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.
Syracuse amid Two-Game Skid Heading into the ACC Tournament
After losing to #2 Virginia at home on Monday night, Syracuse traveled to Clemson on Saturday in hopes of avoiding two consecutive losses heading into the ACC Tournament. The Orange jumped out to an early 23-13 lead with 6:48 left in the opening stanza following a free throw by Oshae Brissett. Buddy Boeheim connected on a jumped with 14 seconds left in the frame to give Syracuse a 31-24 advantage at the halftime. Bourama Sidibe made a layup with 15:53 remaining to give the Orange a 38-33 lead. The Tigers responded with a 14-0 run, capped off by a free throw by David Skara, to take a commanding 47-38 advantage with 11:27 to go that would prove to be too much for Syracuse to overcome down the stretch. Clemson pulled away to earn a 67-55 win to improve their NCAA Tournament resume in the regular season finale for both teams.
It was an ugly game for both sides. The Tigers shot just 33.9-percent from the field, including just 5-of-20 from three, and turned the ball over 15 times. On the other hand, the Orange shot it at a 37.5-percent clip, including 6-of-19 from deep, and turned the ball over 18 times. The difference in the game was Clemson’s strength on the glass. The Tigers outrebounded Syracuse 45-30.
Marcquise Reed posted a double-double with 24 points, on 7-of-17 from the floor, 10 rebounds, and five steals to lead Clemson. Elijah Thomas posted a double-double of his own with 13 points, 11 rebounds, three blocks, and two steals. Shelton Mitchell added 10 points, three rebounds, four assists, and two steals.
Brissett paced the Orange with 15 points, seven rebounds, and three assists. Boeheim chipped in with 11 points off the bench, while All-ACC Third Team performer, Tyus Battle, finished with 10 points and three rebounds.
With the loss, Syracuse finished the regular season with an overall record of 19-12 and 10-8 in the ACC. The Orange earned the six-seed and a first round bye in this week’s ACC Tournament when Louisville fell at Virginia on Saturday.
Player of the Week: Oshae Brissett
This week’s player of the week for Syracuse was Oshae Brissett. The versatile Canadian prospect has failed live up to the standard he set as a freshman averaging only 12.6 points and 7.5 rebounds per game this season, compared to 14.9 points and 8.8 boards a year ago. However, he is still an important piece to the puzzle for the Orange. Brissett’s efficiency has always been a question mark, but his shooting percentage has jumped from 35.4-percent last season to 39.1-percent this year. His free throw percentage and three-point percentage have both taken a hit this season though. He went from being a reliable 78.7-percent free throw shooter as a freshman to shooting just 66.7-percent from the charity stripe in his sophomore campaign. Brissett set his sights on possibly entering the NBA Draft this year, but a major strike against him will be that he has shot just 26.5-percent from three-point range, down from 33.1-percent a season ago. If he can buck these trends, as he did against Clemson when he shot 5-of-5 from the line and 2-of-2 from beyond the arc, the Orange will be poised to make noise in the postseason once again.
Up Next: The ACC Tournament vs. #11 Boston College/#14 Pittsburgh
Sixth-seeded Syracuse will take on either the 11-seed Boston College or the 14-seed Pittsburgh in the Second Round of the ACC Tournament in Charlotte, North Carolina on Wednesday night at 9:30pm. The Orange swept the season series from both the Eagles and the Panthers. Syracuse beat Boston College 77-71 in Chestnut Hill, Massachusetts on January 30th and 67-56 in the Carrier Dome on February 9th. The Orange defeated Pittsburgh 74-63 at home on January 19th and 65-56 at the Peterson Events Center on February 2nd. The Eagles finished the regular season 14-16 overall, 5-13 in the ACC, while the Panthers are 13-18 overall and 3-15 in ACC play. Boston College is led by Ky Bowman who is averaging 19.2 points, 7.6 rebounds, and four assists per game, while Xavier Johnson leads Pittsburgh as he is averaging 15.6 points, 3.9 rebounds, and 4.5 assists per contest.
If Syracuse were to win their second round game, they would take on third-seeded Duke in the quarterfinals on Thursday at 9:30pm.
After a week off following a loss to North Carolina State on the road, Syracuse opened a stretch of four of five games against ranked opponents.
The Orange tipped-off that gauntlet against #18 Louisville. Syracuse used a 21-5 run, capped off by a layup by Oshae Brissett, with 4:04 remaining in the first half to take a 26-13 lead. The Orange entered the break with a 35-23 advantage. Syracuse’s vaunted 2-3 zone continued to befuddle the Cardinals in the second stanza as the Orange pulled away to earn a 69-49 victory—their third over a ranked opponent this season.
Syracuse held Louisville to just 25.9-percent from the floor and forced the Cardinals into 13 turnovers. The Orange shot at a 38.6-percent clip, including 11-of-30 (46.2-percent) from beyond the arc.
Jordan Nwora led Louisville with 11 points and six rebounds.
Elijah Hughes stuffed the stat sheet for the Orange. The East Carolina transfer tallied 18 points, pulled down six rebounds, blocked two shots, and came away with two steals. Brissett added 16 points, on 7-of-15 shooting, and eight rebounds. Buddy Boeheim came off the bench and scored 14 points, on 5-of-10 from the field, including 4-of-9 from three point range, and four rebounds. Tyus Battle finished with 11 points, four rebounds, and seven assists.
After the big win over Louisville, tragedy struck the Syracuse University community when head coach Jim Boeheim struck and killed a pedestrian, 51 year-old Jorge Jimenez, on I-690 in Syracuse on his way home from the game. Boeheim was not charged, but has since stated that the events of that night will follow him for the rest of his life and will not get better with time.
Syracuse University Athletic Director, John Wildhack, insisted that Boeheim coach against Duke. Due to the tragic events, ESPN pulled their GameDay crew from covering the matchup between the Blue Devils and the Orange.
On Saturday evening, Syracuse hosted Duke in front of a record crowd of 35,642 fans inside the Dome—the largest on campus crowd for a college basketball game ever. It was an emotional scene as Boeheim emerged from the tunnel and was greeted by the support of the Orange faithful and embraced longtime friend Coach K at center court.
The game would go on, however, and Syracuse took a 34-29 lead into halftime. The top-ranked Blue Devils bounced back in the final twenty minutes and used a 7-0 spurt, capitalized by a dunk by RJ Barrett with 4:49 left, to take a 65-56 advantage that they would not relinquish the rest of the way. Duke exited the Dome with a 75-65 win.
The Blue Devils shot 44.1-percent from the field and held Syracuse to just a 34.3-percent. Duke outrebounded the Orange 44-40.
The Blue Devils, who were without the services of likely #1 overall pick in the NBA Draft, Zion Williamson, were paced by Barrett who poured in 30 points, on 14-of-20 from the floor, five rebounds, and three assists. Alex O’Connell netted 20 points, on 6-of-9 shooting, including 5-of-8 from distance, and five rebounds. Tre Jones, who was injured in the first half of the Syracuse’s win over Duke on January 14th, contributed with 11 points, three rebounds, and four assists.
Battle led Syracuse with 16 points and three rebounds. Hughes added 12 points and seven rebounds. Frank Howard and Marek Dolezaj impacted the game in many different ways. Howard finished with 10 points, six rebounds, two assists, two blocks, and two steals, while Dolezaj came off the bench and added 10 points, on 5-of-8 from the field, five rebounds, and three steals.
The Orange traveled to Chapel Hill to take on #5 North Carolina in an attempt to avoid losing back-to-back games in ACC play for the first time in the 2018-19 campaign. Syracuse raced out to an early 15-6 lead, but he Tar Heels bounced back to cut the Orange’s advantage to just one, 15-14, when Cameron Johnson drained a triple with 15:56 to go in the opening stanza. Syracuse took an eight point lead, 44-36, on a trey by Hughes with 2:13 to play in the first half. The Orange took a 46-43 advantage into halftime. Following intermission, North Carolina ripped off a 15-3 run, capped off by a dunk by Garrison Brooks, to take a 58-43 lead with 15:15 remaining. Syracuse refused to go away. The Orange tied the game at 63 on a dunk by Battle with 11:16 left. Syracuse failed to take the lead the rest of the way and the Tar Heels rolled to a 93-85 win.
The Orange shot 48.3-percent from the floor and connected on 14 of their 31 attempts from three-point land. Syracuse held North Carolina to 40.3-percent from the field and 9-of-29 from three. The difference in the game was the charity stripe. The referees were calling the game close, but the calls were especially in the favor of the Tar Heels in the first half. North Carolina shot 34-of-37 from the free throw line, while the Orange converted just 13 of their 23 attempts from the line. The Tar Heels also outrebounded Syracuse 46-25.
Coby White scored a game-high 34 points, on 9-of-14 shooting, to lead North Carolina. The freshman point guard was also 6-of-11 from deep and a perfect 10-of-10 from the free throw line. Johnson tallied 16 points and corralled seven rebounds, while Nassir Little came off the bench and knocked in 11 points and pulled down six boards.
Battle posted a team-high 29 points, on 7-of-17 from the field, five rebounds, and five assists. Hughes stuffed the stat sheet with 15 points, on 5-of-9 from three, three rebounds, two assists, and two blocks. Howard dropped in 11 points and dished out seven assists, while Brissett poured in 10 points and grabbed three rebounds.
Syracuse is now 18-10 overall and sit in sixth place in the ACC with a league record of 9-6. Coming off two losses in which they led at the half against top five teams, the Orange cannot afford to look past their game at Wake Forest on Saturday before they take on another top five opponent, #2 Virginia, on Monday.
Player of the Week: Tyus Battle
This week’s player of the week for Syracuse was Tyus Battle. Battle averaged 18.7 points, four rebounds, and 4.3 assists per game. The Orange have been at their best this season when Battle has run the point and been aggressive. When he gets into the paint he can look for his own shot or kick out to an open shooter. As the calendar turns to March, Battle will need to be aggressive and look to get others involved. Last year, the Edison, New Jersey native was a key contributor to Syracuse’s run to the Sweet Sixteen and he will need to be even better if the Orange want to position themselves for another deep run.
Up Next: Wake Forest and Virginia
Syracuse will continue their road trip throughout North Carolina, when they take on Wake Forest in Winston-Salem. Tip-off is set for noon. The Demon Deacons are 11-16 on the season, 4-11 in the ACC, and are coming off a 76-75 win over Miami on Tuesday. Wake Forest is led by Brandon Childress who is averaging 15 points, 3.7 rebounds, and 4.2 assists per game.
The Orange will return home to face #2 Virginia on ESPN’s “Big Monday.” Tip-off is set for 7pm. The Cavaliers sit tied for first in the ACC with North Carolina and are 25-2 overall (with their only two losses coming to Duke), 13-2 in conference, and are coming off an 81-51 win over Georgia Tech Wednesday night. Virginia will host Pittsburgh on Saturday before heading north to square off against Syracuse. The Cavaliers are led by De’Andre Hunter who is averaging 15.2 points, 5.4 rebounds, and two assists per contest.
Let’s take a look at the Preseason All-Americans heading into the 2018-19 season.
First Team All-Americans
*Carsen Edwards, G, Purdue
Carsen Edwards was the best player on a Purdue team that featured four seniors in the starting lineup a year ago. This season, the Boilermakers will be heavily reliant on Edwards to lead the way if they hope to make it back to the “Big Dance.” An early favorite for National Player of the Year, Edwards will look to improve on averages of 18.5 points on 45.8% shooting, 3.8 rebounds, and 2.8 assists in 29 minutes per game last season. An increase in usage should see Edwards improve in each of these categories.
RJ Barrett, G/F, Duke
Duke’s top recruiting class is highlighted by the top prospect in the class, RJ Barrett. The Mississagua, Ontario, Canada native will look to prove that he is worthy of the number one overall pick in next spring’s NBA Draft. Expect Barrett to challenge Edwards in the National Player of the Year race.
Grant Williams, F, Tennessee
Grant Williams, the reigning SEC Player of the Year, was one of the major reasons why Tennessee surprised the college basketball world a season ago winning the SEC and earning a three seed in the NCAA Tournament. This year, the Volunteers have a target on their back. Williams will look to help Tennessee repeat as conference champions and make a deep run into March. If Williams improves on a season where he averaged 15.2 points on 47.3% shooting and 6 rebounds per game, the Vols will be able to live up to the hype.
Luke Maye, F, North Carolina
After hitting a game winning shot to beat Kentucky in the Elite Eight of the 2017 NCAA Tournament, Luke Maye was one of the most improved players in the country a season ago as he averaged 16.9 points on 48.6% shooting and 10.1 rebounds per game. Now as a senior, Maye will look to lead a young Tar Heels squad back to the Final Four after a disappointing loss in the second round of the NCAA Tournament last year.
Ethan Happ, F, Wisconsin
Wisconsin missed the NCAA Tournament for the first time in two decades last season, but that was not because of the play of Ethan Happ. Happ averaged 17.9 points on 52.8% shooting, 8 rebounds, and 3.7 assists per game. Happ will be one of the most utilized players in the country and is one of the best passing big men in college basketball. Happ will be the key for the Badgers if they want to have realistic hopes of making it back to the “Big Dance.”
The ACC should be one of the most exciting conferences in college basketball this season. How will it all shake out?
As the calendar turns to October, postseason baseball is in full force, but the college basketball season will soon be upon us, as many teams are opening their campaigns with practices and Midnight Madness events. The summer without college basketball is always long and grueling, but the season is right around the corner.
First, I would like to dive into what looks to be the best conference in basketball once again, the ACC. Here are my projections for the 2018-19 season.
1.)Duke Blue Devils
Duke will likely be atop the ACC again this year. Coach K brings in the top recruiting class in the country with the like of RJ Barrett, Cam Reddish, Zion Williamson, and Tre Jones making their way to Durham. The question mark for the Blue Devils is whether they will be able to generate any production from returners Marques Bolden and Javin DeLaurier. If this team can gel, it will be talented enough to win the ACC.
Virginia returns three key pieces from last year’s team that finished 31-3. It will be interesting how this team will rebound from being the first one seed to ever lose to a sixteen seed in the NCAA Tournament. The Cavaliers led by Kyle Guy and Ty Jerome will look to get back on the right track in 2018-19. Virginia’s X-factor is sophomore forward De’Andre Hunter who could be in the conversation for ACC Player of the Year, National Player of the Year, and the NBA Draft Lottery.
3.)North Carolina Tar Heels
Although overshadowed by Duke’s recruiting class only eight miles down Tobacco Road, North Carolina may have the 2019 NBA Draft number one overall pick in Chapel Hill this season. Nassir Little is the reigning MVP of the McDonald’s All-America game and he along with the rest of the Tar Heels, most notably Luke Maye, will look to be contenders in the ACC.
4.)Virginia Tech Hokies
The Hokies have an experienced senior class returning to Blacksburg this season that is one of the most successful in school history. Buzz Williams and company will look to make a run toward the top of the ACC and into the second weekend of the NCAA Tournament.
Despite having NCAA Tournament success in 2016 and 2018, the Orange have struggled to finish near the top of the ACC since their inaugural season in the league (2013-14). Hall of Fame coach, Jim Boeheim, returns all five starters, including Frank Howard, Tyus Battle, Oshae Brissett, Marek Dolezaj, and Paschal Chukwu, from a team that made it to the Sweet Sixteen a year ago. Syracuse should be a contender for the ACC title this season and stay well away from the dreaded NCAA Tournament bubble.
6.)Florida State Seminoles
After a surprising trip to the Elite Eight last year, Leonard Hamilton’s team will look to be a force in the ACC this year and get back to the “Big Dance.” The Seminoles have an experienced group that will only get better. Look for sophomore MJ Walker to have a break-out year as he fills in for Brain Angola who graduated in 2018.
In a year where Brad Brownell was on the hot seat, Clemson had one of its best years in program history and advanced to the Sweet Sixteen for the first time since 1997. Marcquise Reed is one of the best players in the ACC and will look to build on his Second Team All-ACC campaign from a year ago. The Tigers should be an elite defensive team, but if they fail to make the NCAA Tournament, it will be because of their offense.
Amid the turmoil surrounding the program left by Rick Pitino, the Cardinals found themselves on the wrong side of the bubble last season. Interim head coach David Padgett was replaced by Chris Mack, who arrived in Louisville after leading Xavier to a Big East regular season crown and a one seed in the NCAA Tournament. VJ King and Malik Williams came to Louisville as possible NBA prospects, but failed to generate much hype under Padgett. King, Williams, and a myriad of graduate transfers under the guidance of Mack will look to make a run back to the NCAA Tournament.
9.)North Carolina State Wolfpack
Kevin Keatts led the Wolfpack to the “Big Dance” in his first year in Raleigh after taking over for Mark Gottfried. This year, North Carolina State will have nine newcomers on its roster, most notably CJ Bryce, who followed Keatts from UNC-Wilmington to NC State.
10.)Notre Dame Fighting Irish
Notre Dame found itself the first team left out of the NCAA Tournament on Selection Sunday last season. The Fighting Irish will look a lot different than they have in the past as they lost Bonzie Colson and Matt Farrell to graduation. TJ Gibbs Jr. and Rex Pflueger will need to step up and take leadership if Notre Dame has any chance of making an impact in the ACC and getting back on the right side of the bubble.
The Miami Hurricanes lost to Cinderella story Loyola-Chicago in the first round of the NCAA Tournament last year. Following that defeat, the Hurricanes lost Lonnie Walker IV and Bruce Brown to the NBA Draft. Miami returns a core of players from last year’s squad that finished 22-10, but lack the talent that they had in Walker IV and Brown. Chris Lykes and Dewan Huell will need to step up in their absence.
12.)Boston College Eagles
Had Jerome Robinson returned to Chestnut Hill for his senior season, Boston College would have been a lot higher in the ACC Preseason standings. The reality is that the Eagles will need to replace one of the most prolific scorers in the conference’s recent memory. With Robinson gone, Ky Bowman is the lead man for Boston College for the first time in his career. He has been a consistent scorer throughout the first two years of his career, but will need to make a big jump to lead the Eagles in the post-Jerome Robinson era if they hope to get back to the NCAA Tournament for the first time since 2009.
13.)Wake Forest Demon Deacons
Danny Manning is squarely on the hot seat after another disappointing season for the Demon Deacons a year ago. A tumultuous offseason saw Manning lose Bryant Crawford and Doral Moore to the NBA Draft, however, both of which went undrafted. Later in the summer, a member of Manning’s staff, Jamill Jones, was charged with third-degree assault for punching a 35-year-old man from Florida in the face in New York City. The man later died due to his injuries. Additionally, Keyshawn Woods transferred to Ohio State. The Demon Deacons are young and inexperienced. Aside from Chris Paul’s $2.5 million donation to the program, the future does not look bright for Wake Forest.
14.)Georgia Tech Yellow Jackets
Georgia Tech will be in the basement of the ACC yet again. After the Yellow Jackets went 13-19 a year ago, their best player, Josh Okogie, to the NBA Draft and Tadric Jackson and Ben Lammers to graduation. Jose Alvarado will look to build on an impressive freshman season in hopes of keeping Josh Pastner’s squad relevant in the ACC.
The Pittsburgh Panthers are in rebuilding mode after Kevin Stallings brought the program crashing down in only two seasons at the helm. The Panthers were the laughing stock of the ACC, and maybe even college basketball for that matter, a season ago as they failed to win a single conference game. Pitt went out and hired Coach K’s lead assistant Jeff Capel with hopes that his prowess on the recruiting trail could lead the program back to what it was under Jamie Dixon. For now, he is still left with the shambles that remain from the Stallings area. The good news for Pitt is that Jared Wilson-Frame and the rest of the Panthers have nowhere else to go, but up.
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.
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.