Basketball coach Pat Geil has removed many players from practice for lackluster effort or shoddy performance.

Only once has he yanked a kid off the court for doing too well.

When Robert Upshaw enrolled at San Joaquin Memorial High School four years ago, the highly touted 6-foot-11 junior initially could only practice with his new team because of California transfer rules. Geil put Upshaw on the scout team in practice until the center's knack for swatting away shots in the paint created an unusual problem.

"He was blocking so many shots and making it so difficult to score that our starting big guys began losing confidence," Geil said. "When they got in games, they were hesitant to shoot. Eventually, we had to tell Rob, 'Why don't you sit out for a while.' Our big guys couldn't get up any shots against him in practice and it was killing us."

Scoring against Upshaw hasn't been any easier for opposing college players this season than it was for his San Joaquin Memorial teammates four years ago. The University of Washington sophomore is turning away shots at an absurd pace, averaging a national-best 4.8 blocks despite coming off the bench every game this season and only logging 19.1 minutes per night.

The emergence of Upshaw as a defensive anchor is a huge reason 16th-ranked Washington has won its first nine games and held opponents to an anemic 33 percent shooting. The Huskies' array of tall, athletic guards have been able to defend aggressively and close out hard on 3-point shooters without fear of being beaten off the dribble since they know there's a shot blocker with a 7-foot-51/2-inch wingspan lurking in the paint to erase mistakes.

Upshaw's impact on defense isn't the only way he has contributed to Washington's quest to end a three-year NCAA tournament drought. The former top 50 recruit has also averaged an efficient 10.9 points and a team-high 7.1 rebounds, further validating the Washington staff's decision to offer him a second chance after Fresno State dismissed him from school the summer after his freshman season.

"What I've tried to do is be the person Washington has been missing, a big man that can block shots, run the floor, rebound and also score," Upshaw said. "I'm having success but I'm not satisfied. I know I can be a lot better than what I am right now. I think this is the start of what I can be, and I just have to keep improving."

Upshaw's evolution into an impact college player and an NBA prospect is a testament to his perseverance because there were times when it seemed his basketball career had stalled.

This is a guy who averaged an underwhelming 4.1 points and 3.8 rebounds as a freshman at Fresno State despite arriving with more hype than any recruit the school has landed in years. This is a guy who Fresno State coach Rodney Terry suspended twice as a freshman for team rules violations and eventually decided was more trouble than he was worth. This is a guy whose spot on the Washington roster was in jeopardy last spring after the coaching staff banned him from attending practices or games so he could address his off-court issues.

"I think it has made Rob a stronger person fighting through so many obstacles to get to this point," said his mother Ceylon Sherman. "Rob has always been a sweet, caring person, but the decisions and choices he was making weren't the right ones. He has matured a lot over the last year or two. Now he appreciates what he has more because he had to work harder to achieve it."


Before Upshaw could evolve into an elite basketball prospect, he first had to give the sport a chance.

Upshaw's mom played from third grade through high school and both his older brothers were basketball players too, but he preferred soccer and baseball. Only after he rocketed up to 6-8 entering eighth grade did he finally grow tired of his family's not-so-subtle encouragement and decide to give basketball a try.

Even though Upshaw hadn't played basketball nearly as long as most of his peers and he was in such poor shape that he'd get tired after a couple trips down the floor, his size, footwork and coordination enabled him to quickly emerge as a potential Division I prospect anyway. By the end of his sophomore year at Edison High School, Louisville, Georgetown, Texas, Arizona and UCLA were among the many programs dispatching coaches to Fresno in order to pursue him.

Out of a large pool of elite programs Upshaw signed with Kansas State in November 2011 because of his strong bond with the players and staff and his belief that head coach Frank Martin's tough-love approach would get the most out of him. Upshaw intended to honor that letter of intent until a teammate at an all-star game approached him in late March 2012 and broke the news to him that Martin had just left Kansas State for South Carolina.

"It was heartbreaking," Sherman said. "We had taken our time to look for a perfect fit for Rob, and Kansas State was everything we were looking for. We were ready to move to Kansas. We were ready. It was frustrating when it happened because we were going to Kansas State because of Frank Martin. Once he left, we had to open the recruitment back up."

Robert Upshaw (Joe Nicholson-USA TODAY Sports)With the spring signing period only weeks away, Upshaw didn't have much time to make a decision. He didn't want to go to Kansas State anymore because he'd be playing for a staff that didn't recruit him. He didn't want to follow Martin to South Carolina either. And while some elite programs that originally recruited him were still willing to free up a scholarship to make room for him, he was overwhelmed at the thought of starting his recruiting process all over again.

For that reason, Upshaw chose the school that felt most comfortable to him. He lived minutes from Fresno State's campus, he knew most of his future teammates and Terry had recruited him since his freshman year of high school when Terry was an assistant coach under Rick Barnes at Texas.

"Toward the end, Rob was just so frustrated with the recruiting process that he said he was going to give Fresno State a try," Sherman said. "I didn't want him to stay in Fresno, but against my wishes, that's what he did. It just didn't turn out to be a good fit for him."

The risk for celebrated basketball prospects who choose to play for their hometown college is that the spotlight shines brighter and the expectations are more burdensome. Success brings fame and adulation; failure ensures ignominy and criticism.

There are a handful of reasons why the most prized recruit of Terry's tenure experienced more scorn than praise as a Fresno State freshman.

Upshaw battled knee problems leading up to the start of the season that detracted from his explosiveness and conditioning. He also often gave an uneven effort in practices and games. And he got himself in trouble often enough away from basketball that Terry was compelled to suspend him twice for a total of four games late in the season before dismissing him the following summer.

Neither Upshaw nor anyone close to him chose to offer specifics when asked exactly what led to his dismissal, but their answers were still revealing. They describe Upshaw as a goodhearted but immature kid who made the type of foolhardy decisions college freshmen sometimes make when they're living on their own for the first time.

"I made some bad choices," Upshaw said. "What happened is done and I can't change that, but I learned from it. I'm not doing it now. I'm definitely not doing it now. I'm in a better stage of my life. Basically, I just had to grow up."

The first step in Upshaw's maturation process was spending part of the summer after his freshman year at John Lucas' Houston-based treatment program.

Lucas, a former NBA star whose career was nearly derailed by substance abuse, has gained national acclaim for training basketball players and for helping rehabilitate athletes whose lives have careened off track. The tough love approach Lucas favors was exactly what Upshaw needed to recalibrate his mindset for the comeback ahead.

"John Lucas was so good for Rob," said Upshaw's former AAU coach Clayton Williams. "That's when he started to make changes and make strides. He came back a different person."

One of Upshaw's first priorities after returning home was to find a school willing to offer him a second chance. Washington emerged as one of a handful of suitors once its staff did enough research to properly weigh the risks.

Assistant coach T.J. Otzelberger visited with Upshaw and the big man's family, friends and former coaches in hopes of assessing what went wrong at Fresno State and whether the off-court issues were likely to resurface. Otzelberger emerged from those conversations confident Upshaw was ready to make the necessary changes in his life and convinced the 7-footer could fill a need for a Washington program that lacked a shot blocking center on its roster.

"We certainly did a lot of digging to find out where he was at mentally," Otzelberger said. "From everything that Rob was saying to us, we felt like he wanted to turn his life around and he seemed sincere in those overtures. We knew his ability level and we knew the challenges of finding a legitimate rim protector. Between what Rob was saying to us and the tremendous upside that he has, it made him a risk we were willing to embrace."

Even though transfer-friendly Oregon and prestigious UCLA were among the other schools that expressed interest in Upshaw, Washington was a fairly easy choice.

Playing time didn't figure to be an issue with top big man Perris Blackwell graduating after the 2013-14 season. Upshaw also fancied the idea of playing for Washington's Lorenzo Romar, a head coach with a reputation for preparing his players for life outside basketball by serving as a father figure and hands-on mentor.

When Upshaw arrived at Washington at the start of the 2013-14 school year, Romar immediately set up some stipulations for what the 7-footer had to do earn his trust. Only if Upshaw lived up to Romar's expectations on and off the floor would he have the chance to play for the Huskies when he became eligible the following season.

"More than anything, we needed to see consistency on a daily basis," Otzelberger said. "We made sure he was attending class, doing well in school and addressing any issues he had away from the floor. We encouraged him to tackle those head-on and to get appropriate help and attend counseling or meetings if needed. And from a basketball standpoint, we wanted to see that daily commitment. He hadn't always been someone who had taken care of business on the court, off the court and in the classroom, so that's what we wanted to see."

Though Upshaw endeared himself to everyone at Washington with his warm, friendly personality, his transformation wasn't instantaneous. Romar even prohibited Upshaw from attending practice or sitting on the bench during games for the second half of last season to prove he wouldn't hesitate to cut ties with the 7 footer if necessary.

There were times Upshaw wasn't sure he'd ever have the chance to play for Washington, but he gradually won over the coaching staff by attending class, persevering through extra workouts and getting into the best shape of his life. Romar reinstated Upshaw to the team this summer, shaking his hand and congratulating him the progress he had made in his first calendar year at Washington.

"Coach Romar could have given up on me a long time ago but he hasn't," Upshaw said. "He has been like a second father to me. He wanted me to change my life and he wanted me to get myself together, so he had to give me a couple consequences in order to do that. It has really helped me. Look where I'm at now."

Indeed how far Upshaw has come in the past 18 months is pretty remarkable.

The person whose self-destructive choices nearly cost him his basketball career is now back on an upward trajectory. The player once dismissed from a losing program is now an unbeaten team's breakout star. The guy once derided as a bust is now one of the most feared shot blockers in the nation.

Earlier this month, Brad Roznovsky, an assistant coach at San Joaquin Memorial when Upshaw was there, visited his former player in Seattle for two days. He returned home from Seattle extremely encouraged by Upshaw's maturation on and off the court.

"I think he has really grown up," Roznovsky said. "There are a lot of people in the Fresno area who still come up to me and make jokes about Rob, but he is proving everyone wrong right now. From where he is now to where he was a year and a half ago, it's night and day."

Video of Robert Upshaw via NZAUTV Basketball:

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Jeff Eisenberg is the editor of The Dagger on Yahoo Sports. Have a tip? Email him at daggerblog@yahoo.com or follow him on Twitter!

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Author: Jeff Eisenberg
Posted: December 19, 2014, 11:19 am

Each time Kevin Ollie answered a question about NC State transfer Rodney Purvis during last season's national title run, the UConn coach referred to the former McDonald's All-American as "a Ferrari sitting in the garage that I can't drive."

The Ferrari finally emerged from the garage this November, but so far Ollie hasn't gotten enough mileage out of it.

In the six games Purvis has played so far this season, he is scoring a modest 7.2 points per game, shooting only 35.1 percent from the field and averaging more turnovers than assists. He also was suspended for UConn's season opener against Bryant and sat out against Texas as a result of a lingering sprained ankle that was hampering his ability to attack the rim. 

Purvis was healthy for UConn's 66-56 loss to Duke on Thursday night, but the sophomore wing still wasn't very effective. On a night when the Huskies desperately needed other scorers to emerge in support of star guard Ryan Boatright, Purvis played 30 minutes but sank only 4 of 11 shots and finished with eight points and three turnovers.

That sort of stat line isn't what Purvis envisioned when he left NC State after starting 23 games as a freshman and averaging 8.3 points. At the time he believed he could have accomplished more in an offense that offered him more opportunities to create off the dribble, but so far he has played a similar role at UConn and produced slightly less.

Season-long struggles from Purvis are one of several factors that have contributed to UConn's disappointing 4-4 start. Last year's national champs need scorers to emerge to help replace Shabazz Napier, DeAndre Daniels and Niels Giffey, but so far the Huskies are lacking enough reliable options besides Boatright.

UConn is shooting only 29.5 percent from behind the arc and isn't generating enough free throw attempts or second-chance points either. Freshman Daniel Hamilton has performed well as a secondary perimeter threat and Amida Brimah had been making strides finishing around the rim prior to his scoreless game against Duke, but nobody else has delivered consistent production.

The most frustrating part about Thursday's loss for UConn was that the Huskies played well strong enough defense to spring a massive upset if they just could have generated a little more scoring.

Aggressive defense from UConn limited Duke to 37.5 percent shooting and forced 19 Blue Devils turnovers, but despite 22 points from Boatright and a surprising 14 from forward Kentan Facey, the Huskies couldn't take advantage. Late in the second half, Duke was sending two defenders at Boatright to get the ball out of his hands because Mike Kryzewski preferred any other player creating for the Huskies.

There are a handful of players capable of filling that scoring void for UConn going forward.

Maybe Omar Calhoun will eventually develop into more than a bit player now that he's finally healthy. Maybe Hamilton will steadily improve his already-solid production as he gains experience. Maybe Brimah will become more consistent and continue to flourish.

Nonetheless, the player most capable of giving UConn more is Purvis. The Huskies need their Ferrari to stop performing like a Ford. 

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Jeff Eisenberg is the editor of The Dagger on Yahoo Sports. Have a tip? Email him at daggerblog@yahoo.com or follow him on Twitter!

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Author: Jeff Eisenberg
Posted: December 19, 2014, 4:26 am

Considering the pain Branden Dawson appeared to be in after his hard fall Wednesday night against Eastern Michigan, the diagnosis doesn't seem as dire as it could have been.

Tests revealed the Michigan State senior suffered a stable, non-displaced fracture to his left wrist, the school announced Thursday night. He will miss at least the Spartans' next two games against Texas Southern and the Citadel but could return in time for Michigan State's Big Ten opener against Maryland on Dec. 30.

"I feel bad for Branden, as he's been practicing so well over the last few weeks," Michigan State coach Tom Izzo said in a school-released statement. "But we also feel a bit fortunate when you look at the video from the game; it certainly could have been worse."

Dawson suffered the injury when he fell hard to the floor attempting a tip dunk and braced the impact to his tailbone with his left wrist. He stood up wincing and shaking his wrist before retreating to the locker room where trainers wrapped the injury in ice.

Michigan State (8-3) ought to be able to survive without Dawson in its next two games, but the Spartans will miss him dearly if he can't return in time for the start of Big Ten play. Dawson, Michigan State's top returning player from last year's Elite Eight team, is averaging 11.6 points per game and a team-best 8.7 rebounds per game. 

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Jeff Eisenberg is the editor of The Dagger on Yahoo Sports. Have a tip? Email him at daggerblog@yahoo.com or follow him on Twitter!

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Author: Jeff Eisenberg
Posted: December 19, 2014, 1:15 am

Lauren Hill's playing career is complete as a result of her deteriorating health, but the cancer-stricken Mount St. Joseph University freshman still isn't ready to leave basketball behind.

She will remain part of the Mount St. Joseph team as an honorary coach, head coach Dan Benjamin wrote in an email to various media outlets.

Hill has been as an inspiration to many nationwide because of her courage after receiving a dire diagnosis. Doctors discovered an inoperable tumor growing at the base of Hill's brain stem last year and told her she wouldn't live through December, yet she has refused to give up on her dream of playing college basketball.

Ten thousand fans packed the Cintas Center at Xavier University and a national TV audience watched as Hill fulfilled her dream of playing college basketball for the first time on Nov. 2, scoring a layup on the game's opening possession and a put-back late in the second half. She also has used her growing fame to raise hundreds of thousands of dollars for pediatric cancer research, spearheading fundraisers and doing as many interviews with local and national media outlets as she could in hopes of spreading her message.

Hill's final college game came Tuesday against College of Wooster. She started and scored the opening basket of her team's 66-65 victory before exiting the game for the final time.

"Lauren played her final college basketball game yesterday," the family wrote in a Facebook post. "She stepped onto the court one last time in her college career and again fought the odds and made a basket that brought everyone in the gym to their feet. At the end of the game, she accepted a donation from Wooster toward her $1 million goal. It was incredible to see her continue to show such resolve and determination and continue to play strong both on the court and in life."

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Jeff Eisenberg is the editor of The Dagger on Yahoo Sports. Have a tip? Email him at daggerblog@yahoo.com or follow him on Twitter!

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Author: Jeff Eisenberg
Posted: December 18, 2014, 4:25 pm
Octavius Ellis and Coreontae DeBerry of the Cincinnati Bearcats celebrate Wednesday night. (Getty Images)

DATE: Wednesday, Dec. 17

A- — Cincinnati

Cincinnati's 71-62 overtime victory over 19th-ranked San Diego State was as big for the American Athletic Conference as it was for the Bearcats. The American collectively was 0-9 against Top 25 teams and did not have a single team receiving votes in the latest polls.

Of course, the Bearcats (7-2) also needed a notable win after losses to Nebraska and Ole Miss in two of their past three games. Cincinnati won on Wednesday by forcing 18 turnovers with its aggressive 2-1-2 full-court press, by limiting cold-shooting San Diego State to 39.3 percent shooting and by getting timely offense down the stretch from guards Farad Cobb and Troy Caupain.

San Diego State pulled off a last-minute rally in regulation to force overtime behind key threes from Trey Kell and Aqeel Quinn. The Aztecs didn't have a second comeback in them for overtime.  

A- — Old Dominion

In its star-studded backcourt, Sun Belt favorite Georgia State features NBA prospect R.J. Hunter, Kentucky transfer Ryan Harrow and Louisville transfer Kevin Ware. Somehow, however, the Panthers didn't have the best guard on the floor when they faced Old Dominion on Wednesday night.

That honor went to Old Dominion's Trey Freeman, who lit up Georgia State for 19 of his 21 points in the second half and overtime. The junior guard was at his best when it mattered most, scoring 10 points in the final 3:44 of regulation and overtime to lift the Monarchs to a 58-54 win.

Old Dominion's victory further solidifies the Monarchs as both a threat to make the NCAA tournament and a Conference USA contender alongside UTEP and Louisiana Tech. At 8-1 with victories against LSU, VCU and Richmond and a lone loss to Illinois State, the Monarchs are in excellent position five weeks into the year.

B — NC State

One of the downsides to the way Tennessee traps and presses defensively is that the Vols will often leave shooters free. On Wednesday night, NC State's Ralston Turner made them pay.

The senior guard finished with a career-best eight 3-pointers including one impossibly deep shot late in the second half that drained any remaining drama from NC State's 83-72 home win. Turner went 9 of 18 from the field and sank 7 of 8 free throws to post his first-ever 30-point game.

A combined 53 points from Turner and fellow guard Trevor Lacey ensured that NC State wouldn't suffer its first losing streak this season and that Tennessee wouldn't build momentum. The Wolfpack had just suffered a bad one-point home loss to Wofford. The Vols had just posted their most impressive win of the season over Butler.

D- — Houston

The return of heralded point guard L.J. Rose did not have the impact Houston expected. The former Baylor transfer went scoreless with four assists and six turnovers in his debut as the Cougars lost to hapless Arkansas Pine Bluff 61-56 in overtime.

Marcel Mosley scored 33 points to help Arkansas Pine Bluff (2-8) open a 16-point second-half lead. Houston rallied to force overtime behind Jherrod Stiggers and LeRon Barnes, but the Cougars fell behind again in overtime and didn't have a second surge in them.

It was Houston's first loss since a Nov. 25 rout at the hands of Harvard, however, it validated the notion that the Cougars' 5-1 start was more a product of their schedule than anything else. The five teams Houston has beaten so far in Kelvin Sampson's debut season are Murray State, Morgan State, Texas Pan-American, Abilene Christian and Houston Baptist.

NOTES:

• San Francisco transfer Cody Doolin looked awfully comfortable facing onetime league rival Portland on Wednesday night. The UNLV pont guard forced overtime with a deft pass to Dwayne Morgan for a game-tying layup at the buzzer. Then he won the game for the Rebels with a last-second layup of his own in overtime, turning down a dribble handoff, spinning into the paint and scoring off the glass to give UNLV a 75-73 win. Doolin finished with 15 points, 3 assists and 0 turnovers.

• Falling to Tulane, TCU and Oregon State wasn't great for Mississippi State. Extending that losing streak to four with a 67-55 defeat at the hands of Arkansas State was even worse. The Red Wolves' previous game against a power conference foe? An 87-46 shellacking at Purdue.

• Central Michigan improved to 7-1 at Northwestern's expense, beating the Wildcats 80-67 in Evanston. Braylon Rayson scored 19 points to lead the Chippewas.

An otherwise satisfying victory over Eastern Michigan turned scary for Michigan State when Branden Dawson fell hard to the floor attempting a tip dunk and braced the impact to his tailbone with his left wrist. The official diagnosis is a badly sprained left wrist, but the senior forward will undergo further tests on Thursday.

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Jeff Eisenberg is the editor of The Dagger on Yahoo Sports. Have a tip? Email him at daggerblog@yahoo.com or follow him on Twitter!

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Author: Jeff Eisenberg
Posted: December 18, 2014, 1:00 pm

An otherwise satisfying victory turned scary for Michigan State midway through the second half when the Spartans' most important player fell hard to the floor attempting a tip dunk and braced the impact to his tailbone with his left wrist.

Branden Dawson stood up wincing and shaking his wrist before retreating to the locker room where trainers wrapped the injury in ice. He watched the final nine minutes of Michigan State's 66-46 rout of Eastern Michigan from the Spartans bench.

The initial diagnosis for Dawson's wrist is a bad sprain, but the senior forward will undergo further tests on Thursday to assess whether there is any more damage. Michigan State coach Tom Izzo told reporters in East Lansing that an initial X-Ray came back negative but Dawson "is going to miss some time here, there's no doubt about that."

"I saw the tape and it wasn't pretty," Izzo added. "But he's tough as nails, maybe he'll bounce back."

Michigan State (8-3) ought to be able to survive without Dawson in its next two games against lightweights Texas Southern and the Citadel, but the Spartans will miss him dearly if he can't return in time for the start of Big Ten play on Dec. 30. The first three conference opponents Michigan State will face are Maryland, Indiana and Iowa.

Dawson, Michigan State's top returning player from last year's Elite Eight team, was averaging 11.6 points per game and a team-best 8.7 rebounds per game. The versatile 6-foot-6 forward's spill was not unlike the one Keith Appling endured last December, leaving the senior point guard with a lingering right hand injury that derailed his season and perhaps Michigan State's Final Four hopes too. 

What Michigan State has to hope this year is that Dawson's injury heals quicker and doesn't linger as long.

Yes, Dawson hasn't evolved into a go-to threat offensively the way many expected he would as a senior. Yes, the Spartans just regained the services of previously injured freshman forward Javon Bess on Wednesday night.

But to contend in the Big Ten, Michigan State needs a healthy Dawson to provide interior scoring, rebounding, leadership and defensive versatility. That's why it will surely be nervous night for the Spartans as they await a more complete prognosis for Dawson in the morning.

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Jeff Eisenberg is the editor of The Dagger on Yahoo Sports. Have a tip? Email him at daggerblog@yahoo.com or follow him on Twitter!

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Author: Jeff Eisenberg
Posted: December 18, 2014, 5:05 am

Dayton's basketball team became a lot smaller Wednesday. So did the Flyers' NCAA tournament chances as a result.

Jalen Robinson (R) and Devon Scott during a Dayton victory during the NCAA tournament. (Getty)Starting center Devon Scott and top backup Jalen Robinson have been dismissed from school, Dayton announced Wednesday afternoon. The school did not specify what led to the punishment, but CBSSports.com reported that Scott and Robinson were caught stealing various items from on-campus dorms.

Scott, a 6-foot-9 junior, started every game so far this season for Dayton and averaged 9.1 points and 7.4 rebounds. Robinson, also a 6-9 junior, averaged 3.2 points and 2.4 rebounds off the bench. Without them, Dayton has no scholarship players taller than 6-foot-6 in their rotation, leaving the Flyers at a massive size disadvantage against almost every upcoming opponent on the schedule.

Dayton burst onto the national radar last March when it earned a No. 11 seed in the NCAA tournament and advanced all the way to the Elite Eight, toppling Ohio State, Syracuse and Stanford in the process. Three starters from that team are gone, but the Flyers still had NCAA tournament aspirations after a 7-2 start that includes decent wins against Texas A&M and Boston College.

Living up to those expectations will be tough now.

Jordan Sibert and Dyshawn Pierre form a solid backcourt, but Dayton was an inefficient offensive team that won with defense prior to the dismissal of Scott and Robinson. That formula seems untenable going forward without a single big man on the roster.

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Jeff Eisenberg is the editor of The Dagger on Yahoo Sports. Have a tip? Email him at daggerblog@yahoo.com or follow him on Twitter!

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Author: Jeff Eisenberg
Posted: December 17, 2014, 10:01 pm
Luke Fischer (AP Photo/Morry Gash)

DATE: Tuesday, Dec. 16

A — Luke Fischer

Indiana fans were surely cringing watching Luke Fischer's debut for Marquette. The skilled big man the Hoosiers lack is the one who transferred last December because he couldn't get much playing time behind Noah Vonleh.

Fischer made a terrific first impression at Marquette, posting 19 points, nine rebounds and five blocks to spark the Golden Eagles to a 78-71 victory over Arizona State on Tuesday night. The 6-foot-11 big man was most effective on the block, welcome news for a team that has relied almost exclusively on its perimeter weapons this season after losing Davante Gardner and Chris Otule to graduation last spring.   

Marquette's victory improved it to 5-4 this season with only one loss against an unranked opponent. The Golden Eagles still have a long, long way to go to work themselves back into NCAA tournament contention, but they're certainly a much more dangerous team if Fischer can perform like he did Tuesday night with any consistency.

B — Wichita State

The lasting takeaway from Wichita State's 53-52 comeback victory over Alabama on Tuesday night is that the Shockers cannot ever be counted out. Not even when they trail by 11 with minutes to go in a game in which they struggled to generate clean looks against the Tide's switching man-to-man defense and hit only a small percentage of the ones they got.

The key to Wichita State's game-ending 13-1 surge was Gregg Marshall's decision to go to a full-court press to speed up the tempo and disrupt Alabama's offensive rhythm. The Tide missed four shots and committed four turnovers during the final 5:20, scoring their only point on a Levi Randolph free throw with 33 seconds to play.

Driving layups by Fred VanVleet and Ron Baker and a pair of floaters from Rashard Kelly fueled the Shockers' rally, paving the way for a dramatic finish. Wichita State still trailed by one when VanVleet attacked off the dribble, drew help defenders and fed Darius Carter with a pinpoint bounce pass for the go-ahead dunk with 12 seconds left.

C+ — Champion Baptist

Believe it or not, losing 114-50 to Southern on Tuesday night had to be somewhat of a moral victory for Champion Baptist. After all, the Arkansas-based lower-division program was on the wrong end of a record-setting 116-12 blowout against the Jaguars last year.

Last year, Champion Baptist trailed 44-0 before it scored its first point. This year, Southern only led 8-0 before Champion Baptist got on the scoreboard. Last year, Champion Baptist only scored 12 points in the full 40 minutes against Southern's full-court pressure. This year, Champion Baptist tallied its 13th point just over six minutes into the game.

Granted Champion Baptist is a long way from being competitive with the couple of Division I opponents it faces each season, but games like this aren't about winning for the small-budget member of the Association of Christian College Athletics. What Champion Baptist really wants is to avoid getting embarrassed and to receive a pay check of a few thousand dollars to pay for jerseys, charter buses and other necessities for its basketball program.

D- — Saint Mary's

Falling to Northern Arizona at home was a bad loss for Saint Mary's under any circumstances. The way it happened made it even worse.

Saint Mary's led by two with 18.8 seconds to go after Brad Waldow hit one of two free throws, but Northern Arizona's Kris Yanku scored to tie the game. Quinton Upshur then stole the ensuing inbound pass, and his layup with three seconds left gave Northern Arizona a 73-71 win.

The loss has to be especially galling for Saint Mary's because it had just beaten Creighton in Omaha to seemingly establish itself as a postseason threat in the WCC. The Gaels also have a difficult test ahead as they travel across the country to surging St. John's on Friday.

NOTES:

The most dramatic shot of Jordan Price's career also is probably one of the most bittersweet. His running half-court heave at the buzzer sent La Salle's game against American to overtime Tuesday night, but the Explorers failed to take advantage and fell at home to the Eagles 68-66.

• VCU's 78-51 rout of Belmont was an impressive result. Yes, Belmont was without its leading scorer. Yes, this is a game the Rams should win. But holding the Bruins to 51 points and 8 of 29 3-point shooting was a big step forward for a VCU team that has been inept defensively this season when it hasn't been able to force turnovers.

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Jeff Eisenberg is the editor of The Dagger on Yahoo Sports. Have a tip? Email him at daggerblog@yahoo.com or follow him on Twitter!

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Author: Jeff Eisenberg
Posted: December 17, 2014, 1:25 pm

If Alabama falls a quality win shy of making the NCAA tournament this March, the Tide will surely think back to the game they let slip away at Wichita State on Tuesday night.

They had the 11th-ranked Shockers all but beaten only to cough up an 11-point lead in the final five minutes and lose 53-52.

Wichita State's 13-1 surge started when it went to a full-court press to speed up the tempo and disrupt Alabama's offensive rhythm. The Tide missed four shots and committed four turnovers during the final 5:20, scoring their only point on a Levi Randolph free throw with 33 seconds to play.

Alabama's defense had been smothering enough that it seemed possible 51 points might be enough, but Wichita State finally generated some offense against the long, athletic Tide. Driving layups by Fred VanVleet and Ron Baker and a pair of floaters from Rashard Kelly fueled the Shockers' rally, paving the way for a dramatic finish.

Wichita State still trailed by one when VanVleet attacked off the dribble, drew help defenders and fed Darius Carter with a pinpoint bounce pass for the go-ahead dunk. Alabama managed to get a shot at the buzzer, but sweet-shooting Rodney Cooper's stroke failed him at the worst possible time and his contested corner 3-pointer didn't draw iron.

The outcome of Tuesday's game could have significance in March.

For Alabama, this means beginning SEC play without a win of consequence unless it can beat UCLA in Tuscaloosa on Dec. 28. The Tide are 6-3 with a victory over Arizona State qualifying as their most notable win, hardly enough to make Coach Anthony Grant feel comfortable given the pressure on him to make the NCAA tournament.

For Wichita State, this could be a strength of schedule boost and a noteworthy win if Alabama plays to its potential the rest of the season. Playing in what's typically a one-bid league often leads to complaints about Wichita State's strength of schedule, but the Shockers have faced a credible non-league slate this season, beating Memphis, Seton Hall and now Alabama with only an overtime loss at Utah staining their 8-1 record.

What comeback wins against Detroit and Alabama have shown about Wichita State over the past week is that the Shockers still have the toughness, character and disposition of a champion even if their roster isn't quite as formidable as last year's unbeaten squad's was.

They miss Cleanthony Early's scoring, rebounding and activity at power forward. They need VanVleet to play more consistently down the stretch in close games. And they would be better if they could develop a bench that can ease some of the pressure on Baker, VanVleet and Tekele Cotton.

Nonetheless, the roster the Shockers do have was good enough to win Tuesday in Dick Vitale's first trip to Wichita.

Alabama will remember Tuesday's game as a total collapse. Wichita State will look back at Tuesday's game fondly at a gutsy rally.

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Jeff Eisenberg is the editor of The Dagger on Yahoo Sports. Have a tip? Email him at daggerblog@yahoo.com or follow him on Twitter!

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Author: Jeff Eisenberg
Posted: December 17, 2014, 5:35 am

The most dramatic shot of Jordan Price's career also is probably one of the most bittersweet.

His running half-court heave at the buzzer sent La Salle's game against American to overtime Tuesday night, but the Explorers failed to take advantage and fell at home to the Eagles 68-66. 

La Salle trailed by three points with 4.4 seconds to go when 90 percent free throw shooter Pee Wee Gardner missed his second foul shot to preserve hope of an Explorers comeback. Price then corralled the rebound, took four dribbles to shake free of Gardner and launched a shot from the mid-court circle that improbably found the bottom of the net.

While Price raised his arms and pointed to the crowd in celebration of completing La Salle's comeback from a 13-point halftime deficit, the Explorers did not finish the job. Price got trapped coming around a screen and committed a key turnover with La Salle down three late in overtime, enabling American to secure a win in a game in which four of its five starters logged all 45 minutes.

La Salle, two years removed from a Sweet 16 run, is off to a 5-5 start this season and has now lost five of its last six games. American, the preseason favorite in the Patriot League, is off to a 6-4 start with three road victories.

Price, a sophomore guard from Decatur, Ga., finished with a game-high 26 points Tuesday night on 7 of 13 shooting from the field and 9 of 10 shooting from the foul line.

It was a remarkable day for Price in every respect except one: His performance didn't produce a La Salle victory.

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Author: Jeff Eisenberg
Posted: December 17, 2014, 2:53 am

Even though Sunday's turnover-plagued, whistle-happy matchup between in-state foes West Virginia and Marshall didn't provide many memorable moments, the postgame banter between the two head coaches has more than made up for it.

First-year Marshall coach Dan D'Antoni started the war of words after West Virginia's 69-66 victory by suggesting the Mountaineers would prove they're "afraid" of the Thundering Herd if they refused to play twice a year in the future. West Virginia coach Bob Huggins then escalated the verbal sparring by ridiculing Marshall's program and D'Antoni's insistence the Thundering Herd are "back" in a rollicking 15-minute rant at the start of his weekly radio show.

Armed with stinging barbs and cutting sarcasm, Huggins called the idea of playing Marshall twice a year "a travesty" and said he doesn't believe West Virginia gains anything from even facing the Thundering Herd once annually in Charleston. Huggins also called the notion that he's afraid of Marshall "laughable," noting the Thundering Herd's recent lack of competitiveness in the series.  

"He can say I'm afraid all he wants," Huggins said. "I've probably coached 1,116 more games than he has. It's ridiculous to say something like that. We're afraid. Yeah, we're really afraid. It's crazy. We've beaten Duke. [Mike Krzyzewski's] a pretty good coach. Was I afraid? I don't think I was afraid playing Duke. Played [Jim] Boeheim. Used to play him every year. He's a great coach, I wasn't afraid. Why would I be afraid?

"The thing that's most laughable, and I'll get in trouble for saying it I know, but I'm to the point in my life where I really don't care. How about this? 'We're back.' That was their sixth loss [to West Virginia] in a row. 'We're back.' 'We're back' alright. Honestly it's laughable."

Whereas some major-conference programs deserve the flack they receive for ducking quality in-state teams from smaller conferences, it would be completely understandable if Huggins canceled the annual series with Marshall.

The matchup between West Virginia and Marshall historically hasn't benefited both programs the way it does when Virginia faces VCU or Washington meets Gonzaga, for example. For Marshall, it's a chance to topple a marquee in-state opponent on a neutral floor. For West Virginia, it's a risky game against a highly motivated opponent in which a win is expected and a loss can be an RPI killer.  

Huggins articulated that point well on his show while also ridiculing the idea that Marshall-West Virginia is a rivalry.

The Mountaineers own a 9-1 record, have been to a Final Four as recently as 2010 and play in a conference that boasts seven of the top 27 teams in this week's polls. The Thundering Herd have not reached the NCAA tournament since 1987, have not won a league title since 1988 and have a 5-19 record against West Virginia since the series moved to Charleston in 1991.

"I have all the RPIs of all the people we've played this year," Huggins said. "Going into the game, Marshall was 270 in the RPI. After playing us, they jumped all the way up to 237. Now you know what that would do to us if we happen not to win? We were, I think, No. 36 coming into the game. You try not to play anybody below 200. And now they want to play twice in a year? Are you kidding me? Why don't we do what's best for West Virginia University? I don't think it's my job to support them.

"This is the fifth time in 10 years that they've been 160 in the RPI or worse. How's it in our best interest to play them? It's not in our best interest. It's not in the best interest of West Virginia basketball."

Once he'd finished eviscerating the Marshall program, Huggins took one last parting shot in the form of a warning.

Would it bother Huggins if the series disappeared? Not at all. Does Huggins intend to renew the series in years to come?

"I think if this kind of thing continues why would we?," the West Virginia coach said. "Why would we want to sit here and hear we're afraid. Go find somebody else to play."

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Jeff Eisenberg is the editor of The Dagger on Yahoo Sports. Have a tip? Email him at daggerblog@yahoo.com or follow him on Twitter!

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Author: Jeff Eisenberg
Posted: December 16, 2014, 5:11 pm

DATE: Monday, Dec. 15

A — Jahlil Okafor

On his 19th birthday, Jahlil Okafor threw himself a party at Elon's expense. The nation's most decorated freshman took advantage of an opponent that doesn't have a rotation player taller than 6-foot-8, scoring 25 points and grabbing 20 rebounds in Duke's 75-62 victory.

Okafor's 20-20 game was the first by a Duke player since Elton Brand did it in 1998. He scored via anything from drop steps in the post, to lobs at the rim to put-backs on the offensive glass, surpassing his previous season highs for points (24) and rebounds (12) set against Furman and Stanford, respectively.

The 7-footer's best game came on a night when the rest of the Blue Devils were at their worst. Duke played a sloppy game after an 11-day layoff for finals, committing 17 turnovers and hitting just 3 of 16 threes and 14 of 27 free throws to help keep Elon within 20 much of the night.

B+ — Memphis

Laying waste to lesser-talented North Carolina Central wouldn't have been a notable outcome for previous Memphis teams. This year's team is different though because it desperately needed a blowout victory like Monday's 81-47 rout to inject some fun back into a season that until now had been a struggle.

Memphis had opened the season with four losses in its first seven games, all by double figures and only one against a ranked opponent. Point guard play had been a season-long issue, as had long scoring droughts caused by the Tigers' guards inability to hit enough outside shots to make opponents pay for packing the paint defensively to try to take away Shaq Goodwin and Austin Nichols.

For at least one night, that was a non-issue for the Tigers. Goodwin, Nichols and Trahson Burrell combined for an efficient 40 points as Memphis shot 51 percent from the field for the game, enabling it to storm to a 24-point halftime lead and keep expanding it thereafter. North Carolina Central, which is favored to win the MEAC, shot 29.4 percent from the field for the game.

D- — North Florida

No member of the North Florida basketball team feels worse about Monday's loss to Tennessee Tech than center Romelo Banks.

Referees assessed a technical foul to the 6-foot-11 sophomore when he dunked during pregame warmups after being warned not to do it. That enabled Tennessee Tech's Torrance Rowe to sink two free throws prior to the opening tip-off, two points which ultimately proved valuable considering the Golden Eagles eventually defeated the Ospreys 82-80.

Of course nobody at North Florida would even consider blaming Banks for the loss because the Ospreys should have extended their win streak to six games anyway. They led by 13 points early in the second half but let that slip away in a hail of missed free throws, errant threes and defensive lapses.

NOTES:

• South Florida can't blame a nine-day layoff for its 68-63 home loss to Georgia Southern. Its opponent had not played a game in 13 days because of final exams. The Bulls have now lost three straight after a 5-1 start, previously falling to Alabama and Detroit. 

• In 71-43 rout of hapless Grambling State, Gary Payton Jr. accomplished something no other Oregon State player besides his father ever has. The younger Payton posted a triple-double 26 years after his dad did it, tallying 10 points, 12 rebounds and 10 assists.  

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Jeff Eisenberg is the editor of The Dagger on Yahoo Sports. Have a tip? Email him at daggerblog@yahoo.com or follow him on Twitter!

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Author: Jeff Eisenberg
Posted: December 16, 2014, 9:00 am

Concern that Tyler Haws could miss an extended period of time due to the ankle injury he suffered Saturday has proven to be unfounded.

BYU is officially listing the nation's third-leading scorer as "day-to-day after an MRI taken Monday did not reveal any further damage to his left ankle besides a sprain. Coach Dave Rose told ESPN.com he's hopeful Haws will be back in time to face Gonzaga on Dec. 27 and he's not ruling out the possibility that the senior guard could return even sooner than that.

The expectation that Haws will be back sometime this month is a good sign for BYU considering how much pain Haws was in Saturday night. He writhed on the ground clutching his ankle after sustaining the injury with less than four minutes to go in BYU's 76-60 victory over Weber State.

The only downside to Monday's news is the quality of opponents BYU faces in the coming weeks. Stanford visits Provo on Saturday. UMass follows three days later. And the Dec. 27 game against top-10 Gonzaga represents the Cougars' only chance to face the perennial WCC favorites at home. 

BYU desperately needs to win a couple of those games too because the Cougars (8-3) are still searching for their first quality win of the season.

They've beaten everyone they should beat so far, but they've lost in overtime to San Diego State and Purdue and by four at home against Utah. They're also running out of chances to notch wins that will impress the selection committee since nobody in the WCC besides Gonzaga and perhaps Saint Mary's seems likely to contend for an NCAA bid.

Haws had been enjoying the best year of his illustrious career prior to his injury. He was averaging a career-high 23.8 points, shooting a career-high 49.7 percent from the field and hitting a career-high 43.4 percent from 3-point range.

The injury to Haws coincides with the absence of top big man Nate Austin due to a hamstring tear he suffered before the Utah loss.

The timing of both injuries is far from ideal, but BYU can at least take solace that it will eventually get both players back.

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Jeff Eisenberg is the editor of The Dagger on Yahoo Sports. Have a tip? Email him at daggerblog@yahoo.com or follow him on Twitter!

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Author: Jeff Eisenberg
Posted: December 15, 2014, 11:12 pm

When I spoke with Syracuse coach Jim Boeheim last Wednesday afternoon, he was optimistic the Orange would utilize the full week of practice they had between games to correct some of the flaws that emerged during their previous two losses.

Four days later, Boeheim clearly didn't see the progress he anticipated.

A 71-69 victory over Louisiana Tech on Sunday at least snapped Syracuse's two-game losing streak, but the 17 turnovers and sporadic defensive breakdowns from the Orange left Boeheim in a foul mood. Below is a look at the six best quotes from Boeheim's dour, frustration-filled postgame news conference after Syracuse improved to 6-3 this season.

6. "Catching the ball with two hands, I don't know, I think they teach you that in sixth grade. I'm not sure. Some place. I hope. Before now. Some place. When we're worried as a coaching staff about that, how can we even think about what we're going to run this play or whether we're going to trap? We have to get better at the fundamental things, then maybe we can get to the next step things. It's not that this team can't make really good plays. They can make really good plays better than some of the teams we've had. They're just not anywhere near as good."

Boeheim's anger level: Incredulous

Analysis: This was in response to Tyler Roberson and B.J. Johnson both making late turnovers when they attempted to catch passes one handed. Those mistakes reflect one of Syracuse's main issues so far this season — an inability to take care of the ball. The Orange are averaging 14 turnovers per game so far.

5. "We spent more time this week on scouting report than we have because obviously we had a whole week. We knew what their strengths were. We identified [Raheem Appleby] as being the one guy we don't want to shoot. We identified two lob pass plays that they run. We worked on that for three days. The guy that we didn't want to shoot had 15 points at halftime. The lob play worked three times in a row that we worked on for three days."

Boeheim's anger level: Frustrated

Analysis: It's easy to understand Boeheim's frustration if these were the two things Syracuse wanted to take away against Louisiana Tech. The Conference USA favorites got a couple of lob dunks from Michale Kyser early in the game and a trio of first-half threes from Raheem Appleby.

4. "He's just not really a point guard yet. He's trying to learn how to play point. It's going to take him a long time."

Boeheim's anger level: Resigned

Analysis: Boeheim wasn't prepared to lose Tyler Ennis to the NBA after one season, and now Syracuse is paying the price. Kaleb Joseph has shown potential as a scoring guard but his court vision and decision making with the ball is still a work in progress. He is averaging 3.8 turnovers per game and committed eight against Louisiana Tech's ball pressure on Sunday.

3. "[Michael Gbinije] is being asked to play small forward or point. He's really more of a two but I'm not sure he's even that really to be honest with you."

Boeheim's anger level: Passive aggressive

Analysis: While Gbinije has been underwhelming so far this season, Boeheim might be wise to be careful how he lashes out at the former Duke transfer. This was by far the harshest assessment Boeheim offered about any of his individual players, which could motivate Gbinije or it could cause him to pull away. Gbinije is an important player for Syracuse because of his ability to play multiple positions. He can relieve freshman Kaleb Joseph at point guard yet he is big enough to defend either wing spot. Gbinije started Sunday but logged only 14 minutes, contributing two points and two assists.  

2. "We're learning, I hope. I don't see it, but I hope we will learn. There's not that much time left. Nothing is going to happen magically. But I know that I cannot coach catching the basketball at this stage. If we have to do that and go get the ball, if we have to do those things, we can't possibly win."

"This team is not anywhere near a good basketball team. Anywhere near. I've never said that since I've been here — 39 years. Not that they couldn't be. But they're not."

Boeheim's anger level: Realistic

Analysis: Here's the scary part for Syracuse fans: Boeheim is right. Oh sure, Syracuse will get some wins in the ACC even if it doesn't improve dramatically, but it has a long way to go to even finish in the upper half of the league, let alone contend with Duke, Virginia and Louisville for the conference title. Joseph has to take better care of the ball. Michael Gbinije and Trevor Cooney have to ease the ball handling responsibilities on Joseph and knock down outside shots from the perimeter. Chris McCullough has to use his size and athleticism to impose his will in the paint and Tyler Roberson has to learn to be as effective crashing the glass and making hustle plays from the small forward spot as he is as an undersized power forward.

1. "This isn't like the last six years. We're going to struggle to win a game, any game that we play. This team is not going to beat anybody that's any good if they don't play better. That means all 18 games in the ACC. I don't care if somebody thinks, 'Oh, they're not that good.' They're good enough. Trust me. We have to play a lot better, we have to get better and we have to figure that out and we'll see if we can. I don't know. I wouldn't want to be overly confident about that right now because we're not talking about the difficult things we'd like to try to do. We're trying to get the basic essentials down and that's not good at this stage."

Boeheim's anger level: Fatalistic

Analysis: Syracuse is behind where Boeheim hoped it would be in mid-December, and he's frustrated. Pity the Orange at practice leading up to Saturday's game against Villanova because if Sunday's news conference is any indication, it's going to be a long week. 

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Jeff Eisenberg is the editor of The Dagger on Yahoo Sports. Have a tip? Email him at daggerblog@yahoo.com or follow him on Twitter!

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Author: Jeff Eisenberg
Posted: December 15, 2014, 6:09 pm
Connecticut Huskies center Amida Brimah dunks against Coppin State. (David Butler II-USA TODAY Sports)

DATE: Sunday, Dec. 14

A+ — Amida Brimah

The flashes of scoring potential Brimah has shown during his UConn career all came together Sunday afternoon. The 7-foot sophomore sank all 13 shots he attempted against Coppin State en route to 40 points, double his previous career high set against UCF last season.

Every one of Brimah's baskets came at the rim via anything from lobs, to tip dunks, to put-backs, to strong post moves. He benefited from the dribble penetration, court vision and unselfishness of freshman guard Daniel Hamilton, who assisted on six of Brimah's baskets. 

It's unclear how much Brimah's breakthrough performance means considering 1-9 Coppin State hardly offers much competition, but it was timely for UConn. The Huskies had lost three straight — the last two on buzzer beaters at their expense — and they face second-ranked Duke next.

A- — Tennessee

When Alex Barlow measured up a wide-open 3-pointer early in the second half with Butler already leading by 12, it appeared Tennessee was in jeopardy of being blown out on its home floor. Instead Barlow's shot rimmed out, Josh Richardson grabbed the defensive rebound and he took it the length of the floor for a transition layup that launched a game-changing Vols surge. 

Richardson scored the next eight points of the game himself and had 18 of his 20 points in the second half as Tennessee rallied for a 67-55 victory over the 15th-ranked Bulldogs. The Vols held cold-shooting Butler to 21 second-half points and forced nine second-half turnovers, making it difficult for the Bulldogs to get the ball into the paint with their quick hands, length, athleticism in their zone defense.

Tennessee improved to 4-3 this season and showed why it could be tougher to beat in SEC play than many expected coming into a rebuilding year. The Vols don't have a proven point guard or much interior scoring, but they've taken on the tough, battle-you-to-the-buzzer person that first-year coach Donnie Tyndall's best teams often have. 

B- — Syracuse

Syracuse was in jeopardy of going to overtime against Louisiana Tech on Saturday until Rakeem Christmas sank one of the bigger shots of his career. The 6-foot-9 forward cut directly to the low block on an inbound play caught the pass and spun right for a go-ahead jump hook with less than three seconds left, propelling the Orange to a 71-69 victory.

Christmas finished with 13 points on 5 of 6 shooting Sunday, but he was far from the only hero for Syracuse. Trevor Cooney emerged from an early-season shooting funk to tally a game-high 25 points and also relieved freshman Kaleb Joseph of ball handling duties in stretches. And sophomore forward Tyler Roberson had an incredible 11 offensive rebounds, a big reason Syracuse won despite shooting only 41.9 percent from the field and committing 17 turnovers.

The victory was critical for Syracuse for two reasons. Louisiana Tech is a contender in Conference USA and figures to be a quality win for the Orange by the end of season. Also, Syracuse (6-3) couldn't afford a third consecutive loss with a road game at Villanova up next.

D — NC State

In referee Karl Hess' first NC State game since ejecting former Wolfpack stars Tom Gugliotta and Chris Corchiani nearly three years ago, it was only fitting that the outcome came down to a replay review. Referees correctly ruled that Trevor Lacey's potential game-saving 3-pointer came a tenth of a second too late, dooming NC State to a 55-54 loss to Wofford.

NC State needed heroics from Lacey because the Wolfpack couldn't hold a nine-point second-half lead over a Wofford team that reached the NCAA tournament last year and is favored to win the Southern Conference this season. The two teams traded the lead during the final minute until Justin Gordon scored a contested layup off a baseline inbound pass, giving Wofford a one-point lead with 1.9 seconds to go and paving the way for a wild finish. 

Lacey caught a long inbound pass at mid-court, took one dribble and launched what appeared to be a game-winning 25 footer from the top of the key, sending the NC State bench spilling onto the floor to mob the Alabama transfer. The celebration died down when referees huddled around the monitor for several minutes before waving the shot off, leaving Lacey with his hands on his head and his mouth agape.

NOTES:

• Penn State (10-1) is enyjoing its best start in nearly two decades. D.J. Newbill scored 20 points and the Nittany Lions played stifling defense, defeating Atlantic 10 contender George Washington 64-51 to notch what is probably their most impressive win of the season. 

• The chasm separating traditional Philadephia powers Villanova and Temple these days was on full display Sunday afternoon. Darrun Hilliard and Josh Hart each scored 20 points apiece as the unbeaten Wildcats routed the struggling Owls 85-62.

• Florida Gulf Coast's inability to defend Dennis Mavin doomed the Eagles to just their second loss of the season. The FIU star had 27 points in a 69-63 road upset for the Panthers.

• The good feelings that accompanied DePaul's 6-1 start are proving short-lived. The Blue Demons fell for the second straight time on Sunday, committing 18 turnovers and surrendering 16 offensive rebounds in a 78-72 home loss to Illinois State.

• West Virginia shot poorly from the field and played behind most of the day before salvaging a 69-66 win over in-state foe Marshall. The key for the Musketeers was that they still managed to be disruptive defensively, forcing 24 turnovers from the Thundering Herd.

• Eastern Washington was a scary opponent for Washington in the Huskies' first game since an upset of San Diego State propelled them into the national rankings. Washington trailed most of the game, but Nigel Williams-Goss and Darin Johnson sank back-to-back crucial 3-pointers in the final 80 seconds to finish off a big comeback and seal an 81-77 victory.

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Jeff Eisenberg is the editor of The Dagger on Yahoo Sports. Have a tip? Email him at daggerblog@yahoo.com or follow him on Twitter!

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Author: Jeff Eisenberg
Posted: December 15, 2014, 9:00 am

Had Trevor Lacey's running 3-pointer come even a tenth of a second or two earlier Sunday afternoon, he'd have rescued NC State from a humbling home loss.

Instead referees reviewed the shot and correctly ruled Lacey hadn't released the ball before the clock struck triple zeroes, dooming the Wolfpack to a 55-54 upset at the hands of Wofford.

Replays confirmed the ball was still on Trevor Lacey's finger tips as time expired (via Vine)NC State needed heroics from Lacey because the Wolfpack couldn't hold a nine-point second-half lead over a Wofford team that reached the NCAA tournament last year and is favored to win the Southern Conference this season. The two teams traded the lead during the final minute until Justin Gordon scored a contested layup off a baseline inbound pass, giving Wofford a one-point lead with 1.9 seconds to go and paving the way for a wild finish. 

Lacey caught a long inbound pass at mid-court, took one dribble and launched what appeared to be a game-winning 25 footer from the top of the key, sending the NC State bench spilling onto the floor to mob the Alabama transfer. The celebration died down when referees huddled around the monitor for several minutes before waving the shot off, leaving Lacey with his hands on his head and his mouth agape.

NC State fell to 8-2 heading into its toughest stretch of the non-conference season beginning with a visit from Tennessee on Wednesday. Wofford improved to 8-2 with its only losses coming at Stanford and at Colonial Athletic Association favorite William & Mary.

Though replays seemed to confirm the Lacey call was correct, it has to irk NC State fans that Sunday's game, of all games, came down to a decision by the referees.

Sunday marked referee Karl Hess' first NC State game since he made national news by ejecting Wolfpack legends Tom Gugliotta and Chris Corchiani from their courtside seats in Feb. 2012. Corchiani said at the time that he and Gugliotta merely told the referees they were "having a bad game" and there was "no profanity" involved.

NC State athletic director Debbie Yow issued a statement after that game that made it clear  she wasn't at all pleased by the removal of her school's two former stars.

"Throughout this afternoon and evening, I have been seeking clarification from the ACC office regarding the reason for the ejection of two fans today during our men's basketball game against Florida State," Yow said. "I have spoken to commissioner John Swofford and Karl Hicks, associate commissioner for basketball operations, regarding our concerns and our need for clarification as to why this occurred. We expect fair treatment of our fans at State athletic events."

A chorus of boos greeted Hess before Sunday's game and they got louder when he whistled NC State coach Mark Gottfried for a technical foul just over four minutes into the first half.

Wolfpack fans should have no argument with the game-ending call though. Much to Lacey's chagrin, his shot was just a tenth of a second late.

(Thanks for the video, College Basketball Talk)

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Author: Jeff Eisenberg
Posted: December 15, 2014, 12:14 am
Photos via Cal women's basketball

Instead of donning the same "I Can't Breathe" shirts worn by many other college and NBA teams during the past week, the Cal women's basketball team opted for something slightly more powerful.

Before its 58-56 loss to Long Beach State on Saturday night, the Bears wore homemade shirts featuring the names of black victims of violence on the front and the words “Black Lives Matter,” and “We Are Cal” on the back. Cal players also struck a "hands up, don't shoot" pose during the national anthem.

“Of course losing this game is disappointing," Cal coach Lindsay Gottlieb said in a postgame statement. Saturday night. "That said, however, I’m not sure I’ve ever been more proud of these players or our whole team and staff.

"As student-athletes at Cal, our young women have a voice and a platform, and they chose to use it today. They want to be part of a solution, and they took the steps that were in their power today."

The "I Can't Breathe" shirts worn by athletes this week were meant to be a declaration of support for the family of Eric Garner, who died July 17 after a New York police officer placed him in a chokehold while arresting him. A recording shows Garner gasping the words "I can't breathe" during the fatal encounter.

LeBron James, Derrick Rose and Kobe Bryant are among the players who have donned the shirts in the wake of a grand jury decision not to indict the officer. The idea is to maintain the spotlight on Garner's death and the issue of police conduct.

Gottlieb said her players initially approached her about wearing "I Can't Breathe" shirts before next Sunday's game against Louisville, but an incident on campus convinced the Bears to act sooner. Three cardboard cutouts of African-Americans were found hanging in effigy by nooses Saturday morning on famous landmarks on Cal's campus.

"These images may have been to bring awareness to injustice, or they may have been an act of cruelty; either way, they elicited strong emotions from everyone," Gottlieb said. "The entire team came to me. They were compelled to act. We met for 45 minutes about how to best use our voices. As a group, they decided to wear shirts that brought attention to lives lost – recently and throughout history – and to stand and say that black lives matter; all lives matter.

"I wish we had won today. It was a brutal loss, but our players wearing handmade shirt to symbolize something poignant and important is what I will remember proudly from today."

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Jeff Eisenberg is the editor of The Dagger on Yahoo Sports. Have a tip? Email him at daggerblog@yahoo.com or follow him on Twitter!

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Author: Jeff Eisenberg
Posted: December 14, 2014, 7:13 pm

Having just surrendered a go-ahead layup in a game it led by as many as 21 points early in the second half, Kansas appeared to be in big trouble when Bill Self called timeout with just over four minutes remaining in Saturday's matchup with Utah.

It was then that the Jayhawks reasserted themselves on defense and produced the stops they needed to escape with a 63-60 win.

Tenth-ranked Kansas held 13th-ranked Utah scoreless on five straight possessions after the visiting Utes took their only lead of the second half. The Jayhawks switched ball screens whenever Utah star Delon Wright had the ball and committed help defenders to keep him out of the lane, forcing any of the other Utes to hit big shots down the stretch. 

Utah's two chances to extend its lead resulted in a wild driving layup that didn't draw iron from Kenneth Ogbe and an air-balled corner three from forward Chris Reyes, who has not hit a single shot behind the arc all season. The next possession Wright tried to create twice off high ball screens but found no room either time, settling for a step-back 3-pointer at the shot clock buzzer that was partially blocked by Perry Ellis.

Things didn't get any easier for Utah after Ellis gave Kansas the lead back with a floater and got the Kansas crowd back in the game. Frank Mason poked the ball away from Brekkott Chapman at the top of the key after another failed attempt to drive by Wright. Then, Dakarai Tucker beat his man off the dribble but missed a driving layup attempt in traffic, forcing Utah to resort to fouling down the stretch.   

The Utes still had one final chance to tie down three on their last possession, and that time the Jayhawks got away with a lapse. Wright came off a pair of double screens with space to shoot on the left wing, but outside shooting specialist Tucker didn't look his direction, opting instead to first look for his own shot and then throw to center Jakob Poeltl out of desperation. Poeltl, who hadn't attempted a 3-pointer all season, predictably missed badly at the buzzer to end the game.

Stopping Wright was critical because the all-Pac-12 guard had hurt Kansas off the dribble the whole day. He had 23 points on 9 of 13 shooting, 4 assists and 5 rebounds to keep the Utes competitive. 

Kansas' victory continued the Jayhawks' surge since their disheartening 32-point throttling at the hands of Kentucky in the Champions Classic. The Jayhawks (8-1) have reeled off seven straight victories since that loss including quality wins against Tennessee, Michigan State, Florida, Georgetown and now Utah, giving them a very realistic chance of entering Big 12 play with only one loss.

The other positive sign for Kansas is it is clearly nowhere near its ceiling still. While Ellis has been an interior standout and Frank Mason has solidified the point guard position, talented freshmen Cliff Alexander and Sviatoslav Mykhailiuk have been erratic and highly touted wing Kelly Oubre is still just beginning to get enough playing time to make an impact.

For Kansas to reemerge as a title contender, those players will have to contribute more, but it's still encouraging for the Jayhawks that they're winning anyway right now. 

Utah is a vastly improved team with a formidable defense and a structured offense that is a bit too reliant on Wright until Jordan Loveridge returns from injury. The Utes nearly found a way to upset Kansas anyway, but the Jayhawks came up with the defensive stands they needed at the perfect time.

 

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Jeff Eisenberg is the editor of The Dagger on Yahoo Sports. Have a tip? Email him at daggerblog@yahoo.com or follow him on Twitter!

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Author: Jeff Eisenberg
Posted: December 13, 2014, 11:54 pm

If anyone tracked alley-oop dunks off baseline inbound passes, Ohio State's Sam Thompson would likely be among the national leaders. The high-flying senior forward cuts hard to the rim on every inbounds play, yet opposing teams never seem to have a defender in position to stop it. The newest victim was Morehead State's Brent Arrington midway through the second half of Ohio State's 87-71 victory on Saturday afternoon. Thompson finished with aplomb too, catching Shannon Scott's pass with his right arm cocked and ready and throwing down a violent one-handed slam. Great as the dunk was, however, the reaction from the Ohio State crowd and bench may have been even better. The Buckeyes are going to keep enjoying Thompson's inbound lob dunks until an opponent figures out how to stop them. 

Previous Dunk of the Year nominees:

Wyoming's Jason McManamin takes flight
Buffalo's Justin Moss throws down ferocious slam

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Author: Jeff Eisenberg
Posted: December 13, 2014, 8:56 pm

One of the scariest aspects of Kentucky's unbeaten start is the Wildcats have dominated opponents without consistently hitting outside shots.

In Saturday's 84-70 victory over 21st-ranked North Carolina, the Wildcats showed how lethal they can be when those fall too.

Every weapon Kentucky has at its disposal was on display against the Tar Heels in a game in which the Wildcats shot 56.3 percent from the field, sank 7 of 15 threes and tallied assists on more than two-thirds their baskets.

[ CatsIllustrated.com: Wildcats top Tar Heels without Alex Poythress ]

Tyler Ulis sliced up North Carolina off the dribble and dished out eight assists to shooters open on the wing or big men free in the paint. Andrew Harrison also was effective off the dribble, handing out five assists and getting to the foul line 10 times. Devin Booker and Aaron Harrison hit a combined six threes and Willie Cauley-Stein was his usual opportunistic himself around the rim and on the offensive glass. About the only Kentucky player who didn't do much was Karl-Anthony Towns, but the Wildcats led by nine or more the entire second half even with him not attempting a single shot because everyone else was so effective.  

Aaron Harrison and Kentucky will be really tough if they can hit their outside shots. (USA Today Sports)The scoring barrage from Kentucky had to be scary for the rest of the nation because the Wildcats had been winning mostly because of elite defense and offensive rebounding. They were shooting 27.7 percent from behind the arc coming into Saturday's game, enabling opposing defenses to pack the paint and invite Kentucky's perimeter players to bomb away from the perimeter.

There are several potential explanations for why Kentucky was so effective and efficient against a North Carolina defense ranked among the top 50 nationally in points per possession allowed entering Saturday's game.

Perhaps it was increased focus playing their first game since junior forward Alex Poythress tore an ACL in practice on Thursday. Maybe it was just a typical sign of maturity for a team trying to mesh four freshmen and five or six key returners. Or it could have been that the Wildcats were able to get in more of a rhythm because of the pace at which North Carolina played.

Since it's difficult to score in the paint against Kentucky's stable of shot-blocking 7-footers and the Tar Heels don't have any consistent 3-point shooters besides Marcus Paige, Roy Williams devised a simple strategy to combat that problem. He told his the Tar Heels to push the pace whenever possible in hopes of creating chances to score without facing Kentucky's set defense.

They ran off missed shots. They ran off made shots. They even pressed in stretches to try to speed up the game and create transition chances that way.

One outcome of that strategy was that North Carolina shot a very respectable 45 percent from the field and generated some transition layups and dunks. Another unintended consequence was that the Tar Heels got themselves so sped up trying to create fast-break opportunities that they committed 18 turnovers and gave up some easy baskets to Kentucky as a result.

What will be interesting to see is if Kentucky can be as effective offensively as it was Saturday against opponents who slow down the tempo rather than trying to increase it.

It's hard to beat the Wildcats when they're reliant on second-chance points on offense and struggling from the perimeter. It's even tougher when they're knocking down outside shots too.

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Jeff Eisenberg is the editor of The Dagger on Yahoo Sports. Have a tip? Email him at daggerblog@yahoo.com or follow him on Twitter!

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Author: Jeff Eisenberg
Posted: December 13, 2014, 7:46 pm

Georges Niang had already drawn the ire of his rivals last season when he boldly declared Iowa a "Cyclone State" after Iowa State edged the Hawkeyes in Ames.

The All-American candidate salted that wound a bit more Friday night with his actions in the final minute of the Cyclones' 90-75 victory in Iowa City.

Upon scoring a transition layup with 54 seconds to play, Niang theatrically blew a kiss in the direction of the Iowa student section behind the basket. Niang also wasn't shy about taking trash to Iowa players and fans alike in the second half as the 14th-ranked Cyclones seized control of a once-close game with a 24-4 surge after halftime.  

Boos from the Carver-Hawkeye crowd and backlash on social media suggest that Niang's gloating wasn't well received among Iowa fans, but those who are angry should relax a bit. Was blowing the kiss classy? No. Was it brash? Yes. But in an era when rivalries typically mean far more to the fans in the stands than the athletes on the floor, it was also refreshing to see that Niang obviously cares deeply about beating Iowa.

There was plenty for Niang to crow about too Friday night as Iowa State improved to 7-1 this season.

Held in check during a first half in which he shot just 1-for-8 from the field, Niang bounced back with an impactful second half, scoring 14 of his 16 points after halftime to spearhead Iowa State's barrage. That performance helped the Cyclones avenge a loss in Iowa City in their previous visit Niang's freshman year and enabled the program to end a tumultuous week on a positive note. 

Iowa State played Friday's game without second-leading scorer and leading rebounder Bryce Dejean-Jones, who was arrested early Thursday morning when police responded to a noise complaint at his apartment and found a small amount of marijuana. The drug-related charges against the UNLV transfer were dropped later that day and he is expected to be back in uniform for the Cyclones when they face Drake next Thursday.

With Niang dormant for a half and Dejean-Jones sidelined, other Iowa State players stepped up to propel the Cyclones to a narrow halftime lead.

Abdel Nader hit a trio of first-half 3-pointers after starting the season 0-for-9 from behind the arc. Naz Long sank three from behind the arc as well. Throw in eight first-half points and three first-half assists from Monte Morris and Iowa State still had sufficient offensive punch.

The reemergence of Niang and a flurry of early Iowa turnovers tipped the game in Iowa State's favor to start the second half. Iowa State shot 63.3 percent after halftime, even scoring one late basket on an unusual big man-to-point guard alley oop when Niang spotted Morris streaking to the rim in transition and lobbed him the ball for an easy layup. 

In a lot of ways Niang is a symbol of the ever-underrated Iowa State program. The forward has forced everyone to pay attention to him by evolving from an under-the-radar recruit to an All-American candidate with a good chance to be selected in next June's NBA draft should he decide to leave school. 

Along the way, Niang has evolved into one of the faces of the Iowa State program and an antihero among Hawkeyes fans. A kid from New England has woven himself into the fabric of the state of Iowa's fiercest rivalry. 

(Thanks for the video, Bar Stool Sports)

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Jeff Eisenberg is the editor of The Dagger on Yahoo Sports. Have a tip? Email him at daggerblog@yahoo.com or follow him on Twitter!

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Author: Jeff Eisenberg
Posted: December 13, 2014, 10:28 am

To promote his newly released autobiography "Bleeding Orange," Jim Boeheim has done a series of book signings and radio and TV interviews in recent weeks.

The Syracuse coach chatted about the book with Yahoo Sports earlier this week. He also fielded questions about everything from why he still has faith in his cold-shooting team, to the restaurant scene in ACC cities, to his steadfast refusal to purchase a computer.

JE: Who is the best player and the best team you've seen this season?

JB: Obviously everyone talks about Kentucky and they're for real, but I really think Duke, Arizona and Louisville are in that mix of teams. I'm not sure Virginia is out of that mix either. They're very, very good and underrated. I think Montrezl Harrell at Louisville is one of the best in the country, but I think it's more about teams than players this year. There aren't as many individual stars but there are a lot of really, really good teams that have a lot of options. I watched Wichita State the other night and they're really, really good again. I wouldn't be shocked if they don't lose more than another game or two the whole year. So I think there are some really good teams out there. There are more good teams this year than last year.

JE: Can any of those teams beat Kentucky?

JB: Kentucky will be hard to beat. If it were a best-of-7 series, I don't think anyone would beat them. But single-elimination? I think there are a lot of teams that can get them in one game.

JE: Who's the most underrated coach in the country?

JB: You can point your finger at a lot of different places. Gregg Marshall at Wichita State has gotten some recognition for what he has done. So has John Beilein. But what Sean Miller has done, Mark Few has done, Billy Donovan has done, Tony Bennett ... there's just so many good coaches out there. I don't think people realize how many there are. I don't think that's appreciated enough. There's a whole lot of really good coaches out there, and it comes down to which players play the best on a given day.

JE: You could have written a book at a number of points throughout your career or waited until after retirement. Why was now the right time for 'Bleeding Orange?'

JB: I wanted to still be active, and the reason it was the right time now was Jack McCallum was available and we were leaving the Big East and going to the ACC. It was a perfect time to start the book as we were going through the start of the ACC yet we were still able to reflect back on the moments in the Big East. Then we start out 25-0, so that became a big part of the story. It was good to have that kind of a season when you're writing a book.

JE: I know you hand-picked Jack McCallum to write the book — and why not since he's such a fantastic writer — but describe the history between you guys and why you trusted him to do it?

JB: We met a long time ago when he worked for Sports Illustrated and did a story on me in '96 when we went to the Final Four. It was really a positive story. It was the first time I met Jack, and I took a chance and took him inside everything. I'd gone through a divorce. He handled it in a good way. We've known each other ever since then and we've talked a lot. So it was just natural that I was just waiting for him to become available so I could do the book.

JE: One of my favorite anecdotes in the book is the story about Derrick Coleman's reaction after you guys beat North Carolina in 1987 to advance to your first Final Four. Can you share that story?

JB: I'm the happiest I've ever been in my life. I had been coaching 10 years and we had good teams, but we'd never had a team reach the Final Four. I've never seen a locker room happier than we were. We just beat North Carolina — they were the No. 1 seed — and there's Derrick throwing his jersey on the floor and looking upset. I didn't know what to make of it, but he was upset because he had a trip planned during spring break to see his grandma. That had to be put on hold for the Final Four. He had a great Final Four too. Nineteen rebounds or something in the championship game.

JE: You've said before that you don't own a computer. Is that still true? And have you ever been tempted to buy one?

JB: Nope, I never have. Obviously we have them at home. My kids and my wife have one. I went on it one day, and I couldn't even get through the starting screen. I just said I can't do this. I haven't gone back. I know it's a good tool, but I just haven't gotten there.

JE: You think that ever changes? Maybe in retirement?

JB: Maybe someday. The only reason I could see possibly is I like to read newspapers. If I can learn how to do that, maybe I'd do that, but I don't know.

JE: You've done a half dozen book signings so far. What's the most memorable question you've gotten at one of them from a fan?

JB: What stands out is that in the little town of Auburn, it was snowing and people stood outside for an hour, an hour and a half to get a book signed. We signed 600 books there and this is a little town. In Syracuse, we signed 1,200 at Wegman's one day. That's a pretty big number. It was just nice to see our fans come out like that. 5,000 books in six nights. It was pretty good.

JE: Let's talk about your team this season and specifically your 20.8 percent 3-point shooting. Are players taking bad shots? Are they missing shots they make in practice? Do you just not have enough shooters on the roster? How do you explain it?

JB: We weren't a really good shooting team last year, we lost Tyler Ennis who was a pretty good shooter and now we have one guy who's a proven shooter and everyone on the other team knows that. So they're not going to give Trevor Cooney anything if they can help it and they're giving us shots at other positions. We think those guys are pretty good shooters, but right now the three guys we need to make shots are shooting 18 percent from three. We need them to start making a few shots. We're 350th or something in the country in 3-point field goal percentage and we lose two games to good teams that were tie games late in the game. So we don't have to make a lot of shots but we do have to make some.

JE: Since Kaleb Joseph is really the only true point guard you have, I thought he was a big key to your team this season. Evaluate his play so far a month into the season.

JB: He has been alright. He has been as good as most freshmen, maybe better than a lot of freshmen, but he's still a freshman and he's making some mistakes. He is probably hurting us on defense more than on offense. His defense is something we're really trying to work on. He is playing about as well as you expect, but I don't think our other perimeter players are playing as well as they have to. Trevor Cooney and Michael Gbinije in particular they have to play better. If they play better, it will be easier on the point guard.

JE: You probably ruffled some feathers below the Mason-Dixon line a few years ago with your joke about having to eat at Denny's or Waffle House on the road once Syracuse joined the ACC. What's the best restaurant you have discovered in ACC country so far?

JB: That shouldn't have ruffled any feathers. That was a joke. There's as good restaurants in the ACC cities as there are in New York. I had an Italian dinner at Wake Forest that was as good as New York City. I've had great meals at Clemson too. That was just one of those times where you're trying to be funny and people take it literally. Some people can't take a joke, I guess.

JE: You would think people would be familiar with your dry wit after a few decades of it, right?

JB: Maybe it's new to them, I don't know. I never was accused of being funny for 20-30 years, so I'm trying to be a little funnier now.

JE: You've been at Syracuse your entire coaching career. What's the closest you ever came to leaving?

JB: I took one interview at my house for a school many years ago, and I knew right away as the interview was starting that I wasn't going to leave Syracuse. That was just a courtesy interview. They wanted to come in and talk to me. I knew within 10 or 15 minutes, I wasn't going to go. I'm from here. I've always been here. I've never really thought about leaving Syracuse.

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Jeff Eisenberg is the editor of The Dagger on Yahoo Sports. Have a tip? Email him at daggerblog@yahoo.com or follow him on Twitter!

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Author: Jeff Eisenberg
Posted: December 12, 2014, 4:04 pm

It's a good thing Kentucky has the most quality depth of any team in the nation because the top-ranked Wildcats will be without a key player for the remainder of the season.

Starting forward Alex Poythress suffered a torn ACL in practice Thursday, John Calipari confirmed early Friday morning. The Kentucky coach posted on his website that Poythress suffered the injury when he went up for a breakaway layup, planted on his left leg and crumpled to the ground.   

"Our team was devastated for Alex when I told them," Calipari said. "There were tears throughout the room because this hurt them to the core. How they will respond I really don’t know, but I will do my best to be there for each of these kids."

Though Poythress has averaged 5.5 points in 20 minutes per game so far this season, Kentucky will feel his absence most on the defensive end. The 6-foot-8 junior has 12 blocks and four steals so far this season and is one of the team's most versatile defenders because he can guard bigger players in the paint or smaller players on the perimeter. He was the closest thing Kentucky had to a true small forward on its roster.

Poythress considered turning pro last spring after a strong performance in March during Kentucky's run to the national title game, but he decided against it because he was no longer projected as a first-round pick and he felt he had more to accomplish in college. He is on pace to graduate in three years this May and will have several options.

He could enter the NBA draft like he considered each of the past two springs, though the injury seemingly makes it unlikely he'd be selected. He could return to Kentucky for his senior season. Or he could take advantage of the graduate transfer rule and go to another school where he'd be guaranteed a bigger role than he has with the Wildcats.

[ From the Rivals network: Get more Kentucky hoops news at CatsIllustrated.com ]

The absence of Poythress jeopardizes the two-platoon system Calipari has employed so far this season.

One option for the Wildcats is to elevate 6-10 Trey Lyles into Poythress' spot on the first platoon, plug seldom-used 6-9 sophomore Derek Willis into the second platoon and maintain the system. Another is to use the injury as an excuse to scrap the system altogether and simply play the most deserving players the most minutes.

The luxury of having nine McDonald's All-Americans, three 7-footers and six elite frontcourt options enables Kentucky to survive a key injury more easily than most teams. Nonetheless, Poythress was an excellent rebounder and more versatile defender than anyone else on the Kentucky roster, so he'll certainly be missed.

"No one will be able to replace Alex and what he did for this team," Calipari said. "I go back to last year’s NCAA Tournament. Without Alex, we don’t win those games. No one will be able to replace him, but now everybody has to do a little bit more as we try to circle the wagons.

"I have a lot of faith in this team and our individual players. We aren’t even close to where we could be if we just keep improving. Our goals haven’t changed. Our path just got a little tougher."

With Poythress sidelined and guards Tyler Ulis and Devin Booker questionable as a result of minor injuries, Kentucky may have to put its unbeaten record on the line against North Carolina on Saturday with only the Harrison twins available on the perimeter. Still, that isn't the primary concern of the Wildcats right now.

"I can't describe how much I feel for this man!" Kentucky guard Aaron Harrison posted on Instagram alongside a picture of Poythress. "He's not only my teammate but he's one of my best friends and it's really sad to see him down but on the bright side we all know that he's going to come back even stronger! Love you boy and keep your head up!"

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Jeff Eisenberg is the editor of The Dagger on Yahoo Sports. Have a tip? Email him at daggerblog@yahoo.com or follow him on Twitter!

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Author: Jeff Eisenberg
Posted: December 12, 2014, 7:23 am

On the eve of its annual game against rival Iowa, 14th-ranked Iowa State is dealing with an off-the-court issue.

Bryce Dejean-Jones, Iowa State's second-leading scorer and leading rebounder, was arrested early Thursday morning after officers responded to a news complaint and found an undisclosed amount of marijuana on the premises.

Dejean-Jones initially faced a misdemeanor charge of "hosting a drug house marijuana" and noise and nuisance violations, an officer at the Story County Jail said Thursday morning. The Des Moines Register reported later Thursday that the drug-related charge has been dropped after a Stone County judge ruled police lacked probable cause to arrest Dejean-Jones.

Dejean-Jones was released from jail Thursday at midday. An Iowa State spokesman did not have an update on Dejean-Jones' status with the team Thursday morning because the school was still "gathering information."

The arrest of Dejean-Jones comes in the midst of the best stretch of his basketball career. The 6-foot-6 senior is averaging 17.1 points and 6.9 rebounds for the Cyclones and scored a combined 49 points on 17 of 20 shooting in Iowa State's most recent two victories against Arkansas and UMKC.

Iowa State coach Fred Hoiberg has built his program into a perennial top 25 team by seamlessly meshing transfers and returning players, but he took a risk bringing aboard Dejean-Jones. The high-scoring Los Angeles native was not always a popular teammate in previous stops at USC and UNLV and was suspended for the Rebels' regular season finale against Wyoming last season for a violation of team rules.

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Jeff Eisenberg is the editor of The Dagger on Yahoo Sports. Have a tip? Email him at daggerblog@yahoo.com or follow him on Twitter!

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Author: Jeff Eisenberg
Posted: December 11, 2014, 3:51 pm
Colorado State's Joe De Ciman,(10) intercepts a pass meant for Colorado's Xavier Talton, left, during the second half of an NCAA college basketball game, Wednesday, Dec. 10, 2014 in Boulder, Colo. (AP Photo/The Daily Camera, Cliff Grassmick)

DATE: Wednesday, Dec. 10

A — Colorado State

These are the nine teams undefeated Colorado State has beaten so far this season: Colorado, Georgia State, UTEP, UC Santa Barbara, Missouri State, Mercer, Northern Colorado Montana and Pacific. Taken individually, none of those wins are anything special. Taken collectively, that's a fairly good résumé the Rams are quietly putting together.

Colorado State was already in the early-season RPI top 10 before it went to Boulder on Wednesday night and edged in-state rival Colorado 62-60. None of the opponents the Rams have beaten will be mistaken for title contenders anytime soon, but there's an above-average Pac-12 team in the Buffaloes and a slew of quality mid-majors. That's good enough to put Colorado State in position to earn an NCAA tournament bid if it doesn't tank in league play, and it might even get the Rams into the AP Top 25 before too long. 

The difference in Wednesday night's game was the way Colorado State swarmed Josh Scott and forced the Buffs' perimeter players to win the game themselves. Scott went 0-for-7 from the field and didn't score until late in the second half and Colorado shot 40.4 percent from the field, not good enough to offset 19 points from J.J. Avila and balanced scoring from the rest of the Rams.

A- — Kansas

With Georgetown feeding mammoth center Josh Smith in the post at one end and frequently hiding him on defense in a zone at the other, Kansas needed an outside shooter to make the Hoyas pay. Enter reserve guard Brannen Greene, the hero of the Jayhawks' 75-70 victory in their first true road test of the season.

Greene scored 19 points and sank all five 3-pointers he attempted, none bigger than the one that came with 2:40 remaining and Georgetown still within a basket. It was a breakout night for a former elite recruit who has spent much of the season battling to earn Bill Self's trust and show he can be counted on to not only knock down shots but be a complete player.

Wednesday's victory was probably Kansas' most impressive this season, and it wasn't just a result of Greene. Sophomore Frank Mason further solidified his hold on the point guard job with an efficient 14-point, three-assist outing, and Kelly Oubre showed flashes of promise in increased playing time off the bench.

C — BYU

For a team I think is pretty good, BYU is in a fair amount of trouble one month into the season. The Cougars remain without a win of consequence after squandering a combined 40 points from Tyler Haws and Kyle Collinsworth in a 65-61 home loss to surging rival Utah.

Not having any marquee wins wouldn't be that big a deal for a power-conference team at this stage of the season, but BYU's schedule doesn't afford it too many more chances. The highest-profile teams the Cougars face the rest of the season are Gonzaga twice in league play and Stanford and UMass later this month. Since BYU's most notable wins to this point have come against Long Beach State and Utah State, the Cougars will have to take advantage of those chances to have realistic hope of an at-large NCAA tournament bid.

What's killing BYU is its pair of overtime losses in Maui last month. The first one against San Diego State knocked the Cougars into the vastly weaker loser's bracket, and the second one against Purdue ensured BYU would return to the mainland with no victories against Division I opposition from its trip. Had the Cougars beaten San Diego State, they would have had one quality win in the bag and chances for more with games against Pittsburgh and either Arizona or Kansas State next.  

F — Nebraska

Nebraska lost once all of last season at its raucous new arena. The Huskers eclipsed that Wednesday when they fell at home for the second time in three days.

Incarnate Word, a San Antonio-based school in its second year of transitioning from Division II to Division I, dealt Nebraska a mystifying 74-73 defeat. The Cardinals did enter the game with gaudy offensive stats and a 5-1 record that included a victory over Princeton, but their other four wins came against Division II foes. They should have been no match for a Nebraska team returning the core of last season's NCAA tournament team.

Nebraska put itself in jeopardy Wednesday with two critical turnovers on inbound passes in the final 30 seconds, the first by Tai Webster with the Huskers leading by three and the second by Terran Petteway with the edge down to one. Incarnate Word's Kyle Hittle then made Nebraska pay, hitting the winning baseline pull-up jumper over the outstretched arms of Shavon Shields with 2.7 seconds left.

NOTES:

• The team that has played the best against Kentucky so far this season? Believe it or not, it's Columbia. The Ivy League power bolted to an 11-0 lead at Rupp Arena on Wednesday, held an advantage into the second half and only lost 56-46 when it could no longer keep the Wildcats off the glass or out of transition. Tyler Ulis and Devin Booker both sat out the game with injuries for Kentucky.

• The Sam Dekker that showed up Wednesday in Milwaukee is the one Wisconsin needs the rest of the season. The junior forward scored an efficient 17 points in just 20 minutes as the Badgers overpowered Milwaukee 93-54.

• To put UCLA trailing into the second half against UC Riverside into proper context, consider the score when Utah played the Highlanders. The Utes clobbered UC Riverside 88-42. The Bruins pulled away in the final minutes for a 77-66 win.

• Washington State has lost by 27 to TCU, by 28 to UCSB and by seven to Idaho, so forgive the Cougars if they take a modest moral victory out of being competitive with Gonzaga. The Zags eventually pulled away for an 81-66 win behind 22 points from Przemek Karnowski and 21 from Kyle Wiltjer.

• San Diego State has a well-chronicled win streak in games it leads with five minutes to play. On Wednesday, the Aztecs showed they can come from behind too. Trailing Long Beach State by eight points with 8 1/2 minutes to play, San Diego State turned to Dwayne Polee and J.J. O'Brien to spearhead a comeback 60-59 victory. Polee scored a game-high 16 points and O'Brien had eight points, six rebounds and three steals.

• Wyoming's chances of earning a long shot at-large bid to the NCAA tournament took a hit Wednesday when the Cowboys fell 45-42 at Cal. The hero for the Bears was guard Tyrone Wallace, who scored a game-high 17 points and also poked away the ball from Wyoming for a key late steal and dunk.

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Author: Jeff Eisenberg
Posted: December 11, 2014, 7:17 am

The bet Tim Miles made before the season may not come back to haunt him.

Nebraska has to reach its first-ever Sweet 16 for Miles to get tattoos mirroring those belonging to standout wing Terran Petteway, and so far the Huskers don't look anywhere near capable of that.

Whereas Nebraska only lost once all of last season at its raucous new arena, the Huskers fell at home on Wednesday for the second time in three days. They followed a disappointing loss to in-state rival Creighton on Sunday with a mystifying 74-73 defeat against Incarnate Word, a San Antonio-based school in its second year of transitioning from Division II to Division I. 

Nebraska put itself in jeopardy Wednesday with two critical turnovers on inbound passes in the final 30 seconds, the first by Tai Webster with the Huskers leading by three and the second by Petteway with the edge down to one. Incarnate Word's Kyle Hittle then made Nebraska pay, hitting a game-winning baseline pull-up jumper over the outstretched arms of Shavon Shields with 2.7 seconds left.

A third loss in the opening four weeks of the season is a major surprise for Nebraska team that appeared poised to build on last year's breakthrough success. The Huskers returned the core of last year's 19-win NCAA tournament team including all-conference candidates Petteway and Shields at the wings and stretch forward Walter Pitchford inside.

If previous losses against Rhode Island and Creighton were early signs that Nebraska might not be the Big Ten contender it was supposed to be before the season, then Wednesday's surprising upset was even more alarming. Incarnate Word did enter the game with gaudy offensive stats and a 5-1 record that included a victory over Princeton, but the Cardinals' other four wins came against Division II foes. 

Nebraska's biggest issue in previous games has been poor shot selection and a lack of offensive firepower aside from the slashing and shooting of Petteway and Shields.

Point guard Tai Webster entered Wednesday's game with a poor shooting percentage and a negative assist-to-turnover ratio. Pitchford entered shooting an anemic 26.5 percent from the floor. And with Leslee Smith sidelined due to an offseason injury, the Huskers don't have any real low-post scoring threats, nor do they have many consistent perimeter shooters.  

Benny Parker solidified the point guard position Wednesday and Pitchford snapped out of his funk to score 10 points, but Nebraska's offense still remained too reliant on Shields and Petteway to overcome a barrage of perimeter points from Incarnate Word. The Cardinals shot 48.2 percent and received a combined 62 points from their four starting guards.

Nebraska now falls to 5-3 with a tough home game up next against a Cincinnati team with a formidable defense that feasts on one-dimensional offenses.

It would help the Huskers immensely if they could find a way to win that game. Otherwise they'll enter Big Ten play with at least four losses and with lots of ground to make up to have any hope of a return trip to the NCAA tournament that seemed so likely just a few weeks ago.

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Jeff Eisenberg is the editor of The Dagger on Yahoo Sports. Have a tip? Email him at daggerblog@yahoo.com or follow him on Twitter!

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Author: Jeff Eisenberg
Posted: December 11, 2014, 4:39 am
Georgetown Hoyas players wear I Can't Breathe t-shirts prior to their game against Kansas. (Tommy Gilligan-USA TODAY Sports)

Only days after some of the NBA's biggest stars donned "I Can't Breathe" T-Shirts during warmups, a prominent college team has followed suit. 

Georgetown warmed up in the shirts Wednesday evening before their home game against 10th-ranked Kansas.

The shirts are a declaration of support for the family of Eric Garner, who died July 17 after a New York police officer placed him in a chokehold while arresting him. A recording shows Garner gasping the words "I can't breathe" during the fatal encounter.

LeBron James, Derrick Rose and Kobe Bryant are among the players who have worn the shirts in the wake of a grand jury decision not to indict the officer. The idea is to maintain the spotlight on Garner's death and the issue of police conduct.

The NBA so far has declined to fine players for violations of uniform rules. It's unlikely Georgetown players will face any punishment either as the NCAA rulebook states "warm-ups are any pieces of clothing worn by team members that must be removed before they become players. Warm-ups shall not be considered part of the uniform."

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Author: Jeff Eisenberg
Posted: December 11, 2014, 12:35 am
Montrezl Harrell (Getty Images)

DATE: Tuesday, Dec. 9

A- — Louisville

How did Indiana shoot nearly 50 percent from the field and 40 percent from behind the arc against Louisville's formidable defense and still lose by 20 points? Simple. The Hoosiers gave the Cardinals far too many extra possessions.

Nineteen Indiana turnovers against Louisville's aggressive ball pressure were a big factor, as was the Cardinals punishing the smaller Hoosiers on the glass for 24 offensive rebounds. All-American candidate Montrezl Harrell had six and seven of his teammates tallied at least two as Louisville gobbled up well over half its 43 missed shots on the night en route to a 94-74 victory.  

Forcing turnovers and converting second-chance points kept Louisville in good position most of the game until it finally began stringing together stops and pulled away midway through the second half. Harrell finished with 21 points — mostly on an array of dunks — and starting guards Terry Rozier and Chris Jones combined for 50 points. Louisville improved to 8-0 and passed its last significant test before its showdown with Kentucky at the end of the month, meaning there's a good chance both teams will enter that game unbeaten.

B+ — Villanova

When Aaron Cosby buried a 3-pointer to tie the score at 50 with just over eight minutes to play, it appeared as though Tuesday's matchup between Villanova and Illinois might come down to the wire. Instead the Wildcats pulled away for a 73-59 victory by doing something unusual — scoring on 10 consecutive possessions.

Dylan Ennis launched the 23-7 barrage with back-to-back threes and finished with 10 of his 18 points during that stretch. Daniel Ochefu delivered six points during the run, while Josh Hart had four and Darrun Hilliard three. 

Villanova's victory improves its record to 9-0 with victories over Michigan, VCU and now Illinois, pretty impressive for a starless roster that is the true definition of team. The Wildcats are ranked in the top 10 even though no player is likely to be drafted this June, nor are any averaging more than 12.3 points per game.

C — Seton Hall

If Seton Hall's visit to Wichita State was a barometer for what its 7-0 start meant, then the Pirates' 77-68 loss wasn't as flattering a result as the scoreline might indicate. They ceded control of the game during a 26-5 first-half Shockers surge and never really posed a serious threat thereafter, falling behind by as many as 21 points midway through the second half.

What hampered Seton Hall was its inability to handle Wichita State's disruptive defense. The Pirates committed 17 turnovers, leading to some key layups and contributing to Shockers' 52.8 percent shooting. Isaiah Whitehead had 18 first-half points and Sterling Gibbs had 19 second-half points to keep Seton Hall competitive in spurts, but a balanced Wichita State attack led by Ron Baker's 22 points kept the Pirates at arm's length.

The one-sided outcome wasn't a huge surprise considering the best team Seton Hall has beaten this year was George Washington. A road game against Wichita State was a much bigger test, especially since the Shockers are motivated after their loss at Utah last week.

F — Michigan

Michigan's stunning Saturday afternoon loss to NJIT was disturbing because the unheralded Highlanders have long been a bottom-tier Division I program. In some ways, the Wolverines falling to Eastern Michigan three days later may have been even more alarming, however, because they should have been focused and motivated facing a respectable 7-1 MAC team after a loss. 

Whereas Michigan's downfall against NJIT was its inability to get defensive stops, the Wolverines' primary issue against Eastern Michigan was their ineffectiveness against the Eagles' trademark 2-3 zone. Michigan settled for far too many threes instead of patiently attacking the middle of the zone, shooting 4 of 21 from behind the arc and 32.6 percent from the field.

Never was Michigan's futility more apparent than the final three minutes when Eastern Michigan practically begged the Wolverines to salvage a win. The Eagles turned the ball over three times and missed the front end of a 1-and-1, yet Michigan failed to take advantage of five chances to either tie or take the lead, turning those into a turnover and four errant threes from normally reliable Spike Albrecht, Zak Irvin and Caris LeVert.

NOTES:

• NJIT followed up its upset of Michigan with a 68-66 home win over St. Francis (NY), which brings up an interesting question. Will St. Francis (PA) fans buy up NJIT T-Shirts to commemorate their rival losing the same way Ohio State and Michigan State fans did?

• Ask anyone to project the last 10 unbeaten teams a month ago, and nobody would have listed TCU. The Horned Frogs nonetheless improved to 9-0 on Tuesday with an 80-69 win over Furman. Granted the best teams TCU has beaten are Ole Miss and Mississippi State, but this is still progress for a program that has been a Big 12 doormat since joining the league.

• Evansville took advantage of facing Belmont without leading scorer Craig Bradshaw (leg injury). The Purple Aces rallied from 11 points down at halftime for a 65-62 win that improved them to 7-1 so far this season. 

• Before Tuesday night, Texas A&M rebounded just over a third of its misses, not a great percentage but certainly a respectable one. That's why it's shocking that Baylor held the Aggies without an offensive rebound in a 77-63 victory over their former Big 12 rival. Part of that is the pace of the game was slow. Part of that is Texas A&M shooting 57.5 percent from the field and committing 17 turnovers. Nonetheless, it's not often you see a team shut out on the offensive glass and it contributed to the Aggies' loss.

• First they upset Oklahoma. Then they fell to Ole Miss and Tulsa. Then came a road win at Nebraska. And now they need double-overtime just to escape with a win over South Dakota. Hey Creighton, can you make up your mind how good you are? The schizophrenic Bluejays survived Tuesday night despite allowing late threes that tied the game at the end of regulation and in the final minute of the first overtime.

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Jeff Eisenberg is the editor of The Dagger on Yahoo Sports. Have a tip? Email him at daggerblog@yahoo.com or follow him on Twitter!

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Author: Jeff Eisenberg
Posted: December 10, 2014, 6:49 am
All the Ohio State and Michigan State fans who purchased NJIT T-Shirts and sweatshirts this week might need to save money for some more gear.

Many of them will probably want Eastern Michigan apparel too to commemorate more Michigan misfortune.

The Wolverines followed up their stunning home loss to NJIT on Saturday with another nightmarish performance against an unheralded foe, falling 45-42 to Eastern Michigan on Tuesday night in Ann Arbor. 

In some ways, that's not nearly as disturbing a loss since the Eagles are now 8-1 and boast a formidable enough defense to finish in the upper half of the MAC. In other ways, it's even more alarming since Michigan should have been focused and motivated coming off a horrendous loss yet the Wolverines still fell at home to another lightweight whose record is inflated by three wins over non-Division I competition and three more against teams below .500 so far this season. 

Michigan's losing streak might extend beyond two considering what lies ahead on the schedule. The Wolverines visit undefeated Arizona on Saturday evening and host AAC contender SMU the following weekend.

Whereas Michigan's downfall against NJIT was its inability to get defensive stops, the Wolverines' primary issue against Eastern Michigan was their ineffectiveness against the Eagles' trademark 2-3 zone. Michigan settled for far too many threes instead of patiently attacking the middle of the zone, shooting 4 of 21 from behind the arc and 32.6 percent from the field.

Never was Michigan's futility more apparent than the final three minutes when Eastern Michigan practically begged the Wolverines to salvage a win. The Eagles turned the ball over three times and missed the front end of a 1-and-1, yet Michigan failed to take advantage of five chances to either tie or take the lead, turning those into a turnover and four errant threes from normally reliable Spike Albrecht, Zak Irvin and Caris LeVert.

That trio combined to go 7 of 27 from the field and 4 of 16 from behind the arc. And while Michigan was effective defensively against Eastern Michigan, the Wolverines simply don't have enough other ways to score to survive off nights from their perimeter standouts.

Michigan's ineffectiveness against the zone was surprising considering the Wolverines are only a week removed from a 68-65 victory over Syracuse. Granted Michigan shot only 38.5 percent that day and won because of how many turnovers it forced, but the Wolverines didn't look quite so inept against the longer, more talented Orange.

Perhaps on Tuesday night Michigan players lacked confidence. Or maybe they were trying too hard to make big individual plays rather than attacking the zone with patience.

Whatever the explanation, it doesn't change the outcome: A second straight bad home loss for Michigan and a potential banner week for the Eastern Michigan bookstore. 

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Jeff Eisenberg is the editor of The Dagger on Yahoo Sports. Have a tip? Email him at daggerblog@yahoo.com or follow him on Twitter!

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Author: Jeff Eisenberg
Posted: December 10, 2014, 4:53 am

The breakout year many projected from Marquette guard Deonte Burton hasn't materialized so far this season.

As a result, the former top 100 recruit will leave school at the end of fall semester

First-year Marquette coach Steve Wojciechowski announced Tuesday that Burton and fellow sophomore John Dawson both intend to transfer. Their departures leave the shorthanded Golden Eagles with only eight active scholarship players once Indiana transfer Luke Fischer becomes eligible for the team's next game against Arizona State on Dec. 16.

"We appreciate all that Deonte and John have contributed to the program since our staff arrived in April," Wojciechowski said.  We will do everything we can to help them make the next step in their respective careers and wish them nothing but the best in the future."

Whereas Dawson has only appeared in one game so far this season for Marquette, Burton is a significant loss. The 6-foot-4 wing was Rivals.com's No. 52 recruit in the Class of 2013 and scored efficiently enough in limited minutes as a freshman that it appeared a huge jump in playing time and production was inevitable this season.

For whatever reason, that did not happen. Wojciechowski brought Burton off the bench in his guard-heavy rotation and he averaged 6.4 points and 1.6 rebounds in 16.1 minutes per game, a slight dropoff from what he accomplished last year. 

One reason it's hard to blame Burton for only showing flashes of his potential is that he lost his mother to breast cancer in October.

Perhaps a fresh start and a year away from basketball will help Burton finally achieve what he's capable of in the future. 

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Jeff Eisenberg is the editor of The Dagger on Yahoo Sports. Have a tip? Email him at daggerblog@yahoo.com or follow him on Twitter!

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Author: Jeff Eisenberg
Posted: December 9, 2014, 7:56 pm

Two surprises awaited New Jersey Institute of Technology bookstore manager Peter Maranzano when he arrived at work Monday morning.

The first was that he received about 20 times the number of online orders for NJIT T-shirts and sweatshirts over the weekend as he usually would. The second was that more than half the orders came from Ohio and Michigan addresses more than 500 miles away from the school's Newark campus.

"You're just on autopilot taking orders, and then you notice Detroit, East Lansing, Columbus and you put two and two together," Maranzano said Tuesday. "I had a bunch from Ohio, and I thought, 'Oh, these have to be Buckeyes fans.'"

Of course, the impetus for the barrage of orders was NJIT's stunning 72-70 victory over No. 17 Michigan on Saturday afternoon in what was easily the biggest upset of the college basketball season thus far. Fans of Ohio State, Michigan State and other Big Ten schools snapped up NJIT gear to rub the humiliating loss in the faces of their Wolverines-loving friends.

Although Maranzano was surprised to be shipping dozens of T-shirts to Columbus and East Lansing, the phenomenon of purchasing T-shirts to commemorate a rival's loss isn't new. Hundreds of Missouri fans bought Bucknell shirts seven years ago after the Bison toppled Kansas in the first round of the NCAA tournament. Kentucky fans did the same in 2011 when Kenneth Faried and Morehead State ousted Louisville.

It's possible NJIT's win may be even more surprising than either of those. Not even six years removed from losing a Division I record 51 straight games, the Highlanders showed how far they have come by toppling a name-brand program with resources they can't even fathom.

NJIT plays in a cramped 1,500-seat gym; Michigan's home is spacious newly renovated 12,700-seat Crisler Arena.

NJIT had never faced a AP Top 25 opponent in the history of its program before; Michigan finished both of the past two seasons ranked in the top 10.

NJIT is the only Division I team without a conference to call home; Michigan is a charter member of the prestigious Big Ten. 

What NJIT hopes is that the credibility boost from this win combined with facilities upgrades in the works will help the school earn an invitation from a Division I conference in the Northeast. Whether that comes to fruition or not, beating Michigan certainly has brought the school unexpected publicity — both in its home state and throughout the Midwest.

Maranzano received about 90 online orders for T-shirts on Monday and another 20 by midday Tuesday. He said he receives 3-to-5 on a typical day.

"Hopefully it's positive for the program," Maranzano said. "If it raises publicity for the school, I think that can only be a good thing."

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Jeff Eisenberg is the editor of The Dagger on Yahoo Sports. Have a tip? Email him at daggerblog@yahoo.com or follow him on Twitter!

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Author: Jeff Eisenberg
Posted: December 9, 2014, 6:39 pm
Providence Friars guard Jalen Lindsey (21) reacts to a foul called on him (USATSI)

DATE: Monday, Dec. 8

A+ — Florida

Florida had been among the nation's most disappointing teams so far this season. Yale had just toppled defending national champion UConn in its last game. So clearly it was a potential upset when the Gators and Bulldogs met, right? Not so much.

Florida pounded Yale 85-47, opening up a 10-point lead after 11 minutes, a 20-point lead after 17 minutes and a 49-point lead by the six-minute mark of the second half. The only meaningful aspect of the whole game was mercurial sophomore forward Chris Walker putting together back-to-back quality games, following up a solid showing against Kansas with 13 points and 6 rebounds off the bench against the Bulldogs.

Florida needs that active, energetic version of Walker to show up more often. The Gators are still only 4-4 with games against Wake Forest, UConn and Florida State still remaining prior to the start of SEC play.

B- — SMU

With Nic Moore sidelined for most of the second half after banging knees with a defender, SMU needed other players to step up against visiting UC Santa Barbara. Thankfully for the Mustangs, wing Keith Frazier and big man Yanick Moreira came through.

Frazier and Moreira combined for 35 points as SMU edged UCSB 80-73 in overtime. The Gauchos rallied from five points down in the final 30 seconds of regulation to force the extra session, but an 8-0 Mustangs run put the game away.

The odd thing was that UCSB was able to make the game close despite getting little production out of star forward Alan Williams. He fouled out with nine points, eight rebounds and three blocks on 4 of 14 shooting, but guards Michael Bryson and Gabe Vincent picked up the slack with a combined 40 points.

F — Providence

Providence is backsliding faster than a fat kid sledding uphill. The Friars have spoiled a 6-0 start with a three-game losing streak that began with a predictable loss to Kentucky and continued with unexpected setbacks against Boston College and Brown.

Monday night's 77-67 loss to Brown was by far the most surprising outcome. The Bears (5-6) had lost to every remotely good team they had faced prior to upsetting the Friars. Their only wins had come against Saint Peter's, Prairie View A&M, Bryant and something called Johnson and Wales.

Providence got 16 points apiece from Kris Dunn and LaDontae Henton, but collectively the Friars did not shoot well from the field. Five Brown players scored in double figures as the Bears led for the final 8:38 of the second half.

F — Binghamton

An already humbling start to the season for Binghamton got worse Monday night when the Bearcats sunk to a new low.  They fell 63-52 to Caldwell University, a New Jersey-based Division II program with a modest 6-4 record so far this season.

What led to Monday's loss was Binghamton's inability to hit anything from the perimeter against a packed-in defense designed to take away the paint. Thirty-four of the Bearcats' 55 shots were threes and they made just 11 of them, ice-cold shooting that led to a 16-point first half and an inability to cut into a second-half deficit that mostly remained in double figures.

Expectations were low for Binghamton after a 23-loss season a year ago, but the Bearcats so far have managed to lower the bar. They're 1-9 with losses to Cornell, Army and Navy and a lone win against Division II Hartwick College.

NOTES:

• Alas, Incarnate Word is not going 40-0. The nation's most unlikely unbeaten team fell for the first time on Monday night, suffering an 81-65 loss at UTEP. Incarnate Word had been a deceptive 5-0 with four wins over Division II programs sandwiched around an 11-point road victory at Princeton.

• Convincing bounce-back wins for Miami and Purdue. The Hurricanes blasted Savannah State 70-39 after falling to Green Bay. The Boilermakers outclassed IPFW 63-43 after falling to North Florida.

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Jeff Eisenberg is the editor of The Dagger on Yahoo Sports. Have a tip? Email him at daggerblog@yahoo.com or follow him on Twitter!

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Author: Jeff Eisenberg
Posted: December 9, 2014, 5:23 am

When Utah assistant Andy Hill sat down to watch Austria face the Netherlands on the first day of the 2013 U-18 European Championships, he wasn't optimistic it would be time well spent.

Neither country had much history of producing elite prospects, nor did they have any players familiar to Hill. The only reason he didn't skip the game and spend the afternoon sightseeing in Macedonia was to fulfill his vow of scouting all 38 teams in the tournament in person.

Hill's diligence proved more beneficial than he expected when he spotted a big man worthy of his attention. Jakob Poeltl, a largely unknown Austrian center, yanked down 15 rebounds and showcased impressive speed and skill for a 7 footer, sending Hill scrambling to see if he had any interest in playing college basketball in the United States.

"Sometimes you watch a kid and it's a complete no brainer you want him," Hill said. "I would say he was one of those kids. Right away, he stood out. He was rebounding everything, he played with great energy and his attitude was outstanding. His team struggled, but Jakob never got down on his teammates. It was impressive to me that a kid so talented would treat everyone with great respect."

Forging a relationship with Poeltl before other college programs discovered him was a huge coup for Utah because the big man from Vienna is every bit as good as Hill predicted. Poeltl has unseated fellow 7 footer Dallin Bachynski as Utah's starting center, spearheaded the Utes' ascension to 13th in the AP Top 25 and emerged as one of the fastest-rising prospects on NBA draft boards.

What has been most impressive about Poeltl in his first seven college games are his shot-blocking instincts, aggression on the glass and touch around the rim. He has made a seamless transition to college basketball, sinking nearly three-quarters of his shots, posting three double-doubles and averaging 12.0 points, 9.6 rebounds and 3.0 blocks.

"I tried to come here with no expectations, so I'm a little surprised how well I've done," Poeltl said. "I was very nervous before I got here. I was coming to a new country, I knew nothing about Utah except what I'd seen on my visit and I didn't know a whole lot about college basketball. But my teammates have helped me a lot and I got used to everything pretty quickly. I'm feeling comfortable now."

Poeltl's impressive opening month has rocketed him to 20th on DraftExpress.com's list of the top 100 pro prospects and has captured the attention of NBA scouts. One scout said he liked what he'd seen of Poeltl on film so far and had already booked a trip to Salt Lake City next month to evaluate him in person. Another viewed Poeltl as a potential NBA center if he gets stronger and diversifies his offensive game.

"He is still young and needs to develop his body a lot, but he is very fluid and smooth for a 7 footer," the second scout said. "He is still raw in his all-around game but he has a chance."

Utah guard Brandon Taylor, right, celebrates with forward Jakob Poeltl. (AP)Poeltl owes his excellent genetics and passion for sports to his parents, both of whom were volleyball standouts. There was no youth volleyball available to Poeltl near his family's Vienna home, however, so his parents sent him to a basketball program around the corner instead.

When Poeltl began playing for the U-16 Vienna Timberwolves at age 14, he was most comfortable in a complementary role. Over the next few years, he grew more than eight inches, developed a low-post and mid-range game and became more confident in himself.

"The most important area of improvement was in his approach," Timberwolves coach Hubert Schmidt said. "As he was a late bloomer physically, he was not really dominating when he was 14. We encouraged him to recognize how good he could become, to start to play more aggressively and to attract a bigger role. You can see now that he doesn't shy away from taking responsibility at all."

Never was that transformation more obvious than when Hill watched Poeltl for the first time in Macedonia 17 months ago. Poeltl averaged 15.4 points, 12.3 rebounds and 2.6 blocks, earning second-team all-tournament honors even though undermanned Austria only won 1 of 7 games and finished 20th out of 22 teams in the second-tier B Division.

Word of Poeltl's performance spread quickly in basketball circles, drumming up interest from a handful of Division I programs and forcing him to decide whether he preferred to play professionally in Europe or in college in the United States. That choice actually wasn't too difficult for Poeltl because he liked that college offered a chance to pursue basketball while also furthering his education as a fall-back option.

"If I went pro in Europe, I probably wouldn't have a chance to go to a university and get my degree," Poeltl said. "That was a big plus about college. I could have basketball and an education at the same time. Also I think I wasn't ready for 100 percent professional basketball at that time. College was something in between where there wouldn't be quite as much pressure on me."

The tougher choice was determining whether Utah was the best option among the colleges that pursued him.

Since basketball is an afterthought in soccer-crazed Austria, Poeltl could only watch college or NBA games via unreliable Internet streams in the wee hours of the morning. He and his mom researched Utah and the other schools by studying articles about their rosters and playing style via the Internet, pulling up league standings and rankings and requesting game film from the coaches.

"They were so well prepared and they had done their research regarding questions they needed to have answered," Hill said. "Sometimes Jakob's mom would even ask questions that she knew the answers to before she asked them. It was kind of a test as to whether or not you were going to tell them the truth."

There were several factors that contributed to Poeltl choosing Utah over Cal and Arizona after visiting all three schools in February. Cal had a great chance to land Poeltl before it hired a coach he had no previous relationship with after Mike Montgomery retired. Arizona also effectively took itself out of the running when it decided it couldn't wait any longer for Poeltl to decide and accepted a commitment from Serbian 7 footer Dusan Ristic in March.

Nonetheless, the biggest reason Poeltl chose Utah was the relationship he had built with the Utes staff.

Utah's Larry Krystkowiak and Davidson's Bob McKillop were the only two Division I head coaches who spent the time and money to travel more than 5,000 miles to Vienna to get to know Poeltl in person, a decision that underscored how much the Utes wanted the young big man. Krystkowiak met with the entire family on his first trip, had lunch with Poeltl by himself on his second one and watched games on both visits.

Poeltl also liked the idea of being coached by a 6-foot-9 former NBA forward with a history of developing young big men. Krystkowiak could not promise Poeltl a starting job since Bachynski and fellow center Jeremy Olsen were returning from last year's team, but the Austrian 7 footer came away with the impression that the Utah staff would give him a fair chance.

"I really liked the coaching staff," Poeltl said. :They made me feel comfortable and that I wouldn't get lost. I also really appreciated that [Krystkowiak] came to meet with me in Vienna. I knew they really wanted me and also needed me out here because of that."

Eight months after he committed to Utah, Poeltl couldn't be happier with his decision.

He has earned the trust of the coaching staff, logging 35 or more minutes in Utah's two biggest games of the season so far — a four-point loss at San Diego State and an overtime win against Wichita State. He has also acclimated himself quickly off the floor, forging an especially strong bond with roommates Chris Reyes and Kenneth Ogbe, a German native.

Poeltl's only complaint about Salt Lake City so far? It's tough to find good schnitzel.

Though Poeltl's early-season play has earned him praise from fans, reporters, and NBA scouts, his coaches say he maintained his usual level-headed demeanor. His focus is solely on helping Utah complete its transformation from a six-win team in Krystkowiak's debut season four years ago to Pac-12 contender this season.

"I want to focus on this season right now and not on what might happen next season," Poeltl said. "I think when the team does good, that benefits all of us."

Video of Jakob Poeltl via Go-to-Guys.de:

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Jeff Eisenberg is the editor of The Dagger on Yahoo Sports. Have a tip? Email him at daggerblog@yahoo.com or follow him on Twitter!

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Author: Jeff Eisenberg
Posted: December 8, 2014, 9:25 pm
Justin Anderson (USATSI)

DATE: Saturday, Dec. 6

A+ — Virginia

You hear all about Duke and its stable of McDonald's All-Americans. You hear all about Louisville and its suffocating defense. For whatever reason, the one ACC contender who seems to generate fewer headlines is the one who brought back all but two rotation players from a team that won the league last season.

Virginia showed why it should not be discounted yet again on Saturday afternoon, going on the road to the deafening Siegel Center and outclassing a determined VCU team 74-57. Treveon Graham pulled the Rams within four with back-to-back-to-back threes with six minutes remaining, but the Cavaliers kept their poise and coolly reeled off 15 straight points to douse the threat. Justin Anderson led Virginia with 21 points but five Cavaliers scored during the decisive stretch.

Saturday's victory improves Virginia to 9-0 with quality wins against Maryland, George Washington and now VCU, three teams likely to reach the NCAA tournament this season. VCU, on the other hand, falls to 5-3 and continues to struggle defensively when opponents break their pressure. Virginia had 16 turnovers Saturday but the Cavaliers made up for it by shooting 68.3 percent from the field.

A- — Green Bay

Green Bay was focused and angry after falling at Georgia State by 24 points two nights earlier. Miami was feeling satisfied with itself after defeating No. 24 Illinois to remain undefeated that same night. The contrasting emotions both teams took into their meeting Saturday manifested on the scoreboard as the visiting Phoenix toppled the 15th-ranked Hurricanes 68-55.

The catalyst for Green Bay was its defense, which held Miami to 33 percent shooting for the game and to just one field goal the opening 12 minutes of the second half. That gave the Phoenix the time they needed to finally solve Miami's zone. Carrington Love socred a career-high 20 points and star guard Keifer Sykes added 18.

Last season, Green Bay won 24 games including an early-season upset of Virginia, but the Horizon League champions had to settle for an NIT bid after falling to rival Milwaukee in the semifinals of the conference tournament. The Phoenix (6-2) probably will have to win the Horizon League tournament to make the NCAA tournament again this year, but a victory like Saturday's shows they can be dangerous if they get there.

A- — Arizona

If the West Region's No. 1 seed comes down to a decision between Pac-12 favorite Arizona and perennial WCC champion Gonzaga in a few months, the third-ranked Wildcats may now have an insurmountable edge. They outlasted the ninth-ranked Zags 66-63 in overtime Saturday afternoon thanks to a remarkable defensive effort down the stretch.

Gonzaga appeared poised to wrest the title of best team in the West away from Arizona when it opened a six-point lead with 4:05 remaining in regulation, but the Wildcats' defense stiffened thereafter. The only field goal the Zags scored the rest of regulation and overtime was a deperation fall-away 3-pointer from Kevin Pangos that sliced Arizona's overtime lead to one with two minutes remaining.

What short-circuited Gonzaga's typically efficient offense was Arizona's ability to switch every screen and put a taller, longer defender on Pangos. The All-American candidate had trouble attacking the size and length of Rondae Hollis-Jefferson and Brandon Ashley, leading to two key turnovers in the final minute of regulation and overtime.

F — Michigan

Only one of Division I's 351 teams does not have a conference to call home. That team toppled Michigan 72-70 in Ann Arbor on Saturday. 

NJIT, which endured a 702-day drought without a win during the 2007-08 and 08-09 seasons, showed how far it has come, shooting 58.7 percent from the floor and 11 of 17 from behind the arc against the 17th-ranked Wolverines. Caris LeVert scored 18 of his game-high 32 points in the final eight minutes to rally Michigan from a seven-point deficit, but NJIT guards Damon Lynn, Ky Howard and Winfield Lewis matched him big shot for big shot down the stretch.

Michigan's loss underscored that the Wolverines aren't offensively gifted enough this season to survive the frequent defensive lapses they committed Saturday. LeVert sank 11 of 18 shots and point guard Derrick Walton had a 16-point night, but no other Wolverines scored more than seven points as Zak Irvin endured an uncharacteristically poor shooting night and none of the big men generated any offense. 

NOTES:

• While the Big 12 as a whole has been outstanding so far this season, Kansas State is the exception. The Wildcats suffered their fourth loss in six games on Saturday when their late rally fell short and they lost 65-64 at rebuilding Tennessee. The common thread in Kansas State's four losses so far this season has been a lack of offense. Marcus Foster highlighted a strong day from the backcourt with 23 points, but the Wildcats got almost no offense from their frontcourt.

• You know it's an ugly game when one team shoots 32.9 percent from the floor, scores 49 points ... and wins by 11. That's what Wisconsin did to rival Marquette in a bounce-back victory after Wednesday's loss to Duke. Marquette tried to narrow the talent gap against the Badgers by slowing the pace, packing in its defense and making the game as gruesome as possible. It worked to an extent but Wisconsin sank just enough outside shots to win comfortably. 

• Purdue picked the worst possible time to endure a nearly three-minute scoreless drought. Errant shots, missed free throws and defensive lapses from the Boilermakers enabled North Florida to reel off 13 straight points to turn a late seven-point deficit into a six-point final-minute lead. Purdue never again had another chance to tie or take the lead and fell 73-70 to an Ospreys team that is 6-3 but had previously lost to Northwestern and South Carolina.

• The Holy War wasn't exactly a fair fight this year. Villanova forced 21 turnovers and limited St. Joseph's to 30.5 percent shooting en route to an easy 74-46 win. 

Poor Saint Louis picked the wrong night to schedule Wichita State. A Shockers team angry over its loss at Utah earlier in the week responded with a strong performance at home, whipping the rebuilding Billikens 81-52 behind 18 points from Ron Baker.

• Syracuse can proclaim itself "New York's College Team" in its promotional campaigns, but it can't call itself New York's best college team this season. St. John's staked its claim to that title Saturday with a 69-57 win at the Carrier Dome. Phil Greene buried the Orange with a trio of threes in the final five minutes.

• The most impressive part of Butler's 65-56 victory over Northwestern was that the Bulldogs didn't need the 3-point shot to win. They sank just 1 of 5 threes against a defense designed to take away clean looks from behind the arc but they hurt the Wildcats by spreading the floor and attacking the rim.

• The ACC season opened with a random early-December game that had a familiar outcome: Wake Forest losing. NC State clipped the struggling Demon Deacons 78-65.

• Couple of solid under-the-radar late-night wins from Mountain West teams: Boise State won at previously unbeaten Saint Mary's 82-71 and New Mexico handled Horizon League contender Valparaiso 63-46 on the road.

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Jeff Eisenberg is the editor of The Dagger on Yahoo Sports. Have a tip? Email him at daggerblog@yahoo.com or follow him on Twitter!

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Author: Jeff Eisenberg
Posted: December 7, 2014, 6:00 am

If the West Region's No. 1 seed comes down to a decision between Pac-12 favorite Arizona and perennial WCC champion Gonzaga in a few months, the third-ranked Wildcats may now have an insurmountable edge. 

They outlasted the ninth-ranked Zags 66-63 in overtime Saturday afternoon thanks to a remarkable defensive effort down the stretch.

Gonzaga appeared poised to wrest the title of best team in the West away from Arizona when it opened a six-point lead with 4:05 remaining in regulation, but the Wildcats' defense stiffened thereafter. The only field goal the Zags scored the rest of regulation and overtime was a deperation fall-away 3-pointer from Kevin Pangos that sliced Arizona's overtime lead to one with two minutes remaining.

What short-circuited Gonzaga's typically efficient offense was Arizona's ability to switch every screen and put a taller, longer defender on Pangos. The All-American candidate had trouble attacking the size and length of Rondae Hollis-Jefferson and Brandon Ashley, leading to two key turnovers in the final minute of regulation and overtime.

It also didn't help Gonzaga that the referees swallowed their whistles on a critical call at the end of regulation. Domantas Sabonis was in position for a put-back after Gary Bell missed a jumper with two seconds remaining, but Hollis-Jefferson went over his back to knock the ball out of bounds, enabling Arizona to force overtime.

Arizona didn't have much success on offense against a Gonzaga defense that protected the paint and invited the Wildcats to take jump shots, but Brandon Ashley and T.J. McConnell made enough big plays down the stretch to spark the rally.

Ashley blew by Sabonis for a driving layup and then buried a pair of huge jump shots in the final 2:30 of regulation to get Arizona into position for overtime. McConnell scored all six of Arizona's points in overtime on a pair of short jumpers and two free throws.

Gonzaga had one last chance to force a second overtime when Byron Wesley drew a foul on Elliott Pitts on a 3-point attempt with three seconds left in the first extra session. The wing who left USC to have a chance to play in meaningful games like this one failed to come through, air-balling his first free throw a few inches shy of the front rim and then clanking his next two.

Letting a winnable game slip away was heartbreaking for Gonzaga, but the Zags will surely find some moral victories in the loss once the sting dissipates.

They proved they could take one of the nation's elite teams down to the wire on its home floor, an excellent sign for a Gonzaga program that has enjoyed ample regular season success under Mark Few but has not made it to the second weekend of the NCAA tournament the past five years. They also showed they have narrowed the gap considerably since their humbling 84-61 loss in the NCAA tournament's round of 32 last March in San Diego.

Pangos and Gary Bell Jr. are healthier than they were that night. Wesley provides size, athleticism and slashing ability that the Zags didn't have at small forward a year ago. And in Sabonis and Kyle Wiltjer, Gonzaga has a pair of big men who complement skilled 7-foot center Przemek Karnowski extremely well.

Karnowski's patience and decision-making in the post during a 10-point, 11-rebound night were especially encouraging for Gonzaga. He'll likely be the player who would worry Arizona most should the Wildcats and Zags meet again in a West Regional game or even in Indianapolis. 

Impressive as the Zags were, however, they couldn't handle Arizona's defensive pressure down the stretch.

In the lone regular season battle between the West's two best teams, the Wildcats' defense was the difference.

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Jeff Eisenberg is the editor of The Dagger on Yahoo Sports. Have a tip? Email him at daggerblog@yahoo.com or follow him on Twitter!

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Author: Jeff Eisenberg
Posted: December 7, 2014, 1:23 am

When Jim Engles became the head basketball coach at New Jersey Institute of Technology in 2008, he inherited by far the nation's most challenging rebuilding job. 

NJIT had just completed a nightmarish second season in Division I in which it went 0-29 and lost every game it played by at least nine points. The Highlanders suffered through plenty more humiliating losses in Engles' debut campaign, extending their winless drought to an incredible 702 days before finally notching their lone victory that season. 

Wins aren't nearly as hard to come by anymore for NJIT, and even marquee ones are no longer unfathomable. The Highlanders proved that Saturday afternoon when they notched the biggest upset of the college basketball season thus far, stunning 17th-ranked Michigan 72-70 in Ann Arbor.

Wolverines star Caris LeVert scored 18 of his game-high 32 points in the final eight minutes to rally his team back from a seven-point deficit, but NJIT guards Damon Lynn, Ky Howard and Winfield Lewis matched him big shot for big shot. Lynn sank perhaps the most critical shot of the game, a 3-pointer that increased the Highlanders' lead to 68-64 with less than three minutes to play. 

Michigan's best chance came when Howard missed a 3-pointer at the shot-clock buzzer with 11 seconds to go and the margin at just one, but the Wolverines failed to corral the rebound. They never got another chance to tie or take the lead either as DaQuan Holiday hit two foul shots and the Engles elected to foul Kameron Chatman in the closing seconds rather than allow the Wolverines a chance at a game-tying 3-pointer. 

Though NJIT has followed up a respectable 13-win season last year by upsetting Duquesne and taking Marquette to the wire so far this year, the chasm between the Highlanders and Michigan is unfathomably large. 

Michigan has been a member of the prestigious Big Ten since its inception; NJIT is the lone remaining independent in Division I because its former conference folded two years ago and it has yet to find a new league willing to offer an invitation. 

Michigan plays in newly renovated 12,700-seat Crisler Arena; NJIT calls home a high school-sized gym with bleachers on only one side of the court. 

Five Michigan players have been selected in the past two NBA drafts; NJIT has never produced an NBA player.

None of that mattered Saturday, however. For one afternoon, a program ranked 19th in this year's KenPom rankings was on a level playing field with a program ranked 293rd. 

The biggest long-term benefit of Saturday's win for NJIT could be that it forces conferences in the Northeast to pay attention to how far the program has come. 

Engles told reporters in Ann Arbor after the game that his goal is to get NJIT into the America East. Then he cracked a joke Michigan fans probably won't find amusing. 

Said Engles, "Maybe we can get into the Big Ten now." 

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Author: Jeff Eisenberg
Posted: December 6, 2014, 8:00 pm

They shot well below 40 percent from the field. They didn't dominate the offensive glass the way they usually do. They missed their first 11 attempts from behind the arc before finally sinking one with less than three minutes remaining in the game

Kentucky wasn't at its best offensively Friday night against a determined Texas defense, but the top-ranked Wildcats didn't need to be to stay unbeaten. They still pulled away for a 63-51 victory over the sixth-ranked Longhorns because their own defense remains utterly impenetrable.

Fueled by full-court traps and relentless ball pressure, Kentucky forced 22 turnovers against a Texas team that missed injured starting point guard Isaiah Taylor. The Longhorns also couldn't make the Wildcats pay for that aggressiveness even when they did manage to get a shot off, sinking just 29.8 percent of their attempts because Kentucky's stable of long, athletic big men surrendered nothing easy around the rim.

That defensive formula is what has enabled Kentucky to open with eight straight wins and tighten its grip on the No. 1 ranking even as it's still finding itself on offense.  Opposing teams are averaging 45.4 points per game and .67 points per possession against the Wildcats so far this season, both the lowest in the nation.

To put into perspective how impressive that is, consider that no team this century has finished a season yielding less than .83 points per possession. Granted Kentucky's total should increase later in the season when it faces high-major opponents regularly, but that still reflects just how hard it is to score against the Wildcats this year.

Texas might have enjoyed more success attacking Kentucky off the dribble if Taylor were available, but without him the Longhorns simply didn't have the firepower. Elite freshman big man Myles Turner and standout center Cameron Ridley battled foul trouble the whole game and combined for just seven points. Point guard Javan Felix was overmatched athletically and made too many poor decisions with the ball. Aside from a couple jump shots from Jonathan Holmes and Connor Lammert and occasional dribble penetration from DeMarcus Holland, Texas simply lacked the creativity to score.

The score remained tight the entire first half because Kentucky could neither score against Texas' disciplined defense nor get a defensive rebound. The only reason the Wildcats even entered halftime tied with the Longhorns was due to a late 6-0 spurt that followed a flagrant foul assessed to Holmes after he knocked Karl-Anthony Towns to the floor as he was rising for a transition dunk.  

Kentucky finally opened a sizable lead early in the second half by turning Texas turnovers into transition opportunities. Junior center Willie Cauley-Stein tallied six points, four rebounds, two steals and a block during an 18-2 Wildcats surge that provided the breathing room needed to survive a late Texas comeback.

Cauley-Stein was easily the best player on the floor Friday night, scoring a game-high 21 points on an array of dunks, put-backs, tip-ins and short jump shots. He also collected 12 boards on a night when Kentucky was out-rebounded by 11, defended both the paint and the perimeter and used his long arms and quick feet to amass five steals and three blocks.

All in all, there were plenty of positives for both Kentucky and Texas to derive from Friday's early-season litmus test.

The Wildcats demonstrated they can beat an elite opponent even when their offense is misfiring, which makes it scary to think what they can accomplish if they ever figure out how to attack a zone or get their jump shots to fall consistently. And the Longhorns managed to play a competitive game on the road against the top-ranked team in the nation with their leading scorer sidelined and two of their top big men producing hardly anything offensively. 

Friday's game was one of the ones viewed as a potential loss on Kentucky's schedule before the season because Texas is one of the few teams in the nation with the size and strength in the paint to counter the Wildcats' armada of big men.

The Longhorns indeed held their own inside as projected, but they didn't have enough weapons to threaten a Kentucky defense that so far has yet to meet its match.  

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Jeff Eisenberg is the editor of The Dagger on Yahoo Sports. Have a tip? Email him at daggerblog@yahoo.com or follow him on Twitter!

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Author: Jeff Eisenberg
Posted: December 6, 2014, 3:49 am

For a team that boasts an unbeaten record, an outstanding frontcourt and a handful of marquee early wins, sixth-ranked Texas isn't being given much of a chance entering its showdown with top-ranked Kentucky in Lexington on Friday night.

One reason for that is the Wildcats are dismantling opponents by 34.4 points per game so far this season and throttled the last top 10 team they faced by 32 points on a neutral floor. Another reason is that the Longhorns will play without leading scorer Isaiah Taylor, who will not return until later this month because of a broken wrist.  

Though Texas is a double-digit underdog against Kentucky, its stable of quality big men gives it at least a chance of being the first to slay the Wildcats this season. Here's a look at three keys for Texas in its bid to pull off an upset (or at least stay closer than Kansas did):

1. Can Texas keep Kentucky off the offensive glass?

Even though Kentucky boasts plenty of shooters who can strike from the perimeter, slashers who can finish at the rim and big men who can score in the post, where the Wildcats may be most deadly is after they miss a shot. They rebound an absurd 48.1 percent of their misses so far this season, the highest of any team in the nation. 

Texas is more equipped to keep Kentucky from dominating the offensive glass than most teams because the Longhorns have the size to match up against a Wildcats frontcourt that boasts a trio of 7-footers and five players 6-foot-10 or taller. Rick Barnes starts three players 6-foot-8 or taller and brings 6-foot-11 elite recruit Myles Turner and 6-foot-10 defensive specialist Prince Ibeh off the bench.  

Thanks to its size, shot blocking prowess and knack for guarding without fouling, Texas is one of the most difficult teams in the nation to score against when its defense is set. Not surrendering second-chance points to the Wildcats will be crucial for the Longhorns Friday night.

2. Can Texas space the floor and hit enough threes?    

If there's one thing the opening month of the season has proven about Kentucky, it's that the Wildcats aren't going to give up many points in the paint. They boast college basketball's biggest, deepest frontcourt, they lead the nation in blocked shots and they surrender a remarkably low .67 points per possession, easily the lowest of all 351 Division I teams.

Scoring in transition is one way for Texas to neutralize this Kentucky advantage, but when the Longhorns are facing a set defense, they're going to have to prove they can hit shots from behind the arc. That's the only way to pull Kentucky's big men away from the basket, to create driving lanes and to score without having to shoot over the outstretched arms of multiple big men. Three-point shooting is even more critical for the Longorns Friday night than it might normally be since they're without Taylor, their best guard at finding driving lanes and finishing in traffic at the rim.

The problem with that strategy for Texas is it isn't a great outside shooting team. The Longhorns sink a modest 34.6 percent of their threes, putting them squarely in the middle of the pack nationally. Forward Jonathan Holmes is easily the team's premier outside shooter, having sunk 14 of 28 attempts from behind the arc this season. Myles Turner and Connor Lammert are capable of forcing opposing big men to guard them on the perimeter, but the Texas guards are very hit-and-miss from behind the arc.

3. Can Texas create opportunities in transition and limit Kentucky's fast-break chances?

Kentucky allows the least points per possession in the nation so far this season. Texas surrenders the fifth least. Thus with defenses as formidable as these two when they're set, a huge key will be which team can create more scoring chances in transition.    

On paper, this appears to be an aspect of the game that favors the Wildcats. They apply full-court pressure and play aggressive perimeter defense because they have the security of so many shot blockers lurking in the paint. Kentucky is far from a fast-paced team, but the Wildcats are more equipped to push tempo when they want to and force more turnovers per game than Texas does.

The Longhorns are one of the slowest-paced teams in the nation, checking in 280th in possessions per 40 minutes entering Friday's game. They don't gamble for steals, they don't foul and they win with discipline. Texas obviously can't abandon that approach against Kentucky, but the Longhorns have to look to push more off the long rebounds and turnovers they do force. They also have to take care of the basketball against Kentucky, a bigger issue now that Taylor is out and Javan Felix is the only primary ball handler. 

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Jeff Eisenberg is the editor of The Dagger on Yahoo Sports. Have a tip? Email him at daggerblog@yahoo.com or follow him on Twitter!

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Author: Jeff Eisenberg
Posted: December 5, 2014, 3:37 pm
Kyan Anderson (Spruce Derden-USA TODAY Sports)

DATE: Thursday, Dec. 4

A — TCU

In its first two seasons in the Big 12, TCU managed only two league wins in 36 tries. It's probably safe to say the much improved Horned Frogs will exceed that this winter.

TCU improved to 8-0 on Thursday night with its most impressive win of the season, a 66-54 road victory at Ole Miss. The Horned Frogs previously have also routed Washington State and outclassed Mississippi State.

Granted that trio of wins won't exactly have Kansas or Texas quaking in their high tops, but they represent a huge step forward for a TCU program rebuilding under Trent Johnson. The Horned Frogs are winning with slow-paced but efficient offense, balanced scoring and disciplined defense. If they can maintain that formula the next few weeks, the schedule is soft enough that they should take a 13-0 record into their Big 12 opener against West Virginia.

A- — Iowa State

To defeat an Arkansas team that entered play Thursday night averaging more than 90 points per game, Iowa State simply cranked up its offense to another gear. Bryce Dejean-Jones scored 27 points, Georges Niang tallied 26 and the Cyclones shot 64 percent from the field as a team en route to a 95-77 throttling of the previously unbeaten Razorbacks.

The statement win was noteworthy for the Cyclones because they didn't play particularly well in the CBE Classic in Kansas City recently. They survived a close game against a mediocre Alabama team before falling to Maryland in the title game.

It was clear from the early stages Arkansas would not be so competitive. A Razorbacks team that hasn't defeated a ranked team on the road since 1999 fell behind by 15 points after 12 minutes even though they were shooting 50 percent from the field.

C+ — LSU

When the selection committee studies LSU's resume in March, they'll probably see the Tigers 74-73 victory at West Virginia as a quality win. Those of us who watched the game will know otherwise. 

LSU won despite committing 24 turnovers against the West Virginia pressure defense, despite trailing by as many as 12 midway through the second half and despite getting four points from standout forward Jordan Mickey. A series of bad fouls and turnovers by both teams preceded a driving layup from Josh Gray with nine seconds to go that gave the Tigers the victory.

Ugly as the win was, it was big for both LSU and the SEC. The Tigers have now bounced back from early losses to Clemson and Old Dominion with back-to-back wins against UMass and West Virginia, both teams with NCAA tournament aspirations. And the SEC needs all the quality wins it can get given its collective struggles so far this season, aside from Kentucky of course.

F — Drexel

Even though Drexel was without second-leading scorer Tavon Allen and only had eight available players, there's no excuse for the loss the Dragons suffered Thursday night. They became the first Division I team to lose at home to a lower-division program so far this season, falling 54-52 to something called the University of the Sciences.

Some quick research reveals that the University of the Sciences is a tiny Philadelphia-based school specializing in pharmacology. The Devils compete in Division II and boast a 6-2 record so far this season, though they don't have a single player taller than 6-foot-7 on their roster.

The worst part for Drexel was it couldn't even seize control of the game after rallying from six down at halftime to take a five-point second-half lead. University of the Sciences leading scorer Garret Kerr sank the game-winning 3-pointer with two seconds remaining, dropping the Dragons to 2-5 this season.

NOTES:

• Don't expect Green Bay to remain No. 2 in the RPI much longer. The Phoenix are a quality mid-major but they lost 72-48 at Sun Belt favorite Georgia State on Thursday night.

• Kenny Chery is out with an injury, Rico Gathers had as many points as fouls, yet Baylor still managed to eke out a 66-63 victory at Vanderbilt. The difference was forwards Taurean Prince and Royce O'Neill, who combined for 41 points.

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Jeff Eisenberg is the editor of The Dagger on Yahoo Sports. Have a tip? Email him at daggerblog@yahoo.com or follow him on Twitter!

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Author: Jeff Eisenberg
Posted: December 5, 2014, 5:12 am

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Never let it be said Portland State guard Bryce White doesn't play hard until the final whistle.

Never let it be said he displays good sportsmanship either. 

With Portland leading rival Portland State by 14 points Wednesday night and just a few seconds remaining in the game, Pilots guard Alec Wintering was content to dribble out the clock near the mid-court stripe. White approached Wintering as though he intended to shake his hand and congratulate him on the victory, but the 6-foot-5 sophomore had other plans. 

To the surprise of Wintering, White stripped him of the ball, raced after it and went in for a breakaway slam that cut Portland State's deficit to 12 with 1.4 seconds to go. The needlessly tacky play had zero impact on the outcome of the game, but it inspired a chorus of boos from the remaining Portland fans still in their seats.

It's easy to explain White's frustration considering neither he nor Portland State had a particularly good game against their rivals. White was just 3-of-10 from the field prior to his late dunk and the Vikings trailed by as many as 27 points midway through the second half before mounting a mini-run long after the outcome had been determined. 

Reaction to White's fake handshake steal has been split on social media Thursday afternoon. Some have lauded him as a cult hero for pulling off an act of deception better suited for a wrestling heel. Others have slammed him for not showing more sportsmanship or grace with his team's fate sealed.

Those who have the biggest gripe with White are probably gamblers. Portland was a 12.5-point favorite to beat its city rival. As a result of White's duplicity, the Pilots won by 12 instead of 14.

(Thanks, Deadspin)

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Author: Jeff Eisenberg
Posted: December 4, 2014, 11:17 pm

Matching the color of his tie and his highlighter apparently isn't Digger Phelps' only unusual fashion habit.

The former Notre Dame coach and ESPN college basketball analyst also dresses in drag once a year.  

Each December, Phelps reprises his role as Mother Ginger for the Southold Dance Theater's production of the Nutcracker. Phelps appeared in full costume Wednesday night at halftime of Notre Dame's victory over Michigan State to promote this year's productions, which will take place Dec. 13 and 14 in South Bend.

Though the sight of Phelps in lipstick and blue eye shadow is horror movie-level frightening, give him credit for his commitment. How many current or former college basketball coaches can you imagine appearing in drag at halftime of a game? Tom Izzo, perhaps. But that's about it.

Phelps, 73, left his full-time gig on ESPN's College GameDay after last basketball season, making room for former Virginia Tech coach Seth Greenberg to join the show. Looks like he's not ready to step away from his annual acting gig just yet.

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Jeff Eisenberg is the editor of The Dagger on Yahoo Sports. Have a tip? Email him at daggerblog@yahoo.com or follow him on Twitter!

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Author: Jeff Eisenberg
Posted: December 4, 2014, 7:42 pm

As Utah's 11-point lead over eighth-ranked Wichita State melted away in startlingly quick fashion during Wednesday night's final five minutes, the Utes surely experienced a sickening case of déjà vu.

Eight of Utah's nine games decided by four points or fewer last season ended in losses. The Utes certainly didn't want to allow that alarming trend to carry over to this season and cost them a marquee non-league win in the process.

Utah somehow avoided that fate and emerged with a 69-68 overtime victory despite allowing Wichita State to storm back and take a two-point lead in the final minute of regulation. The Utes fueled that comeback with defensive lapses and turnovers but showed impressive resolve to recover, tying the game on a pair of Dakarai Tucker free throws and then making the biggest plays in overtime against an opponent that had not lost a game in the regular season since March 2, 2013. 

Wichita State led by one with less than 30 seconds to play in overtime when Utah point guard Delon Wright drove into the lane, faked a spin to the right and hit a short go-ahead jump shot. The Shockers had several chances in the final seconds, but point guard Fred VanVleet missed the front end of a 1-and-1 with seven seconds remaining and forward Evan Wessel rushed his put-back attempt, dooming Wichita State to its first regular-season loss after 35 straight wins.

That Utah could upset Wichita State without standout wing Jordan Loveridge is a testament to how far the Utes have come the past few years.

Larry Krystkowiak inherited such a threadbare roster in 2010 that Utah lost 25 games his debut season despite playing a non-league schedule better suited for a Division II team. The Utes have steadily upgraded their discipline, talent level and schedule ever since, a process that culminates this season when the six top scorers from last year's 21-win team are joined by highly touted group of freshmen.

At point guard is Delon Wright, a do-everything NBA prospect who guards multiple positions, creates for himself or his teammates off the dribble and boasts a developing outside shot. Manning the paint are two formidable 7 footers, one a blossoming NBA prospect and the other a standout defender and rebounder capable of protecting the rim. And then there are an array of forwards and wings, many of whom defend well and can knock down open threes

While centers Jakob Poeltl and Dallin Bachynski controlled the offensive glass against undersized Wichita State and guards Tucker and Brandon Taylor combined for six threes, the biggest reason Utah won was because of its defense. The Utes made it difficult for the Shockers to generate good looks at the basket and held them to anemic 38 percent shooting from the field.

Ron Baker had an efficient 15-point game and Tekele Cotton delivered 14 points, but the third member of Wichita State's vaunted backcourt struggled mightily. Fred VanVleet needed 19 shots to score 13 points and missed a handful of shots he normally makes, only catching fire for a brief spurt late in regulation as the Shockers were launching their comeback. 

Utah halted Wichita State's momentum in overtime and emerged with a victory that solidifies the Utes as the clear-cut top challenger to Arizona in an otherwise wide-open Pac-12.

The development of Wright and Loveridge and the emergence of Poeltl as a defensive anchor in the frontcourt gives Utah a chance to enjoy a breakout season. All the Utes have to do is prove they can do one thing that eluded them last year: Close out tight games in the final minutes.

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Author: Jeff Eisenberg
Posted: December 4, 2014, 8:13 am

Dec 3, 2014; Madison, WI, USA; Duke Blue Devils guard Tyus Jones (5) signals to his team as they play the Wisconsin Badgers at the Kohl Center. Duke defeated Wisconsin 80-70. (Mary Langenfeld-USA TODAY Sports)MADISON, Wis. — As the clock wound down and Duke’s lead grew on Wednesday night, the three levels of the Kohl Center that were awash in red went silent.

The two invasive spots of blue, however, were making themselves heard. Among the noisy dozens of those bundledin Blue Devil sweatshirts, scarves and knit hats were members of Tyus Jones’ family who had made the four-and-a-half hour drive from Apple Valley, Minn. At 280 miles, it was by far the shortest road trip they’d be able to make all season.

As Jones came down with a rebound to close out fourth-ranked Duke’s 80-70 win over second-ranked Wisconsin in the ACC/Big Ten Challenge, his family screamed and shouted. Not only had Jones and his team come away victorious, but Jones had seized a large part of the national spotlight that had been aimed before the game at preseason All-American big men Frank Kaminsky and Jahlil Okafor.

“Sometimes the best moments are when you’re on the road and you’re just with your family,” said Duke coach Mike Krzyzewski, who himself had family members make the three-hour drive from Chicago for the game. “What a great night for college basketball. You might say ‘Well, you won.’ But I think I would have said that even had we lost.

"I think we beat one of the two or three best teams in the country tonight." 

It was indeed a great night for college basketball, which benefited from an early matchup of preseason favorites to draw the attention of casual fans in early December.

But it turned out to be an even better night for Duke after seeing Jones turn in a monster game and be invited onto the ESPN SportsCenter set that had been built to broadcast from the big game. Unshaken by the Kohl Center’s hostile environment, the freshman cooly turned in a 22-point, six-rebound and four-assist effort in 37 minutes of play.

His backcourt mate, senior Quinn Cook, scored 13 and the pair’s ability to dribble-penetrate and then score kept Wisconsin’s defense off kilter all night. Okafor added 13 points over 27 minutes, although Krzyzewski said the freshman’s contribution was much bigger than that.

“His numbers don’t have to be great to have an impact on the game,” said Krzyzewski, crediting Okafor’s big presence for the room that Jones and Cook had to operate.

How Cook would react to a young upstart like Jones coming in and sharing his backcourt had been one of the bigger questions for the Blue Devils heading into this season.

But any questions of bad chemistry or hurt feelings seem to be irrelevant after an 8-0 start. The pair is working together and they’re working well.

“I think Tyus has played really well for us,” Krzyzewski said. “Jeff Capel said in the last 6-7 minutes ‘Let’s go to him.’ He just showed a lot of poise. “Having Quinn out there with him helps, too. Because they’re always a safe port there.”

"I'm more of a laid back guy," Jones said after the game. "Jahlil will tell you that. I can't think of anything that really irks me." 

Duke benefited from a stellar shooting rate in handing Wisconsin, a Final Four participant last spring, its first loss of the new season. The Blue Devils shot 30-of-46 (65.2 percent) from the field to set a Kohl Center record and went 7-of-12 (58.3 percent) from behind the three-point line.

“We have all of their shots charted and I would say they hit some tough shots,” Wisconsin coach Bo Ryan said. “But they have good enough players that can do that at times. To have as many do it on the same night? Well, that’s just not fair. I don’t care what anybody says, they were lights out.”

Ryan had a right to be a tad ornery after his team fell to 7-1. While Kaminsky and fellow senior Traevon Jackson turned in noteworthy efforts — 17 and 25 points, respectively — Wisconsin’s supporting cast left much to be desired. Forwards Nigel Hayes and Sam Dekker combined for just nine points on three-of-10 shooting. Guards Josh Gasser and Bronson Koenig weren’t much better.

There’s plenty of time to correct things, of course, and Wisconsin didn’t show anything to make anyone think they won’t be a top seed come tournament time. Still, that won’t stop Ryan from hitting the players’ iPads with plenty of film before a trip to Milwaukee to play their biggest instate rival, Marquette, on Saturday.

“I saw a couple of Globetrotter routines out there, but the problem is that we weren’t playing the Generals,” Ryan said dryly.

“I think some of you didn’t get that,” Ryan added after not getting much of a laugh.

Duke’s pedigree, combined with Wisconsin’s ascendance, the star power of Kaminsky and Okafor and a national broadcast on a weekday night made Wednesday’s game the rare non-conference matchup to capture the interest of the casual fan. The Kaminsky-Okafor matchup was an intriguing one with the Duke big man scoring first and Kaminsky following with back-to-back threes for an early Badger lead.

But the battle of the big men partially faded into the background. Kaminsky’s open looks were cut down by an early defensive switch that Krzyzewski made after the threes while Okafor fell into some early foul trouble in the first half.

In their place stepped guys like Jones, Cook and Rasheed Sulaimon, who scored 14 while Wisconsin's supporting cast remained distant.

Though Wisconsin’s student section “The Grateful Red” is renowned for its noise and intensity, Duke’s young team never wavered. Jones said he watched episodes of “The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air” during the day to relax, but it sometimes seemed as if he and his teammates had enjoyed staring at the scenic waters of Madison’s many lakes instead.

In winning at Wisconsin, this year’s Duke team is already ahead of their recent counterparts. The Blue Devils had lost their first true road game in each of their last five seasons, dating back to a 73-69 loss to Wisconsin at the Kohl Center in 2009.

“I credit the upperclassmen who were here last year,” Jones said of the team’s cohesive start. “They accepted us freshmen and made it easy to come onto campus and get acclimated really quickly … We tried to improve the chemistry on and off the court. It was something that wasn’t as hard as most people would’ve expected.”

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Kevin Kaduk is a writer for Yahoo Sports.. Have a tip? Email him at kevinkaduk@yahoo.com or follow him on Twitter! Follow @KevinKaduk

Author: Kevin Kaduk
Posted: December 4, 2014, 6:59 am

The easiest basket Shep Garner will ever score became possible because of the cluelessness of everyone around him.

When Penn State's Peyton Banks missed his first free throw late in the first half of the Nittany Lions' 61-58 victory over Virginia Tech on Wednesday night, almost everyone on the floor reacted as though it was a two-shot foul. Four Hokies lined on the blocks made no attempt to grab the rebound. Banks bowed his head and slapped his teammate's palm in preparation for a second shot. Even ESPN's announcers kept yammering away as though there was a break in the action.

The only person in the whole gym who seemed to realize Banks had only received a 1-and-1  was Garner, who corralled the rebound and went straight up with it for a basket that could serve as the very definition of an uncontested layup. Even he then appeared to question himself, however, as he walked back to his original position on the block as though his basket wasn't going to count.

The inattentiveness of everyone on the floor is especially bizarre because the rule in question is among the simplest in college basketball.

Non-shooting fouls only result in two free throws for an opposing player if the guilty team has committed 10 or more fouls in the half. Adam Smith's foul that sent Banks to the free throw line was only Virginia Tech's ninth team foul of the first half, so the Penn State forward needed to make the first free throw in order to receive a second.

Video of the play is going to look especially ugly in the Virginia Tech film room Thursday because the two points in question could have made a difference in the game's outcome. Penn State never led by more than seven the whole game and was in front by just a basket or two for most of the final 10 minutes.

(Thanks for the video, @cjzero)

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Jeff Eisenberg is the editor of The Dagger on Yahoo Sports. Have a tip? Email him at daggerblog@yahoo.com or follow him on Twitter!

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Author: Jeff Eisenberg
Posted: December 4, 2014, 3:01 am

As the inoperable tumor in her brain continues to grow, Mount St. Joseph basketball player Lauren Hill is experiencing more severe symptoms.

Her headaches and nausea are flaring up more frequently. She's having a tougher time sleeping through the night. And her balance issues are becoming more pronounced.

To cope with those issues, Hill has begun to receive hospice care at home, her mother said Wednesday in a Facebook post. That will allow medical services to come to her rather than forcing the 19-year-old and her family to make the trek to the hospital whenever she requires care. 

In spite of her ever-worsening condition, Hill continues to fight to live as normally as possible. 

She spent Thanksgiving Day with her family, enjoying brunch at her dad's parents' home and a traditional turkey dinner at her mom's parents' house. The next day, she spent the evening catching up with high school friends who were home from college. Hill's dad even joked about using her growing celebrity to their advantage during Black Friday shopping.

"Brent came up with an awesome mastermind plan that we should have used," Hill's mom wrote in a Facebook post. 'Arrive at store at 5 a.m. Get on [the] PA and announce Lauren is in the front of the store signing autographs and taking pictures and while she has everyone sidetracked go get the good deals' ... lol It was a good plan."

Hill's strength has served as an inspiration to many nationwide since WKRC-TV in Cincinnati, Yahoo Sports and other outlets first shared her story nearly two months ago.

Doctors discovered an inoperable tumor growing at the base of Hill's brain stem last year and diagnosed her with DIPG, a rare, inoperable pediatric brain tumor that kills 90 percent of victims within 18 months. Fearful that Hill wouldn't be strong enough to fulfill her goal of playing college basketball for the first time, the Indiana native's parents asked Mount St. Joseph to petition to have its Nov. 15 season opener moved up — a request the NCAA granted in October.

Ten thousand fans packed the Cintas Center at Xavier University and a national TV audience watched from home as Hill fulfilled her dream of playing college basketball for the first time on Nov. 2, scoring a layup on the game's opening possession and a put-back late in the second half. She also used her growing fame to raise money and awareness for pediatric cancer research, spearheading fundraisers and doing as many interviews with local and national media outlets as she could in hopes of spreading her message.

Hill has raised more than $350,000 for pediatric cancer research and she has remained as active a member of the Mt. Saint Joseph basketball team as possible. She scored a basket in a second game on Nov. 21 and according to this tweet from Eric Gerhardt of WKRC-TV in Cincinnati, she will be in attendance for Mount St. Joseph's game Wednesday night.

So, yes, Hill's symptoms are worsening. But they haven't sapped her will to appreciate every moment she still has.  

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Jeff Eisenberg is the editor of The Dagger on Yahoo Sports. Have a tip? Email him at daggerblog@yahoo.com or follow him on Twitter!

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Author: Jeff Eisenberg
Posted: December 4, 2014, 12:34 am

When the Atlanta Tip-Off Club released its 50-man watch list for last year's Naismith Award, it left off a guard who became a first-team All-American, a forward who finished third in the nation in scoring and a center who was selected in the top five in last June's NBA Draft.

Chances are there's a Nick Johnson, T.J. Warren or Joel Embiid snubbed from this year's list too.

The list released Wednesday includes many of college basketball's top players so far this season, but there were a few glaring omissions too. Below you'll find a league-by-league look at the list itself and the most prominent players from each conference who didn't make the cut:

American Athletic Conference (2): Ryan Boatright, G, UConn; Nic Moore, G, UConn

Biggest snub: None

ACC (9): Malcolm Brogdon, G, Virginia; Jerian Grant, G, Notre Dame; Olivier Hanlan, G, Boston College; Montrezl Harrell, F, Louisville; Tyus Jones, G, Duke; Jahlil Okafor, C, Duke; Marcus Paige, G, North Carolina; Terry Rozier, G, Syracuse; Justise Winslow, G/F, Duke

Biggest snub: Angel Rodriguez, G, Miami — The Kansas State transfer is averaging 14.1 points and 4.8 assists in his first season with the Hurricanes, propelling them to an 8-0 start that includes a Charleston Classic title and victories over Florida and Illinois.

Big East (1): D’Vauntes Smith-Rivera, Jr., Georgetown

Biggest snub: LaDontae Henton, F, Providence — The senior has taken the reins from Bryce Cotton as the Friars' go-to threat. Even with a poor showing against Kentucky in his last game, he is still averaging 21.3 points and shooting 52.4 percent from the floor.

Big Ten (7): Branden Dawson, F, Michigan State; Sam Dekker, F, Wisconsin; Yogi Ferrell, G, Indiana; Frank Kaminsky, C, Wisconsin; Caris LeVert, G, Michigan; Terran Petteway, G, Nebraska; D'Angelo Russell, G, Ohio State

Biggest snub: D.J. Newbill, G, Penn State — Penn State isn't a name-brand basketball program, but that doesn't mean what Newbill is doing should be ignored. He is averaging 25 points per game, shooting 50 percent from behind the arc and throwing in 5.6 rebounds and 3.1 assists per game on top of that. He belongs on this list.

Big 12 (9): Cliff Alexander, F, Kansas; Perry Ellis, F, Kansas; Marcus Foster, G, Kansas State; Georges Niang, F, Iowa State; Buddy Hield, G, Oklahoma; Wayne Selden, G, Kansas; Isaiah Taylor, G, Texas; Myles Turner, F, Texas; Juwan Staten, Sr., West Virginia

Biggest snub: Jonathan Holmes, F, Texas — Ask any Texas fan who their team's MVP has been thus far, and the answer would be Holmes. He has a game-winning three against UConn in the final seconds and he scored a combined 40 points in wins against Iowa and Cal. He also has defended multiple positions, rebounded capably and hit 62 percent of his threes.

Pac-12 (6): Brandon Ashley, F, Arizona; Rondae Hollis-Jefferson, F, Arizona; Stanley Johnson, G, Arizona; Chasson Randle, G, Stanford; Delon Wright, G, Utah; Joseph Young, G, Oregon

Biggest snub: Josh Scott, C, Colorado —He's the only player in the Pac-12 in the league's top five in scoring, rebounding and blocked shots so far this season. Scott averages 17.2 points and 8.6 rebounds for a Buffs team that has only lost one game thus far.

SEC (5): Willie Cauley-Stein, C, Kentucky; Aaron Harrison, G, Kentucky; Michael Frazier, G, Florida; Jordan Mickey, F, LSU; Karl-Anthony Towns, F, Kentucky

Biggest snub: Bobby Portis, F, Arkansas — The best player on what so far has been the SEC's second best team, Portis is averaging 14.5 points and 6.2 rebounds. You can probably also make a case for Alabama's Levi Randolph, who is averaging 19.5 points and shooting well over 50 percent from the field for the one-loss Crimson Tide.

Best of the rest (11):Ron Baker, G, Wichita State, Treveon Graham, G/F, VCU; Tyler Haws, F, BYU; R.J. Hunter, G, Georgia State; Kevin Pangos, G, Gonzaga; Wesley Saunders, F, Harvard; Winston Shepard, F, San Diego State; Keifer Sykes, G, Green Bay; Fred VanVleet, G, Wichita State; Rashad Vaughn, G, UNLV; Alan Williams, F, UCSB

Biggest snub: Vince Hunter, F, UTEP — If you haven't seen the 6-foot-8 sophomore play before, he's worthy of more attention. Hunter is averaging 18.4 points and 12.6 rebounds per game for a UTEP team whose only loss is to Washington.

 

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Jeff Eisenberg is the editor of The Dagger on Yahoo Sports. Have a tip? Email him at daggerblog@yahoo.com or follow him on Twitter!

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Author: Jeff Eisenberg
Posted: December 3, 2014, 10:48 pm

One of the most anticipated games of the college basketball season tips off Wednesday night when No. 2 Wisconsin hosts No. 4 Duke in the marquee matchup of this year's Big Ten-ACC Challenge. Here's a look at three keys that could help decide the game:

1. How will Duke account for Frank Kaminsky's outside shooting? 

In Duke's previous games, Jahlil Okafor has typically defended ball screens by sagging back, clogging the paint and cutting off driving lanes. That strategy will not work against a big man who shoots pick-and-pop threes as well as Kaminsky.

Wisconsin's versatile 7-foot All-American candidate is attempting nearly four threes per game this season and sinking more than 40 percent of them. He is equally effective taking smaller defenders into the low post or forcing conventional big men to try to stick with him 22 feet from the rim. 

Given that Mike Krzyzewski will want to play Okafor his usual 25-30 minutes because of his prowess as a scorer, rebounder and rim protector, the Duke coach has a couple of options for how to accomplish that and still slow down Kaminsky. The simplest solution is to ask Okafor change how he defends screens and hope that the lumbering 7 footer moves well enough to contain dribble penetration and still recover in time to get a hand in Kaminsky's face. It's possible Okafor will do better in that role than expected, but the reality is it's asking a lot of him.

Another option for Duke would be having 6-foot-9 Amile Jefferson check Kaminsky and putting Okafor on Nigel Hayes, but that creates new problems for the Blue Devils. While Jefferson is quick enough to stick with Kaminsky on the perimeter, he would have a harder time defending him in the low post than Okafor would. Furthermore Hayes' improved jump shot enables him to present some of the same pick-and-pop challenges Kaminsky does, plus he is adept at facing up, attacking the rim and drawing fouls against his defender.  

One last option for Krzyzewski would be to ditch his trademark aggressive man-to-man and play some zone, something he typically is reticent to do. Plus Wisconsin isn't exactly an easy team to zone since they have an elite shooter in Josh Gasser, a guard who's adept at finding driving lanes in Traevon Jackson and several big men capable of thriving in the high post.  

2. Will Wisconsin double Jahlil Okafor in the post?

Jahlil Okafor blocks the shot of Army guard Kyle Wilson (Mark Dolejs-USA TODAY Sports)The advantage to doubling Okafor in the post is that you don't put Kaminsky at risk of foul trouble and you make someone else beat you. The disadvantage is that Okafor has showcased excellent poise and court vision passing out of a double team and Duke has plenty of other weapons who can burn you when left free.

Duke guards Quinn Cook, Matt Jones and Justise Winslow are each shooting at least 39 percent from behind the arc and Tyus Jones, Grayson Allen and Rasheed Sulaimon are 3-point threats as well. Furthermore, while Jefferson is typically the fifth option offensively when he's on the floor, the 6-foot-9 forward is certainly capable of scoring in the paint when left unguarded. 

In Duke's most recent game against a decent opponent, Stanford enjoyed more success having 6-foot-10 Stephan Nastic defend Okafor 1-on-1 than they did double-teaming. Wisconsin will probably do a little bit of both, but it seems likely Kaminsky will often be asked to check Okafor man-to-man on the block unless he gets into foul trouble.

3. Can Sam Dekker fight through his ankle injury and contain Justise Winslow? 

For all the attention Jahlil Okafor received entering the season, you can make a case he hasn't even been Duke's best freshman. Winslow, a big, strong, ultra-athletic small forward, has solidified himself as a likely lottery pick next June with his defensive prowess, aggressive forays to the rim and better-than-expected court vision and outside shooting.

While Winslow is shooting 39.1 percent from behind the arc so far this season, the first priority when guarding him is to keep him from getting into the paint off the dribble. That's not easy to do because he has a quick enough first step to go around ball screens or deny them and he is strong enough that going under a screen as a defender sometimes just gives him time to build a head of steam.

One of the Wisconsin players who should spend the most time defending Winslow is Sam Dekker, who at least has the size, strength and athleticism to match up with Winslow better than most do. The problem is that a lingering ankle injury suffered in late October is still affecting Dekker's mobility in games and limiting him in practice. Look for Hayes to also see some time guarding Winslow if Dekker struggles early.

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Jeff Eisenberg is the editor of The Dagger on Yahoo Sports. Have a tip? Email him at daggerblog@yahoo.com or follow him on Twitter!

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Author: Jeff Eisenberg
Posted: December 3, 2014, 4:05 pm

When Ohio State fell behind by 19 points early in the second half at fifth-ranked Louisville on Tuesday night, it looked like the best-case scenario for the Buckeyes would be avoiding getting embarrassed in their first real test of the season.

Turns out they did far better than that.

A late scoring flurry from standout freshman D'Angelo Russell helped Ohio State silence the roaring red-clad road crowd and slash the deficit to as few as three points in the final minute. Only a huge top of the key three from Louisville guard Terry Rozier enabled the Cardinals to halt the Buckeyes' momentum and pull away for a 64-55 victory in the marquee game of day 2 of the Big Ten-ACC Challenge.

Tuesday's clash of unbeatens provided the first true glimpse of where both Louisville and Ohio State stand in the national pecking order. Since the Cardinals had played nobody of consequence since their season opener against Minnesota and the Buckeyes had played nobody of note besides Marquette, their meeting served as somewhat of a early barometer for both teams.

What we learned about Louisville is that its defense is further along than its offense, as is the norm for a Rick Pitino team.

The Cardinals created 11 steals with their swarming pressure and bothered Ohio State with their length around the rim, yet they couldn't put the game away because they struggled to attack the Buckeyes' zone defense in the second half. All-American candidate Montrezl Harrell only took eight shots and nobody but him and Wayne Blackshear scored with any semblance of efficiency.

It's also clear that Rozier isn't afraid of big moments. Despite beginning the night 0-for-7 from the field and reaggravating a jammed finger he had suffered in practice, the sophomore shooting guard still had the confidence to knock down a pair of late threes that helped keep Ohio State at arm's length. 

What we learned about the Buckeyes is that they're probably not as far along offensively as they seemed to be against lesser competition.

Though Ohio State lost its three top scorers from a team that struggled on offense already last season, the Buckeyes have actually been more efficient this year because Shannon Scott has thrived in his natural point guard role, Russell has emerged as a go-to threat and Marc Loving has become as a complementary scorer. Loving actually performed well with 13 points against Louisville, but Scott and Russell found success a bit tougher against the Cardinals than they did against the likes of UMass Lowell and James Madison.

Scott couldn't handle Louisville's aggressive ball pressure, committing five turnovers and shooting 1 of 7 from the field. Russell tried to do too much himself as the Buckeyes fell behind early, hoisting 20 shots and only making six of them because of some late offense.

The good news for Ohio State is that the mettle it showed in the second half will serve it well later in the season, as will the experience of trying to score against Louisville's defense. The bad news is that the weak non-league schedule Thad Matta designed for his team this season only provides one more chance for a remotely noteworthy victory.

Ohio State will play North Carolina in the CBS Sports Classic in Chicago later this month.

Win that, and the Buckeyes will validate their top 20 ranking and enter Big Ten play in strong position. Lose that, and they'll start the conference season with a victory over a rebuilding Marquette team serving as the best win on a lackluster resume.  

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Jeff Eisenberg is the editor of The Dagger on Yahoo Sports. Have a tip? Email him at daggerblog@yahoo.com or follow him on Twitter!

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Author: Jeff Eisenberg
Posted: December 3, 2014, 5:58 am

The Big Ten defeated the ACC 8-6 in the annual challenge between the two conferences. Below is a look at whose stock rose and fell during this year's event.

STOCK RISING: DUKE'S BACKCOURT

The difference in Wednesday night's long-anticipated Duke-Wisconsin clash didn't turn out to be Frank Kaminsky's outside shooting or Jahlil Okafor's scoring in the post. Duke's brilliant guard play actually overshadowed the two heralded big men. Point guard Tyus Jones scorched the Badgers off the dribble and from the perimeter the whole night, delivering 22 points on just 11 shots. Jones, Quinn Cook and Rasheed Sulaimon combined to score 49 points and sink 6 of 9 threes as well. Though those three had a big hand in the Blue Devils shooting 65.2 percent from the field, offense wasn't their only contribution. Duke's decision to switch every screen often left them guarding a bigger player, yet they held their own in those matchups, contributing to Wisconsin shooting just 40.7 percent.

STOCK FALLING: Sam Dekker

Between his offseason growth spurt, the muscle he added to his frame and the rave reviews he received for his play at the LeBron James camp, Sam Dekker began his junior season with sky-high expectations. He may yet live up to that hype this season once a lingering ankle injury fully heals, but so far he looks a lot like the good but sometimes erratic player he was last year. In eight games, Dekker is averaging 12.7 points and 3.6 rebounds. Aside from a huge two-handed slam off a beautiful backdoor pass, he was virtually invisible against Duke on Wednesday night, finishing with five points on five shots. Wisconsin fans could probably live with it if Dekker just had a tough shooting night, but the lack of aggressiveness against the Blue Devils has to be particularly galling. 

STOCK RISING: TERRY ROZIER'S TOUGHNESS

He started 0-for-7 from the field with four turnovers. He dislocated his left pinky finger early in the second half. Terry Rozier was having a rough night during Louisville's 64-55 victory over Ohio State right up until the Cardinals needed him to save them. Rozier scored eight points in the final four minutes including a pair of huge 3-pointers to keep the Buckeyes at arm's length. The first extended Louisville's lead back to 54-46 with 3:51 to play and the second put the Cardinals ahead 59-53 after the Buckeyes had slashed a 19-point deficit to three in the final minute. That Rozier saved Louisville with a pair of threes is surprising because he has struggled from long range. While he is averaging 13.6 points per game and enjoying the breakout year most projected he would have, he is only shooting 18.2 percent from behind the arc.

STOCK FALLING: THE ACC'S BOTTOM HALF

When the ACC announced it would be adding the likes of Syracuse, Louisville, Pittsburgh and Notre Dame, Duke coach Mike Krzyzewski boldly proclaimed, "We're going to be the best conference in the history of the game." That certainly didn't ring true last season when the ACC failed to send a single team to the Elite Eight, nor does it seem accurate this season when the conference's depth seems to thin dramatically behind its upper echelon. While Duke, Louisville, Virginia and North Carolina are each top 12 teams with legitimate Final Four aspirations, how good anyone else is remains unclear. Louisville and Miami won Tuesday to remain unbeaten this season. Duke, North Carolina, Virginia and Notre Dame each play Wednesday. But Clemson, Florida State, NC State, Wake Forest, Syracuse and Pittsburgh all lost either Monday or Tuesday to put the ACC in a 6-2 hole. That's a sign of the strength of the Big Ten's depth but it also reflects the mediocrity in the middle and bottom tiers in the ACC.

STOCK RISING: SPIKE ALBRECHT

The more Spike Albrecht contributes at Michigan, the harder it is to believe the lightly recruited point guard once was headed to Appalachian State before the Wolverines finally showed interest. Albrecht rewarded Michigan coach John Beilein for that decision once again Tuesday night with a brilliant performance in a 68-65 victory over Syracuse. He shredded the Orange's trademark two-three zone for 11 points, 9 assists and 0 turnovers and sank the game's biggest shot, a go-ahead 3-pointer after Syracuse had rallied to tie it at 63 in the final minute. The last time Albrecht played this well on a national stage, he tweeted Michigan native Kate Upton asking her out on a date after the 2013 national title game. As well as Albrecht played Tuesday, don't be surprised if he takes another shot.

STOCK FALLING: SYRACUSE'S BALL SECURITY

How did Syracuse manage to lose a game in which it shot more than 50 percent from the field and held Michigan to under 40 percent? Albrecht's brilliance was a factor as were the Wolverines' 17 offensive boards, but in reality, much of the damage was self-inflicted. Syracuse committed 19 turnovers in its 68-65 loss, none more costly than two in the final seconds with the Orange trailing by just one. First, freshman Chris McCullough rebounded a missed free throw by Michigan's Derrick Walton but threw his outlet pass out of bounds. Then after Caris LeVert also missed the front end of a 1 and 1 to keep the Orange within one, freshman Kaleb Joseph squandered that chance by dribbling into traffic and losing the ball. The sequence was a reminder of what Syracuse lost when Tyler Ennis turned pro after his freshman year. While Joseph will be a fine player in time, he's neither as steady nor as poised as Ennis and the Orange don't have another true point guard on their roster.

STOCK RISING: EMMITT HOLT

One of Indiana's biggest weaknesses so far this season has been the lack of a reliable big man. Hanner Mosquera-Perea hasn't proven reliable enough to make the transition from role player to interior focal point and none of Indiana's young big men seemed ready for that kind of responsibility. That changed Tuesday night when freshman Emmitt Holt enjoyed a breakout night at Pittsburgh's expense. The 6-foot-7 forward scored 15 points on 6 of 6 shooting and added five rebounds and two blocks, helping Indiana to a comfortable 81-69 victory. Holt is a little undersized to be a rim protector and a little raw as a low-post threat, but he showed good hands and touch around the rim when Pittsburgh big men left him free to help on Indiana's slashing guards. If he can do that while also defending and rebounding, he'll be a much-needed backup at worst and perhaps supplant Mosquera-Perea in the starting lineup before too long.

STOCK FALLING: PITTSBURGH'S DEFENSE

The myth that Pittsburgh is a good defensive team hasn't been true for years, but this might finally be the season even those who aren't paying attention finally stop spouting it. The Panthers are so inept on that end of the floor they make bad offensive teams look competent and good ones look unstoppable. Pittsburgh played an extended man-to-man against Indiana in hopes of eliminating the 3-point shot, so the Hoosiers carved up the Panthers off dribble, sinking 17 of 28 shots and scoring 24 points in the paint. Switching to a 2-3 zone did little to help Pittsburgh either in the second half as Yogi Ferrell, Robert Johnson and others continued to find driving lanes. Indiana extended an eight-point halftime lead to as many as 23 en route to an easy 81-69 victory. Poor defense against the hot-shooting Hoosiers wouldn't be alarming if it were a one-time only problem but it's no aberration. A mediocre Hawaii team shot 52 percent from the field in an upset victory over Pittsburgh on Nov. 21. Division II Chaminade shot 51 percent from the field a few nights later. And defense-oriented San Diego State shot an absurd 58.7 percent in a 74-57 rout of the Panthers.

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Jeff Eisenberg is the editor of The Dagger on Yahoo Sports. Have a tip? Email him at daggerblog@yahoo.com or follow him on Twitter!

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Author: Jeff Eisenberg
Posted: December 3, 2014, 3:05 am

Wichita native Conner Frankamp left Kansas just over a month ago in search of a school where he could play a bigger role.

His hometown Shockers recruited him heavily in high school and will have at least one vacant spot in their starting backcourt next season with Tekele Cotton set to graduate.

It didn't take a crystal ball to predict Frankamp's eventual destination, and sure enough it became official on Monday afternoon. The 6-foot sharpshooter told the Wichita Eagle he has chosen to continue his basketball career at Wichita State, selecting the Shockers over fellow suitors Creighton and Colorado.

Frankamp, a former consensus top 50 recruit, will be eligible to play for Wichita State after fall semester next season. He could team with current stars Fred VanVleet and Ron Baker to form one of the nation's premier backcourts if those two opt to remain with the Shockers for their senior seasons.

Regardless, the addition of Frankamp provides Wichita State an elite shooter whose flaws might be easier to mask in the Valley than they were in the Big 12. Frankamp lacked the size to compete for a starting spot on the wing at Kansas and his lack of elite quickness or court vision was inhibiting him in his battle with Frank Mason and Devonte Graham at the point guard spot.

Frankamp averaged a modest 2.5 points and 0.6 assists per game off the bench as a freshman, but his role increased when Kansas began encountering more zone defense late in the season and in the NCAA tournament. One of the few bright spots from Kansas' unexpected round of 32 NCAA tournament loss to Stanford last March was Frankamp coming off the bench to sink four 3-pointers to help rally the Jayhawks late in the second half.

Those turned out to be his last shots wearing Kansas crimson and blue. Now he'll head back to Wichita in hopes of carving out a bigger role for himself and helping his hometown school maintain its recent run of success.

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Jeff Eisenberg is the editor of The Dagger on Yahoo Sports. Have a tip? Email him at daggerblog@yahoo.com or follow him on Twitter!

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Author: Jeff Eisenberg
Posted: December 1, 2014, 10:04 pm

College basketball's opening month featured surprise teams, disappointing players, remarkable shots and memorable gaffes. A look back at the best and worst of November:

No player has contributed more to Texas' unbeaten start than its lone senior. Jonathan Holmes had to shed weight and switch positions this season to help the alleviate a logjam in the frontcourt. The 6-foot-8 senior has thrived in his transition from power forward to the perimeter, averaging 13.3 points and 7.3 rebounds, shooting 61.9 percent from behind the arc and capably defending multiple spots on the floor. Holmes has been at his best when Texas has needed him most too. He scored 17 of his 19 points after halftime against Iowa to fuel a spirited second-half comeback. He lit up Cal for 21 points to propel Texas to a one-sided win. And he sank the Longhorns' biggest shot of the season, a game-winning corner 3-pointer in the final seconds on Sunday afternoon to edge UConn 55-54.   

It's probably not fair to say Kelly Oubre shrank in the spotlight so far this season because the highly touted Kansas freshman hasn't seen the court enough for us to know how he'd fare. Oubre, a consensus top 10 recruit and a projected lottery pick in next June's NBA draft, has been unable to crack Kansas' nine-man rotation so far. The 6-foot-7 wing has played six or fewer minutes in four of the Jayhawks' six games and is averaging 2.2 points and 1.7 rebounds. Though it's admirable that Bill Self demands that even his most ballyhooed recruits earn their playing time as freshmen, it's also probably safe to say Kansas will need more from Oubre to capture another Big 12 crown. By all accounts, Oubre has also displayed a good attitude about his lack of playing time. He's just waiting for his chance to prove himself.

Concern that Villanova might be the Big East's lone nationally relevant team this season have proven totally unfounded thus far. The league amassed an impressive 48-12 November record with a collection of quality wins rivaling those of any other conference. Butler toppled North Carolina at the Battle 4 Atlantis. Villanova defeated VCU and Michigan to win the Legends Classic. Creighton stunned Oklahoma. Georgetown upset Florida. Providence bested Notre Dame. Heck, even DePaul got in on the fun, rolling past Stanford by 13 points on Sunday afternoon. You can argue that the Big 12 has been the nation's best conference so far and that the ACC has the most potential Final Four teams, but no league exceeded expectations more in November than the Big East.

Whatever momentum the American Athletic Conference gained from producing the national champion last March has dissipated quickly because of a rough start to the 2014-15 season. Poor strength of schedule and a lack of quality wins have dropped the league to 10th in conference RPI, behind the likes of the Missouri Valley, Atlantic 10 and WCC. UConn may yet live up to its preseason Top 25 ranking, but the Huskies have lost to the two best teams they've faced so far this season. Same goes for SMU, which is 0-for-3 against Arkansas, Indiana and Gonzaga. Throw in Cincinnati's suspect offense and Memphis' poor guard play, and the AAC doesn't pack much of a punch at the top. The most impressive win any team in the league has notched? Either UConn's victory over Dayton in Puerto Rico or Tulsa's win over Auburn in Las Vegas.

1. Butler (5-1): 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. The Bulldogs took a step toward proving last season's woes were an aberration at the Battle 4 Atlantis tournament last week, sandwiching victories over North Carolina and Georgetown around a respectable loss to Oklahoma.

2. Maryland (7-0): Maryland has missed the NCAA tournament in each of Mark Turgeon's first three seasons, but the Terrapins may have the firepower to get there this March. Standout freshman Romelo Trimble has averaged 16.6 points per game so far this season, helping Maryland overcome an ill-timed injury to Dez Wells and maintain an unbeaten start that includes a neutral-court win over Iowa State.

3. West Virginia (7-0): The departure of double-digit scorers Eron Harris and Terry Henderson hasn't been nearly as big a loss for West Virginia as many predicted when they transferred. Star point guard Juwan Staten and a swarming defense have propelled the Mountaineers to victories in their first seven games including an upset of UConn in the Puerto Rico Tip-Off title game.

4. Miami (7-0): A formidable backcourt highlighted by transfers Angel Rodriguez and Sheldon McClellan has Miami back among the ACC's upper echelon just like it was two years ago. The Hurricanes upset Florida in Gainesville on Nov. 17 and validated that victory by winning the Charleston Classic the following week.

5. Arkansas (6-0): It's unlikely any SEC team will mount much of a challenge to Kentucky this winter, but the team playing the best besides the Wildcats right now is Arkansas. Among the Razorbacks' six November wins are a 30-point rout of Wake Forest, a quality road win at SMU and a solid victory over mid-major power Iona.

1. Florida (3-3): Injuries aren't the only reason the preseason top 10 Gators are 3-3 with losses to Miami, Georgetown and North Carolina so far this season. Florida isn't shooting well from behind the arc, nor are they getting sufficient production from former McDonald's All-Americans Chris Walker and Kasey Hill.

2. Memphis (2-2): Turns out Memphis' losses to Saint Louis in a secret scrimmage and Division II Christian Brothers in an exhibition game were no fluke. A Tigers team that lost its four top guards from last season has struggled to replace them, losing to the only two good teams it has faced — Wichita State and Baylor — by a combined 39 points.

3. SMU (4-3): 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. Losses to Indiana, Gonzaga and Arkansas are an early warning sign the Mustangs may have to lower expectations.

4. VCU (4-2): When VCU doesn't force its usual number of turnovers, the Rams' inability to defend in the half court leaves them susceptible to being upset by lesser talented teams and blown out by Top 25 opposition. Villanova clobbered VCU 77-53 in the Legends Classic semifinals and longtime rival Old Dominion led the Rams wire-to-wire in a 73-67 upset on Friday.

5. Toledo (2-4): For a program that brings back every key player but one from last year's 27-win team that fell one win shy of the NCAA tournament, Toledo hasn't looked anything like it did last season. The Rockets are struggling defensively and on the glass, two big reasons they have started 2-4 with bad losses to Detroit and Oakland.

Unbeaten Kentucky sent a warning shot to the rest of college basketball at the Champions Classic with its 72-40 annihilation of fifth-ranked Kansas. The tall, athletic Wildcats blocked 11 shots and didn't allow a single opposing player to crack double figures as the Jayhawks shot 19.6 percent for the game and scored just 12 second-half points. The only consolation for Kansas was that it won't be the only good team to look bad against Kentucky's collection of McDonald's All-Americans. The Wildcats have beaten their seven opponents by an average of 34 points so far and have allowed only one to exceed 52 points.

The Maui Invitational delivered its usual late-night drama last Monday night with a riveting quarterfinal between high-scoring BYU and defensive-minded San Diego State. The Aztecs only avoided the upset thanks to an unexpected shooting display from a reserve guard who transferred to the school two years ago with no promise of a scholarship. San Diego State's Aqeel Quinn buried six threes in a 92-87 double-overtime victory, none bigger than the one that extended the game 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.

Even after slashing an eight-point deficit to one in just over a minute Saturday against Manhattan, George Mason still faced nearly insurmountable odds. Manhattan's Shane Richards was at the foul line with two seconds remaining. The best the Patriots could hope for was Richards missing at least one free throw and giving them a look at a game-winning heave. George Mason's prayers were answered when Richards missed the second of two free throws and sophomore forward Jalen Jenkins grabbed the rebound, took one dribble and launched 75 footer at the buzzer. Remarkably, it found all net, giving George Mason a 64-63 victory and sending the Patriots bench spilling onto the floor in celebration.

It would be a mild surprise if this flying one-handed slam from Wyoming's Jason McManamen doesn't crack the top five in most dunk of the year lists this spring. Not only is the dunk itself impressive, the shock from McManamen's teammates is also priceless. McManamen, a 6-foot-5 redshirt sophomore, is averaging 5.2 points and 2.5 rebounds off the bench this season for the undefeated Cowboys. While he is a solid role player, he's not the guy anyone would have expected to throw down November's best slam.

Michigan thought it was about to win Tuesday night's Legends Classic title game right up until JayVaughn Pinkston saved the game for Villanova in spectacular fashion. With Michigan inbounding the ball trailing by one in the closing seconds, Caris LeVert set 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. Villanova then sank four more free throws in the final seconds to wrap up a 60-55 victory.

Of all the missed dunks and layups November has provided, none were any more embarrassing than this attempt from Oregon's Elgin Cook. The 6-foot-6 forward steals the ball at mid-court against VCU in the Legends Classic and goes in for a seemingly easy breakaway slam. Alas, Cook misjudges where he was on the floor, tries to improvise in midair with a layup attempt and ends up hitting the underside of the rim in hilarious fashion. The worst part is Cook is an outstanding dunker with an impressive highlight reel. He'll have to unleash an awfully good dunk, however, for it to be more memorable than that gaffe.

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Jeff Eisenberg is the editor of The Dagger on Yahoo Sports. Have a tip? Email him at daggerblog@yahoo.com or follow him on Twitter!

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Author: Jeff Eisenberg
Posted: December 1, 2014, 6:13 pm

It took a big comeback and a remarkable shot for Southern Utah to end a road losing streak that spanned 24 games and 660 days.

With the Thunderbirds trailing by two at Texas-San Antonio on Sunday and only 2.5 seconds left to play, forward A.J. Hess caught an inbound pass just shy of mid-court, took two dribbles along the right sideline and banked in a last-gasp prayer from 40 feet away from the rim. The shot gave Southern Utah a 93-92 victory in a game it never led at any moment until the game clock read triple zeroes. 

The moment had to be special for a Southern Utah program that has enjoyed little success in recent years. The Thunderbirds went 2-26 last season and only notched one win against a Division I opponent. They were 0-4 entering Sunday's game this season including home losses to Utah Valley and Eastern Kentucky in their previous two games.

It didn't appear Sunday was going to go much better for Southern Utah when Texas-San Antonio opened a 20-9 lead in the opening minutes and still led by 12 early in the second half. Hess, guard James McGee and forward Tyler Rawson combined for 56 points to launch a comeback that pulled the Thunderbirds even late in the second half but never got them over the hump until the final buzzer.

The biggest shot of the game besides Hess' game winner was a 3-pointer from Race Parsons with four seconds left cut the Southern Utah deficit to one. Larry Lewis Jr. only made one of two free throws at the other end, paving the way for Hess' heroics.

Though Southern Utah hasn't enjoyed many buzzer-beating wins, its coach Nick Robinson certainly has some experience with them. It was Robinson who buried a memorable running half-court shot against a formidable Arizona team in 2004 to keep Stanford's undefeated season alive.

Robinson's shot came in front of a national TV audience and a sold-out Maples Pavilion crowd that included Tiger Woods. There were no celebrities in the sparse crowd in San Antonio on Sunday, nor was there TVs tuned to the game from coast to coast, but to those in the Southern Utah locker room, Hess' shot was surely just as meaningful.

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Jeff Eisenberg is the editor of The Dagger on Yahoo Sports. Have a tip? Email him at daggerblog@yahoo.com or follow him on Twitter!

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Author: Jeff Eisenberg
Posted: December 1, 2014, 12:53 pm

One of the first questions reporters asked Michigan State coach Tom Izzo after his team's 61-56 loss to Kansas on Sunday was to assess how much a lingering illness contributed to senior forward Branden Dawson's third straight underwhelming performance.

Izzo started tactfully by saying, "I'm not just not going to comment on that." Then it seemed he just couldn't help himself.

"I think a dead man can make a layup," Izzo said. "We missed some layups. I'm very disappointed in that. When you're sick, some people play well sick and some people don't."

An alarming number of missed layups certainly contributed to Michigan State's second loss of the season, and Dawson was the culprit on many of them. The 6-foot-6 senior finished with eight points on 4 of 15 shooting, not exactly the production the Spartans need from a player they hoped would take over the role of go-to threat this season with Gary Harris, Adreian Payne and Keith Appling each having departed.

Dawson showed flashes of being capable of such an evolution last March, averaging 17.5 points per game during a postseason hot streak. He performed well in Michigan State's first three games this year too, but he has regressed since then. 

After sitting out Monday's 79-52 victory over Santa Clara with the flu, Dawson traveled with the Spartans to the Orlando Classic but attempted only seven shots in their first two games against Rider and Marquette. He was more aggressive Sunday against Kansas but could not seem to convert around the rim, his most egregious miss coming on a left-handed layup attempt that would have cut the deficit to 59-56. 

"He usually makes those layups and he usually plays harder than that," Denzel Valentine told the Lansing State-Journal. "You know, it might be some of the sickness. But we're gonna need him to, in a game like that, he has to give more for us to win, really."

Blunt as Valentine's assessment is, he's right. Michigan State needs more from Dawson to be the type of team that can beat Kansas or compete with the top teams in the Big Ten. 

Had Gary Harris remained in school another year or had Izzo been able to land top recruiting targets Jahlil Okafor or Cliff Alexander last year, the Spartans might have been able to get by offensively with Dawson remaining in a supporting role. Michigan State can't afford that now because outside shooting specialist Travis Trice can't create his own shot easily enough to serve as a go-to scorer and versatile guard Denzel Valentine is still evolving from facilitator to scorer.

How much Michigan State needs Dawson was on display Sunday when Trice shot 3 of 14 from the field and Valentine managed only eight shots. No other Spartan managed more than eight points and the team shot 32.2 percent from the field collectively.

Even a slightly better shooting performance might have been enough too because the Spartans took care of the ball and were pretty solid defensively. Aside from Perry Ellis' 17 points and 9 rebounds, no other Kansas player really hurt Michigan State from the field.

So now Michigan State heads home from Orlando with a 5-2 record that doesn't include any quality wins unless Marquette bounces back from a rough start. 

The good news is plenty of chances lie ahead beginning with a road game at Notre Dame in next week's Big Ten-ACC Challenge. The bad news is the Spartans need Dawson to respond well to this criticism from his teammates and coaches to have their usual success this season.

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Jeff Eisenberg is the editor of The Dagger on Yahoo Sports. Have a tip? Email him at daggerblog@yahoo.com or follow him on Twitter!

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Author: Jeff Eisenberg
Posted: November 30, 2014, 10:34 pm

Javan Felix was just about to release a fall-away 25 footer with 4.4 seconds left in Sunday's matchup with UConn when Texas coach Rick Barnes recognized that his team was in no position to get a good shot.

The abrupt timeout Barnes quickly called probably saved the Longorns from a bitter defeat.

Instead of Texas pinning its hopes on a desperation three from a guard shooting 32.4 percent from behind the arc, Barnes managed to draw up a brilliant play in the huddle to get his best shooter a clean look. Jonathan Holmes used a sideline screen from Demarcus Holland to shake free of UConn's Daniel Hamilton and had time to catch the inbound pass, set his feet and bury a corner 3-pointer to give the seventh-ranked Longhorns a 55-54 road victory. 

The game-winning shot from Holmes is the signature moment of an outstanding opening month from a Texas team expected to contend for the Big 12 crown this year. The frontcourt-heavy Longhorns endured a wrist injury to standout guard Isaiah Taylor earlier this month yet have continued to thrive without their leading scorer, beating Iowa, Cal and UConn to remain unbeaten ahead of their showdown with top-ranked Kentucky on Friday.

One of the biggest reasons for Texas' success has been the All-American-caliber performance of Holmes, who has shed weight and transitioned from power forward to the perimeter to help ease the Longhorns' interior logjam. 

The 6-foot-8 Holmes has averaged 13.4 points per game, hit a remarkable 13 of 21 threes and played strong defense against smaller, quicker wings. The senior has also been at his best in big games, scoring a combined 40 points against Iowa and Cal before hitting the biggest shot of the game Sunday against UConn.

Texas was only in position to steal the game late because its formidable defense held UConn to 30.8 percent shooting.

A Huskies team playing without wing Rodney Purvis relied on forays from the rim from Ryan Boatright and Daniel Hamilton to fuel its offense, but that played into the hands of Texas' array of shot-blocking big men. Boatright needed 21 shots to score 24 points, the Longhorns swatted away eight shots and UConn sank just 3 of the 18 threes it attempted.

To add injury to insult for UConn, Boatright rolled his left ankle defending Holland on Texas' final play and stayed on the floor in anguish well after the final buzzer. He left the arena on crutches but told the Hartford Courant, "I'm a dog. I'll be back."

A slightly better offensive performance from UConn might have been enough because Texas didn't have much success itself against the Huskies' half-court defense.

The vaunted Longhorns frontcourt produced little because the guards couldn't get the big men the ball in position to score. Holmes, Felix and Holland combined for 33 points from the perimeter, however, as Texas got just enough transition offense and outside shooting to make up for its inability to exploit its advantage in the paint. 

Texas will need more from its frontcourt if it's going to spring an upset at Kentucky on Friday, but the Longhorns can take solace in one thing: If the score is close late, they have a coach who can design an effective play and a hot-shooting senior who has the confidence to knock down a big shot. 

(Thanks for the video, CBS Sports)

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Jeff Eisenberg is the editor of The Dagger on Yahoo Sports. Have a tip? Email him at daggerblog@yahoo.com or follow him on Twitter!

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Author: Jeff Eisenberg
Posted: November 30, 2014, 8:24 pm

Even after slashing an eight-point deficit to one in just over a minute Saturday against Manhattan, George Mason still faced nearly insurmountable odds.

Manhattan's Shane Richards was at the foul line with two seconds remaining. The best the Patriots could hope for was Richards missing at least one free throw and giving them a look at a game-winning heave. 

George Mason's prayers were answered when Richards missed the second of two free throws and sophomore forward Jalen Jenkins grabbed the rebound, took one dribble and launched 75 footer at the buzzer. Remarkably, it found all net, giving George Mason a 64-63 victory and sending the Patriots bench spilling onto the floor in celebration.

The comeback victory was especially important for George Mason because the Patriots appeared seconds away from a 1-5 start before Jenkins' shot. They lost to a Cornell team that went 2-26 last season in their season opener and dropped all three games at the Puerto Rico Tip-Off tournament last week.   

A poor start this season coupled with a 20-loss campaign in George Mason's Atlantic 10 debut last year has ratcheted up the pressure on head coach Paul Hewitt to turn things around. That made Hewitt's reaction to Jenkins' heave all the more interesting. As the rest of the Patriots raced onto the court to mob Jenkins, Hewitt stood in place with his arms folded, stoic as a statue.  

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Jeff Eisenberg is the editor of The Dagger on Yahoo Sports. Have a tip? Email him at daggerblog@yahoo.com or follow him on Twitter!

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Author: Jeff Eisenberg
Posted: November 30, 2014, 5:35 pm

As Florida prepared for a new season without four senior starters from last year's 36-win Final Four team, the obvious question facing the Gators was whether new players could adjust to increased roles fast enough to avoid a steep decline.

So far the answer has been a resounding "no."

The loaded Battle 4 Atlantis tournament served as a dose of reality for Florida as the Gators sandwiched a closer-than-expected win over UAB around losses to unranked Georgetown and fifth-ranked North Carolina. Whereas Wednesday's loss to the Hoyas came in overtime, the Tar Heels weren't so generous, building an early 16-point lead and staving off a late Florida rally for a 75-64 victory.

In retrospect, Florida's lost week in the Bahamas shouldn't have come as a huge surprise because the Gators hadn't been all that impressive previously either. They fell at home to an improved Miami team 69-67 on Nov. 17 and needed overtime to beat a dreadful Louisiana-Monroe team four days later.

If a 3-3 record and zero quality wins isn't where Florida expected to be after Thanksgiving weekend, the Gators can at least take solace in the fact that suspensions and injuries have contributed to their woes. 

Former McDonald's All-American Chris Walker sat out Florida's first two games because of an unspecified violation of team rules. Guard Eli Carter sprained his left foot in practice last week and forward Dorian Finney-Smith fractured his non-shooting hand, seemingly hampering both players during the Battle 4 Atlantis tournament.

Carter shot 2 of 14 from the field against Georgetown, rested his foot against UAB and did not make a shot from the field in 13 minutes against North Carolina. Finney-Smith enjoyed his best game of the season against Georgetown but struggled thereafter, tallying only 10 points in Florida's final two games and hitting only 5 of 19 shots.

Having those two back at full strength will certainly boost an offense shooting an anemic 38.7 percent from the field, hitting just 29.5 percent from behind the arc and scoring less than one point per possession. The Gators are last in the SEC in two of those categories and 11th in 3-point percentage. 

Nonetheless, Florida can't blame injuries for all its struggles because there are several other factors.

Nobody besides Michael Frazier is even hitting 30 percent of their threes so far, and the sharpshooting wing is struggling too. Frazier is well below his career average at 35.9 percent, perhaps a product of the increased defensive attention he has seen this season with Scottie Wilbekin, Casey Prather, Patric Young and Will Yeguete having graduated.

Ex-McDonald's All-American Kasey Hill hasn't taken the strides forward many expected as a sophomore as his assist-to-turnover ratio has decreased and his shooting percentage has plummeted to 28 percent. Some of that is a result of not having the weapons around him that he did last year as Wilbekin's primary backup, but Hill had not been performing well prior to a 20-point showing against the Tar Heels in which he got to the foul line 12 times.

You could say the same about Walker, another former McDonald's All-American on the Gators' roster. He has played erratically since his return from suspension, ceding his spot in the starting lineup to the less talented but more consistent Michigan transfer John Horford in the Bahamas.

Walker followed a strong game off the bench against UAB with an uneven four-point, four-rebound, two-turnover performance against the Tar Heels. The 6-foot-10 forward's defensive positioning still needs work, he still lacks a true low-post repertoire and he also drew the ire of the Florida coaching staff Friday when he attempted an ill-advised 3-pointer that clanged off the back iron in the first half.

Early-season woes are unfamiliar for a Florida program that has been among the nation's best for much of the past decade. The Gators won back-to-back national championships in 2006 and 2007, reached three straight Elite Eights from 2011-2013 and entered last season's NCAA tournament as the favorite to win the title before falling to UConn in the Final Four.

The bottom line with this Florida team is that the Gators will improve when Carter and Finney-Smith get healthy but they won't resemble the top 10 team they were projected to be unless Hill and Walker come closer to playing to their potential.

Also concerning for the Gators is that it could get worse before it gets better. Their next game is a Dec. 5 visit to Kansas and games against UConn, Florida State and rebuilding Wake Forest still loom before the start of SEC play.

Billy Donovan's teams tend to improve over the course of the season, and chances are this one will be no exception. Just compared to Donovan's recent teams, it simply has further to go.

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Jeff Eisenberg is the editor of The Dagger on Yahoo Sports. Have a tip? Email him at daggerblog@yahoo.com or follow him on Twitter!

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Author: Jeff Eisenberg
Posted: November 29, 2014, 3:47 pm

The most obvious sign Oklahoma was in trouble in Friday's Battle 4 Atlantis title game was the score as the teams jogged off the floor at halftime. 

All-American candidate Frank Kaminsky barely played for Wisconsin as a result of two early fouls, yet the Sooners still trailed by a point.

Sure enough, Kaminsky's second-half return indeed tipped the balance of the game in favor of the Badgers. The 7-foot forward tallied 14 of his 17 points and 7 of his 8 rebounds after halftime as Wisconsin dominated the second half and pulled away for a comfortable 69-56 victory.

Capturing this season's strongest holiday tournament validates Wisconsin as one of the nation's best teams even if the Badgers didn't have to go through the anticipated Florida-North Carolina gauntlet to do it. They outclassed UAB in the opening round, survived an off night from Kaminsky and Traevon Jackson against Georgetown in the semis and then soundly defeated a very good Oklahoma team in the title game.

Those three victories should serve as an ideal prelude for one of the most anticipated games of the college basketball regular season next Wednesday. The second-ranked Badgers host fourth-ranked Duke in the marquee game of the Big Ten-ACC Challenge.

If Wisconsin can play at the level it did to start the second half on Friday, the Badgers will definitely pose problems for Duke. They opened with a game-changing 16-2 surge fueled by outside shooting, transition offense and defensive effort. 

A top-of-the-key three from Sam Dekker and a baseline jumper from Nigel Hayes began the run. A three-point play from Kaminsky extended the Wisconsin lead to nine. TaShawn Thomas sank a spectacular layup with his back to the basket to temporarily slow the Badgers' momentum, but two transition layups from Jackson and baskets by Dekker and Hayes extended the Wisconsin lead to 15.

Oklahoma never got closer than nine the rest of the way because it couldn't stop tournament MVP Kaminsky and it couldn't solve Wisconsin's defense. Ryan Spangler was never a factor with Hayes defending him and neither Buddy Hield nor Isaiah Cousins could find a rhythm from the perimeter as the Sooners committed 21 turnovers, shot only 37 percent and got next to nothing easy in transition.

When the clock hit triple zeroes and Wisconsin had clinched the victory, the Badgers donned championship caps and T-shirts to commemorate winning a tournament that included four Top 25 teams and as many as seven potential NCAA tournament teams.

The way the Wisconsin played in the Bahamas on the heels of a Final Four run last March, it wouldn't be a surprise if the Badgers celebrate like that a couple more times this season.

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Jeff Eisenberg is the editor of The Dagger on Yahoo Sports. Have a tip? Email him at daggerblog@yahoo.com or follow him on Twitter!

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Author: Jeff Eisenberg
Posted: November 29, 2014, 12:30 am

The deepest Gonzaga team Mark Few has ever coached is down a man because of a kick better suited for an MMA octagon than a basketball court.

Backup point guard Josh Perkins suffered a broken jaw during Gonzaga's NIT semifinal victory over Georgia Wednesday night when Bulldogs guard Kenny Gaines caught him flush in the chin with his shin. Gaines flew at Perkins because he was spotted up for a corner 3-pointer, but the Gonzaga freshman shot-faked and drove, leading to the violent collision.

The injury will require Perkins to have his jaw wired shut and will sideline him indefinitely, ESPN.com reported Thursday morning. Sucking food through a straw is a brutal fate under any circumstances, but it has to be especially cruel on Thanksgiving.

Remarkably, Gaines only received a common foul for his kick even though the slightest unintentional elbow to the head typically merits a flagrant foul these days. Referees reviewed the replay and decided it wasn't worth a flagrant since there was no intent to injure from Gaines.     

Perkins, one of the jewels of a star-studded Gonzaga freshman class, was averaging 6.3 points and 4.3 assists in 22.8 minutes while backing up WCC player of the year candidate Kevin Pangos. The pass-first point guard had proven to be an impact addition for an unbeaten Gonzaga team expected to be one of the West's top teams this season.

Without Perkins, Pangos will have to play exclusively on the ball and has no obvious backup. Gonzaga coach Mark Few could burn freshman shooting guard Silas Melson's redshirt to gain more guard depth or he could wait until Vanderbilt transfer Eric McClellan becomes eligible after the fall semester.

Regardless, the loss of Perkins hurts. Chances are the broken jaw will sideline Perkins for at least a couple months, but the Zags have to hope he can return in time to still make an impact this season. 

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Jeff Eisenberg is the editor of The Dagger on Yahoo Sports. Have a tip? Email him at daggerblog@yahoo.com or follow him on Twitter!

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Author: Jeff Eisenberg
Posted: November 27, 2014, 6:12 pm

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.

That Arizona managed to thwart San Diego State's latest upset bid is impressive because the Aztecs had plenty of motivation. San Diego State had hoped to avenge three previous narrow losses to the Wildcats, one in the Sweet 16 last March in Anaheim, one in the regular season in San Diego last November and one in the finals of the Diamondhead Classic in Dec. 2012.

It's unlikely Arizona would beaten San Diego State a fourth time in a row if it didn't produce its best defensive stretch of the season during the final 10 minutes of Wednesday night's game. The previously unbeaten Aztecs took a 48-47 lead on an Angelo Chol basket midway through the second half but eventually ran out of ways to generate offense against the Wildcats, missing nine of their next 10 shots and scoring only three points in nine minutes. 

Such a stifling stretch is a good sign for an Arizona team that surrendered an unusually high shooting percentage in a narrow victory over Kansas State in the Maui semifinals the night before. The Wildcats miss Nick Johnson's vocal leadership and Aaron Gordon's knack for defending multiple positions yet they still have the personnel to overwhelm opposing offenses in time, from an elite on-ball defender at point guard, to overwhelming size, strength and ball-hawking instincts at wing, to several capable interior defenders and rim protectors in the paint. 

Where there are greater questions about Arizona is on offense because sometimes the Wildcats simply don't score as easily as other top teams. Arizona shot just 36.5 percent from the field against the formidable San Diego State defense and only managed 61 points because its guards turned turnovers into fast-break chances and got to the foul line 24 times.

In reality, the ability to turn defense into offense and to generate free throws may turn out to be the Wildcats' best offensive weapons this season. The T.J. McConnell 3-pointer that gave Arizona the lead for good with 7:39 to go was set up by a J.J. O'Brien Turnover. Rondae-Hollis Jefferson then gave Arizona some breathing room when he blocked a Dwayne Polee 3-pointer and raced out for a breakaway dunk that extended the lead to four.  

That Arizona shot so many free throws was also no surprise considering the Wildcats average nearly 30 per game. While the downside of playing Hollis-Jefferson and Stanley Johnson together at wing is that neither can shoot consistently enough from the perimeter to space the floor, the upside is that both are big, strong wings who excel attacking the rim and getting to the foul line.

One of the biggest questions facing Arizona entering the season was who would fill Nick Johnson's role as the team's offensive catalyst and go-to scorer down the stretch in close games. There wasn't an obvious choice among the returning players since Hollis-Jefferson still lacks the ball handling skills and jump shot to make that transition and Brandon Ashley is ill-suited for the role as a pick-and-pop forward. 

Maybe the most encouraging aspect of Wednesday night's victory was that highly touted freshman wing Stanley Johnston for the first time showed signs that he may yet emerge as Arizona's top scoring threat. Johnson delivered a season-high 18 points and 9 rebounds against the fearsome San Diego State defense, and while his shooting percentage was low, he was also fearless attacking the rim and getting to the foul line throughout the second half.

In many ways, Johnson symbolizes where Arizona is right now as a team — flashes of greatness but still a work in progress.

Arizona still needs to become more consistent on defense and to develop an identity late in close games on offense. Nonetheless, the team Miller insisted was "nowhere near" where it needed to be three weeks ago is steadily getting closer. 

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Jeff Eisenberg is the editor of The Dagger on Yahoo Sports. Have a tip? Email him at daggerblog@yahoo.com or follow him on Twitter!

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Author: Jeff Eisenberg
Posted: November 27, 2014, 8:35 am

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.

Defense and rebounding were again Butler's hallmarks as the Bulldogs out-worked the taller, more athletic Tar Heels on the offensive glass, blanketed All-American candidate Marcus Paige and yielded only 38.7 percent shooting from the field. Between gobbling up 29 offensive boards and forcing 19 turnovers, Butler had so many more possessions than North Carolina that it was able to overcome Kellen Dunham's nightmarish 3 of 17 shooting and win anyway.

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.

Butler's victory improves its record to 4-0 under Holtmann, the assistant coach who took over the program the day before the start of practice last month when second-year coach Brandon Miller went on medical leave. The Bulldogs will have a chance for more marquee wins too this week as they ensured themselves a date with either Oklahoma or UCLA in the Battle 4 Atlantis semifinals on Thursday.

By upsetting North Carolina, Butler also sustained a sizzling start to the season for the Big East, which is a remarkable 37-2 overall including victories over the Tar Heels, Michigan, VCU, Oklahoma, Notre Dame and Florida State. Rebuilding Marquette is the only Big East team to have lost a game so far this season.

The Tar Heels joined the list of Big East victims because they failed to match Butler's effort or concentration.

Time and time again, they were beaten to loose balls. Time and time again, they made lazy passes or didn't value the ball. And time and time again, they appeared to expect to win the game on sheer talent alone rather than through out-working their opponent.  

North Carolina fell behind by as many as 14 points in the second half before its sense of urgency kicked in and it finally began matching Butler's intensity. Paige scored four of his five field goals in the final four minutes but it was too little too late as the Tar Heels never got any closer than three points and never had a possession with a chance to tie or take the lead.

This was North Carolina's second holiday tournament loss to Butler as the Tar Heels also dropped a Maui Invitational semifinal to the Bulldogs in Stevens' final season. Big as that win was for Butler, this one was far more significant.

Only a few weeks ago, it wasn't clear if Butler had the talent to compete in the Big East night in and night out or the coaching stability to recruit new players capable of doing so. Now the Bulldogs own one of the new season's biggest upsets and find themselves back on more solid footing.

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Jeff Eisenberg is the editor of The Dagger on Yahoo Sports. Have a tip? Email him at daggerblog@yahoo.com or follow him on Twitter!

Follow @JeffEisenberg

Author: Jeff Eisenberg
Posted: November 26, 2014, 9:05 pm

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