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25 Key Storylines for Week 4 in College Basketball

Thad NovakCorrespondent IMarch 19, 2016

25 Key Storylines for Week 4 in College Basketball

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    The holiday tournaments may be over, but that doesn’t mean college basketball’s fourth week doesn’t offer up plenty of great matchups of its own. The ACC/Big Ten Challenge and SEC/Big East Challenge will have everyone in the college hoops world talking, not least by still generating more losses for Top 25 teams after the carnage of Thanksgiving week.

    One of the many terrific contests those mini-tournaments will offer sees N.C. State head to Ann Arbor to take on preseason NIT champion Michigan. Two of the country’s best backcourts will go head-to-head as Trey Burke and the Wolverines look to stay undefeated against Lorenzo Brown and the Wolfpack.

    Read on for more on the Michigan-N.C. State battle along with two dozen more intriguing stories to keep an eye on in the week ahead.

25. Can LIU-Brooklyn Finally Get a Win?

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    After returning four starters from the second-best scoring offense in college basketball, LIU-Brooklyn had reason for high hopes entering the season.

    Those hopes have taken a serious hit, however, after an 0-4 start that includes losses to unheralded Morehead State and Lafayette.

    The good news for the Blackbirds, though, is that after falling on the road to both Maryland and Kentucky, they’re back home and facing some far more beatable competition this week.

    Both Columbia and Lafayette must come to Brooklyn, and the odds of both teams containing Jamal Olasewere (22.3 points per game) and company to the tune of an 0-6 start are vanishingly small.

24. Can DeAndre Kane Possibly Stay This Hot?

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    Already a standout scorer as a sophomore, Marshall’s DeAndre Kane appears to have turned into the second coming of Chris Paul.

    Kane is still scoring 16.5 points per game, as he did a season ago, but he’s also leading the nation with 9.2 assists a night.

    Marshall has a pair of home games this week in which Kane can strut his stuff, but he may run into more resistance than usual.

    Morehead State, which visits Huntington on Wednesday, has already taken down one of the nation’s most loaded offenses in LIU-Brooklyn (who also features a top assist man in Jason Brickman).

23. Is Oklahoma Heading for an Upset?

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    Loaded with seniors, Oklahoma is well on its way to improving upon last season’s 15-16 finish. On Wednesday, though, the Sooners are in serious danger of hitting a bump in the road as they visit Oral Roberts.

    The Golden Eagles are always a threat to knock off a power-conference foe, and scorching-hot 2-guard Warren Niles (20.8 points per game, .606 three-point shooting) will be a brutal defensive assignment for any of the Sooners.

    Unless OU’s Steven Pledger, who has been very quiet this year, returns to his junior-year form (16.2 points per game), the Sooners are in deep trouble.

22. Will New Mexico Stay Undefeated?

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    The 2011-12 Mountain West featured a three-way race between San Diego State, UNLV and New Mexico. Two of those teams started the season ranked, and then there are the Lobos—the only program still without a loss.

    Kendall Williams has his team off to a 6-0 start, leading the way with 14.7 points and 4.7 assists per game.

    The Lobos host Mercer at the Pit on Wednesday (hardly much of a challenge), but a visit to 4-1 Indiana State won’t make it nearly so easy to keep a zero in the loss column.

21. Which Bracket Buster Will Win in St. Louis?

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    Saint Louis hosts another one of the nation’s top mid-majors on Sunday when Valparaiso comes to Chaifetz Arena. The Crusaders won’t be easily intimidated, having already won a similar duel at Kent State.

    This matchup will feature a pair of Australian standouts in the Billikens’ Cody Ellis (12.8 points per game) and the Crusaders’ Ryan Broekhoff (17 points and 7.2 boards a night).

    Look for Dwayne Evans and the physical Saint Louis frontcourt to hold serve at home against the smaller Crusaders.

20. Will Purdue Suffer Another Defeat on Its Home Floor?

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    Purdue’s season got off to an unwelcome start when Bucknell came into West Lafayette and handed the Boilermakers a 70-65 defeat.

    On Saturday, Terone Johnson and the sputtering Purdue offense will be in serious danger of losing at home to another mid-major powerhouse.

    Xavier will likely be favored against the Boilermakers, even on the road, after starting 5-1 with wins over Butler and Drexel.

    Ballyhooed freshman Semaj Christon has been as good as advertised (14.2 points and 6.6 assists per game), and he should lead the Musketeers to another clutch non-conference victory.

19. Will Ohio Avoid Its First Loss?

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    The biggest surprise of last year’s Sweet 16, Ohio brought back all five starters for a shot at another great postseason. The Bobcats are off to a wonderful start at 5-0, and they have a good chance of extending that run to 7-0 this week.

    On Wednesday, Ohio hosts a St. Bonaventure team that has already lost at Canisius and is unlikely to pose much of a threat against D.J. Cooper and company.

    The more dangerous game will be Saturday’s visit to Robert Morris—coming off a solid showing in the preseason NIT—but not even the Colonials have the offense to run with Ohio.

18. Who Will Win Saturday’s Point Guard Battle in Pittsburgh?

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    Pitt’s third-place finish in the preseason NIT owed a lot to the performance of senior PG Tray Woodall. The Panthers’ second-leading scorer at 12.3 points per game, Woodall is also dealing out 6.3 assists a night.

    On Saturday, though, he’ll get all he can handle from visiting Detroit's junior star Ray McCallum.

    The 6’3” McCallum has three inches on Woodall, and while he doesn’t have enough help to lead a Titans upset here, he’s a good bet to put on a show individually after averaging 19.5 points and 4.5 assists per contest to start the season.

17. Will Illinois Cure Its Post-Hawaii Hangover in Time?

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    The Big Ten was expecting plenty of its teams to start the season with a bang, but 7-0 Illinois was not one of the obvious candidates.

    The Illini earned a surprise championship at the Maui Invitational and then came home and nearly lost to lowly Gardner-Webb on Sunday.

    The Illini can’t afford another off night when dangerous Georgia Tech visits on Wednesday. 6’11” Daniel Miller leads a potent frontcourt, and Brandon Paul will need to be on his game to outscore the Yellow Jackets, even at Assembly Hall.

16. Which Shooting Guard Will Go off in Tallahassee?

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    Florida State’s Michael Snaer knows a thing or two about getting a hot hand.

    The Seminoles’ leading scorer is averaging a career-best 16 points a night, but he might not even be the most dangerous scorer on the floor when Florida State takes its turn the ACC/Big Ten Challenge.

    Minnesota’s Andre Hollins comes into the meeting with FSU less than a week removed from dropping 41 points on Memphis in the Battle 4 Atlantis.

    If he gets in a rhythm again, the Gophers will be in good shape. (Even if Hollins doesn’t impress, forwards Trevor Mbakwe and Rodney Williams Jr. should give the Gophers the edge here.)

15. Which Super Soph Will Triumph at the Verizon Center?

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    One of the most intriguing games of the SEC/Big East Challenge sees Tennessee visit Georgetown. The battle down low will feature a pair of last year’s Freshman All-Americans, the Vols’ Jarnell Stokes and the Hoyas’ Otto Porter.

    Stokes is leading Tennessee with 14.3 points and eight rebounds a night, but Porter is putting up comparable numbers (12.5 points, 7.5 boards) while also blocking 2.3 shots per game.

    Add in the superior team around Porter, highlighted by shooting guard Markel Starks, and the Hoyas are a good bet to come out on top here.

14. Who Will Win the Shootout in Blacksburg?

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    Saturday’s clash between Virginia Tech and Oklahoma State features a pair of the top perimeter scorers in college hoops.

    Cowboy sophomore Le’Bryan Nash is racking up 18.8 points a night in the early going, but even he takes a backseat to Hokie senior Erick Green.

    Green is the nation's fifth-leading scorer with 24.4 points a game, and he’s still dishing out 5.2 assists per contest.

    He’ll provide plenty of fireworks on his home floor, but look for Nash (with plenty of help from freshman backcourt mate Marcus Smart) to lead his team to the win.

13. Who Will Win the Battle on the Boards in Miami?

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    Neither Michigan State nor Miami has a football game next week, but the basketball matchup between the two schools will do a pretty good impression of one.

    The frontcourt battle features such titanic matchups as 6’9”, 270-lb Derrick Nix against 6’10”, 292-lb Reggie Johnson, meaning that seismic collisions will be the order of the day.

    Both the Spartans and the Hurricanes get most of their scoring from their backcourts, so there should be plenty of rebounding opportunities for the behemoths underneath.

    Look for the homestanding ‘Canes to outmuscle the more mobile Spartans and keep the game close right to the final buzzer.

12. Is Shabazz Muhammad Ready To Be a Leader?

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    Shabazz Muhammad got thrown into the fire quickly, making his UCLA debut against the bruising Georgetown defense in the Bruins’ only loss so far.

    Muhammad and his mates have recovered well against inferior opposition, but Saturday’s showdown with San Diego State will be a real test for the star freshman.

    A potential matchup between the 6’6” Muhammad and 6’7” Aztecs star Jamaal Franklin (20.5 points and 11.3 rebounds per game so far) could be the decisive factor in a battle of deep, athletic backcourts.

    If Muhammad can spearhead a UCLA win, it will be a great sign for the Bruins’ Final Four hopes.

11. Will Wisconsin’s Rocky Start Continue?

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    Wisconsin’s 4-2 start doesn’t look great on paper, but losses to No. 10 Florida and No. 14 Creighton aren’t exactly devastating indictments of Bo Ryan’s team.

    The Badgers have a great chance to get back on track this week, though, with two shots at solid non-conference wins.

    Virginia comes to Madison as part of the ACC/Big Ten Challenge, and in a battle of two defense-first teams, betting on the Badgers is usually a good move.

    The Badgers can score an even bigger victory when undefeated Cal arrives, provided that they can slow down red-hot Allen Crabbe and the Golden Bear offense.

10. Does the SEC Have Any Hope vs. the Big East?

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    2011-12 was the first time the SEC/Big East Challenge had included a full 12-game slate, and the results were not pretty for the SEC.

    The conference would love to bounce back from getting crushed 8-4 last year, but the chances of a recovery this season are far from favorable.

    No. 13 Missouri, one of the SEC’s best teams, isn’t even participating in this year’s meeting, but conference punching bags Vanderbilt (1-3) and Mississippi State (1-4) are.

    Even if Ole Miss, LSU and Auburn all ride the home-court advantage to victory, the best their conference can likely hope for is a 6-6 split this year.

9. Does St. Joe’s Have Another Upset in Its Sights?

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    St. Joseph’s opened the Coaches vs. Cancer Classic with a bang, stunning then-No. 20 Notre Dame in overtime. On Saturday, they’ll get another shot at a ranked foe with a visit to Creighton.

    Doug McDermott and the Bluejays are going to put up a ton of points on their home floor, but don’t count the Hawks out just yet.

    Carl Jones is scoring 18.5 points a night in his own right, and St. Joe’s has a ton of size in its favor (6’8” point forward Halil Kanacevic, 6’9” shot-blocker C.J. Aiken and 6’8” rebounding leader Ronald Roberts Jr.). 

8. What’s the Matter with Baylor?

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    After last season’s 17-0 start, it had to be jarring for Baylor to suffer its first loss just a week after its season opener (a November 16th defeat at the hands of Colorado).

    Even more surprising, though, was Saturday’s upset by the College of Charleston, who came into Waco and topped the Bears by four.

    It’s not hard to find the common factor in the two losses, in which Baylor was held 20 points below its season scoring average.

    The Bears will need to solve their offensive woes fast, because Saturday’s visit to Kentucky won’t make points any easier to come by.

7. Will the Big Ten Continue Its Winning Streak Against the ACC?

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    After losing the first 10 ACC/Big Ten Challenges in a row, the Big Ten has taken the last three. With the incredible depth and talent in this year’s Big Ten, it wouldn’t be a surprise to see that string extended this week.

    Top-ranked Indiana and No. 4 Michigan both get to play at home, meaning that even ACC powers North Carolina and N.C. State will struggle to come away with wins in those games.

    Further down the pecking order, matchups such as Minnesota-Florida State, Virginia-Wisconsin and Boston College-Penn State all tilt pretty heavily in favor of the Midwestern programs.

6. Can San Diego State Spoil UCLA’s Showcase?

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    Not that John Wooden’s incomparable career isn’t worth celebrating, but one does have to feel sorry for the team that has to face his former school in the Wooden Classic in Anaheim.

    This season, that "honor" goes to San Diego State, and the Aztecs have a real chance to upset the vaunted Bruins, even on their pseudo-home floor at the Honda Center.

    The Aztecs backcourt of Jamaal Franklin, Chase Tapley and Xavier Thames is combining for 38.1 points and 8.3 assists per game.

    If 6’8” Deshawn Stephens can slow down the bigger UCLA post players, Steve Fisher’s squad will take this game right down to the wire.

5. Can Indiana Hold on to Its No. 1 Ranking?

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    After last week’s narrow escape from Georgetown, Indiana faces another daunting opponent in the ACC/Big Ten Challenge.

    Even if the Hoosiers survive North Carolina to preserve their undefeated record, they aren’t guaranteed to stay on top of the national rankings.

    Red-hot Duke has already beaten then-No. 3 Kentucky and then-No. 2 Louisville. If they can add a win over No. 3 Ohio State, the Blue Devils will have an awfully good case for the No. 1 position, regardless of what happens in Bloomington.

4. Whose Freshmen Will Take over in Ann Arbor?

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    Michigan’s ACC/Big Ten Challenge meeting with N.C. State will feature intriguing matchups across the board—with point guards Trey Burke and Lorenzo Brown going head-to-head—but perhaps the best will be the collision of two extraordinary freshman classes.

    Not only were the Wolverines and Wolfpack both ranked in the top seven nationally for their recruiting hauls, but both have seen their freshmen produce.

    T.J. Warren and Rodney Purvis are combining for 25.6 points per game for N.C. State, while the home team will counter with Glenn Robinson III and Nik Stauskas (24 points a night between them).

    Michigan hasn’t faced an offense anywhere near N.C. State’s level, and a big game from leading scorer Warren could be the key to a Wolfpack upset.

3. Which Freshman Center Will Shine in Lexington?

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    Two of the highest-rated recruits in the country will go head-to-head on Saturday when Isaiah Austin and Baylor visit Nerlens Noel and Kentucky.

    ESPNU’s No. 1 and No. 3 players in the freshman class are two very different kinds of centers, and the big man who can impose his own style of play will go a long way toward earning a win for his team.

    The agile Austin is an offensive dynamo who has more three-pointers made (four) than blocked shots (two).

    Even with a three-inch height disadvantage, though, it’s likely to be defensive ace Noel (8.6 rebounds and 3.6 blocks a night) who sets the tone for yet another home win for the Wildcats. 

2. Will North Carolina Rise to the Occasion Against Indiana?

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    The inexperienced Tar Heels have faced only one team capable of putting up a fight against them, and that meeting didn’t exactly go well.

    After getting upended by Butler at the Maui Invitational, North Carolina now faces a road date with the No. 1 team in the nation.

    James Michael McAdoo and the Tar Heels absolutely have the talent to give the Hoosiers a fight, even in Bloomington, but only if they don’t psych themselves out of the game.

    Roy Williams will have to be very careful to keep Indiana from grabbing the momentum early, because if his young team starts hanging its head, the Hoosiers will blow them out of the water.

1. Does Ohio State Have Any Chance of Winning at Cameron Indoor Stadium?

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    Senior-driven Duke has played six games and beaten teams ranked in the Top Five in two of them. They’ll get a chance to make it 3-for-3 in what’s become the biggest game of the ACC/Big Ten Challenge.

    No. 3 Ohio State has yet to be tested in four games, forcing the Buckeyes to shift into gear in a hurry for Wednesday’s trip to Durham.

    Duke is a fearsome team on its home floor, and even if Deshaun Thomas and Aaron Craft (a combined 38.3 points per game) continue their scorching starts, the Buckeyes will need a healthy dose of luck to avoid their first defeat of the year.

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