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.
With the season behind us, let’s dive in and take a look at the five best players in college basketball this season who earned the right to be called All-Americans.
Jalen Brunson, G, Villanova
Jalen Brunson was the Player of the Year in college basketball, so naturally he is a First Team All-American. The junior guard served as the floor general of the nation’s best team and eventual National Champion, Villanova. Brunson averaged 18.9 points and 4.6 assists per game and shot 52.1% from the floor and 40.8% from three. He posed a tough match-up for opposing defenses as he could shoot the three, take it to the hole, post-up and be a threat in the mid-range. After the Wildcats defeated Michigan in the National Championship game, Brunson decided to forego his senior season and enter the NBA Draft, where he is projected as a late first round or early second round pick. He has etched his name in Villanova lore as he was a starter on two National Championship teams in three years.
Trae Young, G, Oklahoma
When Trae Young decided to stay home in Norman, Oklahoma and play for the Sooners rather that head off to Kentucky, very few people predicted that he would have the success he did in his only year in college. Young became the first player ever to lead the nation in both scoring and assists. The freshman scored 27.4 points per game and dished out 8.8 assists per game, leading Oklahoma to the NCAA Tournament where they fell in the first round to Rhode Island in overtime. Oklahoma relied on Young’s scoring and play-making. Although his numbers dipped toward the end of the season, he shot 42.2% from the floor and 36% from three. Young’s NBA Draft stock improved more than any other player in the country as he is now projected to be a top-ten pick in the NBA Draft.
Devonte’ Graham, G, Kansas
Devonte’ Graham’s decision to return to Lawrence for his senior season was a good one as the guard led his team to the Final Four for the first time since 2012 where they lost to Villanova. Graham led Kansas in scoring with 17.3 points per game on 40% shooting from the floor and 40.6% from beyond the arc. The senior point guard also corralled 4 rebounds and 7.2 assists per contest. After graduation, Graham will likely be chosen in the NBA Draft—he is projected to be an early second round selection.
Marvin Bagley III, F, Duke
The reclassification of Duke’s Marvin Bagley III was one of the biggest stories in college basketball heading into the 2017-18 season. Bagley III certainly did not disappoint as he led the nation’s most talented team in both scoring and rebounding. He also won ACC Player and Rookie of the Year honors, despite missing four games during conference play due to injury. The freshman averaged 21 points and 11.1 rebounds per game and led the Blue Devils to the Elite Eight where they lost to Kansas. The big man shot 61.4% from the floor and was a beast on the offensive glass. Bagley III will likely be a top five pick in this year’s NBA Draft. If he can improve his shooting from distance and his defense, he has all the ability to be an impact player at the next level.
Deandre Ayton, F, Arizona
Arizona’s Deandre Ayton rounds out the 2018 First Team All-American selections. Ayton is a physically imposing big man that shined in his one year in the Desert as he picked up both Pac-12 Rookie and Player of the Year honors. The freshman big man led the Wildcats to the Pac-12 Regular Season and Tournament Championships before getting upset in the first round of the NCAA Tournament by Buffalo as he posted a double-double per contest at 20.1 points and 11.6 rebounds. Ayton shot 61.2% from the floor during his freshman campaign. He is projected to be a top-three pick in this year’s NBA Draft. Scouts will hope that Ayton can develop a jumper and improve his shot blocking ability in order to become an elite NBA player.
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.
The NCAA Tournament is upon us. Let’s take a look at the South Region. The number one overall seed, Virginia, will look to advance to San Antonio via winning the South Region in Atlanta. However, there are 15 other teams looking to do the same thing. Here’s what to watch for.
Upset Pick: #11 Loyola-Chicago over #6 Miami
Loyola-Chicago, Champions of the Missouri Valley Conference, is 28-5 overall and has won their last ten games entering the NCAA Tournament. The Ramblers already have an upset under their belt this season as they took down Florida in Gainesville in December. Loyola-Chicago has a balanced attack led by Clayton Custer’s 13.4 points and 4.3 assists per game. Miami is 22-9 and prior to losing to North Carolina in the ACC Tournament had won four consecutive games. Lonnie Walker IV will look to lead the Hurricanes past the Ramblers and avoid the upset. The teams play very similar playing styles and Loyola-Chicago is poised to win a game in their first NCAA Tournament appearance since 1985.
Sleeper: Texas Longhorns
My sleeper pick in the South Region is the Texas Longhorns. At 19-14, Texas has wins over TCU, Texas Tech, Oklahoma, and West Virginia. With freshman phenom Mohamed Bamba back from injury, the Longhorns could be a double-digit seed that could advance to the second weekend if they get by Nevada and then possibly Cincinnati.
Pick to Win the South Region: Arizona Wildcats
Arizona has struggled to live up to the hype in recent NCAA Tournaments, but this year the Wildcats are fueled by the ongoing FBI investigation and have been one of the best teams entering the “Big Dance.” Arizona has the best player in the country, Deandre Ayton, who scored 32 points and grabbed 18 rebounds in their Pac-12 Championship game win over USC. The Wildcats have won eight of their last nine games and are under-seeded as a four seed. Look for Arizona to upset Virginia in the Sweet Sixteen and then take down Tennessee in the Elite Eight to make their way to the Final Four in San Antonio.
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 the winners and losers this week and what to watch for on Saturday.
Winner: Arizona Wildcats
Many wrote off Arizona (17-4, 7-1 PAC-12) early in the season after they scuffled out of the gates and lost all three games at the Battle 4 Atlantis. The Wildcats, who climbed to #11 in the rankings, have lost just one game since returning to the U.S. Earlier this week, Arizona got revenge for that loss, beating Colorado 80-71 to claim their fifth straight win in PAC-12 play. Freshman 7-footer Deandre Ayton has continued to impress and improve his NBA Draft stock. He is averaging a double-double so far with 19.7 points and 10.9 rebounds per game. The Wildcats will look to pick up their sixth consecutive win when they host Utah on Saturday at 5:30pm.
Loser: Clemson Tigers
The Clemson Tigers (16-4, 5-3 ACC) are one of the surprises in college basketball this season. Clemson moved up to #18 in the rankings following a 67-58 win over Notre Dame last Saturday. However, the Tigers lost their second leading scorer for the rest of the season, senior forward Donte Grantham, to a torn ACL in the win. Clemson’s offense looked abysmal in their first game without Grantham as the Tigers scored just 36 points in a blowout loss to #2 Virginia on Tuesday. On a team where five players (Marcquise Reed, Grantham, Gabe DeVoe, Shelton Mitchell, and Elijah Thomas) averaged double digit scoring, while no one else averaged more than four points per game, Clemson will need their role players to step up if they hope to challenge for an ACC Championship and a deep run in March. The Tigers return to action when they travel to Atlanta to take on Georgia Tech at 6pm on Sunday.
Saturday’s Premier Match-Up: #2 Virginia at #4 Duke (2:00pm CBS)
On a loaded weekend of college hoops which features the Big 12/SEC Challenge, one game sticks out above the rest. The second ranked Virginia Cavaliers travel to Tobacco Road to battle with the Duke Blue Devils. Virginia (19-1, 8-0 ACC) enters the contest on an eleven game win streak and holds a two-game lead over Duke in the ACC standings. The Cavaliers feature a three guard lineup of Kyle Guy, Devon Hall, and Ty Jerome who combine for nearly 54% of the team’s scoring. A win over the Blue Devils in the only game between the two teams this year would put Virginia well on their way to a regular season conference title. Duke (18-2, 6-2 ACC) is undefeated at home so far this season. Their only losses were on the road against Boston College and North Carolina State. All five starters average double figures in scoring for the Blue Devils, led by Marvin Bagley III’s 21.6 points and 11.5 rebounds per game. Duke will need to control the pace and get out in transition to overcome Virginia’s stout half-court defense. Look for the Cameron Crazies to fuel the Blue Devils to a big win at home.
As the end of 2017 approaches, so does the midway point in the college basketball season. Aside from Michael Porter Jr. suffering a season-ending injury in the first ten minutes of his collegiate career, the rest of my All-American picks, Miles Bridges, Bonzie Colson, Allonzo Trier, and Grayson Allen, have all lived up to the expectations. The following is a list of five other players that have taken the college basketball scene by storm in the first half of the season.
Marvin Bagley III, Forward, Duke
Marvin Bagley III’s choice to reclassify into the class of 2017 propelled Duke to being an early favorite to win both the ACC and the National Championship. No one has been able to find an answer for Bagley and he is averaging 21.1 points and 10.9 rebounds per game. Bagley has performed his best against Duke’s toughest competition. As of right now, Bagley is a leading candidate to be the first pick in the 2018 NBA Draft. The Blue Devils will resume conference play when they host 24th ranked Florida State at 11am on Saturday.
Trae Young, Guard, Oklahoma
Trae Young elected to stay home in Norman and is lighting up the college basketball world, averaging a double-double, as a freshman. Young leads the nation in both points and assists per game, averaging 28.7 points and 10.4 assists per contest. The freshman dazzled as he scored 26 points and dished out an NCAA record 22 assists against Northwestern State. Oklahoma is now ranked 12th in the country after going 10-1 in non-conference play and will take on undefeated and 10th ranked TCU on the road on Saturday at 2pm.
Deandre Ayton, Forward, Arizona
Deandre Ayton is a 7’1” 250 pound freshman forward from Nassau, Bahamas and is one of the nation’s top young big men. Ayton is averaging a double-double with 19.5 points and 11.4 rebounds per game. He is evolving to a point that some think he could surpass Marvin Bagley III as the top pick in the 2018 NBA Draft. With fellow 7-footer Dusan Ristic in the front court and another All-American contender Allonzo Trier in the back court, Arizona has rebounded from their struggles in the Bahamas at the Battle 4 Atlantis and will look to take the Pac-12 by storm. The Wildcats will open conference play when they host in-state rival and college basketball’s biggest surprise team, undefeated and 3rd ranked Arizona State, on Saturday at 9pm.
Jordan Murphy, Forward, Minnesota
Jordan Murphy leads a Minnesota team that struggled to live up to the hype toward the end of non-conference play. Murphy, the nation’s leading rebounder, has been a steady force throughout averaging 19.6 points and 12.6 rebounds per contest. The Big Ten is weaker than normal this year and the Golden Gophers, behind Murphy, will have a chance to make noise when they resume conference play at home on Wednesday, January 3 versus Illinois at 9pm.
Yante Maten, Forward, Georgia
Georgia senior forward Yante Maten will be a key player if the Bulldogs hope to return to the NCAA Tournament for the first time since 2015. He ranks second in the SEC in points per game (20.2) and first in the conference in rebounding (9.3). Maten lead Georgia to a 9-2 non-conference record, including wins over St. Mary’s and Marquette. The Bulldogs will need Maten to be on the top of his game and provide senior leadership if they hope to navigate through a tougher than normal SEC slate this year. Georgia opens conference play on Sunday at 6pm versus 16th ranked Kentucky on the road.
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.
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