18-4, 11 straight wins, 5 all-league players and no one’s talking about Oral Roberts?

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TULSA, Okla. – On Saturday night, I had the chance to see one of the nation’s best-kept secrets play as Dominique Morrison scored 22 points in a 93-86 win over Summit League rival Oakland. Morrison is a four-year starter at Oral Roberts and a guy that has been all over the all-Summit teams throughout his career. And this season, he’s playing the best basketball of his career. While his per-game averages aren’t all that much better than what he posted as a junior, in league play he’s averaging a league-best 23.5 ppg while shooting 56.3% from beyond the arc.

Should I mention that ORU is currently 10-0 in the Summit League, on an 11 game win streak and currently own a 22 point win over the only team in the conference within striking distance, South Dakota State?

But there is more. ORU isn’t a one man show. In fact, they had five players named to either first- or second-team all-Summit in the preseason, including Michael Craion, the team’s third-leading scorer and leading rebounder who missed last season with an injury. Craion’s return has meant that Steven Rountree and Damion Bell-Holter, who both started last season, have split time coming off the bench this season.

I think its fair to say that it’s a luxury to rotate two preseason all-conference players as a fifth starter. And for what its worth, Roderick Pearson, ORU’s point guard, is the only starter that didn’t receive preseason honors and he’s third in the conference in assists and second in assist:to:turnover ratio.

“I think we have probably a better cast around [Morrison],” ORU head coach Scott Sutton said when I asked him what set his team apart from the rest of the Summit League. “And not to say those other teams don’t, but we have Craion and Rountree and Bell-Holter and [Warren] Niles, and all of those guys could lead us in scoring any given night. If Dominique went out, last year he did for a few weeks with a knee injury, obviously we missed him but we have other guys that can pick up the slack.”

It begs the question: when are people going to start talking about ORU?

This group is experienced, with a starting lineup made up entirely of juniors and seniors. They are balanced, as six different players have led them in scoring this season, all of whom are averaging at least 7.3 ppg. They have a core group of six players that see the majority of the minutes, but they are capable of going eight deep with a couple of young shooters coming off the bench.

But most importantly, this is a team that is currently playing their best basketball of the season. During this 11 game winning streak, Morrison has played as well as anyone in the country, averaging 24.7 ppg and 4.5 rpg while shooting 58.2% from the floor, 60.2% (35-58) from three and 88.2% from the line. Prior to that stretch, he was averaging 15.1 ppg while shooting a career-low 41.4% from the floor and 23.5% from beyond the arc.

Its not just Morrison, though. Warren Niles, who averaged 14.2 ppg as a sophomore but has struggled to find his stroke this season, has led the team in scoring in two of the past three games, including a 27 point performance against Oakland.

“I kind of went back to myself and told myself that I need to be more aggressive,” Niles said. “I’ve been trying to do other things — defense, rebounding, get assists — but I’ve been wanting to be more aggressive on the offense end.”

“We just got a lot of good players, and people don’t realize that,” Morrison said.

And while that may cause some trouble for a potential first-round opponent, the issue for ORU is going to be getting to the tournament. At this point, it looks fairly unlikely that they are going to be able to get an at-large bid. They whiffed on opportunities to notch marquee victories with competitive losses at West Virginia, Gonzaga and Oklahoma. Their best win is against a Xavier team that was playing their first game after the brawl — without Tu Holloway, Mark Lyons and Dez Wells — and has looked thoroughly mediocre the past month and a half.

The bigger issue, however, is a loss to UT-San Antonio in the second game of the season. Granted, ORU was a different team at that point — Craion was still working his way back into rhythm while Morrison was struggling to shoot the ball — but since their entire team was available, the selection committee probably won’t look at it that way.

Andy Glockner, the man in charge of the Bubble Watch at SI.com, wrote that ORU is a “good team, maybe with not enough juice for an at-large. That galling loss to UTSA in the first-round of the preseason NIT, when vulnerable Oklahoma State was on tap for a trip to NYC, is a killer.”

There may be a chance if they win out — which would include a road win at South Dakota State, who is 66th in the RPI — and lose to SDSU in the Summit finals, but that is a risk that Sutton probably isn’t going to want to take.

Why?

Because the Summit League is one of the best conferences that no one talks about, from both a team and individual perspective.

South Dakota State went into Seattle and knocked of Washington 92-73 and won at Atlantic Sun leader Mercer. Oakland owns a win over Tennessee at home, at Houston and at Horizon leader Valpo. There are 15 players across the country that are currently averaging more than 20 ppg and five of them — Reggie Hamilton of Oakland, Nate Wolters of SDSU, Alex Young of IUPUI, Frank Gaines of IPFW and Morrison — are in the Summit League. A sixth, Taylor Braun of North Dakota State, has averaged 20.8 ppg in Summit League play.

All it takes is one of those guys to get hot on a night where ORU isn’t shooting the ball well, and there goes the dreams of playing in the NCAA Tournament.

“We have players in this league that can play all over the country,” Hamilton said. “Wolters, Morrison, Young. Those are good players. Given the opportunity, they can shine on any other team.”

Should ORU make a run to the tournament, their solid RPI — 49th as of Thursday morning, according to ESPN — should get them a pretty good seed to the dance. Sutton is hoping for a 12 seed. Glockner currently has them as a 14 seed in his latest bracket, but that number is likely a bit low considering that, somewhere along the line, there are going to be upsets in the tournaments of the one-bid leagues.

For ORU to be able to make a run this season, they are going to have to get a favorable matchup. The Golden Eagles aren’t the biggest team in the country — Craion is listed at 6’5″ — and they struggle defensively — Kenpom has them at 164st in the country in efficiency — mostly because they struggle to put pressure on the ball; when you don’t force turnovers and allow teams with good shooters open looks at the rim, you are going to struggle.

But ORU can score. So if they match up with a team like, say, Indiana — someone without a ton of size inside or penetrators on the perimeter — they’ll have a chance. The Hoosiers are currently sitting at a four seed, so a matchup with ORU is quite possible.

Niles, to his credit, isn’t worried about the matchups.

“If we make it, I think we can [make a run],” he said.

“I want the Sweet 16.”

Rob Dauster is the editor of the college basketball website Ballin’ is a Habit. You can find him on twitter @ballinisahabit.

College basketball broadcaster Billy Packer dies at 82

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CHARLOTTE, N.C. — Billy Packer, an Emmy award-winning college basketball broadcaster who covered 34 Final Fours for NBC and CBS, died Thursday. He was 82.

Packer’s son, Mark, told The Associated Press that his father had been hospitalized in Charlotte for the past three weeks and had several medical issues, and ultimately succumbed to kidney failure.

Packer’s broadcasting career coincided with the growth of college basketball. He worked as analyst or color commentator on every Final Four from 1975 to 2008. He received a Sports Emmy for Outstanding Sports Personality, Studio and Sports Analyst in 1993.

“He really enjoyed doing the Final Fours,” Mark Packer said. “He timed it right. Everything in life is about timing. The ability to get involved in something that, frankly, he was going to watch anyway, was a joy to him. And then college basketball just sort of took off with Magic Johnson and Larry Bird and that became, I think, the catalyst for college basketball fans to just go crazy with March Madness.”

Packer played three seasons at Wake Forest, and helped lead the Demon Deacons to the Final Four in 1962, but it was his work as an analyst that brought him the most acclaim.

He joined NBC in 1974 and called his first Final Four in 1975. UCLA beat Kentucky in the title game that year in what was John Wooden’s final game as coach.

Packer was also part of the broadcast in 1979 with Dick Enberg and Al McGuire when Magic Johnson’s Michigan State team beat Larry Bird’s Indiana State squad in the title game. That remains highest-rated game in basketball history with a 24.1 Nielsen rating, which is an estimated 35.1 million viewers.

Packer went to CBS in the fall of 1981, when the network acquired the rights to the NCAA Tournament. He remained the network’s main analyst until the 2008 Final Four.

In 1996 at CBS, Packer was involved in controversy when he used the term “tough monkey? to describe then-Georgetown star Allen Iverson during a game. Packer later said he “was not apologizing for what I said, because what I said has no implications in my mind whatsoever to do with Allen Iverson’s race.?

Sean McManus, the chairman of CBS Sports, said Packer was “synonymous with college basketball for more than three decades and set the standard of excellence as the voice of the NCAA Men’s Basketball Tournament.”

“He had a tremendous impact on the growth and popularity of the sport.” McManus said. “In true Billy fashion, he analyzed the game with his own unique style, perspective and opinions, yet always kept the focus on the game. As passionate as he was about basketball, at his heart Billy was a family man. He leaves part of his legacy at CBS Sports, across college basketball and, most importantly, as a beloved husband, father and grandfather. He will be deeply missed by all.”

Packer was inducted into the National Collegiate Basketball Hall of Fame in 2008.

ESPN broadcaster Dick Vitale took to Twitter as word of Packer’s death spread. “So sad to learn of the passing of Billy Packer who had such a passion for college basketball,” Vitale tweeted. “My (prayers) go out to Billy’s son Mark & the entire Packer family. Always had great RESPECT for Billy & his partners Dick Enberg & Al McGuire-they were super. May Billy RIP.”

College basketball analyst Fran Fraschilla tweeted: “We fell in love (with) college basketball because of you. Your voice will remain in my head forever.”

Packer was viewed as a controversial figure during his broadcasting days, often drawing the ire of college basketball fans, particularly on North Carolina’s “Tobacco Road.”

“As a kid, I was a big NC State fan growing up, and I would watch a game and the next day I’d be like, `Boy you sure have it out for NC State, don’t you?’ And he would just laugh,” Mark Packer said.

The younger Packer, who is the host of ACC PM on the ACC Network, said it didn’t matter what school – most fans felt the same way about his father.

“He would cover North Carolina game and Tar Heels fans would be like, `you hate North Carolina,”‘ Mark Packer said. “Wake (Forest) fans would be like, `you hate us.’ And Billy just sort of got a kick out of that.”

Mark Packer said that while most fans will remember his father as a broadcaster, he’ll remember him even more for his business acumen. He said his father was a big real estate investor, and also owned a vape company, among other ventures.

“Billy was always a bit of a hustler – he was always looking for that next business deal,” Packer said.

Clemson starter Galloway will miss time after surgery

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CLEMSON, S.C. — Clemson starter Brevin Galloway is expected to miss games for the 24th-ranked Tigers after having surgery on his groin area Thursday.

The 6-foot-3 Galloway has started 20 of 21 games after transferring from Boston College this past offseason.

Galloway posted on social media that he’d had the surgery. Clemson coach Brad Brownell confirmed in a text to The Associated Press that Galloway had the operation.

Galloway said in his post he will be in uniform soon. He is not expected to play at Florida State on Saturday.

A fifth-year player, Galloway has averaged 10.6 points a game this season. He’s second on the Tigers with 55 assists and 18 steals.

The Tigers (17-4) lead the Atlantic Coast Conference at 9-1 in league play.

Clemson is already down two experienced players due to injury.

Point guard Chase Hunter, who started the team’s first 18 games, has missed the past three with a foot injury.

Guard Alex Hemenway, in his fourth season, has missed the past nine games with a foot injury. Hemenway was the team’s leading 3-point shooter (27 of 54) before getting hurt.

Zach Edey has 19 points, No. 1 Purdue beats Michigan 75-70

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ANN ARBOR, Mich. — Zach Edey had 15 of his 19 points in the first half and Fletcher Loyer finished with 17 points to help No. 1 Purdue hold off Michigan 75-70 on Thursday night.

The Boilermakers (20-1, 9-1 Big Ten) had a 15-0 run to go ahead 41-28 lead in the first half after there were 10 lead changes and four ties, but they couldn’t pull away.

The Wolverines (11-9, 5-4) were without standout freshman Jett Howard, who missed the game with an ankle injury, and still hung around until the final seconds.

Joey Baker made a 3-pointer – off the glass – with 5.9 seconds left to pull Michigan within three points, but Purdue’s Brandon Newman sealed the victory with two free throws.

Purdue coach Matt Painter said Michigan slowed down Edey in the second half by pushing him away from the basket.

“They got him out a little more, and got him bottled up,” Painter said.

The 7-foot-4 Edey, though, was too tough to stop early in the game.

“He’s one of the best in the country for a reason,” Michigan coach Juwan Howard said. “He’s very effective, especially if he’s 8 feet and in.”

With size and skills such as a hook shot, the junior center from Toronto scored Purdue’s first seven points and finished the first half 7 of 12 from the field and 1 of 2 at the line.

“He did a great job in the first half, going to his right shoulder and using his left hand,” Painter said. “He made four baskets with his left hand which is huge.”

Freshman Braden Smith had 10 points for the Boilermakers.

Purdue’s defense ultimately denied Michigan’s comeback hopes, holding a 22nd straight opponent to 70 or fewer points.

Hunter Dickinson scored 21, Kobe Bufkin had 16 points and Baker added 11 points for the Wolverines, who have lost four of their last six games.

Dickinson, a 7-1 center, matched up with Edey defensively and pulled him out of the lane offensively by making 3 of 7 3-pointers.

“Half his shots were from the 3, and that’s a little different,” Painter said. “His meat and potatoes are on that block. He’s the real deal.”

POLL IMPLICATIONS

The Boilermakers got the top spot in the AP Top 25 this week after winning six games, a stretch that followed a loss to Rutgers on Jan. 3 that dropped them from No. 1 in the poll. Purdue improved to 7-2 as the top-ranked team.

BIG PICTURE

Purdue: Edey can’t beat teams by himself and he’s surrounded by a lot of role players and a potential standout in Loyer. The 6-4 guard was the Big Ten player of the week earlier this month, become the first Boilermaker freshman to win the award since Robbie Hummel in 2008.

“Fletcher is somebody who has played better in the second half, and on the road,” Painter said.

Michigan: Jett Howard’s health is a critical factor for the Wolverines, who will have some work to do over the second half of the Big Ten season to avoid missing the NCAA Tournament for the first time since 2015. Howard averages 14.6 points and is the most dynamic player on his father’s team.

ROAD WARRIORS

The Boilermakers were away from home for 12 of 23 days, winning all five of their road games. They won at Ohio State, Michigan State and Michigan for the first time since the 1997-98 season and beat the Spartans and Wolverines on their home court in the same season for the first time in 12 years.

UP NEXT

Purdue: Hosts Michigan State on Sunday, nearly two weeks after the Boilermakers beat the Spartans by a point on Edey’s shot with 2.2 seconds left.

Michigan: Plays at Penn State on Sunday.

Miller scores 23, No. 10 Maryland tops No. 13 Michigan 72-64

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COLLEGE PARK, Md. – Diamond Miller scored 23 points, and No. 10 Maryland closed the first quarter with a 13-2 run and led the rest of the way in a 72-64 victory over No. 13 Michigan on Thursday night.

Abby Meyers contributed 12 points and 11 rebounds for the Terrapins (17-4, 8-2), who won for the 10th time in 11 games. Lavender Briggs scored 14 points and Shyanne Sellers added 13.

Maryland gained a measure of revenge after losing twice to Michigan last season – including a 20-point rout in College Park.

Leigha Brown led the Wolverines with 16 points.

Michigan (16-5, 6-4) led 13-9 in the first quarter before a three-point play by Miller started Maryland’s big run. Briggs and Faith Masonius made 3-pointers during that stretch.

The Terps pushed the lead to 16 in the third quarter before the Wolverines were able to chip away. Miller sat for a bit with four fouls, and Michigan cut the lead to seven in the fourth quarter, but the Wolverines still wasted too many possessions with turnovers to mount much of a comeback.

Michigan ended up with 24 turnovers, and Maryland had a 25-5 advantage in points off turnovers.

Miller fouled out with 2:19 remaining, but even after those two free throws, the Terps led 65-57 and had little trouble holding on.

Michigan lost for the second time in four days against a top-10 opponent. No. 6 Indiana beat the Wolverines 92-83 on Monday.

BIG PICTURE

Michigan: Whether it was against Maryland’s press or in their half-court offense, the Wolverines turned the ball over too much to score consistently. This was a lower-scoring game than the loss to Indiana, but the margin ended up being similar.

Maryland: While Miller clearly led the way, the Terps had plenty of offensive contributors. They also held Michigan to 13 points below its season average entering the game.

POLL IMPLICATIONS

The Wolverines have appeared in 48 straight AP polls, and although a two-loss week could certainly drop them, the quality of their opponents could save them from a substantial plunge.

Maryland is tied for 10th with an Iowa team that beat No. 2 Ohio State on Monday night. Now the Terps can boast an impressive victory of their own.

UP NEXT

Michigan: The Wolverines play their third game of the week when they visit Minnesota on Sunday.

Maryland: The Terps host Penn State on Monday night.

 

Boum, Jones lead No. 13 Xavier over No. 19 UConn, 82-79

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STORRS, Conn. – Souley Boum scored 21 points, Colby Jones added 20 and No. 13 Xavier went on the road and held off No. 19 Connecticut 82-79 Wednesday night.

The win was the 13th in 14 games for the Musketeers (17-4, 9-1 Big East) and it gave them a season sweep over the struggling Huskies (16-6, 5-6).

Jack Nunge had 12 points and Jerome Hunter added 11 for Xavier, which led by 17 in the first half and 39-24 at halftime.

Jordan Hawkins scored 26 of his 28 points in the second half for UConn, leading a comeback that fell just short.

Tristen Newton added 23 points for the Huskies, who won their first 14 games this season but have dropped six of eight since.

The Musketeers never trailed but had to withstand UConn runs that cut the lead to a single point four times in the second half.

A three-point play from Hawkins made it 78-77 with 2:40 left. But a second-chance layup from Nunge put the lead at 80-77 just over a minute later.

Newton was fouled with two seconds left by Desmond Claude, but his apparent attempt to miss his second free throw went into the basket.

Boum then hit two free throws at the other end, and Newton’s final attempt from just beyond halfcourt was well short.

Xavier jumped out to a 9-0 lead as UConn missed its first nine shots.

A 3-pointer from Zach Freemantle gave the Musketeers their first double-digit lead at 20-9, and another from Jones pushed it to 35-18.

BIG PICTURE

Xavier: The Musketeers lead the Big East, and the win over UConn was their ninth conference victory this season, eclipsing their total from last season.

UConn: The Huskies came in with a 17-game winning streak at Gampel Pavilion dating to February 2021. They fell to 1-4 against the four teams in front of them in the Big East standings. The lone win came at Gampel against Creighton.

UP NEXT

Xavier: The Musketeers continue their road trip with a visit to Creighton on Saturday.

UConn: Doesn’t play again until next Tuesday, when the Huskies visit DePaul.