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

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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.

No More Hangdogs: Husky transformation under Hurley on display in UConn’s win over No. 15 Syracuse

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Danny Hurley knew that he had work to do to get this UConn basketball program back to where it was when the Big East was the best conference in college hoops.

He knew that he was taking over a program that was coming off their second-straight losing season. He knew that three four-star prospects — Vance Jackson, Juwan Durham and Connecticut native Steve Enoch — had transferred out of the program. He knew, going in, that the UConn fanbase wasn’t in the mood for nonsense, that they didn’t want to hear about rebuilds or patience or any of the excuses that new head coaches have at-the-ready.

The son of the most famous high school basketball coach in New Jersey, the younger brother of an All-American and two-time national champion point guard at Duke, he was ready for, even craved, expectation.

“I want to be in a place where greatness is expected,” Hurley said. “If I’m not in a place like that I don’t want to be there.”

He was ready to deal with whatever the fishbowl of UConn basketball had to throw at him.

What he couldn’t deal with was the hangdog faces.

“That’s an old cartoon,” Hurley said last month, elaborating after lamenting how The Horde, as UConn’s pack of beat writers is known, “knows everything.” The story goes like this: Early on, back before he really knew his players and his players really knew him, Hurley sent the team’s group-text a picture of that cartoon — a weathered, sad-looking old hound dog — and told the team that this is what he could not tolerate.

“I don’t want hangdog looks,” he said. “I want guys that are smiling, happy to be on the court. If you’re a real baller, when you get on the practice floor, that should be the best part of your day. You’re doing the thing you love the most.”

As Hurley told this story, Jalen Adams, UConn’s star point guard, yelled, with a smile stretching from ear-to-ear, “No hangdogs!”

Hurley, in the lobby of the Philadelphia Airport Marriott, surrounded by cameras and reporters with recorders shoved in his face, flashed a dimpled smile of his own; I’m not entirely sure he could actually see Adams.

“Yessir!”


Jalen Adams (Sarah Stier/Getty Images)

A month later, and UConn is unrecognizable to anyone that watched the program play in the final years of Ollie’s tenure.

The energy and the effort level matched every drop of intensity that Hurley had on the sideline. Alterique Gilbert, finally healthy after two seasons lost to shoulder surgeries, is hawking Syracuse ball-handlers for 94-feet. So is Adams. So is Christian Vital, and Tarin Smith, and Brendan Adams. Eric Cobb, who was 40 pounds overweight and all-but off the team by the end of last season, was posting the first double-double of his career while Tyler Polley was banging home big threes.

The Huskies, playing for the right to call Madison Square Garden their own, handed No. 15 Syracuse their first loss of the season, 83-76.

They were dogs, not a hangdog in sight.

Getting this program from where it was when Hurley took over to this point was not an easy task. He was demanding. He did not look past any mistake that was made in practice, no matter how small. He created a practice environment that was chaotic, hectic and uncomfortable. He wanted intensity. He wanted stress. He wanted his guys to get used being tired, to working themselves past the point of what they thought was exhaustion. He wanted them to think game-night was the easiest night of the week.

But to do that, he also had to reinvigorate that passion.

Losing in an insidious force within a locker room. Your confidence disappears. Your enthusiasm for the game withers. Basketball stops being enjoyable. The longer the losing lasts, the most desperate and hopeless the situation seems. The comparison that Hurley made was to a pet that has lived in a shelter. All it takes to turn them back into the loving, carefree pet they were is a stable, loving home, an environment they can thrive.

That started with going back to the basics.

Hurley made everything a competition.

Win in a drill, whether it was spot-shooting or shell or 4-on-4-on-4, you get a point. Lose, and you’re on the baseline, but if you win the sprint, you get that point back. Keep a leaderboard throughout a practice, then throughout a week, then throughout the preseason. Making winning matter again.

Once that happened, the next step was turning Adams, his senior star, into the best player he could be. Becoming a more consistent shooter was key, but the priority was Adams’ leadership. He was as guilty of the hangdog mentality as anyone on the roster, a problem because of his role as the star. When things are going bad during a game, Adams needs to be the guy to lift their spirits.

He wasn’t.

“He can’t get deflated when the other team goes on a run,” Hurley said, and this is where those stressful, uncomfortable practices come into play. If his team is down in practice, fight back and find a way to win the drill. If he’s tired, stay on the floor and gut through it. If you lose, get on guys to be better. Demand more of himself so that he can demand more of the players around him.

“He’s put me in situations in practice where I’m just like, ‘Yo, I can’t do this anymore,'” Adams said. “In practice, it’s so intense. Everyone is tired. Sometimes we’ll sub off for one rep, and that’s one of the things that he challenged me on. And don’t just be out there, be out there and be active. Go hard the whole time.”

“Guys will follow his lead,” Hurley said. “If he’s more determined and grittier this year on game night, especially when teams are on runs or late in games, he’ll change the narrative of his career.”

This was not something that made Adams comfortable. As he put it, “I don’t want to be ‘that guy.'” He didn’t want to be the player that teammates thought was annoying, or the guy everyone thinks is showing off for the coach. There’s a fine line between ‘my teammate cares about me, and the team, and winning’ and ‘yo, this dude cares too much.’ That was the balancing act Adams had to master, and it’s something that is still a work in progress.

But he did have 16 points and four assists against the Orange on Thursday night.

(Sarah Stier/Getty Images)

And he did make critical plays throughout the second half to stem the tide of an Orange run. There was the loose ball he grabbed, which ignited a fast break and ended with Adams finding Smith for a layup to push UConn’s lead back to seven points. There was the pass he made to Gilbert, using his eyes and a ball-fake to move the Cuse zone, for a three-pointer that pushed the lead to ten. There were the seven defensive rebounds he grabbed playing, at times, as the third-biggest guy on the floor.

Most importantly, there was the three he hit with 1:24 left on the clock, a dagger that put the Huskies up 76-66 and sent all of the Orange in the building scurrying for the exits.

As the final seconds ticked off the clock, Adams made a bee line for his head coach.

Two chest-bumps, a slap to the face and some very loud, very-inappropriate-for-this-setting words later, it was clear that these Huskies, at least on this night, were not hangdogs.

UConn forward Sidney Wilson suspended from game activity

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UConn has suspended redshirt freshman Sidney Wilson from game activity, the school announced on Wednesday.

The former transfer from St. John’s is being held out of competition due to a “violation of university policy that occurred during the 2017-18 season.” It’s unclear what Wilson did to warrant the suspension, or how long he might be out of action. UConn said it won’t have further comment until “there is a change in Wilson’s status.”

The 6-foot-7 Wilson is a former four-star prospect who is expected to be one of UConn’s contributors in the frontcourt this season. Sitting out last season after transferring late from St. John’s, Wilson is an ultra-athletic forward with a lot of long-term upside. While consistency is a concern for Wilson this season, there is no doubting his natural ability and athleticism should make him a contributor for the Huskies.

UConn finishes out the exhibition season with a game on Friday, Nov. 2 against Southern Connecticut before the regular season begins on Thursday, Nov. 8 with a home game against Morehead State in the 2K Classic.

(H/t: Dom Amore, Hartford Courant)

College Basketball’s Best Lead Guards

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This season’s crop of lead guards doesn’t have a lot of star power or guaranteed All-Americans. 

Most of the top players in college basketball this year reside at other positions. There just aren’t that many impact point guards this season when it comes to the game’s elite players. But that doesn’t mean there aren’t a ton of players who won’t make a giant impact.

As you look through this list of college basketball’s top lead guards, you’ll notice that a healthy amount of the group is upperclassmen. That type of experience and leadership usually means that some of these teams could surprise this season thanks to some big games out of the backcourt.

This season’s freshman class also doesn’t add a lot when it comes to impact freshmen lead guards, as most of the top talents in the high school Class of 2018 come from the wing and interior.

So it should be a unique year for lead guards at the college level. This list already includes a lot of decorated players and 1,000-point career scorers. Many of these guys might be underrated, but they can also play.



1. CARSEN EDWARDS, Purdue, Jr.

Get ready for a fun season of Carsen Edwards. The 6-foot-1 junior will be among the nation’s leading scorers this season after Purdue lost the four other starters that played with Edwards last season.

Running with all that talent around him last season, the Boilermakers made the Sweet 16 for the second straight season as Edwards put up 18.5 points, 3.8 rebounds and 2.8 assists per game. Now that Edwards will need to have even more of an impact on Purdue’s offense, he could put up massive scoring numbers. Expect Edwards to be a high-volume guard who gets tons of shot attempts this season while trying to get his new teammates involved as well.

Not many players in the country will have more resting on their shoulders than Edwards at Purdue. He’s also talented enough to put up 40 points and single-handedly carry an offense for a night. It’ll be fascinating to see how the newcomers step up, and how much Edwards can carry on his own.

2. TYUS BATTLE, Syracuse, Jr.

Battle’s decision to return for his junior season proved to be a pivotal one for the Orange as they become one of the country’s most intriguing teams. Syracuse’s best offensive option by a mile last season, the 6-foot-6 Battle often had to do a lot to score as he put up 19.2 points per game.

Also logging a ridiculous 39 minutes per game last season, Battle almost never left the floor for the Orange. He was counted on to be productive on both ends of the floor at nearly all times. One of the game’s biggest warriors, Battle should also get more help around him this season. The Orange have more perimeter weapons. They get a year older and better. That should contribute to Battle improving his 39 percent field goal percentage.

Markus Howard (Darryl Oumi/Getty Images)

3. MARKUS HOWARD, Marquette, Jr.

If it weren’t for Trae Young generating so much attention last season then this 5-foot-11 guard might have received more headlines on his own. One of the most exciting perimeter scoring guards in college hoops, Howard had some monster games during his sophomore season.

Teaming with another high-quality shooter in Andrew Rowsey, Howard averaged 20.4 points, 3.2 rebounds and 2.8 assists per game last season. A 40 percent three-point shooter who can get absurdly hot from distance, Howard had two games with 11 three-pointers last season — including a memorable 52-point outing in a road win at Providence.

Defenses are going to focus even more on Howard this season with Rowsey moving on, but the Golden Eagles also have a more complete team filled with complimentary pieces. Howard could be in line for an All-American season if things go right in Milwaukee.

4. SHAMORIE PONDS, St. John’s, Jr.

The 6-foot-1 Ponds is one of the Big East’s elite players, as he put up monster numbers for the Red Storm last season. Putting up 21.6 points, 5.0 rebounds and 4.7 assists per game, Ponds produces the type of all-around numbers that make him a prime Player of the Year candidate.

And it will help Ponds immensely to have more help around him this season. With the addition of Auburn transfer Mustapha Heron, St. John’s has a chance to be one of the best (and most exciting) backcourts in the country this season. That means that Ponds doesn’t have to take so many forced looks. If Ponds shoots more like he did freshman season (37 percent three-point range) than he did sophomore season (25 percent) then he’ll be nearly impossible to defend.

Shamorie Ponds (Michael Reaves/Getty Images)

5. TREMONT WATERS, LSU, So.

There might not be a guard who is more fun to watch than this 5-foot-11 sophomore. Breaking LSU’s freshman school assists record while pumping in tons of tough shots, Waters averaged 15.9 points, 6.0 assists and 3.4 rebounds per game last season. With flashy handles and deep perimeter shooting ability, Waters was made to make highlights as he can single-handedly ignite an offense.

With more tools at his disposal this season, Waters also has a chance to improve his efficiency. LSU’s offense has more legitimate big men this season, which should help Waters improve his 41 percent shooting. The Tigers are young and talented, but they have a shot at a great year if Waters plays as well as everyone believes he can.

6. CASSIUS WINSTON, Michigan State, Jr.

The junior hasn’t received significant attention because of his NBA lottery-pick teammates. That will change this season. Winston is one of the most efficient and talented point guards in the country as he led the Big Ten in assists and three-point percentage last season.

It’s hard to ask for anything better than a point guard that just misses going 50/50/90 with 6.9 assists per game. Now that Miles Bridges and Jaren Jackson are gone to the League, Winston should produce more points on his own. The Spartans will need Winston to up his scoring this season, as they haven’t found a capable go-to scorer over the last several seasons.

7. JALEN ADAMS, UConn, Sr.

One of the lone bright spots for the Huskies the past few seasons, the 6-foot-3 Adams has a chance to leave the program on a high note this season. A do-it-all guard who can score or make plays for others, Adams can put up flurries of points with the best of them.

Adams had eight 20-point games in the American last season and also dropped 20-plus on quality teams like Arkansas, Michigan State and Syracuse. While Adams hasn’t had the most desirable of field percentages during his career, he also hasn’t had the most consistent amount of help. If Adams improves efficiency and gets a little more help, then the Huskies could surprise this season.

8. JON ELMORE, Marshall, Sr.

Becoming a national darling during Marshall’s surprising NCAA tournament mini-run last season the 6-foot-3 Elmore put up absurd numbers playing in the Thundering Herd’s high-octane offense. Producing multiple triple-doubles during the season, Elmore put up 22.7 points, 6.8 assists and 5.8 rebounds per game last season while shooting 43 percent from the field and 35 percent from three-point range.

With the national spotlight more on him this season, Elmore is going to get a lot of attention from opposing defenses. Thankfully for Elmore, high-scoring backcourt running mate C.J. Burks has also returned as they form one of the best perimeter tandems in the country.

Jon Elmore (Sean M. Haffey/Getty Images)

9. ANTHONY COWAN, Maryland, Jr.

It’s weird to think that this 6-foot-0 junior might be underrated. That’s also the burden of playing in Melo Trimble’s shadow. But now that Cowan has made a name for himself last season, he has a chance to be a breakout player for an intriguing Maryland team.

At 15.8 points, 5.1 assists and 4.4 rebounds per game last season, Cowan contributed in every facet of the game. He was also irreplaceable for the Terps. Cowan barely left the floor as he averaged 37 minutes per game. Underrated defensively, Cowan was also named to the Big Ten’s All-Defensive Team. Playing with a young supporting cast that is talented, but inexperienced, Cowan’s leadership will also be counted on in a major way.

10. MCKINLEY WRIGHT IV, Colorado, So.

Perhaps the most pleasant surprise of any freshman last season, the 6-foot-0 Wright led the Buffaloes in scoring, assists and steals as they had a winning record. Now with the chance to once again be the leader of a young team, Wright could be in line for a huge sophomore season.

A former Dayton commit who switched to the Buffaloes in the spring, Wright averaged 14.2 points, 5.5 assists and 4.7 rebounds per game while also consistently getting in passing lanes. If Wright can improve his assist-to-turnover ratio by limiting turnovers, while also improving his inconsistent perimeter jumper (30 percent three-point shooting) then he has a chance to be an elite player this season.

Barry Brown (Kevin C. Cox/Getty Images)

11. BARRY BROWN, Kansas State, Sr.

Underrated during his career with the Wildcats, the 6-foot-3 Brown is comfortable playing either guard spot and both sides of the ball. With over 1,200 career points, Brown is one of the best guards in college hoops at scoring near the basket. He just has to improve his 31 percent perimeter shooting.

12. CHRIS CLEMONS, Campbell, Sr.

If Edwards doesn’t lead the nation in scoring then this 5-foot-9 guard has a good chance to do so. Clemons has over 2,200 career points as he’s a lightning bolt on the offensive end. Capable of getting in the lane at will, if Clemons improves his assist-to-turnover ratio then he’ll have All-American potential.

13. TY JEROME, Virginia, Jr.

The 6-foot-5 junior still has two more seasons after a promising sophomore season that saw him become one of the ACC’s most complete players. Capable of controlling tempo, scoring and finding others, Jerome is a plus perimeter shooter (37.9 percent three-point range) and one of the college game’s best closers at the line (90 percent).

14. DARIUS GARLAND, Vanderbilt, Fr.

The McDonald’s All-American gives the Commodores plenty of immediate hope. At 6-foot-1, Garland is smaller in stature, but he makes up for it with a ridiculously high skill level. Garland can score with a sweet off-the-dribble jumper while also setting up others.

15. PAYTON PRITCHARD, Oregon, Jr.

Already appearing in a Final Four, this 6-foot-2 floor general has a lot of big-game experience. A deadly three-point shooter, Pritchard averaged 14.5 points, 4.8 assists and 3.8 rebounds per game last season. Pritchard will be the catalyst behind an intriguing Oregon offense.

Payton Pritchard (Ethan Miller/Getty Images)

16. ASHTON HAGANS, Kentucky, Fr.

Reclassifying late from the Class of 2019 to immediately join the Wildcats, Hagans looks like a potential two-way stud. Potentially Kentucky’s best perimeter defender, Hagans is also capable of helping on or off the ball on offense. Kentucky’s backcourt will be crowded, but Hagans has a defensive ability that could separate him from the pack.

17. TRE JONES, Duke, Fr.

The younger brother of former Duke star Tyus Jones has some big shoes to fill as the team’s starting point guard. Craving stability at lead guard the past few seasons, Jones should be able to capably run an offense while providing leadership, athleticism, and some better defense than his brother.

18. JUSTIN ROBINSON, Virginia Tech, Jr.

The 6-foot-1 senior helped the Hokies make the Big Dance in back-to-back seasons as he now Virginia Tech tries to make a deep tournament run. Robinson averaged 14.0 points, 5.6 assists and 2.8 rebounds per game — and those numbers went up during ACC play. Robinson is also a lethal perimeter shooter.

19. CODY MARTIN, Nevada, Sr.

Moving to point guard late last season when Lindsey Drew went down with injury, the 6-foot-7 Martin can be counted on to do a bit of everything for the Wolf Pack. Brother Caleb is the go-to scorer, but Cody is reigning Mountain West Defensive Player of the Year while adding plenty of points, steals and rebounds.

20. KAMAR BALDWIN, Butler, Jr.

Wired to score during his first two seasons with the Bulldogs, the 6-foot-1 Baldwin will be asked to do more as a floor leader this season. Capable of being one of the best two-way guards in college hoops, Baldwin must improve his ability to help others while also improving his three-point percentage.

UConn lands second top 100 recruit in as many weeks

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UConn landed their second commitment in as many weeks on Monday as Jalen Gaffney, a top 100 guard that plays for the Westtown School in Pennsylvania, pledged to Dan Hurley and the Huskies.

Gaffney is a 6-foot-1 point guard that played his summer ball with Team Rio, the same AAU program that counts Bryan Antoine and Scottie Lewis, both five-star wings, as members. He’s skilled and athletic and should help bridge the gap between Jalen Adams and the new UConn era nicely.

With Adams graduating and the injury issues that Alterique Gilbert has dealt with in his career, landing a talented backcourt was a priority for Hurley. With Gaffney and James Bouknight in the fold, he has his backcourt of the future committed.

Gaffney picked UConn over the likes of St. John’s, Xavier and Florida, among others.

Dan Hurley lands first commitment as UConn head coach

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First-year UConn head coach Dan Hurley landed his first commitment in the Class of 2019 on Tuesday, as four-star guard James Bouknight announced that he will play his college ball for the Huskies.

A native of New York that has played in the prep ranks for the MacDuffie School and has been a member of the same PSA Cardinals AAU program that produced Cole Anthony and Mo Bamba, Bouknight is a 6-foot-4 off-guard that still has quite a bit of potential to grow into. He’s an athletic scorer with upside, exactly the kind of player that UConn is going to need in a year where they will be losing Jalen Adams while Alterique Gilbert continues to struggle with shoulder issues.

Much is expected from Hurley at UConn, and he has found himself in the mix for a number of high-profile recruits in and around the Northeast. Putting together a couple of strong classes at the start of his tenure is critical for a coach looking to bring the Huskies back to the heights they were at under Jim Calhoun.

And Bouknight is a terrific was to start that process.