7 Thoughts From Opening Weekend

By Kevin Sweeney

We are officially through opening weekend, and what a weekend it was. While it didn’t see the big upsets or huge matchups we have hoped for, there is plenty to digest as we go into the Champions Classic tonight. So, I decided to break down all that has gone down in the season’s first four days and use it to look ahead for the rest of the season. And, no, this post would not be being written right now if it weren’t for ESPN taking away my beloved 8:30am Manhattan vs Hartford matchup.

The A10 Might Be In Trouble

Many thought going into the season that the Atlantic 10 was looking at a bit of a down year, and it certainly didn’t do anything to dispel those notions during opening weekend. Title contenders Rhode Island, St. Bonaventure, and St. Joe’s all dropped games, with the Bonnies and the Hawks taking what appear to be bad losses to Niagara and Toledo, respectively. Richmond got dismantled by Delaware and Jacksonville State. This league has to grab some quality wins in the non-conference or it risks being a 1-bid league come March.

Pitt and Cal Are As Bad As We Thought

On paper, these were two of the worst high-major rosters in college basketball, and it showed throughout each team’s first two games. Pitt dropped their first 2 contests to a pair of solid mid-majors in Navy and Montana, while Cal fell to UC-Riverside (picked 8th in the Big West) and knocked off Cal Poly (picked 9th in the Big West) by just 3. The worst part was that both teams looked to be at about the same level as the teams that they were playing. Simply put, the talent just isn’t there on these rosters, and it could be a very long year for those two clubs.

It’s Time to Buy Stock in Geno Crandall

After two years as the Robin to Quinton Hooker’s Batman, it’s Crandall’s turn to be the star. Let’s just say he hasn’t disappointed. After a ridiculous 41 point outburst on opening night that included 37 in the second half, Crandall followed up with a pair of 20+ point performances on each of the past 2 nights. However, what’s really impressed me has been his patience and his willingness to get his teammates involved. Crandall has done an excellent job of not forcing things but rather taking what the defense gives him, and that has allowed him to score efficiently.

The Sky is The Limit for Texas A&M

Perhaps the most impressive opener came from Texas A&M, who dominated #11 West Virginia despite being without future lottery pick Robert Williams and highly-touted point guard JJ Caldwell due to suspensions. The Aggies did a terrific job moving the ball against WVU’s patented press, registering 22 assists on their 31 made field goals while shooting nearly 50% from the field. Once Caldwell and Williams return, this team will look like a legit SEC title contender.

Davidson Is Going to Be Ridiculously Fun to Watch

It may only have been one game against an inferior opponent, but Davidson’s offense was beyond insane on Friday in their season-opening route of Charleston Southern. Embracing “pace and space”, the Wildcats hit 26 of their 53 3-point attempts and registered a ridiculous 29 assists to just 1 turnover in the ballgame. Obviously, that type of production is unsustainable, but regardless, Bob McKillop’s team will be one of the more exciting offenses to watch in college basketball.

Arkansas Impressive Against Talented Mid-Majors

The fact that the Razorbacks beat Samford and Bucknell shouldn’t be too newsworthy. An SEC team with NCAA Tournament aspirations needs to win those games at home. It was HOW Arkansas did it that was so impressive. They started the season with a 39-point beatdown of a Samford squad pegged by most in the top tier of the SoCon before cruising past Patriot League favorites Bucknell. Their offense has been incredibly efficient thus far, and if they can continue that trend, they should exceed expectations in the SEC.

Belmont Train Still Running Smoothly

Rick Byrd has turned this Belmont program into a machine, and another strong start to the season indicates that even without Evan Bradds, this program will remain at the top of the OVC. After a tight defeat at the hands of Washington on opening night, the Bruins led most of the way against a good Vanderbilt team and claimed a 69-60 victory over the Commodores last night. Dylan Windler seems to adjusting well to his increased role in the offense, posting lines of 18 points & 11 rebounds against UW and 24 points and 11 rebounds last night while shooting over 64% from the field in those 2 contests.

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Minnesota Gets Key Non-Conference With Impressive Win over Providence

By Brendan Crowley

On Monday night, the 14th ranked Golden Gophers traveled to Providence to take on the Friars in a grudge match between two teams that will certainly be in the mix for this year’s NCAA Tournament. In their first road game of the season, Minnesota’s veteran squad was able to pull out an 86-74 victory but the game was much closer than the final score reads.

(http://www.thedickinsonpress.com/sports/4358967-no-14-minnesota-pulls-away-providence

After starting the game hot with a 12-2 run behind dominating play in the post by Reggie Lynch, the Gophers slowed down and allowed Providence to go on a run of their own behind senior leaders Kyron Cartwright, Rodney Bullock and Jalen Lindsey. The scoring in the first half was very balanced for Providence with a couple of late threes by Lindsey rocking the Dunkin Donuts Center and putting the crowd on their feet as the Friars took a late first half lead.
The biggest surprise in this game was seeing how seeing how much freshman guard Isaiah Washington has already progressed for Minnesota. The shifty newcomer out of Harlem was the 6th man for the Gophers and controlled the tempo of the game all night. Six points in the final 6 minutes of the first half along with a no-look assist to Jordan Murphy pulled them within 3 with just under 2 minutes left. Providence failed to convert open opportunities in their last few possessions but still hung on to a 39-36 lead going in to the break after an Isaiah Washington “buzzer-beating” jumper was waved off.

The second half began just how the first had ended, the Friars were slowly but surely gaining momentum and Minnesota was making costly mistakes on the offensive end, taking contested shots early in the possession and failing to move the ball around like they had in the opening 10 minutes. Inside buckets by junior Jordan Murphy were able to keep the Gophers afloat and hold off Bullock and Co. from taking the game over as the game approached the midway point in the 2nd half.

With 9 minutes remaining the score was at 63-60 with Providence trailing. Up to this point in the 2nd, the Friars defense had improved tremendously and they were able to control the tempo, speeding up the game but playing under control. It was at that moment however, with 9 minutes left, that Minnesota turned the tables and began hitting shot after shot. The Gophers went on to make their next 12 field goals, with sharpshooting by Amir Coffey and Murphy’s dominating presence on the inside, Minnesota stretched their lead out to 72-63 following another Coffey made 3. Providence’s inability to grab defensive rebounds and lock down or Jordan Murphy in the paint was what led to their demise all night. The junior finished with 23 points and 14 rebounds on 10-15 shooting. That along with 15 points from Amir Coffey and another 17 out of senior guard Nate Mason was more than enough to push the Big Ten contenders over the edge as they out hustled and out ran Providence to win 86-74.

The biggest takeaway for both teams at the end of this one was evident. Providence needs to slow down and show more discipline. They had a number of unforced turnovers and down the stretch continued to play 1-on-1 basketball instead of coming together as a team. In due time Ed Cooley will certainly have that under control and the Friars, with their size and depth, will be sitting near the top of the Big East come conference play. For the Gophers, if they’re able to continue their dominant inside then they can, without a doubt, run the table in the Big Ten and compete with Purdue, Northwestern, and Michigan State for that title. This veteran team, under an excellent coach in Pitino, will be one to keep an eye on as the season goes along.

7 Upsets to Watch During Opening Weekend

By Kevin Sweeney

Congrats everyone. We’ve made it.

After seven months of waiting, college basketball is finally back. In 48 hours, we’ll all be watching games that actually count. Of course, one of the best parts of college basketball is upsets, and you can expect plenty of twists and turns during the season’s opening weekend. Here are 7 potential upsets to watch out for at the beginning of the season. We’ll define “opening weekend” as Friday through Monday.

Campbell over Penn State

Last season, the Nittany Lions got off to a rough start with an upset defeat at the hands of Albany in their opener. They will once again be tested by a mid-major this season, facing off with a talented Campbell team that many believe is a dark horse contender in the Big South. Chris Clemons is certainly capable of exploding offensively at any time, and I’m excited for this Friday matinee showdown.

 

Navy and/or Montana over Pittsburgh

Pitt is a virtual unknown commodity, with a vast group of newcomers being looked to as replacements of the incredible amount of production departing from last year’s roster. They’ll be tested by a pair of teams that should be near the top of their conferences in Navy on Friday night in Annapolis and Montana back home in Oakland. I wouldn’t be at all surprised if the Panthers are stunned early in the season by one of these two talented mid-majors.

Mercer over UCF

Experience always helps when trying to pull off an upset, and that is exactly what Mercer has. The Bears will trot out 5 senior starters Friday night against a UCF team that I believe should be in NCAA Tournament contention. This one should be a defensive battle, but Mercer has the guards in Ria’n Holland and Jordan Strawberry to make plays late in ballgames and pull out a win in what should be a terrific opening night matchup.

Yale at Creighton and/or Wisconsin

My pick to win the Ivy League has a pair of stiff tests from high-major foes during opening weekend, traveling to Nebraska to take on Creighton on Friday before heading north to Madison to take on Wisconsin Sunday. If Makai Mason is 100% after missing all of last season due to a foot injury, the Bulldogs have an excellent chance to earn a quality win for their resume come March.

Bucknell over Arkansas

Bucknell is just an excellent basketball team. They have a dominant big in Nana Foulland, a stretch 4 in Zach Thomas that is one of the more versatile players in college basketball, and a senior point guard in Stephen Brown that makes plays when you need them most. They’ll be a tough matchup for anyone in the country this season, and I believe they will stun the Razorbacks on Sunday night and leave Fayetteville with a win.

Vermont over Kentucky

No, I don’t expect this to happen. That said, I certainly won’t rule it out. Vermont is a veteran unit with a star in Anthony Lamb who can take over games. Kentucky will still be feeling things out with plans to start 5 freshmen, and the Catamounts may just be able to steal a win at Rupp Arena.

College of Charleston over Wichita State

College of Charleston should be one of the best mid-majors in the country this season, and they’ll take on a short-handed Wichita State team on Monday night. Markis McDuffie is out for the game, and star point guard Landry Shamet will likely be limited as he continues his recovery from offseason foot surgery. Meanwhile, this Cougar team is experienced and talented, making them a tough test for the Shockers. This should be an excellent game, with the possibility certainly there for the Cougars to grab a signature win for their resume in opening weekend.

Kevin Sweeney Joins #CHNPodcast for Mailbag Questions

CBB Central lead writer Kevin Sweeney joined the new CollegeHoopNews podcast hosted by Tony Patelis. Tony and Kevin discussed the games they are most looking forward to on opening weekend, teams they think could surprise and disappoint, and so much more.

Be sure to check out and subscribe to the CollegeHoopNews Podcast. It’s one of the best new college basketball podcasts out there. You can follow Tony on Twitter @CollegeHoopNews and Kevin on Twitter @CBB_Central for more college basketball coverage as the season gets underway in just a few days.

32 Conferences, 32 Days: WCC

By Kevin Sweeney

We have come to the end of our 32 conference preview series! I’d like to thank all of you for following along throughout the last 32 days, and I’ve really enjoyed previewing all 351 Division 1 teams. We wrap things up today with the WCC, a league that has been dominated by two teams in recent history. However, I believe the WCC is trending up as a whole, with the bottom of the league on the long grind to try to catch up to the perennial powers in Gonzaga, St. Mary’s, and BYU.

Standings Projection:

  1. St. Mary’s- Obviously, Gonzaga deserves plenty of respect coming off their incredible 37-2 season. Still, St. Mary’s is the clear favorite in the WCC this season. Jock Landale is one of the best bigs in the country, and the Gaels bring back 4 starters and add some scoring punch in Cullen Neal, a grad transfer from Ole Miss.
  2. Gonzaga- The Bulldogs do lose 4 starters from last season’s national runner-up team. However, Mark Few still has a talented roster, with rotation guys in Jonathan Williams, Josh Perkins, and Silas Melson returning along with a pair of breakout candidates in Rui Hachimura and Killian Tillie. Combine that with some talented newcomers and Gonzaga could be in the top 25 once again.
  3. San Francisco- Kyle Smith did an excellent job in his first season in charge at USF, and brings back all but one contributor from last season’s club. After a freshman season in which he averaged 10 points per game, Charles Minlend appears to be the next star in the WCC, and I’m a big believer in this Dons team to make some noise this season.
  4. BYU- The loss of Eric Mika early to pro basketball is crushing for the Cougars, but they still have an excellent backcourt featuring a trio of double-digit scorers in Nick Emery, TJ Haws, and Elijah Bryant and perhaps the biggest breakout candidate in the conference in Yoeli Childs. Plus, the Cougars are always tough to beat in Provo.
  5. Santa Clara- The Broncos have perhaps the best player in the conference not named Jock Landale in KJ Feagin, an elite shooter and creator who should see an even bigger scoring role with Jared Brownridge graduating. They also add an excellent grad transfer in Henry Caruso, who averaged 15 ppg at Princeton in 2015-16 and should see a big role right away.
  6. Pacific- This Pacific team has some very interesting newcomers to work with, adding transfer guards Kendall Small (Oregon), Miles Reynolds (St. Louis), as well as Jahlil Tripp and Roberto Gallinat (South Plains JUCO). Combine that talented group with a pair of returnees in the frontcourt in Anthony Townes and Jack Williams, and you get a team that I think could surprise in year 2 of the Damon Stoudamire era.
  7. San Diego- A pair of double-digit scorers in Olin Carter and Cameron Neubauer return for the Toreros, and a pair of interesting transfers join the fray as well in former Portland State wing Isaiah Pineiro and former Utah guard Isaiah Wright. It’s teams like USD whose improvement will be key to the rise of the entire conference.
  8. Pepperdine- Pepperdine’s top 3 scorers graduate from last season’s club, but they do bring back a sophomore class that showed promise as freshmen and add back Kameron Edwards, who averaged 7 points and 4 rebounds as a freshman before missing last season due to a jaw injury. Another guy to watch is highly-touted freshman guard Jadé Smith, who earned high-major looks before choosing the Waves.
  9. Loyola Marymount- Look for Stephen Haney to take on a huge amount of the scoring load with multiple top scorers departing. One interesting piece is Eli Scott, the Chino Hills product who played high school basketball with the Ball brothers, a talented wing who can score the ball.
  10. Portland- The transfers of Gabe Taylor and Jazz Johnson were crushing for Terry Porter’s club. 3-star recruit Marcus Shaver is an interesting piece, but they’ll need a lot of help from their newcomers in order to stay out of the bottom of the conference.

Champions: St. Mary’s

St. Mary’s looks like a top-20 team in college basketball. Jock Landale is a legitimate All-American candidate, an unstoppable force in the post who excels around the rim. Meanwhile, they have a very solid point guard in Emmett Naar who needs to be a bit more aggressive but is a good distributor and leader, and sharp-shooting wing Calvin Hermanson shouldn’t be forgotten about. We know Randy Bennett’s club will play excellent defense and run efficient offense. Now, can the Gaels get it done in March and return to the Sweet 16 for the first time since the 2009-10 season?

Dark Horse: Santa Clara

The typical “dark horse” tag doesn’t really fit anyone in the WCC, simply because I don’t realistically see anyone topping St. Mary’s or Gonzaga for the conference’s regular season title. However, I will highlight a team I think is being undervalued, and to me, that term applies with Santa Clara. The aforementioned Feagin is a tremendous talent, and Caruso is a perfect fit for what Herb Sendek wants to do offensively. Another newcomer to watch is 3-star guard Matt Turner, a Connecticut native who got offers from many of the major programs in the northeast before choosing Santa Clara.

First Team All-Conference:

  • G: KJ Feagin (Santa Clara)
  • G: Calvin Hermanson (St. Mary’s)
  • F: Yoeli Childs (BYU)
  • F: Jonathan Williams (Gonzaga)
  • F: Jock Landale (St. Mary’s)

Player of the Year: Jock Landale (St, Mary’s)- Yeah, this one is pretty obvious. Landale is simply a flat-out beast in the paint and dominates the game whenever he’s on the floor. He led the country in win shares per 40 minutes a season ago at .288 per Sports Reference, easily demonstrating just how much of an impact he makes on a day-to-day basis. The Australian big should enjoy a monster senior season for a St. Mary’s team that has a chance to be very good if not great.

Breakout Player of the Year: Rui Hachimura (Gonzaga)- While I’m not quite as far onto the Hachimura hype train that started early this offseason, I do think he has very interesting potential for a reloading team like Gonzaga. He dominated for Japan at the FIBA U19 World Cup this summer, flashing NBA potential to scouts with his combination of size and versatility.

Newcomer of the Year: Cullen Neal (St. Mary’s)- Neal exactly the type of piece St. Mary’s was missing. He provides instant offense with his ability to create his own shot and hit 3’s, and should be a perfect fit for the St. Mary’s offense due to his intelligence. Things come full circle for Neal, who committed to the Gaels out of high school before heading to New Mexico, where his father Craig was the head coach.