Gonzaga’s run at perfection and a wacky Big Ten are things to watch this week.
The end of 2020 is fast approaching for college basketball and this week offers a lot of intriguing action. Let’s take a look at some intriguing storylines for fans to watch, including Gonzaga’s pursuit of perfection.
Story of the Week: Can Gonzaga go undefeated?
We talked last week about Gonzaga’s dominating win over Iowa and a big test they were facing against Virginia’s Pack Line defense. The Bulldogs passed the test with flying colors, cruising past the Cavaliers 98-75 to pick up their fourth victory over a top 20 foe in its first seven games of the season, becoming the first college basketball team ever to accomplish that feat.
It has become quite clear that Gonzaga is the best team in the country and possibly the best we’ve seen since the 2014-15 Kentucky Wildcats, who started 38-0 before falling to Wisconsin in the Final Four. There is every chance that the Bulldogs can make a run at perfection in the regular season despite playing in an improved WCC with BYU, San Francisco and Saint Mary’s on their schedule. What Gonzaga has shown us to date has now raised the bar for Mark Few’s squad to the point that an undefeated season is on the table.
Team of the Week: Missouri Tigers
One of the biggest surprises in college basketball this season has been Missouri, which wasn’t expected to make a big dent in the SEC race. Expectations have been raised thanks to a pair of Top 25 wins in the non-conference schedule for the Tigers in the form of upsets against Oregon and Illinois.
Missouri is off to a perfect 6-0 start and will be tested this week as they open conference play on Wednesday with a massive home showdown against Tennessee. A win there would position the Tigers well for a run at the SEC’s regular-season title given the massive struggles Kentucky is going through and questions about how Florida will look without Keyontae Johnson for the rest of the season.
Conference of the Week: Big Ten
With the calendar flipping to 2021 we will start taking a look at conferences in this space starting with the Big Ten. The league is ridiculously deep and has seen a number of startling developments, including a 3-0 start from Northwestern that includes wins over two ranked teams and a massive Christmas Day upset when Minnesota knocked off Iowa.
There was a chance the Big Ten could send 11 teams to the NCAA Tournament last season and the possibility is alive and well once again in 2020. There are no pushovers in the conference so any time two of the Big Ten’s teams face off it will lead to compelling basketball, including this week as Michigan State travels to Minnesota while the Hawkeyes square off with Northwestern and Rutgers.
Player of the Week: Marcus Carr
Experts have honed in on Luka Garza as the country’s best player but another Big Ten star is giving him a run for his money. Minnesota’s Marcus Carr has dominated in the early going, averaging 24.6 points per game with 6.2 assists per game while shooting 47.6 percent from the floor.
Carr scored 62 points in two games last week as Minnesota picked up a nice non-conference win over Saint Louis and upset the Hawkeyes on Christmas Day. Few took the Golden Gophers seriously as a tournament team but Carr’s performance has changed the conversation around Minnesota. Minnesota will take on Michigan State and Ohio State at home this week, giving Carr two more shots to make a statement against elite competition.
Cinderella Watch: Hofstra Pride
The Pride punched their ticket to the NCAA Tournament last March before the event was canceled, leading to some question as to whether or not the coronavirus cost the program a chance to go dancing in the near future. That may not be the case as Hofstra has returned to action as one of the CAA’s favorites, picking up a key non-conference win at Richmond this week.
Hofstra has an exciting backcourt featuring seniors Jalen Ray and Tareq Coburn, who are combining to average 37.1 points per game with Ray knocking down 45.7 percent of his three-point attempts. The Pride begins league play this week with a two-game series against William and Mary as the CAA seeks to minimize travel during the pandemic.
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