Game of the Weekend: Saturday, 3:00 p.m.: St. Joseph’s at No. 11 Creighton (ESPN3)
This matchup lost some of its luster when Creighton lost to Boise State in Omaha earlier this week, but that doesn’t change the fact that we’re just three weeks into the season and we’re getting a game between the favorite in the Missouri Valley and the favorite in the Atlantic 10. St. Joe’s enters this game at 4-1 on the season, with their only loss coming at the hands of Florida State in the Coaches vs. Cancer title game.
The Hawks have a much bigger and more athletic front line than the Bluejays, as their defacto small forward is 6-foot-9 shot blocker CJ Aiken, which could end up giving the notoriously defense-deficient Creighton trouble. But Creighton’s advantage will come in their versatility and execution offensively. Creighton is surgical when they have the ball. Doug McDermott cuts and seals as well as anyone in the country. Ethan Wragge and McDermott are two of the most dangerous shooters in the country, and they will draw those bigger St. Joe’s defenders out of the paint.
Best individual matchup: Grant Gibbs vs. Langston Galloway.
Five more games that you have to watch:
- Friday, 6:30 p.m.: Tennessee at No. 20 Georgetown (ESPN): Tennessee came into the season with more expectations than Georgetown, but thanks to an impressive performance against No. 1 Indiana at the Legends Classic two weeks ago, the Hoyas skyrocketed into the top 25. The Vols are still playing without Jeronne Maymon, which is a major loss for a team that prides themselves on their toughness, but this will still be a major test for the younger, weaker Hoyas.
- Friday, 8:30 p.m.: No. 6 Syracuse at Arkansas (ESPN): Syracuse has put up some impressive numbers this season, but the only time that they’ve been tested this season came when they played a San Diego State team that shoots threes on a boat. Not exactly a test. Arkansas has a star in BJ Young on the wing and runs Mike Anderson’s 40 Minutes of Hell defense. How will Michael Carter-Williams and Brandon Triche handle it?
- Saturday, 12:30 p.m.: Baylor at No. 8 Kentucky (CBS): Baylor is one of the most disappointing teams in the country this far into the season, as they lost to both Colorado and Charleston already this season. But it’s not like Kentucky has been a world-beater; they lost to Notre Dame on Thursday after losing to Duke in the second game of the season. The good news? There will be as much athleticism in this game as in any NBA game.
- Saturday, 7:00 p.m.: Belmont at VCU: Everyone in the country knows about VCU at this point. They press, they shoot a lot of threes and they do everything they can to push the tempo and wear out their opponent. But Belmont does the same thing as well, and they have one of the most talented and experienced back courts at the mid-major level. This should be an entertaining, high-level basketball game.
- Sunday, 4:00 p.m.: Cal at Wisconsin (BTN): The Badgers are coming off of a home loss to Virginia in the ACC/Big Ten Challenge. Cal, who won the DirecTV Classic, has a terrific perimeter attack — led by Allen Crabbe — but the question is whether or not they’ll be able to handle Jared Berggren inside.
And the mid-majors?:
- Saturday, 12:00 p.m.: Rider at Drexel
- Saturday, 2:00 p.m.: Wagner at Temple
- Saturday, 4:30 p.m.: Evansville at Colorado State
- Saturday, 7:00 p.m.: Ohio at Robert Morris
- Sunday, 4:30 p.m.: Valpo at St. Louis
- Sunday, 5:00 p.m.: Wichita State at Air Force
Kelan Martin scored 20 points and Andrew Chrabascz added 12 points, four boards and five assists as No. 16 Butler bounced back from a tough loss at Indiana State to beat No. 22 Cincinnati, 75-65.
The Bulldogs had been undefeated on the season prior to the loss to the Sycamores, but their ranking was built on the fact that they had beaten Arizona, who was No. 8 at the time, as well as a trio of high-major programs that look destined for the NIT.
Cincinnati probably isn’t destined for the NIT. Their top 25 ranking is justified, which is what makes this win valuable. Quality non-conference wins matter, and this is just one of a handful of good wins for what has proven to be one of the most top-heavy conferences in the country. Villanova, Creighton, Xavier and Butler all look capable of reaching the Sweet 16 this season.
The opposite is true for Cincinnati, who look like the flag-bearer in a conference that isn’t really all that good. They’re the best team in the AAC this season, but that’s a conference that has consistently disappointed this year. SMU, Temple and UConn have all struggled more than we expected them to. Tulsa and Memphis are in rebuilding mode. Houston was supposed to be good this season but they’ve yet to live up to the preseason hype.
Think about it like this: The only team in the AAC without multiple losses on the season is now UCF. That’s … not ideal, and it’s going to be interesting to see just how many bids the league is able to generate.
Think about it. Temple has beaten West Virginia and Florida State while losing to New Hampshire and UMass. SMU’s best win is either Pitt or TCU, both of whom are borderline tournament teams. UConn beat Syracuse but has some atrocious losses on their resume. Houston beat Rhode Island but lost to Arkansas and LSU. Memphis beat Iowa, but Iowa’s not all that good. UCF’s best win is … Mississippi State?
Cincinnati’s lone quality win is at Iowa State, who is about to drop out of the top 25.
Daishon Smith is 6-foot-1.
Kristian Doolittle is 6-foot-7.
The lil guy won this battle:
Here’s another angle of the dunk, which sent Wichita State’s bench into hysterics:
It looks like Grayson Allen’s toe is healthy. I’d say his explosivness is back:
Class of 2017 point guard Trevon Duval put down a huge poster dunk on a 6’8″ defender on Saturday as the five-star prospect showed why many consider him the top lead guard in high school basketball.
The 6-foot-2 Duval is considered the No. 3 overall prospect in the Class of 2017 by Rivals.
What a difference a year makes.
Last season at this time, Wisconsin dropped a home game to a Marquette team that was headed to the NIT.
The Badgers put six players in double-figures as they went into Milwaukee and knocked off Marquette, 93-84.
Bronson Koenig continued his hot shooting, finishing with 18 points and six assists while shooting 4-for-6 from beyond the arc. Vitto Brown chipped in with 15 points, Khalil Iverson had 16 and Ethan Happ chipped in with 11 despite battling foul trouble all afternoon.
But the really story here – hell, the story of Wisconsin’s season to date – has been the change in the way that Nigel Hayes plays.
Hayes was terrific again on Saturday. He had 17 points, nine boards, four assists and three steals. He shot 6-for-10 from the floor and attempted just a pair of threes, making one of them. He had the ball in his hands when Wisconsin was trying to kill off the game, and, more importantly, head coach Greg Gard has seem to start to take advantage of just how good Hayes can be as a facilitator.
There are a couple of points that need to be made here:
- When Hayes plays like this, he deserves to be in the all-american discussion. He’s averaging 18.0 points, 7.3 boards and 6.7 assists in the three games Wisconsin has played against high-major competition since the change, and the Badgers have won five straight games while playing easily their best basketball of the season.
- And it’s not just because of the numbers he puts up. When Hayes operates as Wisconsin’s de-facto point guard, it makes everyone else on the roster better. For starters, it allows Koenig to play off the ball, where he seems to be more effective. He’s at his best when he’s hunting shots and trying to create off the bounce, but his aggressiveness can be detrimental when he’s the only one touching the ball. It also means offense runs through Happ more often since Koenig isn’t dominating possession, and it lets guys like Brown space the floor because they’re actually able to get rhythm threes.
As of today, Wisconsin is the favorite to win the Big Ten, even if Indiana is far more likely to end up being a No. 1 seed in March.