25 Key Storylines for Week 5 in College Basketball

Thad NovakCorrespondent IDecember 2, 2012

25 Key Storylines for Week 5 in College Basketball

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    The college basketball season is entering Week 5, and time is running short for many teams looking to score signature non-conference wins. While mid-major contenders such as Ohio or Valparaiso are under extra pressure to make a statement now, there are plenty of power-conference programs that also need a big December win for themselves.

    Several teams in that latter category are gearing up to face in-state rivals this week. Florida State could redeem an unimpressive start in a hurry if it can ride home-court advantage to an upset win over unbeaten Florida on Wednesday.

    Read on for more on the Gators-Seminoles clash and the rest of the biggest stories to watch in the college hoops world this week.

25. Is Anybody Going to Slow Down Semaj Christon?

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    Xavier has had a remarkably easy time weathering the loss of last year’s brilliant backcourt, thanks largely to a sensational start by freshman point guard Semaj Christon.

    The 6’3” Christon is leading the 6-1 Musketeers with 16 points, 6.2 assists and 1.2 steals per game.

    Freshmen usually flourish in front of their home fans, and Christon has a pair of games at the Cintas Center this week.

    Dismal Vanderbilt won’t be likely to provide much of a challenge, but Kent State (with senior Randal Holt anchoring the perimeter defense) will be a tougher test.

24. Can Marshall Actually Get an Easy Win for Once?

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    It doesn’t get the press of Duke-North Carolina or Stanford-Cal, but Marshall’s longstanding rivalry with West Virginia is one of college sports’ best.

    With the Thundering Herd hosting this year’s clash against 2-3 WVU, the chances look good for the home team to win—but not by much.

    Dazzling Marshall point guard DeAndre Kane (16 points and 8.4 assists a night) is more dangerous on offense than any two Mountaineers right now, but he hasn’t managed to put games away down the stretch.

    Four of Marshall’s last five contests have been decided by three points or less, including a heartbreaking double-OT loss at Hofstra. 

23. Just How Good Is Boise State?

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    The Boise State Broncos galloped onto the national radar two weeks ago, going into East Lansing and coming within five points of beating then-No. 15 Michigan State.

    That defeat is still the only blemish on Boise’s record after Derrick Marks and company stunned No. 11 Creighton in Omaha. Unfortunately for the Broncos, they won't be able to build much on that momentum this week.

    With Marks and Anthony Drmic combining for 33.8 points a night, a visit to struggling Utah (which has already lost to SMU and Sacramento State) is mostly about avoiding an embarrassing loss, not showing what this team can really do.

22. Which Bracket-Busting Hopeful Will Win the Kent State-Bucknell Clash?

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    After beating Drexel and losing to Valparaiso (both in OT), Kent State has plenty of experience with March’s top sleeper prospects. They’ll get a chance to take down another mid-major powerhouse in Tuesday's visit to Bucknell.

    The Golden Flashes have gotten big-time production out of 6'8" senior Chris Evans (18.1 points and 7.6 rebounds a game), but he’ll be out of his depth against the Bison.

    Bucknell star Mike Muscala stands 6’11”, 234 lbs, and has the power game (17.8 points, 12.1 boards and 2.3 blocks a night) to lead his team to its eighth win in nine tries.

21. Which Bubble-Team-in-the-Making Will Earn a Win in Milwaukee?

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    Both Wisconsin and Marquette have taken their lumps in the early going, with the Golden Eagles having lost to the only two competitive teams they’ve faced (including an ugly 82-49 defeat at Florida). 

    Wisconsin does have a couple of solid wins over Arkansas and California, but the Badgers have also lost three times in their first eight tries. 

    Marquette hosts this year’s edition of the rivalry game, though Badger fans are sure to be plentiful at the Bradley Center.

    6’1” Ben Brust has been overachieving wildly (7.5 rebounds per game to go with his 13.5 points a night), and Marquette guards Junior Cadougan and Vander Blue aren’t strong enough to keep him from leading Wisconsin to a much-needed win.

20. Can Charlotte Stay Undefeated?

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    The 7-0 Charlotte 49ers have emerged as surprising frontrunners in the Atlantic 10. Having already taken down one perennial bracket-buster in Oral Roberts, Charlotte faces another in its first true road game, a visit to Davidson.

    The marquee matchup will feature power forwards Chris Braswell (15.2 points and 6.7 rebounds per game for Charlotte) and De’Mon Brooks (16.7 points and 6.0 boards a night for Davidson) battling down low.

    Look for the Wildcats, who are much better than their 4-3 record, to eke out a narrow home win led by senior PG J.P. Kuhlman.

19. Will Georgia’s Offense Finally Show Some Life?

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    Cast in the role of convenient victim at the Legends Classic, Georgia has already had the opportunity to get pummeled by both Indiana and UCLA (not to mention South Florida) in a 2-5 start.

    The biggest casualty of that brutal schedule has been the Bulldog offense, currently ranked a laughable 325th in the country.

    Georgia won’t have an easy time getting healthy against a Georgia Tech team that’s already scored a key non-conference win over St. Mary’s.

    The Yellow Jackets have played a tough schedule of their own, losing to California and Illinois. With the size of 6'11" Daniel Miller and 6'8" Robert Carter inside, they should have little trouble dispatching the ‘Dawgs to improve to 5-2.

18. Which Would-Be Sleeper Will Triumph in Fayetteville?

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    Arkansas has been a dangerous team on its home floor, winning its first three games before scoring 82 points in a tough loss to No. 6 Syracuse.

    Led by super-scorer B.J. Young (21.4 points per game), the Hogs have a great chance to play spoiler in the SEC, but first they’ll need to get past Big 12 dark horse Oklahoma on Tuesday.

    The Sooners have already knocked off Warren Niles and Oral Roberts on the road, so a one-scorer team won’t be a mystery to them.

    However, the scuffling backcourt of Steven Pledger and Sam Grooms will have a brutal time with Arkansas’ perimeter pressure, especially with the home crowd behind the Razorbacks.

17. Can Iowa State Win Away from Ames?

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    Fred Hoiberg’s Cyclones have looked solid in a 5-2 start, but all five wins have come at home. They’ll get a chance for a valuable non-conference victory Friday when they travel to Iowa City and take on the archrival Hawkeyes.

    Iowa has ridden the inside-outside tandem of Aaron White and Roy Devyn Marble (27.3 points per game combined) to a 6-2 record. Of course, one of those losses came in a blowout at the hands of the high-scoring Virginia Tech backcourt.

    That result doesn’t bode well for the Hawkeyes’ chances of slowing down Iowa State’s dangerous perimeter trio of Korie Lucious (4.7 assists per contest) plus scorers Will Clyburn and Tyrus McGee (31.3 points a night combined).

16. Will St. Louis Rally Around Its Fallen Coach?

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    The college basketball world got a little less colorful on Saturday as fan-favorite coach Rick Majerus (on medical leave from his St. Louis Billikens team) passed away at age 64.

    The games go on for the Billikens, though, who face a tough home test on Wednesday against North Texas.

    SLU has struggled mightily on the glass all season, so Mean Green star Tony Mitchell (13.6 points and 8.3 rebounds a night) could be in for a monster showing.

    Nonetheless, look for the Billikens to maintain their focus and score a badly-needed victory behind the kind of defense that held Texas A&M to 49 points earlier in the year.

15. Which Tennessee Offense Will Arrive in Charlottesville?

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    In Tennessee’s four wins this season, the Volunteers are averaging 77.8 points per game. In their two defeats, they’ve scored a total of 81 points, thanks largely to Friday’s stultifying 37-36 loss at Georgetown.

    Facing a Virginia defense that has yet to allow 65 points in a game, the Vols aren’t in the ideal position to score a road upset.

    Even so, if 6’8”, 270-lb Jarnell Stokes can outmuscle the Cavaliers’ 6’8”, 234-lb Akil Mitchell inside, physical Tennessee should be able to take this one right down to the wire.

14. Will Memphis Finally Beat an NCAA Tournament-Bound Team?

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    The Memphis Tigers got unceremoniously dumped out of the Top 25 thanks to an awful showing at the Battle 4 Atlantis, where they lost to Virginia Commonwealth and Minnesota.

    They’ll get a chance for a measure of payback if they can hold serve at home against dangerous Ohio.

    The Bobcats have followed up last March’s Cinderella run with a solid 6-1 start, but Memphis will be the most athletic team they’ve faced by a wide margin.

    A big game from Ohio star D.J. Cooper (14.7 points, 7.3 assists and 2.3 steals a night) could be enough to outdo Memphis’ balanced offense and steal a clutch road win.

13. Is Virginia Tech for Real?

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    The Hokies made a serious splash on Saturday with their upset of No. 15 Oklahoma State. However, their 7-0 record features just one road win, over 2-5 UNC-Greensboro.

    A trip to the WVU Coliseum is sure to provide a tougher environment, even if West Virginia’s scattershot offense may not be able to keep up with red-hot Virginia Tech.

    Hokie star Erick Green is the third-leading scorer in the country at 24.9 points per game, and with help inside from surprising junior Jarell Eddie (17.1 points and 7.4 boards a night) he should have little trouble disposing of the Mountaineers.

12. What Will Kentucky Do to Bounce Back from Consecutive Losses?

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    Kentucky has become the most talked-about team in college hoops by losing back-to-back games against unranked foes.

    The end of the Wildcats’ 55-game Rupp Arena winning streak leaves them looking more vulnerable than they’ve been since John Calipari took over the program.

    Unfortunately for anxious Wildcat fans, this week’s action will provide few opportunities for Nerlens Noel and company to prove much of anything.

    UK hosts two hideously overmatched opponents (Samford and Portland), and while the games may give the home team a chance to take out some aggression, they’ll say little about whether Calipari has solved the problems that stymied his team against Notre Dame and Baylor.

11. Can Brock Motum Solve the Gonzaga Defense?

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    Washington State would love to gain some ground on Gonzaga in the battle for western Washington supremacy, but that’s not going to happen any time soon.

    Still, with the Zags visiting Pullman this Wednesday, the Cougars should at least get a highlight-reel performance from star forward Brock Motum.

    The 6’10” Aussie has been the only WSU player worth watching, averaging 18.9 points and seven boards a night.

    He won’t be enough to beat a terrific Bulldogs team by himself—especially not with Elias Harris averaging career highs of 15.9 points and 8.4 boards per game—but he’ll give the home fans a few chances to cheer.

10. Can Texas Earn a Season-Defining Win Without Its Star Point Guard?

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    The NCAA’s investigation into Myck Kabongo’s potential violations shows no sign of wrapping up anytime soon.

    With its most talented player suspended indefinitely, Texas will need some luck to win either of its imposing contests this week. The Longhorns start off in New York City, taking on No. 20 Georgetown in the Jimmy V Classic, then head to Houston to face UCLA.

    Both the Hoyas and the Bruins have the advantage in size, skill and depth over Texas, so even promising frosh Javan Felix and Cameron Ridley are unlikely to keep the ‘Horns from dropping to 5-4.

9. Will New Mexico Continue to Run the Mid-Major Gauntlet Without a Loss?

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    25th-ranked New Mexico has carried the Mountain West banner against some of the nation’s top mid-major contenders this season.

    Having already taken down Davidson, George Mason and Indiana State (on the road), the Lobos set their sights on Horizon League standout Valparaiso on Saturday.

    The Crusaders boast a high-scoring frontcourt with Ryan Broekhoff and Kevin Van Wijk (a combined 31.1 points per game), though they’ll be in for a serious test in Albuquerque against 7’0”, 250-lb Alex Kirk.

    More worrisome for coach Bryce Drew is the matchup between 5’11” Valpo senior Erik Buggs and 6’4” Lobos star Kendall Williams, who should be able to create enough offense to keep New Mexico perfect at the Pit.

8. Can Jekyll-and-Hyde UConn Stun Another Ranked Opponent?

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    The UConn Huskies opened the year by upending No. 14 Michigan State, but they also needed two overtimes to escape from Quinnipiac.

    The latter UConn squad wouldn’t have a prayer against No. 18 North Carolina State, but the former could give the Wolfpack quite a battle in their Jimmy V Classic meeting.

    Shabazz Napier will see a variety of defensive looks, none of which will keep him from putting up huge scoring numbers (18.6 points per game so far).

    The Huskies' D, though, has to contain a lot more scorers, highlighted by freshman T.J. Warren (15.3 points a night to lead the Wolfpack).

    Add in Richard Howell (.739 field-goal percentage to lead the nation), and the challenge will be too much for a suspect UConn frontcourt.

7. Will B.J. Young Give Michigan Anything to Worry About?

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    Arkansas sophomore B.J. Young is the early leader in the SEC scoring race, tying for 15th in the country with 21.4 points a night.

    He’s also the only hope Mike Anderson’s team has of putting up a fight as it visits unbeaten and third-ranked Michigan in Ann Arbor.

    Unfortunately for the Razorbacks, the 6'3" Young will likely meet his match in 6’6” Michigan standout Tim Hardaway Jr.

    Hardaway shares the Wolverines’ team lead with 16.6 points per game, and he’s got three other terrific scorers around him who should keep Michigan’s record spotless in spite of Young’s best efforts.

6. Will Florida Look Past Struggling Florida State?

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    Back-to-back losses at the hands of Minnesota and lowly Mercer have dropped Florida State to 4-3 on the year. When it comes to defending their home floor against a prohibitive favorite, though, few teams can match the Seminoles—just ask any Duke fan.

    No. 7 Florida will certainly be the odds-on pick against Michael Snaer and company, but that could lead the Gators to look past FSU to their marquee showdown with Arizona the following week.

    Strong defense from Okaro White and Terrance Shannon could surprise the Gators, whose offense hasn’t faced a serious challenge.

    More likely, though, Florida’s own frontcourt bruisers (Erik Murphy and Patric Young) will lock down the ‘Noles inside and let Kenny Boynton burn up the nets for a comfortable Florida win.

5. Will Great Defense Beat Great Offense in Stillwater?

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    Defense may win championships, but on any given night, the Oklahoma State Cowboys will take their high-octane, Le’Bryan Nash-led offense.

    They’ll try to rebound from their first loss (at Virginia Tech) against their polar opposites: the defense-first slow-down artists from South Florida.

    A win over Georgia is the high point of the Bulls’ 5-2 start, in which only one opponent has broken 65 points.

    At Gallagher-Iba Arena, though, they’ll be hard-pressed to overcome rising-star PG Marcus Smart, who has a three-inch height advantage over South Florida floor leader Anthony Collins.

4. Can Colorado Earn a Second Upset Win Against the Big 12?

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    The Colorado Buffaloes leapt into the Top 25 largely on the strength of a surprising win over then-No. 16 Baylor at the Charleston Classic.

    On Saturday, the Buffs have a shot to score an even bigger upset against another former Big 12 rival as they visit the Kansas Jayhawks.

    Spencer Dinwiddie and Askia Booker (31.4 points per game between them) lead a high-scoring Colorado backcourt, but points have been hard to come by against Kansas’ defense.

    Buffaloes freshman center Josh Scott is in for a long day against shot-blocking senior Jeff Withey, who should give the Allen Fieldhouse crowd plenty to cheer about in a KU win.

3. How Ridiculous Can Michael Carter-Williams’ Numbers Get?

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    Five games into the season, Michael Carter-Williams is playing like the reincarnation of Sherman Douglas at Syracuse. The 6’6” sophomore is leading the nation with 9.2 assists per game, and he’s also fourth in the country at 3.8 steals a night.

    The Orange have a pair of near-guaranteed wins on this week’s schedule as they host lackluster Eastern Michigan and Long Beach State teams. 

    Expect Syracuse to add to its string of 20-point home blowouts, with correspondingly gaudy stats for its red-hot point guard.

2. Will Power or Finesse Come out on Top in Berkeley?

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    Coming off a rout at the hands of Wisconsin, California faces its toughest test yet with a visit from No. 24 UNLV on Sunday.

    The matchup will be a huge test for the Golden Bears’ yeoman frontcourt, which will face its first elite opposition from Rebels stars Anthony Bennett and Mike Moser (a combined 31.3 points and 17 rebounds per game).

    Of course, Cal has plenty of star power of its own, with the backcourt duo of Allen Crabbe and Justin Cobbs combining for 41.1 points a night.

    With help from the home crowd, junior Crabbe should dominate Rebels freshman Katin Reinhardt to lead a Golden Bear victory.

1. Which Team Will Leave Spokane with a Perfect Record?

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    Barring a massive upset, the biggest matchup of unbeatens in the country this week will feature No. 22 Illinois at No. 12 Gonzaga.

    A shootout is exceedingly likely, with the Zags scoring 85.3 points per game and the Illini having drained 90 three-pointers on the season.

    The defenses do have a few weapons of their own, though, as five Illinois players average at least one steal per game while Gonzaga’s David Stockton grabs 2.8 per night by himself.

    Sam Dower (who torched Pacific for 18 points and nine boards) could be the difference-maker against an iffy Illinois frontcourt.