These Returning Players Give Teams Even More Optimism

6 Oct

Practice has begun and games are just five weeks away.  We all read the same things as the season begins (as we should); coaching changes, freshmen, transfers, etc.  However a subject that gets less ink is players that are returning to their teams after missing most if not all of the prior season to injury.  Here is a look at four such players that hope to make their teams better in 2016-17.

E.C. Matthews returns to the Rhode Island line up after tearing his ACL ten minutes into the Rams’ season opener last season.   Matthews was the Atlantic 10 Pre-season Player of the Year prior to last season with hopes of a conference championship and NCAA Tournament berth.  Without the dynamic 6-5 junior who averaged 16.9 points per game two years ago Dan Hurley’s team clawed their way to a 17-15 (9-9 in conference) finish culminating with a loss to UMass in the conference tournament.  The season without Matthews gave the Rams valuable experience on how to win without a star.  Now they return four of the top five scorers from last season on top of their leader and are seen by some as a top 25 team.

The Oregon Ducks had a great season, 31-7 a PAC-12 Championship and a trip to the Elite Eight in the NCAA Tournament.  A key member of that team was thought to be Dylan Ennis a graduate transfer from Villanova, but he injured his foot in the fall and appeared in just two games around the New Year before reinjuring the foot against Oregon State.  In June Ennis was granted another year of eligibility by the NCAA and rejoins Dana Altman’s 31-win Ducks that is loaded with six of its eight top scorers from last season and looking to go even further this season.

Indiana was upset in the Big Ten Quarterfinals by Michigan but made it to the Sweet 16 of the NCAA Tournament capping off a 27-8 season.  The Hoosiers have lost point guard Yogi Ferrell and Troy Williams but Coach Tom Crean gets James Blackmon, Jr. who missed the team’s final 22 games after   tearing his ACL.  Before the injury Blackmon averaged 15.8 points and over four rebounds per game and now he returns to a team that is a pre-season top 25 possibly top 10 team.

In yet another story of the rich get richer, Amile Jefferson returns to the Duke Blue Devil line up.  25-11 seems like a down year for Duke, an overtime loss to Notre Dame in the ACC Quarterfinals and then a Sweet 16 loss to Oregon in the NCAA Tournament.  So how does Duke regroup?  How about the nation’s top recruiting class with Harry Giles, Jayson Tatum, Frank Jackson and Marques Bolden on top of returning a favorite for National Player of the Year in Grayson Allen.  Jefferson was averaging a double-double (11.4 pts and 10.3 rebounds) before fracturing his foot nine games into the season.  The Blue Devils are the preseason #1 team in the country.

Hope springs eternal for every team this time of year but for these four teams their returning contributors add an extra shot of optimism that 2016-17 will be even better than the campaigns they had last season.

Key Stat for Every First Round Game

17 Mar


#1 Kansas vs #16 Austin Peay- Kansas ranks 16th in points scored with 81.6 and Austin Peay gives up 76 per game.

Key Match Up: Austin Peay’s double-double machine Chris Horton vs. Kansas’ Perry Ellis

#8 Colorado vs. #9 Connecticut –A battle of great defenses; Connecticut 15th in points allowed 63.2 and Cincinnati even better at 62.9 ranked 10th.

Key Match Up: Big Man match up; Colorado’s Josh Scott and Connecticut’s Amidah Brimah

#5 Maryland vs  #12 South Dakota State-Maryland is 11th in field goal % at 48.8 and South Dakota State is 79th in field goal % defense at 41.5%

Key Match Up: Maryland’s Melo Trimble vs. South Dakota State’s Deondre Parks

#4 California vs #13 Hawaii- Cal shoots 36.9% from three and Hawaii ranks 35th in defending it at 31.5%

Key Match Up: Cal’s freshman Ivan Rabb against Hawaii’s Stefan Jankovic

#6 Arizona vs. #11 Wichita State-The nation’s #1 defense Wichita State faces an Arizona team that scores 81.2 points per game.

Key Match Up: Arizona’s Ryan Anderson and Wichita State’s Ron Baker

#3 Miami vs. #14 Buffalo-rebounding; Buffalo is top 50 in rebounding (47th ) and Miami struggles on the boards ranking 249th

Key Match Up: Buffalo’s sophomore guard Lamonte Beard vs. Miami’s senior backcourt Angel Rodriguez and Sheldon McClellan.

#7 Iowa vs. #10 Temple-Iowa allows 68.7 points per game, the exact number Temple scores.

Key Match Up: Temple’s Quenton DeCosey vs. Iowa’s Mike Gesell

#2 Villanova vs. #15 UNC-Asheville-Who wins the turnover battle Villanova is 27th in turnover margin at 2.7 and UNC-Asheville is two spots lower with the same 2.7 mark.

Key Match Up: A guard match up: UNC-Asheville’s freshman Dwayne Sutton and Villanova’s Josh Hart.


#1 Oregon vs #16 Holy Cross-Oregon scores 78.8 points a game while Holy Cross’ plodding style gives them 65.3.

Key Match Up: Oregon’s Dillon Brooks vs Holy Cross’ Malachi Alexander

#8 Saint Joseph’s vs #9 Cincinnati-Saint Joseph’s score over 77 points per game but Cincinnati gives up a 10th best 62.9 per game.

Key Match Up: Cincinnati’s Gary Clark against Saint Joseph’s Isaiah Miles

#5 Baylor vs. #12 Yale- Yale is 49th in the country in three-point field percentage (37.4%) and Baylor ranks 289th in three-point field goal defense at 36.7%

Key Match Up: Yale’s Justin Sears vs Baylor’s Taurean Prince

#4 Duke vs #13 UNC-Wilmington-Both teams are high scoring with Duke at 81.5 points and UNCW at 79.2 but UNC-Wilmington is a top 90 (89th) team in field goal defense at 41.7% while Duke is 240th at 44.5%

Key Match Up: Duke’s Grayson Allen facing the Seahawks’ Chris Flemmings

#6 Texas vs #11 Northern Iowa-Northern Iowa is 11th in points allowed (62.9) and Texas is 211th in field goal percentage at 43.2%

Key Match Up: Northern Iowa’s Wes Washpun vs. Texas’ Isaiah Taylor

#3 Texas A&M vs #14 Green Bay-Texas A&M is 31st in points allowed (65.0) and Green Bay is 6th in the country in scoring (84.2)

Key Match Up: Backcourt battle; Green Bay’s Carrington Love, Jordan Fouse and Charles Cooper vs. the Aggies’ Dauel House and Jalen Jones.

#7 Oregon State vs #10 VCU-VCU is 9th in the country in steals at 8.8 per game and Oregon State commits 11.5 just 11.5 turnovers per game.

Key Match Up: Oregon State freshman Tres Tinkle vs VCU’s Mo-Alie Cox

#2 Oklahoma vs. #15 Cal-State Bakersfield-Oklahoma is 24th in the country in scoring at 80.4 points per game but Cal-State Bakersfield is 14th in points allowed at 63.2

Key Match Up:  CSU Bakersfield’s Aly Ahmed taking on Oklahoma’s Ryan Spangler


#1 North Carolina vs. #16 Florida Gulf Coast-Both teams can rebound; North Carolina at 41.0 is 14th and Florida Gulf Coast pulls down 40.2 good for 2nd in the country.

Key Match Up: North Carolina’s Brice Johnson vs. Florida Gulf Coast’s Marc Eddy Norelia

#8 Texas Tech vs #9 Butler-Butler is 26th in three-point fg % at 38.7 and Texas Tech is 217th defending the 3 at 35.2%

Key Match Up: Sophomores; Texas Tech’s Zach Smith and Butler’s Kelan Martin

#5 Indiana vs #12 Chattanooga-Indiana scores over 80 points per game and Chattanooga is 168th in field goal defense at 43.4

Key Match Up: Chattanooga’s Casey Jones and Indiana’s Troy Williams

#4 Kentucky vs #13 Stony Brook-Both teams hold opponents to 40% shooting but Kentucky averages nearly 80 points per game.

Key Match Up: Kentucky’s Alex Poythress and Stony Brook’s Jameel Warney

#6 Notre Dame vs #11 Michigan- Notre Dame is 6th in turnovers per game (9.6) and Michigan is 7th (9.7) but the Irish are 339th in turnovers forced (9.72) and Michigan’s 11.94 is 242nd

Key Match Up: Notre Dame’s Matt Ryan and Michigan’s Duncan Robinson

Key Stats for the First Four

14 Mar

First Four

East: #16 Florida Gulf Coast vs. #16 Fairleigh Dickinson-FGCU is 28th in the nation in field goal percentage with 47.7 and FDU is 272nd in field goal percentage defense at 45.2.

Key Match Up: Fairleigh Dickinson’s freshman Mike Holloway against FGCU’s leading scoring Marc Eddy Norelia.

East: #11 Michigan vs. #11 Tulsa-Michigan is 50th in fg% and Tulsa is 161st but both teams struggle rebounding Michigan is 326th in rebounds per game (32) and Tulsa is 237th (35).

Key Match Up: The backcourts; Michigan’s Zak Irvin and Derrick Walton vs. Tulsa’s Shaquille Harrison and James Woodard

West: #16 Holy Cross vs. #11 Southern-Who wins the turnover battle? Holy Cross is 136th in turnovers forced with 13, Southern ranks 92nd  in the same category while both teams are top 46 in turnover margin.

Key Match Up: Holy Cross’ Malachi Alexander facing off with Southern’s sophomore Jared Sam

South: #11 Vanderbilt vs. #11 Wichita State-The Shockers are the top team in the country in points allowed 59.3 and Vanderbilt scores nearly 77 points per game.

Key Match Up: Point guard battle, Wichita State’s Fred Vanvleet facing Vandy’s Wade Baldwin IV

Real Quick Bracket Thoughts

13 Mar

-Virginia and Oregon over Michigan State is a bit surprising.

-Kansas with an easy road to the Sweet 16.  Maryland is too Jeckyll and Hyde and I’m not sure a young California can top the veteran Jayhawks.

-The middle-seeded teams in the South can be dangerous Cal, Maryland, Arizona, Iowa.

-The first four match up in this region Wichita State vs. Vanderbilt is intriguing.

-In the West the Texas/Northern Iowa and Oregon State/VCU match ups stuck out to me.

-Is this Baylor’s time to make a run to the Elite Eight?

-The West is the region that the #1 seed will not make the Final Four.

-The East is the most intriguing to me because of the first round match ups; USC/Providence, Indiana/Chattanooga, Notre Dame vs. Tulsa/Michigan, West Virginia/Stephen F. Austin and Wisconsin/Pittsburgh.

-Much like the South, the East middle seeds are strong; Kentucky, Indiana, Notre Dame, Wisconsin, USC and Providence.

-Midwest has the toughest first round match ups; Purdue/Arkansas-Little Rock, Iowa State/Iona, Seton Hall/Gonzaga, Dayton/Syracuse.

-After the top 2 seeds in the Midwest any number of teams could make a Sweet 16 or Elite 8 run.

-The Monmouth omission in favor of the likes of Syracuse, Tulsa and Vanderbilt is a shot in favor of the power conferences who have a built-in advantage over mid majors, and that is not a good thing.

Selection Sunday’s Tournament Schedule

12 Mar

Championship: March 13 (ESPN)
Game 9: No. 6 Memphis vs. No. 5 Connecticut, 3:15 p.m.

Atlantic 10
Championship: March 13 (CBS)
Game 13: No. 4 Saint Joseph’s vs. No. 2 VCU, 12:30 p.m.

Big Ten
Championship: March 13 (CBS)
Game 13: No. 4 Purdue vs. No. 2 Michigan State, 3:30 p.m.

Championship: March 13 (ESPN)
Game 12: No. 2 Kentucky vs. No. 1 Texas A&M, 1 p.m.

Sun Belt
Championship: March 13 (ESPN2)
Game 7: No. 2 ULM vs. No.1 Little Rock, 1 p.m.

Championship Saturday’s Tournament Schedule

12 Mar

America East
Championship: Mar. 12 (ESPN2)
Game 7: No. 3 Vermont at No. 1 Stony Brook, 11 a.m.

Semifinals: March 12 (ESPN2)
Game 7: No. 5 Connecticut vs. No. 1 Temple, 3 p.m.
Game 8: No. 10 Tulane vs. No. 6 Memphis, approx. 5:30 p.m.

Atlantic 10
Semifinals: March 12 (CBSSN)
Game 11: No. 4 Saint Joseph’s vs. No. 1 Dayton 1:30 p.m.
Game 12: No. 2 VCU vs. No. 6 Davidson, approx. 4 p.m.

Championship: March 12 (ESPN/ACC Network)
Game 13: No. 1 North Carolina vs. No. 2 Virginia, 9 p.m.

Big 12
Championship: March 12 (ESPN)
Game 9: No. 1 Kansas vs. No. 2 West Virginia, 6 p.m.

Big East
Championship: March 12 (FOX)
Game 9: No. Villanova vs. No. 3 Seton Hall, 5:30 p.m.

Big Sky
Championship: March 12 (ESPNU)
Game 11: No. 1 Weber State vs. No. 2 Montana, 8:45 p.m.

Big Ten
Semifinals: March 12 (CBS)
Game 11: No. 8 Michigan vs. No. 4 Purdue, 1 p.m.
Game 12: No. 2 Michigan State vs. No. 3 Maryland, approx. 3:30 p.m.

Big West
Championship: March 12 (ESPN2)
Game 7: No. 1 Hawaii vs. No. 3 Long Beach State, 11:30 p.m.

Conference USA
Championship: March 12 (FS1)
Game 12: No. 5 Old Dominion vs. No. 2 Middle Tennessee State, 2:30 p.m.

Championship: March 12 (ESPN2)
Game 11: No. 1 Akron vs. No. 3 Buffalo, 7:30 p.m.

Mid-Eastern Athletic
Championship: March 12 (ESPN2)
Game 22: No. 1 Hampton vs. No. 3 South Carolina State, 1 p.m.

Mountain West
Championship: March 12 (CBS)
Game 10: No. 1 San Diego State vs. No. 2 Fresno State, 6 p.m.

Championship: March 12 (FS1)
Game 11: No. 1 Oregon vs. No. 2 Utah, 10 p.m.

Semifinals: March 12 (ESPN)
Game 10: No. 4 LSU vs. No. 1 Texas A&M, 1 p.m.
Game 11: No. 2 Kentucky 8 vs. No. 6 Georgia, approx. 3:30 p.m.

Championship: March 12 (ESPN2)
Game 7: No. 1 Stephen F. Austin vs. No. 2 Texas A&M-Corpus Christi, 9:30 p.m.

Southwestern Athletic
Championship: March 12 (ESPNU)
Game 9: No. 3 Jackson State vs. No. 4 Southern, 6:30 p.m.

Sun Belt
Semifinals: March 12 (ESPN3)
Game 5: No. 4 Louisiana-Lafayette vs. No. 1 Little Rock Trojans, 2 p.m.
Game 6: No. 3 Texas-Arlington vs. No. 2 ULM Warhawks, approx. 4:30 p.m.

Western Athletic
Championship: March 12 (ESPNU)
Game 6: No. 1 New Mexico State vs. Cal-State Bakersfield, 11 p.m.

Friday’s Tournament Schedule

11 Mar

Quarterfinals: March 11
Game 3: No. 9 South Florida vs. No. 1 Temple Owls, 12 p.m. (ESPN2)
Game 4: No. 5 Connecticut Huskies vs. No. 4 Cincinnati Bearcats, approx. 2:30 p.m. (ESPN2)
Game 5: No. 10 Tulane vs. No. 2 Houston Cougars, 7 p.m. (ESPNU)
Game 6: No. 6 Memphis Tigers vs. No. 3 Tulsa Golden Hurricane, approx. 9:30 p.m. (ESPNU)

Atlantic 10
Quarterfinals: March 11 (NBCSN)
Game 7: No. 9 Richmond vs. No. 1 Dayton Flyers, 12 p.m.
Game 8: No. 5 George Washington vs. No. 4 Saint Joseph’s Hawks, approx. 2:30 p.m.
Game 9: No. 10 Massachusetts vs. No. 2 VCU Rams, 6:30 p.m.
Game 10: No. 6 Davidson vs. No. 3 St. Bonaventure Bonnies, approx. 9 p.m.

Semifinals: March 11 (ESPN/ACC Network)
Game 11: No. 5 Notre Dame vs. No. 1 North Carolina, 7 p.m.
Game 12: No. 2 Virginia vs. No. 3 Miami, approx. 9:30 p.m.

Big 12
Semifinals: March 11 (ESPN/ESPN2)
Game 7: No. 5 Baylor vs. No. 1 Kansas, 7 p.m.
Game 8: No. 2 West Virginia vs. No. 3 Oklahoma, approx. 9:30 p.m.

Big East
Semifinals: March 11 (FS1)
Game 7: No. 4 Providence vs. No. 1 Villanova, 6:30 p.m.
Game 8: No. 2 Xavier vs. No. 3 Seton Hall, approx. 9 p.m.

Big Sky
Semifinals: March 11 (
Game 9: No. 1 Weber State vs. No. 5 North Dakota, 8:30 p.m.
Game 10: No. 2 Montana vs. No. 3 Idaho, approx. 11 p.m.

Big 10
Quarterfinals: March 11
Game 7: No. 8 Michigan vs. No. 1 Indiana Hoosiers, 12 p.m. (ESPN)
Game 8: No. 12 Illinois vs. No. 4 Purdue Boilermakers, approx. 2:30 p.m. (ESPN)
Game 9: No. 7 Ohio State vs. No. 2 Michigan State Spartans, 6:30 p.m. (BTN)
Game 10: No. 11 Nebraska vs. No. 3 Maryland Terrapins, approx. 9 p.m. (BTN)

Big West
Semifinals: March 11
Game 5: No. 4 UC-Santa Barbara vs. No. 1 Hawaii(reseeded), 9:30 p.m. (ESPN3)
Game 6: No. 3 Long Beach State vs. No. 2 UC-Irvine approx. 12 a.m. 3/12 (ESPNU)

Conference USA
Semifinals: March 11 (CBSSN)
Game 10: No. 8 Western Kentucky vs. No. 5 Old Dominion, 4 p.m.
Game 11: No. 2 Middle Tennessee State vs. No. 3 Marshall, approx. 6:30 p.m.

Semifinals: March 11 (TWCS/BCSN/ESPN3)
Game 9: No. 12 Bowling Green vs. No. 1 Akron, 6:30 p.m.
Game 10: No. 2 Ohio vs. No. 3 Buffalo, approx. 9 p.m.

Mid-Eastern Athletic
Semifinals: March 11 (ESPN3)
Game 20: No. 5 Savannah State vs. No. 1 Hampton, 6 p.m.
Game 21: No. 3 South Carolina State vs. No. 2 Norfolk State, approx. 8:30 p.m.

Mountain West
Semifinals: March 11 (CBSSN)
Game 8: No. 1 San Diego State vs. No. 5 Nevada 9 p.m.
Game 9: No. 2 Fresno State vs. No. 6 Colorado State, approx. 11:30 p.m.

Semifinals: March 11
Game 9: No. 1 Oregon vs. No. 4 Arizona 9 p.m. (Pac-12 Networks)
Game 10: No. 2 Utah vs. No. 3 California, approx. 11:30 p.m. (FS1)

Quarterfinals: March 11 (SEC Network)
Game 6: No. 8 Florida vs. No. 1 Texas A&M Aggies, 1 p.m.
Game 7: No. 12 Tennessee vs. No. 4 LSU Tigers, approx. 3:30 p.m.
Game 8: No. 10 Alabama vs. No. 2 Kentucky Wildcats, 7 p.m.
Game 9: No. 6 Georgia vs. No. 3 South Carolina Gamecocks, approx. 9:30 p.m.

Semifinals: March 11 (ESPN3)
Game 5: No. 4 Houston Baptist vs. No. 1 Stephen F. Austin Lumberjacks, 6 p.m.
Game 6: No. 3 Sam Houston State vs. No. 2 Texas A&M-Corpus Christi Islanders, approx. 8:30 p.m.

Southwestern Athletic
Semifinals: March 11 (
Game 7: No. 7 Mississippi Valley State vs. No. 3 Jackson State, 3:30 p.m.
Game 8: No. 5 Southern vs. No. 1 Texas Southern, 9:30 p.m.

Sun Belt
Quarterfinals: March 11 (ESPN3)
Game 3: No. 8 South Alabama vs. No. 4 UL Lafayette Ragin’ Cajuns, 6 p.m.
Game 4: No. 7 Texas State vs. No. 3 UT Arlington Mavericks, approx. 8:30 p.m.

Western Athletic
Semifinals: March 11 (WAC Sports Network)
Game 4: No. 4 Utah Valley vs. No. 1 New Mexico State Aggies, 9 p.m.
Game 5: No. 2 Cal-State Bakersfield vs. No. 3 Seattle, approx. 11:30 p.m.

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