San Diego State’s defense makes them a contender in the Mountain West

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With the loss of leading scorers Jamaal Franklin and Chase Tapley, there was a question of where San Diego State would find its offense in 2013-14. That was a big reason why the Aztecs were picked to finish fourth in the Mountain West preseason poll, with few expecting Steve Fisher’s team to be capable of challenging defending league champion New Mexico.

In light of the Aztecs’ run to the Wooden Legacy title, which culminated with a 67-59 win over No. 25 Marquette on Sunday night, it’s time to adjust the thinking when it comes to what this team is capable of. Two days after defeating No. 20 Creighton Steve Fisher’s club rode its defense to victory, limiting the Golden Eagles to 39.3% shooting from the field and 0-for-7 from beyond the arc in the second half.

Remove Deonte Burton (13 points on 5-for-7 shooting; 15 points for the game) and Marquette shot just 6-for 21 in the game’s final 20 minutes. Combine that with San Diego State shooting 50% from the field, and it’s quite simple to see why the Aztecs are headed home with the title. The offense is still a work in progress, with senior guard Xavier Thames (career-high 29 points) and versatile sophomore wing Winston Shepard III (eight points, all in the second half) being their best playmakers. But with the amount of length and athleticism that San Diego State possesses, they’re more than capable of making up for those issues with a high-level performance on the defensive end of the floor.

And given some of those pieces, San Diego State should be able to work towards being a more efficient offensive team. Tulane transfer Josh Davis hasn’t produced to the level that many expected when he arrived on campus but he’s been a factor on the boards, averaging 8.0 rebounds per game entering Sunday’s action and grabbing 11 in the win over Marquette. There’s also J.J. O’Brien, who’s dealing with an injured right hand, and underclassmen such as Dakarai Allen (eight points) and Matt Shrigley (five points) who will also be called upon throughout the course of the season.

Rome wasn’t build in a day, and the same can be said of the San Diego State offense. But as they work to get better on that end, it’s their defense that makes them a serious contender to win the Mountain West. Prior to Sunday’s action the Aztecs led the Mountain West in both adjusted defensive efficiency (95.1, per kenpom.com) and turnover percentage, forcing opponents into a turnover in nearly 21% of their possessions. And it isn’t as if they’ve compiled these numbers against poor opposition either, as San Diego State’s already played games against Arizona, Creighton and Marquette.

Prior to the start of the season few expected San Diego State to be a serious contender to win the Mountain West, expecting this to be a season of transition. But in one weekend the Aztecs showed that they will be heard from in 2013-14, regardless of how much production they have to replace.

Oklahoma State dismisses two players

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STILLWATER, Okla. (AP) — Oklahoma State has dismissed junior Davon Dillard and freshman Zack Dawson from the team for failing to meet unspecified standards set by the program.

Coach Mike Boynton says he could not “make compromises in our core values when it comes to individual players.” Dillard and Dawson were suspended before the season for reasons the school has not disclosed. Dawson missed one game and Dillard missed the first five.

Oklahoma State (7-2) faces No. 19 Florida State (9-0) in Sunrise, Florida, on Saturday.

UCLA basketball moving on past Ball family era

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LOS ANGELES (AP) — The Ball family was one and done at UCLA. However, the ramifications of doing business with Lonzo, LiAngelo, LaMelo and father LaVar could have a lasting impact on the program.

LiAngelo Ball — the younger brother of Lakers rookie guard Lonzo Ball — was pulled out of school by LaVar months after the shoplifting scandal in China and signed with the professional team Vytautas Prienai in Lithuania. LaMelo Ball, the youngest of the three brothers still in high school, signed with the same team thus giving up his eligibility to play in college.

LaMelo had committed to play for UCLA as did his two older brothers. Lonzo is the only one who played in a UCLA uniform and he was an All-America as a freshman.

“Well, I really had one,” coach Steve Alford said of the Ball era. “Lonzo, obviously, was terrific. The time I coached Lonzo was incredible. Very respectful young man. Somebody that didn’t miss class. On court, off court was incredible. Became a good leader by the time it was over with. Knew what you’d get out of him. Made people better. Knew he was one-and-done the day he stepped on campus and never acted that way. You didn’t see entitlement that sometimes you see in kids like that. He was a complete joy to coach.”

No one knew the Ball family impact in Pauley would be so short-lived. LiAngelo Ball worked out with his teammates in the summer and for five weeks of practice but never played in a game because of the indefinite suspension over the shoplifting that caused an international incident that went all the way to President Trump.

LaVar pulled him out of UCLA recently because he wanted him to play basketball. LiAngelo and his teammates — Jalen Hill and Cody Riley — were all serving indefinite suspensions. Alford believes that could be resolved soon, whether Hill and Riley could rejoin the team this season or not.

“It’s not done, but we’ve heard the process is nearing an end,” Alford said Thursday. “My hope is we’ll hear something if not the end of this week by early next week.”

The UCLA Office of Student Conduct has done the review and deciphering that code will determine the players’ fates. Alford said he wasn’t involved in the interview process as part of that review and didn’t have input on what decision is made. Once the decision is relayed, he’ll have input in how things are handled moving forward.

“It’s just one more of those distractions we get behind us,” Alford said. “The guys in the locker room have had nothing to do with any of it … This young team has had to deal with a lot and yet they’re 7-2 and playing well.”

Because of NCAA recruiting rules, Alford wasn’t able to talk about LaMelo Ball and the fact he no longer will play for the Bruins.

“It’s just the way it is,” Alford said. “It’s something that happened. It’s the 2019-2020 class. There’s all kinds of time. Right now, all of our attention is finishing the ’18 class. … Even trying to project what the 2019 class is going to look like is hard for a lot of reasons. One, the one-and-done. And two, on the table and looks like something is going to pass relatively soon, eliminate one-and-dones. … The 2019 class is two years out from playing here, so that gives us plenty of time.”

LiAngelo wasn’t at UCLA long enough to have an impact or even show up in career statistics.

“When Gelo was here, he was terrific,” Alford said. “Through the summer, through his academics and through coaching him on the court. He was tremendous. He was late one time, and he came in in frantic, apologizing and took his responsibility of it. Those are things you appreciate as a coach. I have no issues that way. Obviously, with Gelo and Melo, just wishing them the very best of luck. I hope things really work out well for them. Just like Lonzo, I hope they have terrific careers.”

Asked what he knew about the Baltic League, Alford said: “I have no idea about the Baltic League or where that city is or anything about it.”

GG Goloman of the Bruins, who is from Hungary and played on its national team over the summer, knows a thing or two about professional basketball overseas.

“It’s a little bit similar,” Goloman said of Hungary. “It’s a good league. I’m not sure about the team they went to. They should be OK. I’m not sure what the team is like, though.”

Hill and Riley are already finished with their finals, but some UCLA players won’t be done until Friday. The Bruins host No. 25 Cincinnati on Saturday in a nationally televised game. They could have more depth by the time Pac-12 Conference play starts in January. Or they could continue with a short bench.

“It would be nice to know,” Goloman said. “The past couple of months have been up in the air. We don’t really know what’s going on. It will definitely be nice to know when they’ll be back.”

But what’s known is none of the Ball brothers will be back.

CBT Podcast: Creighton’s Greg McDermott, plus a preview of the weekend

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Rob Dauster was joined on Thursday by Creighton head coach Greg McDermott to discuss, among other things, how his philosophy as a head coach has changed since he made it to Omaha from Northern Iowa as well as what it’s like being an NBA dad with a program of his own to run. We also attempted to re-cast White Men Can’t Jump. The second half of the podcast, Rob is joined by Sam Vecenie of The Athletic and the Game Theory Podcast to roll through the weekend’s games and betting lines.

College Basketball Futures Watch Part III: Syracuse through Xavier

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Over the course of the next three days, we at College Basketball Talk will be cruising through the best, the most surprising and the most disappointing teams in college basketball.

As of today, how should we view the 45 most interesting teams in the country based on preseason expectation? 

Are we more confident in them? Less confident? Still unsure?

We used five different labels here to help define how we feel about each of the 45 teams mentioned:

  • Bet The Mortgage
  • Raise
  • Check
  • Fold
  • Get Your Stuff And Go Home

Today, we go through everyone from Syracuse to Xavier.

Let’s get into it.

SYRACUSE: Check

I thought Syracuse was going to be awful this year. They are decidedly not awful … but I’m not quite sure if they are good, at least not yet anyway. Matthew Moyer has been a pleasant surprise, as has Oshae Brissett, but are we sure their centers are any good? Can Tyus Battle actually make his teammates better? I’m not sure. So I’m saying let’s wait and see what happens. (Rob Dauster)

TCU: Raise

The Horned Frogs are barreling toward conference play with an undefeated record and a juggernaut offense. Jamie Dixon has transformed his alma mater into a Big 12 contender in just year two on the strength of an offense that makes 43.7 percent of its threes and 58.9 percent of its twos. The defense isn’t elite, but it may be good enough to make TCU a true threat to Kansas in the Big 12. (Travis Hines)

TENNESSEE: Check

I was high on this Tennessee team entering the year, and they’ve made me look smart for saying they could push for an NCAA tournament berth. Grant Williams is a problem, but the rest of the guys on this roster are talented try-hards. Put another way, I think that the Vols are punching above their weight right now, and while I think the way they play works for them – they are going to out-effort and out-tough just about everyone – the reality is that they’re at something of a talent deficit. They’re a good team, but at No. 20 in the AP Poll, they’re right at their ceiling. (RD)

TEXAS: Check

The loss to Michigan at home last night was bad, but that loss also came without Andrew Jones on the floor. He’s their most important piece offensively. Until he’s back in the lineup, it’s really hard to get a full sense of what this team is moving forward. I was very high on them at the start of the year, but Mo Bamba has not quite had the impact I expected him to have defensively. We’ll see. (RD)

Tyler Davis (Andy Lyons/Getty Images)

TEXAS A&M: Raise

The Aggies slipped up against a wounded Arizona team last week, but there’s a lot to like with Billy Kennedy’s team. The defense is among the best in the country with Robert Williams and Tyler Davis patrolling the paint, and the offense is steady as well. (TH)

TEXAS TECH: Fold

Texas Tech blasted Northwestern last month by 36 points, but lost to Seton Hall and needed OT to beat a solid Nevada team at home. Chris Beard has his team playing a lot of defense, but they’re not making a lot of shots. The defense should translate against a tougher schedule, but getting more buckets seems unlikely. (TH)

UCLA: Check

I certainly wouldn’t say that UCLA won’t be an NCAA tournament team; they should be. But this season was thrown for a loop from the start thanks to some “sticky fingers” in China, and that may have upset the Bruins’ routine during the first month. Now that a personnel move has been made, maybe Steve Alford’s team can use this time to refocus as they prepare for conference play. There’s some good young talent, most notably Jaylen Hands and Kris Wilkes, and Aaron Holiday and Thomas Welsh are two experienced options who can earn all-conference honors at season’s end. This isn’t a “fold” or “run away before you blow your mortgage payment” situation, but it’s isn’t one where you throw more money into the pot or go all-in, either. (RJ)

UCONN: Get Your Stuff And Go Home

This is rough to say as someone that grew up a UConn fan, but at this point there are no more excuses for Kevin Ollie and the Connecticut program. They’re just not good enough. If the 35-point blowout against Arkansas wasn’t enough of a sign, it was struggling to overtime wins against 1-10 Columbia and Monmouth at home. It’s hard to think that less than four years ago, the Huskies were in the process of winning their second national title in four years. (RD)

USC: Check, but I’m ready to fold

The reason why I’d check when it comes to the Trojans is the sheer amount of talent on the roster. Jordan McLaughlin, Chimezie Metu, Bennie Boatwright, Elijah Stewart, etc. Andy Enfield has a host of options who can get the job done offensively, making USC a tough team for opponents to defend. That being said, if anything we’ve learned just how important DeAnthony Melton is. On a roster filled with guys who seemingly fill one particular role, Melton was the guy who served as the “mixing agent” on both ends. He can play with or without the ball in his hands on offense, and defensively he can take on a variety of assignments as well. When (or if) he returns USC becomes a better team immediately, but with there being no set time frame who knows if Melton will suit up. And if he were to be ruled out for the rest of the season as the school looks to stay in the NCAA’s good graces, that would be the time to get out. (RJ)

VILLANOVA: Bet The Mortgage

They’re the best team in the country, particularly is Mikal Bridges is going to continue to be a go-to scorer for them. If he’s a guy that can get Jay Wright 17-19 points a night, Villanova is scary. The one place where I think they can be taken advantage of is up front. I’m not totally sold on Omari Spellman as a defender yet, and I don’t think that they’ve been fully-tested with the schedule they’ve played. (RD)

VIRGINIA: Raise

I’ll take the L on this one. I did not see a way for the Cavaliers to be able to continue to be as good as they’ve been defensively with the number of young guys on this roster, and I did not think that Kyle Guy was ready to be a go-to scorer in the ACC just yet. I was wrong. KenPom, who has them ranked 3rd nationally, is way too high on this group – I think Virginia is the new Wisconsin, where there’s something weird about the formula that makes them pop in his metric – but they might be better than where they are sitting in both polls (16th). Wa-Hoo-Wa. (RD)

Kyle Guy (Chet Strange/Getty Images)

VIRGINIA TECH: Check

It’s hard to tell if Virginia Tech is legitimate since their schedule has been so weak. Sporting the No. 340 non-conference strength of schedule in the country, the Hokies have only played one true road game, an unimpressive OT win over Ole Miss. This team might be good, but it’s hard to tell since the schedule is so bad. (SP)

WEST VIRGINIA: Raise

The Mountaineers have come a long way since getting worked by Texas A&M in their season opener. West Virginia has won nine-straight since that drubbing, including a victory over Virginia. Press Virginia has been as good as ever with a 27.9 percent defensive turnover percentage. The question will be if the offense can shoot it well enough to not depend solely on those takeaways. (TH)

WICHITA STATE: Bet The Mortgage

The Shockers are really, really good. A one-point loss to Notre Dame is the only thing keeping them from a clean sheet, and they look to have a team as capable as any Gregg Marshall has fielded in Wichita. Now in the AAC, the Shockers are going to be more battle-tested then ever and should be in line for a high seed, making them a threat to return to the Final Four – and maybe even win the whole thing. (TH)

WISCONSIN: Fold

I just don’t think it’s going to happen for the Badgers this year. They have too many young guards and not enough reliable shooting or playmaking around Ethan Happ. The biggest issue that the Badgers now face is that they did not do anything in the non-conference and now enter the Big Ten season, where the conference as a whole is down. Forget finishing top four in the league, will they be able to rally like they did in 2016 and make the NCAA tournament? (RD)

XAVIER: Bet The Mortgage

Besides for a loss against red-hot Arizona State, the Musketeers are 9-0 with night double-digit wins this season. With a star in senior Trevon Bluiett and a rotation that goes nine deep, Xavier has capable players at every position and a ton of March experience from last season’s Elite Eight run. (SP)

Weekend Preview: Oklahoma-Wichita State, North Carolina-Tennessee

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THE WEEKEND SHOWDOWNS

*(NOTE: Lines are not posted for Saturday or Sunday games as of publication. Spreads referenced are via Kenpom.com)

No. 7 NORTH CAROLINA (-1) at No. 20 TENNESSEE, Sun. 3:00 p.m.

The game of the weekend, as the Vols host the Tar Heels in a rematch of what was a thrilling game at the Dean Dome last season. This one will be decidedly different, as UNC is missing the majority of last season’s roster. As it would happen, Luke Maye has grown into one of the best players in college basketball – seriously – while Joel Berry II is humming along as one of the nation’s best point guards. To me, the bigger question here is going to be the Vols. Tennessee is tough, they’re scrappy, they defend like hell. They are not a fun team to play against, and Roy Williams will certainly have his hands full.

The name to know for Tennessee is Grant Williams, an undersized four-man that will hopefully get matched up against Maye is one of the most fun individual matchups of the weekend.

  • PREDICTION: I think North Carolina gets the win here, but given the size of the UNC fan base, I would not be surprised to see this line move more towards the Heels. If that’s the case, Tennessee might end up being the better bet. For now, it’s UNC (-1)

OKLAHOMA at No. 3 WICHITA STATE (-9), Sat. 4:00 p.m.

The best individual matchup of the weekend will be between Landry Shamet and Trae Young. Young looks like arguably the best point guard in college basketball – and potentially the National Player of the Year – while Shamet is the first opponent that Young will face with this kind of size and length; Shamet is 6-foot-5. Wichita State’s defense has not been as good as it has been in past years, but Gregg Marshall knows how to scheme. This will also be the first true road game in a rough environment that Young has experienced as a collegian.

  • PREDICTION: Nine points is a lot of points, but I think that the Shockers will cover that. I also expect the line to be less when it comes out. Wichita State (-9)

VIRGINIA TECH at No. 8 KENTUCKY (-6), Sat. 2:00 p.m.

The most important game of the weekend in the sense that we are going to get a better sense of just how good both of these teams are. Virginia Tech has been putting up some impressive shooting and scoring numbers, but they haven’t really played anyone of note yet this season. Kentucky is, in theory, a terrific defensive team, but the only test they’ve had this year is a Kansas team that was worked at home by Arizona State. I think both of these teams are really good. We’ll find out how correct those thoughts are on Saturday.

  • PREDICTION: I like Virginia Tech plus the points. I elaborated on why I do on the podcast. Listen to it hereVirginia Tech (+6)

No. 25 CINCINNATI (-3) at UCLA, Sat. 3:30 p.m.

This is a game that both of these teams really, really need to win. UCLA’s season has been something close to a disaster through the first month. It’s not quite as bad as, say, Wisconsin or UConn, but it is clear that this is not the Bruin team we saw last season. The Bearcats, on the other hand, lost to both Xavier and Florida in the last two weeks. They need to start adding to their non-conference résumé and should not have an issue doing so against a team that should not be able to handle their toughness.

  • PREDICTION: I think the Bearcat bigs are too physical for UCLA in this game. Cincinnati (-3)

WHAT ELSE IS THERE TO WATCH?

  • BUTLER vs. No. 17 PURDUE (-7), Sat. 12:00 p.m.: I think Purdue is really, really good, and while I do have faith that LaVall Jordan will get this thing figured out for Butler, this is not the matchup for it. Purdue (-7)
  • SYRACUSE (-1) at GEORGETOWN, Sat. 12:30 p.m.: I don’t know if Syracuse is all that good. I don’t think Georgetown is good at all. I also don’t think Georgetown has much, if any, home court advantage at the Verizon Center. Their undefeated record is a mirage. Syracuse (-1)
  • DAVIDSON at No. 16 VIRGINIA (-14), Sat. 2:00 p.m.: The way to beat Virginia’s Pack-Line defense is to make tough jumpers over the top of it. Davidson, if nothing, can shoot the laces off the ball. Davidson (+14)
  • INDIANA vs. No. 18 NOTRE DAME (-9), Sat. 2:30 p.m.: As good as I think Notre Dame is, I think the Hoosiers will keep this one close. I like the way Archie Miller’s team is playing. There’s a scrappiness to them, and I think they matchup as well as you can with the Irish. Indiana (+9)
  • No. 22 FLORIDA (-4) vs. CLEMSON, Sat. 4:30 p.m.: This is technically a neutral court game, but it is being played in Florida. The Gators also seemed to answer some of their issues last weekend, and I’m not convinced Clemson is actually good. Florida (+4)
  • No. 13 KANSAS (-9) at NEBRASKA, Sat. 8:00 p.m.: Nebraska is tougher than you realize at home. They put 15,000 fans in seats, and you know those fans will be well-lubricated with the Jayhawks in town. Timmy Miles gets it done. Nebraska (+9)

THE REST OF THE WEEKEND’S ACTION

Louisville vs. Memphis, Sat. 12:00 p.m.
Middle Tennessee State vs. Auburn, Sat. 6:00 p.m.
No. 23 Arizona at New Mexico, Sat. 8:00 p.m.
Utah at BYU, Sat. 11:00 p.m.
Vanderbilt at No. 5 Arizona State, Sun. 2:00 p.m.
No. 2 Michigan State vs. Oakland, Sat. 2:00 p.m.
No. 6 Miami at George Washington, Sat. 12:00 p.m.
No. 15 Seton Hall at Rutgers, Sat. 12:00 p.m.
East Tennessee State at No. 10 Xavier, Sat. 2:00 p.m.
Oklahoma State at No. 19 Florida State, Sat. 2:00 p.m.