Though still a week from Thanksgiving Day, the holiday tournament season really began yesterday, and the results from the first two events were a good sampling of the first week of the 2015-16 season as a whole.
The Puerto Rico Tip-Off and Charleston Classic both got underway on Thursday, and the games featured some high scores, some low ones, a lot of free throws and another sprinkling of surprising results. We saw Butler red-hot-again. Mississippi State showed again that a turnaround under Ben Howland with Malik Newman isn’t going to be instant. Long Beach State may be inexperienced-but also already a better team than last year. And Virginia is Virginia, and still in a class among the nation’s best.
Among the tourney results:
Butler 93, Missouri State 59. MSU is coming off a rough year, but is coached by Paul Lusk, a Gene Keady disciple and coaches in the Missouri Valley Conference, which is to say he knows defense. No matter. The Bulldogs torched the Bears with 60% shooting in Puerto Rico, making those 144 points against The Citadel perhaps not quite the outlier we thought. The bench-led by Kelan Martin’s 18-chipped in 42 points, too. It’s only two games, but early on this team looks really good. Now Butler steps up in class when it faces Temple in the semifinals after the Owls held off Minnesota 75-70.
Miami (Fla.) 105, Mississippi State 79. The Hurricanes won the Puerto Rico event last year, and now they’re looking to take what is essentially its cousin event at the same time. Miami shot 56.7%, building a 24-point halftime lead to cruise. They’ll face Utah in a tantalizing second semifinal after the Utes topped Texas Tech 73-63. For the Bulldogs, we’re finding out quickly it’s going to take Howland some time to form this team, even with talent like Newman, who scored 15 off the bench. Patience is advised.
George Mason 68, Mississippi 62. Who had this one tabbed? This is a big win for the Atlantic 10. Mason was picked 13th in the league’s preseason poll, yet knocked off a team that was in the NCAA Tournament last year. Shevon Thompson was a hammer for GMU-19 points and 16 rebounds-and the upsets show no signs of slowing down early this season. The Patriots now face Oklahoma State in the semis in Charleston after the Pokes’ 69-52 win over Towson.
Long Beach State 80, Seton Hall 77. The 49ers have become famous for playing almost obscenely tough non-conference schedules, so playing and competing in these games is nothing new. Dan Monson’s team has just four members who played last year, though, and is loaded with transfers, injury returnees and a dab of freshmen. It may already be a better team than last year’s, which featured the fantastic Mike Caffey but struggled with turnovers and consistency. For the Pirates, this game must feel like Groundhog Day, a continuation of the disappointment last year ended in. Long Beach State now advances to a semifinal game in Charleston against…
Virginia 82, Bradley 57. One would’ve thought the youngest team in the country-10 freshmen on a roster of 12-would’ve been no match for the Cavaliers, but the plucky Braves challenged for a time before UVA found its way, outscoring Bradley 63-35 over the final 27 minutes. Anthony Gill had 16 points and seven rebounds and Virginia shot 56.6% and outrebounded the Braves 35-21, more on course with expectations after losing the battle on the boards against George Washington.
- Vanderbilt has been advertised as having one of the best frontcourts in the country. Stony Brook doesn’t have one of the best frontcourt groups necessarily, but does have one of the very best frontcourt players. Double-double machine Jameel Warney outplayed the Commodores’ frontline, finishing with 22 points and 10 rebounds, but Wade Baldwin helped save Vandy with 21 points off the bench in a 79-72 overtime win. Outstanding game, this is a quality win for Vanderbilt and should also give the Seawolves confidence going forward this year.
- If Indiana is indeed for real, we’ll be able to look back and see we received our first true indication last night, when the Hoosiers easily handled Creighton 86-65. The Bluejays had played well in winning their first two games but never really were in this one. Thomas Bryant provided exactly what IU needs-17 points, seven rebounds and playing a part in a 43-32 rebounding advantage.
- Arizona pulled away late for a quality home win, defeating Boise State 88-76. Gabe York scored a career-high 23 for the Wildcats, who shot 54.2% and posted a 38-3 advantage in bench points.
- More out west: UCLA got off to a strong start against a good Pepperdine team and made it hold up with an 81-67 win, holding Waves star Stacy Davis to 4 of 14 shooting and eight points. SMU was very impressive in an 85-70 win over Stanford, shooting 55.7% and displaying balance with seven players with at least seven points.
- Iowa winning over Marquette, even in Milwaukee, is not a surprise. The Hawkeyes completely blowing out the Golden Eagles 89-61 is a major jolt. Looks like there isn’t much drop-off from last year’s Iowa team, while a very young Marquette team-even with a McDonald’s All-American in Henry Ellenson-has a lot of work to do.
- George Washington backed up its win over Virginia with a road victory, holding off South Florida 73-67.
- LSU is now 3-0 after a 78-66 win over South Alabama. Ben Simmons continues to put up the numbers-23 points, 16 rebounds.
- South Dakota State moved to 3-0 with an impressive 83-67 win at Illinois State. All five starters scored in double figures for the Jackrabbits, who led nearly from start to finish and also out-boarded the Redbirds 48-36.
- Remember the overreactions after St. John’s was blown out by St. Thomas Aquinas in an exhibition game? The Red Storm is now 3-0 after a 61-59 win over Rutgers. The schedule hasn’t been anything remotely close to difficult, but we’re already seeing that exhibition score was an aberration.
- Also moving to 3-0: Oregon State (a 77-69 road winner at Rice), Yale (79-67 winners at Lehigh), Massachusetts (89-62 over Central Arkansas) and Mercer, where Bob Hoffman just keeps winning despite a ton of player losses over the last two years. The Bears did what Virginia Tech couldn’t, easily handling Alabama State 70-49.
- Off the court: good and bad news for New Mexico forward Devon Williams. The good news is Williams has been diagnosed with spinal stenosis but should be able to live a completely normal life after his hard collision in a game Sunday night. The bad news is his college career is over, and upon doctor’s recommendation he will not play again for the Lobos. Obviously the good news trumps the bad here after the scary fall he had a few nights ago.
- Play continues in the Puerto Rico Tip-Off and Charleston Classic. Semifinal action in Puerto Rico includes two really good semifinals with Temple against Butler plus Utah against Miami (Fla.). Charleston really is Virginia’s tourney to lose, though the Cavaliers will get a challenge from Long Beach State while the first semi has George Mason against Oklahoma State.
- The Paradise Jam opens on the beautiful island of St. Thomas in the Virgin Islands, and event has a couple interesting teams and games. Hofstra against Florida State in particular should be a good one, with the Flying Dutchmen, er, Pride’s backcourt against the Seminoles’ size, while Tulsa opens against Ohio University.
- The 2K Classic is another in the generic crop of four-team hybrid exempt tourneys, but the semifinals here should be quality. Georgetown tries to avoid a 0-3 start against Wisconsin (5 p.m., ESPN), while Duke faces a tricky game against VCU (7:30 p.m.) and can’t wallow after the loss to Kentucky.
- The best non-tournament game of the night has Xavier at Michigan. The Musketeers haven’t been overly impressive in wins over Miami (Ohio) and Missouri, but the same could be said of the Wolverines’ win over Elon, so this will be revealing for both teams.
- East Tennessee State is at Villanova in a game that could give the Wildcats some problems, and also will show us where the Buccaneers are in the first season under Steve Forbes.
- Georgia already has one loss at home to a regional power in the South, and the Bulldogs will be pushed again on Friday when they host Murray State.
- Action on the west coast is light, but 3-0 Savannah State goes to Oregon, which is fresh off a win over Baylor Monday night.
Enjoy your Friday.