Shabazz Napier

Pregame Shootaround 12.7.12: Light Friday as finals approach for many schools

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Each day, CollegeBasketballTalk brings you the “Pregame Shootaround,” which will be posted at 2 p.m. ET and lay out a preview for the slate of games that night. We’ll take a look at some key match-ups and important games, as well as make some predictions and point out what you need to watch for. Take a look below at today’s edition:

Note: The weekend editions of Pregame Shootaround will be published half an hour prior to tip-off of the day’s first game.

Game of the Day: Harvard at Connecticut (7 PM) 

Tommy Amaker’s Crimson have made a habit out of beating Boston College on a consistent basis, but the same can’t be said of their recent history with UConn. The Huskies have won all three meetings during Amaker’s tenure and own a 15-2 edge in the series. The Crimson are young but talented, with sophomore forward Wesley Saunders and freshman point guard Siyani Chambers leading the way. With the loss of Brandyn Curry and Kyle Casey many ruled the Crimson out of the Ivy League race, but even with just two upperclassmen in the rotation (junior Laurent Rivard and senior Christian Webster) Harvard shouldn’t be overlooked.

And that goes for UConn tonight, as the Huskies have struggled in the paint this season. Enosch Wolf did score 12 points in their loss to NC State on Tuesday night, but Kevin Ollie’s team will only go as far as guards Ryan Boatright and Shabazz Napier take them. Harvard doesn’t have much in the way of size but they’ve been the better rebounding team of the two (Harvard grabs 69.8% of opponents’ missed shots while UConn corrals just 60.3%). If the Crimson can take advantage of UConn’s issues inside while keeping Napier and Boatright in check, they have a shot.

Who’s getting upset?: Manhattan vs. Marist (7 PM) 

The light schedule means that a team with two wins (Manhattan) is the pick to be upset by another team with just two wins. Steve Masiello’s Jaspers are one of the favorites to win the MAAC, but this week has already seen both Iona and Loyola (MD) go on the road and drop league games. Devin Price leads the way for the Marist team that’s averaging just 54.1 points per game, and to be frank the Red Foxes were beaten like they stole something the last time they took the court (91-57 loss to Army). The Jaspers haven’t been much better offensively (56.8 ppg; and missing George Beamon certainly doesn’t help matters), and if they continue to struggle Marist has a shot.

Mid-Major Matchup of the Day: VCU at Old Dominion (9 PM; NBC Sports Network) 

Don’t consider the Rams to be a mid-major personally (especially with the move to the Atlantic 10), but they are on the road playing what should be an emotional game against Old Dominion. The Monarchs have struggled mightily in their final season before leaving the CAA for Conference USA, so maybe the sight of an old rival can fire up Blaine Taylor’s group. ODU is averaging 15.1 turnovers per game, and with VCU forcing nearly 19 turnovers per contest things could get out of hand if the Monarchs don’t take better care of the basketball. But look for ODU to come out with a little more fire and make things tough on VCU in Norfolk.

Five Things to Watch For

1) Iowa State looks to make it four straight wins over Iowa, but the home team has won seven of the last eight meetings in the series (ISU’s win in 2010 being the exception). Forward Will Clyburn leads the Cyclones in both points and rebounds, and Fred Hoiberg’s team has been one of the nation’s best teams when it comes to hitting the boards. Iowa has to keep the Cyclones off the offensive glass if they’re to defend Carver-Hawkeye Arena.

2) South Carolina made just 35.9% of their shots in losses to St. John’s and Clemson. With Jacksonville in town the hope is that the Gamecocks can get going offensively, with Brenton Williams and Bruce Ellington leading the way.

3) Siena’s looking to snap a five-game losing streak as they host Rider in the MAAC opener for both. Mitch Buonaguro’s team has won eight of the last 11 meetings in the series, and Siena’s going to need players other than O.D. Anosike to step up if they’re to make it nine of 12. Guard Nurideen Lindsey  leads four Broncs in double figures with an average of 14.3 points per game.

4) Two slumping teams meet in Milwaukee as the Panthers host Northern Illinois. The Huskies are averaging just 54.3 points per game, which is only two touchdowns more than what their MAC champion football team has averaged (40.8 ppg).

5) Ed DeChellis’ Navy Midshipmen have won three of their last four entering tonight’s game at Mount St. Mary’s, and despite not having a player averaging double figures offense may not be an issue tonight. While Mount St. Mary’s is forcing an average of 19.0 turnovers per game what happens when foes take care of the ball hasn’t been good, as teams are shooting 57.2% from the field.

Other Notable Games 

Jacksonville at South Carolina (7 PM)

Canisius at Fairfield (7 PM)

Iowa State at Iowa (8 PM)

Raphielle also writes for the NBE Basketball Report and can be followed on Twitter at @raphiellej.

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.