There was a lot of basketball this holiday weekend. There were football bowl games and NBA games and CUSA got in most of a full slate of league games without a hitch. There were two cancelations — MTSU and FAU, and UNT and UAB — but everyone else got their two games in. The new schedule with back-to-back games scheduled to mitigate the risk of COVID transmission did not result in terrible basketball. For the most part, coaches managed minutes and the youth enabled the teams to play a couple of decent contests.
There is a lot of basketball between now and March, and things will change so we cannot make too many grand declarations on just the first weekend. That said, we did see some things that confirmed recent trends, and so we can be more confident in our assessments. Fear not, if you did not watch all the games. CUSA Report did. Here is what you missed:
WKU vs Charlotte 1-1
WKU 67-63 CLT
WKU 71-75 CLT (OT)
We thought this would be one of the more intriguing matchups between a well-coached team on the come up in Charlotte and the league’s favored and most talented team in WKU. We were not disappointed. The Hilltoppers and Miners played the two best games of the weekend. There was much to like on both ends of the court. The Charlotte pack-line defense (much talked-about) made WKU work for shots in both games. In the 67-63 win on New Years Day for WKU, they had to rely on super-freshman Dayvion McKnight for some huge buckets when the Tops were struggling. Ultimately superior talent and some poor shooting during WKU’s big second-half run ended things for Charlotte. In Saturday’s game, they got timely buckets from a tremendous Jahmir Young — He had 47 points over the two games — and won in OT. Charlotte kept the ball away from Bassey and made WKU work for everything over two games. WKU has a lot of talent and nearly everyone who is going to be asked to contribute made a play over the weekend.
Takeaway: WKU was made better by virtue of having to step up their execution in these two games. They learned how well they’ll need to play if they have dreams of winning the league tournament and beyond. Charlotte has the tools and played really well against the league’s most talented team. The questions there fore are these: 1) Can the 49ers play with this level of quality all season when it is not the WKU squad in front of them? and 2) Can they do this on the road? Defense usually travels so that is a good omen.
Rice vs UTSA 2-0
Rice 95-86 UTSA
Rice 84-69 UTSA
Travis Evee dominated the first game of a back-and-forth affair. We expected these two teams that love to run and gun to do exactly that. Rice put up a lot of points but were helped by UTSA seemingly refusing to make anything difficult on that end. Switching back from the CLT-WKU game to this one was a shock. The Owls pulled away in the first game but dominated the second from start to finish. Before we go and heap mounds of praise on Rice — who again played well — we have to see them do this against a team that is interested in defense.
UTSA has regressed for two seasons and that ‘your-turn, my-turn’ offense for Keaton Wallace and Jhivvan Jackson has plateaued. That there is no defense to speak of devalues the points they do score. We can praise the 86 points they put up against Rice, but they aren’t known for much defense either. Just a bad weekend for a team on the brink of a rebuild.
Takeaway: Rice has supplanted UTSA as the fun run-and-shoot team in this league. Travis Evee was a baller in the first game, and the team was great in the second. UTSA had a second game where neither Wallace or Jackson played well and that was it. It may be time to do some reinvention and get more motion and variety in that. Also defense.
ODU vs FIU 1-1
ODU 67-82 FIU
Old Dominion did not play markedly better on offense in the second game in which they won — but FIU was two different teams. The first game they shot well, scored easily, and jumped out to a big lead. In the second one, Antonio Daye was awful — a game-worst 57 offensive rating — but FIU lost only by five. ODU usually hangs their hat on defense, and over two games they did not overly impress. The offense has always been criticized for not having more than one gear and that is a weakness when they get down, as we saw in the first game.
Takeaway: FIU showed some things in the first game, and even impressed by fighting through some tough shooting struggles from their best player. We cannot say we learned a lot from these two games but a split is fine for both teams.
UTEP 66-74 USM (OT)
UTEP 77-62 USM
If you just like close games and are not super interested in how the points were scored appreciated this two-game series. There is a lot of talent on both sides at various levels of development. That is to say we liked what we saw but it is not nearly polished enough to compete with the top tier of the league. Jaron Pierre, Jr for Southern Miss is a talent, but he was lost in some of the sets. On one possession in the first game he had to be told where and when to cut by his teammate. The possession ended with LaDavius Draine turning the ball over. USM played two bigs1 against the UTEP zone, which was interesting in a throw-back kind of way. Tyler Stevenson played well against UTEP in the first and struggled in the second. If he’s not dunking there is not much else he is doing. He had some touch issues around the rim. UTEP’s Souley Boum is so smooth with the ball and a great shooter. He’s fun to watch. Both he and Jamal Bienemy were much better in the second game. JB got to the rack with ease at times.
Takeaway: There is talent on UTEP but they struggled with some of the athleticism of USM. USM is raw and has the makings of a nice little squad but three is still some stuff to work out. The sets have hesitation and the ball handing gets a little suspect at times. Those kinds of things are taken advantage of by good squads. Is UTEP a good squad? No, not yet. They have some talent but they are still putting things together.
Marshall-La Tech 1-1
Marshall 68-75 La Tech
Marshall 80-73 La TEch
Tech got a nice win in the first matchup essentially without the support of Kalob Ledoux, who had just a point. Kenneth Lofton was great with his 15 points but Tech had contributions from everyone. Five players reached double-digits. Game two saw more of the same early. Marshall was getting roughed up by that Tech defense and settling for jumpers that came late in the offense. Lofton was eating up the interior defense. The second game saw more of the same with Tech up by as many as 17 points in the 2nd half. Marshall came back — not quite a storm, but a steady climb. Big shots and plays from Andew Taylor, Mikel Beyers, Taevion Kinsey, and of course, Jarrod West. West hit two big shots late — a jumper from two for the lead and later a 3-point bomb that captured the lead again.
Tech did not help themselves with their curious shot selection: Isaiah Crawford aired a three? Small Ball when Lofton was excellent at tiring out the Marshall defense/offense? Marshall deserves some credit here of course for their defense forcing bad shots and challenging every pass in the offense.
Takeaway: Both teams can be proud of their performances for stretches of the weekend. Louisiana Tech can say “we messed ourselves up” while Marshall can applaud their comeback. There is a lot to like from both teams. Tech displayed some quality defense in spots. Marshall some clutch shot-making and guts. For the rest of the league there are some obvious weaknesses to take advantage of: Marshall got themselves down 17 and Tech went cold and hurt themselves.
Bonus: North Texas vs Loyola-Chicago
North Texas travelled up north for a non-conference matchup to replace the cancelled UAB games. If you like defense and effort this was a good one for you. For most of the first half nearly all the points were on effort plays and put-backs. The second half saw Loyola-Chicago do more damage from offensive execution and run-outs from NT misses. NT struggled to get anything going and everything was difficult. Javion Hamlet was challenged with every dribble and pass. The NT bread-and-butter: post ups to Simmons and Hamlet pick-and-rolls were taken away.
Takeaway: That defensive effort will do them loads of good in conference play. The offense needs to find something else to make it a little easier — and Javion Hamlet has not entered POY mode yet. That is slightly concerning.
I should write “bigs” as they are 6’8″ but they played like old-school bigs ↩