Updated: May 10
It’s hard to believe that we’ve already reached the point in the college basketball season that really ramps up the excitement; Multi-Team Event (MTE) season.
Each year, hundreds of programs travel to a neutral site and compete against teams across the nation, usually with fixtures that are not otherwise typically scheduled in a regular season. This year’s MTE’s have already produced high-caliber contests; Purdue knocking off Villanova, and St. Bonaventure with statement wins over Clemson & Marquette, to name a few.
Now, the Roman Legends Classic takes center stage in a pre-Thanksgiving set of contests. Four unique conferences are represented: the ACC, Big East, Big Ten, and SEC are all fielding teams in this high-octane tournament.
Monday, Nov. 22
Georgia vs. Virginia - 7pm
Watch: ESPNU (Kevin Brown, Jon Crispin)
Line: Virginia -7.5
Providence vs. Northwestern - 9:30pm
Watch: ESPN+ (Kevin Brown, Jon Crispin)
Line: Providence -1
Tuesday, Nov. 23
Loser Game 1 vs. Loser Game 2 - 5pm (Watch on ESPN2)
Winner Game 1 vs. Winner Game 2 - 7:30pm (Watch on ESPN2)
Georgia Bulldogs (2-2)
Wins: Florida International, South Carolina State
Losses: Cincinnati, Georgia Tech
Projected SEC finish (KenPom): 14th (last)
Player to Watch: Senior forward Braelen Bridges - 14.3ppg, 6.5rpg
The Georgia Bulldogs are stuck in the bottom-tier of a loaded SEC highlighted by Tennessee, Alabama, and Kentucky among others. After starting 2-16 to begin the Tom Crean era in Athens, the Bulldogs have improved every year, albeit steadily. In search of more talent, Georgia hit the transfer portal quite heavily this year, enlisting the services of 7 transfers...all of which have major roles in the Bulldogs’ offensive unit. Gonzaga’s Aaron Cook (15ppg) dropped 22 points against SC State last week, and could be someone the Dawgs lean on against a field of stingy defensive units. Tom Crean is vying for his 400th win against the Hoos on Monday night.
Virginia Cavaliers (2-2)
Wins: Radford, Coppin State
Losses: Navy, #15 Houston
Projected ACC finish (KenPom): T-7th
Player to Watch: Senior forward Jayden Gardner - 13.5ppg, 7.8rpg
The brand of basketball that Tony Bennett has established in Charlottesville can only be described as the true epitome of “love-it-or-hate-it.” You either yearn for the aggressive clampdown-style defense and long offensive possessions, or you get so frustrated that the Hoos are on your hit-list. In either case, it’s worked; Virginia was right-atop the ACC at the end of the year, but were thwarted in their pursuits of repeating as the National Champion when #13 Ohio bounced them early. This year, a blunder against Navy and a tough 20-point loss to Houston were both causes for concern, so Virginia will look to right the ship against Georgia to start things off. A potential meeting with Northwestern would be interesting; a rock-solid defense against an up-tempo offense could spell some statistical anomalies.
Tony Bennett has instituted a defense-first strategy at Virginia. PIC: Jacob Kupferman, AP
Providence Friars (4-0)
Wins: Fairfield, Sacred Heart, Wisconsin, New Hampshire
Projected BIG EAST finish (KenPom): T-6th
Player to Watch: Grad. center Nate Watson - 19.3ppg, 6.5rpg
While Providence has quietly gone 4-0 to start the year, it came primarily against teams that are under-200 in KenPom’s rankings. The one anomaly was a 63-58 “grind-it-out” win over Wisconsin at the Kohl Arena, in large part due to center Nate Watson’s 11-for-15 performance from the field for 24 points. The Friars certainly look like they can compete this year, but a couple of big tests early in the season in Northwestern and either Georgia or Virginia will be key in evaluating how far this team can go - in the Big East and beyond. Look for Indiana grad transfer Al Durham to pull a lot of the weight that David Duke leaves behind in his departure for the NBA, and keep your eyes on how well Providence can limit the high-percentage looks. A slowed-down game favors the Friars...except in a potential matchup with Virginia.
Nate Watson is a favorite for Big East Player of the Year. PIC: Big East Conference
Northwestern Wildcats (4-0)
Wins: Eastern Illinois, High Point, New Orleans, Fairleigh Dickinson
Projected Big Ten finish (KenPom): 8th
Player to Watch: Senior forward Pete Nance - 18.0ppg, 8.5rpg
“Wait, is Northwestern really a top-40 team?” is a question that came out of my mouth today. After a quick look at the facts, the Huskies certainly have the stones to compete in a mega-crowded Big Ten that’s loaded up with Ohio State, Purdue, Michigan, and Illinois, to name a few. Northwestern nearly started 7-0 last year, but proceeded to lose the next 13 contests...all against conference opponents. This is probably the Huskies best roster in the past 5 years of the Chris Collins era; it’s anchored down by Pete Nance, the highest-rated prospect in school history, who is poised to have another big year. Elyjah Williams, the product of Fairleigh Dickinson, could be a key piece if he proves ready to defend at the Power 5 level. Otherwise, Boo Buie and Chase Audige will be focal pieces of a high-tempo backcourt that moves quickly.
And now: predictions that no one asked for!
Allow me to indulge myself.
Georgia-Virginia: Tom Crean’s celebrations have to wait, as Jayden Gardner proves himself as the go-to-guy in the Hoos scheme. Virginia’s defense comes up big (yet again), and stymies Georgia’s handful of offensive contributors. Virginia 78, Georgia 68
Providence-Northwestern: Nate Watson significantly outplays Pete Nance, Al Durham & AJ Reeves knock down their three-pointers, and it’s enough to slow down Northwestern’s speedy backcourt. A rock-fight against the Huskies will favor the Friars. Providence 74, Northwestern 69