Wooden Legacy

Tom Izzo

Arizona, Michigan State headline 2015 Wooden Legacy field

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Thursday afternoon the Wooden Legacy was one of two early-season events to announce its field for next season, with traditional powers Arizona and Michigan State being part of the 2015 field.

Joining the Wildcats and Spartans in the field are Boise State, Boston College, Evansville, Providence, Santa Clara and UC Irvine. Of the eight teams in the field three reached the NCAA tournament last season, with Arizona and Michigan State reaching the Elite Eight and Providence dropping an exciting game to North Carolina in the Round of 64.

UC Irvine, which gave Arizona a run for its money Wednesday night, is the preseason favorite to win the Big West and Boise State was picked to finish second in the Mountain West.

The Wooden Legacy will be held November 26, 27 and 29, with the first two days of action being played on the Cal-State Fullerton campus. All four games on November 29 will be played at the Honda Center in Anaheim.

Washington, Xavier among teams in 2014 Wooden Legacy field

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Thursday morning the full field for the 2014 Wooden Legacy was announced, with 2014 NCAA tournament participants Western Michigan and Xavier among the eight teams. Also in the field is Washington, which is looking to return to the NCAA tournament after missing out in each of the last three seasons, and Long Beach State will serve as the “host” team in the event that annually features a Big West program.

Princeton, San Diego, San Jose State and UTEP round out the eight-team field, with the event being played November 27 and 28 (Thursday and Friday) at Cal State Fullerton and November 30 (Sunday) at the Honda Center in Anaheim, Calif.

Of the eight teams five participated in postseason play last year, with San Diego playing in the CollegeInsider.com Tournament and Princeton and UTEP landing in the CBI field. As mentioned above, Western Michigan (MAC tournament champions) and Xavier (at-large from the Big East) reached the NCAA tournament with the Broncos losing to Syracuse and the Musketeers falling to NC State.

From a wins standpoint UTEP and Western Michigan were the most successful teams in 2013-14, with each winning 23 games. San Jose State, in its first season as a member of the Mountain West, won just six games last season.

San Diego State’s defense makes them a contender in the Mountain West

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With the loss of leading scorers Jamaal Franklin and Chase Tapley, there was a question of where San Diego State would find its offense in 2013-14. That was a big reason why the Aztecs were picked to finish fourth in the Mountain West preseason poll, with few expecting Steve Fisher’s team to be capable of challenging defending league champion New Mexico.

In light of the Aztecs’ run to the Wooden Legacy title, which culminated with a 67-59 win over No. 25 Marquette on Sunday night, it’s time to adjust the thinking when it comes to what this team is capable of. Two days after defeating No. 20 Creighton Steve Fisher’s club rode its defense to victory, limiting the Golden Eagles to 39.3% shooting from the field and 0-for-7 from beyond the arc in the second half.

Remove Deonte Burton (13 points on 5-for-7 shooting; 15 points for the game) and Marquette shot just 6-for 21 in the game’s final 20 minutes.¬†Combine that with San Diego State shooting 50% from the field, and it’s quite simple to see why the Aztecs are headed home with the title. The offense is still a work in progress, with senior guard Xavier Thames (career-high 29 points) and versatile sophomore wing Winston Shepard III (eight points, all in the second half) being their best playmakers. But with the amount of length and athleticism that San Diego State possesses, they’re more than capable of making up for those issues with a high-level performance on the defensive end of the floor.

And given some of those pieces, San Diego State should be able to work towards being a more efficient offensive team. Tulane transfer Josh Davis hasn’t produced to the level that many expected when he arrived on campus but he’s been a factor on the boards, averaging 8.0 rebounds per game entering Sunday’s action and grabbing 11 in the win over Marquette. There’s also J.J. O’Brien, who’s dealing with an injured right hand, and underclassmen such as Dakarai Allen (eight points) and Matt Shrigley (five points) who will also be called upon throughout the course of the season.

Rome wasn’t build in a day, and the same can be said of the San Diego State offense. But as they work to get better on that end, it’s their defense that makes them a serious contender to win the Mountain West. Prior to Sunday’s action the Aztecs led the Mountain West in both adjusted defensive efficiency (95.1, per kenpom.com) and turnover percentage, forcing opponents into a turnover in nearly 21% of their possessions. And it isn’t as if they’ve compiled these numbers against poor opposition either, as San Diego State’s already played games against Arizona, Creighton and Marquette.

Prior to the start of the season few expected San Diego State to be a serious contender to win the Mountain West, expecting this to be a season of transition. But in one weekend the Aztecs showed that they will be heard from in 2013-14, regardless of how much production they have to replace.

George Washington’s weekend another positive sign for the Atlantic 10

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Another in-season tournament, and another solid performance from an Atlantic 10 team that wasn’t expected to do a great deal when the season began.

Just days after Dayton, which was picked to finish seventh in the Atlantic 10 preseason poll, won third place at the Maui Invitational the George Washington Colonials did the same at the Wooden Legacy in southern California with a 60-53 win over No. 20 Creighton. Picked to finish tenth in the A-10, Mike Lonergan’s team displayed signs of growth and the ability to exceed those low preseason expectations.

Their biggest achievement on Sunday night was harassing All-American and national Player of the Year candidate Doug McDermott into the (statistically speaking) worst performance of his college career, as McDermott finished with just seven points on 2-for-12 shooting. As a team the Bluejays, one of the nation’s most efficient offensive teams, shot just 33.9% from the field and turned the ball over 13 times with just nine assists.

That was due in large part to the work of the Colonials on the defensive end, as they outscored Creighton 17-4 in points off of turnovers and limited the Bluejays to 7-for-28 shooting from beyond the arc. Creighton struggled with George Washington’s length for much of the night, and that’s an attribute (along with their offensive balance) that can serve the Colonials well once they begin conference play. Kevin Larsen led four starters in double figures with 14 points, and while there isn’t one “headliner” on Lonergan’s roster he has multiple players capable of contributing on a nightly basis.

Offensive balance and a stout defense will be the keys for George Washington going forward, because in a league as balanced as the Atlantic 10 it’s tough to make that climb up the standings relying solely on one or two players. Isaiah Armwood played very well defensively against McDermott and will be a factor on both ends of the floor, and in Maurice Creek, Patricio Garino, Joe McDonald and Kethan Savage the Colonials have the perimeter players needed to make life difficult for the opposition.

How successful of a season the Atlantic 10 enjoys in 2013-14 remains to be seen but if the in-season tournament performances of teams like Dayton and George Washington are any indication (yes, expected contender UMass won the Charleston Classic), this is setting up to be a good year for the league.

Arizona State PG Jahii Carson injures ankle in loss to Miami

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At bare minimum, the goal for teams who could find themselves on the bubble in early-season tournaments is to avoid a loss (or losses) that can could potentially come back to hurt them in March when the 68-team NCAA tournament field is selected. That was the spot Arizona State found itself in following their 88-60 loss to No. 20 Creighton on Thursday night. And after a comfortable victory over the College of Charleston on Friday, Herb Sendek’s Sun Devils were one game away from accomplishing that task.

Then star point guard Jahii Carson injured his ankle in the first half of Arizona State’s game against Miami, robbing the sophomore of the explosion that makes him one of the best players in the country. With Carson at less than full strength Arizona State struggled offensively, resulting in their allowing a ten-point to lead slip away with the Hurricanes winning by the final score of 60-57.

Carson finished the game with just eight points on 2-for-14 shooting, and with their leading scorer struggling Arizona State’s supplementary parts were unable to produce enough to hold off Miami. Jermaine Marshall, who entered Sunday’s game averaging 14.2 points per game, matched his season average but did so on 4-for-12 shooting and Jordan Bachynski was highly effective in the paint (20 points, 15 rebounds and four blocks).

But if there’s anything to be concerned about in the aftermath of this loss (in addition to Carson’s health, of course) it would be the lack of production from the bench. Arizona State played just eight players on Sunday, with Sai Tummala (five points) providing the only bench points of the afternoon. After scoring 12 points in 23 minutes of action against Creighton, Richie Edwards failed to score against either the College of Charleston or Miami, and fellow senior transfer Shaquielle McKissic didn’t see the floor against the Hurricanes.

Arizona State’s lack of depth was a big reason why they were unable to pick up enough quality wins to reach the NCAA tournament last season, and the thinking entering 2013-14 was that they had the depth needed to take the next step. In the aftermath of Carson’s injury, regardless of the severity Arizona State needs some guys to earn additional opportunities as the start of Pac-12 play approaches.