2017-18 Season Preview: Programs on the Rise, Decline

Photo by Gene Sweeney Jr./Getty Images
0 Comments

Beginning in September and running up until November 10th, the first day of the season, College Basketball Talk will be unveiling the 2017-2018 NBCSports.com college hoops preview package.

MORE: 2017-18 Season Preview Coverage | Conference Previews | Preview Schedule

College basketball is a zero sum game. For every winner, there’s a loser. For every ascendent program, there’s a descending one. Here, you’ll find five programs on their way up, and five headed the other way.

PROGRAMS ON THE RISE

Wichita State: At first glance, it wouldn’t appear that there’s a lot of room to move up for the Shockers given all they’ve accomplished over the last five years (five NCAA tournaments, an undefeated regular season and a Final Four being the highlights), but Wichita State remains on the come-up. The move from the Missouri Valley Conference, which after the defection of Creighton became destined for one-bid league status, to the American isn’t a radical move, but it’s an important one. It keeps the Shockers insulated against a bad conference tournament showing by upping their chances for quality RPI wins and will keep them in the national conversation throughout the winter months – rather than just as Selection Sunday approaches. Plus, every spring that passes with Marshall still in south central Kansas is further evidence that he’s not leaving unless the best of jobs comes along. Oh, and he’s got a top-10 team this year. The Shockers are solidifying themselves among the nation’s elite.

Alabama: The Tide have been pretty mediocre in Avery Johnson’s first two seasons as a college coach, going 37-30 overall and 18-18 in SEC play. This year, though, Alabama looks like a top-25 team after Johnson reeled in a top-10 recruiting class, headlined by potential lottery pick Collin Sexton along with top-100 prospects John Petty and Alex Reese. Alabama looks like it’s becoming a player on the national recruiting stage, and it’s setting up to make Tuscaloosa an interesting place for hoops.

Texas: The Longhorns shouldn’t be on a list like this given the money that their athletic department operates with and the fertile recruiting grounds within driving distance of Austin, but after things languished in the final years of Rick Barnes’ tenure and then cratered with an 11-22 season in Shaka Smart’s second year, it’s exactly where Texas is. Things are looking up, though, as Smart looks to be gaining a footing in the program, recruiting the likes Mohamed Bamba, Matt Coleman and the rest of a five-man 2017 recruiting class made up of top-100 players. Texas is back on its way to being Texas, which is to say a national power.

Northwestern: After going 0-for-program history, the Wildcats finally broke through with an NCAA tournament appearance last year, even winning a game before bowing out to Gonzaga on the Bulldogs’ way to the national championship game. They’re even in better position this year to make a run with nearly everyone from last year’s team returning, plus coach Chris Collins looks to be setting the program up for success in the future, having already secured commitments from two four-star recruits in 2018. Northwestern, much like their north side Chicago baseball neighbors, are finally selling something more than hope.

Ohio State: As much success as Thad Matta had in Columbus, it’s inarguable that the Buckeyes ran into tough times in the last few years, missing back-to-back NCAA tournaments and seeing a heralded recruiting class all transfer out of town. Matta’s one of the game’s best, but a move to Chris Holtmann helps secure the future for Ohio State. Holtmann helped Butler transition from the A-10 to the Big East without the Bulldogs ceding any ground. He’s an excellent fit from just about every perspective, and makes Ohio State’s return to the top of the Big Ten seem likely.

PROGRAMS ON THE DECLINE

Louisville: This one’s pretty obvious, isn’t it? Tuesday’s federal charges that apparently claimed that the Cardinals landed five-star prospect Brian Bowen courtesy of $100,000 payable to his family from adidas would make this “on the decline” designation fit by itself. Coupled with the fact Louisville hasn’t even made it yet through the NCAA appeals process for its prostitution scandal, yeah, this ain’t going in the right direction for the Cardinals. It’s hard to see how legendary coach Rick Pitino makes it through this with a job, and how the athletic department as a whole makes it through well enough to keep the basketball program among the country’s elite without a significant – and lengthy – hit.

Syracuse: Yeah, the Orange made the Final Four in 2016, but they did it after sneaking into the field after a 9-9 ACC season. On the years sandwiching that Final Four, Syracuse missed the tournament. Jim Boeheim’s 2017 recruiting class didn’t have a top-100 player in it and the Orange only have two of their top-seven scorers back from last year. Syracuse does have a top-25 commit in 2018, but there’s a lot of work to do in upstate New York.

Oklahoma State: There’s a lot to this one. Let’s start with the fact that Lamont Evans was one of the four assistants charged Tuesday as part of the FBI corruption investigation. Evans was hired in 2016 by Brad Underwood and then promoted to associate head coach by current head man Mike Boynton, Jr. this spring. So that’s not good. In more traditional trouble, the Cowboys have developed a reputation for being cheap on hoops. While mega-donor T.Boone Pickens lavishes the Oklahoma State football program, hoops is languishing. Underwood left reportedly due to feeling unappreciated financially (he was making about $1 million), and instead of going out and making a statement hire, they just elevated Boynton from assistant to head coach for the same annual salary as Underwood. So just a year after a universally praised move of hiring Underwood, Oklahoma State finds itself with an unproven coach, a damaging reputation for hoops prioritization and a part of perhaps the biggest scandal in college basketball in a generation or two. Not great.

Connecticut: Since winning the 2014 national championship, Kevin Ollie’s program has missed the NCAA tournament twice in three years. Last year, the Huskies lost the last four games of the regular season to end things with a thud. Their 2017 recruiting class didn’t feature a top-150 recruit, and it’s not a foregone conclusion that they’ll finish in the top-half of the American this year. Things are not trending in the right direction in Storrs.

Cal: The Bears opted for continuity when they elevated Wyking Jones from assistant to head coach after Cuonzo Martin skedaddled to Missouri. What’s continuing, though, isn’t all that pretty. Cal made just one NCAA tournament in three years under Martin, and this year it looks as though the Bears may finish in the cellar of the Pac-12. They do already have two top-100 recruits in the fold for 2018, but the immediate future looks difficult in Berkeley.

Northwestern beats No. 20 Michigan State in Big Ten opener

Nick King/Lansing State Journal / USA TODAY NETWORK
2 Comments

EAST LANSING, Mich. – Boo Buie scored 20 points and Northwestern beat No. 20 Michigan State 70-63 on Sunday night in the Big Ten opener for both teams.

Chase Audige added 15 points and Ty Berry had 13 for Northwestern (6-2), which ended a two-game losing streak.

“Needless to say, this was a huge win for us,” coach Chris Collins said. “Coming off our performance in the ACC-Big Ten challenge, where we lost badly on our home floor (to Pittsburgh), I was really pleased with our resolve the past couple days.”

Mady Sossoko and A.J. Hoggard each had 12 points for Michigan State (5-4) and Joey Hauser added 10. The Spartans have lost two in a row, falling to Notre Dame earlier in the week.

Hoggard cut Northwestern’s lead to 64-63 with 46 seconds left. After a timeout, Buie scored on a layup with 23 seconds left.

“We got out-toughed,” Michigan State coach Tom Izzo said.

Northwestern took the lead late in the first half on a layup by Buie and never relinquished it, leading by as many as nine points.

“We put (the loss to Pittsburgh) under the rug,” Buie said. “We turned the page, just like we do with any win or loss. The season is so long you can’t get caught up on one single game. Just like tonight. We’re super happy with the win, but after tonight it’s over. You can’t dwell on things.”

The Wildcats went 21 of 24 on free throws, while the Spartans were 9 of 12.

“I was concerned about a knockout punch early,” Collins said. ‘I knew they would be revved up after the Notre Dame loss. They hit us early and got a seven-point lead, and then we settled down.”

UP NEXT

Northwestern: Hosts Prairie View A&M on Dec. 11

Michigan State: At Penn State on Wednesday night.

Miles, No. 7 Notre Dame women beat No. 3 UConn; Fudd hurt

Matt Cashore-USA TODAY Sports
2 Comments

SOUTH BEND, Ind. – Olivia Miles had 21 points and eight rebounds for No. 7 Notre Dame, and UConn star Azzi Fudd suffered a knee injury in a collision with a teammate, as the Fighting Irish handed the third-ranked Huskies their first loss of the season, 74-60 on Sunday.

“I think she’ll be all right,” UConn coach Geno Auriemma said afterwards of Fudd, who went into the day averaging 24.0 points, but finished scoreless on two shots over 13 minutes.

Fudd exited in the final minute of the first quarter after teammate Aaliyah Edwards fell on her. She returned midway through the second period to play four hobbled minutes, but sat the rest of the way as a precaution, according to Auriemma.

Maddy Westbeld had a season-high 17 points and nine rebounds for Notre Dame (7-1), which bounced back from a 74-72 loss to No. 20 Maryland three days earlier.

“I think Thursday’s loss really fueled us today,” Irish coach Niele Ivey said. “We learned a lot from that game. We have incredible scorers on our team, a lot of balance offensively, but it’s our defense that’s gonna win games, so that was our focus the last 48 hours. (The players) took the challenge and came out and played with heart and defensive intensity. I feel like if we can play that way, we can beat anyone in the country.”

Notre Dame shot 56% from the field while limiting the Huskies to 37%.

“We played very badly (Thursday), but we were still two points away,” Miles said, “so it’s kind of scary what we can do when we play really well.”

Led by Miles, the Irish roared to a 41-24 lead by intermission, outscoring the Huskies 30-11 over the final 11 minutes of the first half.

Miles scored 13 of Notre Dame’s 18 first-quarter points, going 6 of 7 from the field. Westbeld provided her scoring punch after averaging 5.2 points over her previous five outings.

Lou Lopez Senechal led UConn (6-1) with 21 points. Edwards added 14.

“We didn’t win the rebound battle and that hurt us,” said Auriemma, whose club was outboarded 39-26 and outscored in the paint. 46-16. “We just didn’t have enough scoring on the court and enough people playing at a real high level to get enough buckets when we needed them.”

The Huskies got as close at 49-44 at the 3:44 mark of the third quarter, but the Irish stretched their lead back to as high as 70-53 at the midway mark of the fourth period.

Notre Dame ended a seven-game head-to-head losing streak against UConn in regular-season play, prevailing for the first time since a triple-overtime decision in March 2013.

BIG PICTURE

UConn: The Huskies faced a top-10 opponent for the fourth time this season, but this one was their first true road game. If Fudd’s injury doesn’t turn out to be serious, UConn ought to still have a chance to do what it’s done for decades: craft a resume that will make them a No. 1 seed in the NCAA Tournament.

Notre Dame: The Irish, coming back from that loss at the buzzer to Maryland, showed that Thursday’s outcome may just be a blip on their promising season. Notre Dame matched last season’s win over No. 3 North Carolina State for the highest-ranked team it has beaten in its third year under Ivey.

UP NEXT

UConn: The Huskies host Princeton on Thursday before visiting Maryland next Sunday.

Notre Dame: The Irish have a couple apparent mismatches coming up as they visit Lafayette (2-7) on Thursday and host Merrimack (1-6) on Saturday.

Brink leads No. 2 Stanford women over No. 23 Gonzaga 84-63

Darren Yamashita-USA TODAY Sports
1 Comment

STANFORD, Calif. – Gonzaga may be rolling out an injury-depleted roster, but the Bulldogs nevertheless left a lasting impression on their West Coast rival in Stanford.

And that leads the Cardinal to wonder if the two power programs might meet again on college basketball’s biggest stage come March.

“This is a team that is a Top-25 team,” Hall of Fame Stanford coach Tara VanDerveer said. “I think if we can do it, they’re going to be in Seattle (for the NCAA Tournament).”

Cameron Brink had 14 points and a season-high 16 rebounds and Brooke Demetre made a career-high five 3s and scored 17 points, leading second-ranked Stanford past No. 23 Gonzaga 84-63 on Sunday.

The Cardinal (10-1) have now won five straight games after falling to top-ranked South Carolina in overtime on Nov. 20.

“I kind of call Brooke my secret weapon,” VanDerveer said. “She is a really special young lady, and when you have both Cam out there and Brooke, it’s a two-headed monster.”

“She has one of the highest releases I’ve ever seen, one of the quickest releases,” Brink said of Demetre. “She can shoot it, and we’ve always had confidence in her.”

Hannah Jump hit four 3s and scored 14 points, and Haley Jones had 12 points for Stanford.

Short-handed Gonzaga (7-2), limited to seven players because of illness and injuries, had won three in a row.

The Zags kept the pressure on Stanford early in the game, thanks to a 20-point first half from Kaylynne Truong.

Truong shot 4 of 9 from deep and finished with a career-high 22 points.

Brynna Maxwell contributed 19 points. Yvonne Ejim, Gonzaga’s leading scorer, was held to two points in the first three quarters but added six points in the fourth.

“We try to focus on a leading scorer and try to limit them,” VanDerveer said. “But you can’t just focus on (Ejim) because they’ve got Truong, they’ve got Maxwell. . I think we did a much better job (on defense) in the second half.”

STAT OF THE GAME

The Cardinal were able to pull away due to a strong game from beyond the arc, making 15 3-pointers on 15 of 28 (53.6%) shooting. A season-high eight different Stanford players made a 3, led by Demetre’s five and Jump’s four.

BIG PICTURE

Gonzaga: Lost its fourth straight in the series with Stanford and dropped to 1-7 on the Cardinal’s home floor. The Zags haven’t won any matchups since a 79-73 victory at home on Dec. 2, 2018. … Despite playing short-handed, Gonzaga did not yield an easy win to its higher-ranked opponent, trailing by just one point after the first quarter before fading in the second half.

Stanford: Held a 37-23 rebounding advantage. … This win marked the beginning of a crucial stretch in the Cardinal’s season. Stanford’s next two games come against Tennessee – receiving votes in The Associated Press Top 25 poll – and No. 13 Creighton, followed by the start of Pac-12 Conference play against rival California on Dec. 23.

UP NEXT

Gonzaga: The Bulldogs return to McCarthey Athletic Center to start a five-game homestand, starting with a Tuesday matchup vs. Queens University of Charlotte.

Stanford: After a two-week break for final exams, the Cardinal will continue their seven-game homestand vs. Tennessee on Dec. 18.

Top-ranked Houston grinds out 53-48 win over Saint Mary’s

Chris Jones-USA TODAY Sports
1 Comment

FORT WORTH, Texas – J’Wan Roberts scored 15 points, Marcus Sasser added 13 and top-ranked Houston held on to beat Saint Mary’s 53-48 on Saturday night.

The Cougars (8-0) won twice in their first week as the No. 1 team since the final poll of the 1982-83 regular season, when Clyde Drexler and Hakeem Olajuwon led high-flying Phi Slama Jama.

Logan Johnson scored 17 points and Aidan Mahaney had 14 for the Gaels (6-3), who lost their third in a row following a 6-0 start.

Houston was the favorite to win it all in the second of three consecutive trips to the Final Four nearly 40 years ago, but lost to Jim Valvano and North Carolina State in one of the iconic championship games.

Coach Kelvin Sampson’s first top-ranked team is coming off trips to the Final Four and Elite Eight the past two seasons.

For the third straight year, the postseason path will start at Dickie’s Arena, where Sampson likes to bring his team during the regular season as prep for the American Athletic Conference tourney.

This victory in the Battleground 2k22 series improved the Cougars to 9-0 in the arena near downtown Fort Worth, where they have won AAC tournament titles each of the past two years.

Saint Mary’s whittled a 12-point deficit to a single possession when Mahaney hit a 3, and he made it a three-point game again at 46-43 with another from long range.

Roberts answered by backing down for a short jump hook before Sasser converted a three-point play to put the Cougars up 51-43.

Houston broke a 17-all tie with a 14-3 run to finish the first half, with Saint Mary’s going 1 of 11 from the field in that stretch against the vaunted Cougars defense. Both teams shot 37%.

BIG PICTURE

Saint Mary’s: Facing the No. 1 team isn’t foreign to the Gaels, who play in the West Coast Conference with Gonzaga. St. Mary’s is 2-7 against the Zags when they have the top ranking, with one of the victories coming last season.

Houston: The Cougars had no trouble in their debut with the No. 1 ranking, blowing out Norfolk State 100-52 at home Tuesday. A disciplined and tournament-tested opponent for the second game was just the threat Sampson’s club figured it could be.

UP NEXT

Saint Mary’s: Missouri State at home Wednesday.

Houston: North Florida at home Tuesday.

Clowney, No. 11 Alabama recover to beat South Dakota State

Gary Cosby Jr.-USA TODAY Sports
1 Comment

TUSCALOOSA, Ala. – Freshman Noah Clowney’s breakout game – 22 points, nine rebounds, four assists and a steal – helped No. 11 Alabama recover from blowing a 20-point lead and beat South Dakota State 78-65 on Saturday night.

Clowney shot 8 of 17, including 5 of 12 on 3s, in his highest-scoring game of the season.

“We’ve encouraged him to shoot it, I’m glad he did,” Alabama coach Nate Oats said. “His senior year of high school, he started out pretty poorly from 3 then shot it 40% after that, so I kind of referenced that.”

Alabama (7-1) led 37-17 with 6 1/2 minutes left in the first half. South Dakota State (3-6) rallied to go ahead 51-50 on Alex Arians’ 3-pointer with 11 1/2 minutes remaining.

Nimari Burnett’s foul shot a minute later put the Crimson Tide ahead for good at 54-53. Alabama used a 9-0 run to pull away.

Mark Sears scored 19 points and Brandon Miller had 16 points and nine rebounds for the Crimson Tide

Alabama made 14 of its first 26 shots to build a big lead before it slipped away.

“I’m not going to call them mature, we still have some room to grow,” Oats said. “Our guys have to understand, no matter who we’re playing, even if their record isn’t great, they’re Division I basketball players, they’re good teams. Last year, we had issues with this going down the road.”

Charlie Easley and Arians each scored 17 points for the Jackrabbits. Zeke Mayo added 12 points and Matt Dentlinger contributed nine rebounds.

BIG PICTURE

Sears continues to be a force at home for Alabama. In Alabama’s last three home games – wins over Liberty, Jacksonville State and South Dakota State – he has scored 22, 18 and 19 points, making at least three 3-pointers in all three games. Alabama’s next home game comes against a Memphis team that already has two wins over SEC competition.

SECOND HALF SPRING

South Dakota State coach Eric Henderson noticed that in Alabama’s first two home games, Longwood and Liberty both trailed by fewer than 10 points at halftime before losing by 21 and 36 points, respectively. He viewed the first five minutes of the second half as critical in both instances, seeing an Alabama team using the home environment to its advantage.

Henderson stressed to his team that it had to win those five minutes to have a chance. Down 42-35 at the break, it did, and ultimately took the lead.

“They really increase the pressure, they try to play a little faster, they get downhill and they really spray it,” Henderson said. “I thought we were getting some 50-50 balls, I thought we were playing with some confidence. There’s been a lot of schools to come in here and have a good first half and it ends up being a 30- or 40-point game.”

UP NEXT

South Dakota State stays on the road to face Montana on Tuesday.

Alabama takes a weeklong break before its second game against the current No. 1 team in the nation, this time a road game against Houston on Saturday. The Crimson Tide beat former No. 1 North Carolina in its first shot at the top-ranked team, winning 103-101 in four overtimes on Nov. 27.