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. 10 Gonzaga outlasts No. 18 UConn despite late offensive struggles

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No. 10 Gonzaga survived a furious rally from No. 18 UConn to win the third place game in the Battle 4 Atlantis, 73-70.

The Zags were up by as much as 21 points early in the second half, leading 48-27, but UConn slowly chipped away at the lead. Kyle Wiltjer led four players in double-figures with 17 points while Eric McClellan added 15 points, making a number of key plays in the second half when it looked like the Zags were in danger of giving away the lead.

As good as Gonzaga looked in the first 22 minutes of this game — and they looked really, really good — the second half exposed the concerns that many had with this group entering the season. Kevin Pangos and Gary Bell Jr., who both shot around 40 percent from beyond the arc and started for four years, graduated, meaning that Gonzaga’s point guard situation is, more or less, Josh Perkins.

Perkins was terrific in the second half of a loss to Texas A&M on Thursday. He played 17 foul-plagued minutes against UConn. When UConn’s defense ratcheted up during the second half, Gonzaga struggled finding a way to consistently get good shots on the offensive end. Part of that was due to ineffective point guard play and part of it was a result of not really having anyone on the offensive end that can create a look on their own. As skilled as Wiltjer is, his impact can be limited when pick-and-pop actions aren’t working and he’s getting doubled in the post.

Perkins is talented, but this is essentially his first season of college basketball; he was a medical redshirt last season after breaking his jaw last November. There are going to be ups-and-downs, and that’s problematic on a team where he is essentially the only point guard on the roster.

The good news?

Gonzaga beat a good UConn team on a day when their best players struggled in crunch-time. It was McClellan and Kyle Dranginis that made the big plays down the stretch, not the big names on the Gonzaga roster.

Wichita State’s Anton Grady ‘awake, alert’ after getting stretchered off court

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Wichita State big man Anton Grady was stretchered off of the floor in the second half of a loss to Alabama after a nasty collision with Dazon Ingram.

The video can be seen above. There was nothing malicious about the way that Grady was injured. When he turned to run up the floor after missing a shot in the lane, he went face first into Ingram’s shoulder. He neck bent in an awkward directions and, after stumbling a few steps, he laid motionless on the floor.

It took 10 minutes for the training staff to strap Grady to a backboard and wheel him out of the arena.

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A Wichita State spokesman told that Grady was taken to a local trauma center for evaluation and that he is “awake, alert and is answering questions appropriately”.

We will have more updates as they come available.

From a basketball perspective, the No. 20 Shockers lost their second game in a row and are now 2-3 on the season.

While for some the Shockers’ résumé is up for questioning following losses to USC and Alabama, two teams projected to finish in the bottom half of their respective leagues, the team’s health is the biggest concern.

Fred VanVleet has been dealing with a hamstring issue since the season began, and an ankle injury limited him in a loss at Tulsa earlier this month. He won’t play again until at least Dec. 5th. and who knows when he’ll be back to full strength. The same can be said for back up point guard and freshman Landry Shamet, who underwent surgery to address a stress fracture in the fifth metatarsal in his left foot. Their injuries have led to even more being asked of senior guard Ron Baker, and the loss of Grady for any significant amount of time certainly isn’t going to help matters..

These early-season losses won’t help Wichita State when it comes to the NCAA tournament, but it’s important to make note of the circumstances surrounding those defeats. To be shorthanded, with one of the absent players ranking among the nation’s best point guards, has an impact that has to be accounted for when evaluating Wichita State. The Shockers will add Conner Frankamp in mid-December, which will help them on the perimeter.

But with their rotation currently being in flux, it’s tough to make any definitive statements on what Wichita State will have to do in order to make another trip to the NCAA tournament. At this point Gregg Marshall and his staff will look for other contributors, one of whom being Markis McDuffie (14 points, seven rebounds vs. Alabama), to emerge and show themselves capable of picking up the slack.