UC Santa Barbara, Alan Williams beat California

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Credit Mike Montgomery and Cal for heading to southern California to play at UC Santa Barbara. It’s not too often that a program from a BCS conference travels to play at the gym of a mid-major team, but the Golden Bears did that tonight.

Montgomery probably regrets it as Cal lost to UCSB, 72-65.

While Cal may learn from this game and benefit from it in the long run, in the short term it’s a loss — their third loss in the past four games. Tonight wasn’t about Cal, though. It was about the Gauchos — they announced themselves to the nation as a legit team that should not be overlooked.

The best player on the floor was UC Santa Barbara junior forward Alan Williams. If you hadn’t heard of Williams’ name before, then remember it now. Williams tore up the Cal defense for 24 points on 9-15 shooting from the field, to go along with 11 rebounds. For the season, Williams is now averaging 26.8 points and 11 rebounds per game — not too shabby.

Despite owning just a 4-3 record after their win over California, UC Santa Barbara is better than their record may indicate. They suffered back to back close losses to Utah State and Colorado, but were without the services of Williams during these games as he was sidelined with back spasms.

After going 11-20 just a season ago, the Gauchos have turned things around in a big way as they are the team to beat in the Big West, although UC Irvine probably has something to say about that. Owning solid wins over UNLV and Cal, plus competitive losses against Utah State, Colorado, and UCLA, it’s safe to say UC Santa Barbara is a team to pay close attention to over the course of the season.

The Gauchos don’t play again until December 15th when they travel farther south to meet San Diego, which will be another good test. UCSB has really challenged themselves in the non-conference portion of their schedule, and that will pay dividends when they enter Big West play in January.

Knee injury sidelines Illinois forward Leron Black

Josh Hart, Leron Black
Associated Press
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Illinois will be shorthanded in its front court for the time being, as during the team’s media day Thursday head coach John Groce announced that sophomore forward Leron Black is out due to injury.

Black will undergo surgery Friday to repair a meniscus tear in his knee, and he’s expected to miss anywhere from four to six weeks. A return after four weeks would have Black back on the court just before the Fighting Illini open their season November 13 against North Florida. Any longer and the Memphis native would wind up missing some game action.

Black averaged 5.0 points and 4.3 rebounds in just under 15 minutes of action per game as a freshman. He’s one of the players expected to contribute in the front court for the Fighting Illini, who lost their best interior defender and second-leading rebounder in Nnanna Egwu at the end of last season (guard Rayvonte Rice, who led the team in rebounding, is also gone).

In addition to Black and junior Maverick Morgan, Illinois adds redshirt freshman Michael Finke and grad student Mike Thorne Jr. (via Charlotte) to their front court rotation.

Coach Hamilton likes mix on Florida State basketball roster

ACC Basketball Tournament: Florida State v North Carolina
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TALLAHASSEE, Fla. (AP) Florida State is the only team in the Atlantic Coast Conference that returns all five of its starters from last season.

For most teams that would be cause for celebration. For coach Leonard Hamilton it means he is hoping the struggles of the past two seasons have been valuable experience.

The Seminoles had their first practice on Wednesday as they are looking to bounce back from a season in which they went 17-16 and didn’t play in a postseason tournament for the first time in 10 years.

“We have five starters returning from a team that won 17 games. We have guys that have been around, who know their shortcomings and can pass on their wisdom to the younger players,” Hamilton said.

With an experienced roster and a highly regarded recruiting class, Hamilton is hoping to lead the Seminoles back to the NCAA Tournament for the first time since 2012, which is also the year they won the ACC Tournament.

Jarquez Smith, the leading returning scorer from last season, said the open gyms before the start of practice have been extremely competitive as the incoming recruiting class has tried to assert itself early.

“We’ve been going at each other’s neck and it has gotten very competitive,” Smith said. “Everyone is fighting for their position because the guys coming off the bench are just as athletic as who is on the court.”

The newcomers feature Dwayne Bacon (a McDonald’s All-American selection), Terance Mann (the Gatorade Player of the Year in New Hampshire) and Malik Beasley (the Georgia 1A Player of the Year). There’s also Chris Koumadje, who at 7-foot-4 will be the tallest player in school history, and Benji Bell, who helped lead Northwest Florida State to the JUCO National Title.

“This is a very confident and focused group of inexperienced players,” Hamilton said. “They want to make something special happen but aren’t taking anything for granted.”

Two things that Hamilton will look to work on during preseason practices is defense and figuring out his rotation. The Seminoles suffered from a lack of depth last season but this year he could have a roster that goes 10 deep and allows him to go to more of a full-court pressing style of defense.

Xavier Rahan-Mayes led the team in scoring last season, averaging 14.9 points en route to becoming the first freshman in ACC history to score 30 or more points three times. The one thing he said he noticed in preseason practices were that everyone played off each other’s strengths.

Florida State’s first exhibition game is Nov. 2 against Lynn University before opening the season on Nov. 15 against Nicholls State.

“I think we have a pretty good combination of experience and an influx of new players. Any time you have that type of scenario you appreciate it,” Hamilton said. “It looks like we have it moving in the right direction. We’ve had a good offseason and regrouped.”