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.
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.