We’re closing in on one of the more entertaining stretches of the college basketball season with Thanksgiving tournaments giving us all-day hoops and really interesting non-conference matchups. It’s still early, and the best is yet to come, but Thursday night provided some quality hoops. Oh, and one guy shooting a ton of 3s. Literally more 3s than anyone has ever shot before. Here’s what you need to know:
1. UConn asserts itself against Syracuse.
It’s been a tough few years at UConn. It’s been two really bad years, but it’s mostly been not-great for the Huskies since that 2014 national title. It’s Dan Hurley’s job to change that. His first Big East throwback game certainly looked like it’s one he’ll be up for.
Changing the culture has become The Thing New Coaches Simply Have To Talk About, but there’s no doubting it needed to happen in Storrs as a program that’s used to winning national titles began to languish in a league that’s simply second tier. UConn in the AAC is a different challenge for a coach than UConn in the Big East. It’s tougher. Hurley has a long way to go, but getting a team to buy in from the outset is a positive signal.
2. Jordan Lyons goes berserk
On Wednesday night, Josh Williams of Robert Morris tied a 23-year-old NCAA record by making 15 3-pointers. It took about 24 hours for that number to be matched again.
As teams continue to hoist shots from 3-point range at an ever-increasing rate, these types of nights are going to become more typical, but to see two guys tie a record that’s stood for more than two decades on back-to-back nights? I mean, c’mon, that’s a little crazy.
3. Oregon goes down
Give Iowa credit. The Hawkeyes shot just 35.7 percent from the floor, but got to the line 33 times, making 29 of their attempts (87.9 percent) and grabbed 13 offensive rebounds to keep the offense afloat. It wasn’t pretty, but it was a 77-69 neutral site win against a ranked opponent, which will certainly come in handy for a team looking to get back to the NCAA tournament after a two-year drought.
Also, the Big Ten looks like it might be pretty good. Michigan stomped all over Villanova, Indiana blasted Marquette, Wisconsin handled Xavier and now the Hawkeyes bested Oregon. That’s a pretty good week for a league that has been stuck in something of a malaise the last few seasons.
The overwhelming feeling from watching the nightcap at Madison Square Garden, though, was just how underwhelming Oregon looked. There just wasn’t a lot of there there for the Ducks. That’s problematic for a top-15 team that is the heavy favorite to win the Pac-12 this season. They just lost a game to what many would pick to be a middle-of-the-pac B1G while holding them to under 40 percent shooting while only committing eight turnovers themselves. Getting 25 points from Ehab Amin is nice, but otherwise an all around uninspiring performance from Dana Altman’s group.
Buddy Boeheim’s name misspelled on Syracuse jersey
As the son of the Hall of Fame coach, Buddy Boeheim can count on a lot of things. He’ll get tons of attention. He’ll be talked about time and again on national television. He’ll be under quite a bit of scrutiny. That’s part of the deal when you’re playing for your dad, a legend in Jim Boeheim.
You’d also think the equipment guys would spell your name right.
The Syracuse freshman was missing an “e” on his jersey in the Orange’s loss Thursday to UConn, leaving maybe the most famous last name in Syracuse, N.Y. misspelled as” Boheim.”
Jim has been a part of the Syracuse program since 1962. Maybe it’ll take a second national title to make sure his kid’s name is spelled right on the jersey.
Or maybe Buddy has to earn that “e” on his own?
Syracuse transfer Matthew Moyer eligible to play immediately at Vanderbilt
Things are good right now for Vanderbilt basketball. The Commodores have a couple of five-star recruits on the roster, and they’re 2-0 with a win over USC already on the resume.
It just got even sweeter.
Matthew Moyer, a 6-foot-8 transfer from Syracuse, was granted immediate eligibility by the NCAA and will be able to play as soon as Friday for Vandy, it was announced Thursday.
“The NCAA has a process for reviewing these requests and we are thankful that they have allowed Matt to play immediately,” Vanderbilt coach Bryce Drew said in a statement. “We are also thankful for all of the time spent by our compliance office during this process.”
Moyer played in 37 games last season, in only on the court with the Orange after he redshirted his first year on campus. He averaged 3.1 points and 3.2 rebounds in 15.9 minutes per game before transferring to Vanderbilt this past summer. The school has not announced why Moyer was seeking a waiver to be immediately eligible, though the NCAA has been increasingly granting such requests in recent months.
Moyer is a former top-50 recruit in the 2016 class.
Vandy is back in action Friday against Alcorn State, with Moyer presumably in uniform. The Commodores were already one of the more intriguing teams in an SEC that looks increasingly strong, and adding Moyer makes them even more interesting in s suddenly deep league.
Syracuse landed a quality commitment on Wednesday night as four-star Class of 2019 forward Quincy Guerrier pledged to the Orange.
The 6-foot-7 Guerrier is a native of Canada, as he plans on graduating from high school in December and enrolling early at Syracuse for the spring semester. Although Guerrier plans to be on scholarship, and with the Orange, during the second half of the 2018-19 season, the plan for now is to redshirt him for the spring semester to prepare Guerrier for his freshman season in 2019-20.
A versatile wing forward who can score at a high level, Guerrier is the perfect weapon to place in the patented Syracuse 2-3 zone. A solid rebounder who can defend multiple spots, Guerrier averaged 24.2 points and 6.8 rebounds per game this summer playing with Brookwood Elite on the Adidas circuit. A 36 percent three-point shooter in that same league, Guerrier’s floor-spacing ability should also help the Syracuse offense.
Guerrier is the fourth pledge in the Syracuse Class of 2019 recruiting haul as he joins four-star guard Brycen Goodine, three-star guard Joe Girard and three-star center John Bol Ajak.
The most important thing that a college basketball team can have is good guard play.
Look at who has won national titles in recent seasons.
In 2013, Louisville started Peyton Siva and Russ Smith. In 2014, UConn’s backcourt consisted of Shabazz Napier and Ryan Boatright. Quinn Cook joined Tyus Jones for Duke’s 2015 national title while Jalen Brunson teamed with Ryan Arcidiacono in 2016 and Donte DiVincenzo, Mikal Bridges and Phil Booth to win the title in 2018.
Hell, even in 2017, when North Carolina won the title on the strength of an imposing frontcourt, they had an All-American in Joel Berry running the show.
I say all that to say this: Elite guards and perimeter players can erase a lot of mistakes.
These are the teams that will have the most talent in those roles this season.
Who did we miss?
1. DUKE BLUE DEVILS
Players: Tre Jones, R.J. Barrett, Cam Reddish, Alex O’Connell, Jordan Goldwire, Joey Baker*
While the Blue Devils did lose a considerable amount of backcourt production from last season’s Elite Eight team, with Grayson Allen having graduated and both Trevon Duval and Gary Trent Jr. turning pro, they’ve managed to reload. The nation’s top recruiting class includes three elite perimeter players in point guard Tre Jones and wings R.J. Barrett and Cam Reddish, with Barrett considered by some to be the best player in college basketball despite having not played an official game.
While Jones is the lead guard, both Barrett and Reddish have been used in playmaking roles during portions of Duke’s two preseason games. That trio will see plenty of playing time, with sophomores Alex O’Connell and Jordan Goldwire supplying the depth. The status of freshman Joey Baker also bears watching, as the 6-foot-7 wing is a good shooter who can potentially give Duke even more depth on the perimeter. The original plan was for Baker, who reclassified to 2018 when he committed to Duke, to redshirt.
2. KENTUCKY WILDCATS
Players: Quade Green, Jemarl Baker, Ashton Hagans, Immanuel Quickley, Tyler Herro, Keldon Johnson
The Wildcats are young on the perimeter, with just one returnee who played valuable minutes in 2017-18. That would be sophomore Quade Green, who made 13 starts and averaged 9.3 points and 2.7 assists per game last season. Redshirt freshman Jemarl Baker, who was sidelined by a knee injury for all of 2017-18, was considered to be one of the top perimeter shooters in the 2018 class and can be a contributor this season in that area. And as Kentucky has done throughout John Calipari’s tenure, they’ve got a crop of outstanding freshmen who are ready to make an impact.
Ashton Hagans and Immanuel Quickley will compete for minutes at the lead guard position, and the same can be said of Tyler Herro and Keldon Johnson on the wings. With all four freshmen being at least 6-foot-3, they’ve got the size to fill a variety of roles on the perimeter for Kentucky. Herro and Johnson both shot better than 44 percent from three during Kentucky’s summer trip to The Bahamas, while Quickley’s 18-to-2 assist-to-turnover ratio during that trip was the team’s best. The competition will be better once the regular season begins, but there’s no doubt that this group is capable of doing some special things.
3. KANSAS JAYHAWKS
Players: LaGerald Vick, Charlie Moore, Marcus Garrett, Devon Dotson, Quentin Grimes, Ochai Agbaji
Kansas lost its leader, Devonte’ Graham, and their best three-point shooter in Svi Mhykhailiuk from the perimeter rotation that led the team to the Final Four last season. But even with that being the case, the Jayhawks can boast one of the nation’s top perimeter rotations. Freshmen Devon Dotson and Quentin Grimes are ready to be immediate contributors at the point and the two, respectively, and they’ll be competing for minutes with some solid returnees.
LaGerald Vick, who made the decision to enter the NBA draft after averaging 12.1 points, 4.8 rebounds and 2.7 assists per game last season, had a change of heart and returned to Lawrence for his senior season. Sophomore point guard Marcus Garrett, who averaged 4.1 points and 3.1 rebounds in 19.6 minutes per game last season, also returns and Cal transfer Charlie Moore is eligible after sitting out last season. Moore was one of the Pac-12’s best freshmen during his lone season in Berkeley, averaging 12.2 points and 3.5 assists per game in 34 starts, and he’ll give Kansas valuable experience and production at the point.
Players: Caleb Martin, Cody Martin, Jordan Caroline, Lindsey Drew, Corey Henson, Jazz Johnson, Nisre Zouzoua, Tre’Shawn Thurman
Eric Musselman’s perimeter rotation is absolutely loaded, with the Martin twins and Jordan Caroline being the headliners. All three are redshirt seniors who had starring roles on last year’s Sweet 16 squad, with Caleb Martin having won Mountain West Player of the Year after averaging 18.9 points and 5.4 rebounds per game and Cody being the conference’s best defender. As for Caroline, all he did in 2017-18 was average 17.7 points and 8.6 rebounds per game. With Nevada’s loaded front court, Caroline may see more time at the three this season than he did in 2017-18.
Those three aren’t the only seniors either, as Lindsey Drew makes his return after going down with a ruptured Achilles tendon in February and Omaha transfer Tre’Shawn Thurman is eligible after sitting out last season. Thurman averaged 13.8 points and 7.8 rebounds per game as a junior at Omaha, earning honorable mention All-Summit League honors. Also eligible to play after sitting out last season are transfers Nisre Zouzoua (20.3 ppg, 4.2 rpg at Bryant in 2016-17), Corey Henson (two-time second team All-NEC selection at Wagner) and Jazz Johnson (15.8 ppg as a sophomore at Portland). The Wolf Pack won’t lack for talented options on the perimeter, one reason why the expectations for this team are so high.
Players: Franklin Howard, Tyus Battle, Howard Washington, Elijah Hughes, Oshae Brissett, Jalen Carey, Buddy Boeheim
Despite not having much in the way of depth, Syracuse still managed to reach the Sweet 16 last season thanks in large part to the triumvirate of Battle, Brissett and Howard. While it was Howard who served as Syracuse’s starting point guard, and will once again in his senior season, Battle doesn’t lack for opportunities to make plays within the Syracuse offense himself. As a sophomore the 6-foot-6 Battle averaged 19.2 points, 2.9 rebounds and 2.1 assists per game, earning second team All-ACC honors.
Brissett, who led the team in rebounding with an average of 8.8 caroms per game, and Howard were also double-digit scorers for the Orange last season. What will help this trio is the addition of some talented newcomers, most notably jet-quick freshman point guard Jalen Carey and off-guard Buddy Boeheim, the head coach’s son who was one of the leaders on a Brewster Academy team that won 26 games last season. And while Elijah Hughes may not have put up great numbers at East Carolina, the season in residency after his transfer to Syracuse should help in that regard. Rounding out the rotation is Howard Washington, who missed all of last season due to a torn ACL. Health is a bit of a concern early on with Howard, Washington and Carey all banged up at present time, but when whole Syracuse has one of the best backcourt rotations in the country.
6. MICHIGAN STATE
Players: Matt McQuaid, Cassius Winston, Joshua Langford, Kyle Ahrens, Foster Loyer, Gabe Brown, Aaron Henry
Michigan State does have to account for the departures of leading scorer Miles Bridges and team leader Tum Tum Nairn, but there’s no shortage of perimeter talent at Tom Izzo’s disposal. Junior point guard Cassius Winston, who averaged 12.6 points and 6.9 assists per game last season, returns as do senior Matt McQuaid and junior Joshua Langford. Langford was Michigan State’s fourth-leading scorer in 2017-18, starting all 35 games, averaging 11.7 points per game and shooting 40.4 percent from three.
As for McQuaid, he’ll be asked to contribute a bit more after averaging 6.0 points in just over 20 minutes per game. Freshmen will supply much of the additional depth on the perimeter, with four-star wings Gabe Brown and Aaron Henry and three-star point guard Foster Loyer joining the program. Also looking to compete for minutes will be redshirt junior Kyle Ahrens, who missed all of the 2017-18 season due to a foot injury.
Players: Ty Jerome, Kyle Guy, Braxton Key, Marco Anthony, Kihei Clark, Kody Stattmann, Francesco Badocchi
Despite the loss of Devon Hall, the team’s second-leading scorer, Virginia projects to have a very good perimeter rotation to work with in 2018-19. The tandem of Jerome and Guy will lead the way, with the former being the Cavaliers’ assist leader and the latter back after averaging a team-high 14.1 points per game. And Virginia’s perimeter corps received a significant boost earlier this month when the NCAA granted an immediate eligibility waiver to Alabama transfer Braxton Key.
The 6-foot-8 Key, who averaged 7.0 points and 5.3 rebounds per game in an injury-shortened 2017-18 campaign, has the ability to serve as a supplementary playmaker on the wing. In theory that could open things up for Virginia’s other offensive options, making the Cavaliers that much tougher to defend. Freshmen Kihei Clark, Kody Stattmann and Francesco Badocchi will all look to work their way into the rotation, and with regard to Badocchi it’s important to note that Tony Bennett and his staff have had success with redshirts during their time in Charlottesville. Sophomore Marco Anthony will also look to earn minutes after appearing in only 13 games last season.
Players: Markus Howard, Joseph Chartouny, Sam Houser, Sacar Anim, Greg Elliott, Jamal Cain, Brendan Bailey
Can a backcourt lose its leading scorer, who averaged 20.5 points and 4.8 assists per game, and be better the following season? That could very well be the case for Marquette, which will look to account for the loss of Andrew Rowsey. Markus Howard, who averaged 20.4 points per game and is one of the nation’s best perimeter shooters, returns for his junior season and the versatile Sam Houser (14.1 ppg, 5.7 rpg, 2.9 apg) is back as well. Add in Sacar Anim, Greg Elliott and Jamal Cain, and the Golden Eagles don’t lack for experience on the perimeter.
So why can this group potentially be even better in 2018-19? The newcomers, most notably Fordham grad transfer Joseph Chartouny. Last season the 6-foot-3 Chartouny, who led the Rams in rebounds and assists while also averaging 12.2 points per game, led the nation with an average of 3.3 steals per game. Marquette struggled on the defensive end of the floor last season, and Chartouny has the size and skill needed to make an impact in that area immediately. Add in 6-foot-8 freshman Brendan Bailey, a versatile wing who will also factor into the fight for minutes, and this perimeter rotation is a big reason while Marquette is considered by some to be the team most likely to challenge Villanova in the Big East.
9. ST. JOHN’S
Players: Shamorie Ponds, Justin Simon, Marvin Clark II, Mustapha Heron, Mikey Dixon, L.J. Figueroa, Bryan Trimble, Greg Williams Jr.
The Chris Mullin era has yet to produce an NCAA tournament bid, but that could very well change in 2018-19 if his backcourt lives up to the preseason hype. In Shamorie Ponds the Red Storm possess a high-scoring guard who averaged 21.6 points, 5.0 rebounds and 4.7 assists per game, and the preseason Big East Player of the Year is one of three double-digit scoring guards back on campus. Seniors Justin Simon (12.2 ppg, 7.1 rpg, 5.1 apg), who led the Red Storm in rebounding and assists, and Marvin Clark II (12.5 ppg, 4.7 rpg) both return as well. While that trio is definitely a good starting point, St. John’s also boasts a really good crop of perimeter newcomers.
Auburn transfer Mustapha Heron received a waiver that makes him eligible to play immediately, and in the 6-foot-5 junior the Red Storm add a player who averaged 16.4 points and 5.3 rebounds per game on a team that won a share of the SEC regular season title. Also eligible to play — after sitting out last season — is Quinnipiac transfer Mikey Dixon, who averaged 16.5 points and 3.7 rebounds per game as a freshman. Junior college transfer L.J. Figueroa was a NJCAA All-American at Odessa College who’s already received rave reviews for his work in preseason practices. Freshman Greg Williams Jr., a four-star recruit out of high school, and sophomore Bryan Trimble will also look to earn playing time in what is a stacked backcourt.
Players: Carsen Edwards, Ryan Cline, Nojel Eastern, Sasha Stefanovic, Aaron Wheeler, Eric Hunter Jr.
It all starts with Edwards, who in the eyes of many is considered to be the preseason favorite for national Player of the Year honors. As a sophomore, Edwards led Purdue in points with an average of 18.5 points per game while also dishing out 2.8 assists per game. The question heading into 2018-19 for Edwards is how he’ll balance being that attack-minded scoring guard with the need to put his younger teammates in positions where they can be at their best. That wasn’t as much of a concern last season due to the presence of four seniors in the starting lineup. Also back from last season’s perimeter rotation are senior Ryan Cline and sophomore Nojel Eastern, with the latter viewed as a player who could be in line for a breakout season.
Eastern only averaged 2.9 points in 12.6 minutes per game as a freshman, but he has both the size and athleticism needed to join the list of off guards who have experienced success playing for Matt Painter. As for Cline, he was also a reserve and shot nearly 40 percent from beyond the arc in 2017-18. Redshirt freshmen Sasha Stefanovic and Aaron Weaver will look to turn the lessons learned from last year’s seniors into production in their first season of game action, and true freshman Eric Hunter Jr. is a four-star prospect who averaged 29 points per game as a high school senior. Edwards will be the leader for this group, but Purdue’s perimeter boasts talent beyond the Player of the Year candidate.
Honorable Mention: Clemson, Florida State, Gonzaga, Kansas State, Michigan, Mississippi State, N.C. State, Villanova, Virginia Tech, Washington
Jim Boheim calls five-star Darius Bazley’s decision to skip Syracuse a ‘mistake’
“I mean, he made a mistake. It doesn’t do any good to talk about it,” Boeheim told Syracuse.com. “Everybody thinks I’m criticizing him. I’m not. I’m just telling it like it is. He made a mistake. He should own it. He’s just not ready. He’s just not physical. They’re not letting him play in the G League because he’d get killed.”
It’s not often a coach will speak like that about a player, even if it’s one that a coach may feel burned his program. It’s blunt and direct. It also may not be the whole story.
But it’s most likely right – at least from a purely basketball standpoint.
There is a legitimate conversation to be had about the merits of playing college ball vs. suiting up in the G League for prospects’ developments, but I doubt you’ll find many that would be advocating for simply taking a year off from competitive hoops when other avenues are available.
Players can work on their game behind closed doors, but that’s going to have limited value come draft day. It’s simply going to be hard for professional franchises to evaluate what kind of progress Bazley’s made when they can’t measure him against his peers. Seeing him in an empty gym going against practice players makes for a much less valuable evaluation environment than, say, watching Bazley go up against the likes of Duke, North Carolina, Virginia and the rest of what the ACC has to offer night-in and night-out for three-straight months.
It also seems more likely that such a situation would be better for Bazley to find success than even the G League would offer. With the Orange, Bazley would be going against players, essentially, his own age with, essentially, similar developmental arcs. In the G League, the 6-foot-9, 200 pounder would be tasked with going against players with multiple years in the professional ranks. One of those situations seems more likely to produce advantageous results than the other for an 18-year-old with a slight build and without a slam-dunk NBA future.
So, to call Bazley’s decision to skip Syracuse for an option he eventually decided not to pursue a “mistake” seems in bounds. He picked the G League over the Orange only to then find that option not quite as desirable as originally thought.
But that’s probably also not fully fair to Bazley. If he decided he simply didn’t want to pursue the student-athlete path – and all that entails (to whatever degree) – even if it cost him on the floor and on draft boards, that’s his decision. So often in this one-and-done era, players get slammed for simply going through the motions in their semester-plus on campus when they have no desire to be there other than to hoop. Seems unfair to criticize a player who decides against doing that, too.
Bazley’s decision to forego Syracuse looks like one that will hurt his professional prospects in the short-term. Maybe it will in the long-term, too, but there are plenty of paths to the pros. Bazley set out to blaze one trail, but maybe he’ll ultimately find another.