After a couple relatively slow weeks in the college basketball schedule, we are blessed this week with several big-time matchups to close out the year. Conference play is upon us, and for a group of top contenders there will be no easing in to the conference schedule. There are several legitimate contenders, but there can be only one TSFJ College Hoops Game of the Week, and this week the winner is…
No. 12 Oklahoma at No. 10 TCU – Saturday 2PM EST/11AM PST (ESPN2)
How surprising have the starts of these two teams been? Well, heading into the season, this game wasn’t slated for any national coverage. Luckily, we live in a world where sports networks have a million channels, allowing the media powers that be to account for surprises like the ones Oklahoma and TCU have sprung on the college hoops world, and we will now be treated to this game on ESPN2.
The Big 12 is in the conversation with the ACC, SEC and Big East as the most compelling conference in college basketball, and that intrigue is on full display on the opening weekend of conference play as we are treated to a top 12 matchup that doesn’t include Kansas or West Virginia. In fact, the Big 12 could come to dominate the Game of the Week column throughout the rest of the season. But back to this coming Saturday.
By now, you should know all about Oklahoma. The Sooners are 10-1 and have skyrocketed up the rankings. They have done this largely on the strength of the otherworldly season Trae Young has put together.
Young is averaging 28.7 points and 10.4 assists. He put up a ridiculous 26-point, 22-assist effort against Northwestern State. And he enters the game with TCU hot, even by his standards. He is coming off three straight double-doubles (he has six on the season) and has averaged 14.7 assists over that span while also sitting right on his scoring average. In his last two games, Young is shooting 56% from the floor and 58% from three.
But Young is so much more than the numbers. How he gets those numbers is just as impressive, and epitomizes everything that is fun about basketball. Young can get to the rim and finish. He can rise up and knock down shots from anywhere on the court, evoking images of Steph Curry. And he throws Lonzo Ball-esqe passes that leaves one wondering if he is even seeing the same game as the rest of us. Like this...
Not exactly the same, but you get the point.
Young’s antics have propelled the Sooners to the best scoring offense in the country, at 95.1 points per game, while their 19.1 assists rank eighth. Young gets help from fellow guard Christian James and freshman forward Brady Manek, who both average double-figures.
TCU enters the game sitting at 12-0, one of just three unbeatens remaining in college hoops. The Horned Frogs have secured 17 straight victories dating back to last season’s run to the NIT title.
TCU has a potent offense of its own, scoring 87.5 points per game, good for 12th in the country. And the Horned Frogs actually move the ball better than the Sooners, dishing out 19.7 assists per night. That ball movement has led to a balanced attack for TCU. Five Horned Frogs currently averaged double-figures, while two more chip in more than eight points per game.
There is some cause for concern for TCU, as leading scorer Kenrich Williams (14.5 points, 9.5 rebounds, 3.7 assists) missed its victory over William & Mary with a knee injury. While an MRI showed no significant damage, Williams’ status is in doubt for the time being.
The good news for TCU is that it has plenty of players who can put the ball in the basket, and it saw several players step-up in Williams’ absence. Alex Robinson, who is averaging 8.3 points on the season, poured in 23. Jaylen Fisher added a career-high 21. A quick return for Williams would be a huge boost for TCU, but the Horned Frogs remain dangerous with or without him.
This one is shaping up as a track meet. Both teams play at a faster than average pace, with the Sooners typically using less than half of the shot clock. Each team also likes to get out and run, while remaining effective in the half-court when transition opportunities aren’t there.
TCU could use a signature win after a relatively light non-conference schedule, while both teams will want to make a statement in the Big 12 and get an early jump on the competition. This game should be a lot of fun.
This Week’s Other Games Of Note
Thursday, December 28
No. 25 Creighton at No. 23 Seton Hall, 6:30 EST/3:30 PST (FS1)
An early top 25 clash in the Big East, which should produce plenty of such matchups throughout the season. This one has big conference implications as these two teams will likely be jockeying for position all season long. Seton Hall is one of the toughest, most experienced teams in the conference, and its quartet of Desi Rodriguez, Angel Delgado, Myles Powell and Khadeen Carrington is among the best in the country. Creighton enters with a potent offense lead by Marcus Foster and Khyri Thomas. Eight total Bluejays chip in at least six points per game.
Friday, December 29
No. 7 West Virginia at Oklahoma State, 7 EST/4 PST (ESPNU)
The Mountaineers have quietly had one of the best seasons in the country so far, led by the backcourt of Jevon Carter and Daxter Miles Jr. West Virginia makes life difficult for opponents at both ends of the floor and has emerged as a real threat in the Big 12.
Oklahoma State has gone 1-2 against ranked opponents so far this season, and have an opportunity to give its NCAA Tournament hopes a big boost. Jeffrey Carroll leads the way with 15 points and 6.2 rebounds per game.
Saturday, December 30
No. 19 Tennessee at Arkansas, 1PM EST/10AM PST (SEC Network)
Both of these teams fared well in the non-conference. Tennessee knocked off Purdue and played respectably in losses to Villanova and North Carolina. Arkansas boasts wins over Oklahoma and Minnesota, while falling to North Carolina and Houston. Now they look to continue those solid starts in SEC play. Arkansas is led by guard Jaylen Barford and his 18.5 points per game, while four other Razorbacks chip in double-figures. Grant Williams leads the way for Tennessee with 15.4 points per game. This game will have ramifications on the SEC race and on Selection Sunday.
No. 24 FSU at No. 4 Duke, 2PM EST/11AM PST (CBS)
Florida State looks to kick off ACC play with a statement, while Duke tries to avoid an 0-2 ACC start, having already lost to Boston College. It’s the first big test for Duke in quite some time, but playing at home and already having a 1 in the conference loss column should be plenty of motivation. The Blue Devils’ defense will be tested, while Florida State will need to hold its own on the boards. This promises to be the first of many treats bestowed upon us by the ACC.
No. 3 Arizona State at No. 17 Arizona, 9 EST/6 PST (Pac-12 Network)
There’s no easing into conference play for the Pac-12’s top two teams. Arizona State puts its undefeated record on the line against an Arizona team that opened the season at No. 2 and that seems to have put its disastrous trip to the Bahamas behind it. The trio of Allonzo Trier, Deandre Ayton and Rawle Atkins has been great for Arizona. Tra Holder, Shannon Evans II and Romello White have been equally good for the Sun Devils. This one could be a shootout as neither team excels defensively. One thing is for sure, there will be plenty of talent on display.
Conference play has arrived, and with it a plethora of big time, meaningful matchups. This will be the norm right through March, so be sure to stick with The Sports Fan Journal to keep up with all the matchups you need to see.
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.