The SEC and Big East finished tied with two wins each yesterday. LSU and Florida won their home games for the SEC while Notre Dame and St. John's did the same for the Big East. My hometown Orange take on Arkansas in the Bud Walton Arena and play at an SEC team for the first time in 10 years.
The SEC did just enough yesterday to ensure that the conference has a chance to win the challenge as LSU and Florida had a couple of impressive wins over Seton Hall and Marquette respectively. Here's what's on tap for Friday night.
(4-1) Tennessee vs. (4-1) Georgetown ~ 5:30 CT ESPN
This is a battle of two teams that most "experts" seem to agree will finish better than their preseason predictions suggest. Tennessee was picked by many to be a sleeper team that could win the SEC, while others think the same of the young Georgetown team, though they won't go as far to say that the Hoyas could win the Big East. Tennessee is led by sophomore Jarnell Stokes, who is living up to the expectations so far. The thought was that he would be paired with Jeronne Maymon, who is still recovering from knee surgery. Trae Golden anchors the backcourt along with Jordan McRae, who are both averaging in double figures for scoring.
Georgetown, on the other hand, has been more impressive to start the year and are currently ranked 20th by the AP poll. Markel Starks has played very well to start the season and was key in beating UCLA and nearly upsetting the Indiana Hoosiers. Greg Whittington has also made a big leap this year and seems like he could be one of the better forwards in the Big East if he can keep up the pace he is currently on. Otto Porter was thought to be the impact player for the Hoyas, and he currently isn't, but that may be due to a concussion received in the first game of the season.
Overall, I think this game will likely be the closest of the Friday games. Georgetown has the home court advantage and Tennessee is coming off of a year in which they only won 3 games away from home. Whittington vs. Stokes should be a great battle as they play contrasting styles. Starks and Golden are both pretty good shooters that could move the game in either direction for their respective teams(by that I mean that they could also take their own team out of it by shooting too much). The Hoyas are solidly favored and I think it's correct to assume they will win.
(5-0) Syracuse vs. (3-2) Arkansas ~ 7:30 CT ESPN
As my name would suggest, I am a Syracuse fan and thus have a lot of interest in this game. The Orange will travel to Arkansas for their first true road game, as the "experts" like to say. Both Arkansas and Syracuse headed out west for some early games; SU went to San Diego to take on the Aztecs in the only carrier game while Arkansas had a couple of disappointing losses to Arizona State and Wisconsin in Las Vegas.
Syracuse is a team that I could write a lot on but I'll keep it simple. Michael Carter-Williams is a 6'5" point guard(perhaps a forerunner to Tim Quarterman at LSU?) that is great at disrupting a game. He's currently leading the country in both steals and assists, though other than SDSU he hasn't played any elite competition. Brandon Triche is the senior leader that could end up being the player with the most team wins in history if the team can reach 30 wins. He has struggled shooting so far, but he's still leading the team in scoring along with 6th man James Southerland.
Arkansas will counter with an elite point guard of their own, BJ Young. Young couldn't be any different than Carter-Williams. BJ is a volume shooter that is quite efficient from behind the arc. He's leading the team with over 20 points a game. His style of play compliments what coach Mike Anderson wants to do, and that is to run and score as much as possible. Syracuse is a team perfectly willing and capable of doing the same, the difference is that the Orange don't risk as much running if they don't have to because they have the talent to play in the half court as well. Marshawn Powell will be called upon to score from the front court. After sitting out a year with a severe knee injury, it appears as though Powell has completely recovered and his production is at a high level.
Like Georgetown, the Orange are solidly favored though they are on the road. Although I am clearly biased, I do think the Orange will win the game but I think I can justify why. BJ Young, while being talented, can have trouble with turnovers. Although his numbers are low for this year, he averaged quite a few last year. Against Carter-Willams and Triche, who are both much bigger, he will need to make decisions very quickly or risk having the Orange run against the Hogs. Arkansas also doesn't have the size to match up down low with Syracuse. As many as six different forwards and centers will play for the Orange, and they are all big and talented. It's not that Arkansas can't win this game, they can, it's just that they will need to play nearly flawless basketball to do so. That's what you would expect when playing an undefeated and highly ranked team.
(3-3) DePaul vs. (2-4) Auburn ~ 8:00 CT ESPNU
In the ugliest game of the night, at least on paper, the DePaul Blue Demons will make the trip down from Chicagoland to take on the Auburn Tigers. Despite being bad teams, I've actually had a chance to catch a bunch of their games so far. Auburn, while losing more than they have won, seem to have some talented players. Frankie Sullivan has been on fire to start the season and is essentially carrying the team right now. He looks like a player that could actually win some SEC games by himself and nearly did so against Boston College in a narrow 50-49 loss. Rob Chubb hasn't been producing like he was expected to yet, but he's a veteran player that has some scoring moves when he gets the ball in good position.
DePaul, on the other hand, just can't seem to find ways to win. They have an ugly 3-3 record so far with an ugly loss to Gardner-Webb. Cleveland Melvin is still putting up huge numbers for the Demons and has improved his shooting so far in the season. He's talented enough to maybe find his way onto an NBA roster when he leaves DePaul, but other than that, the Demons don't have a lot. Brandon Young has played somewhat well to start, but isn't getting any help from players like Worrel Clahar or Moses Morgan.
This is the only game where the SEC isn't coming in as an underdog, though Auburn isn't favored either. Auburn will need to hold the home court if the SEC expects to win the challenge. Unfortunately, from what I have seen so far this year, I don't expect that they will be able to do so. When putting players head to head, I think that Cleveland Melvin is better than Sullivan, and Young is better than Chubb. The DePaul play makers will simply be able to make more plays and steal a win in Auburn.
(2-4) Georgia vs. (4-2) South Florida ~ 6:00 CT ESPNU
Last and probably least is a game in Tampa between Georgia and South Florida. The Bulldogs come limping into this game with a 2-4 record with both "good" and bad losses. The Bulldogs were perhaps the first team of the year to be upset, as they lost to the Penguins of Youngstown State. From there they lost another three in a row before winning one against East Tennessee State prior to tonight's game. Kentavious Caldwell-Pope is the clear leader of the Bulldogs team and is first in team points, rebounds, and steals. The sophomore has improved in almost every category so far except for overall shot percentage, which is well below 40%. The Dawgs haven't really received sustained, positive contributions from any other player as they have Caldwell-Pope, though they have been a thorn in the side of teams they play. Both UCLA and Indiana were pushed to their limits against Georgia, but both were also victorious.
South Florida hasn't exactly built on their NCAA tournament bid from last year. Anthony Collins, who was on fire to end the season last year, has had a slow start. Victor Rudd, who nearly made a mistake in leaving for the NBA, returned and is leading the team in rebounds but hasn't found the scoring touch yet. Toarlyn Fitzpatrick is off to a decent start to the season, but the Bulls still haven't played any quality competition and have suffered two losses(one to rival UCF and the other to Western Michigan).
Although I'm not nearly as confident in this game as the others, I think South Florida will have just enough to win this game. I expect Georgia to put up a fight, because I am confident in their capability to do so, but South Florida seems to have the superior talent edge. I really liked what Anthony Collins did last year, and I don't expect Rudd and Fitzpatrick to lose to the inferior players at Georgia. If you are looking for a minor upset, however, this is where it could come from.