Jeff Eisenberg

  • Maui champ Arizona avoids the 'rocky start' Sean Miller feared

    Jeff Eisenberg at The Dagger 2 hrs ago

    As he assessed how good he felt about his team a few days before its season opener earlier this month, Arizona coach Sean Miller offered a harsher evaluation than many expected given the Wildcats gaudy No. 2 preseason ranking. 

    "Realistically, we're not that good of team right now," Miller said. "We're nowhere near where we [were] a year ago at this time.  I can see us getting off to a rocky start in the month of November."

    Arizona indeed hasn't bolted from the starting blocks as fast as fellow top-five teams Kentucky, Duke and Wisconsin have this season, but the Wildcats are starting to show signs that they may yet close the gap. They showcased stifling defense, an emerging freshman star and a knack for getting to the free throw line Wednesday night in the Maui Invitational title game, continuing their recent domination of San Diego State with a tense 61-59 victory over the 15th-ranked Aztecs.

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  • Upset of North Carolina shows Butler hasn't lost its way

    Jeff Eisenberg at The Dagger 13 hrs ago

    Having lost 14 games in its Big East debut last winter and endured two head coaching changes in a span of 16 months, Butler entered the season at somewhat of a crossroads.

    Interim coach Chris Holtmann faced pressure to provide stability at a time of crisis and to show that last season's woes were an aberration and not the new reality for a proud program.

    A 74-66 victory over fifth-ranked North Carolina on Wednesday doesn't mean that Butler is back to the level it achieved at the height of the Brad Stevens era, but it is a big step toward assuaging concerns about the future of the program. The Bulldogs toppled the Tar Heels in a blue-collar fashion reminiscent of some of the memorable upsets previous Butler teams have pulled off.

    Much of the offense Butler did generate came from a former walk-on guard and an unheralded freshman. Alex Barlow scored 17 points and hit four threes despite expending much of his energy defending Paige, while freshman forward Kelan Martin validated his strong start to the season against subpar competition by putting up 17 points and six rebounds against one of the nation's most storied programs.

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  • John Beilein's ESPN rant ignores Michigan's own culpability

    Jeff Eisenberg at The Dagger 17 hrs ago

    Maybe it was the disappointment of letting a late eight-point lead slip away against Villanova. Maybe it was the frustration of having a couple critical calls go against him down the stretch.

    Whatever the reason, Michigan coach John Beilein launched into an uncharacteristically angry rant at the end of his postgame news conference Tuesday night.

    Unprompted, Beilein tore into ESPN for pushing back tip-off of the Legends Classic title game from 10 p.m. to 10:15 EST because the Miami (Ohio) vs. Ohio football game airing beforehand was running long. Viewers would have missed the opening minutes of Villanova's 60-55 victory had ESPN not done so.

    "It's already the wrong time, 10 p.m. on the East Coast and now 15 more minutes? I love ESPN, they're so good for us. (But) they got that one wrong. We can't do that to our student-athletes. (Tell) Spike Albrecht when he goes to his 9 o'clock class today."

    Though Beilein's heart is clearly in the right place, his argument doesn't hold up under scrutiny.

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  • JayVaughn Pinkston's spectacular block saves Villanova

    Jeff Eisenberg at The Dagger 1 day ago

    The look of disbelief on John Beilein's face told the story.

    The Michigan coach thought he'd drawn up an inbound play to win Tuesday night's Legends Classic title game right up until the exact moment Villanova's JayVaughn Pinkston foiled it in spectacular fashion.

    With Michigan trailing by one and 7.8 seconds remaining, Caris LeVert set the inbound play in motion by setting a screen near the foul line, leveling Villanova's Dylan Ennis and freeing teammate Zak Irvin to break toward the basket. Irvin seemed to have a clean dunk, but Pinkston recognized the danger, left the man he was guarding and hurled himself between the ball and the rim in time to make an incredible game-saving blocked shot.

    Video of Pinkston's block had begun to spread on social media even before Villanova sank four more free throws in the final seconds to wrap up a 60-55 victory. The degree of difficulty stood out most, from Pinkston's remarkable awareness, to his quick-twitch reaction time, to his ability to somehow stuff Irvin's dunk attempt without committing a foul. 

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  • SMU's supposed breakout season isn't off to a good start

    Jeff Eisenberg at The Dagger 1 day ago

    One of the big questions entering the season was whether SMU was still capable of a breakout season even after elite point guard prospect Emmanuel Mudiay abruptly turned pro and top big man Marcus Kennedy encountered unexpected eligibility issues. 

    So far the answer is a resounding "no."

    The Mustangs are still in search of their first meaningful win of the season after squandering three chances in the opening two weeks of the season.

    They were seldom competitive at Gonzaga eight days ago in their first chance to prove themselves. They had no answer for freshman James Blackmon a few days later in a loss at Indiana. And they didn't fare any better in emotionally charged Moody Coliseum against Arkansas either, falling 78-72 on Tuesday night after their second-half comeback bid came up short.

    The only surefire marquee game left on SMU's schedule is a visit to Big Ten power Michigan on Dec. 5. A home game against Wyoming could also prove meaningful if the Cowboys build on their rout of Colorado the rest of the season. 

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  • Indiana's exposed flaws vs. Eastern Washington may linger

    Jeff Eisenberg at The Dagger 1 day ago

    The scariest part of Indiana's stunning 88-86 home loss to Eastern Washington is that the outcome didn't feel like a fluke.

    The defensive problems the Eagles exposed could be season-long issues for the Hoosiers.

    Though Indiana extended its defense to limit a deadly shooting Eastern Washington team to a modest six threes Monday night, the Hoosiers left themselves even more vulnerable than usual in the paint as a result. Six-foot-8 forward Venky Jois dominated Indiana's overmatched post defenders one-on-one in the post en route to 17 points and 14 rebounds and guards Tyler Harvey and Drew Brandon combined for 52 points by torching the slow-footed Hoosiers off the dribble.

    Easy baskets from those three Eastern Washington standouts rallied the Eagles from a 12-point second-half deficit and doomed Indiana to its first loss of the season. Eastern Washington shot 52.2 percent overall from the field and scored at will in the second half, time and time again either dumping the ball to Jois on the low block or setting a high ball screen to allow Brandon or Harvey to attack off the dribble.  

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  • San Diego State edges BYU in high stakes Maui thriller

    Jeff Eisenberg at The Dagger 2 days ago

    The possibility of a dream Maui Invitational final pitting San Diego State and Arizona is still alive thanks to the heroics of a little-known reserve guard.

    San Diego State's Aqeel Quinn buried six threes in the Aztecs' 92-87 double-overtime victory over former Mountain West rival BYU, none bigger than the one that extended Monday night's highly anticipated Maui quarterfinal to a second extra session.

    Quinn had just missed a 3-pointer that would have tied the game with 34 seconds to go in the first overtime when the senior guard redeemed himself by poking the rebound away from BYU guard Chase Fischer and corralling it. That gave Quinn time to take two steps back behind the 3-point line — yes, a blatant travel that the refs missed — and bury a game-tying left-wing 3-pointer to force a second overtime.

    Quinn's big shots helped San Diego State win a game with unusually high stakes for November.

    The difference between those two scenarios is probably worth at least a couple seed lines in March. It also could be the difference between making the NCAA tournament field or missing it altogether, as eventual NIT champion Wichita State found out during the 2010-11 season.

  • Rick Pitino delivers memorable one-liner after forgettable rout

    Jeff Eisenberg at The Dagger 2 days ago

    The most memorable part of Louisville's 87-26 demolition of overmatched Savannah State wasn't anything that took place on the court.

    It was a brazen one-liner coach Rick Pitino delivered near the end of his postgame press conference.

    Asked if there were times he felt bad for Savannah State as the Cardinals' lead ballooned into the 50s and 60s, Pitino acknowledged he stopped worrying about how to win early in the game and started devising ways not to win by too much.

    "I don't like to see any team struggle like that. I really don't," Pitino began. Then he quipped, "I mean, we played four white guys and an Egyptian. We tried everything."

    Pitino's joke was a little risqu é for a postgame press conference, but it drew a laugh from many of the reporters in the room. And, in truth, the Louisville coach did do everything he could not to embarrass Savannah State after it fell behind 29-0 after 16 minutes, 41-7 at halftime and 63-10 seven minutes into the second half. 

    "You get nothing out of this," he told reporters in Louisville. "You just feel bad for the other team."

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  • Villanova's rout of VCU continues the Big East's sizzling start

    Jeff Eisenberg at The Dagger 2 days ago

    When Villanova blew the doors off VCU on Monday night en route to a 77-53 rout, it wasn't just a statement victory for the Wildcats.

    It also continued the unexpected run of success the oft-questioned Big East has enjoyed so far this season.

    The Big East collectively boasts an impressive 34-2 record, a mark that includes Creighton's victory over Oklahoma, Providence's wins against Notre Dame and Florida State and now Villanova's demolition of VCU. Rebuilding Marquette is responsible for the league's only two setbacks, a predictable one against Ohio State and an embarrassing one at home against Division I newcomer Nebraska-Omaha.

    While the majority of the Big East's wins have come against a collection of small-conference teams, other power conferences haven't fared nearly as well against equally suspect competition. ACC teams have already lost 14 games this season, SEC teams have dropped 13 and Pac-12 teams have suffered 10 defeats.

    The lead continued to swell the rest of the second half because VCU could not force its usual number of turnovers with its full-court pressure and therefore couldn't generate enough easy looks in transition. 

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  • Maui Invitational unveils potentially formidable 2016 field

    Jeff Eisenberg at The Dagger 2 days ago

    Even as this year's Maui Invitational tips off Monday afternoon, buzz is already beginning to build for future tournaments.

    The 2016 field the Maui Invitational unveiled Monday includes blue blood North Carolina, four-time national champion UConn, 2014 Final Four Wisconsin and perennial Big East contender Georgetown. Tennessee, Oregon, Oklahoma State and host Chaminade round out the promising eight-team field.

    It would be a surprise if that tournament isn't among 2016's best given the tradition-rich participants, but exactly how strong the field will be is difficult to predict two years in advance.

    North Carolina should be among the nation's top teams as long as potential NCAA sanctions from its academic scandal aren't crippling. Georgetown has strung together several good recruiting classes of late and there's no reason to believe UConn and Wisconsin won't be formidable. 

    The wildcards are Oregon, Oklahoma State and Tennesee, each of whom are in rebuilding mode right now. Should some or all of them replenished their rosters by then, the field could suddenly be deeper than it would appear today.

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