Heat Check: Fire in Morgantown
We’re ten days into the college basketball season, and we know more now than we did before. Let’s react to some players and teams that have been heating up over the past week and a half:
The Mountaineers absolutely dominated the defending champion UConn Huskies en route to winning the Puerto Rico Tip-Off pushing their record to 5-0 and likely into the top 25 when polls come out. Heading into the season, we knew Juwan Staten would continue to score, but we didn’t know who would emerge to help carry the load after a rash of transfers hit the program. Sophomore Devin Williams and senior transfer Jonathan Holton have helped carry the load down low with Williams joining Staten on the All-Tournament team in Puerto Rico, but this team has mostly played a very deep rotation around Staten with nine players averaging between 12 and 25 minutes. The backcourt as expected is comprised primarily of inconsistent newcomers including freshmen Daxter Miles and Jevon Carter along with JC transfers Tarik Phillip and Jaysean Paige, but what’s surprising is that this team is winning primarily with defense. After holding UConn to 3-17 from beyond the arc and forcing 19 turnovers, they look like a legitimate contender in the Big 12.
Heat Score: 9/10
The Hurricanes have almost an entirely new roster this season, and that looks like a good thing as Miami is off to a 5-0 start including a win over the Gators in Gainesville. Their only returning contributors Manu Lecomte and center Tonye Jerkiri combined to average 11.9 PPG last season. Both have been significantly better this year with Lecomte shooting 44% from three, and Jerkiri averaging 11 RPG while anchoring a very thin frontcourt. After sitting out last season, highly touted Big 12 transfers Sheldon McClellan and Angel Rodriguez have been as advertised, and freshmen guard James Palmer and forward Omar Sherman have played some big minutes. While thin, this Miami team absolutely has the talent to make a run at a top 6 finish in the ACC.
Heat Score: 7.5/10
LeDontae Henton is averaging 23.4 PPG and just dropped 38 points on a solid Notre Dame team. 38 points! If Henton feels like he’s been at Providence forever, it’s probably because he’s been averaging over 13 PPG in 34+ minutes for three years running. He looks even better this year as he’s now shooting 43% from beyond the arc. By the way, he only posted a line of 24 points, 10 rebounds and 4 steals in an absolute pasting of Florida State on Saturday as well. Beyond Henton, Kris Dunn and Tyler Harris are big-time players as well with seven-footer Carson Desrosiers anchoring the paint. If Ed Cooley can find some other contributors around those four, Providence absolutely could make a run at the Big East crown.
Heat Score: 7/10
Big 10 Freshmen
D’Angelo Russell looks impressive. Handing a true freshman a big scoring role on a veteran team doesn’t always work out well, but Russell has been as advertised averaging 18 PPG while shooting 52.5% from the floor and 47% from beyond the arc. I know it’s early. I know he had more turnovers than points against Marquette (7-6). I know the scoring has come against some questionable competition. However, to me he’s everything Ohio State was missing off last year’s team and more and raises the ceiling on this Buckeye team significantly. And then there’s James Blackmon Jr. Just when things were looking bleak in Bloomington, Blackmon has arrived on the national scene to the tune of 22.8 PPG including 64% shooting from beyond the arc. Unlike Russell, Blackmon’s best game was against a good SMU team where he dropped 26 points and 7 rebounds on the Mustangs with ZERO turnovers. Oh, by the way, he’s also leading the Hoosiers in rebounding.
Heat Score: Russell – 7/10; Blackmon 9.5/10
What a week for Northeastern! Coming off an 11-21 season, the Huskies knocked off Florida State in Tallahassee, beat Navy soundly, and then hammered a good Manhattan team. Throw in an opening season win over their crosstown rivals at Boston University, and you’ve got the makings of a solid season for the Huskies. I know the Seminoles are down, but going on the road to beat a decent ACC team is no small matter. Lead by effective big man Scott Eatherton, Coach Bill Coen looks to have the Huskies in position to make some noise in the Colonial Athletic this season. They’ll look to stay hot Wednesday against a solid UMass squad.
Heat Score: 7/10, 10/10 if they take down UMass.