What Happened This Weekend in College Basketball

It was a wild weekend in the college basketball world. Championships were won and lost all week. Some teams showed us they can be better than expected, others the opposite. Here’s your College Basketball weekend recap.

Villanova Wins Battle 4 Atlantis

In a tournament where Purdue and Arizona played in the last place game, it was Villanova who cruised to a championship in the Bahamas. The Wildcats look like a well-oiled machine with a top six that is as good as any in the nation. Donte DiVincenzo looks like the sixth man of the year and Jalen Brunson has looked like Big East Player of the Year. It should not come as a surprise, but Villanova will live within the Top 5 in the Polls for most of the year.

Arizona State Appears a Year Ahead of Schedule

Bobby Hurley is building something at Arizona State. Anyone who has kept an eye on the program would be able to tell you that. After edging Kansas State on Thanksgiving, the Sun Devils dominated number 15 Xavier on Saturday night to move to 6-0. Hurley’s top two returnees, Tra Holder and Shannon Evans, have been great so far. Holder erupted for 40 against Xavier, and has another 30+ points game on the young season. Freshman Romello White has already showed why he was highly touted, and contributing for ASU. With a couple key rotation players still missing, Arizona State could compete in the Pac-12 sooner than later.

Alabama Played 3 on 5

In the category of “Something You Don’t See Everyday,” Alabama played the last 10 minutes of their game against Minnesota with three players. The Tide lost their entire bench in the second half for leaving the bench area in the midst of an on court scuffle. They then saw one player foul out, and another leave with injury, leaving Avery Johnson with three eligible players for over 10 minutes. All that said, they still lost to a ranked team by just five points. While there are no morale victories, that’s impressive. The story here is Colin Sexton. The freshman found shined in the loss, going off for 40 points on 55% shooting. He showed why he is one of the most exciting players in the country.

Trae Young Outscored Oregon

That’s not a typo. Trae Young has been as good as advertised thus far in Norman. Young has upped his scoring in all five games this season, and capped the weekend off with a 43 put outburst against Oregon, who only managed 42 points as a team. This outburst comes just two days after he dropped 33 on Portland. Young has been nothing short of sensational thus far, averaging 28.2 points and 8.6 assists for Lon Kruger. I’ve mentioned before that Young could be the best freshman in the Big 12 since Kevin Durant, and he’s supporting that statement five games in.

Michigan State, Duke Win PK80

In a tournament that lived up to the hype, we saw Michigan State and Duke walk out of the PK80 with championships. For Michigan State, they dominated early and often against North Carolina. They completely shut down the Tar Heels’ offense and got 23 points from Josh Langford. It showed how scary the Spartans can be, winning handily against a top 10 team without huge performances from Jaren Jackson or Miles Bridges. The story was the defense however, as Tom Izzo’s squad held UNC to 25% shooting, the lowest total in program history.

Duke’s path to victory was very different. The Blue Devils were punched in the mouth early by a sizzling hot Florida club. They trailed by as many as 17 before mounting their championship comeback. Like the rest of the PK80, this championship game was just another national stage for Marvin Bagley to shine on. The freshman phenom poured in 30 and recorded 15 rebounds on his way to a MVP performance. Teams are not entirely put together during most of these early season tournaments (i.e. Arizona) but that’s scary for college basketball because it shows how high Duke’s ceiling can be.

Marvin Bagley Looks Like a Top Pick

Coming off the tough news concerning Michael Porter Jr, Marvin Bagley showed us why he is worthy of the number one pick in the 2018 NBA Draft. Bagley’s talent is much more than his scoring. Sure he put in 34 against Texas and had another dominant game against Florida, but what makes Bagley so special is he’s always moving. He is always around the rim, getting numerous tip ins and second chance points and he’s a man on the boards. He’s definitely got NBA scouts salivating.

The SEC is Far From Just Kentucky

Florida made it to the Finals of the PK80 Motion Bracket. Texas A&M beat number 10 USC in California. Missouri made it to the Finals of the Advocare Invitational and almost took down number 23 West Virginia. Even Tennessee and Georgia beat ranked teams in Purdue and St. Mary’s this weekend. Add in a full strength Alabama team that went toe to toe with Minnesota, and the SEC could be the second best conference in college basketball this year. Of course time will tell, but don’t be surprised if Kentucky is not at the top of the SEC standings by end of year.

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.

ESPN Needs to Bring Back 24 Hours of College Basketball

Gone are the days of Utah Valley vs Wyoming at midnight

Tuesday night was the Champions Classic. It’s been said a hundred times, but the hype leading up to the Champions Classic is unrivaled to any other early season tournament or game. It’s four college basketball blue bloods and four Hall of Fame coaches. That said, one of the things that made the Champions Classic so great was that it was the culmination of 24 straight hours of college basketball on ESPN. The 24 Hours of College Basketball on ESPN was the true sign that college basketball was back. It was a college basketball junkie’s dream. To be able to turn on ESPN for a legitimate 24 hours and find college basketball on.

Alas, all good things must come to an end, or at least ESPN felt. In October they announced the marathon would not see its tenth year. The reasoning does make sense on their part. It is a tall task to broadcast 24 hours of college basketball, and the viewership of a 3 AM game is probably pretty low. Regardless, for some smaller programs, it was their lone chance to play on a national stage all season. And for a basketball lifer, it was a dream come true.

Can’t sleep? Check out Hawaii and Long Beach State. At work? Sneak a peek at Iona taking on Quinnipiac. Just don’t let your boss see. College basketball may have officially tipped off four days prior, but that Tuesday, when 24 Hours of College Basketball started, it was official. College basketball was upon us.

ESPN didn’t pull the plug on us cold turkey. They did come up with the PK80 tournament. This four-day, 16-team tournament in honor of Nike founder Phil Knight features ranked teams like Duke, Michigan State, UNC, Gonzaga and Florida. The potential semifinal and final match ups in each bracket will undoubtedly be a joy to watch over Thanksgiving break. But it’s not 24 hours. It’s not teams looking to make a statement in their only nationally televised game. These teams will be on TV all year.

ESPN said they will look into ways to broadcast 24 consecutive hours of basketball more easily and efficiently. The door is not closed, but it doesn’t look very open. With so many early season tournaments, it’s hard to imagine a return actually happening. That is sad to think about. 24 Hours of College Basketball was a staple for the past 9 years, and I hope ESPN finds a way to bring it back in a big way.