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Friday’s Pregame Beat: Previewing your college hoops weekend

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UPSET ALERT

Sat. 6:00 pm: No. 6 SDSU @ New Mexico: With Duke’s loss to Florida State on Wednesday night, there are now just four undefeated teams left in the country — Ohio State, Kansas, Syracuse, and SDSU. And while, on paper, SDSU seems to be the outlier in this group, don’t be fooled by their non-BCS conference affiliation. This team is legit.

They have arguably the best, and most versatile, front line in the country with Kawhi Leonard, Malcolm Thomas, Billy White, and Brian Carlwell. DJ Gay is an underrated point guard, and the addition of a shooter in James Rahon on the perimeter has given the Aztecs another dimension. But do not sleep on this Lobo team, especially at the Pit. They have a high-major front line with Drew Gordon and Emmanuel Negedu complementing Alex Kirk and AJ Hardemann. Dairese Gary, Kendall Williams, and Philip McDonald one of the best back courts out west.

Steve Alford’s crew has struggled early in the season, but this is a group that is still coming together with the addition of Gordon that will be playing in front of a raucous home crowd. This is a better game than the records indicate, and New Mexico has a real chance to beat the Aztecs and get a win they really need on their resume.

UPSET SPECIAL

Sat. 11:00 am: Marquette @ No. 17 Louisville: These two teams matchup really well with each other. Both are heavy on talented guards, both shoot a lot of threes, and neither is afraid to play an uptempo game. As Notre Dame found out on Monday, this Marquette club — as they seemingly are every season — is much better than their record indicates. The key for Marquette? Defend the three — which the haven’t done all that well this season — and get the ball to Jae Crowder and Jimmy Butler.

Sat. 1:00 pm: Northwestern @ No. 24 Michigan State: Northwestern has to get a win against a few of the big boys in the Big Ten if they are serious about making a run at their first NCAA Tournament bid. I think this is a pretty good matchup for the Wildcats. They spread the floor, they execute a difficult offensive to defend, and they are going against a team that has not defended the three point line all that well through two months. Shurna had 24 points in a win over Iowa on Tuesday. Is he finally healthy?

Sat. 5:00 pm: No. 22 UCF @ Southern Miss: UCF has played as well as anyone in Conference USA this season, but with Memphis slowly fading out of the picture, USM may actually be the most talented team in the league. The Golden Eagles have a couple of good perimeters to throw at Marcus Jordan, but the most intriguing matchup in this one is between Gary Flowers and Keith Clanton.

Sat. 6:00 pm: Baylor @ Iowa State: This would seem silly at first glance, but hear me out. Baylor is not as good as we all expected them to be this season. In the same way Kansas State has struggled, Baylor has as well. They have an all-american guard and a loaded front court. But do the Bears have anyone that can get LaceDarius Dunn or one of Baylor’s big men an open look? ISU hasn’t been terrible this season. They gave Kansas a bit of a scare on Wednesday night. Diante Garrett and Scott Christopherson deserve some national pub, as well.

Sat. 8:00 pm: Loyola Marymount @ Gonzaga: In terms of raw talent, there might not be a team in the WCC better than the Lions not named the Zags. With guys like Vernon Teel and Drew Viney, this LMU group was picked second in the preseason. They’ve lost a few games here early, but that talent is still on the roster. Teel-Viney going against Stephen Gray and Elias Harris? That’s worth it back ground noise as you pregame for your Saturday night.

Sun. 12:00 pm: No. 11 Notre Dame @ St. John’s: Notre Dame is 14-3 on the season. Their three losses? To Kentucky at Freedom Hall in Louisville, to Syracuse at the Carrier Dome, and to Marquette at the Bradley Center. They are 14-0 in home and neutral site games. Just like the Irish need to get a win on the road, the Johnnies need to get a win, period. They are in the midst of a tough eight game stretch, and coming off of a 15 point shellacking at the hands of the Irish in South Bend last Saturday. Now’s the time to turn around this losing streak.

Sun. 1:30 pm: No. 8 Purdue @ West Virginia: I made the decision to slot this game into the Upset Special category before I saw the Boilermakers nearly knock off Minnesota on the road despite getting poor performances out of, well, everyone except JaJuan Johnson. Johnson, on the other hand, torched a big Gopher front line for 29 points and 11 boards. That said, Bob Huggins has started to quiz his team on their scouting reports, and the difference is noticeable, as the ‘Eers are finally playing like they are capable of. They just beat Georgetown in Georgetown on Monday and on Thursday they mollywhopped Providence by 30 points. Morgantown is usually a great environment when West Virginia is good. Let’s hope that trend continues.

BEST MATCHUPS

Sat. 12:00 pm: Cincinnati @ No. 4 Syracuse: Actually, if I’m being truthful, I think that the Bearcats are going to get smoked against the Orange. Just like St. John’s got smoked on Wednesday night. This year’s version of the Syracuse zone just keeps getting scarier and scarier. Cincy is a bigger team that lacks a bit in the playmaking and shooting departments. Based on Syracuse’s size this season, and with Kris Joseph turning into the elite slasher we expected him to be and James Southerland providing just that much more versatility, Bearcat fans should be nervous.

Sat. 12:00 pm: Vanderbilt @ Tennessee
: Two games in, and the Tony Jones experiment has gotten off to a pretty poor start. Vanderbilt looks like they could end up being the second best team in the SEC East with Tennessee’s recent struggles, but remember, this is a Tennessee team that has beaten both Villanova and Pitt this year. The matchup of Jeff Taylor and Scotty Hopson could be the best individual matchup of the weekend.

Sat. No. 12 Missouri @ No. 13 Texas A&M: You cannot get two more differing styles than the Tigers and the Aggies. Mizzou likes to pressure for 40 minutes, push the tempo, force turnovers, and shoot threes. Texas A&M wins with ball control, half court defense, and rebounding. Kansas seems to be the best team in the conference with these two, and Texas, fighting for that second spot. Mizzou lost their first conference road game to Colorado, but the Aggies are relatively unproved. This should be a good gauge for both teams.

Sat. 1:00 pm: Maryland @ No. 7 Villanova: This Terrapins team has a bit of Marquette in them. What I mean is that they are now 11-5 on the season, but they aren’t your typical 11-5 team. All five losses have come to likely tournament teams, none by more than nine points. This is a tough, scrappy team that is still learning how to win. That said, Nova is a tough team to learn against. The Terp’s back court will have their work cut out for them against the likes of Maalik Wayns and My Two Corey’s. The key to this one? Jordan Williams staying out of foul trouble.

Sat. 3:00 pm: No. 16 Illinios @ No. 21 Wisconsin: I can’t imagine two teams with as similar a roster composition playing such different styles. Two talented points guard in Demetri McCamey. Nary a physical big man in sight, but you’ll be hard-pressed to find a better front court matchup than Jon Leuer and Keaton Nankivil going against Mike Tisdale and Mike Davis. Quality role players all over the place. The Kohl Center is a tough place to win, but this should be a dandy.

Sat. 7:00 pm: Seton Hall @ No. 5 Pitt: I don’t necessarily believe that the Pirates can win this game. The Peterson Events Center is not a place where road warriors win battles. But the storyline in this game deserves elaboration. Just a few days before Thanksgiving, Jeremy Hazel broke his wrist. He had surgery on Dec. 2nd to repair the wrist. On Christmas day, he was shot in an attempted robbery. On Wednesday night, he played against DePaul and had 23 points on 10-17 shooting. Tough kid.

BEST STORYLINES

Friday

  • 7:00 pm: Valpo @ Wright State; 9:00 pm: Butler @ Detroit: All four of these teams are tied atop the Horizon League standings at 4-1.

Saturday

  • 12:00 pm: No. 23 Temple @ Duquesne: Duquesne is a good team, but Temple looks to be the hands down favorite to win the A-10 this season.
  • 12:00 pm: No. 19 Georgetown @ Rutgers: No one in the country needs a win as badly as Georgetown does. But remember, they lost at the RAC last season.
  • 12:00 pm: Marshall @ Memphis: Can the Tigers snap out of their funk without Wesley Witherspoon?
  • 1:30 pm: Oklahoma State @ Colorado: The battle of the “we just upset Kansas State” teams.
  • 1:30 pm: Texas Tech @ No. 20 Kansas State: Well, maybe Kansas State needs a win as badly as Georgetown.
  • 1:30 pm: South Carolina @ Florida: If it seems like the SEC East is giving us a good game daily, its because they are.
  • 2:00 pm: Virginia @ No. 1 Duke: Virginia will be playing their first game without Mike Scott, while Duke will be taking the floor for the first time since their loss to FSU.
  • 2:00 pm: Nebraska @ No. 3 Kansas: With Wednesday’s performance by the twins, I must ask — are they the Morri, the Morrii, or the Morii? I’ve always gone Morrii.
  • 2:00 pm: No. 9 DePaul @ UConn: Cleveland Melvin originally committed to UConn. He parted ways, ended up at DePaul, and is averaging 13.5 ppg as a freshman.
  • 2:30 pm: Arizona State @ Arizona: Derrick Williams against a front line of … Kyle Cain? Pick him up for your fantasy team.
  • 4:00 pm: Oklahoma @ No. 14 Texas: The Red River rivalry doesn’t have much sizzle on the hardwood this year.
  • 4:00 pm: LSU @ No. 15 Kentucky: LSU has a better record in the SEC than Kentucky does. Enjoy it while it lasts.
  • 4:00 pm: NC State @ Florida State: The Seminoles can beat anyone when they are shooting well. They can lose to anyone when they aren’t. The Wolfpack really need this win.
  • 4:00 pm: Old Dominion @ Hofstra: This might be the best mid-major matchup of the day.
  • 4:00 pm: Austin Peay @ Tennessee State: The Governors have a chance to extend their lead on one of the teams chasing them in the OVC.
  • 5:00 pm: Georgia @ Ole Miss: Renardo Sidney has his best game of the season against Ole Miss on Thursday. Trey Thompkins is what Sidney would be if he actually cared.
  • 5:30 pm: Penn State @ No. 2 Ohio State: Note to the Buckeyes — all Penn State does is upset ranked teams. You’ve been warned.
  • 6:00 pm: UNLV @ Air Force: UNLV cannot afford to lose a game like this if they want to compete in the MWC, but Air Force has been a bit of a surprise this year.
  • 6:00 pm: Boston College @ Miami FL: You probably won’t find a better back court matchup than Reggie Jackson going against Durand Scott and Malcolm Grant.
  • 6:00 pm: UCLA @ Oregon: Have fun watching a game on Matt Court.
  • 7:00 pm: Oakland @ IUPUI: A matchup of the Summit favorites.
  • 8:00 pm: Washington State @ Stanford: After knocking off Washington, Stanford all of a sudden is in second place in the conference.
  • 8:00 pm: Wake Forest @ Virginia Tech: If Virginia Tech loses to Wake, the Hokies might as well pack in their season.
  • 8:00 pm: Dayton @ Xavier: This game looked much better before the season started.
  • 11:00 pm: Utah State @ Fresno State: The Aggies are already head and shoulders above the rest of the WAC, but this is a chance to further distance themselves from the pack.

Sunday

  • 1:00 pm: Valpo @ Detroit; 7:00 pm: Butler @ Wright State: Those Horizon League games from Friday? Butler goes from Detroit to Wright State while Valpo heads the other way.
  • 6:00 pm: Iowa @ No. 25 Minnesota: The Gophers must take care of business coming off of a big win against Purdue.
  • 7:45 pm: North Carolina @ Georgia Tech: The Tar Heels and the Yellow Jackets are probably doing the least with the talent on their respective rosters.
  • 10:00 pm: Washington @ Cal: Cal seems to be handling the loss of Gary Franklin better than U-Dub is the loss of Abdul Gaddy. The Huskies struggle on the road, and they cannot afford to get swept in their northern California trip.

Rob Dauster is the editor of the college basketball website Ballin’ is a Habit. You can find him on twitter @ballinisahabit.

Report: Creighton’s Mo Watson Jr. suspended after sexual assault allegation

INDIANAPOLIS, IN - JANUARY 31: Injured guard Maurice Watson Jr. of the Creighton Bluejays looks on during the game against the Butler Bulldogs at Hinkle Fieldhouse on January 31, 2017 in Indianapolis, Indiana. Creighton defeated Butler 76-67. (Photo by Joe Robbins/Getty Images)
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Creighton announced on Wednesday that injured point guard Mo Watson Jr. was suspended from the program on Feb. 13th for “alleged actions that are contrary to university policies and core values.”

The reason for that suspension, according to a report from the Omaha World-Herald, is that he is being investigated for an alleged sexual assault that happened in Omaha this month.

No charges have been filed and Watson was not arrested as of Wednesday night, according to the paper.

Watson was having an all-american season and leading the nation in assists when he tore his ACL on Jan. 16th in a win at Xavier. He underwent surgery in his hometown of Philadelphia a couple of weeks later, but he has not been a part of a Creighton team activity since his return.

Creighton is 4-5 since Watson’s injury, losing on Wednesday night at home against Providence. They’ll likely make the NCAA tournament still.

Watson is not going to participate in Senior Night festivities in Omaha next week, per the OWH.

Kansas guard Devonte’ Graham arrested over unpaid ticket

LOUISVILLE, KY - MARCH 26:  Devonte' Graham #4 of the Kansas Jayhawks shoots the ball in the first half against the Villanova Wildcats during the 2016 NCAA Men's Basketball Tournament South Regional at KFC YUM! Center on March 26, 2016 in Louisville, Kentucky.  (Photo by Kevin C. Cox/Getty Images)
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Kansas guard Devonte’ Graham was arrested and booked into Douglas County Jail late on Wednesday night on a failure to appear for court charge, according to jail records.

The charge was a result of an unpaid ticket for an expired tag that Graham had received. It dates back to June of last year.

Graham released a statement on the matter.

“This is my fault,” Graham said. “I was driving an ex-teammate’s car and I thought the ticket was paid so I didn’t pay attention to the notice to appear that I got. That’s on me, and I apologize to everyone. I learned a lesson the hard way.”

The arrest was a damper on what should have been a great night for Graham. He had 17 points and seven assists in a home win over TCU that clinched the 13th straight Big 12 regular season title for the Jayhawks. It was also his 22nd birthday.

He was released on $196 bond Wednesday night. Bill Self said he will not be suspended for the arrest.

Bracketology: Syracuse banks in a little Madness

SYRACUSE, NY - FEBRUARY 22:  John Gillon #4 of the Syracuse Orange celebrates tying the game with little time left on the clock during the second half against the Duke Blue Devils on February 22, 2017 at The Carrier Dome in Syracuse, New York. Syracuse upsets Duke 78-75.  (Photo by Brett Carlsen/Getty Images)
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The bank was open Wednesday night in Syracuse. John Gillon’s three-pointer at the buzzer lifted Syracuse over Duke at the Carrier Dome and back (again) into the bracket.

It’s been a wild month for the Orange who now need to close the deal.  It was also a big night for Providence, who used a Kyron Cartwright trey to knock off Creighton in Omaha.  And then Dillon Brooks nailed a long-distance dagger to beat California, leaving the Bears teetering for bracket survival as February comes to a close.  Are we ready for March?

No changes on the No. 1 seed line. By a whisker, Villanova holds onto the overall No. 1 seed after its second loss to Butler, a team whose profile is far better than its AP ranking. Kansas, North Carolina, and Gonzaga round out the group.  UNC moves up to No. 3 after dispatching Louisville.

If last night was any indication, it’s going to be fun ride toward Selection Sunday.

UPDATED: February 23, 2017

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Regarding bracketing principles, can read them for yourself at http://www.ncaa.com. For example: teams from the same conference may now meet before a Regional final, even if fewer than eight teams are selected. The goal is to keep as many teams as possible on their actual seed line.

FIRST FOUR PAIRINGS – Dayton (First Round)

  • Seton Hall vs. Kansas State | East Region
  • Providence vs. California Midwest Region
  • MT. ST. MARY’S vs. NC-CENTRAL | East Region
  • UC-IRVINE vs. NEW ORLEANS | Midwest Region

BRACKET PROJECTION …

EAST New York MIDWEST Kansas City              
Buffalo Tulsa
1) VILLANOVA 1) KANSAS
16) NC-CENTRAL / M.S. MARY’S 16) NEW ORLEANS / UC-IRVINE
8) South Carolina 8) Northwestern
9) VCU 9) Xavier
Milwaukee Milwaukee
5) Virginia 5) Notre Dame
12) UNC-WILMINGTON 12) ILLINOIS STATE
4) PURDUE 4) Butler
13) PRINCETON 13) VALPARAISO
Indianapolis Orlando
6) Saint Mary’s 6) SMU
11) Seton Hall / Kansas State 11) Providence / California
3) Kentucky 3) Florida State
14) AKRON 14) BELMONT
Indianapolis Salt Lake City
7) Maryland 7) Iowa State
10) Marquette 10) Wichita State
2) Louisville 2) ARIZONA
15) BUCKNELL 15) NO. DAKOTA ST
WEST – San Jose SOUTH – Memphis
Salt Lake City Greenville
1) GONZAGA 1) NORTH CAROLINA
16) NORTH DAKOTA 16) TX-SOUTHERN
8) Miami-FL 8) Dayton
9) Michigan 9) Arkansas
Buffalo Sacramento
5) CINCINNATI 5) Wisconsin
12) MONMOUTH 12) UT-ARLINGTON
4) West Virginia 4) UCLA
13) VERMONT 13) NEVADA
Greenville Orlando
6) Creighton 6) Minnesota
11) MID TENNESSEE ST 11) Syracuse
3) Duke 3) FLORIDA
14) FLA GULF COAST 14) E. TENNESSEE ST
Sacramento Tulsa
7) Oklahoma State 7) Virginia Tech
10) Michigan State 10) USC
2) Oregon 2) Baylor
15) CSU-BAKERSFIELD 15) UNC-ASHEVILLE

NOTES on the BRACKET: Villanova is the No. 1 overall seed, followed by Kansas, North Carolina, and Gonzaga.

Last Four Byes (at large): Michigan State, Wichita State, Marquette, Syracuse

Last Four IN (at large): Seton Hall, California, Providence, Kansas State

First Four OUT (at large): Wake Forest, TCU, Georgia Tech, Rhode Island

Next four teams OUT (at large): Vanderbilt, Clemson, Alabama, Houston

Breakdown by Conference …

ACC (9): NORTH CAROLINA, Louisville, Florida State, Duke, Notre Dame, Virginia, Virginia Tech, Miami-FL, Syracuse

Big 10 (7): PURDUE, Wisconsin, Minnesota, Maryland, Northwestern, Michigan, Michigan State

Big East (7): VILLANOVA, Butler, Creighton, Xavier, Marquette, Seton Hall, Providence

Big 12 (6): KANSAS, Baylor, West Virginia, Iowa State, Oklahoma State, Kansas State

Pac 12 (5): OREGON, Arizona, UCLA, USC, California

SEC (4): FLORIDA, Kentucky, South Carolina, Arkansas

Atlantic 10 (2): VCU, Dayton

American (2): CINCINNATI, SMU

West Coast (2): GONZAGA, Saint Mary’s

Missouri Valley (1): ILLINOIS STATE, Wichita State

Mountain West (1): NEVADA

ONE BID LEAGUES: Monmouth (MAAC), Middle Tennessee State (C-USA), UT-Arlington (SBELT), Princeton (IVY), North Dakota (BSKY), Valparaiso (HORIZON), New Orleans (SLND), East Tennessee State (STHN), UC-Irvine (BWEST), Akron (MAC), Florida Gulf Coast (ASUN), Belmont (OVC), UNC-Wilmington (CAA), Winthrop (BSO), NC-Central (MEAC), North Dakota State (SUM), CSU-Bakersfield (WAC), Vermont (AEAST), Bucknell (PAT), Mt. St. Mary’s (NEC), Texas-Southern (SWAC)

VIDEO: Bill Self tells hilarious Brandon Rush story

LAWRENCE, KS - FEBRUARY 27: Bill Self head coach of the Kansas Jayhawks claps for his team as they celebrate winning the Big 12 Conference Championship after they defeated Texas Tech Red Raiders 67-58 at Allen Fieldhouse on February 27, 2016 in Lawrence, Kansas. With the win, Kansas clinched its 12th straight conference championship. (Photo by Ed Zurga/Getty Images)
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Last night, as Kansas clinched their 13th consecutive Big 12 regular season title, the Jayhawk program retired for star Brandon Rush’s jersey. Rush was a member of the 2008 national title team and is still bouncing around the NBA despite a series of knee injuries.

He’s a helluva player.

He’s also a terrible liar, as evidenced by the story that Bill Self told about him in last night’s press conference:

I guess honesty really is the best policy.

No. 22 Butler ruins No. 2 Villanova’s seniors’ perfect Pavilion record

Butler center Nate Fowler and Villanova forward Eric Paschall, right, vie for a rebound in the first half of an NCAA college basketball game, Wednesday, Feb. 22, 2017, in Villanova, Pa. (AP Photo/Laurence Kesterson)
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All Villanova players have known since they joined the program is winning at The Pavilion. Late into Wednesday’s game against No. 22 Butler, it looked like that would continue to be their only frame of reference for a group of seniors that were 45-0 in the building.

Then another ‘0’ turned that zero into a ‘1.’

The Bulldogs ripped off an 18-0 run in a 5-minute span to ultimately claim a 74-66 victory over second-ranked and defending national champion Villanova.

Villanova looked like it was going to cruise to another home win when Josh Hart’s 3-pointer with 10 minutes, 37 seconds remaining put the Wildcats up 49-42.

They wouldn’t score again until nearly the 4-minute mark.

During that span, Butler made 7 of 11 shots, with three being 3-pointers, while the Wildcats went 0 of 6 from the field and turned the ball over twice.

A seven-point lead for Villanova became an 11-point advantage for Butler. Villanova would try to rally, but couldn’t pull it off as it saw its home winning run stopped, its seniors’ perfect Pavilion record blemished and its seven-game winning streak come to a halt.

Beyond it probably being immensely annoying to the senior class, the loss probably doesn’t hurt Villanova too much as it looks to hold on to a No. 1 seed, preferably in the East region. The Wildcats’ resume is still as strong as nearly anyone in the country and they are, after all, the defending champs. They’ll be fine.

For Butler, it’s a signature win for a team that’s had a number of really good victories, but a few confounding losses, like St. John’s on the road and to Creighton (without Maurice Watson) and Georgetown at home. Beating Villanova – at the Pavilion, no less – could be worth a seed line.

Kelan Martin was fantastic for Butler, going for 23 points and eight boards, while Kamar Baldwin went for 15 points off the bench.

Jalen Brunson led the way for Villanova with 24 points while Josh Hart had 18 points and six rebounds. Kris Jenkins struggled, going 1 of 8 from the floor while scoring eight points.

The Wildcats get a chance to start a new streak at the Pavilion on Saturday with Creighton coming to town.