December Highlights

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

Studs: Duke, Tennessee, Nevada, Florida State

Duke Blue Devils

zion w
SB Nation

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

Tennessee Volunteers

admiral
Chicago Tribune

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

Nevada Wolfpack

martins
Mid-Major Madness

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

Florida State Seminoles

terance
Tomahawk Nation

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

Surprises: Texas Tech and Ohio State

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

Texas Tech Red Raiders

jarrett
SportsRadio 1340 The Fan

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

Ohio State Buckeyes

kaleb
Eleven Warriors

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

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

ACC Tournament First Round: Wake Forest vs. Syracuse

Syracuse Survives and Advances in ACC Tournament First Round Win over Wake Forest

marek dolezaj acc
The Daily Orange

The motto in March is “survive and advance” and Syracuse did exactly that with a 73-64 victory over Wake Forest in the First Round of the ACC Tournament at the Barclays Center in Brooklyn, NY Tuesday night.

The Orange used an 11-0 run early in the second half, capped by a layup by Paschal Chukwu, to take a 19 point lead with 8:16 remaining, but the Demon Deacons cut Syracuse’s lead to 62-56 on a made free throw by Brandon Childress with 1:58 left. The Orange used back-to-back alley-oop dunks by Chukwu and seven successful free throw attempts down the stretch to come away with the win.

Syracuse jumped out to a 20-4 lead on a layup by Chukwu with 11:44 to go in the opening stanza. Wake Forest responded by outscoring the Orange 20-10 over the remainder of the first half and Syracuse took a 30-24 lead into the break.

The Orange shot 54.8% from the field and held the Demon Deacons to just 35.9% shooting. Syracuse outrebounded Wake Forest, 34-30.

Wake Forest was led by Bryant Crawford’s 22 points and 6 assists.

All five starters scored in double figures for the Orange for the first time this season. Syracuse was led by Marek Dolezaj who poured in a career-high 20 points and grabbed 4 rebounds. Tyus Battle scored 18 points and corralled 6 rebounds before fouling out. Chukwu played well on the inside finishing with 14 points, 9 rebounds, and 3 blocks. Frank Howard added 11 points, 5 rebounds, 5 assists, and 3 steals. Oshae Brissett tallied 10 points and collected 9 rebounds.

Jim Boeheim commented on his team’s performance in his postgame press conference. “The first we had a lot of good looks and just couldn’t make anything,” Boeheim said. “I thought the second half we attacked the zone. I thought Frank did a great job, Marek was tremendous getting into the open spots. He has been looking to score better over the last part of the year. I thought our defense was the difference. They’re [Wake Forest] a very, very good offensive team. They made fourteen threes in Syracuse the last time we played and I thought we did a much better job guarding them on the three-point line. It was a really good win.”

With the win, the Orange improved to 20-12, while Wake Forest finished their season with an 11-20 record.

Syracuse will need to rest and get set to take on North Carolina in the second round of the ACC Tournament Wednesday night at 9:30pm. The two teams met two weeks ago when the Tar Heels pulled out a 78-74 victory in the Carrier Dome. North Carolina is led by their two All-ACC First Team selections Joel Berry II and Luke Maye.

ACC Tournament Preview

ACC Tournament: March 6-March 10, Barclays Center, Brooklyn, NY

acc logo
CSSSports.com

The Atlantic Coast Conference will host their men’s basketball conference tournament at the Barclays Center in Brooklyn for the second consecutive year. The Tourney will feature eight teams destined for a run in the NCAA Tournament and teams fighting to build their resume for an at-large bid or to secure an automatic bid.

NCAA Tournament Locks: Virginia, Duke, Miami, Clemson, NC State, North Carolina, Virginia Tech, Florida State

Kyle Guy
accsports.com

Virginia is playing for pride in Brooklyn. As regular season ACC Champions, the Cavaliers are a lock for a one seed in the NCAA Tournament at 28-2 overall, 17-1 in conference play. Virginia has a chance to claim both the regular season and ACC Tournament title for the first time since 2014, but the main goal for this week is to stay healthy and prime themselves for a deep run in March. ACC First Team performer Kyle Guy left Saturday’s game with a knee injury, but returned in the second half. Virginia Will open at noon on Thursday against the winner of the match-up between the eight seed Florida State and the nine seed Louisville.

Pending any slip-ups in the rest of the conference tournaments, a strong showing at the Barclays Center could land Duke a one seed. The Blue Devils have won six of their last seven, including a big comeback victory over arch rival North Carolina Saturday night. At 25-6 on the season, 13-5 in the ACC, Duke has improved defensively, led by ACC Player and Rookie of the Year Marvin Bagley III, All-ACC Second Team performer Wendell Carter, Jr., and All-ACC Third Team player Grayson Allen. They have the talent to win the ACC Tournament and make a deep run in the “Big Dance.” Duke will open on Thursday against either 10 Notre Dame/15 Pittsburgh or the seven seed Virginia Tech at 7pm.

marvin bagley
sportingnews.com

Miami (22-8, 11-7) looked like they were headed for the bubble after three straight losses to Boston College, Virginia, and Syracuse, but responded with four wins in a row down the stretch. The Hurricanes are a lock for the NCAA Tournament and will look to improve their seed at the ACC Tournament. ACC All-Rookie Team member Lonnie Walker IV has proven to be a go to scorer and a clutch performer. Miami will open against 11 Syracuse/14 Wake Forest or the six seed North Carolina on Thursday at 9:30pm.

Clemson has proved to be one of the best surprises of college basketball this season. Despite losing their second leading scorer, Donte Grantham, to a torn ACL in early January, the Tigers ended the season at 22-8 overall, 11-7 in conference—good for fourth place. All-ACC Second Team selection Marcquise Reed will look to lead Clemson to an ACC Tournament Championship and a possible top four seed in the “Big Dance” that could lead them to a chance to play their first weekend games in either Charlotte or Nashville. Clemson will open against either 12 Boston College/13 Georgia Tech or the five seed NC State on Thursday at 2:30pm.

NC State was once a bubble team, but as the season progressed, the Wolfpack have proven themselves to be a giant killer. At 21-10 on the season, 11-7 in the ACC, NC State has beaten Arizona, Duke, Clemson, North Carolina, and Florida State. Led by All-ACC Third Team player, Omer Yurtseven, the Wolfpack will be a tough out for the top teams in both the ACC and NCAA Tournaments. NC State will open against the winner of 12-seed Boston College and 13-seed Georgia Tech on Wednesday at 2:30pm.

North Carolina is the six seed in the ACC Tournament. Losing to Duke in the last game of the regular season pushed the Tar Heels into a four-way tie for third place, in which they lost all tiebreakers. North Carolina will look to use the ACC Tournament as an opportunity to get back to their winning ways prior to the “Big Dance.” Prior to the last week of the regular season, the Tar Heels were winners of six consecutive games and were one of the hottest teams in the country. Losses to Miami and Duke to close the regular season make it imperative for North Carolina to win at least one game in Brooklyn to hang onto a two or three seed in the NCAA Tournament. Joel Berry II, Theo Pinson, and Luke Maye will look to have the team primed and ready for the Tar Heels to leave their mark on March Madness once again. North Carolina will open against the winner of the 11-seed Syracuse and the 14-seed Wake Forest on Wednesday at 9:30pm.

luke maye
chapleboro.com

Virginia Tech entered ACC play as one of the top offensive teams in the country, but struggled to play any semblance of defense. Over their last eight games of the regular season, the Hokies finished 5-3, including wins over Virginia, Clemson, and Duke. Over that same stretch, Virginia Tech held opponents to 66.3 points per game—five below their season average. As the saying goes, defense wins championships. The Hokies, led by All-ACC Second Team selection, Justin Robinson, will look to prove that true at the Barclays Center this week. Virginia Tech will open against the winner of the 10-seed Notre Dame and the 15-seed Pittsburgh on Wednesday at 7pm.

Florida State travels to Brooklyn as the 8-seed at 20-10 overall, and 9-9 in the ACC. The Seminoles have been in and out of the top 25 all season and closed the regular season with a 5-5 record in their last 10 games. Florida State should still be in the NCAA Tournament, even if they were to lose to Louisville in their first game of the ACC Tournament on Wednesday at noon. Terance Mann will look to lead the Seminoles to ensure a bid come Selection Sunday.

On the Bubble: Louisville, Notre Dame, Syracuse

Despite all of the off the court issues this season, Louisville finds themselves squarely on the bubble as they head to the Barclays Center. If the Cardinals can get a win over Florida State and revenge against De’Andre Hunter and Virginia, they should feel good about their chances of securing an at-large bid. All-ACC Defensive Team member Anas Mahmoud will look to lead Louisville to a bid this week, beginning Wednesday at noon against Florida State.

Notre Dame is one of the selection committee’s greatest sources of conclusion this season. After playing a majority of their ACC schedule without Preseason ACC Player of the Year, Bonzie Colson, All-ACC Third Team performer Matt Farrell kept the ship afloat for the Fighting Irish. Now, with Colson back in the lineup, the committee may elect to view Notre Dame’s resume based on how they played with their star on the floor. The Fighting Irish need to avoid losing to winless Pittsburgh in the first round at 2:30pm on Tuesday, and may need wins over Virginia Tech and Duke to solidify a berth to the “Big Dance.”

bonzie
Notre Dame Insider

America’s favorite bubble team, the Syracuse Orange, have managed to find themselves in need of wins in the ACC Tournament to hear their names called on Selection Sunday yet again. The Orange will look for their first win in the conference tournament since joining the ACC in the 2013-14 season. Second Team All-ACC player Tyus Battle, All-ACC Rookie Team member Oshae Brissett, and runner-up for the title of the ACC’s Most Improved Player, Frank Howard, would shoulder most of the responsibility for earning the at-large bid if they are able to. Syracuse likely needs two wins this week to feel good about their chances to do so. The Orange will open against Wake Forest on Tuesday at 7pm.

tyus acc
syracuse.com

Here’s a look at the 2018 ACC Tournament Bracket:

ACC
accsports.com

Prediction:

Semis: Virginia def. NC State, Duke def. Miami

Final: Duke defeats Virginia in the title game.

All-Tournament Team:

Marvin Bagley III, Duke (Tournament MVP)

Grayson Allen, Duke

Kyle Guy, Virginia

Lonnie Walker IV, Miami

Omer Yurtseven, NC State

Regular Season Finale: Clemson at Syracuse

Syracuse Shocks Clemson

oshae clemson
The Daily Orange

Syracuse upset #18 Clemson 55-52 and claimed a signature win at the Carrier Dome on Saturday. The win was the team’s first victory over a ranked opponent this season.

The Tigers took a 50-49 lead on a layup by Elijah Thomas with 3:51 to go. The Orange responded with five free throws, three by Oshae Brissett and two by Paschal Chukwu, to claim a 54-50 lead with 1:30 left. Marcquise Reed cut Syracuse’s lead to two with a layup with seconds remaining. The Orange held on thanks to a thunderous block by Brissett with 4 seconds to go led to a free throw by Marek Dolezaj to provide the final margin. A half-court heave by Gabe DeVoe at the buzzer was halfway down, but popped out as Syracuse survived.

The Orange used a 12-2 run to jump out to an early 14-7 lead at the 10:21 mark. Clemson responded by outscoring Syracuse 18-8 the rest of the half and took a 25-22 lead into the break.

The Orange came out shooting after halftime and jumped out to seven point lead with 9:21 left.

Syracuse’s defense held the Tigers to 40% shooting from the field and forced Clemson into 12 turnovers. The Orange shot just 30.2% from the field, but took care of the ball. Syracuse turned the ball over only seven times.

The Tigers were led by Reed’s 21 points on 8-of-13 shooting. Reed made all five of Clemson’s three point baskets. Thomas poured in 18 points and grabbed 6 rebounds.

The Orange were led by Brissett and Tyus Battle who scored 17 points apiece. Brissett corralled 6 rebounds and blocked three shots, while Battle collected 5 rebounds.

Frank Howard added 11 points and 5 rebounds, while Dolezaj finished with 8 points. Chukwu recorded five rebounds and four blocks.

In just his sophomore season, Battle tallied the 1,000th point of his Syracuse career in the win. Battle joined elite company in accomplishing that feat. Only Gerry McNamara, Billy Owens, Lawrence Moten, and Jonny Flynn scored 1,000 points before the end of their sophomore season as a member of the Orange prior to Battle on Saturday.

tyus 1000
zimbio.com

Seniors Patrick Herlihy and Braedon Bayer were honored in a Senior Day ceremony prior to the game.

Jim Boeheim commented on his team’s performance in his postgame press conference. “It was just a tough, defensive game,” Boeheim said. “It was a huge battle. It was just a grind it out game. Clemson is very good. We struggled for everything we got tonight, but at the end of the day we made a couple plays at the end that was the difference.”

With the win, Syracuse finished its 2017-18 regular season with a 19-12 overall record, 8-10 in the ACC and are seated squarely on the NCAA Tournament bubble. The Orange will likely need two wins at the ACC Tournament in Brooklyn to feel comfortable about their chances of receiving an at-large bid on Selection Sunday. Clemson fell to 22-8 on the season and 11-7 in conference play.

Syracuse will be the 11-seed in this week’s ACC Tournament and will take on the 14-seed Wake Forest on Tuesday at 7pm. The two teams split the regular season with each team winning at home. The Demon Deacons won 73-67 in Winston-Salem, NC, while Syracuse captured a 78-70 win at the Dome. Wake Forest is led by Bryant Crawford’s 16.5 points and 4.9 assists per game.