The Dawgs had a nine day break after their loss to Gonzaga and bounced back with a solid win over Seattle U. The Redhawks hung around longer than most would have expected thanks to a valiant effort from jitterbug guard Terrell Brown. After a Redhawk three with 3:18 to go, they were only down eight. From that point to the end, it was all UW. The Dawgs went on a 16-2 run fueled by Isaiah Stewart domination inside. Stewart finished with 27 points on 14 shot attempts and 13 rebounds. Quade Green continued his run of positive play with 20 points on only eight shot attempts to go with three assists. The team-wide goal to reduce turnovers was a very mild success- 14 total against a season average of 14.9. Seattle U also made hay on the offensive glass with 11 boards on that end, although the loss of big man Myles Carter to a calf injury allowed Stewart to single-handedly clean up at that end down the stretch. Jaden McDaniels didn’t have his most explosive scoring night, but his play-making was a positive contribution. He had four assists after tallying five against the Zags; he only had 19 in his first eight games total.
UW has one more chance to get some quality wins before conference season begins at the Diamond Head Classic in Hawaii starting on Sunday. The opening round is a sneaky difficult match-up with Ball State. The Cardinals haven’t been tested against top teams so far this year*, but they have played very good team defense, especially inside the arc. PF Tahjai Teague is an excellent rebounder who can block a few shots and finish very well on the interior. They also feature a veteran PG in Ishmael El-Amin who has made 49% of his threes on a high volume of attempts. UW will have to chase shooters off the line because that’s how Ball State likes to attack, and if the shots are falling, it will be a clear path to an upset.
*Ball State won at Georgia Tech last night by 18 points but the Yellow Jackets may be the worst team in the ACC. Still, the best win of the year so far for Ball State.
If the Dawgs get through round one, the second-round game would be against the winner of Hawaii and UTEP. Hawaii might have an edge due to the location, but they have struggled against Illinois and Oregon, the two power conference teams they have played. UTEP has a slightly better resume at 8-1, but they haven’t played a very tough schedule, either. Their one loss was away to New Mexico State in a bizarre non-conference home-and-home. The other half of the bracket includes Houston, Portland, Georgia Tech, and Boise State. The Cougars are the class of that group at #38 in the KenPom rankings, though they have lost all three of their games against top-50 opponents. A UW-Houston pairing in the final would be a good test for the Dawgs and one more chance to pad the resume in non-conference play.
It was a good week for the Pac-12 as non-conference play nears its conclusion. The conference went 13-3 overall and pulled off a very good win against a top-10 team. That victory came when Oregon went into Ann Arbor and upset the #5 Wolverines. I noted last week that Michigan might be slightly vulnerable for a team ranked so high and Oregon’s solid offense indeed overcame the excellent UM defense. Payton Pritchard and Anthony Mathis led the offense with 23 and 19 points respectively. Mathis was at the center of a wild end to regulation. A deflected ball found him way outside the arc as time wound down and the score tied. He launched a very deep three that fell through, but replays showed that it was still in contact with his fingertips as the clock hit triple-zeroes. Nonetheless, the Ducks seized the lead in overtime and held on late when Michigan made a mad dash in the closing seconds. The win supplants UW’s victory over Baylor as the conference’s best of the season. It also reinforces what pre-season rankings and last year’s recruitment told us- the conference is on a positive trajectory.
Utah also came up big for the conference last night by barely holding on to their 17 point 2nd half lead to escape against #6 Kentucky in Vegas by a score of 66-63. The Wildcats are getting a lot of benefit of the doubt given they’ve already lost at home to Evansville and they’re probably closer to a #4 seed than they are a #1 seed. It doesn’t completely cancel out losses to Tulsa and Coastal Carolina but Utah might have the second best trio of wins (Kentucky, Minnesota, and BYU) in the conference behind Oregon.
Over the weekend, UCLA will face off with freshly unranked North Carolina in a game that looks much better when you compare historical resumes than when you consider where the teams are presently. That game is part of the CBS Sports Classic in Las Vegas and follows Kentucky vs. Ohio State. Several other Pac teams face off with difficult opponents this weekend who aren’t exactly name brands. Colorado will travel to Chicago to play Dayton (more on them later). Utah and #20 San Diego State will play in Staples Center. Creighton travels to ASU, and Oregon State heads to College Station to take on Texas A&M. All four games are on Saturday in case you don’t feel like watching a certain bowl game that day.
Most of the AP Top 25 looks fairly familiar headed into the holidays. Blue bloods like Kansas, Louisville, and Duke are near the top. The mid-majors who are crashing the party are the ones you’d expect to see- Gonzaga, Memphis, San Diego State. The name that stands out most is the #13 team in the country, the Dayton Flyers. Dayton got on the national radar with a strong performance in the Maui Jim Invitational. They tallied one-sided wins over Georgia and Virginia Tech before losing a close battle with Kansas in the final. Coach Anthony Grant has turned the team around with a different approach than he had at VCU or Alabama: he has built one of the most efficient offenses in the country that relies on creating easy shots. So far, the Flyers have the best effective FG percentage in the country, fueled by the best 2pt shooting and the 19th best 3pt shooting. They assist on 64% of their made FGs, which is 13th best.
Many of these stats come back to the transcendent talent of Obi Toppin. After bouncing between three high schools in four years, Toppin was lightly recruited and opted to take a year at a prep school It paid off with offers from Dayton, Rhode Island and Georgetown. He picked the Flyers, but academic issues forced him to redshirt his true freshman year. He broke out as a RS-FR last year with 14 p/g while shooting 67% from the field. He has taken it to another level this year with 20 p/g and 8 r/g while still shooting 64%. He can do a little bit of everything offensively-score over both shoulders in the post, finish with a variety of moves when he dives to the rim in the pick-and-roll, or even keep the defense honest with a solid three-point shot (12-29 on the year). His size, athleticism, and instincts around the basket are reminiscent of Amar’e Stoudemire and have him ranked as the #4 pro prospect on NBADraft.net. If that’s not enough to make you want to check out his games, his dad was a Brooklyn streetball legend known as “Dunker’s Delight.”
The game of the week is likely still the aforementioned Ohio State-Kentucky showdown. Even after an upset loss to a decent Minnesota team, the Buckeyes are one of the toughest teams in the country. Also on Saturday, Kansas will head to Philadelphia to take on Villanova. The Cats haven’t reached their peak yet this season, but they are loaded with lanky, athletic wings who can put the ball in the basket. They’ll be a great test for a Kansas team that has won nine straight since a season-opening loss to Duke. If that’s not enough, two underrated in-state rivals will take each other on in Butler vs. Purdue. The Boilermakers have played a very tough schedule, so even with four losses, their wins over VCU and Virginia prove they can play with anybody.