from USC. The Sun Devils brought Cherry in for an official visit to campus on Jan. 11 — only weeks after Cherry’s decommitment — and were able to secure the commitment days later as he canceled a trip to Texas A&M.

This commitment is no doubt a product of unusual timing and circumstances.

When Cherry pledged to USC right after the July live evaluation period, Trojans assistant coach Tony Bland hadn’t been involved in the FBI scandal and the Trojans had a top-25 team returning this season. Arizona State was only 30-35 in Hurley’s first two seasons and they hadn’t secured the two four-star commitments they would later get in October.

Now, the Sun Devils are a darkhorse Final Four team after its surprising start this season and they were able to land a highly-touted recruit merely weeks after he left a conference rival. Things have changed quickly in the Pac-12 recruiting race in the past few weeks. And Arizona State also benefited from the unusual circumstances surrounding Cherry and his recruitment.

With commitments in each of the next three classes as well — yes, Arizona State even has a commitment from a high school freshman in the Class of 2021 — the Sun Devils are starting to sustain a presence at every level of college basketball. Arizona State will have to replace some talented seniors when Tra Holder and Shannon Evans depart after this season. The program also seems like its heading in the right direction with all of the talent that is flocking to Tempe.

Four-star recruit Joey Hauser enrolls early at Marquette

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Marquette’s top recruit in the Class of 2018 is enrolling early. According to a release from the school, four-star forward Joey Hauser has enrolled at the school and will join the basketball program.

The younger brother of sophomore forward Sam Hauser, the younger Hauser will redshirt this season and have four years of eligibility remaining.

Suffering a few injuries the past few years, Hauser had surgery on his ankle in early December as he’ll get a chance to rehab on campus while also acclimating to the team and school.

“We are really excited to have Joey join us for the second semester,” Marquette coach Steve Wojciechowski said in a release. “It’s a unique opportunity for him to recover from his recent surgery while also becoming acclimated to our basketball program and university.

“He is without question one of the top players in the class of 2018 and for him to be able to get a head start on his career is a tremendous positive.”

Hauser is regarded as the No. 52 overall prospect in the Class of 2018, according to Rivals, as he helped Stevens Point win three consecutive WIAA Division 1 state titles during his first three seasons.

While Hauser won’t be able to play and help Marquette this season, the Golden Eagles only have one senior on the roster in Andrew Rowsey. That means the entire roster gets a head start on being together for next season as Hauser should be a contributor by then.

Notre Dame freshman D.J. Harvey out four weeks with knee injury

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Notre Dame freshman D.J. Harvey will miss the next four weeks with a bone bruise in his left knee.

Harvey, a 6-foot-6 wing, played only seven minutes in Notre Dame’s loss to Louisville on Tuesday night as he’s played 18.2 minutes per contest. With senior All-American candidate Bonzie Colson going down to injury, Harvey had been playing increased minutes for the Fighting Irish, including 37 minutes in Notre Dame’s loss to North Carolina.

Harvey averaged 5.8 points and 2.9 rebounds per game before the injury. The Fighting Irish are fighting the injury bug right now with Colson and Harvey out as their rotation gets even thinner. Notre Dame has dropped three consecutive games as they are 13-6 on the season and 3-3 in the ACC. Another tough game looms for the Fighting Irish as they face Clemson on Saturday.

Texas fans helped raise over $100,000 for Andrew Jones and Family Support Fund

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Texas fans have helped raise over six figures in support of the Andrew Jones and Family Support Fund after the sophomore guard was diagnosed with leukemia last week.

The University of Texas helped launch the fund, with all donations heading towards the medical and necessary family-related expenses for Jones that are allowed within NCAA rules.

Although Jones’ diagnosis was tough for many around college basketball, the fund has helped raise over $104,000 in just over five days.  Over 1,300 people have donated towards the fund, which is the only family-approved way to help Jones and his family with medical costs.

The website for the Andrew Jones and Family Support Fund can be found right here.

A former McDonald’s All-American, Jones was in the midst of a solid sophomore season with the Longhorns before the public announcement last week. Jones averaged 13.5 points and 2.0 assists per game in 10 games this season.

Without Jones in the lineup, Texas won an emotional double-overtime thriller over TCU at home. After the win, Texas coaches and players honored Jones with signs of support. The Longhorns lost their lost Big 12 game by a point on the road at Oklahoma State as the Cowboys honored Jones before the game with special shooting shirts in his honor.