The Siena Saints were two free throws away from a three game win streak, but settled with splitting a pair of contests at home last week against Monmouth and Niagara.
Siena looked to begin a win streak when they hosted Monmouth Monday night. The Hawks have had a down year thus far, but have really hit their stride in conference play. The Saints opened up a 20-10 lead, thanks to four early triples by Jalen Pickett. Monmouth closed the first half with a 12-0 run and took a 34-27 lead into intermission. The Hawks continued the run as they took a 41-29 lead with 17:04 left on a free throw by Ray Salnave. Siena responded and went on a 15-0 spurt of their own to earn a 44-41 advantage with 11:08 remaining. In a back-and-forth affair, Deion Hammond nailed a three to give Monmouth a 55-54 lead with 1:36 to go. Salnave connected on a pair of free throws to build a 57-54 advantage with 26.4 to play, but the Saints refused to go away. Sloan Seymour sent the game to overtime as he drilled a trey with 6.8 ticks on the clock. With Siena trailing the Hawks by one, 61-60, Evan Fisher stepped to the charity stripe with 8.5 seconds left in overtime with hopes of giving the Saints the lead. Fisher missed both free throws and Samuel Chaput put the game away with a two free throws at the other end to send Monmouth home with a 63-60 overtime win.
Hammond led the Hawks with 16 points, on 6-of-12 shooting, and three rebounds.
Kevin Degnan paced Siena with 17 points, on 5-of-7 from the field, and seven boards. Pickett stuffed the stat sheet for the Saints with 15 points, seven rebounds, six assists, three steals, and two blocks. Fisher finished with 12 points and four boards.
Siena looked to rebound from their heartbreaking loss to Monmouth when they took on the Niagara Purple Eagles on Thursday night at the Times Union Center. Niagara jumped out to an early 12-2 lead. The Saints outscored the Purple Eagles 29-12 the rest of the first half to take a 31-24 advantage into the break. Siena pulled away with a 14-2 run capped off by a jumper by Degnan to take a 55-35 lead with 7:06 remaining in the game. The Saints hung on to earn a 66-57 victory.
James Towns led Niagara with 21 points, on 8-of-13 from the floor, and four rebounds.
Pickett paced the Saints with 17 points, on 5-of-11 shooting, four boards, on seven assists. Fisher added 13 points, on 6-of-12 from the field, six rebounds, and three assists. Kadeem Smithen provided a spark off the bench for Siena as he tallied 13 points on 5-of-9 from the floor.
With the win, the Saints improved to 7-11 overall and 2-3 in the MAAC.
Player of the Week: Kadeem Smithen
Although Pickett and Fisher continue to be leaders for Siena on the court, this week’s player of the week for the Saints was Kadeem Smithen. The senior guard had yet to break out this year, but he came off the bench against Niagara and was just what the doctor ordered for first-year coach Jamion Christian. Smithen has always been a solid defender, but rarely gets it going offensively. Siena could use Smithen as a viable option off the bench as MAAC play continues.
Up Next: Fairfield and Manhattan
The Saints will travel to Bridgeport, Connecticut to take on the Fairfield Stags on Thursday night. Tip-off is set for 7pm. Fairfield is 5-14 on the season, 2-5 in conference, and are coming off a 73-68 loss to Canisius on Saturday. The Stags are led by Landon Taliaferro who is averaging 12.5 points per game. Last year, Fairfield swept the season series from Siena.
The Saints will return home on Saturday night when they square off against the Manhattan Jaspers. Tip-off is set for 7pm. Manhattan is 4-14 overall, 2-4 in the MAAC, and are coming off a 60-47 loss to Rider on Saturday. The Jaspers host Marist on Monday night before they travel to Albany to battle with Siena. Manhattan is led by Pauly Paulicap who is averaging 8.5 points and 3.9 rebounds per contest. Last season, the Jaspers swept the season series from the Saints.
A Wild Week for the Orange Culminates with Upset over Top-Ranked Duke
Wow! Syracuse battled through a wild week defeating Clemson at home, being blown out by a subpar Georgia Tech team in the Carrier Dome, and traveling to Durham, NC to topple the #1 ranked Duke Blue Devils. Three games in six days is tough for any team, but the way the Orange weathered that storm was a script that no one could write.
Syracuse took on the Clemson Tigers on Wednesday night in their second ACC matchup of the 2018-19 campaign. The Orange jumped out to a 21-10 lead thanks to a 19-5 run capped off by a dunk by Oshae Brissett with 8:41 left in the opening stanza. Clemson shortened Syracuse’s advantage to eight, 30-22 at the half. The Orange grabbed control of the game as a triple by Elijah Hughes gave Syracuse a 51-36 edge with 9:13 remaining. The Tigers made it a six point game, 54-48, when Marcquise Reed nailed a trey with 4:46 to go, but the Orange hung on and secured four consecutive defensive stops to earn a 61-53 victory to improve to 2-0 in conference play.
Syracuse shot 41.7-percent from the field and held the Tigers to a 35.8-percent clip. The Orange’s vaunted 2-3 zone perplexed Clemson all night as the Tigers committed 17 turnovers.
Reed led Clemson with 16 points, on 5-of-13 shooting, six rebounds, and three assists. Elijah Thomas chipped in with 13 points on, on 4-of-6 from the field, and seven boards.
Hughes paced Syracuse with 14 points and seven rebounds. Tyus Battle added 12 points, three boards, and three assists. Frank Howard tallied 12 points, on 4-of-8 from the floor, pulled down five rebounds, and dished out four assists. Marek Dolezaj stuffed the stat sheet with 10 points, on 3-of-5 shooting, four boards, four helpers, two blocks, and two steals.
The Orange looked to remain undefeated in league play when they squared off with the Georgia Tech Yellow Jackets Saturday evening. Both teams struggled to score in the opening twenty minutes and Georgia Tech took a one point lead, 27-26 into the break. The Yellow Jackets blew the game wide open with a 24-7 spurt that ended with a layup by Jose Alvarado to build a 51-33 edge with 12:17 left in the game. Syracuse ran a full-court press for the final 14 minutes of the contest, but failed to get anything going offensively, which allowed Georgia Tech to pull away to a 73-59 win on the road.
The Orange had improved their shooting over the last few weeks until the Yellow Jackets’ zone stifled their offensive attack. Syracuse shot a dreadful 31.6-percent from the floor and an even more pitiful 21.2-percent from beyond the arc. Georgia Tech, on the other hand, shot the lights out—59.5-percent from the field and 50-percent from three-point land.
Alvarado led the Yellow Jackets with 19 points, on 5-of-6 from the field, and three rebounds. James Banks III poured in 16 points, on 6-of-10 from the floor, grabbed seven boards, blocked three shots, and came away with three steals. Curtis Haywood II dropped in 15 points, on 6-of-10 shooting, corralled four rebounds, and distributed seven helpers. Abdoulaye Gaeye finished with 10 points on 5-of-7 from the field.
Brissett scored a team-high 15 points, pulled in seven boards, and dished out three assists. Hughes recorded 12 points and three rebounds, while Battle contributed with 11 points.
After suffering a bad loss at home to Georgia Tech, the Orange were staring down a .500 in record in conference play as they were set to battle with #1 Duke on the road on Monday. In desperate need of a signature win, Syracuse needed a few bounces to fall their way and an improved shooting performance in order to pull off an unforeseen upset. The Blue Devils, and their four star freshman, were fresh off a last second win at Florida State two days earlier and came into tip-off favored by 17.
Cam Reddish, the third-ranked recruit in the Class of 2018 was out with flu-like symptoms, but Duke’s remaining star frosh raced out to an early 12-0 lead only three minutes into the contest. However, the tide was about to change. The Blue Devils’ freshman point guard, Tre Jones, separated his right shoulder when he collided with Howard as the two players were chasing after a loose ball five and a half minutes into the first half.
The Orange came all the way back to tie the game at 29 with 6:37 remaining in the opening stanza. Syracuse claimed their first lead of the game, 36-35, on a free throw by Paschal Chukwu with 4:49 to go before intermission. RJ Barrett, the top recruit in the Class of 2018, extended Duke’s lead with a jumper to 49-44 with 1:19 to go before the break. The Orange trimmed the Blue Devils’ halftime edge to one, 49-48, as Hughes made what could possibly be the shot of the year as his 75-foot heave at the buzzer was true.
Syracuse began the second half by taking the lead (50-49) on a layup by Brissett less than a minute in. Duke reclaimed their advantage, 52-50, on a layup by Marques Bolden with 18:49 left. The Blue Devils built an eight point edge, 67-59, on a layup by the second ranked recruit in the Class of 2018 and the leading candidate for National Player of the Year, Zion Williamson, with 13:41 to go. The Orange were not ready to go away easily. Syracuse reclaimed the lead, 81-80, with 3:10 left on a layup by Chukwu. Williamson had a chance to win it for Duke at the free throw line after a questionable foul was called on Chukwu. The diaper-dandy converted on only one-of-two attempts from the charity stripe and the game was tied at 85. Battle’s shot at the buzzer clanked off the back iron and the ACC rivals were headed to overtime for the second time since the Orange joined the conference in 2013-14.
Hughes controlled the opening tip in the extra session and raced down the court to give Syracuse and 87-85 advantage. Less than a minute into the overtime period, Alex O’Connell nailed one from deep to give the Blue Devils an 88-87 lead. On the ensuing possession, Battle hit a jumper to put the Orange ahead for good. Barrett’s three at the buzzer missed and Syracuse emerged with a 95-91 upset over #1 Duke in overtime.
With the win, the Orange improved to 12-5 on the season, 3-1 in ACC play, and Syracuse became the first school other than North Carolina to upset a top-ranked Duke team at Cameron Indoor Stadium.
The Orange shot 43.8-percent from the floor, including 44-percent from three, and held the Blue Devils to just 38.7-percent from the floor and a miserable 20.9-percent from behind the three-point line. Syracuse outrebounded Duke 51-48.
Williamson led the Blue Devils with a career-high 35 points, on 12-of-20 shooting, and 10 rebounds to record a double-double. Williamson also blocked four shots. Barrett was an assist shy of a triple-double with 23 points, on 8-of-30 from the field, 16 rebounds, and nine assists. Bolden recorded a double-double with 12 points, 11 rebounds, and five blocks off the bench, while O’Connell came off the pine to hang 16 points, three rebounds, and three assists on the Orange in the losing effort.
Battle paced Syracuse with 32 points, on 12-of-28 from the floor, four rebounds, and four assists. Hughes added 20 points, on 7-of-15 shooting, and five boards. Howard scored 16 points in the second half, on 7-of-13 from the field, corralled six rebounds, and dished out five assists. Brissett finished with 14 points and eight rebounds, while Chukwu came off the bench and recorded a double-double featuring 10 points, a career-high 18 rebounds, and three blocks.
Coach Boeheim commented on his team’s win over Duke in his postgame press conference. “When (Chukwu) plays like that,” Boeheim said, “we’re a different team.”
Coach K commented on the result in his postgame press conference. “This was a very difficult night for our basketball program,” K said. “We’ll figure out ways of handling it.”
Player of the Week: Paschal Chukwu
From Battle’s first half dominance against Duke and Hughes’ continued steady play, this week’s player of the week for Syracuse was Paschal Chukwu. After not playing against Clemson, and playing just 15 minutes against Georgia Tech, Chukwu played the game of his life in helping the Orange earn a signature win at #1 Duke. He was a force inside against Williamson and stepped up to hit key free throws and collected rebounds down the stretch to get defensive stops when his team needed it most. If Chukwu can build on Monday night’s performance and be a legitimate threat on the interior, Syracuse will be able to remain atop the ACC standings.
Up Next: Pittsburgh
The Orange return home to face Pittsburgh on Saturday afternoon. Tip-off is set for 2pm. After being the laughing stock of the ACC a year ago, first-year head coach Jeff Capel has rejuvenated the program. The Panthers are 12-5 overall, 2-2 in conference, and are coming off a 75-62 win against #11 Florida State on Monday night. Pitt is led by Xavier Johnson who is averaging 17.1 points, 3.3 rebounds, and 4.7 assists per contest. Last season, Syracuse swept the season series from the Panthers.
Siena traveled down I-87 to battle with arch rival Marist on Friday night in a MAAC matchup.
The Saints were looking for their first MAAC win under first year head coach Jamion Christian. With neither team shooting well in the first half, the score was tied at 22 at intermission. The contest featured 10 ties and 17 lead changes and was tightly contested until the Red Foxes opened up a 51-44 lead on a free throw by Isaiah Lamb with 8:08 remaining in the game. The Saints responded with a 22-8 run capped off by a triple by Sloan Seymour to build a 66-59 edge with 1:33 to go. Siena hung on and Coach Christian picked up his first MAAC win with a score of 71-66.
The Saints earned the victory from behind the arc where they converted on 45.5-percent of their attempts (10-of-22), compared to Marist who shot just 22.7-percent (5-of-22) from three.
Lamb led the Red Foxes with 13 points, on 5-of-8 shooting, and eight rebounds.
Evan Fisher paced Siena with 23 points, on 8-of-10 from the field, and four rebounds. Seymour finished with 12 points in the win.
With the victory, the Saints improved to 6-10 overall and 1-2 in the MAAC.
Player of the Week: Sloan Seymour
Although Evan Fisher has been playing at an All-MAAC level in conference play, this week’s player of the week for Siena is Sloan Seymour. In MAAC play, the freshman forward has been averaging 13 points per game on 46.4-percent shooting from three-point land. Continued efficiency from deep by Seymour is critical moving forward for the Saints as defenses will need to guard against his shot, which will open up the floor for Fisher and Jalen Pickett.
Up Next: Monmouth and Niagara
This week, Siena returns to the Times Union Center for a two-game home-stand with games against Monmouth and Niagara.
The Saints host the Monmouth Hawks on Monday at 7pm. Monmouth is 3-14 on the season, 2-2 in the MAAC, and is coming off a 65-49 win over Manhattan on Saturday. The Hawks are led by Ray Salnave who is averaging 12.4 points and 4.2 rebounds per game. Last year, Monmouth swept the season series, including a 93-89 win over the Saints in triple overtime at the Times Union Center.
Siena will square off against the Niagara Purple Eagles on Thursday night. Tip-off is set for 7pm. Niagara is 8-8 overall, 1-2 in the MAAC and is coming off a 95-90 win over Iona on Friday. The Purple Eagles will face Rider at home before traveling to Albany to duel with the Saints. Niagara is led by Marvin Prochet who is averaging 17.4 points and 8.6 rebounds per contest. Last season, the Purple Eagles emerged victorious in the lone meeting between the two schools, 84-76, in Albany.
Syracuse defeated St. Bonaventure to close out non-conference play and open their ACC slate with a triumph over Notre Dame on the road.
The Orange opened their non-league finale against St. Bonaventure with a 17-2 run capped off by a jumper by Frank Howard with 14:08 left in the first half. Syracuse would continue their hot streak into the break as they shot 57.7-percent in the opening stanza to earn a 46-25 advantage. The Orange shot 58.3-percent from the field over the course of the final 20 minutes to pull away with a 81-48 blowout victory. Leading up to the game, Howard said that they were not taking the Bonnies lightly and did not want to lose to St. Bonaventure for a second season in a row—Syracuse made sure this was no contest right from the jump.
Kyle Lofton and Jalen Poyser led the Bonnies with 12 points apiece.
The Orange were led by Tyus Battle who scored 21 points on a perfect 8-of-8 from the floor. Elijah Hughes poured in 16 points on 6-of-10 shooting. Buddy Boeheim added 12 points on 4-of-8 from the field.
Syracuse traveled to South Bend, Indiana to begin ACC play at former Big East foe Notre Dame. The Fighting Irish raced out to an early 20-10 lead on a dunk by John Mooney. The Orange pulled to within one, 23-22, with 7:52 remaining in the half. Nate Laszewski’s triple at the horn gave Notre Dame a 38-37 edge going into intermission. With Syracuse clinging to a 60-58 advantage, Hughes sparked a 10-1 spurt with a trey. The Orange refused to relinquish their lead and emerged with a 72-62 win over the Fighting Irish. Syracuse now has two Quad-1 road wins on their NCAA Tournament resume.
TJ Gibbs paced Notre Dame with 18 points and five assists. Mooney posted a double-double with 14 points and 14 rebounds in defeat.
Hughes led the Orange with a double-double, recording career-highs of 22 points and 10 rebounds. The East Carolina-transfer shot 8-of-16 from the floor, including 6-of-13 from beyond the arc. Oshae Brissett finished with a double-double of his own with 19 points and 11 rebounds. Battle finished with 17 points and five rebounds.
Player of the Week: Tyus Battle
This week’s player of the week for Syracuse was Tyus Battle. Although Elijah Hughes had a career game against Notre Dame, Battle earned ACC Player of the Week honors for his perfect shooting game against St. Bonaventure. The junior guard averaged 19 points, on 64-percent shooting, and 3.5 rebounds per contest this past week. Last season, he was criticized for his inefficiency on the offensive end. His scoring numbers are down (19.2 points per game last year, 17.9 points per game this year), but Battle has been much more efficient (48-percent shooting in 2018-19 compared to a 39.9-percent clip in 2017-18) thus far. With Hughes in the lineup, Battle has not needed to shoulder as much of the scoring load as he needed to a year ago. Improvements in Battle’s shooting and Howard’s health combined with a deeper bench should pay dividends as the Orange enter the ACC portion of their schedule. Syracuse is now 10-4 overall and 1-0 in the league.
Up Next: Clemson and Georgia Tech
Syracuse returns home for a two-game home stand against Clemson and Georgia Tech. The Orange hosts Clemson in their conference home opener on Wednesday night. Tip-off is set for 8pm. The Tigers are 10-4 on the season, 0-1 in the ACC, and are coming off an 87-68 loss to Duke on the road. Clemson is led by Marcquise Reed who is averaging 19.6 points, 5.1 rebounds, and 4 assists per game. Last season, Syracuse topped the Tigers 55-52 in the Carrier Dome. This will be the first of two meetings between the two schools this year.
The Orange will return to the Dome to take on Georgia Tech on Saturday evening. Tip-off is set for 6pm. Syracuse will look to avenge last year’s 55-51 loss to the Yellow Jackets in Atlanta. Georgia Tech is 9-5 overall, 1-0 in conference, and is coming off a 92-79 win over Wake Forest. The Yellow Jackets will host #9 Virginia Tech on Wednesday before traveling north to battle the Orange. Georgia Tech is led by Jose Alvarado who is averaging 13.1 points, 3.9 rebounds, and 3.3 assists per contest.
Since losing to Holy Cross on December 22, Siena closed out their non-conference schedule with a home win over Cal Poly. The Saints opened up conference play Thursday night with a loss at St. Peter’s and followed that up with a loss to Canisius at home on Friday night.
Siena defeated Cal Poly, 75-54, to round out the non-conference portion of their 2018-19 campaign. The Saints used a 10-0 run to build a 36-25 advantage at the break. The Mustangs used an 11-0 spurt out of the locker room to tie the score at 36 with 15:05 remaining. Siena opened up an insurmountable lead with a 25-6 run to earn the victory.
The Saints drilled 14 triples in the win which is tied for the most in a game by a Siena team in 17 years. Siena shot 51-percent from the field and held Cal Poly to a 44.2-percent clip. The Saints also outrebounded the Mustangs 30-27 and forced the visitors into 14 turnovers.
Mark Crowe led Cal Poly with 13 points on a perfect 5-of-5 shooting.
Siena was led by Evan Fisher who poured in a career-high 26 points, on 11-of-19 from the field, and eight rebounds. Freshman point guard Jalen Pickett posted a double-double with 16 points, on 6-of-12 from the floor, and 11 assists. Pickett also corralled five rebounds. Sloan Seymour chipped in with 12 points on 4-of-9 from three.
The Saints began their conference slate at St. Peter’s. The Peacocks took a 31-25 lead into halftime and used a 12-0 spurt to go ahead 51-32 with 12:25 left. Siena refused to go away. The Saints ripped off a 12-0 run of their own to trim St. Peter’s’ to seven, 51-44, with 9:18 on the clock. The Peacocks hung on to win 65-60. Siena has now lost nine consecutive games in Jersey City.
It was an evenly matched affair in which St. Peter’s shot 52-percent from the field, compared to the Saints, who shot it at a 51-percent clip. The Peacocks outrebounded Siena 27-25 and forced the Saints into eight turnovers. St. Peter’s only turned the ball over seven times.
Davauhnte Turner paced the Peacocks with 21 points on 8-of-17 shooting.
Fisher led Siena with 23 points, on 11-of-18 from the field, and six rebounds. Pickett added 16 points, on 7-of-13 from the floor, four rebounds, and eight assists. Seymour finished with 12 points on 4-of-6 from deep.
The Saints returned to the Times Union Center Saturday night to host Canisius in hopes of avoiding an 0-2 start in MAAC play. Siena raced out to an early 15 point lead, 32-17, at the 6:44 mark in the opening stanza and took a 40-30 advantage into the half. The Golden Griffins used a 16-4 run and took a 53-51 lead with 10:06 remaining. Jalanni White connected on a jumper with 5:47 left to take a one point advantage that they would not relinquish the rest of the way. Seymour drained a trey to pull the Saints within one, 64-63, with 35.7 ticks on the clock, but Canisius connected on six free throws to earn a 70-66 victory.
The Golden Griffins shot 45.5-percent from the floor and held Siena to 38.1-percent shooting. Canisius outrebounded the Saints 39-33 and forced the Saints into 13 turnovers.
Takal Molson scored 23 points, on 8-of-16 shooting, and eight rebounds to lead the Golden Griffins. Preseason MAAC Player of the Year Isaiah Reese tallied 20 points and grabbed eight boards in their win over the Saints.
The trio of Fisher, Pickett, and Seymour led Siena in scoring for the third consecutive game. Fisher posted a double-double with 21 points, on 9-of-19 from the field, and 17 rebounds. Pickett recorded a double-double of his own with 14 points and 11 assists. He also pulled down seven rebounds. Seymour contributed with 15 points on 5-of-12 from beyond the arc.
Siena, who is 5-10 overall and 0-2 in the MAAC, has relied heavily on Fisher, Pickett, and Seymour and dressed only eight scholarship players against Canisus as Sammy Friday IV (out for the rest of the year), Jimmy Ratliff, and Manny Camper were all sidelined due to injury.
Player of the Week: Evan Fisher
This week’s player of the week for Siena was senior forward Evan Fisher. Fisher averaged 23.3 points, on 55.4-percent from the floor, and 10.3 rebounds per game this week. If he continues to play like this, Fisher may have himself in the conversation for First-Team All-MAAC.
Up Next: Marist
Siena will travel down I-87 to take on arch rival Marist on Friday night. Tip-off is set for 7pm. The game will be nationally televised on ESPNU. The Red Foxes are 5-8 on the season, 0-1 in league play, and are coming off a 75-72 loss to Canisius. Marist will host Manhattan on Tuesday before taking on the Saints. The Red Foxes are led by Brian Parker who is averaging 15 points, 4 rebounds, and 3.7 assists per contest. Last year, the teams split their season series with each school winning on their home court.
Let’s take a look at who is in position to be in the All-American conversation now that we are halfway through the college basketball season.
Zion Williamson, Duke
Duke’s star freshman Zion Williamson looks every bit the best player in college basketball. At 6’7” and 285 pounds, Williamson is a physical specimen and is a generational talent that will likely be the top pick in the 2019 NBA Draft. Zion took over the college basketball world when he erupted for 28 points and seven rebounds in the Blue Devils’ 118-84 blowout of then #2 Kentucky on opening night. He presents a matchup nightmare for pretty much every team in the country and is shooting an incredibly efficient 72.4-percent on two-point field goals. If there’s one thing for Williamson to improve on, it’s his three point shooting. He is by no means a volume shooter as the southpaw only attempts 1.5 threes per game, but he has connected on only 16.7-percent of his attempts from deep. When examining Duke’s one-and-done freshmen in the past, a consistent trend has been their inability to defend. Last year, the Blue Devils’ top freshman Marvin Bagley III, was so lacking defensively that Coach K switched to a 2-3 zone defense to hide his defensive inefficiencies. That is not the case with Zion. Williamson can guard multiple positions and is averaging 2.1 steals and 1.9 blocks per game—which allows him and his teammates to get out in transition, so he can make his highlight real dunks. At this point in the season, Zion is the frontrunner for National Player of the Year.
Dedric Lawson, Kansas
Perhaps one of the most quietly consistent players in the country is Kansas’ Dedric Lawson. The Memphis-transfer is averaging a double-double with 20.6 points, on 53.2-percent shooting, and 11.4 rebounds per game. The Jayhawks are 10-1, and without Lawson, they likely would not have clenched some of the closer matchups. In a 63-60 victory over New Mexico State, Lawson scored the final 14 points of the game for Kansas over the final 6:40 of play. Lawson finished the contest with 20 points, on 8-of-15 shooting, and 10 rebounds. If the Jayhawks plan on winning their 15th consecutive Big Twelve regular season title, they may need Lawson to continue averaging a double-double. For now Dedric Lawson is on track for being a First-Team All-American at the season’s end.
Markus Howard, Marquette
Two words: Sharp. Shooter. Marquette’s Markus Howard is just that. The junior guard is averaging 25 points, on 42.6-percent shooting and 40.2-percent from beyond the arc, 4.3 rebounds, and 4.5 assists. The Golden Eagles are 10-2 with their only losses coming to Indiana and then #2 Kansas and Howard is a key reason why. Most recently, Marquette took down #14 Buffalo 103-85. Howard tallied 45 points in the win on 12-of-25 from the field, including 9-of-13 from distance. He had one of the most electric 20 minutes in college basketball this season as he scored 24 consecutive points and a total of 40 points in the second half. The Golden Eagles have climbed to #18 in the rankings and will look to challenge Villanova for the Big East regular season crown. If Marquette is able to do that, Howard will be in the conversation for Big East Player of the Year and First-Team All-American status.
Grant Williams, Tennessee
The reigning SEC Player of the Year, Grant Williams, is off to a great start and has Tennessee in the conversation as a legitimate National Champion contender. Williams is a matchup nightmare who can shoot the three and bang in the post. He is averaging 19.6 points, on 56.3-percent shooting, including 41.2-percent from three-point land, 8.5 rebounds, and 4.2 assists per contest. Williams scored 24 points, on 9-of-15 from the floor, grabbed nine boards, and dished out four assists in a win over Louisville at the NIT Season Tip-Off in November. His efficiency and leadership will be necessary if the Volunteers are to repeat as SEC regular season champions and make a run to the Final Four. If they do that, there will be no doubt that Williams will repeat as SEC Player of the Year and be a First-Team All-American come March.
Rui Hachimura, Gonzaga
After playing averaging 11.6 points and 4.7 rebounds in only 20 minutes per game a season ago, Rui Hachimura returned to Gonzaga and has emerged as one of the best players in college basketball in his junior year. Hachimura has been incredibly efficient this year—shooting 58-percent from the field, including 44.4-percent from three. He leads Gonzaga, the nation’s most efficient offensive attack, in scoring as he is averaging 21.7 points per game. Hachimura also corrals 6.7 boards per contest. He scored 26 points, on 9-of-20 shooting, pulled down seven rebounds, and hit the game-winner in an 81-79 victory over Washington with 0.6 seconds remaining. The Japanese-born prospect will likely be a lottery pick in the 2019 NBA Draft, but before then, he is the early front-runner for WCC Player of the Year and a legitimate First-Team All-American candidate. If Hachimura keeps playing at this level, the Zags, with Killian Tillie back in the lineup, could cut down the nets in Minneapolis.
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
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.
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.
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
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
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
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.