Marcus Smart

Four ‘Big Monday’ appearances apiece for Kansas, Oklahoma State

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Another piece of the puzzle that is the 2013-14 college basketball schedule was added to the board Wednesday, as ESPN announced its lineup of games for “Big Monday,” which begins on January 13.

The schedule will require some adjusting from college basketball fans, with many of us used to seeing the Big East occupying the 7:00 p.m. EST time slot. The conference still exists of course, but with their television deal being with Fox the days of seeing Georgetown and Villanova (just to name two programs) in that slot are done for the time being.

Into the Big East’s spot slides the ACC, which added Notre Dame, Pittsburgh and Syracuse on July 1 (and will add Louisville next July 1). We’ll get one “throwback” matchup on the schedule, as Syracuse hosts Notre Dame on February 3. The Big 12 remains in the later time slot, with Kansas and Oklahoma State making four appearances apiece this coming winter.

The full schedule can be seen at the link provided above; here are five contests on the slate that you should not miss:

1. Baylor at Kansas (January 20)

This will be a revealing road test for Baylor, which has the talent needed to contend for the Big 12 crown. The question for Scott Drew’s Bears: how will they go about accounting for the graduation of Pierre Jackson? JUCO transfer Kenny Chery is the player many have pegged as the replacement, but moving forward post-Jackson will require contributions from Brady Heslip and Gary Franklin Jr. (just to name two) as well. As for Kansas, their young big men will be tested by Baylor’s Isaiah Austin and Cory Jefferson, with sophomore Perry Ellis expected to be a leader in the paint for the Jayhawks.

2. Duke at Pittsburgh (January 27) 

Granted Pittsburgh lost a lot of production from last year’s NCAA tournament squad. But the chance to watch one of the early favorites to win the ACC playing in front of the “Oakland Zoo” won’t lack for entertainment. With Seth Curry, Ryan Kelly and Mason Plumlee all having graduated Duke will have questions to answer from a leadership standpoint, but if point guard Quinn Cook is ready to take the reins the Blue Devils will be a national title contender.

3. Kansas at Iowa State (January 13) 

The nightcap of the opening Monday of this schedule matches teams who played two classics last season. The meeting in Lawrence featured a Ben McLemore three to force overtime, with Elijah Johnson’s heroics (and, in the eyes of Cyclone fans, sketchy officiating) being the difference in the rematch in Ames. Both teams have added quality talent (this will be Andrew Wiggins’ “Big Monday” debut), and given what happened last season look for Hilton Coliseum to be buzzing.

4. Oklahoma State at Baylor (February 17) 

Who’s the biggest threat to dethrone Kansas? The second meeting of the season between the Cowboys and Bears will most likely provide the answer to that question. Marcus Smart enters the season as the nation’s best point guard, and by mid-February he could very well be looking to polish up a resume for both Big 12 and national Player of the Year honors. Baylor won last season’s meeting in Waco by ten, but lost the other two contest by a combined four points.

5. Syracuse at Maryland (February 24) 

The Orange have arrived and the Terrapins are on their way out, as they move to the Big Ten in 2014. The biggest keys for Mark Turgeon’s team this season are the point guard position and how they go about accounting for the departure of Alex Len. If Seth Allen and Roddy Peters are up to the task at the point, this will be an opportunity for the Terps to improve their NCAA tournament seeding. If not, this may be the kind of home game a bubble team needs in order to simply get into the Big Dance. Syracuse returns multiple contributors from last year’s Final Four team, but like Maryland they’ll be counting on a youngster (Tyler Ennis) to run the show.

What jumps out when looking at the “Big Monday” schedule? Besides Kansas and Oklahoma State making four appearances each, there’s the fact that Virginia (like North Carolina) will make three appearances. Tony Bennett’s Cavaliers will be good, and frankly it’ll be good for more people to become familiar with All-ACC wing Joe Harris.

And there’s also two league match-ups that did not make the schedule: Kansas/Oklahoma State (neither meeting) and Duke/Syracuse (which they’re considering reconfiguring the Carrier Dome for). I wonder if those two high-quality games are being held back for something else.

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.