I know no one outside of the city of Jacksonville cared much about what happened Saturday night at UNF Arena. However, those who cared enough to make it inside were treated to two rivals, the North Florida (UNF) Ospreys and Jacksonville Dolphins, trading body blows for 40 minutes with the Dolphins coming away with a 90-86 win.
“As a basketball player if you don’t like this environment – a hostile environment, where you can go up-and-down and dunk and be athletic and shoot the ball when you get stops then I don’t know what else you want,” Jacksonville senior guard Devin Harris said. “You’re playing the game everybody wish they could play.”
It was an enthusiastic crowd all game long. UNF fans showed up with “Beat JU” shirts and screamed at the Dolphins during the layup line to let them know they meant it. Among those fans were several former Ospreys; each one greeted by UNF head coach Matthew Driscoll with a hug. Even they knew it was big.
Once the action on the floor began, the fans got louder and had a great game to match. The game was free-flowing with run after run. There was UNF pushing the ball even after made baskets. Then there was Jacksonville, running pick and roll after pick and roll.
“You gotta give them credit,” Driscoll said. “They fought back like we fought back. They took the lead after we took the lead.”
It had a key player for Jacksonville heading to the bench – allowing for what seemed to be a back-breaking run for the Ospreys, before a freshman took the game over.
What makes this even more fascinating, is how this wasn’t even a game that would count on a NCAA tournament resume 15-years-ago.
UNF is fairly new to Division I athletics – playing its first season as a full member in 2009-2010. Since then the program won two regular season Atlantic Sun championships in 2015 and 2016 and went to its first NCAA tournament in 2015. They made it all the way to the Atlantic Sun Championship game last season before losing to Florida Gulf Coast.
By contrast, Jacksonville has struggled since UNF became full members. The Dolphins haven’t won a regular season Atlantic Sun title since that 2009-2010 season. They haven’t been to the Big Dance since 1986 and before Saturday’s win, they hadn’t beaten the Ospreys since Feb. 15, 2013.
That was the state of both programs before entering Saturday’s game. From the outset it seemed this one would be different. The Dolphins were getting healthy and went toe-to-toe with the Ospreys for much of the first half as the score was 22-19 at the second media timeout. That’s when UNF’s pace seem to take over. The Ospreys outscored the Dolphins 26-19 over the last 9:19 of the first half to take a 52-42 lead at the half.
The second half began in similar fashion as the Ospreys took a 12 point lead on a layup by sophomore forward Noah Horchler with just 30 seconds gone from the half. From that moment, the Dolphins would outscore the Ospreys 22-5 to take a 64-59 lead with 12:55 remaining in the game.
The teams traded scores before Jacksonville’s 70-65 lead with 9:39 remaining. That’s when UNF answered with their 13-0 run, partly with Harris on the bench, to take a 78-70 lead with 6:04 remaining.
This was the moment of the game when the Dolphins seem to be on the ropes. The crowd was at its loudest and it seemed like the momentum had shifted for good. This is when Jacksonville freshman guard J.D. Notae took over.
Notae scored 14 of his 25 points over the last 5:38 to help the Dolphins to a 18-6 run and steal the game on the road. Not only cementing his place in the rivalry, but doing things the opposing coach said he was expecting as he saw Notae a lot on the recruiting trail.
“The thing about Notae is he has a scorer’s mentality. He’s always had a scorer’s mentality,” said Driscoll. “He’s a Georgia kid who played with one of our Georgia kids and we saw him a lot. He really has a great feel for who he is, what he is and what he wants to do.”
It was first game of conference play for both teams and they’ll both have to regroup quickly. However, they play again on Feb. 22 at Historic Swisher Gym on Jacksonville’s campus. You can’t help, but look forward to another classic matchup.
Arizona St and Arizona are preparing to play perhaps the biggest regular season game in the history of the rivalry. That’s because the preseason top-5 Wildcats are rolling again while their opponents, the Sun Devils, are the talk of the college basketball world.
Over the past thirty-plus years, Arizona has been one of the marquee brands in college basketball. Arizona St, on the other hand, has had specific years where it’ll surprisingly pop up and make the tournament, but it has never been able to sustain success.
This year’s game is different. Both teams are playing well especially on offense. They both rate in the top-ten in adjusted offensive effiency.
The Sun Devils will be led by probable All-American senior guard Tra Holder, who’s averaging 21.3 points, 5.1 rebounds and 4.8 assists per game. He’s been aptly supported by his backcourt mate senior Shannon Evans II, who’s averaging 17.8 points per game and 4.7 assists.
Those two have been paramount in helping the Sun Devils to shock the nation this season. They not only beat Xavier and Kansas away from home, but they made it look easy. They blew out Xavier by 16 in Las Vegas in late November. Then, earlier this month, beat Kansas by 10 at Phog Allen Fieldhouse – becoming the first nonconference opponent to win at Kansas since San Diego St on Jan. 5, 2014.
Arizona on the other hand, had a dubious start to its season as it lost all three games in the Battle 4 Atlantis tournament in the Bahamas during Thanksgiving week. Since then, the Wildcats seem to have fixed their problems and have their glue guy, sophomore guard Rawle Alkins, back from injury.
Junior guard Allonzo Trier lead the Wildcats in scoring with 21.2 points per game. He’s the one in the 1-2 punch that also features freshman center Deandre Ayton, who’s averaging 19.5 points and 11.4 rebounds per game.
What will be the difference? I believe it will be Ayton. In neither of the Sun Devils’ wins over Kansas or Xavier did they have to match-up with a presence like Ayton. Freshman forward Romello White and junior forward De’Quon Lake provide a solid presence in the frontcourt, but the physical Ayton, the future lottery pick, is a totally different animal.
Add that with Arizona at home, neither team being great defensively, and it being New Year’s Eve and I have the Wildcats in a 92-88 win over the Sun Devils.
This was the most anticipated regular season in UCF basketball history. After making it to the NIT final four, many predicted the Knights may challenge for the school’s first at-large bid ever. However, the injury bug hit the Knights and derailed their plans a bit.
First there was the injury to junior guard Aubrey Dawkins in the preseason and then in the first game of the season; the team’s best returning player, junior guard B.J. Taylor, went down with a foot injury. Taylor is expected to return soon, but the question now is how will the NCAA selection committee evaluate the Knights?
UCF is currently 9-4 after last night’s 56-51 loss at SMU. It was the fifth RPI top-50 opponent UCF has faced without Taylor. They’re 1-4 in those games with the lone win coming at Alabama. They are projected to have a top-65 non-conference strength of schedule nationally and they get another shot at SMU, plus round-robins with Temple, Cincinnati, and Wichita St with another game with Houston at home.
Will the committee punish them for not doing better in the non-conference without Taylor or will it judge them for what they are with Taylor? They’re certainly a different team as Taylor presents a significant scoring option for one of the best defensive teams in the country.
As long as the Knights do as well in the American as expected, some interesting decisions will be made by the committee leading up to Selection Sunday.
Despite losing its head coach, Tyler Lewis, Kethan Savage, Avery Woodson and Andrew Chrabascz off of last year’s Sweet 16 team, Butler finds itself squarely in the discussion for another at-large bid. That’s because it challenged itself with a top-40 schedule and has solid wins over Ohio St and Utah. The Bulldogs are projected to have a top-20 strength of schedule by the time the season’s over. A 9–9 or 10-8 record in the Big East will probably be enough for them to get in.
Some will overreact to San Diego State’s loss at Wyoming last night. I won’t. That’s an in-conference loss to a RPI top-100 team. It’s not a bad loss and, long term, it’s not a damaging loss to their at-large hopes. They’re not in great shape right now, but they shouldn’t be panicking over bracketology at this point either.
Tonight’s Providence-St. John’s game is huge for both teams, but probably moreso for the Red Storm as Chris Mullin tries to make his first NCAA tournament. Right now, they appear to be the better team than the Friars and with road games with Seton Hall and Creighton to follow, losing this one could very well lead to a 0-3 start for St. John’s.
Most people nationwide and inside the state of Indiana knew this would be a rough year for the Hoosiers. Expectations were low coming off last season when they went 18-16 and fired previous coach Tom Crean.
However, after losing to Fort Wayne 92-72, the second home blowout loss to an in-state low-to-mid major, some Indiana fans are out for new coach Archie Miller’s blood. Earlier this season Indiana lost 90-69 to Indiana State.
Yes, the effort was disappointing in both games and it was especially disheartening after the Hoosiers 80-77 upset of Notre Dame on Saturday. Despite that, Hoosier fans have to step back and take a look at the big picture.
No. 1: This is not a roster that anyone in their right mind would think its ready to win consistently. There is just not enough talent on the roster right now after Indiana suffered defections off of a team that struggled to even make the NIT last season.
No. 2: The year is still young. There is still plenty of time for this squad to show growth. It’s way too early to judge. I’d be disappointed if the Hoosiers are still playing this inconsistently in late February, but here in December they still need to get accustomed to Miller’s coaching style and concepts.
No. 3: The calvary is coming. According to 247sports composite team rankings, the Hoosiers have the 19th best class in the country coming next season. The highlight of that class is power forward Jerome Hunter, the 55th best prospect in the country according to that service. The other three prospects in the class are all at-least 4-star talents.
No. 4: Indiana isn’t what it once was. I know that’s a hard pill to swallow for fans who lived through glory years of Bobby Knight. Times change and Indiana is notorious for being a place, for the most part (Kelvin Sampson), that did things the right way. That limits what you can do on the recruiting trail. If you run Archie Miller out of town before he gets started; good luck getting Gregg Marshall.
The Hoosiers have home games against Tennessee Tech (12/21) and Youngstown St (12/29) before their next conference game at Wisconsin (1/2).