North Carolina sophomore wing J.P. Tokoto has shown signs of improvement this season, raising both his scoring (9.6 ppg entering Saturday) and rebounding (4.8 rpg) averages from a season ago. Part of that has come with an increased number of opportunities, as Reggie Bullock’s now a Los Angeles Clipper and P.J. Hairston’s no longer a member of the program.
But there’s also Tokoto’s improved aggressiveness to be taken into consideration, and after struggling in North Carolina’s home loss to Texas on Wednesday night he bounced back against Davidson. Tokoto posted his second double-double of the season with 22 points (8-for-14 FG), 11 rebounds, four blocks and four steals, and the Tar Heels needed every one of those points and rebounds in their 97-85 overtime win over the visiting Wildcats.
With Davidson blitzing leading scorer Marcus Paige in nearly every ball-screen situation and refusing to allow him to turn the corner, North Carolina needed its “supporting cast” to step up with Paige shooting 4-for-12 from the field (he scored eight of his 17 points from the foul line). Up stepped Tokoto, junior forward James Michael McAdoo (19 points, seven rebounds and five assists) and freshman center Kennedy Meeks, who finished the game with 13 points to go along with four rebounds.
Davidson gave North Carolina all they wanted and then some, with Brian Sullivan leading four double-figure scorers with a career-high 33 points. And if not for the contributions of a Tokoto or McAdoo, the Wildcats very well could have run away with the game. With Hairston gone and Leslie McDonald still working towards the level of productivity that will be expected of him as a perimeter shooter, North Carolina needs another perimeter scorer to make his presence known.
Does that option have to be a lights-out shooter? Not exactly, as Paige and McDonald are both capable of knocking down those shots. Tokoto’s improved his shot from last season but he’s most dangerous attacking the basket off the dribble. If Tokoto can continue to progress towards being a consistent scoring option for North Carolina, it will help a team that still perplexes many move towards truly defining themselves.
Not only is Wyoming senior guard Josh Adams the lone returning starter from a team that won the Mountain West tournament last season, but he’s also one of college basketball’s best dunkers. And if anyone may have forgotten about his jumping ability, Adams put it on display Saturday during the Cowboys’ win over Montana State.
After splitting two Montana State players at the top of the key Adams attacked the basket, dunking with two hands over a late-arriving help-side defender. If you’re going to rotate over, have to do it quicker than that.
Video credit: Wyoming Athletics
Even with the coaching change from Fred Hoiberg to Steve Prohm, No. 4 Iowa State remains one of the nation’s best offensive teams. Given their skills on that end of the floor many teams find it tough to go score for score with the Cyclones, and that’s what happened to Illinois in Iowa State’s 84-73 win in the Emerald Coast Classic title game.
Georges Niang scored 23 points and grabbed eight rebounds, with Monté Morris adding 20, nine rebounds and six assists and Abdel Nader 18 points as the Cyclones moved to 5-0 on the season. The three-pointers weren’t falling in the second half, as Iowa State shot 0-f0r-12, but they shot 19-for-24 inside of the arc to pull away from a team that lost big man Mike Thorne Jr. late in the first half to a left knee injury.
Illinois’ loss of size in the paint opened things up offensively for Iowa State, and the Cyclones took advantage. But where this group grabbed control of the game was on the defensive end of the floor, and that will be the key for a team with Big 12 and national title aspirations.
Nader took on the responsibility of defending Illinois’ Malcolm Hill (20 points) in the second half and did a solid job of keeping the junior wing in check, with that serving as the spark to a 12-2 run that put the game away. There’s no denying that the Cyclones can put points on the board; most of the talent from last season is back and the productivity on that end of the floor hasn’t changed as a result. Niang’s one of the nation’s best forwards, and both Morris (who now ranks among the country’s best point guards) and Nader have taken significant strides in their respective games.
Iowa State will add Deonte Burton in December, giving them another option to call upon. Front court depth is a bit of a concern, as Iowa State can ill afford to lose a Niang or Jameel McKay, but there’s enough on the roster to compensate for that and force mismatches in other areas.
But the biggest question for this group is how effective they can become at stringing together stops. Illinois certainly had its moments in both halves Saturday night, but Iowa State also showed during the game’s decisive stretch that they can step up defensively. The key now is to do so consistently, and if that occurs the Cyclones can be a threat both within the Big 12 and nationally.