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Weekend Preview: Should Syracuse be on upset alert?

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Who’s getting upset?: Sat. No. 2 Syracuse @ UConn, 9 p.m. (ESPN)

I’m probably going to end up regretting this decision, but I think that the Huskies nip Syracuse on Saturday. Starting with the Syracuse loss to Notre Dame back in mid-January, the Orange have been less-than-impress offensively. In six of those nine games, the Orange have posted an efficiency of 1.032 PPP or lower, which is a long way from being the ninth best offensive team in the nation. The first UConn game isn’t included in that group, but the 85 points they scored is a bit deceiving; that game was much closer than the final score indicated.

Throw in the massive struggles that the Orange have had on the defensive glass, and all of a sudden Cuse looks like they may end up being beatable. Where the Orange have kept themselves afloat is in their ability to turn teams over in a live-ball setting — they are third in the country in steal percentage and fifth in turnover percentage — and they are absolutely devastating in the open court. So if you get a team that can attack the gaps in their zone without turning the ball over while having enough size to take advantage of second chances, Syracuse could be in trouble.

UConn certainly has the size, but do they have the pieces to avoid turnovers? That, I’m not so sure of. Who is going to play the high-post in their zone offense? Can Shabazz Napier and Ryan Boatright be trusted to protect the ball and take good shots? Will Jeremy Lamb continue to be as aggressive as he has been the last two weeks? For UConn to have chance, that is precisely what needs to happen. And having Andre Drummond and Alex Oriakhi show up and get Fab Melo in foul trouble wouldn’t hurt, either.

Who else is on upset alert?

Fri. No. 10 Marquette @ West Virginia, 9 p.m. (ESPN2): This is less about Marquette than it is about West Virginia. Frankly, I think Marquette is one of the most dangerous teams in the country. They are versatile, they can defend in the full court and they are currently playing as well as they have in Buzz Williams’ tenure. That said, West Virginia is better than they have showed of late and they are currently playing with their backs up against the wall. After the loss they suffered to Notre Dame, you can bet practice this week was equivalent to hopping in a cage with a rabid pitbull. In front of their home crowd, I expect the ‘Eers to play with some fire.

Sat. No. 12 Florida @ Georgia, 4 p.m. (ESPN3/SEC Network): Will Yeguete is done for the season, which is a massive blow to the Florida roster. He was their glue guy, the piece that did the dirty work on the glass and ran the point on their pressure defense. The last time he was injured, Florida lost their first game without him to Tennessee in the O-Dome. Tennessee is better than Georgia and the Gators have had some experience playing without him at this point, but I just don’t trust Florida on the road even after the win at Arkansas.

Sat. No. 20 Notre Dame @ St. John’s, 7 p.m. ESPN: This St. John’s roster is and always has intrigued me. They are quite athletic and a couple of those freshmen — Moe Harkless and D’angelo Harrison — have been quite thrilling to watch at times. No team in the country is playing as well as Notre Dame right now, but with the athleticism that the Johnnies have at their disposal, I wouldn’t be surprised to see them make a run at the Irish. These freshmen may be too naive to realize that they aren’t supposed to win this game.

Sat. No. 18 New Mexico @ TCU, 7 p.m. (MTN): I don’t think that the Lobos are going to come out as flat as they did against Colorado State on Wednesday. That loss was understandable. When, all of a sudden, you become the talk of the country while soundly beating the other two contenders in your conference and moving into a two-game lead in first place, its easy to become complacent. UNM became complacent. Hopefully, they learned their lesson. That said, TCU is not terrible this season, they’ve upset UNLV at home after coming back from 18 down in the second half and they have a kid named Hank Thorns that is one of the nation’s best kept secrets. The Lobos have to show up to win this one.

Sun. No. 15 Florida State @ Miami (FL), 6 p.m. (ESPNU): Miami will be playing for their tournament lives. They have the size to matchup with the Seminoles on the interior and a matchup nightmare in Kenny Kadji at the four. The issue is going to be their back court. You cannot beat Florida State’s perimeter defense going one-on-one, and that is what Miami’s back court tends to do.

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

No. 15 Cincinnati extends home streak, beats Memphis 87-74

CINCINNATI, OH - FEBRUARY 04:  Troy Caupain #10 of the Cincinnati Bearcats dribbles the ball during the game against the Connecticut Huskies at Fifth Third Arena on February 4, 2017 in Cincinnati, Ohio.  (Photo by Andy Lyons/Getty Images)
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CINCINNATI (AP) After a dominant first half, No. 15 Cincinnati relaxed and wound up sweating one out.

Jacob Evans III scored 12 of his 15 points during the Bearcats’ lopsided first half on Thursday night, and they let most of a big lead slip away before holding on for their 25th straight home victory, 87-74 over Memphis.

Cincinnati (25-3, 14-1 American Athletic) led by as many as 24 points during its highest-scoring opening half in conference play this season, pulling ahead 51-32 at the break. The Tigers cut the lead to six points before fading.

“We got off to a big lead, and in the second half I feel we started to coast a little bit,” Evans said. “We can’t do that. If we want to make a deep run in March, we can’t take a half off against any team. Our energy on defense went down.”

The Bearcats’ front line dominated on offense. Gary Clark had 13 points and nine rebounds while Kyle Washington had 16 points and six rebounds. The problem was the sluggish defense in the second half, which left shooters open.

“For about 30 minutes, I thought we played about as well as we can play,” coach Mick Cronin said. “My halftime speech gets an F. I talked to our guys about defense. Our defense was nonexistent for most of the second half. We learned our lessons.”

Memphis (18-10, 8-7 ) has dropped a season-high three straight. Jeremiah Martin led the Tigers with 23 points and 11 assists. Dedric Lawson had 21 points with 10 rebounds.

“They were a little bit intimidated to start the first half because (Cincinnati) was making shots,” Memphis coach Tubby Smith said. “And when you get in a hole like that, it’s tough.”

The Tigers cut the lead to 75-69 on Martin’s three-point play with 5:18 left. Evans’ 3-pointer – his only basket of the second half – ended the comeback. It was his only 3-pointer of the game.

BIG PICTURE

Memphis: Lawson got his 35th double-double, the sixth-most by an active player. His 18 double-doubles this season are a career high for the sophomore. He has 282 rebounds this season. The AAC record is 321 by UConn’s Daniel Hamilton.

Cincinnati: The Bearcats’ 25 straight home wins match the second-longest streak at Fifth Third Arena, which opened in 1989. The arena record is 41 straight wins from 1997-2000.

POLL IMPLICATIONS

The Bearcats have won four straight since a 60-51 loss at SMU on Feb. 12, minimizing the damage of their only conference loss.

BAD START

The Tigers were playing from behind the entire time because of their horrible start. They missed 10 of their first 15 shots – Lawson was 0 for 3 – while the Bearcats rolled out to a 26-11 lead.

LOOKING UP

Lawson got a loose ball while sitting under the basket in the second half and took a shot that bounced off the rim. After the slow start, he ended up 9 of 16 from the field.

CUMBERLAND BACK

Freshman Jarron Cumberland sat out Cincinnati’s last game because of a curfew violation. He was back on Thursday and had nine points in 22 minutes.

UP NEXT

Memphis: The Tigers host Houston on Saturday. They won at Houston 79-67 in overtime on Jan. 19.

Cincinnati: The Bearcats play at Central Florida on Saturday. They beat Central Florida 60-50 on Feb. 8.

More AP college basketball: http://collegebasketball.ap.org

Five Maine players suspended following a fight over locker room music

DURHAM, NC - DECEMBER 03:  Head coach Bob Walsh of the Maine Black Bears prepares for their game against the Duke Blue Devils at Cameron Indoor Stadium on December 3, 2016 in Durham, North Carolina.  (Photo by Streeter Lecka/Getty Images)
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There wasn’t much love being spread in the Maine basketball locker room on Valentine’s Day.

A locker room fight led to the suspensions of five players, including the team’s leading scorer. According to Larry Mahoney of the Bangor Daily News, who obtained the police report, the incident was the result of teammates Wes Myers and Marko Pirovic arguing over locker room music on Feb. 14.

Myers wanted the music off, Pirovic, who stands five inches taller and outweighs Myers by 25 pounds, refused. This led to both throwing punches, one of which connected on Pirovic’s face, breaking his jaw.

Jaquan McKennon, Ilija Stojiljkovic and Dusan Majstorovic were all suspended, but reinstated on Wednesday, for telling head trainer Ryan Taylor that Pirovic’s injuries resulted from him falling in the shower.

Myers, a junior guard averaging a team-best 16.9 points per game, remains suspended indefinitely.

Pirovic declined to press charges. All involved could still face punishment from the university, according to the Bangor Daily News.

It’s been a long season for the Black Bears. Maine owns the America East’s worst record at 6-24 (3-12). Outside of a modest three-game winning streak in late January, the Black Bears have not won a game in 2017. They close out the regular season on Saturday at home against Binghamton.

How did Gary Clark catch that alley-oop?

CINCINNATI, OH - JANUARY 24:  Gary Clark #11 of the Cincinnati Bearcats shoots the ball against the Tulane Green Wave at Fifth Third Arena on January 24, 2016 in Cincinnati, Ohio.  (Photo by Andy Lyons/Getty Images)
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No. 15 Cincinnati pounced on Memphis from the start, taking a 51-32 lead into halftime.

Then, Gary Clark decided to add insult to injury to start the second half. Seriously, how did he catch that?

Mick Cronin’s team is much better offensively than in previous seasons. I’m sure fans in the Fifth Third Arena can get used to seeing more plays like this.

Cassius Winston ends half with half-court 3-pointer

NEW YORK, NY - NOVEMBER 15:  Head coach Tom Izzo of the Michigan State Spartans talks with Cassius Winston #5 in the second half during the State Farm Champions Classic at Madison Square Garden on November 15, 2016 in New York City.  (Photo by Michael Reaves/Getty Images)
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Michigan State freshman guard Cassius Winston had just one field goal in the first half. And it was a half-court buzzer-beater as the Spartans capped a sizable run to take a 49-31 lead over Nebraska going into the break.

The Spartans ended the half on a 21-5 run.

Winston provided a serious boost off the bench during that stanza. Moments earlier, he helped the Breslin Center erupt when he lobbed a pass off the backboard to teammate Miles Bridges.

Michigan State opened the day projected as one of the final at-large bids in the NCAA Tournament. The margin for error is thing and it appears the Spartans are playing with a sense of urgency.

 

CBT Podcast: Mark Titus recaps Wednesday’s games

LAWRENCE, KS - FEBRUARY 22: Frank Mason III #0 of the Kansas Jayhawks lays the ball up against JD Miller #15 and Jaylen Fisher #0 of the TCU Horned Frogs in the first half at Allen Fieldhouse on February 22, 2017 in Lawrence, Kansas. (Photo by Ed Zurga/Getty Images)
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Wednesday’s slate of games had several wild results.

Former Ohio State walk-on turned blogger turned author Mark Titus, who is currently writing for The Ringer, joined Rob Dauster on the latest episode of the CBT Podcast to go over last night’s games. The two also discussed who is the best team in the nation at the moment, as well Frank Mason III’s rap single from several years ago #BIFM

You can subscribe to the podcast on iTunes, Stitcher and Audioboom