Kansas, ranked No. 5 in the preseason rankings, welcomed in one of the top Alan Williams and UC Santa Barbara — one of the top mid-major programs in the nation — to Allen Fieldhouse on Friday night, and pulled out a 69-59 win.
The Gauchos had kept it close in the first half, and a 10-0 run in the opening minutes of the second half cut the Jayhawks lead to 39-37. But for a five-minute stretch, the trio of Frank Mason, Cliff Alexander and Sviatoslav Mykhailiuk scored KU’s 19 points to extend the lead to 15. UC Santa Barbara would get it to 10 on multiple occasions, but could never crack through and cut the deficit to single digits.
Bill Self did not start any of his heralded freshmen, but Devonte Graham led all Jayhawks with 14 points. Graham, the former Appalachian State signee who fought all of last winter to get his release, was the spark late in the first half. After being hit with his second foul, Graham returned to the game and behind the freshman floor general, KU went on a 10-0 run, which led to a 31-23 halftime lead.
Williams, the 6-foot-8 senior, recorded 16 double-doubles last season, ended with game-highs in points (22) and rebounds (13) to go along with four blocks.
Kansas now sets its sights on top-ranked Kentucky in Tuesday night’s Champion Classic in Indianapolis. UC Santa Barbara plays one of the best mid-major non-conference games of the year on Monday night at Florida Gulf Coast.
Gonzaga: The Zags are going to have one of their best teams in recent memory next season, at least on paper. Kevin Pangos is back and healthy, teaming up in the back court with Gary Bell and USC transfer Byron Wesley. The front court will feature Kentucky transfer Kyle Wiltjer, seven-foot mountain Przemek Karnowski, Lithuanian star Domantas Sabonis and former Louisville forward Angel Nunez. This group is as talented and as versatile as anyone on the west coast not named Arizona. They will be a borderline top ten team entering the season and should be a contender to reach the Final Four if they can find a way to once again be a consistently good defensive team.
Wichita State: The Shockers may lose Cleanthony Early, but don’t expect this group to suffer too much of a drop next season. Fred Van Vleet, Ron Baker and Tekele Cotton will once again be one of the nation’s best back courts, and while Early absence will cost the Shockers an elite level athlete and a matchup nightmare at the four, they should still have enough depth in their front court to be the best team in the Missouri Valley and a top 15 team nationally. Don’t expect another undefeated run from Gregg Marshall’s club, but don’t be surprised if they advance further in the tournament next season than they did last season.
BEST OF THE BEST
Harvard: If the Crimson are ever going to be a team that makes a run in the NCAA tournament, the 2014-2015 season may be their final chance. Wesley Saunders, Kenyatta Smith, Steve Moundou-Missi and Jonah Travis will all be seniors. Siyani Chambers will be a junior. That’s quite a bit of talent and experience for a team in the Ivy League, especially when you consider that the Crimson won a game in the 2013 tournament and led Michigan State late in the second half of the 2014 tournament.
Georgia State: Ryan Harrow and R.J. Hunter are back for another run, forming one of the nation’s most talented back courts regardless of level. There are going to be some holes to fill along the front line, but if Louisville transfer Kevin Ware gets a waiver to be eligible immediately, the Panthers are looking at winning a second straight Sun Belt conference title.
Saint Mary’s: The Gaels lose Stephen Holt, but they should be able to replace him with Stanford transfer Aaron Bright, who will be eligible to play in 2014-2015. Throw in Washington transfer Desmond Simmons and the return of the underrated Brad Waldow, and St. Mary’s will have quite a bit of experienced, high-major talent.
Toledo: The Rockets are coming off of a season where they won the MAC regular season title, but after losing in the conference tournament, they were bounced out in the first round of the NIT. Even with those postseason struggles, they finished the season with a 27-7 record and will return five of their top six players, including star point guard Juice Brown. Toledo will be the favorite to win the always-competitive MAC.
UC Santa Barbara: The Gauchos are coming off of a 21-9 season where they will return Alan Williams, one of the nation’s most underrated players. Williams averaged 21.4 points, 11.5 boards and 2.4 blocks a season ago. UCSB also returns the majority of their rotation players, and while the Big West looks like it will be pretty tough at the top next season, the Gauchos should be in the mix for the title.
TEN MORE TO KEEP AN EYE ON:
Green Bay: The Phoenix lose Alec Brown to graduation, but they return the majority of their rotation players, including star point guard Kiefer Sykes, who is back for his senior season
Hofstra: This pick may seem weird on paper, but the Pride have a shot at being the best team in the CAA next year. Juan’ya Green, Brian Bernardi and Ameen Tanksley will all be eligible after transferring in and Joe Mihalich adds a solid recruiting class.
Louisiana Tech: Mike White will once again have a team capable of winning Conference USA, as he will bring back most of his rotation, including Alex Hamilton and a healthy Raheem Appleby.
Murray State: The Racers won 23 games last season and finished 13-3 in the Ohio Valley despite having a freshman (Cam Payne) lead them in scoring. The better news? Five of their top six players will be back for the 2014-2015 season.
Northern Iowa: The Panthers bring back their top six players from last season while adding Wyatt Haus and Virginia transfer Paul Jesperson to the mix.
Stephen F. Austin: At this point, you bet on Stephen F. Austin to win, regardless of the situation. They lose three of their top six, but they return their best players — Thomas Walkup — and, most importantly, head coach Brad Underwood.
UC Irvine: The Anteaters won 23 games last season and were the Big West champions. The league returns quite a bit of talent next year, but UCI will have four of their top five scorers back, including Mamadou N’Diaye and Luke Nelson, who will both be sophomores.
Wofford: The Terriers are coming off of a trip to the NCAA tournament and return their top eight players. Throw in the fact that Davidson is not in the SoCon anymore, and Wofford should enter the season as the favorites to win the league.
Yale: The Elis may have lost a part-time starter to an a cappella group, but they will bring back the majority of their rotation, including star forward Justin Sears. Yale has the size and athleticism to allow them to compete with Harvard.
Late Night Snacks: Baylor beats Kentucky, UC Santa Barbara proves they are legit
It didn’t have the atmosphere of a game that was one of the season’s biggest to date since it was played at Cowboys Stadium in Dallas, but Baylor announced themselves to the country as a top team. They did it with Kenny Chery, a Junior College transfer in his first season with the program — leading the way. As good as Baylor looked as a team, Kentucky revealed more flaws that need correcting. John Calipari knows this and sees this. It is why he continues to make mention of the work that needs to be done with this Kentucky team. He has his hands full, especially with the tough stretch of games upcoming.
1) On the surface, many will think UC Santa Barbara beating California is an upset. When a team from the Big West knocks off a Pac-12 program, it almost always is one. But, make no mistake about it, this was an upset in name only. The Gauchos are really good, and they have one of the best forwards in the country you may have never heard of — read more here.
2) Pittsburgh continues their dominant ways by handily beating Loyola Marymount, 85-68. The Panthers stay perfect on the season, moving to 9-0. Pittsburgh is good, but when will Jamie Dixon put together a competitive non-conference schedule? Until they face an opponent that truly challenges them — either Stanford or Penn State has been their best opponent — it’s hard to know just how good Pittsburgh is.
3) In an underrated good game of what was otherwise a quiet night, Stephen F. Austin beat Towson, 79-69. The Lumberjacks are now 7-2 on the season; they and Oral Roberts are looking like the two top teams in the Southland Conference.
1) If not for Kenny Chery, Baylor loses to Kentucky. He tallied 18 points and five assists, along with hitting a critical shot in the final minute to make it a two-possession game.
2) Alan Williams for UC Santa Barbara missed consecutive games earlier this season due to back spasms. Tonight, against Cal, he was in his usual form beasting opposing frontcourts as he went off for 24 points and 12 rebounds in the win.
3) Conference play in the MAAC has officially begun, and Canisius’ center Jordan Heath had a big night against St. Peter’s totaling 28 point and 10 rebounds in an 82-67 victory.
4) Oklahoma State and Connecticut barely broke a sweat tonight as each cruised to wins over their opponents. The Huskies handled Maine, 95-68, and the Cowboys beat South Carolina, 79-52.
1) Jeff Bower hasn’t exactly gotten off to the best start in his second stint as a coach at Marist — nine games and nine losses. The latest one tonight came against Manhattan as the Red Foxes lost 70-59.
2) Fresh off of their 93-81 win over Oregon State, DePaul came out and laid an egg against visiting Arizona State, losing 78-56. As a team, they shot worse than 30% from the field with Cleveland Melvin — hands down their best player — going 2-12.
3) Alex Poythress is an enigma. The 6-foot-8 sophomore received a lot of hype, but hasn’t lived up to it. Once projected to be a surefire lottery pick in the NBA Draft who would most likely leave Kentucky after a year or two, Poythress is no longer going down that road. In the loss to Baylor, he played just six minutes and committed three fouls, while going 0-1 from the field and 0-2 from the line.
Credit Mike Montgomery and Cal for heading to southern California to play at UC Santa Barbara. It’s not too often that a program from a BCS conference travels to play at the gym of a mid-major team, but the Golden Bears did that tonight.
While Cal may learn from this game and benefit from it in the long run, in the short term it’s a loss — their third loss in the past four games. Tonight wasn’t about Cal, though. It was about the Gauchos — they announced themselves to the nation as a legit team that should not be overlooked.
The best player on the floor was UC Santa Barbara junior forward Alan Williams. If you hadn’t heard of Williams’ name before, then remember it now. Williams tore up the Cal defense for 24 points on 9-15 shooting from the field, to go along with 11 rebounds. For the season, Williams is now averaging 26.8 points and 11 rebounds per game — not too shabby.
Despite owning just a 4-3 record after their win over California, UC Santa Barbara is better than their record may indicate. They suffered back to back close losses to Utah State and Colorado, but were without the services of Williams during these games as he was sidelined with back spasms.
After going 11-20 just a season ago, the Gauchos have turned things around in a big way as they are the team to beat in the Big West, although UC Irvine probably has something to say about that. Owning solid wins over UNLV and Cal, plus competitive losses against Utah State, Colorado, and UCLA, it’s safe to say UC Santa Barbara is a team to pay close attention to over the course of the season.
The Gauchos don’t play again until December 15th when they travel farther south to meet San Diego, which will be another good test. UCSB has really challenged themselves in the non-conference portion of their schedule, and that will pay dividends when they enter Big West play in January.
All month long, CBT will be rolling out our 2013-2014 season preview. Check back throughout the day, as we’ll be posting three or four preview items every day.
To browse through the preview posts we’ve already published, click here. To see the rest of our preview lists,click here. For a schedule of our previews for the month, click here.
Prior to delving into the All-Americans, it is important to identify who we are considering “mid-majors” this season, especially after realignment saw many teams jump from one conference to another during the offseason. The following conferences are not included in any mid-major discussion: AAC, Atlantic 10, ACC, Big 12, Big East, Big Ten, Pac-12 and Mountain West. The WCC is still considered a mid-major league with the exclusion Brigham Young, Gonzaga, and St. Mary’s.
G Jake Odum, Indiana State, Sr. (13.6 ppg, 4.5 rbg, 4.5 apg, 1.5 spg): Odum has been a fixture in the starting lineup for Indiana State dating back to his freshman year, when he led the Sycamores to the NCAA Tournament. He was named First Team All-MVC last season.
F Cleanthony Early, Wichita State, Sr. (13.9 ppg, 5.4 rpg): His numbers won’t blow you away, but his game will. After twice being named the NJCAA Player of the Year, Early burst onto the national scene during the NCAA Tournament leading Wichita to the Final Four, averaging 16.2 ppg and 7.6 rpg in the five games.
F Augustine Rubit, South Alabama, Sr. (19.4 ppg, 10.5 rpg, 1.2 bpg): Rubit has often flown under the radar playing for South Alabama, but his numbers are impossible to ignore. There aren’t many four year college basketball players out there that average a double-double for their career, but Rubit is on his way to doing just that despite coming from humble beginnings.
F Jerrelle Benimon, Towson, Sr. (17.1 ppg, 11.1 rpg, 2.5 apg, 1.9 bpg): Think John Thompson III wish Benimon didn’t transfer? The learning curve and development time is always longer for big men, and Benimon flourished last season at Towson after having to sitting out after transferring from Georgetown. His offensive game improved by leaps and bounds, and now Benimon is one of the top forwards in the country.
MID-MAJOR ALL-AMERICAN SECOND TEAM
G Travis Bader, Oakland, Sr. (22.1 ppg, 2.9 rpg, 1.0 apg): Bader has never seen a three-point shot he hasn’t liked. Not only does he shoot at a high percentage (40.4% from the perimeter for his career), but he is a volume shooter averaging just shy of 11 three-point attempts per game. Assuming this pace continues, he will set the all-time three-pointers made record; he needs 101 more. Bader has a very good chance at being the nation’s leading scorer this coming season.
G R.J. Hunter, Georgia State, So. (17.0 ppg, 5.1 rpg, 1.8 apg, 1.7 spg): With Kentucky transfer Ryan Harrow and Devonta White running alongside in the backcourt, there’s no telling how big a year R.J. Hunter will have. The son of head coach Ron Hunter, R.J. burst onto the scene as a freshman to lead Georgia State and scoring and three-pointers made with 73.
G Anthony Ireland, Loyola Marymount, Sr. (20.1 ppg, 4.4 rpg, 3.6 apg, 1.7 spg): Often overshadowed by top players at the likes of Gonzaga, St. Mary’s, and BYU, Ireland is a scorer in the purest form. He was named to the First Team All-WCC the past two seasons, and will be a front runner for the Player of the Year award this season.
G/F Wesley Saunders, Harvard, Jr. (16.2 ppg, 4.2 rpg, 3.5 apg 1.8 spg): When Kyle Casey and Brandyn Curry were forced to leave the program last season, Saunders was forced into a larger role and responded accordingly. He became Harvard’s top player after being not much more than a role player as a freshman.
F Javon McCrea, Buffalo, Sr. (18.0 ppg, 7.9 rpg, 2.0 apg, 1.3 spg, 2.6 bpg): If Bobby Hurley is to have success in his first season as Buffalo head coach, it will be because of Javon McCrea. The top returning scorer in the MAC, McCrea could have a 20 and 10 type of season.
MID-MAJOR ALL-AMERICAN THIRD-TEAM
G Corey Hawkins, UC Davis, Jr. (20.3 ppg, 5.6 rpg, 3.3 apg, 1.5 spg): The transfer from Arizona State immediately turned into UC Davis’ top player after sitting out the 2011-12 season. The son of NBA veteran Hersey Hawkins, Corey led the Big West in scoring last season.
G Damion Lee, Drexel, Jr. (17.1 ppg, 5.1 rpg, 1.8 apg): Drexel underachieved last season, but Damion Lee certainly didn’t. If the Dragons are going to win the CAA this season, Lee will have to be the one to carry the load.
G Taylor Braun, North Dakota State, Sr. (15.4 ppg, 5.2 rpg, 3.0 apg, 1.5 spg): A mid-season foot injury to Braun derailed North Dakota State last season. Prior to the injury, the Bison were 16-3 and 7-0 in the Summit League, but during his absence they went 5-5 and never got their mojo back the rest of the season. When on the floor, Braun is one of the purest shooters around, and figures to have a big senior season for North Dakota State.
F Torrey Craig, USC Upstate, Sr. (17.2 ppg, 6.9 rpg, 1.9 apg): Craig has started all but six games for USC Upstate and has been an immediate impact player for Eddie Payne. He has led the Spartans in scoring for this first three seasons, and led the Atlantic Sun in scoring for the past two.
F/C Adjehi Baru, College of Charleston, So. (9.7 ppg, 8.3 rpg, 1.3 bpg): The top rebounder in the Southern Conference last season, Baru will make his presence immediately felt in Charleston’s first year in the Colonial.
G Sean Armand (Iona), G Billy Baron (Canisius), Jason Brickman (LIU Brooklyn), Rhamel Brown (Manhattan), F Murphy Burnatowski (Colgate), G Siyani Chambers (Harvard), G Brett Comer (Florida Gulf Coast), G Johnny Dee (San Diego), G D.J. Irving (Boston University), F David Laury (Iona), G Rian Pearson (Toledo), G Devon Saddler (Delaware), G Kenneth Smith (Louisiana Tech), G Bernard Thompson (Florida Gulf Coast), F Alan Williams (UC Santa Barbara)