There will be no holiday hangover for college hoops fans. After a Feast Week that saw #2 Arizona go 0-3 in the Bahamas and Duke, Michigan State, Notre Dame and Texas A&M all make emphatic statements, this week again offers a full compliment of intriguing matchups. Choosing one game to focus on this week was tough as Miami vs. Minnesota and Xavier vs. Cincy are big-time games, but Notre Dame vs. Michigan State is the biggest clash of the week.
#5 Notre Dame at #3 Michigan State, Thursday, November 30, 7 EST/4 PST (ESPN)
As mentioned above, both the Spartans and the Irish made statements during Feast Week. Michigan State marched to a title in the PK80 Victory bracket by putting on a defensive clinic against #9 North Carolina. Meanwhile Notre Dame overcame a 16-point deficit to defeat #6 Wichita State and win the Maui Invitational.
Notre Dame’s win in Maui and the 6-0 start have the Irish skyrocketing up the AP poll, where they now sit at #5.
Bonzie Colson entered the season as a Player of the Year candidate, and he has lived up to that billing in the early going. Through six games, he is averaging 20 points, 10.5 rebounds, 1.5 assists, 1.8 steals and 2.3 blocks while shooting 59% from the floor.
Senior guard Matt Farrell has provided a nice boost from the outside, contributing 17.5 points and 4.3 assists and knocking down 43% of his threes.
Sophomore guard T.J. Gibbs is another Irish player to watch. He’s posted impressive numbers with 15.5 points while shooting 53% from both the floor and from three. Consistency has been an issue, however, as Gibbs has three games in which he scored less than 10 points and three games where he scored 20+. The Irish will need that 20+ version of Gibbs against Michigan State.
The Spartans’ run to the PK80 title is all the more impressive when you consider they did it with their own Player of the Year candidate, Miles Bridges, at less than 100%. Bridges missed Michigan State’s tournament-opening win over DePaul before logging 17 minutes against UConn and 26 against UNC. Bridges leads the team in both scoring and rebounding.
Matt McQuaid stepped into a starting role against DePaul in Bridges’ absence and responded nicely with 20 points, hitting six three-pointers. Freshman Jaren Jackson Jr. added 13 points and 10 rebounds, while Cassius Winston had 10 points, eight rebounds and eight assists.
Against UConn, Jackson was again solid with 12 points and 10 rebounds. Winston had his best game of the season, erupting for 28 points and dishing five assists. Nick Ward chipped in 11 points and nine rebounds.
Joshua Langford was the offensive hero against North Carolina, with 23 points on 8-11 shooting. All of this is to show that Michigan State is no one-man show. On any given night, they have several players who can take the lead offensively. But the real story of the PK80 was the Spartan defense.
UNC entered the matchup with Michigan State averaging nearly 93 points per game. The Spartans held them to 45. Forty-five. The Tar Heels shot an abysmal 24.6% from the field and 1-18 from three, both program records. Michigan State also forced 16 North Carolina turnovers.
Luke Maye, one of the best players in the country so far this season, was limited to just eight points after averaging 21.2 entering the game. It marked the first time this season he was held to single-digits, and just the second time he failed to reach 20. Theo Pinson was the lone Tar Heel to reach double-figures as the Spartans challenged and harassed North Carolina constantly.
Only Duke has managed to put up more than 71 points against Michigan State, and the Spartans have held three opponents under 60. Conversely, the Irish have scored over 80 four times, and have been held below 70 only once.
Notre Dame will head to East Lansing with the third-ranked offense in the country according to KenPom. Meanwhile Michigan State boasts the fourth-best defensive ranking. It will be fascinating to watch the Irish offense and Spartan defense try to overcome each other.
Farrell and Gibbs against Winston and Langford in the backcourt is an intriguing matchup, but the one everyone will be watching is Bridges and Colson. Both players have high motors and are ultra-competitive, and those juices should be flowing under the bright lights. And both players are good athletes with blossoming offensive games and a willingness to defend. With two Player of the Year candidates going head-to-head, what’s not to like?
Michigan State will look to defend its home court while solidifying its spot as a top-three team in the country. Meanwhile Notre Dame will look to get another signature win and backup its new top-five ranking while making a serious statement about its prospects come March. If you can only watch one college hoops game this week, this is the one.
This Week’s Other Games Of Note
Tuesday, November 28
#16 Baylor at #21 Xavier, 6:30 EST/3:30 PST (FS1) – Baylor secured a couple of nice wins over Wisconsin and Creighton, and will look at add another against Xavier. Meanwhile the Musketeers looks to rebound after a stumble against Arizona State.
#17 Louisville at Purdue, 8 EST/5 PST (ESPN) – Louisville is 4-0 and seeking its first meaningful win, while Purdue looks to get right after tumbling out of the top 25 following a disastrous showing at the Battle 4 Atlantis that saw the Boilermakers lose two games.
Wednesday, November 29
#10 Miami at #12 Minnesota, 9:15 EST/6:15 PST (ESPN2) – This was a strong contender for the game of the week, and had Notre Dame not rallied to beat Wichita State in Maui, it could have been the pick. A pair of unbeatens, Minnesota aims to build off wins over Providence and Alabama, while Miami seeks its first signature win.
Friday, December 1
#25 Creighton at #15 Gonzaga, 10 EST/7 PST (ESPN2) – A bit of a surprise top 25 matchup here as the Bluejays have snuck into the rankings with wins over Northwestern and UCLA. Gonzaga rebounded from a loss to Florida with a win over an improved Texas team, and will have a shot at its highest profile win of the season.
Saturday, December 2
#12 Cincy at #21 Xavier, Noon EST/9 A.M. PST (FS1) – The Crosstown Shootout is always a big game, and this season the stakes are particularly high. This marks Cincinnati’s first shot at a signature win, while it concludes a rough week for Xavier who get two ranked opponents.
#8 Wichita State at #16 Baylor, 2 EST/11 A.M. PST (ESPN2) – The Shockers aim to get a nice win after the collapse against Notre Dame. Baylor joins Xavier in the tough week category, as they each face a ranked opponent after going head-to-head on Tuesday. Baylor will have an opportunity to join the short list of best resumes in the country.
Sunday, December 3
Seton Hall at #17 Louisville, 4 EST/ 1 PST (ESPN2) – The Hall dropped from the top 25 after a loss to Rhode Island, but will have a chance to climb back in with games against Texas Tech and Louisville. The Cardinals will get a second shot at a solid win in a week’s time.
After Feast Week lived up to expectations, the college basketball season keeps rolling along, delivering a plethora of great matchups along the way. There’s plenty of quality viewing throughout the week, and games worth taking a break from the big college football Saturday and NFL Sunday over the weekend. Enjoy, and we’ll see you next week.
Josh Naso aka The Silver Fox has a love for all things sports that borders on disorder. Here, he aims to share his thoughts on and passion for those sports with you.