Recap: January 12

If last night is a sign of things to come, we are going to have a lot of fun on the road to March Madness! We saw 3 top-10 teams go down last night, reassuring the notion that there is no dominant team this season. That always means unpredictability and loads of fun come tourney time! Here is a recap of last night’s action.

#11 West Virginia 74, #1 Kansas 63

holton

This game lived up to its lofty expectations, as Bob Huggins and the West Virginia Mountaineers took sole possession of 1st place in the Big 12 with a convincing 74-63 triumph over #1 Kansas. The Mountaineers were led by G Jaysean Paige (26 pts, 5 stls) and F Devin Williams (17 pts, 12 boards), and as a team, forced 22 turnovers and shot a whopping 47 free throws! Perry Ellis had a great game for Kansas, totaling 21 points and 7 rebounds, but the rest of the team really struggled with West Virginia’s pressure. The Mountaineers can’t celebrate too long, as they visit Norman to take on #2 Oklahoma on Saturday. Kansas returns home for a bounce-back game against TCU on Saturday.

#15 Texas A&M 71, Florida 68

jalen jones

The Aggies are off to an impressive start this season, and last night, they were able to hold off a surging Florida team to escape with a 71-68 win. G/F Jalen Jones was the star of the game for Texas A&M, finishing with 26 points on 8-13 shooting. Danuel House shot just 2-10 from 3-point range for the Aggies, but he still finished with 22 points to help contribute to the victory. Texas A&M will hit the road to take on Georgia on Saturday, while Florida will stop off in Oxford, MS to take on Ole Miss.

#13 Virginia 66, #8 Miami (FL) 58

perrantes

It has not been the start to ACC play that Virginia wanted, but they got back on track last night ending Miami’s 8-game winning streak with a 66-58 home victory. Defensively, Virginia was able to keep Miami on the perimeter, holding Hurricane star center Tonye Jekiri to just 5 points on 2-4 shooting. The 58 points is a season-low for Miami. Malcolm Brogdon led the way with 20 points for the Cavaliers, while Anthony Gill chipped in 15 points to go along with 8 rebounds. Virginia will travel to Tallahassee to take on Florida State on Sunday, while Miami will visit Clemson for a big match-up on Saturday.

Michigan 70, #3 Maryland 67

michigan vs maryland

Michigan has been searching all year for a signature win, and they finally got one last night when they knocked off #3 Maryland at home 70-67, despite leading scorer Caris LeVert sitting this one out due to injury. G Zak Irvin led the way for the Wolverines with 22 points, while PG Derrick Walton was terrific down the stretch, as he finished with 12 points and 10 rebounds. Maryland’s star PG Melo Trimble was nowhere to be found in this one, as he ended with a season-low 2 points on 1-4 shooting, with 4 boards, 3 assists, and 4 turnovers. The Terrapins will look to get back on track at home Saturday against Ohio State, while the Wolverines will head to the road to take on a red-hot Iowa team on Sunday.

#12 Providence 50, Creighton 48

kris dunn

I feel like we’re going to have a lot of games like this in the Big East this season, but more often than not, the cream always rises to the top. Providence was able to eek out a 50-48 victory over Creighton when superstar PG Kris Dunn hit a step-back, fadeaway jumper at the buzzer, just one possession after his 5th turnover led to a game-tying layup by Blue Jay G Maurice Watson. Dunn finished with 20 points and 8 boards to lead the way for the Friars, who will return home Saturday to take on Seton Hall. Creighton will look to get back in the win column on Sunday in Chicago against DePaul.

Texas 94, #17 Iowa State 91 (OT)

isaiah taylor

Iowa State has fallen to 1-3 in the Big 12 after an overtime loss to Texas last night. PG Isaiah Taylor was fantastic for the Longhorns, finishing with 28 points, 6 rebounds and 6 assists. Iowa State got big games from F Georges Niang (27 pts) and F Abdel Nader (10 pts, 16 rebs), but it wasn’t enough to outlast Texas. A controversial no-call sent this game to overtime, when it appeared that Taylor was fouled on a last second, game-winning shot attempt. Iowa State will now travel to Manhattan, KS where they look to end a 2-game skid against Kansas State. The Longhorns will look to keep their momentum going as they host Oklahoma State on Saturday.

Here is a look at what’s on tap for tonight:

#9 Duke @ Clemson, 7:00 pm, ESPN2
Houston (AAC Leader) @ Cincinnati, 7:00 pm, ESPNU
Marquette @ #6 Villanova, 8:30 pm, Fox Sports 1
Penn State @ #24 Purdue, 8:30 pm, Big-Ten Network
#19 South Carolina (15-0) @ Alabama, 9:00 pm, SEC Network
#2 Oklahoma @ Oklahoma State, 9:00 pm, ESPNU
Oregon State @ Colorado, 11:00 pm, ESPNU
USC @ UCLA, 11:00 pm, ESPN2

If you get a chance, check out some of these terrific games! My new Top-25 will be posted tomorrow, so be on the lookout!

 

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Game Preview: Kansas @ West Virginia

There’s no question that the Kansas Jayhawks have been the best team in the country thus far. They were without freshman forward Cheick Diallo in a 79-73 loss to Michigan State, in what was only their 2nd game of the season. Since then, they have rattled off 13 straight victories, including wins over UCLA, Vanderbilt, Oregon State, Baylor, Texas Tech and a 3OT victory over #2 Oklahoma just last week.

The Jayhawks are on a roll, but standing in their way tonight is another red-hot team in the Big 12, Bob Huggins’s West Virginia Mountaineers. Huggy Bear has his team playing at a very high level, with their lone blemish a 70-54 loss to Virginia. The last time Kansas visited Morgantown, they were stunned by a game-winning layup from Juwan Staten, as West Virginia pulled off the 63-62 upset.

There is much more on the line this time around, as the winner will have sole possession of 1st place in the Big 12.

Key for West Virginia: Pressure Defense

The Mountaineers are known for their intense defensive pressure. They go into a full-court press after any made basket, and the stats show that they are one of the best defensive teams in the nation, and are almost definitely the toughest defense that Kansas will have faced so far this season. KenPom has WVU ranked 7th in defensive efficiency, thanks mostly to their #1 rating in turnover percentage and steal percentage. They play a defense similar to the “Havoc” style defense implemented by Coach Shaka Smart at VCU. They are led by Daxter Miles Jr. (2.1 SPG), Jevon Carter (2.0 SPG) and Tarik Phillip (1.9 SPG). These guards will make life very difficult for the likes of Wayne Selden Jr., Devonte’ Graham and Frank Mason.

Key for Kansas: Balance

The two things that I believe have allowed Kansas to be successful this year are depth and balance. The Jayhawks have 10 players who average at least 10 minutes a game, and that does not include Cheick Diallo. In addition to that incredible depth, they are one of two teams (Oklahoma) rated in the top-10 in offensive and defensive efficiency on KenPom. The Jayhawks are one of the best 3-point shooting teams in the nation, but West Virginia is one of the best at defending the 3-point line, which could mean that Kansas will have to rely on their presence in the paint, led by Perry Ellis, Landen Lucas and Jamari Traylor.

WVU Player to Watch: F Devin Williams

devin williams

Williams, a 6’9″ forward from Cincinnati, is the leading scorer and rebounder for the Mountaineers, averaging 14.5 points and 8.6 boards a game. That being said, he did a lot of his damage early in the season. After scoring 18-plus points in five of WVU’s first seven games, Williams hasn’t scored more than 15 points in a game since December 5. I believe that Williams must return to his dominant form if West Virginia is going to pull off the upset tonight.

KU Player to Watch: G Wayne Selden Jr.

3.13.14 - Kansas' Wayne Selden Jr.

While Perry Ellis is the seasoned veteran of the team, I think the Jayhawks will only go as far as Wayne Selden Jr. takes them. Selden is averaging 15.5 points per game, and he is shooting just over 50 percent from 3-point range. West Virginia defends the 3-point arc better than any team Kansas has faced this season, so it will be interesting to see how much trouble, if any, Selden has finding open shots. The Jayhawks will try to do a lot of damage in the paint, but they’ll still need Selden to produce if they’re going to win this ballgame. In two games against West Virginia last season, Selden only scored a combined 8 points, including an 0-5 clip from distance.

Prediction:

This will be a fun basketball game to watch. Kansas is arguably the most balanced team in Division I basketball, but this is going to be one of their toughest tests. Morgantown is a crazy sports town, and it’s going to be a very hostile environment. West Virginia’s defensive pressure will bother the Jayhawks, and this game will come down to the final few possessions. I would not be surprised at all if West Virginia is able to wear down Kansas and pull off the victory, but this Kansas team is much better than the one that took the heartbreaking loss last year. I believe Kansas will win this game 68-64.

Bracketology: January 11

It’s Monday afternoon, which means it’s time for the first Bracketology of the season! This is what I think the bracket would look like if yesterday was Selection Sunday (which we all know isn’t until March 13). A few notes before we get started:

  • Bracketology is a very inexact science. The selection committee has an extremely difficult job, and there are a number of factors involved. This bracket will be based on my opinion and what I think of the teams. With the committee, you get a collection of multiple opinions.
  • My bracket will look different from other bracket predictions you will see online. There are expert “Bracketologists” out there who know much more than I do, but if you devote the time, and research these teams, anyone can be a “Bracketologist.”
  • As far as the automatic bids go, I took the team who is currently in first place in each conference. In the event of a tie, I chose the team rated highest by KenPom. This does not mean that I think these teams will end up winning their conferences, but it does do a nice job of representing some of the chaos that occurs during Championship Week.
  • The 1-seeds get placed in the region closest to them, chosen based on how the committee ranks them 1 through 4. The 5th best team does not go in the same region as the 4th ranked team. The 2-seeds are placed in regions the same way the 1-seeds are. Therefore, the 1st and 5th best teams could be placed in the same region. The committee looks to avoid early conference match-ups as best they can.
  • The First Four is played in Dayton, Ohio on Tuesday and Wednesday, March 15-16. The Round of 64 then begins on Thursday in Providence, Raleigh, Des Moines and Denver. Friday games are in St. Louis, Brooklyn, Oklahoma City and Spokane.
  • Keep in mind that this is what I think the bracket would look like TODAY. The actual bracket will almost definitely look a lot different, as there is still a lot of basketball to be played, and crazy things happen in sports.

Without further ado, here is my first bracket prediction of 2016!

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As my top-rated team, Kansas was placed in the South Region, playing their Round of 64 game in Des Moines. While I have Miami as my 8th ranked team, that is not why they were placed in this region. It was simply for geographic reasons. Many people have Kentucky still on the 2-seed line, but they have struggled as of late, and that made me drop them to a 3-seed. USC is a team that is rising quickly, and many have them even higher than a 9-seed. They could rise further in the coming weeks. One surprise in this region is San Diego State. Boise State currently leads the Mountain West, but I think San Diego State has played well enough thus far to deserve an at-large bid. I expect the Aztecs to win the Mountain West, so it may work itself out.

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In my projection, North Carolina is the worst of the 1-seeds, matching up their East Region with the South. Many have Maryland as a 1-seed, but I think North Carolina is the better team right now. Virginia has struggled lately, with losses to Virginia Tech and Georgia Tech, but I still have them as a 3-seed. South Carolina remains undefeated, and while their resume leaves a lot to be desired, their perfect season so far cannot be ignored. Jackson State vs Wagner and Cincinnati vs Michigan are two First Four games with winners advancing to this region. Everybody knows about Monmouth’s bench, but their team is pretty good too, with wins over UCLA, Notre Dame and Georgetown on their resume. Iona currently leads their conference, but I think Monmouth’s resume would have them in as an at-large.

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Oklahoma heads out west in my projection, as the 3rd ranked team. They would face the winner of Tennessee Tech vs Hampton in the First Four. Iowa is surging and Arizona is falling. Last week, these two teams’ seeds would have been flip-flopped. My bracket has two WCC teams in the tourney, and they are both here in the West Region; Gonzaga as a 7-seed and Saint Mary’s a 9-seed. It will be interesting to see which team wins that conference, but both teams are good enough to get in. Washington is not a team I expect to be in the tournament come March, but they are the early leaders in the Pac-12, so they get in here.

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Michigan State will head to the Midwest Region as my #2 team, with Big East leader Villanova, Duke and West Virginia rounding out this region’s top-4 seeds. Baylor got a big road win over Iowa State on Saturday, and that has sent them from bubble team to 6-seed. The final First Four game can be found in this region,with Oregon State and Marquette battling for a chance to head to Providence to take on Baylor. My first “Giant Killer,” Arkansas-Little Rock, is a 12-seed as the Sun Belt leader in my first bracket. I would have this region rated toughest of the four regions in this first projection.

Last Four Byes: Notre Dame, San Diego State, Utah, Monmouth
Last Four In: Oregon State, Michigan, Cincinnati, Marquette
First Four Out: Clemson, George Washington, Georgetown, UT-Arlington
Next Four Out: Texas, St. Joseph’s, LSU, BYU

And there’s the first installment of Bracketball’s Bracketology! The bracket will be updated again next Monday. Tomorrow, look for a preview of this week’s biggest game, Kansas @ West Virginia in a battle for 1st place in the Big 12!

 

Primetime Player: Buddy Hield

Teams win championships, but on most occasions, these teams have at least one player who makes the ultimate difference on their path to a title! Leading up to this year’s tournament, I will look at a number of players who should have a major impact on the road to a national championship. Bracketball’s first “Primetime Player” of 2016 is Oklahoma G Buddy Hield.

hield 2

Buddy Hield, G #24
Senior
6-4, 215 lbs
Freeport, Bahamas
2015-16 Stats:
26.6 PPG, 5.6 RPG, 2.4 APG, 1.4 SPG, 0.4 BPG
52.0% FG, 52.0% 3PT, 90.1% FT

A major contributor from the moment he stepped on campus in Norman, Buddy Hield is the perfect example of a player who has used his entire college eligibility to become a better basketball player, and in the process, has become an elite professional prospect.

Hield is without question one of the best all-around players in the nation. The 6’4″ guard from the Bahamas is a lethal shooter, a terrific slasher and a willing passer and board-crasher. Buddy can do it all, and he proved that last week against #1 Kansas in Phog Allen Fieldhouse. Hield exploded for 46 points on 13-23 shooting (8-13 3PT) with 8 rebounds and 7 assists. He is not perfect though, as he turned the ball over 5 times, including on an inbound pass late in the 3rd overtime, allowing Kansas to extend their lead.

Draft Express’s Mike Schmitz posted this video, analyzing Hield’s performance against Kansas:

As you can see in the video, Hield is a fantastic offensive talent. He has a very quick trigger, which allows him to get off shots before the defender can bother him. He is also great in transition, where he can drive it to the hole and finish, dish it to an open teammate, or even hit a pull up jump shot with ease. Hield crashes the boards better than most guards, and is able to get his team lots of second opportunities.

There are things that he struggles with, namely turnovers and defense. Because he is asked to do so much, sometimes Hield forces things, which leads to turnovers, as happened numerous times in the Kansas game. He also has a tendency to lose focus on the defensive end, leading to easy scoring opportunities for his opponents.

While he does have some aspects of his game that could use some work, Buddy Hield has easily been one of the best players in the country this season, and he is probably the early leader in the clubhouse for Naismith Player of the Year. He is on pace for career highs in points, rebounds and assists, and his 3PT FG percentage is up 28.3% from his freshman year.

Oklahoma has been good for the last few years, but with this new and improved Buddy Hield, the Sooners are a legitimate championship contender. Look for Hield to be a major player in March.

I’d like to take a moment to thank everybody who has been supporting Bracketball through the first few days of its existence! I am doing this for my love of the sport, and I hope you are all enjoying the content! Come back tomorrow for my first Bracketology of the season!

‘Giant Killer’ Profile: UALR Trojans

Each weekend leading up to the tournament, I will be profiling a team that you may not know very much about, but will want to when you are filling out your brackets in March. Stealing a term used by Peter Keating and Jordan Brenner of ESPN, these teams will be referred to as “Giant Killers.” These are teams that, if they can find their way into the NCAA Tournament, could take down the best teams in the country, even if you have never heard of them. The first “Giant Killer” that I will be looking at is the University of Arkansas-Little Rock Trojans.

UALR logo

Arkansas-Little Rock Trojans
Sun Belt Conference
Little Rock, Arkansas
Head Coach: Chris Beard (1st Season)
Record: 13-1, 3-0 conf.
RPI: 54
KenPom: 42
SOS (Strength of Schedule): 182
Best Wins: 49-43 @ San Diego State; 64-60 @ Tulsa; 66-44 @ DePaul
Key Players:
PG Josh Hagins (11.6 PPG, 4.4 RPG, 4.7 APG, 1.6 SPG)
G Marcus Johnson Jr. (14.6 PPG, 44% 3PT)
F Jalen Jackson (9.7 PPG)

In his first season as a Division I head coach, Chris Beard has his UALR Trojans primed to win the Sun Belt Conference, and go into the NCAA Tournament with a good chance to upset a few high seeds and make a nice little run. Beard has been an assistant coach with Texas and North Texas, and he was an associate head coach at Texas Tech from 2001-2011. He spent the last two seasons as head coach at D-II Angelo State.

Beard has inherited a very experienced team, as the Trojans’ entire rotation is made up of juniors and seniors, led by senior Josh Hagins. Hagins, a 6’1″ point guard from Bossier City, LA, has been a major contributor for UALR since his freshman season in 2012-2013. Hagins puts up numbers all across the board, averaging 11.5 points and nearly 5 assists a game. He also does some work defensively, averaging just over 1.5 steals a game.

The Trojans really struggled last season, finishing with a 13-18 record, which resulted in the end of former head coach Steve Shields’ run at the helm of the program, a position he held since 2004. Beard has stepped in this season and completely turned this team around, as they would be perfect had it not been for a 65-53 loss @ Texas Tech on December 22.

There are a couple key statistics that give UALR great “Giant Killer” potential. KenPom has the Trojans ranked 10th in the country in defensive efficiency. They have held all but two opponents (Texas Tech, Central Arkansas) under 65 points this year. They are also the only team rated in KenPom’s top-10 in both offensive turnover % and defensive turnover %, meaning they force turnovers at a tremendous clip, while also limiting turnovers on the offensive side of the ball.

There is one particular stat, though, that separates UALR from other “Giant Killers,” and that is their free throw shooting percentage. The Trojans are 2nd in the country in FT shooting at 79.8 percent. Only Pitt, at 79.9 percent, is better. Every player in UALR’s rotation shoots over 70% from the free throw line. When it comes to the tournament, bad free throw shooting can lose games. If the Trojans have a lead late in a tourney game, there won’t be a weak FT shooter on the court for the other team to foul.

The Trojans are now the favorites to win the Sun Belt, but potential road blocks include UT-Arlington (12-2, 3-0) and defending league champion Georgia State (9-3, 2-1). If UALR earns the Sun Belt’s auto-bid to the tournament, expect them to be in the 11-13 seed range, and be a legitimate threat to advance to the Sweet 16, and maybe beyond.

That does it for Bracketball’s first “Giant Killer” profile of 2016. Stay tuned tomorrow for the first “Primetime Player” profile, where I will look at a player that could have a major impact on the race towards a National Championship.

Weekend Preview: 1/8-1/10

For the first time this season, the college sports weekend spotlight will be squarely on college basketball, highlighted by the return of a legendary coach, another ranked battle in the Big East and a few surging teams trying to keep their momentum going. Here is a list of the games you should be watching this weekend!

Valparaiso @ Oakland
When: Friday 1/8, 7:00 pm ESPN2
Why: This is a battle between potential “Giant Killers” come March. Valpo and Oakland are two teams expected to contend for the Horizon League title this season, and they are successful in much different ways. According to KenPom, Valparaiso sports the 2nd most efficient defense in the country, while Oakland ranks in the top-30 in offensive efficiency.
Player to Watch: Oakland G Kahlil Felder – Felder, a 5’9″ guard from Detroit, may very well be the most talented offensive player in the country. He is 3rd in the nation in scoring at 26.1 PPG, and he leads the nation in assists, averaging 9.2 a game. He has double-doubles in 3 of his last 4 games, and he will look to lead his squad to victory Friday night.
Prediction: These are two very good teams, and this should be a fun game, but at home, I like Kahlil Felder and the Golden Grizzlies to pull off the victory.

#3 Maryland @ Wisconsin
When:
Saturday 1/9, 1:00 pm ESPN
Why: A nice little road test for Maryland early in the Big Ten schedule as they travel to Madison to take on a Wisconsin team looking for a return trip to the Final Four this season. Many people expect the Terrapins to make a Final Four run this year, led by backcourt stars Melo Trimble and Duke-transfer Rasheed Sulaimon. The Badgers won’t go down in this matchup without a fight, especially if F Nigel Hayes and G Bronson Koenig have anything to say about it.
Player to Watch: Maryland C Diamond Stone – The freshman center has been a nice surprise early on in the season. A highly touted recruit out of Milwaukee, Stone has scored in double-figures in eight straight for Maryland, including a 39-point outburst on Dec. 30 against Penn State. Stone is returning to his home state on Saturday, and will look to have a big impact.
Prediction: Wisconsin is a tough team, and they will be a threat in March, but this Maryland team just has too much talent. The Badgers could keep it close, but expect Maryland to come away with the win.

Baylor @ #13 Iowa State
When:
Saturday 1/9, 3:00 ESPN2
Why: Iowa State is one of the most fun teams to watch this season, led by PG Monte Morris (7.4 APG), F Jameel McKay (14.4 PPG, 9.8 RPG) and F Georges Niang (19.2 PPG). Coach Fred Hoiberg left this season to become the head coach of the Chicago Bulls, and this team is trying to prove that they can make a deep run with new head coach Steve Prohm, formerly head coach at Murray State. They will face a tough test from a Baylor squad coming off a disappointing Round of 64 loss to 14-seed Georgia State in 2015. A road win over Iowa State would be a nice notch in their belt.
Player to Watch: Baylor F Taurean Prince – Prince, a 6’7″ senior from San Antonio, has seen his importance to this team grow in each of his four seasons in Waco, and he is now being relied upon to lead the Bears to great things this season. Prince has scored at least 30 points in a game twice this season, and he may need to do that again if the Bears want to pull off the upset.
Prediction: Iowa State is a team known for dominating at home in Hilton Coliseum, but they have been tested there this year, including a loss to unranked Northern Iowa. I anticipate this game being closer than expected, but the Cyclones just have too much firepower, and they should win this one.

#24 Pittsburgh @ Notre Dame
When:
Saturday 1/9, 4:00 pm ESPN3
Why: Pitt is off to a great start this year, but many experts wonder just how good they are based on their schedule. They have played one team in KenPom’s top-50 this season (Purdue) and took the loss. That is their lone loss, while they have beaten all of the teams that they should beat. This is not the same Notre Dame team that won the ACC last season, but led by the returning Demetrius Jackson and Zach Auguste, this is a team that should make the tournament, and will give Pitt a nice test early in their ACC schedule.
Player to Watch: Notre Dame G/F Matt Ryan – No, this is not the Atlanta Falcons quarterback. Instead, it’s the 6’8″ freshman sharpshooter from Cortland Manor, NY who has been a nice complimentary piece for this Irish team. Ryan is basically on the court to shoot 3’s, but he makes a good percentage of them, and he will be key to a victory over Pitt.
Prediction: If Zach Auguste can dominate the paint early, that should open up the perimeter for ND’s shooters to put away the Panthers. This will help determine just how good Pitt really is this season. Should be a competitive game, but I like the Irish at home.

#6 North Carolina @ Syracuse
When:
Saturday 1/9, 8:00 pm ESPN
Why: The marquee game this weekend pits a red-hot Tar Heel squad led by PG Marcus Paige (16.3 PPG) and F Brice Johnson (16.8 PPG, 10.6 RPG) against a scuffling Syracuse team who gets Coach Jim Boeheim back after serving a suspension for a violation of NCAA rules. The Orange are off to an 0-3 start in ACC play, with losses to Pitt, Miami and Clemson, but they do hold wins this season over UConn and Texas A&M, and it will be interesting to see if the return of Boeheim can help them pull off a massive upset.
Player to Watch: North Carolina F Brice Johnson – This past Monday against Florida State, Johnson became just the 2nd player in UNC history to have at least 30 points and 20 rebounds in a game, as he finished with 39 points and 23 boards in a 106-90 victory. Johnson is a force underneath the basket, and if the Tar Heels are to win this game, they need to beat Syracuse’s zone by getting the ball inside to Johnson.
Prediction: The return of Boeheim will motivate Syracuse to play a really good game, but the Tar Heels are just way more talented than the Orange, and that talent will allow them to overcome a game Syracuse team.

Ohio State @ Indiana
When: Sunday 1/10, 1:30 pm CBS
Why: Two teams that could end up squarely on the bubble come March look to get a win that could separate one from the other early on in conference play. Indiana was dealt a major blow earlier this week when it was announced that their 2nd leading scorer, G James Blackmon Jr., would have knee surgery and miss the remainder of the season. The Hoosiers have won eight straight, including the last three without Blackmon, but they now know that Blackmon is out for the year, and it will be interesting to see how the rest of the team deals with that news.
Player to Watch: Ohio State F Jae’Sean Tate – If the Buckeyes are going to pull of the victory over Indiana, Tate, a sophomore from Pickerington, OH, needs to play well. Tate is probably the most talented player on the team, but he has been very inconsistent during his Ohio State career. He has the ability to take over the game, and look for him to do so on Sunday if the Buckeyes are to be victorious.
Prediction: This is a big opportunity for Ohio State, as a road win over Indiana will look really good on their tournament resume. I expect Indiana to struggle some without Blackmon, and I think the Buckeyes will be good enough to take advantage and pull off the road victory.

#11 Villanova @ #18 Butler
When:
Sunday 1/10, 7:30 FOX Sports 1
Why: The top of the Big East is loaded this season, and it will provide us with a lot of entertaining match-ups, including this one between the Wildcats and the Bulldogs. These are two of the most efficient offenses in the country (KenPom ranks Nova 5th and Butler 6th), and that should result in a shootout of epic proportions, unless Villanova’s defense, ranked 6th in the country in efficiency, has something to say about it.
Player to Watch: Butler G Roosevelt Jones – It seems like Jones has been in Indianapolis for a decade now, but amazingly it’s only been four years. The senior from O’Fallon, IL is averaging 14.3 PPG, 7.1 RPG and 4.9 APG, and he is a game-changer. If Butler is going to defeat Villanova, Jones needs to have a big game, as he struggled in two meetings last year, scoring a combined 14 points on just 6-26 shooting.
Prediction: While Villanova has one of the country’s best defenses, I fully expect this game to be a shootout between to premier offenses. Butler has struggled early on in Big East play, with losses to Providence and Xavier, and the way Villanova is playing, I expect the Wildcats to hand Butler its 3rd conference loss.

That does it for the weekend preview for January 8-10! I hope you get some time to watch some of these great games. As far as what’s coming up on Bracketball this weekend, look for my first “Giant Killer” profile, where I will tell you everything you need to know about a team that you probably know nothing about, but will need to know a lot about when filling out your bracket in March. Also, look for a “Primetime Player” profile, where I will highlight a player who I think will have a huge impact in the postseason. And on Monday, you can look forward to my first Bracketology post of the season. I will post what I think the bracket would look like if the season ended right now, with a little analysis as to why I placed teams where I did. Have a good weekend everybody!

Recap: January 7

There was a nice slate of games last night, some of which ended in thrilling fashion. Here is a recap of last night’s action!

UCLA 87, #7 Arizona 84
alford

With Kevin Durant and UCLA alum Russell Westbrook in attendance, the Bruins were able to hold off a late Arizona rally when G Bryce Alford (25 pts, 6 ast) nailed a go-ahead 3-pointer with just 1.8 seconds left on the clock. The Bruins dominated most of the game, but the Wildcats were able to tie the game late, before Alford’s dagger. With the upset, UCLA gets its first win in Pac-12 play after opening with road losses to Washington and Washington State.

#15 SMU 59, Cincinnati 57
nic moore larry brown

The Mustangs don’t have much to play for this season, as they are ineligible for the postseason due to NCAA sanctions, but despite that, they were able to pull off a big come-from-behind victory over Cincinnati to remain unbeaten (14-0). PG Nic Moore (14 pts, 4 ast) and F Ben Moore (15 pts, 5 blks) led the charge for SMU, who won despite a big effort from Cincy G Farad Cobb (18 pts, 6-11 3PT),

#5 Michigan State 79, Illinois 54
bryn forbes

In what looks to be their last game without star G/F Denzel Valentine, Michigan State improved Coach Tom Izzo’s record in Big Ten home openers to 18-3 with a throttling of Illinois. G Bryn Forbes (17 pts, 7-13 FG) did most of the damage for the Spartans, while F Deyonta Davis chipped in with 10 points, 6 boards and 4 blocks off the bench. Valentine is expected to return from injury this Sunday against Penn State.

#20 Purdue 87, Michigan 70
aj hammons

Michigan hung tough with Purdue for most of this contest, but the Boilermakers proved to be too much in the end, pulling away and finishing with a 17-point triumph. C A.J. Hammons was the leader for Purdue, tallying 17 points, 5 rebounds and 4 blocks. He was aided by G Raphael Davis, who finished with 16 points and 6 assists. Michigan’s leading scorer, G Caris LeVert, sat this game out due to injury.