No. 15 Alabama (3-0) vs. Wichita State (2-0), Puerto Rico Maryland is a bad team, but not that bad. The Crimson Tide embarrassed the Terps by 20 points in Thursday's opening-round game at the Puerto Rico Tip-Off. We knew 'Bama was tough up front, but the team's three-point shooting -- usually an Achilles' heel -- was impressive as they made 7 for 16 from behind the arc. (Junior swingman Tony Mitchell made 3 for 4 en route to 17 points.) Wichita State senior center Garrett Stutz is a load inside at 7-feet, 256 pounds, but I don't think the Shockers will be able to hang with the Tide on the perimeter.
No. 16 Arizona (4-0) vs. Mississippi State (3-1) For all the attention we give to Mississippi State center Renardo Sidney, the truth is the Bulldogs are a much better team when he's not on the floor. That way they can play through Sidney's interior sidekick, Arnett Moultrie, a 6-11 transfer from UTEP. Moultrie had eight points and eight rebounds while playing 36 minutes in the Bulldogs' upset of Texas A&M Thursday night, but his presence allowed the guards to get open looks. Even with Arizona's inexperience, the Wildcats were much more experienced than the St. John's team they beat Thursday. It's risky picking a Bulldogs team that lost to Akron at home just one week ago, but I think Mississippi State picked up some confidence, and they'll ride that through to victory tonight.
St. John's (3-1) vs. No. 18 Texas A&M (2-1) It's a shame St. John's lost three freshmen to academics this fall, because if the Johnnies had some depth they'd be a lot harder to beat. As such, Steve Lavin had to play his stellar freshman guard, Nurideen Lindsey, late in the second half against Arizona, even though Lindsey was in foul trouble. He fouled out with just under four minutes to play, and the Storm fell apart down the stretch. This is an exciting team to watch (love the fullcourt press falling back into the matchup zone), but as they showed last night, the Johnnies are too inexperienced for their own good. I think it's too much to ask for them to turn around the next day and beat a good Aggies team that is older, stronger, more experienced, and just as talented, if not more so.
Seton Hall (2-0) vs. Saint Joseph's (2-0) Most every college basketball coach will tell you his team is young, but Phil Martelli really means it. His Saint Joseph's Hawks feature 10 freshmen and sophomores on their 13-man roster. So even though Georgia Tech is no great shakes, the Hawks have every right to feel good about their 66-53 win over the Yellow Jackets in the opening round of the Charleston Classic. Seton Hall is no great shakes, either, but the Pirates are better than Georgia Tech and much older than the Hawks. Their inside-outside combo of Herb Pope (20 points, 13 rebounds) and Jordan Theodore (20 points) looked awfully impressive in their 15-point pasting of VCU. I think they'll look impressive again as they march on to Sunday's championship game.
Miami (Ohio) (1-0) at No. 14 Xavier (2-0) There's nothing like a good old-fashioned intrastate rivalry to spice up the early part of the season. Miami took care of one neighbor by surprising Dayton with a 72-67 overtime win behind Julian Mavunga's 17 points. If they were playing at home, I might actually pick the Redhawks for an upset. But in the Cintas Center, I have to go with Xavier. Senior All-America candidate Tu Holloway came back from a one-game suspension to score 24 points in a win over IPFW, but his backcourtmate, Mark Lyons, is off to an equally impressive start. After putting up 13.6 points per game as a sophomore, Lyons has averaged 21.5 points, 5.5 rebounds and 5.5 assists in his first two games. Keep your eyes on these Musketeers. It could be the best team Xavier has had in some time -- and that's saying a lot.
Saturday, Nov. 19
No. 7 Louisville (2-0) at Butler (1-1) It's déjà vu all over again at Louisville. Last year, the Cardinals overcame a rash of injuries and still almost won the Big East regular-season title. It's not even December yet, and Louisville has already been bit by the bug. Several weeks ago the Cards lost freshman swingman Wayne Blackshear to a shoulder injury (they're hoping he returns by Christmas). This week, they lost junior guard Mike Marra to a season-ending ACL injury, and junior point guard Peyton Siva has a severely sprained ankle that has left his status doubtful for the Butler game. Still, this is an extremely deep team, and I think the Cardinals still have enough firepower to squeeze out a win in Hinkle Fieldhouse, where Butler, which lost its season opener at Evansville, is in rebuilding mode.
No. 20 Vanderbilt (2-1) vs. North Carolina State (3-0) The big question for Vanderbilt is whether junior guard John Jenkins, an All-America candidate, will play. Jenkins missed the Commodores' win over Bucknell Tuesday because of a sprained ankle, and he is listed as questionable for this game. Vandy is already playing without its biggest and toughest player, Festus Ezeli, because of a knee injury, so it's critical the 'Dores get Jenkins back. As I wrote in Hoop Thoughts this week, Vanderbilt looks like the Tim Tebow of college hoops -- you either believe in 'em or you don't. Despite their loss to Cleveland State at home I'm a believer, but a loss to a mediocre N.C. State team would have me heading for the exits.
Texas (2-0) vs Oregon State (3-0) This game features two of the most dynamic scoring guards in the country. The first one, who you know about, is Longhorns' junior J'Covan Brown, who had 35 and 28 points in Texas' first two games. The second, who you probably don't know about but should, is the Beavers' human highlight reel Jared Cunningham, a 6-4 junior who is scoring 22.3 points per game despite making just 27 percent of his three-point attempts. If this game were being played in late February I probably would go with the Longhorns. But Rick Barnes' club is young and inexperienced, and the Beavers, who are in dire need of a program-defining breakthrough win, play that funky Princeton-style offense. What the heck.
Sunday, Nov. 20
Creighton (3-0) vs. Iowa (3-0) A lot of us so-called experts have pegged Creighton as one of the top mid-majors entering the season. If that's the case, a neutral court game against a lower-tier team from the Big Ten amounts to a must-win. You might think that's assigning too much importance on a late-November game, but if the Bluejays are in need of an at-large bid, they can hardly suffer a loss in their most challenging nonconference game. And win they should: Their 3-0 record includes a 10-point true road triumph at UAB. Sophomore forward Doug McDermott scored 27 points in that game. Iowa has shown a balanced attack in the early going (they have five players averaging double figure scoring), but Fran McCaffrey is still working to bring this program back to respectability, whereas Creighton is already there.
Harvard (2-0) at Loyola Marymount (1-1) I wouldn't have thought this matchup to be worthy of inclusion, but the Lions' season-opening upset of UCLA put them on the radar. Do they have staying power? Uh ? no. They followed that up by losing at home by seven points to Middle Tennessee State. Harvard is better than MTSU, and I'm not sure the Crimson isn't better than UCLA right now as well. The team to beat in the Ivy is paced by senior forward Keith Wright, who has averaged 14 points (on 57 percent shooting) and seven rebounds in their first two games.
Record Last Year: 85-45
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