Last season, the Big Twelve rivaled ACC for the title of the toughest conference in the country. Will the Big Twelve be just as good in 2018-19? Another question to ask is can anyone stop Kansas?
Let’s take a look at how the Big Twelve will shake out in 2018-19.
1.) Kansas Jayhawks
The Kansas Jayhawks have sat atop the Big Twelve for the last fourteen years. Expect to see more of the same in 2018-19. Bill Self and the Kansas program was under FBI investigation for the recruitments of Billy Preston and Silvio De Sousa. Preston left the University of Kansas after never playing a game and went undrafted, while De Sousa will sit out until the NCAA rules on his eligibility. Despite the looming investigations, the Jayhawks are still the best team in the Big Twelve by far and will share the top spot in the national polls with Kentucky in the preseason. Udoka Azubuike and Lagerald Vick return from a team that made it to the Final Four a year ago. New additions include Memphis transfers Dedric and KJ Lawson and five star point guard Quentin Grimes. With that loaded roster, there is no doubt that Kansas has a great shot at winning the Big Twelve for the fifteenth time in as many years.
2.) West Virginia Mountaineers
Jevon Carter is no longer in Morgantown, but Bob Huggins club will have a chance at challenging Kansas for the conference crown this year. West Virginia has a tremendous returning frontcourt headlined by Sagaba Konate, Esa Ahmad, and Lamont West. The question for Huggy Bear is whether or not he will get consistent guard play in the post-Carter era.
3.) Kansas State Wildcats
The last team in the top tier of the Big Twelve is Kansas State. Bruce Webber and the Wildcats would want nothing more than to dethrone their in-state rivals for the Big Twelve regular season championship. Kansas State made it to the Elite Eight a year ago without their best player Dean Wade who was out with an injury. Wade and Barry Brown return to Manhattan and will look to take the conference by storm.
4.) TCU Horned Frogs
TCU made it to the NCAA Tournament in Jamie Dixon’s second year in Fort Worth, but was upset by Syracuse in the first round. Vladimir Brodziansky and Kenrich Williams departed due to graduation, but a healthy Jaylen Fisher, along with Desmond Bane, Alex Robinson, and Kouat Noi should be enough for the Horned Frogs to make their second consecutive trip to the “Big Dance.”
5.) Texas Longhorns
The Longhorns have produced NBA Draft lottery picks in each of the last two seasons, but have failed to be a force in the Big Twelve and advance to the second weekend of the NCAA Tournament in either of those years. Andrew Jones was diagnosed with leukemia in January, but the cancer is in remission and he is set to return at some point this season. Jones, Kerwin Roach budding star Jericho Sims will look to make Texas a factor in the Big Twelve.
6.) Texas Tech Red Raiders
Texas Tech was one of the most surprising teams in college basketball last season in Chris Beard’s second year in Lubbock. The Red Raiders will be without the services of Keenan Evans who graduated and Zhaire Smith who declared for the NBA Draft after his freshman campaign. Jarrett Culver will hope to keep Texas Tech relevant in conference play and on the right side of the bubble this year.
7.) Iowa State Cyclones
A year removed from finishing in the basement of the Big Twelve, Iowa State is poised to put themselves in the conversation to be in the middle of the pack in the conference this year. Sophomore guard Lindell Wigginton, Nick Weiler-Babb, Cameron Lard, and Virginia transfer Marial Shayok will make for an exciting combination in Ames this season.
8.) Baylor Bears
Baylor was one of the first four out on Selection Sunday a year ago. Scott Drew will turn to transfers Mario Kegler and Makai Mason to lead his team in 2018-19. The Bears will likely find themselves on the wrong side of the bubble again this year.
9.) Oklahoma State Cowboys
Despite finishing below .500 in conference play a season ago, Oklahoma State swept the season series with Kansas. The Cowboys will probably find themselves near the bottom of the Big Twelve this season after losing Jeffrey Carroll and a host of others to the transfer market.
10.) Oklahoma Sooners
Oklahoma rode the Trae Young train wherever it led in 2017-18. The freshman point guard electrified the college basketball scene and led the nation in points and assists before being chosen fifth overall in the NBA Draft. Brady Manek and transfers Aaron Calixte and Miles Reynolds will try and keep the Sooners out of the cellar of the conference this year.
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.
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 East Region—TD Garden, Boston, MA, March 23 & 25
The East Region is the chalkiest regional left as the top three seeds, Villanova, Purdue, and Texas Tech, all advanced to the Sweet Sixteen. The 5-seed West Virginia will join them in Boston after they knocked out 13-seed Marshall who upset 4th seeded Wichita State in the first round on Friday. All four teams have a legitimate chance to punch their ticket to the Final Four in San Antonio.
#5 West Virginia vs. #1 Villanova, Friday, 7:27pm., TBS
Aside from their senior leader Jevon Carter, West Virginia struggled mightily shooting the ball during the regular season, but the Mountaineers have dominated the offensive glass so far in the Tournament. Led by Sagaba Konate, West Virginia has pulled down 29 offensive boards over their first two games. The dominance on the glass has allowed the Mountaineers to shoot better than 50% from the floor in the “Big Dance” and put up, on average, 89.5 points per game in the first weekend. Carter versus Jalen Brunson is the best point guard match-up in the Sweet Sixteen. If Carter and West Virginia can speed up Brunson and Villanova and force turnovers and lead to easy transition baskets, the Mountaineers have a chance to pull off an upset and make it to the Elite Eight.
Villanova steamrolled Radford and Alabama in the first weekend of the NCAA Tournament. With Virginia out, the Wildcats have emerged as the team to beat. Villanova’s offense seems unstoppable—the Wildcats are shooting 53% from two and 46% from three in their first two games in the Dance. As good as that is, that’s right on par with their shooting numbers during the regular season, only now, the trio of Brunson, Mikal Bridges, and Donte DiVincenzo is shooting a greater volume of threes than they had throughout the first four months of the season. Expect the Wildcats to handle West Virginia’s press and emerge victorious on Friday night.
Villanova 84, West Virginia 78
#3 Texas Tech vs. #2 Purdue, Friday, 9:57pm., TBS
Texas Tech arrives in Boston after taking care of Stephen F. Austin in the first round and surviving a scare from Florida in the second round. The Red Raiders have themselves in the Sweet Sixteen thanks to their defensive performance. Texas Tech held the Lumberjacks and the Gators to 0.93 points per possession in Dallas last weekend, giving them a chance to muster up enough points to win the game. Keenan Evans and Zhaire Smith have emerged as stars of the Tournament thus far. There are pros and cons for the Red Raiders who will be facing Purdue, a team that will likely be without their 7-foot-2” center Isaac Haas. Texas Tech doesn’t have a 7-footer of their own to defend Haas in the post, but if the Boilermakers elect to go small and shoot a barrage of threes, things could get ugly for the Red Raiders.
Despite losing Haas in their opening round win over Cal State Fulerton, Purdue overcame Butler’s 60% shooting performance from inside the arc to advance to the Sweet Sixteen. Although the engineers on campus in West Lafayette, Indiana have been tasked with trying to design a brace for Haas’ elbow that meets NCAA standards, it is unlikely that the Boilermakers will have their big man this weekend. Purdue will need to rely on Carsen Edwards, Vincent Edwards, Dakota Mathias, and P.J. Thompson to pick up the slack on the offensive end. Matt Maarms (and his perfectly groomed hair) will need to be a factor in limiting Texas Tech’s offensive threats inside the paint. Look for Purdue to get hot from three and advance to the Elite Eight in a close one.
Purdue 71, Texas Tech 70
Winner of the East Region: Villanova
Unlike the South and the West, the East Region has been immune to upsets so far and I expect that to continue at the TD Garden this weekend. Jay Wright will have his team ready to get back to the Final Four in search of the program’s second National Championship in three years.
The NCAA Tournament is upon us. Let’s take a look at the East Region. The one seed in the East, Villanova, will look to cut down the nets in Boston on their way to the Final Four in San Antonio. However, there are 17 other teams looking to do the same thing. Here’s what to watch for.
Upset Pick: #13 Marshall over #4 Wichita State
Marshall enters the NCAA Tournament winners of their last four games, including Middle Tennessee and Western Kentucky, and champions of C-USA. Dan D’Antoni, brother of Houston Rockets head coach Mike D’Antoni, has his team ready to pull off an upset over Wichita State, who, once upon a time, played Cinderella in their own right. The Thundering Herd has two players, Jon Elmore and C.J. Burks, who are averaging more than 20 points per game and average 84.3 total points per game. Wichita State was once one of my picks for the Final Four, but the Shockers enter the “Big Dance” having lost two of their last three games to Cincinnati and Houston—the only other teams in the American Athletic Conference to make the Tournament. Wichita State has not been the defensive team it has been in recent years. The Shockers give up 71.3 points per game. If they cannot stop Elmore and Burks, they will be in trouble in San Diego.
Sleeper: Alabama Crimson Tide
As a nine seed in the East, Alabama is my pick to be a sleeper in this region. Collin Sexton is the type of player that could be this year’s Kemba Walker. Sexton dropped 27 points, including a buzzer beater in their second round win over Texas A&M in the SEC Tournament and 31 points on Auburn in the quarterfinals before the Crimson Tide fell in the semifinals to Kentucky. If Alabama can get past Virginia Tech in the first round, the Crimson Tide, led by Sexton, will present a tough test for Villanova on their path to the Final Four in the second round.
Pick to Win the East Region: Villanova Wildcats
I expect chalk to prevail in the East Region and the one seed Villanova to defeat the two seed Purdue in the Elite Eight, allowing them to advance to the Final Four in San Antonio. Villanova has two of the best players in college basketball this season—Jalen Brunson and Mikal Bridges, who combine for 37.4 points per game. Specifically, Bridges is on a tear, and averaging 22.7 points and 5 rebounds per game at Madison Square Garden where he won the Big East Tournament MVP. The supporting cast of Donte DiVincenzo, Phil Booth, Omari Spellman, and Eric Paschall combines for 45 points per contest. Villanova, who ranks first in the nation in offensive efficiency, is my pick to win the East Region.
Big 12 Tournament: March 7-March 10, Sprint Center, Kansas City, MO
The Big 12 will host their 2018 men’s basketball conference tournament at the Sprint Center in Kansas City. 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.
Kansas (24-7, 13-5) enters the Big 12 Tournament as the one seed after securing their 14th consecutive Big 12 Regular Season title. A loss in the regular season finale at Oklahoma State has the Jayhawks’ hopes of being on the top seed line in the NCAA Tournament in jeopardy. Kansas may need to cut down the nets in Kansas City to hang on to a one seed depending on what happens in the rest of the conference tournaments. Led by Big 12 Player of the Year Devonte’ Graham, All-Big 12 Second Team selection Svi Mykhailiuk, and All-Big 12 Third Team performer Udoka Azubuike, the Jayhawks will look to assert their dominance over the rest of the conference. Kansas will open on Thursday against the winner of the eight-seed Oklahoma State and the nine-seed Oklahoma at 2:30pm.
Texas Tech (23-8, 11-7) proved that, though they were a surprise in the non-conference, they are here to stay. The Red Raiders gave Kansas a run for their Regular Season title this year, but came up just short. Texas Tech, led by All-Big 12 First Team member, Keenan Evans, will look to hold onto a top four seed in the “Big Dance,” and a chance to play their opening weekend games in Dallas. The Red Raiders may be looking at a chance at revenge in the championship game on Saturday. Texas Tech will open on Thursday against the winner of 7-seeded Texas and 10-seeded Iowa State at 7pm.
West Virginia continues to be a perennial face at the top of the conference. The Mountaineers are 22-9, 11-7 in the Big 12, and have been in one of the nation’s best teams all year. Led by Big 12 Defensive Player of the Year Jevon Carter and co-Big 12 Defensive Team mate Sagaba Konate, West Virginia attacks its opponents on defense and allows nothing easy. The Mountaineers have struggled offensively when they fall behind late in games, but their defense always gives them a chance. West Virginia is a legitimate contender to win the Big 12 Tournament. The Mountaineers will open against the six seed Baylor on Thursday at 9pm.
TCU is 21-10, 9-9 in conference play, and well on their way to the program’s first NCAA Tournament bid since 1998. The Horned Frogs will look to improve their seeding with a win over Kansas State at the Sprint Center. Jamie Dixon has his alma mater rising to prominence in basketball behind the play of his senior leaders Kenrich Williams and Vladimir Brodziansky, who represent TCU on the Big 12’s Second and Third teams, respectively. The Horned Frogs will open against the four seed Kansas State on Thursday at 12:30pm.
Baylor looked lost and completely off the bubble following a loss to Florida in the Big 12/SEC Challenge. The Bears responded with wins over Kansas, Texas Tech, and Oklahoma down the stretch and seem to now be a lock for the Dance at 18-13 overall, 8-10 in the Big 12. A win over West Virginia would certainly cement Baylor’s chance for an at-large bid. All-Big 12 Second teamer Manu Lacomte and All-Big 12 Third Team selection Jo Lual-Acuil, Jr. will look to do exactly that against the third seeded Mountaineers on Thursday at 9pm.
Oklahoma, behind the brilliance of All-Big 12 First Team selection, Trae Young, solidified their NCAA Tournament standing early in the conference schedule. Despite Young’s (and the team’s) struggles down the stretch, the Sooners should still feel good about their chances to hear their name called on selection Sunday. Oklahoma will look to take down their in-state rival eighth seeded Oklahoma State when they tip-off the Big 12 Tournament against each other on Wednesday at 7pm.
On the Bubble: Kansas State, Texas, Oklahoma State
Kansas State is on the good side of the bubble, sitting among the last four byes on most early projections of the NCAA Tournament field. A win over TCU would solidify their chance to be one of the 68 teams vying for a National Championship. Led by All-Big 12 First Team selection Dean Wade and All-Big 12 Second Teamer Barry Brown, Jr., the Wildcats may have their chance to upset the rival Jayhawks in the semis which could catapult their seeding come Selection Sunday. But first, K-State will have their hand full with the fifth seeded Horned Frogs on Thursday at 12:30pm.
Texas, despite losing their second leading scorer, Andrew Jones, for the rest of the season as he battles leukemia, is squarely on the bubble as one of the last four in as they enter Kansas City. With freshman phenom and All-Big 12 Second Team selection, Mohamed Bamba, uncertain for opening round tilt with Iowa State, the Longhorns will need to avoid a bad loss that could pop their bubble. Texas will look to follow up their big win over West Virginia in the last game of the regular season with a win over Texas Tech if they can get by the Cyclones on Wednesday at 9pm.
Oklahoma State has the most work to do of the three bubble teams that will take to the Sprint Center this week. After beating Kansas in the regular season finale, the Cowboys will look to follow that up with a deep run in this week’s Big 12 Tournament. All-Big-12 Third Team member Jeffrey Carroll will look to lead his team to an at-large bid to the Dance. As one of the first four teams out, Oklahoma State has a chance to beat Kansas for the second time in a week if they can defeat Oklahoma in Bedlam in Kansas City on Wednesday at 7pm.
Here’s a look at the 2018 Big 12 Tournament Bracket:
Semis: Kansas def. Kansas State, West Virginia def. Texas Tech
Final: Kansas defeats West Virginia in the title game.
Non-conference games in late January? Here’s a quick look at the premier match-ups in the Big 12/SEC Challenge on Saturday.
Baylor Bears at #20 Florida Gators—Noon, ESPN
Baylor enters Saturday in need of a win as they are 12-8 overall, having lost their last two games at #5 Kansas and home against Kansas State. A non-conference win on the road against a ranked opponent in Florida could serve them well if they hope to climb onto the good side of the bubble come March. Manu Lecomte will need to have a big game if the Bears plan on upsetting the Gators on Saturday. Lecomte leads Baylor in scoring at 16.6 points per game. Florida has had a rollercoaster of a season, but enters the Big 12/SEC Challenge at 14-6, having won six of their last eight games. After beating then #18 Kentucky, the Gators lost a midweek home game to South Carolina. If Florida is to come away with a win over Baylor on Saturday, it will likely be due to the play of their senior leader Chris Chiozza who is one of the most valuable players in the SEC. Chiozza is averaging 12.2 points, 4.2 rebounds, and 6.2 assists per game. Look for Florida to shoot their way past Baylor at home.
Florida 77, Baylor 66
#12 Oklahoma Sooners at Alabama Crimson Tide—2:15, ESPN
Trae Young leads Oklahoma into Tuscaloosa fresh off a home win over #5 Kansas on Monday. The Sooners (15-4) will look to grab a non-conference win on the road in pursuit of a top seed in the NCAA Tournament. Young, the nation’s leading scorer and assist man (averaging 30.3 points and 9.6 assists per game), will put his skills to the test against Alabama’s Collin Sexton (averaging 18.5 points per game) who is also projected to be a top ten pick in this year’s NBA Draft. Protecting home court will be key for Alabama (13-7) as they look to secure a signature win and land on the right side of the bubble come tournament time. Look for the Sooners led by Young to outlast Sexton and the Crimson Tide on the road.
Oklahoma 81, Alabama 73
Texas A&M Aggies at #5 Kansas Jayhawks—4:30, ESPN
Texas A&M returns to Lawrence to take on Kansas for the first time since they were Big 12 opponents. The Aggies are one of the most disappointing and unpredictable teams in college basketball this season. At 13-7, Texas A&M is in need of a key win to push them to into the field come March. With five players averaging double figures, the Aggies have a balanced offensive attack and are talented enough to come away with a win at Phog Allen Fieldhouse. If Texas A&M is able to pull off the upset, it will likely be due to their strength inside. Tyler Davis is averaging 14.3 points and 8.8 rebounds per game, while Robert Williams, a possible lottery pick in this year’s NBA Draft, is averaging 10.4 and 9.9 rebounds per game. The Aggies need to feed their big men in the post and hope to get Kansas’ only post threat Udoka Azubuike in foul trouble. Kansas will look to counter Texas A&M’s inside scoring with a barrage of three pointers. The Jayhawks live and die by the three. If Kansas wins, they will look for big games from senior leaders Devonte’ Graham and Svi Mykhailiuk who are averaging 17.8 and 16.5 points per game, respectively. I expect this to be the closest game of the Big 12/SEC Challenge.
Kansas 74, Texas A&M 71
Kentucky Wildcats at #7 West Virginia Mountaineers—7, ESPN
After losing at home to Florida last Saturday, Kentucky (15-5) fell out of the rankings for the first time since 2014. The young Wildcats responded with a win over Mississippi State on Tuesday night and will look to pull off an upset of #7 West Virginia in Morgantown on Saturday night. Kentucky has struggled to take care of the ball so far this season. The Wildcats average 14 turnovers per game. Kentucky’s guards will need to be prepared to face West Virginia’s full court press in a hostile environment. Kevin Knox (averaging 14.6 points and 5.7 rebounds per game) has been inconsistent this year, but the Wildcats need him to have a good game if they hope to win. On the other hand, West Virginia (16-4) has lost three of their last four games. The Mountaineers will look to turn it around against Kentucky. The Mountaineers balanced attack, led by Jevon Carter, will need to focus on stronger shot selection to take down the Wildcats. Look for West Virginia’s full court press and a raucous home court crowd to come up with a victory at home.
West Virginia 71, Kentucky 65
My picks for the rest of the games in the Big 12/SEC Challenge:
#14 TEXAS TECH at South Carolina
Ole Miss at TEXAS
Georgia at KANSAS STATE
#22 TENNESSEE at Iowa State
TCU at Vanderbilt
Oklahoma State at ARKANSAS
Projected winners in BOLD
Based on these projections, my pick is for the Big 12 to win the 2018 Big 12/SEC Challenge 7-3.
Let’s take a look at the winners and losers this week and what to watch for on Saturday.
Winner: Purdue Boilermakers
The Purdue Boilermakers are on a 14 game win streak—climbing to #3 in the country. Purdue is coming off back-to-back blowout wins where they defeated Minnesota 81-47 on the road and Wisconsin at home by a score of 78-50. At 18-2 overall and 7-0 in Big Ten play, the Boilermakers are an early favorite to win the Big Ten and have a chance at a one seed in March. Purdue has a balanced offensive attack with four players averaging double figures led by Carsen Edwards averaging 17 points, 4 rebounds, and 2.9 assists per game. Vincent Edwards is averaging 14.7 points, 8.1 rebounds, and 2.8 assists per game. Isaac Haas is averaging 14.2 points and 5.4 rebounds per game. Dakota Mathias is averaging 12.7 points, 4 rebounds, and 4.6 points per game. With all these options and their ability to pass and shoot threes, the Boilermakers are a tough out for most. Purdue puts their undefeated record on the line when they take on Iowa on the road on Saturday.
Loser: West Virginia Mountaineers
The West Virginia Mountaineers lost back-to-back games to top 10 opponents in conference this week to fall to 15-3 overall and 4-2 in conference. The Mountaineers lost at #8 Texas Tech, 72-71, and suffered a 71-66 loss to Kansas at home. West Virginia is one of the best defensive teams in the nation, but they have struggled offensively down the stretch in their last two games. Poor shot selection in the final minutes has crippled the Mountaineers in their last two games. Moving forward, and they will need to rectify this problem if they hope to put an end to their losing streak. Jevon Carter is lucky to have Esa Ahmad back from suspension as a secondary scoring threat. West Virginia will look to get back to their winning ways when they host Texas on Saturday.
Saturday’s Premier Match-Up: #11 Xavier at #19 Seton Hall (2:30 FOX)
The only game between ranked teams this weekend features the Xavier Musketeers and the Seton Hall Pirates. Xavier enters the game coming off an 88-82 victory at home over St. John’s, while Seton Hall is fresh off a loss at Creighton where they were blown out, 80-63, by the Blue Jays. The Musketeers, led by Trevon Bluiett’s 19.4 points, 5.6 rebounds, and 2.7 assists per game, have struggled on the road in conference play, losing to Providence and #1 Villanova. Seton Hall, led by Desi Rodriguez’s 17.5 points, 5.1 rebounds, and 2.1 assists per game, are undefeated at home so far this season. Look for Angel Delgado (averaging a double-double) to be a force in the paint and for the Pirate to remain perfect 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.
Here’s a summary of the winners and losers this week and a look ahead at Saturday’s premier match-up.
Winner-Texas Tech Red Raiders
Texas Tech is off to a 13-1 start, with their lone loss to Seton Hall on a neutral court. They are now 2-0 in Big 12 play after defeating #18 Baylor 77-53 last weekend and #10 Kansas 85-73 on Tuesday. The Red Raiders were impressive against Kansas. They controlled the game all the way from the tip to the final buzzer and picked up their first win in program history at Phog Allen Fieldhouse. Texas Tech has a balanced attack that combines experience with youth. Senior point guard Keenan Evans leads the team averaging 16.5 points per game and has been hot at the start of conference play, scoring 18 against Baylor and 15 against Kansas. Freshman Zhaire Smith and Jarrett Culver are averaging 10.7 and 10.5 points per contest, respectively. The Red Raiders will look to take care of Kansas State at home on Saturday afternoon before traveling to Norman to take on Trae Young and #7 Oklahoma on Tuesday.
Loser-Texas A&M Aggies
After going 11-1 in non-conference play, which included a win over West Virginia in the season opener in Germany and their lone loss to Arizona on a neutral site, the Texas A&M Aggies have scuffled out of the gate in conference play. This week, the Aggies lost their first two games in SEC play, losing 79-57 at Alabama last Saturday and 83-66 to a struggling Florida team at home on Tuesday night. Injuries and off the court issues have stymied Texas A&M as of late, most notably a three-game suspension to their leading scorer D.J. Hogg and a knee injury that has sidelined big man Admon Gilder. The Aggies need them back sooner rather than later if they hope to snap out of their slump and be contenders in SEC play. Texas A&M takes on LSU at home on Saturday before traveling to Lexington to face #17 Kentucky on Tuesday.
#7 Oklahoma at #6 West Virginia-7:15pm ESPN2
Saturday’s premier matchup features two of the nation’s top teams squaring off against each other in Morgantown, West Virginia. Oklahoma, led by the nation’s leading scorer and assist man, Trae Young, will face off against Jevon Carter and West Virginia. The two programs have combined to win 23 consecutive games heading into Saturday’s showdown. The game will likely be determined by Trae Young’s ability to handle West Virginia’s full court press. The Mountaineers hold their opponents to just 64.9 points per game, while the Sooners lead the nation in scoring at 95.8 points per game. In a game of contrasting styles, it will be interesting to see which will prevail. They say defense wins championships, but this is just a regular season game in early January. Despite being on the road, I predict Oklahoma will defeat West Virginia 81-74.