The Secondary Break: Monday’s Links

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Bairstow’s success story is 23 years in the making (Albuquerque Journal)
Of the three members of New Mexico’s “big three,” senior forward Cameron Bairstow may be the most overlooked. But to this point in the season he’s been outstanding, averaging 20.1 points and 7.5 rebounds per game. And Bairstow’s path to becoming one of the Mountain West’s best players is one that’s been 23 years in the making.

Unforgettable hurt from bullying (ESPN)
In recent years bullying has received greater attention in American society, with there being a greater level of understanding of what the experiences do to people. ESPN color commentator Dick Vitale shared his own experiences with bullying, and his journey to becoming one of the sport’s most recognizable personalities is certainly an inspiring one.

Loyola’s SJ Tuohy enjoying life after “The Blind Side” (Baltimore Sun)
Loyola (MD) guard SJ Tuohy was a part of the life depicted in the movie “The Blind Side,” with his family taking in a young man in Michael Oher who is now a starting offensive lineman for the Baltimore Ravens. Oher’s presence in Baltimore played a role in Tuohy’s decision to join the Loyola program a couple years ago.

Tennessee, Virginia seeking to gain momentum (Associated Press)
One of the bigger non-conference games of the upcoming week is Virginia’s game at Tennessee, with both teams in a position where they can use a quality win ahead of the start of play in their respective leagues. Both teams have endured their struggles thus far as well, leaving players on both teams hopeful to gain some momentum in their final game of 2013.

Toledo caps a turnaround by taking on a giant (New York Times)
Tod Kowalczyk’s Toledo Rockets are one of eight remaining undefeated teams in college basketball, which is quite the achievement when considering the fact that they were ineligible for postseason play last season. But the Rockets will be tested on Monday night when they visit No. 16 Kansas.

Big East teams have much to prove in league play (USA Today)
With many of the league’s members failing to rack up the signature non-conference victories, the first season of conference play in the new Big East takes on added importance. The fun kicks off on Tuesday, with all ten conference teams taking the floor in the first conference games of the new era.

Illinois basketball’s Rayvonte Rice in shape on, off basketball court (Chicago Sun-Times)
In Illinois’ 74-60 win over UIC on Saturday afternoon Drake transfer Rayvonte Rice stole the show, scoring a game-high 28 points to lead the way. And it was the latest step forward for Rice, who lost 45 pounds and cut his body fat by some ten percent according to head coach John Groce. As a result, he’s been one of the best transfers in the country to this point in the season.

Utes appear to be headed in the (Delon) Wright direction (Salt Lake Tribune)
One of the best junior college transfers in the nation to this point in the season has been Utah’s Delon Wright, whose versatility has proven to be a major asset for Larry Krystkowiak’s Utes. How good can the brother of Portland Trailblazer Dorell Wright and his teammates be this season? We’ll learn a bit more about Utah on Thursday night when they host No. 12 Oregon.

Patsos pleased with Saints’ progress (Troy Record)
Given how far Siena tumbled in the three seasons following Fran McCaffery’s move to Iowa, it was clear that new head coach Jimmy Patsos had a lot of work ahead of him this season. And despite the Saints having a 4-8 record entering Monday night’s game against Fordham, the former Loyola (MD) head coach is pleased with the team’s progress.

Cougars trying to find some joy in Malibu amid three-game gloom (Provo Daily Herald)
Dave Rose’s BYU Cougars dropped their third straight game on Saturday afternoon as they lost 87-76 at Loyola Marymount. With just one day off before they play at Pepperdine, the Cougars are hopeful that the trip to beautiful Malibu will serve as a catalyst of sorts.

POSTERIZED: Wyoming’s Josh Adams takes flight

Josh Adams
Associated Press
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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

Defensive progress will determine No. 4 Iowa State’s ceiling

Monte Morris
Associated Press
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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.