Devils Love the Fire

 

Bagley Florida

(Jaime Valdez – USA TODAY Sports)

 

This weekend, the Duke Blue Devils won the Motion bracket of the PK80 invitational. What’s interesting is how they won.

Duke was down by at least seven in each of the wins, including being down 17 with 10 minutes remaining in their 87-84 championship win over Florida. It was an impressive show of resilience from a pretty young team.

That young team (more on that below) may now firmly be the favorites for the national title after beating Florida and Michigan St in the first month of the season.

National Player of the Week: Marvin Bagley, III, Duke.

Bagley was dominant in Portland last week as he averaged 27.3 points and 15 rebounds per game to spur Duke to the title. He has shown early on that the hype around him is legit and that he is a legitimate National Player of the Year Candidate.

Stock Up: Washington St. How about the Cougars? Washington State won the Wooden Legacy tournament in Southern California – beating 3 teams that many believe are bubble teams at the very least. This is a huge development for the Pac-12 and that program that hasn’t been the same since Tony Bennett left for Virginia.

Stock Down: Arizona. Wow. If there was any team that the FBI investigation appears its taken its toll on its the Arizona Wildcats. They lost all three game in the Battle of Atlantis and weren’t competitive in the their 89-64 lost to Purdue. It’s an embarrassing performance for a program under the microscope.

Stock Up: Division I basketball in the state of Nevada. Both Nevada and UNLV are undefeated and have looked impressive doing so. The UNLV Runnin’ Rebels  destroyed Utah by 25 on Thanksgiving in a clear sign that head coach Marvin Menzies has it turned it around. Meanwhile Nevada has already beaten Rhode Island and Davidson. It looks like those two could be making the Mountain West at least a two-bid league.

Stock Down: Trying to win a game with three players. It’s almost impossible, but Alabama came close. After a scuffle when it’s reserves left the bench, a foul out and an injury, the Crimson Tide was forced to finish its game against Minnesota with just three players. The crazy thing is that after all that happened, Alabama actually cut into the lead. Still not recommended.

This Week’s Top 25:

1.       Duke

2.       Kansas

3.       Michigan St

4.       Villanova

5.       Miami

6.       Texas A&M

7.       Florida

8.       Minnesota

9.       Notre Dame

10.   Virginia

11.   Wichita St

12.   USC

13.   Gonzaga

14.   Kentucky

15.   Cincinnati

16.   North Carolina

17.   Rhode Island

18.   Seton Hall

19.   Xavier

20.   West Virginia

21.   Louisville

22.   Alabama

23.   Baylor

24.   TCU

25.   Arizona St

 

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One-hit Wonders?

 

Chris Collins

(Matt Marton-USA TODAY Sports )

It’s possible that no team in America had a worse week than the Northwestern Wildcats. The Wildcats went 1-2 on the week, but it’s the losses that should be concerning.

 

Northwestern lost at home to Creighton-giving up 92 points to a team many expected to be the fourth or fifth best team in the Big East. Then came the 36-point loss to Texas Tech on a neutral court.

Questions now abound about whether or not the Wildcats first trip to the NCAA tournament last season was a fluke. Those questions are probably premature though as this all happened in the first month of the season.

There is still plenty of time for Northwestern to recover and with road games at Georgia Tech, Purdue, DePaul and Oklahoma before January – time to stock up quality wins. However, if they don’t, this week will be the one the nation points to as the first signs of chinks in the purple armor.

National Player of the Week: Jordan Murphy, Minnesota.

Murphy is averaging 24.8 points and 12.8 rebounds per game this season. In a huge road win at Providence, he scored 23 and ripped down 14 boards as the Gophers won going away. If he continues to put up these kinds of numbers then Minnesota could be a threat to Michigan St in the Big Ten this season.

 

This Week’s Top 25:

1.       Duke

2.       Arizona

3.       Kansas

4.       Michigan St

5.       Miami

6.       Wichita St

7.       Seton Hall

8.       USC

9.       Florida

10.   Villanova

11.   Minnesota

12.   Texas A&M

13.   Purdue

14.   Xavier

15.   Notre Dame

16.   Kentucky

17.   Cincinnati

18.   West Virginia

19.   Louisville

20.   Saint Mary’s

21.   Rhode Island

22.   UCLA

23.   North Carolina

24.   Alabama

25. Creighton

 

North Carolina A&T Building for the Future

Last season North Carolina A&T (A&T) finished with just three wins. With three wins already in the first week of the season, the Aggies are thinking about building something bigger.

“Everybody, so for, has bought into the team concept and not just ‘I,'” A&T head coach Jay Joyner told me after the Aggies 90-82 win over the Jacksonville Dolphins on Saturday. “We’re just going to try to keep this thing going.”

After graduating six players off of the 2016-2017 club, A&T head coach Jay Joyner says that he has a brand new club.

“Anytime you graduate that many seniors you have to revamp your roster,” Joyner said.

The revamp started with infusing new talent into the program. That talent is led by junior forward Femi Olujobi. Through four games, the transfer from Oakland University is averaging 30 points and 10.3 rebounds per game. He is producing at a high level and opponents are taking notice.

“He’s a great player. I have to give him his props,” Jacksonville senior guard Devin Harris said. “He shot great from the field so anybody who shoots great like that I have to give them their props any day of the week.”

Another newcomer that’s been vital to the Aggies’ success is freshman point guard Kameron Langley. The young floor general is averaging over 5.5 assists per game and made several key plays down the stretch in the win over Jacksonville. He’s a player Joyner worked hard to get and is happy to have.

“I recruited Kam Langley almost like I recruited my wife way-back-when,” Joyner joked. “He really has the chance to be that good. He’s not playing like a freshman. He’s just playing basketball.”

Perhaps the most critical adjustment Joyner had to make was to himself. After his first full season as the head coach, he said he had to do some soul searching to figure out his approach to leading young men.

“I sensed there was a disconnect last year,” Joyner said. “The staff and I spent a lot of time just talking to the players and really getting to know them outside of basketball.”

That extra effort will continue to be tested as the Aggies still have games at East Carolina, Georgetown and Virginia Tech before conference play starts. Despite those impending challenges, the Aggies seem much more prepared to deal with them.

“We’re just focusing on tomorrow,” said Joyner. “If you do that you don’t want to get too high or too low. We’re really trying to keep this team steady.”

Patrick Ewing Has Georgetown Off to 3-0 Start

 

Patrick Ewing

(AP Photo/Nick Wass)

Georgetown head coach Patrick Ewing’s long offseason of answering questions about his readiness and aptitude for the position has finally ended as he has completed his first week of actual games with a 3-0 record.

 

Those questions, for now, have been silenced as the product Ewing has placed on the court has fans with a positive outlook for the future of the program.

The Hoyas have outscored their first three opponents by an average of 24 points per game and are getting contributions from players they never have before. One of those players is junior guard Kaleb Johnson, who told reporters after the Hoyas’ 83-57 win over UMES on Nov. 18, that he feels more confident playing under Ewing.

“I’ve been working on my three all summer and then the confidence; I think the confidence from [Ewing] is a big thing,” Johnson said.

Ewing has also gotten the requisite production out of junior center Jessie Govan. Govan is averaging 21 points and 14.3 rebounds per game this season. It’s the kind of performance Ewing said that he needed to give for Georgetown to be successful.

“Jessie is one of the keys to our success. If he does not step up and have a great year for us, we won’t be successful,” Ewing told reporters during Georgetown’s media day. “I’ve put a lot on his shoulders. I’ve put a lot on his plate.”

Despite the good start, there are still questions surrounding Ewing and his program. There is still skepticism on just how good this team is as Ewing deliberately built a schedule that would ensure Georgetown won a lot of games during the non-conference portion of the season.

Hoya fans were particularly disappointed that Ewing pulled the Hoyas out of the PK80 invitational, two separate eight-team tournaments to be played in Portland, Ore. by Nike-sponsored schools. The Hoyas first game in that tournament was scheduled to be against Michigan St.

Georgetown won’t play a power conference school until it plays Syracuse on Dec. 16. By contrast, UMES will have played four games versus such schools by that date. According to KenPom, a popular college basketball predictive and analytic tool, it is predicted to be the second-worst non-conference schedule of a power conference team since 2002.

Despite that, there is still more optimism for the program than last. There is a new style of play now that Ewing has brought that’s more modern and faster-paced offense as opposed to previous head coach John Thompson III’s Princeton-style.

He’s also gotten off to a good start on the recruiting trail as Georgetown has signed letters of intent from three prospects. The first is Grayson Carter, an ESPN four-star power forward from Denton, Tex. The next is YouTube sensation Mac McClung. McClung is a three-star point guard from Gate City, Va. The jewel of the class is top-100 forward Josh Leblanc out of Baton Rouge, La.

The Hoyas will take a quick break so that the players can celebrate Thanksgiving with their families, but will face what may be their toughest test to date. They head a few hours south on Nov. 25 to face the Richmond Spiders.

 

Aggies Take Europe

wv-tamu

On the opening weekend of the season, there was no team more impressive than Texas A&M. After a slow start, Texas A&M walked West Virginia down and won going away 88-65 over a team expected to challenge Kansas for the Big XII crown.

Making the victory more impressive is the fact that the Aggies played without sophomore forward Robert Williams and redshirt freshman J.J. Caldwell. It showed the depth that they have and that they may be a real threat to win the SEC this season.

However before they get there, Texas A&M has road games at USC and Arizona and play in the Legends Classic in Brooklyn against Oklahoma St and either Pitt/Penn St. We’re definitely going to find out a lot about the Aggies in November and December.

National Player of the Week: Allonzo Trier, Arizona.

Trier was dominant in two games this weekend averaging 31 points in blowout wins over UMBC and Utah Valley. The first-team All-America candidate is living up to the hype so far.

This Week’s Top 25:

1.       Arizona

2.       Michigan St

3.       Duke

4.       Kansas

5.       Miami

6.       Wichita St

7.       Seton Hall

8.       USC

9.       Florida

10.   Villanova

11.   Minnesota

12.   Texas A&M

13.   Purdue

14.   Kentucky

15.   Xavier

16.   Notre Dame

17.   Cincinnati

18.   West Virginia

19.   Louisville

20.   Saint Mary’s

21.   Rhode Island

22.   UCLA

23.   North Carolina

24.   Northwestern

25. Alabama

 

Zach Johnson and Brandon Goodwin Lead FGCU to 98-87 win

Florida Gulf Coast (FGCU) senior guards Brandon Goodwin and Zach Johnson proved why they are all-conference selections in game one as they combined for 48 points in a 98-87 win over Illinois St.

“Those two guards are so good and they just keep attacking,” Illinois St head coach Dan Muller said after the game. “I said it before the game; I don’t know if we’ll see a better backcourt than those two the entire year.”

Illinois St, which only allowed opponents to score 61 points per game on 38 percent shooting last season, gave on 98 points in an effort that Muller called embarrassing.

“I’m pretty shocked by what we looked liked defensively,” Muller said. “It’s a lot of things we need to fix.”

It was a back-and-forth first half with neither team leading by more than six points. That margin was held by the Redbirds at 25-19, with 10:19 remaining in the half, after they completed an 11-2 run. That was promptly followed by an 11-0 run by the Eagles put them up 30-25. The two teams would go back-and-forth with the Eagles taking a 45-42 lead into halftime

The second half started in a similar fashion with the two teams trading baskets for the first six minutes. After Illinois St took a 56-54 lead on sophomore guard Madison Williams’ three-pointer with 14:32 remaining, FGCU went on a 21-9 run to grab a 75-65 lead with 9:36 remaining. However, Illinois St refused to go away.

The Redbirds methodically clawed their way back into the game thanks to 57 percent shooting from behind the arc in the second half. They were even able to cut the lead until one at 83-82 with 4:33 remaining.

That was as close as they would get as FGCU senior guard Christian Terrell hit a three to put FGCU up 86-82 on the next possession to create a comfortable working margin.

Johnson’s 27 led the Eagles in scoring while Goodwin pitched in 21 and tied with Terrell and sophomore guard Christian Carlyle with 8 rebounds.

Junior guard Keyshawn Evans led the Redbirds with 28 points while junior forward Phil Fayne scored 24. Junior forward Milik Yarbrough had a team-high 8 rebounds.

FGCU returns to the court on Monday with a road game at Siena while Illinois St will play South Carolina in the first round of the Puerto Rico Tip-Off, which was moved to Conway, S.C. due to Hurricane Maria.

Banged-up UCF Pulls away from Mercer in 88-79 win

Neither Mercer nor the injury bug could stop UCF on Friday night as the Knights used a big second half to pull away from the Bears in a 88-79 win at CFE Arena.

Redshirt junior guard Aubrey Dawkins announced last week that he would be missing the season. Then starting junior center Tacko Fall was ruled out before the game. To compound things, all-conference candidate, junior guard B.J. Taylor injured his foot during the second half.

UCF head coach Johnny Dawkins said that Fall has a hip injury and should be back soon. Taylor’s injury is unknown, but coach Dawkins says that they’ll have more information after Taylor sees a doctor on Saturday.

In the absence of Dawkins, Fall and Taylor, Senior forward A.J. Davis, junior guard Dayon Griffin and freshman guard Ceasar DeJesus stepped up. Davis pulled down 15 boards, while DeJesus and Griffin both tied for the team-high 16 points.

It is UCF’s newfound depth that helped cover for the loss of three key players.

“It felt good to see so many different guys do so many different things,” said Davis. “A lot of times we had to rely on just our same guys.

“To be able to even rest for a little bit; that felt great,” he continued.

UCF struggled to guard Mercer from the very start. The Bears shot 50 percent in the first half, including 44.4 percent from behind the arc. Mercer senior guard Ria’n Holland scored 21 of his 31 points in the first half to help Mercer take a 47-46 lead into halftime.

The second half was a much different story. After Mercer tied the game at 50 with 17:47 left to go, UCF proceeded to go on a 12-0 run over the next 4:47 to take a lead Mercer never recovered from.

Much of that turnaround had to do with a renewed focus on the defensive end. Mercer only shot 29.4 percent in the second half as UCF locked-in and was able to hold Mercer scoreless for minutes at a time.

“I think defensively in the first half we played with some jitters. I don’t think we played as well as I know we’re capable of,” coach Dawkins said. “I thought we turned that around in the second half.”

UCF next takes the floor in a home tilt against Gardner-Webb on Nov. 15. Mercer returns to action on Sunday against Toccoa Falls.

Welcome to the 2017-2018 season

seanmiller1

Finally, we can stop talking about FBI investigations, suspensions and shoplifting in China and move on to basketball.

Well, maybe not, but at least there are games tonight. This FBI investigation is going to hover over the season in a major way because Arizona and USC (more on these two below) have Final Four aspirations while Auburn had visions of making a trip to the Big Dance this season. None of those things may happen now and if they don’t, there will always be a what-if attached to this season.

There are some key on-the-court storylines as well:

For the second season in a row Duke has the highest ceiling in college basketball. If everything comes together for the Blue Devils, they have the chance to be really special. However, they have an emotional senior captain in Grayson Allen, a point guard that can’t shoot in Trevon Duval, sophomores that didn’t show well last season and a potential No. 1 pick, Marvin Bagley III, that was dropped in the mix at the end of the summer.

I believe there may be significant issues with the eligibility of certain players at Arizona and USC. However, there have been no announcements in regard to particular players at this point. As result you’ll see Arizona listed as the No. 1 team in the country and USC as the No. 8.

I am a believer in Seton Hall. I like what the Pirates have returning and I like that they’re seniors. I think the Pirates are due for a breakout season and Villanova is due for a bit of a slide. This club has the ingredients to be a top-10 team.

The American will be one of the more intriguing conferences to watch this season. It added Wichita St to spice things up and it’ll be interesting to see how the Shockers adjust to trading in road trips to Peoria and Carbondale to Cincinnati and Orlando.

UCF, for the first time in the program’s history, has an expectation of at least grasping an at-large bid this season.

Mick Cronin has been slowly building something pretty special at Cincinnati and it’ll be interesting to see if the Bearcats can become a top-10 team this season.

Will UConn and Temple be able to bounce back from disappointing seasons?

Is Houston ready to take the next step with the talented backcourt of Galen Robinson, Jr. and Rob Gray.

Kentucky has a talented recruiting class, but there are no guarantees this season. When you live by talented freshmen, there is the chance you put enough first-round picks together and become an awesome team. That’s not Kentucky this season and Wildcat fans should be prepared for that. This team, as presently constituted might be the national-title favorite next season. It’s not that right now.

My Preseason National Player of the Year: Marvin Bagley, III-Duke

First-Team All-Americans:

Michael Porter, Jr.-Missouri

Marvin Bagley, III-Duke

Miles Bridges-Michigan St

Alonzo Trier-Arizona

Jalen Brunson-Villanova

Preseason Top 25:

1.       Arizona

2.       Michigan St

3.       Duke

4.       Kansas

5.       Miami

6.       Wichita St

7.       Seton Hall

8.       USC

9.       Florida

10.   Villanova

11.   Minnesota

12.   West Virginia

13.   Louisville

14.   Kentucky

15.   Xavier

16.   Notre Dame

17.   Cincinnati

18.   Saint Mary’s

19.   Purdue

20.   Rhode Island

21.   UCLA

22.   North Carolina

23.   Northwestern

24.   Alabama

25.   Gonzaga

Last Four In: Wisconsin, Temple, Georgia, San Diego St

Last Four Out: Oregon, St. John’s, Saint Joseph’s, Houston

MIDWEST

1.Michigan St16.Tennessee Martin/Norfolk St Detroit

8.Virginia Tech9.Nevada

5.Saint Mary’s12.Harvard Boise

4.Louisville13.Oakland

6.Northwestern11.Saint Bonaventure Pittsburgh

3.West Virginia14.Cal St Fullerton

7.Providence10.Maryland San Diego

2.USC15.Grand Canyon

SOUTH

1.Duke16.Stephen F. Austin Charlotte

8.Texas A&M9.Texas Tech

5.Purdue12.Georgia/Temple Nashville

4.Xavier13.Florida Gulf Coast

6.North Carolina11.Illinois Nashville

3.Florida14.UNC-Asheville

7.TCU10.Marquette Dallas

2.Wichita St15.South Dakota

EAST

1.Kansas16.Montana Wichita

8.Vanderbilt9.Iowa

5.Rhode Island12.Bucknell Wichita

4.Kentucky13.Furman

6.UCLA11.San Diego St/Wisconsin Boise

3.Villanova14.College of Charleston

7.Baylor10.Creighton Charlotte

2.Miami15.Georgia Southern

WEST

1.Arizona16.Texas Southern/Mount St. Mary’s San Diego

8.Georgia Tech9.Missouri

5.Cincinnati12.Lousisiana Tech Dallas

4.Notre Dame13.Vermont

6.Alabama11.Texas Detroit

3.Minnesota14.Loyola-Chicago

7.Gonzaga10.UCF Pittsburgh

2.Seton Hall15.Iona