Portland Trail Blazers

Montana’s Will Cherry is a ‘game-time decision’ on Saturday

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Coming into the season, Montana was one of the mid-major programs that everyone loved.

With quite a bit of talent, including the underrated back court duo of Will Cherry and Kareem Jamar, back for another season, the Grizzlies were expected to improve on a season where they beat out Damian Lillard’s Weber State team for both the Big Sky regular season and tournament titles.

The problem?

Cherry has yet to ‘return’, so to speak. The talented lead guard broke his foot back in September and has yet to make it back to full health.

He appears to be close, according to Shaun Rainey:

I’ll let Jonathon Reed of Big Sky Basketball explain what his return would mean:

Keron DeShields and Jordan Gregory are solid players now and will be good starters eventually, but they are not good or experienced enough right now to lighten the burden on Kareem Jamar. … Cherry is a lockdown defender, but he is also a creator on offense and a guy that defenses have to pay a lot of attention to because of his ability to get to the rim or hit the midrange jumper. They miss him offensively.

While losing Cherry for the non-conference portion of the schedule likely cost Montana a shot at an at-large bid, getting him back in the fold before league play means that he should be healthy once Montana’s truly important games start.

Rob Dauster is the editor of the college basketball website Ballin’ is a Habit. You can find him on twitter @robdauster.

Could Utah State’s cold shooting night cost them down the road?

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While it wasn’t a part of any of the in-season tournaments played on Thursday night, an important contest matching two of the better non-BCS programs in the country took place in Logan, Utah.

Saint Mary’s visited Utah State in a game that is likely to become even bigger as the season wears on when we begin to look at teams’ NCAA tournament resumes, and the Gaels left the Spectrum with a 67-58 victory.

Despite out-rebounding the Gaels 49-30 and turning the ball over just ten times, Utah State fell for one simple reason: they couldn’t shoot.

The Aggies shot 32.3% from the field and 3-of-16 from three last night, and leading scorer Preston Medlin managed just seven points on 3-of-11 shooting from the field. Those factors were enough to cancel out the rebounding edge and the fact that junior center Jarred Shaw accounted for 17 points and 15 rebounds.

“I’m not doom-and-gloom about that game and I don’t want our kids to be. We’ve just got some guys who need to find their way,” said head coach Stew Morrill after the game.

“We were nervous, we didn’t shoot the ball well. We hung in there and kept competing, but we just couldn’t make shots. With that poor of a percentage, it’s obviously hard to win, especially against a really good team.”

By comparison the Gaels shot 45.7% from the field with Matthew Dellavedova scoring a game-high 21 points,  Stephen Holt adding 16 and one-time Aggie James Walker III scoring 14 points in his return to the Spectrum.

While there certainly isn’t a need for Utah State or its fans to panic just two games into the season, there is the question of the impact a game like this could have on their NCAA tournament resume to consider.

A look at the Aggies’ non-conference schedule makes you wonder if they’ll have enough opportunities to impress before entering WAC play, with the game at BYU on December 5 looking like their best opportunity for a “statement” victory.

Utah State also has games against Weber State (November 24), who is expected to contend in the Big Sky despite the loss of Damian Lillard, and at Santa Clara (November 28). But the non-conference slate that Utah State has likely makes that BracketBusters home game on February 22 or 23 all the more important should they not grab the WAC’s automatic berth.

Given Utah State’s performance on the offensive end of the floor during the Morrill era, it’s unlikely that Medlin and company will duplicate last night’s shooting performance. But could the impact of a cold two hours cost them on Selection Sunday? Only time will tell.

Quote courtesy of Utah State University

Raphielle also writes for the NBE Basketball Report and can be followed on Twitter at @raphiellej.

Conference Preview: Its Nate Wolters or bust in The Summit League

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Throughout the month of October, CollegeBasketballTalk will be rolling out our previews for the 2012-2013 season. Check back at 9 a.m. and just after lunch every day, Monday-Friday, for a new preview item.

To browse through the preview posts we’ve already published, click here. To look at the rest of the Top 25, click here. For a schedule of our previews for the month, click here.

With the departure of Oral Roberts to the Southland Conference, the Summit League title is up for grabs, and the spotlight will shift from Tulsa, OK to Brookings, SD, home of Nate Wolters and the South Dakota State Jackrabbits.  Remember how popular Damian Lillard and Isaiah Canaan were last year? That’s how big Nate Wolters is going to get this season.  I mean, we’re talking huge. Not quite to Jimmer-levels of pandemonium, but it’s gonna be close. The 6-foot-3 senior dynamo is one of the best scorers in the country and he has a savory touch from outside the arch. In short, he is everything you love about college hoops, and everything you need in order to become a superstar. Wolters does have some help (Senior forward Jordan Dykstra), but the Jackrabbits will ultimately go only as far as Wolters can take them.

But if for some reason the Jackrabbits stumble, the Bison of North Dakota State are there to steal the spotlight. The top three scorers from last season return, led by first team All-Conference guard Taylor Braun.  The 6-foot-7 junior was the team’s top scorer last year (15.6ppg) and has all the makings of a high-octane scorer that the Summit League is becoming know for. Since we’re talking about high scoring affairs and the Summit League, we cannot forget about Greg Kampe’s Oakland Golden Grizzlies. Last season the Golden Griz ranked ninth in the country in points per game (79.6ppg) and although Reggie Hamilton is gone, Travis Bader returns and is expected to do the majority of the scoring this season.

The Summit League also features a talented Western Illinois program that should be much improved this season, as well as a first-year program in Nebraska-Omaha.

Then there is the curious case of the shortened acronyms. The Summit League has long been known for housing some of the most interesting school and mascot names in the country. But league officials decided during the offseason that Missouri-Kansas City (UMKC) will change to Kansas City, and Indiana Purdue-Fort Wayne (IPFW) will change to Fort Wayne. Luckily, officials did not mess with Indiana Univeristy – Purdue Univeristy Indianapolis (IUPUI).

All-Conference Team (* denotes Player of the Year)
G Travis Bader, (Oakland)
G/F Taylor Braun, (North Dakota State)
G Ceola Clark III, (Western Illinois)
G Frank Gaines, (Fort Wayne)
G Nate Wolters, (South Dakota State)*

Predicted Standings
1. South Dakota State
2. North Dakota State
3. Oakland
4. Western Illinois
5. IUPUI
6. Fort Wayne
7. South Dakota
8. Kansas City
9. Nebraska-Omaha

Troy Machir is the managing editor of the college basketball website Ballin’ is a Habit. You can find him on twitter @TroyMachir.

Conference Preview: Montana aims for Big Sky repeat

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Throughout the month of October, CollegeBasketballTalk will be rolling out our previews for the 2012-2013 season. Check back at 9 a.m. and just after lunch every day, Monday-Friday, for a new preview item.

To browse through the preview posts we’ve already published, click here. To look at the rest of the Top 25, click here. For a schedule of our previews for the month, click here.

Last season was a very good one at the top of the Big Sky, as both Montana and Weber State were both teams that college basketball fans had to take notice of. In addition to both of those teams winning 25 games the Big Sky also had its first NBA Draft lottery pick ever as Weber State’s Damian Lillard was selected 6th overall by Portland (Michael Ray Richardson was the 4th pick in 1978, before the lottery was instituted in 1985).

But it was Montana who won both the regular season and postseason titles, and with guards Will Cherry and Kareem Jamar back the Grizzlies are the favorites in the eyes of many. But they’ve incurred a couple of losses before a game’s been played, as Cherry is out for three months due to a knee injury and junior college transfer Marko Kovacevic (will enroll at Utah next season) was not cleared academically.

So while the Grizzlies remain the favorites the door has opened a bit wider for the competition in the Big Sky, with Weber State once again the chief challenger. Scott Bamforth and Gelaun Wheelwright are back along with front court standouts Kyle Tresnak and Byron Fulton. Northern Colorado returns four starters led by guard Tate Unruh from a team that was a bit young to be expected to contend last season, but the Bears are ready to go in 2012-13.

Portland State may have lost leading scorers Charles Odum and Chehales Tapscott, but the return of Renado Parker and Lateef McMillan makes them a threat as well. Eastern Washington welcomes back Collin Chiverton and Saint Joseph’s transfer Justin Crosgile will help them on the perimeter, while Freshman of the Year Dylan Garrity leads four returning starters at Sacramento State. Idaho State and Montana State had tumultuous offseasons, and there’s optimism for the future in Flagstaff as former Memphis assistant Jack Murphy takes over at Northern Arizona.

The Big Sky also welcomes two new members, as North Dakota (Great West) and Southern Utah (Summit League) now call the conference home. While it would be tough to expect Southern Utah to contend under first-year head coach Nick Robinson, the same can’t be said for the Fighting Sioux. Four starters led by guard Troy Huff return to Grand Forks, and this is a program that has made consecutive trips to the CollegeInsider.com Tournament. Montana is the favorite to repeat in the Big Sky, but they won’t lack for challengers either.

All-Conference Team (* denotes Player of the Year)
G Will Cherry (Montana)*
G Scott Bamforth (Weber State)
G/F Kareem Jamar (Montana)
F Collin Chiverton (Eastern Washington)
C Kyle Tresnak (Weber State)

Predicted Standings
1. Montana
2. Weber State
3. Northern Colorado
4. Sacramento State
5. North Dakota
6. Eastern Washington
7. Portland State
8. Montana State
9. Idaho State
10. Northern Arizona
11. Southern Utah

Raphielle is also the assistant editor at CollegeHoops.net and can be followed on Twitter at @raphiellej. 

Big Ten Preview: Wisconsin and Iowa are better than you think

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Throughout the month of October, CollegeBasketballTalk will be rolling out our previews for the 2012-2013 season. Check back at 9 a.m. and just after lunch every day, Monday-Friday, for a new preview item.

To browse through the preview posts we’ve already published, click here. To look at the rest of the Conference Previews we’ve published, click here. For a schedule of our previews for the month, click here.

The Big Ten is absolutely loaded this year.

They have the best team in the country in Indiana who has the best player in the country in Cody Zeller. Three more top 15 teams reside in the conference, and that’s not including Wisconsin, who, as usual, is underrated heading into the season.

Even Minnesota and Iowa are good enough that they should be in contention for the NCAA tournament this season. The basketball may not be played incredibly fast, but rest assured it will be played at a very high level all season long.

Five Things to Know

1. Everyone’s back: Well, almost everyone that was allowed to be is. Jared Sullinger (correctly) left for the NBA after posting a second straight all-american season. Meyers Leonard joined him and got scooped up in the lottery. But that’s it. Only two players from the conference left for the NBA with eligibility remaining. The rest — Trey Burke, Cody Zeller, Deshaun Thomas, Trevor Mbakwe, etc. — are back for another season at the collegiate level.

2. Trevor Mbakwe’s troubles: While we’re on the topic of Mbakwe, his continued to pile up the legal issues over the summer. After being granted a sixth-year of eligibility by the NCAA, Mbakwe managed to get a DUI this summer, which violated his probation in Florida from an assault back in 2009. The story is convoluted, but the bottom-line is this: Mbawke only got probation in the case, and according to Minnesota, he won’t miss anymore time with the team.

3. Iowa’s actually good this year: The Hawkeyes are a group that you need to keep an eye on this season. They lose scorer Matt Gatens, but with a young, talented core returning — headlined by juniors Roy Devyn Marble and Melsahn Besabe and sophomore Aaron White — and a loaded freshmen class that includes top 100 recruits Mike Gesell and Adam Woodbury, Fran McCaffery has a team that could legitimately make a run at the NCAA tournament.

4. The Big Ten’s slow: It’s a running joke in college hoops that Big Ten basketball games are ugly, grind-it-out slugfests that are won with elbow grease, physicality and sheer determination. Ok, that’s a bit of a stretch, but the conference really does play some plodding basketball. Only three Big Ten teams — Ohio State, Indiana and Iowa — were ranked in the top 200 in tempo last season. Four teams — Northwestern, Michigan, Nebraska and Wisconsin (who was dead last) — were ranked below 290.

5a. JerShon Cobb won’t be playing this year: According to Northwestern head coach Bill Carmody, the issue is academics. It’s a big blow for the Wildcats, who are looking to replace John Shurna’s scoring. Cobb was one of the guys that was going to be counted on to fill that void.

5b. But Mike Bruesewitz will: And given how nasty the gash he suffered on his leg sounds, that’s impressive.

Impact Newcomers

1. Glenn Robinson III, Mitch McGary and Nik Stauskas, Michigan: Michigan’s three high-profile recruits are going to be the guys that are the difference-makers for the Wolverines this season. We all already know how good Trey Burke is, and Tim Hardaway Jr. should be improved as he slides over to his more natural shooting guard spot. But if John Beilein can find a way to make this talented trio fit into his offensive system, the Wolverines go from really good to elite.

2. Mike Gesell and Adam Woodbury, Iowa: What Iowa has returning this season are wings, shooters and power forwards. Some of them are pretty good, too. What are they missing? A point guard and a center, and that’s precisely what Fran McCaffery landed with Gesell, the point guard, and Woodbury, the center. If these guys live up to the hype as freshmen, the Hawkeyes could be looking at a trip to the NCAA tournament.

3. Gary Harris, Michigan State: The Spartans are going to look a little bit like the Michigan State teams of old this season. They’ll be big and strong and physical, thriving on their defense and ability to hit the glass. But what those Michigan State teams of old all had was a scorer on the wing that could get a bucket if things got bogged down offensively. Harris has a chance to be that guy.

4. Sam Dekker, Wisconsin: Dekker is the kind of talent that rarely makes his way to Madison, WI. A versatile, 6-foot-7 small forward, Dekker will see major minutes as a freshman for the Badgers, something that rarely happens in Bo Ryan’s program. His size, shooting ability, all-around skill-set and ability to be a matchup nightmare will make Dekker a perfect fit for the swing offense.

5. Yogi Ferrell, Indiana: I put Yogi on this list because I think that he’ll end up getting some big minutes for Indiana this season because of his ability to defend. I love Jordy Hulls, but I think I might be able to beat him off the dribble. Not so with Ferrell. Indiana’s biggest concern this season will be their ability to get stops. A back court of Ferrell and Victor Oladipo is a good place to start improving at that end.

Breakout Players

1. Terone Johnson, Jr., Purdue: Over the last eight games in 2012, Johnson averaged 15.1 points, 4.3 boards and 2.9 assists. That included a 22 point performance in a win at Michigan and 21 points, five assists and four boards in a win over St. Mary’s in the opening round of the NCAA tournament. With Robbie Hummel and Lewis Jackson gone, Purdue is going to need someone to step up.

2. Lenzelle Smith, Jr., and LaQuinton Ross, So., Ohio State: You know about Aaron Craft. You know about Deshaun Thomas. You know that the Buckeye’s post players aren’t going to be much more than tall. What Ohio State doesn’t have yet is a proven scoring threat on the wing. Smith showed flashes last season, but was very inconsistent. Ross, at one point in his early high school career, was the No. 1 recruit in the country.

3. Andre Hollins, So., Minnesota: Hollins is not a natural point guard, but he was forced into the role as a freshman last season. It took him a while to adjust to the position, but he managed to average 16.8 points and 2.8 assists in the final nine games, leading the Gophers to the NIT title game.

4. Brandon Paul, Sr., Illinois: Paul’s got plenty of talent. (Remember this?) New head coach John Groce needs someone to build an offense around. Paul needs a fresh start. Could this be a match made in heaven?

5. Aaron White, So., Iowa: It’s tough to call White a breakout candidate given the fact that Iowa’s front court will be a bit crowded next year. I don’t expect his numbers to be much improved from the 11.1 points and 5.7 boards he averaged last season. I do, however, expect that he’ll end up being a much more well-known name, especially in Big Ten college towns.

Player of the Year: Cody Zeller, So., Indiana

Zeller is going to end up being the National Preseason Player of the Year by the majority of the publications that make such declarations, including us, so it only makes sense that he’s the Big Ten’s Preseason Player of the Year. Zeller is a pleasure to watch on the offensive end of the floor. He’s got great hands, he’s got a variety of low-post moves and he’s a true back-to-the-basket player. My favorite part of his game? How hard he runs the floor in transition. He’ll get a couple of easy buckets every game simply by beating every down the court. As his defense improves, he’ll only get better.

All-Conference Team

G: Trey Burke, So., Michigan
G: Aaron Craft, Jr., Ohio State
F: Deshaun Thomas, Jr., Ohio State
F: Trevor Mbakwe, Sr., Minnesota
C: Cody Zeller, So., Indiana*

Coach under pressure: Tubby Smith, Minnesota

Smith has put together some promising rosters in his time in Minnesota, but it’s been a while since he’s had a team live up to those expectations. For example, remember 2010-2011? The Gophers jumped out to an 11-1 record and a top 15 rankings before ending with losses in 10 of their last 11 games and spending March without any postseason. He’s had players with legal issues and he’s had players transfer mid-season, which can be tolerated when the wins come. But when you’ve made two NCAA tournaments — and lost in the first round both times — it’s a different story. This month, Minnesota has had all kinds of negative publicity, from the issues involving Trevor Mbakwe to the DUI that Tubby’s son Saul, an assistant on the Minnesota staff, got. Smith has a team that can make some noise in the NCAA tournament this season. If they don’t, will those legal issues and losses have piled too high?

Predicted Finish

1. Indiana: They’re the No. 1 team in the country. Defensive issues aside, this team returns basically everyone and adds another loaded recruiting class. Easy pick.

2. Ohio State: The Buckeyes and the Wolverines are a coin-flip, but I’m taking the Buckeyes. I love Aaron Craft’s experience, I think Deshaun Thomas is ready to be a star, and this appears to be the season where Thad Matta’s obsessive stockpiling of talent pays off.

3. Michigan: I think the Wolverines have the second-most talent in the conference, but I have concerns about the roster makeup. I go in-depth about them here.

4. Wisconsin: I’m starting to think that I underrated Wisconsin when I did my top 25. The Badgers get four starters back, and a junior that’s started 66 games to replace Jordan Taylor and adds a stud in Sam Dekker.

5. Michigan State: I had Michigan State ranked 12th nationally, which should give you an idea of how strong this league is. I think their lack of offensive power will be an issue.

6. Iowa: I’m taking a risk putting Iowa this high, but, as I’ve said numerous times already, I’m riding with the Hawkeyes.

7. Minnesota: There always seems to be a Gopher in legal turmoil, but with basically everyone returning from last season and a healthy Trevor Mbakwe, the Gophers are very good. That said, I need to see proof they can handle distraction and succeed on the court.

8. Purdue: The Boilermakers will be without Robbie Hummel this season, but they’ll have a chance to be competitive if Terone Johnson and the rest of that perimeter attack can have a big year.

9. Illinois: The Illini have a lot of talent on their roster and start a bunch of upperclassmen. Will this group buy-in to what new head coach John Groce is selling? If everything comes together, this is a team that could sneak into the tournament. Who’s the point guard?

10. Northwestern: Drew Crawford is as good as anyone in the league, but losing JerShon Cobb is really going to hurt, especially if Jared Swopshire isn’t back to his old form.

11. Penn State: Tim Frazier is awesome. It’s a shame that he’ll spend his career toiling away in Happy Valley.

12. Nebraska: I love Tim Miles, but it is going to be a couple of years, at least, before he’s having fun in Lincoln.

Rob Dauster is the editor of the college basketball website Ballin’ is a Habit. You can find him on twitter @robdauster.

Memphis hopes ‘cutthroat rebounding’ improves prowess on boards

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Anytime you hear the word ‘cutthroat’, chances are the meaning attached isn’t pretty. That applies to Memphis’ new rebounding drill.

An article by Jason Smith of the Memphis Commercial Appeal details the Tigers’ new practice ritual for developing a killer instinct for hitting the boards.

It’s ‘Cutthroat Rebounding.’ An assistant fires a shot from the wing and all hell breaks loose. It’s four-on-four. Bodies get beaten, there’s tons of contact and the winner is the team that pulls in the rebound. Players are told to use two hands and jump off both feet. Points are awarded for a defensive rebound and the team that loses (doesn’t get the rebound) leaves the floor and rotates out. A team has to get a defensive rebound before they can switch to offense.

Not exactly a science, but rebounding is as physical as blocking in football, so the more contact a player can handle, the better.

“There’s going to be some fouling. It’s not going to be an exact fundamental drill,” Pastner said. “It’s more about, ‘When the ball is in the air or it’s a 50-50 ball, you better go get that sucker with two hands and you better jump off the ground with two feet.’ “

It’s no secret Memphis was average at-best rebounding last season, and has been in Pastner’s previous two seasons. In 2011-12, they were 96th in total rebounds, 179th in rebounds per game and as Smith shows in the article, the Tigers’ had a plus-1.3 rebounding margin, 136th nationally last season.

Fortunately for Pastner, this team doesn’t lack the beef inside. Tarik Black (6-9. 262 pounds) and Adonis Thomas (6-7, 240) return along with Ferrakohn Hall (6-9, 220) and now they add freshman Shaq Goodwin (6-9, 246). The problem is, two of the teams’ top rebounders, Will Barton (a team-leading 8.0 per game) and Wesley Witherspoon (third on the team with 3.7 per game) are gone.

David Harten is the editor of The Backboard Chronicles. You can follow him on Twitter at @David_Harten.