The Big Ten’s Big Week
Over the last seven days the Big Ten has looked like they’re as good as any conference in the nation. They got a chance to prove this thanks to the Gavitt Tipoff Games and the 2K Empire Classic. Just in the last seven days, Wisconsin won at Xavier, Michigan dominated at Villanova, Indiana beat Marquette, Nebraska beat Seton Hall, Iowa beat Oregon and UConn, and Ohio State won at Creighton. There are currently twelve Big Ten teams in the KenPom top 50, the next closest conference is the ACC with nine. The Big Ten is making a very strong case as the best conference in college basketball, all they are missing is one really good team atop the conference. Michigan is currently the highest rated by KenPom with a +21.79 adjusted efficiency margin, which is good for ninth in the nation. The ACC has a clear lead in that department with three of the KenPom top four. This has been a huge week for the conference and they will look to build on it with some Holiday Tournament wins.
Vanderbilt Impresses in Road Win
Vanderbilt’s top-15 recruiting class brought a lot of hype and excitement around the program. Last Sunday they faced their first test of the season and came away with an 82-78 win at USC. It was a tight game all the way and came down to Vanderbilt hitting key free throw after key free throw in the closing minute.
Vanderbilt’s two 5-stars Darius Garland and Simi Shittu both found themselves with four fouls a few minutes into the second half, forcing Vanderbilt to rely on their veteran leaders like Joe Toye. With about 8 minutes to go coach Bryce Drew let them both play and it paid off, Garland finished the game and Shittu made it until fouling out with 14 seconds to go. Darius Garland impressed me in my first time watching him extensively. He put up 19 points and 5 rebounds and has a pure shooting stroke and a great stop-and-start game in the lane. Shittu looked out of place on a college basketball court like a man playing against a bunch of middle school boys. He is 6’8″ and 210 lbs. of solid muscle, he finished with 14 points and 15 rebounds-8 of which were offensive. Vanderbilt’s veteran leader Joe Toye played an excellent game and had 16 points and 9 rebounds and knocked down a pair of big free throws down the stretch. Vanderbilt looked like a team that could give Kentucky, Tennessee, and the other teams atop the SEC some trouble this season.
USC’s Nick Rakocevic was excellent as well. He has been one of the most productive big men in college basketball this season and had 19 points and 18 rebounds to go with 2 blocks and 2 steals. Also worth noting, Bill Walton compared him to a condor, I’m not quite sure where he got that from or what it means but I found it interesting. Jonah Mathews managed to impress even on an off shooting night. He got going late and had a beautiful back cut for a big bucket with about 3 minutes to go. Mathews does everything well and will be a huge part of this team. This USC team still looked good even in a loss and should compete in the Pac 12.
Wisconsin Looks Like Big Ten Contender in Win at Xavier
Going in to the season I thought Wisconsin would be one of the most improved teams in the nation and could contend for the Big Ten title. I think they went a long way towards validating both of those on Tuesday. They beat Xavier 77-68 on the road and created a lot of excitement. It was close throughout the first half but Wisconsin jumped out to a big lead out of the break. They led by almost 20 for most of the second half and survived a late run by Xavier.
Wisconsin’s trio of Ethan Happ, Brad Davison, and D’Mitrik Trice looked like a force to be reckoned with and provided 71 of Wisconsin’s 77 points. Happ had 30 points, 13 rebounds, and 5 assists while shooting 15-23 from the floor. He’s as skilled in the post as any player in the country and will be in the NPOY conversation. Davison had 19 points, 6 rebounds, and 3 assists and also hit a three down the stretch that killed Xavier’s run. Trice finished with 22 points, 5 rebounds, and 5 assists while shooting 7-11 from the floor and 5-5 from three point range. These three did an incredible job of complementing and playing off of each other and D’Mitrik Trice as the pick-and-roll ball handler was deadly. Outside of Happ, Davison, and Trice, senior Khalil Iverson played physical per usual and got several key offensive rebounds down the stretch. Iverson is a valuable role player for this team that plays good defense and rebounds well.
Xavier was just 5-24 from three and suffered from a terrible night from Tyrique Jones. Jones, who is normally a big part of the offense, had just 4 points and 1 rebound and was visibly frustrated. Causing him to commit stupid fouls and find himself in foul trouble during Xavier’s late push. Naji Marshall couldn’t get it going early on but ended up having probably his best college performance yet. Xavier ran several plays for Marshall to get him easy looks in hopes of getting him more involved before half and it worked. Marshall was a huge part of the offense for the rest of the game and finished with 24 points and 13 rebounds. Marshall could be the offensive leader for the Musketeers all season and is a big, powerful athlete that goes to the hoop aggressively. Xavier lost most of their offensive production to graduation and lost head coach Chris Mack to Louisville. They have definitely taken a step back but still are a quality team with some talent and experience.
Indiana Passes First Test with Flying Colors
Like Vanderbilt, there was a lot of hype around Indiana going into this season. Indiana got a chance to prove themselves a little bit and they did in a big way. The Hoosiers dominated #24 Marquette 96-73 and looked very good.
The hype around Indiana was largely tied to hometown hero Romeo Langford, and he lived up to it. Langford played a complete game putting up 22 points, 5 rebounds, 2 assists, 3 steals, and 2 blocks. What was most impressive was his ability to get into the lane and finish through contact. It is worth tuning in to a couple Indiana games just to see him. Guards Aljami Durham and Rob Phinisee both had excellent performances. Durham had 13 points, 5 assists, and 4 rebounds and Phinisee had 12 points and 8 assists. Both get out in transition and play well within the offense. Evan Fitzner was an offensive weapon scoring 16 points in just 18 minutes and going 6-7 from the floor. Juwan Morgan was stronger and more physical than anyone who matched up with him, just like normal, and added 13 points and 8 rebounds. Marquette’s Joey and Sam Hauser both had 18 points even with Indiana playing a good game on the defensive end. They got over the top on screens and limited Marquette’s effectiveness from three point range. Marquette shot just 5-23 from deep.
Indiana showed they are a good team on both ends of the floor and also have a deep bench. Their bench gives them the perfect personnel to not only run Archie Miller’s fast break offense but also the ability to adapt to almost any team. Also keep in mind, this team is without their 2nd best incoming freshman Jerome Hunter after he underwent surgery on a lingering leg injury. They are saying he is out indefinitely but if he returns this season he would be a major addition. The Hoosiers should be among the crowded top of the Big Ten all season.
Ohio State Adds Another Quality Road Win
Ohio State followed up their season opening road win at Cincinnati with another good road win at Creighton. The Buckeyes topped the Bluejays 69-60 in a tough game that showed some resilience from Ohio State. Grad transfer Keyshawn Woods led the way for the Buckeyes with 19 points and 4 assists while C.J. Jackson had an uncharacteristically poor performance. Jackson had just 6 points on 2-9 shooting to go with 5 turnovers. However, he did show up when it mattered and made the two biggest buckets of the game. He was scoreless up until that point. It showed a lot about Jackson as a leader and his mental toughness that he put up 4 assists, 4 rebounds, and a steal and a block to help the team despite his poor shooting night. Freshman Duane Washington Jr. also showed some guts and stepped up and hit a huge three late in the game. Not many freshmen in the nation would have even attempted that shot, let alone knocked it down.
This is a well-coached team that can win tough games. They have experience, they rebound as a team, they play good defense, and they can shoot the three well as a team. The Buckeyes are not an easy win for anyone and will be a very tough out if they make the tournament next March.
UConn Knocks Off #15 Syracuse
After coaching Rhode Island to the success they had last year it was only a matter of time before a bigger program scooped up Bobby Hurley. UConn did and it looks like they made an excellent choice. They did lose their follow up game to a very good Iowa team but beat #15 Syracuse 83-76.
The Huskies did an incredible job handling Syracuse’s zone. They got out in transition in an attempt to not give Syracuse a chance to get set up in it. When they did get set up, UConn moved the ball very well and found openings. Their ability as a team to attack the rim gave them a lot of good drive and kick looks. UConn got hot from three and eventually just shot over it, they ended the night shooting 57% from beyond the arc. Guards Jalen Adams and Alterique Gilbert led the way for the Huskies with 16 points apiece, Adams added 8 rebounds and 4 assists and Gilbert added 6 rebounds and 8 assists. Bobby Hurley is extremely lucky to step in and already have two guards this good. This is a big win and I’m looking forward to seeing this team develop under Hurley all season.
Syracuse then lost their consolation game to Oregon 80-65. I wouldn’t panic if I were a Syracuse fan but I would be concerned, these are still good teams they lost to. It is early in the season and they are still figuring things out. This team has a lot of talent and a star in Tyus Battle.
Everyone knew Villanova would take a step back after losing Jalen Brunson, Mikal Bridges, Omari Spellman, and Donte DiVincenzo to the NBA Draft, but they appear to have taken a larger step back than expected. Villanova was absolutely dominated 73-46 by Michigan, a team they beat in the National Championship just last April. Michigan lost Moritz Wagner, Duncan Robinson, and Muhammad-Ali Abdur-Rahkman from last year’s team too, so it’s not the same team either. After this 27 point defeat they went on to lose in overtime to Furman 76-68. Just like with Syracuse I wouldn’t panic but would be concerned if I were a Villanova fan. We are just 4 games into the season and Villanova is replacing an incredible amount of last year’s production. Any team that lost that much of their rotation is bound to get some bumps and bruises early on. It is also worth remembering that Villanova does have Jay Wright as their head coach, which certainly bodes well in their favor. I still think this team will be around the top of the Big East at the end of the season.
Cayman Islands Classic
Akron, Boise State, Clemson, Creighton, Georgia, Georgia State, Illinois State, St. Bonaventure
The best possible game by far would be a championship game between Clemson and Creighton. Georgia State and Illinois State would have to pull a couple of slight upsets but that would also be an interesting championship game. Besides these two games, most possible matchups will be at least pretty good basketball games.
Maui Jim Maui Invitational
Arizona, Auburn, Duke, Gonzaga, Illinois, Iowa State, San Diego State, Xavier
This is by far the best of the holiday tournaments. Any possible matchup in the 12 games of the tournament are worth a watch. I don’t think a Duke upset will happen this early in the season but their first round matchup with San Diego State could be a tough game. SDSU shoots the three well and plays good defense and could give Duke some problems. A possible Duke vs Gonzaga championship could be one of the best non-conference games of the entire season.
Bad Boy Mowers Battle 4 Atlantis
Butler, Dayton, Florida, Middle Tennessee, Oklahoma, Stanford, Virginia, Wisconsin
This field is not quite as good as the Maui Invitational but there are still some good games to be played. The favorites winning in the first round would set up a really good second round with four top 35 KenPom teams. A Wisonsin vs Virginia championship would give Wisconsin a chance to prove themselves against a top 5 team.
NIT Season Tip-Off
Kansas, Louisville, Marquette, Tennessee
Four good teams and a chance for a game that could rival Duke vs Gonzaga. Kansas vs Tennessee would be a great game with a ton of experience and a ton of talent. Louisville and Marquette both get a shot at a top 10 team and should give both Kansas and Tennessee a tough matchup.
AdvoCare Invitational .
Canisius, College of Charleston, Florida State, LSU, Memphis, Oklahoma State, UAB, Villanova
Villanova will look to get off their losing streak against Canisius. After that they’ll start playing some quality teams with either Oklahoma State or Memphis in the second round. A second round game between LSU and Florida State would be a very interesting game between two extremely talented teams.
Continental Tires Las Vegas Invitational
Michigan State, North Carolina, Texas, UCLA
Four good teams, any matchup is worth a watch. UNC is definitely the favorite but they will be given two tough games no matter who they play.