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Saint Mary’s should still be discussed amongst WCC contenders

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There’s no denying the fact that point guard Matthew Dellavedova graduated as one of the greatest players in the history of Saint Mary’s basketball. In four seasons at the WCC school “Delly” was a three-time All-WCC selection and a two-time honorable mention All-American. A personnel loss that big isn’t something a program simply glosses over and moves on, and for that reason more than a few prognosticators immediately decided that the Gaels were ill-equipped to challenge Gonzaga and BYU for the WCC title.

But now that they’re 8-0 on the season following an 82-74 win at Boise State on Saturday, it’s become quite apparent that it wasn’t wise to make that hasty conclusion.

Thanks to the hot shooting of Stephen Holt and James Walker III, who shot a combined 7-for-9 from three in the first half, Saint Mary’s led by as many as 16 points before the Broncos cut the margin to just two points at the half. More than a few teams in that spot would wilt when on the road against a formidable opponent, but Saint Mary’s didn’t. Instead the Gaels became even more balanced offensively, with four players scoring at least six points in the second half.

Holt led five players in double figures with 24 points and six assists, and the performance was his most productive of the season to date. With leading scorer Brad Waldow accounting for just five points in the first half the Gaels needed players to step up and Holt did just that, scoring 18 of his 24. It would be unfair to ask any one player to fully replace Dellavedova, given what the graduated point guard provided in both stats and intangibles. But it it isn’t unfair to expect Holt and Walker (can’t forget Kerry Carter either) to do much of the heavy lifting on the perimeter, and thus far they’ve done that.

It’s safe to say that Waldow’s going to score more than he did against Boise State (11 points, 11 rebounds), as he entered the game averaging a team-best 18.6 points per game. But with the guard play and the presence of forward Beau Levesque, a relatively quiet night for a player who’s one of the WCC’s best big men isn’t a deal-breaker for Saint Mary’s.

Next weekend the Gaels will play in the Diamond Head Classic, and with possible games against Boise State (semifinals) and No. 17 Iowa State (final) Saint Mary’s can potentially pick up another quality win or two before WCC play starts. But through eight games it’s become clear that at the very least Saint Mary’s can finish in the top three of the WCC for an 11th consecutive season.

And a conference title shouldn’t be considered unrealistic for this group either.

No. 4 Maryland refocuses, slows down No. 18 Purdue

Maryland head coach Mark Turgeon watches from the sideline during a break in play in the first half of an NCAA college basketball game against Purdue, Saturday, Feb. 6, 2016, in College Park, Md. (AP Photo/Patrick Semansky)
AP Photo/Patrick Semansky
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No. 18 Purdue and No. 4 Maryland exchanged leads for most of the first 33 minutes before the Boilermakers scored five straight points on layups by Rapheal Davis (who was fouled on his make) and Caleb Swanigan. Purdue was getting the touches it wanted around the basket, and Mark Turgeon’s Terrapins weren’t doing a whole lot to keep it from happening either.

Turgeon called a timeout to get his team back in sync defensively, and as a result Maryland went on a 9-0 run that ultimately led to their winning by the final score of 72-61.

Maryland’s big men, Robert Carter Jr. and Diamond Stone, did a much better job down the stretch of keeping Purdue from getting the ball inside to senior center A.J. Hammons. Hammons finished the game with 18 points and ten rebounds, but only two of those points came after Maryland’s 9-0 second half run. But keeping the ball from getting inside is just as much about the players defending the passers as it is keeping the big(s) from getting to his preferred spot.

Defensively Maryland took away the passing angles and essentially made Purdue’s guards make plays, something they’ve struggled with at times this season. That led to far too many perimeter shots for Purdue, which shot 3-for-23 on the day from beyond the arc. Add in the fact that they attempted just five free throws as a team, making two, and areas in which the Boilermakers can benefit went neglected in College Park.

By comparison Maryland was able to make a habit of going to the foul line, shooting 24-for-27 from the charity stripe with Rasheed Sulaimon and Melo Trimble combining to go 17-for-19 on the day. The foul line helped Trimble make up for an off day from the field, as he shot 2-for-12, but the sophomore’s ability to work off of ball screens ultimately opened things up for Maryland even with his shots not falling.

Add in the fact that Sulaimon (21 points, ten rebounds) and Carter (19 points, seven rebounds) were able to pick up the slack, with Diamond Stone adding 12 points and six rebounds, and it’s easy to see why Maryland was able to turn things around down the stretch.

Maryland’s been a good defensive team this season, but they got away from that for a significant portion of Saturday’s game. A key timeout to get the team refocused paid off, the the Terrapins defending at a level that made it incredibly difficult for Purdue to get anything going. And as a result, Maryland remains within a game of leaders Iowa and Indiana in the Big Ten title race.

Darryl Reynolds shines, Kris Dunn struggles as No. 3 Villanova beat No. 11 Providence

Villanova forward Darryl Reynolds (45) dunks the ball in the second half of an NCAA college basketball game against Creighton, Wednesday, Feb. 3, 2016, in Villanova, Pa. Villanova won 83-58. (AP Photo/Laurence Kesterson)
(AP Photo/Laurence Kesterson)
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Replacing the injured Daniel Ochefu, who missed his third straight game as the result of a concussion, Darryl Reynolds finished with a career-high 19 points and 10 boards as No. 3 Villanova went into Providence and knocked off the No. 11 Friars, 72-60.

Josh Hart chipped in with 14 points and 13 boards (seven of which were offensive), Kris Jenkins notched a double-double as well and Ryan Arcidiacono added 16 points for the Wildcats, who improved to 10-1 in Big East play, keeping them all alone in first place in the league.

Perhaps the most impressive part of this win, which wasn’t quite as close as the final score would indicate, is that Villanova did it while shooting just 5-for-22 from three. The Wildcats have been reliant on the three during this recent run atop the conference, and on Saturday, they won by controlling the the glass and the paint.

Reynolds’ performance was something else. This is a guy who entered the game averaging just 2.3 points and a reputation for being little more than the reason that Ochefu played so many minutes, but it got to the point on Saturday that he was being double-teamed in the post to get the ball out of his hands. That’s pretty remarkable.

As if the fact that Villanova, playing without their best rebounder, grabbed 12 offensive rebounds and totally controlled the defensive glass.

 

Much of that is likely due to the fact that Ben Bentil, the 6-foot-8 forward for the Friars that is the Big East’s leading scorer, was dealing with an ankle injury he suffered at DePaul earlier this week. He finished 20 points, but much of that came in the form of jumpers and shots at the rim while his two rebounds was much more indicative of the impact that he was able to make with his ankle.

But what was really concerning for Providence was that Kris Dunn was downright awful. He shot 4-for-15 from the floor, committed six turnovers and simply made the wrong decision too many times. Yes, he was likely pressing due to the fact that Bentil was injured and Villanova’s defense was keying on him, but it’s not exactly comforting to know that this is what his floor is.

He’s Kris Dunn.

He’s going to be keyed on by defenses every single time he steps on a basketball court.

He has to be better than he was today.