Pregame Shootaround 12.16.12: No. 10 Illinois faces undefeated Eastern Kentucky

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Each day, CollegeBasketballTalk brings you the “Pregame Shootaround,” which will 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. 10 Illinois vs. Eastern Kentucky

Illinois showed that it had some legitimate staying power with last week’s 85-74 win on the road over Gonzaga. Guard Brandon Paul launched himself into the early conversation for Player of the Year and John Groce proved that he can make his inherited group of players a threat in the Big Ten.

They now face a 9-0 Eastern Kentucky team that makes for an unlikely match-up of undefeated teams. The Colonels have yet to meet a BCS team this season, but bring a high-scoring and highly efficient team to Champaign on Sunday.

The Illini aren’t a particularly dominant rebounding team, but should have the advantage against a team ranked 342nd in the country in that department. Guard Glenn Cosey (17.7 points per game) is Eastern Kentucky’s biggest asset in the backcourt. He matches up with Illinois’ biggest offering, the backcourt of Paul, D.J. Richardson, and Tracy Abrams.

Who’s Getting Upset? Villanova against Delaware

Delaware has had one of the toughest schedules in the country for a mid-major so far this year, having lost to Kansas State, Pittsburgh, Temple, and Duke. Against young Ryan Arcidiacono and Villanova, the scoring of Delaware guard Devon Saddler (20.7 points per game) and rebounding of forward Jamelle Hagins (12.5 rebounds per game) might be too much for the Wildcats. Look for the Blue Hens to give ‘Nova a game Sunday.

Mid-Major Matchup of the Day: Western Kentucky vs. Murray State (3:00 p.m. ET)

With Isaiah Canaan in the national spotlight, the Racers (7-1) welcome Western Kentucky (8-2). WKU might be overmatched against Canaan (21.7 points per game) and Ed Daniel (17.1 points, 12.4 rebounds per game), but it should be a quality mid-major match-up.

The Hilltoppers are a Top 30 team in the country on the backboards, helping to make up for their deficiencies from the floor (43.7 percent). T.J. Price and Jamal Cook will be the focal points Sunday, together averaging over 32 points per game.

Five Things to Watch

1. Marcus Smart is coming off a slow 2-of-8 game against Missouri State, including 0-of-4 from three-point range last week. With time off for finals to regroup, we’ll see if the impact freshman can bounce back vs. Central Arkansas.

2. Drexel has been one of the mid-major underachievers so far this season, but a match-up with Fairfield could help get them back on track.

3. Illinois State’s high-powered offense meets Morgan State Sunday. Jackie Carmichael has momentum after a 24-point, 6-block performance against Western Michigan least week.

4. Villanova got a key confidence-boosting win over St. Joe’s this week, but runs into a battle-hardened Delaware team. Maurice Sutton had nine rebounds against the Hawks and he will have his hands full with Jamelle Hagins down low.

5. Quinnipiac ran Connecticut to the wire earlier in the season and takes on Boston University today in Massachusetts. They scored just 46 points in a loss to Vermont in their last time out and hope to reach closer to their average of 67 points per game.

Rest of the Top 25

No. 10 Illinois vs. Eastern Kentucky

No. 24 Oklahoma State vs. Central Arkansas

Other Notable Games

UAB vs. Rutgers

Delaware vs. Villanova

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

PHOTOS: Miami, Syracuse wear shirts honoring Florida shooting victims

Photo via Mike Waters, Syracuse.com
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Syracuse is playing in Miami on Saturday, the first game that the Hurricanes have played at home since the shooting at Parkland, Florida’s, Stoneman Douglas High School.

Both teams wore warmup shirts honoring the victims of the shooting prior to the game:

Parkland and Coral Gables are about 50 miles apart, but both towns are suburbs with the same Miami-Fort Lauderdale metro area.

St. John’s guard Lovett to leave school, turn pro

Mike Stobe/Getty Images
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Marcus Lovett announced on Saturday morning that he will be leaving St. John’s to pursue a professional career.

This decision doesn’t come as much of a surprise. Lovett, who averaged 14.9 points through the first seven games of the season, was ruled out for the rest of the season with a knee injury despite reports that he was healthy enough to play.

According to the New York Post, Lovett was not even enrolled in school for the spring semester.

Lovett spent three seasons in New York with the Johnnies and played less than a year and a half.

Yale’s Makai Mason expected to play vs. Harvard

AP Photo/Charles Krupa
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For the first time since the 2016 NCAA tournament, Yale basketball fans are going to have a chance to see Makai Mason play for the Bulldogs.

A star point guard that is already committed to play for Baylor as a grad transfer in 2018-19, Mason missed all of the 2016-17 season and the 2017-18 season to date with a series of foot injuries.

As a sophomore, Mason averaged 16.0 points and 3.8 assists for the Bulldogs as they won the Ivy League and knocked off Baylor in the first round of the NCAA tournament as a No. 12 seed. He had 31 points in that win.

The Elis are currently 5-4 in the Ivy League after beating Dartmouth on Friday night. With Mason back in the fold, they seem like a safe bet to get to the Ivy League tournament and a contender to win it all.

The way that Ivy League rules are written, players are not allowed to redshirt, even if they are injured for the season. Since Mason was in classes as a junior, during the season that he missed, this year is the last year that he would be allowed to play for an Ivy League program.

Bubble Banter: Texas, Syracuse land massive wins

AP Photo/Eric Gay
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As we will do every day throughout the rest of the season, here is a look at how college basketball’s bubble teams fared on Saturday.

It’s worth reminding you here that the way winning are labeled have changed this season. Instead of looking at all top 50 wins equally, the selection committee will be using criteria that breaks wins down into four quadrants, using the RPI:

  • Quadrant 1: Home vs. 1-30, Neutral vs. 1-50, Road vs. 1-75
  • Quadrant 2: Home vs. 31-75, Neutral vs. 51-100, Road vs. 76-135
  • Quadrant 3: Home vs. 76-160, Neutral vs. 101-200, Road vs. 136-240
  • Quadrant 4: Home vs. 161 plus, Neutral vs. 201 plus, Road vs. 240 plus

The latest NBC Sports Bracketology can be found here.

WINNERS

TEXAS (RPI: 49, KenPom: 44, NBC seed: Play-in game): The Longhorns landed a massive, massive win for their NCAA tournament chances on Saturday afternoon when they went into Norman and picked off Oklahoma. The win snapped a three-game losing streak and put them into a position where a 2-2 finish to Big 12 play keeps them at 8-10 in the league. That’s relevant because no team more than two games below .500 in league play has reached the NCAA tournament since the early 90s. The Longhorns are now 6-7 against Quadrant 1 opponents with some elite wins in that mix — Texas Tech, at Alabama, a sweep of Oklahoma Butler on a neutral — and no losses worse than Quadrant 2. Texas is going to have a very real chance to be an NCAA tournament team with 14 losses this season.

SYRACUSE (RPI: 41, KenPom: 48, NBC seed: First four out): The Orange hold their bubble future in their own hands, and they got started in the right direction on Saturday by going into Coral Gables and picking off Miami. That’s their third Quadrant 1 win — assuming that Buffalo, who is currently 30th in the RPI, remains top 30 — but a Quadrant 3 loss and the lack of a truly marquee victory is a glaring hole in their résumé. The good news? This is the remaining schedule for the Orange: UNC, at Duke, at Boston College, Clemson. Go 2-2 in that stretch and they will enter the ACC tournament in pretty good shape.

VIRGINIA TECH (RPI: 59, KenPom: 42, NBC seed: 9): The Hokies beat the breaks off of Georgia Tech in Atlanta on Saturday, meaning they finished their three game road trip at 2-1 with a win at Virginia. Not bad. The rest of VT’s schedule looks like this: Clemson, Louisville, Duke, at Miami. With a Quadrant 3 loss and a non-conference SOS of 325, I still think the Hokies need to win two of these games.

BUTLER (RPI: 40, KenPom: 26, NBC seed: 10): The Bulldogs added another Quadrant 2 win to their profile on Saturday with an impressive win over Providence at home. Butler is 3-9 against Quadrant 1 opponents with three Quadrant 1 games left on their schedule: Creighton, at St. John’s, at Seton Hall. I think they’ll probably be in if they win one of those three games, but I would recommend winning two.

LOSERS

PROVIDENCE (RPI: 34, KenPom: 67, NBC seed: 8): Losing at Butler doesn’t exactly hurt Providence’s profile. Quadrant 1 road losses are what they are. The Friars are interesting because they have five Quadrant 1 wins but two Quadrant 3 losses and a hideous, Quadrant 4 loss to DePaul at home. I think they need two more wins (Seton Hall, at Xavier, at Georgetown, St. John’s) to lock up their at-large bid.

YET TO PLAY

KANSAS STATE
LSU
BOISE STATE
ARKANSAS
N.C. STATE
MIDDLE TENNESSEE STATE
BAYLOR
WASHINGTON
TCU
LOUISVILLE
MARQUETTE
UCLA
USC

VIDEO: St. Bonaventure’s LaDarien Griffin blocks shot, saves ball missing a shoe

Screengrab via News 4 Buffalo
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One of my favorite plays of the season to date.

With St. Bonaventure down 72-69 with just over three minutes left of their win over No. 16 Rhode Island, LaDarien Griffin lost a shoe and was forced to play a defensive possession in just a sock.

What did he do?

Well, he blocked a shot, corralled the loose ball and threw the ball off of a URI player who was standing out of bounds to stop play. Check this out:

That wasn’t the only big play that he made.

He also blocked a shot with 4.2 seconds left that helped preserve the win for the Bonnies.