Top 25 Countdown: No. 11 San Diego State Aztecs

Leave a comment

Throughout the month of October, CollegeBasketballTalk will be rolling out our previews for the 2012-2013 season. Check back at 9 a.m. and just after lunch every day, Monday-Friday, for a new preview item.

To browse through the preview posts we’ve already published, click here. To look at the rest of the Top 25, click here. For a schedule of our previews for the month, click here.

Last Season: 26-8, 10-4 Mountain West (t-1st); Lost to NC State in the Opening Round of the NCAA tournament

Head Coach: Steve Fisher

Key Losses: Garrett Green, Tim Shelton

Newcomers: Winston Shepard, Dwayne Polee II, JJ O’Brien, James Johnson, Matt Shrigley, Skylar Spencer

Projected Lineup:

G: Xavier Thames, Jr.
G: Chase Tapley, Jr.
F: Jamaal Franklin, Jr.
F: Winston Shepard, Fr.
C: DeShawn Stephens, Sr.
Bench: James Rahon, Sr.; Dwayne Polee II, So.; JJ O’Brien, So.; James Johnson, Jr.; Matt Shrigley, Fr.

Outlook: To get a feel for where the Aztec program is right now, think about this: after losing their top four players from the 2010-2011 season — including Kawhi Leonard — SDSU was in full-on, rebuilding year mode heading last season. But the Aztecs won 26 games and took home a share of the Mountain West title, watching as Jamaal Franklin went from a seldom-used bench piece to a starter early in the season to the MWC Player of the Year by the end of the year, racking up averages of 19.5 points and 9.9 boards in league play.

The Aztecs, who prior to 2011 had never won an NCAA tournament game, were knocked off in the opening round of the tournament by No. 11 seed NC State, and instead of enjoying their third straight — and fifth-ever — trip to the Big Dance, the Aztec faithful were upset about getting upset. That should tell you something about the expectations this team has heading into this season, as an influx of talented transfers and a crop of quality freshmen has the Aztecs sitting pretty as arguably the best team on the west coast.

For Fisher’s club, everything starts out on the perimeter, and Franklin’s name is the one to know. It took him a while to break into the starting lineup a year ago, but over the last couple of months of the season, he looked like an all-american. If Franklin had scored seven more points and grabbed just one more rebound in the 13 conference games he played, the 6-foot-5 wing would have averaged 20 and 10. There are two areas that Franklin needs to improve upon: he turns the ball over far too often, and he settles for too many three-pointers. But when he’s putting the ball on the floor and attacking the rim, he’s one of the best players in the country.

And he’s far from alone in SDSU’s back court, a junior Xavier Thames and seniors James Rahon and Chase Tapley make-up SDSU’s four-guard attack. Tapley is the leader in this group. He’s SDSU’s best shooter and the guy that often has the ball in his hands in crunch-time. He can do a little bit of everything on the floor and has been through the battles — barring a disaster this year, he’ll be the first player in program history to play in four NCAA tournaments. Thames is SDSU’s play-maker, and his ability to get out and run the floor is one of the reasons SDSU will be looking to push the pace this season. Rahon is a sharp-shooter, but he struggled with his consistency last year, making just 32% from distance.

The front court is where things get interesting for SDSU. Garrett Green graduates, but Deshawn Stephens returns for his senior season to provide Fisher with some bulk inside. He’ll be joined by James Johnson, a former top 100 recruit and a transfer from Virginia, in December. Neither Stephens nor Johnson are particularly promising, but at some point size becomes a necessity.

The three other newcomers along the front line are the ones that have increased the level of hype surrounding this group. We’ll start with Winston Shepard, who is an athletic, 6-foot-8 small forward known for his versatility and playmaking ability. He’s a consensus top 50 recruit that has been labeled s five-star prospect by some outlets, and he should have an immediate and significant impact this year.

He’ll be joined by two sophomore transfers in Dwayne Polee II and JJ O’Brien. Polee is an uber-athletic, 6-foot-7 string bean that had a promising freshman season on the St. John’s team that made the tournament with a roster full of seniors. O’Brien, like Polee, is more of a wing forward than he is an interior presence, but he’s quality player that came on strong late in his one season at Utah.

Predictions?: The Mountain West is loaded this season, and given the strength that a number of the programs have historically had in their home venues, it’s easy to picture a scenario where the league’s champ ends up with four or five conference losses again. I peg SDSU as the favorite. They have the best player in the league in Franklin and the perfect roster makeup to become a team that plays a faster, more-uptempo pace.

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

Saturday’s Three Things To Know: No. 8 Villanova loses again, Michigan coasts

Rich Schultz/Getty Images)
Leave a comment

Saturday was a quiet day on the college hoops front, but there were still some notable results that we are going to need to talk about.

Here are the three things to know:

1. NO. 8 VILLANOVA LOST THEIR SECOND STRAIGHT GAME

For the second time in as many games, Villanova lost a game in the new Finneran Pavilion. On Saturday afternoon, the No. 8 Wildcats were taking on a Furman team that had already won at Loyola-Chicago this season. After blowing a 10-point first half lead, Villanova trailed by s many as seven points late in the second half before rallying and forcing overtime. Furman would scored 11 of the first 14 points in the extra frame, and the Wildcats would go on to lose their second straight game, 76-68.

There is a lot to discuss here, but perhaps the most relevant point is that Jay Wright has opted to shorten his bench. He did not play Jahvon Quinerly on Saturday night. Cole Swider played seven minutes. Saddiq Bey only played 10 minutes. Phil Booth, Eric Paschall and Colin Gillespie all played more than 40 minutes. This is going to be a decision that will draw some scrutiny, but it is worth pointing out that Villanova used a deep bench in their blowout home loss to Michigan on Tuesday night.

2. NO. 18 MICHIGAN CONTINUES TO ROLL

There really is not all that much to say here. The Wolverines, fresh off of a dominating win over No. 8 Villanova on the road, smacked around a bad George Washington team in the opener of the Air Force Reserve Tip-Off tournament. I am not quite sure just how good Michigan is going to be this season, but it is pretty clear that right now, they deserve a spot someone in or around the top ten.

3. NO. 24 MARQUETTE HOLDS OFF PRESBYTERIAN

It was almost a disastrous night for the Golden Eagles, as they trailed Presbyterian by one heading into the break. Marquette was able to pull away from the Blue Hose down the stretch, but it was not the easiest nor the prettiest win for a Marquette team that was beating by Indiana in Bloomington during the week. Markus Howard finished with as many turnovers as field goals attempted — seven — while Joseph Chartouny and Sam Hauser combined for 35 points.

No. 18 Michigan, Providence win in Tip-Off tournament semis

Leon Halip/Getty Images)
Leave a comment

UNCASVILLE, Conn. (AP) — Michigan coach John Beilein was concerned his Wolverines might suffer a letdown against George Washington after a blowout victory over No. 8 Villanova on the road.

There was still a tinge of worry during the first half of Saturday’s semifinal of the Air Force Reserve Tip-Off tournament when GW (0-4) cut an 18-point Wolverine lead to six.

But No. 18 Michigan (4-0), which led by nine points at halftime, went on a 13-2 run to open the second half and finished with an easy 84-61 victory over the Colonials.

“A lot of the message after the Villanova game was handling success,” Beilein said. “Some kids struggle with that. It’s very natural. Michigan is not going to fall into that trap.”

Charles Matthews led the Wolverines with 25 points and Jordan Poole made five of his eight 3-point shots to add a career-high 22. Zavier Simpson finished two assists shy of a triple-double with 14 points, 11 rebounds and eight assists.

Poole had made just one 3-pointer on 10 attempts coming into the game and was shooting just over 23 percent from the field. He hit his first three shots and finished 7 of 12 from the floor. The sophomore guard insisted that nothing had changed with his shot, but Simpson said he noticed a difference.

“Me and Jordan were having a little contest before the game,” Simpson said. “We were basically bragging with each other how our shot was feeling good today. So I’m not sure what he was talking about feeling normal. Then he knocked the first one down. That was kind of like, ‘I told you so.'”

Michigan, which gave up just 46 points in its 27-point victory at Villanova on Wednesday, held the Colonials to 39 percent shooting and outscored GW 17-2 on the fast break.

D.J. Williams had 16 points to lead George Washington, which lost its second straight game to a ranked opponent after falling by 19 points at No. 4 Virginia last Sunday.

“We’re a work in progress,” GW coach Maurice Joseph said. “The last two games, playing quality opponents, is something we can look back to in conference play and I think we’ll be more battled tested. It’s never fun taking these losses. But I believe our guys will grow from these opportunities.”

The Wolverines play Providence in Sunday’s championship game.

PROVIDENCE-SOUTH CAROLINA

David Duke scored 20 points to rally Providence to a 76-65 win over South Carolina.

Alpha Diallo added 17 points, nine rebounds and seven assists for the Friars (3-1), who trailed by eight points at halftime and nine early in the second half.

A.J. Reeves scored eight of his 10 points during a 10-0 Friars’ run that put Providence on top 44-43.

The teams went back and forth before Jimmy Nichols followed a missed shot with the first of the three straight Providence dunks. That gave the Friars a 54-49 lead, led coach Ed Cooley to toss aside his suit jacket and brought the pro-Providence crowd to its feet.

The game was played 60 miles from the Friars’ campus across the state line.

“We get a lot of fan support when we come down here, so it’s definitely worth it to come,” Cooley said. “My jacket comes off and sometimes I don’t even feel it. I don’t. It’s just a matter of getting into the game and getting excited.”

Consecutive 3-pointers from Duke and Isaiah Jackson made it 65-54 and put the game out of reach.

“I struggled a little bit before shooting the ball, but I came in today with a stay-positive attitude,” Duke said. “I know what I’m capable of and Coach put his trust in me. Once I got one, I started feeling it.”

Hassani Gravett scored 14 points to lead four players in double figures for South Carolina (2-2).

The Gamecocks committed 38 fouls and made just six of 25 shots from 3-point range.

Martin said he’ll be looking for one thing on Sunday when the Gamecocks face George Washington in the consolation game.

“Growth,” he said. “At the end of the day, that’s why you play these events. You line up and play Providence in Providence, even though we’re just across the state line. You’ve got to challenge your team to force them to grow. We’re privileged we get to play in the SEC, just like Providence in the Big East. Those are elite basketball conferences. It’s our job as coaches, out duties, to prepare our teams to play in conference play.”

UConn coach Dan Hurley tossed for first time since HS days

Sarah Stier/Getty Images
1 Comment

NEW YORK — Just 24 hours removed from an upset win over No. 15 Syracuse in Madison Square Garden, UConn head coach Danny Hurley was ejected from Friday night’s loss to Iowa in the finals of the 2K Classic.

It was the first time that he was ejected as a college coach.

UConn fans in the Garden gave Hurley a standing ovation and chanted his name as he walked off the court.

Hurley appeared to be caught off guard on the second technical. He was talking to Jalen Adams, who was unhappy with the officiating as well, and Hurley told his player, “I’ll handle it in the press conference.”

Bo Boroski, a Big Ten referee, overheard the statement and hit Hurley with his second technical foul.

“I don’t want to put myself inside the mind of that crew, but it was what it was,” Hurley said. “Bo obviously overheard a conversation I was having with a player on my team and thought that was the appropriate decision. I have a hard job. Players have a hard job. Referees all have a hard job. We all have to be accountable for our performances.”

Hurley went on to lament the job that he did coaching his team on Friday, that he wasn’t as prepared as Iowa head coach Fran McCaffery was. There are going to be frustrations for the young Huskies, and he knows that.

“This isn’t some Disney movie,” Hurley said. “It’s not the Mighty Ducks or whatever. It’s going to take some time.”

What Hurley wasn’t mad about, however, was a last-second dunk by an Iowa player after UConn had stopped trying to play defense. Iowa apologized for it to the remaining UConn staff on the floor. They apologized again in the press conference. Hurley, when asked about it, was clueless.

“I didn’t see it,” Hurley said, a smile breaking. “I was long gone by then, man.”

Friday’s Three Things To Know: Iowa wins, Cuse struggles

Sarah Stier/Getty Images
Leave a comment

Friday featured a full day of college hoops action, as tip-off in Charleston happened before noon ET while the final games didn’t end until well after midnight. 

The most important results, however, happened in New York City:

1. IOWA WINS THE 2K CLASSIC

The Hawkeyes look like they are going to be legit this season. A day after they put together an impressive win over No. 13 Oregon, Fran McCaffery’s club easily handled a UConn team that themselves had impressed with a win over a ranked team on Thursday night.

Part of this clearly had to do with matchup. Iowa is big. UConn is not. Luka Garza absolutely torched the Huskies in the first half, scoring 18 of his 22 points before halftime, while Tyler Cook took over down the stretch; he finished with 26 points and eight boards. UConn always plays three, and often four, guards, and the size was very clearly a problem for the smaller Huskies.

But that size is going to be an issue for a lot of teams. Garza is not overly skilled but he plays harder than just about anyone in the sport. Cook is skilled — far more skilled that I realized — and he matches Garza’s intensity. Throw in a good crop of guards, headlined by McCaffery’s, and this looks like an Iowa team that will make some noise in a very, very good Big Ten.

2. SYRACUSE HAS SOME SERIOUS PROBLEMS OFFENSIVELY

All the talk from the most high-profile matchup from the 2K Classic on Friday night will be about Bol Bol, Oregon’s dominant 7-foot-2 center who looked as good as I have ever seen him against the Orange.

The real story, however, is that Syracuse is a total mess offensively. The Orange are currently 204th nationally is points-per-possession, according to KenPom, and 342nd in the country in three-point shooting. They’re making just 20.5 percent of their threes, a problem when more than a third of their field goal attempts are from beyond the arc.

“After looking at [the stat sheet],” Boeheim said, of Oshae Brissett, his star forward that has looked anything-but a star this year, “if I could go back in time I’d say ‘Don’t take any 3s tonight.’ But I can’t do that. He’s been shooting it good in practice. He is a good shooter. He shot 32 percent last year, but he’s noticeably better in drills and practice this year than he was last year.”

“He’s just not there,” Boeheim said. “He’s not playing at the level we need him to be playing. We need him and Tyus [Battle] to play at a very high level and they’re not.”

The question is whether or not these struggles are the result of Syracuse being bad offensively — remember, they were 135th in KenPom’s adjusted offensive efficiency metric last season — or if the answer is that there isn’t a point guard on the floor. Battle is not a point guard. Elijah Hughes isn’t, either. Jalen Carey can score but, again, he’s not a point guard.

Franklin Howard is, and he could be back as soon as the next game.

We’ll see if that makes a difference.

3. WEST VIRGINIA, GEORGETOWN TAKE UPSETS

The Mountaineers just don’t appear to be all that good this season, and while that is a stark contrast to what the program has been in recent years, it shouldn’t be all that unexpected. Remember, this group lost Jevon Carter and Daxter Miles, the two senior guards that set the tone for the entirety of the Press Virginia era to date.

So hearing that WVU lost to Western Kentucky after losing to Buffalo — both of who could end up being NCAA tournament teams — shouldn’t be that surprising.

Georgetown’s loss, however, is more worrisome.

The Hoyas, fresh off of a win at Illinois that got quite a few people excited about the program, loss their opener in head coach Patrick Ewing’s return to his native Jamaica. They lost by 13. To Loyola Marymount.

Not good for the Hoyas, and certainly not good for the Big East, which has struggled mightily through the first two weeks of the season.

Bol Bol scores 26 as No. 13 Oregon cruises past struggling No. 13 Syracuse

Elsa/Getty Images
Leave a comment

NEW YORK — Oregon fans in Madison Square Garden for the last two nights were witness to the full Bol Bol experience.

A night after he finished with 14 points, nine boards and five blocks in an uneven performance that was not as impressive as the highlight videos floating around twitter made it seem, Oregon’s top five prospect and a potential top five pick in the 2019 NBA Draft was as active and engaged as he could be for 40 minutes, finishing with 26 points, nine boards and four blocks as No. 13 Oregon beat No. 15 Syracuse, 80-65, to get out of the 2K Classic with a win.

“At times we played hard but we didn’t really compete,” Oregon head coach Dana Altman said of his team’s performance in a loss to Iowa on Thursday night. “There’s a difference.”

“We were really disappointed in them,” he added, “and our coaching staff expressed that. The way they turned that around, a young team, I was really pleased with them. Freshmen you gotta be patient with. I was more disappointed with the older guys than the younger guys. The freshmen, it was their first time on the road, and it looked like it. We’ll keep pushing them and moving them along and see how well they respond.

“I didn’t know what to expect today, and I’m really pleased with how they responded.”

Bol was the star of the show.

A 7-foot-2 center, Bol has a skill set that is unique in the world of basketball, regardless of level. He has all the size and length you can ask for, but he’s mobile on the perimeter and skilled enough to be able to handle the ball. He has range out to the three-point line, but as he showed on Friday night, he can be an impact presence in the high-post as well. He made three or four little floaters from about eight feet, and while he was only credited with one assists, he made some nice passes to Kenny Wooten on the baseline.

And then, of course, there is the impact that he can have defensively. He is a world-class rim protector, but his mobility and athleticism allows him to have an impact on the perimeter as well. He can run people off the three-point line by taking two steps out of the paint.

“We have to take advantage of his uniqueness,” Altman said, adding that the key centers around Bol’s ability to handle the physicality of the college level as well as battling through the fatigue that comes with playing 30-plus minutes at this level.

It helped that Syracuse, as big as they are, just doesn’t have the strength inside to create problems for Bol. That’s the way to get him off his game — get up under him, push him around — and, as Jim Boeheim put it with his trademark, sarcastic grin, “it doesn’t appear that we can do that right now.”

Boeheim was not happy after this loss.

He knows his team is struggling offensively, and he knows that it puts a level of stress and pressure on his defense that they are not ready to handle.

Specifically, he called out Oshae Brissett and Tyus Battle. Brissett was 2-for-12 from the floor and 1-for-9 from three on Friday. Battle finished just 4-for-10 from the floor and missed all four of his threes. As a team, Syracuse was 5-for-28 from beyond the arc after entering the night shooting just 21.8 percent from three.

“I’d say he’s missing shots,” Boeheim said of Brissett’s struggles. “Hes been shooting them good in practice. He’s a good shooter. He’s just not there. He’s not playing at the level we need him to play.

“We need him and Tyus to play at a high level, and they’re not.”