I won’t blame you if you’re one of those folks who are just getting around to what’s been happening in college basketball. After all, the College Football playoffs and Super Bowl are in the rear view mirror and the most meaningful NBA games won’t arrive until the playoffs.
So now is the perfect time, if you’ve been asleep at the wheel, to get caught up and primed for what is soon to come: America’s greatest sporting spectacle, which is otherwise known as the NCAA Basketball Tournament.
Tonight, we begin our march towards the madness in earnest, with an exceptional double-header on tap. When Duke vs. North Carolina comes around, that means it’s time for the perculator and about to be on like hot cheddar popcorn!
There isn’t a team in America with more overall talent than Duke. Luke Kennard, Greyson Allen, Frank Jackson, Harry Giles, Marques Bolden and Amile Jefferson are all future pros. Kennard, who is making his three-point shots at a ridiculous 48% clip, is in contention for the Wooden Award thanks to a sophomore campaign that has been funkily-spectacular.
North Carolina is returning six players that had extensive experience in last year’s run to the Final Four and the thrilling national championship game. Junior Justin Jackson has emerged from the role-player shadows to become one of the best players in the country. Point guard extraordinaire Joel Berry II has been overshadowed by this year’s remarkable class of freshman floor generals, but he can ball out with the best of them.
And teams in this year’s NCAA’s will have problems matching their interior size, with Kennedy Meeks and Isaiah Hicks laying a heavy-handed claim to anything going down in the lane. Add in the big freshman Tony Bradley, and UNC’s frontcourt is ridiculously large and in charge, tearing it up on the offensive boards like Lavell Crawford at an all-you-can-eat buffet.
The Tar Heels currently occupy first place in the ACC standings while the Blue Devils are celebrating the return of head coach Mike Kryzewski from back surgery and riding a three-game winning streak.
Much has been made of Duke’s Greyson Allen and his tripping escapades, but lost in the sauce is that he comes to get the job done and puts in work! In last year’s rivalry games against Carolina, he dropped 23 and 29 points on ’em.
Duke’s roster is proliferated with youth and NBA Draft Lottery decadence, while UNC’s experience, depth and ability to play numerous styles should make for a fascinating matchup. Whenever these two get together, one or both of them is undoubtedly nationally ranked, and they always give us a game that is all that college basketball should be.
The late evening game between UCLA and Oregon promises to be worth the price of admission as well, with two high-octane offenses that want to do everything but slow down.
UCLA’s offense is beautiful to watch, and Lonzo Ball shares the ball with a Jason Kidd-type incandescence. He’s the best passing point guard to come on the college hoops scene in quite some time. The majority of their baskets come off of the assist and and overriding team philosophy of moving the rock. They can beat you with the deep ball and they can pummel you in the paint with super-talented first-year big man T.J. Leaf.
Everybody on the floor can get buckets and they are a nightmare to deal with for opposing defenses.
Oregon’s offense is exceptional as well, but they also don’t get enough credit for their defensive prowess. Chris Boucher is one of the country’s top shot-blockers, as is Jordan Bell. They walk in with the Pac-12’s best defense, while UCLA gets it in on offense like no other.
If you haven’t really been checking for the Ducks this year, peep the highlights of their recent 85-58 destruction of a very good Arizona Wildcats squad last weekend, where they connected on over 65% from the field, including 16 of 25 from deep.
Oregon has returned every major piece from last year’s team, which advanced to the Elite Eight. They don’t turn the ball over, they put the clamps down on D, they make an excellent percentage of their overall shots and Dillon Brooks is probably the best player in college basketball that you haven’t really seen on a consistent basis.
But Oregon is far from a one-man show, with all five starters averaging double figures. Sophomore guard Tyler Dorsey puts up 13 points per game, Boucher balls out to the tune of 12 points and seven rebounds, guard Dylan Ennis kicks in with 11 points per game while Bell adds 11 points and eight boards to the mix.
UCLA has six guys in the rotation that average double-figures in the scoring column, and they lead the nation with a 54% field goal percentage while pumping in 93 points per game.
Leaf, the freshman forward with the skills to pay the bills, may be young but he’s ready, averaging 17 points and nine boards. Senior guard Bryce Alford gets it in to the tune 16 points per while Ball, who’s in the running to be the overall No. 1 pick in the upcoming NBA Draft, gets silly with his 15 points, eight assists and six rebounds per game.
Guards Isaac Hamilton and Aaron Holiday get busy as well, averaging 15 and 13 joints respectively, while the big man in the middle, Thomas Welsh, ain’t no slouch either with his own contributions of 10 points and eight boards per outing.
Both of these teams share the wealth, and everybody can’t help but love the sunshine that both exceptional offenses bring about.
In their previous game this season, Oregon won, 89-87, with the Ducks being the only team to outscore the Bruins in transition thus far this season.
UCLA stormed out of the gate this year with 13 straight wins before falling to Oregon by two points in their thrilling December matchup.
So don’t despair if you’re just now over your Super Bowl and football hangover, because the best days on the sports calendar lay ahead. Tonight is going to a night to remember, so get ready, because the Madness of March will be here before you know it.