Teams: Purdue, Oklahoma State, Butler, Washington State, Memphis Siena, LSU, St. Joseph’s
Favorite: Oklahoma State – Through five games, Marcus Smart and the high-powered Cowboys are averaging over 100 points a game. That includes a dominant 101-80 victory over Memphis. Smart and Markel Brown combine to average 36 points a game. OSU has the firepower to make a deep run next March. If the Cowboys continue to play defense and rebound, they’ll be tough to beat in Orlando.
Contenders: Memphis – The Tigers have to be disappointed by the drubbing Oklahoma State put on them in Stillwater. How will they respond? Memphis is arguably the second most talented team in the field. Shaq Goodwin must continue to progress. Nick King leads the Tigers in scoring through three games; he’s also second on the team in rebounding. Overall, the Tigers share the scoring load with nine players averaging at least five points. As the season is young, there are some questions about how this year’s group will mesh. Read more…
Favorite: New Mexico – Former head coach Steve Alford bolted for UCLA, but the Lobos return several starters from a team that earned a No. 3 seed in the NCAA tournament last spring. Although untested to this point, UNM is averaging 98 ppg in two contests. The good news: New Mexico’s strongest challenge will probably come from Massachusetts in the semifinals. The bad news: This year’s field doesn’t appear to offer the Lobos many additional chances for high-end victories.
Contender: Massachusetts – The Minutemen have been close to an NCAA bid in recent years and hope to break through in 2014. With early victories over Boston College and LSU, UMass has positioned itself for a successful non-conference slate. Chaz Williams has been superb, averaging 21 ppg in three contests. Cady Lalanne is averaging 18 points and 11 rebounds in that same span. If the Minuteman can get past Nebraska in the opener, they will likely get a shot at New Mexico in the semifinals. Win that one and it could be a November to remember in Amherst. Read more…
None of us can predict how the college landscape will look in January, let alone March. But early-season and holiday tournaments provide us some juicy match-ups we might not otherwise see. Opportunities await to put neutral-court wins on resumes.
In this edition of Inside the Bracket, let’s take a peak at the Puerto Rico Tip-Off:
Favorite: Michigan – The Wolverines lost a second-half lead in Ames and fell to the Iowa State Cyclones. Losing a road game in a tough environment – in Mitch McGary’s first game (back issues) – isn’t that concerning. A consensus Top 15 team to open the season, Michigan remains the favorite here, assuming McGary’s back is okay and he provides valuable minutes. If Michigan meets VCU in the semifinals, it will be interesting to see how the Wolverines handle VCU’s relentless pressure without Trey Burke at the helm.
Contenders: VCU, Georgetown – Many around the country believe this is Shaka Smart’s best – and perhaps deepest – team at VCU. It’s conceivable that the Rams will have to beat Florida State, Michigan, and Georgetown to win the tournament. Do that, and VCU will leave Puerto Rico with some significant momentum. Georgetown might be better than we think; who knows, the Hoyas might be the best team in the re-aligned Big East. What we do know is that Georgetown gave Oregon a good fight in South Korea and dominated preseason Horizon favorite Wright State in the States. Read more…
It’s a busy second weekend of college hoops. There are six games that look particularly intriguing. And it’s certainly possible that at least a couple could have bracket implications (seeding or selection) down the line. Let’s take a look:
Ohio State at Marquette – Could be the best game on the docket. If LaQuinton Ross proves to be a reliable scorer, the Buckeyes can challenge Michigan State in the Big Ten race. They also need consistent play from Sam Thompson and Lenzelle Smith, Jr. While guard play is a work in progress for the Golden Eagles, Davante Gardner and Chris Otule anchor a solid front line for Marquette. This type of non-conference victory will look good on either team’s resume.
Michigan at Iowa State – Mitch McGary (back) has yet to play for the Wolverines, who are hoping for a return trip to the Final Four. Iowa State just missed the Field of 68 in our preseason projection, but the Cyclones could easily work their way into the bracket if Fred Hoiberg once again blends some new pieces together. Neither team has been challenged, but a victory would be a particularly nice boost for ISU. The Cyclones have a tough trip to BYU next week.
Indiana State at Notre Dame – After losing a 16-point halftime lead and falling at Belmont on Thursday, Indiana State could use a bounce-back victory in South Bend. Other than a game at Saint Louis in December, the Sycamores’ non-conference schedule doesn’t offer many chances for bracket-worthy wins. ISU allowed Belmont to score 63 second-half points. They’ll have to tighten up the defense to have a chance against the Irish. Read more…
In four days, it’ll be 2013, and the race to Selection Sunday begins takes on added meaning. But these four days are packed with key games. Here’s a look at some games we’ll be paying close attention to through New Year’s Eve …
Friday, December 28
Baylor at Gonzaga – The last time Gonzaga hosted a potential NCAA team on its home floor, Illinois left The Kennel with an 11-point victory. And while the visiting Bears have a headscratching loss to College of Charleston (and one at home to Northwestern), they do have a road win at Kentucky.
Missouri at UCLA – Will this be a season-changing moment for UCLA? The Bruins have largely underachieved, and have yet to post a high-caliber victory (Texas is questionnable – although the Indiana State win looks better). Missouri’s new pieces are coming together and Jabari Brown has added some outside scoring punch. Come March, it’s not a stretch to think this Mizzou team could actually be better than last year’s.
Saturday, December 29
Kentucky at Louisville – One of the nation’s best rivalries. That said, this game will tell us more about where UK is than Louisville. The Wildcats’ best win is over Maryland in November, and while there are no “bad” losses, Big Blue Nation grew a bit restless after falling to Baylor at home. Gorgui Dieng is expected to return for the Cardinals.
Virginia Tech vs. BYU (at Salt Lake) – A defacto home game for the Cougars, this has mid-season bubble-game written all over it. Tech has the better overall resume to date, but the Hokies have lost three of five – including a home game to Georgia Southern. Read more…