College Basketball

College basketball: Shaka Smart's return to VCU, Notre Dame's slow start, and injuries galore

There’s a lot going on in the college basketball world, so here are five of the top storylines you should know:

Shaka Smart’s return

Shaka Smart took Texas back to VCU Tuesday night and came away with a 71-67 victory, a warm reception and good feelings about his six seasons, 163 wins and Final Four appearance.

“Going back to VCU definitely evoked a lot of emotions because there are so many great people there that I had the opportunity to be around during my time there,’’ Smart told NCAA.com. “Specifically, seeing a lot of former players (Tuesday night) was very emotional because those guys have grown up so much. But regardless, we tried to make it all about our team and helping our guys be their best. I thought they did a really good job showing poise after VCU made such a great run.’’

Texas was 0 and 11 on true road games last season, so this victory was more than just a homecoming for Smart. It also signaled that the program is ready for prime time and the rigors of the Big 12 road schedule. Texas’ home slate is decidedly more intense with upcoming games against Michigan, Alabama and Kansas, the latter to open the Big 12 season.

Notre Dame’s slow start

Notre Dame has gotten itself into trouble against Wichita State (comeback win), Michigan State (loss), and now Ball State (loss) by starting slow. Notre Dame coach Mike Brey told NCAA.com that the Irish need to get the ball in quicker after a made basket and push the basketball up court. He also was quick to point out that Ball State “is very good.’’

RELATED: Wisconsin-Temple is a key early-season matchup for the Badgers

Ball State has played a tough schedule, going to Dayton, Oklahoma, Oregon, Bucknell, Indiana State, and Notre Dame, winning the last two but falling in other four road games. How Ball State handles the next one — against undefeated Valparaiso Saturday should tell where the Cardinals are right now. Sustaining success, especially after a major upset, tells plenty about a team’s mental toughness.

Syracuse is cleaning the glass

Syracuse coach Jim Boeheim said late Tuesday night that the Orange haven’t rebounded the way they are since the Derrick Coleman era. The Orange dominated the glass against the Huskies, 37-26 and grabbed 14 offensive rebounds.

Oshae Brissett was finished with a double-double with 16 and 10. The Orange got inspired play from Matthew Moyer (18 points) and won’t normally get poor shooting from Frank Howard (1 of 10). But the difference in this game and every game will be if Tyus Battle (20.3 ppg) can remain consistent. He was the toughest matchup for UConn, finishing with 22 points and countering his four turnovers with five steals.

MORE: Villanova basketball proves it’s in elite group after dominating win vs. Gonzaga

UConn’s injury woes

It’s such a shame UConn fans haven’t been able to see a healthy Huskie team the past two seasons. Alterique Gilbert is out again after missing last season. His injured shoulder has sidelined him the past three games. And as coach Kevin Ollie said Tuesday night at MSG, the minutes for Christian Vital, Antwoine Anderson, Jalen Adams and Terry Larrier are all too high. None of them played less than 37 and Adams played all 40.

Now, before everyone says the Huskies are toast due to a 6-3 start and all three losses being to NCAA-resume type teams (Michigan State, Arkansas and Syracuse), remember the remaining schedule. UConn will have opportunities with games at Arizona, at Auburn, home Villanova and two league games against Wichita State, Cincinnati, Temple and UCF and one each against SMU (home) and Houston (road).

BC’s Hawkins out for the year

The timing couldn’t be worse for Boston College to lose its top rebounder Deontae Hawkins (9.1 rpg) a game to a season-ending knee injury. Duke comes calling Saturday in the ACC opener. Jim Christian needs to catch one break, maybe just one, in the hopes of rebuilding the Eagles into a postseason contender (any postseason).

Andy Katz is an NCAA.com correspondent. Katz worked at ESPN for 18 years as a college basketball reporter, host and anchor. Katz has covered every Final Four since 1992, and the sport since 1986 as a freshman at Wisconsin. He is a former president of the United States Basketball Writers Association. Follow him on Twitter at @theandykatz.

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