Player of the Week: Jared Cunningham, Oregon State
There are quite a few impressive performances from the past week, but its impossible to look past what Cunningham did this past week. After a ho-hum, 17 point performance in 17 minutes against West Alabama, a non-Division I school, Cunningham exploded. He finished with 35 points against Hofstra and had 37 points in the Beaver’s overtime win over Texas, arguably the biggest win in the Craig Robinson era. Cunningham shot 55.9% from the floor and got to the foul line a ridiculous 40 times, hitting 80% from the charity stripe. He also added 14 rebounds, five assists and three steals.
More importantly, however, is the fact that Cunningham seems to be embracing the role of closer for Oregon State. Against Texas, he was able to get to the paint on draw a foul at will, using his ridiculous quickness and athleticism to get by his defender. He also made an huge steal with 30 seconds left that allowed Oregon State a chance to tie the game in regulation. With Cunningham playing close to this level — expecting him to score in the mid-30’s every night is ludicrous — Oregon State has enough talent on their roster to be considered a sleeper in a wide open Pac-12.
The All-They-Were-Good-Too Team
– G: Scott Machado, Iona: Machado was sensational in the Gaels’ three games this week, averaging 15.5 ppg and 13.0 apg while committing just six turnovers. That’s a 6.5:1 assist-to-turnover ratio. He also added 5.0 rpg. Momo Jones and Mike Glover will get the headlines, but Machado is that team’s MVP.
– G: J’Covan Brown, Texas: There haven’t been many players more impressive than Brown this season. In two games this week, he averaged 30.0 ppg, 7.5 apg, 6.0 rpg and shot 50% from the floor and 10-18 from three. The Longhorns were just 1-1 on the week, losing in OT to Oregon State.
– F: Tony Mitchell, Alabama: Mitchell was the best player for arguably the most impressive team of the week. He averaged 17.3 ppg and 9.5 rpg while adding 10 assists, five blocks, four steals, shot 50% from three and threw down too many thunderous dunks to count in a 4-0 week for the Crimson Tide.
– F: Doug McDermott, Creighton: The Bluejays have certainly lived up to expectations early in the season, and McDermott is the biggest reason why. He had 27 points and seven boards in a win at UAB and followed that up with 25 points and nine boards in a 23 point win against Iowa. He shot 63.6% from the floor and 5-7 from deep.
– F: Travis McKie, Wake Forest: Wake Forest is going to struggle this year, but McKie is without a doubt a bright spot. In two games this week, he averaged 24.0 ppg, 7.0 rpg and shot 68% from the floor and 5-7 from three.
– Bench: Tyreek Duren, La Salle (23.5 ppg, 4.0 apg); Robbie Hummel, Purdue (20.3 ppg, 6.0 rpg); Kevin Jones, West Virginia (22.0 ppg, 16.5 rpg); Ramone Moore, Temple (19.0 ppg, 3.3 rpg, 3.0 apg); Mike Moser, UNLV (16.7 ppg, 12.3 rpg, 4.0 apg, 4.3 spg); Shabazz Napier, UConn (22 points. 12 assists, 13 boards vs. Coppin State); Kevin Pangos, Gonzaga (33 points, 9-13 threes, six assists vs. Washington State); Gerardo Suero, Albany (30.0 ppg, 7.5 rpg, 3.5 apg); Casper Ware, Long Beach State (28 points, six assists in win over Pitt)
Team of the Week: St. Louis Billikens
The Billikens had the single most impressive performance of the week on Sunday. With Washington visiting, St. Louis looked like the high-major program, getting up by 20 midway through the first half and pushing that lead as high as 30 in the second half. The Huskies battled back to make the final respectable — 77-64 — but the damage had already been done. Brian Conklin had 25 points and Kwamain Mitchell added 18 points in a dominating victory.
The win pushed St. Louis to 3-0 on the season, but it did more than simply put a win in the record books. Don’t, for a second, think that teams like Xavier and Temple didn’t take notice of that score. The Musketeers and the Owls were considered by almost everyone to have a firm stranglehold on the top two spots in the Atlantic 10, but if St. Louis continues to play at this level, they are going to force their way into that conversation. This is a balanced team with more experience on their roster than you think; most of the young guys on the roster have already had significant big game experience. They defend well, they knock down their open shots and they have a legitimate star in Mitchell. I think its safe to say we’ve identified the sleeper in the league.
Teams Deserving a Shoutout:
Alabama: The Crimson Tide won the Puerto Rico Tip-Off in convincing fashion, pulling away from both Wichita State and Purdue late to take home the title. Alabama also beat Oakland and Maryland, and they did it with a stout defense. They press, make it difficult to get the ball over half court and force tough shots if you do break their press. Tony Mitchell and JaMychal Green form a mammoth front line, while Trevor Releford anchors a young but talented back court.
Creighton: The Bluejays improved to 4-0 this week thanks to a 10 point road with against UAB and a 23 point home win over Iowa. Doug McDermott has been playing like an all-american, but its truly been a team effort for the Bluejays; ten players averaged double figure minutes and seven are scoring between 6.0 and 10.3 ppg.
Iona: There is little doubt that, after their performance this weekend, the Gaels are going to immediately become the favorite to win the MAAC. Scott Machado looked like the second coming John Stockton at the point while five other Gaels averaged double figures. The Gaels lost by one to Purdue, but they responded by beating Western Michigan and drilling Maryland by 26.
Kent State: The Golden Flashes burst onto the national scene by going into Morgantown and knocking off West Virginia in their season opener, which just so happened to come on national television during the Tip-Off Marathon. There was no letdown from that win, either, as KSU beat Alcorn State their next time out.
Long Beach State: The 49ers went into the Peterson Events Center and beat down Pitt, keeping the Panthers from ever getting closer than six points during the second half. But they followed that up with an overtime loss to a decent (but probably better than you think) San Diego State team. An overtime road loss at a very, very difficult place to play shouldn’t put a damper on the impressive performance LBSU had on Tuesday.
Marquette: The Golden Eagles have put together some impressive wins early in the season, but on Sunday they provided a bit of legitimacy to their play by pasting Ole Miss by 30. Their point totals so far this season? 91, 99, 95 and 96. Darius Johnson-Odom is averaging 20.0 ppg, Jae Crowder 18.3 ppg and Vander Blue 15.8 ppg.
Memphis: The Tigers have played one game this season, but it was a resounding win over a tough Belmont team. Memphis beat them 97-81, but it never seemed like Belmont was going to have a chance to get back into the game. The Tigers are impressively athletic, but we knew that. But will they be able to turn that athleticism into success on the basketball court. A one word over-reaction to a small sample size’s worth of data: yes.
Mississippi State: Renardo Sidney is never going to be the star that we all want him to be and know he can be, but the Bulldogs don’t need Sidney on the roster to be a tournament team this season. Arnett Moultrie is capable of being a scorer and rebounder in the paint, Dee Bost is a star at the point and Mississippi State’s supporting cast is better than anyone gave them credit for. They knocked off two top 20 teams this week en route to the Coaches vs. Cancer title.
Nebraska: Don’t look now, but the Cornhuskers are actually 3-0 on the season. They have a double overtime win over USC (which looks worse now that the Trojans have lost to Cal Poly 42-36) and knocked off Rhode Island by 20. Its not much, I’ll admit it, but with the way Nebraska plays defense and the fact that they finally have a scorer at the point in Bo Spencer, who knows. Maybe this team puts it together enough to win some games in the Big 12 this year.
New Mexico State: The Aggies picked up a big win early in the season as they knocked off New Mexico at the Pit and followed that up with a 16 point win over rebuilding UTEP. Wendell McKines looks like he is healthy. He had 14 points and nine boards and held Drew Gordon without a field goal before going for 23 points and 13 boards against UTEP.
Northwestern: We need to keep the Wildcat’s win in the Charleston Classic in perspective; they didn’t beat a tournament team en route to the title. But there is something to be said for winning three straight games in that manner. John Shurna averaged 23.7 ppg for the week, including a 37 point performance in a comeback win over LSU, and Drew Crawford chipped in with an average of 24.0 ppg.
Oregon State: Are the Beavers all of a sudden a contender in the Pac-12? Its too early to say right now, but if they knock off Vanderbilt in the title game of the Legend’s Classic, its a fair question to ask. Its not just Jared Cunningham, either. Devon Collier, Joe Burton and Eric Morehouse provide some size and athleticism inside while Ahmad Starks, Angus Brandt and Roberto Nelson give Craig Robinson some perimeter pop. This group plays hard and plays together. It will be fun to see what they can piece together.
Presbyterian: Presbyterian has one of the more uplifting stories to follow this year: after having their hearts broken when their class of redshirt seniors found out they wouldn’t be allowed to participate in the postseason this season, they all remained at the school for their last year of eligibility. It paid off in a small way on Saturday, as the Blue Hose knocked off Cincinnati.
Providence: Might Ed Cooley have this Friar team competitive this season? They are now 3-0 on the year, including an 80-72 win at Fairfield this week. It will be interesting to watch, as Cooley is a defensive-minded head coach, but he has a team that is better suited to getting out and running the floor.
St. Joseph’s: Next year was supposed to be the year for the Hawks, but St. Joseph’s has been pretty impressive a few weeks into the season. They are 3-1 on the year, and while they did lost to Seton Hall, they’ve also knocked off Georgia Tech by 13 and beat a good Tulsa team on Sunday. Carl Jones and Langston Galloway may end up forming one of the most potent back courts in the Atlantic 10 this season.
Weber State: We said it in the preseason, but it looks like it may be coming true: Weber State is the best team in the state of Utah. They knocked off Utah State on Tuesday, getting 28 points from Scott Bamforth. But Bamforth isn’t even the Wildcat’s best perimeter player; Damian Lillard is. He showed it on Saturday, dropping 27 at UC Irvine.
Wisconsin: The Badgers are outscoring their opponents 222-105 this season. Granted, they haven’t played anyone yet, but 105 points in three games? Is Wisconsin going to be a lockdown defensive team this year? More impressive? They are doing it while Jordan Taylor is doing nothing but facilitating and allowing his teammates to get comfortable in scoring roles.
– The CAA is way down this year: There is no doubt that this is going to be a one-bid league this season. George Mason is playing without Andre Cornelius and has a couple of injuries, but that’s not an excuse for a team that was supposed to be in the top 40 losing to both Florida International and Florida Atlantic. Drexel’s start may be even more disappointing. After starting out the year with an 18 point win over Rider, the Dragons lost to Norfolk State before mustering just 35 points in a loss to Virginia. VCU struggled with both St. Francis (PA) and Western Kentucky while losing to Seton Hall and Georgia Tech. Delaware lost at Radford and James Madison lost at La Salle. The best moment of the season was without a doubt a 10 point loss that Old Dominion suffered against a worn-down Kentucky team. That’s the same Old Dominion that was dropped by 17 against Northern Iowa.
The good news? There is clearly no favorite to win this conference, meaning that the CAA is going to be a lot of fun to follow this year.
– The Pac-12 is just as disappointing: Does anyone want to win this conference? We’ll start at the top. Arizona is struggling to live up to the hype they had coming into the season as they battle youth at the two most important positions — the post and the point. This group will be better if Josiah Turner gets his head on straight, but who knows when, if ever, that happens. Washington had some defensive issues in a few of their early non-conference games, and those issues were exposed by St. Louis on Sunday. The Huskies were absolutely drubbed by the Billikens, getting down by as much as 30 on the road. Oregon had their star freshman Jabari Brown leave the team, while Ben Howland struggles to deal with a team that has a) a WAC-level back court, b) a center that can’t get in shape and c) a star that doesn’t feel the need to show up to anything on time.
Cal has become the favorite in the league, and for good reason. Their top three — Jorge Gutierrez, Allen Crabbe and Harper Kamp — have been as good as anyone, and the Bears have been drilling team this year. The sleeper? Oregon State. The Beavers have a potential Pac-12 Player of the Year in Jared Cunningham and enough talent around him to make a run in a league that apparently no one has any desire to win.
– A battle in the Atlantic 10: Might the Atlantic 10 be better than the Pac-12? Let’s think about this. Xavier and Cal are a wash, as its difficult to say that either is more than a top 20 team right now. While Temple lost to Purdue, they managed to knock off Wichita State is overtime and have one of the best perimeter attacks in the country. I’ll give them the nod over Oregon State as of today. St. Louis just beat Washington, meaning that they can probably be considered better than any team that claims the No. 3 spot out west.
But its more than the success that the top of the league is having. La Salle knocked off a decent James Madison team a few days after taking Villanova to overtime. St. Joe’s, as we mentioned, has gotten off to a very good start to the season. Duquesne nearly knocked off Arizona and followed that up with a win over Akron. UMass is 3-0 on the season. None of those teams had the preseason hype that St. Bonaventure, George Washington or Richmond did.
– Cincinnati got what they deserved?: The Bearcats dug themselves a bit of a hole with their non-conference schedule. Its one of the worst in the country, and it came to bite them on Saturday. Cincinnati blew a 15 point second half lead, allowing a Presbyterian that is so new to Division I that they aren’t allowed into the postseason yet. The Bearcats are — well, should be — good enough that they won’t have to be on the bubble this year, but if they lose to Xavier, their only real non-conference opponent (unless you count Georgia or Oklahoma as real), this group is going to see their tournament seed take a big hit.
– How long does Ben Howland have at UCLA?: Let’s forget the fact that, for the fourth straight season, the Bruins look like they are a long, long way from the kind of program that is expected in Westwood. Let’s forget that he’s lost control of this team. Let’s ignore the empty home games. Think about this: who would you rather have, any five that UCLA can put on the floor right now, or a starting five of Matt Carlino, Kendell Williams, Chace Stanback, Mike Moser and Drew Gordon. The latter group are all players that have either played for and transferred out of UCLA, or — in Williams’ case — committed too UCLA and had his scholarship offer pulled. I’ll take the second group in a heartbeat.
Games of the Week: Oklahoma State 90, UT-San Antonio 85 OT
This was an insane finish to regulation. UTSA, who advanced to the second round of the Preseason NIT on a 40 foot running prayer last night, used a 21-8 run last in the second half to open up a 71-60 lead with just 2:12 left. But Oklahoma State was able to crawl their way back into it as they forced some turnovers and got to the foul line. With 15 seconds left and down by six, freshman reserve Cesar Guerrero went the length of the court and scored on an and-one. After hitting the free throw, Guerrero stole the inbounds pass and buried a three to force OT:
Guerrero would scored eight points in the extra period, including back-to-back threes in the final two minutes to erase a four point deficit. On the game, he had 29 points while coming off the bench. Making the finish even crazier is that UTSA was only able to advance to this game when Sei Paye hit a running 25-footer at the buzzer to knock off Oral Roberts, a shot that has miraculously never had video make it online.
Purdue 91, Iona 90: Defense may win championships, but offense puts fans in the seats and eyeballs on the TV screens. And in this game, there was no defense played whatsoever. Iona threw every last punch that they had at the Boilermakers, taking a 90-88 lead with 33 seconds left when Momo Jones hit a 12 foot pull-up in transition. But at the other end, Robbie Hummel buried a three to give Purdue the lead back. After Jones turned the ball over on the ensuing possession, Purdue missed two free throws, but an Iona prayer from half court at the buzzer bounced off the back board.
Belmont 87, Middle Tennessee State 84 2OT: The Bruins nearly blew a game that they twice had taken complete control of. They were up 15 midway through the first half and eight with just 3:50 left in the game, but MTSU had a run in them. After taking a one point lead with just under a minute left, Ian Clark answered with a three for Belmont. But two free throws from Marcos Knight and a missed jumper at the buzzer from JJ Mann sent this game into overtime. MTSU took a five point lead in the first OT, but Kerron Johnson answered with seven points in the span of 1:30 to take the lead back. Laron Dendy forced OT with two more free throws, but Mann scored six unanswered midway through the second overtime to take firm control of the game.