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TGS HOOPS SPECIAL REPORT...COLLEGE "FADE" AND "SHADE" ALERT!
by Bruce Marshall, Goldsheet.com Editor


We're only two weeks into the college hoops season, but already some "shade" and "fade" candidates have emerged. These trends can change quickly, but as we hit the end of November, the following sides have caught our eye. Select teams are presented in conference order.

AMERICAN: SMU....FADE. Larry Brown's Mustangs have had a tough early slate, but they are also not sneaking up on anybody this season, and the current ineligibility of key F Markus Kennedy has depleted the Ponies' frontline. No covers in first four games vs. spread. TEMPLE...FADE. Still fully respect HC Fran Dunphy, but the Owls had a significant downturn last season, and it might take Dunphy a while to put the pieces back together. Three touted Philly-product transfers have yet to make significant contributions, with Gs Jesse Morgan (UMass) and Devin Coleman (Clemson) yet to gain eligibility and ex-Texas F Jaylen Bond dealing with an ankle injury. Owls shooting only 34.6% from floor through first five games and own just one spread cover (albeit an impressive home win over La Tech), as labored effort vs. supposedly-outmanned Big Five foe Penn on Nov. 25 suggests Temple far from a finished product until further notice.

ATLANTIC 10: GEORGE MASON...FADE. Patriots picked the wrong year to move from the Colonial to the A-10 last season, as most of the GMU teams over the previous decade (many of those coached by Jim Larranaga) would have fared far better than last year's side that skidded to an 11-20 mark, Mason first non-winning campaign in 14 years. Among the current Patriot concerns are lack of three-point shooting (only 27%), and while juco F Shevon Thompson (12 ppg) is adding some pop on the attack end, what HC Paul Hewitt needs is for Thompson or someone else to begin hitting some 3s, as the GMU halfcourt is poorly-spaced without the ability to connect from longer range. Recent last-place finish in the Puerto Rico Tip-Off is a red flag for Patriots. RHODE ISLAND...SHADE. Regional sources had suggested to keep an eye on upgrades from Dan Hurley's Rhody, which returned four starters from last year's team that improved six wins (from 8 to 14) a season ago. A nice addition has been touted frosh G Jared Terrell, a punishing 220-pounder (in the mold of Illinois' Rayvonte Rice) already making significant contributions, scoring 12.7 ppg, and Rams have served notice with home win over Big Ten contender Nebraska. Hurley will be looking for improvement beyond the arc (Rhody just 23% triples first three games), but soph G E.C. Matthews (16.3 ppg) has assumed the go-to scoring role of graduated Xavier Munford. Upcoming Nov. 27 battle vs. Kansas will be next indicator if Rams are for real.

ACC: MIAMI-FLA...SHADE. Jim Larranaga had to limp through last season with a depleted offense after all starters had departed following the Sweet 16 run from the previous year. Now it looks as if Larranaga's re-formulated mix has solved some of those issues, as Texas transfer F Sheldon McClellan (16.7 ppg) provides instant offense, while Kansas State transfer G Angel Rodriguez is hitting 49% beyond the arc thru first six games, all Cane wins. Miami impressively romped through the field in last week's Charleston Classic, and the new Canes are getting more familiar with Larranaga's defensive schemes, including his pet "scramble" deployment. Miami looks prepared to get back to the Dance this season. PITT...FADE. Perhaps the Panthers will eventually round into shape and get Jamie Dixon to his familiar place in the Big Dance come March. But for the moment, the Panthers have an incomplete look, with sr. G Cameron Wright out for a month with foot problems and F Durand Johnson suspended for the season. The Panthers were non-competitive in their Maui Classic semifinal loss vs. San Diego State. NOTRE DAME...SHADE. Though the Irish lost a close one last week to vastly underrated Providence, it looks like HC Mike Brey has the Domers back on the right track. Especially since key PG Jerian Grant (18.4 ppg and 7.2 apg thru two weeks) is back in good graces after last season's academic-related suspension cost him the second half of the 2013-14 campaign. Brey is also receiving plenty of quality minutes from 6-10 jr. Zach Auguste (16.8 ppg), who has evolved into a capable scoring threat in the post (perhaps even more dangerous than the graduated Garrick Sherman) and is shooting a cool 68% from the floor in the early going. FLORIDA STATE...FADE. Very slow break from the gate for Leonard Hamilton's Noles, who have dropped three of four straight up and all four of those vs. the number since an opening win over Manhattan. FSU is not stretching opposing defenses because it hasn't been able to consistently shoot the three-ball with any accuracy (FSU just 25% beyond arc). Hamilton is counting heavily upon 6-4 frosh G Xavier Rathan-Mayes to help jump start the offense, though the young Canadian has been erratic in his early efforts.

BIG EAST: BUTLER...SHADE. It was an odd offseason at Hinkle Fieldhouse, with whispers that something was wrong with HC Brandon Miller, who was not seen much around the basketball facility or on the recruiting circuit. Confirming something was amiss, Miller took a medical leave of absence on October 2, thrusting assistant Chris Holtmann into the interim HC job. While Big East sources say AD Barry Collier will allow Miller to return when able, others believe Holtmann is likely to be the coach moving forward and has this season as an audition to keep the job. So far so good for the Bulldogs, who are running more with Holtmann, allowing 6-6 jr. Kellen Dunham (19 ppg) to do a pretty good Gordon Hayward imitation in the first two weeks of the season. Butler's upset win over North Carolina in the opening round of the Battle 4 Atlantis confirms the early-season ascent. MARQUETTE...FADE. Longtime Mike Krzyzewski disciple Steve Wojciechowski gets a much-anticipated head coaching assignment, which many believe is a test run to see if "Wojo" is really going to be the man to replace Coach K whenever the latter decides to step down. Wojo, however, does not seem to have inherited a full deck from predecessor Buzz Williams (now at VPI) in Milwaukee after the departure of three double-digit scorers from last season's team that slipped to a modest 17-15 SU record after a Sweet 16 run the previous year. A home loss to Nebraska-Omaha and a labored win over NJIT within the last week suggest the Golden Eagles will not be a serious contender in this year's Big East race, as Marquette sorely lacks interior presence and has been badly beaten on the boards in its early games. Touted BYU transfer G Matt Carlino is also hitting just 32% from the floor in the early going.

BIG 12: TCU...SHADE. The Horned Frogs have been lapped by the rest of the Big 12 the past couple of years, but it looks as if Fort Worth is not going to be an easy stop this season for the many power teams in the conference. Especially since TCU will be playing home games this season in the much-cozier Wilkerson-Greines Activity Center, a 4759-seat facility located about 15 minutes from the Frogs' campus due to renovations at Daniel-Meyer Coliseum. Trent Johnson has not been sitting on his hands just collecting another paycheck at TCU, however, working the network to secure several transfers who have made an immediate impact, including ex-UTEP swingman Chris Washburn (a solid defensive presence on the perimeter) and ex-CMU and Pitt PG Trey Ziegler, who provides depth in the backcourt and relief for vastly underrated PG Kyan Anderson. Also in the mix are juco F Kenrich Williams (scored double-digits twice in first four games) plus now-healthy F Devonta Abron (missed all of 2013-14 with Achilles tendon injury). Moreover, injury-plagued 6-9 Amric Fields, who scored 13 ppg a year ago though missing about half of the term due to knee problems, is expected back soon. If Frogs really are improved, there are no soft spots in this year's Big 12. WEST VIRGINIA...SHADE. Quick rebuild job done by Bob Huggins, whose Mountaineers served notice on the rest of the league that they must be reckoned with once more with an impressive win at last week's Puerto Rico Tip-Off, including mild upset over defending national champ UConn in title game. "Huggy" has surrounded key returnees PG Juwan Staten (18.1 ppg LY) and soph PF Devin Williams (238 rebounds as a frosh) with a collection of impactful newcomers, including Fs Jonathan Holton and Elijah Macon, both ineligible last season, and frosh Gs Jevon Carter and Daxton Miles, Jr., plus juco G Jaysean Paige, now part of lineup rotations. WVU now has lots of size and athleticism, plus depth, which allows Huggins to employ full-court pressure tactics (especially disruptive against George Mason and UConn in Puerto Rico) without worry of wearing out his troops.

BIG TEN: MARYLAND...SHADE. Early warning shot fired by conference newcomer Terps in recent Kansas City Tourney when Mark Turgeon's crew handily took care of regional preference Iowa State at the Sprint Center. Significant development in the early weeks has been immediate positive contribution of true frosh PG Melo Trimble, already scoring 15 ppg and more than adequately replacing Seth Allen, whose offseason transfer to Virginia Tech created questions at the point for Turgeon. But with Trimble scoring and effectively getting the ball to explosive 6-5 swingman Dez Wells (16.2 ppg), Maryland has displayed a very sharp offensive edge in the first few weeks of the season. Wells' wrist injury suffered vs. ISU likely keeps him sidelined until near Christimas, though he should be back in the lineup for Big Ten play. Trimble's service abilities have also helped the team hit on nearly 50% of its field goal attempts thus far. Watch these guys. RUTGERS...FADE. While Maryland looks as if it can become an immediate factor in the Big Ten, fellow loop newcomer Rutgers might take a lot of lumps this season. The Scarlet Knights are in year two of a patient rebuild under decorated alum, and former NBA player and assistant, Eddie Jordan, whose modified Princeton offense has proven a bit of an awkward fit in Piscataway. The Scarlet Knights aren't even hitting 40% from the floor in the early stages of the season, and the tougher (much tougher) portion of the slate is still to come. Jordan needs another reliable scoring option (or two) to step forward beyond 5-10 G Myles Mack (15.3 ppg) and active 6-9 PF Kadeem Jack (12 ppg). Remember, this team was only 12-21 (and 5-13 in league play) in the American last season.

IVY: YALE...SHADE. It might not be a one-team race in the Ivies after all, as HC James Jones' Yale is suggesting it can chase Harvard for the automatic Big Dance berth. The same five starters are back for the Eli that advanced to the CIT finale last spring, led by vet inside-outside combo of 6-8 F Justin Sears (17 ppg) and lanky 6-4 PG Javier Duren (14.3 ppg). Close opening loss to Metro-Atlantic contender Quinnipiac no embarrassment, and Bulldogs then rattled off four wins in a row, including success at the recent Kent State tournament when beating the capable host Golden Flashes after a comfy win over improved Missouri Valley rep Southern Illinois.

MOUNTAIN WEST: NEW MEXICO...FADE. The Lobos could be in the process of a steep decline, and the next several weeks could be especially difficult in Albuquerque. Newly-coifed Lobo HC Craig Neal (no more long hair!) has a lot more reloading to do than many figured after UNM disappointed in the recent Charleston Tourney, where it lost 2 of 3. After getting consistent scoring production from the high and low posts the past couple of years, the Lobos now have neither after the departures of key frontliners Cam Bairstow and Alex Kirk. And now Craig Neal's star son Cullen (a sharpshooting soph guard who was scoring team-best 17 ppg) is out until further notice with an ankle injury, forcing a lot of scoring burden upon Aussie pass-first sr. PG Hugh Greenwood (only 33% from floor and 24% beyond arc), who has looked very uncomffortable in new scoring role. Until Cullen Neal returns, and papa Craig finds some inside scoring punch, the Lobos look very vulnerable.

PAC-12: STANFORD...SHADE. Some Pac-12 insiders expected Stanford to perhaps take a step back after HC Johnny Dawkins effectively saved his job with a surprise run to the Sweet 16 last term, when graduated frontliners Dwight Powell and Josh Huestis (both DD scorers) were key components. But early efforts suggest Dawkins won't miss Powell and Huestis too much, as ballyhooed 6-8 frosh F Reid Travis (a Top 50 recruit) has hit the ground running in Palo Alto while 6-11 sr. C Stefan Nastic (15 ppg) has more than doubled his previous scoring average. Still in the mix from the Sweet 16 team are key cogs G Chasson Randle (18 ppg) and swingman Anthony Brown (14 ppg). There doesn't appear to be much downgrade on the Farm. WASHINGTON STATE...FADE. Longtime Oregon HC Ernie Kent returns to the Pac, hired by his former Duck AD, Bill Moos, to resurrect the Coug program that lost momentum under Ken Bone after reaching some unprecedented heights for Tony Bennett a few years earlier. Early indicators suggest the rebuild is going to take a while, as Kent has inherited an incomplete roster with only one true scoring threat, G DeVonte Lacy (19.4 ppg last season), who has been schemed out of the offensive flow by opposing coaches in early action. It's still early, but until another reliable scoring option or two emerges beyond Lacy, and soph PG Que Johnson begins to tap some of his potential, Wazzu is going to be hard-pressed to improve upon its early abysmal shooting numbers (37% from floor and 29% beyond arc).

SEC: TENNESSEE...FADE. This one figured as much, as all but one of the starters (and several key reserves) from last year's Sweet 16 Vol side departed, as did HC Cuonzo Martin (to Cal), who knew a couple of lean years might be on the horizon in Knoxville. New HC Donnie Tyndall, most recently at Southern Miss, would then come under the microscope this fall as the NCAA began poking around the program he left behind in Hattiesburg. The Vols had only played twice as we went to press, and not too much shame in a loss to dangerous VCU, but it would appear as if lone returning starter G Josh Richardson (10.3 ppg in 2013-14) is going to have to handle the bulk of the scoring burden until someone else emerges. A re-tooled roster and an undistinguished and baby-faced frontline spell problems in the SEC. VANDERBILT...SHADE. Such is our respect for HC Kevin Stallings that we would not be surprised to see the Dores make a run at an NCAA bid for the first time in three years. Once a Big Dance regular, Stallings has had to endure unusual personnel issues (especially in the backcourt) the past few years, but appears to have re-stabilized the program behind do-everything 6-10 soph Damian Jones (16 ppg and 8.3 rpg in first four), who appears to be one of the conference's top frontline threats and looks a lot more confident and physically mature after taking some beatings under the boards a year ago. Stallings is also quietly confident that touted frosh Gs Riley LaChance and Wade Baldwin IV (who have both looked good in early action) will provide the needed glue that has been absent from recent Vandy backcourts. The early schedule has not been too demanding, but four wins out of the box suggests that after a brief interlude, the Dores could once again be a factor in the SEC.


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