December Highlights

Let’s take a look at some of the teams that dominated the storylines in college basketball in the month of December.

Studs: Duke, Tennessee, Nevada, Florida State

Duke Blue Devils

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SB Nation

The Duke Blue Devils are 11-1 and haven’t lost since they were defeated by Gonzaga in the finals of the Maui Invitational on Thanksgiving Eve. Since then, Duke has taken down the likes of Indiana and #12 Texas Tech. Zion Williamson has emerged as the star of the team, even though it has three other top-tier freshman in RJ Barrett, Cam Reddish, and Tre Jones. Williamson has been an absolute beast and has catapulted the Blue Devils back to the top of the polls. He presents a matchup nightmare for almost every team in the country and has been a monster in all phases of the game. Yes, his dunks are highlight worthy on a nightly basis, but the play of the year thus far may have been that he jumped so high to block a shot against Princeton that he hit his head on the backboard. Williamson is averaging 19.8 points, on 65.2-percent from the field, and 9.4 rebounds per game. His efficiency and athletic prowess have NBA scouts drooling. Halfway through the season, Zion is atop the draft board and most teams tanking want to have a shot at him.

Tennessee Volunteers

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Chicago Tribune

The Tennessee Volunteers are a complete college basketball team and are early season favorites to earn back-to-back regular season SEC titles. Tennessee is experienced and tough at every position. Rick Barnes has a pair of frontcourt bruisers in Admiral Schofield and Grant Williams who are dominating forces that can beat you in the post or from deep. Since their lone loss that came in overtime to then #2 Kansas in the NIT Season Tip-Off, in which Williams fouled out, Tennessee has won six consecutive games, including victories over Gonzaga, Memphis, and Wake Forest. The Volunteers have climbed to #3 in the country. After defeating then #1 Gonzaga, a game in which Schofield tallied 30 points and corralled six rebounds, the senior said that his main reason for coming back to school was to become one of Barnes’ favorite players that he ever coached. That’s what college basketball is about. Schofield is averaging 18.4 points and 6.3 rebounds per game. Although Williams, the reigning SEC Player of the Year that is averaging team-highs of 16.6 points and 8.5 boards, may get all the postseason honors, Schofield is the heart of this team that has its eyes set on something bigger than just a conference title.

Nevada Wolfpack

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Mid-Major Madness

With only one game, at Utah, left on their non-conference schedule, the Nevada Wolfpack are 12-0 and could be flirting with entering the NCAA Tournament as a one-seed with an undefeated record. Road conference games are always tough in any league, but this could be a bad year for the Mountain West which makes the prospect of an unblemished record for Nevada more reasonable. The Wolfpack have risen to #6 in the nation with wins over BYU, Tulsa, UMass, Loyola-Chicago, USC, then #20 Arizona State, Grand Canyon, and South Dakota State. Caleb Martin and Jordan Caroline are leading the team in scoring with 18.8 points per contest apiece. Martin and Caroline also average 5.6 and 9.6 rebounds per game, respectively. Caleb’s twin brother Cody facilitates the offense and has an assist to turnover rate of 3.2:1. Last year, Eric Musselman’s team played Cinderella. This season, Nevada has a target on their back and are poised to make a run even further than they did a year ago.

Florida State Seminoles

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Tomahawk Nation

After a surprise run to the Elite Eight, the Florida State Seminoles carried that momentum into the 2018-19 season and are off to an 11-1 start, with their lone loss coming against Villanova in the championship game of the Advocare Invitational in November. Florida State has wins over Florida, Tulane, UAB, then #19 LSU, then #19 Purdue, UConn, and St. Louis. With their leading returning scorer, Phil Cofer, missing the first nine games of the season, the Seminoles haven’t skipped a beat and sit at #9 in the AP Poll. Terance Mann leads the Seminoles in scoring and rebounding with 12.3 points and 6.8 boards per contest. Florida State may not be getting the attention it deserves with Duke, Virginia, and North Carolina looming at the top of the ACC, but don’t be surprised to see the Seminoles near the top of the conference standings when all is said and done.

Surprises: Texas Tech and Ohio State

These four teams were all expected to be good, but two surprise teams thus far are Texas Tech and Ohio State. The Red Raiders and the Buckeyes were surprise teams a year ago and Chris Beard and Chris Holtmann have their teams shocking the college basketball world yet again in 2018-19.

Texas Tech Red Raiders

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SportsRadio 1340 The Fan

After making it to the Elite eight a season ago, Texas Tech lost their leading scorer Keenan Evans to graduation and second leading scorer, freshman, Zhaire Smith to the NBA Draft. Their top returning scorer, Jarrett Culver, is the key reason why the Red Raiders are #11 in the country. Culver is averaging 19.6 points, 5.7 rebounds, and 4.5 assists. Texas Tech has wins over USC, Nebraska, and Memphis and barely lost to Duke at Madison Square Garden a week ago. The Red Raiders have hopes of ending Kansas’ streak of 14 consecutive Big Twelve regular season titles.

Ohio State Buckeyes

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Eleven Warriors

Ohio State lost do-everything big man Keita Bates-Diop to the NBA Draft and was picked to finish near the bottom of the Big Ten entering this season. The Buckeyes are now 11-1 and have wins over Cincinnati, Creighton, Minnesota, Illinois, and UCLA—with their lone loss coming to Syracuse in the ACC/Big Ten Challenge in November. Kaleb Wesson is averaging 16.4 points and 7.1 rebounds per game to lead Ohio State.

If one thing is for certain it’s that Texas Tech and Ohio State were underrated two years in a row and that Beard and Holtmann are two budding stars in the college basketball coaching circle.

Freshly Squeezed (12/3)

Syracuse Riding a Three-Game Win Streak

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The Edwardsville Intelligencer

Syracuse entered last Wednesday’s tilt with Ohio State in desperate need of a nonconference win over a ranked team on the road. The Orange got exactly what the doctor ordered and pulled off a 72-62 victory over the 16th-ranked Buckeyes in Columbus in the ACC/Big Ten Challenge. Syracuse followed that performance up with a 63-55 win over Cornell in a hotly contested “Battle of the Boeheim’s.”

Ohio State jumped out to an early 9-2 lead by connecting on their first four shot attempts. The Buckeyes cooled off and the Orange tied the game at 17 on a three-pointer by Marek Dolezaj. The teams traded baskets to close the half and Tyus Battle gave Syracuse momentum heading into the break with a spinning layup to pull the Orange to within two points (31-29) at halftime.

Syracuse wasted no time in the second stanza as Oshae Brissett made a layup of the first possession to ignite a 10-2 run to give the Orange a 39-33 lead. Ohio State used a 10-2 run of their own to take a 43-41 lead. Syracuse ripped off an 11-0 run to take a 55-45 lead that they would not relinquish the rest of the way and came away with a much needed 72-62 victory.

The Orange had their best shooting night of the season as they shot 48.9-percent from the field and 45.8-percent from beyond the arc to earn the win. Syracuse’s vaunted 2-3 zone noticeably bothered the Buckeyes throughout the night as Ohio State was held to just 32.6-percent from the field and 27.3-percent from three point land.

Despite battling foul trouble throughout the evening, the Orange were victorious. Syracuse committed 29 fouls in the tightly-called affair and lost three players, Bourama Sidibe, Frank Howard, and Dolezaj, to disqualification. Ohio State finished 26-for-35 from the charity stripe.

The Buckeyes were led by CJ Jackson, who tallied 19 points, on 4-of-14 from the floor, and four rebounds.

Battle paced the Orange attack with 20 points on 6-of-10 shooting. Elijah Hughes poured in 18 points on 6-of-14 from the floor and 4-of-9 from deep. Brissett added 14 points and four rebounds.

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Syracuse University

Coach Boeheim commented on his team’s performance postgame. “Our overall defense was good,” Boeheim said. “We guarded the three-point line better than we have all year. We did a good job inside, but it was Tyus and really Oshae, and Elijah in the second half that made some big plays.”

The ACC/Big Ten Challenge ended in a 7-7 tie.

After their impressive road win over the Buckeyes, Syracuse returned to the Carrier Dome to face the Cornell Big Red in the “Battle of the Boeheim’s” Saturday night. Coach Boeheim, Buddy, and the Orange squared off against Jimmy, the eldest of the Boeheim brothers, and the Big Red.

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Syracuse.com

Syracuse looked to lack the intensity they played with against Ohio State. The Orange took a 33-24 lead into the break and built a 15 point lead (39-24) early in the second half, but Cornell refused to go away. The Big Red went on a 21-8 run to take a 48-47 lead with 7:53 remaining. Battle put the Orange ahead for good with a three-pointer that gave Syracuse a 52-50 lead with 5:51 to go. The Orange escaped the “Battle of the Boeheim’s” with a 63-55 win.

Cornell shot 46.5-percent from the field and drained 9-of-24 of their attempts from downtown to give Syracuse a run for their money. The Orange shot 50-percent from the floor and 8-of-21 from distance.

Defensively, Syracuse forced the Big Red into 14 turnovers.

Matt Morgan, one of the best players in mid-major college basketball, led the way for Cornell. Morgan scored 26 points on 9-of-14 shooting, including 6-of-10 from three-point range. Morgan has now scored in double figures in 59 consecutive contests. Jimmy Boeheim stuffed the stat sheet with nine points, six rebounds, four assists, and a block.

Battle led the way for the Orange as he scored a season-high 26 points on 10-of-17 from the floor, including 4-of-6 from three, and five rebounds. Brissett finished with 19 points and eight boards. Buddy Boeheim joined his older brother on the court and knocked down a three in five minutes off the bench.

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Democrat and Chronicle

Coach Boeheim was not happy with his team’s effort against the Big Red. “There’s a lot of things we’re not doing well,” Boeheim said. “Tyus and Oshae played well enough for us to win. Otherwise there wasn’t a lot of good things. I can’t tell you how disappointing it is. Really bad.”

Syracuse will need to play better on Tuesday when they take on CAA favorite Northeastern.

Player of the Week: Tyus Battle

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The Daily Orange

This week’s player of the week is Tyus Battle. After playing out of position in the first four games while Frank Howard was out due to injury, Battle struggled to play up to his potential. Since Howard returned to the lineup against Colgate last Wednesday, Battle is averaging 23.3 points per game, shooting 64.9-percent from the field and 72.7-percent from three. If Battle continues playing like he has over the last week and a half, he will have a chance to live up to the All-American hype he generated in the preseason. This week, he was honored as the ACC Player of the Week.

Up Next: Northeastern and Georgetown

The Orange are set to enter a stretch in their schedule where they will not play a game away from the Carrier Dome until they travel to face Notre Dame on January 5. Syracuse will return to action on Tuesday when they take on Northeastern at 7pm. The Huskies are 4-4 and are coming off an 81-67 victory over former Syracuse assistant, Rob Murphy, and Eastern Michigan. Northeastern will be very familiar playing against zone. The Huskies are led by Jordan Roland who is averaging 15.9 points per game.

The Orange will host former Big East arch rival Georgetown on Saturday. Tip-off is set for 3:30pm. Second year head coach Patrick Ewing and his Hoyas are 7-1 and are coming off an 88-87 win over Liberty Monday night. Big man Jessie Govan leads the way for Georgetown as he is averaging 19.9 points and 7.3 rebounds per game. The Hoyas have an electric backcourt consisting of freshman guard James Akinjo and Mac McClung. The duo is averaging 21.5 points, 3.9 rebounds, and 6.9 assists per contest. Last year, Syracuse traveled to the nation’s capital and emerged with an 86-79 0vertime victory over their long-time arch rivals. Syracuse and Georgetown in the Dome will certainly not disappoint.

A November to Remember

The college basketball season is off and running. What have we learned so far?

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Moscow-Pullman Daily News

As the calendar turns to December, teams are entering the second month of their seasons looking to take advantage of their last few opportunities to grab wins in the nonconference portion of the schedule before 2019 and conference play commences.

The month of November was a wild one from the tip. From Duke blowing out Kentucky on opening night through Feast Week, we’ve seen some marquee matchups, upsets, surprises, and teams that look like they have a legitimate chance of cutting down the nets in Minneapolis in early April.

The four most impressive teams thus far are Gonzaga, Kansas, Virginia, and Michigan.

Gonzaga Bulldogs

Although Duke came roaring out of the gate, the young Blue Devils got punched in the mouth in the championship game of the Maui Invitational by the Gonzaga Bulldogs. Gonzaga held on to beat Duke 89-87 in college basketball’s most intriguing matchup thus far this season. The Bulldogs ran through the Maui Invitational without forward Killian Tillie, who is out for the foreseeable future with an ankle injury. Mark Few’s team is deep and talented—led by junior Rui Hachimura, who has been a beast. The Japan native has NBA scouts drooling and is averaging 21.9 points and 5.4 rebounds per game. Even without Tillie, Gonzaga is still incredibly deep and talented. Zach Norvell Jr., Brandon Clarke, and Josh Perkins are all averaging double figures. The top ranked Zags still have nonconference games against Creighton, Washington, Tennessee, and North Carolina, but if they can make it through those contests unscathed, they may just be dancing with an unblemished mark in March.

Kansas Jayhawks

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The Edwardsville Intelligencer

The Kansas Jayhawks entered most preseason polls as the number team in the country, but for some reason are now ranked second even though they have yet to lose a game. Duke leapfrogged Kansas after their throttling of Kentucky on opening night in Indianapolis and Gonzaga did the same after beating Duke in Maui. Kansas looks every bit as good as they were expected to be in the preseason. The Jayhawks defeated fifth ranked Tennessee in the NIT Season Tip-Off Tournament championship game in Brooklyn, 87-81 in overtime. After almost not being welcomed back to the roster by Bill Self, Lagerald Vick has played with a chip on his shoulder to begin the season. The senior guard is leading the team in scoring with 19.6 points per game behind 58.3-percent shooting from three point land. Memphis-transfer Dedric Lawson is averaging a double-double, while Udoka Azubuike and Devon Dotson are also averaging double figures in scoring. Prior to entering Big Twelve play in search of their fifteenth consecutive regular season conference title, Kansas has matchups with Stanford, Villanova, and Arizona State. At this rate, it would be pretty shocking if anyone were to derail the Jayhawks hopes of another league title.

Virginia Cavaliers

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SB Nation

After being the first one seed to lose to a sixteen seed in the NCAA Tournament, the Virginia Cavaliers have bounced back with a vengeance to start their 2018-19 campaign. Just as it has been over the course of Tony Bennett’s tenure in Charlottesville, defense has been the key to Virginia’s early success. The fourth ranked Cavaliers are second in defensive efficiency and have held opponents to a mere 52.4 points per game. The main reason why the Hoos were bounced by UMBC in the first round of the “Big Dance” a year ago was that they were without their best player De’Andre Hunter in that game. Hunter is back and is leading the team in points (16.6) and rebounds (6.1) per game. Freshman point guard Kehei Clark has nearly a 3:1 assist to turnover ratio, which has allowed sharp shooters, Ty Jerome and Kyle Guy, to get open looks off the ball. The Cavaliers defeated Wisconsin 53-46 in the championship game of the Battle 4 Atlantis and traveled to College Park to defeat Maryland 76-71 in the ACC/Big Ten Challenge. Virginia has a date at South Carolina on December 19, and it is very likely that they will enter ACC play undefeated. With Hunter being more of a focal point on this year’s team, this may be the year that Bennett finally makes it to the Final Four.

Michigan Wolverines

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Deadspin

The reigning National Runners-Up from Michigan are back and look like one of the most impressive teams in the country. John Beilein’s team has climbed to number seven in the polls behind a tremendous defensive effort. The Wolverines are the top team in defensive efficiency and are hold opponents to just 51 points per contest. Michigan is led by freshman forward Iggy Brazdeikis who is averaging 16.9 points, on 54.9-percent shooting and 38.9-percent from three, and 5.7 rebounds per game. Charles Matthews and Jordan “Swaggy” Poole have chipped in and are averaging 15.4 and 10.1 points per game, respectively. The Wolverines have absolutely dominated their competition, winning by an average margin of 21.7 points on their way to a 7-0 start. Michigan avenged their loss in last year’s National Championship game with a 73-46 whooping of defending National Champion and then number eight Villanova. The Wolverines knocked off Providence, 66-47, in the championship game of the Hall of Fame Tip-Off Tournament. Most recently, Michigan pummeled number eleven North Carolina, 84-67, in front of a raucous home crowd in Ann Arbor in the ACC/Big Ten Challenge. The Wolverines begin Big Ten play this weekend when they battle with number 19 Purdue on Saturday. As it looks right now, Michigan is good enough to be right back where they were last March, with hopes of getting one more win in 2019.

Bracket Busters: Buffalo and Furman

It’s never too early to pay attention to the teams from the one-bid leagues that are making noise in the nonconference portion of the schedule because that could be the difference between winning and losing your office March Madness pool. Two teams to keep an eye on this year are Buffalo and Furman.

Buffalo Bulls

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The Buffalo News

The Buffalo Bulls are no stranger to being “Bracket Busters,” as last year they eliminated number overall pick Deandre Ayton and the Arizona Wildcats in the first round of the NCAA Tournament. Buffalo is off to a 6-0 start this season and have climbed to number 21 in the polls, largely in part to their 99-94 overtime win over then number thirteen West Virginia in Morgantown. Senior guard CJ Massinburg is averaging 20.5 points per game, on 51.9-percent from the field and 51.5-percent from deep, and 7.8 rebounds per game. Massinburg, along with Jayvon Graves, Nick Perkins, and Jeremy Harris, will look to have the Bulls dancing into the second weekend of the NCAA Tournament this year.

Furman Paladins

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Zagsblog

Can you name a school that has beaten half of last year’s Final Four on the road this season? Probably not. The correct answer to that question would be the Furman Paladins. Furman blessed the “Fighting Sister Jeans” with a 60-58 win in Chicago and followed that up with a 76-68 upset of then number eight Villanova. The Paladins of the SoCon are 7-0 and will look to pull off another upset on the road when they take on LSU in Baton Rouge on December 21. Jordan Lyons, Matt Rafferty, and Clay Mounce hope to lead Furman to the “Big Dance” for the first time since 1980.

Keep your eyes glued to the tube as we propel our way through the remainder of the nonconference slate and into conference play in December.

Freshly Squeezed (11/26)

Syracuse Bounces Back with Win over Colgate

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Syracuse University

After falling to UConn and Oregon, Syracuse bounced back to pick up their third win of the season with a 77-56 victory over longtime instate rival Colgate on Thanksgiving Eve at the Carrier Dome. It was the Orange’s 53rd consecutive win over the Raiders—the longest winning streak against an opponent in Division I.

Colgate had Syracuse on their heels early, as the Raiders connected on eight three pointers in the first 20 minutes and trailed the Orange just 35-32 at the break. Colgate continued their hot streak from deep as they sunk three of their first four attempts from distance in the second stanza. With the game tied at 42, Elijah Hughes hit a three to spark a 22-3 run that put Syracuse up for good. Tyus Battle took the game over and scored 10 points over that stretch.

The Orange shot 43.3-percent from the field and 35-percent from three and held the Raiders to 35.3-percent from the floor and 30-percent from beyond the arc. Syracuse also forced Colgate into 16 turnovers.

Will Rayman and Jordan Burns tallied 13 points apiece to lead the Raiders in the losing effort. Rayman grabbed eight rebounds, while Burns dished out five assists.

Battle paced the Orange with 24 points on an efficient 8-of-10 shooting. Hughes and his frontcourt-mate Oshae Brissett poured in 17 points apiece and pulled down six and nine rebounds, respectively. Sophomore center Bourama Sidibe recorded his second career double-double as he finished with 11 points and 10 rebounds. The big man also came away with three steals. Sidibe saw an uptick in his minutes as starting center Paschal Chukwu left the game with a groin strain after playing only four minutes. His status for Wednesday’s game against Ohio State remains uncertain.

The most important takeaway from last Wednesday’s tilt with Colgate was that it was Frank Howard’s first appearance of the season. The senior point guard nailed a trey on his first shot attempt, dished out five assists, and came away with three steals in 19 minutes of action.

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Syracuse.com

Coach Boeheim commented on Howard’s impact in his postgame press conference. “It was good to have Frank (Howard) back,” Boeheim said. “He made a couple really smart plays to start the second half. He got the ball back to Elijah and gave it to Tyus, and we got a couple of threes because of it.”

Hopefully, a week of practice will have Howard fully back in the swing of things when Syracuse travels to Columbus to take on Ohio State on Wednesday.

Player of the Week: Tyus Battle

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Syracuse.com

In a week where the Orange only played one game, Tyus Battle proved to be Syracuse’s player of the week. The junior guard looked much more comfortable with his running mate Frank Howard back in the lineup. Battle was able to play off the ball and act as more of a scorer as opposed to having to run the offense and get others involved as he had in the first four games of the season. He also started to heat up from three against Colgate. Battle connected on all three of his attempts from three point land against the Raiders. He will need to play even better if Syracuse wants to take down the Buckeyes in this week’s ACC/Big Ten Challenge.

Up Next: Ohio State and Cornell

The Orange travel to Columbus to take on the Ohio State Buckeyes in the ACC/Big Ten Challenge on Wednesday night. Tip-off is set for 7:15pm. Ohio State enters the contest undefeated and ranked 16th in the country. The Buckeyes are coming off an 89-62 win over Cleveland State and have also won at Cincinnati and at Creighton. Once again, Chris Holtmann’s team is taking the college basketball world by surprise. Ohio State is led by Kaleb Wesson who is averaging 14.7 points and 5.8 rebounds per game.

After squaring off with the Buckeyes, Syracuse will return to the Carrier Dome to host Cornell. The game will feature Coach Boeheim, his son Buddy, and the Orange against his oldest son Jimmy and the Big Red. Cornell is 3-3 and are coming off a 91-74 loss to UConn. The Big Red are led by one of the best players in mid-major college basketball, Matt Morgan, who is averaging 26.2 points and 7.8 rebounds per game. Jimmy Boeheim is averaging 13.8 points and 4.6 rebounds so far in his sophomore season. Last year, Coach Boeheim and Syracuse defeated Cornell 77-45, but not before Jimmy drained his first career three right in front of his dad’s bench. Buddy will make his debut in the family rivalry Saturday night. Tip-off is set for 8pm.