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.

“New” Big East Deserves Your Attention

It’s not your Dad’s Big East, sure, but the Big East is one of the most entertaining leagues in college basketball. Often not given the credit because it’s not the conference of old, the “new” Big East is quickly washing away that stigma. And if the first two days of conference play are any indication, this year the Big East should be more entertaining than ever. Let’s look at a few reasons why the new Big East is still just as good as the old.

Number One Team in the Country

First and foremost let’s start at the top with the number one team in the country: the Villanova Wildcats. Jay Wright’s team has become a target for not just the Big East, but the entire country. That tends to happen when you win a National Championship and live in the Top 5 of the AP Polls week in and week out. Jay Wright’s recent clubs are good enough to be mentioned in the same sentence as any teams in Big East history. It’s hard to say the talent is down when the number one team in the country resides in the Big East.

Next Generation of Coaches

The name’s Boeheim, Calhoun, Pitino and Huggins may not walk the sidelines of the conference anymore, but the current Big East has some of the best minds in the game. In addition to Wright, coaches like Greg McDermott, Chris Mack, Ed Cooley and Steve Wojciechowski are the next generation in the Big East lineage. And that’s still omitting two NBA Hall of Famers who are adjusting to coaching the college game. Fact is, only two of the four former Big East coaches mentioned above are still coaching. Don’t be surprised if the names above eventually join the list of great all-time coaches in the Big East Conference.

Teams That Replaced the Teams that Left Are Better (right now)

Similar to the coaching argument, the teams in this year’s Big East are better than most of the teams that left the conference. The top half of the conference is also better than the top half of most other power conferences. Nova, Xavier, Creighton, and Seton Hall are all currently ranked in the Top 25. Cincinnati, Louisville and West Virginia would definitely be in the top of the league, but two of those three lost to Big East opponents this year. Xavier handled Cincinnati in their yearly rivalry game and Seton Hall topped Louisville, a top team in the ACC, earlier this year. UConn and Syracuse would be a middle of the road teams in this conference at best this year. And don’t even get me started about Pittsburgh. The top of the Big East could go head to head with the top of any conference.

Less Teams = More Parity

A smaller Big East means less of a difference from top to bottom. With Georgetown and St. John’s looking much improved, there aren’t many bottom tier teams to pad your record against. We’ve seen it early on with Patrick Ewing’s Hoyas taking Butler to double overtime. We saw Marquette take Xavier down to the wire. And we saw Seton Hall and Creighton trade punches in a Pirates come from behind win. The first two days of Big East play has been terrific, and with the overall balance and depth of this league, expect it to stay.

The current Big East might not have the Syracuse vs UConn rivalry. It may not have as illustrious of a Big East Tournament as before. That said, this is one of the best conferences in the league. I would put it at number three behind the ACC and Big 12. If you’ve been living with the assumption that the Big East won’t ever be as good as it used to be, smarten up. If you don’t you’ll miss some great basketball.

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 East Basketball: 2017-2018 Conference Preview

 

big east ball

Coming back from a relatively underwhelming 2016-2017 campaign, the Big East looks poised to make a bold statement this year to competitors from all conferences, while also securing a handful of bids to the NCAA Tournament in March. Big East play is bound to be exciting for everyone, so let’s break the conference down for a preseason preview and our predictions. 

 

PROJECTED FINISHES 

  1. Villanova — Few people will be surprised to find Villanova atop the Big East for the fifth year in a row. Not only should the Wildcats survive without superstar Josh Hart, they look poised to return even stronger. With redshirt freshman Omari Spellman cleared to play and Jalen Brunson set to step into the leadership position, the Wildcats should clinch the Big East without too much competition.
  2. Xavier — Xavier surprised a lot of college basketball fans last year with their trip to the Elite 8, but if the same happens this year, it would come as no shock. Trevon Bluiett’s decision to return to the Musketeers and forgo the NBA Draft will be a large part of Xavier’s dominance, but the return of shooting guard JP Macura to the wings could prove to be just as lethal.
  3. Seton Hall — It seems like it has been too long since the Pirates have been a dominant basketball team, and that time of waiting is over. Seton Hall returns arguably the strongest trio of seniors in the country (Khadeen Carrington, Desi Rodriguez, and Angel Delgado) who will run the court with veteran talent. Delgado, a 6’10” power forward who can double as a center, threatens to average double-digit numbers in both points and rebounds per game.
  4. Providence — Providence finished top five in the Big East last year, surprising many people who wrote them off preseason as a team in a rebuilding year. Kyron Cartwright is one of the best point guards in the Big East and could easily lead the conference in assists; the Friars bring in more talent this year in freshman Makai Ashton-Langford, giving them the depth they need to threaten for an NCAA Tournament bid, and a run once they get there.
  5. Creighton — Marcus Foster is a beast, simply put. As a junior shooting guard last year, he averaged over 18 points per game; this year, he could break 20. The loss of Cole Huff and Isaiah Zierden puts a considerable hole in their production, but they should have the depth to stay near the top of the conference table.
  6. Marquette — The name Markus Howard may not mean much to people outside of the Golden Eagles fan base, but it will after this season. Last year, he shot just under 55% from three, even more astonishing numbers when you consider he was a freshman. Look to him to lead a very high scoring Marquette offense this year.
  7. Butler — The Bulldogs had good reason to be excited for this year, after being the only team in the NCAA to beat Villanova twice last season. But the late departure of Coach Holtmann may leave the new coach, LaVall Jordan, with a team in disarray. With a handful of talented players in back-court transfer Paul Jorgensen and guard Kamar Baldwin, Jordan could easily take the only team to beat Villanova twice last year to the top, but it’s too early to tell.
  8. St. John’s — The Red Storm have talent in point guard combo Marcus Lovett Jr. and Shamorie Ponds, who should account for most of the team’s offense. The team’s depth does not go much farther beyond these two however, and unless forward Bashir Ahmed can utilize his seniority, St. John’s could quickly fall to the bottom of the conference without a solidified leader.
  9. DePaul — DePaul has had a tough struggle on the court in recent years, finishing at the bottom of the conference table with two wins last season. This year, transfer Marin Maric and junior shooting guard Elijah Cain will help to begin the program’s revival, but it won’t be enough to bring them up more than one or two spots with the tough competition in the Big East.
  10. Georgetown — The Hoyas will be an intriguing team to watch this season, as it will be the first year with Georgetown and NBA legend Patrick Ewing taking over as head coach. His roster is rag-tag at its best, anchored by center Jessie Govan who is one of the few able to do damage to opposing defenses. Ewing’s name and basketball expertise will help Georgetown basketball rebuild, but for now they’ll be stuck at the bottom of the Big East.

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Al-Amir Dawes Ready For Increased Role at The Patrick School

Al-Amir Dawes from The Patrick School will have a lot of responsibility placed on his shoulders this season and judging off his performance at the Hoop Group Fall High School Showcase, he is ready for it. Dawes came into the high level event with a winning mindset.

“I just wanted to come out here and help my team win,” said Dawes. “I’m trying to put my teammates in a better position to score and do whatever I can to come away with a win.”

With Dawes undertaking a bigger role this season, he plans on doing a bit more on the court than he usually does.

“This year I am facilitating it a bit more, when last year I was doing a lot more off the wing,” he said. “This year I’m focusing more on getting the ball to my teammates so they can score. I’ve also worked on being more communicative on the floor.”

The class of 2019 guard has collected offers from Rutgers, Seton Hall, Minnesota and DePaul. Three of those schools have made him a priority.

“I would say that Rutgers, Seton Hall and Minnesota have been making me a priority,” Dawes said.

He also said Maryland and Rhode Island have expressed a lot of interest in him and could be close to offering.

The Patrick School won the TOC last season and they are looking to bring it back home this year.

“We have to take home the TOC, a lot of teams haven’t won it back to back,” said Dawes. “I know I can speak for all of my teammates and say that we all want it really bad this year.”

With Kentucky center Nick Richards, Minnesota guard Jamir Harris, Seton Hall point guard Jordan Walker, Monmouth guard Marcus McClary all graduating The Patrick School lost a lot of talent. Dawes wants to prove doubters wrong that don’t believe they will be able to compete at the same level this year.

“I’m just trying to prove that it doesn’t matter how many players we lost from last year,” he said. “I want to prove that every year The Patrick School will be ready.”