Previewing the opening weekend of college basketball

AP Photo/Charlie Neibergall
0 Comments

FRIDAY’S SHOWDOWNS

No. 10 Arizona vs. No. 12 Michigan State, 7:00 p.m.

This game has a ‘what could have been’ feel to it. Arizona will reportedly be without Allonzo Trier and Chance Comanche due to various suspensions while Ray Smith tore his ACL for the third time last week. Michigan State is playing without its two best big men due to knee injuries. What that means is that two of the best coaches in college basketball will be leading teams that are extremely freshmen-dependent.

Miles Bridges should be the best player on the floor. The Spartan freshman is an uber-athletic, 6-foot-7 combo-forward whose ability to play multiple positions is the biggest reason why folks aren’t that concerned about Michigan State’s depth question marks. Arizona doesn’t have an answer for him, either, not with Smith out of the lineup. The big question with the Wildcats is whether or not Lauri Markkanen, a Finnish seven-footer and potential lottery pick, will be the best player for Arizona or if shot-happy freshmen Kobi Simmons and Rawle Alkins will dominate the ball.

Prediction: Michigan State (-1.5)

Subscribe to the CBT Podcast on iTunes, Stitcher or Audioboom

No. 3 Kansas vs. No. 11 Indiana, 9:30 p.m.

Indiana’s first test in the post-Yogi Ferrell era will be a doozy. We know that the Hoosiers are going to have some issues handling the ball this season with Robert Johnson and Josh Newkirk running the point, and running into Kansas in the season-opener is about as close to a worst-case scenario as you can get. The Jayhawks have one of the best defensive perimeters in the country with Frank Mason, Devonte’ Graham and Josh Jackson, and the Hoosiers lack the talent offensively to be able to create their own shots.

The most interesting matchup of the weekend will be in this game, as Josh Jackson, a potential No. 1 pick in the 2017 Draft, will go up against O.G. Anunoby, a potential lottery pick. Both are elite defenders that are still learning how to play on the other end of the floor, so don’t be surprised to see both of them somewhat limited on Friday.

DES MOINES, IA - MARCH 17: OG Anunoby #3 of the Indiana Hoosiers shoots a reverse dunk over Chuck Ester #0 of the Chattanooga Mocs in the second half during the first round of the 2016 NCAA Men's Basketball Tournament at Wells Fargo Arena on March 17, 2016 in Des Moines, Iowa. (Photo by Jonathan Daniel/Getty Images)
O.G. Anunoby (Jonathan Daniel/Getty Images)

THIS WEEKEND’S UPSET WATCH

No. 8 Virginia at UNC Greensboro, Fri. 7:00 p.m.: The Cavaliers open the season on the road without Austin Nichols, who is the low-post scoring force and shot-blocking presence that Tony Bennett brought in to replace Anthony Gill. UVA will be looking to transition to a season without Malcolm Brogdon while facing a veteran team that returns four starters and won 10 league games last season.

Chattanooga at No. 6 North Carolina, Sun. 5:00 p.m.: The Mocs were one of the nation’s best mid-major programs last season, and not only do they return essentially everyone from that team, they get Casey Jones back; Jones was the best player in the SoCon in 2014-15 before an injury cost him last season. The Tar Heels? They place twice this weekend and will be in New Orleans to take on Tulane on Friday night.

Chattanooga, who won at Georgia, Illinois and Dayton last season, will also pay a visit to Tennessee on Friday night.

Lehigh at No. 7 Xavier, Fri. 7:00 p.m.: Xavier is loaded. No one is arguing that. But they’ll be without Myles Davis and Kaiser Gates in the opener while hosting a Lehigh team that will contend for the Patriot and features Tim Kempton, one of the best mid-major players in the country.

SEVEN MORE GAMES TO WATCH

  • Nevada at No. 23 Saint Mary’s, Fri. 11:00 p.m.: Part of the reason the Gaels missed out on the NCAA tournament last season was that they didn’t do enough in the non-conference. Nevada may be the second-best team in the MWC. They also have an NBA-caliber big man in Cam Oliver.
  • Vanderbilt vs. Marquette, Fri. 6:30 p.m.: The Bryce Drew era at Vandy kicks off with a trip to Annapolis for the Veterans Classic.
  • South Dakota State at Cal, Fri. 10:00 p.m.: There should be plenty of NBA scouts in attendance here as Ivan Rabb, the best center in America, takes on Mike Daum, the best mid-major center in America.
  • Georgia at Clemson, Fri. 7:00 p.m.: Both Georgia and Clemson could use this win as both seem like they are headed towards the bubble for this season. Jaron Blossomgame of Clemson is one of the best players in the ACC.
  • FGCU vs. Florida, Fri. 7:30 p.m.: This is going to be the year that we make a judgement on whether or not Mike White is ready to coach at this level. Florida has the pieces to be a good team.
  • Harvard at Stanford, Fri. 11:00 p.m.: The first game that Siyani Chambers plays after tearing his ACL will be a road trip out west to take on the Cardinal.
  • Montana at USC, Fri. 11:00 p.m.: Montana is always one of the best mid-major programs out west, while USC is a young team that will have a number of new players in larger roles.
NEW YORK, NY - MARCH 14: E.C. Matthews #0 of the Rhode Island Rams looks on during a semifinal game against the Dayton Flyers in the 2015 Men's Atlantic 10 Basketball Tournament at the Barclays Center on March 14, 2015 in the Brooklyn borough of New York City. (Photo by Alex Goodlett/Getty Images)
E.C. Matthews (Alex Goodlett/Getty Images)

FIVE STORY LINES TO KEEP AN EYE ON

How healthy is E.C. Matthews?: Matthews is coming off of a torn ACL. In 2014-15, when he was healthy, Rhode Island was 23-10 and Matthews was the team’s leading scorer and highest-usage offensive weapon. Last season, Matthews played ten minutes before popping his ACL and the Rams eventually went 17-15. It’s not a direct correlation, but it is safe to say that the Rams will not reach their ceiling without a healthy Matthews. They host Dartmouth on Friday night.

Does Lonzo Ball fit with Bryce Alford and the rest of the Bruins?: UCLA gets two games this weekend, as they host Pacific and CSUN. Neither of those two programs look like they’ll have a real shot to get to the NCAA tournament this season, but they should give us a glimpse into how Steve Alford is going to handle his team this year. Who is running the point? How good will they be defensively? What’s his rotation look like? How will Ball be used?

How many shots does Malik Monk take and what is Kentucky’s rotation?: Like UCLA, Kentucky has a pair of games this weekend, hosting Stephen F. Austin on Friday and Canisius on Sunday. Monk’s ability to fit within a system and a team that has as much talent as Kentucky is a major question mark, particularly with a trip to NYC for the Champions Classic coming up. It will also be interesting to see how Coach Cal uses his rotations and what lineups he opts to trot out.

So how good are the Louisville players we thought would “breakout”?: The big story line with Louisville this offseason was that they’ll have a chance to be excellent this year because Donovan Mitchell, Deng Adel and Ray Spalding are going to take a major step forward. We’ll get our first look into finding out just how big that step forward truly is this weekend.

Do Markelle Fultz and Dennis Smith Jr. look like they’ll live up to the hype?: There’s a chance that these two guys could end up being the top two picks in the 2017 NBA Draft. They’ll get their first real collegiate action this weekend. With all the hype that goes into the elite freshmen these days, it will be interesting to see if they can live up to it.

Houston reaches No. 1 in AP poll for first time since 1983

Thomas Shea-USA TODAY Sports
0 Comments

Make some room, Phi Slama Jama. Another Houston team has reached the top of men’s college basketball.

Nearly four decades after Clyde Drexler and Akeem Olajuwon took the Cougars to No. 1, the latest bunch led by Marcus Sasser and star freshman Jarace Walker took over the top spot in the AP Top 25. They received 45 of 63 first-place votes from the national media panel, easily outdistancing second-place Texas and third-place Virginia.

“It’s not like we went online and applied for it and waited for a response back. We’ve been working for this,” said Houston coach Kelvin Sampson, whose team is coming off a Final Four and Elite Eight trip the past two seasons. “But remember, it’s a rental. You don’t own it. You’re just renting it because someday somebody else is going to be No. 1.”

North Carolina had been No. 1 all season, but the Tar Heels lost to Iowa State and in a four-overtime thriller to Alabama at the Phil Knight Invitational to cede the top spot to Houston, which beat Kent State in its only game last week.

The last time the Cougars ascended to No. 1 was the final poll of the 1982-83 season, when “The Glide” and “The Dream” along with coach Guy Lewis were the favorites to win it all. They rolled through the NCAA Tournament before falling to Jim Valvano and North Carolina State in an iconic championship game in Albuquerque, New Mexico.

“I’ve never been ranked No. 1,” said Sampson, now in his 34th season as a college basketball coach. “We were ranked all 12 years at Oklahoma. I’m sure we were ranked at Indiana. Then we’ve been ranked five or six straight years. We’re used to having a high level of success.”

Texas received eight first-place votes and Virginia received two. Arizona climbed from 14th to fourth after emerging from a stacked field to win the Maui Invitational. Purdue jumped from 24th all the way to fifth and scooped up eight first-place votes after beating West Virginia, Gonzaga and Duke at the Phil Knight Legacy tourney.

“Our guys are competitive. They’re fun to coach. They get along. They’re out there playing with purpose and that’s what you have to have,” said Boilermakers coach Matt Painter, whose team was briefly No. 1 about this time last season.

“Early in the season, very few teams play with the purpose collectively,” he said. “I thought our guys played with a purpose.”

Baylor was sixth, Creighton seventh and U Conn climbed from 20th to eighth after beating Oregon, Alabama and Iowa State to win the Phil Knight Invitational. Kansas fell from third to ninth after losing to Tennessee in the championship game of the Battle 4 Atlantis, while Indiana rounded out the top 10.

There was a tie for 11th between SEC rivals Alabama and Arkansas with the Volunteers, another conference foe, right behind them. Gonzaga dropped from sixth to 14th, its first time outside the top 10 since Feb. 5, 2018, and Auburn was 15th.

Illinois was next followed by Duke and North Carolina in a tough week for Tobacco Road. The Blue Devils fell from eighth after their 75-56 loss to the Boilermakers.

Kentucky and Michigan State joined UCLA, Maryland, Iowa State, San Diego State and Ohio State in rounding out the poll.

RISING AND FALLING

Purdue made a rare 19-spot jump as the poll underwent a massive shakeup. UConn climbed 12 spots, Arizona moved up 10, Tennessee climbed nine and Alabama seven. On the flip side, the Tar Heels tumbled 17 spots, Duke dropped nine, Gonzaga fell eight and San Diego State fell seven.

IN AND OUT

Despite all the movement, Iowa State was the only newcomer this week, checking in at No. 23 after beating Villanova and North Carolina before falling to UConn. The Cyclones replaced Iowa, which dropped out after a one-week stay following its loss to TCU in the title game of the Emerald Coast Classic.

CONFERENCE WATCH

There are six difference conferences represented in the first seven teams in the poll. The Big Ten leads the way with six in the Top 25 while the SEC has five and the Big 12 has four, though three of them are in the top 10.

South Carolina tops women’s AP Top 25; Stanford, UConn next

Darren Yamashita-USA TODAY Sports
1 Comment

South Carolina remained the unanimous No. 1 choice in The Associated Press women’s poll, as the Gamecocks keep close watch on the foot injury of reigning Player of the Year Aliyah Boston.

The Gamecocks received all 29 first-place votes in the poll, a day after Boston left a game with her injury. Coach Dawn Staley said Boston was “questionable” going forward but added that the “team doctor wasn’t too, too concerned.”

South Carolina’s next game is at home against No. 15 UCLA.

Stanford remained No. 2 after cruising through a tournament in Hawaii. It’s the 618th appearance for Cardinal coach Tara VanDerveer, tying the late Pat Summitt for most all-time. Summitt’s teams only missed being in the poll 14 times during her Hall of Fame career at Tennessee.

UConn, Ohio State and Indiana rounded out the top five.

The Huskies are one of four Big East teams to be ranked this week as Marquette entered the poll at No. 24. It’s the first time the Big East has four ranked teams since the conference realigned in 2014. The league is 56-14 so far this season, including going 8-2 against ranked teams.

“We’ve been trying to earn a little more respect,” Marquette coach Megan Duffy said of the Big East. “Tried to schedule tougher non-conference (games). ‘Nova’s playing people. Us going to the Bahamas was great. Creighton’s doing what they’ve been doing since last season. Getting some of those quality wins is everything.”

North Carolina moved up two spots to No. 6 after rallying to beat then-No. 5 Iowa State in the Phil Knight tournament. The Cyclones fell to eighth.

The Tar Heels visit the Hoosiers on Tuesday in the ACC-Big Ten Challenge. Indiana returns home after winning two games in Las Vegas at a subpar venue that lacked basic necessities.

Notre Dame remained No. 7 while Virginia Tech and Iowa finished off the top 10. At No. 9, Virginia Tech has matched its best ranking ever and is in the top 10 for the first time since 1999.

Tennessee fell out of the poll this week marking the 56th time in the 827-week history of the poll that the Lady Vols weren’t ranked. Kansas State also fell out with Gonzaga moving in at No. 23.

FALLING CARDINALS

Louisville dropped to 18th in the poll this week after falling to South Dakota State in the fifth place game at the Battle 4 Atlantis last week. It’s the Cardinals lowest ranking since Jan. 11, 2016.

Louisville entered the top 10 in the preseason poll in 2017 and hadn’t been out since, a span of 98 consecutive weeks. It was the longest active streak.

“It’s a compliment to the consistency that we built here,” Louisville coach Jeff Walz said of being ranked in the top 10 for so long. “Obviously are goal would have been to stay in the top 10, but it’s a new team and growing.”

Edey scores 21 as No. 24 Purdue beats No. 8 Duke 75-56

Troy Wayrynen-USA TODAY Sports
2 Comments

PORTLAND, Ore. – Zach Edey and No. 24 Purdue shook off a slow start. When No. 8 Duke tried to rally in the second half, the Boilermakers finished strong.

Edey had 21 points and 12 rebounds, and Purdue beat Duke 75-56 on Sunday in the championship game of the Phil Knight Legacy men’s tournament.

Fletcher Loyer scored 18 points for Purdue (6-0), and reserve Caleb Furst finished with 11 points and 10 rebounds.

“I feel like we weren’t getting the looks we wanted early. As we settled into the game, we kept our poise and kept getting the shots that we wanted,” Edey said. “They were making some tough twos at the beginning of the game, shots we’re OK with all season.”

The 7-foot-4 Edey was 7 for 13 from the field and 7 for 8 at the line. He was named tournament MVP.

“They have the most unique player in the country,” Duke coach Jon Scheyer said of Edey. “He’s a hard guy to prepare for because there’s nobody else like him.”

Duke (6-2) shot 36.2% (21 for 58) from the field. Tyres Proctor scored 16 points for the Blue Devils. Kyle Filipowski and Jeremy Roach each had 14.

Ethan Morton had a steal and a dunk to help Purdue open a 58-41 lead with 15:37 left in the second half.

Duke countered with an 8-0 run, capped by two foul shots by Dariq Whitehead. But Furst made a layup and a jumper to help hold off the Blue Devils.

A hook by Edey and a 3-pointer by Loyer made it 68-56 with 5:03 remaining.

Duke got off to a 14-7 start before Purdue worked its way back into the game.

“I don’t feel like we came out bad today, but they matched our energy,” Edey said.

A 3-pointer by Brandon Newman pushed the Purdue lead to 46-28. A late run by Duke cut the Boilermakers’ lead to 46-35 at halftime.

BIG PICTURE

Duke: It looked as if Roach had an issue with his left foot at one point, but he went back into the game. Scheyer said Roach had hurt his toe.

Purdue: Although neither team had great offensive games, Purdue was the better team from range. Purdue made seven 3-pointers to just two for Duke.

UP NEXT

Duke: Hosts Ohio State on Wednesday.

Purdue: Visits Florida State on Wednesday.

No. 18 Alabama beats No. 1 North Carolina 103-101 in 4 OTs

Troy Wayrynen-USA TODAY Sports
0 Comments

PORTLAND, Ore. – Mark Sears had 24 points, five rebounds and five assists, and No. 18 Alabama sent top-ranked North Carolina to a second straight loss with a 103-101 victory in a quadruple-overtime thriller on Sunday in the third-place game of the Phil Knight Invitational tournament.

Jahvon Quinerly added 21 points off the bench for the Crimson Tide (6-1), who knocked off the top-ranked team for the first time since upsetting Stanford in the 2004 NCAA Tournament.

“I was losing track of how many overtimes we were in there at the end,” Crimson Tide coach Nate Oats said. “A lot of credit to our guys. I thought they showed a lot of character when we could have folded.”

Charles Bediako had 14 points, 16 rebounds and three blocks, while Brandon Miller also scored 14 points.

Caleb Love led the Tar Heels (5-2) with 34 points, nine rebounds, four assists and three steals. Armando Bacot contributed 20 points and 10 rebounds, and R.J. Davis had 19 points and nine rebounds in the second four-overtime game in North Carolina history. The other was a victory over Tulane in 1976.

“At the end of the day, Alabama made one more play than we did,” North Carolina coach Hubert Davis said. “I walked in the locker room and a number of the guys had their head down and I told them to pick their head up. I’m just as disappointed (as the players) in terms of the final outcome, but I couldn’t be any more proud about the way they competed.”

Bediako gave the Crimson Tide the lead for good on a layup with 26 seconds remaining in the fourth overtime.

The Tar Heels, who lost to Iowa State in the semifinals, led by as much as eight in the second half before Alabama came back to tie it. The Crimson Tide retook the lead on a pair of free throws from Gurley with 2 minutes remaining, and later tied with another free throw from Sears with 51 seconds remaining in regulation.

Alabama starting forward Noah Clowney took a hard fall on a dunk attempt four minutes into the first half and had to be helped off the court. He did not return.

The Crimson Tide were 16 for 38 (42.1%) from 3-point range, with Sears making seven.

BIG PICTURE

North Carolina: The Tar Heels figure to take a deep drop in the Top 25 poll.

Alabama: The Crimson Tide bounced back nicely following their loss to No. 20 UConn in the semifinals, beating a top-ranked team in the regular season for the first time since a 66-64 victory over eventual national champion Arkansas on Jan. 8, 1994.

UP NEXT:

North Carolina: The Tar Heels travel to Bloomington to face No. 11 Indiana on Wednesday.

Alabama: The Crimson Tide return home to face South Dakota State on Saturday.

Clingan lifts UConn past Iowa State for Phil Knight title

Troy Wayrynen-USA TODAY Sports
0 Comments

PORTLAND, Ore. – Donovan Clingan had 15 points and 10 rebounds to power No. 20 UConn to a 71-53 win over Iowa State in the championship game of the Phil Knight Invitational on Sunday night.

Tristen Newton scored 13 points for the Huskies (8-0), who went 20 for 25 at the free-throw line. Alex Karaban and Andre Jackson, Jr. each had 10 points.

Osun Osunniyi led Iowa State (5-1) with 14 points. Tamin Lipsey had 12 points and Jaren Holmes finished with 11.

“They were the more aggressive team,” Iowa State coach T.J. Otzelberger said. “We wanted a physical game. We didn’t want a physical game with them getting the rebounds and then also us putting them on the foul line. Lesson that we’ve got to learn is we need to embrace being the aggressor at both ends of the floor at all times.”

The Huskies had more offensive rebounds (20) than the Cyclones had total rebounds (19), and capitalized on that disparity with 20 second-chance points.

“Those guys are tough,” UConn coach Dan Hurley said. “T.J.`s an excellent coach. They grind people up. To outrebound them, it just speaks to how tough we were.”

Clingan, who was named tournament MVP, scored eight points to help UConn to a 38-28 lead at the break.

Iowa State closed to 53-48 on Holmes’ 3-pointer midway through the second half. But Karaban made a 3 and a dunk, and Newton’s jumper made it 60-48 with 7:13 remaining.

BIG PICTURE

UConn: The Huskies couldn’t have asked for a better showing in Portland, winning all three of their games.

Iowa State: The Cyclones picked up nice wins over Villanova and top-ranked North Carolina in the earlier rounds but ended with their first loss of the season.

UP NEXT

UConn: The Huskies return home to face Oklahoma State on Thursday.

Iowa State: The Cyclones return home to face North Dakota on Tuesday.