The Secondary Break: Friday’s Links

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FIU pulls Raymond Taylor from game over NBA Draft rule (ESPN)
FIU head coach Anthony Evans was without a starter on Thursday night, as guard Raymond Taylor was forced to sit as the school investigates his withdrawal from the 2012 NBA Draft. Yep, 2012. The school and NCAA are checking to see whether or not Taylor withdrew ahead of the NCAA’s deadline, which during that season fell on April 10. According to the report Taylor may have missed that date, which could compromise his eligibility.

Louisville reclaims No. 1 after Michigan State’s scare (Sports Illustrated)
Michigan State’s lackluster play in wins over Columbia and Portland cost the Spartans the top spot in Luke Winn’s latest power rankings, with defending national champion Louisville replacing them. One interesting thing to take note of: how efficient freshmen Jabari Parker (Duke) and Julius Randle (Kentucky) have been to this point in the season.

Marcus Smart and Jahii Carson- sophomore stars, career savers (CBS Sports)
While talented freshmen have received the majority of the attention thus far, there are some important returnees in college basketball as well. Two of those returnees are Oklahoma State’s Marcus Smart and Arizona State’s Jahii Carson, both of whom went off in big wins Tuesday night. How important were their returns to their respective schools?

Austin Hatch, survivor of two plane crashes, refuses to quit on basketball dream (The Dagger)
One of the great stories of the early signing period is that of Austin Hatch, who inked a National Letter of Intent to play at Michigan. Hatch has survived two plane crashes, losing his parents and two younger siblings. Thought by many to have played his last basketball game, Hatch has worked hard to get back to the point where he can take the floor for Loyola HS in Los Angeles at some point this season.

Syracuse already selling commemorative T-shirts for their February game against Duke (Troy Nunes is an Absolute Magician)
Think folks in central New York are excited about Jim Boeheim’s team playing in the ACC? There’s already a T-shirt commemorating the Orange’s February 1, 2014 matchup with Duke, stating that “the rivalry begins.” Using the word “rivalry” seems a bit much since they’ve only played four times, but “you can’t knock the hustle” I guess.

Hinson not happy with new rules (The Southern)
Another day, another coach displeased with the new rules meant to encourage freedom of movement in college basketball. This time it’s SIU head coach Barry Hinson voicing his displeasure, blaming the NCAA for some games turning into glorified foul shooting contests.

Point proved: Ex-Towson signee Frank Mason off to good start with KU (Lawrence Journal-World)
Kansas freshman point guard Frank Mason has gotten off to a good start, and Friday’s matchup with Towson will be a special one for the newcomer. Why? A failing grade in a high school government class cost Mason his scholarship to attend Towson, resulting in his having to attend prep school for a year. But that extra year resulted in more interest, and ultimately Mason chose to attend Kansas.

Battle 4 Atlantis title proves Syracuse will be relevant this season

rad Horrigan/The Courant via AP
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Michael Gbinije scored 20 points and Trevor Cooney added 15 points and five assists as Syracuse left the Bahamas with a title, beating No. 25 Texas A&M 74-67 in the finals of the Battle 4 Atlantis.

I guess it’s time to start taking the Orange seriously.

There’s a lot to like about this group. Gbinije and Cooney are both fifth-year seniors that not only understand how to operate at the top of the 2-3 zone that Jim Boeheim runs, but they both have developed into versatile offensive weapons. Cooney was known as nothing more than a jump-shooter when he arrived up north, but he’s now averaging 3.5 assists on the season.

And Gbinije?

He has been one of the best players in the country through the first two weeks of the season. Through six games, he’s averaged 19.7 points, 4.2 assists, 3.0 boards and 2.8 steals while shooting 51.3 percent from beyond the arc.

Freshman Malachi Richardson, who had 16 points in the win over A&M, has scored double-figures in all six games this season while another freshman, Tyler Lydon, was against terrific on Friday, finishing with 13 points and eight boards. He’s now shooting 58.8 percent from beyond the arc this season.

And that’s where this team is going to do the majority of their damage this season.

Through six games, they’re shooting 41.1 percent from beyond the arc. In the three wins in the Bahamas, the Orange knocked were 34-for-73 from beyond the arc, a 46.5 percent clip. The question isn’t whether or not that rate can continue — four of the six players that saw action on Friday are dangerous three-point shooters while the other two, Tyler Roberson  and DaJuan Coleman, aren’t going to be shooting threes — but what happens on the nights where the threes aren’t going down.

There are going to be nights where they shoot 5-for-25 instead of 11-for-25. Will they have enough firepower then? Will their defense be good enough? Will guys like Roberson and Coleman be able to supply a scoring punch? Will Cooney, Gbinije and Richardson attack the paint instead of settling for jumpers?

Because at the very least, these three games in the Bahamas have proven that the Orange are going to be relevant this season, even in the loaded ACC. Whether that means they’re going to push for a top four finish or simply end the year as a tournament team remains to be seen, but this much is clear: Jim Boeheim has himself a squad Upstate.

No. 10 Gonzaga outlasts No. 18 UConn despite late offensive struggles

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No. 10 Gonzaga survived a furious rally from No. 18 UConn to win the third place game in the Battle 4 Atlantis, 73-70.

The Zags were up by as much as 21 points early in the second half, leading 48-27, but UConn slowly chipped away at the lead. Kyle Wiltjer led four players in double-figures with 17 points while Eric McClellan added 15 points, making a number of key plays in the second half when it looked like the Zags were in danger of giving away the lead.

As good as Gonzaga looked in the first 22 minutes of this game — and they looked really, really good — the second half exposed the concerns that many had with this group entering the season. Kevin Pangos and Gary Bell Jr., who both shot around 40 percent from beyond the arc and started for four years, graduated, meaning that Gonzaga’s point guard situation is, more or less, Josh Perkins.

Perkins was terrific in the second half of a loss to Texas A&M on Thursday. He played 17 foul-plagued minutes against UConn. When UConn’s defense ratcheted up during the second half, Gonzaga struggled finding a way to consistently get good shots on the offensive end. Part of that was due to ineffective point guard play and part of it was a result of not really having anyone on the offensive end that can create a look on their own. As skilled as Wiltjer is, his impact can be limited when pick-and-pop actions aren’t working and he’s getting doubled in the post.

Perkins is talented, but this is essentially his first season of college basketball; he was a medical redshirt last season after breaking his jaw last November. There are going to be ups-and-downs, and that’s problematic on a team where he is essentially the only point guard on the roster.

The good news?

Gonzaga beat a good UConn team on a day when their best players struggled in crunch-time. It was McClellan and Kyle Dranginis that made the big plays down the stretch, not the big names on the Gonzaga roster.