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Scanning the Nation Notebook for Nov. 30 – On Maryland, St. Mary’s, Xavier, UC Santa Barbara & more

November 30, 2017 Columns No Comments

Notes from around college basketball as we close out November and enter the season’s quiet stretch in December…

Maryland is clearly still a team trying to find itself without Melo Trimble. Most specifically, the Terrapins are turning the ball over at an all-too prodigious rate, averaging 17.3 per game (yikes). Zones in particular have left the Terps baffled; they committed 20 turnovers in a loss to a shorthanded St. Bonaventure in the Emerald Coast Classic that switched between multiple defenses all night, and 18 more against Syracuse’s matchup zone. Justin Jackson has also had shooting/scoring struggles that have become well-documented, but Maryland still should be better than most in the Big Ten if it just cleans up the miscues. Until they do, though, the Turtles probably can expect more and more zones this season.

  • St. Bonaventure, though, is starting to find out a lot about its team even as star guard Jaylen Adams continues to be out with an ankle injury. The Bonnies got a big-time step-up performance from Courtney Stockard in coming back to beat Maryland, with the 6-5 junior scoring 14 points off the bench, including taking and making the game-winner after Matt Mobley-the second in the Bonnies’ high-powered backcourt-fouled out. In the Emerald Coast final, it was freshman Izaiah Brockington scoring 20 points off the bench and Stockard adding 16 more in a competitive 89-79 loss to unbeaten TCU, and then LaDarien Griffin scored 18 and added 11 boards to support Mobley (22 points) in a surprisingly easy 75-55 win over rival Siena on Wednesday to keep the Franciscan Cup. St. Bonaventure still can get better inside-Josh Ayeni has been up and down, and Amadi Ikpeze has the tools to be one of the next Bonnies player-development success stories-but if Adams gets back and the talent meshes, this looks to us like at least a top-3 team in the Atlantic 10.
  • Saint Mary’s finally got into an exempted tournament but had an underwhelming-to-disastrous trip to the Wooden Legacy. It’s probably a good time to reflect on just how high the expectations were for the Gaels coming into the season, and how this should remind many that returning most of a team-even if they were an efficiency darling-doesn’t mean everything will roll along smoothly the next year. Specifically, it sure looks like SMC is missing Joe Rahon and Dane Pineau more than most suspected. Jock Landale may have been the best player, but Rahon was the most valuable on last year’s Gaels, a first team all-West Coast Conference selection but also the league’s defensive player of the year. Rahon was outstanding defending the perimeter and helping out inside, and also gave the team an extra ballhandler in the backcourt, something Saint Mary’s sorely missed in its eventual NCAA Tournament win over VCU when he went to the bench early in the second half with four fouls and the Rams quickly whittled away a 16-point lead. Pineau also provided the team depth on the interior, and without both the Gaels have suddenly become very, very mediocre defensively, especially inside, even as they still are excelling on the offensive end.
  • A lot is being made of the Big Ten taking a flogging from the Atlantic Coast Conference in those leagues’ made-for-TV challenge event, and that it will affect the league negatively in March. We’re not buying it. Seeds may be hurt some by the league’s overall performance-that would hardly be unprecedented, as clearly the selection committee was (correctly, we’d say) not impressed by the league’s regular season work last year and seeded many of its teams accordingly. It’s hard for us to believe that the committee is going to take anything more out of a small subset of games than acknowledging them as just that-a small subset of games. If anything, there will be more ‘extra credit’ given for playing them than for losing them. At the end of the day, the Big Ten is still the Big Ten, and we’d be shocked if any less than five teams from the league were in the NCAA Tournament.
  • In a similar vein, don’t underestimate the impact of NCAA Tournament selection committee members being on hand at the Phil Knight Invitational last weekend. The committee regularly likes to invoke the eye test to support their picks and seeds, which could certainly give a boost to teams like Florida or Texas, if their resumes somehow are lacking some later in the season.
  • Or maybe Portland State? That’s doubtful (the NCAA selection committee eye test rarely applies to teams that aren’t on national television at least 15 times a year), but the Vikings definitely caught some eyes with their play at the Nike event, and they should have after leading Duke into the second half, falling by two against Butler and then coming back to defeat Stanford. Talk about a team always on the attack: PSU looked a lot like Nolan Richardson’s old Arkansas teams or Mike Anderson’s squads at UAB, relentlessly defending about every inch of the court. It’s a team that also can play multiple ways, with size inside (including 7-foot-1 Gonzaga transfer Ryan Edwards), slashing guards and enough three-point shooting ability to be hitting at 40% from behind the arc early this season. Coach Barret Peery also has developed depth on a team where it was a question mark coming into the season, and the Vikings certainly should be a factor in the Big Sky.
  • Xavier is shooting 55% from the field through its first seven games. That’s just incredible. Even if the Musketeers don’t keep it up (they shot a more mediocre 44.6% in their win Tuesday over Baylor), they have the looks early of a top-15 team and a surprisingly powerful offense, with nine players averaging at least 5.4 ppg early.
  • Evansville was off to a very nice 5-0 start to the season, but the Purple Aces’ year might be getting derailed by a key injury. Ryan Taylor was averaging over 22 points per game and the Aces were 5-0 after a surprising win over Fresno State in the Cancun Challenge, but he was injured in the game against the Bulldogs and was later diagnosed as a stress fracture that will keep him out for more than a month. Taylor played on the foot in the Cancun final, where Evansville lost to Louisiana Tech on a buzzer-beating three-pointer, and in their first game without him the Aces lost handily at New Mexico. Before his injury, Marty Simmons had his team controlling tempo superbly with a slow pace, good team defense and clinical motion offense, but roles are going to change. Though at least the schedule is manageable…until a Dec. 20 trip to Duke.
  • We’ve tried to give them a chance, but after a couple weeks of hoops our impression of ESPN new college basketball graphics are pretty much the same as when we first saw them: they look amateur and clumsy. From the whimsical font to the awkward abbreviations some schools are given (Portland State as ‘PRST’ instead of PSU?), it just feels like another way the network is trying to tell us it really doesn’t take the sport seriously anymore. Surely there had to be a hundred classier graphic packages than this?
  • By the way: when will TV decision makers figure out that waiting until the game has started to tell us who is starting the game (and now merely doing so with a mug shot and last name) does a lousy job of setting the stage and drawing viewers into a contest? It shouldn’t be that much to ask that a network give the starting lineups with players’ full names, jersey numbers, position and height. It would help the viewer learn more about the teams before the game, and it’s simply good practice for identification. If they can’t find time for the 30 seconds this takes, then they need to start their broadcast earlier.
  • You think BYU was motivated to play Utah Valley on Wednesday? The Cougars lost to the Wolverines last year at home in Provo, and this year had to make the trip to play on the road in front of the first sellout crowd in UVU history…and then proceeded to blow out Utah Valley 85-58. BYU’s usually potent offense has actually been rather pedestrian early on, but the Cougars shot 53.6% and also got a list from McKay Cannon, a Weber State transfer who was cleared by the NCAA just before the game and had eight points and six assists.
  • Tennessee Tech is 7-1, and probably as under-the-radar as any 7-1 team has been in some time. The Golden Eagles took care of a good Lipscomb team at home and also have a win at New Mexico, and have five players scoring in double figures for a team that is light years better offensively (51.7% FG, 40.4% from 3-point range) than last year’s 12-20 squad that couldn’t shoot straight-just 42.1% from the floor and 32.4% from three. Add Tech to the list of contenders in the Ohio Valley that most notably includes Belmont, Jacksonville State and Murray State. We should’ve seen the success coming, though: the Golden Eagles have alternated winning and losing seasons every year under seventh-year coach Steve Payne, meaning they were due for a winner in 2017-18.
  • If there was one team coming into the season that had the look of being ready for a major turnaround, it was UC Santa Barbara, and don’t look now but the Gauchos are 5-2 and just one win from equaling their entire 2016-17 season total after winning at San Francisco on Tuesday. UCSB’s talent was never as bad as last year’s 6-22 mark indicated, and that’s been shown with Max Heidegger turning into an unabashed-but-efficient scoring machine (24.1 ppg), plus Jalen Canty and Gabe Vincent also scoring in double figures. Transfers Leland King (Nevada) and Marcus Jackson (Rice) have also had big impacts, including King averaging nearly a double-double (18.1 ppg, 9.3 rpg). Credit new coach Joe Pasternack for providing a jolt to the program, and don’t be surprised if the Gauchos are right in the thick of the Big West race.

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