Observations: Miami makes statement with two Top-25 wins in Puerto Rico

Jim Larranaga has another shot at an ACC title. Who thought we’d be saying that four and a half years ago when Larranaga was hired by Miami?

The veteran head coach who led George Mason to the Final Four in 2006 was named national coach of the year in 2013 when he led the Hurricanes to both the ACC regular season and tournament titles as well as a two-seed in the NCAA Tournament. Now two and a half years later Larranaga has another chance to legitimately challenge North Carolina, Virginia, and Duke for a spot atop the perch of college basketball’s elite conference.

Miami ran through the Puerto Rico Shootout this past weekend like a chainsaw through butter all while displaying the same type of balance, unselfishness, and teamwork that allowed guys like Shane Larkin, Durand Scott, and Kenny Kadji to have a memorable season in 2013. Just like that group of Hurricanes, this squad possesses similar attributes.

Miami is two-deep at every position, boasts two perimeter starters in Angel Rodriguez and Sheldon McClellan who are both in their fifth year of college basketball, and has a backup point guard in Ja’Quan Newton that could start for most programs in America.

There isn’t the type of one-and-done talent that you’re going to potentially see in Chapel Hill or Durham, but that shouldn’t dissuade people from believing in this team moving forward. Another reason to be bullish on the Hurricanes? Larranaga has a combined 7-5 record against Duke and North Carolina over the past four seasons.

Shorthanded Oregon has already built equity

Dana Altman did one of the best coaching jobs of his career last season when he led Oregon to the NCAA Tournament’s Round of 32 after losing nearly a third of his team prior to the start of the year. Now he’s trying to go for an encore. The Ducks are currently playing without their starting point guard in Dylan Ennis (foot) as well as their starting center in Jordan Bell (foot) and their production hasn’t slipped a tad. Oregon earned victories this past week over two teams — Baylor and Valpo — that reached the NCAA Tournament last season and figure to be back in the field of 68 in 2016.

It’s amazing that the Ducks were able to beat teams of this caliber without a fifth-year floor general in Ennis and a rim protector like Bell (2.7 blocks per game last season). Once this team gets healthy and adds these two players to its existing nucleus of Tyler Dorsey, Elgin Cook, Dwayne Benjamin, and Dylan Brooks, it’s going to be right in mix at the top of the Pac-12 with Cal, Utah, and Arizona.

The Big East answered the bell this weekend

Many people including myself wondered if the Big East would be able to resurrect itself after Georgetown lost to Radford and Marquette lost to Belmont in the first 24 hours of the season. But if this weekend is any indication the Big East is going to have several teams in addition to Villanova that remain as national factors all season long. Xavier was beyond impressive in a 16-point win at Michigan on Friday while Butler showed real potential during the Puerto Rico Shootout.

The Hoyas meanwhile took Duke to the wire in New York and didn’t have two key rotation players — Tre Campbell (virus) and Paul White (hip) — available. It remains to be seen if any of these teams can challenge Villanova for the conference’s regular season title, but unless something drastic happens all three of these teams should find themselves in the 2016 NCAA Tournament.

This just in

After being evaluated Monday, Wake Forest ‘s Codi Miller-Mcintyre (foot) is not expected play this week at the Maui Invitational, Danny Manning told CBS Sports. The Demon Deacons open the event Monday against Indiana.

Memphis’ Kedren Johnson (shoulder) is a game-time decision for Monday’s game against UT-Arlington, Josh Pastner told CBS Sports. Pastner said there is no chance that Johnson will take a medical redshirt for this season. The point guard has yet to play this year for the Tigers.

Michigan State’s Gavin Schilling (turf toe) is likely out at least another week, Tom Izzo told CBS Sports on Monday morning. “We hope it’s sooner, but it’s not likely,” Izzo said. The 3-0 Spartans host Eastern Michigan on Monday.

Wichita State’s Fred VanVleet (hamstring) is questionable at best for Thursday’s game against USC in Orlando, Gregg Marshall told CBS Sports. “He said he’s feeling better, but he also said that before he tweaked it the last team,” Marshall said of VanVleet on Sunday. The senior point guard did not play in the Shockers’ win on Saturday against Emporia State.

LSU’s Keith Hornsby (abdomen) is hopeful to return to game action at some point in early December, Johnny Jones told CBS Sports. The 3-0 Tigers will face Marquette tonight in the Legends Classic at the Barclays Center. Hornsby averaged 13.4 points and 4.2 rebounds per game last season.

Texas A&M’s Jalen Jones (NCAA issue) will make his season debut against Texas on Wednesday in the first round of the Battle 4 Atlantis, Billy Kennedy told CBS Sports on Sunday. The 6-foot-7 Jones was the Aggies’ starting power forward last season and averaged 13.7 points along with 6.6 rebounds last season.

Illinois’ Jaylon Tate (finger) won’t play tonight against Chicago State, John Groce told CBS Sports on late Sunday night. “He’s got an appointment this week and we hope to find out more then,” Groce said. The Illini are currently 1-3 on the season. Groce also added that Kendrick Nunn (thumb) won’t be back until at least early December.

This and That

Arizona ‘s Sean Miller told CBS Sports that he’s going to look to play big men Kaleb Tarczewski and Dusan Ristic together more as things progress for the Wildcats. The 7-footer from Serbia was a quality backup to Tarczewski last season as a freshman, but according to Miller “had as good an offseason as anyone in our program”. It will be interesting to see how long these two can stay on the floor together — especially against smaller teams with more skill. Ristic had nine points and 10 rebounds in 22 minutes off the bench in last night’s win over Northewestern State.

Kentucky ‘s Tyler Ulis has only had three turnovers in the last 107 minutes he’s been on the floor. That’s pretty ridiculous when you think about how much Ulis has the ball in his hands for the Wildcats. The 5-9 sophomore is averaging 14.0 points, 4.5 assists, and 3.8 rebounds in Kentucky’s first four games. He averaged 5.6 points, 3.6 assists, and 1.8 rebounds per game last year as a freshman.

The two biggest things I took away from Xavier’s dominant win over Michigan in Ann Arbor on Friday night? Roster versatility and overall balance. The Musketeers had no issues defensively matching up when the Wolverines went small and also showed that they have many different ways to skin a cat. Through three games Xavier has seven different players averaging between 8.0 points and 14.3 points.

Notre Dame’s Demetrius Jackson is going to be one of the better guards in the ACC and maybe the country. The junior floor general is averaging 20.0 points, 5.0 assists, and 4.0 rebounds through the Irish’s first three games while shooting an impressive 60.0 percent from the field and 40.0 percent from three-point range. “He knows it’s his team and he’s excited about that,” Notre Dame’s Mike Brey told recently about Jackson. “He’s excited about the fact that it’s going to be his voice that’s heard when things get tough.”

Cincinnati is averaging 96.3 points through its first four games — that is not a misprint. The Bearcats only scored 80 or more points in a game twice during all of last season. Is this Mick Cronin’s best team ever? Time will tell.

The Big Ten is always going to be the Big Ten, but the league has had some unfathomable losses so far this season. Already we’ve seen Wisconsin lost to Western Illinois, Ohio State lose to UT-Arlington, Illinois drop home games to North Florida as well as Illinois and Penn State lose to Duquesne by 26.

USC’s staff privately felt that Elijah Stewart would be in line for a major jump as a sophomore and thus far he hasn’t disappointed. The 6-5 wing is averaging 17.3 points and 6.4 rebounds through the Trojans’ first three games after averaging just 6.4 points and 2.4 rebounds last season as a freshman. Andy Enfield’s squad (3-0) next hosts Cal State Northridge tonight at the Galen Center.

Rodney Bullock is living up to the hype. The 6-7 forward is leading Providence in both scoring (19.0 points) and rebounds (7.3 rebounds) through the first three games of the Friars’ season all while emerging as Robin to Kris Dunn as Batman. Ed Cooley wants nothing more than to lead this team to the NCAA Tournament for the third consecutive season and to have a chance at do that in March he needs Bullock to play like an All-Big East player. So far he’s living up to the hype.

Two teams better than their overall records? Georgetown and Temple. Both teams are 1-3 after four games, but still looked more than capable of being factors this season in their respective conferences. The common theme with each of these programs? They played played brutal schedules to open the season.

Has there been a first-year head coach that’s had a better start than Chattanooga’s Matt McCall? The Mocs have already won road games at both Georgia and Illinois. There’s a reason why this team was the overwhelming favorite to win the SoCon. Chattanooga plays Iowa State tonight at Hilton Coliseum.

Jim Larranaga (USATSI)
Miami’s Jim Larranaga has the Hurricanes on the right track. (USATSI)

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