As the competition in college basketball becomes noticeably more intriguing, respected and underrated programs will go to battle in non-conference affairs. While the success of many of the programs in college basketball will not be decided this week, it’s essential that lesser-known teams compete relentlessly to garner critical non-conference victories. Although there are several smaller tournaments that are worth focusing on and winning in the short term, every program that has aspirations of making it to the NCAA Tournament have to view the season from a macro perspective and realize that prominent victories are essential to ultimately be considered a tournament caliber program.
1. Wichita State Shockers (6) vs. California Golden Bears
In order for Wichita State to justify their placement in the American Conference, they will need to garner some impressive non-conference wins to start the season. With a fairly competitive Golden Bears program on the schedule for this week, the ambitious Shockers will have an opportunity to live up to their lofty ranking. Anchored by senior center Shaquille Morris (17 PPG, 7.5 RPG), the Shockers have a prominent defender that can rebound the ball consistently, which will be essential in preventing Golden Bears junior guard Don Coleman (26 PPG) from attacking the basket. If Shockers guard Connor Frankamp (10.5 PPG, 6 APG) can be as unselfish as he has been thus far, Wichita State should be able to stifle a Golden Bears program that will attempt to be more efficient offensively this season.
Final Score: Shockers 82 Golden Bears 68 Spread: Wichita State -19.5
Texas A&M Aggies (16) vs. Oklahoma State Cowboys
As was evident in the Aggies season opener against the West Virgina Mountaineers, this is a team that has the impressive length and athleticism to stifle nearly any opponent they match up with. With junior center Tyler Davis working the low post offensively (18.5 PPG) and junior guard Admon Gilder possessing exceptional abilities as both a ball facilitator (7 APG) and as a scorer (18 PPG, 60 3P%), this program has a plethora of weapons that can be equally effective on both sides of the ball. However, the Cowboys have a relentless defense (53.3 PAPG, 9th in the nation) commanded by senior forward Mitchell Solomon (6.7 RPG, 1 BPG) and senior guard Kendall Smith (1.3 SPG). While the opportunistic defense of the Cowboys will keep this contest close, they will most likely have a difficult time scoring against what is an equally formidable Aggies defense (65 PAPG).
Final Score: Aggies 73 Cowboys 69 Spread: Texas A&M -5.5
UCLA Bruins (23) vs. Creighton Blue Jays
Even without three of their freshmen, the Bruins have been able to persevere over their first three opponents thanks to the shooting prowess of freshman guard Kris Wilkes (17.3 PPG, 53.8 3P%). However, the Blue Jays have several such athletes on their roster as senior guard Marcus Foster (19.3 PPG, 60.6 FG%) and lengthy sophomore forward Marin Krampelj (12 PPG, 8.7) provide a nice blend of accurate shooting and consistent rebounding. While neither program has a great defense to speak of, the Blue Jays have more firepower and have the disciplined ball movement skills to overcome what is currently a depleted Bruins roster.
Final Score: Bruins 80 Blue Jays 88 Spread: Creighton -3.0
North Carolina Tar Heels (9) vs. Stanford Cardinal
Despite the fact that senior guard Joel Berry has struggled to shoot from the field this season (9.1 FG%), his ball movement capabilities (6 APG) have allowed him to cover up this (hopefully) brief shooting deficiency. Until Berry finds his shooting groove from mid-range, junior forward Luke Maye (23 PPG, 60.7 FG%) is more than capable of picking up the slack. Not to be outdone, the Cardinal have some promising inside scorers in junior forward Reid Travis (21.3 PPG) and senior forward Michael Humphrey (12.8 PPG, 12.3 RPG). In order for the Tar Heels to overcome the Cardinal, they will have to be accurate from the perimeter as Stanford has a solid defense (67 PPG) and the more effective inside shooters. Until Joel Berry can lead this team as both a scorer and ball facilitator, the Cardinal have the size and skilled personnel to pull off the upset here.
Final Score: Tar Heels 76 Cardinal 78 Spread: UNC -7.0
Michigan Wolverines vs. LSU Tigers
With a soul-crushing defense (59.3 PAPG) led by junior forward Moritz Wagner (9.7 RPG) and sophomore guard Zavier Simpson (2 SPG), the Wolverines are a program that emphasizes substance over style to stifle opposing offenses. While the defense of the Tigers is nowhere near as intimidating as that of the Wolverines (72.5 PAPG) they have an impressively dynamic offense that can both score (102 PPG) and move the ball effectively (23.5 APG). The Tigers leading scorer and assist man, freshman guard Tremont Waters, has the presence of mind to give the ball to an open teammate (7 APG) while also having the confidence to take a shot himself if the opportunity presents itself (16 PPG, 61.1 FG%). If the Tigers were a one-dimensional, high volume offensive team the edge would clearly go to the Wolverines in this affair. However, given the patience and overall effectiveness of this well-disciplined Tigers squad, I see LSU getting an impressive non-conference win in this contest.
Final Score: Wolverines 71 Tigers 84 Spread: Michigan -6.0
Arizona Wildcats (3) vs. NC State Wolfpack
While it may be early to crown a particular player a consummate shooter, I feel pretty safe in anointing Wildcats junior guard Allonzo Trier (30 PPG, 70 FG%) as one of the best pure shooters in the country. Of course, it helps tremendously when you have a gifted passer in senior guard Parker Jackson-Cartwright (6.3 APG) and, oh yeah, he can shoot as well (46.2 FG%). Luckily, the Wolfpack have a fairly proficient offense themselves as guard Torin Dorn (18.5 PPG, 7 RPG) prides himself as a fantastic mid-range shooter while sophomore guard Markell Johnson (9 APG) is the ideal assist man. Given the fact that both teams are heavily reliant on their offenses to win consistently, this should be a thrilling shootout that will ultimately see the Wildcats pulling out a very close victory.
Final Score: Wildcats 89 Wolfpack 88 Spread: Arizona -14.0
Florida Gators (8) vs. Stanford Cardinal
Having to play two ranked teams in three days would be a seemingly insurmountable task for most of the elite programs in college basketball. However, the Cardinal should view this as a grand opportunity to come away with two insanely impressive wins against formidable opponents. However, the Gators have a gifted two way player in senior guard Egor Koulechov (20 PPG, 8 RPG) and a scrappy defensive asset in junior forward Kevarrius Hayes (2.7 BPG, 1.7 SPG, 4.7 RPG), both of whom are fantastic at using their physicality to intimidate opposing offenses. While the Cardinal have an impressive defense and a terrific two-way athlete of their own in Michael Humphrey, the Gators have the sheer strength to shut down Stanford when all is said and done.
Final Score: Gators 76 Cardinal 70 Spread: Florida -12.5
Gonzaga Bulldogs (17) vs. Ohio State Buckeyes
Falling just short of winning a National Title last season, the always underestimated Bulldogs will look to get back to the Big Dance this year, starting with their first serious contest of the season against the Buckeyes. While the Bulldogs have never been a sharpshooting program, they do have a couple of reliable scorers in junior guard Josh Perkins (13.3 PPG) and sophomore forward Killian Tillie (12.3 PPG, 69.6 FG%). Conversely, the Buckeyes have an intriguing high-scoring weapon in junior forward Keita Bates-Diop (19.3 PPG) and a sleeper defender in freshman guard Musa Jallow (2 SPG). Although Ohio State is the better scoring program, Gonzaga has much better rebounders and is more effective at moving the ball.
Final Score: Bulldogs 79 Buckeyes 72 Spread: Gonzaga -5.0
Alabama Crimson Tide vs. Minnesota Golden Gophers (14)
A team that was once perennially poor at basketball has now taken significant steps to become a sneaky competitive program that could easily make it to the NCAA Tournament. Freshman guard John Petty (18.3 PPG) can shoot from anywhere on the court while freshman forward Alex Reese (8.7 RPG) is fantastic when it comes to playing the defensive glass. However, as far as this Crimson Tide program has come in recent years, they have yet to face a dominant inside scoring threat that is junior forward Jordan Murphy (24.8 PPG, 12.8 RPG). On top of that, the Golden Gophers have another big man that can score (12.8 PPG) and rebound (8.8 RPG) in senior center Reggie Lynch. Although the production from the Crimson Tides young studs is very impressive, they are not quite ready to take on the size and rebounding ability that the Golden Gophers possess.
Final Score: Crimson Tide 67 Golden Gophers 74 Spread: Minnesota -8.5
Texas A&M Aggies (16) vs. USC Trojans (10)
While the size and scoring efficiency of the Aggies has already been well-documented this season, the Trojans provide a unique challenge in that they can rebound and score with ease. Senior guard Jordan McLaughlin can score (19.7 PPG), pass (4.7 APG) and rebound (5.3 RPG) with equal effectiveness while junior forward Chimezie Metu (8.3 RPG, 2 BPG) is an exceptional defender that is persistent when it comes to scoring in the paint (18.3 PPG). Although the sheer size and talent of the Aggies will be difficult to overcome, McLaughlin is a jack-of-all-trades superstar that will be able to exploit Texas A&M’s size by being a cerebral ball facilitator and persistent scorer.
Final Score: Aggies 82 Trojans 86 Spread: USC -2.5