RICHMOND, Va. — Jalen Crutcher scored 18 points and No. 5 Dayton held off a late challenge and beat VCU 66-61 on Tuesday night, the Flyers’ 15th consecutive victory.
Obi Toppin added 12 points and Trey Landers 11 for the Flyers (24-2, 13-0 Atlantic 10). They were the highest ranked team ever to play on VCU’s home floor.
VCU (17-9, 7-6) closed to within one possession several times in the last seven minutes, the last on Vince Williams’ putback with 27 seconds left, but Dwayne Cohill made a pair of free throws with 22.4 seconds left and the Flyers held on.
Nah’Shon Hyland led VCU with 18 points and Marcus Santos-Silva had 12 points and 17 rebounds, but VCU lost for the fourth time in its last five games.
The Rams used an 8-1 run to get within 52-50 with 6:18 left, but Dayton converted six of eight free throws to rebuild the lead to 58-51. Malik Crowfield’s 3-pointer and a free throw by De’Riante Jenkins pulled the Rams within 58-55, but Toppin scored inside and added a free throw.
Dayton: The Flyers were shooting well about 50% for most of the game before a dry spell in the second half that included a pair of ill-advised 3-point tries by Crutcher and Landers. They finished 19 for 42, 45.2%.
VCU: The Rams played without point guard Marcus Evans, their top passer and No. 3 scorer. Evans aggravated a left knee injury in VCU’s loss to Richmond last Saturday.
The Flyers are at home against Duquesne on Saturday.
VCU is on the road at Saint Louis on Friday.
Bubble Banter: VCU is in serious trouble after loss
FLORIDA (NET: 44, NBC: 10): The Gators could not afford to lose to Texas A&M (133) on Wednesday night, and they got the win they needed, beating the Aggies by 17 in College Station. As it stands, Florida’s resume is more or less built on a home win over Auburn (15) and a neutral court win over Xavier (42). They are now 6-9 against the top two Quads without a Quad 3 or 4 loss, but this is still not a very strong resume. With two games left against Kentucky (22) and a home date with LSU (27), the Gators are not as comfortable is it may seem, but they will have chances to improve.
RICHMOND (NET: 55, NBC: Next four out): For my money, the Spiders’ at-large hopes are more or less dead. I cannot see how they are going to be able to get enough wins to jump six or seven teams that play in tougher leagues with a schedule that includes a bunch of bad teams and a home game against VCU (35). I’ll leave them here for now since our Dave Ommen has the Spiders as one of the next four out.
NORTHERN IOWA (NET: 36, NBC: 12): The Panthers got some revenge on Illinois State on Wednesday night, picking off the Redbirds in Cedar Rapids. Their strong NET and wins at Colorado (16) and over South Carolina (75) on a neutral keep the Panthers in the conversation, but losses at Southern Illinois (146) and Illinois State (203) are killers. UNI cannot lose another game unless it is against Loyola-Chicago (100) in the MVC tournament if they really want a chance at an at-large.
… AND LOSERS
VCU (NET: 34, NBC: First four out): The Rams are in serious trouble after losing at home to a George Mason (178) team that entered the game sitting at 2-8 in the league with four straight losses. VCU now has as many Quad 4 losses as they do Quad 1 wins; they beat LSU (27) at home on Nov. 13th. They are now just 3-5 overall against the top two Quads. They are in a bad, bad spot, but the good news is that their next three games are all Quad 1 games — that includes a home date with Dayton (5). They have some chances to get back onto the right side of the bubble, but it’s going to take some serious work.
ALABAMA (NET: 40, NBC: Next four out): The Tide lost for the fourth time in the last five games on Wednesday, falling at Auburn (15) in an overtime game they had a real chance of winning. Alabama is now 13-11 on the season with just a single Quad 1 win and a Quad 3 loss to Penn (152). With a 4-10 mark against the top two Quads and just a single Quad 1 win — Auburn at home — Alabama is in trouble.
XAVIER (NET: 42, NBC: 10): The Musketeers had their three-game winning streak snapped at Butler (13), which is hardly the worst loss in the world. After this loss, they are 7-9 against the top two quads with the two Quad 1 wins I mentioned above. They also have just one sub-Quad 1 loss, and it’s a Quad 2 loss at Wake Forest (104). They suddenly have the resume of a team that might have some room to spare. With two games left against Butler (13) and a visit from Villanova (21) left on their schedule, the Musketeers still have a couple of more chances, too.
PROVIDENCE (NET: 56, NBC: Off the bubble): The Friars have lost their last two games, dropping them to 13-12 with four losses outside the top two Quads. They had a chance after they beat Butler (13) and Creighton (24) in back-to-back games, but the dream is dead now. This is the last time they’ll be in this space.
Obi Toppin scores 24 on bad ankle and No. 13 Dayton beats VCU, 79-65 in OT
DAYTON, Ohio — An injury wasn’t going to stop Obi Toppin from closing out an impressive victory Tuesday night.
As the final minute ticked down, Jalen Crutcher dribbled toward the basket and saw Toppin getting set for one more alley-oop, bad ankle and all.
Pass. Catch. Dunk. The 13th-ranked Flyers did it one more time while finishing off a rival that’s gotten the best of them lately.
Toppin scored 24 points on a tender ankle and led a 22-point run in the second half as Dayton beat VCU 79-65 on Tuesday night, ending the Flyers’ streak of four straight losses to the Rams.
The forward who started the game in pain put his fingerprints on the biggest moments.
“He’s a competitor, man,” said Trey Landers, who had 16 points. “I appreciate him so much for that. He showed up big time.”
The Flyers (15-2, 4-0 Atlantic 10) got the better of a foul-filled match-up between the league’s top-scoring team and its peskiest defense, remaining unbeaten at home. Toppin had three dunks and a 3-pointer during the second-half run that broke it open.
VCU (12-5, 2-2) had won the last four against Dayton, all by five points or less, but faded after a back-and-forth opening half that included three technical fouls. De’Riante Jenkins and Nah’Shon Hyland led VCU with 16 points apiece.
Crutcher added 20 points for Dayton, which shot 50% from the field.
The Rams couldn’t contain Toppin, who sprained his left ankle early in the second half of an 88-60 win over UMass on Saturday and didn’t return.
Toppin moved cautiously in the opening minutes — his only shot came from behind the arc and was well off. He asserted himself out of the first media timeout, getting his first rebound and his first points on a bank shot.
“I had to go into the game not thinking about it,” said Toppin, who played 33 minutes and also had nine rebounds. “At first it was bothering me, but I got into the flow of the game and the Adrenalin kicked in.”
Toppin couldn’t get high enough for a dunk late in the first half, a reminder he was not full-strength. But he had a bank shot and two free throws as Dayton closed the half with an eight-point run for a 38-33 lead.
Toppin had three dunks and a 3, and Landers made a pair of 3s and a dunk as Dayton broke open a tied game and built the lead to 63-41. The Flyers were ahead by double digits the rest of the way.
The game quickly got chippy, with three technical fouls called in the first half.
VCU’s Marcus Evans was called for a foul as he and Chatman went to the floor while wrestling for the ball. As players gathered, VCU’s Issac Vann and Dayton’s Jordy Tshimanga exchanged words and got technicals. Less than a minute later, Jenkins also got a technical.
Evans got a technical in the second half as Dayton pulled away.
“Early in the game, you could tell there was a lot of emotion on both sides,” Dayton coach Anthony Grant said. “The guys had a tough time finding a rhythm.”
VCU: The Rams were the league’s preseason favorite and won their first six games but have been inconsistent, especially on offense. They had a chance to regain some of their luster by knocking off the Flyers. They led by five points in the first half but couldn’t pull it off.
Dayton: The Flyers moved up to No. 13 this week, matching their highest ranking of the season. The last time they were higher in the poll was December 1967, when they were No. 6. The convincing win over VCU left them in position for another move up.
VCU leads the series 11-6 and is 3-5 all-time at University of Dayton Arena. The Flyers’ last win in the series was 106-79 on Jan. 12, 2018 at UD arena.
VCU is 1-2 against ranked teams. The Rams beat No. 23 LSU 84-82 and lost to No. 17 Tennessee 72-69.
VCU came in leading the league in steals (9.6 per game) and forcing turnovers (18.6). The Flyers won despite a season-high 20 turnovers that set up 31 of the Rams’ points.
VCU hosts St. Bonaventure on Saturday.
Dayton plays at St. Louis on Friday.
Monday’s Overreactions: St. John’s, McKinley Wright and why Kentucky and Arizona are overrated
It’s probably not a coincidence that, in the first game that the Buffaloes played where they legitimately looked like a team that could contend for the Pac-12 title, McKinley Wright was the best player on the floor.
In what will likely go down as the biggest game of Colorado’s non-conference slate, Wright finished with 29 points and 10 boards to lead the Buffaloes past No. 13 Dayton in overtime. Colorado desperately needed that win, too. Entering Saturday, the best win that the Buffaloes had this season came in the season-opener, when they picked off Arizona State. The Sun Devils are only marginally better, according to KenPom’s metrics, than Clemson.
That’s unless you want me to be impressed with wins over the likes of UC Irvine or Colorado State.
And while the Pac-12 is improved this season, there are still four teams that rank outside the top 100 on KenPom in the league and just two teams currently in the top 40. As weird as it sounds, beating Dayton gave Colorado their marquee non-conference win.
TEAM OF THE WEEK: St. John’s Red Storm
I don’t know how many coaches are the country have had a better start to the season than Mike Anderson.
He entered St. John’s without a shred of expectation this season, and while I was more bullish than the field on Anderson long term, I didn’t expect this: On Saturday, the Johnnies flew across the country to play a neutral site event against Arizona in San Francisco to honor Chris Mullin, the head coach they fired in April.
And they won despite the fact that their best player, Mustapha Heron, was injured.
It will go down as the second top 25 win of the season for the Johnnies, who also picked off West Virginia this month.
We’ve seen this St. John’s program land big wins before disappearing in recent years – anyone else remember when they won at Villanova and then beat Duke in back-to-back games after starting Big East play 0-11? – so I’m not going to overreact to this just yet, but rest assured, the Johnnies are now on everyone’s radar.
1. IT’S OK IF YOU STILL THINK KANSAS IS THE BEST TEAM IN THE COUNTRY
On Saturday, Kansas went on the road in their last game before the Christmas break, played in front of 20,000 Villanova fans and lost, 56-55, to a program that has won two of the last four national titles because Devon Dotson missed this shot:
If you believed heading into this game that Kansas was the best team in college basketball, than you are more than justified in keeping the Jayhawks at No. 1 today. If your opinion of a team boils down to what happens on the final possession of a one point game, than you probably shouldn’t be allowed to rank teams.
That’s not to say that it shouldn’t impact the way that NCAA tournament bracket projections work.
Wins and losses should matter there. There should be some tangible impact on whether or not that last second shot goes in. It should lower Kansas a bit in the No. 1 overall seed pecking order.
But if it has an impact on the way you view Kansas in the longterm, or whether or not you buy into them as the best team in the country, you’re doing this wrong.
2. KENTUCKY IS NOT FIXABLE
Kentucky more or less invented the superteam era in college basketball, so it would be awfully ironic if the team that has thrived in the one-and-done era as much as any program in the country had their season saved by a grad transfer fro Bucknell.
And that may end up being the case this season.
Nate Sestina came back from injury on Saturday and scored a team-high 17 points while hitting five threes. That’s important for a couple reasons. For starters, the Wildcats have been just atrocious shooting the three this season. They entered Saturday making just 27.5 percent of their shots from beyond the arc, and if you take Sestina’s shooting on Saturday out of the equation, the rest of the roster was just 2-for-15 from deep against Ohio State.
Getting someone on the floor that will punish defenses for selling out on drives is pretty important. Sestina does that.
But just as important is that Sestina provides some scoring pop at the four. E.J. Montgomery and Nick Richards have had some good moments this season, but most of those moments have come against the bad teams that the Wildcats have faced. Combined, those two are averaging 10.5 points and 8.0 boards against the four high-major opponents Kentucky has faced. Keion Brooks has had some flashes of potential, but that’s about it. Kahlil Whitney has looked less like a lottery pick and more like a guy destined to be in Lexington until he transfers because he’s sick of being recruited over.
Sestina has his limitations physically, but he plays hard, he provides some leadership and he does the thing none of those guys have been able to do: Provide some scoring pop.
And with him back in the fold, it does feel like Kentucky is getting closer to figuring this thing out. Tyrese Maxey’s making shots again. Ashton Hagans has really been the one guy that has consistently performed for the first seven weeks of the season. The execution wasn’t there against Ohio State – that has as much to do with Ohio State and Chris Holtmann as it does Kentucky and John Calipari – but the effort was there. The fight was there.
I don’t think Kentucky is ever going to look like a top ten team, and I doubt Cal is ever going to feel comfortable about what’s going on at the five, but the good news is that given the landscape of college basketball this season, you don’t have to be great. You just have to give yourself a chance.
3. ARIZONA AND DAYTON HAVE THE MOST OVERRATED RESUMES IN THE COUNTRY
Dayton is objectively good this year. They’ve blown out Virginia Tech, they’ve blown out Georgia and they have a convincing win over Saint Mary’s on a neutral court. That’s before you consider how well the Flyers can shoot and the fact that they are built around a future lottery pick in Obi Toppin. They’re legit.
Their biggest issue is that they lost to Kansas and Colorado in overtime. Those might end up being the two best teams that they play this season, and while those losses shouldn’t affect how you view the Flyers, they assuredly will affect how they are seeded come Selection Sunday. Results matter on a resume, and right now, Dayton’s resume does not match where they (deservedly) are being ranked.
The same can be said about Arizona, but I have much less conviction about this team actually being good. Arizona has now lost three of their last four games. The losses are by a total of 12 points, but in each one of those games, Arizona rallied late to make the final score respectable. They were down double-figures in the second half of all three.
And as it stands today, their best wins are Illinois at home, New Mexico State at home and Wake Forest on a neutral. That’s not exactly worthy of a No. 1 seed.
4. SAN DIEGO STATE IS 2014 WICHITA STATE
At this point, it is undeniable that San Diego State is a good basketball team. I’m not sure why any one would argue against one of the three remaining unbeatens being good, but if you are, you’re wrong. The Aztecs are 12-0 with wins over Creighton, Iowa, at BYU and by 28 against a Utah team that, just three days earlier, beat Kentucky. They’re good. I promise.
The question, however, is just how good they actually are, and that’s somewhat up for debate. I think that Iowa and Creighton will end up being tournament teams, but there’s no guarantee that will happen. I think BYU is good, but generally speaking, WCC teams with four losses in non-conference play aren’t making runs for at-large bids. Could all three end up being NIT teams? That’s certainly in the range of outcomes.
Which leads me to my next point: There really aren’t any great wins available in the Mountain West this year, not if Utah State’s actually the 48th-best team in the country, as KenPom says they are. The only other top 100 teams in the league are New Mexico (who just lost a pair of starters) and Nevada (who may or may not have last season’s success baked into their rankings right now). Is it crazy to think that the Aztecs, like the 2014 Shockers, can climb to the very top of the polls as the nation’s last remaining unbeaten even if their body work doesn’t necessarily justify it?
5. THE STATE OF COLLEGE HOOPS IS PROVEN BY THE IRRELEVANCE OF UNC-UCLA
We spoke about this on the podcast in each of the last two weeks, so I’ll be brief here.
I never would have thought that a Saturday afternoon tip off between UNC and UCLA would be a complete afterthought nationally for college hoops, but that is precisely what it was this Saturday. This epitomizes a point that I’ve made repeatedly – and one that was backed up by both Jay Wright and Bill Self on Saturday: College basketball is down this year. The talent level is down, the quality of the teams is down and, as a result, the level of play is down.
In total, these two teams lost six players to early entry. That’s part of the problem. Cole Anthony being injured is another part of the program. UCLA going through a coaching change certainly doesn’t help.
But the simple fact of the matter is that two of college basketball’s bluebloods were playing on Saturday, and it was overshadowed by Utah State-Florida and Butler-Purdue, which tipped at the same time.
Best Bets: Previewing this weekend’s college basketball action
Vegas lines will not be released until after this posts. We will be using KenPom’s projections until then.
No. 5 OHIO STATE at No. 6 KENTUCKY, Sat. 5:15 p.m. (CBS)
KENPOM: Ohio State 68, Kentucky 63
This is a weird spot.
On the one hand, Kentucky has not looked good this season. They are currently 15th in KenPom, but there is still some of the preseason ranking baked into KenPom’s algorithm. On the NET – which is a similar metric that strictly analyzes performance this season – Kentucky is sitting at 77th. They have struggled, maybe more than you may realize.
At the same time, Ohio State has looked dominant at times. They steamrolled North Carolina, Villanova and Penn State, they rank in the top five in basically every metric or poll worth paying attention to and they look the part. It sounds like Duane Washington is going to give it a go tomorrow as well, which means the Buckeyes will have their best shooter and second-best scorer available.
Throw in the fact that Kentucky is coming off of a loss to Utah, and all signs point towards the Buckeyes.
But we’ve also seen this script before. I’ve seen this play out. Kentucky struggles and struggles and struggles and then, BAM, out of nowhere it suddenly clicks and they are a top ten team once again. Last year, they lost to Seton Hall in overtime and then turned around and whipped both North Carolina and Louisville, the latter of which came on the road.
BEST BET: I lean Ohio State here, especially if the line opens around (-3), but I also know that the reason Kentucky struggled against Utah is that it was the most obvious lookahead spot in the history of college basketball. If Washington doesn’t play, I think under 131 is probably the best bet here, but I don’t feel great about any of it.
First things first: If I am getting a point with Villanova playing at home, I am probably going to be betting on Villanova in this spot. Jay Wright teams always seem to play well against Kansas because the Jayhawks like to play bigs and the Wildcats like to space the floor with shooters.
But beyond that, I am very intrigued by this matchup because this is the game that is going to tell us if Udoka Azubuike can handle playing the five in the modern game.
When the Jayhawks played Dayton in the Maui Invitational title game, Azubuike is the guy that won the game for them down the stretch. He took over offensively because he is just so dominant as a low-post scorer, but where he really took strides was on the defensive end of the floor. He was able to move his feet and defend Obi Toppin and Ryan Mikesell just enough on the perimeter that he ended up being a net-positive.
He is going to have to do much of the same against a Villanova team that plays a similar style to Dayton.
BEST BET: I really want to see the line here first, but assuming that it is Villanova (+1), I’ll probably take their money line.
PURDUE at No. 17 BUTLER, Sat. 2:30 p.m. (BTN)
KENPOM: Purdue 59, Butler 58
Purdue’s profile is over-inflated right now. They are a top ten team on KenPom, and I just can’t buy into that. Butler might be a bit overrated by the metrics as well, but they’ve done more to prove themselves this season than anyone of the other teams playing at the Crossroads Classic on Saturday.
BEST BET: If you see a line where Butler is getting points, jump on it. I like the Bulldogs up to about (-3.5)
VCU at WICHITA STATE, 12:00 p.m. (ESPN2)
KENPOM: Wichita State 70, VCU 66
This game is a tough one to peg. I think a lot of it depends on who you believe is going to control the tempo.
VCU pressures the ball, they force a lot of turnovers and they do a lot of their damage in transition off of those turnovers. Wichita State, on the other hand, is top 15 nationally in offensive turnover rate and should be able to get to the offensive glass against the Rams. On the other side of the ball, I think the Rams are gong to have some trouble playing against Gregg Marshall’s defense, especially if this game gets turned into a halfcourt battle.
BEST BET: At 136, I think that I lean towards the under, but for my money, the best bet here would be Wichita State (-4).
UTAH STATE vs. FLORIDA, Sat. 2:30 p.m. (FS1)
KENPOM: Florida 68, Utah State 65
The question we need to ask here is whether or not we believe that the win against Providence was a result of Florida figuring some things out or because Providence is just a dumpster fire right now.
Because if we think that Florida is figuring some things out – if they are more willing to run, and they are making threes, and they are scoring like a team with that much talent should score – than I think the easy play here is the over.
BEST BET: The Aggies have some guys that can fill it up. They’ve been more willing to run this season than Florida has. They’re not great defensively. To me, the over makes the most sense.
No. 13 DAYTON vs. COLORADO, Sat. 6:30 p.m. (CBSSN)
KENPOM: Dayton 73, Colorado 69
This is Dayton’s last chance to land a big, non-conference win, and it will come against a Colorado team that has been a bit of a disappointment this season. The Flyers can play five out, have shooting all over floor and a guy by the name of Obi Toppin. Colorado has a couple of land warriors in the paint and do not have Obi Toppin.
BEST BET: Dayton (-4)
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?