Chris Mack

Xavier frustrates St. John’s in crucial resume game

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There hasn’t been a hotter team in Big East play since late January than St. John’s. Steve Lavin’s squad was both clicking on defense (forcing countless steals) and on offense (consistently converting from two-point range), and the team looked like an shoo-in for an NCAA tournament bid. However, it appears the Red Storm has reverted to the mean: after a loss to Villanova this weekend, Xavier (19-9, 9-7), thanks to the best game of forward Jalen Reynolds’ career, defeated the Johnnies, now 18-11 (and 8-8 in conference play).

The 6-foot-9 Reynolds was suspended by coach Chris Mack in late January, and missed two games while ‘dealing with responsibilities greater than basketball‘. Since he returned to the floor, Reynolds has been solid, but no one could have predicted his outburst tonight: the big scored 17 points and grabbed 15 rebounds, completely beasting SJU’s frontcourt and single-handedly dominating the Red Storm in the paint. Like the Villanova loss, though, St. John’s was within single-digits for most of the game, but could not find any sort of offensive rhythm: the team scored just .80 points per possession and converted 47 percent of their twos. In their first match-up, Xavier was content to pack the paint and let SJU try their luck from mid-range — the Red Storm has never met an 18 footer they didn’t want to take — and the Musketeers benefited again from this strategy. Phil Greene IV and D’Angelo Harrison shot a combined 2 for 16, and six of JaKarr Sampson’s 17 field goal attempts were mid-range misses.

This was an important game for both teams: St. John’s will now have to win out their remaining slate, which includes games against DePaul and Marquette, and reach at least the semifinals of the Big East tournament to get a bid for NCAAs (and even that prognostication might be too generous). What is more likely is that the Red Storm will crack the NIT field, a disappointing result for a team that faced such great expectations during the preseason. This win greatly boosted Xavier’s at-large chances: Mack’s squad likely still has to beat Seton Hall and split their upcoming Creighton and Villanova contests, but XU’s path to the postseason became a bit clearer.

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.