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Weekend Preview: Kansas-Missouri highlights the best games

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Game of the weekend: Sat. No. 3 Missouri @ No. 4 Kansas, 4 p.m. (CBS)

I’m giddy just thinking about this game. Seriously. I’m writing this sentence with a huge smile on my face. Games like this are what makes this sport incredible. Two top five teams playing their final regular season game for the foreseeable future in what is one of the most intense rivalries in college athletics with the Big 12 title on the line. If I could change anything, I would make this game, which could be the final regular-season matchup in the 105-year history of the Border War, played on the last day of the regular season. It feels like this is for all the marbles. It would be even better if it actually was.

The biggest difference between these two teams now as opposed to the last time these teams got together is Jeff Withey. He went scoreless in 22 minutes against Missouri. Since then, he’s played like an All-American. It’s not a  stretch to say that in the last five games, all wins, Withey has been as good as, if not better than, Player of the Year candidate Thomas Robinson. Kim English was matched up on Withey the last go-round. Withey needs to make that mismatch go in the Jayhawks’ favor on Saturday.

The Tigers are coming off of a loss to Kansas State at home on Tuesday in which Phil Pressey played his worst game of the season and everything that has been mentioned as a potential issue for this team — perimeter defense, interior size, shot selection — became an issue. I am as high on Missouri this season as anyone, but it almost looks like teams have figured out the blueprint for beating the Tigers. Winning in Phog Allen is not going to be an easy thing for Missouri to do, so I’m not going to come down too hard on them for a loss. But I do want to see them but up a fight.

My pick: I’m going with Kansas. I think the duo of Withey and Robinson will be too much, and the fact the game is in Lawrence will make a difference. I do, however, think it will be just as close and entertaining as their last matchup.

Five more games you can’t miss

Sat. Vanderbilt @ No. 1 Kentucky, 12 p.m. (CBS): The last time these two teams got together, Vanderbilt tore apart Kentucky’s defense for much of the second half, erasing a 13 point deficit and coming as close as anyone to knocking off the Wildcats. But that was in Nashville. This is in Rupp, and that makes all the difference in the world. John Calipari as yet to lose in Lexington as the head coach of Kentucky, and I don’t see it happening on Saturday. That said, if Kentucky comes out like they did in the first half against Mississippi State and Vanderbilt’s shooters get going, we may have ourselves a ball game.

Sat. Iowa State @ Kansas State, 1:30 p.m. (ESPN3): Both Iowa State and Kansas State have all-but punched their tickets to the dance barring a late-season collapse. What makes this game so intriguing to me is that a) it is essentially a battle for who is the fourth-best team in the Big 12 and b) a terrific matchup of styles. The Wildcats are your typical Frank Martin club — tenacious defensively and on the glass, big up front and with a couple of talents in the back court. Iowa State, on the other hand, is a team that plays their 6’8″ power forward at the point (Royce White) and likes to spread the floor and let the threes fly.

Sat. No. 7 UNC @ Virginia, 4 p.m. (ESPN): Back in January, UVA got torched by the Tar Heels in the Dean Dome, losing by 18 points and getting manhandled in the paint by Tyler Zeller and John Henson. And frankly, its tough to picture something different happening on Saturday. I think the Cavs are a terrific team when they are healthy, but I think that until they get Assane Sene — their seven-foot center — healthy, this is a group that is going to continue to struggle. With Sene, they had lost one game since Thanksgiving, and that was by three at Duke. Without him, they are 6-4 with losses to Virginia Tech and Clemson.

Sat. No. 22 Temple @ St. Joseph’s, 7 p.m. (ESPNU): Temple is as underrated as any team in the country right now. With Michael Eric back, they have size up front and as much talent in the back court as you will find this season. They are playing at a much faster pace than we usually expect from a Fran Dunphy coached team. That said, St. Joe’s is probably a bit better than their record indicates. Like Temple, they have some size and athleticism up front and a very good perimeter attack. I can’t be the only one expected to see Juan Fernandez, Ramone Moore and Khalif Wyatt go up against Carl Jones and Langston Galloway in a Big 5 game were one team is playing at home with their backs up against the NCAA Tournament bubble, can I?

Sun. No. 16 Wisconsin @ No. 8 Ohio State, 4 p.m. (CBS): Thanks to Wisconsin’s inability to deal with Matt Gatens and Iowa, this game has lost a bit of its luster. The Badgers have lost three of their last five games and currently sit all alone in fourth place in the conference with almost no chance of actually making a run at the league title. That said, the Buckeyes aren’t exactly playing well, either. It was nice to see William Buford get back on track a bit for Ohio State against Illinois, but that was also against Illinois. He struggled against Michigan and Michigan State in recent weeks. Without Buford performing consistently, the Buckeyes are very beatable.

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

No. 5 Xavier stumbles at Creighton, lose 70-54

Creighton's Cole Huff (13) and Toby Hegner, left, guard Xavier's Jalen Reynolds (1) during the first half of an NCAA college basketball game in Omaha, Neb., Tuesday, Feb. 9, 2016. (AP Photo/Nati Harnik)
(AP Photo/Nati Harnik)
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Mo Watson went for a career-high 32 points, seven boards and five assists as Creighton jumped out to an early 21-4 lead and never looked back, beating No. 5 Xavier, 70-54, in Omaha on Tuesday night.

 

It was a massive win for the Bluejays, who still have an outside shot at earning an at-large bid this season. (We wrote all about that here.)

As well as Creighton played, the bigger story here may actually be Xavier, who lost for just the third time this season; they had been the only top ten team with just two losses to their name.

The issue for the Musketeers tonight was two-fold, but they both are a symptom of what could be an issue down the road for this team: Xavier doesn’t really have a true point guard.

They certainly didn’t have anyone to stop Watson. By the second half, they had essentially asked Reynolds, who was playing the middle of their 1-3-1 zone to matchup with Watson. It was weird but was actually somewhat effective.

The Musketeers also started out ice cold from the floor, missing 11 of their first 13 shots, and those misses led to leak outs from Bluejays, who got layups and open threes in transition to build that 17 point lead. Once Xavier got behind, it turned into scramble mode for Xavier. They forced shots early in the clock and didn’t start pounding the ball into the paint until it was too late. What they needed was someone to be able to settle things, to ensure that offensive would get initiated and sets would get executed when they were able to get the lead down to single digits.

That 1-for-19 shooting performance from beyond the arc certainly didn’t help matters, and neither did the fact that they got just nine field goals all game from players not named James Farr or Jalen Reynolds. The most frustrating part for head coach Chris Mack? They had good shots. It wasn’t like Creighton took away everything that Xavier wanted to do.

The kids just had one of those nights where nothing went down.

Those happen.

And when you combine them with a total inability to contain the opposing team’s point guard, what you get is a 16 point loss on the road against a team that was desperate to get a good win.

Gill’s 16, ‘D’ lead No. 7 Virginia past Virginia Tech, 67-49

Lehigh Virginia Basketball
AP Photo/Andrew Shurtleff
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CHARLOTTESVILLE, Va. (AP) Anthony Gill scored 16 points and No. 7 Virginia turned the tables on state rival Virginia Tech with a 67-49 victory Tuesday night, the Cavaliers’ seventh straight.

Isaiah Wilkins added a career-best 14 points and Malcolm Brogdon had 12 for the Cavaliers (20-4, 9-3 Atlantic Coast Conference). Virginia avenged a 70-68 loss to the Hokies in Blacksburg on Jan. 4 in what rates as their worst performance of the season, and extended their winning streak at John Paul Jones Arena to 17 games.

Freshman Justin Robinson scored 16 points and classmate Chris Clarke had 11 in his first action for the Hokies (13-12, 5-7) since breaking his right foot in late December. Virginia Tech’s top two scorers, Zach LeDay (16.0 ppg) and Seth Allen (14.5), were limited to seven and six points, respectively, in part because of foul trouble.

Virginia coach Tony Bennett said his team wasn’t ready to play when it lost to the Hokies earlier, but they have been surging of late and were focused from the outset. They were credited with assists and 14 of their first 15 baskets and forced 10 turnovers in the first half; they forced just eight in the last meeting of the teams.

For most of the game, the Hokies had more turnovers than field goals.

The Cavaliers led 32-20 at halftime and extended their advantage to 47-29 on a three-point play by Mike Tobey with 12:11 remaining. It capped an 11-4 run for Virginia, during which LeDay was whistled for his fourth foul. On Virginia’s next trip down court, it got the ball to Gill inside and LeDay basically backed off and let him score, quickly earning a spot on the bench.

The Cavaliers’ lead never dipped into single digits again.

The Hokies had just eight turnovers and outscored Virginia 26-6 off turnovers in their first meeting. This time, Virginia Tech had 10 turnovers by halftime and the Cavaliers had already turned them into 15 points. Virginia Tech finished with 16 field goals and 15 turnovers.

Already leading 9-6, Virginia got scoring from eight players in a 23-8 run that spanned about 8 1/2 minutes.

Gill started it with a dunk, Brogdon hit a 3-pointer, London Perrantes had a four-point play and Wilkins finished it with two free throws, giving the Cavaliers a 32-14 lead with 2:06 left in the half. They didn’t score again, and the Hokies closed within 32-20 by halftime.

TIP-INS

Virginia Tech: The Hokies shot 57.1 percent (15 of 26) from the field in the second half of their 70-68 victory against Virginia on Jan. 4. … Virginia Tech’s starting five totaled four points in the first half.

Virginia: The Cavaliers have held four consecutive opponents to 50 points or fewer.

UP NEXT

Virginia Tech plays at No. 12 Miami next Wednesday.

Virginia plays at Duke on Saturday.

Follow Hank on Twitter: http://www.twitter.com/hankkurzjr

The AP’s college basketball page: http://www.collegebasketball.ap.org