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Top 6 Games to Watch this Weekend

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6. Tennessee at #7 North Carolina – Sunday, 5pm ET (ESPN) – UNC is coming off a scare at home against Davidson and welcome in a high-scoring Tennessee team. The Vols have 7 players who score 8.9 points per game or better led by senior guard Robert Hubbs. The Heels will hope to get their star Joel Berry back after he missed the Davidson game with an ankle injury. Prediction – UNC by 15

5. Utah at #13 Xavier – Saturday, 5:30pm (FOX) – An interesting Pac 12/Big East matchup as the Musketeers look to end a two game losing streak (Baylor and Colorado, both true road games). This will be Utah’s 2nd test of the season, the first was a loss to another Big East foe in Butler. Xavier is very guard strong and Utah is front court strong, giving this one a huge mix in tempo. Prediction – Xavier comes out hot and takes a big halftime lead, then barely holds on to get the win.

4. Michigan at #2 UCLA – Saturday, 8pm (ESPN2) – If you haven’t seen UCLA play yet, you are severely missing out and here is yet another chance for you to do so. The Bruins have an unprecedented six players scoring in double-figures to this point and are still scoring 97 points per game. Of those six players, five are shooting 41 percent or better from behind the arc and Lonzo Ball continues to put on dunk shows night after night. With all that being said Michigan isn’t a bad basketball team and can score themselves, but they are running into a buzzsaw. Prediction – UCLA scores in the 90s and wins by 12-17.

3. #17 Wisconsin at Marquette – Saturday, 2pm (FS1) – The two best basketball schools in the state of Wisconsin meet for the 123rd time. Last year Marquette went into Madison and stole a 57-55 win as they held Wisconsin to just 36 percent shooting from the floor. Wisconsin looks for revenge against a Marquette team that has only lost 2 neutral site games at the 2K Classic to Pitt and Michigan. The Golden Eagles are a tough matchup for the Badgers and they have the size to cover Happ and length to cover Hayes. Prediction – Marquette in a squeaker.

2. #22 Cincinnati at #16 Butler – Saturday, 4:30pm (Fs1) – Old Big East travels to new Big East in one of two inter-ranked games of the weekend. Both teams had interesting weeks as Cincinnati stunned Iowa State in Ames and Butler lost at Indiana State (on Larry Bird’s birthday). The frontcourt battle of Cincinnati’s Kyle Washington and Gary Clark against Butler’s Andrew Chrabascz and Kelan Martin should be a great one, amazingly with not a single one of those four being taller than 6’9″. Prediction – Butler bounces back at home in a big fashion and wins by less than 10 over a very good opponent.

1. #1 Villanova vs. #23 Notre Dame (game held in Newark, NJ) – Saturday, noon (CBS) – CBS’s appetizer for the Army/Navy game is a good one. Many people are saying that UCLA is the number one team in the country and that Nova hasn’t been tested too much, which is a fair argument with the exception of a win at Purdue in the first week of the season. Well here is a big chance for the Wildcats to get a good win on a neutral court. Both teams are 9-0 and the Irish have a really solid squad led by double-double machine Bonzie Colson; he has one of those in six straight games. Josh Hart to me is the best all-around guard in the country. He can score, leads his team in rebounds and assists and is a great defender. The reason this is such a big test for Nova is because they are still a small team. Who is going to body up Colson, who at only 6’5″ plays like he is 6’10”? The game being in Newark favors Nova immensely as their fans will travel the 94 miles north to see an old Big East matchup. This one feels like it should be at Madison Square Garden, but we’ll settle for getting it at all. Prediction – Notre Dame with the upset win near the buzzer.

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8 Things We Learned from the ACC/Big Ten Challenge

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8. Rutgers still has a long way to go. Tthis is the best Rutgers team in years, but everyone who tuned in Wednesday night and saw Rutgers was 6-0 thought that this was the year of the Scarlet Knight, realized that they aren’t quite there yet as they lost to a very inexperienced Miami team.

7. Iowa’s defense is the 23rd worst in the country out of 347 teams. The Hawkeyes allowed over 90 points for the third time in five games as Notre Dame beat them 92-78. Notre Dame had only scored 92 once in their first seven games and that was against Seattle. Iowa is really missing their bigs from a year ago and Jarrod Uthoff. Last season they only allowed 69 points per game, this season they are up over 83 per game.

6. Buzz Williams is turning Virginia Tech into an NCAA Tournament team. A huge win for the Hokies over Michigan in Ann Arbor has them at 6-1. They are a balanced team with four players scoring in double-figures and they are shooting lights out from behind the arc. Michigan is a good team and VT was able to comeback from a 9-point halftime deficit on the road to win.

5. Virginia can score quickly when they need to and come from behind better than before. Tony Bennett’s teams have usually gone the “We take an early lead and stymie you on defense” approach. Well Ohio State jumped out to a big 14-point lead in the first half and lead virtually the entire game. Virginia chipped away and took their first lead with just over two minutes left. They shot terribly in the first half and finished the game at an awful 38 percent but still won. Their defense played the second half with the “stymie” mentality.

4. Louisville has seven  players who can beat you. Pretty impressive for a team that lost two of their best players to come back the next season seven deep. Any one of their starters and their first two off the bench (Spalding and Mahmoud) can score on you in any number of ways. Oh and their defense is pretty good too, forcing Purdue into 17 turnovers and holding them to 36 percent from the floor.

3. Wisconsin’s defense is back to being unreal. Heading into Tuesday night’s matchup against Syracuse, the Orange were scoring 79 points per game, while shooting over 50 percent from the floor. Wisconsin held them to 60 points on just 38 percent shooting and out-rebounded them 40-25. Wisconsin’s two losses came to UNC and Creighton, two great teams, and the Badgers are one of the few schools to not allow an opponent to score 80 on them this season.

2. Indiana is the Best team in the Big Ten and a top five team in the country. Yes they lost to IPFW, which is a big deal, but they now beaten Kansas and North Carolina. The Hoosiers are for real, and needed that awful IPFW loss to wake them up. Tom Crean’s squad needed Wednesday night’s win over UNC more than any other team did during this year’s ACC/Big Ten Challenge.

1. Duke, when healthy, is the best team in the country. Duke played just six players, with Grayson Allen and Matt Jones both playing all 40 minutes, in their 9-point win over Michigan State. They have three of the top 15 freshman out with injury, if even one of them was playing currently, they probably would have beaten Kansas (lost 77-75) and would be number one in the country. Can you imagine IF all three of them were playing, look out.

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Michigan Runs Away From SMU, Earn’s 2K Classic Title

Michigan Hoist's the 2K Classic Trophy - Photo by Scott Zolotorow

Michigan Hoist’s the 2K Classic Trophy – Photo by Scott Zolotorow

Michigan dominated SMU in the 2K Classic championship game, winning 76-54. Michigan’s win is the Big Ten’s first ever 2K Classic championship in the tournament’s storied 22 year existence. Continue Reading

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Pitt Squeaks by Marquette

Michael Young Speaks to the media  - Photo by Scott Zolotorow

Michael Young Speaks to the media – Photo by Scott Zolotorow

Pittsburgh survived a nail-bitter in the 2K Classic consolation game Thursday afternoon, defeating Marquette 78-75. Senior Michael Young scored a career-high 30 points for the Panthers. He single-handedly brought Pittsburgh back in the game when they trailed 59-49 in the second half, going on a 10-0 run of his own.

Young also grabbed seven rebounds and swatted away four shots, none more important than a last minute layup attempt by Marquette’s Andrew Rowsey with Pitt up 1 in the final minute.

After a pair of Jamel Artis free throws put Pitt up three with five seconds left, Rowsey missed a buzzer-beating three that would have sent the game into overtime. Rowsey was the star for Marquette off the bench, scoring a team-high 20 on 5-12 shooting.

Jamel Artis added 21 points for the Panthers as for the second straight night the combination of Artis and Young contributed to over 2/3 of Pitt’s points.

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No One’s Talking About Michigan And They Don’t Care

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No one is talking about Michigan.

Well, that’s not true, people are talking about how Michigan put Donald Trump in the White House and Michigan Wolverine football, but no one is talking about the University of Michigan basketball team.

That should change shortly because they’re pretty good.

It’s somewhat understandable that John Beilein’s team has flown under the radar in the preseason and very early season because of the strength of this year’s Big Ten, with the likes of Wisconsin, Purdue, Indiana, Michigan State and even Maryland looking extremely formidable. But if last night’s performance versus a solid Marquette team is any indication, the Wolverine basketball team will surely be in the Big Ten and national mix.

Michigan dispatched of the Golden Eagles rather easily, 79-61, in a 2K Championship semifinal at Madison Square Garden. Senior guard Zak Irvin led the Wolverines with 16 points, 7 rebounds and 5 assists. Michigan will face SMU, who beat Pittsburgh last night, in tonight’s Final.

For the record, neither the players, nor Beilein are as intrigued by Michigan’s apparent lack of hype as yours truly.

“Everyday we come out with a chip on our shoulder, whether it’s practice or a game,” Irvin said. “We really don’t try to pay attention to what the media or what any other teams think about us. We know if we get better and better each day, we’ll just let our game do the talking.”

Beilein didn’t want to get into who was rating them where either, “but, I don’t care,” he said.

“I don’t care when we had predictions that we were supposed to be really, really good or whether we were off the radar. I just love coaching this team and we’re just gonna keep getting better every day and get to March and see if we’re playing.”

Chances are, come March, they’ll be on everyone’s radar, particularly the NCAA Tournament Selection Committee’s.

Follow Jamal Murphy on Twitter: @Blacketologist

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SMU Makes Easy Work of Pitt in 2K Classic Opener

Semi Ojeleye at the postgame press conference - photo by Scott Zolotorow

Semi Ojeleye at the postgame press conference – photo by Scott Zolotorow

SMU was able to control the second half over Pitt on their way to a 76-67 win in the 2K Classic Opener. Duke transfer Semi Ojeleye was virtually unstoppable for the Mustangs, scoring 24 points for the second time in three games this season and sinking a career-high nine field goals, two from deep.

Coach Tim Jankovich said about Ojeleye, “Semi is one of the most outstanding player you can ever be around in your entire life and on top of that he is arguably the hardest worker away from practice time. I’ve been around a lot of hardworking guys, but you set your clock around this guy.”

SMU withstood a quick Pitt start, in which Panthers guard Cameron Johnson knocked down three quick triples. The Mustangs took the reigns during the middle of the first half, using a 16-0 run to take their largest lead of the game with six minutes left in the half.

But Pitt answered that with a 13-0 run of their own to end the half, leading 33-31 at the break. It seemed like we’d have a good game in one of the nation’s best early season tournaments.

But SMU used another big run early in the second half, this time 11-2, and really never looked back. Shake Milton did a great job picking apart Pitt’s defense, most of the time finding an open Ojeleye. Milton had a game-high five assists and pitched in 14 points, the second most for the Mustangs. Ben Moore also threw down a few exciting dunks and scored 12.

SMU out-rebounded Pitt 37-30 and through their first three games are +41 on the boards. They pulled down 14 offensive rebounds. Pitt coach Kevin Stallings said, “Their ability to offensive rebound and get second chance opportunity was the real key to the game.”

Pitt’s Michael Young and Jamel Artis scored 22 and 20 respectively, but the rest of the Panthers squad only mustarded up 25 points.

 

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2K Classic Benefiting the Wounded Warriors Project Tournament Preview

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Tonight tips off one of the longest running annual preseason tournaments, the 22nd installment of the 2K Classic Benefiting the Wounded Warrior Project. Once again it features four marquee teams from four major conferences, both games can be seen on ESPN2.

7pm – Pittsburgh vs. SMU: Pittsburgh comes off an NCAA Tournament appearance as a 10 seed that lost in the first round to Wisconsin. And you remember that SMU was banned from all postseason activity last season and lost Larry Brown as their head coach in the offseason. New coach Tim Jankovich looks for his first big win as the Mustangs full-time head coach. The best matchup to watch in this game is Pitt’s Jamel Artis against SMU’s Semi Ojeleye. Both are 6’7″ and are aggressive in the paint, but can knock down mid-range jump shots. Ojeleye, the Duke transfer, scored 26 and grabbed 14 rebounds in the Mustangs season opening win over Gardner-Webb. But his matchup will be much tougher tonight against Artis. Also watch for Pitt’s Michael Young, he is an NBA talent who will probably lead tonight’s scoring. Prediction – Pittsburgh by 5 or fewer.

9:30pm – Marquette vs. Michigan: An exciting midwest matchup brings the incredible offense of Michigan against an emerging threat in the Big East. Marquette already dominated Vanderbilt in their season-opener with a 24 point win. Michigan has three premiere scorers in Walton, Irvin, and Abdur-Rahkman, Walton so far is 7-14 from behind the arc. But Marquette coach Steve Wojciechowski and his squad are a tough team defensively led by Luke Fischer in the paint and Jajuan Johnson in the backcourt. Johnson is averaging 3.5 steals per game and has also really stepped up on offense for Marquette, leading the team with 17.5 points per game. Although both teams are unranked for the moment, this feels like a possible 8-9 matchup in the big dance. Prediction – Marquette by 1 or 2, possibly in overtime.

Tournament Champion Prediction: Marquette knocks off Pitt. This is going to be a big year for Marquette as they reassert themselves in the top department of the Big East.

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Last Night is Why We Love College Hoops

 

First Maryland beat Georgetown on the road with this block by freshman Kevin Huerter:

Then Frank Mason sunk Duke with this jumper:

It’s just week 1!!

College Hoops are dope. Also shoutout to Monmouth for making that a heck of a game against South Carolina.

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Jay Bilas Calls Nigel Hayes “one of the brightest minds in sports,” Supports Anthem Protest

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Prior to the State Farm Champions Classic tonight at Madison Square Garden, ESPN college basketball analyst, Jay Bilas, commented on Wisconsin senior forward Nigel Hayes’s recent protest of the national anthem. Bilas was supportive.

“We expect on college campuses that our thoughtful students are going to use their voices in the market place of ideas,” Bilas said. “I think Nigel Hayes is one of the brightest minds in sports, let alone college sports, and he’s got a voice that deserves to be heard.”

Bilas went on to speak generally about athlete protests.

“Sometimes people forget that the flag was born out of violent revolution. These are nonviolent demonstrations in order to get people talking and to get people to meet these issues head-on.”

He continued.

“Protest and demonstration isn’t supposed to make you comfortable, it’s supposed to make you uncomfortable. What if John Carlos and Tommy Smith had decided to say their piece in a press conference? It wouldn’t have been as powerful.”

“They put statues up of them because of the courageous stand that they took. It’s not easy in the present, it was certainly not easy for them, but they’re looked upon now as heroes.”

Bilas concluded with a particularly poignant point, considering the result of the recent Presidential election.

“We’re not moving backwards in this country, the people who are raising these issues are going to be proven right, but the price is paid in the present.”

Follow Jamal Murphy on Twitter: @Blacketologist

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Top 5 Games of Tonight’s Great Slate

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5. Monmouth at South Carolina: 6:30 ET (SECN)-Last year’s darlings Monmouth travel down south to face Sindarius Thornwell and South Carolina. Thornwell is one of the SEC’s most electric players. But Monmouth tries to pull off the upset in a much larger arena then they are generally accustomed to. Senior Justin Robinson looks to step his game up even more this year for an improved Monmouth, plus you get to see their bench, who wouldn’t want to watch. Prediction – South Carolina wins Big.

4. Maryland at Georgetown: 6:30pm ET (FS1) – The second recent installment of an old rivalry. Maryland took last year’s nail biter in College Park and tonight the two teams battle in DC. Melo Trimble looked great in Maryland’s Opener in which they barely squeaked past another DC foe, American. Georgetown stomped South Carolina Upstate by 45 in their opener led by Robert Morris transfer Rodney Pryor’s 32. Bragging rights on the line at the Phone Booth. Prediction – Maryland but it’s close.

3. #9 Wisconsin at #22 Creighton: 8:30pm ET (FS1) – Huge doubleheader night for FS1, which will compete for viewers against the big 2 games below, both on ESPN. Wisconsin, my favorite to win the Big Ten, traveling to re-emerging for the first time since Dougy McBuckets, Creighton will be a very fundamentally sound game. Expect few turnovers, a lot of well run offensive sets and a really enjoyable basketball game as both teams get their first real test in early November. Maurice Watson Jr. for Creighton guarding Bronson Koenig will be a great matchup at the point, as will Marcus Foster v Nigel Hayes at the other guard spot. Prediction – Wisconsin by 5 or fewer.

2. #2 Kentucky vs. #13 Michigan State (Game in Madison Square Garden in NYC): 7pm ET (ESPN)-Ah the State Farm Champions Classic, back for it’s 6th year pinning the same four of college basketball best teams against each other in rotating fashion each year. This game is only slightly less appetizing than the night cap. This one has Izzo vs. Calipari and Miles Bridges vs. Malik Monk (won’t guard each other, but 2 of the top 5 freshman in the country), what more can you ask for. Malik Monk can score in every way, shape, and form and Miles Bridges won the opening night of college basketball, dunking all over Arizona, despite his team actually losing the game. New York City is lucky to have the Classic this year for the first time since 2011. Prediction – Kentucky by 10

1. #1 Duke vs. #7 Kansas – approximately 9:30pm ET (ESPN) – Kansas suffered the heartbreak loss to Indiana in Hawaii on Friday despite Frank Mason playing his best game of his outstanding career. He’ll get the challenge of guarding Grayson Allen in what will be an absolutely physical one-on-one matchup, with several bruises to come for both players I’m sure. Duke is still without 2 of the top 5 freshman in the country in Harry Giles and Jayson Tatum. Kansas has a top 5 freshman of their own in Josh Jackson who wants a redo on his collegiate debut after only scoring 9 on 3-11 shooting against Indiana. This is a real battle of the heavyweights. Prediction Kansas in overtime.