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

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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

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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

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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

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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

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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

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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.

Freshly Squeezed (11/26)

Syracuse Bounces Back with Win over Colgate

elijah
Syracuse University

After falling to UConn and Oregon, Syracuse bounced back to pick up their third win of the season with a 77-56 victory over longtime instate rival Colgate on Thanksgiving Eve at the Carrier Dome. It was the Orange’s 53rd consecutive win over the Raiders—the longest winning streak against an opponent in Division I.

Colgate had Syracuse on their heels early, as the Raiders connected on eight three pointers in the first 20 minutes and trailed the Orange just 35-32 at the break. Colgate continued their hot streak from deep as they sunk three of their first four attempts from distance in the second stanza. With the game tied at 42, Elijah Hughes hit a three to spark a 22-3 run that put Syracuse up for good. Tyus Battle took the game over and scored 10 points over that stretch.

The Orange shot 43.3-percent from the field and 35-percent from three and held the Raiders to 35.3-percent from the floor and 30-percent from beyond the arc. Syracuse also forced Colgate into 16 turnovers.

Will Rayman and Jordan Burns tallied 13 points apiece to lead the Raiders in the losing effort. Rayman grabbed eight rebounds, while Burns dished out five assists.

Battle paced the Orange with 24 points on an efficient 8-of-10 shooting. Hughes and his frontcourt-mate Oshae Brissett poured in 17 points apiece and pulled down six and nine rebounds, respectively. Sophomore center Bourama Sidibe recorded his second career double-double as he finished with 11 points and 10 rebounds. The big man also came away with three steals. Sidibe saw an uptick in his minutes as starting center Paschal Chukwu left the game with a groin strain after playing only four minutes. His status for Wednesday’s game against Ohio State remains uncertain.

The most important takeaway from last Wednesday’s tilt with Colgate was that it was Frank Howard’s first appearance of the season. The senior point guard nailed a trey on his first shot attempt, dished out five assists, and came away with three steals in 19 minutes of action.

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Syracuse.com

Coach Boeheim commented on Howard’s impact in his postgame press conference. “It was good to have Frank (Howard) back,” Boeheim said. “He made a couple really smart plays to start the second half. He got the ball back to Elijah and gave it to Tyus, and we got a couple of threes because of it.”

Hopefully, a week of practice will have Howard fully back in the swing of things when Syracuse travels to Columbus to take on Ohio State on Wednesday.

Player of the Week: Tyus Battle

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Syracuse.com

In a week where the Orange only played one game, Tyus Battle proved to be Syracuse’s player of the week. The junior guard looked much more comfortable with his running mate Frank Howard back in the lineup. Battle was able to play off the ball and act as more of a scorer as opposed to having to run the offense and get others involved as he had in the first four games of the season. He also started to heat up from three against Colgate. Battle connected on all three of his attempts from three point land against the Raiders. He will need to play even better if Syracuse wants to take down the Buckeyes in this week’s ACC/Big Ten Challenge.

Up Next: Ohio State and Cornell

The Orange travel to Columbus to take on the Ohio State Buckeyes in the ACC/Big Ten Challenge on Wednesday night. Tip-off is set for 7:15pm. Ohio State enters the contest undefeated and ranked 16th in the country. The Buckeyes are coming off an 89-62 win over Cleveland State and have also won at Cincinnati and at Creighton. Once again, Chris Holtmann’s team is taking the college basketball world by surprise. Ohio State is led by Kaleb Wesson who is averaging 14.7 points and 5.8 rebounds per game.

After squaring off with the Buckeyes, Syracuse will return to the Carrier Dome to host Cornell. The game will feature Coach Boeheim, his son Buddy, and the Orange against his oldest son Jimmy and the Big Red. Cornell is 3-3 and are coming off a 91-74 loss to UConn. The Big Red are led by one of the best players in mid-major college basketball, Matt Morgan, who is averaging 26.2 points and 7.8 rebounds per game. Jimmy Boeheim is averaging 13.8 points and 4.6 rebounds so far in his sophomore season. Last year, Coach Boeheim and Syracuse defeated Cornell 77-45, but not before Jimmy drained his first career three right in front of his dad’s bench. Buddy will make his debut in the family rivalry Saturday night. Tip-off is set for 8pm.