On Holiday: CBE, Maui and more
On Holiday is College Basketball Nation's daily rundown of the holiday tournaments, complete with previews, recaps, and links to all of the early-season tournament info you'll need in the weeks to come.
Top Story: Wichita State impressive as ever in a 75-62 CBE CLASSIC title win over BYU: "It’s easy to forget how close the Shockers came to a national championship last season. With 13:40 to play in that Final Four matchup in Atlanta, Wichita State had a 12-point lead over Louisville. The Shockers lost 72-68, but the admirable effort seemed more impressive after Louisville won the national title. But the Shockers didn’t receive the VCU treatment after last year’s Final Four. They’re not the new Butler. They’re not viewed that way, at least. Past mid-major darlings became top storylines in the months that followed their surprising postseason rallies. Not so much for Wichita State." -- From Myron Medcalf's take on Wichita State's impressive win over BYU.
The Shockers never looked totally in the flow offensively, but never looked anything but commanding defensively and on the glass. They headlined the CBE Classic and lived up to billing, and if they really are flying under the radar this season, well, stop that, you guys.
CANCUN CHALLENGE: Wisconsin moves to 7-0 with win over St. Louis: Has any team had a more impressive November than Wisconsin? The Badgers have had their moments of sheer brilliance -- see Frank Kaminsky's 43 points-on-19-shots night against North Dakota -- but they've also found ways to win when they haven't been peerless offensively. Tuesday night was a good example: St. Louis, always a brutal out, was the first team since Florida to hold the Badgers to less than a point per possession. But after a late Billikens run -- and a 23-17 advantage in the final 10 minutes -- Traveon Jackson and company still defended well enough down the stretch to walk to midcourt with a win.
(By the way, Wisconsin's win in a lopsided Cancun Challenge field -- the other half of the "bracket" saw West Virginia punish poor Old Dominion -- might make the St. Louis win the best opportunity of the event. We'll see if the Mountaineers have different ideas Wednesday night.)
MAUI INVITATIONAL: Baylor beats Dayton. Still not sure how. "We led 1-zip and we finished leading by one; everything else was chasing Dayton." That was Baylor coach Scott Drew after his team's borderline-mystifying win over Dayton last night. His math was right: The Bears led for exactly 16 seconds, after the opening possession of the game and for the final one -- when Dayton's Van Sanford missed a contested floater and forward Devin Oliver's tip-in somehow rimmed out. (His quote, head down at press conference podium, was both factual and devastating: "I don't know how I missed it.")
Coach Archie Miller had his own postgame assessment: "For about 30 minutes in that game," he said, "our guys looked about as good as any team in college basketball." His was just as accurate as Drew's. Syracuse and Baylor will meet in the Maui Invitational final tonight -- more on which below -- but no team has had a better, or more impressive, trip to the island. But still, that's small consolation, when your win probability chart looks like the polygraph reading of a bad liar with just one very big secret. Ouch.
One more thing: Pitt's soft nonconference schedule is likely to either a) keep the Panthers off the national radar or b) inspire doubt (or both), but it'd be silly to ignore how dominant Jamie Dixon's team looked in a win over a not-horrible Stanford team in Brooklyn Wednesday night. Pitt, no surprise, is grabbing every offensive rebound in sight, which sounds like a very frightening proposition for huge swaths of the ACC.
MAUI INVITATIONAL FINAL: Syracuse vs. Baylor, 10 p.m. ET, ESPN: Does Baylor have a chance? That sounds harsh -- the Bears are 6-0, stocked with lanky, athletic talent, and coming off that win against Dayton, which for all its flaws can and should be described as gutty. Besides, the Bears seem to match up pretty well. Their interior defense is among the best in the country, thanks to Cory Jefferson and Isaiah Austin; Bears' opponents are making just 36.3 percent of their two-point shots on the season. Why the doubtful tone?
Because the one thing Syracuse has done consistently this season -- not only its chief statistical characteristic, but a reliable source of points (and wins) in otherwise ugly offensive performances -- is turn opponents over. And Baylor doesn't need much help.
Syracuse foes have turned the ball over on 25.8 percent of their possessions this season, the seventh-highest mark in the country. It's the same old story: Smart 2-3 zone and long arms and offenses forced into corners against their will, and the bad-idea-blue-jeans skip-passes that turn into deflections. The Orange have ranged from intriguing to downright bad on offense thus far, but they've turned folks over in the zone, and that's why they've won.
Baylor, on the other hand, enters Wednesday night's finale with a 20.8 percent turnover rate hanging around its neck. It's the one thing the Bears don't do well on offense. Which is why this game looks, at a glance, so likely to be a Syracuse win: Not because the Bears aren't talented enough, or long enough, or whatever else, but because the one area where they're worse off just so happens to be Syracuse's bread and butter. There are solutions. "Make 3s" and "rebound misses" are chief among them. But if the Bears can't get into their offense in the first place, or give away too many transition buckets before they have time to get Jefferson and Austin in front of the rim, it could be a long night for the kids from Waco.
Maui remainders: Arkansas gets Gonzaga after both teams handled respective second round (consolation) opponents Minnesota and Chamiande, and it feels safe to guarantee a stylistically entertaining game. And Minnesota, which two days ago was five good minutes away from a possible upset of Syracuse, now has to avoid disaster against Chaminade.
And yet it feels far from guaranteed. Duke barely got by Vermont at home Sunday night, when it allowed the Catamounts 90 points in 65 possessions. I will keep repeating and emphasizing that fact until Duke's defense, currently 179th in defensive efficiency, proves that it can guard anyone. Duke's defense is awful right now.
Arizona has no such obvious warts. The Wildcats are rolling, with a lottery talent surrounded by no-slouch frontcourt counterparts (Kaleb Tarczewski, Brandon Ashley, Rondae Hollis-Jefferson) balanced with pass-first point guard T.J. McConnell and efficient shooting guard Nick Johnson. The whole thing just clicks. But Drexel is not a slouch, either: After a disastrous 2012-13, the Dragons took UCLA to the wire in Westwood on opening night and haven't lost again since.
Odds are, we get Arizona and Duke Friday, and our freshman frenzy will be, at least for the moment, sated. But if we don't, don't say you weren't warned.
Bonus Wednesday note! The Great Alaska Shootout may be a diminished shell of its former self these days, and this year's field is basically Harvard, Denver and not much else, but I felt obligated to inform you the GAS still exists, so there you go.
Happy Thanksgiving, and happy hoops, y'all.