12/5/17: Villanova Wildcats vs. Gonzaga Bulldogs
Fourth-ranked Villanova will have a slight advantage on Tuesday night when it faces No. 15 Gonzaga in the Jimmy V Classic. The Wildcats are likely to have more a home-court advantage playing in New York City’s Madison Square Garden. The Bulldogs, coming off a huge 91-74 win over No. 25 Creighton last Friday night, will be making the trip from the West Coast.
Tuesday’s clash will almost certainly be an up-tempo battle featuring two of the higher scoring teams in the nation. Gonzaga is fourth in the country in scoring averaging 92.9 points per game. It seems like head coach Mark Few simply reloaded after losing the bulk of the lineup that took Gonzaga to the NCAA tournament final last year. Johnathan Williams, a 6-foot-9-inch senior, leads the team in scoring averaging 15.9 points per game. Six Bulldogs, including 6-5 freshman Zach Norvell Jr., score in double figures and 6-8 Rui Hachimura (9.8) is close to becoming a seventh.
On Tuesday, the Bulldogs will run into one of the better defensive teams in the nation in Villanova. The Wildcats give up less than 62 points a game and have given up over 70 points just twice in eight games. In a win over rival Saint Joseph’s on Saturday, the Villanova defense gave up just 53 points. Even more impressive was the Wildcats school record 19 3-pointers. Not only can Villanova play defense, they can score too.
Mikal Bridges and Jalen Brunson each average 17.9 points per game for the Wildcats who average over 86 a game as a team. Villanova is deep and experienced. Tuesday’s game with Gonzaga will be the first real test for the Wildcats (8-0). The Bulldogs (7-1) lone loss this season was to No. 6 Florida.
12/6/17: Minnesota Timberwolves @ LA Clippers
After just having met on Sunday, the Minnesota Timberwolves and Los Angeles Clippers will reconvene and face each other again on Wednesday night. On Sunday, it was Jimmy Butler’s 33 points that led the T-Wolves to a 112-106 victory. The win moved Minnesota to 14-10 on the season and into sole possession of the fifth spot in the Western Conference standings. For Minnesota to win again, Butler will most certainly have to come through again.
Butler averages 18.4 points a game for the season. Minnesota is led by Karl-Anthony Towns (20.3 ppg, 11.6 rpg) who had 15 points and 12 rebounds in the win over the Clippers on Sunday. Minnesota will also have to do a better job of defending Los Angeles point guard Austin Rivers who dropped in 30 points on Sunday.
The Clippers will once again be without their star, Blake Griffin, who injured his left knee and may be out for two months. Griffin was averaging a team-high 23.6 points, 7.9 rebounds, and 5.1 assists per game before the injury. Rivers, who averages 14.3 points a game, and DeAndre Jordan will have to assume greater roles in the Clips’ lineup. Jordan is one of the better big men in the NBA and averages 10.5 points and 13.9 rebounds per game (second in the league).
Minnesota has not fared as well on the road going 6-6 thus far this season while away from home. The Clippers are just 8-14 and have lost their last three straight heading into Wednesday. Los Angeles has just three wins in the team’s last fifteen games.
12/7/17: New Orleans Saints @ Atlanta Falcons
The New Orleans Saints will continue to navigate the most difficult part of their schedule when they head to division rival Atlanta on Thursday night. The Saints are coming of a huge 31-21 win over Carolina last week, which gives New Orleans sole control of the NFC South Division. New Orleans is now 9-3, the Panthers 8-4, and Atlanta, a 14-9 loser to Minnesota on Sunday, is now a full two games behind the Saints at 7-5.
The New Orleans offense is loaded with Drew Brees (3,298 yards, 17 TDs) at quarterback and the dynamic duo of Mark Ingram (922 yards, 9 TDs) and rookie Alvin Kamara (606 yards, 7 TDs) in the backfield. The Saints are third in the league in points scored (29.4), third in passing yards (266.0), and third in rushing (142.6). The Atlanta defense will have its hands full.
The Falcons had won three in a row before running into one of the best defenses in the NFL in Minnesota. Quarterback Matt Ryan managed just 173 passing yards and the Vikings held Atlanta to 275 yards total. Where the Falcons have struggled most is on third down and that will have to change if Atlanta is to have a chance at knocking off New Orleans.
Thursday’s game is the first of two meetings between the two teams that will take place over the course of 17 days. The teams will meet again in New Orleans on Christmas Eve. With the Saints in the driver’s seat in the division race, the Falcons need a victory to keep its postseason hopes alive.
12/8/17: Boston Celtics @ San Antonio Spurs
The best in the NBA travels to San Antonio as the Spurs look to avenge an early season loss to the Boston Celtics (20-4). Boston has won its last two and entertains Milwaukee on Monday night and Dallas on Wednesday before heading to San Antonio. The Celtics won big over the Spurs back in October. Kyrie Irving shot 10-of-16 from the floor and scored 24 points to lead Boston.
For San Antonio, it may be a matter of who plays and who doesn’t that will determine whether or not the Spurs will have a shot at beating the Celtics. San Antonio lost to Oklahoma City on Sunday, a game in which LaMarcus Aldridge, Kawhi Leonard, Tony Parker, and Rudy Gay did not play. To make matters worse, forward Kyle Anderson suffered a knee injury against the Thunder and did not return to the game. Anderson has been diagnosed with an MCL strain, but his return to the lineup is unknown.
Regardless of who plays, one thing San Antonio will do well on Friday is play defense. The Spurs lead the NBA in points allowed per game giving opponents just 97.2 per game. Head coach Gregg Popovich and his Spurs will have to control Irving, the Celtics leading scorer (23.2 ppg), as well as Jaylen Brown (15.0 ppg), Al Horford (13.9), and Jayson Tatum (13.8). Boston’s lineup is full of scorers, but like San Antonio the Celtics are very good on defense. Boston is the Eastern Conference’s best defense (97.4 ppg) and is second overall in the league behind San Antonio.
12/9/17: Army Black Knights vs. Navy Midshipmen
For the first time in a long time, Army enters its season-ending rivalry game with Navy preparing to defend its victory last season. The Black Knights 21-17 victory last year ended a streak of 14 straight Navy wins in the series. Army enters this year’s contest, to be played at Lincoln Financial Field in Philadelphia, as the clear favorite after enjoying a successful 8-3 season. The Midshipmen started the 2017 campaign strong but ended the season losing five of their last six games.
There is little doubt as to what each team will try to accomplish on Saturday in the 118th meeting between the two academies. Army’s triple option offense leads the nation in rushing averaging 368.1 yards per game on the ground. Navy’s version of the same offense is the second-best rushing attack in the country putting up 347.5 yards a game. Where the Midshipmen may have a small advantage is in passing the football, which neither team does very often. Navy quarterbacks do average 91.2 yards passing per game compared to just 30.5 by Army.
The Black Knights offense is keyed by its quarterback Ahmad Bradshaw. The 5-foot-11, 205-pound Bradshaw is Army’s leading rusher with 1,472 yards and he has scored 11 touchdowns. Army’s ground attack is so good that Bradshaw has attempted just 39 passes all season. He had his biggest game against Air Force when he ran 23 times for 265 yards and one touchdown.
For Navy, it’s much of the same as the catalyst in their offense is quarterback Zach Abey. Abey has a team-high 1,322 yards rushing and 14 touchdowns. He also has thrown for 803 yards and seven scores. Despite Abey’s success, head coach Ken Niumatalolo is not afraid to use junior Garret Lewis at quarterback as well. Navy has struggled to put up points in its last two games, a 24-17 loss to Notre Dame and a 24-14 defeat at Houston.
Sunday night’s AFC North clash in Pittsburgh will likely be one of the most physical games in the NFL this entire season. The two teams do not like each other further fueling what is already a huge rivalry. The Steelers beat the Ravens 26-9 earlier this season in Baltimore. The Ravens would like to get payback, but more importantly, would like to solidify their playoff position.
At 7-5, the Ravens would own one of the AFC’s two wild cards if the season ended today. Baltimore has won three games in a row, its first such streak of the season. The Ravens have always been known for their tough defense, but it was the offense that bailed the team out last week in a 44-20 win over Detroit. Quarterback Joe Flacco threw two touchdown passes and RB Alex Collins rushed for 75 yards and two scores to lead Baltimore in the win over the Lions.
Pittsburgh is clearly one of the best teams in the NFL and owns two wins in a row over the Ravens. In the win over Baltimore earlier this season, the Steelers defense held Flacco and the Ravens to just 288 total yards. Like the Ravens, Pittsburgh is known for its defense as well. In fact, Baltimore is third in the NFL in points against (17.3) and the Steelers are right behind them in fourth (17.4).
The Steelers are more dynamic offensively with the NFL’s leading rusher and receiver. Le’Veon Bell has 981 yards on the ground while WR Antonio Brown leads all receivers with 1,195 yards. Quarterback Ben Roethlisberger (2,948 yards, 20 TDs) directs one of the more diverse offenses in the league. Pittsburgh has lost just once at home this season and the Ravens are 3-3 on the road.
12/11/17: New England Patriots @ Miami Dolphins
It was just November 26 that the Patriots and Dolphins met for the first time this season. It didn’t go so well for Miami as New England QB Tom Brady threw for four touchdowns in a 35-17 Patriots victory. Since 2014, the Dolphins have beaten New England exactly once. One bit of encouragement for head coach Adam Gase and the Dolphins is that win did occur in Miami, site of Monday night’s matchup.
The Dolphins are coming off their first win in six weeks, a 35-9 win over Denver last week. Miami, which has struggled to run the football all season, ran for 145 yards against the Broncos with Kenyan Drake getting 120 of those yards on 23 carries. Going up against New England will not be the same as facing a struggling Denver. In the first meeting with the Patriots, Miami managed just 67 yards on the ground and 221 total.
New England (10-2) won for the eighth week in a row last week beating the Bills 23-3. The victory gave the Patriots at least 10 wins for the past 15 seasons in a row. The defending Super Bowl champs are rolling. The offense features the NFL’s leading passer in Brady who has 3,632 yards and 26 touchdowns. Running back Dion Lewis has come on strong as of late and has 590 yards rushing. Brandin Cooks leads a solid group of receivers with 53 catches for 886 yards and five touchdowns.
The Patriots beat the Dolphins 35-14 in the team’s last visit to Hard Rock Stadium. New England has scored at least 31 points against Miami in the last three meetings between the two teams.