Syracuse entered the ACC Tournament feeling pretty good about their NCAA Tournament chances for the first time since 2013.
Despite being without leading scorer Tyus Battle due a lower back injury, the Orange defeated Pittsburgh, 73-59, in the first round of the ACC Tournament on Wednesday night. Syracuse trailed the Panthers, 36-30, at halftime, but used an 8-0 run with all 8 points scored by Buddy Boeheim to take a 43-39 lead early in the second stanza. The Orange would not relinquish the lead the rest of the way.
After shooting 60-percent from three-point range in the first half, Pittsburgh cooled down and shot just 30.8-percent from deep after the break. Conversely, Syracuse heated up from beyond the arc down the stretch, shooting 54.6-percent from three in the second half.
Jared Wilson-Frame led the Panthers with 24 points, on 8-of-16 from three-point land, and seven rebounds. Sidy N’Dir added 10 points in the losing effort.
Boeheim paced Syracuse with 20 points, on 6-of-13 shooting, six rebounds, four assists, and two steals. Elijah Hughes and Frank Howard scored 18 points apiece. Hughes also grabbed four rebounds, dished out three assists, and came away with two steals.
The Orange squared off with Duke in the quarterfinals of the ACC Tournament on Thursday night. Battle missed his second straight game with a lower back injury. After rallying back from as much as a 17 point deficit in the first half, Syracuse tied the game at 46 on a triple by Boeheim with 13:02 to go. The Blue Devils pulled away down the stretch to win 84-72.
In a turnover plagued affair, Duke outshot the Orange as the Blue Devils shot 53.7-percent from the floor, compared to 48.1-percent shooting for Syracuse.
The real difference in the game was that Duke has the best player in the country and the likely #1 pick in the NBA Draft Zion Williamson. Williamson, who returned after missing five consecutive games with a sprained knee, erupted for 29 points on a perfect 13-of-13 from the floor, 14 rebounds, and five steals. Fellow freshman phenomenon RJ Barrett tallied 23 points, on 8-of-16 from the field, and six rebounds. Freshman point guard Tre Jones finished with 15 points and eight assists.
Howard led the Orange with a career-high 28 points, on 11-of-2o shooting, and three assists. Boeheim poured in 15 points, while Oshae Brissett finished with 15 points and seven rebounds.
Despite the loss, Syracuse entered the NCAA Tournament with a record of 20-13. Howard was named to the ACC Tournament Second Team, while Williamson was named the MVP after Duke won the championship game over Florida State, 73-63, Saturday night.
Battle is expected to return in the NCAA Tournament, but playing without him in the ACC Tournament gave others the opportunity to step up, specifically, Howard and Boeheim.
Player of the Week: Frank Howard
This week’s player of the week for Syracuse was Frank Howard. After a lower leg injury caused him to miss the first four games of the season, Howard did not play to the form he showed he was capable of during his junior campaign. The senior point guard averaged 23 points on 50-percent shooting in Battle’s absence at the ACC Tournament. With Battle back and Howard and Boeheim shooting with confidence, the Orange just might be poised to make another run in the “Big Dance.”
Up Next: The NCAA Tournament vs. #9 Baylor
For the first time since 2013, Syracuse did not have to sweat it out on Selection Sunday. This year, the Orange were firmly in and earned the 8-seed in the West Region. Syracuse will take on the 9-seed Baylor in Salt Lake City, Utah. Tip-off is set for Thursday night at 9:57pm. The game will be seen on truTV. The Bears are 19-13 overall and are coming off an 83-66 loss to Iowa State in the Big 12 Tournament quarterfinals. Baylor is led by Tristan Clark who is averaging 14.6 points and 6.3 rebounds per game.
If the Orange were to defeat the Bears, they would take on the winner of the game between the 1-seed Gonzaga and the 16-seed Fairleigh Dickinson, who defeated Prairie View in the First Four Tuesday night.
Last season, Arizona dominated the Pac-12, but the Wildcats and the other two teams that made the NCAA Tournament, UCLA and Arizona State, failed to win a game during March Madness. What should we expect from the “Conference of Champions” this year?
Let’s take a look at how the Pac-12 will shake out in 2018-19.
1.) Oregon Ducks
After failing to make the “Big Dance” last season, Oregon will return to being a force in the Pac-12 with a strong incoming recruiting class. Returners Payton Pritchard and Kenny Wooten will be joined by star freshman Bol Bol, son of Manute Bol, and Louis King. Dana Altman hopes that the Pac-12 Championship will go through Eugene this year.
2.) UCLA Bruins
Although UCLA will be near the top of the conference this season, Steve Alford may be on the hot seat if he fails to generate postseason success. Jaylen Hands and Kris Wilkes decided to stay in school after flirting with the NBA Draft this past spring and will look to make a run through the league slate and late into March.
3.) Washington Huskies
First year coach Mike Hopkins turned a team that won nine games in 2016-17 into a 21-win NIT team in 2017-18. The Huskies will look to build on last year’s success by finishing near the top of the conference and making it to the NCAA Tournament for the first time since 2011. Hopkins will lean on the trio of Noah Dickerson, Matisse Thybulle, and Jaylen Nowell to get them there.
4.) Arizona Wildcats
After surviving a midseason scandal in which Coach Sean Miller was allegedly caught on wiretap discussing a $100,000 payment to secure the commitment of big man Deandre Ayton, Arizona rallied down the stretch in 2017-18 to win both the Pac-12 regular season and tournament titles. The Wildcats were unable to make a run deep into March as they were upset by Buffalo in the first round. Miller is tasked with replacing all five starters from last season’s team. Freshman guard Brandon Williams and transfers Ryan Luther (Pitt), Chase Jeter (Duke), and Justin Coleman (Samford), will hope to fill the void and keep Arizona among the class of the league.
5.) USC Trojans
USC was one of the first four teams out of the “Big Dance” a year ago. Bennie Boatwright is one of the best frontcourt players in the Pac-12. If freshman guards Kevin Porter and Elijah Weaver can develop as go-to guys for the Trojans, they may find themselves sniffing an NCAA Tournament once again.
6.) Arizona State Sun Devils
After climbing as high as number three in the polls in December, Arizona State barely cracked into the “Big Dance” as part of the last four in. The Sun Devils were promptly sent packing when they were taken down by Syracuse in the First Four. This season, Bobby Hurley will look for transfers Rob Edwards and Zylan Cheatham and freshman Luguentz Dort and Taeshon Cherry to keep the Sun Devils relevant in the Pac-12.
7.) Colorado Buffaloes
McKinley Wright IV is one of the best players in the conference, but he may not have enough of a supporting cast to help get the Buffaloes back to the NCAA Tournament for the first time in three years.
8.) Oregon State Beavers
Oregon State will lean heavily on the duo of Tres Tinkle and Stephen Thompson Jr. if they hope to be a surprising team in the Pac-12 this season.
9.) Utah Utes
Utah will have a rebuilding year this season, but do not be surprised if the streaky three-point shooting of Sedrick Barefield helps the Utes pull off an upset or two in the league slate.
10.) Stanford Cardinal
Stanford suffered a major blow to its chance of making a run toward the top of the Pac-12 in 2018-19 when graduate student Reid Travis decided to transfer to Kentucky for his final year of college basketball eligibility. Without Travis, Daejon Davis and the Cardinal will probably fall to the bottom third of conference this year.
11.) Washington State Cougars
Washington State will live and die by the three which will definitely make Klay Thompson, their notable basketball alumni and current Golden State Warriors star, proud. The Cougars are led by Robert Franks, but are not likely to be a factor in the league.
12.) California Golden Bears
Cal was specifically bad on the defensive end a season ago. The Bears lost their top rebounder and shot blocker and had a poor showing on the recruiting trail in 2018. Cal should find themselves in the basement of the Pac-12 yet again in 2018-19.
If you’re like me, you’re probably feeling a little empty not having any college basketball to look forward to this weekend. Let’s take a step back to remember the 2018 NCAA Tournament.
This year’s “Big Dance” featured an upset for the ages, a Cinderella run that made a nun an international sensation, buzzer beaters, the agony of defeat and, most importantly, the best team won it all.
The National Champs: Villanova
Jay Wright did it. Two National Championships in three years. Villanova has become the program to beat in college basketball. The Wildcats dominated in March as they won all of their games in the NCAA Tournament by double-digits. Wright joined an exclusive club by cutting down the nets for the second time in his career as he joined Coach K and Roy Williams as the only active coaches to win multiple championships. National Player of the Year Jalen Brunson and Mikal Bridges will likely forego their senior seasons and enter the NBA Draft, but Coach Wright will bring back three starters, Phil Booth, Eric Paschall, and Omari Spellman, and Donte DiVincenzo, who came off the bench and scored 31 points in the title game on Monday. The Wildcats have been the most dominant program over the last five years and with Wright at the helm, there is a culture of winning in Philadelphia. Villanova will be back next year to defend their title and create a dynasty.
The Runners-Up: Michigan
Michigan was the hottest team in the country entering the NCAA Tournament and rode their streak all the way to Championship Monday where they ran into the buzz saw that was Villanova. Mo Wagner’s decision to return to Ann Arbor paid dividends as he led his squad back to the National Championship game for the first time since 2013. John Beilein had the best defensive squad of his career that gave opponents fits throughout the month of March. The run to San Antonio almost didn’t happen as the Wolverines needed a buzzer beater by freshman Jordan Poole to get past Houston in the second round and led to one of the best celebrations of the Tournament. Wagner and seniors Muhammad-Ali Abdur-Rahkman and Duncan Robinson will depart, but Michigan will be back with a talented recruiting class next season.
We witnessed history in the 2018 NCAA Tournament. For the first time in history, a 16-seed upset a 1-seed in the first round. Many had hinted at the fact that an Ivy League school, Penn, presented the best chance for a 16-seed to take down a 1-seed in their match-up with Kansas. When that didn’t happen on the first Thursday of the Tournament, many thought we would have to wait at a chance for history until next year. Enter Jairius Lyles and the UMBC Retrievers. In the final set of first round contests, UMBC took the world by storm—both on the court and on Twitter. The Retrievers stayed with Virginia and did not back down when the game was tied at 21 at halftime. UMBC outscored the #1 overall seeed 53-33 in the second half, busting pretty much every bracket filled out this year as the Cavaliers were a favorite to win it all. The three point shooting and defense by the Retrievers sent Kyle Guy and the rest of the Virginia team home crying as the first #1 to lose to a 16-seed in NCAA Tournament history. Tony Bennett was without a key piece, De’Andre Hunter, that Friday night in Charlotte. Maybe this would not have happened with him in the lineup, but Bennett will have to wait another year for a chance at the Final Four.
K-State to the Elite Eight
Kansas State got past Creighton in the first round and instead of having to face Virginia, they were up against Cinderella UMBC in the second round. The Wildcats dispatched the Retrievers and then took down Kentucky in Atlanta to make the Elite Eight for the first time since 2018. More impressively, Kansas State made their run without the services of their leading scorer, Dean Wade, who suffered a foot injury in the Big 12 Tournament. Although they were unable to get past Loyola-Chicago and make the Final Four, the Wildcats may have saved Bruce Weber’s job.
Buffalo Beats Zona
Buffalo knocked out Arizona in the first round. The Wildcats were a favorite to make a run to the Final Four, but an impressive shooting performance and stout defense by the Bulls made for an early exit for Sean Miller’s team. With the outcome of the FBI investigation still unknown, the future of Arizona basketball is uncertain as they will lose Deandre Ayton, Allonzo Trier, and Rawle Alkins to the NBA and Parker Jackson-Cartwright and Dusan Ristic to graduation.
Sister Jean and Loyola-Chicago
Loyola-Chicago became the fourth 11-seed to make the Final Four and in doing so, their Team Chaplain Sister Jean became an international sensation at 98 years young. Donte Ingram’s buzzer beater to beat Miami was one of the highlights of the first round, but the Ramblers proved they weren’t done yet. They took down the 3-seeed Tennessee on a jumper in the waning seconds by Clayton Custer. Marques Townes’ dagger was enough to beat Nevada and advance to the Elite Eight where they blew out Kansas State. Their run came to an end with a loss to Michigan in the Final Four, but the Missouri Valley Champs took the world by storm in the month of March.
Nevada led for only 1:56 of its first two games of the NCAA Tournament, but managed to make the Sweet Sixteen. The Wolfpack trailed Texas by 14 points in the second half, but came back to win in overtime to advance to the Round of 32. There, Nevada erased a 22 point Cincinnati lead and came back to eliminate the second seeded Bearcats from the “Big Dance.” The Wolfpack lost to Loyola-Chicago in the Sweet Sixteen, but they will return most of their core from this year’s team and could be a top ten team next season.
Florida State to the Elite Eight
Many were saying that Florida State was the worst at-large team to receive an NCAA Tournament bid this year. The Seminoles proved the haters wrong and took down Missouri in the first round before they pulled off one of the biggest upsets in the Tournament, knocking off top-seeded Xavier in the second round to advance to the Sweet Sixteen. Florida State’s run would not end there, as they took down a Gonzaga team without Killian Tillie. The Seminoles ended their season just short of the Final Four as they fell 58-54 to Michigan. If nothing else, they proved they belonged.
Texas A&M Takes Down the Tar Heels
In a season filled with ups and downs, Texas A&M’s NCAA Tournament run proved to be just that. The Aggies battled through injuries and suspensions to earn a 7-seed in the “Big Dance,” but drew the 10-seed Providence, who was one of the hottest teams entering the Tournament. Texas A&M ended the Friars’ season and went on to the Round of 32 where they pummeled North Carolina. In a poetic end to their tumultuous season, the Aggies were crushed by Michigan in the Sweet Sixteen. With Tyler Davis and Robert Williams both declaring for the NBA Draft, it will be interesting to see what the future looks like in College Station.
Marshall Shocks Wichita State
In a year where there were no 12-5 upsets, the 13-seeds stole the show. Buffalo beat Arizona and Marshall knocked off Wichita State. Jon Elmore’s sharp-shooting led the Thundering Herd past the Shockers and into the second round where they were ousted by in-state rival West Virginia, but an upset win in the first round of the NCAA Tournament is definitely something that Marshall, who finished fourth in Conference USA, should be proud of.
The 2-3 Zone Did it Again
Syracuse snuck into the NCAA Tournament as the last team to make the field, but the Orange were not satisfied with only receiving a bid. Jim Boeheim’s patented 2-3 zone puzzled opponents as Syracuse defeated Arizona State, TCU, and Michigan State, three teams averaging over 80 points a game to less than 60 on their way to the Sweet Sixteen. Their run was cut short as they fell 69-65 to Duke, but the NCAA Tournament run put a positive ending on a season where the Orange remained on the Bubble to the very end. If leading scorer Tyus Battle and Oshae Brissett return, Syracuse could be poised to make another run in next year’s Tournament. Darius Bazley’s decision to decommit from the Orange and enter the G-League was unfortunate and leaves the team’s status for next season more uncertain, but Jalen Carey, Buddy Boeheim, and East Carolina-transfer Elijah Hughes will provide more depth at he guard position for next year’s team.
Game of the Tournament: Duke vs. Kansas—Elite Eight
The line in “One Shining Moment”—In the blinking of an eye that moment’s gone, couldn’t be more of a reality for the Duke Blue Devils as Grayson Allen’s potential game-winning rolled off the rim and out at the end of regulation. Kansas’ Malik Newman scored all 13 of the Jayhawks’ points in the overtime period to punch their ticket to San Antonio where they lost to eventual champion Villanova in the Final Four. Both Duke and Kansas will be title favorites heading into next season. Coach K and the Blue Devils have adopted the one-and-done strategy. The 2018-19 roster will look completely different for Duke. All five are their starters from this season’s team will be first round draft picks. Duke has the top recruiting class in the country next season as they welcome four of the top fifteen recruits in the country, including all of the top three recruits, R.J. Barrett, Zion Williamson, and Cam Reddish, to Durham next fall. Tre Jones, the 12th ranked recruit and younger brother of 2015 Final four Most Outstanding Player, Tyus Jones, who also played at Duke, will also join the squad. Kansas is the way-too-early preseason #1 with Udoka Azubuike and Lagerald Vick returning. The Jayhawks have a pair of five-star guards coming to Lawrence in the fall: Devon Dotson and Quentin Grimes. Bill Self will also add Memphis-transfers K.J. Lawson and Dedric Lawson and Cal-transfer Charlie Moore, all of which will be eligible to play next season.
The Road Begins Now
The 2017-18 season has come and gone and it was surely a wild one. Congratulations to the Villanova Wildcats who reign superior this year. The Road to the 2019 Final Four in Minneapolis begins now.
Syracuse Escapes Dayton with Win over Arizona State
Syracuse earned a 60-56 victory over Arizona State in Dayton on Wednesday night.
The Orange, who trailed 49-42 with 7:04 left after a three point basket by Kodi Justice, used an 8-0 run capped by an old fashioned three-point play by Oshae Brissett with 4:09 to go to take a 50-49 lead. The Sun Devils took the lead back on the ensuing possession as Justice drained another trey. Brissett tied the game at 52 on a jumper with 2:51 remaining.
Tyus Battle put Syracuse ahead for good when he nailed a triple with 1:52 on the clock. Arizona State climed back within one with 53 ticks left on a jumper by Justice, but Paschal Chukwu answered with a pair of free throws to give the Orange a 57-54 advantage with 39 seconds left. Mickey Mitchell converted a layup with 15 seconds to go to bring the Sun Devils within one yet again and another Chukwu free throw extended Syracuse’s lead back to 58-56 one second later.
Arizona State had a wide open three-pointer for the win in the closing seconds, but Shannon Evans II’s shot would not fall. Frank Howard came away with the rebound and sunk the game clinching free throws to close out the win and send the Orange on their way to the round of 68 in Detroit.
Syracuse jumped out to an early 21-16 lead on a three-pointer by Battle, but the Sun Devils responded with a 7-1 run to take a 23-22 lead. The teams traded buckets the rest of the half and the Orange took a 30-28 lead into halftime.
Arizona State raced out of the gates in the final stanza to take a lead that they would eventually give up in the end.
The game featured five ties and eight lead changes and each team led for 17 minutes of action.
Syracuse shot 40.8% from the field and held their opponents to 40.4% from the floor. The Orange held a 37-34 edge on the glass. Both teams turned the ball over, but Syracuse converted off of the Sun Devils’ mistakes and held a 15-4 advantage in points off turnovers.
If the Orange plan to make a deep run in March, they will need to shoot it better from the charity stripe. Syracuse connected on just 13-of-23 from the foul line. Arizona State shot 3-of-10 from the stripe in their own right.
The Sun Devils were led by Justice who scored 15 points and dished out 5 assists. Evans II poured in 14 points and grabbed 5 rebounds, while Tra Holder stuffed the stat sheet with 11 points, 6 rebounds, and 4 assists. Mitchell chipped in with 10 points off the bench.
The Orange were led by Brissett who recorded the thirteenth double-double of his freshman campaign with 23 points and 12 rebounds. The combo-forward scored 15 of Syracuse’s final 30 points in the game. Brissett’s performance put him in elite company in the program’s history books. His double-double made him the fourth player in the history of the program to do so—Carmelo Anthony, Billy Owens, and Derrick Coleman are the only players to record double-doubles in the NCAA Tournament. Additionally, the only other Syracuse freshman to score 20 or more points in the “Big Dance” are Anthony and Malachi Richardson; both of those teams went to the Final Four.
Battle added 15 points on 6-of-14 shooting.
Howard, who has been fighting a case of strep throat since the Orange finished their ACC Tournament run, scored eight of his 12 points in the first six minutes of the game. He also came away with three steals.
Chukwu contributed with 5 points and 9 rebounds, while Marek Dolezaj finished with 5 points and 5 rebounds.
Jim Boeheim commented on his team’s performance in his postgame interview. “This team has to battle for everything,” Boeheim said. “We’re so challenged offensively, this guy [Brissett] came up big and then we got some stops. When they [Arizona State] had that seven point lead we just really moved the ball and got some great shots and kinda just hung on at the end. This is the way we played all year long. Arizona State is a really good team and they played really well. We’re happy to win.”
Syracuse improved to 21-13 overall, while Arizona State ended its season with a 20-12 record.
The Orange live to see another day and will take on TCU in Detroit on Friday at 9:40pm. The game can be seen on CBS. The Horned Frogs are coached by former Pittsburgh coach, Jamie Dixon, who returned to Fort Worth to coach his alma mater in 2016. TCU is the 6-seed in the Midwest Region. The Horned Frogs enter the contest with a 21-11 record. TCU is led by All-Big 12 Third Team selection Vladimir Brodziansky who is averaging 15.1 points and 5.1 rebounds per game.
The NCAA Tournament is upon us. Let’s take a look at the Midwest Region. The one seed in the Midwest, Kansas, will look to cut down the nets in Omaha on their way to the Final Four in San Antonio. However, there are 17 other teams looking to do the same thing. Here’s what to watch for.
Upset Pick: #12 New Mexico State over #5 Clemson
New Mexico State is in the field of 68 for the seventh time in the last nine years. The Aggies have won six consecutive games, including a victory in the WAC Championship game over Grand Canyon. New Mexico State is led by Zach Lofton who is averaging 19.8 points and 5.1 rebounds per game. The Aggies defense will be the difference if they are able to upset Clemson. The Tigers dropped four of five games in conference play against teams ranked in the top 50 nationally in defensive efficiency. New Mexico State ranks fourth nationally and will look to stifle Marcquise Reed in their first round match-up.
Sleeper: North Carolina State Wolfpack
As a nine seed in the Midwest, NC State is my pick to be a sleeper in this region. The Wolfpack have been giant killers all season and have wins over Arizona, Duke, Clemson, and North Carolina. Allerik Freeman leads the team in scoring at 15.4 points per contest. With the resume and the wins they have, NC State will be ready and if they can beat Seton Hall, they will be a tough out for Kansas in the second round.
Pick to Win the Midwest Region: Duke Blue Devils
I expect chalk to prevail in the Midwest Region until the Elite Eight, where Duke will defeat Kansas and earn a trip to San Antonio for the Final Four. The Blue Devils are the most talented team in the country and enter the NCAA Tournament winners of seven of their last nine games. The key down the stretch for Duke has been their commitment to playing defense. The use of the 2-3 zone has allowed the Blue Devils to hold their opponents to 61.1 points per game over that stretch. Duke will rely on the senior leadership of Grayson Allen, but freshman big men Marvin Bagley III and Wendell Carter Jr. will be the key to the Blue Devils’ success if they can make it to the Final Four at the Alamo Dome.
Now that I’ve made my picks for who will advance to the Final Four, its time to discuss who will cut down the nets.
North Carolina def. Arizona
Villanova def. Duke
Villanova will defeat North Carolina in a rematch of the 2016 National Championship and the Wildcats will be crowned the Kings of College Basketball.
Pac-12 Tournament: March 7-March 10, T-Mobile Arena, Las Vegas, NV
The Pac-12 will host their 2018 men’s basketball conference tournament at T-Mobile Arena in Las Vegas. The Tourney will feature six teams destined for a run in the NCAA Tournament and three teams fighting to build their resume for an at-large bid or to secure an automatic bid.
NCAA Tournament Locks: Arizona, Arizona State
Arizona has battled through a tumultuous couple of weeks at the end of the regular season in which their coach, Sean Miller, was reported to have been caught on FBI wiretap discussing a pay-for-play scheme to entice their best player, Deandre Ayton, to sign his letter of intent and join the Wildcats. These reports were found to be false as there has been no FBI wiretap released and Miller returned to coach the team last Thursday. Additionally, Ayton, who was named the Pac-12 Player and Rookie of the Year, did not miss any time. On top of that, Allonzo Trier, an All-Pac-12 First Teamer in his own right, failed a test for PED’s and missed two games, but after an appeal to the NCAA, it was found that it was a trace of a prescription drug that was in his system and that the amount in his sample would have no impact on his performance. Therefore, he was also reinstated. Arizona (24-7, 14-4) has not lost a game since Miller returned and are playing with a chip on their shoulder and as Regular Season Champions will be a though team to beat in Las Vegas and in the NCAA Tournament. The Wildcats will open against the winner of the eight seed Colorado and the nine seed Arizona State on Thursday at 3pm.
Arizona State was one of college basketball’s greatest surprises in the non-conference portion of the schedule, but have come down to Earth since. The Sun Devils are 20-10 overall, 8-10 in the Pac-12 and slid to the nine seed in the conference tournament. All-Pac-12 First Team selection Tra Holder will look to cement Arizona State’s claim to a spot in the “Big Dance.” Even with a loss to Colorado on Wednesday at 3pm., the Sun Devils should be in.
On the Bubble: USC, UCLA, Washington
USC was expected to be a top ten team and a lock for the NCAA Tournament prior to the season. The Trojans can ill afford to lose their first game of the Pac-12 Tournament. One win should be enough to get USC to the NCAA Tournament. Jordan McLaughlin and Chimezie Metu were both named to the All-Pac-12 First Team this week. The Trojans will open against the winner of the 10-seed Oregon State and the 7-seed Washington on Thursday at 9pm.
UCLA has overcome the adversity they faced off the court earlier this season and have landed on the bubble. Similar to their cross-town rivals, the Bruins need to win a game at T-Mobile Arena to feel comfortable about their chances of receiving an at-large bid. All-Pac-12 First Team pick, Aaron Holiday, and All-Pac-12 Second Team member Thomas Welsh will look to lead UCLA to a victory over the winner of the 12-seed Cal and the 5-seed Stanford on Thursday at 5:30pm.
Washington, led by Pac-12 Coach of the Year and former Syracuse assistant Mike Hopkins, will look to make a run in the conference tournament and play their way into the field of 68. The Huskies have the most work to do of the three bubble teams in the Pac-12 and may even need to cut down the nets in Vegas to earn a berth in the NCAA Tournament. It will be a tall task, but All-Pac-12 First Team honoree Noah Dickerson will look to lead his team to the top of the conference when they begin play against Oregon State on Wednesday at 9pm.
Here’s a look at the 2018 Pac-12 Tournament Bracket:
Semis: Arizona def. UCLA, Washington def. Oregon
Final: Arizona defeats Washington in the title game.
Let’s take a look at teams that are trending up and trending down based on their performances this week and what to watch for on Saturday.
Trending Up: Ohio State Buckeyes
After a tough non-conference slate where Ohio State lost four games, the Buckeyes are off to a 5-0 start in Big Ten play. This past week was their best one yet. Ohio State trounced then #1 Michigan State 80-64 and followed that up with a 91-69 blowout win against Maryland. Keita Bates-Diop is averaging 29 points and 7.5 rebounds over the last two games for the Buckeyes. Bates-Diop is averaging 20.3 points and 8.8 rebounds on the season and is a leading candidate for Big Ten Player of the Year. The junior forward was left off the midseason Wooden Award Watch List, which is an egregious mistake. Bates-Diop is a legitimate contender to be a First Team All-American and is leading his team back to the top of the Big Ten and onto the good side of the bubble. Ohio State will look to continue their winning ways when they take on Rutgers on the road on Sunday at 7pm.
Trending Down: Arizona State Sun Devils
Arizona State is coming back down to Earth after starting the season 12-0. The Sun Devils are off to a 1-3 start in Pac-12 play, including losses on the road to in-state rival Arizona and Colorado, and most recently a loss to Oregon at home. Once in the discussion for a one seed, Arizona State has fallen from grace and has not played well in a weak Pac-12. Despite the three recent losses, Tra Holder has continued to impress offensively as he is averaging 20.9 points, 4.9 rebounds, and 4 assists per game. The Sun Devils defense has failed them in their losses. The Sun Devils are giving up an averaging of 83 points per game in the games they have lost. Arizona State will look to get back on track when they host Oregon State on Saturday at 6pm.
What to Watch
Saturday’s premier matchup features two Big 12 teams ranked in the top ten. The second ranked West Virginia Mountaineers travel to Lubbock to take on the eighth ranked Texas Tech Red Raiders. West Virginia enters the game undefeated in Big 12 play while Texas Tech is coming off their first loss in conference play to #9 Oklahoma. The Mountaineers will look to bother Texas Tech with the full court press, but the Red Raiders have the 6th lowest turnover rate in the country. If Texas Tech can handle West Virginia’s press, they will have a chance to win. The Mountaineers will have Esa Ahmad back for this game. This is the first time Ahmad will play this season as he was suspended for undisclosed reasons. Last year, Ahmad was the team’s second-leading scorer. Look for West Virginia to take care of business on the road. The game is at 2pm and can be seen on ESPN.
The beginning of the college basketball season was one that we have never seen before. For the first time in the history of the sport there were no undefeated teams entering the month of January. Upset after upset led to a tumultuous and cluttered field at the top, but I’m here to try and help you sort it out.
Let’s take a look at Joe Lunardi’s top seed line in his latest edition of Bracketology, see what each team has done to this point and assess what they need to do to hold their projected seed, and consider potential weaknesses on the teams.
1 Seeds: Duke, Villanova, Michigan State, Arizona State
Duke Blue Devils
Record: 13-1 (1-1 ACC)
Notable Wins: Michigan State (neutral), Texas (neutral), Florida (neutral), Florida State
Bad Losses: at Boston College
Stay: With the top RPI and the top Strength of Schedule in the country, Duke has a little more wiggle room than the rest of the teams on the top seed line. The ACC is the toughest conference in the country. Duke will need to avoid bad losses against teams at the bottom of the conference and steal a few wins from the rest of the teams at the top of the conference on the road to impress the committee. Finishing strong over their last ten games would protect the Blue Devils from falling off the top seed line if things don’t go so well in the ACC Tournament.
Drop: Duke would fall off the top seed line if they suffer more than one bad loss at home and struggle on the road against the ACC toughest competition. Problems could arise for Duke if they become complacent, lose games down the stretch and fail to showcase themselves well in the ACC Tournament.
Stay: Villanova will need to continue to show that they are the class of the Big East if they hope to stay on the top seed line. Having already lost on the road to Butler, Villanova will need to prove they are worth a spot as a one seed. The Big East is better than advertised and the chance to beat both Xavier and Seton Hall twice could go a long way in making a case for Villanova to keep their seat amongst the top four teams in the nation.
Drop: With Arizona failing to make the finals of the Battle 4 Atlantis, Villanova lost the opportunity to snag a quality win on a neutral floor against a perennial national powerhouse. Failing to win games against the cream of the crop in Big East play could jeopardize Villanova’s chances to retain its top seed.
Michigan State Spartans
Record: 15-1 (3-0 Big Ten)
Notable Wins: North Carolina (neutral), Notre Dame
Bad Losses: None
Stay: Michigan State will need to seize every opportunity they have to secure a win against a ranked opponent throughout Big Ten play. As of now, their only chance to do so is against Purdue at home on February 10. The Spartans may need to run the table to hold onto it’s ranking.
Drop: With a lower RPI and Strength of Schedule compared to the other three teams on the top seed line, largely attributable to the weaker than normal Big Ten, Michigan State has a slimmer margin for error than the rest of the teams on the top seed line. More than one bad loss at home and a rough end to the regular season, combined with a poor showing in the Big Ten Tournament could derail the Spartans’ hopes to remain number one.
Arizona State Sun Devils
Record: 12-2 (0-2 Pac-12)
Notable Wins: Xavier (neutral) at Kansas
Bad Losses: at Colorado
Stay: Similar to Michigan State, Arizona State only has one remaining game on their schedule against a ranked opponent. After losing to their in-state rival Arizona, who is on the rise, and at Colorado, the rematch against the Wildcats in Tempe is a must win for the Sun Devils if they hope to hold onto a one seed.
Drop: With back-to-back losses to open up conference play, another slip up could knock Arizona State off of the one line. America’s surprise team will need to continue to do so if they plan to be on the top seed line come Selection Sunday. Arizona State would be my pick to fall off the one line.
There is a lengthy list of honorable mentions that could possibly find themselves sitting on the one line come tournament time. For the time being, let’s focus on Lunardi’s 2 seeds in his latest Bracketology: Oklahoma, Virginia, West Virginia, and Xavier.
Oklahoma is my first pick to steal a one seed if any of the current one seeds slip up throughout conference play. Led by the nation’s best player, Trae Young, the Sooners are tough to stop on the offensive end. Oklahoma lost to Arkansas in the PK80, but have not lost since. The Sooners are now 2-0 in Big 12 play, including a win over a previously undefeated TCU team. The offensive potency combined with the wins they already have and the opportunities in the loaded Big 12 to come up with additional marquee wins are a perfect storm for Oklahoma to make a run to the top of the field of 68. Given the strength of the Big 12 and the weakness of both the Big Ten and the Pac-12, it is tough to imagine a world where the Big 12 Champion is not a one seed in the NCAA Tournament. Right now, I predict it will be Oklahoma. A win in a crucial game at West Virginia this weekend could shape their case even further.
Virginia was unranked during the preseason, but the Cavaliers have climbed through the rankings to establish themselves in the top 10 once again. Kyle Guy, minus the man bun, has taken over his team in his sophomore campaign. The Cavaliers have an opportunity to make noise again in the ACC. If they can remain at the top of the ACC throughout the regular season, an ACC Championship could propel them to a one seed. The question for Virginia is whether they can score enough points against defenses that are just as tough as theirs. The Cavaliers lone loss this season is to West Virginia, an equally stout defensive team that held Virginia to 61 points.
West Virginia Mountaineers
Although there are no remaining undefeated teams in college basketball this season, there is one team that is undefeated on American soil. That would be West Virginia. The Mountaineers have rattled off 12 consecutive wins since losing their season opener to Texas A&M in Germany. Senior guard Jevon Carter has led the team through the non-conference slate. The Mountaineers are 2-0 in Big 12 play with wins over Oklahoma State and Kansas State. A win over Oklahoma would go a long way in launching West Virginia further into the conversation for a one seed in the Big Dance.
Xavier has one loss on the year against Arizona State. The Musketeers blew out Cincinnati in a heated cross-town rivalry and are off to a 3-0 start in Big East play with wins over Marquette, DePaul, and Butler. Trevon Bluiett and the rest of the Musketeers have a chance to steal a one seed. Xavier plays Villanova twice. Two wins against the Wildcats could propel Xavier to the top seed line come March Madness.
A Week of Upsets Leads to a Shake Up in the Top 10: Who is Rising, Who is Falling?
Over the past week, we saw many upsets which led to a complete shake up of the Top 10 in the latest rankings. Here’s my take on what happened, if there are any sleepers we should be aware of, and my Top 10 Rankings.
Notre Dame, Florida, Kansas
Coming off a tough loss to Michigan State on the road in the Big Ten/ACC Challenge and cruising to an easy win over St. Francis (NY), the Fighting Irish suffered a bad loss to the Ball State Cardinals at home last week. Although they have two stars in Bonzie Colson and Matt Farrell, Mike Brey has a very short bench to work with. Notre Dame will struggle in games where TJ Gibbs does not perform and provide a go-to third option for the Irish.
After they gave away the game to Duke in the PK80, Florida got blown out on their home court by instate rival Florida State (who is still undefeated) and upset by Loyola-Chicago. Florida was a potent offensive team in their first five games, but have averaged just 63 points per game in their last 3 outings. The Gators did rebound in an early season must-win matchup against Cincinnati on a neural court this weekend. If the Gators can’t shoot the ball like they did in the early part of the season, they will need to play better defensively if they want to stay afloat in the top-heavy SEC.
Following a dominating performance by Devonte’ Graham against Syracuse, the Jayhawks were exposed by Washington in Kansas City and taken down by an upstart Arizona State team at home this past week. The Jayhawks need to be prepared for games where Graham doesn’t score 30 points. Legerald Vick played well in both loses, but the Jayhawks, who play a four guard lineup have struggled on the offensive glass when their shooters are not on target.
Many will be quick to criticize the Blue Devils after their loss to Boston College this weekend, but they are clearly the most talented team in the country and they will be fine. It is always tough to win on the road in conference and Duke’s freshman learned that right away in Chestnut Hill. Duke plays just once before they resume conference play in 19 days against Florida State. Coach K will have his team refocused and ready for the second half of their schedule… Don’t worry.
ON THE RISE
Arizona State, Miami, Arizona
Arizona State has taken the nation by storm this year and have raced to a 9-0 start including wins over San Diego State, Kansas State, Xavier, St. John’s, and, most recently, Kansas. Led by Coach Bobby Hurley, the Sun Devils are poised to be a major player both in the PAC-12 and nationally this season. Senior guard Tra Holder leads the Sun Devils attack averaging 21 points, 6 rebounds, and 5 assists so far this year. The Sun Devils host Vanderbilt, Longwood, and Pacific before opening PAC-12 play against in-state rival Arizona on Saturday, December 30.
After beating Minnesota on the road in the Big Ten/ACC Challenge, Miami avoided trap games at home against Princeton and Boston University. The Hurricanes will put their undefeated record on the line in the coming weeks as they close out the nonconference slate with games at George Washington and Hawaii and begin conference play at Pittsburgh and Georgia Tech. The Hurricanes have four players averaging double figures including sophomores Dewan Huell, Dejan Vasiljevic, and Bruce Brown Jr. and senior Ja’Quan Newton.
Don’t call it a comeback, but Arizona seems to have rebounded from their disastrous trip to play in the Battle 4 Atlantis where they lost all three games they played. Since returning to the United States, the Wildcats are 4-0 including wins over UNLV, Texas A&M, and Alabama in their last three tilts. Allonzo Trier and Deandre Ayton are the best duo in the country, both averaging better than 20 points per contest. Arizona will look to close out nonconference play strong as they face New Mexico on the road and North Dakota State and Connecticut at home before they open conference play against their aforementioned in-state rivals, the Arizona State Sun Devils.