By Jon Rothstein
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THREE THINGS I LEARNED LAST WEEK
1. MARYLAND WILL MAKE THE NCAA TOURNAMENT
And they should be back there regularly as long as Mark Turgeon remains their head coach. The Terps didn’t beat Kentucky on Friday night at the Barclays Center but their three point defeat proved that they’re capable of competing with anyone, especially if they start to make outside shots. Maryland has too many capable perimeter players to shoot 3-19 from 3-point range like they did against the Wildcats and that percentage will surely improve as the season goes along. In addition to the burgeoning ability of center Alex Len, who torched Kentucky for 23 points and 12 rebounds, the Terps got two really strong debuts from freshmen Charles Mitchell and Seth Allen. Mitchell stabilized things for Maryland at power forward and finished with 10 rebounds while Allen provided a strong complement to Pe’Shon Howard in the back court. Turgeon has a good blend of experience and youth going right now in College Park, a place that is certain to get more exciting as the season progresses.
2. SOUTH FLORIDA’S WORST FEARS WERE REALIZED
41-22. That was the number in which the Bulls were out rebounded by Central Florida in the Knights 74-56 win in Tampa on Saturday night. South Florida coach Stan Heath led his team to the NCAA Tournament last season thanks to a bruising front line that made it virtually impossible for opponents to get baskets in the paint. Now he’s got a smaller team, one that routinely plays four guards and it was abundantly clear that style is going to need time to gel if the Bulls are going to be competitive in the Big East.
3. SAINT PETER’S WON’T FINISH LAST IN THE MAAC
Not with John Dunne coaching. Look, I know the Peacocks coach doesn’t have the greatest won-loss record but people need to realize where he is and what he’s done. St. Peter’s, with all due respect is one of the toughest jobs in the country. The Peacocks campus is located right in the middle of Jersey City and has extremely limited resources and facilities. The program was below sea level when Dunne took over in 2006 and since he’s been there, he’s already accomplished a minor miracle by taking St. Peter’s to the NCAA Tournament two seasons ago. The Peacocks win at Rutgers on Friday night reiterates what Dunne’s peers and everyone in most coaching circles already know — the guy can flat out coach and is one of the better defensive minds around. We’d love to see Dunne eventually get a crack at a higher level gig but for now, we’ll say this — St. Peter’s won’t finish where they were picked in the MAAC Preseason Poll — last. And that’s a guarantee.
THREE THINGS I’M LOOKING FORWARD TO THIS WEEK
1. KENTUCKY AGAINST DUKE TUESDAY NIGHT IN THE CHAMPIONS CLASSIC
Two of college basketball’s blue bloods square off in what should be a fascinating showdown. The Wildcats showed some flaws in their narrow win last Friday over Maryland but this team still has serious talent, especially up front. Kentucky coach John Calipari talked all preseason long about how he was going to play his two freshmen big men — Nerlens Noel andWillie Cauley-Stein together for long stretches and that duo will likely be on display on Tuesday when the face the Blue Devils inside tandem of Mason Plumlee and Ryan Kelly. On another note, Jarrod Polson may have stole the show in the Wildcats opener with his play at point guard but it’s only a matter of time until Kentucky freshman Archie Goodwin is running this team. Goodwin is the Wildcats best perimeter player and once he slows himself down, he’ll be more than capable of running Calipari’s offense on a regular basis.
2. WICHITA STATE AT VCU TUESDAY NIGHT
A third meeting in three seasons between these two schools? Sign me up! VCU narrowly edged Wichita State in each of the last two years including a three point win in the second round of the last NCAA Tournament. The Shockers lost several key players from their unit that won the Missouri Valley Conference a year ago but Wichita State coach Gregg Marshallreturns a walking double-double in power forward Karl Hall and also has a very capable point guard in Oregon transfer Malcolm Armstead. The Rams are their usual, aggressive selves and that alone should make this a fascinating early season tilt at the Siegel Center. Keep an eye on VCU sophomore guard Briante Weber, who tallied 10 steals during the Rams opening win against Florida Gulf Coast. One of the better defensive guards in America, Weber is a major key in Rams coach Shaka Smart’s “HAVOC” approach.
3. DELAWARE’S TWO GAMES IN THE PRESEASON NIT
The Blue Hens are good enough to beat Penn and potentially Virginia in Charlottesville — they’re that talented. Delaware traded blows and lost to a very capable La Salle team on Saturday and we’ve felt all along that this team will give Drexel fits once they both teams begin conference play in the CAA. Blue Hens coach Monte’ Ross has three guys that will play basketball somewhere for money in Jarvis Threatt, Devon Saddler, and Jamelle Hagins and that triumvirate can make a statement on the national level this week if they find a way to win their next two games. The Blue Hens will play Penn and then the winner of Virginia and Fairfield for the right to go to Madison Square Garden next week for the semifinals of the Preseason NIT.
THIS AND THAT:
- Oregon is expecting to hear from the NCAA by Tuesday on the status of Rice transfer Arsalan Kazemi. The Ducks have filed a waiver with the hope that the power forward could play this season without sitting out a year. Last season at Rice, Kazemi averaged 12.1 points and 10.3 rebounds a game.
- It was tough not to be impressed with Villanova freshman point guard Ryan Arcidiacono on Sunday. The Wildcats first-year floor general scored 25 points and dished out six assists inVillanova’s 80-68 win over a good Marshall team. Arcidiacono rarely forces things and doesn’t try to do too much. He’s a throwback that will need to play at a high level all season if the Wildcats are to make a jump in the Big East.
- Arizona State’s 69 shot attempts in their win on Saturday night against Central Arkansas were the most since Sun Devils coach Herb Sendek’s first game in Tempe in 2006. There is a conscious effort for this team to push the pace and that’s a product of point guard Jahii Carson. The speedy floor general scored 15 points and dished out five assists in his college debut and should make Arizona State competitive in the PAC-12.
- La Salle won 21 games and advanced to the NIT last season thanks to a four-guard lineup that regularly spaced out opponents and created mismatches. The Explorers’ biggest strength in their opening win against Delaware? Their front court. La Salle’s two starting big men — Jerrell Wright and Steve Zack combined for 33 points and 18 rebounds in the Explorers 73-66 win. Zack, who we pegged as one of our breakout guys before the season logged 38 minutes, tallied 19 and grabbed eight boards. Don’t be surprised if the 6-11 big man is one of the more productive baseline players in the Atlantic 10 this season.
- There is no Stephen Curry on Davidson’s roster this year, but Wildcats coach Bob McKillop has his best team since the current NBA sharpshooter took Davidson to within a possession of the Final Four in 2008. The Wildcats return all five starters and a slew of key reserves from last year’s team that lost to Louisville in the NCAA Tournament. “We have guys who’ve been through it,” McKillop told me last week. “The group we have had to go through growing pains when they were young and they also got to experience winning a conference title and playing in the NCAA’s. They’re made for all seasons.” Davidson big man Jake Cohen is a real presence at 6-10 and had 13 points, eight rebounds, and six blocks in the Wildcats season opening win against Emory. “People are telling me he could be a second round pick,” McKillop said of Cohen.
- Missouri coach Frank Haith said there is no timetable on when veteran guard Michael Dixon will return to the Tigers starting lineup. “He’s still got some things he needs to take care of,” Haith said. “There’s no timetable.” Haith said Pepperdine transfer Keion Bell will start in Dixon’s place next to Phil Pressey in Missouri’s back court until Dixon returns. “Keion scored over 1,300 points at Pepperdine and he got hurt in the second half of his last season there,” Haith said of Bell. “The key though with Keion and our whole team is going to be sacrifice. Guys like Earnest Ross, Alex Oriakhi, and Jabari Brown are all transfers who produced when they were elsewhere. Now the question is, are they willing to take less shots for more wins?” Brown, who transferred from Oregon will be eligible after the first semester.
- UConn coach Kevin Ollie made a major statement with a dramatic debut win over Michigan State last Friday in Germany. Ollie, who only has a contract through the end of the season displayed poise on the sideline and a strong overall control over the product his team put out on the floor. The Huskies ran efficient half court offense and effectively pressured the Spartans defensively, creating several turnovers that led to easy baskets for UConn guards Shabazz Napier and Ryan Boatright. Another thing the Huskies found overseas? A glue guy.R.J. Evans, a fifth-year transfer from Holy Cross gave the Huskies toughness and intangibles with his broad shoulders and frame. He’ll play a significant role moving forward for UConn.
- UCLA freshman Jordan Adams was an unsung member of the Bruins recruiting class but he could wind up being an extremely pivotal piece during his first season of college basketball. Adams scored 21 points and grabbed seven rebounds in UCLA’s 86-59 win over Indiana State last Friday and showed a high IQ and overall feel that could earn him more time down the road. With fellow freshman Shabazz Muhammad’s status still uncertain, more minutes are available at the wing and that could mean more opportunity for Adams moving forward.
- I’m still going to the Coaches vs. Cancer Classic at the Barclays Center on Friday. I’m still excited to see Florida State-BYU and St. Joseph’s-Notre Dame — but I’m very disappointed that Hawks guard Tay Jones won’t play against the Irish due to a suspension. Jones, who was St. Joseph’s leading scorer last season is a crafty offensive player who puts pressure on the opponent’s defense as soon as he steps on the floor. Without their best offensive perimeter weapon, Hawks coach Phil Martelli will need more production out of sophomore point guard Chris Wilson, who will likely start in the back court with teammate Langston Galloway.
- Several quality teams are hitting New York over the next few weeks in early season tournaments. The one to make sure you get a look at that’s not being instantly mentioned? Oregon State. The Beavers may have lost a first-round pick in Jared Cunningham but they return every other piece from last season’s group that won 21 games. “I love this team,” Oregon Statecoach Craig Robinson told me last week. “If we defend, we’re going to give ourselves a real chance.” I call the Beavers “Team Balance” because they can beat you in so many ways. Don’t be shocked if five different players on this team average in double figures.
SET THE DVR:
MONDAY: WEST VIRGINIA AT GONZAGA, DAVIDSON AT NEW MEXICO, ROBERT MORRIS VS. LEHIGH
TUESDAY: HARVARD AT UMASS, DETROIT AT ST. JOHN’S, MICHIGAN STATE VS. KANSAS, DUKE VS. KENTUCKY, WICHITA STATE AT VCU
WEDNESDAY: WISCONSIN AT FLORIDA, SANTA CLARA AT SAINT LOUIS
THURSDAY: ILLINOIS STATE AT DREXEL, NC STATE VS. PENN STATE, ALABAMA VS. OREGON STATE
What’s your must-watch game of the week? Let Jon know in the comments below…