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Pregame Shootaround 12.29.12: Intrastate rivalry in Bluegrass State highlights Saturday’s action

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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. 4 Louisville vs. Kentucky

The biggest boost for Louisville Saturday is the news that center Gorgui Dieng will play against Kentucky. He won’t necessarily be 100 percent and back to his full playing capacity, but he’ll be an important frontcourt presence against the athletic Wildcats.

The other major matchup to watch is in the backcourt. Ryan Harrow had his best game of the season in his last game against Marshall, going for 23 points on 10-of-17 shooting. Can he replicate that against Louisville, or will the scoring duties fall back on the shoulders of freshman Archie Goodwin? Goodwin shot poorly from the field against Marshall (4-of-17) but was able to get to the line to boost his output (10-of-11 from the free throw line).

Russ Smith has shown a good deal of growth and maturation this season, leading to his 19.7 points per game, but Peyton Siva and his 6.3 assists per game are the engines for the Cardinals. Siva can’t have another six-turnover game like he did in a loss to Duke because turnovers will spur Kentucky’s transition game, where it is most dangerous.

Who’s Getting Upset?: Central Florida against Belmont

It might not be a massive upset, but this future Big East team is matching up Saturday with perhaps the toughest mid-major backcourt combo in the country. Ian Clark and Kerron Johnson together average over 30 points per game and will put stress on the Knights’ backcourt to give an answer.

Expect Belmont to shoot well from the field as they typically do, which should help to minimize the impact of a possible rebounding deficit.

Mid-Major Matchup of the Day: Valparaiso vs. Murray State

Valpo-MSU is a matchup between two mid-major stars: Isaiah Canaan and Ryan Broekhoff. Canaan is having the All-American season that was expected of him, averaging 20.9 points and 3.9 assists per game, while Broekhoff is one of the more unheralded impact forwards in the country with his 16.6 points and 7.8 rebounds per game.

Murray State will be pushing the tempo, but both teams shoot well from the floor. Keep an eye on who contains Ed Daniel in the paint for Valpo. If no one does, rebounding could be the deciding factor Saturday.

Five Things to Watch 

1. Having center Gorgui Dieng back from injury will help Louisville to contain the young and athletic Kentucky frontcourt combo of Nerlens Noel and Willie Cauley-Stein. Dieng has been out since he fractured his wrist against Missouri during the Battle 4 Atlantis, and now returns just in time to combat the 18+ points and 14+ rebounds per game of the Noel/Cauley-Stein duo.

2. North Carolina was dismantled by a Myck Kabongo-less Texas team on Dec. 19 and now they face an 11-1 UNLV team that has won nine in a row. The Rebels will once again be without forward Mike Moser, but Pitt transfer Khem Birch has proven to be a capable fill-in since becoming eligible.

3. Florida lost its footing at home against then-unranked Kansas State last Saturday, but now has a chance to redeem itself against Air Force. The Gators are heavily favored, but they’ll need to keep an eye on Air Force guard Michael Lyons, who is averaging 20.5 points per game.

4. C.J. Leslie had a career-high 33 points in his last time out against St. Bonaventure. Saturday against Western Michigan, he’ll run into some solid size in 6-10 center Shayne Whittington and 6-8 forward Darius Paul, the team’s top two leading rebounders.

5. Tennessee has been prone to abysmal offensive outputs this season (37 points in loss to Georgetown, 38 in loss to Virginia). If they have that kind of output against Xavier on Saturday, freshman guard Semaj Christon had the ability to carry the Musketeers to a win.

Top  25 Games

No. 1 Duke vs. Santa Clara (12:00 p.m. ET, ESPN2)

No. 2 Michigan vs. Central Michigan (7 p.m., Big Ten Network)

No. 4 Louisville vs. Kentucky (4 p.m. ET, CBS)

No. 6 Kansas vs. American (8 p.m. ET, ESPN3)

No. 9 Syracuse vs. Alcorn State (7 p.m. ET, ESPN3)

No. 10 Ohio State vs. Chicago State (4:30 p.m. ET, Big Ten Network)

No. 12 Illinois vs. Auburn (2:15 p.m. ET, Big Ten Network)

No. 14 Florida vs. Air Force (4:30 p.m. ET, Fox Sports Net National)

No. 16 Creighton vs. Evansville (8:05 p.m. ET, ESPN3)

No. 18 Butler vs. Vanderbilt (8 p.m. ET, ESPNU)

No. 20 UNLV vs. North Carolina (2 p.m. ET, ESPN2)

No. 23 North Carolina State vs. Western Michigan (12 p.m. ET, ESPNU)

No. 25 Kansas State vs. UMKC (7 p.m. ET)

Other Notable Games 

Delaware State vs. Maryland (12:30 p.m. ET, ESPN3)

Virginia Tech vs. BYU (2:00 p.m. ET, ESPNU)

Xavier vs. Tennessee (6:00 p.m. ET, ESPN3)

Washington vs. Connecticut (7:30 p.m. ET, ESPN2)

Harvard vs. California (8:00 p.m. ET, Pac-12 Networks)

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

No. 22 Xavier’s slide continues with loss to short-handed No. 7 Creighton

CINCINNATI, OH - JANUARY 16:  Chris Mack the head coach of the Xavier Musketeers  gives instructions to his team against the Creighton Blue Jays during the game at Cintas Center on January 16, 2017 in Cincinnati, Ohio.  (Photo by Andy Lyons/Getty Images)
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It’s officially time to be concerned about No. 22 Xavier.

The Musketeers have now lost three straight games, all to the top three teams in the Big East, and currently sit at 13-5 on the year with just a single good win to their name: Clemson.

But prior to Monday’s loss to No. 7 Creighton, Xavier had lost all of their games on the road to teams that will either get a top five seed in the NCAA tournament (Villanova, Butler, Baylor) or play at altitude (Colorado). On Monday, the Musketeers not only lost 72-67 to Creighton, but they did so on a day where the Bluejays lost star point guard and all-american candidate Mo Watson to a knee injury midway through the first half and spent the majority of the game playing with star center Justin Patton saddled with fouls.

Should I mention that Creighton, who is third-nationally in three-point percentage, shot 5-for-19 from beyond the arc, or that their two best healthy guards – Marcus Foster and Khyri Thomas – shot a combined 10-for-31?

All of the stars were aligned. Coming how to an afternoon game against a top ten team on a holiday after losing back-to-back games on the road, and that top ten team lost their most important player early in the first half?

This should have been where Xavier landed that first elite win.

Instead, the Musketeers are left scratching their head again.

And it begs the question: If not now, when?

The Musketeers still play Villanova and Butler at home, visit Creighton and have the Crossroads Classic at Cincinnati. There are opportunities for them to get wins that they need.

But if they cannot get a win over a short-handed Creighton team at home, who are they actually going to be?

VIDEO: No. 7 Creighton beats No. 22 Xavier, loses all-american Mo Watson to a knee injury

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Creighton point guard Mo Watson was carried off of the Cintas Center floor on Monday afternoon after an ugly-looking injury in the first half.

Watson drove the lane and landed on his left leg. He immediately grabbed the knee in clear distress:

The Bluejays would hold on to win a thrilling, hard-fought game, 72-67, without Watson. That’s impressive, and it means that they move into a tie for first place in the Big East with Villanova, but the story of this game was Watson.

According to a reporter at the game, Watson told head coach Gregg McDermott that he “heard it pop“. Losing Watson to any significant injury would be catastrophic for the No. 8 Bluejays. Watson entered Monday averaging 13.4 points and a nation’s-best 8.8 assists. He’s been in the top ten of our Player of the Year Power Rankings all season long, is a clear-cut candidate for an all-american team and is the engine for the high-powered offense that has made Creighton a Final Four contender.

The injury may be somewhat controversial as well. Two minutes before the video clip above, Watson banged knees with a Xavier defender and had to be helped off of the floor. He was tested on the sideline and allowed to return to the game, albeit with a noticeable limp.

UPDATE: Gregg McDermott told FS1 after the game that Watson’s ligaments are intact, but that they are concerned about the meniscus.

College Basketball Coaches Poll: Kansas vaults to No. 1

LAWRENCE, KS - DECEMBER 03:  Devonte' Graham #4 of the Kansas Jayhawks celebrates with Frank Mason III #0 after making a three-pointer during the game against the Stanford Cardinal at Allen Fieldhouse on December 3, 2016 in Lawrence, Kansas.  (Photo by Jamie Squire/Getty Images)
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Kansas vaulted up to the No. 1 spot in the Coaches Poll for the first time this season, receiving 23 of the 32 first place votes.

Villanova comes in at No. 2 while UCLA, Gonzaga and Kentucky finish up the top five. Bay.or, who was No. 1 in the country last week, is No. 6 while Duke fell all the way to No. 18 with a pair of losses last week.

RANKINGS: AP Poll | Coaches Poll | NBC Sports Top 25

1. Kansas (23 first-place votes)
2. Villanova (4)
3. UCLA (2)
4. Gonzaga (3)
5. Kentucky
6. Baylor
7. Creighton
8. West Virginia
9. North Carolina
10. Oregon
11. Louisville
12. Florida State
13. Arizona
14. Butler
15. Notre Dame
16. Virginia
17. Wisconsin
18. Duke
19. Xavier
20. Cincinnati
21. Florida
22. Purdue
23. Saint Mary’s
24. South Carolina
25. Maryland

College Basketball AP Top 25: Villanova is back to the top spot

VILLANOVA, PA - DECEMBER 13: Kris Jenkins #2 of the Villanova Wildcats reacts in the second half against the Temple Owls at The Pavilion on December 13, 2016 in Villanova, Pennsylvania. The Villanova Wildcats defeated the Temple Owls 78-57. (Photo by Mitchell Leff/Getty Images)
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Villanova vaulted back into the No. 1 spot in the AP Poll after falling out for a week when they lost at Creighton.

Kansas comes in at No. 2 while UCLA, Gonzaga and Kentucky finish up the top five. Bay.or, who was No. 1 in the country last week, is No. 6 while Duke fell all the way to No. 18 with a pair of losses last week.

RANKINGS: AP Poll | Coaches Poll | NBC Sports Top 25

1. Villanova (28 first-place votes)
2. Kansas (32)
3. UCLA (3)
4. Gonzaga (2)
5. Kentucky
6. Baylor
t-7. Creighton
t-7. West Virginia
9. North Carolina
10. Florida State
11. Oregon
12. Louisville
13. Butler
14. Arizona
15. Notre Dame
16. Virginia
17. Wisconsin
18. Duke
19. Florida
20. Cincinnati
21. Purdue
22. Xavier
23. Saint Mary’s
24. South Carolina
25. Maryland

Texas gets important commitment from 2017 point guard Matt Coleman

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Texas landed an important piece for its future on Monday as four-star Class of 2017 point guard Matt Coleman committed to the Longhorns during a televised announcement.

A priority recruit for head coach Shaka Smart, the 6-foot-2 Coleman is regarded as the No. 35 overall prospect in the country, according to Rivals. A lefty floor general who can attack the basket and set up others, Coleman played for Smart this summer as the two won a gold medal together with the USA Basketball U18 team during the 2016 FIBA Americas.

Coleman is going to have to improve his perimeter shooting for the next level — he only shot 18 percent from three-point range in Nike EYBL play — but he’s the type of setup guard who should help the talented Texas perimeter get ideal shots. It’ll be intriguing to see how Smart plans to play Coleman in what could be a crowded backcourt next season but Coleman should help bring stability to the team.

With Coleman in the mix, we’ll likely see Smart use a lot of lineups with two ball handlers as we saw with Isaiah Taylor and Javan Felix last season. That type of backcourt might suit Smart’s style of play a bit better than the current Texas roster this season.

Coleman is the fourth commitment for Texas in the Class of 2017. He joins three other four-star prospects in big man Jericho Sims, guard Jase Febres and forward Royce Hamm.