Sports

Rothstein Files: Monday Morning College Hoops Notebook

Owls Flourish With Wyatt At The Point
(Photo by Mike Stobe/Getty Images)

(Photo by Mike Stobe/Getty Images)

By Jon Rothstein
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THREE THINGS I LEARNED LAST WEEK

1. TEMPLE IS BETTER WITH KHALIF WYATT AT POINT GUARD

And it wasn’t just because the Owls’ veteran guard scored 33 points in Saturday’s upset win over Syracuse at Madison Square Garden. Temple began the season by rotating Will Cummings and T.J. Dileo as their primary floor generals, but against the Orange Fran Dunphy’s team just looked crisper with Wyatt, Scootie Randall, and freshman Quenton DeCosey on the perimeter. Part of the reason why that trio flourished is because Syracuse’s 2-3 zone is easier to play against with bigger guards who can see over taller and longer defenders, but in addition to that we just like the feel of this team better with the ball in Wyatt’s hands. With Wyatt, Randall, DeCosey, Rahlir Hollis-Jefferson, and Anthony Lee, Dunphy has a starting five that can match up with anyone in the Atlantic 10, and maybe even the country. Sprinkle in sharp shooter Jake O’Brien off the bench and either Cummings or Dileo as a backup and Temple’s role allocation and balance should be much better moving forward.

2. VCU IS BETTER SUITED TO MAKE A DEEP RUN IN THE NCAA TOURNAMENT THAN THEY WERE A YEAR AGO

And it’s mostly because of Treveon Graham. The 6-5 sophomore is built like a truck and rebounds well despite being undersized at power forward (5.2 RPG). When the Rams played a smaller lineup last season, Bradford Burgess would be VCU’s primary four-man but Graham’s ability to be physical against opposing front lines will make this team a tougher out than they were last season. The team’s top three-point shooter at 42.1%, Graham is eerily similar to former Seton Hall forward Brian Laing, who played for the Pirates from 2004-2008.

3. THERE IS HOPE FOR DREXEL

The Dragons had been one of the bigger disappointments so far this season but they may have had a bit of a turning point when they beat Davidson on Saturday night in Philadelphia. Drexel coach Bruiser Flint said after the game that his team finally looked like the unit that won 29 games last season and the main reason why was junior point guard Frantz Massenat.

After enjoying a breakout season last year as a sophomore, Massenat has struggled early  but played a terrific game against Davidson and finished with 14 points and six assists. Drexel is still 4-7 but their record doesn’t mean anything since they’ll need to win the CAA Tournament to reach the field of 68 in March. Next up for the Dragons? A home game against Saint Joseph’s on New Year’s Eve at 4 PM. A word to the wise — get there early.

THREE THINGS I’M LOOKING FORWARD TO THIS WEEK

1. CINCINNATI’S SHOWDOWN WITH NEW MEXICO ON THURSDAY

The Bearcats have a perfect 12-0 record but have yet to display the type of half court offensive efficiency it’s going to take for them to have a legitimate chance at a Big East title.

Cincinnati has three guards in Cashmere Wright, Sean Kilpatrick, and JaQuon Parker that will keep them in most games, but to beat very good teams like New Mexico they’re going to need more. JUCO transfer Titus Rubles is a prime candidate to be the Bearcats’ fourth offensive option and he’ll need to produce for Mick Cronin’s team to beat the Lobos. New Mexico is an interesting match up for Cincinnati because of how similar the two teams play. Just like the Bearcats, the Lobos prefer to play with four perimeter players on the floor surrounding one interior presence. A big X-Factor in this game could be New Mexico big man Alex Kirk. The 7-footer is having a terrific season (10.9 PPG, 7.5 RPG) and could be a difference maker in the paint.

2. UCLA’S OPPORTUNITY AGAINST MISSOURI ON FRIDAY

I sat in Ben Howland’s office in late October and he told me how important the non-conference portion of UCLA’s schedule was in terms of getting enough quality wins to put together a solid NCAA resume for March. 12 games have passed and while the Bruins are 9-3 and playing better, they need to beat a very good Missouri team on Friday night at Pauley Pavilion. UCLA doesn’t have a signature non-conference win and while the PAC-12 is better than it was last year, there are no proven commodities in the conference other than Arizona. Beating the Tigers would take a remarkable effort from the Bruins, a young team getting solid play from freshmen Kyle Anderson, Shabazz Muhammad, and Jordan Adams. We’re not sure if UCLA has what it takes to hang with Missouri on the backboards, an area where the Tigers seem to physically overwhelm their opponents. In Missouri’s win over previously undefeated Illinois last Saturday, Frank Haith’s team out rebounded the Illini 51-29.

3. WILL SAINT JOSEPH’S BE ABLE TO STOP DAVID LAURY AND IONA WITHOUT HALIL KANACEVIC?

Not likely. Laury has been somewhat of a revelation in the last few days. The 6-8 point forward has played two games for the Gaels and is averaging 23 points and 10.5 rebounds per contest. Iona appears to be a team that is surging after the addition of Laury while the Hawks continue to be a bit of an enigma. This weekend’s home loss to Fairfield without Kanacevic, who is still serving a suspension continues to raise questions about this team’s depth. Phil Martelli doesn’t appear to be comfortable with his bench and that could be a major problem against the Gaels. Iona pushes the pace from the opening tip and will force Saint Joseph’s to play to their tempo. This a dangerous game for the Hawks, who are really in a rut at 5-4 after showing so much promise early in the season after wins over Notre Dame and Harvard.

THIS AND THAT:

- Virginia Tech transfer Tyrone Garland is going to give La Salle another dimension in the Atlantic 10. The 6-1 Garland is a jet in the open floor and gives the Explorers the ability to play four-guard sets with more regularity. Through three games, Garland is averaging 15.7 points per game. Dr. John Giannini won 21 games last year and La Salle has a chance to be better this season because they can play both big and small. Keep an eye on this team moving forward.

- Iowa is 11-2 and has been a different team since Fran McCaffery inserted freshman Anthony Clemmons into the starting lineup. The Hawkeyes have been a trendy pick to make a jump in the Big Ten and they’ll have plenty of chances to make an early statement in the conference. Iowa’s first three games in league play are against Indiana, Michigan, and Michigan State.

- Former Villanova guard Ty Johnson will likely transfer to either Illinois or South Carolina, according to a source with knowledge of the situation. The 6-3 Johnson played in 32 games last season for the Wildcats and averaged 3.3 PPG and 2.0 APG. He will be eligible to play during the 2013-14 season.

- Rutgers sophomore Myles Mack is playing more efficiently than any other guard in college basketball. Through 10 games, Mack is averaging 15.9 PPG while shooting 60.2% from the field, 52.4% from three-point range, and 96.2% from the free throw line. The most impressive thing about the Scarlet Knights 79-55 win over Howard last Friday? Mack and fellow sophomore guard Eli Carter combined for zero turnovers.

Santa Clara has all the requisites to be a challenger the WCC. The Broncos have an interior presence with Marc Trasolini back in the lineup after missing last season with an injury and Kevin Foster and Evan Roquemore are two grizzled guards who can really score the ball. Kerry Keating’s team is now 11-2 and will have a big opportunity to make a national statement when they travel to Duke on December 29th.

- Pitt freshman guard James Robinson might be the most underrated first-year player in college basketball. The 6-3 guard doesn’t dazzle you with any one area of his game but he’s incredibly solid and should take immense pressure off Tray Woodall once this team begins play in the Big East. In Robinson’s last five games, he’s dished out 27 assists and only committed four turnovers.

- Providence is expecting senior point guard Vincent Council to rejoin the lineup Friday against Brown. Council is one of the better players in the Big East and should give Ed Cooley another dangerous perimeter threat to go with Bryce Cotton and freshman Kris Dunn. It’s going to take Cooley some time to get this thing going but the upside is there for the Friars. Next season, this team could have one of the conference’s better back courts with Dunn, Cotton, super scoring wing Ricky Ledo, and incoming freshman Brandon Austin.

- Oregon State may have a valuable reserve in 6-9 freshman Olaf Schaftenarr. A native of the Netherlands, Schaftenaar is still a project who needs some fine tuning, but he can really shoot the ball from deep and will force opponents to guard him defensively. The 9-2 Beavers may have lost starting center Angus Brandt for the year with a knee injury but they still remain an intriguing team because of their balance. If this team guards people on a regular basis, another 20-win season is very much within the realm of possibility.

- It’s tough not to be impressed with the job Andy Toole continues to do at Robert Morris. The Colonials are off to an 8-5 start and only trailed Arkansas by three late in a game last week at Bud Walton Arena. After back-to-back appearances in the NEC title game the past two seasons, Robert Morris looks poised to take things a step further this year. There’s only one thing acceptable for this team — the NCAA Tournament.

- Kudos to former NYC firefighter Matt Long for giving motivational speeches at colleges throughout the New York area with all the proceeds going to the rebuilding of the gym at the St. Francis De Sales School in Rockaway Beach. A displaced resident of the area after Hurricane Sandy, Long is determined to bring pride back to his community and needs your help. To make contributions, call him at 917-837-5323.

SET THE DVR:

TUESDAY: DIAMONDHEAD CLASSIC FINALS – ARIZONA VS. SAN DIEGO STATE

THURSDAY: NEW MEXICO AT CINCINNATI

FRIDAY: IONA AT SAINT JOSEPH’S, MISSOURI AT UCLA, BAYLOR AT GONZAGA

What are your thoughts on the latest stories around college basketball? Be heard in the comments below!