Syracuse entered the ACC Tournament feeling pretty good about their NCAA Tournament chances for the first time since 2013.
Despite being without leading scorer Tyus Battle due a lower back injury, the Orange defeated Pittsburgh, 73-59, in the first round of the ACC Tournament on Wednesday night. Syracuse trailed the Panthers, 36-30, at halftime, but used an 8-0 run with all 8 points scored by Buddy Boeheim to take a 43-39 lead early in the second stanza. The Orange would not relinquish the lead the rest of the way.
After shooting 60-percent from three-point range in the first half, Pittsburgh cooled down and shot just 30.8-percent from deep after the break. Conversely, Syracuse heated up from beyond the arc down the stretch, shooting 54.6-percent from three in the second half.
Jared Wilson-Frame led the Panthers with 24 points, on 8-of-16 from three-point land, and seven rebounds. Sidy N’Dir added 10 points in the losing effort.
Boeheim paced Syracuse with 20 points, on 6-of-13 shooting, six rebounds, four assists, and two steals. Elijah Hughes and Frank Howard scored 18 points apiece. Hughes also grabbed four rebounds, dished out three assists, and came away with two steals.
The Orange squared off with Duke in the quarterfinals of the ACC Tournament on Thursday night. Battle missed his second straight game with a lower back injury. After rallying back from as much as a 17 point deficit in the first half, Syracuse tied the game at 46 on a triple by Boeheim with 13:02 to go. The Blue Devils pulled away down the stretch to win 84-72.
In a turnover plagued affair, Duke outshot the Orange as the Blue Devils shot 53.7-percent from the floor, compared to 48.1-percent shooting for Syracuse.
The real difference in the game was that Duke has the best player in the country and the likely #1 pick in the NBA Draft Zion Williamson. Williamson, who returned after missing five consecutive games with a sprained knee, erupted for 29 points on a perfect 13-of-13 from the floor, 14 rebounds, and five steals. Fellow freshman phenomenon RJ Barrett tallied 23 points, on 8-of-16 from the field, and six rebounds. Freshman point guard Tre Jones finished with 15 points and eight assists.
Howard led the Orange with a career-high 28 points, on 11-of-2o shooting, and three assists. Boeheim poured in 15 points, while Oshae Brissett finished with 15 points and seven rebounds.
Despite the loss, Syracuse entered the NCAA Tournament with a record of 20-13. Howard was named to the ACC Tournament Second Team, while Williamson was named the MVP after Duke won the championship game over Florida State, 73-63, Saturday night.
Battle is expected to return in the NCAA Tournament, but playing without him in the ACC Tournament gave others the opportunity to step up, specifically, Howard and Boeheim.
Player of the Week: Frank Howard
This week’s player of the week for Syracuse was Frank Howard. After a lower leg injury caused him to miss the first four games of the season, Howard did not play to the form he showed he was capable of during his junior campaign. The senior point guard averaged 23 points on 50-percent shooting in Battle’s absence at the ACC Tournament. With Battle back and Howard and Boeheim shooting with confidence, the Orange just might be poised to make another run in the “Big Dance.”
Up Next: The NCAA Tournament vs. #9 Baylor
For the first time since 2013, Syracuse did not have to sweat it out on Selection Sunday. This year, the Orange were firmly in and earned the 8-seed in the West Region. Syracuse will take on the 9-seed Baylor in Salt Lake City, Utah. Tip-off is set for Thursday night at 9:57pm. The game will be seen on truTV. The Bears are 19-13 overall and are coming off an 83-66 loss to Iowa State in the Big 12 Tournament quarterfinals. Baylor is led by Tristan Clark who is averaging 14.6 points and 6.3 rebounds per game.
If the Orange were to defeat the Bears, they would take on the winner of the game between the 1-seed Gonzaga and the 16-seed Fairleigh Dickinson, who defeated Prairie View in the First Four Tuesday night.
What did we learn about college basketball’s blue bloods on opening night?
Game 1: Kansas 92, Michigan State 87
Kansas showed why they were ranked #1 in the country in most preseason polls. The Jayhawks raced out to a seventeen point lead. Kansas struggled to put the game away late as Michigan State cut the lead to three, but the early deficit was too much for the Spartans to overcome.
Freshman point guard Quentin Grimes demonstrated why he is expected to be one of the best point guards in the country. The “diaper-dandy” paced the Jayhawks with 21 points and four assists. Memphis transfer Dedric Lawson was a nightmare for the Spartans. Lawson finished with 20 points, 14 rebounds, six assists, two steals, and two blocks in his Kansas debut. Junior Center Udoka Azubuike was a force on the interior with 17 points, although his missed free throws down the stretch allowed Michigan State to stay in the game. Freshman guard Devon Dotson did not disappoint in his first appearance in a Jayhawk uniform as he added 16 points, three assists, and three steals for the victors. Kansas has interior depth and the ability to connect from distance. The Jayhawks will be a tough out every night.
After a dreadful first half, Michigan State showed a lot of fight to make it a game in the second half. “I learned something about my team tonight,” Spartans coach Tom Izzo said. “We played well in the second half and did some good things, but you don’t count games by halves.” Joshua Langford led the way for the Spartans with 18 points, while Kenny Goins posted a double-double with 17 points and 11 boards. The Spartans were plagued by turnovers a season ago and that issue continued into Tuesday night as Kansas forced Michigan State into 18 turnovers. The Spartans will need to take care of the ball going forward.
Both teams will get a breather from top ten competition as Kansas hosts Vermont on Monday, while Michigan State returns home to face Florida Gulf Coast on Sunday.
Game 2: Duke 118, Kentucky 84
Although Kansas proved they were deserving of their top ranking in Game 1, Duke and their top ranked recruiting class scared the “Devil” out of the rest of the college basketball world in the nightcap. The highly anticipated matchup was never close as the Blue Devils took a seventeen point lead into the locker room. Duke refused to take their foot off the gas pedal and let Kentucky back in the game in the second half as their freshman proved that the Blue Devils are the best team in the country.
The freshman trio of RJ Barrett, Zion Williamson, and Cam Reddish were “magnificent,” according to Coach K. Barrett, the top recruit in the Class of 2018, scored 33 points, grabbed four rebounds, and dished out six assists. Williamson, the second ranked recruit in his class, dropped 28 points on the Wildcats and pulled down seven rebounds. Reddish, the third ranked recruit in this year’s class, poured in 22 points and was stout defensively with three steals. The trio accounted for 70 percent of Duke’s points in the win. The Blue Devils seem to have it all and will be a formidable matchup throughout the season.
Kentucky was absolutely embarrassed by Duke Tuesday night, but it is only the first game of the season. “I haven’t lost faith in my guys. We’ve still got a good group,” Calipari said. Freshman guard Keldon Johnson poured in 23 points and pulled in four rebounds to lead the Wildcats, while Stanford transfer Reid Travis added 22 points and seven boards in his debut for the “Big Blue.” Although they will not play Duke every night, the embarrassing loss to the Blue Devils exposed the Wildcats. Kentucky will need to improve drastically, especially on the defensive end, if they want to prove that they are one of the nation’s top teams.
Duke will play host to Coach K’s alma mater, Army, on Sunday, while Kentucky will return home to square off with Southern Illinois on Friday.
Last season, the Big Ten was the most disappointing Power Five conference in the country. Will it be more of the same in 2018-19?
Let’s take a look at how the Big Ten will shake out in 2018-19.
1.)Michigan State Spartans
Michigan State went 30-5 a year ago, but fell to Syracuse in the second round of the NCAA Tournament. The Spartans are still the most talented team in the Big Ten that will likely have a down year for the second year in a row. Sharp-shooting guard Cassius Winston and big man Nick Ward, along with Joshua Langford will look to get Tom Izzo deep into the “Big Dance” once again.
The National Runner-Up, Michigan Wolverines will look to get back to the Final Four in 2018-19. The Wolverines lost Mo Wagner to the NBA Draft and Muhammad-Ali Abdur-Rahkman to graduation, but return a nucleus of Charles Matthews, Zavier Simpson, Jordan “Swaggy” Poole, and Isaiah Livers. John Beilein flirted with an opportunity to coach the Detroit Pistons, but decided to return to coach in Ann Arbor. Look for Michigan to challenge their in-state rivals for the top spot in the Big Ten this year.
After finishing fourth in the Big Ten a year ago, Nebraska was on the wrong side of the bubble on Selection Sunday. James Palmer Jr. will look to get the Cornhuskers back to the NCAA Tournament for the first time since 2014.
Archie Miller was able to land Indiana’s top high school recruit, Romeo Langford. Langford, along with senior Juwan Morgan, have Hoosier fans excited for what they will see in Bloomington this year. Indiana will look to challenge near the top of the Big Ten and make it back to the “Big Dance” for the first time under Miller.
Wisconsin is coming off a disappointing 2017-18 season where they missed the NCAA Tournament for the first time since 1998. Big man Ethan Happ and sophomore guard Brad Davidson back and will look to get the Badgers back where they belong.
Matt Painter is tasked with having to replace four starts from a team that made it to the Sweet Sixteen a year ago. Carsen Edwards will be one of the best players in the country, but it is a question as to who will step up in a supporting role. Look for Purdue to find themselves on the right side of the bubble this season.
Maryland lost their best player from a year ago, Kevin Huerter, to the NBA Draft. The Terrapins could be on the bubble this year, but could find their way to the “Big Dance” if Bruno Fernando and Anthony Cowan live up to the possible NBA Draft hype that they have been generating this offseason.
Fran McCaffrey could be coaching for his job this season. Iowa has not made it to the NCAA Tournament since 2016. Tyler Cook leads a high powered offense, but if the Hawkeyes want to go dancing again they will need to step it up on defense.
9.)Penn State Nittany Lions
Penn State won the NIT last year and they were poised to make a top of the conference this year. Unfortunately, for them, Tony Carr departed State College for the NBA Draft. Without Carr, Lamar Stevens and the Nittany Lions will should find themselves back in the middle of the pack in the Big Ten and back in the NIT.
10.)Ohio State Buckeyes
Ohio State was one of the most surprising teams in college basketball a season ago in their first year under Chris Holtmann. The Buckeyes will have a rebuilding year in 2018-19 as they will be without the services of do-everything forward, Keita Bates-Diop, who declared for the NBA Draft and Jae’Sean Tate who graduated.
11.)Minnesota Golden Gophers
Richard Pitino may be joining his father in the ranks of the unemployed if he fails to make the Golden Gophers relevant in the Big Ten this year. Minnesota was a Top 25 team during the non-conference portion of the schedule a year ago before injuries and off-court issues derailed their season. Jordan Murphy and Amir Coffey could make the Golden Gophers a surprise team this year.
Northwestern was unable to make back-to-back trips to the “Big Dance” after getting there for the first time in school history in 2017. With the key members of that 2017 team gone, 2018-19 will be rebuilding year as the Wildcats return to a newly renovated Welsh-Ryan Arena.
13.)Illinois Fighting Illini
Brad Underwood will rely heavily on his guards Trent Frazier and freshman Ayo Dosumu, but there are still many unanswered questions in the Illini frontcourt. Underwood is definitely rebuilding the program at Illinois, but they will probably spend another season the cellar of the Big Ten.
14.)Rutgers Scarlet Knights
It’s pretty clear that Rutgers is only in the Big Ten to capture the Metropolitan New York media market as both the football and basketball program have yet to have any success since joining the league. Last year, the Scarlet Knights won two games in the Big Ten Tournament after winning only three conference games in conference play all season. Rutgers will undeniably be the laughing stock of the Big Ten once again this season.
It is the first week of fall. The leaves are beginning to change and its getting cooler outside across the country. Yesterday, college teams reported for their first official practice day of the 2018-19 season. Over the summer the NCAA made feeble efforts to address the issues responsible for the ongoing FBI investigation, but alas they seem like they will do little to change the overall state of college basketball. Although there is still over a month to go before the season starts, it is time to take a look at who will be the major players in the college basketball scene this season. For the most part, we’ll see the usual suspects, but it is always fun to look forward to the coming season.
1.) Kentucky Wildcats
John Calipari brings in another top recruiting class to Lexington this season. The difference between last year’s team, which struggled to gel as a unit, and this group of young stars is that this year the Wildcats will have a nucleus of veterans to build around. PJ Washington returns after testing the NBA Draft waters and will look to contend for SEC Player of the Year. Additionally, Calipari landed Reid Travis, the most coveted graduate transfer in this year’s class from Stanford where he was a First-Team Pac-12 performer. Washington and Travis will be joined by the freshman class of EJ Montgomery, Tyler Herro, Keldon Johnson, Immanuel Quickly, and Ashton Hagans. The best Kentucky teams in years past have had a lethal combination of youth and experience. Expect this team to follow suit and have a chance to cut down the nets in April.
2.) Kansas Jayhawks
Bill Self’s group will have a chance to win its 15th consecutive Big 12 regular season title this year. Kansas will have one of the most talented teams in the country. Udoka Azubuike and Lagerald Vick are two key returning players from last year’s team that made a run to the Final Four. Freshman Quentin Grimes will take the reins at point guard and will be joined by Memphis transfers Dedric and KJ Lawson. This could be the Jayhawks best team since the squad that won it all in 2008.
3.) Duke Blue Devils
The Duke Blue Devils will struggle to replace its entire starting lineup from a year ago. Yeah right. Coach K reloads his roster with the top three recruits in the Class of 2018: RJ Barrett, Cam Reddish, and Zion Williamson, and Tyus Jones’ brother, Tre, who will man the point. It may take some time for the Blue Devils to find some chemistry, but this team feels eerily similar to the 2015 National Championship team.
4.) Gonzaga Bulldogs
Last year, the Gonzaga Bulldogs looked well on their way to a second straight Final Four appearance until Killian Tillie sustained a hip injury and they were bounced by Florida State in the Sweet Sixteen. A healthy Tillie and an All-American/potential NBA First Round Draft pick in Rui Hachimura will make Gonzaga the class of the WCC yet again and have them in position for a one seed and a chance at a second trip to the Final Four in three years.
5.) Nevada Wolfpack
After back-to-back NCAA Tournament appearances and a run to the Sweet Sixteen last season, Eric Musselman’s team will not be flying under the radar this year. Nevada will be one of the best teams in the country this season as the Martin twins (Caleb and Cody) decided to return for their senior season after testing the NBA Draft process in the spring. In addition, Jordan Caroline returns and the Wolfpack will have the services of Jordan Brown, a McDonald’s All-American from the Class of 2018. The next step in their rise to prominence will be a trip to Minneapolis.
6.) Tennessee Volunteers
After a surprising season in which Tennessee was picked to finished last in the SEC, the Volunteers won the SEC regular season championship. SEC Player of the Year Grant Williams and Admiral Schofield will look to avenge a loss to Loyola-Chicago in the Round of 32 and get Rick Barnes to the Final Four.
7.) Virginia Cavaliers
The 2017-18 season for the Virginia Cavaliers came to a screeching halt when they became the first one seed in the history of the NCAA Tournament to a sixteen seed when they lost to UMBC in March. Tony Bennett will look to turn the tide against his woeful NCAA Tournament performances in the past and lead his team to success in the “Big Dance” in 2019. The Cavaliers return Kyle Guy, Ty Jerome, and the ACC’s Sixth Man of the Year, De’Andre Hunter, a likely first round pick in the 2019 NBA Draft who was sorely missed in their excruciating loss to the Retrievers.
8.) North Carolina Tar Heels
After losing in the second round to Texas A&M in the NCAA Tournament and losing the veteran backcourt of Joel Berry and Theo Pinson, Roy Williams will look to bounce back with a combination of youth, experience and aim for Tournament success in 2019. Nassir Little and Coby White join the Tar Heels as highly touted recruits, while Cameron Johnson and potential National Player of the Year candidate Luke Maye will return to Chapel Hill and look to get back to the Final Four for the third time in four years.
9.) Michigan State Spartans
Amid scandal, Tom Izzo led Michigan State to a 30-5 record in 2017-18 before being stunned by Syracuse in the second round of the NCAA Tournament. Cassius Winston and Nick Ward will look to step up and fill the void left by the departures of Miles Bridges and Jaren Jackson Jr. to the NBA.
10.) Villanova Wildcats
The defending National Champion Villanova Wildcats round out the preseason top ten. Jay Wright lost National Player of the Year Jalen Brunson, Big East Tournament MVP Mikal Bridges, Final Four Most Valuable Player Donte DiVincenzo, and Omari Spellman to the NBA Draft. The Wildcats return Eric Paschall and Phil Booth and add a recruiting class of Jahvon Quinerly, Brandon Slater, Cole Swider, and Albany transfer Joe Cremo. Villanova should still win the Big East, but has a lot of work to do if they plan to celebrate a National Championship for the third time in four years.
11.) West Virginia Mountaineers
Bob Huggins will be without the services of do-it-all guard Jevon Carter due to graduation this season, but the nation’s best shot blocker, Sagaba Konate, and Esa Ahmad will look to lead the Mountaineers as they try to dethrone Kansas for the top spot in the Big 12.
12.) Auburn Tigers
A veteran backcourt of Bryce Brown, Jared Harper, and DeSean Murray will look to follow-up last year’s surprise result and get Bruce Pearl deep into March.
13.) Kansas State Wildcats
Kansas State advanced to the Elite Eight last year with a late season surge despite playing without their best player, Dean Wade. Wade returns from injury and the Wildcats will look to contest atop the Big 12 and make another deep run through the NCAA Tournament Bracket.
14.) Virginia Tech Hokies
Despite being bounced in the first round of the “Big Dance” by Alabama, Virginia Tech returns deep core of talent from a team that raised havoc in the ACC, taking down North Carolina, Duke, and Virginia a year ago. Look for Nickeil Alexander-Walker to make a big jump from his freshman to sophomore year.
15.) Syracuse Orange
After making the NCAA Tournament as the last team in, the Orange rattled off three wins over Arizona State, TCU, and Michigan State before losing to Duke in the Sweet Sixteen. Syracuse is in a similar situation as they were entering the 2016 season, where a deep run in March fueled high expectations for the 2017 team. The Orange return all five starters, Frank Howard, Tyus Battle, Oshae Brissett, Marek Dolezaj, and Paschal Chukwu. Jalen Carey, Buddy Boeheim, Robert Braswell, and East Carolina transfer Elijah Hughes have been added to the roster to bring some needed depth and shooting to Central New York.
16.) Oregon Ducks
The Oregon Ducks advanced to the Final Four for the first time in eight decades in 2017, but failed to make the “Big Dance” in 2018. Peyton Pritchard returns to Eugene to join a group of highly touted recruits, including Bol Bol, son of Manute Bol, and Louis King. The Ducks are early favorites to win the Pac-12.
17.) TCU Horned Frogs
TCU returned to the NCAA Tournament for the first time in two decades last season. With Victor Brodziansky and Kenrich Williams absent from this year’s roster, Desmond Bane and a healthy Jaylen Fisher will look to dance again for the second time in as many years under Jamie Dixon.
18.) Michigan Wolverines
The National Runners-up will look to continue their success under John Beilein with the return of Charles Matthews and Jordan Poole.
19.) UCLA Bruins
Steve Alford has yet to make it past the Sweet Sixteen in his tenure and after being sent out in the First Four by St. Bonaventure last year, he sits squarely on the hot seat. Kris Wilkes and Jaylen Hands return to campus after testing the NBA Draft waters in the spring; and along with Shareef O’Neal, Shaq’s son, the Bruins are hoping to break through in March.
20.) Washington Huskies
Coach Mike Hopkins brought the 2-3 zone from Syracuse to the Pacific Northwest and brought a team that won nine games in 2016-17 to a 21 win season and a trip to the NIT a season ago. Matisse Thybulle and Noah Dickerson will look to lead the Huskies to the top of the Pac-12 and to the NCAA Tournament for the first time since 2011.
21.) Mississippi State Bulldogs
Ben Howland will look to take his fourth program to the “Big Dance” after taking Mississippi State to the NIT semifinals a year ago. Quinndary Weatherspoon will need to be an All-SEC performer if the Bulldogs want to hear their name called on “Selection Sunday.”
22.) Loyola-Chicago Ramblers
Though Sister Jean and the Ramblers took the world by storm last March, they are no longer Cinderella. Clayton Custer returns to Porter Moser’s squad. A week non-conference schedule could keep Loyola-Chicago out of the NCAA Tournament if they were to slip up on their way to a Missouri Valley Conference Tournament title.
23.) Marquette Golden Eagles
Marquette had one of the best offenses in the country a year ago, but their defense was one of the worst. If the Golden Eagles can improve on the defensive end, Markus Howard and Sam Hauser will hope to shoot their way into March Madness.
24.) Nebraska Cornhuskers
Nebraska finished fourth in a down Big Ten last year, and a poor non-conference schedule kept them on the wrong side of the bubble. James Palmer Jr. will look to build on his First Team Big Ten selection a year ago and get the Cornhuskers into the Dance.
25.) Cincinnati Bearcats
After blowing a big second half lead to Nevada in the second round of the NCAA Tournament, Mick Cronan will look to regroup in order to make a run in the postseason this year. The Bearcats lost Gary Clark and Kyle Washington to graduation, and Jacob Evans to the NBA Draft from last year’s squad, but Jarron Cumberland and Justin Jenifer will look to take on a larger load and keep Cincinnati atop the AAC this year.
With the season behind us, let’s dive in and take a look at the five best players in college basketball this season who earned the right to be called All-Americans.
Jalen Brunson, G, Villanova
Jalen Brunson was the Player of the Year in college basketball, so naturally he is a First Team All-American. The junior guard served as the floor general of the nation’s best team and eventual National Champion, Villanova. Brunson averaged 18.9 points and 4.6 assists per game and shot 52.1% from the floor and 40.8% from three. He posed a tough match-up for opposing defenses as he could shoot the three, take it to the hole, post-up and be a threat in the mid-range. After the Wildcats defeated Michigan in the National Championship game, Brunson decided to forego his senior season and enter the NBA Draft, where he is projected as a late first round or early second round pick. He has etched his name in Villanova lore as he was a starter on two National Championship teams in three years.
Trae Young, G, Oklahoma
When Trae Young decided to stay home in Norman, Oklahoma and play for the Sooners rather that head off to Kentucky, very few people predicted that he would have the success he did in his only year in college. Young became the first player ever to lead the nation in both scoring and assists. The freshman scored 27.4 points per game and dished out 8.8 assists per game, leading Oklahoma to the NCAA Tournament where they fell in the first round to Rhode Island in overtime. Oklahoma relied on Young’s scoring and play-making. Although his numbers dipped toward the end of the season, he shot 42.2% from the floor and 36% from three. Young’s NBA Draft stock improved more than any other player in the country as he is now projected to be a top-ten pick in the NBA Draft.
Devonte’ Graham, G, Kansas
Devonte’ Graham’s decision to return to Lawrence for his senior season was a good one as the guard led his team to the Final Four for the first time since 2012 where they lost to Villanova. Graham led Kansas in scoring with 17.3 points per game on 40% shooting from the floor and 40.6% from beyond the arc. The senior point guard also corralled 4 rebounds and 7.2 assists per contest. After graduation, Graham will likely be chosen in the NBA Draft—he is projected to be an early second round selection.
Marvin Bagley III, F, Duke
The reclassification of Duke’s Marvin Bagley III was one of the biggest stories in college basketball heading into the 2017-18 season. Bagley III certainly did not disappoint as he led the nation’s most talented team in both scoring and rebounding. He also won ACC Player and Rookie of the Year honors, despite missing four games during conference play due to injury. The freshman averaged 21 points and 11.1 rebounds per game and led the Blue Devils to the Elite Eight where they lost to Kansas. The big man shot 61.4% from the floor and was a beast on the offensive glass. Bagley III will likely be a top five pick in this year’s NBA Draft. If he can improve his shooting from distance and his defense, he has all the ability to be an impact player at the next level.
Deandre Ayton, F, Arizona
Arizona’s Deandre Ayton rounds out the 2018 First Team All-American selections. Ayton is a physically imposing big man that shined in his one year in the Desert as he picked up both Pac-12 Rookie and Player of the Year honors. The freshman big man led the Wildcats to the Pac-12 Regular Season and Tournament Championships before getting upset in the first round of the NCAA Tournament by Buffalo as he posted a double-double per contest at 20.1 points and 11.6 rebounds. Ayton shot 61.2% from the floor during his freshman campaign. He is projected to be a top-three pick in this year’s NBA Draft. Scouts will hope that Ayton can develop a jumper and improve his shot blocking ability in order to become an elite NBA player.
If you’re like me, you’re probably feeling a little empty not having any college basketball to look forward to this weekend. Let’s take a step back to remember the 2018 NCAA Tournament.
This year’s “Big Dance” featured an upset for the ages, a Cinderella run that made a nun an international sensation, buzzer beaters, the agony of defeat and, most importantly, the best team won it all.
The National Champs: Villanova
Jay Wright did it. Two National Championships in three years. Villanova has become the program to beat in college basketball. The Wildcats dominated in March as they won all of their games in the NCAA Tournament by double-digits. Wright joined an exclusive club by cutting down the nets for the second time in his career as he joined Coach K and Roy Williams as the only active coaches to win multiple championships. National Player of the Year Jalen Brunson and Mikal Bridges will likely forego their senior seasons and enter the NBA Draft, but Coach Wright will bring back three starters, Phil Booth, Eric Paschall, and Omari Spellman, and Donte DiVincenzo, who came off the bench and scored 31 points in the title game on Monday. The Wildcats have been the most dominant program over the last five years and with Wright at the helm, there is a culture of winning in Philadelphia. Villanova will be back next year to defend their title and create a dynasty.
The Runners-Up: Michigan
Michigan was the hottest team in the country entering the NCAA Tournament and rode their streak all the way to Championship Monday where they ran into the buzz saw that was Villanova. Mo Wagner’s decision to return to Ann Arbor paid dividends as he led his squad back to the National Championship game for the first time since 2013. John Beilein had the best defensive squad of his career that gave opponents fits throughout the month of March. The run to San Antonio almost didn’t happen as the Wolverines needed a buzzer beater by freshman Jordan Poole to get past Houston in the second round and led to one of the best celebrations of the Tournament. Wagner and seniors Muhammad-Ali Abdur-Rahkman and Duncan Robinson will depart, but Michigan will be back with a talented recruiting class next season.
We witnessed history in the 2018 NCAA Tournament. For the first time in history, a 16-seed upset a 1-seed in the first round. Many had hinted at the fact that an Ivy League school, Penn, presented the best chance for a 16-seed to take down a 1-seed in their match-up with Kansas. When that didn’t happen on the first Thursday of the Tournament, many thought we would have to wait at a chance for history until next year. Enter Jairius Lyles and the UMBC Retrievers. In the final set of first round contests, UMBC took the world by storm—both on the court and on Twitter. The Retrievers stayed with Virginia and did not back down when the game was tied at 21 at halftime. UMBC outscored the #1 overall seeed 53-33 in the second half, busting pretty much every bracket filled out this year as the Cavaliers were a favorite to win it all. The three point shooting and defense by the Retrievers sent Kyle Guy and the rest of the Virginia team home crying as the first #1 to lose to a 16-seed in NCAA Tournament history. Tony Bennett was without a key piece, De’Andre Hunter, that Friday night in Charlotte. Maybe this would not have happened with him in the lineup, but Bennett will have to wait another year for a chance at the Final Four.
K-State to the Elite Eight
Kansas State got past Creighton in the first round and instead of having to face Virginia, they were up against Cinderella UMBC in the second round. The Wildcats dispatched the Retrievers and then took down Kentucky in Atlanta to make the Elite Eight for the first time since 2018. More impressively, Kansas State made their run without the services of their leading scorer, Dean Wade, who suffered a foot injury in the Big 12 Tournament. Although they were unable to get past Loyola-Chicago and make the Final Four, the Wildcats may have saved Bruce Weber’s job.
Buffalo Beats Zona
Buffalo knocked out Arizona in the first round. The Wildcats were a favorite to make a run to the Final Four, but an impressive shooting performance and stout defense by the Bulls made for an early exit for Sean Miller’s team. With the outcome of the FBI investigation still unknown, the future of Arizona basketball is uncertain as they will lose Deandre Ayton, Allonzo Trier, and Rawle Alkins to the NBA and Parker Jackson-Cartwright and Dusan Ristic to graduation.
Sister Jean and Loyola-Chicago
Loyola-Chicago became the fourth 11-seed to make the Final Four and in doing so, their Team Chaplain Sister Jean became an international sensation at 98 years young. Donte Ingram’s buzzer beater to beat Miami was one of the highlights of the first round, but the Ramblers proved they weren’t done yet. They took down the 3-seeed Tennessee on a jumper in the waning seconds by Clayton Custer. Marques Townes’ dagger was enough to beat Nevada and advance to the Elite Eight where they blew out Kansas State. Their run came to an end with a loss to Michigan in the Final Four, but the Missouri Valley Champs took the world by storm in the month of March.
Nevada led for only 1:56 of its first two games of the NCAA Tournament, but managed to make the Sweet Sixteen. The Wolfpack trailed Texas by 14 points in the second half, but came back to win in overtime to advance to the Round of 32. There, Nevada erased a 22 point Cincinnati lead and came back to eliminate the second seeded Bearcats from the “Big Dance.” The Wolfpack lost to Loyola-Chicago in the Sweet Sixteen, but they will return most of their core from this year’s team and could be a top ten team next season.
Florida State to the Elite Eight
Many were saying that Florida State was the worst at-large team to receive an NCAA Tournament bid this year. The Seminoles proved the haters wrong and took down Missouri in the first round before they pulled off one of the biggest upsets in the Tournament, knocking off top-seeded Xavier in the second round to advance to the Sweet Sixteen. Florida State’s run would not end there, as they took down a Gonzaga team without Killian Tillie. The Seminoles ended their season just short of the Final Four as they fell 58-54 to Michigan. If nothing else, they proved they belonged.
Texas A&M Takes Down the Tar Heels
In a season filled with ups and downs, Texas A&M’s NCAA Tournament run proved to be just that. The Aggies battled through injuries and suspensions to earn a 7-seed in the “Big Dance,” but drew the 10-seed Providence, who was one of the hottest teams entering the Tournament. Texas A&M ended the Friars’ season and went on to the Round of 32 where they pummeled North Carolina. In a poetic end to their tumultuous season, the Aggies were crushed by Michigan in the Sweet Sixteen. With Tyler Davis and Robert Williams both declaring for the NBA Draft, it will be interesting to see what the future looks like in College Station.
Marshall Shocks Wichita State
In a year where there were no 12-5 upsets, the 13-seeds stole the show. Buffalo beat Arizona and Marshall knocked off Wichita State. Jon Elmore’s sharp-shooting led the Thundering Herd past the Shockers and into the second round where they were ousted by in-state rival West Virginia, but an upset win in the first round of the NCAA Tournament is definitely something that Marshall, who finished fourth in Conference USA, should be proud of.
The 2-3 Zone Did it Again
Syracuse snuck into the NCAA Tournament as the last team to make the field, but the Orange were not satisfied with only receiving a bid. Jim Boeheim’s patented 2-3 zone puzzled opponents as Syracuse defeated Arizona State, TCU, and Michigan State, three teams averaging over 80 points a game to less than 60 on their way to the Sweet Sixteen. Their run was cut short as they fell 69-65 to Duke, but the NCAA Tournament run put a positive ending on a season where the Orange remained on the Bubble to the very end. If leading scorer Tyus Battle and Oshae Brissett return, Syracuse could be poised to make another run in next year’s Tournament. Darius Bazley’s decision to decommit from the Orange and enter the G-League was unfortunate and leaves the team’s status for next season more uncertain, but Jalen Carey, Buddy Boeheim, and East Carolina-transfer Elijah Hughes will provide more depth at he guard position for next year’s team.
Game of the Tournament: Duke vs. Kansas—Elite Eight
The line in “One Shining Moment”—In the blinking of an eye that moment’s gone, couldn’t be more of a reality for the Duke Blue Devils as Grayson Allen’s potential game-winning rolled off the rim and out at the end of regulation. Kansas’ Malik Newman scored all 13 of the Jayhawks’ points in the overtime period to punch their ticket to San Antonio where they lost to eventual champion Villanova in the Final Four. Both Duke and Kansas will be title favorites heading into next season. Coach K and the Blue Devils have adopted the one-and-done strategy. The 2018-19 roster will look completely different for Duke. All five are their starters from this season’s team will be first round draft picks. Duke has the top recruiting class in the country next season as they welcome four of the top fifteen recruits in the country, including all of the top three recruits, R.J. Barrett, Zion Williamson, and Cam Reddish, to Durham next fall. Tre Jones, the 12th ranked recruit and younger brother of 2015 Final four Most Outstanding Player, Tyus Jones, who also played at Duke, will also join the squad. Kansas is the way-too-early preseason #1 with Udoka Azubuike and Lagerald Vick returning. The Jayhawks have a pair of five-star guards coming to Lawrence in the fall: Devon Dotson and Quentin Grimes. Bill Self will also add Memphis-transfers K.J. Lawson and Dedric Lawson and Cal-transfer Charlie Moore, all of which will be eligible to play next season.
The Road Begins Now
The 2017-18 season has come and gone and it was surely a wild one. Congratulations to the Villanova Wildcats who reign superior this year. The Road to the 2019 Final Four in Minneapolis begins now.
Syracuse defeated Michigan State, 55-53, on Sunday in Detroit to advance to the Sweet Sixteen for the 19th time in program history.
The Orange took the lead on a free throw by Marek Dolezaj with 4:23 left and did not relinquish it. The Spartans did not make a field goal over the last 5:41 of the game. Cassius Winston missed a half-court heave at the buzzer to give the Orange the win.
A back-and-forth first half ended in a flurry. Matthew Moyer blocked a three-point attempt by Matt McQuaid, but McQuaid recovered and banked in a triple at the horn to give Michigan State a 25-22 lead at the break.
The Spartans outrebounded the Orange, 51-30, including 29-7 on the offensive glass, but shot the ball just 25.8% from the field and turned the ball over 14 times. It was by no means an offensive masterpiece by Syracuse, as the Orange shot 35.7% from the field and assisted on only three of their fifteen made field goals.
The Syracuse defense forced Michigan State into attempting a school record 37 attempts from beyond the arc.
Winston led Michigan State with 15 points, on 4-of-12 shooting, and dished out 6 assists. Syracuse held All-Big Ten First Team performer and likely NBA Draft lottery pick, Miles Bridges, to 11 points on just 4-of-18 from the field, and 6 rebounds. Moyer’s cousin, Nick Ward, contributed with 10 points and 5 rebounds for the Spartans in the losing effort.
Additionally, Michigan State’s other likely NBA Draft lottery pick, Jaren Jackson Jr., was virtually non-existent on Sunday. Jackson Jr. was limited to two points on two free throws, but was 0-of-4 from the field, and corralled eight rebounds in just fifteen minutes.
Syracuse was led by Tyus Battle who scored 17 points on 4-of-15 from the floor. Oshae Brissett tallied 15 points and grabbed 9 rebounds. Frank Howard poured in 13 points on 5-of-10 shooting before fouling out.
Dolezaj finished with 6 points and 6 rebounds.
Jim Boeheim commented on his team’s performance in his postgame press conference. “Our defense has been good in this tournament all the way,” Boeheim said. “This team perserveres through no matter what happens. It is very tough to play three games in five days at this level. They [Michigan State] really got us on the boards, but these guys just battled the whole game, I’m very proud of them.”
With the win, the Orange improved to 23-13, while Michigan State ended its season with a 30-5 record. The Spartans defeated just three teams that made the NCAA Tournament this year—North Carolina, Purdue, and their first round opponent Bucknell.
Syracuse advances to the Sweet Sixteen where they will take on Duke on Friday, March 23 at a time to be determined. The Blue Devils enter the contest with a record of 28-7 and have arrive in Omaha after beating Iona in the first round and Rhode Island in the second round. Duke is led by ACC Player and Rookie of the Year Marvin Bagley III, who averages 21.2 points and 11.3 rebounds per game. The Blue Devils won, 60-44, when the teams played in Durham on February 24. Bagley III led Duke with 19 points and 7 rebounds, while Battle led the Orange with 12 points and 4 rebounds.
The NCAA Tournament is upon us. Let’s take a look at the Midwest Region. The one seed in the Midwest, Kansas, will look to cut down the nets in Omaha on their way to the Final Four in San Antonio. However, there are 17 other teams looking to do the same thing. Here’s what to watch for.
Upset Pick: #12 New Mexico State over #5 Clemson
New Mexico State is in the field of 68 for the seventh time in the last nine years. The Aggies have won six consecutive games, including a victory in the WAC Championship game over Grand Canyon. New Mexico State is led by Zach Lofton who is averaging 19.8 points and 5.1 rebounds per game. The Aggies defense will be the difference if they are able to upset Clemson. The Tigers dropped four of five games in conference play against teams ranked in the top 50 nationally in defensive efficiency. New Mexico State ranks fourth nationally and will look to stifle Marcquise Reed in their first round match-up.
Sleeper: North Carolina State Wolfpack
As a nine seed in the Midwest, NC State is my pick to be a sleeper in this region. The Wolfpack have been giant killers all season and have wins over Arizona, Duke, Clemson, and North Carolina. Allerik Freeman leads the team in scoring at 15.4 points per contest. With the resume and the wins they have, NC State will be ready and if they can beat Seton Hall, they will be a tough out for Kansas in the second round.
Pick to Win the Midwest Region: Duke Blue Devils
I expect chalk to prevail in the Midwest Region until the Elite Eight, where Duke will defeat Kansas and earn a trip to San Antonio for the Final Four. The Blue Devils are the most talented team in the country and enter the NCAA Tournament winners of seven of their last nine games. The key down the stretch for Duke has been their commitment to playing defense. The use of the 2-3 zone has allowed the Blue Devils to hold their opponents to 61.1 points per game over that stretch. Duke will rely on the senior leadership of Grayson Allen, but freshman big men Marvin Bagley III and Wendell Carter Jr. will be the key to the Blue Devils’ success if they can make it to the Final Four at the Alamo Dome.
Now that I’ve made my picks for who will advance to the Final Four, its time to discuss who will cut down the nets.
North Carolina def. Arizona
Villanova def. Duke
Villanova will defeat North Carolina in a rematch of the 2016 National Championship and the Wildcats will be crowned the Kings of College Basketball.
Big Ten Tournament: February 28-March 4, Madison Square Garden, New York, NY
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.
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.
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.
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.
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:
Semis: Michigan def. Michigan State, Purdue def. Ohio State
Here’s a look at this week’s winners and losers and Saturday’s premier match-up.
Winner: Michigan State Spartans
Michigan State (25-3, 13-2) has now won nine consecutive games after defeating #3 Purdue last Saturday at home on a three-pointer in the closing second by Miles Bridges and drubbing Minnesota by 30 on Tuesday thanks to 27 points, 6 rebounds, and 3 blocks from Jaren Jackson Jr. The Spartans climbed to #2 in the country and are tied for first place in the Big Ten with Ohio State. With a lower strength of schedule than the rest of the top teams in the country, Michigan State has kept themselves in the conversation by simply winning games and avoiding bad losses. The Spartans close out the regular season with games at Northwestern on Saturday at 2, home against Illinois, and at Wisconsin. A strong showing at Madison Square Garden in the Big Ten Tournament could land Michigan State a one seed. With a week off to prepare between the end of their conference tournament and the NCAA Tournament, the Spartans will be primed and ready for a deep run in March. Look for Michigan State to be motivated by the disrespect the selection committee demonstrated when they seeded them as a 3-seed in their bracket reveal last week.
Loser: Oklahoma Sooners
Oklahoma has now lost four games in a row (and seven of their last nine) and is proving that the selection committee’s choice to seed them as a 4-seed in the bracket reveal last week was an absolute joke. Trae Young has tried to keep his team afloat all season, but has fallen short recently. Despite the fact that Young is averaging 29.1 points and 9.3 assists per game, his percentages have slipped a bit recently. Specifically, Young has misfired on 18 of his last 19 attempts from three-point land. Aside from Young, Oklahoma only has two other double figure scorers in Christian James and Brady Manek. Oklahoma is in desperate need of a big game from Young or contributions from some of their supporting cast to get back in the win column. The Sooners (16-9, 6-7) have slid to #23 nationally and fifth place in the Big 12. Oklahoma will look to avenge an earlier loss to Texas when they take on Mohamed Bamba and the Longhorns at noon on Saturday. Although Young is still the leading candidate to win the National Player of the Year, I am skeptical of the Sooners’ reliance on him to take them far in March.
Premier Match-Up: #3 Villanova at #4 Xavier (4:30pm FOX)
Saturday’s premier match-up features a rematch between #3 Villanova (23-3, 10-3) and #4 Xavier (24-3, 12-2) in Cincinnati. The winner would all but win the Big East regular season championship. The Wildcats trounced the Musketeers in Philadelphia on January 10 when Phil Booth, who has been sidelined with a broken hand since late last month, led all scorers with 21 points. Villanova, who relies heavily on three pointers, struggled in their loss to Providence as they made just 3-of-20 of their attempts from deep. The Wildcats have lost two of their last three outings and will look to bounce back with a big win against Xavier. Villanova averages 11.3 successful three-point tries per game and their dreadful performance against the Friars snapped an 83 game streak where they connected on 4 or more shots from behind the arc. In light of their recent struggles, Jalen Brunson and Mikal Bridges have been spectacular this season as they are averaging 19.8 and 16.5 points, respectively. Prior to breaking his hand, Booth was third on the team in scoring at 11.6 points per game. Donte DiVincenzo has stepped into a starting role and is now averaging 14 points per contest. The other two starters, Omari Spellman and Eric Paschall are also averaging double figures. With Booth out, there is little bench production for Villanova. The Wildcats will have to rely heavily on their stars to leave the Cintas Center victorious.
Xavier enters Saturday as winners of their last nine games since losing to Villanova and have won those games by an average margin of 87-78. Most recently, the Musketeers went off for offensive explosion in their 102-90 victory over Seton Hall in which Trevon Bluiett lit it up for 37 points on only 12 shots. Bluiett, J.P. Macura, and Kerem Kanter have led Xavier to the top of the conference. Xavier ranks 9th nationally in points per game, but 239th in points allowed, while Villanova is 3rd and 133rd in those same categories. The Musketeers will look to make their case for a one seed by defending their home court against the Wildcats. Xavier is a perfect 16-0 at home this season. Expect Xavier to hold serve and take care of business at home in a fast, up-and-down, offensive game.