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Scanning the Nation Notebook – Dec. 17, 2014

December 17, 2014 Columns 2 Comments
glatczak

Weekly thoughts from following the goings around all of Division I college basketball in the middle of December:

  • The best Gonzaga teams have a whole lot of offense, and that’s what this year’s team has. It says a lot that Kevin Pangos has gone from perhaps the team’s best offensive player to its No. 4 scorer. The Bulldogs also have weapons of all sizes; outside players big (Byron Wesley) and small (Pangos, Gary Bell), loads in the paint (Przemek Karnowski and Domantas Sabonis) and a big guy who shoots like a guard (Kyle Wiltjer). If one really wanted to nit-pick, they could note Gonzaga doesn’t have a 6-7ish athlete who can fill it up, and one supposes that could be a problem at some point. But the way the Zags handled UCLA with ease on the road said quite a bit; this is a legit top 10 team. The loss to Arizona was a grinder, but that’s how close games with the Wildcats are going to be (see: NCAA tourney last year against Wisconsin). This may be Mark Few’s most NCAA Tournament-ready team yet.
  • Absolutely love North Carolina State playing two games at Reynolds Coliseum this past weekend. You could almost see Jim Valvano waving his arms on the sideline during those Wolfpack games still this year. Unfortunate that the old arena’s capacity is being reduced as part of some renovations, though understandable given its main tenant now is the N.C. State women’s basketball team. Mark Gottfried has a pretty nice team this year, too. Trevor Lacey has been outstanding, and in fact has been a pretty fair replacement for T.J. Warren, and State should be a factor in the ACC.
  • The Wolfpack did lose to Wofford though on Sunday, but it’s not an embarrassing loss. For one, N.C. State doesn’t have a whole lot inside, and while the Terriers are short, they are battlers and played to a draw on the boards (33-33) while also grabbing nine offensive rebounds. For another, Wofford is a pretty darn good team. Guard Karl Cochran is a high-level athlete and an outstanding rebounder at 6-foot-1, and the Terriers as a whole play with a lot of moxie. Coach Mike Young’s team made the NCAA Tournament out of the Southern Conference last year and clearly had no fear of the Wolfpack, rallying from a nine-point second half deficit. Wofford blew a chance in its opener at Stanford but has wins over good Iona and Sam Houston State teams, with the only other loss to William & Mary.
  • Mentioned Washington last week, and while still not sold yet that this is a serious top 20 team, the Huskies are showing a real knack for coming up with big plays late in close games. They did it again on Sunday, coming back late to edge Eastern Washington 81-77. Washington isn’t a great three-point shooting team (33.1% on season, average of 6.5 per game), but it hits them when it counts. Nigel Williams-Goss and low-scoring guard Darin Johnson (2.8 points per game) had a combined nine triples on the season entering the final minutes against EWU, but both hit huge daggers to put the Huskies over the top. Earlier games against Long Beach State and UTEP followed a similar arc for Washington, with big shots down the stretch. A game Saturday against Oklahoma will be a terrific test, but early on this is a team with a little bit of magic.
  • Count us here as among those not that surprised at Nebraska’s relative struggles so far. Lost amidst all the hype over the Cornhuskers coming into this season, and even at the end of last season, is that this is a team that barely made the NCAA Tournament last year. Nebraska was just 4-7 against the RPI top 50 last year and just 4-11 in road/neutral games. What got the Huskers in the NCAA Tournament was an 11-7 Big 10 record against an unbalanced schedule, an 8-2 finish to the season (though the ‘last 10’ is no longer supposed to be part of the selection criteria) and wins at Michigan State in February and over Wisconsin at home in March. Nebraska was a questionable NCAA tourney selection that finished well against a friendly late schedule; not sure how that translated into a top 25 team this year. Look, it was a great story seeing this program get to the tourney, and everyone loves Tim Miles (how can you not love a guy who, responding to worrying about possible criticism of his credentials coming to the school in 2012, cracked “I’m Catholic. I live in fear, worry and doubt”?) But this is what the Cornhuskers are-an improving program in a super-competitive conference that was a borderline NCAA tourney entry last year, and really isn’t much different this year.
  • Tulsa has been one of the more disappointing teams of the season’s early going. The Golden Hurricane returned three starters and a lot of experience from last year’s NCAA Tournament team that finished the season strong, but this year has started with a 5-5 mark with a host of poor losses. Tulsa opened with a loss at crosstown rival Oral Roberts, but more concerning were convincing losses to Oklahoma State (neutral site) and last week at home against Oklahoma, as well as last week’s awful loss to Division II SE Oklahoma State. The Golden Hurricane isn’t getting much from its frontcourt-D’Andre Wright was scoreless against Oklahoma and has scored five or less in five of the team’s last seven games, fellow junior forward Rashad Smith’s scoring has dipped from 12.0 to 6.9 points per game, and 6-9 sophomore Brandon Swannegan hasn’t taken the next step this season that was expected and is averaging just 2.6 points per game. Tulsa could still be dangerous in the AAC-it does have a quality home win over Creighton and completely clamped down Bruce Pearl’s Auburn team in a 53-35 win-but it will need to find its form soon.
  • After watching some of the Michigan/Eastern Michigan game from last week, while the main story of course is the Wolverines’ struggles, it should be noted that EMU coach (and former Syracuse assistant) Rob Murphy has done a very nice job of installing the Syracuse 2-3 zone there and then recruiting for it. Length is one of those buzzwords of basketball in recent years, and the Eagles have way more of it than many know about. Eastern Michigan can regularly deploy players 6-7, 6-8, 6-9 and 6-11 on the frontline and occasionally even at the front of the zone, and most definitely it played a role in Michigan looking as bad as it did in that game. EMU is not an offensive juggernaut, and hammering the offensive boards is the main extent of a number of these big bodies’ contribution on offense, but the team’s defense alone-along with chief scoring guards Raven Lee, Mike Talley and Karrington Ward-should make it a factor in the MAC all season.
  • Listened to a UC Santa Barbara radio broadcast online last week for the Gauchos’ game against San Diego and it must be noted: UCSB head coach Bob Williams is one of the best interviews in the sport. If you think that all coaches in college basketball are dull, blasé, and afraid to say anything interesting, you’re wrong, and Williams is your antidote. And it’s not in a blustery, obnoxious, intended-to-make-waves fashion. He’s just really honest and gives great insight, and was terrific to listen to. Thoroughly enjoyable, and worth a listen if you ever get a chance.
  • Early early candidate for the best turnaround job this year goes to Heath Schroyer at Tennessee-Martin. The Skyhawks won just eight games all of last year and 37 over the past five years, but are now 6-2 after an overtime win over Illinois-Chicago Monday night. UTM has compiled a nice record while playing seven of its first eight games on the road. Though the schedule hasn’t been overwhelming, road wins are still road wins, and the Skyhawks have won at Arkansas State, Bethune-Cookman, Northern Kentucky, Longwood and now UIC. The only losses are at Marquette in the season opener and at Nebraska by 11, while its lone home game has been against always-willing-to-travel Champion Baptist, the tiny school most famous for getting drubbed by Southern by 104 points last year. Schroyer has done it by blending returnees, junior college transfers, plus a four-year transfer in Deville Smith from UNLV, who had 26 against UIC on Monday. In all, five players are averaging in double figures, and this looks like a team that won’t go away once Ohio Valley Conference play starts.
  • While college basketball blows away the pros when it comes to ball movement and teams actually running offenses, it’s still a peeve to see just how poorly so many college teams make use of final shot situations at the end of halves. So many times teams are guilty of running too much time off before attacking, and then having no offensive plan other than a player trying to drive from 40-feet out or shooting a heavily contested pull-up. Occasionally it works, but many times it doesn’t, and in a number of cases teams don’t even get a shot off. Just because a team wants the final shot, doesn’t mean it shouldn’t try to get a good shot. And since most college teams don’t have NBA-level one-on-one players, it’s fair to wonder if running a little offense or at least a two- or three-man game wouldn’t result in a better look than essentially going bonsai at the end of the clock with one player. Just like teams being lousy at the free throw line, this is another inefficiency for a number of teams. When games come down to a couple points either way, these details can make the difference between winning and losing.
  • Finally, the Diamond Head Classic has a unique date compared to other eight-team in-season tournaments (Dec. 22, 23 and 25), but around time traveling, with family or watching bowl games, this year’s tourney is worthy of attention. The field includes Colorado, DePaul, George Washington, Loyola Marymount, Nebraska, Ohio U., Wichita State plus host school Hawaii. Quarterfinal matchups include DePaul against Colorado and Nebraska at Hawaii, and with at least four of these teams expected to make a run at an NCAA Tournament bid, the tournament as a whole is going to be a chance for someone to make a lot of hay in the power rankings.

Currently there are "2 comments" on this Article:

  1. Paul Borden says:

    I think one of the things players (and maybe coaches) don’t consider is that the clock doesn’t stop at the end of the first half when a shot is made like it does at the end of the game. A shot taken and made with as many as four or five seconds left at the end of the game leaves an opponent with a decent opportunity to get off a good shot in reply. But if the basket is made at the end of the half, the fact the clock keeps running leaves an opponent not much more than two or three seconds to get off a shot, if that. A second two is likely to run off the clock before the other team even gets the ball out-of-bounds, and then the clock is running as it comes back up the floor.

    • Adam Glatczak says:

      Yeah I think the execution at the end of halves can be better in general. All a matter of attention to detail, as much as coaches drill players on situations and as much as coaches now following things like analytics, would think players would have these fairly simple bases covered. Thank you very much for reading.

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