Zak Irvin

Can Zak Irvin follow a path similar to that of prior Beilein-era Wolverines?

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In three of the last four offseasons the Michigan basketball program has been faced with the need to account for the early departure of at least one critical player. Following the 2010-11 season point guard Darius Morris left for the NBA, resulting in Trey Burke needing to grab the reins upon his arrival on campus in 2011. Two years later both Burke and Tim Hardaway Jr. left after helping to lead the Wolverines to the national title game, leaving another void that some young players needed to account for.

The result in 2013-14: players such as Nik Stauskas, Glenn Robinson III and Caris LeVert stepped forward lead Michigan to an outright Big Ten regular season title and a spot in the Elite Eight.

The common bond: head coach John Beilein and his staff had players not only capable of stepping forward when their number was called, but just as importantly they took advantage of the summer months in order to make sure they were prepared to do so. With Stauskas, Robinson III and Mitch McGary all having entered the 2014 NBA Draft, that will be key for LeVert (who made major strides last offseason) and rising sophomores Derrick Walton Jr. and Zak Irvin.

This is an especially important offseason for Irvin, who averaged 6.7 points per game as a freshman with shooting percentages of 43.4% from the field and 42.5% from beyond the arc. With Michigan having lost two of its top three scorers, the opportunity for the highly-regarded 2013 recruit to step forward will be there.

“Right now [Zak] becomes very core to the future of Michigan basketball,” assistant coach Jeff Meyer said recently on WTKA’s “Michigan Insider” radio show, featuring all three assistants.

“With Zak, the development piece will be similar to what we’ve seen with Glenn and what we’ve seen with Tim — the ability to improve his ball-handling so that he can not only use the perimeter jumper as an offensive weapon, but be able to keep balancing and attacking the rim, using ball screens and finding success in his midrange game.”

Irvin reached double figures in five Big Ten games last season, including a stretch of three consecutive games in early February. Due to the presence of Stauskas, Robinson III and LeVert he was able to easy into a supplementary role last season, but that clearly won’t be the case in 2014-15.

With six freshmen (not to mention redshirt forward Mark Donnal) joining the fold, the production and leadership of the returnees will be important factors for Michigan. But even with the questions that will come as a result of their major personnel losses, Michigan’s recent track record in similar situations should be taken into consideration. With that being the case, it shouldn’t come as a surprise if Irvin winds up being one of the most improved players in the Big Ten next season.

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.

Tyler Ulis injured as No. 1 Kentucky beats South Florida

Tyler Ulis, Ky Howard
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MIAMI (AP) Jamal Murray had 21 points and No. 1 Kentucky scored the final 15 points of the first half on the way to beating South Florida 84-63 in the HoopHall Miami Invitational on Friday.

Skal Labissiere added 17 points for the Wildcats (6-0), who led by as many as 31. Charles Matthews scored 11 points and Isaiah Briscoe finished with seven assists for Kentucky, now a winner of 37 consecutive regular-season games and 39 in a row against unranked opponents.

Chris Perry scored 14 points for USF (1-5), which has lost 18 consecutive games against teams ranked in the Top 25. Jaleel Cousins added 12 points on 5-for-6 shooting, and Jahmal McMurray scored 11 points for the Bulls.

Kentucky played the second half without starting guard Tyler Ulis, who departed with a right elbow injury after getting hurt while fighting for a ball loose on the floor.

Kentucky announced after the game that the injury was a hyperextension of the elbow and that he will be day-to-day.

The Bulls were within 27-21 with 6 minutes left in the first half after McMurray banked in a 3-pointer only a few feet away from where John Calipari was standing, and the look of anguish on the Kentucky coach’s face was clear.

It didn’t last long.

The Wildcats scored on seven of their next nine possessions and the game was over by halftime, Kentucky going into the break with a 42-21 lead.

It was a reunion for plenty of people on both benches. Calipari squared off with his former assistant Orlando Antigua, now in his second year leading USF. Antigua’s staff includes another former Calipari assistant in Rod Strickland, plus former Kentucky basketball staff members Mike Malone and Dominic Lombardi.

So the staffs have plenty of familiarity. On the court, there was plenty of disparity. Kentucky finished with a commanding 23-6 edge in points off turnovers and finished with 16 assists to the Bulls’ six.