Opening Night Observations: No Surprises To Be Found

November 8th, 2011

The college basketball season finally got underway on Monday night with three games featuring squads that will be in New York next week for the 2K Sports Classic Benefitting Coaches vs. Cancer. All three favorites, Arizona, Mississippi State and St. John's, won but predictably there were signs of rust. That comes with the territory, but what are some of the things that can be learned from these games? Here are a few basic observations for each of the six teams in action.

Arizona (beat Valparaiso 73-64)
Once again the Wildcats struggled in the first half, but the scored the final five points of the stanza to take a 32-30 lead into the break. Finding good shots in their half-court sets proved to be an issue for Arizona, but they did a better job on both ends of the floor in the second half. The Wildcats made 12 of 20 shots in the second half, and point guards Josiah Turner and Jordin Mayes made better decisions.

Jesse Perry (14 points, 10 rebounds) scored 10 points in the first half, and as his teammates improved offensively in the second half the senior hit the boards and played solid defense. Freshman Nick Johson and senior Kyle Fogg were Arizona's two best guards on Monday night, combining for 30 points, and Johnson led the team with six assists. Solomon Hill and Kyryl Natyazhko had rough nights, but they'll perform better on Wednesday night. 

Eastern Kentucky (lost to Mississippi State 76-66)
The Colonels trailed by six at the half despite shooting 33.3% from the field, aided by the fact that Mississippi State shot just 9-for-19 on two-point shots. Michael DiNunno had an off night from the field, making just four of seventeen shots, and it's safe to say that EKU can't afford nights like that if they're to be a factor in the OVC race.

EKU's problem in the second half was points off of turnovers, with the Bulldogs scoring 12 points off of five EKU turnovers. Eastern Kentucky did score nine points off of six MSU turnovers, but none of those points can on fast break opportunities. And after keeping Dee Bost under wraps in the first 20 minutes he scored 17 points in the second half. EKU outscored Mississippi State 7-5 in second-chance points, and that edge could have been more if not for a minus-11 rebounding margin. 

Mississippi State (beat Eastern Kentucky 76-66)
Renardo Sidney didn't make much of an impact in the box score (nine points, three rebounds), but the Bulldogs were able to manage it thanks to UTEP transfer Arnett Moultrie. Moultrie posted a double-double with 13 points and 10 rebounds in addition to a pair of blocks. Will he be the consistent bell cow Rick Stansbury can count on nightly? He may have to be but at the least Moultrie gives Mississippi State a second option inside, something that was missing last year.

Dee Bost bounced back from a 2-for-7 first half, scoring 17 of his game-high 23 points. The difference? Aggression. Bost didn't take one free throw in the first half, staying out on the perimeter offensively, but once he attacked the basket the fouls began to mount for EKU. Brian Bryant didn't shoot well (2-9 FG) but in freshman Rodney Hood the Bulldogs got their first glimpse of the many things that he can do. Hood finished with 12 points, nine rebounds, four assists and no turnovers. Good start for the freshman. 

St. John's (beat William & Mary 74-59)
The Red Storm looked a bit nervous in the first half, settling for perimeter looks against a packed-in William & Mary defense and it showed in the numbers. St. John's was 2-for-9 from three and 8-for-22 from two in the first half, so it wasn't surprising that they trailed 33-26 at the half. But led by Nurideen Lindsey (19 points, four assists) the Johnnies weren't content to settle for jumpers in the second half. St. John's made 17 of their 22 shots from inside the arc and attempted just six three-pointers.

Four starters finished in double figures, and with their seven-man rotation that will need to be a consistent occurrence in order for this team to be successful. God'sgift Achiuwa finished with 17 points and nine rebounds but where will the help come from if he gets into foul trouble? That's where the ineligibility of Norvel Pelle will hurt the most, and clearly Amir Garrett could be used as well (the hope is that both will be eligible come December). St. John's was a minus-6 in rebounding margin, with Maurice Harkless grabbing eight boards, and four of the five starters played 32+ minutes. 

Valparaiso (lost to Arizona 73-64)
The Crusaders received solid efforts from forwards Ryan Broekhoff and Kevin Van Wijk, who scored 18 points apiece in defeat. Van Wijk was able to get to the foul line, where he made eight of his thirteen attempts. But no other player attempted more than four, and their 25% shooting from three proved to be Valparaiso's downfall. Valparaiso shot at least 50% from two in both halves, but the struggles from deep proved costly. Starting guards Erik Buggs, Jay Harris and Matt Kenney shot a combined 1-for-9 from deep on the night, and Bryce Drew's team can't afford that. 

Valpo did a good job on the boards as they finished a minus-2 (32-30) in rebounding margin and led 19-18 in that department at the half. But Arizona outscored them by eight points (15-7) at the charity stripe in the final 20 minutes, and when combined with the Cats shooting 60% from the field it isn't too difficult to see what happened. But the offensive output from the guards is what will likely stick out in this defeat. 

William & Mary (lost 74-59 to St. John's)
Things went well for the Tribe in the first half as they outscored St. John's 21-6 from beyond the arc. Defensively Tony Shaver's team was able to keep the SJU perimeter players out of the lane, forcing them to settle for jumpers. But unlike the Red Storm William & Mary didn't take care of the basketball, finishing the night with 21 turnovers to four for St. John's. Quinn McDowell played well, finishing with 20 points and eight rebounds and Julian Boatner knocked down four three-pointers to finish with 12 points. 

But the Tribe's two-point defense left them in the second half, the result of their turnover issues. William & Mary did win the battle on the boards, but it's obvious what they need to improve upon in order to be the sleeper that some think they can be in the CAA. St. John's played much better in the second half but they received help in the form of William & Mary miscues as well. 

Wednesday's Schedule

7 PM Lehigh at St. John's (ESPN2)
7 PM Akron at Mississippi State
8 PM Liberty at (19) Texas A&M
9 PM Duquesne at (16) Arizona