Hoop Thoughts (Cont.)
Kansas 74, Southeast Missouri State 55. This game was much closer than the final score indicated. The Redhawks stayed close until midway through the second half, largely because Kansas was atrocious from three-point range (2-for-21). Perhaps that's to be expected in the season's first game, but it's of particular concern that Jayhawks guard Travis Releford was 0-for-5 from behind the arc and 3-for-11 overall. Many of those long-range misses were way, way off. Releford is a senior now. If he wants to graduate from Glue Guy school, he's gonna have to develop his J.
Elsewhere, senior center Jeff Withey scored a game-high 17 points, but he still looks awkward trying to make moves in the post. If he's in position and catches the ball in close, he will finish, but he's not going to create a lot of buckets by his onesies.
That's why 6-8 freshman forward Perry Ellis will be such a key for this team. He is a far more natural interior scorer than Withey. And while jumping jack freshman guard Ben McLemore had a few highlight-reel offensive rebound slams, it's safe to say the teams in the Big 12 will do a better job blocking out the defensive boards than Southeast Missouri did.
Missouri 83, SIU-Edwardsville 69. It's a little hard evaluating Missouri right now because the Tigers are down two men -- senior guard Michael Dixon, who is suspended, and freshman guard Jabari Brown, a transfer from Oregon who will be eligible in December. Still, it was easy to see that the Tigers' starting forwards are feeling reborn. Senior forward Laurence Bowers (20 points, 7 rebounds) showed no lingering effects of the knee injury that cost him all of last season. And Alex Oriakhi, the transfer from UConn, attacked the glass with abandon; he had 15 rebounds, including four offensive. My concern with Oriakhi is that people expect him to be a big scorer -- he's not -- but let's just say he looks a lot more confident without Andre Drummond around to steal his minutes.
Frank Haith hasn't said when Dixon is coming back, but it's not a terrible thing that the coach has to give more minutes to guys who wouldn't otherwise have earned them. Missouri got lifts from two freshmen off the bench, 6-7 Negus Webster-Chan and 6-11 Stefan Jankovic, who combined to shoot 5-for-7 from behind the arc. I also think Missouri will get much better shooting performances from Earnest Ross, a chiseled 6-5 junior transfer from Auburn who made just 2-for-10 in this game. Missouri doesn't have as many future lottery picks as Kentucky does, but in the end it may prove to be the better SEC team.
Notre Dame 58, Evansville 49. I tuned in for the start of this one and was immediately treated to a historic moment: Jack Cooley's first career three-pointer! In fact, Cooley scored Notre Dame's first nine points en route to a 19-point, 11-rebound, six-block performance. Irish coach Mike Brey told me afterwards that he did not want his 6-9 senior forward "hunting" for threes this season, but he did expect Cooley to make a few more.
Though Brey has had some success the last few years running his "burn" offense, it was Evansville who came in with the intent to grind things to a halt. (I was impressed, by the way, with Ryan Colt, the Aces' 6-5 senior swingman. He earned his 15 points the hard way. Brey said he thinks Colt is a pro.) Irish forward Scott Martin had a horrible day shooting (1-for-6, six points), but he more than made up for it by snaring 17 rebounds. That's how you get Capone.
One of the best things about watching early games is you get the chance to discover players you didn't know anything about. Case in point: Notre Dame's 6-7 freshman swingman Cameron Biedscheid, who hit two key buckets (including one three-pointer) late in the second half to help the Irish put away a pesky, scrappy team. Biedscheid looked pretty comfortable out there, which leads me to believe he can keep playing this way. The Irish are not going to "wow" you a lot this season, but they are going to win a lot of games.
Boston College 84, Florida International 70. I zoned in on the last 12 minutes of this one because it was 62-60 with a little over 10 minutes left left. That was right before the Eagles went on a 21-7 spurt. Not surprisingly, the Eagles' best offensive weapon was 6-8 sophomore Ryan Anderson. Even though he still only weighs 220 pounds, Anderson is noticeably stronger than he was as a freshman, and he showed both power and finesse while going for 29 points (including 11-for-14 from the foul line) and 17 rebounds.
BC is a very, very young team (the Eagles start three sophs and two freshmen) that is unlikely to make the NCAA tournament, but the underclassmen are a promising mix. They're good enough to be effective, but not good enough to turn pro early. That bodes well for the future of this program.
As for FIU, it was pretty cool to see young Richard Pitino strutting the sidelines for his first game as a head coach. Richard is much cooler on the bench than his old man. He'll need that level head until he gets this program off the ground.
Villanova 80, Marshall 68. This was another game that was closer than the final score. The Thundering Herd put up a good fight -- remember the name D.D. Scarver, a sweet-shooting 6-4 swingman who had 22 points on 5-for-7 three-point shooting -- but the Wildcats got a terrific debut performance from freshman point guard Ryan Arcidiacono. He had 25 points, six assists and two steals. Did I mention this was his first college game?
But my main takeaway from Villanova is how much better 6-7 redshirt sophomore JayVaughn Pinkston looked. He has always battled his weight, a problem that was exacerbated when he was suspended from school his entire freshman year for getting into a fight at a fraternity party. Pinkston looks slimmer, agile and very much in control of his body. He had seven rebounds -- five on the offensive glass -- but the one place where he looked really bad was on the foul line, where made just 6-of-14 attempts. It will be hard for Jay Wright to play Pinkston at the end of games unless he fixes that.
Arizona 82, Charleston Southern 73. Arizona has as much size, length and agility in the frontcourt as any team in America. So it was a little perplexing to see the Wildcats swing the ball around the perimeter and launch 32 three-pointers, often without letting their bigs even touch the ball. That's a huge reason why the Buccaneers were able to keep it close until late in the second half. Down the stretch, Sean Miller went to a smaller, older lineup, with 6-8 freshman Brandon Ashley playing center and 6-6 senior Solomon Hill sliding over to power forward, where he is less effective.
The move worked largely because Mark Lyons, the 6-1 transfer from Xavier, took over the game, scoring 15 of his 17 points in the second half. Still, it's a little disconcerting that Arizona does not have a true, pass-first point guard. Jordin Mayes, a 6-2 junior, is the closest, but he comes off the bench. And yet, the Wildcats had 25 assists on 27 made baskets, so passing is not the issue. Like every other team in America, the Wildcats are going to have to figure some things out, but clearly the pieces are in place to make a run not just at a Pac 12 title but a national championship. That includes Kevin Parrom, the 6-6 senior who has been to hell and back and looks poised for a terrific final season in Tucson.
Wisconsin 87, Southeast Louisiana 47. There's obviously not a ton you can learn about a team while it's winning by 40, but my sense is that the Badgers may not miss Josh Gasser as much as many people assume. The 6-3 junior, who was primed to move over from shooting guard to run the point, was lost for the season to a torn ACL. Gasser will be missed defensively, but Bo Ryan's offense has never been overly dependent on playmaking point guards. George Marshall, a 5-11 freshman, started the game at the point, but I actually thought 6-2 sophomore Traevon Jackson (Jim Jackson's son) looked better during his 15 minutes off the bench.
It was also good to see 6-6 senior Mike Bruesewitz back in action. Bruiser had suffered a nasty injury to his leg a few weeks ago in practice, but he looked great in his 13-minute stint, sinking all three of his shots (two from behind the arc). More important, Bruesewitz has grown back most of his shaggy red hair he had shaved off for charity last April.
Elsewhere, much-ballyhooed freshman Sam Dekker had a quiet debut (8 points, one rebound in 17 minutes off the bench). That's not very encouraging considering the game was such a blowout. The announcers mentioned frequently that Bo Ryan has concerns with Dekker's defense. At any rate, it won't matter for a while because 6-10 senior Jared Berggren is going to have an all-Big Ten type of season. He scored on a variety of offensive moves and sank all seven of his free throws en route to a game-high 19 points. Berggren also added eight rebounds and four blocks. Solid, solid beginning.
Louisville 79, Manhattan 51. After watching this game, I was shocked to read the box score and see Louisville only had 12 turnovers. This team only knows two ways to play: fast and faster. At times against the Jaspers, the Cards got way ahead of themselves and made silly mistakes, but as usual, they made it up with defense. Manhattan, which was playing without injured senior guard George Beamon, shot 36 percent and committed 26 turnovers. It's hard to beat the second-ranked team in the country on its home floor playing that way.
Manhattan played a 2-3 zone the entire game. Until the Cardinals prove they can consistently knock down jumpers, they better get used to that. The good news is they won big while getting minimum contribution from 6-5 sophomore swigman Wayne Blackshear (five points in 16 minutes) and 6-6 junior guard Luke Hancock (3-for-10 from the field). Those guys are going to become bigger factors as the season wears on. Starting guards Peyton Siva and Russ Smith led the way scoring-wise for Louisville, but if you're a Cards fan, you have to be especially encouraged by the way forwards Chane Behanan and Montrezl Harrell and center Gorgui Dieng played together. Dieng in particular played a terrific, albeit understated, offensive game. He was limited to 20 minutes because of foul trouble, but he had two real nice assists to go along with nine points. It was a good win, but the Cardinals played sloppier than this score would indicate.
Syracuse 62, San Diego State 49. It's tough to judge San Diego State off this game. The Aztecs are much more dependent on outside shooting than Syracuse, and the conditions aboard the USS Midway (sunny and windy) were horrible for shooting. Hence the Aztecs' woeful 1-for-18 performance from three-point range.
Syracuse, on the other hand, only tried four three-point attempts. The Orange's size, length and athleticism completely overwhelmed the Aztecs. It was quite the impressive display. Junior forward C.J. Fair (17 points, 7-for-15 shooting) showed off a vastly improved outside touch. Guards Brandon Triche and Michael Carter-Williams were brilliant in attacking the rim. I was surprised that heralded freshman center Dajuan Coleman, who started the game, only played nine minutes, but the Orange's frontline is so deep it hardly mattered. Like I said, it's only the opening weekend, but Syracuse was the best team I saw over these three days. There's a long, long way to go this season, and thank goodness for that.