Pregame Shootaround 12.8.12: Loaded Saturday features 21 ranked teams in action

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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: No. 13 Illinois vs. No. 10 Gonzaga (10 p.m. ET)

This is Saturday’s only match-up between ranked teams and also happens to be one of only two match-ups between undefeated teams. Much of the focus will likely be on the contrast between coaches, with Mark Few leading his Gonzaga team to another strong start and continuing the program’s mid-major legacy, and John Groce in his first year at Illinois with a team he inherited from now-Kansas State coach Bruce Weber.

Statistically Gonzaga has been one of the most impressive teams in the nation. The Bulldogs are ninth in the country in scoring (83.7 ppg), first in field goal percentage (53.1 percent), 26th in rebounding (41.1 rpg), and 19th in assists (17.0 apg). Prior to their two-point win over Washington State this week, they had won their first eight contests by an average of nearly 28 points per game.

Elias Harris leads the attack, but Gonzaga has benefited greatly from the return of seven-footer Kelly Olynyk, who returned from suspension Nov. 22. He is averaging 13.8 points and 7.0 rebounds.

For Illinois, early season success goes back to the player who led the team in scoring last season, Brandon Paul. He has upped his scoring average by three points per game year-to-year, and is the centerpiece of the Illini’s high-powered scoring front. Expect a high-scoring game in this one.

Who’s getting upset?: No. 18 New Mexico against Valparaiso

There aren’t many evenly matched Top 25 games on Saturday, so it looks like Valpo is one of the few schools with a decent shot at pulling an upset. If the Crusaders are going to do it, it will be in large part due to senior Ryan Broekhoff. The 6-7 Australian is averaging 16.7 points and 7.4 rebounds per game, including a double-double of 20 points and 13 rebounds in a win over Northern Illinois during the 24-hour Tip-off Marathon.

Valpo doesn’t score a lot of points, but typically doesn’t give up many either, meaning they’ll be keying in on New Mexico’s Kendall Williams and Tony Snell. Those two together average just over 26 points per game.

Mid-Major Matchup of the Day: Northern Iowa vs. George Mason (6:00 p.m. ET, NBC Sports Network)

George Mason came within one point of beating New Mexico earlier this season and within seven points of beating Maryland this week. They match up Saturday with a Northern Iowa team that had to face a string of high-major competition in Atlantis and is likely better off for it.

The Panthers, led by sophomore Deon Mitchell, lost by just five points to Louisville in a grind-it-out game, then had to come right back to face Stanford and Memphis.

Sherrod Wright and Erik Copes will be key, as usual, for George Mason. Also keep an eye on freshman Patrick Holloway, who went off for 17 points against Maryland, but struggled in the Patriots’ latest game against UMBC.

It should be a low-scoring game Saturday evening, but is the best mid-major match-up on the slate.

Five Things to Watch For

1) Temple upset Duke last season in Philadelphia, so the No. 2 Blue Devils get another shot Saturday in New Jersey. Both teams are undefeated, adding to the depth of this one. Mason Plumlee has transformed himself into a threat on a nightly basis, aided by Seth Curry becoming a legitimate scoring threat after the departure of Austin Rivers. Scootie Randall has been Temple’s biggest asset after returning from injury, and he, along with Khalif Wyatt, should work to counter the Curry/Quinn Cook Duke backcourt.

2) Arkansas might be 4-3, but you know that they’re going to push the basketball and score a lot of points. No. 3 Michigan, with its trio of stars, needs to be ready for that. The Wolverines do a good job of holding on to the basketball for the most part, but if point guard Trey Burke has a bout with turnovers, the Razorbacks could capitalize.

3) Colorado has been a pleasant surprise in the Pac-12 so far this season, and they face their toughest test Saturday. They already beat then-No. 16 Baylor, but the Bears have been plagued by inconsistency this season. Kansas, on the other hand, has been Kansas. It will be interesting to see how the Buffs try to work their offense with center Jeff Withey in the paint for the Jayhawks.

4) No. 11 Cincinnati, as seems to be the case so often, has flown under the radar once again this season and is creeping toward the Top 10. They should win handily over an 0-8 Maryland-Eastern Shore team Saturday, but keep an eye on Mick Cronin’s Bearcats going forward.

5) Clemson will get a chance to see exactly where they are when they take on No. 8 Arizona Saturday. The high-powered Wildcats have now become the clubhouse favorite to win the Pac-12, and the Tigers will be able to see if they are NCAA tournament-worthy against top-tier opponents.

The Rest of the Top 25:

No. 1 Indiana vs. Central Connecticut State (6:00 p.m. ET)

No. 2 Duke vs. Temple (3:15 p.m. ET)

No. 3 Michigan vs. Arkansas (12:00 p.m. ET)

No. 4 Syracuse vs. Monmouth (7:00 p.m. ET)

No. 5 Louisville vs. UMKC (2:00 p.m. ET)

No. 7 Ohio State vs. Long Beach State (12:00 p.m.)

No. 8 Arizona vs. Clemson (8:00 p.m. ET)

No. 9 Kansas vs. Colorado (2:00 p.m. ET)

No. 10 Gonzaga vs. No. 13 Illinois (10:00 p.m. ET, See Above)

No. 11 Cincinnati vs. Maryland-Eastern Shore (2:00 p.m. ET)

No. 12 Missouri vs. Tennessee State (3:00 p.m. ET)

No. 14 Minnesota vs. USC (10:30 p.m. ET)

No. 15 Georgetown vs. Towson (12:00 p.m. ET)

No. 18 New Mexico vs. Valparaiso (9:00 p.m. ET)

No. 19 Michigan State vs. Loyola (Ill.) (2:00 p.m. ET)

No. 20 North Carolina vs. East Tennessee State (7:30 p.m. ET)

No. 22 Notre Dame vs. Brown (7:00 p.m. ET)

No. 23 Oklahoma State vs. Missouri State (4:00 p.m. ET)

No. 24 Wichita State vs. Northern Colorado (8:00 p.m. ET)

No. 25 NC State vs. Cleveland State (1:00 p.m. ET)

Other Notable Games 

Kentucky vs. Portland (12:00 p.m. ET)

Memphis vs. Austin Peay (1:00 p.m. ET)

Virginia Tech vs. West Virginia (4:00 p.m. ET)

UCLA vs. Texas (5:15 p.m. ET)

Wisconsin vs. Marquette (6:00 p.m. ET)

Villanova vs. Penn (8:00 p.m. ET, NBC Sports Network)

Nevada vs. Washington (8:00 p.m. ET)

Daniel Martin is a writer and editor at JohnnyJungle.com, covering St. John’s. You can find him on Twitter:@DanielJMartin_

USC lands four-star 2018 guard Elijah Weaver

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USC landed an important commitment for its future on Monday night as four-star Class of 2018 guard Elijah Weaver.

Regarded as the No. 35 overall prospect in the Rivals’ national Class of 2018 rankings, the 6-foot-5 Weaver gives the Trojans a floor leader to build around for the future as he provides great size in the backcourt. Capable of playing multiple guard spots, Weaver has a lot of upside for a program that has done a very solid job of developing backcourt talent under head coach Andy Enfield.

Weaver’s commitment is also important for the Trojans because it comes despite the looming FBI investigation that the program is dealing with thanks to former assistant coach Tony Bland. USC had recently lost a four-star commitment from forward J’Raan Brooks, so the commitment of Weaver is a huge momentum boost for them as they get right back on track in the Class of 2018.

With Weaver in the mix, USC now owns three four-star pledges in the 2018 class as he joins four-star forward Taeshon Cherry and four-star guard Kevin Porter.

Jim Larranaga believes he’s ‘Coach-3’ in FBI investigation

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Despite losing key contributors Davon Reed and Kamari Murphy from last season’s NCAA tournament team, the Miami Hurricanes are expected to be a player both within the ACC and nationally this season. But instead of having the focus solely on the likes of JaQuan Newton, Bruce Brown and Lonnie Walker, Jim Larrañaga’s program is also having to deal with the impact of the ongoing FBI investigation into corruption and fraud in college basketball.

While no one connected to the Miami men’s basketball program was arrested last month, the program is referenced in the FBI report. On Monday, Larrañaga stated during a press conference that he believes that he is “Coach-3” in the FBI report. Larrañaga also maintained his innocence, saying that he had done nothing wrong while also being thankful that none of his assistant coaches were involved.

“It’s been a strain, physically, emotionally, mentally and spiritually,” Larrañaga said according to the Palm Beach Post. “It’s something that’s there. I have to deal with it. I have the support of my wife and a wonderful family. I have the support of the university, my staff and players.”

According to the FBI report, “Coach-3” requested that payments totaling $150,000 be funneled to “Player-12” in order to ensure his commitment to their university. It has been reported that “Player-12” was 2018 five-star prospect Nassir Little, who has also stated that he had done nothing wrong. Two of the schools recruiting Little at the time, Arizona and Miami, have been entangled in the FBI investigation to varying degrees.

While Miami has not had anyone connected to its program arrested, Arizona assistant coach Emmanuel “Book” Richardson was one of the four Division I coaches were were indicted. As a result Little removed both Arizona and Miami from consideration before ultimately committing to North Carolina earlier this month.

There’s no telling what the FBI investigation will ultimately uncover, which for the schools involved could take a heavy toll not only for the 2017-18 season but for future years as well. The FBI case has been comparatively quiet since the first set of indictments, with future moves likely to be influenced by what authorities learn from the ten individuals named in the first announcement.

Miles Bridges discusses being offered money during recruiting process

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With the FBI launching an investigation into corruption and fraud in college basketball last month, the entire sport has found itself under the microscope. Ten people, including four Division I assistant coaches, were arrested and there’s no telling just how long the FBI’s investigation will last or what information it will produce.

Michigan State forward Miles Bridges is considered by many to be the leading candidate for national Player of the Yeah honors, and he had the opportunity to turn pro after a good freshman season. But Bridges made the decision to return to East Lansing, and with that comes questions as to why he would do that as opposed to cashing in on his NBA potential as soon as possible.

In an interview with Brendan Quinn of The Athletic (subscription required) Bridges discussed a host of issues, including being offered money by people while going through the recruiting process.

“I mean, if you get caught, that might be the end of your career. I wanted to play in college really bad,” Bridges told Quinn. “I don’t know — materialistic things, they don’t really get to me. So when people were offering me money, I would say no right away, because I wanted to be able to live out my college experience. But really, I don’t know, it is hard, especially because I was so young at the time — 17.”

Given the ongoing investigation, high-profile players and teams will be on the receiving end of increased scrutiny even if they aren’t part of the FBI probe. It’s an unfair situation for a player like Bridges to deal with, as even in the actual cases of alleged wrongdoing the players themselves are essentially commodities whose services are being auctioned as opposed to the main characters looking to cash in.

Unfortunately, due to recent events a decision like the one made by Bridges will result in some questioning whether or not the player received something from the school or another entity/individual. And that’s a tough — and unfair — thing for a young player to have to deal with.

Broken hand sidelines North Carolina PG Joel Berry II

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North Carolina’s defense of its national title will likely begin without its most important player, as it was announced on Monday that senior point guard Joel Berry II will miss approximately four weeks due to a broken bone in his right hand.

Berry started at the point each of the last two seasons, earning Most Outstanding Player honors in April as the Tar Heels defeated Gonzaga to win the national title. As a junior, Berry averaged 14.7 points, 3.6 assists and 3.1 rebounds per game and started 37 of the 38 games in which he played. Berry shot 42.6 percent from the field and 38.3 percent from three, with the latter percentage being the best on team amongst players who attempted at least two three-pointers per game.

Berry was named an NBC Sports Preseason Third-Team All-American in late September.

With Berry out of the lineup, North Carolina loses its floor general as well as one of their top perimeter shooters. Sophomore Seventh Woods and freshman Jalek Felton become more important options at the point as a result of Berry’s injury, and the team doesn’t lack for perimeter shooters either with Cameron Johnson, Brandon Robinson, Kenny Williams and freshman Andrew Platek all being capable of helping to pick up the slack.

North Carolina opens its regular season on November 10 against Northern Iowa.

Bill Self’s stance on Kansas/Missouri series remains unchanged

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Sunday afternoon in Kansas City, bitter rivals Kansas and Missouri got together on the basketball court for the first time since 2012, with the Showdown for Relief raising $1.75 million for recent hurricane victims. In what was an entertaining game, the Jayhawks won by the final score of 93-87 with point guard Devonté Graham leading the way for the winners with 25 points and ten rebounds.

Kansas finished the game with five players in double figures, including Mississippi State transfer Malik Newman (17 points) and center Udoka Azubuike (16). On the other side freshman Michael Porter Jr. paced four Tigers in double figures with 21 points while younger brother Jontay grabbed a game-high 12 rebounds off the bench.

However despite the excitement for the two rivals being on the same court in any capacity, Sunday’s meeting was different given the circumstances. Following the game Kansas head coach Bill Self was asked about the possibility of the two teams meeting in a regular season game, and he maintained the stance he’s held since Missouri left the Big 12 for the SEC.

“I’m not going to say never, but I don’t think there’s been any change in our position as far as the university goes,” Self said following Sunday’s exhibition. “I’m the spokesman, I guess, on this but trust me, I’m not the only one that feels that way.”

While it would certainly benefit college basketball if Kansas and Missouri were to renew acquaintances down the line, it is understandable that Self — and maybe some others on the Kansas side of things — would have reservations. The programs, even with the arrival of Cuonzo Martin in Columbia and the freshman class led by the aforementioned Michael Porter Jr., are in different places right now.

The Jayhawks have their sights set on a 14th consecutive Big 12 title and a run at their first national title since 2008, Missouri is looking to fast-track a rebuilding process after struggling mightily under former head coach Kim Anderson. Yet with that being said, the state of the two athletic departments during realignment likely has more to do with the teams not playing each other.

Missouri was a school with options earlier this decade before joining the SEC, but that was not the case for Kansas. Had the Big 12 broken up as some believed would be the case, where would the Jayhawks have landed? Fortunately for the school the Big 12 survived the realignment craze, losing four schools (Missouri and Texas A&M to the SEC, Colorado to the Pac-12 and Nebraska to the Big Ten) and adding TCU and West Virginia to get their membership number to ten.

Given that, the best bet for college basketball fans who want to see this rivalry played during the regular season may be to hope for the programs wind up in the same in-season tournament. Even better, how about the same NCAA tournament region?