By: Austin Streitmatter
Happy Monday! Welcome to Starting Hot, a section where we look at some of the events in the sports world during the upcoming week with a special highlight to our Game of The Week and our Team of the Week. We won’t dive super into detail on every game here but will give you a quick glance as to what days you should be glued to your TV or which games to be sure you record! (All stats are written as of February 8th)
Any time two teams at the top of their conferences play each other, it is special. It’s even more special when both those teams are in the same conference and have legit Elite Eight hopes… and also when it happens in February. Both teams are coming off of losses but that doesn’t mean this game won’t be a great one. The VIllanova Wildcats are led by a pair of talented Sophomore in Jeremiah Robinson-Earl and Justin Moore with veteren experience at the head in Senior Point Guard Collin GIllaspie. The 3 lead the team in minutes (each averaging over 30 minutes a game) and either Gillaspie or Robinson-Earl leads the team in every major statistical category (Points, Assists, Rebounds, Steals, Blocks).
On the other side of the court is a talented Creighton Blue Jays team. Each of the top 5 scorers for Creighton is at least a junior with 3 seniors. Experience is not a problem for Creighton. They are led on offense by Junior Guard Marcus Zegarowski who is averaging around 15 points, 4 rebounds and 4.5 assists a game. He’s also playing 33 minutes a game (82.% of the game). Creighton scores the ball well but recently has struggled as they have scored below their average of 79 Points per game over their past 3 games. This game should be a preview of the Big East tournament final and is Afternoon Analytics Game of The Week! Tune in to Fox at 5 pm ET to catch this one.
Outside of our game of the week, College basketball is still giving fans quality games all week. The Big 12 gives us 3 great games between 3 teams across the week with #14 West Virginia traveling to Lubbock to face #7 Texas Tech on Tuesday. Texas Tech then travels to Waco to play the #2 Baylor Bears and finally Baylor travels to Morgantown to play #14 West Virginia. Schedules that play out like this are one of the great aspects of college basketball as fans should be able to evaluate each of these teams well after this week. Keeping with the spirit of Upset Rematches, (Did you see Indiana beat Iowa AGAIN on Saturday? We told you to watch this game in last week’s post) we get another one this week. These rematches aren’t between a ranked team and an unranked team but rather two ranked teams that when they played each other last resulted in a blowout. On Sunday Juwan Morgan’s #3 Michigan Wolverines journey to the notorious Kohl Center in Madison in hopes of replicating their previous performance against the #21 Wisconsin Badgers. Last time these two teams played Michigan went on a 43-6 run en route to a 77-54 dominating victory. It’s unlikely that we will see something as crazy as that but you truly never know. We also get a great matchup next Monday between Tony Bennet’s #9 Virginia Cavaliers and Leonard Hamilton’s #17 Florida State Seminoles. Both of these teams are the clear favorites to win the ACC, but only one will win this matchup and the ACC itself.
Speaking of the ACC, in the NBA we get a matchup between recent ACC stats when former Duke Blue Devil Jayson Tatum and the Boston Celtics travel over to Utah to face former Louisville Cardinal Donovan Mitchell and the Utah Jazz. The Jazz currently hold the best record in the entire league at 19-5 and Boston is hoping to continue to climb up the Eastern Conference standings as they currently sit in 4th at 12-10. When you talk about young stars in the NBA, it’s almost impossible to not talk about the Luka Doncic-Trae Young trade from 2018. In that deal, the Dallas Mavericks sent their #5 pick and a 2019 first round pick to Atlanta in a trade for the #3 pick in 2018 that they used to select Luka Doncic. The Hawks would use that #5 pick to select Trae Young and then the 2019 pick to select DeAndre Hunter. These two get to go head-to-head in one of my favorite matchups to watch on Wednesday in Dallas. The Hawks will return back to Atlanta to face the San Antonio Spurs on Friday night. This matchup should be a good one as both teams have roughly the same record and lead their respective divisions. Also, Afternoon Analytics will be at the game! Can I say Go Hawks on here?
One of the struggles with writing this column when it comes to the NHL is the way the NHL is handling the COVID effect on scheduling. The NHL changed their divisional set-ups to reduce travelling and are only playing interdivisional games. It’s one of the best handlings of COVID that we have seen from a professional league but it means that there are a ton of back-to-backs against the same teams across the league. So for this week, we wanted to highlight Matvei Michkov. Matvei just broke reigning Hart Memorial Trophy (NHL’s MVP) Nikita Kucherov’s record for most goals scored in a single MHL season under the age of 17. He’s scored 30 goals in a professional hockey league as a 16 year old. I’m 20 and my most impressive sports feat is scoring 9 points in a minute in an intramural game. I’ll let you decide what you think is more impressive but I’m taking Michkov. He’ll be draft eligible in 2023 and is already getting strong looks from scouts and is at the top of his class.
In the NCAAW world we saw #1 Louisvllle lose last week meaning that there are no longer any undefeated teams in the top 25. This week is a product of last week’s amazing schedule as there are only 3 games with top 25 teams playing each other. #16 Tennessee and #20 Kentucky play as Tennessee enters its hardest part of the schedule: A 3 game stretch against top 20 teams. Look for these teams to be contenders in the SEC tournament though, both teams have talent to compete but are in a tough SEC league where Kentucky at #20 in the country is 4th in the SEC. The Big 10 gives a strong matchup when #21 Northwestern and #12 Ohio State face off. Ohio State only has 2 losses on the year with one of them being to Northwestern so they will be hungry to avenge half of their losses. That game is on Sunday. Next Monday the Pac-12 continues to show their case for being the deepest conference in college basketball when #5 Stanford and Fran Belibi travel to one of my favorite basketball courts and Eugene as they look to bolster their record and secure a place as a #1 seed against the #11 Oregon Ducks and Te-Hina Paopao.
Our Team of the Week comes from the WNBA and it is the Chicago Sky. The Sky signed hometown hero Candace Parker to a 2 year deal this week. Anytime a team can sign a former MVP is a win but it’s especially a win when that former MVP is also the reigning Defensive Player of the year. The Sky now roll out a lineup next year of Courtney Vandersloot (she averaged 10.0 assists a game last year without Parker), Allie Quigley, Diamond DeShields and Candace Parker. The Sky have to be considered as one of the favorites to win the WNBA finals next year.
So there you have it, an outlook on the week. Basketball fans are finally back on top of the Sports world Do you have a game you’re most looking forward to? Let us know down below in the comments. But before you go, here is one thing Austin is excited to watch this week: Trae Young play basketball in Person!