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Scanning the Nation: Notes from opening weekend

November 14, 2016 Columns No Comments

A lot happened on Friday night. Not so much on Saturday, and a little more on Sunday. The season is still very, very young, but here are some quick hit notes looking around the country on the first weekend of the college basketball:

  • We mused before the season about whether Saint Mary’s could get any better offensively after being so, so good there last year. It was only one game, but one player who certainly looks like he may have is Jock Landale, who scored 33 points in the Gaels’ convincing 81-63 win over Nevada. Landale is part of an underrated SMC frontcourt that has size and skill, if not heaping servings of athleticism, and if he, Evan Fitzner and Dane Pineau can find more consistency then the Gaels are just that much more dangerous.
  • Albany’s 87-81 win over Penn State reminds us once again that Will Brown is one of the best coaches in the country that doesn’t get credited as such. The Great Danes lost their starting backcourt from a year ago yet still knocked off a team that some have tabbed as a sleeper in the Big Ten. Brown is terrific at finding players and then turning them into a quality team. As long as he is there, Albany is going to be a yearly contender in the America East.
  • Sean Miller‘s coaching reputation will only grow after he led his shorthanded Arizona team to a 65-63 win over Michigan State in its opener. Miller is showing a quality that the best coaches have: the ability to almost will their teams to wins under difficult circumstances. He did much the same last year in a comeback win over Gonzaga, a game where Arizona looked dead to rights in the first half. That was one of the most impressive, improbable comebacks in a game we saw last year, and this will likely rank as one of the more unforeseen results of the first month of the year, even acknowledging that MSU also is a young team nowhere near a finished product.
  • Alabama got off to a good start, toppling Coastal Carolina 70-53 in a tricky opener by holding the Chanticleers to five points over the last seven minutes to pull away. The Crimson Tide was out-rebounded but hit 10 three-pointers and locked down defensively, allowing CCU just 27.4% shooting.
  • It got little note, but Wright State’s 85-81 road win at Southern Illinois was a quietly very impressive debut for Raiders coach Scott Nagy. The former South Dakota State head man didn’t inherit a whole lot when he came to WSU, but in his first game the Raiders knocked off an SIU team that won 22 games a year ago and should be in at least the middle of the MVC this year.
  • Another new coach getting off to a good start: Ray Harper at Jacksonville State. The former Western Kentucky head man’s Gamecocks topped Tulsa 84-73 on Friday. Regardless of how many players the Golden Hurricane lost from their NCAA tourney team of last year-for the record, it was nine seniors-that is an impressive win for JSU, which won just eight games all of last year.
  • Boston College lost at home to Nicholls State 79-73 in its opener. What a great win for the Colonels, who went 11-23 last year. Also, file this away for if/when an ACC team loses to the Eagles this year yet doesn’t get docked nearly as badly in perception as, say, a team like Monmouth did last year for its supposedly inexcusable losses.
  • Creighton is one of the chic darkhorses entering the season with a backcourt expected to be among the nation’s best. It’s tantalizing to imagine just what the possibilities are for the Bluejays if they get quality frontcourt play from someone…like 7-footer Justin Patton? The athletic, thin freshman big man scored 12 points and grabbed eight boards against Missouri-Kansas City while displaying his ability to run the floor, including a resounding dunk on the break.
  • Tennessee takes on the presumed top two  Southern Conference teams this year, having already played Tennessee-Chattanooga at home and also going to East Tennessee State this year. The Volunteers already lost convincingly at UTC 83-69 on Friday, and very well could do the same at ETSU, which blew out Fordham 96-59 in its opener. Who was on the phone first to UT to tell it to never schedule like this again-the TV networks, or SEC executives? We appreciate the Volunteers playing teams like this and wish more had such guts, but it doesn’t help the Big Football leagues keep their reputations of superiority. Which is precisely why they happen so infrequently.
  • Yale‘s 98-90 win at Washington is registering as one of the most surprising from the opening weekend, and we might’ve been too but wanted to check one statistic from the game first. Sure enough, the Elis out-rebounded the Huskies 42-29. That shouldn’t be a surprise-Yale also was a terrific rebounding team last year and won the battle on the glass in its NCAA tourney win over Baylor in March. For a team with mediocre size to rebound that well consistently and even against noted glass eaters like the Bears last year, that is a testament to coaching and team emphasis and can keep a team in a lot of games.
  • Finally: for those thinking Wichita State was going to suffer a significant fall-off without Ron Baker and Fred VanVleet, they might want to think again after Sunday. The Shockers ran away from Long Beach State 92-55, using a backbreaking 29-2 second-half run to turn a close game against a solid team into a rout.

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