Ohio State Buckeyes' Craft picks up a charge on Kansas Jayhawks' Johnson during the first half of their men's NCAA Final Four semi-final college basketball game in New Orleans

Weekend Preview: Kansas-Ohio State, Bragging Rights on Saturday

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Game of the Weekend: Sat. 4:00 p.m.: No. 9 Kansas at No. 7 Ohio State (CBS)

It’s not Thomas Robinson vs. Jared Sullinger this year, but that doesn’t mean that a matchup between the Jayhawks and the Buckeyes is any less intriguing this season. Kansas looks like they are starting to hit their stride, as their defense is as rock solid as always while Ben McLemore is looking like he’s closer to being a superstar than many of us originally thought. Ohio State, on the other hand, has a scoring machine in Deshaun Thomas, but is still trying to figure out who slides into the role of the second and third scoring option.

There are going to be two key matchups to watch in this game. The first involves Thomas, a 6-foot-7 lefty that can score from anywhere on the court. The question that Kansas needs to answer is who will guard him. Do you put a freshman on him? Can Perry Ellis or Jamari Traylor be successful against a guy that can hit threes coming off of screens and score in the post? Do they use Travis Releford, their best defender who does stand 6-foot-6, on him?

The other matchup will be Elijah Johnson and Aaron Craft. Johnson has been solid handling the point guard duties for the Jayhawks, but it’s fairly obvious that he’s not a “natural point guard”. Craft is the kind of on-ball defender that can make life hell for opposing point guards. Can Johnson get the Jayhawks into their sets effectively and without turning the ball over?

The Other Game of the Weekend: Sat. 6:00 p.m.: No. 12 Missouri at No. 10 Illinois (ESPN2)

The Braggin’ Rights game, one of the few big time rivalries that hasn’t been destroyed by conference realignment. There may be more intrigue in this matchup than with Kansas-Ohio State simply because both the Tigers and the Illini have a lot to prove. Missouri lost starting two-guard Michael Dixon this season and only recently got Jabari Brown eligible. Having a player at the two-guard spot that is a lights-out three-point shooter is a key for the system that Frank Haith runs, and Missouri has yet to have that this year.

What they do have, however, is a pair of big men in Alex Oriakhi and Laurence Bowers, who may be the nation’s most-improved player, that are big and physical and like to muck things up in the paint. Illinois doesn’t quite have that. They are actually quite similar to what Missouri was last season: a team loaded with perimeter talent and three-point shooters that can be scary-good when they get hot. Missouri will have their work cut out for them trying to slow down Brandon Paul, but it won’t matter how much he scores if the Illini get manhandled in the lane.

Three more games that you have to watch:

  • Sat. 12:00 p.m.: No. 3 Syracuse at Temple (ESPN2): Syracuse has so much length and athleticism this season it’s terrifying. They have the second-coming of Jason Kidd at the point guard spot in Michael Carter-Williams. James Southerland is the nation’s best sixth-man. But the Orange struggled at home against a scrappy Canisius team and nearly blew a huge lead against Detroit. Temple has a couple of good scoring guards, led by Khalif Wyatt, and is a veteran group that could give the Orange some trouble.
  • Sat. 2:30 p.m.: South Dakota State at No. 16 New Mexico: South Dakota State has struggled this year as Nate Wolters is no longer a national secret. New Mexico has not lost yet this season, and for good reason: the Lobos look like they’ll be right there with UNLV and San Diego State at the top of the MWC this year.
  • Sat. 3:00 p.m.: St. Mary’s at Northern Iowa: The Gaels have been a bit beat up this season and haven’t exactly showcased the kind of balanced scoring that will take the pressure off of Matthew Dellavedova, who may be the most entertaining point guard in the country. But UNI has been a bit of a disappointment this season, especially defensively. Both teams really need this win.

And one tournament: The Diamond Head Classic out in Hawaii happens this weekend, and the field is actually fairly loaded. No. 4 Arizona, No. 18 San Diego State, Miami and Ole Miss headline the event, and while we may not get the excitement that we’ve seen out on the islands in years past, there is still the potential here for a couple of great matchups. Arizona and Miami could square off in a semifinal, while seeing the Aztecs go up against the Wildcats in the final should be the goal of everyone involved.

What about the mid-majors?:

  • Sat. 12:00 p.m.: Murray State at Dayton (CBS College Sports)
  • Sat. 2:00 p.m.: Evansville at No. 19 Butler
  • Sat. 8:00 p.m.: Southern Miss at Wichita State
  • Sat. 8:00 p.m.: Davidson at Drexel

POSTERIZED: Wyoming’s Josh Adams takes flight

Josh Adams
Associated Press
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Not only is Wyoming senior guard Josh Adams the lone returning starter from a team that won the Mountain West tournament last season, but he’s also one of college basketball’s best dunkers. And if anyone may have forgotten about his jumping ability, Adams put it on display Saturday during the Cowboys’ win over Montana State.

After splitting two Montana State players at the top of the key Adams attacked the basket, dunking with two hands over a late-arriving help-side defender. If you’re going to rotate over, have to do it quicker than that.

Video credit: Wyoming Athletics

Defensive progress will determine No. 4 Iowa State’s ceiling

Monte Morris
Associated Press
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Even with the coaching change from Fred Hoiberg to Steve Prohm, No. 4 Iowa State remains one of the nation’s best offensive teams. Given their skills on that end of the floor many teams find it tough to go score for score with the Cyclones, and that’s what happened to Illinois in Iowa State’s 84-73 win in the Emerald Coast Classic title game.

Georges Niang scored 23 points and grabbed eight rebounds, with Monté Morris adding 20, nine rebounds and six assists and Abdel Nader 18 points as the Cyclones moved to 5-0 on the season. The three-pointers weren’t falling in the second half, as Iowa State shot 0-f0r-12, but they shot 19-for-24 inside of the arc to pull away from a team that lost big man Mike Thorne Jr. late in the first half to a left knee injury.

Illinois’ loss of size in the paint opened things up offensively for Iowa State, and the Cyclones took advantage. But where this group grabbed control of the game was on the defensive end of the floor, and that will be the key for a team with Big 12 and national title aspirations.

Nader took on the responsibility of defending Illinois’ Malcolm Hill (20 points) in the second half and did a solid job of keeping the junior wing in check, with that serving as the spark to a 12-2 run that put the game away. There’s no denying that the Cyclones can put points on the board; most of the talent from last season is back and the productivity on that end of the floor hasn’t changed as a result. Niang’s one of the nation’s best forwards, and both Morris (who now ranks among the country’s best point guards) and Nader have taken significant strides in their respective games.

Iowa State will add Deonte Burton in December, giving them another option to call upon. Front court depth is a bit of a concern, as Iowa State can ill afford to lose a Niang or Jameel McKay, but there’s enough on the roster to compensate for that and force mismatches in other areas.

But the biggest question for this group is how effective they can become at stringing together stops. Illinois certainly had its moments in both halves Saturday night, but Iowa State also showed during the game’s decisive stretch that they can step up defensively. The key now is to do so consistently, and if that occurs the Cyclones can be a threat both within the Big 12 and nationally.