Monday’s Shootaround: Arizona, St. John’s, Miss. State all win

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Mississippi State 76, Eastern Kentucky 66: See here.

Arizona 73, Valparaiso 64: The Wildcats were in a dogfight for much of the first half, but once Arizona ratcheted up their defense in the second half, this thing turned into a rout. Sean Miller’s club used a 16-3 surge to open the second half to open up a 48-33 lead, pushing the margin up to 20 before a couple of late Crusader threes made the final score more respectable. Arizona’s defense is what won them this game, and it probably will end up being what the Wildcats have to rely on early in the season. They have a solid crop of defenders on the perimeter and a couple of athletic bodies in the paint. Its tough to imagine a Sean Miller-coached team not being solid on the defensive end of the floor.

Offensively, this group has a ways to go, but you can see some flashes of potential. The good news is that Kyle Fogg and Jesse Perry both appeared to have embraced the role of being the veteran leaders for this group. Fogg finished with 16 points, scoring on a number of tough drives into the paint, while Perry had 14 points and 10 boards. Jordin Mayes sparked the 16-3 run with all eight of his points and Nick Johnson added 14 points and six assists while knocking down a couple of threes.

There are also plenty of issues, however. Mayes only had those eight points and didn’t notch an assists. Josiah Turner, who is supposed to be the star point guard, finished 1-6 from the floor, only had a single assist and clearly struggled with picking his spots for attacking the basket. Kryrl Natyazkho is clearly still a long way from being an impact player at this level. His back up, freshman Angelo Chol, showed some flashes of potential on both ends of the floor, but was inconsistent defensively and on the glass. Perhaps the most concerning aspect of this game was that Arizona’s front court of Natyazkho, Chol and Solomon Hill collectively picked up 13 fouls while allowing Valpo big man Kevin Van Wijk to finish with 18 points and seven boards, five offensive.

Arizona has a ton of room to grow, but they also have a long time until Pac-12 play starts. Throw in the fact that Kevin Parrom will, hopefully, return later this fall, and Arizona should be a much improved team come January.

St. John’s 74, William & Mary 59: The Johnnies struggled early on against William & Mary. With the Tribe hitting their jumpers and St. John’s struggling to find an offensive rhythm, W&M went into the halftime break with a 33-26 lead. The second half, however, was a much different story. The athleticism of the Red Storm took over as William & Mary looked helpless against a pressuring defense. The Tribe turned the ball over 21 times — with St. John’s coming up with 12 steals — and found themselves on the wrong end of a 22-5 run, most of which came as the result of easy buckets in transition.

On the one hand, there were some promising signs to take out of this game for the Johnnies. Nurideen Lindsay, the JuCo transfer and sophomore point guard, finished with 19 points (15 of which came in the second half) and four assists. God’s Gift Achiuwa added 17 points and nine boards with Moe Harkless chipped in with 17 points, eight boards and four assists. Those three should be able to compete at the Big East level this season. St. John’s pressure, when its going right, is going to be an issue for some teams. This is a young but very athletic group. That press will be streaky, but when they get into a rhythm, they’ll be able to go on some runs. As the year goes on, those runs will become more extended.

The problem, however, is that its difficult to see how a team that plays only seven players — six of them new to the Division I level and four of those players being freshmen — will be able to press throughout the entirety of the Big East schedule without wearing down. And while William & Mary has a chance to compete for a top half finish in the CAA, they are far from the level of competition that the Johnnies are going to face in league play. Most of the Big East back courts will be more comfortable facing that kind of ball pressure. If St. John’s can get any or all of Amir Garrett, Norvel Pelle and JaKarr Sampson eligible in December, it would be a huge boost to the program.