Maryland Kentucky Basketball

A Viewer’s Guide to Marathon Madness

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First and foremost, Tuesday’s schedule (all times ET):

12:00 AM: West Virginia at No. 19 Gonzaga (ESPN)
2:00 AM: Davidson at New Mexico (ESPN)
4:00 AM: Houston Baptist at Hawaii (ESPN)
6:00 AM: Stony Brook at Rider (ESPN)
8:00 AM: Northern Illinois at Valparaiso (ESPN)
10:00 AM: Harvard at Massachusetts (ESPN)
12:00 PM: Temple at Kent State (ESPN)
2:00 PM: Detroit at St. John’s (ESPN)
4:00 PM: Butler at Xavier (ESPN)
6:00 PM: No. 6 Kentucky at No. 1 Baylor (Women’s) (ESPN2)
7:00 PM: No. 22 Michigan St vs. No. 7 Kansas (ESPN)
7:00 PM: Wichita State at VCU (ESPNU)
8:00 PM: Cleveland State/Bowling Green at No. 5 Michigan (NIT) (ESPN2)
9:00 PM: Lehigh/Robert Morris at Pittsburgh (ESPNU)
9:00 PM: No. 9 Duke vs No. 3 Kentucky (ESPN)
10:00 PM: UNT/Alabama-Huntsville at Kansas State (ESPN2)

We’ll have quite a bit of content up throughout the marathon, but in an effort to help you manage your time (and your naps), here is a Viewer’s Guide for which games to watch, which games to TiVo and when you can grab a few minutes of shuteye:

Only miss these games to see the birth of your FIRST child:

No. 9 Duke vs. No. 3 Kentucky: The intrigue of this matchup goes well beyond the fact that it features two top ten teams. Duke may be despised nationally, but it’s because they have the reputation for being a squeaky-clean program that can do no wrong and consistently produces overrated college players. Kentucky is despised nationally as well, but that’s because they are coached by college basketball’s version of Bain, make a mockery of the idea of “student-athletes” with their approach to the one-and-done rule, and have no problem flaunting their strength on the recruiting trail. Good vs. evil, if you will. And thanks to guys like Christian Laettner and the bosses at UPS, there is no love lost between these two fan bases.

It should be quite entertaining on the court as well. Kentucky once again brings in a loaded recruiting class, but just how good that group is going to end up being is still unclear, especially if Ryan Harrow isn’t 100%. Duke, on the other hand, is coming off of a year where they lost in the first round of the NCAA tournament and returns a number of key pieces from that team. But there has been a movement promoting the idea that these Blue Devils are actually better than last year’s team. Is this group truly a title contender?

No. 22 Michigan State vs. No. 7 Kansas: Just how good is Michigan State? That’s the question that everyone has after the Spartans lost to a UConn team that was decimated by transfers, early-entry and coaching changes during the offseason. The Spartans are big and physical along their front line, but are yet to know if this is a team that has enough scoring prowess on their perimeter to be a real threat this year. Kansas, on the other hand, is a bit of a wildcard this season. They have the potential to be one of the nation’s most complete teams this year, but that will only be true if Ben McLemore and Perry Ellis can develop into legitimate scoring threats. How much will we learn from Tuesday night?

You can miss these for a hot date, but they have to be at least a nine and NOT already your significant other:

West Virginia at No. 19 Gonzaga: The Mountaineers are one of the sleepers in the Big 12 this season, buoyed by transfers Juwan Staten and Aaric Murray. But this may end up being the best Gonzaga team in recent memory, especially if Polish import Prmezek Karnowski is as good as he looked in the opener.

Davidson at New Mexico: Davidson made the NCAA tournament last season and beat Kansas in Kansas City, and they returned EVERYONE. The Wildcats could end up being the best mid-major team in the country this side of Creighton. But New Mexico brings back quite a bit from last season, as well, and has spent the entire offseason hearing about how they don’t have a chance in the MWC this year. The only shame is the 2:00 AM east coast tip for Davidson; we may not see their best performance.

Wichita State at VCU: This is not the same Wichita State team that took the court last season, but the Shockers are still one of the top three teams in the MVC, especially with the addition of Oregon transfer Malcolm Armstead. Armstead’s addition will be valuable, as WSU is going to have a serious test on their hands with VCU’s ‘Havoc’ system and 40 minutes worth of full-court pressure.

Butler at Xavier: This is actually a intra-conference game now, although it won’t count in the Atlantic 10 standings. Xavier went off for 117 points in their opener against a depleted Farleigh Dickinson, but they’ll have their hands full with the Bulldogs, who look like one of the best teams in the league. Keep an eye on Roosevelt Jones, who will be playing a similar role to that of Draymond Green for Michigan State last season.

Harvard at UMass: This game got a lot less intriguing when Kyle Casey and Brandyn Curry were forced to miss this season. That said, the Crimson still have quite a bit of talent, albeit youthful talent, at their disposal this year, while UMass is a sleeper in the A-10. Keep an eye on Chaz Williams, the point guard for the Minutemen. He may be the nation’s best kept secret.

North Texas/UA-Huntsville at Kansas State: Here’s top hoping that North Texas wins tonight against Huntsville. I’d love to see Tony Mitchell taking on the Wildcats in Manhattan.

Lehigh/Robert Morris at Pitt: Ditto for Lehigh and Pitt. CJ McCollum is fresh off of a 36 point performance at Baylor.

You can play bridge with your Grandmother, just make sure you have the game on in the back ground:

Temple at Kent State: Kent State is looking to go 2-0 against the city of Philadelphia this season, as they are coming off of an overtime win against Drexel. Temple’s Khalif Wyatt is the real deal, however.

Detroit at St. John’s: It’s unclear whether or not St. John’s will have a pair of still-ineligible JuCo transfers this season, and without them they could be in trouble. Detroit is led by the talented-Ray McCallum Jr.

Cleveland State/Bowling Green at No. 5 Michigan: Michigan should be able to knock off either of these teams, but the Wolverines have been labeled as overrated by most of the computer rankings. This will be their first game against a Division I opponent.

You know what? Go ahead. Get some sleep. I ain’t even mad:

Houston Baptist at Hawaii: Root for HBU coach Steven Key. He’s one of the good guys in the business.

Stony Brook at Rider: Stony Brook is the favorite in the America East, but Rider just whipped up on Robert Morris thanks to 26 points from St. John’s-transfer Nurideen Lindsay.

Northern Illinois at Valparaiso: Valpo is the favorite in the Horizon this year.

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

Johnson, Paige help No. 9 Tar Heels roll past Panthers 85-64

North Carolina's Isaiah Hicks (4) dunks against Pittsburgh during the first half of an NCAA college basketball game in Chapel Hill, N.C., Sunday, Feb. 14, 2016. (AP Photo/Gerry Broome)
AP Photo/Gerry Broome
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CHAPEL HILL, N.C. (AP) Brice Johnson scored 19 points to lead a dominating offensive performance that helped No. 9 North Carolina beat Pittsburgh 85-64 on Sunday.

Marcus Paige added 15 points for the Tar Heels (21-4, 10-2 Atlantic Coast Conference), who shot 59 percent to stay atop the league ahead of the next renewal of their fierce rivalry with Duke.

UNC had plenty of balance, shared the ball and got out in transition in arguably their best performance in weeks, using a 13-0 second-half burst to blow the game open. UNC finished with 26 assists on 32 baskets, 24 points off turnovers and scored 16 fast-break points after managing a combined five in the past two games.

Michael Young and James Robinson each scored 15 points to lead Pitt (17-7, 6-6). But the Panthers shot 37 percent and committed 19 turnovers, and a strong effort on the glass did little to offset their troubles.

The Tar Heels were playing their first home game in two weeks after a difficult three-game road trip that started with losses at Louisville and Notre Dame. Then came Tuesday’s game at Boston College, where the Tar Heels struggled against a winless league team then had a scare when Hall of Fame coach Roy Williams briefly collapsed in a second-half huddle after an attack of vertigo and had to leave the sideline for the rest of the game.

Williams was back in the office on Wednesday’s off day, returned to practice Thursday and told reporters Friday he was fine and even cracked jokes about a two-decade history with vertigo dating to his Kansas years.

Getting back home certainly helped everyone feel better. After wrestling with shooting struggles for much of the past month, UNC’s offense kicked back into an efficient and balanced gear, while Paige – the player the Tar Heels are practically begging to jolt free from a prolonged shooting slump – looked more like his old self against the Panthers.

That included one second-half play in which he caught a crosscourt pass from Theo Pinson in transition and made sure to step back behind the arc before burying a 3-pointer.

The Panthers had lost three of four since a 5-2 league start coming in, including 65-63 on a late tip-in at No. 12 Miami on Tuesday. And Pitt again had trouble getting their offense going, failing to crack 70 points for the third straight game.

TIP-INS

Pittsburgh: Second-leading scorer Jamel Artis scored five points on 2-for-8 shooting. … Pitt finished with a 41-29 rebounding advantage. … Pitt made 9 of 21 3-point attempts.

UNC: Justin Jackson scored 14 points. … UNC made 8 of 15 shots from 3-point range and 13 of 15 free throws. … Jackson and Pinson had six assists each. … UNC managed just one offensive rebound.

UP NEXT

Pittsburgh hosts Wake Forest on Tuesday.

UNC hosts Duke on Wednesday.

Follow Aaron Beard on Twitter at http://www.twitter.com/aaronbeardap and the AP’s college basketball site at http://collegebasketball.ap.org

Denzel Valentine dominant as No. 8 Michigan State whips Indiana

Michigan State's Denzel Valentine (45) shoots over Indiana's Kevin Yogi Ferrell during the first half of an NCAA college basketball game, Sunday, Feb. 14, 2016, in East Lansing, Mich. (AP Photo/Al Goldis)
AP Photo/Al Goldis
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Trailing by one point at the half, Indiana appeared to be in good shape at No. 8 Michigan State. However the fact that they were unable to slow down Denzel Valentine, who scored 15 first-half points, was a major concern for Tom Crean’s Hoosiers. Sure enough the national Player of the Year candidate continued on his tour de force in the second half, scoring another 15 points and dishing out seven assists as the Spartans rolled to an 88-69 victory.

For the game Valentine finished with 30 points, five rebounds, 13 assists and just one turnover. Of Michigan State’s 48 second half points, Valentine had a hand in 29 of them with all seven of his assists resulting in Michigan State layups. It was a dominant performance from one of the nation’s best players, a versatile guard whose four games missed due to injury may have led to some overlooking him when it comes to those national Player of the Year conversations.

When Valentine’s on everything else flows smoothly for Tom Izzo’s team, as his ability to both score and create results in quality looks for teammates who would struggle if they had to get that part of the job done themselves.

The biggest beneficiary Sunday afternoon was forward Matt Costello, who finished the game with 22 points and 11 rebounds. Of Costello’s ten made field goals (10-for-12 FG) five were assisted by Valentine, and he accounted for 13 points and seven rebounds in the second half. As a team Michigan State shot 63.3 percent from the field and assisted on 16 of their 19 made field goals in the second half, turning a tight contest into a blowout.

Tum Tum Nairn returned the court for the first time in seven games, but he played just two minutes and his time on the court will be managed carefully by Izzo moving forward. For many teams not having your point guard at full strength would represent a crippling blow, but that hasn’t been the case for Michigan State thanks in large part to Valentine. Michigan State went 4-3 in those seven games without Nairn, but the three losses were by a total of three points.

Valentine’s ability to make his teammates better will be a key factor down the stretch for Michigan State, and that skill was what led to the Spartans blowing out Indiana on Sunday.