Melvin Ejim

No. 8 Iowa State’s loss to No. 15 Kansas not promising, but far from a disaster

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This just wasn’t No. 8 Iowa State’s night.

Listen to some of these numbers: the Cyclones shot 31.4% from the floor and 4-for-25 from three. Melvin Ejim, Georges Niang and Dustin Hogue were a combined 12-for-45 from the floor and 2-for-15 from three. Niang alone was 4-for-20 from the floor and 0-for-9 from three. Those three guys, their ability to create mismatches with opposing big men, are at the crux of what the Cyclones do offensively. They can’t win on a night when they post numbers like this.

Deandre Kane returned to the court after injuring his ankle on Saturday, and while he finished with 21 points, the 8-for-16 he shot from the line is going to loom large when he looks at the box score.

You really want to get a feel for just how badly Iowa State shot on Monday night? They won the turnover battle by 17, forcing No. 15 Kansas into 24 miscues while committing just seven of their own, and the Cyclones still lost to the Jayhawks at home, 77-70.

If I’m an Iowa State, the bright side is pretty obvious here. The Cyclones could not have had a worse shooting night even if everyone on the team had to shoot every shot left-handed. Their all-american point guard was, at the very least, hampered by his ankle. Naadir Tharpe had the best game of his collegiate career and Joel Embiid played as well as he has all season in the second half.

And the Cyclones only lost by seven points.

I don’t think painting moral victories is a good thing for a conference title contender to do, but it could have been much, much worse.

Is Iowa State still a contender though?

I believe so. It’s going to be tough — they’re already two games behind the 4-0 Jayhawks in league play and they already got Baylor and Kansas at home — but everyone is going to get knocked around in the Big 12. There are just too many good teams in the league for Kansas to make it through unscathed. If I had to make a prediction, I’d say that going 14-4 may win you the league outright.

That said, Kansas has the talent to take complete control of the conference race, but until their most important players display more consistency on a nightly basis, this is still a league that the Cyclones can win.

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.