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.

The Jimmy V Classic

The 2017 Jimmy V Classic featured two games: #4 Villanova vs. #12 Gonzaga and Syracuse vs. UConn. Here’s the recap below.

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Villanova vs. Gonzaga

The first game of the Jimmy V Classic featured a battle between #4 Villanova and #12 Gonzaga. Villanova proved they’re legit and defeated the Zags 88-72 in the first meeting between the two schools.

Mikal Bridges led a balanced attack for the Wildcats with 28 points, 6 rebounds, and 2 blocks. Phil Booth added 20 points, Jalen Brunson had 12 points, 5 rebounds and 5 assists, and Omari Spellman added a double-double with 10 points and 10 rebounds in the win.

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nbcsports.com

Zach Norvell Jr. led wthe way for Gonzaga with 22 points and 4 rebounds, while Josh Perkins added 16 points, 6 rebounds and 4 assists, and Jacob Larsen finished with 10 points and 5 rebounds off the bench in the losing effort.

With the win, Villanova improved to 9-0 on the season and picked up its first win over a ranked opponent. The Wildcats look like a team that is poised to run the table in their conference and make a deep run in March. Gonzaga fell to 7-2, but has only lost to teams that have been ranked in the top 10.

Villanova will host LaSalle on Sunday, December 10 at 1pm, while Gonzaga will travel to Seattle to take on former Syracuse Assistant Coach Mike Hopkins and the Washington Huskies Sunday, December 10 at 8pm.

Syracuse vs. UConn

Syracuse defeated former Big East Rival UConn Tuesday night, 72-63, in the night cap of the Jimmy V Classic at Madison Square Garden in New York City. With the win, Syracuse improved to 9-7 over the Huskies in games played at the Mecca.

Syracuse raced out of the gates behind stellar starts from freshmen Matthew Moyer and Oshae Brissett. The Orange built their lead up to 37-20 with three minutes left in the first half before UConn cut their lead to 11 at the break. The Orange withstood the Huskies attempt to comeback in the second half and pulled out a win in a sloppy game between the two former conference foes.

The Syracuse defense was suffocating all night. UConn struggled to get anything going against the 2-3 zone. The Orange forced the Huskies into 17 turnovers, grabbing 11 steals. Tyus Battle finished with a career high 5 steals in the win. The front line of the zone combined for 4 blocks on the night as well.

Offensively, the Orange were led by Battle who scored 22 points and dished out 3 assists. Moyer turned in a career performance with 18 points, 8 rebounds and electrified the crowd at MSG with two thunderous put-back dunks. Brissett recorded his fourth double-double in his first four games in Orange finishing with 16 points and 10 rebounds.

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Photo by Michael J. Okoniewski

Frank Howard struggled. The junior point guard scored 5 points on 1-of-10 shooting, distributed 5 assists, and turned the ball over 9 times. Howard will need to get better at handling a full court press and needs to improve in assisting the Orange into its offense when he can’t find his own shot.

Jalen Adams led the way for the Huskies with 22 points.

In the absence of Geno Thorpe, who left the team last week, the Orange look to be 7-deep. Howard and Battle will seemingly get all the minutes at the guard positions, as Battle played all 40 minutes for the second straight game and freshman Howard Washington played just one minute after Howard committed a bad turnover in the first half.

Syracuse improved to 7-1 on the season, while UConn fell to 6-3. The Orange will host Colgate on Saturday, December 9 in the Carrier Dome. Tip-off is set for 2pm. The Huskies will host Coppin State at Gampel Pavilion on Campus in Storrs, Connecticut at the same time.