Final thoughts from the Champions Classic

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Scott Phillips and I were both in attendance on Tuesday night at the Champions Classic, and while we both wrote plenty of words off of those two games, there was a lot more to discuss that simply couldn’t fit into our stories.

So we put it all here:

Scott: After all of the hype, the Champions Classic is finally over and I’ve got to say that Tuesday night lived up to the hype and so much more, don’t you think, Rob? The crowd was fired up and lively, the freshmen played well and people were reminded of how good Michigan State really is.

I guess we’ll start with Kentucky and Michigan State since it was No. 1 vs. No. 2 and the first game of the night.

(Andrew Wiggins won the Freshmen Showcase)

I’m shocked most at two stats: Michigan State leading Kentucky in fast break points 21-2 and Kentucky outrebounding a Tom Izzo team 44-32?

What do you think those numbers mean going forward and did you have any similar eye-popping numbers that really stood out to you?

Rob: To be honest, I wasn’t all that shocked by the work that Kentucky did on the offensive glass. This team has as much front court depth as we’ve ever seen on one roster, headlined by a freak of nature in Julius Randle. Michigan State? Their biggest issue this season is that their front court behind Adreian Payne is not elite. Matt Costello and Alex Gauna are serviceable against teams that don’t have 25 lottery picks, Branden Dawson is good but undersized, and on Tuesday, Payne was in foul trouble. Do the math. It adds up.

I was surprised by the amount of fast break points Michigan State was able to get, but to me it had more to do with just how bad the Wildcats were in transition. We talked about this at the game. They weren’t hustling back, they gambled for steals, and there was no defensive balance when they were shooting long jumpers. Much of the damage the Spartans did in transition came on run outs and wide-open dunks. It wasn’t like they had the reincarnation of Magic leading the break.

One thing that you mentioned on Tuesday night that really stuck with me was just how good of a job Izzo did game-planning for Kentucky. Packed in defense, anticipating Randle’s spin move, daring Kentucky to shoot. How much of this win belongs to Izzo?

Scott: Good points regarding the rebounding and fast break numbers, Rob. Although Kentucky has more quality size and depth in the front court, it is still shocking to see an Izzo team out rebounded by double digits in any contest.

I think part of the win stems from Izzo’s game plan, part from Michigan State players stepping up and performing and part from Kentucky’s inexperience in big games.

Izzo’s early defensive game plan was fantastic and they did a nice job collapsing on Julius Randle when he got isolation or post touches and between Michigan State’s aggressive switching and Kentucky’s stagnant offensive it was a recipe for early disaster for Kentucky’s offense.

I actually thought Kentucky’s half-court defense wasn’t too bad and they showed a lot of positive signs in that department going forward if they can shore up the transition defense. Kentucky is long and athletic on the defensive end and they also limit second chance opportunities because of their rebounding prowess so they should be okay in that department.

But how about Michigan State’s players stepping up? Izzo can gameplan all he wants but Payne and Harris looked like pros in the first half and nobody in America expected Keith Appling to be the most complete guard in the game with that 22-8-8 line. Heck, even Branden Dawson was a solid x-factor rebounding, running the floor and guarding multiple positions.

Do we see more performances like that from Michigan State’s players — specifically the inconsistent Appling and Payne — or was this an anomaly?

And how do you see Kentucky’s youth growing from here?

Rob: Kentucky will only get better. I thought they were the most likely team to win a national title entering the season, and last time only affirmed that belief.

(Kentucky has the talent. Now they need the time.)

One team that I think I underrated is Kansas. The Jayhawks are going to be a problem, and the biggest reason is Perry Ellis. The dude is going to be a force on the block, and while I think he was in for a big season, I did not think he was going to be as good as he looked on Tuesday. Granted, it is just one game, I know, but if he can be a 15 ppg guy, he makes Kansas a completely different team on the offensive end of the floor, especially if his post game is truly developed and not just a result of going up against a Duke team that doesn’t have a ton on the inside.

Here’s my question: Rodney Hood and Jabari Parker were awesome vs. Kansas. Both looked like lottery picks. Jabari looked like Paul Pierce and Grant Hill had a baby, which is even more terrifying as a theoretical hooper than it would be if they actually had a child.

But I’m concerned about Duke. I thought they’d be better spreading the floor offensively, especially given the new foul rules. But Rasheed Sulaimon was no where to be found, Matt Jones and Tyler Thornton played a ton of minutes while Andre Dawkins was ducktaped to the bench. Amile Jefferson scored some points, but he couldn’t get a rebound if his life depended on it and Perry Ellis abused him like he was Yi Jianlian’s chair.

Does that say more about Duke or about Kansas?

Scott: It says more about Kansas to me. I think we both underestimated the Jayhawks heading into the game and it’s not as if I thought they weren’t talented — they’re loaded — I just didn’t feel like they’d mesh against the talent of Duke this early in the year.

Perry Ellis was a revelation last night and he’s going to be the difference of Kansas’ season going forward. Wiggins will be Wiggins and Kansas has other talent, but if Perry Ellis can get positive post touches it opens up the entire floor for Kansas.

If Ellis commands doubles, or at least the help attention of other defenders, then it opens driving lanes, spaces the floor for shooters and eases things for a freshman center like Joel Embiid.

I know Embiid only had two points and took one of the worst three-point attempts you’re likely to see all season, but he did have five (!) assists as a freshman center and still should be able to finish easy lobs and plays around the rim if defenders are drawn to Ellis. Embiid is only going to improve and so are Kansas’ other young guns.

If Wiggins and Ellis are a consistent 1-2 scoring punch with Selden and the perimeter also playing well, Kansas is going to be really tough to defend.

Which brings me to my question about Duke: Is this team ever going to be able to beat a premier post team or can the Blue Devils shore up their interior defense?

Jabari Parker was a better post defender than I thought — and he rebounds well enough to play the 4 against most teams — but isn’t it going to wear him down if he constantly has to take a beating against a bigger post player while having to create offense on the other end?

(Jabari Parker dazzles the hometown crowd)

Are you worried about Parker’s 3-for-8 second half with a few turnovers and do you think he wore down as the game went on?

Rob: I’m going to go back and rewatch the game this weekend, but I think it had less to do with wearing down than it did with Kansas saying ‘I’m sick of this dude lighting us up’. Wiggins switched on him a bit, which made for a tougher matchup as well.

Duke’s interior defense will be an issue all year long. There’s no way around it. They won’t run into a ton of teams in the ACC with a dominant low-post presence, but I think that it’s more of a red flag than we first realized, particularly when the Blue Devils play an elite team with a talented low-post option. If they switch Marshall Plumlee with one of the other Plumlees, will anyone actually notice?

The bottom-line is this: right now, Michigan State is the best, most complete team in the country. When Keith Appling plays the way he did Tuesday, and Harris and Payne live up to their potential, the Spartans are going to be tough.

But I think what Tuesday night taught us is that there are a number of teams that are no where near finished products just yet. In fact, I’d say that Kentucky, despite the loss, was the most promising. They erased a 15 point deficit to the No. 2 team in the country that had all three of their best players playing well while shooting 20-36 from the foul line, committing 17 turnovers, missing open three after open three and looking somewhat overwhelmed by the moment.

Those errors are fixable. Those problems can be solved with practice, experience and a dose of confidence.

I left Chicago feeling very good about picking Kentucky to win it all.

No. 23 Furman tops Charleston Southern 77-69, stays unbeaten

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GREENVILLE, S.C. (AP) — No. 23 Furman took another step in its remarkable early-season journey, one coach Bob Richey expects will benefit his team the rest of the way.

The perfect Paladins (11-0) used a late run to pull away from Charleston Southern for a 77-69 victory Tuesday night in their first-ever home game as a Top 25 team.

Richey felt the jitters of his young team before the game, the desire to show the home crowd their rise was legitimate.

“The fear of if we lose, does all this go away,” Richey said. “And I think that’s normal for a young player — ‘Man, we want to keep this going.'”

Noah Gurley scored 17 points, and Alex Hunter and Andrew Brown had 16 points apiece to lead Furman in a game where leading scorer Jordan Lyons had zero points.

“We’ve got to continue to keep our pulse on these players,” Richey said. “We’ve got to continue to help them out.”

So far, so good.

The Paladins have been one of college basketball’s biggest surprises with their school-record run to start the season — a stretch that included defeating defending national champs Villanova and a second Final Four team from last year in Loyola-Chicago.

It took a late charge to break away from the Buccaneers (4-5).

Charleston Southern trailed 54-52 on Dontrell Shuler’s layup with less than 10 minutes left. After that, the Paladins went on a 14-4 run. Tre Clark had four points during the surge and when Gurley nailed a 3-pointer with 5:51 to go, Furman was up 68-56.

Charleston Southern could not respond and college basketball’s feel-good story of the season remained on track.

Lyons, averaging 20.2 points a game, missed all seven of his shots.

Matt Rafferty had 14 points and 14 rebounds for Furman.

“We’ve got to stay even-keeled,” Hunter said. “That’s something we’ve been practicing every day.”

Deontaye Buskey and Duncan LeXander had 13 points each for Charleston Southern.

Buccaneers coach Barclay Radebaugh said his team made too many mistakes to hang in at the end.

“You can’t do that against a team like Furman,” he said.

Furman, which joined the AP Top 25 last week for the first time in school history, had to wait another week — and make it through road wins at Elon and South Carolina Upstate — before it could celebrate its achievement on its home court. And it looked like the Paladins would have plenty to cheer about after they used a 17-8 run midway through the opening period to build a 26-18 lead.

But Furman went cold after that, missing seven straight shots as the Buccaneers of the Big South Conference tightened things up.

BIG PICTURE

Charleston Southern: The Buccaneers are nearing the end of a brutal opening stretch with seven of their first 11 games on the road. Those have included losses at Florida, Middle Tennessee and Marquette. Charleston Southern’s run ends with games at North Florida and Clemson in the next week. Radebaugh hopes the time away from home toughens the Bucs for Big South play.

Furman: The Paladins looked edgy in their first home appearance as a ranked team. They looked ready to take charge with a 51-42 lead before helping Charleston Southern’s comeback with four straight turnovers. Furman probably won’t win many games where Lyons struggles as he did against the Bucs.

STREAKING PALADINS

Furman is off to its most consecutive wins since winning 11 in a row in 1979. That’s back when the Paladins were one of the Palmetto State’s most successful teams, going to six NCAA Tournaments between 1971 and 1980. Furman has not played in the tournament since then.

RICHEY’S START

Richey was grateful to Radebaugh, who hired Richey as a 23-year-old and gradually gave him control of the Bucs’ offense. “Without Barclay, I wouldn’t be here today,” Richey said.

UP NEXT

Charleston Southern is at North Florida on Saturday.

Furman finishes a two-game homestand by hosting UNC Wilmington on Saturday.

Penn ends No. 17 Villanova’s 25-game Big 5 winning streak with 78-75 victory

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Villanova’s 25-game Big 5 winning streak is over.

The 17th-ranked Wildcats fell to Penn, 78-75, at the Palestra on Tuesday to see its undefeated run among its Philadelphia counterparts come to an end after six years.

It’s also an end to the six-game winning streak coach Jay Wright’s team has enjoyed since losing back-to-back games to Michigan and Furman last month.

Issues persisted on the defensive end for the Wildcats as they fell on a night they shot 50 percent from the floor and 34.6 percent from 3-point range. The Quakers bested that by converting 51.1 percent of their shots overall and 43.8 percent of their 16 attempts from distance.

Villanova had put some distance between itself and the shellacking it took courtesy of Michigan and the OT lost to Furman, but it continues to be clear that while still a top-25 caliber team, Wright’s squad this year looks to be well short of the teams that celebrated national championships in 2016 and 2018. Eric Paschall was expected to step into the void from losing so many players to the NBA off last year’s title-winner, but he took just five shots against Penn and has been generally inconsistent all season. Five-star point guard Jahvon Quinerly can’t even got on the floor. That leaves Collin Gillespie and Phil Booth, who combined for 39 points Tuesday, carrying a bigger burden than would be ideal.

The Wildcats are likely ultimately going to be fine – they lost to a good team Tuesday – but unless they can get more from especially Paschall it’s hard to see them elevating themselves to a Final Four contender.

That’s the weight of expectation after two titles in three years.

We knew the Big East championship wasn’t going to be Villanova’s to simply waltz to, but the top-half of the league continues to look incredibly tightly grouped together without mich separation.

Penn, meanwhile, looks a real threat in the Ivy, as was evident in the Quakers’ win over Miami last week. The win over Villanova only solidifies their status.

AJ Brodeur and Antonio Woods both scored 16 points against the ‘Cats as Penn led by as many as 12 points on the night, but still had to survive a Booth attempt from 3 at the buzzer to finally end Villanova’s supremacy over Big 5 hoops.

Iowa State could get Lindell Wigginton and Solomon Young back this weekend

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It’s been sort of a bizarre start to the season for Iowa State. For starters, the Cyclones enter the season not coming off an NCAA tournament appearance for the first time since 2011 after a 14-18 campaign last season snapped a program-record six-straight tourney streak. Coach Steve Prohm then suspended two players, including preseason all-Big 12 honorable mention center Cameron Lard, for the month of November for rules violations. The Cyclones also lost starting big man Solomon Young to a groin injury and then star guard Lindell Wigginton to a sprained foot.

Despite all that, Iowa State started the season 7-1 (including two wins at the Maui Invitational) before a loss at rival Iowa last week.

Now with an 8-2 record and having not only survived November but largely thrived with a reduced roster, the Cyclones are nearing full strength.

Wigginton, who averaged 17 points and shot 40 percent from 3 as a freshman, and Young, a two-year starter, could return as soon as Saturday and almost assuredly before the Cyclones’ Big 12 opener against Oklahoma State on Jan. 2.

“It’s where we thought it would be the whole time,” Prohm said of the duo’s timeline Monday, according to the Ames Tribune. “When we do halfcourt live segments Wednesday, if everything stays status quo the way it is right now, they’ll be able to go in the halfcourt.

“Not up and down, but they’ll go live contact in the halfcourt, and then evaluate them from there. Whether they suit up or not on Saturday, I couldn’t give you an answer on that right now.”

Prohm said both players could be in uniform against Drake on Saturday, but would not necessarily be available for big minutes, if at all. Wigginton, who went through the NBA pre-draft process last spring before announcing his return the day of the NCAA deadline, is expected to nearly immediately return to a major role.

Young, though, will be an interesting case. The Cyclones’ frontcourt is a crowded one with Prohm seemingly committed to playing four guards extensively and current starter Michael Jacobson, a Nebraska transfer, averaging a surprising 14.8 points and 6.8 rebounds while shooting 62.4 percent from the floor. With Jacobson, Lard and Young all soon available, Prohm will have a juggling act for minutes or reconfigure his lineup to play big, with the former seeming more likely than the latter.

Mark Few: NCAA prez Mark Emmert ‘needs to step up and be a leader and make some quicker decisions’

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Count Mark Few as one looking for the NCAA to shorten its timeline when it comes to potential discipline for schools ensnared by the FBI’s investigation into corruption in college basketball.

The Gonzaga coach is also calling out NCAA president Mark Emmert by name in his plea to speed things along and make teams who may have violated NCAA rules accountable.

“I’m disappointed. I don’t think this is something the NCAA needs to take their time on,” Few said, according to Yahoo Sports. “There’s teams out here who are competing for Final Fours and national championships and they don’t need to stall this thing out.

“They need to make decisions and roll with it. I think that’s on Emmert. Emmert needs to step up and be a leader and make some quicker decisions.”

Emmert said last week that schools who were implicated by the FBI’s investigation, including by information that was made public in October’s court proceedings that involved three guilty verdicts, would not face potential punishment until after this season with the NCAA investigation extending beyond the Final Four.

New NCAA rules allow it to use testimony and evidence presented in those trials, but how the NCAA will apply those rules – will it simply accept anything mentioned under oath? – remains unclear. The NCAA, though, has committed to handle things methodically, as it so often does to the frustration of many a coach. It’s not exactly surprising, though, that the NCAA is in no hurry to drop sanctions on prominent schools – programs like Kansas, Auburn, Creighton, LSU, Louisville and Miami – in the middle of a season. Such a move would dominate discussion of the sport and upend seasons in an unprecedented manner. Intraseason discipline, especially something like a postseason ban, against some of the country’s top programs would be almost guaranteed to invite ugly legal challenges.

It’s not exactly a courageous rationale, but it is pragmatic. It also is the least likely to affect the bottom line, which is usually the best spot to place your bet when trying to determine the NCAA’s course of action.

Providence guard to miss at least a month with foot injury

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Rough news for Providence on Tuesday morning, as the school announced that freshman guard A.J. Reeves will miss the next four-to-six weeks with an unspecified foot injury.

Reeves, a native of Roxbury, Ma., has averaged 14.2 points this season while shooting 45 percent from three. He’s been the best freshman in the Big East and one of the best weapons for a talented Friar team that has yet to truly figure themselves out.

“It’s unfortunate that A.J. has to go through this as he has been having a very productive start to his college career,” head coach Ed Cooley said. “However, he is a great person and will use this time to get better and he will continue to support the team.”