College basketball today: Virginia wins NIT Season Tip-Off, Rhode Island can still make a statement
What you need to know for Saturday, Nov. 25:
1. Virginia is back being, well Virginia. Former Cavaliers’ player Joe Harris, now a Brooklyn Net, made a cameo in the locker room and after the game Cavaliers coach Tony Bennett told NCAA.com that current guards Kyle Guy and Ty Jerome are a combination of Harris’ game. But the Cavaliers didn’t need them to be like Harris or even themselves Friday night to beat Rhode Island for the NIT Season Tip-Off title. And that speaks volumes. Virginia got a stellar performance out of Isaiah Wilkins (19 points), Devon Hall delivered 18 and Nigel Johnson put up a dozen. The similarity all three share is experience. They're all seniors or in the case of Johnson a grad transfer from Rutgers. The veteran leadership offers the perfect balance to the youth of the backcourt of Guy/Jerome. If the team can get serviceable minutes out of Jack Salt and Mamadi Diakite in the post — this team will be good to go for the ACC. Guy told NCAA.com that the Cavaliers will be much-more of a transition team this season. But the definition of Virginia basketball is still defense. And the Cavaliers can still defend extremely well when the game matters most.
2. Rhode Island beat Seton Hall without E.C. Matthews and Cyril Langevine, as both are injured. And yet the Rams put up a good fight against Virginia and got a much-needed resume win Thursday over Seton Hall. The Rams have quickness in Jarvis Garrett, Jared Terrell (who hit the game winner over the Pirates) and Stanford Robinson. Andre Berry can be difficult to move out of the post. The Rams are still, repeat still, the team to beat in the A-10. Losing at Nevada and to Virginia is nothing to sulk about now or later in the season. URI has a monster showdown on Dec. 2 against in-state rival Providence and then a few days later plays at Alabama. The chances to make a statement still exist prior to the A-10 season.
3. Seton Hall desperately needed to wake up in the second half against Vanderbilt. The Pirates were in a bit of a funk in the first half, down one to the Commodores. But Desi Rodriguez then busted out for 27 in the win over Vanderbilt. Consolation games in November do matter. Seton Hall needs to beat teams it should at this time of the season. The loss to URI was a matter of not converting in the final few possessions or coming up with a stop. It happens. It’s November. There will be plenty of high-level games in the Big East. The Pirates 1-2 punch of Rodriguez and Angel Delgado is enough to keep this team in the mix and in position to beat any team on their schedule. Rodriguez said after the game that the Pirates talked about how they start off the games slowly but once they pick it up defensively, that gets their offense going. So what makes him so effective offensively? “The way coach (Kevin Willard) plays me through the offense,’’ said Rodriguez. “He trusts me with the ball in my hands a lot. I can be aggressive inside, post-up and get aggressive outside when I have the ball in my hands. I can make smart plays. I’m happy he trusts me with the ball in my hand.’’ Willard said he has 12 plays for Rodriguez — isolations, in the post, pick and roll. “He’s not a one-dimensional player,’’ said Willard. “He’s got the skill set to take advantage of multiple positions on the court and he’s starting to learn how to make plays off that.’’ Willard said he loved the way his team reacted off the loss to URI. So, don’t fret, this team will be just fine.
4. Vanderbilt is in a bridge year situation. The Commodores are loading up in recruiting with commitments from Simi Shittu, Darius Garland and Aaron Neysmith and Notre Dame transfer Matt Ryan, giving them a top 10 class by most reports. Add in 6-10 Yanni Wetzell, a New Zealand native who was a 6-3 tennis player before he grew seven inches, and the Commodores should be set next season. Wetzell looked at Baylor, Purdue and Texas but the word is that he loved the academic fit at Vanderbilt. He would likely be the Commodores top post player — this season. Still, the Commodores ooze positivity on the bench. And this squad can be a spoiler this season, as seen by the near miss to USC when they fell to the Trojans in overtime last week. The bench, the staff, and the players were standing, cheering into the final seconds despite being down by double figures. How far away is this team from a breakthrough win? “The USC game was a heartbreaker, we were right there,’’ Vanderbilt coach Bryce Drew said after the Seton Hall loss. “We’re right there. But our margin of error is really small. We need to shoot well, play much better defense. We’re there but we need a lot of chips to have to happen.’’ The Commodores will get through this season by being a team those in Nashville will love to cheer for because of their effort. Knowing the team could be an SEC title contender in 2018-19 makes it even easier to get on board.
5. Former Valparaiso coach Homer Drew may be one of the kindest gentlemen in the game. He and his wife Janet, who are both cancer survivors, moved to Nashville to be closer to Bryce Drew and his family. Drew is around the Vanderbilt program now quite a bit. He always brings warmth and a smile when he’s around. He’s close to the Bennett family, both Dick and Tony, and loved sharing some time with Tony after Virginia’s title Friday night. The Drews certainly spend time with Scott at Baylor, too. But there is something special to see how invested he is in Bryce’s career at Vandy. Being a sounding board for his son is something you can’t price. Having him around the program to deliver positive energy is immeasurable.