The first few days of the college basketball season haven’t been too full of compelling games. (Maybe someone should I write about this?) That changes however this week, and especially tonight with the Champions Classic in Chicago. Our knowledgeable and savvy experts are ready to weigh in on the actions ahead. Let’s run 94 feet:
We (finally!) have some good games to play tonight, but first, what’s going on in St. John’s? They were beaten 89-73 by Michigan on Monday night at the Garden. Is the Red Storm that bad, or is Michigan really that good?
Seth Davis: I’m sure it’s both, but I have to say Michigan looked awfully good beating UNC Asheville and Youngstown State by a combined 55 points in its first two games. And that looked good Monday night in a game that wasn’t even as close as the final score indicated. It’s been a bit of a strange start for the Wolverines as Phil Martelli runs things while Juwan Howard recovers from heart surgery, but it’s obvious that the addition of transfers Namari Burnett (Alabama) and Olivier Nkahmhoua (Tennessee) has makes a huge difference. Michigan dominated St. John’s Monday night despite just nine points from Nkahmhoua, who emerged as the leading scorer. The best player on the court by far was sophomore point guard Dug McDaniel (26 points, seven assists, two turnovers). He led the team like a maestro. We’ll see how long this lasts, but we’re all clearly hoping it all ends with a game against Kansas (and former Michigan center Hunter Dickinson) in the NCAA Tournament. Is this too much to ask?
Jeff Goodman: First of all, it’s a new coach with a completely new team. The only returner is Joel Soriano, and coach Rick Pitino is still missing a few key players. I also wonder if the Red Storm have a guy, a guy who can just play off the bounce. But give Michigan credit. They had a big win on the road, a much-needed win for the Wolverines and also for the Little Ten. Burnett was great early and McDaniel showed why point guard play remains the most important aspect of college basketball. Martelli hasn’t forgotten how to coach. It’s certain. The question now is whether Michigan can sustain this, but it appears to have enough talent and experience, and the pieces seem to be fitting together.
Let’s move on to the Champions Classic. Duke and Michigan State are openers. The Blue Devils are favored by three. Who do you Love?
Seth Davis: That’s a tough question, because the Spartans have shot the ball very poorly in their first two games. Is this who they are, or are they about to escape? I suspect it’s the latter. I also think coach Tom Izzo might want to give his freshmen a few extra minutes, if only to see if they can handle it. Duke also lost a tough home game to Arizona. The Blue Devils got beat up on the defensive glass, so I’m sure that was Jon Scheyer’s top priority in practice this week. Additionally, Tyrese Proctor was very good against the Wildcats, and very good players rarely have two bad games in a row. I’ll go with the Blue Devils, but I can’t say I’m confident.
Jeff Goodman: This is going to be a brawl with the loser heading to a 1-2 overall record. Izzo’s team has looked terrible so far as the Blue Devils lost at home to a tough Arizona team. I’m going with Seth on this one, and I’m taking Duke. However, I will say this: Proctor needs to come out and assert himself against the Spartan guards. If he doesn’t, it puts too much pressure on Kyle Filipowski.
Kansas is favored by 5 ½ over Kentucky in the nightcap. What is your choice there?
Seth Davis: The Jayhawks, of course. Kentucky is down three big men, and it’s not a good idea to play Dickinson. From what I’ve seen of the big guy so far, I think he’s going to pose a real challenge to Zach Edey for National Player of the Year. Coach Bill Self works him at the top position, and he really does well from there. Kentucky leans heavily on the veteran presence of Antonio Reeves and Tre Mitchell, but other than that, it’s pretty much all freshmen. Maybe the young guys will play the lights out and find a way to make it happen, but I think Dickinson and KJ Adams will split the ‘Cats inside and win this thing from starting.
Jeff Goodman: I’m not as high on Kansas as I was about a month ago, mainly because I don’t know if they have enough guys who can shoot from deep and also make plays off the bounce. Kentucky has guys who can play, but they are young with freshmen guards DJ Wagner and Robert Dillingham. I just trust Self and Dickinson — and the ‘Cats don’t have healthy players who can compete with Dickinson in the paint and on the glass. If KU hits deep shots, this one has the potential to get ugly.
There are several other quality games happening this week. Which one catches your eye?
Seth Davis: As if the Champions Classic wasn’t enough entertainment tonight, we also have two ranked teams facing off, with Marquette traveling to Illinois. There will be some exceptional guard play in this matchup with the Illini’s Terrence Shannon taking on Marquette’s Tyler Kolek and Kam Jones. Illinois is going to have a size advantage up front, and there’s going to be a loud crowd in Champaign, so I’ll go with the home team here. But it’s going to be a struggle.
Jeff Goodman: This will completely depend on the health of Kolek’s ankle. Kolek is a tough guy, but he hurt his ankle and even if he plays, he won’t be 100%. I just don’t see Marquette coming into Champaign and beating the Illini in this one. While Illinois has questions at point guard, they have a guy in Ty Rodgers who is big, strong and physical — and that could pose problems for Kokek on the defensive end.
Before you leave . . .
Jeff Goodman: I have one more for you, Seth. I was at the Indiana-Army game a few nights ago and the Hoosiers barely beat a team that had been pummeled by Stonehill and Marist. How concerned are you about this IU group? I just don’t like their roster construction and the fact that coach Mike Woodson wants to try to play three big guys. These days, you need more perimeter shooters on the court — and the spacing with Indiana’s offense has been abysmal in the first two games. They didn’t move the ball, they didn’t push it in transition. I’m worried about this team.
Seth Davis: I can’t say I’m surprised. Was there good reason to expect big things from Indiana? They lost a guy who was arguably the best player in the country during the second half of the season, along with a first-round draft pick and two other senior starters. And their best newcomer is a guy who barely came off the bench on a mediocre Oregon team. You make a good point about building their list. I agree. I would much rather have a small and fast team than a large and slow team. Woodson knows how to coach, and if the Hoosiers stay healthy, I think he can put them in position to make the NCAA Tournament. But I see a low ceiling.