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Scanning the Nation Notebook – Dec. 14, 2016

December 14, 2016 Columns No Comments

George Mason guard Marquise Moore has been nothing short of spectacular this year and should be playing himself into not just serious contention for Atlantic 10 player of the year honors, but possible national recognition as well. Moore is averaging 17.9 points and 10.6 rebounds per game-as a 6-foot-2 guard. Add in his 3.6 assists per game, his 51.7% field goal percentage and the Patriots’ current eight-game winning streak, and this is a player who deserves to be noticed on the national scene as one of the best players in the country and one of the most unique. Oh, and Moore also hasn’t made a single three-pointer all season yet (in five attempts). Mason has made a serious turnaround after an ugly 1-3 start to the season, and is a team to be watched in the scuffling A-10, where there certainly appears to be room for upward mobility. (Note: we see Sports Illustrated’s Seth Davis indeed is onto Moore with a note on him in his mailbag today…good start.)

Syracuse facing Boston University on Saturday (and getting a battle from the Terriers for about a half before the Cuse’s red-hot shooting and depth prevailed) felt right. Two regional opponents playing on an early Saturday afternoon, even when one of them is a considerable underdog, still felt more like a natural matchup than Syracuse playing Florida State or Georgia Tech ever could. College sports are always regional sports first, no matter how much the TV networks try to influence otherwise.

-Add in LIU’s game against St. John’s as another right down that line. We loved seeing these two historic New York City area schools play, and the Blackbirds earned a nice 74-73 win by being the better team inside. Jerome Frink (20 points, 12 rebounds) and Nura Zanna (13 points, 11 rebounds) outplayed the Johnnies’ frontcourt, and as competitive as Frink and Zanna are, it’ll be no surprise if LIU finishes in the top four in the Northeast Conference even while veteran guard Joel Hernandez is out for the year after a season-ending thumb dislocation in the team’s opener this year.

Princeton has had plenty of shots for big wins, but the Tigers have swung and missed every time so far. The Tigers scheduled aggressively, a wise strategy this year with a team that brought back five starters and had another returning from injury, but the most we’ve seen so far is that Princeton can play with anyone but hasn’t shown yet that it’s capable of beating anyone. The Tigers were very close in losses to VCU and California over the last two weeks-much closer than the final scores indicated-but are missing the again-injured Hans Brase and simply need to shoot better, with field goal percentages and especially free-throw shooting down from a year ago.

-Fox Sports 1 showed the pregame starting lineup introductions before the first game of the Pearl Harbor Invitational last week. Here’s wishing more networks would do this before games, the way the networks used to back in the 80s when we first grew up watching the sport. It’s nice to get a look at all the players before the game, with emphasis on before. It also allows the announcers more time to set the stage of the game and the players we’ll be watching. We do know one thing: the networks that don’t even list starting lineups until informing us who is ‘on the floor’ a minute or two into the game are failing at informing the viewer.

-There have been some games with hideous free throw shooting this year. Seton Hall and California seemed to be in a competition to see who could miss more from the line (SHU at 9-for-20 won over Cal’s 8-for-18, and the Pirates also won the game 60-57). Will just never understand it, how Division I college basketball players-presumably the best of the best-can even throughout a single team struggle to shoot a wide-open, straight on, 15-foot shot.

-Speaking of free-throw shooting: how far could Old Dominion go if the Monarchs could just hit foul shots? ODU is shooting 58.8% from the line, which comes in tied for 342nd of 347 teams in the NCAA statistics right now (tied with Kansas, ironically, which obviously has a little more margin for error than ODU or anyone else). The Monarchs can directly trace losses to Louisville and VCU to their foul foul shooting, and in all the team is shooting 48.4% in its four losses.

-One team not struggling at the line is Wake Forest, which is shooting 77.0% from the stripe and is off to an 8-2 start. John Collins has picked up his play as a sophomore for the Demon Deacons, averaging a big double-double (18.0 ppg, 10.7 rpg), and this is a team not to be dismissed quickly in the ACC. Like so many teams early in the season, it’s hard to totally gauge where Wake is at relative to the top of its conference (a win at Richmond and comfortable victories over Bucknell and UNC Charlotte are the best Ws, while a sizable loss to Villanova and a narrow loss at Northwestern don’t provide a ton of perpective yet, either) but there’s enough there (four averaging double figures in scoring, ample three-point threats, Collins and Bryant Crawford developing into leaders on the team) that this is a team to keep an eye on.

-One more note from the Pearl Harbor Invitational: having 97-year old World War II veteran Peter DuPre playing the national anthem on harmonica on the 75th anniversary of the attack on Pearl Harbor was a wonderful, stirring touch, another reason why this is a terrific event. Combined with an outstanding Army/Navy football game this past weekend, it was nice to see a week with so much respect and honor for the military.

-As many comments and potshots as we see about the “flaws” of the RPI, it was noticeable the deafening silence last week when the #10 team (Saint Mary’s) in a prominent preferred statistical ranking was defeated at home by the #73 team (Texas-Arlington) in it, especially given that the RPI had UTA considerably higher at the time. Did this game show how “flawed” that preferred statistical formula was? Of course not, but based on the regular whining on social media and in some college basketball media about the RPI (which, unlike most formulas, is not meant to be predictive, but an evaluative tool at the end of the year), it’s absolutely fair to note the silliness of the continued piling onto the RPI and the lack of consistency in these arguments. If media-especially some of the most noted media in the sport-are going to constantly devote so much time to complaining about the RPI, it’d be best for their credibility if they be sure their criticisms are reasoned, and don’t just come off like the ragings of a diehard fan who doesn’t like a ranking merely because their team isn’t at the top of it.

-We see that the lists of most improved players are coming out, but we’d humbly opine: any list that does not include Devontae Cacok of UNC Wilmington or Shavar Newkirk of Saint Joseph’s is not casting its net wide enough. Cacok has gone from a lightly used reserve to a regular double-double threat for the Seahawks, who are off to an 8-1 start. Newkirk has slipped seamlessly into a role as a scorer for the Hawks, averaging 21.1 points per game and shooting a shade under 50% from the backcourt.

-The unofficial Damion Lee Award for best player on a bad team-in honor of Lee’s starring as a junior at Drexel on a team that couldn’t buy a break-at this point would unquestionably go to Dallas Moore of North Florida. Moore is averaging 22.7 points for the Ospreys and has lit up Arkansas (34 points), Florida (31), Syracuse (30) and Wright State (29), among others, yet his team is just 3-9 and has just one win over an NCAA Division I opponent. UNF made the NCAA Tournament two years ago and the NIT last year, but has faced a tough schedule and is no longer the three-point sniping outfit it was the last two years, with Moore the only consistent threat so far this year from deep.

-There’s something endearing about freshmen who may not be nationally touted recruits but are so fearless that they force their way into us talking about them. In that regard, Quinnipiac guards Mikey Dixon and Peter Kiss are two of the more fun players we’ve watched so far this year. Dixon, a skinny 6-foot-2 guard, leads the Bobcats in scoring and is second in assists, and he was clutch in the final minutes of his team’s win over Indiana State in the AdvoCare Invitational. Kiss-a 6-5 guard-is averaging 11.7 points per game as a freshman. Kiss also does it colorfully, unafraid to let his opponents know it when he’s made a shot. All one needs to know about the confidence level of these frost is that they are first and third on the team in shot attempts despite neither starting a game and their ranking fourth and fifth on the squad in minutes played.

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