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WAC Wednesday: Talking bright spots and bounce backs with Seattle, UTRGV and UMKC

Time to focus on the positives.

NCAA Basketball: Iowa at Wisconsin Mary Langenfeld-USA TODAY Sports

In November, it’s not always about wins and losses.

If it were, you’d find the walls closing in as you descended into hysteria. So starting the season out with a record lopsided toward the right? It’s not the end of the world, especially if there are some positives in the room.

Just ask Jim Hayford, whose Seattle debut was 62-46 loss to a Saint Louis team that has been amassing talent over the past year. He dissected the game in a release.

“We’ll look back at this as a learning experience,” said Head Coach Jim Hayford [in a release after a 62-46 loss]. “Transition defense hurt us in the first half and offensive rebounding hurt us in the second half. But now we’ve all been in the battle together and we’ll grow from this. We’ll regroup, we’ll study film and we’ll get back at it Sunday at home.”

This was a sneakily difficult game for the Redhawks. The Billikens are solid defensively, which was an especially tough opening road assignment for a Seattle team still very much trying to establish offensive roles outside of Matej Kavas (15 points, 6-11 FG against SLU).

That was compounded with Zach Moore’s (10.4 PPG, 37.9 3P%) decision to transfer late in the offseason, which a removed a seasoned scorer and bona fide three-point threat. The silver lining in the SLU loss? Wisconsin grad transfer Jordan Hill — who never had a starring role in Madison — carried the Redhawks in his debut. Not only did he score 20 points, but the 28.0 percent career three-point shooter went three-for-six from deep, showing that he may be able to step into Moore’s role.

As a team, Seattle got a nice chance to immediately build confidence with a 121-70 win over Div. III Puget Sound on Sunday. Two other grad transfers — Josh Hearlihy (23 points, 7 rebounds) and Richaud Gittens (26 points) — got uncorked, though the Redhawks did turn it over 32 times in a game with an absurd 97 possessions.

Does Hayford plan to play that up-tempo this year? That’s a big question heading into Wednesday’s game against Washington State, as is Aaron Menzies. It was good to see the junior center on the floor for at least 19 minutes in both opening weekend games after injury problems last year. And while he did dominate Puget Sound (15 points, 12 rebounds), his dominance in the post didn’t translate against SLU (2 points, 2 rebounds). Production against better teams has been an issue over the talented center’s young career.

But in the hyper-early going, Seattle has seen some bright spots from the experienced players Hayford brought in to make his team competitive right away.

UTRGV and its critical bounce back

For a coach that harped on defense all offseason, Lew Hill couldn’t have been happy on opening night.

His Vaqueros revisited issues that nagged them throughout last season right away. Namely, the opponent scored at will. Nicholls, picked to finish 10th in the Southland, scored 111 points in Edinburg en route to a five-point win.

It wasn’t a particularly efficient night for Nicholls, but it didn’t have to be as they hit 14 three’s and weren’t bothered by the fast pace UTRGV wanted to play. Letting the opposition go bonkers from deep was especially an issue last season for a leaky UTRGV defense, and it reared its head again on opening night.

But after that disappointing setback at home, the Vaqueros righted the ship. UTRGV held Bethune-Cookman to just 31.3 percent from the field in a 92-74 win on Sunday. This included allowing the Wildcats to hit just four of their 20 three-point attempts.

It came against an opponent that KenPom doesn’t rate highly (#341) but it was nonetheless desperately-needed progress. The other bright spot? UTRGV got great performances out of sophomore Xavier McDaniel Jr. (27 points, 13 rebounds against Nicholls) and senior Moe McDonald (17 points against Bethune-Cookman) as the search for a sidekick for Nick Dixon begins.

After the home split, UTRGV travels to face a Texas A&M Corpus-Christi team that most recently pushed Baylor for long stretches.

Hopefully, UMKC is keeping it in perspective

The Roos have not had a particularly fun week. Their opening trip to Wichita State was a giant booby trap, and Kareem Richardson knew it.

Predictably, and understandably, the inexperienced Roos got pasted by what might be the best team in the country at the moment. To put that into context, the Shockers followed it up by similarly blasting a College of Charleston team that figures to be among the best at the mid-major level.

A Tuesday trip to Kansas State still resulted in a loss, but did go a little better, as UMKC defended well early and didn’t quit. The schedule continues to be rough for the Roos, as they face a string of quality mid-majors in Loyola, Manhattan (in a tournament), UT Martin and South Dakota.

Fortunately for Richardson, his young team got an immediate boost by playing NAIA Haskell between the Wichita State and Kansas State games. He talked about the importance of that game, which UMKC won 110-59, before the season.

“We can recalibrate here, and try to tweak some things that we can do before we go to K-State, and be more prepared,” he said.

Sophomore forward Jordan Giles, who played sparingly last season but is now a starter, may have benefited the most. He dominated the Fighting Indians (21 points, 8-12 FG, 5 rebounds) and then followed it up with a solid performance against a Big 12 front court (8 points, 4 rebounds).

If nothing else, the Haskell game let UMKC put a number in the win column amid an unenviable early schedule.