PLAYER OF THE WEEK: Xavier Thames, San Diego State
This was supposed to be a down year for San Diego State. This was supposed to be their rebuilding season, the in-between season where Winston Shepard and Dakarai Allen mature into stars while the Aztecs try to learn how to survive the loss of Jamaal Franklin and Chase Tapley. And while that is still very much the case with this group, this week proved that it’s anything-but a rebuilding year for the Aztecs, as they knocked off Charleston, Creighton and Marquette to take home the title in the Wooden Legacy.
The best player on the floor for Steve Fisher’s club was senior guard Xavier Thames, who looks like he’s ready to slide into that starring role. Thames averaged 22.0 points in the three wins, shooting 18-for-32 from the floor and 11-for-15 from three. In the wins over the Bluejays and the Golden Eagles, Thames had 26 and 29 points, respectively.
They were good, too
- Ron Baker, Wichita State: Baker has been sensational through the first months of the season, and that was no different this past week as he averaged 22.0 points, 5.0 boards and 2.3 steals in wins over DePaul, BYU and at Saint Louis.
- Tyler Ennis, Syracuse: C.J. Fair and Jerami Grant will get the attention, but Ennis was awesome in Maui. He averaged 17.0 points, 6.0 assists and 4.0 steals while turning the ball over just twice in 109 minutes.
- Chad Frazier, UAB: The Blazers have been one of the biggest surprises in the country this season, and Frazier has been their best player. He averaged 21.0 points and 4.5 assists in wins over Florida A&M and UNC.
- Lamar Patterson, Pitt: We got to see Patterson’s full arsenal this week: 21.7 points, 4.7 boards, 5.3 assists, 4.0 steals, 8-for-17 threes.
- Sidney Sanders Jr., Fairleigh Dickinson: The Knights shocked both Rutgers and Seton Hall on the road this week, and it was Sanders that did the majority of the work. He averaged 22.5 points, 9.5 assists, 5.5 boards and 2.0 steals in the two wins.
TEAM OF THE WEEK: Villanova Wildcats
Villanova was expected to be an improved team this season, but I’m not sure anyone expected the kind of start that the Wildcats have gotten off to. After rolling through Kansas and Iowa in the Battle 4 Atlantis, Villanova is now 7-0 on the season and ranked in the top 15.
The most impressive part about this start is that their best player, Ryan Arcidiacono has yet to really hit his rhythm. He hit the game-winner against Kansas, but he did not play well in that game. Jay Wright has gotten back to his roots with this team: deep, talented back courts surrounded by physical, blue-collar front court guys. This is a tough group with enough talent that they just might be the best team in the wide-open Big East.
They were good, too
- Arizona: The Wildcats won the Preseason NIT, knocking off Duke in the title game on Friday.
- Dayton: The Flyers beat Gonzaga and Cal out in Maui this week, with their only loss coming by a single point to Baylor in a game that Dayton led for much of the second half.
- Memphis: The Tigers earned themselves a massive victory by knocking off Oklahoma State in the finals of the Old Spice Classic.
- San Diego State: The Aztecs won the Wooden Legacy by picking up wins over both Marquette and Creighton.
- Syracuse: The Orange have looked like the best team in the ACC through the first month of the season, and taking home a title in Maui isn’t going to change that perspective.
- Wichita State: The Shockers notched three nice wins this week, including beating BYU in the finals of the Legends Classic and knocking off Saint Louis on the road.
With their top three scorers from last season all deciding to declare for the NBA Draft, Florida State was facing the possibility of having to rebuild their backcourt ahead of the 2016-17 season. However two of those three have decided to return to Tallahassee, with rising junior Xavier Rathan-Mayes announcing on Monday that he will be back in school.
Rathan-Mayes joins rising sophomore Dwayne Bacon in returning to play another season for head coach Leonard Hamilton, with Malik Beasley hiring representation and remaining in the draft.
Rathan-Mayes had more scoring help last season and as a result was able to concentrate more on the distribution aspects of the point guard position, as he averaged 11.8 points and 4.4 assists per contest. With the return of Rathan-Mayes and Bacon, Florida State will have two of its top three scorers from last season back on campus.
The Seminoles did lose some veteran players, most notably guard Devon Bookert and center Boris Bojanovsky, but the returnees and a recruiting class led by McDonald’s All-American forward Jonathan Isaac means that they won’t lack for options next season.
After receiving commitments from former Purdue/Houston guard Ronnie Johnson and former Presbyterian forward DeSean Murray, Auburn head coach Bruce Pearl continued to load up on the transfer market Monday. Forward LaRon Smith, who was named MEAC Defensive Player of the Year at Bethune-Cookman last season, announced that he will use his final season of eligibility at the SEC program.
Like Smith, Johnson will also be eligible to compete immediately for the Tigers while Murray will have to sit out next season before having two years of eligibility remaining.
The 6-foot-8 Smith played two seasons at Georgia State before transferring to Bethune-Cookman, where he averaged 7.1 points, 6.9 rebounds and 3.0 blocks per contest in 2015-16. Smith played just over 25 minutes per game for the Wildcats, shooting 58.5 percent from the field.
Smith reached double figures in scoring in four of the Wildcats’ final seven games, including a 20-point, 11-rebound, three-block outing in an overtime win over North Carolina A&T. He joins a front court in need of depth following the departures of the likes of Cinmeon Bowers and Tyler Harris, with Horace Spencer, Trayvon Reed and incoming freshman Anfernee McLemore also competing for minutes in 2016-17.
With a five-member recruiting class set to arrive on campus this summer, SMU added a talented transfer Monday afternoon. Jimmy Whitt, who played his freshman season at Arkansas, committed to join Larry Brown’s program. Whitt, a 6-foot-4 guard from Columbia, Missouri, will have three seasons of eligibility remaining after sitting out the 2016-17 campaign.
As a freshman at Arkansas, Whitt averaged 6.1 points and 1.7 rebounds in just over 17 minutes of action per game. He reached double figures in scoring nine time, with the high being a 15-point outing in a blowout win over Missouri in mid-January. Whitt produced a stretch of four consecutive games in double figures during non-conference play, but he struggled to maintain that consistency against SEC competition.
At SMU he’ll join a perimeter rotation that will lose rising senior Sterling Brown following the 2016-17 season. Among those who will have eligibility remaining when Whitt becomes eligible are Ben Emelogu, Shake Milton, Jarrey Foster and incoming freshmen Tom Wilson and Dashawn McDowell.
GREELEY, Colo. (AP) Jeff Linder is the new basketball coach at Northern Colorado. He spent the last six seasons at Boise State, where he was associate head coach for the Broncos since 2013-14.
Linder replaces B.J. Hill, who was fired last month amid an NCAA investigation into allegations of violations in the program.
University President Kay Norton and Athletic Director Darren Dunn announced Linder’s hiring Sunday.
Linder played high school ball in Lafayette, Colorado, and college ball at Mesa State and Western Colorado State. He began his coaching career under Colorado head coach Ricardo Patton.
In a statement, Linder said, “I look forward to returning home to the state of Colorado and continuing to build this program into something everyone can be proud of.”
Hill was 86-98 in six seasons at UNC.
STORRS, Conn. (AP) Azura Stevens, the leading scorer and rebounder for Duke, has decided to transfer to UConn.
The 6-foot-6 sophomore center from Raleigh, North Carolina will sit out next season and will have two years of eligibility remaining when the 2017-18 season begins the school announced Saturday.
Stevens averaged 18.9 points and 9.6 rebounds a game and was named to the ACC’s all-conference first team.
She was second in the league both scoring and rebounding.
UConn coach Geno Auriemma said Saturday that he normally doesn’t get involved in transfer situations, but Stevens convinced him that Storrs would be the right place for her going forward.