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

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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

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.

Freshly Squeezed (11/19)

Syracuse Stumbles in New York City

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Bluefield Daily Telegraph

After going 2-0 to start off the season, the Syracuse Orange dropped both games in the 2K Empire Classic at Madison Square Garden last week.

Syracuse fell to former Big East rival, UConn, 83-76 in Thursday night’s first round matchup. The Huskies jumped on the Orange right away and got out to a 13-4 lead. UConn’s defensive pressure had Syracuse’s freshman point guard Jalen Carey noticeably rattled in the early going, but Carey responded and helped pull the Orange to within six at the break. Syracuse rallied to within four (70-66), but back-to-back threes by Alterique Gilbert and Tyler Polley helped UConn pull away and preserve the victory.

Coach Boeheim was disappointed with his team’s effort against the Huskies. Boeheim pointed to his team’s lack of consistency on the offensive end and questioned his team’s hustle, specifically in regards to the rebounding disparity. UConn outrebounded Syracuse 46-32. The key for the Huskies was their efficiency from three. UConn shot a blistering 57.1-percent (12-of-21) from distance. The Orange, however, connected on just 6-of-22 (27.3-percent) of their attempts from beyond the arc.

Jalen Carey paced the Orange with a career-high 26 points, on 9-of-14 from the field, and seven rebounds. Tyus Battle finished with 16 points, on 7-of-17 shooting, and four assists. Elijah Hughes added 15 points on 5-of-14 from the floor. Oshae Brissett scored nine points and corralled five rebounds, but struggled from the floor, shooting only 3-for-12.

Fifteenth ranked Syracuse was joined in Friday’s consolation game by the thirteenth ranked Oregon Ducks, who lost in the first round to Iowa, 77-69. The Orange had no answer for five-star recruit Bol Bol, who completely dominated the interior. The big man stuffed the stat sheet with 26 points, nine boards, four blocks, and three steals as the Ducks won 80-65. Syracuse suffered from another dreadful shooting performance as they shot just 35.3-percent from the field, including 17.9-percent from three point land. Oregon shot 50-percent from the field and 35-percent from long range in the victory. In a game where the shots weren’t falling, Syracuse also failed to take care of the ball. The Ducks forced Syracuse into 17 turnovers. The Ducks also outrebounded the Orange 35-28.

Syracuse was led by Battle who tallied 17 points in the losing effort. Hughes and Carey scored 14 points apiece and came away with five and three steals, respectively. Brissett struggled from the field for a second consecutive night. The sophomore forward scored 11 points on 2-of-12 from the field and 1-of-9 from three, grabbed six boards, and dished out four assists.

The showing in the Garden showed that Syracuse has a ton of work to do if they are going to live up to the preseason hype they generated in the offseason. The Orange are in desperate need of efficient shooting and an experienced point guard to lead the offense. Frank Howard practiced last week, but was in street clothes on the bench at the 2K Classic. Syracuse faces Colgate this Wednesday, but would hope to have Howard back in the lineup when they face Ohio State in the ACC/Big Ten Challenge on November 28.

Although it is easy to identify Syracuse’s offensive inefficiencies, the defense gave up 80 points in back-to-back games for the first time since February of 2017. It will be interesting to see if Coach Boeheim reverts back to the lineup that got the Orange to the Sweet Sixteen a year ago to string together some stops when Howard returns to health.

The Iowa Hawkeyes took home the 2K Empire Classic trophy with a 91-72 victory over UConn in Friday’s championship game. Luka Garza (Iowa) was awarded MVP honors, while Tyler Cook (Iowa), Eric Cobb (UConn), Bol, and Carey joined him on the All-Tournament team.

Player of the Week: Jalen Carey

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Syracuse.com

Aside from the first few minutes of the UConn game, Jalen Carey was the clear bright spot for Syracuse in New York City. The freshman from Harlem looked to be right at home on the big stage as he averaged 20 points, on 54.2-percent shooting, and five rebounds in two games last week. Carey only turned the ball over three times after the first half against the Huskies. The diaper-dandy was able to create his own shot, but only finished with one assist in the two games in the 2K Empire Classic. His performance earned him a spot on the All-Tournament team and ACC Freshman of the Week accolades. With Howard’s return, Carey’s performance could have us see more of a three guard lineup from the Orange.

Up Next: Colgate Raiders

Syracuse will look to get back on track when they return to the Carrier Dome to host Colgate on Wednesday at 7pm. Jordan Burns leads the Raiders, who are off to a 3-1 start. The sophomore guard is averaging 18 points and five assists per contest. Last year, the Orange defeated the Raiders 72-58.

Freshly Squeezed (11/12)

Orange off to 2-0 Start

Le Moyne Syracuse Basketball
The Spokesman-Review

Syracuse tipped off its 2018-19 campaign with victories over Eastern Washington and Morehead State last week. As opposed to last season, there is a renewed buzz around the program heading into Coach Boeheim’s 43rd season on SU Hill. The Orange return all five starters from a team that advanced to the Sweet Sixteen in March. In addition, Syracuse brings in a class of newcomers that are ready to make an impact right away.

Our first glimpse of the Orange came Tuesday night when they took down the Eastern Washington Eagles 66-34 in the Carrier Dome. Syracuse’s vaunted 2-3 zone held Eastern Washington to a mere 10 points in the first half and made it tough for the Eagles to get back in the game the rest of the way. The zone held Eastern Washington to 22-percent shooting and forced the Eagles into 19 turnovers. The key reason for the hype surrounding the Orange this year was a hope that greater depth and better shooters would bolster their offensive attack this season. Syracuse shot just 38.7-percent from the field and 17.6-percent from three on opening night. The Orange were paced by Oshae Brissett’s 20 points, 8 rebounds, and 3 steals in the victory.

Syracuse returned to the Carrier Dome on Saturday evening when they defeated the Morehead State Eagles 84-70 in the second game of the season. The Orange jumped out to an early 25-11 lead before Morehead State outscored them 19-11 to close the half. Clinging to a six point lead at the break, Syracuse traded baskets with the Eagles to begin the second stanza. The Orange pulled away with a 12-0 run to create a deficit that would be insurmountable for Morehead State to comeback from. Syracuse was more successful the second time out, as they connected on 41.2-percent of their attempts from the field. The Orange continued to struggle from beyond the arc as they were only 3-of-16 (18.8-percent) Saturday night. Tyus Battle led the way for Syracuse. The junior guard poured in 23 points on 7-of-15 shooting, collected three rebounds, and dished out three assists in the win. East Carolina transfer Elijah Hughes finished with 21 points, on 7-of-15 from the field, and eight boards. Brissett and senior center Paschal Chukwu both notched double-doubles as Brissett tallied 17 points and collected 12 rebounds, while Chukwu added 14 points and 10 boards. Coach Boeheim commented that the first two games were good learning experiences and that they gave his guys a lot to work on moving forward.

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Syracuse.com

The missing ingredient at this point in the season is production from the point guard position. Frank Howard, Jalen Carey, and Howard Washington are all still recovering from injuries that have caused Battle to play out of position and Buddy Boeheim to step into a starting role in the first two games of his college career. The Orange turned the ball over 24 times in their first two games and would prefer to have their senior leader, Howard, back sooner rather than later. Carey has not adjusted to the college game yet and missed valuable practice time after spraining his ankle in the Orange vs. White scrimmage in October. Washington played seven minutes in the opener against Eastern Washington, but did not see action against Morehead State on Saturday. Washington is recovering from a torn ACL which he suffered in practice in January.

I would like to see Marek Dolezaj get more involved offensively. The do-everything Slovakian forward showed glimpses of what he can be on the offensive end with 20 points against Wake Forest in the ACC Tournament and 17 points versus TCU in the NCAA Tournament his freshman year. Dolezaj is arguably the best passer on the roster, but he needs to make opponents respect his shooting ability. Dolezaj has made all four of his attempts from the field so far this season, but only took one shot (a dunk) against Morehead State. He made only two three pointers last season, but made one against Eastern Washington. It is rumored that he has been working on his stroke from three and it would be a tremendous lift for the Orange if we could see that in games. Get Dolezaj the ball!

marek
The Daily Orange

Player of the Week: Oshae Brissett

oshae
Democrat and Chronicle

This week’s player of the week for Syracuse is sophomore forward Oshae Brissett. Brissett is averaging a double-double with 18.5 points and 10.5 rebounds per game, good for the team lead in both categories. He also leads the team in steals with 2.5 thefts per contest. If Brissett is the best player on the Orange, there is no telling where the team can go this season. Although he missed a few layups Saturday night, Brissett is at his best when he takes it to the hoop. Add in a few more three pointers and Brissett will be among the class of the ACC.

Up next: UConn and Oregon/Iowa

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Phear the Phoenix

Syracuse will face UConn in the 2K Empire Classic Thursday at Madison Square Garden Thursday at 7pm. The Orange will take on either the winner or loser of Oregon/Iowa Friday night in the championship or consolation game.

The UConn Huskies are 2-0 under first year head coach Dan Hurley. UConn is led by senior guard Jalen Adams who is averaging 18 points and 2.5 assists per game. The Huskies are looking to rebound from Kevin Ollie’s final year in Storrs where they went 14-18 overall and finished eighth in the American Athletic Conference with a record of 7-11. Last year, the Orange defeated the Huskies 72-63 at MSG. If one thing for sure, Syracuse versus UConn at the Garden is always a hotly contested matchup and is one of the most electric scenes in college basketball.

Oregon enters the 2K Empire Classic with a record of 2-0 and is ranked 13th in the country. The Ducks are led by five-star freshman Bol Bol who is averaging 17.5 points, 12 rebounds, and 3.5 blocks per contest.

Fran McCaffery’s Iowa Hawkeyes will enter the Garden with a record of 2-0. The Hawkeyes are led by junior forward Tyler Cook who is averaging 14.5 points, seven boards, and three assists per game.

The Orange will head to Madison Square Garden determined to remain undefeated and bring a trophy back to the Melo Center.

Big Ten Tournament Preview

Big Ten Tournament: February 28-March 4, Madison Square Garden, New York, NY

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logodesignlove.com

The Big Ten will host their men’s basketball conference tournament in the “Mecca” for the first time in its history. The Tourney will feature four 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. The first three rounds will be televised on the Big Ten Network, while the semifinals and finals will be viewable on CBS.

NCAA Tournament Locks: Michigan State, Ohio State, Purdue, Michigan

Michigan State, Ohio State, Purdue, and Michigan each have a legitimate chance for bragging rights within the conference as they compete for a postseason conference title.

Michigan State has battled through a brutal end to their season off the court, but rattled off 12 straight victories after losing to Michigan on January 13. First-Team All-Big Ten performer, Miles Bridges, is in the All-American conversation, averaging 16.8 points and 6.9 rebounds per game, and Cassius Winston has been brilliant down the stretch. The sophomore guard is averaging 12.5 points, 6.9 assists, and is shooting 56.5% from three. After clinching the Regular Season Big Ten crown, the Spartans will look to follow that up with another trophy in Garden and a one-way ticket to a one seed in the NCAA Tournament. The Spartans will open Friday at noon against the winner of nine seed Wisconsin and the eight seed Maryland.

Ohio State is one of the best surprises in college basketball, let alone the Big Ten, this season. The Buckeyes are the two seed in this year’s conference tournament and are poised to make a run in New York and in the “Big Dance.” Led by Big Ten Coach of the Year, Chris Holtmann, and Big Ten Player of the Year and potential All-American, Keita Bates-Diop (averaging 19.2 points and 8.9 rebounds per game), Ohio State has already beaten both Michigan State and Purdue as part of their 15-3 mark in conference. A Big Ten Tournament title would be a nice addition to the trophy case. The Buckeyes will open Friday at 6:30pm against the winner of seven seed Penn State and ten seed Northwestern.

keita
The Pantagraph

Purdue was perfect in conference play before they lost three straight to Ohio State, Michigan State, and Wisconsin. As the three seed, the Boilermakers will look to make their case for a one seed in the NCAA Tournament with a strong showing at MSG. The balanced attack, led by First-Team All-Big Ten performer Carsen Edwards (averaging 18.2 points per game), will have a chance for revenge against both the Buckeyes and the Spartans in the semifinals and the finals if chalk holds in hopes of attaining the title of Big Ten Champion. Purdue will open at 9pm on Friday against the winner of #14 Rutgers/#11 Minnesota vs. the six seed Indiana.

Michigan is my sleeper pick in both the Big Ten Tournament and the NCAA Tournament. The Wolverines will look to defend their conference tournament title. Michigan is the five seed and will have to play an extra game in the “Big Apple” as Nebraska controlled the tie breaker to claim the four seed. The Wolverines are riding a five game win streak into the Big Ten Tournament. Michigan is outscoring its opponents 77.6-63.4 over that stretch. Look for Mo Wagner and Muhammad-Ali Addur-Rahkman, who combine to average 26.7 points per game, to lead the Wolverines to back-to-back Big Ten Tournament Championships. Michigan will open at 2:30pm on Thursday against the winner of twelve seed Iowa and thirteen seed Illinois.

mo wagner
WOODtv.com

On the Bubble: Nebraska, Penn State

Nebraska is 13-5 in conference play. Normally, that record in a major conference means your ticket to the NCAA Tournament is already punched prior to your conference tournament, but a weak nonconference schedule, combined with a lackluster bottom of the Big Ten this year has Nebraska on the outside of the bubble looking in. The Cornhuskers will likely need two wins at the Garden to feel good about their chances at an at-large bid. If chalk holds, wins over Michigan and Michigan State would put them in a good position. Although Nebraska’s highlights have mainly come from the reactions of their bench, the Cornhuskers are led by First-Team All-Big Ten performer, James Palmer Jr.—the junior guard averaging 17.4 points and 4.4 rebounds per game. With the Big Ten Tournament a week earlier than the rest of the major conference tournaments, an early exit could mean for a long, anxious week for Nebraska. The Cornhuskers will open Friday at 2:30pm against the winner of #13 Illinois/#12 Iowa vs. the five seed Michigan.

palmer jr
Lincoln Journal Star

Penn State is further off the bubble than Nebraska is. At 19-12 overall, 9-9 in conference play, the Nittany Lions will likely need to cut down the nets in NYC to get to the Dance. Penn State is the seven seed after losing the tie-breaker for the six seed to Indiana. The Nittany Lions are led by First-Team All-Big Ten performer Tony Carr, who is averaging 19.9 points, 4.5 rebounds, and 4.8 assists per game. The journey to the automatic bid begins Thursday at 6:30pm against the ten seed Northwestern.

Here’s a look at the 2018 Big Ten Tournament Bracket:

big ten
Big Ten Network

Prediction:

Semis: Michigan def. Michigan State, Purdue def. Ohio State

Final: Michigan defeats Purdue in the title game.

All-Tournament Team:

Mo Wagner, Michigan (Tournament MVP)

Muhammad-Ali Abdur-Rahkman, Michigan

Carsen Edwards, Purdue

Keita Bates-Diop, Ohio State

Miles Bridges, Michigan State

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.

jimmy v

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.

mikal
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.