By Kevin SweeneyAn action-packed day is ahead in Uncasville, CT, with Championship Day of the Hall of Fame Tip-Off at Mohegan Sun Arena. Four games are scheduled, including the marquee matchup of #21 Rhode Island vs #1 Duke. I’ll be at Mohegan Sun Arena all day, covering all the exciting action. Be sure to follow @cbb_central on Twitter for in-game updates.
The games begin at 1pm, with the championship game in the Naismith bracket between Duke and Rhode Island. Duke is the most talented team in the country, but are very banged up, especially in the frontcourt. Already without star freshmen Marques Bolden, Jayson Tatum, and Harry Giles, sophomore big man Chase Jeter injured his ankle yesterday at Penn State and is doubtful to play today. That leaves Amile Jefferson as the only experienced big man, with reserve forwards Antonio Vrankovic and Javin DeLaurier also expected to contribute. On the other hand, Duke still has great guards, with Grayson Allen, Luke Kennard, Matt Jones, and Frank Jackson making up one of the most dangerous backcourts in the country. They are taking on a capable foe in Rhode Island, who knocked off Cincinnati in a thriller yesterday afternoon to reach the championship game. They are an experienced team with the size and athleticism to stand toe-to-toe with the Blue Devils, and will certainly put up a strong fight. The health of point guard Jarvis Garrett, who hit his head on a cameraman’s knee yesterday and had to be taken to the hospital, is questionable, but the Rams have other guards who can contribute, such as Indiana transfer Stanford Robinson. I will be interested to see which team has the home-court advantage, as Duke fans always travel well, but Mohegan Sun Arena is just 48 miles from Rhode Island’s campus. It should be a great atmosphere and a great game.
Pick: URI 83, Duke 78
Game two is the consolation game in the Naismith bracket between Cincinnati and Penn State. The season began poorly for the Nittany Lions, losing to Albany at home, but have since turned things around, beating Duquesne and Grand Canyon before putting up a strong effort yesterday in a loss to Duke. Now, they take on a very good Cincinnati team that seems like the favorite in the American Conference. The Bearcats have an incredibly talented trio in Jacob Evans, Kyle Washington, and Troy Caupain who will each contend for American Conference Player of the Year. One of the questions for the Bearcats will be their mentality going into the game, as they may come into the game unfocused due to the disappointment of yesterday’s loss.
Pick: Cincinnati 75, Penn State 61
The two night games pit mid-major teams as part of the Springfield bracket. At 6pm, Marist takes on Grand Canyon, who each won their tournament opener last night. After getting blown out in each of their first two game, Marist has turned things around, losing a tight one against Vermont and knocking off Brown last night. The guard duo of Khallid Hart and Brian Parker each averaged over 16 points per game last season, and are a tough matchup for everyone they face. Grand Canyon is one of the best mid-majors in the country, as coach Dan Majerle has done an excellent job of injecting talent into a team in just its fourth season of Division 1 play. Point guard Dewayne Russell had a huge game in his season debut last night, tallying 30 points and 10 assists in a win over Albany. Russell and veteran guard Joshua Braun matching up with Hart and Parker should be an exciting showdown.
Pick: Grand Canyon 78, Marist 69
The nightcap is scheduled for 8pm, when Albany faces Brown. Both teams dropped their openers in Uncasville last night, and will be motivated to get a win before returning home. For Brown, the rise of forward Steven Spieth has been incredible, as Spieth was a role player for his first three seasons before turning into a star this season, averaging 19.5 points and 7 rebounds. The Bears now need a second scorer to emerge if they want to contend in the Ivy League. For the Great Danes, who will hold a significant size advantage, the key will be controlling the boards, something they have done extremely well early this season. If they can control the glass and allow guards David Nichols and Joe Cremo to take over, they should come away with the victory.
Pick: Albany 68, Brown 56
You can watch the Championship Game on ESPN, the consolation on ESPN2, and the two Springfield bracket games online on ESPN3.