After going 2-0 to start off the season, the Syracuse Orange dropped both games in the 2K Empire Classic at Madison Square Garden last week.
Syracuse fell to former Big East rival, UConn, 83-76 in Thursday night’s first round matchup. The Huskies jumped on the Orange right away and got out to a 13-4 lead. UConn’s defensive pressure had Syracuse’s freshman point guard Jalen Carey noticeably rattled in the early going, but Carey responded and helped pull the Orange to within six at the break. Syracuse rallied to within four (70-66), but back-to-back threes by Alterique Gilbert and Tyler Polley helped UConn pull away and preserve the victory.
Coach Boeheim was disappointed with his team’s effort against the Huskies. Boeheim pointed to his team’s lack of consistency on the offensive end and questioned his team’s hustle, specifically in regards to the rebounding disparity. UConn outrebounded Syracuse 46-32. The key for the Huskies was their efficiency from three. UConn shot a blistering 57.1-percent (12-of-21) from distance. The Orange, however, connected on just 6-of-22 (27.3-percent) of their attempts from beyond the arc.
Jalen Carey paced the Orange with a career-high 26 points, on 9-of-14 from the field, and seven rebounds. Tyus Battle finished with 16 points, on 7-of-17 shooting, and four assists. Elijah Hughes added 15 points on 5-of-14 from the floor. Oshae Brissett scored nine points and corralled five rebounds, but struggled from the floor, shooting only 3-for-12.
Fifteenth ranked Syracuse was joined in Friday’s consolation game by the thirteenth ranked Oregon Ducks, who lost in the first round to Iowa, 77-69. The Orange had no answer for five-star recruit Bol Bol, who completely dominated the interior. The big man stuffed the stat sheet with 26 points, nine boards, four blocks, and three steals as the Ducks won 80-65. Syracuse suffered from another dreadful shooting performance as they shot just 35.3-percent from the field, including 17.9-percent from three point land. Oregon shot 50-percent from the field and 35-percent from long range in the victory. In a game where the shots weren’t falling, Syracuse also failed to take care of the ball. The Ducks forced Syracuse into 17 turnovers. The Ducks also outrebounded the Orange 35-28.
Syracuse was led by Battle who tallied 17 points in the losing effort. Hughes and Carey scored 14 points apiece and came away with five and three steals, respectively. Brissett struggled from the field for a second consecutive night. The sophomore forward scored 11 points on 2-of-12 from the field and 1-of-9 from three, grabbed six boards, and dished out four assists.
The showing in the Garden showed that Syracuse has a ton of work to do if they are going to live up to the preseason hype they generated in the offseason. The Orange are in desperate need of efficient shooting and an experienced point guard to lead the offense. Frank Howard practiced last week, but was in street clothes on the bench at the 2K Classic. Syracuse faces Colgate this Wednesday, but would hope to have Howard back in the lineup when they face Ohio State in the ACC/Big Ten Challenge on November 28.
Although it is easy to identify Syracuse’s offensive inefficiencies, the defense gave up 80 points in back-to-back games for the first time since February of 2017. It will be interesting to see if Coach Boeheim reverts back to the lineup that got the Orange to the Sweet Sixteen a year ago to string together some stops when Howard returns to health.
The Iowa Hawkeyes took home the 2K Empire Classic trophy with a 91-72 victory over UConn in Friday’s championship game. Luka Garza (Iowa) was awarded MVP honors, while Tyler Cook (Iowa), Eric Cobb (UConn), Bol, and Carey joined him on the All-Tournament team.
Player of the Week: Jalen Carey
Aside from the first few minutes of the UConn game, Jalen Carey was the clear bright spot for Syracuse in New York City. The freshman from Harlem looked to be right at home on the big stage as he averaged 20 points, on 54.2-percent shooting, and five rebounds in two games last week. Carey only turned the ball over three times after the first half against the Huskies. The diaper-dandy was able to create his own shot, but only finished with one assist in the two games in the 2K Empire Classic. His performance earned him a spot on the All-Tournament team and ACC Freshman of the Week accolades. With Howard’s return, Carey’s performance could have us see more of a three guard lineup from the Orange.
Up Next: Colgate Raiders
Syracuse will look to get back on track when they return to the Carrier Dome to host Colgate on Wednesday at 7pm. Jordan Burns leads the Raiders, who are off to a 3-1 start. The sophomore guard is averaging 18 points and five assists per contest. Last year, the Orange defeated the Raiders 72-58.
Syracuse tipped off its 2018-19 campaign with victories over Eastern Washington and Morehead State last week. As opposed to last season, there is a renewed buzz around the program heading into Coach Boeheim’s 43rd season on SU Hill. The Orange return all five starters from a team that advanced to the Sweet Sixteen in March. In addition, Syracuse brings in a class of newcomers that are ready to make an impact right away.
Our first glimpse of the Orange came Tuesday night when they took down the Eastern Washington Eagles 66-34 in the Carrier Dome. Syracuse’s vaunted 2-3 zone held Eastern Washington to a mere 10 points in the first half and made it tough for the Eagles to get back in the game the rest of the way. The zone held Eastern Washington to 22-percent shooting and forced the Eagles into 19 turnovers. The key reason for the hype surrounding the Orange this year was a hope that greater depth and better shooters would bolster their offensive attack this season. Syracuse shot just 38.7-percent from the field and 17.6-percent from three on opening night. The Orange were paced by Oshae Brissett’s 20 points, 8 rebounds, and 3 steals in the victory.
Syracuse returned to the Carrier Dome on Saturday evening when they defeated the Morehead State Eagles 84-70 in the second game of the season. The Orange jumped out to an early 25-11 lead before Morehead State outscored them 19-11 to close the half. Clinging to a six point lead at the break, Syracuse traded baskets with the Eagles to begin the second stanza. The Orange pulled away with a 12-0 run to create a deficit that would be insurmountable for Morehead State to comeback from. Syracuse was more successful the second time out, as they connected on 41.2-percent of their attempts from the field. The Orange continued to struggle from beyond the arc as they were only 3-of-16 (18.8-percent) Saturday night. Tyus Battle led the way for Syracuse. The junior guard poured in 23 points on 7-of-15 shooting, collected three rebounds, and dished out three assists in the win. East Carolina transfer Elijah Hughes finished with 21 points, on 7-of-15 from the field, and eight boards. Brissett and senior center Paschal Chukwu both notched double-doubles as Brissett tallied 17 points and collected 12 rebounds, while Chukwu added 14 points and 10 boards. Coach Boeheim commented that the first two games were good learning experiences and that they gave his guys a lot to work on moving forward.
The missing ingredient at this point in the season is production from the point guard position. Frank Howard, Jalen Carey, and Howard Washington are all still recovering from injuries that have caused Battle to play out of position and Buddy Boeheim to step into a starting role in the first two games of his college career. The Orange turned the ball over 24 times in their first two games and would prefer to have their senior leader, Howard, back sooner rather than later. Carey has not adjusted to the college game yet and missed valuable practice time after spraining his ankle in the Orange vs. White scrimmage in October. Washington played seven minutes in the opener against Eastern Washington, but did not see action against Morehead State on Saturday. Washington is recovering from a torn ACL which he suffered in practice in January.
I would like to see Marek Dolezaj get more involved offensively. The do-everything Slovakian forward showed glimpses of what he can be on the offensive end with 20 points against Wake Forest in the ACC Tournament and 17 points versus TCU in the NCAA Tournament his freshman year. Dolezaj is arguably the best passer on the roster, but he needs to make opponents respect his shooting ability. Dolezaj has made all four of his attempts from the field so far this season, but only took one shot (a dunk) against Morehead State. He made only two three pointers last season, but made one against Eastern Washington. It is rumored that he has been working on his stroke from three and it would be a tremendous lift for the Orange if we could see that in games. Get Dolezaj the ball!
Player of the Week: Oshae Brissett
This week’s player of the week for Syracuse is sophomore forward Oshae Brissett. Brissett is averaging a double-double with 18.5 points and 10.5 rebounds per game, good for the team lead in both categories. He also leads the team in steals with 2.5 thefts per contest. If Brissett is the best player on the Orange, there is no telling where the team can go this season. Although he missed a few layups Saturday night, Brissett is at his best when he takes it to the hoop. Add in a few more three pointers and Brissett will be among the class of the ACC.
Up next: UConn and Oregon/Iowa
Syracuse will face UConn in the 2K Empire Classic Thursday at Madison Square Garden Thursday at 7pm. The Orange will take on either the winner or loser of Oregon/Iowa Friday night in the championship or consolation game.
The UConn Huskies are 2-0 under first year head coach Dan Hurley. UConn is led by senior guard Jalen Adams who is averaging 18 points and 2.5 assists per game. The Huskies are looking to rebound from Kevin Ollie’s final year in Storrs where they went 14-18 overall and finished eighth in the American Athletic Conference with a record of 7-11. Last year, the Orange defeated the Huskies 72-63 at MSG. If one thing for sure, Syracuse versus UConn at the Garden is always a hotly contested matchup and is one of the most electric scenes in college basketball.
Oregon enters the 2K Empire Classic with a record of 2-0 and is ranked 13th in the country. The Ducks are led by five-star freshman Bol Bol who is averaging 17.5 points, 12 rebounds, and 3.5 blocks per contest.
Fran McCaffery’s Iowa Hawkeyes will enter the Garden with a record of 2-0. The Hawkeyes are led by junior forward Tyler Cook who is averaging 14.5 points, seven boards, and three assists per game.
The Orange will head to Madison Square Garden determined to remain undefeated and bring a trophy back to the Melo Center.
It is the first week of fall. The leaves are beginning to change and its getting cooler outside across the country. Yesterday, college teams reported for their first official practice day of the 2018-19 season. Over the summer the NCAA made feeble efforts to address the issues responsible for the ongoing FBI investigation, but alas they seem like they will do little to change the overall state of college basketball. Although there is still over a month to go before the season starts, it is time to take a look at who will be the major players in the college basketball scene this season. For the most part, we’ll see the usual suspects, but it is always fun to look forward to the coming season.
1.) Kentucky Wildcats
John Calipari brings in another top recruiting class to Lexington this season. The difference between last year’s team, which struggled to gel as a unit, and this group of young stars is that this year the Wildcats will have a nucleus of veterans to build around. PJ Washington returns after testing the NBA Draft waters and will look to contend for SEC Player of the Year. Additionally, Calipari landed Reid Travis, the most coveted graduate transfer in this year’s class from Stanford where he was a First-Team Pac-12 performer. Washington and Travis will be joined by the freshman class of EJ Montgomery, Tyler Herro, Keldon Johnson, Immanuel Quickly, and Ashton Hagans. The best Kentucky teams in years past have had a lethal combination of youth and experience. Expect this team to follow suit and have a chance to cut down the nets in April.
2.) Kansas Jayhawks
Bill Self’s group will have a chance to win its 15th consecutive Big 12 regular season title this year. Kansas will have one of the most talented teams in the country. Udoka Azubuike and Lagerald Vick are two key returning players from last year’s team that made a run to the Final Four. Freshman Quentin Grimes will take the reins at point guard and will be joined by Memphis transfers Dedric and KJ Lawson. This could be the Jayhawks best team since the squad that won it all in 2008.
3.) Duke Blue Devils
The Duke Blue Devils will struggle to replace its entire starting lineup from a year ago. Yeah right. Coach K reloads his roster with the top three recruits in the Class of 2018: RJ Barrett, Cam Reddish, and Zion Williamson, and Tyus Jones’ brother, Tre, who will man the point. It may take some time for the Blue Devils to find some chemistry, but this team feels eerily similar to the 2015 National Championship team.
4.) Gonzaga Bulldogs
Last year, the Gonzaga Bulldogs looked well on their way to a second straight Final Four appearance until Killian Tillie sustained a hip injury and they were bounced by Florida State in the Sweet Sixteen. A healthy Tillie and an All-American/potential NBA First Round Draft pick in Rui Hachimura will make Gonzaga the class of the WCC yet again and have them in position for a one seed and a chance at a second trip to the Final Four in three years.
5.) Nevada Wolfpack
After back-to-back NCAA Tournament appearances and a run to the Sweet Sixteen last season, Eric Musselman’s team will not be flying under the radar this year. Nevada will be one of the best teams in the country this season as the Martin twins (Caleb and Cody) decided to return for their senior season after testing the NBA Draft process in the spring. In addition, Jordan Caroline returns and the Wolfpack will have the services of Jordan Brown, a McDonald’s All-American from the Class of 2018. The next step in their rise to prominence will be a trip to Minneapolis.
6.) Tennessee Volunteers
After a surprising season in which Tennessee was picked to finished last in the SEC, the Volunteers won the SEC regular season championship. SEC Player of the Year Grant Williams and Admiral Schofield will look to avenge a loss to Loyola-Chicago in the Round of 32 and get Rick Barnes to the Final Four.
7.) Virginia Cavaliers
The 2017-18 season for the Virginia Cavaliers came to a screeching halt when they became the first one seed in the history of the NCAA Tournament to a sixteen seed when they lost to UMBC in March. Tony Bennett will look to turn the tide against his woeful NCAA Tournament performances in the past and lead his team to success in the “Big Dance” in 2019. The Cavaliers return Kyle Guy, Ty Jerome, and the ACC’s Sixth Man of the Year, De’Andre Hunter, a likely first round pick in the 2019 NBA Draft who was sorely missed in their excruciating loss to the Retrievers.
8.) North Carolina Tar Heels
After losing in the second round to Texas A&M in the NCAA Tournament and losing the veteran backcourt of Joel Berry and Theo Pinson, Roy Williams will look to bounce back with a combination of youth, experience and aim for Tournament success in 2019. Nassir Little and Coby White join the Tar Heels as highly touted recruits, while Cameron Johnson and potential National Player of the Year candidate Luke Maye will return to Chapel Hill and look to get back to the Final Four for the third time in four years.
9.) Michigan State Spartans
Amid scandal, Tom Izzo led Michigan State to a 30-5 record in 2017-18 before being stunned by Syracuse in the second round of the NCAA Tournament. Cassius Winston and Nick Ward will look to step up and fill the void left by the departures of Miles Bridges and Jaren Jackson Jr. to the NBA.
10.) Villanova Wildcats
The defending National Champion Villanova Wildcats round out the preseason top ten. Jay Wright lost National Player of the Year Jalen Brunson, Big East Tournament MVP Mikal Bridges, Final Four Most Valuable Player Donte DiVincenzo, and Omari Spellman to the NBA Draft. The Wildcats return Eric Paschall and Phil Booth and add a recruiting class of Jahvon Quinerly, Brandon Slater, Cole Swider, and Albany transfer Joe Cremo. Villanova should still win the Big East, but has a lot of work to do if they plan to celebrate a National Championship for the third time in four years.
11.) West Virginia Mountaineers
Bob Huggins will be without the services of do-it-all guard Jevon Carter due to graduation this season, but the nation’s best shot blocker, Sagaba Konate, and Esa Ahmad will look to lead the Mountaineers as they try to dethrone Kansas for the top spot in the Big 12.
12.) Auburn Tigers
A veteran backcourt of Bryce Brown, Jared Harper, and DeSean Murray will look to follow-up last year’s surprise result and get Bruce Pearl deep into March.
13.) Kansas State Wildcats
Kansas State advanced to the Elite Eight last year with a late season surge despite playing without their best player, Dean Wade. Wade returns from injury and the Wildcats will look to contest atop the Big 12 and make another deep run through the NCAA Tournament Bracket.
14.) Virginia Tech Hokies
Despite being bounced in the first round of the “Big Dance” by Alabama, Virginia Tech returns deep core of talent from a team that raised havoc in the ACC, taking down North Carolina, Duke, and Virginia a year ago. Look for Nickeil Alexander-Walker to make a big jump from his freshman to sophomore year.
15.) Syracuse Orange
After making the NCAA Tournament as the last team in, the Orange rattled off three wins over Arizona State, TCU, and Michigan State before losing to Duke in the Sweet Sixteen. Syracuse is in a similar situation as they were entering the 2016 season, where a deep run in March fueled high expectations for the 2017 team. The Orange return all five starters, Frank Howard, Tyus Battle, Oshae Brissett, Marek Dolezaj, and Paschal Chukwu. Jalen Carey, Buddy Boeheim, Robert Braswell, and East Carolina transfer Elijah Hughes have been added to the roster to bring some needed depth and shooting to Central New York.
16.) Oregon Ducks
The Oregon Ducks advanced to the Final Four for the first time in eight decades in 2017, but failed to make the “Big Dance” in 2018. Peyton Pritchard returns to Eugene to join a group of highly touted recruits, including Bol Bol, son of Manute Bol, and Louis King. The Ducks are early favorites to win the Pac-12.
17.) TCU Horned Frogs
TCU returned to the NCAA Tournament for the first time in two decades last season. With Victor Brodziansky and Kenrich Williams absent from this year’s roster, Desmond Bane and a healthy Jaylen Fisher will look to dance again for the second time in as many years under Jamie Dixon.
18.) Michigan Wolverines
The National Runners-up will look to continue their success under John Beilein with the return of Charles Matthews and Jordan Poole.
19.) UCLA Bruins
Steve Alford has yet to make it past the Sweet Sixteen in his tenure and after being sent out in the First Four by St. Bonaventure last year, he sits squarely on the hot seat. Kris Wilkes and Jaylen Hands return to campus after testing the NBA Draft waters in the spring; and along with Shareef O’Neal, Shaq’s son, the Bruins are hoping to break through in March.
20.) Washington Huskies
Coach Mike Hopkins brought the 2-3 zone from Syracuse to the Pacific Northwest and brought a team that won nine games in 2016-17 to a 21 win season and a trip to the NIT a season ago. Matisse Thybulle and Noah Dickerson will look to lead the Huskies to the top of the Pac-12 and to the NCAA Tournament for the first time since 2011.
21.) Mississippi State Bulldogs
Ben Howland will look to take his fourth program to the “Big Dance” after taking Mississippi State to the NIT semifinals a year ago. Quinndary Weatherspoon will need to be an All-SEC performer if the Bulldogs want to hear their name called on “Selection Sunday.”
22.) Loyola-Chicago Ramblers
Though Sister Jean and the Ramblers took the world by storm last March, they are no longer Cinderella. Clayton Custer returns to Porter Moser’s squad. A week non-conference schedule could keep Loyola-Chicago out of the NCAA Tournament if they were to slip up on their way to a Missouri Valley Conference Tournament title.
23.) Marquette Golden Eagles
Marquette had one of the best offenses in the country a year ago, but their defense was one of the worst. If the Golden Eagles can improve on the defensive end, Markus Howard and Sam Hauser will hope to shoot their way into March Madness.
24.) Nebraska Cornhuskers
Nebraska finished fourth in a down Big Ten last year, and a poor non-conference schedule kept them on the wrong side of the bubble. James Palmer Jr. will look to build on his First Team Big Ten selection a year ago and get the Cornhuskers into the Dance.
25.) Cincinnati Bearcats
After blowing a big second half lead to Nevada in the second round of the NCAA Tournament, Mick Cronan will look to regroup in order to make a run in the postseason this year. The Bearcats lost Gary Clark and Kyle Washington to graduation, and Jacob Evans to the NBA Draft from last year’s squad, but Jarron Cumberland and Justin Jenifer will look to take on a larger load and keep Cincinnati atop the AAC this year.
Siena led Memphis for 23:45, including a 10 point lead in the second half, but came up short and fell 70-66 to the Tigers on the road. Freshman Jordan Horn missed a 3 that would have tied the game at 69, and the Saints were forced to foul in the closing seconds, which made up the difference.
Siena opened up an eight point lead at halftime by outrebounding the Tigers in the first stanza. The Saints’ defense puzzled the Tigers in the opening 20 minutes and forced them into 10 turnovers. Memphis got back in it by taking advantage of Siena inside, winning the battle for points in the paint 32-18. Siena sent Memphis to the line 37 times and the Tigers made 26 free throws.
Offensively, the Saints shot 44% from the field and 47% from deep. Horn led the way for the Saints with 24 points and 5 rebounds. Nico Clareth contributed with 11 points and 3 assists before fouling out. Khalil Richard added 11 points, while Roman Penn scored 10 points and dished out 4 assists.
Memphis was led by Kyvon Davenport and Jeremiah Martin who scored 16 points apiece.
Siena (3-9) will host Holy Cross in their non-conference finale on Friday, December 22 at 7pm at the Times Union Center.
The 2017 Jimmy V Classic featured two games: #4 Villanova vs. #12 Gonzaga and Syracuse vs. UConn. Here’s the recap below.
Villanova vs. Gonzaga
The first game of the Jimmy V Classic featured a battle between #4 Villanova and #12 Gonzaga. Villanova proved they’re legit and defeated the Zags 88-72 in the first meeting between the two schools.
Mikal Bridges led a balanced attack for the Wildcats with 28 points, 6 rebounds, and 2 blocks. Phil Booth added 20 points, Jalen Brunson had 12 points, 5 rebounds and 5 assists, and Omari Spellman added a double-double with 10 points and 10 rebounds in the win.
Zach Norvell Jr. led wthe way for Gonzaga with 22 points and 4 rebounds, while Josh Perkins added 16 points, 6 rebounds and 4 assists, and Jacob Larsen finished with 10 points and 5 rebounds off the bench in the losing effort.
With the win, Villanova improved to 9-0 on the season and picked up its first win over a ranked opponent. The Wildcats look like a team that is poised to run the table in their conference and make a deep run in March. Gonzaga fell to 7-2, but has only lost to teams that have been ranked in the top 10.
Villanova will host LaSalle on Sunday, December 10 at 1pm, while Gonzaga will travel to Seattle to take on former Syracuse Assistant Coach Mike Hopkins and the Washington Huskies Sunday, December 10 at 8pm.
Syracuse vs. UConn
Syracuse defeated former Big East Rival UConn Tuesday night, 72-63, in the night cap of the Jimmy V Classic at Madison Square Garden in New York City. With the win, Syracuse improved to 9-7 over the Huskies in games played at the Mecca.
Syracuse raced out of the gates behind stellar starts from freshmen Matthew Moyer and Oshae Brissett. The Orange built their lead up to 37-20 with three minutes left in the first half before UConn cut their lead to 11 at the break. The Orange withstood the Huskies attempt to comeback in the second half and pulled out a win in a sloppy game between the two former conference foes.
The Syracuse defense was suffocating all night. UConn struggled to get anything going against the 2-3 zone. The Orange forced the Huskies into 17 turnovers, grabbing 11 steals. Tyus Battle finished with a career high 5 steals in the win. The front line of the zone combined for 4 blocks on the night as well.
Offensively, the Orange were led by Battle who scored 22 points and dished out 3 assists. Moyer turned in a career performance with 18 points, 8 rebounds and electrified the crowd at MSG with two thunderous put-back dunks. Brissett recorded his fourth double-double in his first four games in Orange finishing with 16 points and 10 rebounds.
Frank Howard struggled. The junior point guard scored 5 points on 1-of-10 shooting, distributed 5 assists, and turned the ball over 9 times. Howard will need to get better at handling a full court press and needs to improve in assisting the Orange into its offense when he can’t find his own shot.
Jalen Adams led the way for the Huskies with 22 points.
In the absence of Geno Thorpe, who left the team last week, the Orange look to be 7-deep. Howard and Battle will seemingly get all the minutes at the guard positions, as Battle played all 40 minutes for the second straight game and freshman Howard Washington played just one minute after Howard committed a bad turnover in the first half.
Syracuse improved to 7-1 on the season, while UConn fell to 6-3. The Orange will host Colgate on Saturday, December 9 in the Carrier Dome. Tip-off is set for 2pm. The Huskies will host Coppin State at Gampel Pavilion on Campus in Storrs, Connecticut at the same time.
Through all the games that were played during the week of Thanksgiving, here’s ten things we learned about the scene of college basketball moving forward.
Duke is better than advertised and is tough to put away. The Blue Devils trailed in the second half of all three games they played in the PK80. Marvin Bagley scored 82 points and grabbed 45 rebounds in just three games and could very well be the best player in college basketball come March.
Although the Gators failed to put away Duke down the stretch, Florida can out-shoot any team in the country. If the Gators can figure it out on defense, they will be a tough out in March.
Michigan State is deep. The Spartans did not miss a beat as Miles Bridges was limited in the first two games of the PK80 due to an ankle injury. Michigan State will need to limit its turnovers if they want to win another championship come March.
Notre Dame won the Maui Jim Maui Invitational in comeback fashion over Wichita State. The Fighting Irish led by Pre-Season All-American Bonzie Colson and point guard Matt Farrell are equipped with shooters and have depth and experience to surprise some people moving forward. Look for TJ Gibbs to be an X-factor for the Irish.
Wichita State could not hold on to beat Notre Dame, but the Shockers are loaded with talent at all positions. They can shoot and score inside. Landry Shamet is one of the top point guards in the country and once they get Markis McDuffie back from injury, the Shockers will be poised for a deep run in March.
Playing in the Big East, Villanova lacks the opportunities to play in marquee match-ups late in the season. With the disappointing performances by Purdue and Arizona in the Bahamas, rather than coming home with a championship and two signature wins, Villanova had to settle for just the Battle 4 Atlantis trophy. The duo of Jalen Brunson and Mikal Bridges can play with anyone in the country.
Although the Aggies did not play in a holiday tournament this year, Texas A&M got Robert Williams back from suspension and dismantled #10 USC on the road on Sunday. The Aggies are poised to be in the mix for an SEC title this season, a spot that is more open this year than it has been in recent memory.
The Baylor Bears won the Hall of Fame Classic, defeating Wisconsin and Creighton along the way. Miami transfer Manu Lecomte leads the team averaging 19 points per game. Baylor could be a sleeper in the Big Twelve this year.
The story of the week may have been that Alabama only lost to a tough Minnesota team by five after a fight, a player fouling out, and an injury caused the Crimson Tide to finish the game with only three player on the court. Freshman Collin Sexton scored 40 in the defeat and is averaging 25 points per game. Alabama could sneak up on some people and could be a dark horse in the SEC this year.
You heard it here first. I AM DONE PICKING ARIZONA TO WIN ANYTHING. The (at the time) second-ranked Wildcats were absolutely dreadful at the Battle 4 Atlantis as they finished in dead last. Allonzo Trier and Deandre Ayton have no help. The Wildcats have a lot of work to do if they want to turn their season around and live up to all the hype.
With one of the best early season slates we’ve seen in a while, we were able to learn a lot about the nation’s top teams, teams that could surprise us, and teams that may disappoint. I am excited for the college basketball season to continue moving forward.
Family? Food? Football? What is your favorite part of the week of Thanksgiving? For me, it’s the holiday college basketball tournaments that give us the chance to see marquee match-ups in late November. I would like to think that every family has one person that fights animal cruelty to watch college basketball over The National Dog show, but as I’ve grown to understand, not everyone shares the depth of caring about animal rights as I do. Moral of the story: watch college basketball instead of the National Dog Show after the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade. Why? Because there’s no greater gift to be thankful for than having a belly full of turkey and a television schedule full of college basketball (and solidarity with the dogs).
Let’s take a look at three of the most compelling holiday tournaments for 2017.
Maui Jim Maui Invitational: November 20-22
The Maui Jim Maui Invitational is intriguing to me because, based on my predictions for the road to the Final Four, the draw is set up to showcase a battle between Wichita State and Notre Dame in the championship game. The matchup would feature two teams that are experienced and ready to play a big time game in November. Wichita State, led by sophomore point guard Landry Shamet, also features four seniors who are averaging double figures. The Fighting Irish showcase Preseason All-American Bonzie Colson who is averaging a double-double and point guard Matt Farrell is one of the best in the nation. My pick to win the Maui Jim Maui Invitational is the Wichita State Shockers in a track meet.
The Battle 4 Atlantis: November 22-24
The Battle 4 Atlantis is one of my favorite events in college basketball. This year the field features a possible #5 Villanova vs. #3 Arizona contest in the championship game. After both schools had early exits in last year’s NCAA Tournament, they are both back with a vengeance. Villanova is a deep team with six players averaging double figures led by a back court of Donte DiVincenzo and Jalen Brunson. Arizona is led by Allonzo Trier who is averaging 30 points per game and Deandre Ayton, one of the top freshmen in the country. My pick for the winner of the Battle 4 Atlantis is easy. The Wildcats will take home the trophy.
Phil Knight Invitational: November 23-24, 26
The Phil Knight Invitational (PK80) is in honor Nike’s founder and CEO’s 80th birthday in February. The invitational features two, eight-team brackets, the Victory Bracket and Motion Bracket. The Victory Bracket sets up a possible championship game between North Carolina and Michigan State. The Tar Heels, led by Luke Maye, Theo Pinson, and Joel Berry II, have veteran leadership and a balanced offensive attack that can lead them through the field to the championship game. Tom Izzo will have his team ready to bounce back from a tough loss to Duke in the Champions Classic. My pick is for Michigan State to win the Victory Bracket in a hard fought high scoring affair.
The Motion Bracket features what could be a preview of an Elite Eight matchup if my seed projections for the NCAA Tournament turn out to be correct: Duke vs. Florida. Duke looks to be the best team in the country so far. With Marvin Bagley III back from the eye injury he suffered against Michigan State in the Champions Classic, Duke will look to dominate in the PK80. Grayson Allen is playing the best basketball of his career with Trevon Duval beside him in the back court. The Florida Gators, led by sharp-shooting Rice transfer Egor Koulechov, will be a tough out for the Blue Devils, but I think that at this stage in the season, Duke will prevail and win the Motion Bracket.
Other Tournaments to Keep an Eye On (Projected Winners BOLD)
Legends Classic: Texas A&M, Oklahoma State, Penn State, Pittsburgh
CBE Hall of Fame Classic: Baylor, Creighton, UCLA, Wisconsin
MGM Main Event: UNLV, Rice, Ole Miss, Utah
Cayman Islands Classic: Cincinnati, Iowa, Louisiana, Wyoming, Buffalo, South Dakota State, Richmond, UAB
NIT Season Tip-Off: Rhode Island, Seton Hall, Vanderbilt, Virginia
Las Vegas Invitational: Hampton, Northern Arizona, Xavier, George Washington, Kansas State, Arizona State, Rider, UC Irvine
AdvoCare Invitational: Missouri, St. John’s, Oregon State, West Virginia, Long Beach State, Nebraska, Marist (what a joke), UCF