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Tsuj’s Ten: College basketball, 1/18

Photo by Don Nieman from the Kent State vs. UB game

blog by Ben Tsujimoto  • 

It might be a little hasty to call this do-or-die time for the University at Buffalo’s men’s basketball team, but Reggie Witherspoon’s club dearly needs a win. Losers of four of their last five, the Bulls will have a chance to right the ship with a MAC game against Akron at 7 tonight in Alumni Arena—the students have returned from holiday break, and there’s a grand presentation planned to show off the new video board. You can purchase single-game tickets here.

1) Slumping calves: The Bulls are coming off a narrow 52-51 road defeat to the Miami (OH) Redhawks, who are certainly tougher than their 5-10 overall, 1-2 MAC record would indicate. Finding complementary scorers to stalwart Julian Mavunga has been a challenge for Charlie Coles’ club, and guards Brian Sullivan (five threes) and Quinten Rollins (13 points, four assists) answered the bell against Buffalo.

2) Back-court still shaky: Bulls fans were well aware that replacing Byron Mulkey was going to be a challenge this off-season, but they thought they were set at the two-guard. Zach Filzen’s startling decline—he’s hit one shot or fewer in his last four meaningful games—is perplexing, and he’s been deferential to a fault. Back on his home floor tonight, will he be more assertive and confident? As he showed against Buffalo State, Filzen’s shooting stroke is fine—it’s a matter of being shadowed by well-prepared MAC defenses and failing to respond.

3) Zipping Zips: Akron, who represented the MAC in last year’s NCAA Tournament before falling to Notre Dame, remains the only undefeated team in MAC play at 3-0, and the Zips have shown the ability to win close games by beating Miami (OH), Bowling Green and Ohio by a combined 11 points. Head coach Keith Dambrot’s club shoots 40% from three-point range as a team—tied for 19th in the country—led by shooting specialist Brett Walsh (55%).

4) Finally, McNees is gone: Although Steve Nash look-alike Steve McNees has (thankfully) graduated, as are the McKnight brothers, Preseason First Team All-MAC choice Zeke Marshall returns, as does noted Buffalo-killer Nikola Cvetinovic. No Zip player averages more than 30 minutes per night, though, and nine players average 14 minutes or more. Akron’s depth will definitely test Buffalo, as Reggie Witherspoon—Titus Robinson aside—has little confidence in his reserves.

5) Scouting the Big 12: I went on a Big 12 binge this week, watching Baylor, Kansas and Missouri in detail. The #3 Baylor vs. #7 Kansas game—which Kansas won 92-74—felt like an Elite Eight preview, and it’s forcing me, against my will, to apologize to Tyshawn Taylor for all the times I’ve criticized him. The five turnovers were there, for sure, but 10-14 shooting, four three-pointers and incredibly smart shot selection down the stretch? Maybe he’s turned the corner. Thomas Robinson = total beast.

6) PJ3 update
: Perry Jones III is still maddeningly inconsistent. Maybe I’m just hoping that he adopts a little more of the Anthony Davis mentality (who, by the way, speaks in the third person, the most telling sign of a one-and-done prospect)—instead, PJ3 is still a finesse player with an impressive, if sporadic, offensive arsenal. There were periods where he was assertive, but not necessarily in a good way. Jones III missed perimeter jumpers on three straight possessions late in the first half, and Kansas reversed a one point deficit into a five-point lead—one the Jayhawks would never relinquish.

7) Bonnies still not in A-10 elite
: Saturday’s match-up against feared Xavier was a perfect barometer for St. Bonaventure—beat the Musketeers on their home floor, and you’re suddenly considered an A-10 contender. Or, as wound up happening, the Bonnies could play like an inferior underdog and lose by double-digits. Bona never really seemed like it was on the verge of contending, especially in the second half, and it’s troubling that Demitrius Conger no-showed, as the Olean team relies heavily on him for secondary scoring. Youssou Ndoye had a long stretch where he was the team’s most effective player, and that shouldn’t be happening.

8) Respecting the undefeated: I’m doing this begrudgingly, of course, as if there’s one team I detest more than Duke, it’s probably Syracuse. Regardless of how I feel, the Orange trampled a middling Pitt team, 71-63, and that Boeheim 2-3 zone is as active and long as ever. Fab Melo’s development—all the rage at SU—has the middle of the zone a no-no area for opponents, as the Brazilian big has eight games this year with four blocks or more, including a 10-swat spectacle against Seton Hall. I still can’t stand point guard Scoop Jardine, but he’s playing with confidence, distributing the ball well and leading the team. You can’t ask for much more. ‘Cuse won’t go undefeated, but the Orange probably won’t suffer its first loss until early February.

9) Balancing the negativity: One of the weaknesses/temptations of this blog is a tendency to be too judgmental or critical, so here’s a few things I’ve liked this week: Kentucky’s Michael Kidd-Gilchrist might be the most complete basketball player in the nation, Cinderella story Murray State has cracked the ESPN/Coaches’ Poll Top Ten and Michigan State’s Draymond Green seems like a dude you’d want to have as a big brother.

10) VIDEO TIME: Two dunks from Monday night that had an “Oh Shoot” quality about them:

First, Syracuse’s C.J. Fair against Pittsburgh:


Second, Thomas Robinson’s violent alley-oop dunk off a lob from Taylor:

 


BONUS: If you get a chance, watch how quickly #5 Missouri gets up and down the floor. Don’t be fooled to think that it’s just the Tigers’ eyes lighting up for a fast-break opportunity on offense—all five collectively get back on defense faster than any team I’ve seen. It’s definitely a 40-minutes-of-hell style, but there seems to be a method to the madness. Missouri was small even before it lost Laurence Bowers to a season-ending ACL tear in October, but their wearying style makes height a moot point. The only way to beat Mizzou? Force them to play half-court basketball and refuse to allow them to dictate tempo.

TAGGED: akron zips, baylor bears, college basketball, missouri tigers, syracuse orange, tsuj's ten, ub hoops, university at buffalo bulls, zach filzen

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