This year, the Jimmy V Classic featured four elite programs in college basketball: Gonzaga, West Virginia, Baylor and Illinois. All ranked in the top 15, each of these teams is stacked for the season and are heavy contenders for a national championship.
Inspired by former North Carolina State basketball coach and ESPN commentator Jim Valvano and his fight against cancer, the Jimmy V Classic began in 1995. 2020 marks the 26th Jimmy V Classic, with Baylor scheduled to play Illinois and Gonzaga to face Tennessee. However, West Virginia replaced Tennessee after being forced to extend their program shut down. They paused activities on Monday after positive COVID-19 tests within the program, including one from head coach Rick Barnes.
The annual doubleheader was hosted Wednesday night at Bankers Life Fieldhouse, Indianapolis. In the first game of the evening, No. 11 West Virginia used its defense and strength to cause obstacles for No. 1 Gonzaga. The Mountaineers were looking at giving Gonzaga its first loss, especially after star freshman guard Jalen Suggs went down with what looked to be a serious injury. However, Suggs returned in the second half and the Bulldogs were able to pull away in an 87-82 win. Baylor would then take on Ayo Dosunmu and Illinois, handing them their first loss of the season. The Bears shot tremendously, nearly 55 percent from the field, and handled the Illini with ease in the second half. Adam Flegger led the way, recording 18 points and three assists, in an 82-69 victory for the Bears.
All four of these teams showed glimpses as to why they’re top teams in the nation. However, from defense to offense, each program showed flaws that need to be handled as the season progresses.
Here are four takeaways from the 2020 Jimmy V Classic:
Baylor can keep up with any team in the country
From the first week of college basketball, fans have seen why Gonzaga was placed No. 1 in preseason polls. They look like one of the most complete teams in college basketball with their deep roster, including 2021 NBA Mock Draft’s first pick Jalen Suggs. Last night, Baylor proved why they’re another top team in the country. The Bears outrebounded the Illini 20-10 and forced twice as many turnovers as their opponents committed in the second half. They were looking solid all around on offense, outscoring Illinois in the paint and off the bench. They prove to have multiple offensive contributors, high defensive efficiency, and experience—enough to beat any program in college basketball.
West Virginia’s trademark defense isn’t enough
West Virginia got off to the early lead against the Zags as the Bulldogs struggled to score on West Virginia’s defense. The Mountaineers were physical and pushed Gonzaga players to put up tough shots. By the time the first half ended, the Mountaineers had a 39-34 lead. The second half was where Gonzaga found some type of consistency but the Mountaineers had no response. They shot poorly, making five of their 17 three-point attempts. Starting guards Sean McNeil and Miles McBride combined to go 5/23 from the field for 13 points total. Although West Virginia proves they have the defense to slow down talented teams, they must improve their offensive efficiency if they want to be a top-10 team.
Gonzaga has yet another lethal weapon
Throughout the night, the Mountaineers bottled up Drew Timme and got him completely out of his game. Timme (23.3 PPG) struggled in the first half against big and physical defenders Oscar Tshiebwe and Derek Culver. Jalen Suggs (18 PPG) faced an injury mid-way through the night and provided only four points by the time the final horn blew. Even without their top scorers, Gonzaga still found ways to get the ball in the basket. Florida transfer Andrew Nembhard came in as point guard when Suggs went out and took over. He scored 19 points, dished six assists and grabbed five boards. As a spark plug for the Zags, Nembhard helped the Bulldogs cruise their way to a win in the second half.
Hell of a pass by Andrew Nembhard in the PnR w/ Timme to seal off the win for the Zags. pic.twitter.com/AqGt4Q6Zxz
— LEAGUE HIM. (@LEAGUEHIM_) December 3, 2020
Illinois will continue to develop
Coming off a close win against Ohio, the Illini had to prepare for another daunting matchup. Playing the talented Bears squad would be a good fight and highlight what Illinois would need to continue working on. Up against one of the best defensive teams in the nation, the Illini struggled with their scoring. Andre Curbelo put up 11 points and was the only other Illini player in double figures besides Ayo Dosunmu. Kofi Cockburn got into foul trouble early and wasn’t able to provide much throughout the game. As a team, Illinois was outscored 24-7 in second-chance points and 38-30 in the paint. All in all, Illinois had a solid performance with little mistakes that hurt them down the run. They’re a young team who will look to develop throughout the season and find ways they can be at their best. This includes incorporating Preseason All-Big Ten Team Cockburn more into the offense. In the 18 minutes he played, Cockburn only shot four times and put up seven points.
“From Our Haus to Yours