Breaking Down the PK80: Victory Bracket

In honor of Nike founder Phil Knight, ESPN will be airing the PK80 tournament over Thanksgiving weekend. Consisting of 16 teams and two brackets, this four day tournament will be must watch. NCAA Tournament teams, dazzling freshman and of course, fresh uniforms. Let’s take a look at both brackets. First, we’ll focus on the Victory Bracket. Here’s what you need to know.

First Round Match-Ups:

Portland vs UNC – Thursday, November 23rd 2:30 PM EST

Arkansas vs Oklahoma – Thursday, November 23rd 5 PM EST

UConn vs Oregon – Thursday, November 23rd 9 PM EST

DePaul vs Michigan State – Thursday, November 23rd 11:30 PM EST

What to Look For:

UConn’s First Real Test

Connecticut comes into this without a real test in the first week and a half into the season. The Huskies have won the games they were supposed to, but not in a convincing fashion. Their first test will be against an Oregon team that is not nearly the team they were last year, but still pose a challenge. For one, though it’s not officially a home game, it will be played in Portland. The match-up here will be UConn’s Jalen Brown versus Oregon’s Troy Brown. Jalen Brown was the leading scorer for the Huskies last season. He will need a big game for UConn to pull out a win.

Potential NCAA Tournament Rematch

Ask Roy Williams and North Carolina how tenacious Arkansas’ defense is. The Tar Heels got all they could handle from the Razorbacks last season in the second round of the NCAA tournament, and just barely survived. Luckily for UNC, they would have Joel Berry, who returned last week from a hand injury, to help handle some of this Arkansas pressure. You can’t overlook Oklahoma, but you can bet Arkansas is chomping at the bit for revenge.

Joel Berry’s Health

Going off the previous point, Joel Berry’s health will determine if UNC can advance, or win, the Victory Bracket. Berry is the nucleus for the Tar Heels. Whether UNC plays Arkansas or Oklahoma, Berry will need to at or at least near full health. We mentioned the problems Arkansas can cause, but the other option is a match up with Oklahoma’s star freshman, Trae Young. Averaging 18.5 points and 11.5 assists in two games, Young would be the type of match up a senior leader needs to take on.

Michigan State’s Bounce Back

The Spartans stock might have dropped some after the loss to Duke, but no one is writing them off as championship contenders yet. Nonetheless, Tom Izzo and company need a few strong non-conference wins to add to their resume and this is the time to do it. Michigan State has arguably the two best players in the entire Victory bracket in Miles Bridges and Jaren Jackson. Three wins in the PK80 will go a long way to forgetting the loss to Duke.

Meet the Diaper Dandies

The Victory bracket has multiple one-and-done caliber players, as well as others who will have sustainable collegiate careers. Get to know the names Trae Young (Oklahoma), Jaren Jackson (Michigan State) and Troy Brown (Oregon). Young and Brown are the leading scorers for their teams on the young season, and Jackson solidified his status as a highly touted prospect by scoring 19 points in 24 minutes against Duke in the Champions Classic. Don’t be surprised to hear all three players’ names called in next Spring’s NBA Draft.

 

Best Championship Game: North Carolina vs Michigan State

The defending National Champs versus a popular pick to be this year’s National Champion. Michigan State is definitely the favorite in this bracket, but they showed weaknesses against Duke. They showed they can be turned over and their zone offense is suspect. Arkansas and their defense could cause the Spartans fits, but UNC is the best match up 1 through 5. Michigan State has the advantage inside and more depth than the Tar Heels, but UNC has the edge at point guard. Joel Berry is better than both Casius Winston and Tum Tum Nairn.

This game, along with the PK80 as a whole, will go a long way to telling us how good UNC can be this year. Will Joel Berry get any support? Is Luke Maye’s 23 PPG in two games legit or just stat padding against low level teams? This is a great early season test for Roy Williams and company.

What We Learned From the Champions Classic

photo via Chicago Tribune

Last night had a lot of hype to it. It was the highest ranking for all four teams competing in the Champions Classic. All four teams were ranked in the top five in the preseason poll. While all four teams are far from mid-season form, it’s easy to see the potential they all have. Let’s take a look at one thing we learned from each team last night.

Grayson Allen is Duke’s Unquestioned Leader

Marvin Bagley received a lot of attention after Duke’s first two games. It was well warranted when you looked at the freshman’s numbers, but Tuesday night it was all Grayson Allen. Allen erupted for 37 points, shooting 7-11 from three point land. He is now 17-26 from three in the first three games of the year. Don’t expect Allen to shoot that well all season long, but do expect him to have maybe the best shooting numbers of his Duke career. The reason? Trevon Duval. Even Allen acknowledged after the game that many of his looks came off Duval’s creation. With a true point guard alongside him, Allen will get the clutch looks all year long

Depth Won’t Save Michigan State from Turnovers

Michigan State struggled last season to take care of the ball. Cassius Winston was just a green freshman and Tum Tum Nairn wasn’t good enough to keep his job over Winston. This year, Michigan State has a lot of things going in their favor, but the turnover battle can keep them from making a deep run in March. Winston did have 11 assists, but turned the ball over 5 times. Bridges had 5 turnovers as well, and freshman Jaren Jackson had 4. Compare that to Duke’s point guard, Trevon Duval, who only had 3 turnovers and 10 assists. Michigan State won’t cut down the nets if they turn the ball over 17 times a game.

Billy Preston Needs to Get On the Court

Kansas has a strong back court with Devonte’ Graham, Svi Mykhailiuk, Malik Newman and LeGerald Vick. Up front they are not so strong. To Bill Self’s credit he has adjusted to a four guard line up very well, but Kansas still needs some support down low. Udoka Azubuike looks to be the main man at center, but Mitch Lightfoot doesn’t look ready for major minutes. Freshman Billy Preston was expected to be in that front court rotation, but has missed the first two games for two separate incidents. That left Kansas with just seven scholarship players last night. Preston needs to figure out his off the court issues, because he team needs him on the court if they want to go deep into March.

Kevin Knox will be Kentucky’s Go To Guy

Kentucky has a very talented group of freshman, and I do think Hamidou Diallo will be a big contributor for the Wildcats this year. But I think Kevin Knox will emerge as the player John Calipari goes to when he needs a bucket. You saw it last night on various occasions, and you heard Dickie V scream “Give it to Knox!” numerous times. He was the only Kentucky player to hit a three, scored from all areas of the floor and had his name called late, though his floated rimmed out. Expect his number to be called more as the season progresses.

It’s very early in the season. All four coaches will tell you they have a lot to work on, and are far from a finished product. Then again, I think they would say that at anytime of the year. Regardless of the results, all fours teams showed why they were the favorites to win their respective conferences. Hang on, college basketball has just begun.

Best Match Ups During Opening Week of College Basketball


College Basketball begins tonight, but the first week can often be over-hyped, as it consists of many lopsided affairs. A lot of fans look forward to seeing new talent beat up on lesser opponents, but outside that the excitement begins with the championship games of the more prominent preseason tournaments. Don’t sleep on the first week this year however. There are a lot of good games between teams who should be playing come March. Here are eleven games to check out during week one.

Texas A&M vs West Virginia – Friday, November 10th

The season starts off with a Top 25 match up between the SEC and Big 12. Neither team will be at full strength due to suspensions. A&M will be missing future pro Robert Williams and JJ Caldwell and the Mountaineers will be without Esa Ahmad. West Virginia does have Big 12 Defensive Player of the Year Jevon Carter and Bob Huggins’s defense is always fun to watch. For A&M, you will see a lot of Admon Gilder, DJ Hogg and Paul Davis – their top three scorers from last year. Williams and Ahmad will be huge pieces for their teams this season, but there is plenty of talent without them.

Georgia Tech vs UCLA – Friday, November 10th

This game gained a little traction with the news of three UCLA players caught shoplifting while in China. This game would be great if Josh Okogie wasn’t suspended for Georgia Tech. The Yellow Jackets still have All-ACC second team Ben Lammers, who should have another strong year. For UCLA, you will get your first look at new freshman Jaylen Hands and Kris Wilkes. Both players are replacing pretty highly touted freshman in their own right. This is a chance for Georgia Tech to get a resume boosting win on day one.

Yale vs Wisconsin – Sunday, November 12th

Yes, I’m including Yale in a best match up blog. Yale will be talented this year. The Bulldogs were a tournament team just two years ago, and could have been one last year if Makai Mason had not injured his foot early in the year. Yale now returns Mason, and three of their top four scorers from last year. Wisconsin will struggle some, but they still have All-American Ethan Happ. Expect this to be close and don’t be surprised if Yale wins.

Minnesota vs Providence – Monday, November 13th

Two of the most under-appreciated coaches in the country. Ed Cooley and Richard Pitino have built two strong teams. Minnesota, ranked 15th in the country, broke onto the scene last season, and return their two best players, Nate Mason and Amir Coffey. The addition of good recruiting class has the Gopher’s sights set on another NCAA tournament bid. The same can be said for Providence. The Friars return All-Big East player Rodney Bullock and are a seasoned club. Just like Minnesota, they have a very talented freshman to add to a deep team in Makai Ashton-Langford. Expect both these teams to be playing in March.

Butler vs Maryland – Tuesday, November 14th

This is another match up between two teams who will compete in the top half of their respective conferences. Butler returns their best player in Kelan Martin, and will have Kamar Baldwin back as well as supporting cast. The Bulldogs have a nice freshman guard in Aaron Thompson who will get his first real taste of college action against a tough Maryland team. For Maryland, they will experience life without Melo Trimble. Get to know their sophomore trio of Justin Jackson, Kevin Huerter and Anthony Cowan. These three will make this team go this year.

Indiana vs Seton Hall – Tuesday, November 14th

The Archie Miller era begins in Indiana this year. It will be a tough first year, as IU loses a lot from last year’s team. Look for Josh Newkirk and Juwan Morgan to become the go to guys this season. I also think Curtis Jones will give the Hoosiers so balance at the point guard position. For Seton Hall, this is a big year. The once heralded recruiting class of Desi Rodriguez, Angel Delgado and Kadeen Carrington have not reached senior year. Delgado is one of the best bigs in the country. He’s a double-double machine, plain and simple. The Pirates also have sharpshooter Myles Powell and a nice group of freshman to add to their veteran group. Expectations are high in Jersey.

Xavier vs Wisconsin – Wednesday, November 15th

We talked about Wisconsin earlier. If Yale isn’t a test for them, Xavier definitely will be. The Muskateers have one of the best guards in the country in Trevon Bluiett, and J.P. Macura is back for his senior season. The Big East has been Villanova’s conference to lose, but Xavier will look to have a say about that. New faces like Paul Scruggs and Naji Marshall will only add more weapons to a dangerous Big East team.

Virginia Tech vs St. Louis – Thursday, November 16th

This match up would be awesome next year; That’s not taking away from the one we have this year. Both teams have a lot of young talent and will use this year to gain some much needed experience in their conferences. Saint Louis has senior Davell Roby to lead their group of sophomore and freshman. Billiken fans will enjoy watching Jermaine Bishop for an entire season after medically redshirting, and will be introduced to freshman Jordan Goodwin. For Virginia Tech, they welcome freshman Nickeil Alexander-Walker and Wabissa Bede. The two will join returning players such as Chris Clarke and Ahmed Hill, who both averaged 11 points a game last year.

Virginia vs VCU – Friday, November 17th

Tipping at 4P EST on Friday, this is the last game before first rounds of many opening tournaments start. Virginia got hit by the transfer bug, while VCU will have some nice transfer pieces eligible this year. You can always count on Tony Bennett’s team to be stout defensively, and a back court of Kyle Guy and Ty Jerome will be fun to watch for the Cavaliers. VCU loses a lot of scoring, but Justin Tillman and Jonathan Williams are reliable scorers. Transfers Kris Lane and Isaac  Vann both transferred from smaller programs, but will be contributors for VCU as well this season.

Champions Classic – Tuesday, November 14th

This needs it’s own section. It’s one of, if not the biggest non-conference event of the year. Four of college basketball’s blue bloods and four of the top five teams in the country this year. The 2017 Champions Classic has a little bit of everything.

Duke vs Michigan State – 7PM

Bagley vs Bridges. Krzyzewksi vs Izzo. Duke vs Michigan State. This match up features a deep and primed Spartan team versus a NBA bound Duke club. The Blue Devils are led by highly touted freshman Marvin Bagley, Trevon Duval and Wendell Carter. Oh, and who could forget Grayson Allen. Duke doesn’t have the deepest of teams, but their starting five is as good as it gets. Michigan State is the opposite. The Spartans have depth upon depth. They return a team that went through growing pains and injuries last season. They have future lottery pick Miles Bridges, they have great depth in the post and the have Tom Izzo. These are two teams expected to play deep into March.

Kentucky vs Kansas – 10:30 PM

Game two features Big Blue Nation and Rock Chalk. New year, same script for Kentucky, as they will lean on numerous McDonald All-American freshman to lead them through SEC play and into the NCAA Tournament. Different than most UK teams, John Calipari really doesn’t have an upperclassmen to lead his young team. As a result, don’t be surprised if it takes a little for Kentucky to click. Once they do though, players like Kevin Knox and Hamidou Diallo will be household names, if they somehow aren’t already. Kansas, like last year, will again rely on their guard play in 17-18. A small ball line up of Devonte’ Graham, Malik Newman, Svi Mykhailiuk and LeGerald Vick will be utilized a lot. They have question marks upfront, but KU appears to be the favorite once again in the Big 12.

So there it is, a schedule to get you through week one of the college season. After these games, preseason tournaments will begin and there will be some great championship battles to look forward to. Just don’t look ahead too soon, or you may miss a couple of great games.

Big Ten Basketball: 2017-18 Season Preview

The Big Ten Conference saw 7 teams receive bids to the NCAA Tournament last season. While getting half your conference into the the Tournament is good, they only saw 3 teams make it to the second weekend, and none of them made it to the Elite Eight. This year is expected to be different. Michigan State is predicted by many to be a Final Four team, and a few others could make a run as well. Let’s look at some of the Preseason nods as voted on by Big Ten coaches.

Projected Finishes

  1. Michigan State – An NCAA tournament season last for what was a very young team, Michigan State had lofty expectations before Bridges announced he would come back. His return and the arrival of talented freshman Jaren Jackson make Tom Izzo’s club the no-brainer favorite in the conference.
  2. Purdue – Despite losing Caleb Swanigan, the Boilermakers do return a lot of production from last year’s team. Vincent Edwards will be one of the better guards in the conference and Isaac Haas’s improvement will correlate with how Purdue fairs this year.
  3. Minnesota – I think Minnesota has a chance to finish right behind Michigan State in the conference this year. The Golden Gophers return their top four leading scorers, including Preseason First Teamer, Nate Mason. Richard Pitino also brings in talented freshman Isaiah Washington and Jamir Harris to add additional fire power to a team that was a 5 seed in last year’s tournament.
  4. Northwestern – It was a historical year for Northwestern last season. This season won’t be a Cinderella story for NU, as the conference is well aware of Bryant McIntosh and Scottie Lindsay. Two strong senior seasons from these two could have Northwestern dancing again in March.
  5. Maryland – The Terps have a trio of sophomores that will create a lot of buzz this year. Anthony Cowan will be the primary ball handler, Justin Jackson will lead the team in points and rebounds, and Kevin Huerter will lead them in three pointers made. Any sort of contributions elsewhere and I think the Terps can finish higher than 5.
  6. Michigan – What was a balanced team last season will now not be, as Michigan loses three key pieces. Moe Wagner and Muhammad-Ali Abdur-Rahkman will be the one-two punch for John Beilein. I also like freshman Eli Brooks’s game a lot. There’s just not enough after that to compete with the top
  7. Wisconsin – Same story as Michigan. Koening and Hayes are big losses for the Badgers. Ethan Happ is a preseason All-American, but who knows how he will fair without the support he had last season.
  8. Iowa – Iowa has a talented group of sophomores themselves this year. The Hawkeyes will look to Jordan Cook, Jordan Bohannon and Cordell Pemsl to shoulder more of a load with Peter Jok having graduated. The key for Iowa will be their ability to win on the road.
  9. Indiana – The Hoosiers lost a heap of talent and their head coach to a team that did not meet expectations last year. It will be a tough transition year for Archie Miller. Josh Newkirk and Juwan Morgan will get a bulk of the shots. I look for Curtis Jones to have a breakout year after showing glimpses last season.
  10. Penn State – I think Penn State is trending in the right direction, despite being picked by the conference to finish 10. They return their top 3 leading scorers, as well as 5 of their top 6. Tony Carr could end up being one of the best guards in the Big Ten this year. A strong year from him could have them up a couple spots higher.
  11. Ohio State – Jae’Sean Tate returns, who led the team in scoring last season, but not much production returns outside him. A change at the helm also impacted who OSU brought in this year. Rebuilding year to say the least.
  12. Illinois – The Illini struggled last year and lost a strong recruiting class when they fired John Groce. Some Illini fans wanted Groce to stick around and see how he did with the talent he was able to recruit. Brad Underwood does have ESPN Top 100 Da’Monte Williams and Mark Smith, ranked 78 by 247Sports, to start his foundation, so that’s promising.
  13. Nebraska – Isaac Copeland’s transfer appeal was positive news for the Cornhuskers. Unfortunately, they may not have much positive news passed this. Glynn Watson could be the team’s leading scorer, or at least be second depending on how well Copeland adjusts.
  14. Rutgers – It’s been a tough stretch for Rutgers basketball lately. Slowly but surely, Steve Pikiell is changing the program and bringing in recruits that will help change this program. Corey Sanders returns as the team’s leading scorer, and is a good center piece to have for a team that is littered with freshman and sophomores.

Preseason Awards

Maryland coach Mark Turgeon might be a dark horse to win Coach of the Year, but I think Maryland has the most upside in the conference this season

Player of the Year (Voted) – Miles Bridges (Michigan State)

No surprise here. Bridges is NBA talent and a physical freak of nature. He was Freshman of the Year a second-team All Big Ten member last season. Bridges’s stat line last year was 16 points, 8 rebounds and 2 assists a game last year. With Michigan State expected to be much better, a stat line similar to that would be enough to take home POY honors this year.

Coach of the Year (Prediction) – Mark Turgeon (Maryland)

I think Izzo is the easy guess based on the team he is being given. I think Turgeon wins the award similar to how Richard Pitino won it last season. Maryland was voted in the top half of the conference, but there is potential to jump up a spot or two with the team he has. I think Justin Jackson will be a monster this year and Anthony Cowan will look a lot better with Melo Trimble gone. Coaching without huge expectations could allow Maryland to play freely and win a couple games they weren’t expected to.

All Big Ten Teams

First Team (Voted On)

Miles Bridges – Michigan State*

Bryant McIntosh – Northwestern*

Ethan Happ – Wisconsin*

Nate Mason – Minnesota

Moritz Wagner – Michigan

Vincent Edwards – Purdue

Justin Jackson – Maryland

Nick Ward – Michigan State

Amir Coffey – Minnesota

Scottie Lindsay – Northwestern

*unanimous selection

Big Ten Games to Watch for Upcoming 2017-18 Season

Illinois at Northwestern – Dec. 1

In-state foes meet on opening night of Big Ten Conference play. Northwestern is a program still inflated from last season after having its first NCAA tournament appearance in school history. The Fighting Illini can set their season’s tone early with a road win while the Wildcats look to spark the start of their season with a win. Brad Underwood will look to start his Big Ten coaching career with a win on December 1st. 

Purdue at Indiana – Jan. 28

Both Big Ten programs are eager to earn bragging rights of the state as Purdue travels to Indiana. It is the two team’s only meeting of the season. Purdue had Indiana’s number last season in a series sweep, not to mention being 5-of-6 in their last few meetings. Both teams will have new looks however, after losing talent to the NBA.

Michigan State at Maryland – Jan. 28

A favored Michigan State team will come across its toughest road game yet when it travels to Maryland in late January. A winnable early schedule for Maryland could have the Terps hosts inflated with momentum. Look for sophomore Justin Jackson to have a break out campaign for Maryland. It will need to be a win for Michigan State to keep up with appearances.

Expect Justin Jackson to draw a lot of attention from both NBA scouts and opposing teams this season

Purdue at Michigan State – Feb. 10

This game comes at a very deciding time for the state of the Big Ten Conference. Purdue will be hungry to win another conference title, but Michigan State is one of the programs to beat in the NCAA. And the Spartans will have the home advantage down the stretch. This contest may very well be a bTig deciding factor for the final eye test of the season as both programs will be vying for a favorable NCAA tournament seeding.

Wisconsin at Michigan – Feb 11

A rematch of last year’s Big Ten championship game, where Michigan got the best of the Badgers. This game will feature two of the conferences best big men in Moe Wagner and Ethan Happ. Both teams will be hitting their stride in mid-February and we should be in for a tight one with March just around the corner.

Michigan State at Minnesota – Feb. 13

These are two teams that have the potential to win the conference and have a promising 2018 campaign in the NCAA. This will just be a good match-up to gauge where the two programs are at. Minnesota will look to continue their rise in the Big Ten with a win over the conference favorite. 

Michigan at Maryland – Feb. 24

Both programs are missing some key pieces on their rosters, specifically in point guards. The game comes on the second to last day of regular season play. It’s really the final frontier of proving grounds for players alike.

What to watch:

Michigan State is ranked No. 2 in the early polls, and the Spartans bring back talent and then some. With Miles Bridges returning to play another season with the program, key players around him will include Nick Ward and newcomer Jaren Jackson, along with Cassius Winston and Josh Langford. This is a talented Michigan State team.