Wisconsin has lost two straight to Indiana and Michigan. Arizona, Syracuse, and Wichita State are now the only undefeated teams left in Division I basketball. Arizona took down in-state rival Arizona State 91-68 last Thursday and will take on a tough Colorado team next Thursday on January 23rd. Syracuse faced Pittsburgh for their first ACC meeting and their 103rd overall last Saturday night and it was the Orangemen that came out on top 59-54. That was Pitt’s first ACC loss of the season and drops them to 16-2 (4-1). Then Wichita State blew out Indiana State 68-48 to go 18-0 for the first time in program history. So why are these three teams still undefeated midway through the season? Well let’s start with Arizona.
Besides Duke, UNLV, and Michigan, they had a fairly easy non-conference schedule to begin the season. They’re balanced both offensively and defensively. They control the inside of the paint because of super-freshman Aaron Gordon and they pass the ball to the open man (they are 29th in the nation in assists per game). Head Coach Sean Miller has done a terrific job at handling these young athletes so that they can play as one solid unit (they only have one senior on the roster and five freshmen). The only teams that should give Arizona trouble for the rest of the season are Colorado, California, and Oregon. If Arizona could hold up against those guys and the rest of their opponents, they could go undefeated for the rest of the year and head back to that national championship that they’ve been waiting for since 1997. Then there’s Syracuse. Jim Boeheim’s zone defense is looking better than ever thanks to experienced players like C.J. Fair, Jerami Grant, and Rakeem Christmas. The Orange don’t exactly pop out at you on offense, but they say the best defense is the best offense. Speaking of offense, freshman point guard Tyler Ennis has been running the Orange’s offense to literally perfection while senior C.J. Fair is having the best year of his illustrious career averaging 17.1 points, 5.8 rebounds, and 1.6 steals per game. He will be a sure first round pick in this upcoming NBA draft that is just loaded with talent. For NBA teams, it doesn’t matter if you make the playoffs or not, you will still end up drafting a future superstar player no matter what pick you have in the draft. Last, but not least is Wichita State.
They have been blowing by everyone they have played against. Just like Syracuse, they have a great defense that crashes the boards (they are 31st in the nation in rebounding). During their perfect run, they have not allowed an opponent to score more than 72 points against them all year. After Wisconsin’s loss, they should move up to the third or fourth ranking in the nation, something that Coach Gregg Marshall probably didn’t dream of since he took over the program in 2007. Looking at their schedule, they should remain undefeated unless someone else “shocks” them. Their offense runs through their talented sophomore point guard Fred Van Vleet and their senior big man Cleanthony Early. With this one-two punch on the court, Wichita State could be fighting for a number one seed in the national tournament, something that will really “shock” the world! Sorry about the puns. I just can’t help it! It’s too easy!
So you’ve got the dominating Arizona Wildcats, the smart and experienced Syracuse Orangemen, and the suprisingly talented Wichita State Shockers. Keep your eyes open for these three; either one of them could make history this year.
Sophomore point guard Marcus Paige helps UNC avoid their first 0-4 ACC start by defeating the Boston College Eagles 82-71. The Tar Heels are now 11-6 and 1-3 in the ACC. Paige finished the game with 21 points, four assists, two rebounds, and two steals. The product of Marion, Iowa jumped onto the scene as an elite point guard after scoring 32 points against Louisville in the win back on November 24th. Paige is following in the footsteps of some other great point guards who wore number five at North Carolina (most recently Kendall Marshall and Ty Lawson, arguably the greatest point guard UNC has ever had). Paige knows that if he keeps up this level of play, he could be a late first-round draft pick in the upcoming draft, though as of right now he plans on staying for his junior year. He’s been putting up some great numbers for the year, leading the team with 17 points and 4.3 assists per game. He is also averaging 3.6 rebounds, and 1.4 steals per game. The Tar Heels have been disappointing this year, losing to teams like Belmont and UAB, but they have also been playing great, beating teams like Michigan State and Kentucky. The point guard runs the offense for the team and when he plays well, the whole team plays well. As of lately, Marcus Paige has not been playing well. He’s been only averaging 12.7 points in the last six games before the win against Boston College last Saturday and was also averaging 2.2 turnovers per game. Yet, he is the only consistent player on this Tar Heel team and when he gets going, UNC stands for Unstoppable North Carolina. Free throws have been a big problem for the Tar Heels this season. The team overall has a 61.7 shooting percentage from the free throw line. That’s pretty bad. However, Marcus Paige is leading the team with a 92 free throw percentage. No one else on the team has more than 80 percent! He is also the team’s leading three-point shooter, hitting 35.3 percent from beyond the arc. He’s going to turn into a talented player by the time he reaches the NBA, but for now, he’s got to worry about keeping UNC alive in the ACC.
Usually when people think of the University of Arkansas, the first thing that comes to their mind is their football program and motorcycle accidents. As of last Tuesday night, people are now thinking about their basketball program. After losing to Florida in overtime on January 11th, Arkansas bounced back to beat 13th ranked Kentucky 87-85 in overtime at home. The Razorbacks didn’t start off their SEC play well, losing two straight to Texas A&M and Florida, but then they notched their first SEC win against Kentucky. That loss to Arkansas was the first SEC loss by the Wildcats this season. It was all due to sophomore Michael Qualls’ put-back dunk with less than a second left that propelled the Razorbacks to victory.
Before conference games started this season, Arkansas was 11-2. What’s the secret to their success? A talented freshmen class and great coaching by Mike Anderson. The Razorback coach has these players playing as a team. They’re 15th in the nations in points per game (84.7) and 20th in assists per game (16.4). No one is selfish (the leading scorer has only 13 points per game) and leaders are stepping up (Coty Clarke is just one of five seniors on the team). As for the freshmen class, Bobby Portis is second on the team in points per game with 12.4. He is also the leader in rebounds with 6.6 per game. Nowadays if you’re a freshman and you’re not playing well, everyone looks down on you. The level of expectations for playing as a freshman has been set at an all-time high with Andrew Wiggins and Jabari Parker on the scene. Portis is helping this Razorback team in so many ways. Michael Qualls and Rashad Madden are slowly turning into superstars at Arkansas and they are making these Razorbacks fun to watch. Look out for these guys come February and March, because they have bracket buster written all over them.
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