7 Storylines in College Basketball This Weekend

Photo via SB Nation

It’s a big football weekend, with Conference Championship games being played on Sunday. Before you look forward to Sunday, here’s what you can look forward to this Saturday in college hoops.

Wichita State Tries to Avoid Back to Back Losses

Wichita State had the most embarrassing loss in program history under Greg Marshall on Wednesday, at home against SMU. As Rob Dauster pointed out on his College Basketball Talk Podcast, the Shockers gave up 1.38 points per possession, which is the worst by a Marshall coached team. The Shockers, while still one of the best teams in a weak AAC, need to up their defensive intensity if they want a long March run. On the flip side, Houston sits at 14-4 and 4-2 in the AAC. They hold above average wins against Arkansas and Providence. A win against the Shockers would really catapult them to a potential at-large bid come March.

Get Familiar with the Mountain West….Really

First place for the Mountain West Conference is at stake Saturday night, as Nevada hosts Boise State. If you haven’t paid attention, and I’m sure not many have, Nevada is a good basketball team. They are a Top 20 KenPom team, with a win against Rhode Island and close losses to Texas Tech and TCU. Nevada’s Caleb Martin is worth the watch, and is an under appreciated player in the country. The Wolf Pack sit at 6-0 in the Mountain West, hosting the 6-1 Boise State Broncos. Boise State is no slouch either, but needs a win to keep potential at-large or conference championship hopes alive. Senior guard has been the driving force between two close wins for Boise of late. He went for 44 a few games ago versus San Diego State. Offense is not an issue in this one. It will probably be the best late night game on Saturday night.

Can Notre Dame Finally Steal a Win

Notre Dame could use some comfort. The Fighting Irish lost a heartbreaker last Saturday, as a TJ Gibbs put back was halfway down before coming out. They followed up with a double overtime loss to Louisville earlier this week. Notre Dame no doubt got a boost with the return of Matt Farrell against the Cardinals, but they need to start winning some close games if they want to keep their tournament hopes alive. They won’t get punished for losses against good ACC teams without Bonzie Colson, but they need to steal some wins to keep their tournament dreams alive. For the Tigers, it could be a big weekend for them on and off the court, with Zion Williamson expected to make his college commitment.

Will Trae Young Bounce Back

Trae Young had his worst game of his brief college career this week against Kansas State. Major props to the Wildcats, who game planned and defended Young and the Sooners magnificently. Young finished with 20 points on 21 shots and a glaring 12 turnovers. It was a blip on the radar for Young. He and Oklahoma will look to rebound against Oklahoma State. The Sooners trounced OSU at home earlier in the year. Young finished with 27 points and 10 assists. On paper, this looks like a favorable way to bounce back.

The Only Ranked vs Ranked Match-Up of the Weekend

There is only one game on Saturday that features two nationally ranked teams and that is #11 Xavier travelling to Jersey to play #19 Seton Hall. This game has two storylines to it. For Seton Hall, they need a win to stay in the race in the Big East. They’ve lost two of their last three, and the two losses were blowouts. Xavier needs to win to keep pace with Villanova. A loss here wouldn’t doom the Musketeers, but it would basically ensure that Villanova gets at least a share of the Big East regular season championship. You also get two senior led teams in this game, and great individual match-ups. Desi Rodriguez versus Trevon Blueitt would probably the best match-up within the match-up

First Place Game in the Pac 12

After non-conference play, the Pac 12 seemed like a two team race between Arizona and Arizona State. Three weeks into conference play, Arizona sits atop the standings, but they don’t share it with the Sun Devils. Instead it is Stanford that is tied with the Wildcats at 5-1 in Pac 12 play. The Cardinals were 0-4 in non-conference play against KenPom Top 50 teams. They’ve been strong in conference however, with wins over UCLA, USC and Arizona State thus far. They have one of the best players in the conference in Reid Travis. He will have his hands full against probable conference POY, DeAndre Ayton. Winner has sole possession of first place in the Pac 12.

Kentucky NEEDS a Big Win

You never want to throw around the words “must win” this early into conference play, but this is close to a must win for Kentucky at home against Florida. The Wildcats are just a game behind the Gators in the SEC and could either end the weekend potentially tied for first or sitting 4-3 with a number of tough games looming. The Wildcats have games against Tennessee, who beat them, at Texas A&M, who should have beat them, at Auburn, at Arkansas and at Florida to end the season. Also jammed in there is a trip to West Virginia, though not a conference game. Kentucky still controls their fate, but with what we’ve seen of them so far, they cannot afford to dig themselves too deep a hole.

In addition to these storylines, you also have other ranked teams such as West Virginia, Gonzaga, Tennessee, Auburn and Arizona State looking to rebound after losses during the week. Honestly, there probably isn’t as much flareas prior weekends. With the way this season has gone though, expect nothing to go according to plan, and a lot to talk about on Monday.

UCLA Notches Resume Win in CBS Sports Classic

It’s been a roller coaster season for UCLA, and it’s only December. The Bruins stole headlines right out of the gate on their opening season trip to China, when three of their players were arrested for shoplifting. Weeks later they were back on the front pages when Lavar Ball pulled his son LiAngelo out of school. That headline isn’t necessarily the worst news for Steve Alford. Through all the off the court drama however, the Bruins struggled to find that signature win on the court. Until Saturday, when UCLA beat #7 Kentucky in the CBS Sports Classic.

Prior to Saturday’s win, UCLA had been 0-3 in “resume boosting” wins this year. They gave up 100 in a loss to Creighton, blew a 15 point lead at Michigan, and lost by double digits to Cincinnati. UCLA was a game away from going into conference play with their best non conference win coming against South Dakota (12-4). And they only won that game by three, at home.

That changed Saturday. The day after announcing full season suspensions for Cody Riley and Jalen Hill, UCLA came out and played the best game of their season. Aaron Holiday and Kris Wilkes were sensational, and the Bruins put together a complete game to beat Kentucky on a neutral court in New Orleans. Holiday and Wilkes each scored 20, and senior Thomas Welsh also chipped in 13 and 11 rebounds. The win moved UCLA to 9-3 heading into Pac 12 play.

It’s rare that wins in December are called monumental, or significant. However, this UCLA win is definitely important for Steve Alford and company. The Bruins roster is shorter than expected with the suspensions of Riley and Hill, two freshman who were expected to be contributors to a team that lost a bulk of it’s production last season. As a result, UCLA has had to adjust on the fly. This worked against lesser opponents, but against NCAA caliber teams, it was not good enough to win.

This weekend however, UCLA put it all together. Their senior leaders led, their un-suspended freshman shined and the result was a win over the #7 team in the country. The upset showed what UCLA needs this season to compete with the top competition. Their stars need to play at a high level consistently, and role players need to step up. An easy task? No, but it’s doable. The season is still young.

For Kentucky, the loss only add question marks to a team that was filled with them. Will this young team find consistency? Do they have a point guard who can run the show? Can someone make outside shots? They are no doubt a talented and athletic group. They got up and down against UCLA, and Hamidou Diallo excelled. But in tight games, they’ve shown carelessness with the ball and, outside Kevin Knox, an inability to make shots from outside. SEC play will be a test for John Calipari this year.

Conference play starts this week. Both the SEC and Pac 12 are filled with teams that can enhance both teams’ resumes. We learned from Saturday that Kentucky may still have a few question marks heading into SEC play. On the other hand, UCLA may have found momentum as they get ready for Pac 12 action.

 

2017 -18 Pac 12 Conference Preview

It was a wildly successful year for the Pac-12 conference as a whole last year. Lonzo and Lavar Ball and Oregon’s Final Four run were big enough talking points. Add in Arizona and USC playing into the second weekend in March, and the conference showed why it is one of the best. This year will be another fight at the top, but there are several teams that will show much improvement from last year. Whoever wins this conference, will definitely have earned it.

Projected Finishes

  1. Arizona – If Sean Miller is going to get the Final Four monkey off his back, this is the year to do it. Arizona has potential POY candidate Allonzo Trier for a full season, and pair him with probable Top 5 pick DeAndre Ayton. The Wildcats start the year without Rawle Alkins, but will get him back just as conference play picks up. Arizona is a legit title contender.
  2. USC – If not for USC, Arizona would heads above the rest of the Pac-12. USC is talented too though, and have a front court that can go toe-to-toe with U of A’s. The Trojans have two legit 6’10 forwards in Bennie Boatwright and Chimezie Metu, both of whom are different types of players. Boatwright is more lethal on the wing, where Metu does most of his work down low. The Trojans had a very balanced scoring team last season, and I expect that to remain the same this year.
  3. UCLA – The Bruins will have new, exciting freshman on campus this year, as Jaylen Hands and Kris Wilkes will replace Lonzo Ball and TJ Leaf. Aaron Holiday and Thomas Welsh are the leaders returning this season. Both players will be relied on heavily to lead UCLA through Pac-12 play and into March Madness.
  4. Oregon – The Ducks lost A LOT from their team last season. It is simply too much to replace in one year. Dana Altman does have freshman Troy Brown to help fill the scoring holes.While Ayton may be the most talented freshman, Brown could be the most exciting scorer.
  5. Stanford – Stanford returns All-Conference talent in Travis Reid,  who averaged 17 points and 9 rebounds last year. The Cardinals also bring back their second leading scorer Dorian Pickens, while adding top recruit Daejon Davis and redshirt freshman Kodye Pugh to the mix. Stanford could have the biggest turnaround record wise from season to season.
  6. Arizona State – Bobby Hurley’s rebuild is progressing slowly but surely. The Sun Devils return their top three leading scorers, including Shannon Evans, who just dropped 50 in an exhibition game. And to the mix some talented freshman such as Kimani Lawrence and Remy Martin and you can see ASU trending upward.
  7. Utah – The Utes don’t lose as much as Oregon number wise, but they it will seem that way as they feel the loss of Kyle Kuzma. While Kuzma continues his hot start to his NBA career, the Utes will lean on returners Justin Bibbins and David Colette.
  8. Oregon State – If Stanford is not the most improved team record wise this year, Oregon State will be. The Beavers will (hopefully) have a healthy Tres Tinkle and Stephen Thompson Jr., who missed last year with injury. Those injuries opened the door for Drew Eubanks and JaQori McLaughlin to have good seasons. If all four stay healthy and mesh together, Oregon State will have a lot more than one conference win.
  9. Colorado – Colorado is a very young team this year. Their roster consists of eight freshman, two of which were redshirts from last season. George King will have a nice year in his senior season, but this young group will have a rough welcoming to the Pac-12.
  10. Washington – Washington went out and got their head coach this off-season in Mike Hopkins. Now it is on him to turn this program around. Obviously Markelle Fultz is gone, but second leading scorer David Crisp returns. The Huskies also got great news when Noah Dickerson decided not to transfer out. These two are solid building blocks for Hopkins.
  11. California – It won’t be a great year for Cal, coming off an underwhelming year last season. They lose Jabari Bird, Ivan Rabb and Charlie Moore. Kentucky transfer Marcus Lee will man the middle and be the centerpiece, but there is just not much else surrounding him. It won’t help watching Cuonzo Martin coach his talented freshman over at Missouri.
  12. Washington State – If not for an injury riddled Oregon State team, Washington State would have finished last in the conference last season. The Cougars don’t have a lot coming in and see their leading scorer leave. That’s a bad equation for this year.

Andy Enfield has one of the deepest teams he’s ever be given at USC, it will be up to him to see how far they can go

Projected Awards

Player of the Year – Allonzo Trier (Arizona)

Trier was the Pac-12 Tournament’s Most Outstanding Player last year. He is the conductor for Sean Miller and Arizona team. He averaged 17 points per game in a shortened season for him last year. I don’t expect the addition of DeAndre Ayton to impact that much at all. When Arizona needs a bucket, Trier is going to be the guy.

Freshman of the Year – Troy Brown (Oregon) 

I think Ayton is the best player in the conference, and will show that on several occasions throughout the year. Brown however, has the best opportunity to put up monster numbers. This is not a Markelle Fultz/Washington situation; Oregon will be better than Washington was last season. If Brown leads in scoring and Oregon finishes in the top four, I think he should get FOY.

Coach of the Year – Andy Enfield (USC)

These season awards could be a complete sweet in favor of Arizona if Sean Miller has them playing to their massive potential. But USC is the other team that has Final Four potential in this conference. Enfield has plenty of tools at his disposal and if he pushes the right buttons, USC could make a deep March run and challenge Arizona at the top of the conference.

Stanford may not be Arizona or USC, but they do have one of the best players in the Pac 12 in Travis Reid

Projected All Pac-12 Teams

First Team 

Allonzo Trier – Arizona

Travis Reid – Stanford

Troy Brown – Oregon

Chimezie Metu – USC

Aaron Holiday – UCLA

Second Team

Tres Tinkle – Oregon State

DeAndre Ayton – Arizona

Bennie Boatwright – USC

Shannon Evans – Arizona State

Jaylen Hands – UCLA

Five Games to Watch in this Year’s Pac-12

Pac-12 Basketball

With the recent release of the Pac-12 Conference’s schedule for the upcoming 2017-2018 season, let’s take a look at some of the more exciting matchups.

Oregon Arizona

1. Oregon @ Arizona (Week of Jan. 10)

Possibly the most anticipated game of the Pac-12 season, Oregon and Arizona ended last year as the conference’s co-champions. Needless to say, this game is a must win in the eyes of both teams; beyond the contest, each roster has something to prove. Arizona may be looking like the stronger team as the season approaches, but undoubtedly both squads return this year with depth, talent, and an itch to show who deserved the crown of the Pac-12 more last year.

USC UCLA

2. USC @ UCLA (Week of Jan. 31)

The classic Golden State matchup, USC v. UCLA never disappoints. USC may be looking forward to the matchup more so this year, now that Lonzo Ball’s dominance has moved just a short way down the road to the Los Angeles Lakers. However, with UCLA’s return of Aaron Holiday and Thomas Welsh, the Trojans will be no easy challenge to overcome. Bleacher Report preseason rankings finds USC at number ten, thanks to the return of Bennie Boatwright, Chimezie Metu, and Shaquan Aaron. If USC has plans of joining the conference’s elite this season, beating rival UCLA is a good place to start.

UCLA Arizona

3. UCLA @ Arizona, USC @ Arizona State (Week of Feb. 7)

The combination of four powerhouse Pac-12 teams, not just two, highlights this week as one of the most anticipated of the season. While we know the talent that USC, UCLA, and Arizona will be returning is bound to be strong this season, ASU’s squad cannot be overlooked, and will certainly pose a threat to the Trojans, as USC heads to ASU’s home court. With one of the highest scoring backcourts in the Pac-12, the Sun Devils will utilize the ability of their combination of guards to score from the outside, as well as pester the Trojans with under the rim talent.

ASU Arizona

4. Arizona @ Arizona State (Week of Feb. 14)

More commonly known in the southwest as the Duel in the Desert, this fierce rivalry mirrors that of USC and UCLA. No matter what the difference in talent is between these two teams, this game will always be interesting. This year, fans are lucky enough to have two teams that are not worlds apart for the most part. Both sides have talented players returning, and neophytes waiting to be tested. Realistically, Arizona does have the better team–all the reason that their matchup away at ASU is just a bit more anticipated.

Stanford Cal

5. California @ Stanford (Week of Dec. 27)

Ok, so maybe people have their doubts about California; granted, they did have quote an exodus of talent at the end of last season. However, they have a lot of potential to be a good team if they use it correctly. A new head coach means a new coaching style, which means confusion for opponents. Playing against a new coach in college basketball can often leave teams just as baffled as playing against new players. Returning players include defensive threat Kingsley Okoroh, as well as Kentucky transfer Marcus Lee, whose scoring ability will have to be put to good use if Cal wants to see a chance at beating Stanford.

Twitter: @andrew_mck11

Previewing the Pac-12

Arizona

The Pac 12 had the most successful Spring of any conference last basketball season. As a whole they got four teams into the tournament, three into the Sweet 16, two into the Elite 8 and one into the Final Four. And let’s not brush over USC’s upset over fan favorite SMU team. Following the Madness, the conference then saw two of its players go #1 and #2 in the 2017 NBA Draft. The trend of success should continue, as more highly touted prospects join the conference for the 2017-18 season. Let’s take a look at some early pre-season predictions. It should be noted that this does not include the potential transfer of Marvin Bagley, the top player in the Class of 2018 that several Pac 12 teams are in the running for.

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