Friday’s Pregame Shootaround: Opportunity knocks for Arizona State

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GAME OF THE NIGHT: No. 2 Arizona at Arizona State, 9:00 p.m. (ESPN)

No. 2 Arizona remains ahead of the pack in the Pac-12 by two games, but there may be some teams who sense an opportunity now that Brandon Ashley’s out for the year. However Arizona’s won its last two games after falling at Cal, with freshman Rondae Hollis-Jefferson one of the reasons why they’ve been able to adjust. He averaged 15.0 points and 7.5 rebounds in wins over Oregon and Oregon State, and he’ll be a key figure moving forward for the Wildcats.

As for their in-state rivals, tonight represents a great resume-building opportunity for Herb Sendek’s Sun Devils. Arizona State looks well-positioned to reach the NCAA tournament for the first time since 2009, with point guard Jahii Carson and center Jordan Bachynski leading the way. But the difference-maker may be senior guard Jermaine Marshall, who missed the first meeting due to a hip injury. The Penn State transfer’s averaging 15.6 points per game, giving Arizona State a needed perimeter scorer. If he has a solid night, the Sun Devils are more than capable of winning this one.

WHO’S GETTING UPSET: No. 23 SMU (-5) at Rutgers, 7:00 p.m.

Last month the Mustangs earned a comfortable 70-56 win over Rutgers in Dallas, and from a talent standpoint Nic Moore and company should win the rematch. But funny things can happen at The RAC, and with the weather forcing a one-day delay this could be one of those scenarios. Myles Mack and company have won their last two home games, and if he and Kadeem Jack show up the potential for an upset is there.

MID-MAJOR GAME OF THE NIGHT: Harvard at Columbia, 7:00 p.m.

After dropping a seven-point decision to Yale last Saturday the Crimson look to rebound with a win at Columbia. And this begins a key stretch for Tommy Amaker’s team, as they’ll play their next four games away from Cambridge. The problem against Yale for Harvard: their defense. The Bulldogs shot 51%, and a similar effort against Columbia could lead to trouble. The Lions are led by Alex Rosenberg and Maodo Lo, and they’re also shooting 38% from beyond the arc on the season.


1) No. 13 Louisville visits Temple (6:00 p.m., ESPN2) in a game that was originally scheduled to be played on Thursday. The Cardinals have won six of their last seven games, with Russ Smith leading the way for a team that trails Cincinnati by a game in the loss column.

2) Iona looks to maintain its two-game lead atop the MAAC with a win over Monmouth. The Gaels won the first meeting 89-71 just ten days ago, with Sean Armand scoring 22 points and David Laury III adding 21 and 12 rebounds.

3) Mercer hosts Lipscomb, and the Bears’ weekend schedule was thrown for a loop due to the inclement weather. Instead of the originally scheduled Thursday/Saturday split, Bob Hoffman’s team will host Northern Kentucky on Sunday.

4) Yale looks to move to 6-1 in Ivy League play with a win over Penn, but they aren’t the only team with hopes of winning the league. There’s also 4-2 Brown, which needs to get hot in order to keep pace with the Bulldogs and Harvard, with both having already beaten the Bears.

5) The Southern Conference no longer has divisions, which makes the race for seeding in next month’s conference tournament even more important. Chattanooga hosts Western Carolina with the Mocs leading the Catamounts by a game in the loss column. Will Wade’s team has lost three of its last four after starting SoCon play 8-0 (one of the three losses was a non-conference loss to Eastern Kentucky).

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.