Skolnick: Rapid-Fire Predictions for Warriors, Knicks, NBA Trades and More

Another week brings us exciting NBA action and room for plenty of bold predictions from one of our resident NBA experts, Ethan Skolnick.

Tune into the video above as Skolnick plays “Over/Under” with all the latest NBA buzz.

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Early Starting Lineup Predictions for the 2015 NBA All-Star Game

The 2015 NBA All-Star Game is still more than two months away, but the process of choosing which 10 players will start between the East and West in New York has already begun.

In truth, the voting, which opened on Dec. 11, actually started later this season than it has in years past. That additional time could come in handy for fans, though, who are now free to choose whoever they want to fill the guard and forward spots on each squad, so long as the positions match up. Compare that to previous years, when voters had to write in candidates who weren’t pre-selected for the ballot by the league.

Those choices aren’t the only ones that have expanded considerably, either. Now, voters can make their voices heard through Twitter, Facebook, Instagram, texting, the NBA Game Time app and, of course, the online ballot.

Now, it’s one thing to say that certain players are more deserving of selection than others. But the fans want who they want, and this being an exhibition for the fans, they usually get what they want.

So, rather than state cold, logical cases in support of those standout players who may not boast the same name recognition as some of their more hallowed peers, let’s take a stab at predicting which of the Association’s biggest stars the masses will choose to tip things off at Madison Square Garden on Feb. 15, based on recent popularity.

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Big 12-SEC Challenge Schedule 2014: Dates, Live Stream Info and Full Predictions

The Big 12-SEC Challenge may not draw the same headlines as the Big Ten-ACC Challenge (and would be better as a football event), but it still features a handful of nonconference showdowns that will go a long way toward determining berths and seeds on Selection Sunday.

Kentucky against Texas is the headliner, but games between Arkansas and Iowa State and Florida and Kansas also promise to feature thrilling finishes and some of the best teams in the country.

With that in mind, here is a look at the entire schedule with broadcast information and predictions for each game.

 

Wednesday Game: Auburn at Texas Tech

Wednesday’s game between Texas Tech and Auburn will be billed as a clash between Tubby Smith and Bruce Pearl, but it’s not exactly Kentucky against Tennessee in this one.

None of the numbers are pretty for Pearl’s Auburn squad in the early going. The Tigers are 145th in the nation in points per game, 300th in rebounds per game, 321st in assists per game, 216th in field-goal percentage, 292nd in points allowed per game and 339th in blocks per game.

While those are just the raw statistics, if we look at Ken Pomeroy’s pace-adjusted numbers, it doesn’t tell much better of a story. The Tigers are 136th in offense and 181st in defense, but the good news from their perspective is that Texas Tech isn’t that much better at 148th in offense and 119th in defense. 

Regardless of those less-than-stellar numbers, Pearl recognized the importance of this game in a quote passed along by Alex Byington of the Opelika-Auburn News:

Auburn’s key players will have to step up against the Red Raiders. That means Cinmeon Bowers, who already has four double-doubles and leads the SEC in rebounding at 13 boards a night, and KT Harrell, who has reached 20 points scoring in four separate games.

The main problem is, Antoine Mason is still dealing with an ankle injury.

Mason was second in the nation in scoring last season at 25.6 points a game and transferred to Auburn from Niagara in the offseason. He is one of the best players in the country at attacking the rim off the dribble and getting to the free-throw line (10.8 free throws a game last season and 13 in his first game with Auburn).

Pearl provided some updates on Mason, via James Crepea of USA Today:

Even with impressive efforts from Bowers and Harrell, Auburn has struggled mightily without its best scorer. The Tigers were embarrassed by Colorado, 90-59, and lost to Tulsa, 53-35. Those are the types of losses that cripple an NCAA tournament resume, although they did come back to beat Oregon State. Still, the Beavers are certainly not going to be mistaken for an elite Pac-12 team anytime soon.

As for Texas Tech, its only game of note was against LSU, and it lost in overtime. However, the Red Raiders won their four other games and get to play at home against what will likely be a shorthanded Auburn squad.

Texas Tech also has some momentum after overcoming a 19-point deficit against Air Force in the final 13 minutes to avoid a bad loss. Guard Devaugntah Williams came off the bench to pour in 21 points and spearhead the comeback efforts.

Williams’ emergence alongside fellow guard Robert Turner and forward Norense Odiase gives the Red Raiders three legitimate scoring options for this Auburn game. Texas Tech also ranks among the top 60 in the nation in rebounding per game and should be able to at least contain Bowers on the low block and the offensive glass.

With multiple options against a vulnerable Auburn defense and the benefit of the home crowd, the Red Raiders will pick up the initial win for their conference in this one. It would be a different story if Mason was healthy, but the Tigers simply cannot rely on that just yet. 

Prediction: Texas Tech 72, Auburn 61

 

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NBA Free Agents 2014: Analyzing Latest Rumors, Predictions on Available Talent

Ray Allen is still the most prominent and potentially important NBA free agent available. It seems several teams are interested in signing the future Hall of Famer, but Jesus Shuttlesworth might be waiting until midseason to pick his team, per A. Sherrod Blakely of CSN Northeast.

Blakely quoted Boston Celtics general manager Danny Ainge from an interview with 98.5 The Sports Hub. Ainge said:

“Ray can really help [Cleveland], but I anticipate that Ray will wait and see the landscape of the NBA. I just think he might wait and see how everybody’s clicking. There’s a handful of teams that would love to have Ray on their team right now that are trying to win a championship.”

With two championship rings to his credit, nearly 3,000 made three-pointers and 24,505 points, the 39-year-old future Hall of Famer has earned the right to take his time.

As it turns out, Allen could have his pick of just about any team considering he’d be signing for a veteran’s minimum contract. The Cleveland Cavaliers, Chicago Bulls, Washington Wizards, Oklahoma City Thunder, Los Angeles Clippers, Portland Trail Blazers and San Antonio Spurs could use him.

There was obviously talk about Allen possibly retiring, but that doesn’t seem likely. If he were going to go that route, he could have made that announcement months ago.

There seems to still be a desire there. I’m expecting Allen to pick a squad somewhere near the All-Star break.

 

Tyrus Thomas Inching Closer to NBA Return

Believe it or not, Thomas is only 28 years old. It seems like eons ago the Bulls foolishly traded the Blazers the rights to LaMarcus Aldridge for Thomas. It sounds preposterous right now, but on the strength of a strong NCAA tournament run with the LSU Tigers back in 2006, Thomas had the looks of a Shawn-Marion type player.

After an uneventful stint with the then Charlotte Bobcats, Thomas has found himself out of the NBA.

He didn’t get any offers to play for a team last season, and has yet to latch on with a club this year. Prospects are seemingly improving, though.

Quoting sources, Basketball Insiders’ Alex Kennedy reports that Thomas has worked out for the Memphis Grizzlies and Los Angeles Lakers. No deal has been struck as of yet, but Thomas is clearly trying to resurrect his career.

At 6’8″, Thomas is an athletic, long-armed forward who never seemed to be given or accept a defined role. Had he accepted an identity similar to what Philadelphia 76ers rookie K.J. McDaniels is adopting—especially with the Bulls—Thomas could have been a force.

Perhaps now that he’s older and more mature, Thomas can find his niche in the NBA.

If he’s persistent, Thomas will get another shot. The league isn’t exactly filled with athletic forwards who have averaged as many as 10 points, 6.4 rebounds and just two blocked shots per game in their careers.

 

Lakers Unlikely to Sign a Free Agent

Despite working out Thomas and others, Dsvid Pick of Basketball Insiders (h/t Kennedy) says it doesn’t appear as though the Los Angeles Lakers will sign a free agent any time soon.

The primary reason is that L.A. would have to release someone on the current roster to make room.

The Lakers are playing better having won their last two games. The thought process might be to wait and see how the current group grows and comes together before a signing takes place.

Perhaps the biggest key for the Lakers to maximize their talent is for Kobe Bryant to simply pass the ball more. During the Lakers five wins this season, Bryant is averaging 20 field-goal attempts per game.

In the losses, he’s taking 24.8 shots. I’m just saying. It seems as though the Lakers will probably wait until they are bit by the injury bug to make a move. 

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Big 12/SEC Challenge 2014: Teams, TV Schedule, Live Stream and Predictions

In what could become a great annual tradition, two conferences will battle for pride and respect in the second-ever Big 12/SEC Challenge.  

The two conferences matched up for the first time last season in an event that stretched over a month and featured games throughout the nonconference schedule. This time around, the challenge is a lot more centralized, and all 10 games take place over a four-day span.

Considering the history and current talent level of the top programs in each region, this could become a must-see event for college basketball fans around the country.

Here is a look at what to expect from this year’s version and predictions for each game.

All games can be viewed online courtesy of Watch ESPN

 

Top Games

Arkansas at Iowa State

Few expected Arkansas to be the undefeated team in this showdown, but that’s where the Razorbacks stand after a strong start to the season. While they don’t have any especially impressive wins, they have impressed with their ability to light up the scoreboard with an incredibly balanced attack.

ESPN’s Fran Fraschilla discussed the talent level on the squad:

The key has been the unselfish play of everyone on the roster, helping the team average 20.7 assists per game. When everyone makes the extra pass, it leads to open shots and an incredible 46.1 percent mark from three-point range.

Unfortunately, the Razorbacks face an Iowa State squad that also knows how to shoot, even though the shots haven’t been falling early in the year. Georges Niang is one of the best offensive players in the nation, and he has plenty of help around him with Bryce Dejean-Jones and Dustin Hogue.

Things have not been perfect this year for a team that lost key contributors in DeAndre Kane and Melvin Ejim. However, the Cyclones should be able to get back on track with a big win over Arkansas.

Prediction: Iowa State 88, Arkansas 83

 

Florida at Kansas

This battle has lost some of its luster from when these two teams were in the preseason Top 10, but the talent level on the floor is still unmistakable.

Kansas was overmatched early in the season against Kentucky, while Florida has lost three games already while dealing with various injuries. Still, these two teams have the potential to be Final Four squads when the year ends.

For the Gators, it is about health and learning to play together. Chris Walker, Dorian Finney-Smith and Eli Carter all returned to the lineup this past week but have still not lived up to expectations. Despite the struggles, Billy Donovan appreciates the wake-up call.

“Right now, the truth is slammed in our face, which I think is great,” the Florida coach explained after the loss. “A lot of times in your nonconference scheduling, when you don’t play against high-level competition, it’s hard to get to a truth.”

The problem is the truth is going to keep hitting this team like a middle school bully because Kansas is another tough matchup. The Jayhawks have a number of inexperienced players trying to fill into big roles, but they still play great defense as a group and will make it difficult for the Gators to score.

With talented freshmen Cliff Alexander and Sviatoslav Mykhailiuk improving in each game—and Kelly Oubre still waiting to break out—this team will get better on the offensive end as well.

Both teams will try to keep the pace slow, but Kansas will be more efficient on the offensive end and come through with a key victory.

Prediction: Kansas 67, Florida 59

 

Texas at Kentucky

Everyone wants to make the only story about Kentucky whether it can go undefeated this season with one of the most talented rosters college basketball has ever seen. However, this dream can end this week with Texas coming to town.

The Wildcats will dominate most opponents thanks to their depth and ability in the frontcourt. Willie Cauley-Stein, Karl-Anthony Towns and Dakari Johnson lead a group of players that could make an NBA front line. According to KenPom.com, this team leads the nation with an average height of 79.4 inches.

Kentucky dominated Kansas 72-40 earlier in the year thanks to 11 blocks and many more altered shots inside.

However, Adam Zagoria of SNY.tv explains why Texas has a chance in this one:

Between Cameron Ridley, Jonathan Holmes and freshman Myles Turner, the Longhorns have one of the best frontcourts in the nation, and they will not be scared of any opponent. They have the strength and skill to score inside against Kentucky as well as fight for rebounds.

If point guard Isaiah Taylor was healthy, the road team would likely be able to pull off the upset.

Unfortunately, the sophomore remains out with a wrist injury and Texas could struggle to make plays in the backcourt. This game will still be close throughout, but Kentucky will find a way to pull away thanks to its incredible depth across the board.

Prediction: Kentucky 75, Texas 68

 

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Big Ten-ACC Challenge 2014: Full Schedule, Live Stream Info and Predictions

Your move, ACC

The Big Ten is off to a dominating start in the 2014 Big Ten-ACC Challenge and seized a 6-2 lead with four more victories Tuesday night. With only six more games remaining Wednesday, the Big Ten only has to win two additional contests to ensure a victory in the Challenge.

The ironic part is that Maryland may be the team to clinch it for the Big Ten in its game against Virginia just a year after switching over from the ACC.

Here is a look at the schedule and predictions for every game remaining in the Challenge before taking a closer look at the marquee event.

*All games can be viewed online at WatchESPN (cable subscription required).

 

Wednesday Game to Watch: Duke at Wisconsin

The rest of the games in the Big-Ten ACC Challenge were just the undercards leading up to the clash between Wisconsin and Duke.

College basketball fans will be treated to a potential Final Four preview between two Top Five teams in one of the best and most underrated venues in the entire sport. The winner will add a monumental carrot to its early-season resume and have a marquee nonconference win that the selection committee will eventually reward on Selection Sunday. 

You know it’s a big game when the NBA people are paying attention, via Myron Medcalf of ESPN:

The overwhelming theme of this matchup may be talented youth vs. tested experience.

The Badgers brought back Frank Kaminsky, Josh Gasser, Traevon Jackson, Nigel Hayes, Sam Dekker and Bronson Koenig from their Final Four team, so this will certainly not be their first time under the bright lights. Duke, on the other hand, is very reliant on its freshmen in Jahlil Okafor, Tyus Jones and Justise Winslow.

The Blue Devils youngsters have not played a college game in front of a raucous road crowd yet, which means the Kohl Center could be something of a system shock in the opening few minutes. They are all talented enough to eventually settle in, but don’t be surprised if there are a few early mistakes.

What’s more, Duke is only 5-6 on the road under the great Mike Krzyzewski in Top Five matchups, which is a testament to just how difficult it is to win away from home in college basketball against elite competition. 

ESPN’s Fran Fraschilla passed along an intriguing stat, even if it isn’t directly applicable to this season’s Blue Devils:

The game within the game will be the big-man battle between Okafor and Kaminsky.

Kaminsky captured the attention of the nation during Wisconsin’s Final Four run a season ago, but Okafor could be the No. 1 pick in the next NBA draft because of his ability to score on the block, grab rebounds and protect the rim. Kaminsky can do all of those things, but the best part of his game is his prowess from behind the three-point line, which stretches the defense and forces big men away from the basket.

Krzyzewski may use Amile Jefferson on Kaminsky for stretches to keep Okafor at the rim, but pulling the Duke freshman away from the basket would be critical for the Badgers in the rebounding department. 

Wisconsin basketball passed along a quote from Kaminsky about this matchup between potential All-Americans:

One area where Duke may have an advantage is the matchup between Winslow and Dekker. Dekker is one of the more talented players in the country, but Winslow’s defense can be overwhelming at times because of his athleticism, speed and length. Don’t be surprised if Winslow swallows Dekker’s game from the opening minutes and forces other Badgers to beat Duke.

The tested veteran vs. talented freshman storyline will also play a role at point guard with Jackson going up against Jones.

There are some similarities in their games with both always looking to set up teammates first in the passing department, but Jones’ overall ceiling is much higher as a future NBA player. That won’t mean much in Madison though, with Jackson in his comfort zone in front of the zealous crowd finding his teammates in just the right spots.

Based on pure talent alone, the Blue Devils will be the best team in the country outside of Kentucky by March. However, the freshmen will experience some early growing pains and won’t quite be ready for this marquee matchup away from Cameron Indoor Stadium.

The Kohl Center crowd will propel Wisconsin on a few early runs to give the Badgers the lead. From there, Wisconsin will play its typically stifling defense and hold onto the lead for a critical win for its resume and the Big Ten conference as a whole. 

Prediction: Wisconsin 78, Duke 71

 

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Big Ten-ACC Challenge 2014: TV Info and Predictions for Each Matchup

The Big Ten has already gotten a 2-0 start in its annual battle against the ACC, but the best games are still to come.

Nebraska barely escaped on the road with a 70-65 win over Florida State, while conference newcomer Rutgers defeated Clemson 69-64. 

Still, this is just the start of what should be an exciting two more days of action between the two deepest conferences in college basketball. With the way realignment has been going lately, this event might never end as the two sides just draft schools around the country to join in the fight.

Until that happens, here is a look at the games that are scheduled to take place, with predictions for each.

 

Closest Calls

Syracuse at Michigan

Michigan has some quality scorers in Zak Irvin and Caris LeVert, but their usual strategy of slashing to the rim and getting points will not work against Syracuse’s 2-3 zone.

Head coach John Beilein recently discussed the issue with facing the unique defense, via Brendan F. Quinn of MLive.com:

I’ve watched (Boeheim’s system) for years and it just works. He’s got so many things that he’s been so successful with for so long.

It’s a pain in the neck type of team that you have to play. It’s a puzzle. It’s a puzzle that even if you figure it out, you still have to shoot the ball over length and that’s a big thing.

The Wolverines have their shooters but not enough size to shoot over tall defenders at each position.

Still, the biggest issue will be on the other end of the court where Rakeem Christmas and Chris McCullough have turned into a formidable tandem for Syracuse in the low post. With Michigan struggling to defend the interior, this could lead to some easy buckets throughout the game.

While Michigan might have the better team over the course of the season, this is just a bad matchup and Syracuse will win.

 

Michigan State at Notre Dame

In two games against elite opponents, Michigan State has fallen short in each, with losses to Duke and Kansas. However, one thing you need to know about Tom Izzo is that his teams always find a way to improve as the season continues.

One person who has already improved a great deal is Travis Trice, who has become a leader for the Spartans in the early part of the season. Jon Rothstein of CBS Sports notes the jump from last year:

He will be involved in one of the best individual battles you will see all year against Jerian Grant, the Notre Dame guard showing once again why he is among the most underrated guards in the country.

After missing most of last season, Grant is back and averaging 18.7 points and seven assists per game while making everyone on the floor better.

Despite this great guard matchup, though, this game will be decided in the frontcourt. Branden Dawson hasn’t been playing well lately, but he has the talent to dominate Notre Dame down low with his offensive skill set and work on the glass.

Zach Auguste has had a great start to the year, but Michigan State has more athleticism and strength in the paint, and that will be the difference in a very close game that could come down to the final possession.

 

Duke at Wisconsin

Home teams usually have the advantage in college basketball, but I’m going outside the box with a third road victory on this list.

Wisconsin returned most of the rotation from last year’s Final Four team and is now looking for even more this year. With the talent of players like Frank Kaminsky and Sam Dekker to go with the overall experience of everyone on the floor knowing how to win close games, the Badgers have everything you want in a national title contender.

However, that doesn’t mean they will be able to win every game, especially against as challenging of an opponent as Duke.

The Blue Devils have one of their deepest rosters in school history with an incoming class as good as any in the country. Jahlil Okafor, Justise Winslow and Tyus Jones have created a dynamic group capable of making big plays at a young age and carrying the squad.

Meanwhile, veteran leader Quinn Cook is making sure everyone is prepared, especially for this game:

Duke has the size, strength and athleticism to give Wisconsin trouble on both ends of the court. With a deep lineup, the squad will also try to run as much as possible and wear down the Badgers’ relatively thin bench.

It will be a close battle throughout, but the Blue Devils will pull off the upset in Madison.

 

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Big Ten-ACC Challenge 2014: Full Schedule, Live Stream and Predictions

While college football fans argue over hypothetical conference strengths and which leagues are better with playoff spots on the line, college basketball supporters get to see two of the country’s top leagues actually battle it out on the court.

The Big Ten and ACC take center stage every season with the Big Ten-ACC Challenge, and the 2014 version features marquee showdowns between Duke and Wisconsin, Syracuse and Michigan and Ohio State and Louisville.

With that in mind, here is a look at the entire schedule and some predictions for every game.

*All games can be viewed online at Watch ESPN (cable subscription required).

 

Tuesday Game to Watch: Ohio State at Louisville

If Duke’s trip to Wisconsin on Wednesday is the main course of the Big Ten-ACC Challenge, then Ohio State and Louisville is a juicy appetizer.

Lauren Brownlow of Fox Sports pointed out that something has to give in the matchup between Ohio State’s offense and Louisville’s defense:

A fantastic battle of offense versus defense looms here, as Ohio State has the No. 1 effective field goal percentage (eFG%) in the nation and Louisville has the No. 1 overall defense (No. 3 in eFG% defense). Ohio State is shooting a ridiculous 63.9 percent from inside the 3-point line and Louisville’s opponents have shot just 36.9 percent from two.

While Brownlow focuses on Ohio State’s offense, there will be plenty of defense to spare on both sides of the court.

The Cardinals are No. 1 in Ken Pomeroy’s pace-adjusted defensive efficiency rankings, while the Buckeyes are No. 17. Both feature perimeter ball-hawks who pressure opposing guards in Terry Rozier and Chris Jones for Louisville and Shannon Scott and D’Angelo Russell for Ohio State.

Aaron Craft may no longer be around spearheading the Buckeyes defense, but Scott played alongside the Big Ten’s all-time steals leader for enough years to pick up a trick or two.

Louisville also features the dominant Montrezl Harrell down low as a rim-protector and rebounding machine. The Cardinals lead the nation in rebounds per game largely because of Harrell, which is critical because their offense has only shot 43.7 percent from the field in the early going. There will be plenty of misses that Louisville can capitalize on with easy second-chance points.

That will be a problem for an Ohio State team that doesn’t have a single player averaging six rebounds a game.

If the Buckeyes do grab some long rebounds, they can push the tempo in what already promises to be an uptempo game. Both teams rank in the top 10 in the nation in forced turnovers and will attempt to parlay those turnovers into easy chances at the other end.

Ohio State forward Sam Thompson discussed the chance at this developing into a faster-paced game, according to The Associated Press, via ESPN.com: “We feel we are at our best attacking. We still feel we are at our best getting out of transition and getting some easy baskets. It’s all about our mindset, how we attack, how we get out of transition, and how we get ourselves in rhythm.”

Louisville’s press is a major problem for many opponents, but with Thompson and Russell filling the wings and point guard Scott, who leads the nation with 10.4 assists, leading the way, the Buckeyes should be comfortable in a track-meet type of game.

When the game does settle down into the half-court, the matchup to watch will feature Ohio State’s Russell and Louisville’s Rozier.

Russell, who is only a freshman, leads the Buckeyes offense with 18 points a game and is more than comfortable hitting from beyond the three-point line or attacking the rim off the dribble. He is also a Louisville native and should be plenty motivated for this one.

It will be up to the lightning-quick Rozier to stay in front of Russell and prevent the youngster from stuffing the stat sheet.

Another thing to watch is how the Buckeyes react to the hostile crowd. They have yet to play away from home on the season and now have to start off the road slate with a trip to play against one of the nation’s best teams.

Ohio State represents a stiff nonconference test for a Louisville squad that only scored 45 points the last time out against Cleveland State. However, Ohio State is yet to be tested against elite competition this season, will be playing on the road in front of a raucous crowd and simply doesn’t have an answer for Harrell’s 17.4 points and 8.8 rebounds a game.

Amir Williams and Anthony Lee are both solid options on the block for the Buckeyes, but Harrell is the best player in this game.

Sometimes, the best players make the biggest difference in the closest games. 

Prediction: Louisville 62, Ohio State 57

 

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Big Ten ACC Challenge 2014 Schedule: TV Info, Live Stream and Predictions

The great nonconference battles in college basketball keep on coming with the Big Ten-ACC Challenge.

While the early-season tournaments provided fans with plenty of excitement over the past few weeks, the high-profile matchups are not ending just yet. They continue when the top teams in the Big Ten play for pride and quality wins to add to the resume against the best squads from the ACC.

The three-day event is intended to prove which is the best conference, but the true fun is simply watching each big-time matchup, many of which could be previews for late NCAA tournament battles.

Here is a full look at the schedule for the upcoming week with a breakdown of the best games to watch.

All games can be viewed online at Watch ESPN 

 

Top Games

Syracuse at Michigan

These two teams were expected to rebuild after losing key players from last season, but both Michigan and Syracuse have a 5-1 record to start the year, with the only losses coming to top teams in New York City.

The Wolverines lost to Villanova at Madison Square Garden in the Legends Classic, while California defeated the Orange at the 2K Classic. Despite having a lot of question marks coming into the year, both teams will likely be headed to the NCAA tournament in March.

However, this game will come down to matchups, and this highly favors Syracuse. Michigan’s biggest weakness is an inexperienced frontcourt, and it is something the Orange can expose with Rakeem Christmas and Chris McCullough.

Jeremy Ryan of WKTV notes the potential for the duo:

In six games, the frontcourt tandem is combining for 32.8 points, 17.5 rebounds and 4.8 blocks per game. They should be able to feast against the Wolverines’ undersized freshmen.

Caris LeVert and Zak Irvin will be limited by the 2-3 zone on the other end of the court, and the Orange should be able to earn a quality road win. 

Prediction: Syracuse 65, Michigan 58

 

Ohio State at Louisville

There are a lot of things to like about Ohio State’s play so far this season, starting with the scoring ability of D’Angelo Russell and Shannon Scott’s passing ability.

The problem is that aside from a matchup with a young Marquette team, the Buckeyes have not been challenged. The toughest test might’ve come in the last game, where they had to gut out a 73-56 win over James Madison.

Senior Sam Thompson explained after the game why this could be a learning experience for the squad:

We got off to a hot start and then, for whatever reason, we really slowed ourselves down. Take nothing away from them, but we thought we stopped attacking, we stopped looking to be aggressive on the offensive end. 

Sometimes you’ve got to win like that. You’re not going to score 100 points every game shooting 65 percent. We obviously don’t want to play like that, but you’ve got to find ways to win.

Unfortunately, it will be much tougher to find ways to win against Louisville, which is always difficult to score against. According to KenPom.com, the Cardinals currently have the most efficient defense in the nation.

The full-court pressure will get to the Buckeyes and force plenty of mistakes, allowing Louisville to then get easy opportunities on the other end.

In a fast-paced game, Rick Pitino‘s squad will showcase its ability with a relatively easy win at home.

Prediction: Louisville 76, Ohio State 64

 

Duke at Wisconsin

Outside of maybe Kentucky, these two teams have been two of the most impressive in the nation to start the season.

Jon Rothstein of CBS Sports breaks down why there is so much excitement for this game:

The most interesting storyline of this game will be how Duke’s talented freshmen stack up against Wisconsin’s experienced upperclassmen.

Frank Kaminsky, Traevon Jackson and Sam Dekker have already accomplished a lot in their time at Wisconsin and are hoping to end their careers with a national title. They know what it takes to gut out close wins regardless of the opponent.

On the other hand, Jahlil Okafor, Justise Winslow and Tyus Jones have been outstanding to star their careers at Duke and help create one of the deepest lineups head coach Mike Krzyzewski has ever had.

The Blue Devils have the strength to score inside and the athleticism to cover the outside shot from any position. This makes them one of the few teams capable of matching up with the Badgers, and it will help them pull out a win.

Prediction: Duke 69, Wisconsin 67 

 

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Cleveland Cavaliers’ Schedule Breakdown and Record Predictions for December

The Cleveland Cavaliers‘ October/November schedule was a necessary, albeit at times ugly, start to their 2014-15 season.

What started with a neighborhood party headlined by Kendrick Lamar and Imagine Dragons quickly took a sorrowful and “fragile” turn. Cleveland dropped their home opener to the New York Knicks (seriously, the Knicks!) and came away victorious during just one of their first four contests.

Now set to begin a new month, the team is starting to click.

The Cavaliers ride out of November with an 8-7 record, including 7-4 in their last 11 games. Wins over the Chicago Bulls, Washington Wizards and Atlanta Hawks carry hope into the new month, while losses to the Knicks, Utah Jazz and Denver Nuggets bring along some concern as well.

With a favorable upcoming schedule that only features eight currently seeded playoff teams in 18 games, Cleveland looks to build on its strong November finish.

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