While in-season tournaments present great opportunities for programs to rack up multiple quality wins in a neutral setting, there also valuable when it comes to the growth of a roster. That’s certainly the hope for No. 2 Kansas, which despite its 2-1 weekend at the Battle 4 Atlantis did not enjoy the best of weekends in The Bahamas.
One night after losing to Villanova on a last-second three-pointer by Ryan Arcidiacono the Jayhawks failed to put away UTEP, and that combined with some poor decision-making down the stretch resulted in a “closer than it should have been” 67-63 victory. Perry Ellis led the way offensively with 19 points, scoring 15 of those points in the second half when the Miners were able to slow things down on both ends of the floor, helping offset a quiet night from freshman Andrew Wiggins.
Wiggins scored just six points on 2-for-9 shooting, with UTEP’s multiple defensive looks successfully confusing Wiggins and many of his teammates. And he wasn’t the only freshman who struggled either, as one night after showing signs of being one of Kansas’ best decision-makers guard Frank Mason committed two unnecessary fouls in the game’s final minute. Add in 15 turnovers and as head coach Bill Self noted after the game, there are plenty of “teachable moments” for he and his staff to derive from this weekend in The Bahamas.
Kansas shot just 39% from the field and three-point shooting (5-for-19) remains a concern for the Jayhawks, who entered the game shooting 31.9% through six games. Kansas traditionally ranks among the best shooting teams in the country when it comes to overall field goal percentage, but they’re going need some guys to show that they can consistently knock down perimeter shots as the season wears on. Because even with the firepower on the roster, as UTEP showed Saturday night a zone or “junk” defense can be used to keep the Jayhawks out of the paint.
Some may wonder why there would be so much angst in the aftermath of a victory, but even with UTEP’s status as one of the preseason favorites to win Conference USA beating the Miners isn’t the standard set for Kansas. The Jayhawks certainly have to clean things up and they’ve got time to do that, and remaining non-conference games against Colorado, Florida, New Mexico, Georgetown and San Diego State will test their progress.
The goal for any team with hopes of cutting down the nets is to hit its stride in March, not November. So while there are some areas of concern for Kansas, their uneven weekend in The Bahamas will help them in the long run.
No. 25 Texas A&M made a statement on Turkey Day, as they knocked off No. 10 Gonzaga 62-61 in the semifinals of the Battle 4 Atlantis.
Danuel House led the way with 19 points for the Aggies while Tony Trocha-Morales finished with 14 points as Texas A&M picked up the win despite the fact that they did not score for the final eight minutes of the game.
Billy Kennedy’s club looked the part of an SEC contender, playing tough defense and keeping Gonzaga’s massive and talented front line in check. Perhaps most impressive was that they were able to hang on despite blowing a lead late in the second half, and that they did it with their defense. Gonzaga can score. They have big bodies inside and shooters to surround them, but Domantas Sabonis struggled with foul struggle throughout the game while Kyle Wiltjer did not score in the final 12 minutes.
Kentucky, at this point, is the clear-cut favorite in the SEC, and while Vanderbilt looked really good in Maui this week, A&M looks like they’re going to end up giving the Commodores a run for their money for second-best in the league.
On the other hand, this loss wasn’t a total disaster for the Zags. They had the final possession with a chance to be a good team on a day when Domantas Sabonis was rendered completely ineffective. And, more importantly, point guard Josh Perkins was terrific. He did have a late turnover, but he scored all 15 of his points in the second half as he helped keep the Zags within striking distance.
Texas A&M will play the winner of Syracuse and No. 18 UConn for the title.
GAME OF THE NIGHT: Syracuse vs. No. 18 UConn, 3:30 p.m.
For the first time since the Orange departed the Big East, the two former rivals will square off. Today’s battle will take place at the Battle 4 Atlantis, as the Orange knocked off Charlotte yesterday and the Huskies dispatched Michigan. To get ready for this battle, I’d suggest ready through the conversation @NoEscalators had with himself last night.
THIS ONE’S GOOD, TOO: No. 25 Texas A&M vs. No. 10 Gonzaga, 1:00 p.m.
The other semifinal in the Battle 4 Atlantis could end up being just as good, as the Aggies — who might be the second best team in the SEC — square off with a Gonzaga team that has one of the best front lines in the country. This will be a good test to figure out just how good both of these teams are.
FIVE THINGS TO WATCH FOR
1. No. 20 Wichita State vs. USC, 2:00 p.m.: The Shockers will be without Fred VanVleet for this event. It will also be a chance for us to gauge just how good this 4-0 USC team is.
2. No. 23 Xavier vs. Alabama, 12:00 p.m: The Musketeers should have no problems dispatching Alabama.
3. No. 8 Villanova vs. Stanford, 4:30 p.m.: The Wildcats are, once again, as good as any team in the country. Josh Hart might be the nation’s most underrated star.
4. No. 14 Cal vs. San Diego State, 12:00 a.m.: Tyrone Wallace and company have been awesome this season. They get their first real test of the season tonight.
5. Providence vs. Evansville, 7:00 p.m.: Evansville is one of the nation’s best mid-majors, good enough to give the likes of Wichita State and Northern Iowa a fight in the Missouri Valley. And Providence? They got a kid named Kris Dunn. Heard of him?
THE REST OF THE TOP 25
- No. 3 Michigan State vs. Boston College, 6:30 p.m.
- No. 11 Arizona vs. Santa Clara, 11:30 p.m.
- No. 17 Notre Dame vs. Monmouth, 6:30 p.m.