Game of the Weekend: No. 5 Florida at No. 8 Arizona (ESPN)
This choice isn’t all that complicated. There is only one game this weekend featuring two teams that are in the Top 25, and it just so happens that both of those teams are ranked in the top eight nationally. So, yeah, there really isn’t much of an argument against this game being the best of the weekend; it’s one of the best of the season thus far.
But there is so much more to look forward to here than the simplicity of stating that it is two top ten teams doing battle.
Florida has looked like a legitimate national title contender through the first month and change of the season. They worked Wisconsin at home. They worked Marquette at home. They were up 50-19 on Florida State in Tallahassee. They defend extremely well, they are balanced offensively and they win despite the fact that they don’t have a sure-fire first round pick. But that is precisely the question mark with this group: can a team really be legit if they are counting on a pair of shoot-first guards (Kenny Boynton and Mike Rosario) and a center without a true low-post game? Will their defense hold up against another elite opponent?
Arizona is, or at least appears to be, elite. Their trio of freshmen big men look better and better as the season progresses while Mark Lyons’ playmaking issues have been offset by his ability to be an efficient scorer and the versatility of Nick Johnson, Kevin Parrom and Solomon Hill. But as of now, the Wildcats have not done anything notable this year. Winning at Clemson and Texas Tech? Meh. Beating LBSU? Talk to me when their transfers get eligible. The most impressive thing Arizona has done this season is win a game despite turning the ball over 27 times.
Saturday will be a gauge for both parties. Here’s to hoping they both come to play.
Five more games to watch this weekend
- Sat. 2:00 p.m.: No. 1 Indiana vs. Butler (CBS): This year’s version of the Crossroads Classic pits Purdue against Notre Dame, which means that the headline show at Conseco Fieldhouse this Saturday will be the Bulldogs taking on the Hoosiers. We all know how good Indiana is this season, but I think that Butler has the make up of a team that can beat them. Andrew Smith is big enough to bang with Cody Zeller on the block, they have athleticism along their front line and a pair of deadly shooters in Kellen Dunham and Rotnei Clarke. My biggest concern: How will Clarke get his open looks? There’s no way he’s beating Yogi Ferrell or Victor Oladipo off the dribble.
- Sat. 2:30 p.m.: No. 6 Louisville at Memphis (FSN): Since the Tigers got back from the Bahamas, they have finally looked like the team that we all thought had a chance to play their way to the Final Four this season. And it should come as no surprise that it was someone other than Joe Jackson, Tarik Black and Adonis Thomas leading the way, as Geron Johnson appears to have emerged as the Tiger’s most talented player. What, eventually, happens with Memphis will be unclear, but a win over powerhouse Louisville at the FedEx Forum would go a long way for the Tigers.
- Sat. 7:00 p.m.: Belmont at No. 9 Kansas (ESPNU): Belmont is coming off of an impressive win at home over a good Middle Tennessee State team, but the Blue Raiders aren’t in the same category as the Jayhawks are in Phog Allen. The Bruins have a talented, veteran back court, but both Kerron Johnson and Ian Clark will be giving up quite a bit of size to Kansas’ duo of Elijah Johnson and Ben McLemore. Can Belmont find a way to score?
- Sat. 9:00 p.m.: South Dakota State at Montana: Here’s to hoping that health prevails. Why? Because if everything goes according to plan, this will be a matchup between two of the best mid-major teams in the country, highlighted by a head-to-head battle between two of the best point guards in the country, period. Will Cherry broke his foot a few months back, but he’s expected to be in the lineup on Saturday. As is Nate Wolters, who missed a game at Minnesota last week because of a sprained ankle.
- Sat. 9:00 p.m.: Kansas State at No. 14 Gonzaga: Gonzaga will be looking to make a statement here against the Wildcats. The Zags are coming off of a fairly embarrassing loss at home to Illinois, where they couldn’t find a way to stop Brandon Paul. K-State has a pretty good scoring guard of their own in Rodney McGruder, but he’s a different kind of player than Paul. McGruder is at his best playing off the ball; Paul did a lot of his damage in pick-and-roll situations. Gonzaga has struggled to defend those all year long. Can Angel Rodriguez be the guy to exploit that weakness?
And the mid-majors?:
- Sat. 12:00 p.m.: Akron at Detroit
- Sat. 2:00 p.m. Eastern Michigan at Illinois-Chicago
- Sat. 7:00 p.m.: La Salle at Bucknell
Rob Dauster is the editor of the college basketball website Ballin’ is a Habit. You can find him on twitter @robdauster.
Kansas’ attempt for a 14th consecutive Big 12 title, and run for Bill Self’s second national title, got a shot in the arm Wednesday.
Svi Mykhailiuk announced that he will return to Lawrence for his final season of eligibility. “Senior year going to be fun,” he wrote on his Instagram page.
The Jayhawks were already going to be loaded this season with Devonte Graham, a potential All-American, returning for his senior season and Udoka Azubuike healthy after missing last year due to injury along with Malik Newman becoming eligible after a transfer from Mississippi State and recruits Billy Preston and Marcus Garrett bolstering the ranks. The return of Mykhailiuk, though, only solidifies Kansas’ place not only atop the Big 12, but in the country.
Mykhailiuk, a 6-foot-8 forward, had something of a breakthrough season as a junior, posting career highs nearly across the board, including shooting 39.8 percent on nearly five 3-point shot attempts per game. With his size and shooting ability, Mykhailiuk was sure to garner professional interest, even though it would have been more likely than not he would been drafted in the second round of next month’s draft.
Mykhailiuk’s situation is certainly a unique one for college basketball as the Ukraine native enrolled at Kansas in 2014 just after his 17th birthday. He won’t turn 20 until next month, making him the same age as many sophomores and more likely to be viewed by NBA teams in the future as having upside, rather than a typical 22- or 23-year-old senior who scouts look at as having come close to reaching their ceiling.
Mykhailiuk wasn’t going to be the linchpin of Kansas’ success next season, but his decision to return shouldn’t be underestimated. His size, experience, skill and versatility provide the Jayhawks with a real weapon that will help alleviate pressure and expectations from other players up and down the roster. He’s very much a difference-maker for a team that will be contending for a spot in the Final Four.
Caleb Swanigan is leaving Purdue and staying in the NBA draft.
The Boilermaker big man held as much sway on the college basketball landscape with his decision as nearly any player who declared for the draft without an agent. After a season in which he became a double-double machine and averaged 18.5 points, 12.5 rebounds and 3.1 assists per game, Swanigan would have been one of – if not the – favorites for National Player of the Year while also making Purdue right at the top of the Big Ten with Michigan State.
Instead, he’ll end his collegiate career after a pair of seasons and one Sweet 16 appearance in West Lafayette. As a professional prospect, Swanigan is an interesting case. He was as productive of player as college basketball has seen in recent years as a sophomore, putting up 20-20 games with ridiculous consistency. He’s got some range, but limited quickness and athleticism. The question will be how his game – and frame – will translate into the new NBA that prioritizes versatility, shooting and athleticism. Right now, not many have him pegged as a sure-fire first-round pick.
The loss for Purdue is hard to overstate given just how good “Biggie” was. There’s just no replacing that type of production in the lineup. Still, Matt Painter and the Boilermakers still have an intriguing group, with Isaac Haas and Vince Edwards both electing to return to school after dipping their toes in the NBA waters. There’s some other intriguing young pieces there that will keep Purdue interesting in the Big Ten race.
The losses sustained by Florida State have been numerous and significant. Three players declared early for the NBA Draft. Another two contributors were lost to graduation. All in all, the Seminoles haven’t had the greatest of springs.
Wednesday, though, they got some good news.
McDonald’s All-American wing M.J. Walker committed Leonard Hamilton’s program to give Florida State a late, and important, addition to its 2017 recruiting class, beating the likes of Ohio State, Georgia Tech and UCLA.
Walker, a 6-foot-5 guard, gives the Seminoles yet another five-star prospect after landing Dwayne Bacon and Jonathan Isaac in the last two recruiting classes. Walker will help Hamilton and Co. reboot after both Bacon and Isaac, along with Xavier Rathan-Mayes, all left school to pursue professional careers after the Seminoles’ 26-9 season that saw them advance to the second round of the NCAA tournament.
Walker becomes the sixth member of Hamilton’s 2017 recruiting class that was previously headlined by four-star 7-footer Ikechukwu Obiagu. That group will be tasked to retool a team losing not only major NBA-level talent, but also major production. The Seminoles won’t return a single player who averaged double-digit points per-game last year and just one who played at least 20 minutes per night.
The best-case scenario did not take place for Michigan this week.
The Wolverines waited for four weeks to hear back from their pair of mobile big men, and the news on Mo Wagner was positive. The 6-foot-10 junior from Germany announced on Wednesday that he will return to school after testing the NBA Draft waters.
The news was not as fortunate with D.J. Wilson, who announced less than ten hours before the deadline that he will be signing with an agent and turning pro. Wilson is projected as a late first round or early second round pick.
Without Wilson in the fold, Michigan lacks some front court depth, which will probably be enough to keep them out of the preseason top 25.
Losing Nigel Williams-Goss and Zach Collins to the professional ranks probably torpedoed Gonzaga’s chance of making another run to the NCAA tournament national title game, but after Johnathan Williams III announced on Wednesday that he will be returning to school and withdrawing from the NBA Draft, Gonzaga does appear to be a favorite to win the WCC title again.
Williams is now Gonzaga’s leading returning scorer and rebounder, anchoring a front court that also loses Przemek Karnowski to graduation. He was expected to go undrafted.
With Williams back in the fold, the Zags should be right there with Saint Mary’s in the race for the WCC title. Josh Perkins, Silas Melson and Killian Tillie all return as well.
ESPN was the first to report the news.