Oregon’s point guard was the best player on the floor for the Ducks in both of their games as the Pac-12 tournament champions became the only team seeded lower than fifth to get to the second weekend of the tournament. In wins over Wisconsin and UC Irvine, Pritchard averaged 18.5 points, 7.5 assists and 4.5 boards while also sparking late runs that turned close games into blowouts.
And frankly, Pritchard has been terrific for a month at this point. He’s averaging 19.0 points and 7.0 assists over his last five games and has looked like one of the best point guards in all of college basketball as Oregon has reeled off a ten game winning streak, eight of which have come on the road or on neutral courts.
ALL-FIRST WEEKEND TEAM
CARSEN EDWARDS, Purdue: After putting up 26 points for the Boilermakers in the first round of the tournament, Edwards followed that up with 42 point explosion against Villanova in the second round, the most points scored in an NCAA tournament game since 2004. In total, Purdue has scored 148 points in two games in this even, and Edwards and 68 of them.
NASSIR LITTLE, North Carolina: Little averaged 19.5 points in the first two games of his first (and only?) NCAA tournament. We wrote a column yesterday on why that is so important for the Tar Heels.
ZION WILLIAMSON, Duke: Williamson was, as you might expect, the best player for Duke over the course of the first weekend. He finished with 25 points and three boards in the opening round win over North Dakota State and followed that up with 32 points, 11 boards and four assists in the win over UCF.
BRANDON CLARKE, Gonzaga: Clarke didn’t do much in Gonzaga’s first round win over Fairleigh Dickinson because he didn’t need to do much. But in a second round date with a Baylor team that actually showed up and gave the Zags a fight, Clarke put together one of the best performances in the tournament this season: 36 points, eight boards, five blocks, three assists and two steals.
MFIONDU KABENGELE, Florida State: How many teams can say that their best player comes off of the bench? That’s the case for Florida State and Kabengele, who was simply terrific in two wins this weekend. He had 21 points and 10 boards against UVM and followed that up with 22 points, seven boards and three blocks in a blowout win over Ja Morant and Murray State.
MOST IMPRESSIVE TEAM: Texas Tech
Every one of the top two seeds got pushed at some point in the first weekend of the tournament. Virginia and North Carolina trailed at the half of their first round games. Duke came a couple of inches away from losing to UCF. Gonzaga was pushed by Baylor in the second round. Tennessee nearly blew not one, but two huge leads. Kentucky was in a dogfight with Wofford. Michigan State nearly lost to Bradley while Florida made it difficult for Michigan to get to the Sweet 16.
Texas Tech, however, didn’t really have those problems. Northern Kentucky kept it close for 15 minutes before Jarrett Culver went nuts and the Red Raiders ran away with it. Buffalo had one run late in the first half that seemed like it was going to make the most intriguing matchup of Sunday’s second round action worth watching, but that only last about five minutes.
This Texas Tech team has a real shot to make a run through Anaheim to get to Minneapolis. They are the nation’s best defensive team, but with the way they have been shooting the rock of late, they are also a threat to put up 90 points on any given opponent. On a weekend where every other title contender was pushed, Tech cruised, and that should tell you something.
BIGGEST DISAPPOINTMENT: The Big East
So it turns out the Big East was pretty bad after all.
Their run in the NCAA tournament ended on Saturday evening, with Carsen Edwards dropping 42 points in a rout that saw Purdue lead 59-24 at one point. It was an embarrassment, really, but one that we all probably should have seen coming.
Villanova won the Big East regular season title, but it never felt like they actually were trying to win. They lost five of their last eight regular season games and only managed to take home the league title because Marquette, the only other team in the league that we thought was any good, lost their last four games. That same Marquette team was run out of the first round by Murray State, who looked every bit the part of a mid-major in their loss to Florida State on Saturday.
Villanova beat Seton Hall in the Big East tournament title game, and the Pirates got drubbed by 16 points by Wofford in the first round. The only other Big East team to get into the tournament was St. John’s, and they got smoked in a play-in game by an Arizona State team that proceeded to lose to Buffalo by 17.
The league should be better with the amount of talent that they have coming back.
And they’re going to need to be.
Because this was not the kind of season that the conference will want to be known for.
FIVE OVERREACTIONS MOVING FORWARD
1. A DISMAL FIRST WEEKEND SETS US UP FOR THE PERFECT FINISH TO THE TOURNAMENT
That first weekend sucked.
We got a thriller with Duke and UCF on Sunday, Maryland played a couple of barn-burners against Belmont and LSU and Tennessee’s inability to protect a lead made for a couple of interesting games, but there wasn’t a true buzzer-beater in the first 52 games of the NCAA tournament. All of the Cinderellas have seen their carriages turn into pumpkins unless, of course, you consider No. 12-seed Oregon — who was a top 15 team in the preseason, reached the 2017 Final Four and is currently in their third Sweet 16 in the last four years — a Cinderella.
What we have right now is a tournament that still features all four No. 1 seeds, all four No. 2 seeds and all four No. 3 seeds. One of the two No. 4 seeds that was knocked out get sent home by a No. 5 seed. This has only happened once before in the NCAA tournament, in 2009, and that was the year that Tyler Hansbrough and North Carolina cruised to the national title.
So yeah, the first weekend of the tournament sucked.
But what that means is that the final 15 games of this event are set up to be absolutely magical.
Think about it like this: The only two teams in the Sweet 16 that weren’t considered top 16 teams by the selection committee on Selection Sunday were both preseason top 15 teams. If you were going to build the perfect 16 team tournament from scratch, the only change that anyone would make is dropping Oregon for someone, but I’m not sure that the Ducks, given the way that they have been playing of late, aren’t actually a top 16 team in college basketball right now.
I’ve always said the ideal NCAA tournament has upsets early and chalk late. We didn’t have the upsets this year, but we do have the chalk.
So be ready. Every game from here on out is going to be a heavy-weight fight.
2. THE UCF PERFORMANCE SAID MORE ABOUT THE MATCHUP THEN IT DID DUKE
UCF was the perfect matchup for this Duke team. They are traditionally a really good defensive team that has big, athletic wings to guard Duke’s lottery picks and one of the world’s 40 largest humans to stand at the rim and make it difficult for R.J. Barrett and Zion Williamson to finish. They also have a bunch of shot-makers on their perimeter, and all they needed to do to keep this thing close was for one of Aubrey Dawkins or B.J. Taylor to get into a rhythm while Tacko Fall stayed out of foul trouble.
Dawkins went off.
Fall stayed out of foul trouble for the most part.
And the end result was that Duke should have been knocked out of the NCAA tournament.
They are incredibly lucky to still be alive in this event, and I don’t think that they are going to face a team that will be able to challenge them the way that UCF did until the Final Four.
Look, we’ve known what the key to beating Duke is all season long. You need to pack in your defense, you need size at the rim and you need to be willing to let Tre Jones and Jordan Goldwire shoot as many threes as they want to shoot. There aren’t many team that actually have the players to execute that game-plan as well as UCF did.
Duke certainly isn’t unbeatable, but this was the bullet they needed to dodge.
And they did.
3. THE BEST SPOT TO BE NEXT WEEKEND IS …
KANSAS CITY: The North Carolina-Auburn matchup has a chance to be one of the most entertaining games in the history of college basketball — if you like run-and-gun hoops, this is for you — while a Sunday evening matchup between UNC and Kentucky is very much in the cards.
ANAHEIM: This is the most unpredictable region left in the field. Texas Tech and Michigan might be the two best defensive teams left in the tournament, and they will be battling it out for a spot in the Elite 8 in what might as well be a street fight. On the other side of the bracket, we get a rematch from last year’s Sweet 16, when Florida State upset Gonzaga. Is this the revenge game?
WASHINGTON D.C.: I have a sneaking suspicion that Duke is going to have a pretty easy time making their way through this region, but remember: Virginia Tech has already beaten the Blue Devils this season, and they did it without Justin Robinson. On the other side of the bracket, LSU has somehow morphed into a team of destiny, and they will face off with Michigan State in a battle between two of the best point guards in the country in Cassius Winston and Tremont Waters.
LOUISVILLE: Virginia-Oregon is a battle between two really good teams, but there’s a real chance that game goes under the total of 118.5. On the other side of the bracket is Purdue-Tennessee, and as good as both of those teams are, that matchup just doesn’t have the pop of some of the others. That said, should this turn into a Virginia-Tennessee Elite 8 matchup, there’s a chance that ends up being the weekend’s best game.
The fact that Louisville is fourth on this list should tell you all you need to know about just how good the games are this weekend.
4. AN ALL-ACC FINAL FOUR CAN STILL HAPPEN
We’ll dive into this more during the week, but the chance of getting a Final Four that features Duke (or Virginia Tech), Virginia, North Carolina and Florida State is a very real possibility. The biggest reason for that is that three of the No. 1 seeds are from the conference. They’re obviously, then, the favorites to get to the final weekend out of their region.
But the other part of this is that Florida State seems like a good bet to knock off Gonzaga in the Sweet 16.
I’ll have a full breakdown on why later in the week.
5. AND YOUR FINAL FOUR IS …
My Final Four is still alive! Duke vs. Texas Tech and Virginia vs. North Carolina.
Tuesday’s Three Things To Know: Virginia holds off Lamb, Tillie’s back
With November’s early season tournaments right around the corner, it was another fairly quiet night in the college basketball world on Tuesday night.
Unless you live in Charlottesville or Burlington.
Then, there were some fireworks.
Here are the three things you need to know after Tuesday’s college hoops action.
1. ANTHONY LAMB AND VERMONT ARE THE REAL DEAL, BUT VIRGINIA’S SCORING IS A PROBLEM
We told you on Monday that Vermont is the best mid-major program in the country, and they looked the part on Tuesday night. The Catamounts went into Charlottesville and game No. 7 Virginia all that they could handle. The final score ended up being 61-55, but UVM made a run in the second half that allowed them to take the lead with less than eight minutes remaining.
The hero was Anthony Lamb, UVM’s 6-foot-5 (ish?) forward and maybe the best mid-major player in all of the land. Lamb finished with 30 points, scoring 25 of his 30 points and hitting six of his seven threes in the second half. To put this into context, Syracuse scored 34 points as a team against Virginia in the Carrier Dome. The Wahoos hadn’t allowed more than 42 points in their first three games. Lamb had 30.
What was just as impressive was the way he was able to get out and guard on the perimeter. One of the issues UVM has had in the past is that Lamb wasn’t quite quick enough to create the mismatch against high major teams that he did against teams in his league.
I don’t think that will be the case quite as much this season.
So I’m in on Vermont. All the way in.
(Even though they cost me a cover against St. Bonaventure and the under on Tuesday night. I’ll get past it. Eventually.)
And while I love what I’ve seen from Virginia thus far, especially on the defensive end of the floor, I do think there is some reason to be concerned about how they are going to score. Mamadi Diakite had 19 points on Tuesday, which matched his career-high, and Braxton Key and Kihei Clark both knocked down some massive threes, but this team is a significant step backwards on that end of the floor when compared to Virginia’s best teams.
2. KILLIAN TILLIE RETURNED FOR GONZAGA
Killian Tillie returned to the floor for Gonzaga for the first time this season, which is massive news for a team that has already been steamrolling anything and anyone that gets in their way.
For the uninitiated, Tillie was Gonzaga’s leading scorer during the 2017-18 season, but he’s been battling knee and foot injuries ever since. Rui Hachimura and Brandon Clarke made it easy to forget about the fact that arguably the most talented player on that roster was not available.
Well, he is back now. In his first game of the season, Tillie started and put up 15 points and eight boards as the No. 8 Zags held on to knock off a scrappy UT Arlington team.
3. HOUSTON AND DAVIDSON LANDED KEY BOUNCE-BACK WINS
Davidson entered the year as the trendy pick to win the Atlantic 10 and Houston was considered by many, including the coaches, to be the best team in the American, but it has not been the easiest start to the season for either team. Davidson got worked over pretty good by both Auburn and Charlotte, while Houston is coming off of a home loss to a BYU team that was picked third in the WCC.
Davidson made a statement on Tuesday night. They blew out Nevada, 91-71, thanks to 24 points from Kellan Grady. Quentin Grimes was the spark for Houston, finishing with 32 points, nine boards and five assists in a 97-89 come-from-behind win against intra-city rival Rice on the road.
CHARLOTTESVILLE, Va. — Mamadi Diakite scored 19 points and No. 7 Virginia withstood a 3-point shooting display by Anthony Lamb and beat Vermont 61-55 on Tuesday night.
The Cavaliers (4-0) trailed before Diakite’s basket gave them a 50-49 lead with 5:12 left and sparked a 9-0 run. Jay Huff scored twice in the spurt and Braxton Key hit a 3-pointer as Virginia held the Catamounts scoreless, and forced four turnovers, in a nearly four-minute span.
Lamb scored 30 for Vermont (4-1), including 25 in the second half, to nearly match the point total of the Cavaliers’ first two opponents of the season, who each managed just 34 points. Stef Smith added 11 points, but Virginia turned Vermont’s 13 turnovers into 20 points.
Kihei Clark scored 15 points and Key had 14 points for Virginia.
Virginia led 24-18 at halftime, but Vermont used a 10-2 run to start the half to take its first lead since the early going. Lamb had seven points in the run, including the last five, and tacked on his team’s next 12 points with four 3-pointers as the score was tied five times.
Vermont: The Catamounts hang their hat on defense, too, and came into the game with a 107-9 record since the 2011-12 season when holding their opponents to 60 points or fewer
Virginia: The Cavaliers’ defensive excellence has been essential early in the season as they still are struggling to find an offensive rhythm. Highly regarded freshman guard Casey Morsell came into the game having made just 2 of 21 field goal attempts and was 1 for 6. Virginia has made 21 3-pointers in its first four games and allowed 31, including 12 by the Catamounts in 33 attempts.
The Catamounts face Central Connecticut State on Saturday at Mohegan Sun Arena in Connecticut.
The Cavaliers face Massachusetts on Saturday at Mohegan Sun Arena in Connecticut.
Your guide to the 16 best early-season college basketball tournaments
Starting next week, college basketball will be thrown back into one of the best weeks of the season.
It’s Holiday Tournament time!
Afternoon college hoops means opportunities to gamble for 15 straight hours on college hoops.
So with that in mind, here is a ranking of the 16 best exempt events that will take place over the course of the next two weeks.
1. BATTLE 4 ATLANTIS
WHEN: Nov. 27-29
Michigan vs. Iowa State
No. 5 North Carolina vs. Alabama
No. 8 Gonzaga vs. Southern Miss
No. 13 Seton Hall vs. No. 11 Oregon
FAVORITE: In what should be far and away the best exempt event this year, we have four top 15 teams and as many as seven potential NCAA tournament teams heading to Atlantis. For my money, I think North Carolina and star freshman point guard Cole Anthony are the favorite to win this thing. On the one hand, they are the highest-ranked team in the event. On the other hand, they are on the side of the bracket where they will not have to play a top 25 team until the finals, if they get there. This will be a nice proving ground for the Tar Heels, who have relied quite heavily on their freshman point guard.
TEAM TO WATCH: There are quite a few, but I think Gonzaga is the team that I will be the most intrigued to see play in Atlantis. At this point, we more or less know how good UNC, Seton Hall and Oregon are. Gonzaga is tougher to peg. They have been utterly dominant through three games, but I’m not quite sure how much stock to put in their opponents. Even a 30 point win at Texas A&M is not all that impressive right now. Are their young bigs legit? Can a patchwork backcourt made up of grad transfers work? Is Killian Tillie still alive? There are a lot of questions that we need answered.
PLAYER TO WATCH: Myles Powell. I should not have to explain this one.
IDEAL TITLE GAME: I honestly don’t know if there truly is an ideal title game here. There are just so many good matchups throughout the event. Seton Hall-Oregon in the quarterfinals is, essentially, a battle of potential Final Four teams. One of those two teams playing Gonzaga in the semifinals is, again, a battle of potential Final Four teams. Even Michigan-Iowa State, and the winner facing off with, most likely, UNC, is going to be fun.
I think I’ll be rooting for a Seton Hall-North Carolina title game for no reason other than the fact that I want to see Powell and Anthony go shot for shot for 40 minutes.
FAVORITE: The two losers from the Champions Classic will headline the Maui Invitational. At this point, I’m going to call Michigan State the favorite to win this event. I had the Spartans at No. 1 in the preseason, I have them ranked higher than Kansas today and I believe they will have the best player on the court in Cassius Winston.
TEAM TO WATCH: BYU just picked up a win at Houston and Dayton looks like they could end up being a top 25 team this season, but UCLA is the team to watch for me. The Bruins have a new head coach in Mick Cronin, but they have actually looked pretty solid through their first three games.
PLAYER TO WATCH: I’m going to pick two here because I can. The first is Georgia’s Anthony Edwards. He’s the potential No. 1 pick in the 2020 NBA Draft and one of the best scorers in all of college basketball. Then there’s Dayton forward Obi Toppin, a 6-foot-9 athletic freak that is a potential first round pick in his own right. They will face off in the very first game of the tournament.
IDEAL TITLE GAME: I think that, come March, we are going to be saying that Michigan State and Kansas are the two best teams in college basketball, so if we can get them squaring off in the final of the Maui Invitational on that Wednesday night before Thanksgiving, that would be an ideal situation for everyone involved. What would be best individual matchup be: Cassius Winston vs. Devon Dotson or Udoka Azubuike vs. Xavier Tillman?
FAVORITE: Duke is the No. 1 team in college basketball right now. I think that means the are the favorite to win this event.
TEAM TO WATCH: I’ve been high on Texas all offseason, and seeing the Longhorns go into West Lafayette and beat Purdue only reaffirmed what I believe. This will be their toughest test of the young season, and they get a talented-but-enigmatic Georgetown team in the opener with a shot to make a statement against Duke in the title game.
PLAYER TO WATCH: The most entertaining player in this field is going to be Georgetown’s Mac McClung, a YouTube sensation that throws down highlight reel dunks without a problem. The best story, however, is Texas guard Andrew Jones, who beat leukemia and has returned to play for the Longhorns after two years away from the game.
IDEAL TITLE GAME: Obviously, Duke needs to be involved here. I want to see Texas take on the Blue Devils, personally, mostly because I need the world to buy into Texas the way I am buying into Texas.
4. EMERALD COAST CLASSIC
WHEN: Nov. 29-30 (Niceville, Fla.) TICKETS: Click here
Florida State vs. No. 20 Tennessee
Purdue vs. No. 21 VCU
FAVORITE: In terms of sheer competitiveness, I don’t think that there is a better event than the Emerald Coast Classic. I can legitimately say that I have no great feel on who is actually the best team here. Tennessee probably has the most impressive win while VCU is coming off of a win over a ranked team as well. Florida State won at Florida. Purdue has one of the best coaches in all of college basketball running things. I think the Vols are probably the best team here, but I can see any of the four winning the event.
TEAM TO WATCH: All of them. The thing that makes this event so great is that all four of these teams are going to be in the NCAA tournament and all four of them have so many question marks still. Does Tennessee have any quality depth? Are their bigs really as good as they looked against Washington? Can VCU find a way to make perimeter shots at any point this season? Is there a go-to scorer on Florida State’s roster? Was their win at Florida simply a sign of how bad the Gators have been this season? Can Purdue really rely on Jahaad Proctor to be their best scorer and compete atop the Big Ten?
PLAYER TO WATCH: I love Tennessee’s Lamonte Turner. I think he is a difference-maker. Point guards that make big shots are killers at this level.
IDEAL TITLE GAME: Getting a rematch of Tennessee vs. Purdue would be fun, but I think I’d rather see VCU–Tennessee.
5. CHARLESTON CLASSIC
WHEN: Nov. 21, 22 and 24 (Charleston, S.C.) TICKETS: Click here
Miami vs. Missouri State
Florida vs. St. Joseph’s
No. 18 Xavier vs. Towson
UConn vs. Buffalo
FAVORITE: Despite a fairly slow start to their season, Xavier has to be considered the favorite to win this event. The Musketeers are a long way away from hitting their ceiling – that’s what happens when you go through the first four games shooting 20.4 percent from three – but there is enough talent on this roster to figure it out if those shots start falling. Will three games in four days in beautiful Charleston, S.C., cure what ails them?
TEAM TO WATCH: No team in college basketball has been more disappointing through the first two weeks of the season that Florida. The core of the issue? Florida cannot shoot, they aren’t playing fast and their defense isn’t forcing turnovers which means they have to try and execute against a set defense. It’s a mess, but it is also fixable. Can they right the ship this week?
PLAYER TO WATCH: If there is one guy in this field that can put together three games of 25-plus points and carry a team to a tournament win, it is Chris Lykes of Miami. The 5-foot-7 point guard is one of the most entertaining players in the country and certainly deserving of more attention than he is currently receiving.
IDEAL TITLE GAME: In theory, the ideal title game would feature Florida and Xavier. They are the two most talented teams in the event. They are also two of the worst shooting teams in America right now. If this ends up being the final, they are going to need to replace the rims after the final.
6. MYRTLE BEACH INVITATIONAL
WHEN: Nov. 21, 22 and 24 (Myrtle Beach, S.C.) TICKETS: Click here
No. 17 Villanova vs. Middle Tennessee
Mississippi State vs. Tulane
Ohio vs. No. 24 Baylor
Utah vs. Coastal Carolina
FAVORITE: On paper, the answer is probably Villanova. We all know what Jay Wright has built on the Main Line and the success that they have had over the course of the last six seasons. Last season was a down year for Nova and they still won the Big East regular season and tournament titles. The Wildcats were absolutely trucked by Ohio State last week, but they’ve looked really impressive in their other two games. I don’t know what that means in the big picture, but I think we’ll find out this week.
TEAM TO WATCH: I can be talked into the idea that Baylor is actually the favorite to win this event. They are big, they are tough and they are old. They can overwhelm Villanova on the glass and they may actually have the better guards. That said, we saw Baylor lose a game they dominated against Washington already this season, and in the process we got a look at Tristan Clark, who does not look like he is back to 100 percent just yet.
PLAYER TO WATCH: He may not be the best player in this event, but it will be our first chance to see Villanova freshman Bryan Antoine at the collegiate level. Antoine has been out of action since getting shoulder surgery over the summer, but he was medically-cleared to play. Just how much of an impact will the five-star freshman have? He has not played real basketball since the end of his senior season in high school, he had his serious surgery on his shoulder and Villanova’s system is notoriously difficult for freshman to pick up.
IDEAL TITLE GAME: There are two ranked teams in this event: Villanova and Baylor. That makes picking a perfect title game pretty easy. It will be interesting to see if the Wildcats can get past a potential semifinal matchup with Mississippi State. The Bulldogs are talented and have the kind of size inside that will give the Wildcats trouble.
7. ORLANDO INVITATIONAL
WHEN: Nov. 28, Nov. 29, Dec. 1 TICKETS: Click here
No. 6 Maryland vs. Temple
Texas A&M vs. Harvard
USC vs. Fairfield
Marquette vs. Davidson
FAVORITE: Maryland should be far and away the best team in this field. They are the only ranked team, and that’s because they are the most talented team. But there are certainly question marks about this group and whether or not Mark Turgeon is going to be able to get them to reach their ceiling. In an event where there are so many teams that have something to prove, this is a chance for the Terps to assert their dominance, so to speak. If you want to truly be looked at as a national title contender, you win this event.
TEAM TO WATCH: There are four teams here that need to be tracked.
Just how good is Marquette? They beat Purdue but got whipped by Wisconsin in a rivalry game.
Will Seth Towns and Bryce Aiken ever play for Harvard again?
Davidson was embarrassed by Auburn in their season-opener. Are they really an A-10 title contender?
USC is really, really talented, especially in their frontcourt. Can that translate to wins?
PLAYER TO WATCH: Everyone knows about Markus Howard by now, so I’m going to go with Onyeka Okongwu, the USC big man that is currently averaging 14.5 points, 10.5 boards ad 2.8 blocks.
IDEAL TITLE GAME: It will, of course, include Maryland. Personally, I think that Marquette is probably the second-best team in this event, so I’ll be hoping to see them face off in the final.
8. LEGENDS CLASSIC
WHEN: Nov. 25 and 26 (Brooklyn) TICKETS: Click here
Wisconsin vs. Richmond
No. 19 Auburn vs. New Mexico
FAVORITE: Auburn has actually been pretty impressive throughout the first two weeks of the season. They overwhelmed Davidson and put up 116 points against Cal. State Northridge. Bruce Pearl may have lost his three best players off of last year’s roster, but he still has plenty of talent at his disposal. The Tigers are a threat.
TEAM TO WATCH: Wisconsin notched themselves a nice little win over archrival Marquette on Sunday afternoon, and while they have not exactly been the most hyped team entering the season, they have looked pretty good. The big question is whether or not they are going to get overwhelmed by the athleticism that Auburn has if they face off.
PLAYER TO WATCH: He is not the most well-known freshman in the country, but Isaac Okoro of Auburn has proven himself to be a potential first round pick with his play. He is to this team what Chuma Okeke was to last year’s team.
IDEAL TITLE GAME: Auburn–Wisconsin. They are clearly the two best teams in this field, and both of them are good enough to be a top six or seven seed in the NCAA tournament.
FAVORITE: For the second straight season, Chris Beard has apparently found a way to keep Texas Tech amongst college basketball’s elite despite the fact that they lost just about everyone off of last season’s roster. They have yet to play anyone worth discussing this season – and they won’t until they get Iowa in the opener – but it is clear through three games that there hasn’t been much hangover from the trip to the national title game.
TEAM TO WATCH: I’m very intrigued by this Creighton team. Their frontline has been beaten up with injuries through the first two weeks of the season, but their backcourt is absolutely electric. I think they actually matchup pretty well with Texas Tech.
PLAYER TO WATCH: The key to everything for Texas Tech this year is lead guard Jahmi’us Ramsey. He is their star freshman built in the mold of a Keenan Evans or a Jarrett Culver, a big, powerful combo-guard that can operate in ball-screens. I will be intrigued to see what he can accomplish playing against some better competition.
IDEAL TITLE GAME: I want to see Creighton get their shot at Texas Tech. Greg McDermott has developed into one of the best offensive minds in college hoops while Chris Beard’s exploits on the defensive end of the floor are no joke.
10. HALL OF FAME TIP-OFF CLASSIC
WHEN: Nov. 23-24 (Mohegan Sun) TICKETS: Click here
No. 7 Virginia vs. UMass
Arizona State vs. St. John’s
FAVORITE: Virginia has been one of the more impressive teams in college basketball through the first two weeks. The competition hasn’t been that great, but they have played Syracuse on the road and went more than 114 minutes of game-time before giving up their 100th point. We’ll see if they end up turning into a good team on the offensive end of the floor, but at least we know what they are defensively.
TEAM TO WATCH: I’m still curious to see what will happen with Arizona State this season. The Sun Devils have talent this year, like they do every year, but in Bobby Hurley’s tenure that has yet to turn into impressive results come March.
PLAYER TO WATCH: So the weird thing about this event is that there are actually two events happening at the same time – one involves high-major team and one involves mid-majors. The one that involves mid-majors includes Vermont, who is the best mid-major program in the country this season and one of the best mid-major players in college hoops in Anthony Lamb.
IDEAL TITLE GAME: The ideal title game would probably be a matchup between Virginia and Vermont, but since that isn’t going to happen, I think that getting the ‘Hoos paired up with Arizona State would be the best. We’ve already seen Vermont beat St. John’s in Queens.
11. WOODEN LEGACY
WHEN: Nov. 28, 29 and Dec. 1 (Anaheim) TICKETS: Click here
Providence vs. Long Beach State
Wake Forest vs. Charleston
UCF vs. Penn
Pepperdine vs. No. 14 Arizona
FAVORITE: Through the first two weeks of the season, Arizona has been one of the most impressive teams in college hoops. Their backcourt of Nico Mannion and Josh Green has been exceptional, while Zeke Nnaji has been one of the sport’s breakout stars. Considering that this game is being played on the west coast and that the second-best team in the event lost to Northwestern, I’d say the favorite is a pretty easy pick.
PLAYER TO WATCH: Arizona’s Nico Mannion has been one of the most exciting freshman in college basketball, even more so than Zeke Nnaji, his teammate and fellow freshman.
IDEAL TITLE GAME: I’m hoping for Arizona–Providence because I think it will be the only matchup of tournament teams that we will get from this field.
12. HALL OF FAME CLASSIC
WHEN: Nov. 25-26 (Kansas City) TICKETS: Click here
Butler vs. Missouri
Oklahoma vs. Stanford
FAVORITE: For my money, Missouri is the best team in this field. The Tigers have a couple of terrific guards, they really can defend and their former five-star center Jeremiah Tilmon has developed into one of the better big men in college basketball. There is a lot to like on that roster.
TEAM TO WATCH: Keep an eye on Oklahoma. This may be the season that they finally break out of their post-Trae Young doldrums. Lon Kruger can really, really coach.
PLAYER TO WATCH: I have always been a fan of Butler’s Kamar Baldwin. He is the best player on a Butler team that is going to sneak up on some people this season.
IDEAL TITLE GAME: I am totally here for a throwback Big 12 battle between Missouri and Oklahoma.
13. MGM RESORTS MAIN EVENT
WHEN: Nov. 24 and 26 (Las Vegas) TICKETS: Click here
No. 23 Colorado vs. Wyoming
Clemson vs. TCU
FAVORITE: They aren’t getting all that much attention right now, but Colorado is one of the most intriguing teams in college basketball. We’ve seen Arizona, Oregon and Washington make statements on national television already this season. Will this event be Colorado’s coming out party?
TEAM TO WATCH: Other than Colorado? It’s probably TCU, who has one of the best players in the Big 12 that no one is paying attention to in Desmond Bane. They are coming off of a 23-win season and will be looking to get ready for another run through the Big 12 gauntlet.
PLAYER TO WATCH: The Pac-12 is loaded with talented point guards. Nico Mannion is the guy that has gotten all the hype at Arizona, Oregon’s Payton Pritchard is the veteran presence that everyone loves and Remy Martin of Arizona State is the guy with the hair and the name. But Colorado’s McKinley Wright might actually be the best of the bunch.
IDEAL TITLE GAME: I’ll be hoping to see Colorado take on TCU, but as long as we get the best version of the Buffaloes, I’ll be happy.
14. NIT SEASON TIP-OFF
WHEN: Nov. 27 and 29 (Brooklyn) TICKETS: Click here
Ole Miss vs. Penn State
Oklahoma State vs. Syracuse
FAVORITE: Part of what makes the Preseason NIT so interesting this season is that it is hard to figure out who, exactly, is the favorite. It’s pretty easy to envision a scenario where any of the four teams playing can win two games in Brooklyn. The problem is that part of the reason that it is hard to determine who is a favorite is because the teams are not really all that good. Gun-to-head, I’d say Oklahoma State is the favorite. But who knows.
TEAM TO WATCH: Is this the year that Penn State finally makes the leap to relevance? We’ve been waiting for them to do it for more than five years now, but it may actually happen this season. Lamar Stevens is awesome, and Myreon Jones looks like one of college basketball’s breakout stars.
PLAYER TO WATCH: The two best players in the NIT this year are Lindy Waters from Oklahoma State and Penn State forward Lamar Stevens. What that means is that …
IDEAL TITLE GAME: … the ideal title would feature a matchup between Penn State and Oklahoma State, which would let us see Waters square off with Stevens.
15. CANCUN CHALLENGE
WHEN: Nov. 26 and 27
Wichita State vs. South Carolina
Northern Iowa vs. West Virginia
FAVORITE: Heading into the season, I probably would have said that Wichita State was the favorite to win this thing, but after seeing West Virginia go into Pittsburgh and do what Florida State could, I think I lean the Mountaineers at this point. This group is hardly the Press Virginia of old, with Derek Culver and Oscar Tshiebwe in the frontcourt, Bob Huggins has a roster with as much strength inside as anyone.
TEAM TO WATCH: I still think Wichita State is good enough to make a run at an NCAA tournament bid, but they have not had the smoothest start to the season, struggling to put away the likes of Nebraska Omaha and Texas Southern. I do think there’s an argument to be made that Dexter Dennis and Erik Stevenson are the best backcourt in this event.
PLAYER TO WATCH: The best NBA prospect in Cancun will be South Carolina guard A.J. Lawson. He’s a borderline first round pick that has gotten off to a solid start this season.
IDEAL TITLE GAME: Frank Martin was an assistant under Bob Huggins when Huggy Bear was at Cincinnati and Kansas State. His coaching career really took off when Huggs left Kansas State for West Virginia one year after arriving in Manhattan and Martin was given the job. So obviously, I want to see South Carolina square off with West Virginia in the title game.
16. PARADISE JAM
WHEN: Nov. 22, 23 and 25 (Virgin Islands)
Valparaiso vs. Grand Canyon
Nevada vs. Fordham
Cincinnati vs. Illinois State
Western Kentucky vs. Bowling Green
FAVORITE: At this point, Cincinnati has to be considered the favorite to win the event, but do we know how good the Bearcats actually are right now? They haven’t beaten anyone of note to date, and their best player – Jarron Cumberland – missed the last game because of issues between him and head coach John Brannen.
TEAM TO WATCH: The two teams that I am the most interested in learning about are Bowling Green and Western Kentucky. Both have looked pretty good throughout the first two weeks of the season
PLAYER TO WATCH: If Brannen decides to let him play, the answer is Jarron Cumberland.
IDEAL TITLE GAME: If the Paradise Jam happens and no one notices, does it actually count?
Three Things To Know: Auburn’s rolling; Kentucky’s struggling; Mizzou’s tough
It was a relatively quiet night in college hoops, but there were still three things that were worth discussing.
1. IS AUBURN THE BEST TEAM IN THE SEC?
I’m trying to come up with a reason to argue otherwise, and it’s just not working.
Despite the fact that they lost their three best players from last season’s Final Four team, the Tigers look like they are going to once against have a shot of getting back to the final weekend of the college basketball season.
This year’s group is a little different than last season. They’re not forcing as many turnovers as they did last year, but they are running the floor and they are shooting up a ton of threes and, right now, they are playing with as much swagger and confidence as anyone in the country. Colgate is a solid, veteran mid-major team and they were absolutely mollywhopped by Auburn. The final score was 91-62, but don’t forget that Auburn led 53-21 at halftime. The spread of 16 points. Auburn was covering midway through the first half.
Now, if we’re going to talk about them in terms of being the best anything, it’s important to note that they haven’t really played anyone yet. Colgate and South Alabama are fine. Davidson was, apparently, entirely overrated. Hopefully Auburn will get a showdown with Wisconsin in the final of the Legends Classic, otherwise we may not see them face a tournament team until they host N.C. State.
In other words, expect a lot of wins from Auburn in the month of December.
2. KENTUCKY CERTAINLY ISN’T, NOT RIGHT NOW
We have already spent quite a bit of time on Kentucky in this space. The Wildcats struggled with a mid-major foe in Rupp Arena for the second straight game. They did not lose on Monday night, but they did leave us asking the question: Can Kentucky actually cure what is ailing them this season?
3. MISSOURI IS GOING TO BE A TOUGH OUT ALL SEASON LONG
I’m not sure there is a team that is flying further under the radar than Missouri right now. The Tigers improved to 3-1 on the season with a 75-56 win over Wofford on Monday night. They’ve also beaten Northern Kentucky and took No. 18 Xavier to overtime in Cincinnati.
As of today, they are a top ten team defensively, according to KenPom. They are ninth nationally in defensive effective field goal percentage. They have an assembly line of talented perimeter players that can all get out and pressure while Jeremiah Tilmon has embraced being the defensive anchor for this group while also becoming an efficient catch-and-dunk offensive weapon that can draw fouls.
I’m going to hold off on going all-in on Missouri until we see them in the Hall Of Fame Classic next week (they open with Butler, another sneaky-good team) but at this point, it looks like the Tigers should be a tournament team.
Cassius Winston addresses Michigan State crowd: ‘I lost a piece of my heart’