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LYNCHBURG, Va. They kicked off their week knowing one of the most prestige’s early season college basketball tournaments in Paradise Jam would overtake the Hill City on Friday from national media and high profile march madness hopefuls. First order of business was traveling to Lawrence Joel Veterans Memorial Coliseum and face Wake Forest out of the ACC. Conference alone would sway toward the Deacons with tension from wall to wall after dropping their first game 85-83 to Georgia Southern.
The Flames had proven in exhibition that they could go on the road to a hostile environment at VCU and lockdown defensively and hit enough shots, although a week of four games in six days is a different animal.
Ritchie McKay, brought the pack-line defense with him to Liberty from his days as Associate head coach at the University of Virginia.
Road games in non-conference have not been kind to the Flames in the past, but the culture McKay has instilled a culture and recruited resilient players leading to tonight’s first non-conference road win since 2012. It is a small victory for the coaching staff, but with potential games against Houston and even Colorado looming later this week, it is on to the next one.
A step in the right directions is what the Flames were looking for on Tuesday night and that is exactly what they received from the whole squad committing on defense first and knowing that the offense would come.
The crowd was taken out of the game early on with Liberty leading for over 11 minutes in the first half and did not cough up the lead in the second half.Wake Forest had its opportunities forcing 13 Liberty turnovers in the first half, but the Flames countered that with 13 points off of second chance opportunities. The Flames would limit those opportunities in the second half with four turnovers.
Flames had three players in double-figures, lead by Lovell Cabbil’s 22 points. Scottie James in his second career game made his presence known with 9 points and 14 rebounds against a much larger Deacons squad. It all came down to hustle and Liberty took the 50/50 balls.
Liberty heads home in preparation for Paradise Jam, with a first round matchup against Mercer Friday at Noon.
Full coverage of Paradise Jam this weekend will be by myself courtside in Vines Center via twitter @FlamesHoopszn and @BeyondtKey
By BeyondtheStatistics.com College Hoops Insider Jeremy Fitch
For the first time in the history of College Basketball, the NCAA Tournament committee has released who they believe the top 16 teams are currently, if the tournament began today.
There are only four weeks remaining until Selection Sunday, which means it is that time where teams are beginning to wonder if they have enough quality wins to be a part of the field come March.
As of now the four number one seeds are, Villanova, Gonzaga, Kansas and Baylor.
Although four weeks is plenty of time for the committee to change their mind on these number one seeds.
I am under the belief that the way this college basketball season has played out though that these number one seeds will stay at the top.
Here is the rest of the field so you can see who is fighting for these top seeds:
While I do believe some of this will be shaken up in the next four weeks, it appears that if college basketball fans wanted to decide which portion of the bracket you would want to be in, it would be the South.
One thing is for sure, this tournament is going to have upsets like we have never seen before.
If I had to choose one team out of these that I believe will improve their ranking before Selection Sunday it would be UCLA.
With many discussions and disagreements between journalists, analyst and fans to be had in the next few weeks, we can all agree that these early releases of the top teams only makes this time of year that much better.
By Jeremy Fitch
Legendary Syracuse head coach Jim Boeheim unofficially won his 1,000 career game Saturday against a very tough ACC foe, Virginia.
Due to NCAA sanctions on Syracuse, they took away over 100 wins from Boeheim. Let’s be honest though, you cannot erase wins and losses.
College basketball fans witnessed those wins and losses, there is no erasing that so why try? While others have different opinions, I believe that Boeheim should be celebrated for joining the 1,000 wins’ club.
This was just a move on the part of the NCAA trying to prove a point against one of the best college basketball platforms the sport has to offer. Unfortunately for the NCAA things have not quiet worked out as planned if you look back at this weekend.
Syracuse fans stormed the court, Boeheim addressed number 1,000 in his news conference and many of his players and assistant coaches hinted at the fact that it was a milestone win on social media.
Boeheim deserves all the praise he is getting as a legendary coach and the NCAA should step up and realize it is 2017, and fans, college hoops writers really don’t care what the sanctions are. You cannot rewrite history, that we all witnessed as sports fans.
By Jeremy Fitch: DYSTnow.com College Basketball Insider
Over the past week these two teams have been heading in different directions, but can this matchup set the tone for the rest of ACC play?
Virginia Tech is coming off their first Top 25 bid last week for the first time since 2010, but fell out of the Top 25 after two ACC losses to NC State and #12 Florida State.
Syracuse on the other hand, after beginning the season very rough seems to have found their stride in ACC play winning their past two games by double digits against Miami and Pittsburgh.
Things to Watch tonight:
VT: While the resume shows a great home win over Duke this season, tonight could be a different story as Seth Allen, the sixth man on this Hokies roster could be OUT as he is recovering from a concussion.
On the offensive side of the ball the Hokies will need to have a team effort as they are averaging five players per game in double figures.
Then on the defensive side of the ball, Tech will depend on their perimeter D as they are holding teams to 31.2 percent from behind the arc, according to Syracuse.com. As Syracuse can sometimes live and die from behind the arc, this area will be vital if Tech wants to walk out of the Coliseum with another resume building win.
Cuse: As mentioned, coming off of two big ACC wins, this game marks another chance for the Orange to continue to build their resume.
For Syracuse, you will see what you have seen the past two games with going one maybe two deep on the bench. I believe for the third straight game we will not see Frank Howard play any role, and I think that bodes well for the Orange in this one.
On offense Cuse will need to look for Tyler Lydon early and often and will need a big night on both ends of the floor from freshman Tyus Battle.
Defensively, it appears that the adjustment Jim Boeheim has been able to make to the legendary 2-3 zone has worked. With Virginia Tech likely to play small ball often, it will be vital for the Orange to not miss their rotations or it could be a long night.
Players to Watch:
VT: 6-7 Forward, Zach LeDay ( 16.3 pts, 7.3 Reb.)
Cuse: 6-9 Forward, Tyler Lydon ( 13.5 pts, 7.8 Reb.)
6-6 Guard, Tyus Battle ( 8.8 pts, 45% from beyond the arc)
By Jeremy Fitch - DYST Now College Basketball Insider
The ACC/Big Ten Challenge never has a dull moment, and this year will be no different. It could be even more special as the season tournament has fourteen teams that were involved in last seasons NCAA Tournament.
Coming up is the schedule, top matchups, underrated matchups and my predictions for each game and which Conference takes the title.
Minnesota at #25 Florida State
Wake Forest at Northwestern
#18 Syracuse at #16 Wisconsin
#24 Michigan State at #6 Duke
Pittsburgh at Maryland
Iowa at Notre Dame
Georgia Tech at Penn State
N.C. State at Illnois
#17 Purdue at #10 Louisville
#4 North Carolina vs. #3 Indiana
Ohio State at #7 Virginia
Virginia Tech at #25 Michigan
Rutgers at Miami
Nebraska at Clemson
Must Watch Matchups:
#18 Syracuse at #16 Wisconsin 7:30 p.m. ET on ESPN, Tuesday
#24 Michigan State at #6 Duke 9:30 p.m. ET on ESPN, Tuesday
#4 North Carolina vs. #3 Indiana 9:15 p.m. ET on ESPN, Wednesday
Under the Radar Games:
#17 Purdue at #10 Louisville
Ohio State at #7 Virginia
Virginia Tech at #25 Michigan
There are two rematches from the 2015 ACC/BIG Ten Challenge that by the eye test you could say could be even better matchups than last season. Those two matchups are, Syracuse vs. Wisconsin, which ended in a Badgers win last season 66-58, and Ohio State vs. Virginia that ended in a UVA win 64-58.
Syracuse, Duke, Maryland, Notre Dame, Penn State, N.C. State
Louisville, UNC, Virginia, Virginia Tech, Miami, Nebraska
I am taking the ACC to defeat the Big Ten in the matchups 9-3. Although, history does not back me up, as the Big Ten has won the past two Challenges 8-6 overall. The ACC leads the all-time matchup 10-5-2, since the Challenge was established in 1999.
By Jeremy Fitch: DYST Now College Basketball Insider
1. Lonzo Ball and TJ Leaf
UCLA has something special in the works as they have two freshman looking to lead this squad to places they haven't seen in years. Leading this team to a early season #16 ranking in the AP Top 25, it looks like they could keep climbing. I will go out on a limb here early in the season and say this UCLA team is the best offensive team in the nation. Through their first four games they have had one game where they did not eclipse the century mark, and they still won by 20, holding the other team to only 68 points.
There is a culture forming, but this team will go as far as Ball and Leaf take them, and as long as the defense can step up, I am calling this UCLA squad a Final Four contender early on this season.
2. Malik Monk and De'Aaron Fox
Freshman on the #1 team in the nation is the expectation at Kentucky, but Monk and Fox may have what it takes to move the expectation of Kentucky freshman to another level. While these two have had their moments of freshman mistakes early on, the veteran leadership of Isiah Brisco cannot be overlooked.
I look for these freshman to only improve throughout the season, and guide this team to a title contender. This team is not as dependent as UCLA for these two diaper dandy's, but in this culture they do have a higher expectation.
While I do not believe they will be the #1 team in the nation by the end of the season, it is title or bust come March.
3. Tyler Lydon and Tyler Roberson
Unlike the other duos, Tyler Lydon and Tyler Roberson are not the young guns. Lydon, a sophomore has gotten praise not only in Upstate New York, but around the Nation early on in the season. He as been listed on the Naismith Player of the Year watch list, John Wooden award and All-ACC second team.
Tyler Roberson, one of the few seniors on the Cuse roster will look to do what fans have expected of him throughout the years. Roberson has been known as a walking double-double, but early on this season it looks like he has developed a little bit of a jumper.
Syracuse, still lead by Jim Boeheim has been mentioned as title contenders this season, and I'll say they are a Final Four team with title contender upside, considering the depth and amount of scorers they have this season.
By Jeremy Fitch
This week we experienced some shift in the AP top 25 in college basketball. Some deserving, and maybe some that just do not make sense?
AP Top 25
1. Kentucky (42)
2. Villanova (21)
3. Indiana (2)
4. North Carolina
15. Saint Mary's
19. West Virginia
21. Iowa State
23. Rhode Island
24. Michigan State
25. Florida State
As it is still early in the college basketball season, rankings have plenty of time to work itself out. The easy move this week was Kentucky moving up to number one.
I have to point to Duke moving to number six as the question mark. Losing to Kansas at the buzzer with three potential NBA Lottery picks on the bench does not justify being dropped behind Villanova, Indiana, UNC and Kansas.
You could say Villanova could arguably certainly be number two, but Indiana number three is where I would switch out and put Duke there. While Indiana has been impressive and shot the rock at an incredible clip, it does not justify their jump. Especially with the only big time matchup having been the Kansas win.
So these are my teams that I believe are underrated and overrated in this week’s Top 25
1. Oregon: I have been saying this since the preseason rankings came out, and I hold to it. While they are a very impressive team on paper, with returning a full roster, they just do not have that player standing up to be the leader when they need it most. That has stood out in each of their games in the Maui Invitational.
2. Indiana: This is a very good squad, and I do not put them as a super overrated team, but I do believe they deserve to be notched a few spots lower. A win over Liberty this week does not justify jumping over as many great teams as they have.
By Jeremy Fitch
Saturday morning at open practice Duke showed why they should be considered title contenders in just day two of practice on the season.
Hearing about the freshman class all summer long, they did not disappoint as Jayson Tatum, Marques Bolden and Frank Jackson showed why although young, their maturity will bode well for the Blue Devils this season.
To begin practice head coach Mike Krzyzewski addressed the crowd, mentioning that stars Harry Giles and Grayson Allen would not practice, but would come out after getting treatment.
Many players stood out, here are some of my impressions after seeing arguably the preseason number one team in the nation suit up
Jayson Tatum shows off his jumper and physicality
Tatum showed why he was the number two player coming out of high school behind now teammate Harry Giles. The freshman arguably was the most impressive player on Saturday morning. Duke ran many plays for Tatum and he handled it well, from step back jumpers from midrange and from beyond the arc.
His jump shot, as many will see in his first game action is silky smooth. Honestly was one of the purest jump shots I have ever seen. I stand by my prediction in the Beyond the Key Podcast that he is my early freshman of the year candidate.
Marques Bolden proves he may be the most underrated freshman on the roster
Bolden comes in as a true center at 6-foot-11, with a dominate paint presence. On one occasion, while in a stop and go five on five drill, Bolden got the ball in the post, while being guarded by Chase Jeter, dropped stepped right into a two handed dunk over Jeter.
Proving he has great foot work and more than one move off of the block, it is clear that on the offensive and defensive side of the ball he will be a major presence for Coach K.
Expect Bolden to start the season coming off of the bench, but come midseason, I could see him and the other freshman cracking the starting lineup. I was impressed as Bolden stayed after practice with some assistants working on a three-point jump shot for around 20 minutes.
Frank Jackson proves he could be the defensive anchor:
Duke may have just found their next pure point guard that can also anchor the defense. Jackson impressed with his jump shot as well, as he is very consistent and can go get his own shot. He was not scared to go into the paint a get hit, and he proved he could finish on many situations after contact.
What stood out though was that he proved he can lockdown some of the most talents one and two guards from full court and in the half court.
Frank Jackson by midseason could certainly prove that he may be a one and done type of freshman. He Reminds me of a more highly recruited Tyus Jones, which Duke fans eventually fell in love with because of his clutch shot making.
Amile Jefferson is healthy and explosive:
A player that Duke fans all know and love, Jefferson showed that he has an explosive first step and has put on a little more muscle after getting the medical redshirt last season after breaking his right foot. The highlight of the morning for Jefferson came when he dunked over freshman Jack White, as the crowd stood up and roared with excitement.
Jefferson’s leadership will be vital this season if Duke wants any chance at raising another trophy in March as this team is very young, but has the talent.
Luke Kennard developed more of a repertoire for scoring the ball:
Kennard has shown that he has been in the lab this summer, making his scoring threat even more of a challenge for the opposition. His shining moment in practice on Saturday came in some half court drills when he took Frank Jackson off of the dribble three straight possessions as you could tell the competitive fire was at a high level between the two.
Kennard will look for big minutes this season, and look to prove what kind of leader he can be on the floor for the Blue Devils this season. You may see him even run some point guard this season as there is a lack of depth in that area after Frank Jackson.
Overall you can only take so much from the second day of official practices, but there is one thing for sure, Duke is a contender not a pretender this season.
Time: 9 p.m.
The ACC is center stage once again Wednesday night on Tobacco Road to determine who takes round one at Chapel Hill of this heralded rivalry. Both teams are playing their best basketball of the season at the right time, not only for the upcoming March Madness, but also for the greatest rivalry in college basketball. These are the storylines you should keep an eye out for tonight!
#20 Duke Keys to Success:
Duke is currently on a four game win streak in the ACC coming into Wednesday night’s matchup at Chapel Hill. While the Blue Devils struggled early in the season, as of late we have seen a team that is utilizing Grayson Allen and Brandon Ingram skill sets to create shots for others, but also create opportunities for the stars to get easy buckets. It will be very important for Duke to get out on the break for easy baskets on the road and win the defensive rebounding battle if they want a chance to win this edition of the rivalry. Everyone is queuing in on Ingram and Allen, so a player to keep an eye on that could be the “Carolina killer” in matchup one is Luke Kennard.
#5 UNC Keys to Success:
It has been a while since North Carolina was the team ranked higher coming into tonight’s rivalry, but that is exactly where they sit for the first time since 2012. UNC, the favorite in this one, will need to keep their defensive intensity up, which will be important to running Duke off the three point line. That will be vital, but expect the main thing UNC will need to do in front of their fans is offensive rebounding. This will be the last time Marcus Paige will play in Chapel Hill against Duke, expect him to have a big game and be the leader he has been all throughout his career. Also expected to be his partner in the blue bloods rivalry tonight is Brice Johnson, who will also have the responsibility of shutting down Duke star Brandon Ingram. A player to watch for that could be the difference in this one is Justin Jackson, who will look to continue to put a stamp on his NBA Draft status.
An instant classic is already in the making, as this matchup never disappoints. We have all that is necessary for a Carolina Duke matchup! We have Coach K vs. Roy Williams, College stars in the making and ESPN in Primetime. The fans have already been loud and clear on social media, but we know that students, faculty and alumni will make sure they are loud and clear tomorrow night in attendance in Chapel Hill, North Carolina! #BeatDuke #BeatUNC
By Jeremy Fitch
Chapel Hill and the Blue Devils have been a rivalry that is arguably the best in all of U.S. sports. Certainly when it comes to a college basketball rivalry, this one stands alone as the greatest. It all began 8 miles down Tobacco Road, January 24, 1920.
As NCAA powerhouses for years, this matchup goes much farther than just the Atlantic Coast Conference. Mike Kryzewski has said over the years, “Our games against North Carolina over the decades have proven to stand the test of greatness and time and excellence. Whatever thing you want to check, whatever you need to have it be a great rivalry, Duke and Carolina check all the boxes.” Great teams have great coaches, and we have not been disappointed over the years with the coaching prowess down Tobacco Road. The rivalry rose to new heights in the 1980’s when Mike Kryzewski and Dean Smith were on center stage. Smith, the legendary coach on his way to having the most wins in NCAA D1 and Coach K, on the rise to become one of the greats in the college basketball realm. Since then, we have had the opportunity to see Coach K take over the status of having the most wins in NCAA D1 history, which continues to rise each week in front of our very eyes. On the other side of the rivalry currently, UNC head coach, Roy Williams, has not shied away from being great since taking over Chapel Hill in 2003, winning 2 National Championships. This legendary coaching matchup’s days are numbered, but fans should soak in every last drop of this coaching rivalry that is left in the coming college seasons.
Although the coaches have been some of the best for years, the players that have arguably been some of the greatest college phenoms we have ever had the privilege of watching are what have made this rivalry what it truly is. The stars over the years have not been scared of the bright lights this rivalry has brought on. From game winning shots to blood and tears, each time these teams matchup it is an instant classic.
In North Carolina fans have had the privilege to see the likes of Michael Jordan, Vince Carter, Rasheed Wallace, James Worthy, Marcus Paige, Jerry Stackhouse and many others. Chapel Hill is the full college experience, but add in the chance to play in the greatest rivalry, and be coached by a great is something many of the best players over the years could not turn down.
For Duke, fans have had the honor of watching, Christian Laettner, Grant Hill, Shane Battier, JJ Redick, Jahlil Okafor , Jay Williams and many more college legends. The Blue Devils continue to attract the best talent in the country. A big catalyst for that is that these kids want the chance to play in one of the greatest rivalry games of all time, twice a season under one of the greatest coaches in the history of the college basketball.
These players set the stage and expectation of what we could expect in the past, present and future. No one could have imagined the series would be this even though. This week marks the 240 meeting for the foes, and we expect another instant classic. History has been made, but we look forward to the opportunity to witness more history in future matchups.
It is all decided this week on the campus of UNC Chapel Hill. Look for a full preview of this Wednesday’s matchup at 9 p.m. on ESPN from me Wednesday morning!
Now the Rivalry is in OUR hands