No. 2 Arizona poised to grab top spot after holding off UNLV

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With No. 1 Michigan State suffering a surprising home loss to North Carolina on Wednesday night, there were many Arizona fans who looked towards Saturday’s contest against UNLV with excitement. The renewal of a series that delivered some great moments during the time when Jerry Tarkanian and Lute Olson roamed the sidelines was something folks looked forward to. But the fact that a win would move the Wildcats to the top of the national polls for the first time in nearly a decade was what fired up the fan base.

Despite an off night from freshman Aaron Gordon (2-for-10, four points) four other Wildcats reached double figures and a fifth, freshman Rondae Hollis-Jefferson, flirted with a double-double as Arizona beat the Runnin’Rebels 63-58. Brandon Ashley and T.J. McConnell scored 13 points apiece to lead the way, with the point guard adding seven rebounds and six assists. However, even in victory there are concerns for a team that come Monday should see its name atop the major polls.

There were questions regarding who the shooters would be for Arizona, and Saturday’s game didn’t provide a positive answer. As a team the Wildcats shot 3-for-16 from beyond the arc, and one possible answer (Gabe York) saw just six minutes of action. In fact, head coach Sean Miller went with a six-man rotation for much of Saturday’s contest with Hollis-Jefferson (nine points, seven rebounds and six assists in 28 minutes) being the sixth man. Clearly that nucleus is talented enough to win a lot of games, but who within that group can consistently make perimeter shots?

Nick Johnson was responsible for nine of Arizona’s 16 three-point attempts but he made just two, and McConnell missed both of his shots. That puts the onus on a reserve like York to do what it takes to earn more playing time in games of this magnitude, with UNLV having the athletes needed to make things difficult for Arizona. Bryce Dejean-Jones led three Runnin’ Rebels in double figures with 16 points, and as a team UNLV shot 46% from the field. But Arizona’s rebounding (41-29 edge, and they rebounded 42.9% of their missed shots) and ability to score in the paint (44-22 margin) proved to be too much to overcome.

The question: will that six-man rotation be enough for Arizona as the season wears on, especially when facing some of the top teams in the Pac-12 (the NCAA tournament as well)? The Wildcats may have been able to do enough to hold off UNLV, but at some point down the line someone else’s name will be called. And how prepared that player is to contribute could make the difference between a good season and a special one.

Syracuse receives mixed news on sanctions appeals

Jim Boeheim
Associated Press
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Wednesday the NCAA made its ruling on two appeals of sanctions made by Syracuse University, with the news being mixed for the men’s basketball program.

On the positive side the NCAA ruled that Syracuse will be docked two scholarships per season for the next four years, as opposed to the original ruling of three. As a result Jim Boeheim’s program only has to account for the loss of eight total scholarships, meaning that they’ll have 11 to fill in each of the next four seasons as opposed to ten.

One scholarship may not seem like a big deal, but in a sport where you only get 13 (when not dealing with sanctions) getting that grant-in-aid back really helps from a recruiting standpoint.

As for the negatives, they both concern Boeheim. Not only has there yet to be a ruling on Boeheim’s appeal of his nine-game suspension that goes into effect when ACC play begins in January (that appeal is being heard separately), but the appeal to reinstate the wins that were vacated as part of the sanctions was denied. As a result Boeheim officially has 868 wins instead of 969 (not counting today’s game against Charlotte).

And with Mike Hopkins set to take over as head coach in 2018, the denial means that college basketball will have to wait quite some time before anyone threatens to join Duke’s Mike Krzyzewski in the 1,000 wins club.

While not having the wins officially reinstated does hurt, getting a scholarship back for each of the next four seasons is a bigger deal when it comes to the long-term health of the Syracuse program. Also of great importance will be the ruling regarding Boeheim’s suspension, as a suspended coach is not allowed to have any contact with his players or coaching staff while serving the penalty.

And with the original ruling due to take up half of Syracuse’s league slate, not having Boeheim (or the chance to speak with him) is a big deal when it comes to this current team.

St. John’s forward Kassoum Yakwe cleared by NCAA

Chris Mullin
AP Photo/Rick Bowmer
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St. John’s forward Kassoum Yakwe has been cleared by the NCAA to play this season and will be eligible immediately, the school announced on Wednesday.

Yakwe is a 6-foot-8 forward that reclassified and enrolled at St. John’s this fall. He attended the same high school as Kansas forward Cheick Diallo, who was also cleared by the NCAA to play today.

St. John’s played in the Maui Invitational this week, and Yakwe did not take part. His first game with the Johnnies will be on Dec. 2nd against Fordham if the program plans to play his this season.

The question that must be asked, however, is whether or not he will suit up or simply redshirt. The Johnnies are in the midst of a serious rebuild and will be without their other elite recruit this season, Marcus Lovett. Lovett was ruled a partial qualifier. Would it make sense to burn a year of eligibility on what make amount to a wasted season, or will head coach Chris Mullin opt to save that year for down the road?