What you need to know for Wednesday, Nov. 22:
1. Tennessee vs. Purdue in the Battle 4 Atlantis in the Bahamas will be a tremendous barometer for the Vols. Purdue is potentially good enough to make the Final Four, if not compete for a national title. The Vols are an upstart program in the SEC that hasn’t received much preseason buzz. Admiral Schofield is off to a great start by averaging 18 points a game. Rick Barnes, who consistently has had teams that are in the mix in their respective conferences over the years, just needed the time to build a winner. Get out of Atlantis with a 2-1 tournament record, regardless of when the second win comes this week, would be a huge confidence boost.
The Vols will get a serious test when they return home to face Mercer (I saw it in person last week in Lynchburg) next Wednesday, then when they host North Carolina on Dec. 27. Their schedule has two true road games, as well, at Georgia Tech and at Wake Forest. Barnes deserves plenty of credit for pushing his team and knowing how to play the power-rating game to put his team in position for a possible bid in March. Oh, about today, they’ll have to contend with a load inside in Isaac Haas and the Boilermakers.
2. Arizona will finally get real tests after a few warmup games in the past week. The first one on tap today is against NC State in the Battle 4 Atlantis in the Bahamas. The Wolfpack might not be ready for prime time yet. Still, Allonzo Trier has been on fire by averaging 30 points per game. Deandre Ayton has been stellar with 18 points and 11 rebounds, plus nearly two blocks a game. But the Wildcats will be seriously tested this week. Beating NC State and then possibly SMU would definitely add to their resume, but getting by whoever gets out of the top part of the bracket (Purdue, Villanova or Tennessee, sorry Western Kentucky) will show where this team is in the title-chase process.
3. Cincinnati is on tap to have its greatest season under Mick Cronin. The Bearcats could make a deep run in March. The surprise in the Cayman Islands is Wyoming. Who knew? Well, the Bearcats will find out later tonight. The Cowboys are 4-0 and won at Oregon State. Taking down South Dakota State and Louisiana to get to the final meant they beat the two teams that took out Iowa. So, what gives? Well, let’s see how Hayden Dalton and Alexander Aka Gorski handle the speed, size and quickness of Cincinnati. Play well, give the Bearcats a game or, gasp, win, and the Cowboys will be taken seriously as a major player to challenge Nevada and San Diego State for the Mountain West title (and they already may be in that mix).
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4. Providence will get as tough a game as it has had this season when it hosts Belmont tonight. Friars fans may not be as intense at the Dunk as they were for the home game against Minnesota but take note: Belmont is the real deal. The Bruins can win tonight and beat teams in the round of 64 or 32 if they get into the NCAA tournament. Middle Tennessee coach Kermit Davis said this might be Rick Byrd’s best defensive team. That was prior to losing to the Bruins 69-63. Belmont has been known for its ability to score. If it can defend, then teams will be flustered for 40 minutes. Belmont beat Vanderbilt, too. Its only loss was the season opener at Washington by four.
5. Well, we got the game we wanted in the Maui Invitational title tonight. Wichita State-Notre Dame could be an Elite Eight matchup. These teams are that proficient offensively and have the pieces, the confidence and the overall mental makeup to win their respective conference regular season or conference tournaments. Wichita State’s Shaq Morris will have his hands full trying to contain Notre Dame’s Bonzie Colson. But Colson may have the same issues with Morris. Landry Shamet had national preseason attention as a lead guard. Beating the Irish and Matt Farrell would be another example of Shamet’s elite status. The Shockers have already dealt with adversity in this tournament with a comeback against Cal. The Irish have been a machine so far. Expect this one to be a late-possession game and deliver the high-level affair that fans want.