Assertiveness, experience paying off for Arizona’s Brandon Ashley

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Last season Arizona forward Brandon Ashley was part of a trio of freshmen who arrived in Tucson amidst much fanfare. Joined by Grant Jerrett and Kaleb Tarczewski, the McDonald’s All-American was expected to hit the ground running in his debut campaign. While that didn’t happen Ashley was a productive member of a team that reached the Sweet 16, posting averages of 7.5 points and 5.3 rebounds per game.

With a year of experience under his belt and a bigger role, Ashley’s made significant strides in all aspects of his game. Entering Wednesday night’s game against New Mexico State he was averaging 12.0 points and 6.7 rebounds per game, reaching double figures in seven of the top-ranked Wildcats’ nine games. Ashley reached double figures for the eighth time in ten games in Arizona’s 74-48 win over the Aggies, tallying 15 points and six rebounds.

Ashley scored ten of those points in the first 20 minutes, as the Wildcats struggled until the latter stages of the half to gain some separation against the preseason favorites to win the WAC. He’s been more assertive offensively, and the end result has been improved scoring opportunities both inside and out. For as good as this athletic group of Wildcats has the potential to be defensively there’s still some work to do offensively, which makes Ashley’s start to this season a key development moving forward.

Also reaching double figures were Tarczewski (14 points, five rebounds) and freshmen Aaron Gordon (11 points) and Rondae Hollis-Jefferson (12 points, eight rebounds and three assists), with Hollis-Jefferson displaying his versatility on both ends of the floor. There isn’t going to be one player asked to carry the full scoring load for Arizona and that’s fine, with their balance being a byproduct of how talented the players in Sean Miller’s rotation are.

With that being the case the question is who will step up and becomes the players Arizona can expect to receive scoring from on a consistent basis. Through ten games it’s become rather apparent that Brandon Ashley’s taken that next step, but that development will be put to the test on Saturday when Arizona visits Michigan. Unlike New Mexico State the Wolverines have both the size and the athleticism to challenge the Wildcat big men, with the Aggies’ interior players struggling to keep up in the second half on Wednesday night.

Arizona’s already won in one hostile environment, as they held off San Diego State last month, and if they’re to add another quality road victory to their resume the Wildcats will need another standout performance from Ashley.

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?