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

 

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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

 

Winning at All Costs is the Norm

BrucePearl

Today’s news that rocked the college basketball world isn’t surprising to anyone who’s paid attention to the sport for a long period of time. Rumors and innuendos of players getting money under the table have gone on for years.

Assistant coaches from Arizona, USC, Oklahoma St, and Auburn were charged along with a handler, financial advisor, an agent and three employees of Adidas. The basketball programs at Louisville and Miami (Fl) were also possibly indicated in pay-to-pay schemes.

Outside of the obvious initial shock is the fact that four of the six schools have had recent run-ins with the NCAA. Painting a sad picture that winning, at all costs, is the name of the game in big-time college athletics.

Now I’m not here to be the morality police. There’s millions of dollars at stake for winning programs. Basketball coaches are hired to win basketball games. If they don’t, they get fired. Now we have an idea of the lengths some are willing to go to protect their jobs.

Auburn is Bruce Pearl’s first head coaching job after being given a show-cause penalty for lying to NCAA investigators when he was the head coach at Tennessee. To be fair, there has been no indication by the FBI or anyone else that Pearl was involved in the alleged improprieties. His assistant coach, Chuck Person, was very much involved in a scheme to funnel money to players for the purpose of getting those players to particular financial advisors and agents. The fact that his staff didn’t know that people might be watching is hard to believe though.

USC is a place that has famously been embroiled in scandal in the past 15 years in both football and basketball. The basketball program famously came under fire after former Trojan, O.J. Mayo took money from an agent through a runner. It will now certainly be in crosshairs of the NCAA once again as assistant coach Tony Bland allegedly tried to steer players to former agent, Christian Dawkins and financial advisor, Munish Sood. It was also alleged that he arranged payments for players and their families.

The University of Miami’s basketball program was a part of a broader scandal involving the athletic department and booster, Nevin Shapiro. That investigation resulted in the basketball program losing scholarships. While no one was charged from the program in this investigation, it is possible that the school’s recruitment of the highly-touted Nassir Little was implicated. Through a lawyer, current Hurricanes’ head coach Jim Larranaga has already denied involvement.

Then there’s Louisville. Like Miami, no one from Louisville’s staff was explicitly mentioned in the indictment. However, it’s clear that the report alleges that several members of the staff were involved in arrange payments for potential recruits to attend Louisville. One player includes current five-star freshman Brian Bowen, who the FBI alleges was paid $100,000. Rick Pitino famously said of Bowen and his family:

“But they had to come in unofficially, pay for their hotels, pay for their meals. So we spent zero dollars recruiting a five-star athlete who I loved when I saw him play. In my 40-some-odd years of coaching, this is the luckiest I’ve been.”

This is the same Louisville that’s on probation right now for a scandal involving paying strippers to have sex with recruits.

Six schools implicated. Four with recent run-ins with NCAA investigators. At what point does winning trump cheating. One question administrators and the NCAA is going to ask moving forward is did the head coaches at these schools set an expectation of running a clean program or were their assistants empowered to take risks.

There probably will be several more shoes to drop with coaches and programs across the country. Some may be in similar situations as the schools mentioned above. It’s now time for everyone involved in intercollegiate athletics to re-evaluate the importance of winning.

Virginia Goes Small to Win NCAA Opener

Senior guard London Perrantes scored 24 and junior guard Marial Shayok scored 23 for the No. 5 Virginia Cavaliers (23-10) as they defeated the UNC-Wilmington Seahawks (29-6) 76-71 in a first-round NCAA tournament game in Orlando.

“That’s March Madness,” Virginia head coach Tony Bennett said. “That’s what it is with the way were down and fought back.”

The Cavaliers, a team that averages 66.6 points per game, scored 76 points to win. It was a pace they aren’t accustomed to and it was one that Seahawk head coach Kevin Keatts said he thought would work in his favor.

“I thought we had everything the way we wanted, obviously, when you talk about tempo,” Keatts said. “We wanted those guys to play faster than they normally do.

“The difference in the game was they made a couple plays towards the end and we missed a few chippies,” he continued.

UNC-Wilmington (UNCW) started the game on fire. Hot three-point shooting by senior guards Denzel Ingram and Ambrose Mosley aided the Wilmington into creating an early lead. At the 7:25 mark in the first half, Ingram hit a three-pointer to give the Seahawks their largest lead of the half at 26-11.

Virginia then went small and it changed the complexion of the game. Virginia, led by Shayok’s 11 first-half points, proceeded to go on a 19-3 run to give Virginia a 30-29 lead at the half.

Virginia coach Tony Bennett knew his team was going to have to go small, but even he was a little surprised at having to play a five-guard lineup.

“It was a scramble game,” Bennett said. “I teased our guys, ‘I’m glad we worked on our five-guard lineup all week in practice.’”

The second half was the Perrantes show as he scored 19 of his 24 in that second stanza. He helped Virginia to start fast and stay ahead for much of the half. The Cavaliers were even able to take a 10-point lead with 7:57 left in the half.

UNCW would scratch and claw to stay in the game and got the lead down to two at 73-71 with :53 seconds remaining. Shayok would hit a clutch jumper with :25 seconds left to ice the game.

Perrantes 24 and Shayok’s 23 were the top scoring marks for Virginia. Senior guard Chris Flemmings scored 18 to keep pace with Ingram’s 17 to lead UNCW.

The win was Virginia’s fourth consecutive in the first round. The Cavaliers will play the winner of No. 13 East Tennessee St vs. No. 4 Florida.

Maryland Faces Rejuvenated Xavier Squad

ORLANDO-The No. 6 Maryland Terrapins (24-8) are preparing to face a No. 11 Xavier Musketeer (21-13) squad that appears to have regrouped after a rough February.

“You see a much more confident team,” Maryland head coach Mark Turgeon said about his first-round opponent. They were much more efficient on both ends of the floor, I thought, and their best players played well.”

Xavier was nationally ranked through the better part of the first three months of the regular season. Then its best player, sophomore guard Edmond Sumner, tore his ACL in a Jan. 29 game at St. John’s.

In addition to that, junior guard Trevon Bluiett dealt with a nagging ankle injury and senior guard Myles Davis left the team. A season of high expectations was derailed as were Xavier’s hopes of challenging Villanova for the Big East regular season championship.

Xavier head coach Chris Mack said the injuries and defections not only made difficult to win, but difficult to even practice.

“We didn’t have 12, 13 scholarship players,” he said. “Our walk-ons tried their best, but it’s just a different experience in terms of how we usually, normally practice.”

The Musketeers won two games in the Big East Tournament to save their season and are saying they’re back on track.

“To be able to beat Butler kind of sparked us, gave us a little bit of energy, a little bit of hope because that was a top-20 team,” Bluiett said. We knew when we got them, we were starting to get our mojo back.”

Bluiett, who averages 18.1 points per game, and the rest of the Musketeers will test the Terrapins youth and that’s why Maryland head coach will lean on his leading scorer, junior guard Melo Timble. Turgeon says he needs Trimble to be the steady hand for his team.

“He knows he has to be the leader of this team…,” Turgeon said. “He’s comfortable doing it. He’s much more comfortable doing it.”

Trimble appears to agree. He’s watched the roster turnover over the past three seasons and said he realized he had to go from someone who takes it all in to the leader.

“So it’s different. I’m able to be a leader,” he said. “The way I played this year was the right way, in my opinion. I was able to get my teammates involved this year.”

Maryland and Xavier is scheduled for 6:50 p.m. on Thursday. The winner will play the winner of No. 14 Florida Gulf Coast vs. No. 3 Florida St.