No. 15 Oregon remains undefeated but has yet to reach its full potential

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When the suspensions of point guard Dominic Artis and forward Ben Carter were announced, the question was whether or not No. 18 Oregon would drop a game (or more) without the services of their starting floor general. But the fact of the matter was that Dana Altman has multiple perimeter options at his disposal, including the experienced Johnathan Loyd, who made critical plays down the stretch to push the Ducks past Illinois in Portland by the final score of 71-64.

Loyd knocked down a critical jumper with 28 seconds remaining, and his steal and layup with four seconds remaining ruled out any chance of an Illinois miracle come back. Loyd finished with 11 points and seven assists, one of five Oregon players to score in double figures. Mike Moser and Joseph Young scored 14 apiece, and as a team the Ducks shot 55.2% from the field.

But with the incomplete roster now whole with the suspensions for Artis and Carter coming to an end, it’s safe to say that we have yet to see the best from Oregon. The question: will Oregon be able to incorporate Artis and Carter into the rotation without skipping a beat?

Artis will join a front court rotation that’s performed very well with Loyd, Young Jason Calliste and Damyean Dotson handling the majority of the minutes. Artis’ return give Oregon yet another primary ball-handling option, and that has the potential to make them an even tougher team to defend. Entering Saturday Oregon ranked fifth nationally in adjusted offensive efficiency per, and they were third in effective field goal percentage.

As for Carter, he’ll provide additional depth to a front court that can use it. Moser and Elgin Cook have played the best basketball of the big men through nine games, and Oregon has Richard Amardi and Waverly Austin receiving minutes as well. Artis and Carter will be able to play beginning on Tuesday night against UC Irvine, and they’ll have a total of three games to play before the start of Pac-12 play on January 4 against Utah.

Given how Oregon’s performed without that tandem, there won’t be as much pressure on them when they step on the floor. And if the on-court chemistry isn’t upset, Oregon stands to be even better than they are now.

As good as they’ve been, No. 3 Michigan State has yet to play their best

Bryn Forbes, Ryan Fazekas
Associated Press
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Sunday night’s Wooden Legacy title game matchup between No. 3 Michigan State and Providence was billed as a matchup of the nation’s two best players, and rightfully so. Michigan State senior Denzel Valentine (17 points, six rebounds, five assists), who already has two triple-doubles to his credit this season, and Providence redshirt junior Kris Dunn (21 points, five rebounds, seven assists) have more than lived up to the preseason expectations and more of the same was expected in Anaheim.

And while both had their moments, it was Michigan State’s supporting cast that made the difference in their 77-64 victory. The scary thing for future opponents on Michigan State’s schedule is that Tom Izzo’s team is nowhere near being a finished product.

With Valentine dealing with first-half foul trouble Bryn Forbes stepped up, scoring 13 of his 18 points to help the Spartans take a two-point lead into the half. As for the 11-0 run that Michigan State produced to take control of the game late, a host of players stepped forward in regards to scoring, rebounding and defending.

Freshmen Deyonta Davis and Matt McQuaid combined to score nine points over the final 5:32, with transfer guard Eron Harris adding six of his 12 points during that stretch. The Spartans outscored the Friars, who aren’t as deep, 22-7 during that stretch to close out the game, hunting for quality shots and hitting the offensive glass while making things difficult for Providence on the other end of the floor.

The end result was a final margin that does not indicate just how close the game was. While Providence seemed to run out of steam Michigan State received contributions from multiple players, which is undoubtedly a good sign for this group moving forward.

The Spartans will return the currently injured Gavin Schilling later this season, giving them another big man alongside Davis, Matt Costello and Colby Wollenman. He was a player they missed Sunday night, as he can defend opposing big men both in the post and on the perimeter. His absence was a main reason Michigan State didn’t have an answer for Providence’s Ben Bentil (20 points, seven rebounds) defensively.

The key for this group is going to end up being role definition, which is especially true in the case of Harris. A transfer from West Virginia, Harris came to East Lansing with the reputation of being a big time scorer. He’s struggled through the first two weeks of the season, but he got on a roll on Sunday night, finishing with 12 points, three boards and three assists. He showed he’s capable of doing a variety of things on the perimeter, and fitting into a “Swiss army knife” kind of role would make Michigan State that much more dangerous.

There’s no denying that Michigan State has been one of the nation’s best teams thus far.

But there’s also no denying that the Spartans have yet to hit their ceiling, which is definitely a positive moving forward.

Wichita State’s Anton Grady returns home with team

AP Photo/Willie J. Allen Jr.
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Wichita State forward Anton Grady was released from a hospital in Orlando on Sunday afternoon in time to return home with his Shocker teammates.

Grady suffered a spinal corn concussion on Friday when he collided head-first with an Alabama defender, snapping his head sharply to the side. He lay on the court motionless for 10 minutes after the injury and was taken off the floor on a stretcher.

[RELATED: Can WSU still make tourney?]

“I want to send out a big thank you to Shocker Nation and all of my friends and family for of the love and encouragement that I have received the past few days,” Grady said in a statement on Sunday morning. “I’ve been reading your tweets and posts and appreciate every last one of them. I have a lot of work to do to get back on the court, but with the help of such a great support system, I’m ready for the challenge.”

By Friday night, Grady had feeling in all of his extremities, but he has a long road of rehab ahead of him.