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Andy Katz, Correspondent | November 16, 2017

The Daily Word: Thursday, Nov. 16

Throwback Thursday: 1967-68 UCLA

What you need to know in college basketball for Thursday, Nov. 16.

1. Creighton has long since proven that it has a program, not a series of high-level teams. The examples are endless. And the Bluejays had yet another reason to tout their success Wednesday night in a 92-88 win over Northwestern in Chicago at the Gavitt Tipoff Games. Khyri Thomas lit up the Wildcats for 24 points and 11 rebounds. He had five assists and just one turnover. Marcus Foster gets the pub for the Bluejays, but he won’t for long.

The Bluejays staff told Thomas is one of the best two-way players in college basketball who no one is talking about. Well, we are now. He’s improved from 6.2, to 12.3, to now 17.7 points a game over his career. With UCLA up next, the Bluejays will see just how much they’ve grown in the past few weeks. But let’s not dismiss Creighton as a legit Big East contender anymore.

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2. Oklahoma has had its share elite guards, regardless of who the head coach has been in Norman. But most of the time, they require development. They haven’t come in as ready-made players. Well, Trae Young will blow up that trend. He had 22 points and 13 (!) assists in a 108-69 win over Ball State. He’s averaging 18.5 points and 11.5 assists in two games. What is making Young so effective so far? “He’s very fast, passes ahead and eager to learn,’’ Oklahoma coach Lon Kruger told “He makes his teammates better.’’ And that’s why the Sooners could be a top three Big 12 team this season.

3. Nevada won the Mountain West Conference tournament last season and then lost to Iowa State in the NCAA tournament first round. Could this Wolf Pack team be even stronger? Possibly. The Wolf Pack are off to a 3-0 start after beating Rhode Island Sunday night. Nevada will get pushed plenty with games coming up against Davidson, at Hawaii, at Texas Tech and against TCU. What’s the difference with the offense? “We’ve got more 3-point shooting and we’re playing hard,’’ Nevada coach Eric Musselman told So far, the shooters like Caleb Martin (7 of 16 on 3s), Lindsey Drew (4 of 7), Hallice Cooke (7 of 10) are giving credence to this being a more efficient 3-point shooting team and one which will be tough to defend.

4. Seton Hall is off to a fantastic start, crushing Indiana Wednesday night in the Gavitt Tipoff Games. The reason? “We really are playing unselfish basketball,’’ Seton Hall coach Kevin Willard told Thursday. “These guys are enjoying passing to each other.’’ And it shows. The Pirates are 3-0 because of the balance of an experienced crew with any number of players taking the baton to lead them. Against Indiana it was Desi Rodriguez, who chipped in with 23 points. Indiana is heading for a challenging season. The Hoosiers staff told rather bluntly Thursday, “We have to stop turning the ball over.’’ Indiana committed 19 turnovers in the loss to Indiana State, 18 in the road loss at Seton Hall. Indiana won’t be able to stay in games if that number doesn’t change.

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5. Georgia Tech got closure on the suspensions of Josh Okogie (six games) and Tadric Jackson (three games) for a violation of NCAA rules for accepting extra benefits. Okogie will be back for Tennessee on Dec. 3, Jackson for North Texas on Nov. 24. So now what? Georgia Tech coach Josh Pastner told that the onus will be on 6-10 senior Ben Lammers “to be a stud.’’ Pastner said that goes against their mantra of “open man, go-to-man, but we have no choice.’’

Lammers scored 24 points and grabbed 10 boards in the season-opening loss to UCLA. He’s capable. But the rest of the squad will have to step up as well in the absence of Okogie and Jackson. Pastner said last season’s surprising 21-win season and run to the NIT title game could be considered overachieving while this season is more of a rebuild. The Yellow Jackets are extremely young, but still talented. Freshman guard Jose Alvarado fits that description. He scored 12 and grabbed seven boards against the Bruins and will be counted on to do something similar going forward. 

6. Providence desperately needs a good showing in the 2K Classic at Madison Square Garden, beginning with tonight’s game against Washington. The Friars couldn’t contain Jordan Murphy, Reggie Lynch, Amir Coffey and Nate Mason throughout the second half of the 86-74 home loss Monday night. The Friars were the aggressor in the first half and made shots. Jalen Lindsey, Isaiah Jackson, Kyron Cartwright and Rodney Bullock all have the potential to bust out. They must.

Suddenly, just two games into the season, new Washington coach Mike Hopkins (the longtime former top assistant to Syracuse coach Jim Boeheim) has the Huskies on point. Jaylen Nowell and Noah Dickerson are on fire early, averaging 21 points and 18, respectively. Dickerson is averaging a double-double of 18 and 13, through two games. This game had the look of a mismatch when originally scheduled, but now this will be a big-time battle for the Friars. The potential of playing Virginia Tech, assuming the Hokies get past Saint Louis, in the second game for the Friars makes this even more important.

Providence will need to get out of MSG with quality wins against at least one possible NCAA tournament team. “I feel we need to defend more with intent and purpose,’’ Providence coach Ed Cooley told Thursday. “We have to be able to guard the ball and rebound at elite level. And we need to find the right combinations down the stretch.’’

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7. Xavier at Wisconsin continues a trend this week of quality games between the Big East and Big Ten in the Gavitt Tipoff Games. Seton Hall blitzed Indiana and Creighton squeezed past Northwestern. Xavier has a legit chance to get another win for the Big East in large part because of 6-6 senior guard Trevon Bluiett. Bluiett has steadily increased his production each of his four seasons under Chris Mack from 11 to 15 to 18 to now 25 points a game.

Mack told Wednesday night the reason for the jump through two games this season is “his body is in the best shape ever.’’ Keeping Bluiett out of the lane and off the stat sheet will be the Badgers toughest test yet after coasting to a few wins this season. Wisconsin is better than projected: Book it. The Badgers are getting more out of Khalil Iverson than thought and the ability of Andy Van Vliet to hunt for his shot is a big plus. But the question for the Badgers was going to be how they defend the slashing wing. Test number one comes tonight.

8. Nebraska is at St. John’s in what is a bit of a homecoming — in the conference — for Georgetown transfer Isaac Copeland. The Huskers are one of the unknowns in the Big Ten this season. The Red Storm aren’t expected to be an upper level team in the Big East. But if Nebraska can suddenly surge and get a true road win in the Gavitt Tipoff Games tonight they may have to be taken a bit more seriously.

Copeland may have something to say about that. He’s averaging eight points and 6.5 boards through two games. Nebraska coach Tim Miles told Wednesday night that Copeland has done a good job of being an aggressive player, mentoring “some of our younger players like Isaiah Roby. He’s still acclimating to our system which is in stark contrast to a Princeton system but I know he’s excited for (this game).’’

9. OK, so who had Missouri at Utah as one of the more interesting games the second week of the season? Well, the Tigers breezing past Iowa State in the home opener and scoring 99 in the second game against Wagner is one reason why. The Tigers are doing this without super stud Michael Porter Jr., who missed the Wagner game with a hip injury. Kassius Robertson and Kevin Puryear are two of the reasons the Tigers are off to a hot start.

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“They’re a very big team that pounds the ball inside with shooters too,’’ Utah coach Larry Krystkowiak told Wednesday night. “I think they can compete for their league title.’’ The question for the Utes is what can they get out of Chris Seeley? The 6-8 freshman is the “million-dollar question. He’s growing and learning. He had eight and 12 boards in a 40-point win over Mississippi Valley State. But this is Mizzou. A much bigger test for Seeley and a barometer for him and the team.

10. Belmont at Middle Tennessee State may not move the needle now, but both of these teams should be familiar to everyone in March. If they get into the dance, then expect they will be a big-time pest as has been the norm. Belmont pushed Washington to the brink on the road in the opener and then beat fellow Nashville team, and yes an SEC team, Vanderbilt by nine. Dylan Winder has been sensational so far for the Bruins averaging 21 points and 11 boards.

“Usually it’s a great RPI game for both teams, there’s great fan interest and the series has almost been dead even over the years,’’ Middle Tennessee State coach Kermit Davis told Thursday morning. “This is Rick (Byrd’s) best defensive team I’ve seen. Windler at 6-8 is one of the best under the radar guys in America.’’ Here’s the deal for Middle Tennessee, with games still pending against Florida Gulf Coast, Vanderbilt, Ole Miss, Auburn and Princeton this game against Belmont may end up being its most important resume game come March.

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