Pregame Shootaround 1.5.13: Ohio State-Illinois matchup in Big Ten 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. 8 Ohio State vs. No. 11 Illinois

The Big Ten is arguably the nation’s toughest conference and Saturday’s Ohio State-Illinois matchup is proof. Deshaun Thomas has been one of the nation’s best forwards (19.9 points per game) and will face off against another elite scorer in the conference, Brandon Paul (18.8 points per game).

Paul, along with D.J. Richardson and Tracy Abrams, comprise a trio that will provide much of the scoring for the Illini. Look for Aaron Craft’s defensive intensity to be key in limiting the impact of these three.

Ohio State will need to be cognizant of what Ohio State can do on the backboards and limit the impact of the Buckeyes’ platoon of rebounders. If the discrepancy on the boards is big, Ohio State will have the advantage.

Who’s Getting Upset?: Marquette against Georgetown

Believe it or not, Marquette is favored by three points against No. 15 Georgetown. That is likely because the Hoyas have to travel to Milwaukee Saturday, but they should have the advantage. Otto Porter does so many different things and Marquette will have to find an answer for him, along with guard Markel Starks and forward Greg Whittington. The Hoyas have been inconsistent offensively this season, and against a tougher Marquette defense, are hoping to have the type of scoring output that we saw when the Hoyas visited Brooklyn in November.

Mid-Major Matchup of the Day: Lehigh vs. Virginia Commonwealth (5:00 p.m. ET, NBC Sports Network)

C.J. McCollum turned down a chance to enter the NBA draft and returned to Lehigh. He made the right choice. His 25.7 points per game rank him among the nation’s best and he has the Mountain Hawks off to a 9-3 start. Saturday, though, McCollum and Lehigh face one of their toughest challenges of the season against coach Shaka Smart and his patented “Havoc” defense.

“Havoc” seeks to speed the opponent up, force turnovers, and get VCU out in transition. Lehigh will have to limit its turnovers if it wants to keep this one close, though they are accustomed to playing at a quicker pace. Both teams average close to or more than 80 points per game, so expect a lot of points on Saturday.

Lehigh will need to keep tabs on VCU guard Troy Daniels, who is averaging 25 points per game in his last three contests, which includes 27-of-49 shooting from three-point range over that stretch.

Five Things to Watch

1) No. 1 Duke survived a first half push from Santa Clara at home last Saturday to remain undefeated. They now welcome Wake Forest to Cameron Indoor to open ACC play. Seth Curry was key vs. Santa Clara, but struggled in his last time out on Jan. 2 vs. Davidson. He’ll be looking to bounce back.

2) Speaking of Santa Clara, Kevin Foster and the Broncos face No. 10 Gonzaga at home. The Broncos put together a very good first half against Duke on the road at Cameron Indoor before the New Year, but weren’t able to close it out. Can they change their fortunes Saturday?

3) Freshman Marcus Smart has been filling up stat sheets for No. 22 Oklahoma State this season and been one of the most effective all-around point guards in the country. The backcourt matchup between him and Wildcats’ PG Angel Rodriguez will be one to keep an eye on as Big 12 play opens.

4) No. 14 Cincinnati rebounded from its first loss of the season with a win over Pittsburgh to open Big East play. They welcome St. John’s on Saturday, a young team with an elite scorer in D’Angelo Harrison. The Bearcats have a chance to own the backboards, which could be the biggest key to victory.

5) Indiana State opened some eyes with a solid run at the Diamond Head Classic in Hawaii over the Christmas holiday, but they face their toughest Missouri Valley opponent on Saturday, Creighton. Doug McDermott & Co. look to improve to 3-0 in the conference and 14-1 overall.

Top 25 Games

No. 1 Duke vs. Wake Forest (12:00 p.m. ET, ESPNU)

No. 3 Arizona vs. Utah (5:00 p.m. ET, Pac-12 Networks)

No. 8 Ohio State vs. No. 11 Illinois (2:15 ET, Big Ten Network)

No. 10 Gonzaga vs. Santa Clara (8:00 p.m. ET, ROOT Sports)

No. 12 Missouri vs. Bucknell (4:00 p.m. ET, ESPN3)

No. 14 Cincinnati vs. St. John’s (4:00 p.m. ET, ESPNU)

No. 15 Georgetown vs. Marquette (2:00 p.m. ET, ESPN3)

No. 16 Creighton vs. Indiana State (3:05 p.m. ET, ESPN3)

No. 17 Butler vs. New Orleans (2:00 p.m. ET)

No. 18 Michigan State vs. Purdue (12:00 p.m. ET, Big Ten Network)

No. 21 Notre Dame vs. Seton Hall (12:00 p.m. ET, ESPN3)

No. 22 Oklahoma State vs. No. 25 Kansas State (1:30 p.m. ET, ESPN3)

No. 23 NC State vs. Boston College (4:00 p.m. ET, ESPN2)

No. 24 Pittsburgh vs. Rutgers (11:00 a.m. ET, ESPN2)

Other Notable Games 

Virginia Tech vs. Maryland (12:00 p.m. ET, ESPN3)

Texas vs. Baylor (2:00 p.m. ET, ESPNU)

Miami vs. Georgia Tech (2:30 p.m. ET, ESPN3)

Stanford vs. UCLA (3:00 p.m. ET, Pac-12 Networks)

Florida State vs. Clemson (4:00 p.m. ET, ESPN3)

Washington vs. Washington State (9:30 p.m. ET, ESPNU)

Cal vs. USC (11:00 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_

N.C. State adds grad transfer Sam Hunt

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N.C. State added its fourth transfer this offseason. Like ex-Baylor guard Al Freeman, the latest one is eligible to play next season.

Sam Hunt, a double-digit scorer the past two seasons at North Carolina A&T, officially enrolled at North Carolina State on Monday morning.

“Sam is a great young man and will bring much needed depth to our backcourt,” N.C. State head coach Kevin Keatts said in a statement. “I want guys who are excited about being a part of our program and Sam really wants to be here.

“Sam is a combo guard that can space the floor with his ability to shoot the basketball. He is a good fit for the system and will bring a wealth of experience to our roster.”

Hunt, the 6-foot-2 guard, averaged 12.7 points per game last season, a dip from the 15.4 points per game he posted for the Aggies as a redshirt sophomore.

Hunt joins a roster that lost its three leading scorers from a season ago, one that ended 15-17 (4-14 ACC). Dennis Smith Jr. is a member of the Dallas Mavericks. Maverick Rowan also pursued a professional career and Terry Henderson was denied an additional year from the NCAA.

The Wolf Pack bring back forwards Abdul-Malik Abu and Omer Yurtseven as well as Torin Dorn.

Keatts, who took over the program after leading UNC Wilmington to back-to-back NCAA Tournaments, has already built for the future. UNC Wilmington transfer C.J. Bryce, 17.4 points, 5.4 rebounds and 3.0 assists per game for the Seahawks, has followed him to Raleigh. Utah transfer Devon Daniels committed to the Wolf Pack the same day as Bryce. Both will have to sit out next season due to NCAA transfer rules. Bryce will have two years of eligibility while Daniels will have three.

LaVar Ball stars in an uncomfortably entertaining segment on WWE’s Raw

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LaVar Ball’s statements and antics over this past year always seemed better suited a professional wrestling ring.

It was only natural that the patriarch of the Ball family — and the head of the Big Baller Brand — made an appearance on WWE’s Monday Night Raw at the Staples Center for an awkwardly entertaining segment with WWE Intercontinental Champion The Miz.

With sons, Lonzo — in his first appearance in the Staples Center as a member of the Los Angeles Lakers — and LaMelo looking on, LaVar was the center of attention. When The Miz mentioned something about a partnership between the two, the scripted interview went south. It resulted in LaVar saying nonsensical things like, “There’s only two dudes better than me, and I’m both of ’em!” before later taking off his shirt. When Dean Ambrose, a WWE superstar feuding with The Miz came out on to the ramp, LaVar didn’t quite grasp the concept that that was his cue to stop talking.

This segment was somehow entertaining and cringeworthy at the same time.

Now that Lonzo is beginning his NBA career, maybe it’s time LaVar try something different. A manager in the WWE may just be his true calling. He’s certainly had plenty of practice.

Maryland lands commitment from five-star 2018 forward

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Maryland added to its 2018 recruiting class with its second commit, the newest addition being a five-star in-state product.

Jalen Smith, a 6-foot-9 forward from Baltimore powerhouse Mount St. Joseph, committed to the Terrapins, making the announcement on Twitter.

“I believe that I can academically and athletically achieve my goals at home through my commitment to the University of Maryland … Go Terps,” he tweeted as part of a long passage.

Smith is listed as the No. 13 overall recruit in the Class of 2013 by Rivals. He joins four-star swingman Aaron Wiggins in Mark Turgeon’s current recruiting class.

Playing for Team Takeover on the Nike EYBL circuit, Smith is averaging 10.9 points, 5.6 rebounds, and 1.0 blocks per game.

Recent grad’s joyride reportedly did $100,000 of damages to Mizzou Arena

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A recent graduate and temporary employee of the University of Missouri took an early morning joy ride that reportedly could rack up around $100,000 to Mizzou Arena.

According to Dave Mater of the St. Louis Post-Dispatch, Nathaniel J. Contant, 23, who graduated from the school in December 2016, drove his Volkswagen Passat through a gate and eventually on to the floor of the 15,000-seat on-campus arena.

At 7:15 a.m. Sunday, MU police were dispatched to Mizzou Arena for a report of property damage. Officers determined that around 4 a.m., the suspect drove his vehicle through a closed gate on the south side of the arena. He ran through a garage door and drove into a dock area where he damaged several golf carts that were stored in the area. He also drove his car onto the basketball court. The man couldn’t leave through the area he used to enter the building, so he drove through the arena’s press gate.

Contant, unsurprisingly, is no longer an employee of the university. He’s being charged with second-degree burglary and first-degree property damage, both of which are felonies. He was released on a $4,500 bond.

The motive for this early-morning joyride remains unclear.

Despite the hype surrounding the upcoming Mizzou season — one that includes the debut of new head coach Cuonzo Martin and the projected No. 1 overall pick in the 2018 NBA Draft Michael Porter, Jr. — Twitter users couldn’t help but poke fun at the dismal recent history the Tigers have had.

(h/t Kansas City Star)

Vance Jackson transfers to New Mexico

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With more than a handful of departures this offseason, New Mexico is set to have a new-look roster for the 2017-18 season. On Monday, Paul Weir, now at the helm of the program, landed a player who should make an impact in the three remaining seasons of eligibility he has left.

Vance Jackson, who spent this past season at UConn, decided to make the move from Storrs to Albuquerque, picking the Lobos over Rutgers, San Diego State, TCU, and Washington.

The 6-foot-8 rising sophomore will have to sit out next year due to NCAA transfer rules before resuming his collegiate career in the fall of 2018.

“The coaches — they trust in me,” Jackson told Geoff Grammer of the Albuquerque Journal last month during his official campus visit. “We’re on the same page. They see a vision.”

Weir, who led New Mexico State this past season to a NCAA Tournament appearance in his one and only season as head coach, succeeded Craig Neal in April.

This offseason has been headlined by transfers, though, those mostly were about players leaving the program. Jackson is the second transfer to land at UNM with Akron’s Antino Jackson electing to use his final season of eligibility with the Lobos. Antino Jackson is a graduate transfer, allowing him to play immediately next season.

Vance Jackson, who was rated as the No. 80 overall player in the Class of 2016 by Rivals, averaged 8.1 points, 3.8 rebounds, and 1.4 assists per game while shooting just under 40 percent from three for the Huskies as a freshman.