By Sean Kennedy
Villanova 94, USC 79
In early Thanksgiving day action, it looked like the Wildcats wanted to make short work of the Trojans and get back to the hotel restaurant for all the fixin’s. Villanova jumped out to an early 11-2 lead and never looked back, leading the entire game and stretching their lead to as much as 21 in the second half. Ryan Arcidiacono had his best game of the season with 14 points and 6 assists, all 14 of those points coming in the first half as Nova built their lead. James Bell led the Wildcats with 17 points, while Daniel Ochefu did an admirable job defensively, holding USC 7’2″ center Omar Oraby to just 5 points and 4 rebounds.
This tournament opener represented the toughest test to date for the Wildcats and they passed it with flying colors. However, there will be no rest for the weary as Villanova will next take on one of the best teams in the country tonight in the Kansas Jayhawks.
LSU 82, Saint Joseph’s 65
Spending their Thanksgiving holiday down in Orlando, St. Joe’s looked like they were in a tryptophan coma Thursday night, as LSU jumped out to a 16-point halftime lead and cruised to victory. As expected, the Hawks had some trouble against the size of the Tigers, getting out-rebounded 38-29. Freshman Jordan Mickey looked fantastic for the Tigers, filling in lanes on the fast break and showing a nice touch around the basket, as he dropped a double-double with 14 points and 10 rebounds. However, the Hawks were also beaten on the perimeter, as LSU shot 10-22 from behind the arc. Andre Stringer was in control of the action the whole way, scoring a team-high 18 points to go with 6 assists.
Ronald Roberts, Jr. was the lone bright spot for the Hawks, finishing with a game-high 21 points and 7 rebounds. Most of the St. Joe’s squad looked like it was just going through the motions at times, which isn’t going to fly against a big-time conference opponent like LSU. Fortunately for the Hawks, they won’t have to dwell on this effort for too long as they’ll be back in action again tonight.
3:30 PM: Drexel (3-2, 0-0 CAA) vs. Alabama (3-2 (0-0 SEC) [neutral site] – ESPN2
After suffering their second close loss to a ranked opponent this season, Drexel will go into the consolation game of the NIT Season Tip-Off tournament without the services of Damion Lee, who suffered their brutal-looking knee injury Wednesday. They’ll be facing an Alabama squad that just ran into the steamroller known as the Duke Blue Devils.
The Crimson Tide are led by senior point guard Trevor Releford, who averages 16.6 ppg, but is definitely more of a shoot-first guy with only 1.2 assists per game. Releford has started for Alabama since his freshman year but seems like a good match-up for the guard-heavy Dragons. There’s no telling how Drexel will come out after seeing one of their top players in Lee go down the other night. But the Dragons didn’t go away even after his injury against the Wildcats, and I think they can still turn back the Tide and leave NYC on a good note.
8:00 PM: Saint Joseph’s (2-2, 0-0 A-10) vs. Siena (2-5, 0-0 MAAC) [neutral site] – ESPNU
After getting shellacked by LSU in their Old Spice Classic tournament opener, the Hawks will take on a Siena Saints squad that took a beating of their own yesterday against Memphis. Philly hoops fans are familiar with the Saints, as they lost a close game to La Salle a couple weeks ago. 6’5″ junior guard Rob Poole does the majority of the damage for Siena, averaging 15.5 points and 6.3 rebounds per game. The Hawks have the bodies on the wings to deal with Poole and the lack of size in the Saints front court will be a welcome change after having to battle with the Tigers big men the night before. Saint Joseph’s will get things back on track here tonight against Siena.
9:30 PM: Villanova (5-0, 0-0 Big East) vs. Kansas (5-0, 0-0 Big 12) [neutral site]
With the Wildcats advancing to the semifinals of the Battle 4 Atlantis tournament, things are about to get real, as the boys from the main line face college basketball royalty in the Kansas Jayhawks. Kansas dispatched Wake Forest on Thanksgiving Day, but of course, many college basketball fans saw the Jayhawks defeat Jabari Parker and Duke a few weeks ago, where they showed they have much more to offer than just uber frosh Andrew Wiggins. Kansas is first in the nation in field goal percentage at 56.8%, thanks in part to leading scorer Perry Ellis. Ellis is averaging 16.8 points and 7.0 rebounds, while shooting 69.4% from the field, a mark that ranks 19th in the nation.
So aside from their leading scorer, Kansas also has 3 players projected to go in the lottery of next year’s draft. Everyone’s heard about Wiggins, with the Sports Illustrated cover, the NBA’s Riggin’ for Wiggins movement, and the talk of the next LeBron. Wiggins has lived up to the hype so far, scoring 16.8 ppg as well, while shooting 58.5% from the field and 40.0% from three. His numbers aren’t going to explode this season because it’s all about the system with Kansas and they have plenty of talent and only one ball to go around. But make no mistake, Wiggins has been showing that jump-off-the-screen athleticism and overall smooth play on the court.
Aside from Wiggins, there’s Joel Embiid, a raw big man from Cameroon. Embiid has the shot blocking and finishing around the basket done so far, and as he continues to learn the finer points of the game, the sky’s the limit for that kid. There’s also Wayne Selden, Jr., who projects as a prototypical SG in the NBA at 6’6″ and with a 6’10” wingspan. Selden gets a little lost in the shuffle with all the guys running around for the Jayhawks, but can finish both inside and out, with the length to bother the Villanova wings like Bell and Hilliard who are used to making their hay against smaller guards.
As well as Villanova has been playing, this contest is just too big a step up the ladder in the NCAA hierarchy. Kansas is arguably the most talented team in the country and Bill Self does a great job getting guys to work within his offensive scheme. I can’t see the Wildcats reaching the final in the Bahamas.