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Rothstein Files | Devonte Graham picking up where Frank Mason left off

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1. Devonte Graham is picking up where Frank Mason left off

That’s bad news for the rest of the Big 12.

Roughly nine months after his former Kansas backcourt mate won National Player of the Year, Graham is attempting to follow suit.

The former Appalachian State commit is playing the best basketball of his career and is doing so by touching all areas of the box score.

Through seven games, Graham is averaging 18.6 points, 4.6 rebounds, 8.0 assists, and 2.3 steals while shooting 47.3 percent from the field, 92.3 from the free-throw line, and 40.8 from the 3-point line. He’s had 35 points and five assists in each of his last two games.

By comparison, Mason averaged 20.9 points, 4.2 rebounds, and 5.2 assists last season when he was named National Player of the Year.

Bill Self’s squad is 7-0 after Saturday’s win over Syracuse and will next host Washington on Wednesday night.

2. Nevada has multiple opportunities this week to move the needle

Eric Musselman may have pound-for-pound the best mid-major team in college basketball and that could be reiterated this week in a major way.

The Wolf Pack are off to an 8-0 start and have already won four true road games to go along with a seven-point victory over Rhode Island.

Now things go to a different level.

Nevada will play at Texas Tech on Tuesday and then face TCU on Friday night in a neutral site game at the Staples Center.

That’s two more opportunities for this team to build a potential at-large resume for March in case it doesn’t receive an automatic bid by winning the Mountain West Conference Tournament.

How has Musselman turned things around so effectively in Reno?

High-major talent in a mid-major-plus league.

Three of the Wolf Pack’s top four scorers — Kendall Stephens plus Caleb and Cody Martin — began their college careers at high-major programs.

3. Villanova-Gonzaga feels like an Elite Eight game

The Jimmy V Classic at Madison Square Garden has always produced some of college basketball’s best early-season games; this year should be no different.

Tuesday night’s tilt between Villanova and Gonzaga features two programs that have played in at least one of the last two national title games, with the Wildcats winning it all in 2016.

The mark of a truly special program is one that can maintain the same caliber of product while still losing key players on an annual basis; Jay Wright has mastered that over that last half-decade, and now Mark Few is doing the exactly the same thing.

Despite losing Nigel Williams-Goss, Jordan Mathews, Zach Collins, and Przemek Karnowski from last year’s team that came within inches of winning it all, the Bulldogs still look like a Final Four-caliber team out of the gate.

Gonzaga has six different players averaging in double figures and seven players averaging between 9.8 points and 15.9 points.

The World’s Most Famous Arena is in for a heck of a treat on Tuesday night at 7 ET.

This and That

– It’s a shame that the verbal barbs traded between Mick Cronin and J.P. Macura overshadowed one resounding theme from Saturday’s Crosstown Shootout: Xavier looks like a legitimate Final Four contender and has a chance to be the best team that Chris Mack has had as a head coach. Barring an unforeseen loss in the next few weeks, the Musketeers should enter Big East play at 12-1 on Dec. 27. The one tricky non-conference game to keep an eye on for this team until then? Dec. 22 at upstart Northern Iowa.

– Shaka Smart’s trip back to VCU on Tuesday night as the head coach of Texas is one highlight of what should be a terrific week in the sport. Smart led the Rams to the 2011 Final Four and raised the overall level of the program before taking his current post in 2015.

“It’s going to be a highly intense game in a highly emotional atmosphere,” Smart told FanRag Sports. “I obviously know what that place is all about.”

The Longhorns enter the game at 5-2 while Mike Rhoades and VCU are 5-3 following Saturday night’s win over Old Dominion.

– SMU is now 46-7 with Tim Jankovich as its head coach. The Ponies have won 28 straight games at Moody Coliseum following Saturday’s triumph over USC and are 7-2 overall. Next up: Tuesday night at crosstown rival TCU.

– The biggest takeaway from Arizona’s overtime win over UNLV on Saturday night in Las Vegas? The Wildcats are a significantly better offensive team with Deandre Ayton on the floor with a traditional four-man (Keanu Pinder, Ira Lee) versus another 7-footer in Dusan Ristic. Expect this team to continue to trend upward even more when Rawle Alkins returns from injury in a few weeks.

– Bruce Brown is leading Miami in both rebounding (8.6) and assists (5.0) while also averaging 11.7 points, which is second-best on the Hurricanes behind Dewan Huell. The 6-5 sophomore is also shooting 40.9 percent from 3-point range. He shot 34.7 percent last season as a freshman.

– Does Rhode Island have the deepest backcourt in college basketball? It’s a fair question when you consider the fact that the Rams have now beaten both Providence and Seton Hall without E.C. Matthews, the Atlantic 10 Preseason Player of the Year. With Mathews, Jarvis Garrett, Jared Terrell, Jeff Dowtin, Stanford Robinson, and Daron “Fatts” Russell (20 against Providence), Dan Hurley has seven legitimate players to plug into any spot on the floor and seven legitimate guys who can pass, dribble, and shoot. There may not be another program that has as many talented perimeter pieces as the Rams.

– You can’t measure Justin Robinson’s importance to Virginia Tech by a box score. There may be better NBA prospects at point guard in college basketball or better athletes, but not many can run a team the way this kid can. The 6-2 junior is having the same type of impact at the most important position on the floor for Buzz Williams that Junior Cadougan had during Williams’ tenure at Marquette. Robinson has 14 assists in his last two games.

– We’ll find out a lot more about St. John’s this week. The 7-1 Red Storm face WAC favorite Grand Canyon on Tuesday in Phoenix and then take on Arizona State on Friday night at the Staples Center. Chris Mullin’s squad will be hard pressed to get a split if Marcus Lovett (knee sprain) can’t play. The talented lefty missed St. John’s last game against Sacred Heart.

– Tuesday night’s game in Morgantown between West Virginia and Virginia presents a fascinating contrast in styles. The Mountaineers play at a breakneck pace while the Cavaliers do not. Tony Bennett’s squad is averaging only 9.0 turnovers and has surrendered more than 55 points only once in its first eight games.

– What in the world has happened to Saint Louis? After beating Virginia Tech at Madison Square Garden, the Billikens have dropped four straight games, including a pair of buy games to Detroit and Western Michigan followed by a 30-point defeat Saturday at Butler. Yikes!

Jon Rothstein has been a college basketball insider for CBS Sports since 2010 and is the lead college basketball columnist for the FanRag Sports Network. He is also the host of the College Hoops Today Podcast via Compass Media Networks, which is available via iTunes. Rothstein is also a regular in-studio correspondent for both WFAN and CBS Sports Radio. He currently lives in Manhattan.



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