Temple v SMU

Bright future evident after SMU’s blowout win over No. 7 Cincinnati

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Nick Russell finished with 15 points and Nic Moore chipped in with 14 as SMU picked up their biggest win in the Larry Brown era on Saturday night, smacking around No. 7 Cincinnati in Moody Coliseum and eventually winning 76-55.

The Mustangs held Cincinnati to 35.4% and 4-for-22 from three, which isn’t exactly a shock given how inept the Bearcats can be on the offensive end of the floor when Sean Kilpatrick is having an off-night and how improved SMU is on that end of the floor; they’re 17th in defensive efficiency this year, as opposed to 151st last season. What was surprising, however, is that SMU managed to shoot 54.3% from the field against a Bearcat D that had built a reputation as one of the toughest and most physical in the country.

It was a beatdown.

SMU was clearly the better team on this night, and it wasn’t even close.

It was the third time that SMU has beaten a ranked team on their home court, which is probably the best sign of just how far this program has come under head coach Larry Brown, who is more than a decade or two past the age where you’re still celebrating birthdays with numbers. Moody was sold out on Saturday night in a game on national television in front of a student section that could only be described as raucous.

The biggest hurdle Brown had to clear at SMU was fan apathy. He’s done that, fielding a team full of transfers that will likely see their first national ranking in almost three full decades on Monday morning.

Here’s the crazier part, however: this was supposed to be the year before the year. Next season, SMU has the nation’s top point guard, Emmanuel Mudiay, coming into the program to join a team that will basically bring everyone back next year. Keith Frazier, the all-american wing that Brown brought in from the Class of 2013, still hasn’t reached his potential.

Most importantly, SMU had their biggest win in decades in their best performance of the season in front of a terrific college basketball environment all while a ridiculous amount of local high school talent was in attendance: Elijah Thomas (No. 9 2015), Jawun Evans (No. 59 2015), Matt McQuaid (No. 58 2015), Austin Grandstaff (No. 32 2015), King McClure (No. 14 2015), Admon Gilder (No. 123 2015), Terrance Ferguson (No. 10 2016), P.J. Washington (2017).

The state of Texas has as much hoops talent as anywhere in the country right now, and those players have to go somewhere. Rick Barnes of Texas hasn’t seemed to care about recruiting in recent summers. Scott Drew has brought in some talent to Baylor, but his teams — and players — always seem to underachieve. Texas A&M isn’t relevant right now. Neither is Texas Tech and Houston.

That leaves SMU.

Where a hall of fame coach with impressive NBA credentials is already winning games and already has a McDonald’s all-american this season with another on the way.

Who knows how long Brown’s coaching career actually lasts, and speculating about a group of uncommitted high school juniors would be getting way — WAY — ahead of myself.

But right now, the pieces are in place for Brown to turn SMU into a powerhouse in the AAC.

I guess that was a pretty good hire after all.

Battle 4 Atlantis title proves Syracuse will be relevant this season

rad Horrigan/The Courant via AP
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Michael Gbinije scored 20 points and Trevor Cooney added 15 points and five assists as Syracuse left the Bahamas with a title, beating No. 25 Texas A&M 74-67 in the finals of the Battle 4 Atlantis.

I guess it’s time to start taking the Orange seriously.

There’s a lot to like about this group. Gbinije and Cooney are both fifth-year seniors that not only understand how to operate at the top of the 2-3 zone that Jim Boeheim runs, but they both have developed into versatile offensive weapons. Cooney was known as nothing more than a jump-shooter when he arrived up north, but he’s now averaging 3.5 assists on the season.

And Gbinije?

He has been one of the best players in the country through the first two weeks of the season. Through six games, he’s averaged 19.7 points, 4.2 assists, 3.0 boards and 2.8 steals while shooting 51.3 percent from beyond the arc.

Freshman Malachi Richardson, who had 16 points in the win over A&M, has scored double-figures in all six games this season while another freshman, Tyler Lydon, was against terrific on Friday, finishing with 13 points and eight boards. He’s now shooting 58.8 percent from beyond the arc this season.

And that’s where this team is going to do the majority of their damage this season.

Through six games, they’re shooting 41.1 percent from beyond the arc. In the three wins in the Bahamas, the Orange knocked were 34-for-73 from beyond the arc, a 46.5 percent clip. The question isn’t whether or not that rate can continue — four of the six players that saw action on Friday are dangerous three-point shooters while the other two, Tyler Roberson  and DaJuan Coleman, aren’t going to be shooting threes — but what happens on the nights where the threes aren’t going down.

There are going to be nights where they shoot 5-for-25 instead of 11-for-25. Will they have enough firepower then? Will their defense be good enough? Will guys like Roberson and Coleman be able to supply a scoring punch? Will Cooney, Gbinije and Richardson attack the paint instead of settling for jumpers?

Because at the very least, these three games in the Bahamas have proven that the Orange are going to be relevant this season, even in the loaded ACC. Whether that means they’re going to push for a top four finish or simply end the year as a tournament team remains to be seen, but this much is clear: Jim Boeheim has himself a squad Upstate.

No. 10 Gonzaga outlasts No. 18 UConn despite late offensive struggles

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No. 10 Gonzaga survived a furious rally from No. 18 UConn to win the third place game in the Battle 4 Atlantis, 73-70.

The Zags were up by as much as 21 points early in the second half, leading 48-27, but UConn slowly chipped away at the lead. Kyle Wiltjer led four players in double-figures with 17 points while Eric McClellan added 15 points, making a number of key plays in the second half when it looked like the Zags were in danger of giving away the lead.

As good as Gonzaga looked in the first 22 minutes of this game — and they looked really, really good — the second half exposed the concerns that many had with this group entering the season. Kevin Pangos and Gary Bell Jr., who both shot around 40 percent from beyond the arc and started for four years, graduated, meaning that Gonzaga’s point guard situation is, more or less, Josh Perkins.

Perkins was terrific in the second half of a loss to Texas A&M on Thursday. He played 17 foul-plagued minutes against UConn. When UConn’s defense ratcheted up during the second half, Gonzaga struggled finding a way to consistently get good shots on the offensive end. Part of that was due to ineffective point guard play and part of it was a result of not really having anyone on the offensive end that can create a look on their own. As skilled as Wiltjer is, his impact can be limited when pick-and-pop actions aren’t working and he’s getting doubled in the post.

Perkins is talented, but this is essentially his first season of college basketball; he was a medical redshirt last season after breaking his jaw last November. There are going to be ups-and-downs, and that’s problematic on a team where he is essentially the only point guard on the roster.

The good news?

Gonzaga beat a good UConn team on a day when their best players struggled in crunch-time. It was McClellan and Kyle Dranginis that made the big plays down the stretch, not the big names on the Gonzaga roster.