Syracuse vs. #20 Duke (7pm ET Monday, ESPN)
Syracuse started the season 6-1 before Jim Boeheim excused himself from head coaching duties to serve a 32-day suspension for a number of violations. In his absence, the Orangemen went 4-5; since his return on January 6, they’ve gone 2-1 to bring their record to 12-7, with Michael Gnibije leading the team with 17.2 points, 4.4 rebounds and 4.3 assists. Tonight is a homecoming of sorts for Gnibije, who started his college career at Duke as a freshman in 2011, before transferring to Syracuse.
The reigning NCAA champion Duke Blue Devils are coming off of back-to-back losses to Clemson and Notre Dame that have dropped them to 14-4, 3-2 in the ACC, and 11 spots in the AP poll. Coach K has an unusually young team, at least by Duke standards, with seven freshmen on the team, including starters Brandon Ingram and Derryck Thornton, and sixth man Luke Kennard. But it’s sophomore Grayson Allen who leads the team in scoring, putting up 20.2 a game, along with 4.8 rebounds and 3.7 assists. The youth movement is partly the product of injury, however, as senior forward Amile Jefferson remains out following a broken foot during a December 12 practice. Jefferson, who had been averaging a double-double at the time of his injury, is expected back in time for Duke’s title defense.
LSU vs. #15 Texas A & M (9pm ET Tuesday, ESPN)
If you want to understand what on Earth is inspiring the Philadelphia 76ers’ lackluster season, you should tune in to watch 6-foot-10 LSU forward Ben Simmons, who is almost sure to be the top pick in the upcoming NBA draft. The 19-year-old Australian is averaging 20 points, 12.9 rebounds and 5.1 assists, with 13 double-doubles. Simmons is so good, that he’s already on President Obama’s radar, with the Hoops-Fan-in-Chief tweeting that Simmons “”will be great.” For all Simmons’ efforts, the LSU Tigers are 11-6, but 4-1 in SEC play, good enough for second place, after defeating Arkansas 76-74, as Simmons went 16-18-3.
The 15-2 Texas A&M Aggies sit atop the SEC with a 5-0 record in conference play after a thorough 79-45 dismantling of Georgia on Saturday, where they held the Bulldogs to woeful 28.3% shooting from the floor. The Aggies are led by senior Jalen Jones, who’s averaged 19 points and 7 rebounds since playing his way into the starting lineup eight games ago, and senior Danuel House, who’s putting up 16-5-2. LSU will be eager to take down the Aggies for SEC bragging rights, which might even translate to a ballot or two come Monday.