TJ Bray

Princeton blows out Pacific, proves they will contend with Harvard in the Ivy League

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In Ivy League basketball circles, which soon expanded to national basketball circles at the conclusion of the 2013 NCAA Tournament, all of the talk during the summer months revolved around Harvard. Rightfully so, to an extent. The Crimson returned virtually their entire team, along with welcoming back Kyle Casey and Brandyn Curry. They were the prohibitive favorites to win the Ivy League with no other school figuring to seriously challenge them.

However, let’s pause the love-fest for what Tommy Amaker has going on in Cambridge for just a moment, and take a look at Mitch Henderson and the Princeton Tigers.

Picked to finish in the middle-of-the-pack by many of the experts after graduating last year’s Player of the Year in Ian Hummer, Princeton has looked anything but that projection. After a 70-67 loss to Butler in the second game of the season, the Tigers haven’t lost. In the process, they have knocked off two of the Patriot League’s top teams (Lafayette and Bucknell), George Mason, and consecutive BCS teams in Rutgers and Penn State. Tonight, they ran Pacific out of the gym in Las Vegas.

No one will argue that Princeton has played the toughest of schedules, but to be sitting at 9-1 at this juncture of the season sends a clear message to the rest of the Ivy League that Harvard isn’t the only legitimate team. Look no further than tonight against Pacific, who came into the game with an 8-1 record and fresh off a double-digit win at Utah State. Princeton toyed with them tonight, beating them 83-58. Up next is another tough test against Portland tomorrow night, who also hails from the West Coast Conference.

The offense that Mitch Henderson has implemented is something one would find on basketball instructional videos. 6-foot-5 point guard T.J. Bray is one of the best at his position you’ve never heard of, while forwards Denton Koon and Hans Brase play as well on the perimeter as they do inside.

Harvard is still the most talented and, for now, the top team in the Ivy League, but let’s not crown them champs just yet. It’s a long-shot that the league would receive two bids to the NCAA Tournament — years ago it would be foolish to even drum up such a notion — but tonight’s result keeps the possibility alive.

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.

Tyler Ulis injured as No. 1 Kentucky beats South Florida

Tyler Ulis, Ky Howard
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MIAMI (AP) Jamal Murray had 21 points and No. 1 Kentucky scored the final 15 points of the first half on the way to beating South Florida 84-63 in the HoopHall Miami Invitational on Friday.

Skal Labissiere added 17 points for the Wildcats (6-0), who led by as many as 31. Charles Matthews scored 11 points and Isaiah Briscoe finished with seven assists for Kentucky, now a winner of 37 consecutive regular-season games and 39 in a row against unranked opponents.

Chris Perry scored 14 points for USF (1-5), which has lost 18 consecutive games against teams ranked in the Top 25. Jaleel Cousins added 12 points on 5-for-6 shooting, and Jahmal McMurray scored 11 points for the Bulls.

Kentucky played the second half without starting guard Tyler Ulis, who departed with a right elbow injury after getting hurt while fighting for a ball loose on the floor.

Kentucky announced after the game that the injury was a hyperextension of the elbow and that he will be day-to-day.

The Bulls were within 27-21 with 6 minutes left in the first half after McMurray banked in a 3-pointer only a few feet away from where John Calipari was standing, and the look of anguish on the Kentucky coach’s face was clear.

It didn’t last long.

The Wildcats scored on seven of their next nine possessions and the game was over by halftime, Kentucky going into the break with a 42-21 lead.

It was a reunion for plenty of people on both benches. Calipari squared off with his former assistant Orlando Antigua, now in his second year leading USF. Antigua’s staff includes another former Calipari assistant in Rod Strickland, plus former Kentucky basketball staff members Mike Malone and Dominic Lombardi.

So the staffs have plenty of familiarity. On the court, there was plenty of disparity. Kentucky finished with a commanding 23-6 edge in points off turnovers and finished with 16 assists to the Bulls’ six.