Sir’Dominic Pointer

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Weekly Awards: Sir’Dominic Pointer and Baylor shine in a wild week of hoops

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PLAYER OF THE WEEK: Sir’Dominic Pointer, St. John’s

Pointer was sensational this week as the Johnnies landed two critical wins that have punched their NCAA tournament ticket. In a win over Xavier on Monday, Pointer had 19 points, nine boards, six blocks, four steals and three assists, following that up with 24 points, 10 boards, two blocks and two assists in a double-digit win over Georgetown on Saturday.

The two wins this week completed a stretch of seven games where St. John’s won six out of seven, a stretch that has taken this team from NIT-bound to the NCAA tournament. At one point in time, the Johnnies were just 3-6 in Big East play, and without the energy that Pointer has brought to this team, they would not have made this turnaround. As good as Kris Dunn, D’Vauntes Smith-Rivera and about half of Villanova’s roster has been, Pointer has been the best player in the Big East this year, and he’s proven it of late.

THE ALL ‘THEY WERE GOOD, TOO’ TEAM

  • Aaron White, Iowa: Iowa landed a pair of critical wins for their tournament resume, beating Illinois and winning at Penn State in overtime. White had 29 points and nine boards against Illinois and followed up with 21 points and 14 boards over the weekend.
  • Justise Winslow, Duke: Winslow was terrific this week for the Blue Devils, just as he has been terrific for them for the past month. After posting 15 and seven in the overtime win at Virginia Tech, he went for a career-high 23 points, nine boards and three blocks against Syracuse. When Winslow plays like this, Duke is much more dangerous.
  • Derrick Marks, Boise State: Marks went for 30 points, five boards and five assists in a win over New Mexico, following that up with 18 points to lead the Broncos to a win at San Diego State. The win may end up getting Boise State into the tournament.
  • Jarrell Martin, LSU: The Tigers kept themselves on the right side of the bubble with wins over Auburn and Ole Miss, and Martin starred in both, averaging 21.5 points and 12.0 boards.
  • Trey Lyles, Kentucky: Lyles scored 18 points in back-to-back games, giving Kentucky yet another player that can take over a game.
  • Notables: Obi Emegano (Oral Roberts), Nigel Johnson (Kansas State)

TEAM OF THE WEEK: Baylor Bears

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Baylor picked up one of the most impressive wins of the season on Wednesday night, as they went into Hilton Coliseum, one of the toughest road venues in the country, and knocked off Iowa State. They followed that up with an impressive win over a short-handed West Virginia team, putting Scott Drew’s team in a great position to land a top three seed when the brackets are released in two weeks. I still feel like I don’t really have a grasp on this team, but at some point, you have to respect a team that can get to the offensive glass and shoot the three the way that Baylor can.

THEY WERE GOOD, TOO

  • Kansas State: The Wildcats knocked off the two best teams in the Big 12 this week, picking off both Kansas and Iowa State in Manhattan. All of a sudden. Kansas State — despite having a 15-15 record — has a chance to go to the NCAA tournament.
  • BYU: The Cougars did what they needed to do in order to have a chance at earning an at-large bid, by going into Spokane and knocking off Gonzaga. They’re not a lock for the tournament yet, but they’re close.
  • Maryland: The Terps beat Michigan on Saturday, a win that followed up their upset of No. 5 Wisconsin on Tuesday night. Dez Wells and Melo Trimble were fantastic all week long.
  • Villanova: While the rest of the potential No. 1 sees seem to be limping their way into the NCAA tournament, Villanova is playing as well as they have all year long. They beat Providence by 28 points on Tuesday, following that up with a 12 point win at Xavier.
  • Wichita State: The Shockers smacked around Northern Iowa in Koch Arena on Saturday, a win that earned them the Missouri Valley regular season title.
  • Notables: Iowa, Arizona, Boise State

SET YOUR DVR

  • No. 16 Oklahoma at No. 12 Iowa State, Mon. 9:00 p.m.
  • No. 20 West Virginia at No. 8 Kansas, Tue. 9:00 p.m.
  • No. 9 Notre Dame at No. 17 Louisville, Wed. 7:00 p.m.
  • No. 8 Kansas at No. 16 Oklahoma, Sat. 4:00 p.m.
  • No. 2 Virginia at No. 17 Louisville, Sat. 6:30 p.m.
  • No. 4 Duke at No. 15 North Carolina, Sat. 9:00 p.m.

NCAA tournament berth the final step for St. John’s senior class

Steve Lavin's three seniors have the NCAA tournament in their sights (AP Photo)
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Steve Lavin’s three seniors have the NCAA tournament in their sights (AP Photo)

St. John’s has not been to the NCAA Tournament since 2011, Steve Lavin’s first year as head coach. Following that season the Red Storm were forced to replace ten seniors, an unparalleled task in college basketball.

“After our first year we didn’t have one single returning player with D-I experience and that’s unprecedented in my career as an assistant, head coach and broadcaster,” Lavin said. “I don’t know if it will ever happen again at this level.”

Lavin and his staff responded to this challenge by securing a recruiting class ranked third best in the country, comprising of seven players: Sir‘Dominic Pointer, Maurice Harkless, D’Angelo Harrison, Amir Garrett, Phillip Greene IV as well as junior college transfers Nurideen Lindsey and God’sgift Achiuwa.

Since then, Harkless, Garrett, Lindsey and Achiuwa have moved on from St. John’s, leaving Pointer, Harrison and Greene to try to get the Red Storm back to the NCAA Tournament.

In the group’s first three years together they failed to do so, in large part due to inexperience. However, Lavin sees the growth of his team. “We’re closer, every year we’ve gotten a little bit closer,” he said. “So I think this group has learned.”

It is the one blemish on a recruiting class that has produced two 1,000-point scorers in Pointer and Greene, one 2,000-point scorer in Harrison and an NBA Draft pick in Harkless.

“It means everything,” responded Harrison in regards to an NCAA Tournament berth. “It’s the only thing I want to do, the only thing we haven’t done as a group.”

What this group has done, in the eyes of Lavin, is stabilize the St John’s program. “They’ve undeniably, incrementally made progress year after year and as a result they’ve put St. John’s in a position where we are competitive again after going through a decade or more not being competitive,” Lavin explained. “We are back to being a competitive program and that was the goal.”

The next, and final, step for this class is to punch a ticket to the Big Dance. “Now we have work to do because we want to send them out as they deserve, on a high note with an NCAA tournament appearance,” said Lavin.

St. John’s currently sits fifth in the Big East with a record of 19-9 (8-7) with three regular season games remaining, including a showdown with sixth-ranked Villanova in the final game of the season.

In College Basketball Talk’s latest edition of bracketology the Red Storm are a nine-seed and the players know that a strong finish to the season will eliminate any doubt of a tournament berth.

“We go 3-0 in these last three games, we will be worried about where we are going instead of are we in,” said Harrison, a finalist for the Senior CLASS Award. “We finish the season on a high note and once we get there we know we can make noise. We just have to get there first.”

Coming down the stretch this is the focus for St. John’s. The individual accomplishments of these players are well documented, but they have not quenched their thirst for postseason success.

Big East Player of the Year contender Sir’Dominic Pointer summed it up, “As long as we make the NCAA tournament, that’s all that matters. These awards, they come, they go, the tournament stays with you forever.”

Weekly Awards: Darrun Hilliard stars for Villanova, San Diego State takes control out west

Darrun Hilliard (AP Photo)
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Darrun Hilliard (AP Photo)

PLAYER OF THE WEEK: Darrun Hilliard, Villanova

Villanova had a terrific week, winning a pair of road games against ranked teams. On Tuesday, the Wildcats went into Providence and knocked off the Friars, following that up by knocking off Butler in Hinkle Fieldhouse on Saturday. Hilliard was the star. In the win over the Friars, Hilliard finished with 16 points and three boards, but it was his performance against Butler that earned him this award. In Hinkle, Hilliard finished with 31 points and eight boards and hit eight threes, which included the game-winning three with just 1.4 seconds left on the clock.

Villanova’s week was huge for them, as it put them in the driver’s seat in the Big East title race. The Wildcats hold a two-game lead over Butler in the league standings and a three game lead over the rest of the field with six games remaining.

THE ALL ‘THEY WERE GOOD, TOO’ TEAM

  • Sir’Dominic Pointer, St. John’s: The Johnnies bounced back from a rough stretch with three straight wins. This week, as St. John’s beat DePaul and Xavier, Pointer averaged 19.5 points, 8.0 boards, 3.5 blocks and 2.5 steals.
  • Willie Cauley-Stein, Kentucky: Cauley-Stein has been the centerpiece of the Kentucky defense all season long, but this week, in wins over LSU and South Carolina, averaged 14.5 points.
  • Brian Sullivan, Davidson: The Wildcats picked up a pair of big wins this week, remaining a game back of the Atlantic 10 leaders, and Sullivan was the star. He averaged 23.5 points in the two games.
  • Tyus Jones, Duke: Duke won at Florida State and at Syracuse this week, and Jones was the best player for the Blue Devils. He averaged 13.5 points, 9.0 assists and 6.0 boards.
  • Schadrac Casimir, Iona: The Gaels won three games this week and four in an eight-day stretch to take control of the MAAC race. Casimir averaged 22.5 points in those four games, shooting 60.0 percent from the floor and 69.0 percent (20-for-29) from three.
  • Notables: Seth Tuttle (Northern Iowa), Dez Wells (Maryland)
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TEAM OF THE WEEK: San Diego State Aztecs

The Aztecs breezed through the biggest week of their regular season. After knocking off a depleted Wyoming team on Tuesday, Steve Fisher’s club knocked off Colorado State at home in impressive fashion on Saturday night. The Aztecs are now 10-3 in the Mountain, all alone in first place and two games in front of the Rams. The two teams a game behind them are Wyoming, who is still playing without Larry Nance Jr., and Boise State, who still has to play at SDSU. The Aztecs are completely in the driver’s seat in the conference with just five games left in the regular season.

THEY WERE GOOD, TOO

  • Michigan State: The Spartans knocked off Northwestern in Chicago and followed that up by beating Ohio State in East Lansing. Denzel Valentine averaged 17.5 points and hit the game-winner against the Buckeyes.
  • UMass: The Minutemen have won six straight games and are now tied for first place in the Atlantic 10.
  • N.C. State: The Wolfpack picked up a massive win on Saturday, going into Louisville and knocking off the Cardinals in a win they desperately needed on their tournament profile.
  • Arkansas: The Razorbacks have now won seven of their last eight games and moved into sole possession of second place in the SEC with two road wins this week. On Saturday, they got revenge on Ole Miss by beating them in Oxford.
  • UCLA: The Bruins moved into a tie for third-place in the Pac-12 as they swept the Oregon schools at home this week. On Saturday, UCLA knocked off Oregon is a game that had all kinds of bubble implications. The Bruins have come all the way back and are now fully in the bubble conversation.

SET YOUR DVR

  • No. 8 Kansas at No. 21 West Virginia, Mon. 9:00 p.m.
  • Xavier at Cincinnati, Wed. 7:00 p.m.
  • No. 14 Iowa State at No. 21 Oklahoma State, Wed. 9:00 p.m.
  • No. 12 North Carolina at No. 4 Duke, Wed. 9:00 p.m.
  • No. 3 Gonzaga at St. Mary’s, Sat. 10:00 p.m.

Weekly Awards: Temple, UNLV earn wins that will get them into bubble contention

Christian Wood (Getty Images)
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Christian Wood (Getty Images)

PLAYER OF THE WEEK: Christian Wood, UNLV

UNLV had not played well at all this season entering the week. They were just 7-3 on the year, having blown a huge lead in a 22-point loss to Arizona State and already dropped games against Stanford (by 29) and Utah (by 13). They were ranked 132nd on Kenpom and looked like they were headed for, at best, a middle of the pack finish in the Mountain West and a trip to the NIT.

That all changed two days before Christmas, as the Rebels knocked off No. 3 Arizona in Vegas. They followed that up by pasting Southern Utah, a game they could have easily overlooked. And the star of the week has been the breakout star for UNLV this season, as Christian Wood averaged 23.0 points, 12.0 boards and 2.5 blocks in the two wins. Wood, an athletic 6-foot-11 forward with three point range, has played his way onto NBA Draft boards.

Who knows what will come of the Rebels this season, but they now own one of the best non-conference wins of any team in the country. That’s a great starting point for building a tournament-caliber resume in Mountain West play.

THE ALL THEY WERE GOOD, TOO TEAM

  • Sir’Dominic Pointer, St. John’s: How about this stat line in two wins: 17.5 points, 5.5 boards, 5.5 assists, 4.5 steals and 2.5 blocks.
  • Kevin Pangos, Gonzaga: Pangos finished with 21 points and seven assists with just one turnover as the Zags went into Provo and knocked off BYU.
  • D’Vauntes Smith-Rivera, Georgetown: Smith-Rivera scored 24 of his 29 points in the second half and overtime as Georgetown overcame a big second half deficit in a win over Indiana at Madison Square Garden.
  • Frank Kaminsky, Wisconsin: Kaminsky had 14 points in a win at Cal and followed that up with a dominating 25-point, 11-boards, six-block performance in a win over Buffalo where he shut down star forward Justin Moss.
  • Kris Dunn, Providence: Dunn has put up some impressive stat lines this year, but the 15 points, 13 assists, five boards and three steals he had against Miami was one of his most important, as the Friars have bounced back from their slump earlier this month.
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Jaylen Bond (AP Photo)

TEAM OF THE WEEK: Temple Owls

The Owls made the nation take notice of them this week as they beat the brakes off of No. 10 Kansas, 77-52, on Monday night. Entering the season, Temple wasn’t thought of as more than an afterthought in the American, a team that got mentioned as, at best, a potential sleeper behind the likes of UConn, SMU and Memphis. But this win coincided with the addition of transfer Jesse Morgan and Devin Coleman, meaning that it may be time to start taking Fran Dunphy’s club a bit more seriously.

Are they good enough to make a run at an NCAA tournament berth? That’s unclear at this point. But if they can put together a few more performances like the one they had against the Jayhawks, there’s no reason that they can’t make a run at one.

THEY WERE GOOD, TOO

  • George Washington: GW was impressive out in Hawaii for the Diamond Head Classic, as they won the event by knocking off both Colorado and No. 11 Wichita State. Kevin Larsen looks like he’s shaken off some of his early-season struggles.
  • Kentucky: The Wildcats took a huge step towards a perfect regular season when they went into the Yum! Center and knocked off arch rival Louisville.
  • Hawaii: Hawaii finished in third place in the Diamond Head Classic, but they did it by beating Nebraska and Colorado, their only loss coming by one point in overtime against Wichita State.
  • Stanford: The Cardinal got exactly what they needed on Tuesday, a road win against No. 9 Texas. Anthony Brown and Chasson Randle combined for 47 points.
  • Stony Brook: The Seawolves went into Seattle and knocked off Washington, handing the Huskies their first loss of the season. They also beat Patriot League favorite American.

SET YOUR DVR

  • Davidson at No. 5 Virginia, Tue. 6:00 p.m.
  • No. 15 Maryland at Michigan State, Tue. 7:00 p.m.
  • No. 13 Washington at Cal, Fri. 10:00 p.m.
  • No. 22 Baylor at No. 19 Oklahoma, Sat. 4:00 p.m.
  • UNLV at No. 10 Kansas, Sat. TBD

St. John’s seniors say they ‘grew up’ against Minnesota, but have they?

D'Angelo Harrison (AP Photo)
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D’Angelo Harrison (AP Photo)

NEW YORK — For 20 minutes on Wednesday night, we got a glimpse of just how good this St. John’s team can be.

For 20 minutes, the talent and athleticism on Steve Lavin’s roster overwhelmed Minnesota, spurring the Johnnies to a 70-61 win in the semifinals of the Preseason NIT at Madison Square Garden.

For 20 minutes, D’Angelo Harrison was hitting clutch shots, and Sir’Dominic Pointer was making energy plays all over the floor, and Chris Obekpa was turning the paint into an area that Minnesota was scared to enter.

And once those 20 minutes were finished, Harrison and Pointer were open and emphatic about the fact that they “grew up”, as Harrison put it, during halftime. That the Tale Of Two Halves was the Johnnies, during the break in the action, found the maturity and intensity needed to beat an undermanned Minnesota team.

“We played like little kids in the first half,” Pointer said.

They’re right. They did play timid in the first half, and that did change during the second half, but the jury is still out on whether or not this group has actually “grown up”.

Because if St. John’s is only going to show up for a half at a time, they’re going to be in trouble.

This program has the pieces to be an NCAA tournament team. They have the talent to finish in the top three in a Big East that has greatly exceeded expectations through the season’s first two weeks. Obekpa is the nation’s best shot-blocker, a 6-foot-9 athlete whose arms are as long as his shorts are short. Not only did he block three shots on Wednesday night, but he changed at least four times that many. With every touch that a Minnesota big man got in the post, he was cognizant of where Obekpa was. Every driver that got all the way to the rim had to try and finish knowing that Obekpa was lurking somewhere, waiting to pin his shot up against the backboard.

Having a presence like that around the basket means that the Johnnies can get out and pressure in the half court. They can gamble for steals and try to create turnovers because they know that anyone that gets by them will have to deal with the big fella. And when you have a team with as many athletes as St. John’s has playing in front of that presence, it creates a situation where you can force 20 turnovers and gather 16 steals in one game.

For that defense to be effective, all the Johnnies have to do is play hard, and you’d be hard-pressed to find a team that plays harder than them when they want to

“That’s who we have to be if we’re going to have to have a special season,” Lavin said.

“We did it on the defensive end,” Harrison added. “We’re a defensive team.”

But, as the first half indicated, that’s not always the team that shows up.

There is not a program in the country that consistently makes head-scratching plays more than the Johnnies. You never quite know what is going to happen when Rysheed Jordan or Harrison has the ball in their hands, and, sometimes, that is a good thing. They’re talented kids that can make things happen in the open floor. But when Jordan starts trying to prove that he’s a future lottery pick — he’s not — and Harrison starts chucking up quick, contested shots, things can go south in a hurry.

And therein lies the biggest issue for St. John’s. Their two most talented players are also their two most unreliable, and that’s never a good combination.

This sounds like I’m being overly negative about a team that just put on an impressive second half performance in a huge win for their season’s end goal. That’s not my intention, because I’m actually bullish on this group after seeing them play and hearing them talk.

Let me explain.

This is an important season for Harrison and Pointer. They were part of Lavin’s massive, nine-man 2011 recruiting class, the one that he brought in to replace the guys that left after their trip to the 2011 NCAA tournament. That group has never reached the Big Dance, and this year is the last chance for the guys that are leftover — Harrison, Pointer, Phil Greene IV.

Their legacy is on the line here, and that’s only half of the battle.

It’s hard not to think that Lavin’s job is on the line this season as well. He’s been in Queens for five seasons now, making just one NCAA tournament. That was in his first season, the year that he was beating cancer and Mike Dunlap was coaching the senior class that Norm Roberts left when he was fired. He’s now had a full four-year recruiting cycle, and, with that group, all he has amassed is a pair of trips to the NIT.

That’s only the half of it. St. John’s missed on two of their most important recruits during Lavin’s tenure, losing Isaiah Whitehead to Seton Hall this season and Isaiah Briscoe to Kentucky in the Class of 2015.

What that means is that there is a lot riding on this season, and based on the way that Harrison and Pointer were talking in the press conference, they seem to understand this.

“It’s time for us to grow up,” Pointer said. “We’ve been here for four years and we’ve got a good team this year.”

“This was one of the biggest games of our careers,” Harrison said, doubling down on a point he made earlier in the week when he said, “to come out 2-0 in this tournament would be big for this program in making people take us seriously.”

The Johnnies seem to believe that they have turned a corner this season, that they have grown up and are ready to finally live up to the hype they had when they entered the program more than three years ago.

“We showed it in the second half,” Harrison said, “and when we put together two halves like the second half, we’re going to be tough.”

Only time will tell if we actually see those two halves in the same game.

#POSTERIZED: St. John’s forward Sir’Dominic Pointer finishes with authority (VIDEO)

Sir'Dominic Pointer, Tony Chennault
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While the NIT Season Tipoff semifinal between Minnesota and St. John’s hasn’t been the prettiest of affairs, it certainly hasn’t lacked for entertainment. One of the best plays from this game: St. John’s senior forward Sir’Dominic Pointer’s emphatic dunk on Minnesota center Elliot Eliason.

Eliason made the mistake of turning over the outlet pass, which Pointer picked off and then one dribble later met the 6-foot-11 center at the rim. The only negative for Pointer: he didn’t make the resulting free throw.

Vine credit: Matt Norlander