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College hoops weekend preview: BracketBusters and more

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source: AP

Game of the Weekend: Sat. Ohio State @ Michigan, 9 p.m.

While the rivalry between these two schools isn’t quite as intense on the basketball side as it is for football, that doesn’t mean that this game isn’t carrying a ton of weight in the Big Ten standings. The Buckeyes are currently sitting in a tie with Michigan State for first place in the conference, one game in front of Michigan. A loss would put the Spartans in the driver’s seat for a league title, as OSU still has to go to East Lansing this year.

The first time these two teams met, OSU won 64-49, but it was far from a pretty affair. Jared Sullinger spent much of the game in foul trouble and William Buford was still mired in a slump. The Buckeyes used a dominating performance on the glass — lead by 17 points and 12 boards (eight offensive) from Lenzelle Smith — in the win. Aaron Craft did a solid job slowing down Trey Burke, who finished with 13 points and five assists but turned the ball over five times and shot 5-11 from the floor. As a team, Michigan only shot 8-25 from three and 35.8% from the floor. That is going to have to change for Michigan to win.

There are basically going to be two things that Michigan has to do if they want to win this game. The first is that they must put up more of a fight on the glass, particularly if Sullinger doesn’t spend the entire game in foul trouble. They cannot allow second chances to a better team, particularly if it is Lenzelle Smith that is creating those opportunities. The Wolverines are also going to have to shoot better from the floor. Burke is going to have a tough day going up against Craft, who is arguably the best on ball defender in college basketball right now. He’s not going to be able to carry Michigan to a win. If their threes are dropping, then that takes the pressure off of Burke to have to try and create.

My pick: Ohio State. I think William Buford, who has played very well in two of his last three games, snaps out of his funk and Michigan struggles to find an answer for Sully inside.

Five more to watch

Sat. UNLV @ New Mexico, 1 p.m.: I’m becoming a bigger and bigger fan of Mountain West basketball. Not only is the quality of the basketball being played very high — that’s what happens when seemingly every roster is made up of top 100 recruits that couldn’t “latch-on” at a Pac-12 school — but the games are intense, the arenas are raucous and the players are respectful. I watch San Diego State lose to both UNLV and New Mexico the past week, and I have to admit, I’ve never seen so many opponents helping each other off of the floor as I do in the MWC.

Anyway, back to the point, New Mexico — who most had pegged as the favorite in the conference heading into the season — has finally found their stride. They are stalwart defensively, they get on the offensive glass and they have a number of shooters on the perimeter that make them a very dangerous and explosive offensive teams. The surge of Kendall Williams of late has been a good thing to see. A win puts the Lobos up two games on UNLV and a game on SDSU. A loss for the Lobos means that, once again, we have a three way tie atop the conference.

Sat. Arizona @ Washington, 3 p.m.: All of a sudden, it looks like three teams have separated themselves from the Pac-12 pack. After losing Kevin Parrom for the season and now playing without Jordin Mayes, Arizona has gone on an unlikely streak, winning five in a row to move to 10-4 in the league, just a game off of the pace set by Cal and Washington. The Wildcats are also coming off of road wins against Cal and Stanford, but the Huskies are a tough team to beat in at home.

Sat. St. Mary’s @ Murray State, 6 p.m.: This is easily the most entertaining BracketBuster game of the weekend, even if it has lost some of its luster. St. Mary’s has lost two of their last three games while Murray State is no longer undefeated thanks to a loss to Tennessee State. That doesn’t mean that the game should be any less entertaining. Both teams can score a lot of points, both teams get up and down the floor, both teams play a bit undersized and both teams have an entertaining star in the back court. I’ll watch Isaiah Canaan and Matthew Dellavedova. Any day of the week.

An added wrinkle has been thrown into this game: both teams really need this win to avoid putting themselves in more bubble danger. If Murray State loses and falls in one of their last four league games, they may actually have to worry about winning the OVC Tournament. The exact same thing can be said about the Gaels. That should make this matchup all the more fun to watch.

Sat. Long Beach State @ Creighton, 10 p.m.: Like St. Mary’s and Murray State, this game lost some of its pizzazz when Creighton lost three games in a row. But that doesn’t change the fact that we will have two teams on the court than can score with anyone in the country. LBSU has one of the nation’s best kept secrets in Casper Ware, a dynamic point guard that is capable of putting up 30 points. He’s got talent around him, but not the kind of shooting the Bluejay’s do. Creighton, whose losing streak was the result of a stretch of poor-shooting, hit 77.5% from the field on Tuesday against Southern Illinois and shot 12-14 from three.

Sun. Michigan State @ Purdue, 1 p.m.: Thank to Purdue taking advantage of the Illinois collapse, the Boilermakers are right back into the mix in the race for an NCAA Tournament bid. They aren’t defending the way that we normally expect a Purdue team to and they are likely going to get crushed on the glass by the much bigger and more physical Spartans. But their is something about this Boilermaker team. They have some scorers and they can get hot in a hurry. Most of all, they are competitors, and while that does sound so corny and cliche, it matters. Purdue doesn’t quit, especially not when they are going to be looking for revenge for the beatdown they received from the Spartans in East Lansing.

Who’s getting upset?: Sat. Florida @ Arkansas, 6 p.m.

This was just too easy. Florida struggles on the road. Arkansas is awesome at home — they haven’t lost at Bud Walton Arena and haven’t won away from it. Florida doesn’t like to get pushed around. Arkansas is back to playing the 40 Minutes of Hell style that won them a national title back in 1994. Everything about this matchup screams upset.

Except for one thing: Florida’s got the kind of guards that can flourish in a game like this. The Razorbacks are going to press all over the court, which means that this is going to turn into an uptempo, back-and-forth game. Kenny Boynton and Erving Walker — and, to an extent, Mike Rosario and Brad Beal — already play like they are on the playground. What happens when they play a team whose style is to turn this into an AAU game? I think Arkansas wins, but I don’t think its going to be as easy as it looks on paper.

Five more teams on upset alert

Sat. Marquette @ UConn, 12 p.m.: I know UConn lost by 18 at Syracuse last Saturday, but that was not an 18 point game. They were down two with five minutes left, fighting and scrapping and playing the way we’ve been hoping the Huskies would play all season long. They followed that up with a 26 point win over DePaul, which gives some credence to the thought that UConn is back. That may just be wishful thinking, but with UConn’s size advantage in the paint — Davante Gardner and Chris Otule are still out — if they can handle Marquette’s pressure they should have a pretty good chance to pick up a much-needed win at home.

Sat. Florida State @ NC State, 1 p.m.: I’m officially off of the Florida State bandwagon. I think this is a good basketball team, but they aren’t anywhere near great and they certainly aren’t on the same level as Duke and UNC this season. They needed a 13-1 run in the final 73 seconds against an injury-depleted Virginia Tech team at home — a run that saw more scoring that Florida State’s entire second half up to that point — to win. NC State is going to be steaming about the way they lost to Duke on Thursday night. I got the Wolfpack.

Sat. Georgetown @ Providence, 7 p.m.: Providence is still trying to work out the kinks with their new head coach, but the Friars are a tough team to play at The Dunk. They always seem to pick up a win or two there over teams they have no business beating. Ed Cooley does have four talented scorers at his disposal, so if they get hot, watch out.

Sat. Mississippi State @ Auburn, 8 p.m.: This is more about Mississippi State than about Auburn. Simply put, I do not trust this team. At all. Road games. Home games. Neutral site games. The talent is there, but somewhere along the line there is a disconnect. In no way, shape or form should a team with Dee Bost at the point and Arnett Moultrie in the middle be in the middle of the SEC pack this season.

Sat. Gonzaga @ San Francisco, 8:30 p.m.: San Francisco threw a scare into BYU on Thursday night, missing two shots on their final possession that would have won the game. The Dons have already beaten Gonzaga at home recently, upsetting them last season, and hung with them earlier this season. The Bulldogs will have a share of the WCC regular season title on the line, but if this group doesn’t come out ready to play, USF will catch them sleeping.

Mid-major matchup of the weekend: Sat. Nevada @ Iona, 4 p.m.

We put together a fairly extensive BracketBuster’s breakdown here when the matchups were announced, so for more detailed previews of these games you should head that way.

I still want to talk about them, however. It seems unlikely that either of these teams will have a shot at getting an at-large bid to the NCAA Tournament, but that doesn’t mean it won’t be an entertaining game to watch. Iona gets up and down the floor and scores points as quickly as anyone in the country. Nevada may have more talent on their roster top to bottom, headlined by WAC player of the year candidate Deonte Burton.

Five more to watch

Sat. Drexel @ Cleveland State, 11 a.m.: Where Nevada-Iona will be a run-and-gun affair, this will be a heavyweight bout. Both the Dragons and the Vikings pride themselves on their defense. If you aren’t tough, you won’t be seeing minutes in this game.

Sat. Wichita State @ Davidson, 12 p.m.: All of a sudden Wichita State looks like they may be the best team in the country outside of the Power Six conferences, which makes it a bit disappointing they ended up heading to Davidson.

Sat. Akron @ Oral Roberts, 2 p.m.: The best team in the MAC will be a good test for Oral Roberts, a talented, experienced and balanced team that can score with the best of them.

Sat. UNC-Asheville @ Ohio, 7 p.m.: You like back court stars? We got back court stars. Ohio’s DJ Cooper is one of the best point guards in the country you’ve never heard of while Matt Dickey and JP Primm just may form the best mid-major back court in the country.

Sat. Dayton @ Xavier, 8 p.m.: All of a sudden this game looms very large. Both the Flyers and the Musketeers sit squarely on the bubble, although pride may be a more important factor. Dayton has collapsed this season after a terrific start to the year. And Xavier? They are a shell of their pre-brawl selves.

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

WEEKLY AWARDS: West Virginia shines again, but it’s time to pay attention to Oregon

Oregon forward Dillon Brooks (24) drives past Arizona forward Ryan Anderson during the first half of an NCAA college basketball game, Thursday, Jan. 28, 2016, in Tucson, Ariz. (AP Photo/Rick Scuteri)
(AP Photo/Rick Scuteri)
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PLAYER OF THE WEEK: Dillon Brooks, Oregon

The Pac-12 may not be as strong at the top as the other power conferences in college basketball, but there may not be a league in the country that is as balanced. There are as many as ten teams that are still in the running for an NCAA tournament bid, and the difference between No. 2 and No. 10 is really not all that drastic.

I say No. 2 because, at this point, I think that the Ducks are the clear-cut best team in the conference. They proved that this week, as they mollywhopped Colorado in Eugene and followed that up with a double-figure win over Utah. Dillon Brooks looked like an All-American on Sunday, putting 30 points and nine assists on the Utes, who had the reputation of being one of the better defensive teams in the conference entering the day.

Brooks’ offensive arsenal is just silly, but his name doesn’t get mentioned in the same breath as some of the other stars in college basketball, probably for the same reason Oregon is flying under the radar. They were injured early and suffered a couple of ugly losses early in the year, to UNLV in Las Vegas and at Boise State. But they’ve won six in a row in the league (how about this run: USC, UCLA, at Arizona, at Arizona State, Colorado, Utah) and nine of their last ten. I think Oregon is Final Four good. Let’s see if anyone else picks up on it.

THE ‘ALL THEY WERE GOOD, TOO’ TEAM

  • Brandon Sherrod, Yale: Sherrod broke the NCAA record of consecutive field goals made in Friday night’s win over Columbia, when he scored 25 points and grabbed eight boards. He had made 30 straight shots since January 16th.
  • Wesley Iwundu, Kansas State: Iwundu had 15 points, five boards and five assists in a loss at Phog Allen Fieldhouse, but he made this list for the 22 points and seven assists he had in the win over No. 1 Oklahoma, when he also was tasked with guarding Buddy Hield, who he “held” to 23 points.
  • Darryl Reynolds, Villanova: Reynolds had 13 boards in a win over Creighton during the week and followed that up with 19 points and 10 boards in the win at Providence. He entered the week averaging just 2.3 points with a reputation for being little more than the reason that Daniel Ochefu needed to play so many minutes.
  • Ryan Anderson, Arizona: The 31 points and 12 boards at Washington State were nice. The 22 points and 15 boards at Washington were even better. The road sweep that Arizona landed? The best.
  • Malcolm Brogdon, Virginia: Maybe it’s Virginia’s struggles on the road. Maybe it’s because they’re a “boring” team to watch. Maybe it’s because their pace keeps his numbers down a bit. Whatever the case may be, no one is paying near enough attention to how good Brogdon has been this season. Myself included. He was terrific against in wins against Boston College and at Pitt this week.

TEAM OF THE WEEK: West Virginia Mountaineers

Here we are, the morning after the Super Bowl has ended, and none other than West Virginia is leading the Big 12.

Seriously.

It’s West Virginia.

Not Oklahoma. Not Kansas. Not Iowa State. West Virginia.

And I know what your initial reaction is going to be. “A schedule fluke”, right? Well, no. Not really. The Mountaineers beat Kansas at home. They lost to Oklahoma in Norman on a tip-in by Khadeem Lattin at the buzzer. This week alone they won at Iowa State and beat Baylor in impressive fashion in Morgantown. Bobby Huggins has this team playing some great basketball, and when they’re forcing turnovers, crashing the glass and getting Jaysean Paige to play like an all-Big 12 guard, they’re tough to beat.

THEY WERE GOOD, TOO

  • Michigan State: The Spartans are back. After seeing Michigan State go into Ann Arbor and work over the Wolverines, I feel pretty comfortable saying that.
  • Louisville: The Cardinals got rocked by the news of their postseason ban, and responded by blowing out Boston College on Saturday. So good for them. The win over North Carolina was nice, too.
  • Texas: The Longhorns kicked off the week by winning at Baylor and followed that up with a better-than-you-think win over Texas Tech.
  • Oregon: Like we mentioned earlier, no one in the country is playing better ball right now than the Ducks.
  • Maryland: The Terps not only picked up a win at Nebraska during the week, but they also held serve against Purdue at home over the weekend, which gave them their second top 50 win of the season.

SET YOUR DVR

No. 10 Michigan State at No. 18 Purdue, Tue. 7:00 p.m.
No. 14 West Virginia at No. 7 Kansas, Tue. 7:00 p.m.
No. 5 Iowa at No. 22 Indiana, Thu. 9:00 p.m.
No. 7 Kansas at No. 1 Oklahoma, Sat. 2:30 p.m.
Gonzaga at No. 12 SMU, Sat. 10:00 p.m.
No. 22 Indiana at No. 10 Michigan State, Sun. 1:00 p.m.
USC at No. 23 Arizona, Sun. 9:00 p.m.

NBC SPORTS BRACKETOLOGY: Oklahoma leads final push toward Selection Sunday

Lon Kruger
(AP Photo/Brandon Dill)
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With the Super Bowl in our rear-view mirror, eyes turn toward Selection Sunday – apologies to the diehard baseball fans who toss in the start of Spring Training ahead of March Madness.  Anyway, we’re a month away from the annual NCAA Tournament Selection Show and few bracket positions have been secured.  If you’re just joining the college hoops landscape, it’s been that type of season.  Welcome, by the way.

Oklahoma continues to lead the Field of 68, but the No. 1 seed line is far from certain.  At this point a year ago, we pretty much knew that Kentucky, Wisconsin, and Duke would be No. 1 seeds.  This year, we can’t lock anyone into place. Positioning along the top three lines is very much in flux, even if we have a good idea about the contenders.  The bubble is no different.  Strap on your seatbelt; it could be a bumpy ride to the finish.

As a reminder, Louisville self-imposed a post-season ban last Friday, which eliminates the Cardinals from bracket consideration.  SMU did the same before the season.  Thus, two at-large teams will be Dancing on Selection Sunday courtesy of the Cards and Mustangs.  Today, those two teams are Clemson and Saint Joseph’s.  In the Tigers’ case, a solid group of ACC wins (mostly at home) is lifting up non-conference schedule ranked No. 341.  Ultimately, that could cost Clemson a month from now – we’ve seen it before.  When a team goes 7-5 against one of the worst non-conference schedules in the nation, it takes an exceptional conference season to overcome the disparity.

Enjoy your week of college hoops.  You can find the complete Seed List at Bracketville.

UPDATED: February 8, 2016

Teams in CAPS represent the projected AUTOMATIC bid. In the event of a tie in the loss column, RPI is first tiebreaker. Notes: To simulate actual bracket conditions, we’ve used current conference leaders to receive the automatic bid. Exceptions are made for teams that use an abbreviation (ex: UCLA)

Several new bracketing principles were introduced a couple of years ago. You 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)

  • Cincinnati vs. Saint Joseph’s | Midwest Region
  • Clemson vs. George Washington | East Region
  • BUCKNELL vs. WAGNER | Midwest Region
  • HAMPTON vs. TEXAS-SOUTHERN | South Region

BRACKET PROJECTION …

SOUTH – Louisville MIDWEST – Chicago                            
Oklahoma City Des Moines
1) OKLAHOMA 1) Kansas
16) TX-SOUTHERN / HAMPTON 16) BUCKNELL / WAGNER
8) WICHITA STATE 8) VCU
9) Colorado 9) Syracuse
Raleigh Denver
5) DAYTON 5) Arizona
12) VALPARAISO 12) MONMOUTH
4) Miami-FL 4) Texas AM
13) AKRON 13) ARK-LITTLE ROCK
Spokane St. Louis
6) Providence 6) Baylor
11) SAINT MARY’S 11) Cincinnati / St. Joseph’s
3) OREGON 3) Michigan State
14) UAB 14) NC-WILMINGTON
Brooklyn St. Louis
7) Duke 7) Pittsburgh
10) Seton Hall 10) Washington
2) Maryland 2) Xavier
15) BELMONT 15) NEW MEXICO ST
EAST – Philadelphia         WEST – Anaheim
Brooklyn Des Moines
1) VILLANOVA 1) IOWA
16) NORTH FLORIDA 16) MONTANA
8) CONNECTICUT 8) Florida State
9) Florida 9) SAN DIEGO ST
Providence Spokane
5) Kentucky 5) USC
12) Clemson / Geo Washington 12) CHATTANOOGA
4) Purdue 4) Texas
13) STONY BROOK 13) UC-IRVINE
Providence Denver
6) Notre Dame 6) Utah
11) LSU 11) Gonzaga
3) WEST VIRGINIA 3) Iowa State
14) YALE 14) SO. DAKOTA ST
Raleigh Raleigh
7) Indiana 7) South Carolina
10) California 10) Michigan
2) Virginia 2) NORTH CAROLINA
15) NC-ASHEVILLE 15) S.F. AUSTIN

NOTES on the BRACKET: Oklahoma is the No. 1 overall seed, followed by Kansas, Iowa, and Villanova.  Next in line: Virginia, North Carolina, Xavier, Maryland

Last Four Byes (at large): California, Seton Hall, Michigan, Gonzaga

Last Four IN (at large): Cincinnati, George Washington, Clemson, Saint Joseph’s

First Four OUT (at large): Oregon State, Butler, UCLA, Wisconsin

Next four teams OUT (at large): Georgia, Kansas State, Vanderbilt, Temple

Breakdown by Conference …

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

Pac 12 (7): OREGON, USC, Arizona, Utah, Colorado, Washington, California

Big 12 (6): WEST VIRGINIA, Oklahoma, Kansas, Iowa State, Texas, Baylor

Big 10 (6): IOWA, Maryland, Michigan State, Purdue, Indiana, Michigan

SEC (5): LSU, Texas AM, Kentucky, South Carolina, Florida

Big East (4): VILLANOVA, Xavier, Providence, Seton Hall

Atlantic 10 (4): DAYTON, VCU, George Washington, Saint Joseph’s

American (2): CONNECTICUT, Cincinnati

West Coast (2): SAINT MARY’S, Gonzaga

Mountain West (1): SAN DIEGO STATE

MAAC (1): MONMOUTH

Missouri Valley (1): WICHITA STATE

ONE BID LEAGUES: UAB (C-USA), Ark-Little Rock (SBELT), Yale (IVY), Montana (BSKY), Valparaiso (HORIZON), Stephen F. Austin (SLND), Chattanooga (STHN), UC-Irvine (BWEST), Akron (MAC), North Florida (ASUN), Belmont (OVC), UNC-Wilmington (CAA), UNC-Asheville (BSO), Hampton (MEAC), South Dakota State (SUM), New Mexico State (WAC), Stony Brook (AEAST), Bucknell (PAT), Wagner (NEC), Texas-Southern (SWAC)