Pregame Shootaround 1.3.13: Pac-12 showdown highlights first Thursday of 2013

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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: Colorado at No. 3 Arizona (8 PM) 
The Buffaloes and Wildcats met three times last season, with Colorado’s win in the Pac-12 title game punching their ticket to the NCAA tournament and sending Arizona to the NIT. The Wildcats enter this meeting in far better condition across the board, as they have a point guard in Mark Lyons who they can rely on despite the occasional adventures with the basketball and three young big men who are a vast improvement over what the Wildcats had last year.

The key for Brandon Ashley, Grant Jerrett and Kaleb Tarczewski will be to match the energy level of Colorado’s Andre Roberson, who is the conference’s best rebounder and has posted six double-doubles this season. Spencer Dinwiddie is one of the conference’s best perimeter defenders, but it remains to be seen if he draws the assignment of Lyons or Nick Johnson, and Askia Booker can put up points in a hurry if allowed to go off. Arizona’s Solomon Hill and Kevin Parrom will figure prominently in Sean Miller’s game plan, and Colorado will need solid performances from both Xavier Johnson and Josh Scott if they’re to leave Tucson with a victory.

Who’s Getting Upset?: No. 2 Michigan (at Northwestern; 7 PM) 
John Shurna’s graduated and Drew Crawford is done for the season, but in recent years Bill Carmody’s program has been good for at least one home victory that few expect them to get. This could be that game, because for as well as the Wolverines have played this season this is only their second road game of the season (Bradley being the first). After scoring nine points in the season opener Northwestern’s Reggie Hearn has reached double figures in 11 straight games, scoring 18 and grabbing seven rebounds in a 70-68 loss to Stanford (Hearn didn’t play against Brown).

He, David Sobolewski and Tre Demps (12.0 ppg, 9-of-12 3PT over his last four games) need to be at their best in order to combat what Michigan’s Trey Burke, Tim Hardaway Jr. and Nik Stauskas bring to the table if the Wildcats are to win. Another key for Northwestern: keeping Michigan off the offensive boards. The Wolverines are grabbing nearly 36% of their misses, and if Northwestern can limit that they can win.

Mid-Major Matchup of the Day: Belmont at Jacksonville State (8 PM) 
The Bruins make their OVC debut and it won’t be easy either, as the Gamecocks enter with a 2-0 conference record  and have won seven of their last eight games. But there is the strength of schedule factor to address, as Rick Byrd’s team has been tested by teams such as Stanford, Middle Tennessee (Belmont won those), VCU and Kansas. Jacksonville State’s toughest opponent was Oregon, and overall their strength of schedule ranking is down in the 300’s. Ian Clark and Kerron Johnson are one of the better backcourts in college basketball much less the OVC, and if Jacksonville State can’t slow those two down it’s going to be a long night for the home team.

Five Things

1) On Friday it was UCLA that needed a solid victory and the Bruins came through, beating Missouri 97-94 in overtime. Ben Howland’s team opens conference play against a California team that lost to Harvard last week, and with a DirecTV Classic title that doesn’t look all that impressive at this point (they beat Georgia Tech in the semis, but Saint Mary’s losing to Pacific robbed Cal of a marquee matchup in the title game) Mike Montgomery’s team could use a good resume-builder. Allen Crabbe and Justin Cobbs are averaging 37.3 points per game, but given how much attention they’ll draw Richard Solomon needs to step up.

2) Wisconsin looks to win its Big Ten opener for the 10th consecutive season tonight as they host Penn State. Patrick Chambers’ team has won four straight since being blown out by La Salle, but having to navigate conference play without their best player (Tim Frazier) will prove difficult for Penn State.

3) Canisius puts its 2-0 MAAC record on the line as they host Fairfield, who has won five straight (including a win at Saint Joseph’s). The individual matchup between the Golden Griffins’ Billy Baron and Fairfield’s Derek Needham will be worth the cost of admission.

4) Arkansas State looks to separate itself in the West Division of the Sun Belt tonight, but to do so they’ll have to beat a Middle Tennessee squad that’s one of two undefeated teams in the East. Both teams are good when it comes to offensive rebounding but the Blue Raiders are one of the nation’s best when it comes to defending the three. Opponents are shooting just 27.5% from beyond the arc, and Middle Tennessee’s perimeter defenders will be paying close attention to Edward Townsel (16.2 ppg, 40% 3PT).

5) How good is 8-5 Pepperdine? We’ll find out tonight as they host No. 10 Gonzaga in the WCC opener for both. Marty Wilson’s Waves have been a pleasant surprise to this point in the season with senior guard Lorne Jackson and freshman forward Stacy Davis leading the way, but the Bulldogs are an entirely different animal when compared to the teams Pepperdine has played to this point.

The Top 25 

No. 2 Michigan at Northwestern (7 PM)

Colorado at No. 3 Arizona (8 PM)

No. 10 Gonzaga at Pepperdine (9 PM)

Other Notable Games

Northeastern at George Mason (7 PM; NBC Sports Network)

Fairfield at Canisius (7 PM)

Middle Tennessee at Arkansas State (8:05 PM)

Penn State at Wisconsin (8:30 PM)

Loyola Marymount at BYU (9 PM)

California at UCLA (11 PM)

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

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?