Thursday, December 31, 2015

Three-pointers galore: Georgetown opens conference play with a 70-58 win

                                   Photo Credit: Geno Green

The first game on any team's conference schedule is important, but for the Georgetown Hoyas (8-5, 1-0 BIG EAST), this one was bigger given the depth of the league with four teams ranked in the top 20.

Wednesday night showed the Hoyas' long-range skills as they shot 
10-of-23 (43 percent) from downtown, in a 70-58 win over the DePaul Blue Demons (6-7, 0-1 BIG EAST) at the Allstate Arena.

DePaul coach Dave Leitao gave credit to Georgetown's ability to break down its defensive schemes.

"Statistically, they have a lot of guys that can shoot it and their offense helps them because we have to protect against backdoors and the best way to defend it is to communicate, so you can be a step or two ahead of them, but we were behind instead," Leitao said.

D'Vauntes Smith-Rivera benefited from the scoring with 15 points on 2-of-2 from long range, to go along with five assists.

Despite leading all scorers with 21, Billy Garrett's five turnovers and inability to hit on the front end of 1-and-1 free throws proved costly.

"I don't think Bill played with urgency," Leitao said. 

"Towards the end of the game, he started pushing the ball more and making quicker and sharper decisions and was the only time I thought he played with a sense of urgency. Billy has to play with great confidence and I don't know if he brought his A-game tonight. It showed on the free-throw line and it is an unforgiving league." 

DePaul's free-throw shooting as a whole proved shaky at 13-of-24 (54 percent), compared to Georgetown's 18-of-23 (78 percent).

Letiao knows his team must seize chances in order to close out games in the conference.

"You only get a few of these opportunities and if you don't seize the moment against good teams, then they will make you pay," Leitao said.

Defense played the role of offense in the early part of the first half as the first basket of the game came on a Smith-Rivera jumper to put Georgetown up 2-1 at the 16:17 mark.

The pace began to thicken up as both teams traded baskets and the game would be knotted at 10.

The Hoyas would go on a brief 7-2 run, highlighted by a L.J. Peak triple from the wing as Garrett slipped and gave enough room for the screen from Hayes.

After the media timeout, Garrett would score DePaul's next six points as the game was tied at 18 with a FT split from GU's Kaleb Johnson.

The Hoyas would lead for the rest of the half going into halftime ahead 32-27 on the Blue Demons.

Triples from Marcus Derrickson and Isaac Copeland capped an 8-0 Hoyas run to start the second half and gave them the biggest lead of the game at that point.

Georgetown's stranglehold on DePaul became as big as 15 with a Peak triple at 47-32. 

Make Henry's first points of the game did not come until the 10:40 mark on a split of free throw makes and finished 2-of-4 from the foul line and went 0-for-4 from the field for the Blue Demons.

Georgetown would not look back as DePaul would get no closer than nine points en route to its first victory in conference play this season.

Looking Ahead:

Georgetown returns home to the Verizon Center on Jan. 2 as Marquette (10-3, 0-1 BIG EAST) comes calling for a 4:30 p.m., while DePaul travels to the Prudential Center for an early 10 a.m. tip against Seton Hall (11-2, 1-0 BIG EAST).

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DePaul coach Dave Leitao press conference vs Georgetown

After losing 70-58 in the BIG EAST opener at home to Georgetown on Wednesday night, DePaul coach Dave Leitao addressed the media.

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Wednesday, December 30, 2015

Five players to watch for in Wednesday's Georgetown/DePaul game

                                   Photo Credit: Damon Warren

With BIG EAST conference play kicking off Wednesday night, here are five players who could make an impact in the Georgetown/DePaul game:

1) Georgetown guard D'Vauntes Smith-Rivera:

After taking a pass on the NBA Draft last season, D'Vauntes Smith-Rivera's value to the Georgetown Hoyas has been invaluable thus far.

Smith-Rivera leads the Hoyas in points per game with 15.0, to go along with 3.7 assists.

In Georgetown's 62-59 win at Charlotte on Dec. 22 to snap a two-game losing streak, Smith-Rivera proved to be ineffective at times going 0-for-4 from long range, but managed to finish with 11 points and three steals.

The Hoyas will need more offensive production from the senior guard if they want to knock off DePaul on the road.

2) DePaul guard Billy Garrett Jr:

Billy Garrett bounced back after a sub-par performance against Northwestern on Dec. 19 with a 20 points on 8-of-11 from the field to go along with seven assists in a 82-61 win over then No. 20 George Washington on Dec. 22.

After being swept in the season series last year and dropping four of the last five games against Georgetown, Garrett and DePaul will be out to build a new winning streak.

3) Georgetown forward Isaac Copeland:

As the team's second-leading rebounder at 4.9 per game, Isaac Copeland has been a force up front for the Hoyas.

Copeland's value as a scorer is valued as much as his rebounding with 12.2 PPG and will look to go five straight games in double figures.

Despite starting the season at 7-5, consistency has been the one of the bigger pluses for the Hoyas as L.J. Peak, Smith-Rivera, Marcus Derrickson, Copeland and Bradley Hayes have been used as the same staring lineup all season.

4) DePaul guard Aaron Simpson:

The Blue Demons' product of a balanced attack on offense paid off in the George Washington win last Tuesday as Aaron Simpson finished with 15 points, five rebounds and four assists.

The senior guard has proven to be an alternative option for production as the last three games have been a breakout with 14.7 PPG and an impressive 10-of-21 from three-point range.

5) Georgetown center Bradley Hayes:

After seeing little playing time in the first three seasons. Bradley Hayes is an example of patience paying off as the Hoyas' starting center.

Hayes has excelled and then some, with a team-high 8.3 rebounds this season and produced double-digit boards in four of the last five games.

Game Planner:

Georgetown at DePaul

Time: Wednesday, 8 p.m. CT

TV/Online: FS1/Fox Sports Go

Social Media:

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UIC coach Steve McClain press conference vs Northern Illinois

After dropping to 2-9 in Tuesday night's 70-65 loss to 10-2 Northern Illinois, UIC coach Steve McClain addressed the media afterwards.

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Tuesday, December 29, 2015

The revamped BIG EAST comes full circle as a non-football league

In the third season of the revamped BIG EAST conference, its identity is relevant and similar to the original vision of late commissioner Dave Gavitt, when the league formed as a basketball-only conference in 1979.

With football not being a part of the conference tree since the start of the 2013-14 season, the roots of the 10 BIG EAST teams are traced to major inner cities such as Chicago, New York City, Philadelphia and Washington, D.C.

In Tuesday's BIG EAST teleconference, several coaches shared their thoughts on the overall depth and the importance of being a basketball-only league.

"I really like the way it's set up now. I think it's set up as a basketball loaded conference, which it was originally," St. John's coach Chris Mullin said. 

The 18-game schedule allows the ability for each BIG EAST team to play each opponent home and away. The only other power league that can lay claim to the format is the Big 12.

Mullin also addressed the importance of playing each team twice and how the league can benefit long-term.

"I like the fact that you play each other home and away which should develop some real rivalries," Mullin said. "I think in time, it's going to develop in what Dave Gavitt originally created."

In his second stint as DePaul coach, Dave Leitao never tasted BIG EAST play, given he served his first term when the school played in Conference USA until 2005.

Leitao and the Blue Demons host the Georgetown Hoyas Wednesday in the league opener for both teams and relishes a chance to be a part of a legacy.

"The tradition and the name has meant so much to me, as part of the BIG EAST," Leitao said. "We understand it will be a war [league play] and as competitive as it always been since 1979."

At 10-2 going into conference play at home against Seton Hall Wednesday, Marquette coach Steve Wojciechowski knows each contest could tell its own story.

"Every game will be an incredible battle and our league is as good, if not better than every other league in the country," Wojciechowski said.

No other current BIG EAST coach knows more about the identity of league play than Georgetown's John Thompson III as he grew up with his father John Thompson leading the Hoyas to a national championship in 1984 and three Final Fours in a four-year stretch.

"Our identity has never changed," Thompson III said. "I think the rest of the world is realizing oh wow, they didn't go anywhere."

With four teams ranked in the top 20, the BIG EAST puts itself in the spotlight on New Year's Eve with Xavier/Villanova and Providence/Butler in action.

Only time will tell, but for now, the BIG EAST is back on the national radar in the topic of conversation for the best basketball conference in the country.

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The Geno Green Podcast- Bill Bender

On this edition of the Geno Green Podcast, Bill Bender from The Sporting News comes on to preview the College Football Playoff semifinal games on New Year's Eve.

Also, we talk about whether or not the ratings will be affected by the games being on NYE.

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Monday, December 28, 2015

Genotology for Dec. 28, 2015

                             Photo Credit: Andrew Mascharka

With conference play starting up this week, what better time than now to bring Gerontology back for a second season.

NOTE: SMU is 11-0, but ineligible for this season's NCAA Tournament.

Here is the first mock bracket of the season with some surprises:





Conference Breakdown:

ACC: 9

Pac-12: 7

Big 12: 6

Big Ten: 6

Big East: 6

SEC: 6

American: 2

Atlantic 10: 2


Notre Dame


Ole Miss

Florida State

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Sunday, December 27, 2015

Marquette press conferences vs Presbyterian

After Marquette's 84-66 win over Presbyterian on Sunday, Marquette center Luke Fischer and coach Steve Wojciechowski addressed the media.

Luke Fischer:

Steve Wocjiechowski:

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Marquette wins nine straight games for the first time since the 2011-12 season

                                   Photo Credit: Geno Green
Not since the 2011-12 season when Buzz Williams was the coach,  the Marquette Golden Eagles have experienced a nine-game winning streak.

Sunday's 84-66 win over Presbyterian (5-8) on Sunday at the BMO Harris Bradley Center gave the Golden Eagles exactly that mark as they moved to 10-2 on the season.

Marquette center Luke Fischer relished being a part of something special, but is looking to build the momentum into the start of BIG EAST play.

"It is a great thing and exactly what we need heading into conference play and as long as we keep it going, then we will be alright," Fischer said.

Fischer highlighted one of five Golden Eagles in double figures with 17 points and 14 assists, despite a 1-of-6 start from the field.

"I guess it was the way things were going early and it usually doesn't happen," Fischer said. "You have to move on to the next play and get it over with." 

Marquette coach Steve Wojciechowski took full responsibility for the lackluster start, but knows things must turn around with conference play on the horizon.

"I probably didn't do a good enough job with giving them too much time off and ultimately that is my responsibility. We did not play well in any facet of the game."

Both teams exchanged leads in the first few minutes until Henry Ellenson's layup off a Markus Terry turnover put Marquette ahead 7-6, 3:25 into the game.

With time away for Christmas, Golden Eagles center Luke Fischer admitted to starting out lethargic due to exams and the holiday break.

"Coach [Wojciechowski] has been saying with time off, it broke our streak of doing well in practices and games," Fischer said.

"He's completely right about that and we have to get back on track with the BIG EAST season starting up and there is no doubt we have to get back to the pace we were at before."

Fischer struggled with layups from close range, but managed to make the next four points for the Golden Eagles, all on free throws before coming out of the game as a smaller lineup was inserted as Ellenson shifted to the center position.

The gamble worked as the Golden Eagles' lead ballooned to 19-10 and then went back to a regular lineup.

Haanif Cheatham closed the half for Marquette with the last five points to go into the locker room with a 38-29 lead over Presbyterian and would go on to score 14.

"Haanif has been one of the better freshman in the country and is a key to our team," Wojciechowski said. "That scoring burst was needed and that was good."
The momentum would carry over into the second half for the Golden Eagles as their lead expanded to as many as 17 at 59-42, but the Blue Hose countered with a 9-0 run.

Presbyterian would not get any closer as Marquette pulled away for the 18-point win, its sixth by double-digit win the last seven games.

Looking Ahead:

Marquette kicks off BIG EAST play on Dec. 30 as Seton Hall (10-2) comes to the BMO Harris Bradley Center for a 6 p.m. tip-off, while Presbyterian begins Big South play at Campbell on Jan. 2, 2016 at 6 p.m.

Wojciechowski knows in his second season at Marquette about the grind of playing the conference schedule and can not take any game for granted.

"The BIG EAST is as good of a conference as there is in college basketball," Wojciechowski said. 

"There are no nights off when you are playing in traditional venues where it is a basketball-first conference and is a man's league."

With four BIG EAST teams ranked in the top 25 heading into conference play, Fischer believes the conference has been looked down upon early on this season.

"I thought once again that our conference was underrated going into the year and I think we have turned a lot of heads with how many teams that have been successful," Fischer said. 

"To have all of those teams playing so well, it is also an opportunity for us to show how great we can be."

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Thursday, December 24, 2015

Five BIG EAST freshmen to watch for in conference play

The holiday season hits its peak tomorrow with Christmas Day and that means one thing— conference play in the BIG EAST is right around the corner and begins on Dec. 30.

With non-conference play wrapping up this weekend, here are five freshmen who could have an impact in the BIG EAST.

1) Xavier guard Edmond Sumner:

Off to the best start in school history at 12-0, the Xavier Musketeers have returned a ton of talent, but a diamond in the rough has surfaced in Edmond Sumner.

Summer has emerged as the Musketeers' second leading scorer with 11.7 points per game and tops the team in assists with 3.3 per game. 

The reigning conference freshman of the week has shown the knack to command an offense, while displaying the ability to make shots on the perimeter— a trait in which most freshman guards have a difficult of time balancing transitioning from high school to college.

The redshirt freshman's best game came in Xavier's 78-70 win on the road at Wake Forest, with a game-high 21 points, on 6-of-13 from the field and dished out nine assists.

2) Marquette forward Henry Ellenson:

This one was a little easier to predict with the hype of Henry Ellenson being Marquette coach Steve Wojciechowski's biggest recruit in the off-season.

Thus far, the McDonald's All-American has lived up to the hype of being the ultimate two-way player averaging a near double-double with 16.7 points and 9.4 rebounds per game.

Ellenson's biggest strength thus far has been the ability to run as the point forward of the offense. Sure, he's not flashy, but shows enough to make defenses second-guess whenever he runs the floor and can create on the spot.

While the 6-foot-10 forward's perimeter shooting leaves a lot to be desired at 27 percent this season, the ability to drive to the basket forces defenses to stay honest at all times and can create matchup problems if opponents are not aware of the all-around skill set.

3) Villanova guard Jalen Brunson:

After being named the BIG EAST preseason Rookie of the Year, Jalen Brunson has backed up the high expectations and then some.

Brunson has started all 11 games and is fourth on the Wildcats in scoring with 10.7 points per game.

The biggest strength of the guard's game has been the ability to penetrate and draw fouls as he leads the team in free throw attempts per game at 2.7 (24-of-30 makes).

Expect Brunson to be tested out of the gate as the undefeated Xavier Musketeers come to town on New Year's Eve for a Noon ET showdown.

4) St. John's center Yankuba Sima:

Despite starting the season at 7-6, one of the few bright spots for the St. John's Red Storm has been the emergence of Yankuba Sima.

Sima's only double-double on the season came in a 63-56 win over St. Francis (Brooklyn) on Dec. 6 with 17 points and 10 assists.

A hawk on defense, Sima leads the Red Storm in rebounds with 7.0 per game. 

5) DePaul guard Eli Cain:

Coming into the season flying under the radar, Eli Cain has broken out as the unsung hero for the DePaul Blue Demons.

In DePaul's 82-61 upset of No. 20 George Washington on Dec. 22, Cain scored 16— his second highest total this season, to go along with five rebounds.

Cain has played in all 12 games and averaged 8.8 points per game. 

On Dec. 7, Cain was named the BIG EAST Freshman of the Week with an average of 15.5 PPG and shot 70.6 percent from the field against Illinois-Chicago and Chicago State.

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Wednesday, December 23, 2015

DePaul scores its biggest home win since 2008

                                     Photo Credit: Geno Green

Jan. 3, 2008. Why does the date matter? 

That was the last home victory at the Allstate Arena against a ranked opponent by the DePaul Blue Demons as they defeated the No. 17 Villanova Wildcats.

Fast forward seven-plus years later as DePaul (6-6) managed to secure a home win against a ranked opponent with an 82-61 victory over No. 20 George Washington (10-2) Tuesday night.

Sure, a lot has changed for DePaul within that time period as it has cycled through three coaches and two variations of the BIG EAST Conference.

The Blue Demons have been looking to form their own identity after Dave Leitao returned for a second term as coach back in March.

Tuesday's win represented the first of many hurdles Leitao and DePaul will have to climb in order to be a contender in the BIG EAST down the line, but making a George Washington team look like a shell of itself could be a glimmer of hope.

Patricio Garino, who came into the game as the Colonials' leader in field goal percentage, went 0-of-8 shooting, with all four of his points from the foul line.

Despite not being on the sidelines last season, Leitao knew the impact Garino had in last season's 81-68 loss at George Washington, as he scored a game-hight 19.

"My concern was that he hurt us last year given that him, Larsen, Cavanaugh and McDonald all had big nights," Leitao said. "Our guys stayed in front tonight and didn't allow too many clean drives and when they made extra drives, we were there to stop him."

DePaul led from wire-to-wire and its 10-0 run to start the game made George Washington have to play catch up the rest of the way, but Leitao kept his team aware of what could have been if it lost focus.

"[George Washington] had to play from behind and it was an uphill climb from there," Leitao said. "They are experienced and very talented and waited for them to counter-punch, but we stayed solid for 40 minutes. We made many more winning plays and it was a result of playing and believing in each other."

In that very run, Billy Garrett Jr. scored four points and got his teammates involved and active on offense. After being in foul trouble in the Dec. 19 game against Northwestern and held to seven points on 2-of-10 shooting, Garrett Jr. re-asserted himself into the offense leading all players with 20 points and dishing out seven assists in the win.

"Me and Billy watched the Northwestern film from start to finish and my whole thing with him is that he wants to please everyone and if you are going to be that guy, then you have to please yourself," Leitao said.

"Part of that is taking good shots and knowing that you are good. I thought his performance tonight was a result of being a lot more assertive on the floor."

DePaul neutralized George Washington on the perimeter to a season-low of 14 percent (3-of-21) shooting. 

George Washington coach Mike Lonergan acknowledged the inability of not getting into a consistent rhythm.

"It was a perfect storm," Lonergan said. "DePaul made three pointers, while we played lousy and had no energy, so give credit to Garrett for dominating tonight."

After a week-long layoff, the grind of BIG EAST play will begin for DePaul as it hosts Georgetown on Dec. 30.

With four teams in the conference ranked in the top 20 of the Associated Press poll, Leitao knows his team must play at a high level each night, regardless of the opponent.

"The Georgetown game will be one of many challenges for us and we can't get overjoyed over beating George Washington because we have to go back to work and play the game a certain way," Leitao said.

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George Washington/DePaul press conferences

After DePaul's 82-61 upset of No. 20 George Washington at the Allstate Arena on Tuesday, both teams addressed the media afterwards.

George Washington coach Mike Lonergan:

DePaul guard Billy Garrett Jr.:

DePaul coach Dave Leitao:

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Tuesday, December 22, 2015

Five players to watch for in Tuesday's game between No. 20 George Washington and DePaul

Fresh off an 87-74 win over Saint Peter's on Dec. 19, the No. 20 George Washington Colonials (10-1) look to add another non-conference win against a power opponent as they travel to Rosemont, Ill., to take on the DePaul Blue Demons (5-6).

Here are five players to watch for in Tuesday's game.

1) George Washington forward Tyler Cavanaugh:

Cavanaugh has been the straw to stir the drink for GW's offense this season with a team-leading 16.3 points per game.

To top things off, the redshirt junior is the only player on the Colonials to score in double figures in each game this season.

The Wake Forest transfer led the way with 18 points in a 73-68 upset over then No. 6 Virginia on Nov. 16.

2) George Washington guard/forward Patricio Garino:

Garino has proven to be the ultimate triple threat on offense this season with 13.2 PPG, .533 field goal percentage and .560 from three-point range. 

In last season's 81-68 win over the Blue Demons, Garino led the Colonials with 19 points.

3) DePaul forward Myke Henry:

With Billy Garrett Jr.'s foul trouble and injury woes at certain points this system, Henry has been the one Blue Demon to pick up the slack on offense.

Henry leads the team in scoring with 14.2 PPG and went for a game-high 24 points and grabbed eight rebounds in a 78-70 overtime loss against Northwestern on Dec. 19.

For DePaul to pull the upset, Henry will have to produce on a similar level, especially if Garrett Jr. gets into early foul trouble.

4) DePaul guard Billy Garrett Jr.:

Foul trouble plagued the junior against Northwestern as he could not get into a rhythm going 2-for-10 from the field for seven points in 23 minutes.

Garrett Jr. will be counted on to create opportunities for other DePaul players and avoid foul trouble.

In last season's meeting at George Washington, Garrett Jr. scored 10 and dished out four assists.

5) George Washington forward Kevin Larsen:

In 11 games this season, Larsen has led the Colonials in rebounding with 7.6 per game, while producing 10.1 PPG. 

Larsen scored 18 points in last season's double-digit win against DePaul.

Game Planner:

No. 20 George Washington at DePaul

Time: Tuesday, 8 p.m. CT

TV/Online: FS1/Fox Sports Go

Social Media:

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Saturday, December 19, 2015

At 10-1, Northwestern coach Chris Collins looks to build a foundation

                                   Photo Credit: Geno Green

As members of the Big Ten Conference, most fans would assume the Northwestern Wildcats have been to the NCAA Tournament at least once.

Believe it or not, Northwestern has never made an appearance in the big dance and coach Chris Collins is looking to change the blueprint this season. 

The Wildcats are off to a 10-1 start— its best since the 2011-12 season and with quality wins against Virginia Tech, Missouri and local rival DePaul, things are looking up in Evanston.

Collins admitted that preparation has played a significant part in the early success.

"I feel like our program is in a really great spot with all of the things behind the scenes," Collins said. "These guys will tell you that there is a good vibe right now about what a winning program should look like."

Even in its only loss to then No. 9 North Carolina, 80-69 on Nov. 23, Northwestern has proven that it can throw down with the major schools.

"I said coming into this season that this would be big to win non-league games and to our guys' credit, some nights we have played well and some nights we had to grind it out," Collins said.

Northwestern guard and leading scorer Tre Demps emphasized the little things Collins has instilled on the team that has led to the early success.

"I feel like we are at a great place right now and I think the small victories we had in the off-season like Navy Seals training, guys being more dedicated to getting shots up and those things add up and show on the court," Demps said. "The coaches do an amazing job of pushing us and it has been a great year so far."

In Northwestern's latest win— a 78-70 overtime at DePaul Saturday, the persistence paid off for forward Aaron Faizon as he scored his only baskets on back-to-back three-pointers in the final session after going 0-for-6 in the previous 40 minutes of play.

"If you don't play with confidence, then you should not be out there," Collins said. "Everybody has great confidence in our team with what Aaron can bring and it shows how explosive he can be. [Aaron] was not hitting the whole game and then we go to him in overtime and he hits two huge shots to give us some separation."

Like the 10-1 start in the 2011-12 season, former coach Bill Carmody and the Wildcats stumbled in Big Ten play and failed to make the field of 68. 

Collins reminds his team about fulfilling the entire journey and not going for the flash of the moment.

"The last step though is the hardest step and that is doing it on the floor, Collins said. "You can get all of the small victories behind the scenes, but then the final step is you have to get on the floor and win. It is not about one team being good, but this is a long project for me to build a program that is going to be a good for a long time and to do that, you have to build a foundation and that's what we are trying to build right now."

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Northwestern/DePaul press conferences

After Northwestern's 78-70 win in overtime at DePaul, both teams took to the podium to talk with the media.

Northwestern coach Chris Collins and guard Tre Demps:

DePaul coach Dave Leitao:

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Friday, December 18, 2015

Five players to watch for in Saturday's Northwestern/DePaul game

Northwestern (9-1) and DePaul (5-5) meet Saturday in a local showdown at the Allstate Arena in Rosemont, Ill.

Here are five to players who could make an impact where 11 miles separate the respective schools:

1) Northwestern center Alex Olah:

The senior comes into Saturday's game at DePaul, 18 points shy from becoming the 33rd player in school history to eclipse the 1,000-point mark.

In a 78-48 win against Mississippi Valley State on Dec. 15, Olah notched his second double-double of the season with 21 points and 11 rebounds.

Olah will look to post back-to-back double-doubles for the first time this season against the Blue Demons.

2) Northwestern guard Bryant McIntosh:

McIntosh co-leads the Wildcats in scoring per game with fellow guard Tre Demps (15.6 points).

In nine of his first 10 games this season, McIntosh has managed to finish in double figures nine times, highlighted by a 32-point performance in a 83-80 win in overtime against Columbia on Nov. 20.

3) DePaul guard Billy Garrett Jr:

Despite DePaul's ups and downs in non-conference play thus far, the one constant has been Garrett Jr's play.

Garrett Jr leads the team in points and assists with 14.2 and 3.5 per game, respectively.

In DePaul's 79-60 loss on the road to Stanford on Dec. 15, Garrett Jr scored 15 points, but committed as many turnovers as assists with five.

If the Blue Demons are to stand a chance of hanging around against the Wildcats, Garrett Jr will have to cut down on mistakes.

4) Northwestern guard Tre Demps:

As mentioned earlier, Demps and McIntosh co-lead the Wildcats in points per game with 15.6.

Demps can move into 20th all-time in total points, passing Todd Leslie (1990-94) by scoring at least 12 on Saturday.

Similar to McIntosh, the redshirt senior also has amassed double-digit points in nine of ten games this season, highlighted by a season-high 23-point performance against Chicago State on Dec. 13.

5) DePaul guard Eli Cain:

A player under the radar to watch for is Cain as he has played in all 10 games this season and started in the last eight.

Cain has proven to be a reliable option with four double-doubles in his last five games, highlighted by a career-high 20 points in 28 minutes against Chicago State on Dec. 5.

Game Planner:

Northwestern at DePaul

Time: Saturday, 1 p.m.

TV/Online: FS1/Fox Sports Go

Social Media:

Follow Geno Green on Twitter @GenoSportsguy.

Sunday, December 13, 2015

Little Rock's defense answers the challenge again on the road

                                 Photo Credit: Geno Green

It is not Shakespeare, but more like Rodney Dangerfield as the Little Rock Trojans are fine with playing the underdog role despite moving to 8-0 with a 66-44 win over the DePaul Blue Demons (5-4) at McGrath-Phillips Arena in Chicago, Ill., Saturday.

Little Rock's stifling defense made DePaul unorganized at best, forceing 20 turnovers.

"[DePaul] has such good drivers, so we wanted to put a good emphasis on guarding people with more than one person," Trojans coach Chris Beard said. "We talked a lot this week in practice about DePaul being very talented in all positions, so we didn't think we could guard them one-on-one and really tried to get in the gaps."

Blue Demons coach Dave Leitao offered up a different perspective on the turnovers committed.

"I like stats, but you can look to anything and we tried to drive the basketball without moving the defense and that is why we committed the turnovers," Leitao said.

The Trojans took advantage of the mistakes by converting 27 points off the errors of the Blue Demons.

"The identity of our team on offense is our depth and not really having a starting five," Beard said. 

"We have 12 players that we think can play and can trust at any given time. The many things I learned from coach Knight is the value of the sixth man and we really take the same philosophy with our team. We are playing for each other right now and the unselfishness of our team is something I have enjoyed as a coach."

Little Rock's bench came through with 27 points, compared to DePaul's two.

DePaul's decision-making on offense contributed to Little Rock's ability to force tough shots mostly from the perimeter going 1-for-8. 

With road wins at San Diego State, Tulsa and now DePaul, Little Rock's potential as a Top 25 team could be reached by the start of Sun Belt conference play, if it stays undefeated.

"I don't think we are better than anyone else," Beard said. "I have so much respect for everybody in college basketball and coach Leitao said a few words to me after the game that meant a lot to me and it is just a matter of time until DePaul is back on the map."

However, Beard wants to keep the focus on taking things one game at a time.

"It kind of sounds like a coaching cliche', but is the truth because we talk a lot about the process and we never talk about anything but the next game coming up," Beard said. "I have always thought when you do that, the by-product can be winning and that's what our guys are doing."

As one of eight undefeated teams remaining in Division I play, only time will tell to see whether the Trojans are the real deal.

In the meantime, always approach each game as its own entity and wins will take care itself in the curious case of college hoops.

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Little Rock/DePaul press conferences

After Little Rock moved to 8-0 with a 66-44 road win at DePaul, both coaches addressed the media after the game.

Little Rock coach Chris Beard:

DePaul coach Dave Leitao:

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Saturday, December 12, 2015

An unlikely duo steps up for UIC, but comes up short against Illinois

                                                     Photo Credit: Geno Green

At 1-5 and in desperate need of a win and production on offense, the University of Illinois-Chicago turned to an unlikely source in freshman Dominique Matthews on Saturday against Illinois.

Coming into the game, Matthews averaged 7.0 PPG, good enough for third on the Flames.

Matthews would score 18, but fouled out with 3:49 left and UIC fell to 1-6 in an 83-79 loss to Illinois (6-5) at the United Center in Chicago, Ill.

Dikembe Dixson's emergence in the second half played a major part as he led the Flames in scoring (20) and rebounding (10). 

Despite Matthews' dominant first half and Dixson's double-double, Flames coach Steve McClain knows there is room for more improvement and felt like in his eyes that each player is a freshman, regardless of class.

"They are learning to get more comfortable," McClain said. "They are also learning what our system is and I really have 13 freshmen, so I think they are relaxing by each game and are getting a feel for their teammates. That's why [we] got easier shots today."

Matthews and Dixson's stats reflected McClain's philosophy as they combined for 38 points on 13-of-21 from the field.

After a mistake filled first minute by both teams, Matthews stepped up as if it the last 10 seconds were on the clock in regulation and scored 14 of UIC's first 15 points with ease and a collective swagger.

"As Dikembe would tell you, I am probably as hard on him and [Dominique] right now as you can be because I need them to grow up as freshmen and play like veterans," McClain said. "I thought [Dominique] came out and relaxed. I thought he didn't force anything and got into a rhythm. That's a maturity builder for our team."

The bigger takeaway from Matthews' performance was starting off 5-of-5 shooting, highlighted a couple of long-range makes.

The Illini eventually tightened their defense in the latter stages of the first half with Matthews being the only option on offense at the time with 16 of the 17 points, either scoring or assisting. Illinois' leading scorer Kendrick Nunn's length gave Matthews problems off the ball as a result.

The Flames' inability to find another scorer proved costly as their lead of seven points would turn into a 12-point deficit towards the end of the first half.

Down 41-30 at the end of the first half, UIC knew it would need another player other than Matthews to step up.

The turning point came as Matthews committed his fourth foul at the 18:13 mark and was benched as a result and UIC went on a 14-0 run in the process with Dixson as the catalyst on offense.

Dixson would lead the Flames to a 14-0 run with nine points during the stretch. 

Matthews would return with 4:09 left in the game. However, 20 seconds later and the game tied at 66, the freshman committed his fifth foul and was disqualified as a result.

The Flames would not gain the lead again after Matthews' fifth foul and would go on to lose by four points.

As the old saying goes, Rome was not built in overnight and for UIC, the same applies and the process will be long and grueling in order for results to show once Horizon League begins on Jan. 2 at Valparaiso.

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Illinois-UIC press conferences

                                                      Photo Credit: Geno Green

After Illinois' 83-79 win over Illinois-Chicago at the United Center on Saturday, both coaches and players addressed the media.

Illinois press conference:

UIC press conference:

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Friday, December 11, 2015

Five players to watch for in Saturday's UIC/Illinois game

                                     Photo Credit: Damon Warren

On Saturday, the University of Illinois-Chicago Flames and the Illinois Fighting Illini will meet for the third time in six seasons at the United Center.

Here are five players to watch for in this in-state showdown:

1) Illinois forward Kendrick Nunn:

After missing the first five games due to a thumb injury, Nunn has responded as the Fighting Illini's top scorer with an average of 21.0 points per game.

In Illinois' 69-65 win over Yale on Dec. 9, Nunn scored a career-high 28 on 9-of-16 shooting from the field and six makes from three-point range.

Nunn will look to go for a third straight game of 20 or more points in Saturday's game against Illinois-Chicago at the United Center.

The Fighting Illini have benefited from Nunn's return going 3-2 since and stand at 5-5.

2) Illinois guard Malcolm Hill:

In a season filled with injuries across the board for Illinois, Hill has been the only player to start all 10 games.

Hill is second on the team in scoring with 16.6 PPG and leads the Fighting Illini in assists with 4.2 per game, which ranks tenth in the Big Ten Conference.

3) Illinois forward Michael Finke:

Looking to fill the void of injured center Mike Thorne, Jr (torn meniscus), Finke will be counted on to play major minutes Saturday.

If the last four games are any indication, Finke could make a bigger impact than expected. 

Finke has averaged 12.0 points per game and with a shooting percentage of 67. 9 (19-28) in that span.

4) UIC forward Dikembe Dixson:

Despite a 1-5 start this season, Dixson has been one of the few bright spots for the Flames.

The freshman ranks seventh in the Horizon League and leads the team in rebounds with 6.5 per game.

5) UIC forward Najeal Young:

If Illinois-Chicago expects to pull an upset at the United Center, then its bench must show up.

Young will be counted on to provide some energy off as he leads the Flames bench in scoring (6.2) and rebounding (5.0) per game.

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Wednesday, December 9, 2015

Reflecting back on the ESPN New Year's Six announcing pairings

Back in August, I decided to spice things up and predict the announcers for the New Year's Six games that would take place on New Year's Eve and New Year's Day.

With Tuesday's announcement via ESPN MediaZone of the commentary teams for each of the six games, what better time than now to see how accurate my predictions were back then, compared to now:

New Year's Eve Games:

Peach Bowl Original Prediction: Joe Tessitore/Jesse Palmer/David Pollack

Actual Announcers: Dave Pasch/Brian Griese- 0 of 1

I will admit this grouping was a long-shot given the shrewd prediction of Palmer doing two major bowl games within a 28-hour stretch being a bit unrealistic.

Coupled with Tessitore's schedule being hectic, at best each week, calling Thursday night games on ESPN, hosting SEC Network's SEC Nation on-site each Saturday and flying out to ESPN's Bristol campus that night to host College Football Final with analyst Joey Galloway, this grouping while good, did not have the opportunity to call enough big games.

Pasch and Griese get a chance to call another New Year's Six game together with the Group of Five representative and American champions Houston Cougars and the Florida State Seminoles of the ACC playing in Atlanta.

This should be a good game to watch as the appetizer before the two main entrees are served later in the day with Orange and Cotton Bowls as the semifinals.

Orange Bowl Original Prediction: Brad Nessler/Todd Blackledge

Actual Announcers: Nessler/Blackledge- 1 of 2

This pairing was a no-brainer for the College Football Playoff semifinals, but it became a matter of which bowl they would cover.

I correctly predicted Nessler and Blackledge's assignment in the Orange Bowl with the No. 4 Oklahoma Sooners and the No. 1 Clemson Tigers meeting in the first semifinal game. 

In their seventh season, Nessler and Blackledge have proven to be one of ESPN/ABC's longest-tenured teams and should have a great call on New Year's Eve.

Cotton Bowl Original Prediction: Chris Fowler/ Kirk Herbstreit

Actual Announcers: Fowler/Herbstreit- 2 of 3

Given that the CFP committee decided to put this year's semifinal games on NYE, it would make more sense to have the stronger of the two games on last.

What better way to close out 2015 than with an epic confrontation between the No. 3 Michigan State Spartans and the No. 2 Alabama Crimson Tide.

New Year's Day Games:

Fiesta Bowl Original Prediction: Sean McDonough/Chris Spielman

Actual Announcers: McDonough/Spielman- 3 of 4

This very team covered the same bowl last season and it is a no-brainer to have them back on board.

Plus, you get the benefit of sideline analyst Todd McShay on your HDTV. 


Rose Bowl Original Prediction: Brent Musburger/Jesse Palmer

Actual Announcers: Musburger/Palmer- 4 of 5

The Rose Bowl Game gets its wish by keeping this prestigious contest on Jan. 1, but given that the semifinal games will have been played the night before, it makes sense to bring Musburger back to Pasadena after a one-year hiatus.

Next to the legendary Keith Jackson, when you think of the Rose Bowl, Musburger comes to mind. 

This SEC Network tandem of Musburger and Palmer will get the chance to call the biggest bowl game outside of the CFP Final Four in terms of rankings as No. 6 Stanford and No. 5 Iowa will square off in Pasadena.

Sugar Bowl Original Prediction: Dave Pasch/Brian Griese

Actual Announcers: Bob Wischusen/Brock Huard- 4 of 6

I will admit that I was completely off-base on this prediction, but the duo of Wischusen and Huard deserve the opportunity to call the Sugar Bowl with Oklahoma State out of the Big 12 and Ole Miss out of the SEC.

This game has the potential of both offenses putting up points all night long.

Also, it is New Orleans and New Year's night— two things that can not be beat for college football fans.

4 of 6 is not too shabby given the unpredictability of what teams would be slotted into the six games in a 36-hour span.

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