It’s good basketball weather here in Puerto Rico, which is to say it’s been intermittingly cloudy and stormy and very hot and muggy so far (I'm not complaining). Luckily for us, there is some good basketball scheduled to be played, beginning Thursday..
Minnesota will tip-off vs. Temple in the first game of the day (12:30 local time; 10:30 A.M. central time) and beyond that matchup, the Gophers’ path and which of the tournament’s eight-conference teams they’ll play lay in their own hands – they’ll either move to the winner’s bracket or the loser’s bracket for games on Friday and Sunday. Here’s the full bracket.
What might the Gophers see in the days ahead? I’m glad you asked.
The Owls fell 91-67 to North Carolina despite shooting nine three-pointers in their season opener, the only game Temple has played thus far. but the No. 1 Tarheels are supposed to be pretty good. If this year’s Temple is anything like last year’s version, the Owls will be stingy with the ball (they were fourth in the nation in offensive turnover percentage) and tough on defense, where they were ranked 18th nationally in defensive adjusted efficiency, per analyst Ken Pomeroy. Fran Dunphy’s bunch lost point guard Will Cummings off that team but have plenty of playmakers remaining on the roster. The 6-5 athletic Quenton DeCosey will likely play a big -role, 6-8 senior Jaylen Bond – the American Athletic Conference’s leading rebounder last year – will root the paint and if the first game is any indication, senior Devin Coleman could take another step. He scored 19 vs. UNC on Friday.
POTENTIAL SECOND-ROUND MATCHUPS:
(Minnesota will play the winner of Butler/ Missouri State if it wins vs Temple; the loser if it loses.)
The Bulldogs top three scorers are back and Butler, in Chris Holtmann’s second year, hopes to improve on a 23-11 campaign a year ago. Last year, defense was the Butler’s calling card, but the Bulldogs put on an offensive fire show in their game vs The Citadel – one of Division I’s worst teams – on Saturday, racking up an un-collegiate-like 144 points. Some of the numbers from that game are ridiculous. Seven players scored in double digits. Five scored 18 or more. The Bulldogs collected 63 rebounds. I think it’s safe to say we shouldn’t expect that every game, but it’s clear No. 22 Butler has plenty to offer. All -Big East first teamer Kellen Dunham was the top scorer a year ago (16.5 ppg) on a team that also had the seventh ranked defense (per Ken Pom) and ninth ranked defensive rebounding percentage. And now NC State transfer Tyler Lewis will take over at point guard after sitting out a year from the 3.5-to-1 assist-to-turnover ratio he last posted with the Wolfpack.
Fifth-year coach Paul Lusk added three junior college players to a group that had offensive woes aplenty a year ago, averaging just 59.7 points a game. Early hints are the struggles could continue after the Bears
lost 80-65 to Oral Roberts on Friday – turning over the ball 17 times and allowed their opponents to hit eight of 17 three-pointers. Five-10 guard Dequon Miller headlines the bunch, averaging 19 points and 9.2 assists last year at Motlow (Tenn.) College, but he scored just three points and had three turnovers and three personal fouls in the Bears’ opener. Despite the presence of upperclassmen, this is likely to be another season of growing pains in the Missouri Valley.
POTENTIAL THIRD-ROUND MATCHUPS:
No. 16 Utah hasn’t exactly blown out its competition so far – recording an 82-81 over Southern Utah then 81-76 over San Diego St. and allowing 18 three-pointers in those two games – but it’s still early. Larry Krystkowiak’s man-to-man defense keeps opponents on their toes with constant screen switches and a balanced offense make the Utes look like a really complete team again this year after losing to Duke in the Sweet Sixteen last March. Krystkowiak will have to replace star guard Delon Wright and a pair of 7-footers, but the Utes should still have depth, experience, size and versatility and, hey, another 7-footer in the fold after sophomores Jacob Poetl decided to stay for another year. He was a big part of why Utah was 11th nationally in offensive rebounding percentage last year, and he can score and block shots to boot. Last year he averaged 9.1ppg, 6.8 rpg and 1.9 blocks, but in two games, he’s already put up 41p/23r/5b.
The Red Raiders are still young with just two seniors compared with nine freshmen and sophomores in Tubby Smith’s third season. Last season, Texas Tech was twice held below 40 points, and scoring could be an issue once again. The Red Raiders beat High Point, 77-73 on Friday, but got up only 47 shots in the process. Devaugntah Williams, last year’s scoring leader, had a big night with 26 points and eight rebounds, but no one else scored more than nine. The 2014-15 version was a “typical” Tubby makeup: a team that used a good amount of the shotclock, rebounded at a high rate on the offense end and turned over the ball too much. The Red Raiders got to the line at a good clip, but made just 64.2 percent of their shots once there. After five consecutive losing seasons in Lubbock and no postseason play since 2010, Texas Tech fans are itching for a revival but this season likely won’t be it.
Last year’s team likely baffled even coach Jim Larranaga at times. The Hurricanes won at Duke, then lost by 20 at home to Georgia Tech, and were maddeningly inconsistent all year – Larranaga used 12 different lineups at different points in searching for the right formula, but never quite found it. That team relied heavily on three-pointers, but this year’s version – hanging just out of reach of the top-25 right now – could spread out their scoring attack a little more. Angel Rodriguez is back after missing the last nine games with a wrist injury. Larranaga has said he believes 7-foot center Tonye Jekiri could average a double-double this year after reeling in 9.9 rebounds ago. And in a pair of wins over UT Rio Grande Valley (86-49) and Louisiana Lafayette (93-77), Miami was super efficient as a team, scoring 55.6 percent of their 2-point attempts and converting 40.7 percent from beyond the arc. Six-five senior guard Sheldon McClellan looks to be back for a big year after dropping 34 points and grabbing four steals in those first two.
Ben Howland, in his first year coaching since the 2012-13 season, inherits a senior-laden team that welcomes its top three scorers: guard Craig Sword – who will have to bounce back from his second consecutive offseason back surgery – wing Frank Thomas and big man Gavin Ware. The big boon? In his first recruiting class Howland wooed consensus top-10 recruit, combo guard Malik Newman, who has the ball handling skills and range to make an impact right away. He’ll need to help the offense, which struggled in most major areas a year ago. The Bulldogs have had mixed results so far, taking a 106-88 win over Eastern Washington then falling Southern 76-72 to on Monday, a game in which both Sword and Ware fouled out, continuing a trend from a year ago.