After going 2-0 to start off the season, the Syracuse Orange dropped both games in the 2K Empire Classic at Madison Square Garden last week.
Syracuse fell to former Big East rival, UConn, 83-76 in Thursday night’s first round matchup. The Huskies jumped on the Orange right away and got out to a 13-4 lead. UConn’s defensive pressure had Syracuse’s freshman point guard Jalen Carey noticeably rattled in the early going, but Carey responded and helped pull the Orange to within six at the break. Syracuse rallied to within four (70-66), but back-to-back threes by Alterique Gilbert and Tyler Polley helped UConn pull away and preserve the victory.
Coach Boeheim was disappointed with his team’s effort against the Huskies. Boeheim pointed to his team’s lack of consistency on the offensive end and questioned his team’s hustle, specifically in regards to the rebounding disparity. UConn outrebounded Syracuse 46-32. The key for the Huskies was their efficiency from three. UConn shot a blistering 57.1-percent (12-of-21) from distance. The Orange, however, connected on just 6-of-22 (27.3-percent) of their attempts from beyond the arc.
Jalen Carey paced the Orange with a career-high 26 points, on 9-of-14 from the field, and seven rebounds. Tyus Battle finished with 16 points, on 7-of-17 shooting, and four assists. Elijah Hughes added 15 points on 5-of-14 from the floor. Oshae Brissett scored nine points and corralled five rebounds, but struggled from the floor, shooting only 3-for-12.
Fifteenth ranked Syracuse was joined in Friday’s consolation game by the thirteenth ranked Oregon Ducks, who lost in the first round to Iowa, 77-69. The Orange had no answer for five-star recruit Bol Bol, who completely dominated the interior. The big man stuffed the stat sheet with 26 points, nine boards, four blocks, and three steals as the Ducks won 80-65. Syracuse suffered from another dreadful shooting performance as they shot just 35.3-percent from the field, including 17.9-percent from three point land. Oregon shot 50-percent from the field and 35-percent from long range in the victory. In a game where the shots weren’t falling, Syracuse also failed to take care of the ball. The Ducks forced Syracuse into 17 turnovers. The Ducks also outrebounded the Orange 35-28.
Syracuse was led by Battle who tallied 17 points in the losing effort. Hughes and Carey scored 14 points apiece and came away with five and three steals, respectively. Brissett struggled from the field for a second consecutive night. The sophomore forward scored 11 points on 2-of-12 from the field and 1-of-9 from three, grabbed six boards, and dished out four assists.
The showing in the Garden showed that Syracuse has a ton of work to do if they are going to live up to the preseason hype they generated in the offseason. The Orange are in desperate need of efficient shooting and an experienced point guard to lead the offense. Frank Howard practiced last week, but was in street clothes on the bench at the 2K Classic. Syracuse faces Colgate this Wednesday, but would hope to have Howard back in the lineup when they face Ohio State in the ACC/Big Ten Challenge on November 28.
Although it is easy to identify Syracuse’s offensive inefficiencies, the defense gave up 80 points in back-to-back games for the first time since February of 2017. It will be interesting to see if Coach Boeheim reverts back to the lineup that got the Orange to the Sweet Sixteen a year ago to string together some stops when Howard returns to health.
The Iowa Hawkeyes took home the 2K Empire Classic trophy with a 91-72 victory over UConn in Friday’s championship game. Luka Garza (Iowa) was awarded MVP honors, while Tyler Cook (Iowa), Eric Cobb (UConn), Bol, and Carey joined him on the All-Tournament team.
Player of the Week: Jalen Carey
Aside from the first few minutes of the UConn game, Jalen Carey was the clear bright spot for Syracuse in New York City. The freshman from Harlem looked to be right at home on the big stage as he averaged 20 points, on 54.2-percent shooting, and five rebounds in two games last week. Carey only turned the ball over three times after the first half against the Huskies. The diaper-dandy was able to create his own shot, but only finished with one assist in the two games in the 2K Empire Classic. His performance earned him a spot on the All-Tournament team and ACC Freshman of the Week accolades. With Howard’s return, Carey’s performance could have us see more of a three guard lineup from the Orange.
Up Next: Colgate Raiders
Syracuse will look to get back on track when they return to the Carrier Dome to host Colgate on Wednesday at 7pm. Jordan Burns leads the Raiders, who are off to a 3-1 start. The sophomore guard is averaging 18 points and five assists per contest. Last year, the Orange defeated the Raiders 72-58.
Syracuse tipped off its 2018-19 campaign with victories over Eastern Washington and Morehead State last week. As opposed to last season, there is a renewed buzz around the program heading into Coach Boeheim’s 43rd season on SU Hill. The Orange return all five starters from a team that advanced to the Sweet Sixteen in March. In addition, Syracuse brings in a class of newcomers that are ready to make an impact right away.
Our first glimpse of the Orange came Tuesday night when they took down the Eastern Washington Eagles 66-34 in the Carrier Dome. Syracuse’s vaunted 2-3 zone held Eastern Washington to a mere 10 points in the first half and made it tough for the Eagles to get back in the game the rest of the way. The zone held Eastern Washington to 22-percent shooting and forced the Eagles into 19 turnovers. The key reason for the hype surrounding the Orange this year was a hope that greater depth and better shooters would bolster their offensive attack this season. Syracuse shot just 38.7-percent from the field and 17.6-percent from three on opening night. The Orange were paced by Oshae Brissett’s 20 points, 8 rebounds, and 3 steals in the victory.
Syracuse returned to the Carrier Dome on Saturday evening when they defeated the Morehead State Eagles 84-70 in the second game of the season. The Orange jumped out to an early 25-11 lead before Morehead State outscored them 19-11 to close the half. Clinging to a six point lead at the break, Syracuse traded baskets with the Eagles to begin the second stanza. The Orange pulled away with a 12-0 run to create a deficit that would be insurmountable for Morehead State to comeback from. Syracuse was more successful the second time out, as they connected on 41.2-percent of their attempts from the field. The Orange continued to struggle from beyond the arc as they were only 3-of-16 (18.8-percent) Saturday night. Tyus Battle led the way for Syracuse. The junior guard poured in 23 points on 7-of-15 shooting, collected three rebounds, and dished out three assists in the win. East Carolina transfer Elijah Hughes finished with 21 points, on 7-of-15 from the field, and eight boards. Brissett and senior center Paschal Chukwu both notched double-doubles as Brissett tallied 17 points and collected 12 rebounds, while Chukwu added 14 points and 10 boards. Coach Boeheim commented that the first two games were good learning experiences and that they gave his guys a lot to work on moving forward.
The missing ingredient at this point in the season is production from the point guard position. Frank Howard, Jalen Carey, and Howard Washington are all still recovering from injuries that have caused Battle to play out of position and Buddy Boeheim to step into a starting role in the first two games of his college career. The Orange turned the ball over 24 times in their first two games and would prefer to have their senior leader, Howard, back sooner rather than later. Carey has not adjusted to the college game yet and missed valuable practice time after spraining his ankle in the Orange vs. White scrimmage in October. Washington played seven minutes in the opener against Eastern Washington, but did not see action against Morehead State on Saturday. Washington is recovering from a torn ACL which he suffered in practice in January.
I would like to see Marek Dolezaj get more involved offensively. The do-everything Slovakian forward showed glimpses of what he can be on the offensive end with 20 points against Wake Forest in the ACC Tournament and 17 points versus TCU in the NCAA Tournament his freshman year. Dolezaj is arguably the best passer on the roster, but he needs to make opponents respect his shooting ability. Dolezaj has made all four of his attempts from the field so far this season, but only took one shot (a dunk) against Morehead State. He made only two three pointers last season, but made one against Eastern Washington. It is rumored that he has been working on his stroke from three and it would be a tremendous lift for the Orange if we could see that in games. Get Dolezaj the ball!
Player of the Week: Oshae Brissett
This week’s player of the week for Syracuse is sophomore forward Oshae Brissett. Brissett is averaging a double-double with 18.5 points and 10.5 rebounds per game, good for the team lead in both categories. He also leads the team in steals with 2.5 thefts per contest. If Brissett is the best player on the Orange, there is no telling where the team can go this season. Although he missed a few layups Saturday night, Brissett is at his best when he takes it to the hoop. Add in a few more three pointers and Brissett will be among the class of the ACC.
Up next: UConn and Oregon/Iowa
Syracuse will face UConn in the 2K Empire Classic Thursday at Madison Square Garden Thursday at 7pm. The Orange will take on either the winner or loser of Oregon/Iowa Friday night in the championship or consolation game.
The UConn Huskies are 2-0 under first year head coach Dan Hurley. UConn is led by senior guard Jalen Adams who is averaging 18 points and 2.5 assists per game. The Huskies are looking to rebound from Kevin Ollie’s final year in Storrs where they went 14-18 overall and finished eighth in the American Athletic Conference with a record of 7-11. Last year, the Orange defeated the Huskies 72-63 at MSG. If one thing for sure, Syracuse versus UConn at the Garden is always a hotly contested matchup and is one of the most electric scenes in college basketball.
Oregon enters the 2K Empire Classic with a record of 2-0 and is ranked 13th in the country. The Ducks are led by five-star freshman Bol Bol who is averaging 17.5 points, 12 rebounds, and 3.5 blocks per contest.
Fran McCaffery’s Iowa Hawkeyes will enter the Garden with a record of 2-0. The Hawkeyes are led by junior forward Tyler Cook who is averaging 14.5 points, seven boards, and three assists per game.
The Orange will head to Madison Square Garden determined to remain undefeated and bring a trophy back to the Melo Center.
Last season, Arizona dominated the Pac-12, but the Wildcats and the other two teams that made the NCAA Tournament, UCLA and Arizona State, failed to win a game during March Madness. What should we expect from the “Conference of Champions” this year?
Let’s take a look at how the Pac-12 will shake out in 2018-19.
1.) Oregon Ducks
After failing to make the “Big Dance” last season, Oregon will return to being a force in the Pac-12 with a strong incoming recruiting class. Returners Payton Pritchard and Kenny Wooten will be joined by star freshman Bol Bol, son of Manute Bol, and Louis King. Dana Altman hopes that the Pac-12 Championship will go through Eugene this year.
2.) UCLA Bruins
Although UCLA will be near the top of the conference this season, Steve Alford may be on the hot seat if he fails to generate postseason success. Jaylen Hands and Kris Wilkes decided to stay in school after flirting with the NBA Draft this past spring and will look to make a run through the league slate and late into March.
3.) Washington Huskies
First year coach Mike Hopkins turned a team that won nine games in 2016-17 into a 21-win NIT team in 2017-18. The Huskies will look to build on last year’s success by finishing near the top of the conference and making it to the NCAA Tournament for the first time since 2011. Hopkins will lean on the trio of Noah Dickerson, Matisse Thybulle, and Jaylen Nowell to get them there.
4.) Arizona Wildcats
After surviving a midseason scandal in which Coach Sean Miller was allegedly caught on wiretap discussing a $100,000 payment to secure the commitment of big man Deandre Ayton, Arizona rallied down the stretch in 2017-18 to win both the Pac-12 regular season and tournament titles. The Wildcats were unable to make a run deep into March as they were upset by Buffalo in the first round. Miller is tasked with replacing all five starters from last season’s team. Freshman guard Brandon Williams and transfers Ryan Luther (Pitt), Chase Jeter (Duke), and Justin Coleman (Samford), will hope to fill the void and keep Arizona among the class of the league.
5.) USC Trojans
USC was one of the first four teams out of the “Big Dance” a year ago. Bennie Boatwright is one of the best frontcourt players in the Pac-12. If freshman guards Kevin Porter and Elijah Weaver can develop as go-to guys for the Trojans, they may find themselves sniffing an NCAA Tournament once again.
6.) Arizona State Sun Devils
After climbing as high as number three in the polls in December, Arizona State barely cracked into the “Big Dance” as part of the last four in. The Sun Devils were promptly sent packing when they were taken down by Syracuse in the First Four. This season, Bobby Hurley will look for transfers Rob Edwards and Zylan Cheatham and freshman Luguentz Dort and Taeshon Cherry to keep the Sun Devils relevant in the Pac-12.
7.) Colorado Buffaloes
McKinley Wright IV is one of the best players in the conference, but he may not have enough of a supporting cast to help get the Buffaloes back to the NCAA Tournament for the first time in three years.
8.) Oregon State Beavers
Oregon State will lean heavily on the duo of Tres Tinkle and Stephen Thompson Jr. if they hope to be a surprising team in the Pac-12 this season.
9.) Utah Utes
Utah will have a rebuilding year this season, but do not be surprised if the streaky three-point shooting of Sedrick Barefield helps the Utes pull off an upset or two in the league slate.
10.) Stanford Cardinal
Stanford suffered a major blow to its chance of making a run toward the top of the Pac-12 in 2018-19 when graduate student Reid Travis decided to transfer to Kentucky for his final year of college basketball eligibility. Without Travis, Daejon Davis and the Cardinal will probably fall to the bottom third of conference this year.
11.) Washington State Cougars
Washington State will live and die by the three which will definitely make Klay Thompson, their notable basketball alumni and current Golden State Warriors star, proud. The Cougars are led by Robert Franks, but are not likely to be a factor in the league.
12.) California Golden Bears
Cal was specifically bad on the defensive end a season ago. The Bears lost their top rebounder and shot blocker and had a poor showing on the recruiting trail in 2018. Cal should find themselves in the basement of the Pac-12 yet again in 2018-19.
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.
Syracuse Escapes Dayton with Win over Arizona State
Syracuse earned a 60-56 victory over Arizona State in Dayton on Wednesday night.
The Orange, who trailed 49-42 with 7:04 left after a three point basket by Kodi Justice, used an 8-0 run capped by an old fashioned three-point play by Oshae Brissett with 4:09 to go to take a 50-49 lead. The Sun Devils took the lead back on the ensuing possession as Justice drained another trey. Brissett tied the game at 52 on a jumper with 2:51 remaining.
Tyus Battle put Syracuse ahead for good when he nailed a triple with 1:52 on the clock. Arizona State climed back within one with 53 ticks left on a jumper by Justice, but Paschal Chukwu answered with a pair of free throws to give the Orange a 57-54 advantage with 39 seconds left. Mickey Mitchell converted a layup with 15 seconds to go to bring the Sun Devils within one yet again and another Chukwu free throw extended Syracuse’s lead back to 58-56 one second later.
Arizona State had a wide open three-pointer for the win in the closing seconds, but Shannon Evans II’s shot would not fall. Frank Howard came away with the rebound and sunk the game clinching free throws to close out the win and send the Orange on their way to the round of 68 in Detroit.
Syracuse jumped out to an early 21-16 lead on a three-pointer by Battle, but the Sun Devils responded with a 7-1 run to take a 23-22 lead. The teams traded buckets the rest of the half and the Orange took a 30-28 lead into halftime.
Arizona State raced out of the gates in the final stanza to take a lead that they would eventually give up in the end.
The game featured five ties and eight lead changes and each team led for 17 minutes of action.
Syracuse shot 40.8% from the field and held their opponents to 40.4% from the floor. The Orange held a 37-34 edge on the glass. Both teams turned the ball over, but Syracuse converted off of the Sun Devils’ mistakes and held a 15-4 advantage in points off turnovers.
If the Orange plan to make a deep run in March, they will need to shoot it better from the charity stripe. Syracuse connected on just 13-of-23 from the foul line. Arizona State shot 3-of-10 from the stripe in their own right.
The Sun Devils were led by Justice who scored 15 points and dished out 5 assists. Evans II poured in 14 points and grabbed 5 rebounds, while Tra Holder stuffed the stat sheet with 11 points, 6 rebounds, and 4 assists. Mitchell chipped in with 10 points off the bench.
The Orange were led by Brissett who recorded the thirteenth double-double of his freshman campaign with 23 points and 12 rebounds. The combo-forward scored 15 of Syracuse’s final 30 points in the game. Brissett’s performance put him in elite company in the program’s history books. His double-double made him the fourth player in the history of the program to do so—Carmelo Anthony, Billy Owens, and Derrick Coleman are the only players to record double-doubles in the NCAA Tournament. Additionally, the only other Syracuse freshman to score 20 or more points in the “Big Dance” are Anthony and Malachi Richardson; both of those teams went to the Final Four.
Battle added 15 points on 6-of-14 shooting.
Howard, who has been fighting a case of strep throat since the Orange finished their ACC Tournament run, scored eight of his 12 points in the first six minutes of the game. He also came away with three steals.
Chukwu contributed with 5 points and 9 rebounds, while Marek Dolezaj finished with 5 points and 5 rebounds.
Jim Boeheim commented on his team’s performance in his postgame interview. “This team has to battle for everything,” Boeheim said. “We’re so challenged offensively, this guy [Brissett] came up big and then we got some stops. When they [Arizona State] had that seven point lead we just really moved the ball and got some great shots and kinda just hung on at the end. This is the way we played all year long. Arizona State is a really good team and they played really well. We’re happy to win.”
Syracuse improved to 21-13 overall, while Arizona State ended its season with a 20-12 record.
The Orange live to see another day and will take on TCU in Detroit on Friday at 9:40pm. The game can be seen on CBS. The Horned Frogs are coached by former Pittsburgh coach, Jamie Dixon, who returned to Fort Worth to coach his alma mater in 2016. TCU is the 6-seed in the Midwest Region. The Horned Frogs enter the contest with a 21-11 record. TCU is led by All-Big 12 Third Team selection Vladimir Brodziansky who is averaging 15.1 points and 5.1 rebounds per game.
Pac-12 Tournament: March 7-March 10, T-Mobile Arena, Las Vegas, NV
The Pac-12 will host their 2018 men’s basketball conference tournament at T-Mobile Arena in Las Vegas. The Tourney will feature six teams destined for a run in the NCAA Tournament and three teams fighting to build their resume for an at-large bid or to secure an automatic bid.
NCAA Tournament Locks: Arizona, Arizona State
Arizona has battled through a tumultuous couple of weeks at the end of the regular season in which their coach, Sean Miller, was reported to have been caught on FBI wiretap discussing a pay-for-play scheme to entice their best player, Deandre Ayton, to sign his letter of intent and join the Wildcats. These reports were found to be false as there has been no FBI wiretap released and Miller returned to coach the team last Thursday. Additionally, Ayton, who was named the Pac-12 Player and Rookie of the Year, did not miss any time. On top of that, Allonzo Trier, an All-Pac-12 First Teamer in his own right, failed a test for PED’s and missed two games, but after an appeal to the NCAA, it was found that it was a trace of a prescription drug that was in his system and that the amount in his sample would have no impact on his performance. Therefore, he was also reinstated. Arizona (24-7, 14-4) has not lost a game since Miller returned and are playing with a chip on their shoulder and as Regular Season Champions will be a though team to beat in Las Vegas and in the NCAA Tournament. The Wildcats will open against the winner of the eight seed Colorado and the nine seed Arizona State on Thursday at 3pm.
Arizona State was one of college basketball’s greatest surprises in the non-conference portion of the schedule, but have come down to Earth since. The Sun Devils are 20-10 overall, 8-10 in the Pac-12 and slid to the nine seed in the conference tournament. All-Pac-12 First Team selection Tra Holder will look to cement Arizona State’s claim to a spot in the “Big Dance.” Even with a loss to Colorado on Wednesday at 3pm., the Sun Devils should be in.
On the Bubble: USC, UCLA, Washington
USC was expected to be a top ten team and a lock for the NCAA Tournament prior to the season. The Trojans can ill afford to lose their first game of the Pac-12 Tournament. One win should be enough to get USC to the NCAA Tournament. Jordan McLaughlin and Chimezie Metu were both named to the All-Pac-12 First Team this week. The Trojans will open against the winner of the 10-seed Oregon State and the 7-seed Washington on Thursday at 9pm.
UCLA has overcome the adversity they faced off the court earlier this season and have landed on the bubble. Similar to their cross-town rivals, the Bruins need to win a game at T-Mobile Arena to feel comfortable about their chances of receiving an at-large bid. All-Pac-12 First Team pick, Aaron Holiday, and All-Pac-12 Second Team member Thomas Welsh will look to lead UCLA to a victory over the winner of the 12-seed Cal and the 5-seed Stanford on Thursday at 5:30pm.
Washington, led by Pac-12 Coach of the Year and former Syracuse assistant Mike Hopkins, will look to make a run in the conference tournament and play their way into the field of 68. The Huskies have the most work to do of the three bubble teams in the Pac-12 and may even need to cut down the nets in Vegas to earn a berth in the NCAA Tournament. It will be a tall task, but All-Pac-12 First Team honoree Noah Dickerson will look to lead his team to the top of the conference when they begin play against Oregon State on Wednesday at 9pm.
Here’s a look at the 2018 Pac-12 Tournament Bracket:
Semis: Arizona def. UCLA, Washington def. Oregon
Final: Arizona defeats Washington in the title game.
Let’s take a look at the winners and losers this week and what to watch for on Saturday.
Winner: Arizona Wildcats
Many wrote off Arizona (17-4, 7-1 PAC-12) early in the season after they scuffled out of the gates and lost all three games at the Battle 4 Atlantis. The Wildcats, who climbed to #11 in the rankings, have lost just one game since returning to the U.S. Earlier this week, Arizona got revenge for that loss, beating Colorado 80-71 to claim their fifth straight win in PAC-12 play. Freshman 7-footer Deandre Ayton has continued to impress and improve his NBA Draft stock. He is averaging a double-double so far with 19.7 points and 10.9 rebounds per game. The Wildcats will look to pick up their sixth consecutive win when they host Utah on Saturday at 5:30pm.
Loser: Clemson Tigers
The Clemson Tigers (16-4, 5-3 ACC) are one of the surprises in college basketball this season. Clemson moved up to #18 in the rankings following a 67-58 win over Notre Dame last Saturday. However, the Tigers lost their second leading scorer for the rest of the season, senior forward Donte Grantham, to a torn ACL in the win. Clemson’s offense looked abysmal in their first game without Grantham as the Tigers scored just 36 points in a blowout loss to #2 Virginia on Tuesday. On a team where five players (Marcquise Reed, Grantham, Gabe DeVoe, Shelton Mitchell, and Elijah Thomas) averaged double digit scoring, while no one else averaged more than four points per game, Clemson will need their role players to step up if they hope to challenge for an ACC Championship and a deep run in March. The Tigers return to action when they travel to Atlanta to take on Georgia Tech at 6pm on Sunday.
Saturday’s Premier Match-Up: #2 Virginia at #4 Duke (2:00pm CBS)
On a loaded weekend of college hoops which features the Big 12/SEC Challenge, one game sticks out above the rest. The second ranked Virginia Cavaliers travel to Tobacco Road to battle with the Duke Blue Devils. Virginia (19-1, 8-0 ACC) enters the contest on an eleven game win streak and holds a two-game lead over Duke in the ACC standings. The Cavaliers feature a three guard lineup of Kyle Guy, Devon Hall, and Ty Jerome who combine for nearly 54% of the team’s scoring. A win over the Blue Devils in the only game between the two teams this year would put Virginia well on their way to a regular season conference title. Duke (18-2, 6-2 ACC) is undefeated at home so far this season. Their only losses were on the road against Boston College and North Carolina State. All five starters average double figures in scoring for the Blue Devils, led by Marvin Bagley III’s 21.6 points and 11.5 rebounds per game. Duke will need to control the pace and get out in transition to overcome Virginia’s stout half-court defense. Look for the Cameron Crazies to fuel the Blue Devils to a big win at home.
Let’s take a look at teams that are trending up and trending down based on their performances this week and what to watch for on Saturday.
Trending Up: Ohio State Buckeyes
After a tough non-conference slate where Ohio State lost four games, the Buckeyes are off to a 5-0 start in Big Ten play. This past week was their best one yet. Ohio State trounced then #1 Michigan State 80-64 and followed that up with a 91-69 blowout win against Maryland. Keita Bates-Diop is averaging 29 points and 7.5 rebounds over the last two games for the Buckeyes. Bates-Diop is averaging 20.3 points and 8.8 rebounds on the season and is a leading candidate for Big Ten Player of the Year. The junior forward was left off the midseason Wooden Award Watch List, which is an egregious mistake. Bates-Diop is a legitimate contender to be a First Team All-American and is leading his team back to the top of the Big Ten and onto the good side of the bubble. Ohio State will look to continue their winning ways when they take on Rutgers on the road on Sunday at 7pm.
Trending Down: Arizona State Sun Devils
Arizona State is coming back down to Earth after starting the season 12-0. The Sun Devils are off to a 1-3 start in Pac-12 play, including losses on the road to in-state rival Arizona and Colorado, and most recently a loss to Oregon at home. Once in the discussion for a one seed, Arizona State has fallen from grace and has not played well in a weak Pac-12. Despite the three recent losses, Tra Holder has continued to impress offensively as he is averaging 20.9 points, 4.9 rebounds, and 4 assists per game. The Sun Devils defense has failed them in their losses. The Sun Devils are giving up an averaging of 83 points per game in the games they have lost. Arizona State will look to get back on track when they host Oregon State on Saturday at 6pm.
What to Watch
Saturday’s premier matchup features two Big 12 teams ranked in the top ten. The second ranked West Virginia Mountaineers travel to Lubbock to take on the eighth ranked Texas Tech Red Raiders. West Virginia enters the game undefeated in Big 12 play while Texas Tech is coming off their first loss in conference play to #9 Oklahoma. The Mountaineers will look to bother Texas Tech with the full court press, but the Red Raiders have the 6th lowest turnover rate in the country. If Texas Tech can handle West Virginia’s press, they will have a chance to win. The Mountaineers will have Esa Ahmad back for this game. This is the first time Ahmad will play this season as he was suspended for undisclosed reasons. Last year, Ahmad was the team’s second-leading scorer. Look for West Virginia to take care of business on the road. The game is at 2pm and can be seen on ESPN.
The beginning of the college basketball season was one that we have never seen before. For the first time in the history of the sport there were no undefeated teams entering the month of January. Upset after upset led to a tumultuous and cluttered field at the top, but I’m here to try and help you sort it out.
Let’s take a look at Joe Lunardi’s top seed line in his latest edition of Bracketology, see what each team has done to this point and assess what they need to do to hold their projected seed, and consider potential weaknesses on the teams.
1 Seeds: Duke, Villanova, Michigan State, Arizona State
Duke Blue Devils
Record: 13-1 (1-1 ACC)
Notable Wins: Michigan State (neutral), Texas (neutral), Florida (neutral), Florida State
Bad Losses: at Boston College
Stay: With the top RPI and the top Strength of Schedule in the country, Duke has a little more wiggle room than the rest of the teams on the top seed line. The ACC is the toughest conference in the country. Duke will need to avoid bad losses against teams at the bottom of the conference and steal a few wins from the rest of the teams at the top of the conference on the road to impress the committee. Finishing strong over their last ten games would protect the Blue Devils from falling off the top seed line if things don’t go so well in the ACC Tournament.
Drop: Duke would fall off the top seed line if they suffer more than one bad loss at home and struggle on the road against the ACC toughest competition. Problems could arise for Duke if they become complacent, lose games down the stretch and fail to showcase themselves well in the ACC Tournament.
Stay: Villanova will need to continue to show that they are the class of the Big East if they hope to stay on the top seed line. Having already lost on the road to Butler, Villanova will need to prove they are worth a spot as a one seed. The Big East is better than advertised and the chance to beat both Xavier and Seton Hall twice could go a long way in making a case for Villanova to keep their seat amongst the top four teams in the nation.
Drop: With Arizona failing to make the finals of the Battle 4 Atlantis, Villanova lost the opportunity to snag a quality win on a neutral floor against a perennial national powerhouse. Failing to win games against the cream of the crop in Big East play could jeopardize Villanova’s chances to retain its top seed.
Michigan State Spartans
Record: 15-1 (3-0 Big Ten)
Notable Wins: North Carolina (neutral), Notre Dame
Bad Losses: None
Stay: Michigan State will need to seize every opportunity they have to secure a win against a ranked opponent throughout Big Ten play. As of now, their only chance to do so is against Purdue at home on February 10. The Spartans may need to run the table to hold onto it’s ranking.
Drop: With a lower RPI and Strength of Schedule compared to the other three teams on the top seed line, largely attributable to the weaker than normal Big Ten, Michigan State has a slimmer margin for error than the rest of the teams on the top seed line. More than one bad loss at home and a rough end to the regular season, combined with a poor showing in the Big Ten Tournament could derail the Spartans’ hopes to remain number one.
Arizona State Sun Devils
Record: 12-2 (0-2 Pac-12)
Notable Wins: Xavier (neutral) at Kansas
Bad Losses: at Colorado
Stay: Similar to Michigan State, Arizona State only has one remaining game on their schedule against a ranked opponent. After losing to their in-state rival Arizona, who is on the rise, and at Colorado, the rematch against the Wildcats in Tempe is a must win for the Sun Devils if they hope to hold onto a one seed.
Drop: With back-to-back losses to open up conference play, another slip up could knock Arizona State off of the one line. America’s surprise team will need to continue to do so if they plan to be on the top seed line come Selection Sunday. Arizona State would be my pick to fall off the one line.
There is a lengthy list of honorable mentions that could possibly find themselves sitting on the one line come tournament time. For the time being, let’s focus on Lunardi’s 2 seeds in his latest Bracketology: Oklahoma, Virginia, West Virginia, and Xavier.
Oklahoma is my first pick to steal a one seed if any of the current one seeds slip up throughout conference play. Led by the nation’s best player, Trae Young, the Sooners are tough to stop on the offensive end. Oklahoma lost to Arkansas in the PK80, but have not lost since. The Sooners are now 2-0 in Big 12 play, including a win over a previously undefeated TCU team. The offensive potency combined with the wins they already have and the opportunities in the loaded Big 12 to come up with additional marquee wins are a perfect storm for Oklahoma to make a run to the top of the field of 68. Given the strength of the Big 12 and the weakness of both the Big Ten and the Pac-12, it is tough to imagine a world where the Big 12 Champion is not a one seed in the NCAA Tournament. Right now, I predict it will be Oklahoma. A win in a crucial game at West Virginia this weekend could shape their case even further.
Virginia was unranked during the preseason, but the Cavaliers have climbed through the rankings to establish themselves in the top 10 once again. Kyle Guy, minus the man bun, has taken over his team in his sophomore campaign. The Cavaliers have an opportunity to make noise again in the ACC. If they can remain at the top of the ACC throughout the regular season, an ACC Championship could propel them to a one seed. The question for Virginia is whether they can score enough points against defenses that are just as tough as theirs. The Cavaliers lone loss this season is to West Virginia, an equally stout defensive team that held Virginia to 61 points.
West Virginia Mountaineers
Although there are no remaining undefeated teams in college basketball this season, there is one team that is undefeated on American soil. That would be West Virginia. The Mountaineers have rattled off 12 consecutive wins since losing their season opener to Texas A&M in Germany. Senior guard Jevon Carter has led the team through the non-conference slate. The Mountaineers are 2-0 in Big 12 play with wins over Oklahoma State and Kansas State. A win over Oklahoma would go a long way in launching West Virginia further into the conversation for a one seed in the Big Dance.
Xavier has one loss on the year against Arizona State. The Musketeers blew out Cincinnati in a heated cross-town rivalry and are off to a 3-0 start in Big East play with wins over Marquette, DePaul, and Butler. Trevon Bluiett and the rest of the Musketeers have a chance to steal a one seed. Xavier plays Villanova twice. Two wins against the Wildcats could propel Xavier to the top seed line come March Madness.