Bracketology: February 8

Nothing should shock you at this point, given the way that the college basketball season has gone, but for the first time in years, the #1 and #2 teams lost to unranked teams on the same day. #1 Oklahoma fell to Kansas State, as Buddy Hield’s record in Manhattan fell to 0-4, and #2 North Carolina lost their second consecutive game, this one in South Bend against Notre Dame. Top-5 teams have already lost more games this year than they did all of last year, and we still have over a month of action left to go. With that said, here is this week’s look at the bracket.

*Regions ordered by #1 seed ranking, Auto-Bids in bold*

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Despite the loss to Kansas State, Oklahoma remains the #1 overall seed. A 23 point victory over Villanova is too significant a result to ignore. They have a chance to bounce-back when they host surging Texas tonight. Virginia is playing very well right now, with back-to-back road victories over Louisville and Pitt. West Virginia is moving up the ranks, thanks to a road win over Iowa State and a home win over Baylor. They get a chance for a third straight major win when they visit Kansas on Tuesday. Despite a loss to DePaul last week, Providence remains a 5-seed. The advanced statistics do not paint a good picture for the Friars, but they have a very good resume. Florida, Seton Hall and Syracuse are all teams on the rise, and that is reflected in this week’s Bracketology. All three of those teams have moved up at least one seed line this week.
Rising Teams: Virginia, Florida, Seton Hall
Falling Teams: Oklahoma, Wichita State, Indiana

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The Wildcats are up to #1 in the AP poll this week, and they are up to the #2 overall seed in my Bracketology. They won at Providence on Saturday without Daniel Ochefu, a very impressive performance. North Carolina was considered for a 1-seed this week, but they have a surprisingly weak resume when compared to other top teams. They are my highest ranked 2-seed, but they need to bounce-back from these recent losses. Maryland is playing extremely well right now, outlasting Purdue on Saturday. They are very close to a 2-seed in my eyes. Dayton has taken over 1st place in the A-10, and have moved up to a 5-seed. They are a team going off of their resume more than the eye test at this juncture. LSU is another team that has taken over 1st place in their conference, as they are 8-2 in the SEC. Ben Simmons needs to play in the NCAA Tournament before he goes pro, so hopefully they continue to play well.
Rising Teams: Maryland, Texas, George Washington
Falling Teams: North Carolina, UALR, Bucknell

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Iowa is currently staying the course, and are in 1st Place in the Big Ten thanks to Indiana’s loss to Penn State on Saturday. Kansas has remained a 2-seed with wins this week over Kansas State and TCU. Kentucky got a dominant win over Florida at home on Saturday, and they benefit from Louisville’s self-imposed postseason ban, as they move up to a 4-seed. USC and Duke are two teams that moved up by way of Louisville’s ban as well. Utah has dropped after losing both games to the Oregon schools this week. Temple is new to the bracket, as they are in sole possession of 2nd place in the American, which would mean an auto-bid, as the 1st place team, SMU, is ineligible for the postseason.
Rising Teams: Kentucky, Gonzaga, Butler
Falling Teams: Texas A&M, Utah, Washington

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It came down to Xavier and North Carolina for my final #1 seed, and I ultimately decided to go with the Musketeers. I think it is very unlikely that the Big East would get two 1-seeds, but if the bracket were to be filled out today, Xavier is deserving of a 1-seed. Michigan State is rounding back into form, as they dominated Michigan in Ann Arbor on Saturday. They won by 16 points, and the last 5 times that Michigan State won by double digits in Ann Arbor, they went to the Final Four that same year. So you can pencil the Spartans into the Final Four this season. Arizona is playing well again, as they swept their trip to the Washington schools, and they are up to a 5-seed this week. Michigan has dropped to an 8-seed after back-to-back home losses to Indiana and Michigan State. On paper those aren’t terrible losses, but the Wolverines played very poorly in both games. They need Caris LeVert back badly. Florida State is a new team to the bracket this week, as their young core is performing well in ACC play.
Rising Teams: Xavier, Arizona, Florida State
Falling Teams: Baylor, Michigan, VCU

That does it for this week’s Bracketology. Let me know what you think! Lots of content this week as we get closer and closer to March Madness!

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Weekend Preview: 2/6-2/7

It’s Super Bowl weekend (Go Panthers!), but before the big game on Sunday night, the college basketball schedule makers have gifted us with a nice slate of games, creating a great sports weekend! Here is a look at the games on tap for Saturday and Sunday:

George Washington @ VCU
Saturday 2/6, 12:00 noon, CBS Sports Network
The A-10 is a quality conference this season, and this is a match-up between two of their best teams. VCU is undefeated in conference play, and they are well on their way to a likely tournament berth. A win over George Washington would definitely improve their resume. The Colonials are squarely on the Bubble, and after a home loss to Richmond last week, they could really use this win on the road. Their next two games after VCU are against St. Joseph’s and St. Bonaventure, so this would be a nice start to that stretch.

#9 Virginia @ Pittsburgh
Saturday 2/6, 12:00 noon, ESPN3
Virginia got a massive road win over Louisville last weekend, answering some questions about their road struggles in the process. This weekend they get another difficult road test when they travel to Pittsburgh to take on the Panthers. Pitt has lost three of their last six games, and they will travel to Miami and North Carolina after this one. Those will be tough games, so they could really use a win here over Virginia.

#10 Michigan State @ Michigan
Saturday 2/6, 2:00 pm, CBS
After a brutal 3-game losing streak, the Spartans have started to turn it around, getting a win over Maryland, as well as a 31-point road win over Northwestern. They ride a 3-game winning streak into this rivalry match-up. Michigan just suffered a loss on their home floor to Indiana, who pulled away at the end of the 1st half with a 25-0 run. It’s mind-boggling how a team as good as Michigan can give up 25 straight points. I don’t know if they’ll beat Michigan State, but expect them to bounce-back and play really well.

#3 Villanova @ #11 Providence
Saturday 2/6, 2:30 pm, FOX Sports 1
These two teams played an absolute classic two weeks ago in Philly, with Providence pulling off the upset in overtime. It was one of the best games we’ve seen this season, and they’ll look to make magic happen again on Saturday, this time at the Dunkin Donuts Center. Villanova may be without star C Daniel Ochefu, and Providence F Ben Bentil was banged up this week in their loss to DePaul. These teams might not be at full strength, but this should still be an exciting ballgame.

#18 Purdue @ #4 Maryland
Saturday 2/6, 4:00 pm, ESPN
In a match-up between teams that each have a great inside presence, it might come down to the guard play to see who comes out on top. Damonte Dodd and Diamond Stone of Maryland will battle underneath with A.J. Hammons, Caleb Swanigan and Isaac Haas, but the edge elsewhere probably goes to the Terrapins. They’ll need Melo Trimble, Rasheed Sulaimon and Robert Carter to play well if they’re going to win. This is the first of two meetings between these teams this month, as they both look to position themselves for a shot at a Big Ten title.

#25 South Carolina @ #8 Texas A&M
Saturday 2/6, 4:00 pm, ESPNU
Two of the top teams in the SEC, each coming off of tough road losses, do battle in College Station on Saturday. South Carolina is 19-3 on the year, but they are still looking for a signature win, as their best victory this season is a road win over rival Clemson. They’ll have a tough time getting the win though, as they face an angry Texas A&M team that was just wiped off the court on Thursday night against Vanderbilt. On their own home floor, it’s hard to see the Aggies not getting the victory here.

Florida @ #20 Kentucky
Saturday 2/6, 4:00 pm, CBS
Kentucky is looking to snap a 2-game losing streak, after they inconceivably squandered a 21-point lead to Tennessee earlier this week. Their last two losses were on the road, so a return home to Rupp Arena is a welcome treat. The Gators aren’t going to make it easy for them though. They are one of the best defensive teams in the nation, but they are just 2-5 on the road this season. A win in Lexington would be a huge addition to Florida’s resume.

#23 Arizona @ Washington
Saturday 2/6, 4:30 pm, FOX
The Washington Huskies are one of the biggest surprises of this college basketball season. They’re 7-3 in the Pac-12, despite starting four freshmen around senior star Andrew Andrews. They are a team to keep an eye on in the last month of the regular season. They’ll face a difficult test against an Arizona team that, believe it or not, is fighting for a spot in the tournament. They should get Allonzo Trier back soon, but a win here over Washington would definitely help their cause.

#2 North Carolina @ Notre Dame
Saturday 2/6, 7:00 pm, ESPN
College Gameday heads to South Bend this week for this big ACC match-up between the Tar Heels and the Fighting Irish. Since entering the Top-25 last week, Notre Dame has lost two out of three, but they were both tough road games against Syracuse and Miami FL. The Irish are a better team on their home floor, but they’ll need to play their best if they’re going to beat a North Carolina team that is coming off of their first loss since December 12.

#15 Baylor @ #14 West Virginia
Saturday 2/6, 8:00 pm, ESPN2
These two teams have some particular results in common this year. They are the only two teams this season to win at Hilton Coliseum against Iowa State, but they’ve also both lost home games to Texas. They are both capable of winning big road games, and they both are susceptible to home losses against good teams. That screams advantage Baylor, but West Virginia is a tough team. This game could go either way, and that should make it a fun one.

Utah @ #16 Oregon
Sunday 2/7, 4:00 pm, ESPN2
If you’re heading to a Super Bowl party and you get there early, ask the host to change the channel to this game, because it will be well worth watching. Oregon is one of the hottest teams in the land right now, and they will look here to extend their home winning streak to 22 games. Utah is a curious team. They have some really good wins this year (Duke, San Diego State, BYU), but they also have some questionable losses (Stanford, Oregon State). I believe that they are a very good team, and will be a good test for the Ducks. Oregon won at Utah earlier this season, so the Utes will be out for revenge.

I’m looking forward to sitting down and catching some really good action this weekend, and I hope you get a chance to also. Have a good weekend, and enjoy the Super Bowl!

Top-25: February 4

The last week of college basketball has been pretty nuts. Surprised, right? Me too. Just in the past week:

  • Arizona’s 49-game home winning streak was snapped by a surging Oregon team
  • West Virginia followed up a terrible performance against Florida by becoming just the 3rd team in the last 4 seasons to defeat Iowa State in Hilton Coliseum
  • Kentucky gave Kansas an incredible fight on Saturday, losing 90-84 in overtime at Phog Allen Fieldhouse. They then squandered a 21-point lead in a loss to 11-11 Tennessee, their 5th loss this season to an unranked team
  • Providence suffered one of the most disappointing losses of the season, 77-70 to DePaul, who improved their record to just 8-14. Ben Bentil was injured in the 1st half, and played sparingly the rest of the way, but Providence should beat DePaul with their eyes closed
  • Louisville was dominated at home by Virginia, a team that has lost road games this season to Florida State, Georgia Tech and Virginia Tech. They then handed #2 North Carolina their 3rd loss of the season, snapping a 12-game winning streak

Another basic week of college basketball in 2016. These results and others have caused some shakeups in this week’s Top-25.

25. Kentucky (16-6, 6-3)
Last Week: Loss 84-90 @ Kansas (OT); Loss 77-84 @ Tennessee
Upcoming Games: Sat 2/6 vs Florida; Tue 2/9 vs Georgia

24. Dayton (18-3, 8-1)
Last Week: Win 59-44 vs La Salle
Upcoming Games: Sat 2/6 @ George Mason; Tue 2/9 vs Duquesne

23. VCU (17-5, 9-0)
Last Week: Win 79-69 @ Davidson; Win 88-70 @ La Salle
Upcoming Games: Sat 2/6 vs George Washington

22. Saint Mary’s (18-2, 9-1)
Last Week: Win 68-65 @ Pacific
Upcoming Games: Thu 2/4 @ BYU; Sat 2/6 @ San Diego

21. Indiana (19-4, 9-1)
Last Week: Win 74-68 vs Minnesota; Win 80-67 @ Michigan
Upcoming Games: Sat 2/6 @ Penn State

20. Iowa State (16-6, 5-4)
Last Week: Loss 62-72 @ Texas A&M; Loss 76-81 vs West Virginia
Upcoming Games: Sat 2/6 @ Oklahoma State; Wed 2/10 @ Texas Tech

19. Purdue (19-4, 7-3)
Last Week: Win 89-74 vs Nebraska
Upcoming Games: Sat 2/6 @ Maryland; Tue 2/9 vs Michigan State

18. SMU (19-2, 8-2)
Last Week: Win 80-68 vs Memphis; Loss 68-71 @ Houston
Upcoming Games: Sun 2/7 @ South Florida; Wed 2/10 vs Tulsa

17. Providence (18-5, 6-4)
Last Week: Win 73-69 @ Georgetown; Loss 70-77 @ DePaul
Upcoming Games: Sat 2/6 vs Villanova; Wed 2/10 @ Marquette

16. Wichita State (17-5, 11-0)
Last Week: Win 78-65 @ Evansville; Win 76-55 vs Southern Illinois
Upcoming Games: Sat 2/6 @ Illinois State; Tue 2/9 @ Drake

15. Arizona (18-5, 6-4)
Last Week: Loss 75-83 vs Oregon; Win 80-63 vs Oregon State; Win 79-64 @ Washington State
Upcoming Games: Sat 2/6 @ Washington

14. Miami FL (17-4, 6-3)
Last Week: Loss 69-85 @ NC State; Win 79-70 vs Notre Dame
Upcoming Games: Sun 2/7 @ Georgia Tech; Tue 2/9 vs Pittsburgh

13. Louisville (18-4, 7-2)
Last Week: Loss 47-63 vs Virginia; Win 71-65 vs North Carolina
Upcoming Games: Sat 2/6 vs Boston College; Mon 2/8 @ Duke

12. Oregon (18-4, 7-2)
Last Week: Win 83-75 @ Arizona; Win 91-74 @ Arizona State
Upcoming Games: Thu 2/4 vs Colorado; Sun 2/7 vs Utah

11. Kansas (18-4, 6-3)
Last Week: Win 90-84 vs Kentucky (OT); Win 77-59 vs Kansas State
Upcoming Games: Sat 2/6 @ TCU; Tue 2/9 vs West Virginia

10. Texas A&M (18-3, 7-1)
Last Week: Win 72-62 vs Iowa State
Upcoming Games: Thu 2/4 @ Vanderbilt; Sat 2/6 vs South Carolina; Wed 2/10 @ Alabama

9. Maryland (20-3, 9-2)
Last Week: Win 74-68 vs Iowa; Win 66-61 @ Ohio State; Win 70-65 @ Nebraska
Upcoming Games: Sat 2/6 vs Purdue; Tue 2/9 vs Bowie State

8. West Virginia (18-4, 7-2)
Last Week: Loss 71-88 @ Florida; Win 81-76 @ Iowa State
Upcoming Games: Sat 2/6 vs Baylor; Tue 2/9 @ Kansas

7. Michigan State (19-4, 6-4)
Last Week: Win 76-45 @ Northwestern; Win 96-62 vs Rutgers
Upcoming Games: Sat 2/6 @ Michigan; Tue 2/9 @ Purdue

6. Iowa (18-4, 9-1)
Last Week: Loss 68-74 @ Maryland; Win 85-71 vs Northwestern; Win 73-49 vs Penn State
Upcoming Games: Sun 2/7 @ Illinois

5. Virginia (18-4, 7-3)
Last Week: Win 63-47 @ Louisville; Win 61-47 vs Boston College
Upcoming Games: Sat 2/6 @ Pittsburgh; Tue 2/9 vs Virginia Tech

4. North Carolina (19-3, 8-1)
Last Week: Win 89-62 vs Boston College; Loss 65-71 @ Louisville
Upcoming Games: Sat 2/6 @ Notre Dame; Tue 2/9 @ Boston College

3. Xavier (20-2, 8-2)
Last Week: Win 86-65 @ DePaul; Win 90-83 vs St. John’s
Upcoming Games: Sat 2/6 vs Marquette; Tue 2/9 @ Creighton

2. Villanova (19-3, 9-1)
Last Week: Win 68-53 @ St. John’s; Win 83-58 vs Creighton
Upcoming Games: Sat 2/6 @ Providence; Tue 2/9 @ DePaul

1. Oklahoma (19-2, 7-2)
Last Week: Win 77-75 @ LSU; Win 95-72 vs TCU
Upcoming Games: Sat 2/6 @ Kansas State; Mon 2/8 vs Texas

Bracketology: February 1

I feel like I’ve said this a million times already, but the parity in college basketball this season is crazy. This has to be one of the most difficult years for Bracketology. This is around the time of year when we normally start to see these teams for who they truly are, and are able to fairly accurately place them in the bracket where they belong. That’s not the case this year, as the seeds and the teams are still extremely fluid. There are over a dozen teams that you could make a championship-worthy case for, and the Bubble might be bigger than ever. Just remember that we are still extremely early in the process, and hopefully (for my sake), things start to get clearer in the coming weeks. February should be a fun, and here is my first bracket prediction of the month!

*Regions in order by 1-seed rankings, Auto-Bids in bold*

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North Carolina stays at the top of my rankings on the back of a 12-game win streak, which includes a neutral-site win over UCLA and road wins over Florida State and Syracuse. Their biggest test so far this season comes this week, with a road game tonight against Louisville and another road game Saturday in South Bend against Notre Dame. Maryland is back up to a 3-seed this week after they defeated red-hot Iowa at home. Iowa has looked like one of the best teams in the land, so that’s a huge win for the Terrapins. Florida picked up a very impressive win over West Virginia on Saturday, and that has them up to an 8-seed. They will continue to climb if they can play like they did against WVU the rest of the season. This prediction would have them facing VCU in the first round, which would be an extremely exciting match-up. The Rams are plowing through the A-10, but they still have to play Dayton on the road and George Washington twice. Syracuse and Colorado are both new to the bracket this week, and I have them matched up in a First Four game. Many people are higher on Colorado than I am. They have a solid resume, but they have not impressed me when I’ve seen them in action. They still have plenty of chances to prove themselves in the difficult Pac 12.
Rising Teams: Xavier, Maryland, Florida
Falling Teams: Providence, UConn

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Buddy Hield led his Oklahoma Sooners to a big road win over Ben Simmons and the LSU Tigers on Saturday, and that keeps the Sooners as my #2 team. Texas A&M bounced back from their first SEC loss of the year with a non-conference win over Iowa State, keeping them on the 2-seed line. Wichita State is a team that I am higher on than most, but that’s because three of their five losses came with star PG Fred Van Vleet on the shelf with an injury. When healthy, this team is extremely good, and they’re proving that in MVC play. They’ve already swept the season series against Evansville, which is their toughest competition in the conference. It’s entirely possible that they could win out. George Washington fell at home to Richmond in double overtime, and for a Bubble team, that’s a bad loss. I have dropped them to a First Four game, and they are just barely hanging on as of now. That could all change in the next month, as I’ve stressed already with most of these teams. I have them facing Seton Hall here, who is back in the field thanks to a road win over fellow Bubble team Creighton.
Rising Teams: Oklahoma, Wichita State, Seton Hall
Falling Teams: USC, Notre Dame, George Washington

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Villanova has struggled as of late, but their resume still suggests that they deserve a 1-seed. They are still at the top of the Big East, and if they can end the season there, they’ll almost definitely stay a 1-seed. Virginia, who has been questionable away from home this season, destroyed Louisville at the KFC Yum! Center on Saturday, reminding people just how good they are. West Virginia and Iowa State could easily be switched, and I went back and forth, but I think West Virginia’s defense allows them to beat any team in the country, which put them ahead for me. Cincinnati is currently tied with Tulsa and Temple atop the American, but they just got one of their biggest wins of the year in Storrs over UConn. That has moved them just off the Bubble for the time being. Meanwhile, Cal suffered losses this week to Utah and Colorado, two wins that would have helped their resume a lot. I’m still slightly higher on them than other people are, but if they make the tourney, they’ll be a dangerous team.
Rising Teams: Virginia, Cincinnati, Washington
Falling Teams: West Virginia, California, Butler

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Despite the loss to Maryland, which snapped a 9-game winning streak, Iowa remains a 1-seed in this week’s projection. The fastest rising team in the nation is the Oregon Ducks, who have won seven of their last eight games, including wins this past week on the road over Arizona and Arizona State. The Ducks are one of the best offensive teams in the country, led by Elgin Cook and Chris Boucher, who had 26 points, 10 rebounds and 7 blocks against the Sun Devils. They have scored at least 70 points in all but four games this season, and that is why they are capable of beating any team in the nation. Miami, Arizona, Indiana and Pitt all suffered losses this week, dropping them each down a few spots. Another team on the downswing is Georgetown, who has dropped to one of the last at-large teams in this week’s projection. They’ve lost three of their last five games, and many people have dropped them from their bracket projections. I believe the Big East deserves at least five or six teams in the tourney, so Georgetown stays in for now.
Rising Teams: Oregon, Utah, Texas
Falling Teams: Miami, Arizona, Georgetown

We have another action-packed week of basketball coming up. One more month until the postseason, strap-in for the ride!

‘Giant Killer’ Profile: Stony Brook

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Stony Brook Seawolves
America East Conference
Stony Brook, NY
Head Coach: Steve Pikiell (11th Season)
Record: 17-4, 8-0 conf.
RPI: 54
KenPom: 48
SOS: 230
Best Wins: 91-77 vs Princeton, 71-68 vs Hofstra
Bad Losses: 66-67 @ Western Kentucky, 62-75 @ Northeastern
Key Players:
F Jameel Warney (18.2 PPG, 10.4 RPG, 3.1 BPG)
G Carson Puriefoy (14.3 PPG, 3.2 APG, 41.3% 3PT)
G Ahmad Walker (10.9 PPG, 7.1 RPG, 4.6 APG)

One of the most popular “Giant Killer” picks right now is the Stony Brook Seawolves out of the America East Conference. This team has been on the cusp of crashing the big party for years now, but they have a big roadblock in rival Albany, who has defeated the Seawolves in the America East Tournament three years in a row, including in the championship game the last two seasons.

Despite their disappointing finishes, Head Coach Steve Pikiell has this team on the right track, and he has done an incredible job in his 10-plus years at the helm of the program. They were 4-24 in Pikiell’s first season, and they didn’t reach double-digit wins until his fourth season, when they went 16-14. Pikiell has now led this team to 20-plus wins in five of the last six seasons, and with 17 wins already this year, they are well on their way to 20 wins once again.

The main reason they have been so great this season, as well as the last few years, is star forward Jameel Warney. Warney, a 6’8″ senior from Plainfield, NJ, has been a starter since the day he stepped on campus, and he has performed at an exceptional level. In 118 games for the Seawolves, Warney has scored in double digits in all but 18 of those games! That means he’s scored at least 10 points in nearly 85 percent of his collegiate games. That is an unbelievable statistic!

But not only is Warney an elite scorer, he also makes things happen on the defensive end, as this season he is averaging over 10 rebounds a game, as well as over 3 blocks per game. Those stats are much of the reason that KenPom has Warney among their Top-10 Player of the Year candidates, along with much more well known names like Ben Simmons, Grayson Allen and Denzel Valentine. Many “Giant Killers” have one player who can step up on the big stage and become a household name. Jameel Warney is that guy.

Stony Brook has other quality players, as they have four players who average double figures in scoring. One issue could be their depth. They play an 8-man rotation, but in actuality, it’s really a 6-man rotation. The other two players play very minimal minutes. If any of their starters get into foul trouble, they could have some issues.

Their best wins this season are against fellow potential “Giant Killers” Princeton and Hofstra, so they don’t have a win against a “Giant” this season, but they have tested themselves. They lost to Notre Dame by 25 points, but they were able to take a good Vanderbilt team to overtime, where they ended up losing by seven. Their overall strength of schedule is weak, but their non-conference schedule was rated as the 52nd toughest by KenPom. This team won’t be scared of anybody if they are to make the tournament.

Stony Brook is a very good defensive team, ranked 31st in the nation in defensive efficiency by KenPom. That is combined with a an offensive tempo that is among the slowest in the country. Some of the most effective “Giant Killers” are able to slow down the game, limiting opportunities for their opponents. Some things that could cause issues for Stony Brook is their struggles from the free throw line. They do most of their damage inside the three-point arc, but they shoot just 66 percent from the charity stripe. They shoot a very good percentage from three-point range, but they just don’t shoot many threes. That will make coming-from-behind a difficult task.

Despite all of that, this Stony Brook team is one to look out for come March. If they can get past Albany and make the tournament, they’re not a team you’d want to see matched up with your favorite team. Jameel Warney is a player that is capable of taking over a game, and every year we see at least one player step up and make a name for themselves in the Big Dance. This year, that could be Jameel Warney. When you’re filling out your bracket, watch out for Stony Brook.

Big 12/SEC Challenge Preview: 1/29

Some teams will mix in a non-conference game or two in the middle of their conference schedules, but typically, you play non-conference for the first 1/3 of the season, and then you have conference play for the remainder. Starting last year, the SEC and the Big 12 joined up in the middle of their conference schedules for the Big 12/SEC Challenge, pitting the 10 teams from the Big 12 against 10 teams from the SEC. It is a fun little break from the conference grind, and it takes place this Saturday. This year, the schedule makers have given us some exciting match-ups, highlighted by a huge battle at the Phog between Kansas and Kentucky. Here is a preview of Saturday’s Big 12/SEC Challenge!

#9 West Virginia @ Florida
When: 12:00 pm, ESPN
Why: A great game to kick off the challenge, two of the best defenses in the nation will go at it in “The Swamp.” Both West Virginia and Florida are ranked in the top-5 in defensive efficiency according to KenPom. Florida is coming off of a 1-point loss at Vanderbilt, and they are still searching for a signature win to put a stamp on their tournament resume. West Virginia just announced that F Jonathan Holton has been suspended indefinitely for a violation of team rules, so I’m interested to see the effect not having him has on the team as a whole, on the court as well as mentally.
Prediction: West Virginia has a little more offensive firepower, but they’ll be playing their first game without Holton. They’ll have to adjust, and this game will be low-scoring and very close, but I think West Virginia will pull it out, getting a big road win.

Vanderbilt @ Texas
When: 12:00 pm, ESPN2
Why: These are two teams that are just now starting to really hit their stride. The Longhorns have wins over Iowa State, West Virginia and North Carolina, and first year head coach Shaka Smart has his team playing at an extremely high level, despite the loss of Cameron Ridley. Vanderbilt has won four of their last five games, that following a stretch which saw them lose seven of ten games. The Commodores have not lost to a team outside of KenPom’s top-70, and therefore are rated much better than their 12-8 record would suggest.
Prediction: Vanderbilt probably has the best player on the court in G Wade Baldwin IV, but Texas is a better team right now. Given that they’re playing at home, I expect them to get another nice victory.

Ole Miss @ Kansas State
When: 2:00 pm, ESPNU
Why: If you’re looking to watch a team, Kansas State is the team to look for here. They are just 2-6 in Big 12 play, but they lost to Texas by just three points, and they took West Virginia and Baylor to double overtime. They are currently on the bubble, and can’t afford a home loss to Ole Miss. The Rebels are just 3-5 in the SEC, and they have a brutal schedule coming up, where they’ll face Vanderbilt, Florida, Arkansas and Texas A&M in consecutive games. A road win against Kansas State would be a good start to that stretch.
Prediction: As a bubble team, Kansas State needs every win that they can get, and on their home floor, I expect them to defeat Ole Miss.

Tennessee @ TCU
When: 2:00 pm, ESPN2
Why: Tennessee is struggling under first year head coach Rick Barnes, as they sit at just .500 two-thirds of the way through this season. They have defeated Florida and South Carolina, so they are capable of beating good teams. A few years ago they made a late-season run, made the tournament as one of the last four teams in, and ended up making it to the Sweet 16. They will look to make a similar run late in this season. TCU is at the bottom of a very good Big 12, but their lone win in conference play is over Texas. That leads me to believe that if they play their best, they can definitely beat Tennessee.
Prediction: I just don’t see TCU having enough firepower to defeat a Tennessee team that needs to win as many games as possible the rest of the season. Coach Barnes should have his Volunteers motivated enough to get this victory.

#14 Iowa State @ #5 Texas A&M
When: 2:00 pm, ESPN
Why: This is probably the most exciting match-up of the challenge, even though ESPN, Kentucky fans and Kansas fans would tell you different. Iowa State has defeated Iowa, Kansas and Oklahoma this season, but those were all at home. Their best road win this season is a 2-point win over Cincinnati. They could really use a signature road victory. The Aggies had a 10-game win streak snapped this week against Arkansas, so they will be extra motivated to get back on a winning track. They have wins over Texas, Kansas State and Baylor this year, so they’ve proven that they can beat Big 12 teams. A win over Iowa State would put a nice stamp on that.
Prediction: Texas A&M will have the home court advantage, and they will not want to lose a second game in a row, but every time I watch Iowa State, I am more and more impressed by them. They need a signature road win, and I think they get it here.

Texas Tech @ Arkansas
When: 4:00 pm, ESPNU
Why: Texas Tech looked really good during non-conference play, going 10-1 so far with wins over Hawaii, Arkansas-Little Rock and Richmond, but they have come back to earth during Big 12 play, where they are just 2-6. They also have just one road win this season (against TCU), so this will be a difficult test for them. Arkansas has under-performed this season after losing Bobby Portis and Michael Qualls to the NBA. They are just 10-10, but they’re coming off of their biggest win of the season over Texas A&M. This should be an entertaining game.
Prediction: Arkansas will look to avoid a letdown after their huge win on Wednesday, and I think they’ll be fine. Advanced statistics say that Arkansas is better than their record, and with Texas Tech’s road struggles, I think the Razorbacks will pull it out.

#1 Oklahoma @ LSU
When: 5:00 pm, ESPN
Why: If you tune in to this game, you will see the two best players in college basketball on the same court. A college basketball fan’s dream this year! The sure-to-be #1 overall selection in the 2016 NBA Draft, LSU’s Ben Simmons, and the almost sure-to-be National Player of the Year, Oklahoma’s Buddy Hield. Outside of these two guys, these teams are led by their guard play (Ben Simmons plays like a guard most of the time), and that should create an exciting, high-scoring match-up.
Prediction: LSU has already beaten Kentucky on their home floor, and a win over Oklahoma is the thing that could give them a spot in the tournament. While they are playing much better now, I think Oklahoma is just too talented. The Sooners will win a close one.

Georgia @ #17 Baylor
When: 6:00 pm, ESPN2
Why: Baylor has a lot of close wins this season, but they only have four losses, and all four of those losses are to teams in KenPom’s top-20 (Oregon, Texas A&M, Kansas, Oklahoma). They are a great offensive team, and they can stifle teams with their 1-3-1 zone defense. They’re hosting a Georgia team that has, for the most part, beaten the teams they should beat, and lost to the teams they should lose to. They’re 11-7 on the year, and they need to make a late-season run if they’re going to make the tournament. A road win over Baylor would be a nice jumping-off point.
Prediction: Every time I watch Baylor, they leave me asking a ton of questions. The results tell the story, but the eye test leaves much to be desired. I expect them to play really well in this one, and get the victory.

#20 Kentucky @ #4 Kansas
When: 7:00 pm, ESPN
Why: Two traditional heavyweights going at it in the main event of the Big 12/SEC Challenge. Kansas has been one of the best teams in the country this season, but they’ve lost three of their last five games, and they’re coming off a loss to Iowa State. Kentucky has been solid this year, but they haven’t been the same Kentucky team that we’re used to. PG Tyler Ulis might be the best player in this game, and they’ll need him to carry the load if they’re going to knock off the Jayhawks.
Prediction: ESPN’s College Gameday will be in town, so the home crowd will be especially pumped up for this one. Kentucky is definitely good enough to beat Kansas, but in this atmosphere, I like the Jayhawks to come out victorious.

Oklahoma State @ Auburn
When: 8:00 pm, ESPN2
Why: Unfortunately, the schedule makers messed up a little, and Oklahoma State versus Auburn will be the final game in the Big 12/SEC Challenge. That doesn’t mean this game won’t have fireworks, maybe. The Cowboys defeated Kansas a couple weeks ago, but that is their only win in their last seven games. They’ll need to play really well to win this one on the road. Auburn is under .500 on the season, but they have beaten Tennessee, Alabama and Kentucky at home this season. Head Coach Bruce Pearl is trying to turn this program around, and they’re definitely on the right track, despite their struggles this season.
Prediction: Oklahoma State might be the more talented team, but Auburn has been very good at home this season. I expect them to get the win, and if my predictions hold true, that would give the SEC three wins in the challenge, giving the Big 12 the edge this year.

I hope you’re able to sit down and watch some of these games. This should be a good Big 12/SEC Challenge!

Top-25: January 28

I will be in Stroudsburg tonight for work, so we’ll go with a watered down Top-25 this week. Nothing really special, just my ranking with a look ahead to what the teams will face this coming week.

25. Saint Mary’s (17-2, 8-1)
Last Week: Win 70-67 vs Gonzaga; Win 89-74 vs Portland
Upcoming Games: Sat 1/30 @ Pacific

24. Baylor (16-4, 6-2)
Last Week: Loss 72-82 vs Oklahoma; Win 69-65 @ Oklahoma State
Upcoming Games: Sat 1/30 vs Georgia; Mon 2/1 vs Texas

23. Michigan (16-5, 6-2)
Last Week: Win 81-68 @ Nebraska; Win 68-57 vs Rutgers
Upcoming Games: Sat 1/30 vs Penn State (in NYC); Tue 2/2 vs Indiana

22. Purdue (18-4, 6-3)
Last Week: Win 75-64 vs Ohio State; Loss 71-83 @ Iowa; Win 68-64 @ Minnesota
Upcoming Games: Sat 1/30 vs Nebraska

21. Notre Dame (14-5, 5-2)
Last Week: W 76-49 vs Boston College
Upcoming Games: Thu 1/28 @ Syracuse; Sun 1/31 vs Wake Forest; Wed 2/3 @ Miami FL

20. Oregon (16-4, 5-2)
Last Week: Win 89-81 vs USC; Win 86-72 vs UCLA
Upcoming Games: Thu 1/28 @ Arizona; Sun 1/31 @ Arizona State

19. Kentucky (16-4, 6-2)
Last Week: Win 80-66 @ Arkansas; Win 76-57 vs Vanderbilt; Win 88-54 vs Missouri
Upcoming Games: Sat 1/30 @ Kansas; Tue 2/2 @ Tennessee

18. Wichita State (15-5, 9-0)
Last Week: Win 88-54 vs Bradley; Win 80-54 vs Loyola Chicago
Upcoming Games: Sun 1/31 @ Evansville; Wed 2/3 vs Southern Illinois

17. Iowa State (16-4, 5-3)
Last Week: Win 73-60 @ TCU; Win 85-72 vs Kansas
Upcoming Games: Sat 1/30 @ Texas A&M; Tue 2/2 vs West Virginia

16. Arizona (16-4, 4-3)
Last Week: Win 71-57 @ Stanford; Loss 73-74 @ California
Upcoming Games: Thu 1/28 vs Oregon; Sat 1/30 vs Oregon State; Wed 2/3 @ Washington State

15. Providence (17-4, 5-3)
Last Week: Win 82-76 @ Villanova (OT); Loss 68-75 vs Xavier
Upcoming Games: Sat 1/30 @ Georgetown; Tue 2/2 @ DePaul

14. Maryland (17-3, 6-2)
Last Week: Loss 65-74 @ Michigan State
Upcoming Games: Thu 1/28 vs Iowa; Sun 1/31 @ Ohio State; Wed 2/3 @ Nebraska

13. SMU (18-1, 7-1)
Last Week: Loss 80-89 @ Temple
Upcoming Games: Sat 1/30 vs Memphis; Mon 2/1 @ Houston

12. Miami FL (16-3, 5-2)
Last Week: Win 77-63 vs Wake Forest; Win 80-69 vs Duke
Upcoming Games: Sat 1/30 @ NC State; Wed 2/3 vs Notre Dame

11. Kansas (16-4, 5-3)
Last Week: Win 76-67 vs Texas; Loss 72-85 @ Iowa State
Upcoming Games: Sat 1/30 vs Kentucky; Wed 2/3 vs Kansas State

10. Louisville (17-3, 6-1)
Last Week: Win 75-71 @ Georgia Tech; Win 91-83 @ Virginia Tech
Upcoming Games: Sat 1/30 vs Virginia; Mon 2/1 vs North Carolina

9. Michigan State (17-4, 4-4)
Last Week: Win 74-65 vs Maryland
Upcoming Games: Thu 1/28 @ Northwestern; Sun 1/31 vs Rutgers

8. Texas A&M (17-3, 7-1)
Last Week: Win 66-53 vs Missouri; Loss 71-74 @ Arkansas
Upcoming Games: Sat 1/30 vs Iowa State

7. Virginia (16-4, 5-3)
Last Week: Win 73-65 vs Syracuse; Win 72-71 @ Wake Forest
Upcoming Games: Sat 1/30 @ Louisville; Wed 2/3 vs Boston College

6. West Virginia (17-3, 6-2)
Last Week: Win 80-76 @ Texas Tech; Win 70-55 vs Kansas State
Upcoming Games: Sat 1/30 @ Florida; Tue 2/2 @ Iowa State

5. Xavier (18-2, 6-2)
Last Week: Win 84-76 vs Seton Hall; Win 75-68 @ Providence
Upcoming Games: Sat 1/30 @ DePaul; Wed 2/3 vs St. John’s

4. Villanova (17-3, 7-1)
Last Week: Loss 76-82 vs Providence (OT)
Upcoming Games: Sun 1/31 @ St. John’s; Wed 2/3 vs Creighton

3. Iowa (16-3, 7-0)
Last Week: Win 90-76 @ Rutgers; Win 83-71 vs Purdue
Upcoming Games: Thu 1/28 @ Maryland; Sun 1/31 vs Northwestern; Wed 2/3 vs Penn State

2. Oklahoma (17-2, 6-2)
Last Week: Win 82-72 @ Baylor; Win 91-67 vs Texas Tech
Upcoming Games: Sat 1/30 @ LSU; Tue 2/2 vs TCU

1. North Carolina (18-2, 7-0)
Last Week: Win 75-70 @ Virginia Tech
Upcoming Games: Sat 1/30 vs Boston College; Mon 2/1 @ Louisville

This weekend, 10 teams from the SEC will battle 10 teams from the Big 12 in the SEC/Big 12 Challenge, a fun event in the middle of the conference grind. Tomorrow, I will have a preview of the 10 games taking place for this event, highlighted by a battle between heavyweights Kentucky and Kansas.