The 8-seed in the West Region, Syracuse, took on the 9-seed, Baylor, on Thursday night at Vivint Smart Home Arena in Salt Lake City, Utah.
The Bears jumped out to an early 15-4 lead after King McClure drained a triple with 15:48 left in the first half. The Orange responded and gained a 28-25 advantage with 6:53 to go before the break when Tyus Battle converted a four-point play. Baylor took a 38-37 lead into halftime. Battle’s dunk with 13:01 remaining in the game gave Syracuse a 53-50 edge. With the score knotted at 57, Jared Butler gave the Bears the lead for good when he nailed a three-pointer with 9:20 to play. Baylor pulled away and earned a 78-69 win.
The Orange were without the services of senior point guard Frank Howard who ended a rollercoaster career by being suspended for failing a drug test. Syracuse was looking to get Howard going in the NCAA Tournament after he tallied a career-high 28 points, on 11-of-20 shooting, when Duke eliminated the Orange from the ACC Tournament a week earlier.
The Bears shot 53.8-percent from the field, including 16-of-34 from deep, which proved to be too much for Syracuse to handle. The Orange shot just 41.2-percent from the floor, including 12-of-29 from beyond the arc in the losing effort.
Baylor was led by Yale-transfer Makai Mason who scored 22 points on 7-of-14 shooting. Mason also recorded four rebounds, four assists, and three steals. Jared Butler added 14 points, five rebounds, four assists, and two steals, while Mario Kegler dropped in 13 points and grabbed four boards.
Elijah Hughes paced Syracuse with 25 points, on 7-of-15-from the field, three rebounds, three assists, and two blocks. Battle, who declared for the NBA Draft on Friday, poured in 16 points and dished out three assists in his final game in an Orange uniform. Oshae Brissett finished with 14 points, on 6-of-12 from the floor, and eight boards in the loss.
Syracuse finished the season with a record of 20-14 and a first round exit from the NCAA Tournament—a relatively disappointing result for a team that returned all five starters from a team that made a run to the Sweet Sixteen a season ago.
Baylor’s season was ended in the second round of the NCAA Tournament when they lost to the 1-seed in the West, Gonzaga, 83-71, in Salt Lake City on Saturday night.
Next season, Syracuse will lose Frank Howard to graduation and Tyus Battle to the NBA Draft, but aside from that, it is unclear what everyone else’s plans are. Paschal Chukwu could apply for an extra season due to having his redshirt-sophomore campaign shortened due to an eye injury. Oshae Brissett may enter the NBA Draft, but it is likely he will return for his junior season after not living up to the hype in his sophomore season. Elijah Hughes, Marek Dolezaj, and Bourama Sidibe will return for their junior seasons, while Buddy Boeheim, Jalen Carey, and Robert Braswell will come back for their sophomore seasons. Howard Washington will join the active roster once again for his redshirt-sophomore season after missing this year recovering from a torn ACL and a stroke. The Orange will add a freshman class of Brycen Goodine, Quincy Guerrier, John Bol Ajak, and New York State’s all-time leading high school scorer, Joe Girard III.
Let’s take a look at who is in position to be in the All-American conversation now that we are halfway through the college basketball season.
Zion Williamson, Duke
Duke’s star freshman Zion Williamson looks every bit the best player in college basketball. At 6’7” and 285 pounds, Williamson is a physical specimen and is a generational talent that will likely be the top pick in the 2019 NBA Draft. Zion took over the college basketball world when he erupted for 28 points and seven rebounds in the Blue Devils’ 118-84 blowout of then #2 Kentucky on opening night. He presents a matchup nightmare for pretty much every team in the country and is shooting an incredibly efficient 72.4-percent on two-point field goals. If there’s one thing for Williamson to improve on, it’s his three point shooting. He is by no means a volume shooter as the southpaw only attempts 1.5 threes per game, but he has connected on only 16.7-percent of his attempts from deep. When examining Duke’s one-and-done freshmen in the past, a consistent trend has been their inability to defend. Last year, the Blue Devils’ top freshman Marvin Bagley III, was so lacking defensively that Coach K switched to a 2-3 zone defense to hide his defensive inefficiencies. That is not the case with Zion. Williamson can guard multiple positions and is averaging 2.1 steals and 1.9 blocks per game—which allows him and his teammates to get out in transition, so he can make his highlight real dunks. At this point in the season, Zion is the frontrunner for National Player of the Year.
Dedric Lawson, Kansas
Perhaps one of the most quietly consistent players in the country is Kansas’ Dedric Lawson. The Memphis-transfer is averaging a double-double with 20.6 points, on 53.2-percent shooting, and 11.4 rebounds per game. The Jayhawks are 10-1, and without Lawson, they likely would not have clenched some of the closer matchups. In a 63-60 victory over New Mexico State, Lawson scored the final 14 points of the game for Kansas over the final 6:40 of play. Lawson finished the contest with 20 points, on 8-of-15 shooting, and 10 rebounds. If the Jayhawks plan on winning their 15th consecutive Big Twelve regular season title, they may need Lawson to continue averaging a double-double. For now Dedric Lawson is on track for being a First-Team All-American at the season’s end.
Markus Howard, Marquette
Two words: Sharp. Shooter. Marquette’s Markus Howard is just that. The junior guard is averaging 25 points, on 42.6-percent shooting and 40.2-percent from beyond the arc, 4.3 rebounds, and 4.5 assists. The Golden Eagles are 10-2 with their only losses coming to Indiana and then #2 Kansas and Howard is a key reason why. Most recently, Marquette took down #14 Buffalo 103-85. Howard tallied 45 points in the win on 12-of-25 from the field, including 9-of-13 from distance. He had one of the most electric 20 minutes in college basketball this season as he scored 24 consecutive points and a total of 40 points in the second half. The Golden Eagles have climbed to #18 in the rankings and will look to challenge Villanova for the Big East regular season crown. If Marquette is able to do that, Howard will be in the conversation for Big East Player of the Year and First-Team All-American status.
Grant Williams, Tennessee
The reigning SEC Player of the Year, Grant Williams, is off to a great start and has Tennessee in the conversation as a legitimate National Champion contender. Williams is a matchup nightmare who can shoot the three and bang in the post. He is averaging 19.6 points, on 56.3-percent shooting, including 41.2-percent from three-point land, 8.5 rebounds, and 4.2 assists per contest. Williams scored 24 points, on 9-of-15 from the floor, grabbed nine boards, and dished out four assists in a win over Louisville at the NIT Season Tip-Off in November. His efficiency and leadership will be necessary if the Volunteers are to repeat as SEC regular season champions and make a run to the Final Four. If they do that, there will be no doubt that Williams will repeat as SEC Player of the Year and be a First-Team All-American come March.
Rui Hachimura, Gonzaga
After playing averaging 11.6 points and 4.7 rebounds in only 20 minutes per game a season ago, Rui Hachimura returned to Gonzaga and has emerged as one of the best players in college basketball in his junior year. Hachimura has been incredibly efficient this year—shooting 58-percent from the field, including 44.4-percent from three. He leads Gonzaga, the nation’s most efficient offensive attack, in scoring as he is averaging 21.7 points per game. Hachimura also corrals 6.7 boards per contest. He scored 26 points, on 9-of-20 shooting, pulled down seven rebounds, and hit the game-winner in an 81-79 victory over Washington with 0.6 seconds remaining. The Japanese-born prospect will likely be a lottery pick in the 2019 NBA Draft, but before then, he is the early front-runner for WCC Player of the Year and a legitimate First-Team All-American candidate. If Hachimura keeps playing at this level, the Zags, with Killian Tillie back in the lineup, could cut down the nets in Minneapolis.
The college basketball season is off and running. What have we learned so far?
As the calendar turns to December, teams are entering the second month of their seasons looking to take advantage of their last few opportunities to grab wins in the nonconference portion of the schedule before 2019 and conference play commences.
The month of November was a wild one from the tip. From Duke blowing out Kentucky on opening night through Feast Week, we’ve seen some marquee matchups, upsets, surprises, and teams that look like they have a legitimate chance of cutting down the nets in Minneapolis in early April.
The four most impressive teams thus far are Gonzaga, Kansas, Virginia, and Michigan.
Although Duke came roaring out of the gate, the young Blue Devils got punched in the mouth in the championship game of the Maui Invitational by the Gonzaga Bulldogs. Gonzaga held on to beat Duke 89-87 in college basketball’s most intriguing matchup thus far this season. The Bulldogs ran through the Maui Invitational without forward Killian Tillie, who is out for the foreseeable future with an ankle injury. Mark Few’s team is deep and talented—led by junior Rui Hachimura, who has been a beast. The Japan native has NBA scouts drooling and is averaging 21.9 points and 5.4 rebounds per game. Even without Tillie, Gonzaga is still incredibly deep and talented. Zach Norvell Jr., Brandon Clarke, and Josh Perkins are all averaging double figures. The top ranked Zags still have nonconference games against Creighton, Washington, Tennessee, and North Carolina, but if they can make it through those contests unscathed, they may just be dancing with an unblemished mark in March.
The Kansas Jayhawks entered most preseason polls as the number team in the country, but for some reason are now ranked second even though they have yet to lose a game. Duke leapfrogged Kansas after their throttling of Kentucky on opening night in Indianapolis and Gonzaga did the same after beating Duke in Maui. Kansas looks every bit as good as they were expected to be in the preseason. The Jayhawks defeated fifth ranked Tennessee in the NIT Season Tip-Off Tournament championship game in Brooklyn, 87-81 in overtime. After almost not being welcomed back to the roster by Bill Self, Lagerald Vick has played with a chip on his shoulder to begin the season. The senior guard is leading the team in scoring with 19.6 points per game behind 58.3-percent shooting from three point land. Memphis-transfer Dedric Lawson is averaging a double-double, while Udoka Azubuike and Devon Dotson are also averaging double figures in scoring. Prior to entering Big Twelve play in search of their fifteenth consecutive regular season conference title, Kansas has matchups with Stanford, Villanova, and Arizona State. At this rate, it would be pretty shocking if anyone were to derail the Jayhawks hopes of another league title.
After being the first one seed to lose to a sixteen seed in the NCAA Tournament, the Virginia Cavaliers have bounced back with a vengeance to start their 2018-19 campaign. Just as it has been over the course of Tony Bennett’s tenure in Charlottesville, defense has been the key to Virginia’s early success. The fourth ranked Cavaliers are second in defensive efficiency and have held opponents to a mere 52.4 points per game. The main reason why the Hoos were bounced by UMBC in the first round of the “Big Dance” a year ago was that they were without their best player De’Andre Hunter in that game. Hunter is back and is leading the team in points (16.6) and rebounds (6.1) per game. Freshman point guard Kehei Clark has nearly a 3:1 assist to turnover ratio, which has allowed sharp shooters, Ty Jerome and Kyle Guy, to get open looks off the ball. The Cavaliers defeated Wisconsin 53-46 in the championship game of the Battle 4 Atlantis and traveled to College Park to defeat Maryland 76-71 in the ACC/Big Ten Challenge. Virginia has a date at South Carolina on December 19, and it is very likely that they will enter ACC play undefeated. With Hunter being more of a focal point on this year’s team, this may be the year that Bennett finally makes it to the Final Four.
The reigning National Runners-Up from Michigan are back and look like one of the most impressive teams in the country. John Beilein’s team has climbed to number seven in the polls behind a tremendous defensive effort. The Wolverines are the top team in defensive efficiency and are hold opponents to just 51 points per contest. Michigan is led by freshman forward Iggy Brazdeikis who is averaging 16.9 points, on 54.9-percent shooting and 38.9-percent from three, and 5.7 rebounds per game. Charles Matthews and Jordan “Swaggy” Poole have chipped in and are averaging 15.4 and 10.1 points per game, respectively. The Wolverines have absolutely dominated their competition, winning by an average margin of 21.7 points on their way to a 7-0 start. Michigan avenged their loss in last year’s National Championship game with a 73-46 whooping of defending National Champion and then number eight Villanova. The Wolverines knocked off Providence, 66-47, in the championship game of the Hall of Fame Tip-Off Tournament. Most recently, Michigan pummeled number eleven North Carolina, 84-67, in front of a raucous home crowd in Ann Arbor in the ACC/Big Ten Challenge. The Wolverines begin Big Ten play this weekend when they battle with number 19 Purdue on Saturday. As it looks right now, Michigan is good enough to be right back where they were last March, with hopes of getting one more win in 2019.
Bracket Busters: Buffalo and Furman
It’s never too early to pay attention to the teams from the one-bid leagues that are making noise in the nonconference portion of the schedule because that could be the difference between winning and losing your office March Madness pool. Two teams to keep an eye on this year are Buffalo and Furman.
The Buffalo Bulls are no stranger to being “Bracket Busters,” as last year they eliminated number overall pick Deandre Ayton and the Arizona Wildcats in the first round of the NCAA Tournament. Buffalo is off to a 6-0 start this season and have climbed to number 21 in the polls, largely in part to their 99-94 overtime win over then number thirteen West Virginia in Morgantown. Senior guard CJ Massinburg is averaging 20.5 points per game, on 51.9-percent from the field and 51.5-percent from deep, and 7.8 rebounds per game. Massinburg, along with Jayvon Graves, Nick Perkins, and Jeremy Harris, will look to have the Bulls dancing into the second weekend of the NCAA Tournament this year.
Can you name a school that has beaten half of last year’s Final Four on the road this season? Probably not. The correct answer to that question would be the Furman Paladins. Furman blessed the “Fighting Sister Jeans” with a 60-58 win in Chicago and followed that up with a 76-68 upset of then number eight Villanova. The Paladins of the SoCon are 7-0 and will look to pull off another upset on the road when they take on LSU in Baton Rouge on December 21. Jordan Lyons, Matt Rafferty, and Clay Mounce hope to lead Furman to the “Big Dance” for the first time since 1980.
Keep your eyes glued to the tube as we propel our way through the remainder of the nonconference slate and into conference play in December.
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.”
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.
The first weekend of the NCAA Tournament was a wild one—filled with historic upsets and late game heroics. Let’s take a look at the Sweet Sixteen and who will advance to the Final Four in San Antonio.
The West Region—Staples Center, Los Angeles, CA, March 22 & 24
The West Region lost its 1-seed Xavier and 2-seed North Carolina on Sunday, adding to upsets in the Round of 32. This opens up the bracket for Michigan and Gonzaga to get their shot at making the Final Four. Texas A&M and Florida State will have something to say about that, as they too will fight to punch their ticket to San Antonio.
#9 Florida State vs. #4 Gonzaga, Thursday, 10:07pm., TBS
Florida State is one of the surprises in this year’s NCAA Tournament. The Seminoles took down Michael Porter Jr. and Missouri, 67-54, and then came back from a 12 point deficit late in the second half to bounce top-seeded Xavier from the “Big Dance.” Florida State’s strength is on the interior. Led by Terance Mann and Phil Cofer, the Seminoles were third in the ACC in scoring from inside the arc this season. Florida State has struggled shooting the ball from three-point range, shooting at a 33% clip, but the Seminoles have shot it at 39% from deep in the NCAA Tournament. Look for Gonzaga to force Florida State to shoot the three in their Sweet Sixteen match-up.
The Zags will look to cut down the nets in Los Angeles and make it to their second consecutive Final Four. Only two starters from last year’s squad returned to Spokane this season, Jonathan Williams and Josh Perkins, but Mark Few has the Bulldogs back in a familiar spot and poised to make a run. Freshman Zach Norvell Jr. recorded a double-double in Gonzaga’s win over Ohio State Saturday with 28 points and 12 rebounds, while sophomore Rui Hachimura added 25 points. The combination of experience and stars bursting out right before our eyes, the Zags have something special going. I’ll take the Bulldogs to end the Seminoles’ run in LA on Thursday night.
Gonzaga 84, Florida State 75
#7 Texas A&M vs. #3 Michigan, Thursday, 7:37pm., TBS
Texas A&M and Michigan advanced to the Sweet Sixteen in polar opposite ways. The Aggies trounced 2nd seeded North Carolina, while the Wolverines needed a buzzer beater from freshman Jordan Poole to hold off an upset scare from the 6-seed Houston. Texas A&M has been an enigma all year. The Aggies were in the top ten earlier in the season, but made their way to the bubble following a stretch of five straight losses to open SEC play. Texas A&M has won five of their last six games and have a frontcourt in Tyler Davis and Robert Williams that is one of the best in the country. Led by Davis and Williams, the Aggies outrebounded the Tar Heels, one of the best rebounding teams in the country, 50-36, on Sunday. Texas A&M hasn’t forced many turnovers and they’ve given up 51 three-point attempts in their first two games of the “Big Dance.” If Michigan can take care of the ball and make some shots from deep, it could be a different story for the Aggies on Thursday.
Following an epic run at Madison Square Garden in the Big Ten Tournament two weeks earlier, the Wolverines struggled mightily on offense in their first two games of the NCAA Tournament. Michigan found their way to the Sweet Sixteen thanks to the art of the buzzer beater. The Wolverines have their best defensive team in recent memory and allowed just 55 points per game in the opening weekend. Michigan will need to counter Texas A&M’s strength on the interior with successful outside shooting to come away with the win. Look for Mo Wagner and Duncan Robinison to find their stroke and for the Wolverines to escape from the Aggies in a close one.
Michigan 73, Texas A&M 72
Winner of the West Region: Michigan
Michigan will have a new lease on life after escaping from the jaws of defeat in the Round of 32. I expect John Beilein’s team to snap out of their shooting funk from last weekend and return Big Ten Tournament form in the Sweet Sixteen. Better shooting and defense will help the Wolverines get past Texas A&M and Gonzaga on their way to San Antonio and their first Final Four since 2013.
The 2017 Jimmy V Classic featured two games: #4 Villanova vs. #12 Gonzaga and Syracuse vs. UConn. Here’s the recap below.
Villanova vs. Gonzaga
The first game of the Jimmy V Classic featured a battle between #4 Villanova and #12 Gonzaga. Villanova proved they’re legit and defeated the Zags 88-72 in the first meeting between the two schools.
Mikal Bridges led a balanced attack for the Wildcats with 28 points, 6 rebounds, and 2 blocks. Phil Booth added 20 points, Jalen Brunson had 12 points, 5 rebounds and 5 assists, and Omari Spellman added a double-double with 10 points and 10 rebounds in the win.
Zach Norvell Jr. led wthe way for Gonzaga with 22 points and 4 rebounds, while Josh Perkins added 16 points, 6 rebounds and 4 assists, and Jacob Larsen finished with 10 points and 5 rebounds off the bench in the losing effort.
With the win, Villanova improved to 9-0 on the season and picked up its first win over a ranked opponent. The Wildcats look like a team that is poised to run the table in their conference and make a deep run in March. Gonzaga fell to 7-2, but has only lost to teams that have been ranked in the top 10.
Villanova will host LaSalle on Sunday, December 10 at 1pm, while Gonzaga will travel to Seattle to take on former Syracuse Assistant Coach Mike Hopkins and the Washington Huskies Sunday, December 10 at 8pm.
Syracuse vs. UConn
Syracuse defeated former Big East Rival UConn Tuesday night, 72-63, in the night cap of the Jimmy V Classic at Madison Square Garden in New York City. With the win, Syracuse improved to 9-7 over the Huskies in games played at the Mecca.
Syracuse raced out of the gates behind stellar starts from freshmen Matthew Moyer and Oshae Brissett. The Orange built their lead up to 37-20 with three minutes left in the first half before UConn cut their lead to 11 at the break. The Orange withstood the Huskies attempt to comeback in the second half and pulled out a win in a sloppy game between the two former conference foes.
The Syracuse defense was suffocating all night. UConn struggled to get anything going against the 2-3 zone. The Orange forced the Huskies into 17 turnovers, grabbing 11 steals. Tyus Battle finished with a career high 5 steals in the win. The front line of the zone combined for 4 blocks on the night as well.
Offensively, the Orange were led by Battle who scored 22 points and dished out 3 assists. Moyer turned in a career performance with 18 points, 8 rebounds and electrified the crowd at MSG with two thunderous put-back dunks. Brissett recorded his fourth double-double in his first four games in Orange finishing with 16 points and 10 rebounds.
Frank Howard struggled. The junior point guard scored 5 points on 1-of-10 shooting, distributed 5 assists, and turned the ball over 9 times. Howard will need to get better at handling a full court press and needs to improve in assisting the Orange into its offense when he can’t find his own shot.
Jalen Adams led the way for the Huskies with 22 points.
In the absence of Geno Thorpe, who left the team last week, the Orange look to be 7-deep. Howard and Battle will seemingly get all the minutes at the guard positions, as Battle played all 40 minutes for the second straight game and freshman Howard Washington played just one minute after Howard committed a bad turnover in the first half.
Syracuse improved to 7-1 on the season, while UConn fell to 6-3. The Orange will host Colgate on Saturday, December 9 in the Carrier Dome. Tip-off is set for 2pm. The Huskies will host Coppin State at Gampel Pavilion on Campus in Storrs, Connecticut at the same time.