The Dagger

  • Its stars have graduated, but Wichita State isn't going anywhere

    Jeff Eisenberg at The Dagger 13 hrs ago

    Wichita State took a massive step toward proving it will remain nationally relevant without graduated stars Ron Baker and Fred VanVleet.

    The Shockers notched their most impressive victory of the season on Saturday, a 76-73 win over Oklahoma in pro-Sooners Oklahoma City.

    Strong defense carried Wichita State against Oklahoma just like it has in so many previous big games. The Shockers limited the Sooners to 30.8 percent shooting by packing in its defense, walling off driving lanes and trying to force Lon Kruger’s team into taking mostly contested jump shots.

    The strategy proved most effective during a nine-minute stretch midway through the second half during which Oklahoma scored only four points and got nothing easy at the rim or in transition. That enabled Wichita State to methodically string together a 14-4 run, giving the Shockers the nine-point cushion they needed to close out what had previously been a taut one- or two-possession game.

    This one was the one that served notice VanVleet and Baker may be gone but the Wichita State program they helped elevate is still here.


  • Dunk of the year nominee: Duke's Grayson Allen

    Jeff Eisenberg at The Dagger 15 hrs ago

    So much for any concerns about Grayson Allen’s lingering injuries.

    The Duke standout looked plenty explosive throwing down this vicious one-handed slam on Saturday during the first half of Duke’s matchup with UNLV.

    I think Grayson Allen's feeling better. Good lord, this is nasty.

    — Rob Dauster (@RobDauster) December 10, 2016

    Goodness. One angle isn’t enough on that one.

    Grayson Allen! Oh boy! @latsondheimer @pollonpreps @evan_b @trigonis30

    — Coach H (@buckleyhoops) December 10, 2016

    Maybe Allen is feeling better. Maybe UNLV’s porous defense is playing a role. Whatever the reason, the Duke guard has looked much better Saturday, scoring a career high 34 points on 12-for-16 shooting including one ferocious dunk.

    – – – – – – –

  • Josh Hart's one-man onslaught rallies No. 1 Villanova past Notre Dame

    Jeff Eisenberg at The Dagger 19 hrs ago

    The last four times Notre Dame had faced the reigning national champ, the Irish sprung an upset.

    Only because of the brilliance of Josh Hart did that streak end Saturday afternoon.

    With top-ranked Villanova trailing by nine midway through the second half and in desperate need of a spark, Hart hoisted his team onto his back. Eighteen of the senior guard’s career-high 37 points came during the final 13 minutes of the game, rallying the Wildcats to a 74-66 victory in a battle of two of college basketball’s final eight unbeaten teams.

    Hart had a hand in almost every key basket of Villanova’s comeback, from a steal and layup to cut the deficit to five, to a deep 3-pointer that sliced it to three, to a driving layup that pulled the Wildcats within one. It was his two free throws with six minutes to go that gave Villanova the lead for good in a game in which the Wildcats had trailed the first 31 minutes.

    The way most of Hart’s teammates were misfiring throughout the game, Villanova would not have improved to 10-0 or retained its No. 1 ranking without his one-man onslaught.

    – – – – – – –

    Follow @JeffEisenberg

  • What to watch this weekend: Four big tests for the Big East

    Jeff Eisenberg at The Dagger 1 day ago

    It’s a big Saturday for the Big East.

    Three of the league’s top teams will try to validate strong starts against dangerous opponents and rapidly improving Marquette will seek its first marquee win of the season against in-state rival Wisconsin.

    Here’s a deeper look at those four games, as well as two other Saturday showdowns that do not involve Big East teams:

    No. 1 VILLANOVA (9-0) vs. No. 23 NOTRE DAME (9-0) (Saturday, 12 p.m. EST)

    Players to watch: Josh Hart, Villanova (17.6 ppg, 6.7 rpg); Bonzie Colson, Notre Dame (17.1 ppg, 11.1 rpg)

    One big question: Can Notre Dame add to its reputation as a giant killer?

    No. 22 CINCINNATI (7-1) at No. 16 BUTLER (8-1) (Saturday, 4:30 p.m. EST)

    Players to watch: Kyle Washington, Cincinnati (17.3 ppg, 9.0 rpg); Kelan Martin, Butler (17.4 ppg, 4.3 ppg)

    One big question: Can Cincinnati’s frontcourt overpower Butler in the paint?

    MICHIGAN (7-2) at No. 2 UCLA (9-0) (Saturday, 8 p.m. EST)

    Players to watch: Zak Irvin, Michigan (13.6 points, 4.8 rpg); Lonzo Ball, UCLA (14.6 ppg, 9.3 apg)

    One big question: Will UCLA be focused or overconfident?

    WICHITA STATE (8-2) vs. OKLAHOMA (6-2) (Saturday, 4 p.m. EST)

    – – – – – – –

  • A rare poor night on offense dooms Saint Mary's to its first loss

    Jeff Eisenberg at The Dagger 2 days ago

    Maybe it was the eight-day layoff for final exams. Maybe it was the quality of the opposing defense. Maybe it was just an unusually poor shooting night.

    Whatever the reason, 12th-ranked Saint Mary’s was a shadow of itself Thursday night during a surprising 65-51 home loss at the hands of quality mid-major Texas Arlington.

    A Saint Mary’s team that entered play leading the nation in points per possession didn’t crack 50 points until less than a minute remained in the game. The previously unbeaten Gaels shot 32.7 percent from the field and committed 16 turnovers, costly mistakes on a night when even open shots weren’t falling.

    Texas Arlington’s aggressive zone confounded Saint Mary’s the way few opposing defenses have in recent years.

    Jock Landale led the Gaels to an impressive 6-0 start by averaging a team-best 19.7 points and 9.0 rebounds, but the 6-foot-11 junior floundered Thursday when double teamed in the post. He sank just 3 of 10 shots, rushed layups he normally makes and committed five turnovers trying to kick to open shooters.

    – – – – – – –

    Follow @JeffEisenberg

  • Underachieving Washington has too many issues for Markelle Fultz to fix

    Jeff Eisenberg at The Dagger 3 days ago

    Less than two minutes into the second half of his team’s 98-71 demolition of Washington on Wednesday night, Gonzaga’s Przemek Karnowski found himself in a position he has seldom experienced before.

    The plodding center beat every Huskies player down court, caught a perfectly weighted pass in stride and threw down an uncontested two-handed transition dunk.

    That sequence perfectly captured the essence of what’s wrong with Washington. Only a team as undisciplined as the Huskies could allow a 7-foot, 300-pound man to blow by them on a fast break. And only a coach as lenient as Lorenzo Romar would let that slide without calling timeout to yank each of his players off the floor.

    Disorganized offense and lackluster defense quickly doomed Washington’s hopes of staying competitive in Spokane. Eighth-ranked Gonzaga led by 21 points after eight minutes, by 25 at halftime and by as many as 34 early in the second half en route to an overpowering win in the first scheduled meeting between the two in-state rivals since 2006.

    – – – – – – –

    Follow @JeffEisenberg

  • Poor non-league performance could haunt the Atlantic 10 in March

    Jeff Eisenberg at The Dagger 3 days ago

    In the past nine years, the Atlantic 10 has never received fewer than three NCAA tournament bids.

    That streak could be in jeopardy this season the way the league has sputtered out of the starting blocks the past four weeks.

    Only one Atlantic 10 team has notched a victory over an opponent in Ken Pomeroy’s top 50, Rhode Island’s 76-71 neutral-court win over Cincinnati on Nov. 19. The closest thing the league has to a marquee win besides that is Dayton’s road win over middling Alabama, VCU’s rout of disinterested LSU or George Washington’s victory at erratic Temple.

    The Atlantic 10’s best teams have compensated a bit by avoiding sub-100 losses, but the rest of the league has been far more generous. Among the most damaging of the league’s 15 sub-100 losses include Fordham falling to Sacred Heart, St. Bonaventure falling to Arkansas-Little Rock and La Salle falling to Texas Southern.

    Those results leave the Atlantic 10 seventh in conference RPI, well behind the Big East, Big 12, ACC, Big Ten, SEC and Pac-12. More alarmingly, there aren’t too many Atlantic 10 teams who have asserted themselves as potential at-large contenders.

    – – – – – – –


  • Luke Kennard has emerged as an unlikely savior for injury-plagued Duke

    Jeff Eisenberg at The Dagger 4 days ago

    As he walked back on defense late in Tuesday night’s 84-74 victory over Florida, Duke guard Luke Kennard could not resist mouthing off a little.

    He flashed a cocky grin, shook his head back and forth and shouted, “Cmon man!”

    Kennard has earned the right to talk trash given his contributions to a Duke team riddled with injuries. The 6-foot-6 sophomore has teamed with senior forward Amile Jefferson to carry the Blue Devils at a time when preseason All-American Grayson Allen has been hampered by an ailing toe and elite freshmen Jayson Tatum, Harry Giles and Marques Bolden are recovering from offseason injuries.

    In 10 games this season, Kennard has averaged a team-high 20.4 points per game on ultra-efficient 52.2 percent shooting. Kennard has has scored in all sorts of ways too, from the spot-up 3-pointers that were his trademark as a freshman, to smooth mid-range pull-ups, to deft floaters in the lane.

    Such talk has to be pretty stunning for a guy who was not among the most heralded players entering the season on a star-studded Duke team.

    – – – – – – –

  • Stunning loss to Florida Atlantic could be damaging for Ohio State

    Jeff Eisenberg at The Dagger 4 days ago

    Ohio State’s bid to avoid missing the NCAA tournament for a second straight season veered off course Tuesday night.

    The Buckeyes suffered a damaging upset loss that will shrink their margin for error in the coming months.

    With the score tied late in overtime, Florida Atlantic coach Michael Curry called a play for sophomore guard Nick Rutherford and told the rest of his team to get out of the way. Rutherford got Ohio State’s Kam Williams off balance with a crossover dribble, attacked the basket off the bounce and banked in the go-ahead runner with one second left, giving the Owls a stunning 79-77 road victory.

    Florida Atlantic upset Ohio State in overtime tonight.

    Here's the game-winning bucket with one second left.

    — Big Ten Network (@BigTenNetwork) December 7, 2016

    To put into perspective how dismal a loss this was for Ohio State, consider how bad Florida Atlantic has been recently.

    – – – – – – –

    Follow @JeffEisenberg

  • Dunk of the year nominee: Arizona State's Obinna Oleka

    Jeff Eisenberg at The Dagger 4 days ago

    At 5-foot-10, Purdue guard P.J. Thompson isn’t exactly a fearsome rim protector.

    Thompson found that out the hard way Tuesday night when he foolishly attempted to break up an alley-oop pass from Arizona State’s Shannon Evans to 6-foot-8 Obinna Oleka.

    Holy Obinna Oleka! Guarantee we talk about this dunk tonight on Sports Report… @SunDevilHoops @Pac12Network

    — Drew Shiller (@DrewShiller) December 7, 2016

    Of course, Thompson isn’t the first player to land on the wrong end of a YouTube clip at the hands of Oleka. The bouncy Arizona State forward did the same thing to Arizona’s Ryan Anderson in a Pac-12 game last January.

    More consolation for Thompson: His team was humbling Arizona State with just as much authority as Oleka embarrassed him. Purdue led the hapless Sun Devils 47-21 at halftime on Tuesday night.

    – – – – – – –