College basketball: Villanova vs. Ga. Tech one of many intriguing Friday tilts
Stay home this afternoon, college hoops friends. Leave the shopping to others, heat a fat plate of leftovers, fire up the tablet, laptop and high definition television. Or maybe find a local multi-screen neighborhood establishment, claim a comfortable chair that offers an unobstructed view of the action. Regardless the locale, prepare the palate for those marathon early round NCAA tournament days by enjoying multiple games that tip between 2:30 and 3. Because the early-season tournaments have delivered an early treat to college hoops lovers: a trio of delicious matchups Friday in the mid-afternoon window. Each game includes a program amid a long NCAA tournament drought that’s shooting for a signature victory that would resonate with the selection committee in March.
The six teams featured are rolling through November. They have a combined record of 30-1 entering today’s games. Georgia Tech suffered the lone loss, falling to East Tennessee State by one point on Nov. 22 when Ge’Lawn Guyn hit a 3-pointer with three seconds remaining.
Here’s the schedule and the skinny.
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Xavier vs. Southern Cal (Friday, 2:30 p.m., ESPNU)
No. 23 Xavier (5-0) just keeps rolling under coach Chris Mack, who has led the program to two Sweet 16s and five NCAA tournament appearances in the past six years. The Musketeers are strong yet again. They’ve won each game this season by at least nine points and throttled Michigan 86-70 on its homecourt last Friday. Trevon Bluiett has been terrific, tossing in 14.4 points per game and grabbing 8.6 rebounds. Southern Cal (5-0) knows the other side of the postseason. The Trojans haven’t received a NCAA bid since 2010-11. But this year, Andy Enfield’s third in Los Angeles, already feels different. USC beat likely top-100 team New Mexico earlier before stunning Wichita State in the first round in Orlando. The Trojans are playing fast (76.0 possessions per game) and burying long-range jumpers. Jordan McLaughlin has hit 52.4 percent behind-the-arc, while Katin Reinhardt is dropping 47.6 percent.
Battle 4 Atlantis, championship game
Texas A&M vs. Syracuse (Friday, 3 p.m., ESPN)
Syracuse forward Michael Gbinije provided a solid stat line of 17 points, seven assists and six steals in a thrilling 79-76 win over Connecticut. The Orange (5-0) are trying to work their way back into NCAA tournament consideration after having its streak of six consecutive appearances end last season. Texas A&M (6-0) hasn’t been in the NCAA tournament since Mark Turgeon led the Aggies there in 2010-11. Yet this is coach Billy Kennedy’s deepest and most talented bunch in College Station. A 10-man rotation headed by a sensational threesome has already led No. 25 A&M to wins over Texas and Gonzaga in the Bahamas. Senior wing Danuel House (16.7 ppg, 40 percent 3-point shooting) could be the most underrated player in the SEC.
NIT Season Tip-Off, championship game
Georgia Tech vs. Villanova (Friday, 3 p.m., ESPN 2)
It must seem like forever in Atlanta since the days when likeable silver-haired coach Bobby Cremins was mining top talent and competing for ACC championships. The Yellow Jackets are indeed two decades removed from that era. But the game is fun again thanks to the interior presence of Charles Mitchell (double-double in all five games) and a long-range shooting boost provided by Virginia Tech transfer Adam Smith, an Atlanta native. He’s hit 44.1 percent of 3-point attempts for a team that was the third-worst in the nation last season on 3s (26.7 percent). The Yellow Jackets have four players averaging at least 13 points per game and are pouring in 88.6 points per game. They’ll find out where they stand against the No. 8 Wildcats, who return the bulk of the key pieces from a team that earned a No. 1 seed in the 2015 NCAA tournament.
Looking back at the week in college hoops: Everything went right for No. 5 Kansas. The Jayhawks blew through three opponents in the Lahaina Civic Center to win the Maui Jim Maui Invitational championship. Wayne Selden scored 25 points in the championship game defeat of Vanderbilt. Then coach Bill Self received even more good news when the NCAA declared freshman Cheick Diallo eligible, effective Dec. 1. He’s a high-motor forward who will help Kansas defend the paint and clean the glass.
No. 9 North Carolina rebounded from its loss at Northern Iowa with an impressive late comeback to beat Kansas State. Justin Jackson scored 22 points for the Tar Heels, who are still waiting for injured star Marcus Paige to return from a broken finger on his non-shooting hand.
Please allow me to introduce myself: Jordan Price, LaSalle LaSalle coach John Giannini knows his 6-5 forward is wired to score.
"I think he did that coming out of the hospital after being born . . . Seriously, he's always been like that offensively,” Giannini told Philly.com. “If you go back and talk to people on the AAU circuit and the high school circuit, he's been a 40-, 50-point guy in those environments since he was young."
Price averaged 26.5 points per game as the Explorers opened with a 3-1 record. He’s not wasting many shots either, hitting 52.3 percent of his field goals and 48.3 percent on 3-pointers.
Team on the rise: Monmouth. Most of the preseason discussion in the MAAC focused on Iona, which returned a bevy of proven scorers in a high-powered offense. Yet, it’s their conference rival from New Jersey that’s nabbed the national spotlight in the first two weeks of the season. First, the Hawks traveled west and shocked UCLA on opening night. Then, on Thursday in Orlando they trimmed Notre Dame 70-68. They avoid turnovers (12.6 percent of possessions, 11th in the nation) and make free throws (79.6 percent, 11th), led by Justin Robinson, a 5-8 sparkplug who takes 30 percent of the Hawks’ shots and has a 122.3 offensive rating, per KenPom.com
More Weekend Watching
Las Vegas Invitational, championship game
San Diego State vs. West Virginia (Friday, 10:30 p.m., Fox Sports 1)
The Aztecs rallied past California late on Friday night. West Virginia (5-0) turned to fullcourt pressure last season under veteran coach Bob Huggins and is relishing its new identity. The Mountaineers are second in the nation in forcing opponents to commit turnovers (29.2 percent of possessions) and have held four of their five victims to 62 points or less. Devin Williams has been a monster inside. The 6-9 forward is a relentless offensive rebounder who has hit 65.2 percent on 2-point attempts.
Barclays Center Classic
George Washington vs. Tennessee (Friday, 9 p.m., ESPN3)
The Colonials scored one of the season’s more notable upsets Nov. 16 when they handled preseason top five Virginia. GW (5-0) started their holiday weekend visit to New York City with a good meal (ribeye, medium rare?) and hope to cap the trip by feasting on Tennessee (4-1), followed by either Cincinnati or Nebraska on Saturday.
Patricio Garino, always an elite defender, is humming with incredible efficiency on offense. He’s hit 66.7 percent of field goals and 63.7 percent of 3-pointers in scoring 17.4 points per game. Tennessee relies on guards Kevin Punter (126.3 offensive rating) and Robert Hubbs (56.1 percent on 2-pointers).
Wisconsin at Oklahoma (Sunday, 2:30 p.m., ESPN2)
Swimming in a sea of statistics isn’t always necessary to analyze the basketball. Sometimes a team’s success or failure can be revealed through the lens of shooting. Last season, the Badgers had the most efficient offense in Ken Pomeroy’s database dating to 2002. This season Bo Ryan’s squad is still looking for the touch. Wisconsin (4-2) has an effective field goal percentage of 49.9 percent (142nd in the nation). Oklahoma (3-0) might not provide the tonic for their misfiring, however. The Sooners held their first three opponents to 0.95 points per possession or less - and have preseason All-American Buddy Hield, who has scored 76 points on 44 field goal attempts.
Advocare Invitational, championship game (Sunday, 4:30 p.m., ESPN2)
Upsets have blown this field wide open. Notre Dame and Wichita State had eyes on the championship but were sent to the consolation bracket in the opening round. Still, USC, Xavier, Monmouth or Dayton is going to depart Disney World with three quality victories, a trophy and a jolt of confidence.
Wooden Legacy championship game (Sunday, 10 p.m., ESPN2)
The brackets are lined up for a Michigan State-Arizona title game matchup, which would be a sweet wrap to a jam packed 10 days of college basketball action. Spartans forward Denzel Valentine has two double-doubles in five games and is staking his claim as the nation’s top player. Arizona lost starpower to the NBA Draft following last season, but coach Sean Miller still has plenty of talent from which to choose in Tempe. Point guard Kadeem Allen has been a pleasant addition. He can pass (45 percent assist rate), finish (66.7 percent on 2-pointers) and keeps the Wildcats offense purring.