VCU/Virginia Tech headlines second annual Governor’s Holiday Hoops Classic

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The second annual Governor’s Holiday Hoops Classic will be played at the Richmond Coliseum on Saturday afternoon, with the doubleheader matching four of Virginia’s 14 Division I men’s basketball programs. In the opener Hampton takes on James Madison, with the Dukes looking to round into shape after winning the CAA tournament and making its first NCAA tournament appearance since 1993.

Watch on NBC Sports Network at 3 p.m. ET or on on NBC Sports Live Extra with your phone or tablet.

At 3-9 on the season Matt Brady’s team has struggled due to factors such as Andre Nation’s 15-game suspension and the fact that they’re averaging less than a point per possession (0.95). In the Pirates, JMU will face a team that has also had issues when it comes to offensive efficiency. However, with senior forward Du’Vaughn Maxwell and sophomore guard Deron Powers leading the way offensively Hampton’s (5-6) been able to do enough defensively to compete on most nights.

The nightcap is the game that will receive most of the attention however, with the hometown team (VCU) looking for a sweep of the Commonwealth’s ACC schools when they take on Virginia Tech. With the new legislation regarding contact some have assumed that Shaka Smart’s team would have a difficult time adjusting defensively given how active their “HAVOC” system is. But that hasn’t been the case, as VCU’s averaging 20.2 fouls per game (up from 19.7 last season) and they still rank 32nd nationally in adjusted defensive efficiency (45th last season) and first in forced turnover percentage per Ken Pomeroy.

Offensively VCU’s still a work in progress, with newcomers and players who may not have enjoyed prominent roles last season looking to mesh with established veterans such as Treveon Graham, Briante Weber and Juvonte Reddic. The Rams will look to take the next step against a Virginia Tech squad that’s 7-3 and can use every win they can get prior to the start of ACC play. Jarell Eddie leads three Hokies in double figures with an average of 19.3 points per game, and the obvious key for Virginia Tech on Saturday will be their turnover count.

Naturally that number (Virginia Tech averages just over 13 turnovers/game) will rise some against a team like VCU, but how much that figure rises and the kind of turnover that is committed will have a major impact on the outcome. Dead-ball turnovers, while unfortunate, are a much better outcome for Virginia Tech than the live-ball turnover that VCU has been known to feast off of. Virginia Tech doesn’t do a good job of forcing turnovers itself (346th in forced turnover percentage), making this area one of huge importance.

The doubleheader, in addition to providing area fans with some quality entertainment, will also serve as a fundraiser for the state’s food banks. Last season the Classic raised nearly $50,000, with the funds being divided amongst seven food banks. So while two teams will leave the Richmond Coliseum with wins, even more will benefit from the action.

VIDEO: Kris Dunn wills Providence to win over No. 11 Arizona

Kris Dunn, Elliott Pitts
AP Photo/Mark J. Terrill
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Kris Dunn spent the first 35 minutes of Friday night’s game against No. 11 Arizona in foul trouble, splitting his time between sitting on the bench and trying to avoid finding himself, again, on the wrong side the whistle.

With 11 minutes left in the game, and with Dunn yet to find a rhythm, the all-american point guard was whistled for his fourth foul as he battled for a rebound with Arizona’s Mark Tollefsen. Head coach Ed Cooley say his superstar beside his for six game minutes, time enough for Arizona to turn a 49-47 deficit into a 58-54 lead.

There were just over five minutes left when Dunn reentered the second semifinal of the Wooden Legacy, and he proceeded to show everyone in the country why he was named the Preseason Player of the Year. Providence had nine possessions after he reentered the game. Dunn scored 11 points and had a pair of assists on those eight possessions, and if Ben Bentil had stuck a wide-open three — that was setup by Dunn — the Friars would have scored on all nine.

In total, Dunn was responsible for all 15 Friar points in a game-changing, 15-7 run in the final 4:30. It was capped off by this Kobe-in-his-prime-esque game-winner:

The win for Providence is huge for a couple of reasons:

  • Dunn showed a killer instinct against a marquee opponent, something that we didn’t necessarily see out of him a season ago. He wasn’t going to let his team lose, and given that Providence doesn’t have anyone else that can consistently create good shots, they are going to need that from him a lot this year.
  • It makes a statement for the Friars. Arizona is overrated at No. 11 in the country, yes, but going out on national television against an elite program and getting this kind of performance from Dunn is a confidence-booster and a tone-setter. Providence hasn’t been accustomed to winning in recent years. This is a way to set a trend.
  • Ben Bentil continues to play like a star. Dunn had 19 points and eight assists on Friday, but Bentil followed up a 24-point performance in the win over Evansville with 21 critical points on Friday.

This win sets up a matchup between No. 3 Michigan State and Providence on Sunday night, which means that Denzel Valentine and Kris Dunn — the two best players in the country, sorry Ben Simmons — will be going head-to-head.

Oh. Hell. Yes.

No. 14 Cal goes 0-2 in Las Vegas Invitational

Jaylen Brown
AP Photo/Ben Margot
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After midnight on the east coast on Thanksgiving, No. 14 Cal blew a 15 point second half lead against San Diego State, allowing the Aztecs to use a 30-6 run to put away the game and advance to the final of the Las Vegas Invitational. That’s the same San Diego State team had scored 43 points in a loss to Arkansas-Little Rock last week.

Not 24 hours later, the Golden Bears were shredded defensively by the Richmond Spiders, losing 94-90 in the consolation game of a four-team tournament they were considered to be the heavy favorite in.

It’s a disappointing two-game stretch for Cal, who entered the season as a Pac-12 favorite and had looked the part for the first four games of the season.

And the issue appears to be on the defensive end of the floor.

Richmond is a good Atlantic 10 team. Terry Allen and Marshall Wood are high-major big men, Shawn’Dre Jones is a jitterbug at the point and Chris Mooney runs a Princeton-esque system that is very difficult to prepare for without a day in-between games. So it’s not really surprising that the Spiders gave Cal a fight.

But 94 points?

On the heels of giving up 44 points in the second half against the offensively-challenged Aztecs?

That’s a problem, one that I’m sure that Cuonzo Martin is going to address this week in practice. Martin has managed to put together a roster that is build for small-ball, with four talented perimeter players surrounding a first round pick in the post. But that’s not the style that he’s known for. Martin played his college ball at Purdue in the Gene Keady days. He cut his teeth as a head coach at Missouri State in the Missouri Valley. His team’s at Tennessee were known for being tough and physical defensively.

That’s how Martin coaches, which is part of the reason Cal had such hype entering the year.

The talents of Tyrone Wallace, Jaylen Brown, Ivan Rabb, Jabari Bird and Jordan Mathews on a team with a coach that gets teams to defend the way Martin does? It’s no surprise that pundits would be optimistic.

But as of now, they have some work to do defensively if they want to live up to that hype.