Nick Johnson finished with 22 points on 9-for-15 shooting and Kaleb Tarczewski added 16 and eight boards as No. 1 Arizona survived a furious UCLA comeback, winning 79-75 in Pauley Pavilion on Thursday night.
Johnson’s work wasn’t limited to the offensive end of the floor, either. The 6-foot-3 shooting guard spent a lot of time locking horns with Jordan Adams, UCLA’s leading scorer that finished just 4-for-15 from the floor. He doesn’t get the publicity that some of the other players across the country — or even in his league — get, but Johnson is very much a candidate for first-team all-america.
And Arizona continues to play like arguably the nation’s best team.
But that doesn’t mean that there aren’t some flaws that need to be addressed.
The biggest concern is obviously their free throw shooting. The Wildcats are hitting just 68.1% of their free throws and missed a number of big ones down the stretch that allowed UCLA to erase a 13 point lead in the final ten minutes. Aaron Gordon is the biggest offender, as he’s hitting just 44.9% from the charity stripe, struggling enough that opponents have started fouling him intentionally to make him earn the points.
Turnovers also could end up being a problem down the road. The Wildcats aren’t awful when it comes to protecting the ball, but teams that can force turnovers do force turnovers against Sean Miller’s club. Arizona had 17 on Thursday night.
I’m not concerned about UCLA’s offensive rebounding effort on Thursday night — UCLA had 16 of them — because the Wildcats are one of the nation’s best rebounding teams. I’m not all that worried about their depth, either, because good college teams don’t need to go more than seven deep. And the concern about their perimeter shooting? Johnson, Gordon, Brandon Ashley and Gabe York are all shooting between 36.5% and 43.4% from three. They’ll survive.
But those turnovers and those free throws are issues that Sean Miller will want to address.
Last month the NCAA announced that due to rules violations found in their investigation of the SMU men’s basketball program, the team would be banned from postseason play in 2015-16 and head coach Larry Brown would be suspended for the first nine games of the 2015-16 season. With a team led by seniors Nic Moore and Markus Kennedy and just one player (Keith Frazier) being the subject of the investigation, it was assumed that SMU would at the very least appeal the postseason ban.
Friday, the school announced that while it will appeal some of the penalties handed down by the NCAA to the men’s basketball and men’s golf programs they will not appeal the postseason ban or Brown’s suspension.
“After careful consideration, however, we will not appeal the NCAA post-season ban on men’s basketball or partial season suspension of Head Men’s Basketball Coach Larry Brown,” SMU president R. Gerald Turner stated in the release. “Although we regret the severe impact on our student-athletes, the simple fact is that the NCAA penalty structure mandates at minimum a one-year post-season ban for the level of misconduct that occurred, in our case, when a former staff member completed an online high school course for a prospective student-athlete, committing academic misconduct.
“In addition, should we appeal this matter, the lengthy process and uncertainty during this period could harm many aspects of the program. Coach Brown and his staff also agree that it is in the best interests of the program to accept these sanctions and move forward.”
Among the penalties the school will appeal (with regards to the basketball program) are the “duration of scholarship losses” and how long the recruiting restrictions placed on the program will last, and the vacating of games Frazier played in during the 2013-14 season.
This a tough turn of events for players who had nothing to do with the violations, as they see their opportunity to return to the NCAA tournament taken away. As a result of the school’s decision, SMU’s season will end March 9 following their regular season finale against Cincinnati.
Kevin Marfo committed to George Washington on Friday evening, announcing his decision on Twitter.
“I am grateful and appreciative to all the schools that recruited me. But I will be spending the next four years at George Washington University,” he tweeted.
This caps a successful week for Mike Lonergan on the recruiting trail. On Tuesday, GW landed a commitment from Darnell Rogers, a 5-foot-3 point guard. He is the son of former GW guard Shawnta Rogers, the 1999 Atlantic 10 Player of the Year. GW ends the week by adding a tenacious rebounder to a front court that graduates top rebounder Kevin Larsen after this season. Rogers and Marfo join power forward Collin Smith in the Class of 2016. Seton Hall transfer Jaren Sina will also be eligible in 2016-17.
He cut his list to 10 in August with Pittsburgh, Georgia Tech, Minnesota, Boston College, UMass, Saint Joseph’s, DePaul, Rhode Island and Providence all making the cut along wit the Colonials. He later trimmed the list to five finalists: BC, Providence, DePaul, GW and Rhode Island.
The Worcester Academy (Mass.) forward played for BABC this summer in the Nike EYBL, averaging 11.3 points and 8.8 rebounds per game. The 6-foot-8 Marfo is listed as the No. 148 overall player in the Class of 2016 by Rivals.