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Credit: UCLA Athletics

This two-week portion of the NCAA basketball schedule is notoriously slow with many schools going through final exams.  Many teams will be looking to tighten their games up in preparation for conference play, and others are still trying to figure out their best rotations.

Draft-wise, the focus will start to become narrower on players’ strengths and weaknesses as the New Year starts. With 10 or so games under players’ belts, scouts have a good baseline on most abilities to this point and have an idea what players need to show in the next few months.   For the freshmen, expect to see the usual February drop-off in play for most as the schedule really starts to catch up with them. The upperclassmen have been through it before, and it is in January and February when you will see many players start to separate themselves from their peers as potential NBA players.

There is plenty of time left for players to improve, but that time always seems to go by very quickly.

Now on to this past week:

Who Impressed

-          Towson senior Jerrell Benimon notched his first career triple-double with 17 points, 18 rebounds, and 10 assists against Central Pennsylvania. Yes, the competition wasn’t very good. Still, Benimon has been tremendous for the Tigers over the past year and should be the frontrunner for Colonial Player of the Year.

-          UMass continued its early season roll and while it has been the contributions of more than a few players that have led to a 9-0 record, Chaz Williams willed them to a great win against a tough BYU team last week. Williams scored 32 points and added 15 assists with only 1 turnover. On the season, he is averaging 17.5 and 7.5, with a 2.5:1 assist to turnover ratio and is as much fun to watch as any player in college basketball.

-          In the same game, BYU’s Tyler Haws showed why he is one of the top scorers in the nation with 25 points on 9 of 16 shooting. Later in the week, Haws scored 19 points in 20 minutes against Prairie View.  Only a junior, Haws has impressed the past two seasons with his ability to create space off of screens for his shot, and get to the free throw line. That combination of skills should have him near the top of the nation’s top scorers for the rest of the year.

-          The offensive numbers won’t wow you, but Kentucky sophomore Willie Cauley-Stein has been one of the most dominant defenders in college basketball.  In a win Tuesday against a high-scoring Boise State team, Cauley-Stein helped limit the Broncos to only 55 points and 32% shooting, with 9 blocks and at least a half-dozen shots altered.

Credit: Jeff Jacobsen, Kansas Athletics

Credit: Jeff Jacobsen, Kansas Athletics

-          Florida’s six-point win against Kansas wasn’t really that close, due in large part to the play of Scotty Wilbekin. Wilbekin had little trouble getting good shots against the Kansas backcourt, scoring 18 points on 7 of 12 shooting, while also adding 6 assists and 4 steals. The most impressive performance in that game though may have been the closing minutes of the game from Andrew Wiggins. Wiggins hit three three-pointers and added two free throws in about a two-minute span to keep Kansas within striking distance. Wiggins’ play over the past two weeks has shown a good deal of what he is capable of and leaves him as one of the few players who can take over a basketball game.

Who to Watch This Week

In a very slow week for college basketball as a whole, Madison Square Garden will host some great games all week long. Here is a look at what you can expect in New York City next week.

-          Though they have gone into different conferences, St. John’s and Syracuse will meet again this weekend at Madison Square Garden, the sight of some of the Orange’s greatest Big East moments. Syracuse, led by senior CJ Fair, one of the most versatile scorers in the country, is 9-0 and ranked #2 in the country. St. John’s should put up a fight with plenty of talent on their side. D’Angelo Harrison and Jakarr Sampson are a great 1-2 scoring combination and Chris Obekpa is the leading shot-blocker in the nation.

-          Florida, off their big win against Kansas, will take on a Memphis team which looked much better in winning the Old Spice Classic than they did just a few weeks ago. Florida’s zone gave Kansas a lot of problems, but the backcourt of Joe Jackson, Geron Johnson, and Michael Dixon Jr. are experienced enough to know how to handle it and quick enough to get into the zone and make plays. The Gators will have an advantage up front, so it will come down to which team neutralizes the other’s strengths better.

-          UCLA got into an up-and-down battle with Missouri last week and just didn’t have enough fire power to keep up for 40 minutes. This week, they will take on Duke in New York, a sort of homecoming for former New Jersey high school star Kyle Anderson. I mentioned Anderson’s play a few weeks ago as a prime reason for UCLA’s fast start. Fellow sophomore Jordan Adams and freshman Zach LaVine have both been adding points for the Bruins, but the team is very shallow talent-wise after 5 or 6 players. Duke, led by Jabari Parker, Quinn Cook, and company, may be too deep for the Bruins, so UCLA will need to show that they can play some solid defense for 40 minutes.

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