Duel in the Desert: Arizona St vs. Arizona Preview

 

Arizona St and Arizona are preparing to play perhaps the biggest regular season game in the history of the rivalry. That’s because the preseason top-5 Wildcats are rolling again while their opponents, the Sun Devils, are the talk of the college basketball world.

Over the past thirty-plus years, Arizona has been one of the marquee brands in college basketball. Arizona St, on the other hand, has had specific years where it’ll surprisingly pop up and make the tournament, but it has never been able to sustain success.

This year’s game is different. Both teams are playing well especially on offense. They both rate in the top-ten in adjusted offensive effiency.

The Sun Devils will be led by probable All-American senior guard Tra Holder, who’s averaging 21.3 points, 5.1 rebounds and 4.8 assists per game. He’s been aptly supported by his backcourt mate senior Shannon Evans II, who’s averaging 17.8 points per game and 4.7 assists.

Those two have been paramount in helping the Sun Devils to shock the nation this season. They not only beat Xavier and Kansas away from home, but they made it look easy. They blew out Xavier by 16 in Las Vegas in late November. Then, earlier this month, beat Kansas by 10 at Phog Allen Fieldhouse – becoming the first nonconference opponent to win at Kansas since San Diego St on Jan. 5, 2014.

Arizona on the other hand, had a dubious start to its season as it lost all three games in the Battle 4 Atlantis tournament in the Bahamas during Thanksgiving week. Since then, the Wildcats seem to have fixed their problems and have their glue guy, sophomore guard Rawle Alkins, back from injury.

Junior guard Allonzo Trier lead the Wildcats in scoring with 21.2 points per game. He’s the one in the 1-2 punch that also features freshman center Deandre Ayton, who’s averaging 19.5 points and 11.4 rebounds per game.

What will be the difference? I believe it will be Ayton. In neither of the Sun Devils’ wins over Kansas or Xavier did they have to match-up with a presence like Ayton. Freshman forward Romello White and junior forward De’Quon Lake provide a solid presence in the frontcourt, but the physical Ayton, the future lottery pick, is a totally different animal.

Add that with Arizona at home, neither team being great defensively, and it being New Year’s Eve and I have the Wildcats in a 92-88 win over the Sun Devils.

 

 

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What will the committee do with UCF?

 

bj taylor mercer

(Jason Beede – 247Sports)

 

This was the most anticipated regular season in UCF basketball history. After making it to the NIT final four, many predicted the Knights may challenge for the school’s first at-large bid ever. However, the injury bug hit the Knights and derailed their plans a bit.

First there was the injury to junior guard Aubrey Dawkins in the preseason and then in the first game of the season; the team’s best returning player, junior guard B.J. Taylor, went down with a foot injury. Taylor is expected to return soon, but the question now is how will the NCAA selection committee evaluate the Knights?

UCF is currently 9-4 after last night’s 56-51 loss at SMU. It was the fifth RPI top-50 opponent UCF has faced without Taylor. They’re 1-4 in those games with the lone win coming at Alabama. They are projected to have a top-65 non-conference strength of schedule nationally and they get another shot at SMU, plus round-robins with Temple, Cincinnati, and Wichita St with another game with Houston at home.

Will the committee punish them for not doing better in the non-conference without Taylor or will it judge them for what they are with Taylor? They’re certainly a different team as Taylor presents a significant scoring option for one of the best defensive teams in the country.

As long as the Knights do as well in the American as expected, some interesting decisions will be made by the committee leading up to Selection Sunday.

Other Notes:

Despite losing its head coach, Tyler Lewis, Kethan Savage, Avery Woodson and Andrew Chrabascz off of last year’s Sweet 16 team, Butler finds itself squarely in the discussion for another at-large bid. That’s because it challenged itself with a top-40 schedule and has solid wins over Ohio St and Utah. The Bulldogs are projected to have a top-20 strength of schedule by the time the season’s over. A 9–9 or 10-8 record in the Big East will probably be enough for them to get in.

Some will overreact to San Diego State’s loss at Wyoming last night. I won’t. That’s an in-conference loss to a RPI top-100 team. It’s not a bad loss and, long term, it’s not a damaging loss to their at-large hopes. They’re not in great shape right now, but they shouldn’t be panicking over bracketology at this point either.

Tonight’s Providence-St. John’s game is huge for both teams, but probably moreso for the Red Storm as Chris Mullin tries to make his first NCAA tournament. Right now, they appear to be the better team than the Friars and with road games with Seton Hall and Creighton to follow, losing this one could very well lead to a 0-3 start for St. John’s.

BRACKETOLOGY: Wednesday December 27, 2017

This Bracket is good for games thru 12/25

Last Four In: San Diego St, Georgia, Syracuse, Missouri

Last Four Out: Temple, UCLA, Auburn, Ohio St

Next Four Out: Houston, UCF, Maryland, Providence

EAST

1.Villanova16.Penn/North Carolina A&T Pittsburgh

8.Minnesota9.St. Bonaventure

5.Seton Hall12.Northern Iowa Boise

4.Kentucky13.Buffalo

6.Cincinnati11.Nevada Charlotte

3.Virginia14.UT Arlington

7.Notre Dame10.Alabama Pittsburgh

2.West Virginia15.South Dakota St

SOUTH

1.Duke16.Radford Charlotte

8.Arkansas9.USC

5.Florida St12.Middle Tennessee Wichita

4.Oklahoma13.Towson

6.Baylor11.Missouri/San Diego St Nashville

3.Wichita St14.Stephen F. Austin

7.Creighton10.Texas Dallas

2.Texas A&M15.Wofford

WEST

1.Arizona St16.Bucknell San Diego

8.Florida9.Clemson

5.Miami12.Lipscomb Boise

4.Purdue13.Portland St

6.Tennessee11.St. John’s Nashville

3.North Carolina14.Belmont

7.Michigan10.SMU Dallas

2.TCU15.Oakland

MIDWEST

1.Michigan St16.Rider/Texas Southern Detroit

8.Rhode Island9.Virginia Tech

5.Texas Tech12.New Mexico St San Diego

4.Gonzaga13.UC Santa Barbara

6.Arizona11.Syracuse/Georgia Wichita

3.Kansas14.Wagner

7.Louisville10.Iowa St Detroit

2.Xavier15.Vermont

Hoosier Fans Need to Remain Patient

 

IUArchie0005-1

Indiana head coach Archie Miller

 

Most people nationwide and inside the state of Indiana knew this would be a rough year for the Hoosiers.  Expectations were low coming off last season when they went 18-16 and fired previous coach Tom Crean.

However, after losing to Fort Wayne 92-72, the second home blowout loss to an in-state low-to-mid major, some Indiana fans are out for new coach Archie Miller’s blood. Earlier this season Indiana lost 90-69 to Indiana State.

Yes, the effort was disappointing in both games and it was especially disheartening after the Hoosiers 80-77 upset of Notre Dame on Saturday. Despite that, Hoosier fans have to step back and take a look at the big picture.

No. 1: This is not a roster that anyone in their right mind would think its ready to win consistently. There is just not enough talent on the roster right now after Indiana suffered defections off of a team that struggled to even make the NIT last season.

No. 2: The year is still young. There is still plenty of time for this squad to show growth. It’s way too early to judge. I’d be disappointed if the Hoosiers are still playing this inconsistently in late February, but here in December they still need to get accustomed to Miller’s coaching style and concepts.

No. 3: The calvary is coming. According to 247sports composite team rankings, the Hoosiers have the 19th best class in the country coming next season. The highlight of that class is power forward Jerome Hunter, the 55th best prospect in the country according to that service. The other three prospects in the class are all at-least 4-star talents.

No. 4: Indiana isn’t what it once was. I know that’s a hard pill to swallow for fans who lived through glory years of Bobby Knight. Times change and Indiana is notorious for being a place, for the most part (Kelvin Sampson), that did things the right way. That limits what you can do on the recruiting trail. If you run Archie Miller out of town before he gets started; good luck getting Gregg Marshall.

The Hoosiers have home games against Tennessee Tech (12/21) and Youngstown St (12/29) before their next conference game at Wisconsin (1/2).

Maye Day

 

Luke maye

(Gerry Broome – Associated Press)

The defending national champions are looking good enough to make a deep run in the NCAA tournament after their 78-73 road win over Tennessee on Sunday.  Much of that is due to the emergence of Luke Maye. The junior forward is averaging 19.5 points and 10.3 rebounds per game this season and has filled in aptly for the departed Kennedy Meeks and Isaiah Hicks.

 

Maye burst on the scene during last year’s NCAA tournament when he hit the game-winning jumper to send the Tar Heels to the Final Four over Kentucky. He has been even better than anyone outside of the North Carolina locker room could expect this season.

Inside that locker room, they say they’re not surprised because they saw Maye put in the work.

“Let’s be honest, too, it’s not coaching,” North Carolina head coach Roy Williams said earlier this month according Raleigh News & Observer. “It’s sweat because Luke Maye has been willing to put in the sweat at an amount and level that very few players have done.”

Add him with proven winner Joel Berry at point guard and the Tar Heels have enough veteran talent to sustain success throughout this season.

National Player of the Week: Tyus Battle, Syracuse. Battle wasn’t the most efficient, but he hit big shots when his team needed in a rivalry game on the road. His 29 points helped propel the Orange to the win over Georgetown on Saturday.

Stock Up: Oklahoma. Buoyed by high-octane freshman Trae Young, Oklahoma went on the road (basically) and beat a good Wichita St team. The Sooners are now 8-1 and are putting together a solid NCAA resume.

Stock Down: Andy Kennedy’s job security. Ole Miss has now lost home games to Illinois St and South Dakota St this season while getting blown out on the road by Middle Tennessee. This was a critical year for him and he’s not off to a great start.

Stock Up: Clemson. The Tigers went on the road (basically) and beat Florida for their second win over a marquee opponent this season after winning at Ohio St last month. Brad Brownell was on thin ice going into this season, but he’s having the kind of start he needed.

Stock Down: UCLA. The Bruins are almost out of chances to get a good non-conference win before league play starts. UCLA lost back-to-back games to Michigan and Cincinnati and only have Kentucky left on the 23rd. If the Bruins lose that one, they’ll have a lot of work to do in a down Pac-12.

This Week’s Top 25:

1.       Villanova

2.       Michigan St

3.       Arizona St

4.       Duke

5.       Miami

6.       Kentucky

7.       Texas A&M

8.       Xavier

9.       North Carolina

10.   TCU

11.   Gonzaga

12.   West Virginia

13.   Wichita St

14.   Kansas

15.   Virginia

16.   Purdue

17.   Seton Hall

18.   Texas Tech

19.   Oklahoma

20.   Florida St

21.   Baylor

22.   Tennessee

23.   Arizona

24.   Cincinnati

25.   Notre Dame

BRACKETOLOGY: Monday December 18, 2017

This Bracket is good for games thru 12/17

Last Four In: St. Bonaventure, Ohio St, Auburn, Temple

Last Four Out: Butler, Texas, Boise St, UCF

Next Four Out: Maryland, UNLV, Providence, South Carolina

Quick Note: One-bid leagues were decided by the team with the highest RPI.

EAST

1.Villanova16.Prarie View A&M/Bucknell Pittsburgh

8.Florida9.Minnesota

5.Seton Hall12.Towson Boise

4.Purdue13.UC Davis

6.Cincinnati11.Iowa St Nashville

3.North Carolina14.Cal St Bakersfield

7.Notre Dame10.USC Dallas

2.Texas A&M15.Milwaukee

SOUTH

1.Duke16.Penn Charlotte

8.Arkansas9.Rhode Island

5.Oklahoma12.Auburn/Ohio St Wichita

4.Wichita St13.Wagner

6.Tennessee11.St. John’s Pittsburgh

3.West Virginia14.Buffalo

7.Creighton10.Syracuse Nashville

2.Kentucky15.Belmont

WEST

1.Arizona St16.Iona San Diego

8.Missouri9.Virginia Tech

5.Florida St12.Lipscomb Wichita

4.Kansas13.Southern Utah

6.Baylor11.Northern Iowa Boise

3.Gonzaga14.Stephen F. Austin

7.Michigan10.Clemson Charlotte

2.Miami15.South Dakota St

MIDWEST

1.Michigan St16.Radford/North Carolina A&T Detroit

8.Nevada9.Alabama

5.Texas Tech12.Temple/St Bonaventure San Diego

4.Virginia13.Georgia Southern

6.Arizona11.Middle Tennessee Dallas

3.TCU14.Vermont

7.Louisville10.SMU Detroit

2.Xavier15.UNC Greensboro

 

Wildcat Bounceback

 

Ayton Alabama

Arizona forward Deandre Ayton (13) throws down a dunk on Alabama forward Donta Hall (0) in the first half of their game at McKale Center, Saturday, December 9, 2017, Tucson, Ariz.
Kelly Presnell / Arizona Daily Star

 

By the time we got to the end of the Thanksgiving weekend, the world was asking what was wrong with Arizona. The Wildcats dropped all three games at the Battle 4 Atlantis including a 25-point loss to Purdue.

After four straight wins, including three over tough opponents, those fears have been assuaged a bit.

The Wildcats, frankly, looked like they were wilting under the pressure of the FBI investigation that has cost them their top recruiter. It is an investigation that the program and administration has not really addressed in public. All that anyone will admit is that the school has hired a firm to investigate the charges.

It looked like it may have still been hovering over the Wildcats in their Dec. 2 game at UNLV. They found themselves down 11 at halftime, but stormed back to force overtime. They eventually won 91-88 behind 29 points by junior guard Allonzo Trier and 28 by freshman center Deandre Ayton.

On Tuesday, Arizona met Texas A&M on a neutral court in Phoenix. It was the best team it had faced all year and it had to dig deep for a 67-64 win. The Wildcats were able to get to the free-throw line in the second half – making 20 of 24 while putting forth one of their best defensive efforts to pull out the win.

Saturday, the Wildcats hosted another probable NCAA tournament team in Alabama and Trier and Ayton once again led the charge as they combined for 54 points in the Wildcats 88-82 victory. Buoyed by the return of sophomore guard Rawle Alkins, who was playing his first game of the season after nursing a foot injury, the Wildcats outscored the Crimson Tide 50-42 in the second half to secure the win.

Arizona still has a three non-conference tilts remaining, including a home game versus UConn, before conference play starts with a bang with Arizona St. If the Wildcats are able to win all four of those then they’ll be firmly back in the conversation for national title contenders. That is, if they aren’t put on probation.

 

 

 

The Feasibility of a Multi-Bid Missouri Valley

 

loyola florida

(Ron Irby – Associated Press)

Here we are in the second week of December and we’re going to talk about NCAA tournament scenarios for a mid-major conference. We’re doing it because the Missouri Valley, without the assistance of Wichita St, is having a helluva pre-conference season.

 

Northern Iowa currently sits with a RPI of 20. The Panthers also have the 12th rated strength of schedule (SOS) in the country and a projected non-conference SOS of 6. They made it to the championship game of the Battle 4 Atlantis where they beat SMU and NC State while losing to Villanova. After that, they beat UNLV and UT-Arlington. They’re in really good shape barring a meltdown.

Valparaiso just took it’s first loss last night to Purdue. The Crusaders’ RPI is 52, but their SOS is 183 and their projected non-conference SOS is 247. They have games left at Ball St, Northwestern, Santa Clara and UC Riverside before conference play starts. They’ll probably have to win all those games and finish in at least second to have a chance.

Missouri St’s current RPI is 60. The Bears’ best win by the numbers thus far was over South Dakota St. They’re current SOS is 119 and their projected non-conference SOS is 199. There are really no other opportunities left for the Bears to make any headway before conference play.

Loyola-Chicago. This is the most intriguing one. The Ramblers are coming off a huge win at No. 5 Florida on Wednesday. Their lone loss came at Boise St by 34. Their current RPI is 70 with a SOS of a horrible 270 and a projected non-conference SOS of 263. Those numbers are ugly but they beat Florida and are 4-1 in road/neutral games.

Overall, the league is the 7th in RPI with the 10th best SOS. That’s ahead of the American, Mountain West and Atlantic-10.

I’m not sure any of the teams have an at-large profile outside of Northern Iowa right now. It’s certainly possible that more than one of these clubs will go dancing, but they’re going to have to go on major win streaks during conference play.

This is still an impressive run by a league that has lost it’s two best programs to realignment in the past 5 years.

We Need to Duplicate Xavier/Cincinnati

 

Cincinnati v Xavier

(Michael Hickey -GETTY IMAGES)

 

We don’t have many rivalries in any sport these days with the kind of unfiltered hate that we saw on Saturday when Xavier beat Cincinnati. I’m not talking about from fan bases. Of course Duke fans hate North Carolina fans and vice versa. Same thing with Louisville/Kentucky and Purdue/Indiana.

However it was clear that the teams and coaches hate each other when Cincinnati head coach Mick Cronin went after Xavier guard J.P. Macura in the post-game hand shake line.

The post-game press conferences were even better whe Cronin claimed that Macura told him to “F-off” three times and Xavier head coach Chris Mack claimed that former Bearcat Lance Stephenson called him the “N-word” three times, but he still shook his hand.

Nothing got too serious between the two teams and the altercation paled in comparison to the brawl from 2017. However, it was a not-so-friendly reminder that this type of game can exist in 2017.

Zip’em Up!

National Player of the Week: Trae Young, Oklahoma. Oklahoma seems to get one of these guys every few years. Young isn’t long for college basketball, but he sure is making the most of it. He’s averaging 28.7 points and 8.7 assists per game and he may single-handedly earn the Sooners an NCAA tournament berth.

Stock Up: Arizona St. It appears that Bobby Hurley finally has it rolling in Tempe. The Sun Devils are currently undefeated and have already beaten San Diego St, Kansas St and Xavier this season. The lowest point total for the Sun Devils so far has been 75 as they’ve scored at least 90 in every other game. If they can get through their next three games against St. John’s, Kansas and Vanderbilt with at least a 2-1 record then they’ll be well on their way to an at-large berth.

Stock Down: Georgia Tech. Georgia Tech lost to Grambling. GRAMBLING. At home. This season has gotten off to a pretty crappy start for the Yellow Jackets. From having to suspend players for NCAA violations to this. There’s enough talent here to make the NCAA tournament once they get the full roster together, but Grambling.

Stock Up: Virginia. I don’t know how head coach Tony Bennett is doing it. The Cavaliers are undefeated again and look to be contenders in the ACC. They’re in the reload and not rebuild phase of the program and if Bennett starts landing recruits that may be a notch above what they’re getting now, watch out.

Stock Down: Oregon. The Ducks are not in the reload phase of their program it appears. Oregon lost its 46-game home winning streak when Boise St beat them with a halfcourt buzzer-beater. That lost in-and-of itself would be ok if it weren’t for Oregon looking subpar in the PK80. I thought this team was a bubble team before the season started now Oregon is running out of opportunities to store resume-building wins.

This Week’s Top 25:

1.       Duke

2.       Kansas

3.       Michigan St

 

4.       Villanova

5.       Miami

6.       Texas A&M

7.       Virginia

8.       Gonzaga

9.       Wichita St

10.   Notre Dame

11.   Florida

12.   Minnesota

13.   Kentucky

14.   Xavier

15.   North Carolina

16.   Seton Hall

17.   West Virginia

18.   Arizona St

19.   TCU

20.   Cincinnati

21.   Nevada

22.   Rhode Island

23.   Purdue

24.   Florida St

25.   USC