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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_

BUBBLE BANTER: All of tonight’s bubbly action in one place

Connecticut head coach Kevin Ollie calls to his team during an NCAA college basketball game against Central Florida, Sunday, Jan. 31, 2016 at the CFE Arena in Orlando, Fla. (Jacob Langston/Orlando Sentinel via AP)
(Jacob Langston/Orlando Sentinel via AP)
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Tonight’s schedule. This post will be updated as the games are completed.

UConn (KenPom: 19, RPI: 46) at Temple (KenPom: 95, RPI: 69), 7:00 p.m.
Florida State (KenPom: 37, RPI: 38) at Syracuse (KenPom: 39, RPI: 44), 7:00 p.m.
VCU (KenPom: 32, RPI: 40) at UMass, 7:00 p.m.
Arkansas-Little Rock (KenPom: 41, RPI: 63) at Louisiana Monroe, 8:00 p.m.
Northern Kentucky at Valparaiso (KenPom: 22, RPI: 48), 8:00 p.m.
No. 4 Iowa at Indiana (KenPom: 24, RPI: 51), 9:00 p.m.
No. 11 Oregon at Cal (KenPom: 44, RPI: 32), 9:00 p.m.
Washington State at Colorado (KenPom: 56, RPI: 29), 11:00 p.m.
Gonzaga (KenPom: 33, RPI: 66) at Portland, 11:00 p.m.
Pepperdine at Saint Mary’s (KenPom: 26, RPI: 52), 11:00 p.m.
Oregon State (KenPom: 81, RPI: 31) at Stanford (KenPom: 104, RPI: 71), 11:00 p.m.

PREGAME SHOOTAROUND: Big Ten showdown and key bubble battles

Iowa's Jarrod Uthoff (20), Christian Williams, center, and Adam Woodbury, second from left, and Michigan State's Deyonta Davis (23) and Eron Harris (14) reach for a rebound during the first half of an NCAA college basketball game, Thursday, Jan. 14, 2016, in East Lansing, Mich. (AP Photo/Al Goldis)
AP Photo/Al Goldis
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GAME OF THE NIGHT: No. 4 Iowa at Indiana, 7:00 p.m.

As a result of their surprising loss at Penn State Saturday night, Tom Crean’s Hoosiers enter this pivotal contest a game back of the Hawkeyes in the Big Ten standings. And with their backloaded conference schedule, this is a game Indiana has to get if they’re to entertain thoughts of winning the Big Ten title. Two of the Big Ten’s best players will be on display in Iowa’s Jarrod Uthoff and Indiana’s Yogi Ferrell, but both have plenty of help behind them offensively.

Iowa’s Peter Jok has been one of the conference’s most improved players, and the Hoosiers can counter not only with forward Troy Williams but with freshman center Thomas Bryant as well. The key in this one: turnovers, as Indiana has lost the ball on more than 20 percent of their possessions in conference play. That can’t happen tonight if they’re to win.

THIS ONE’S GOOD TOO: No. 11 Oregon at California, 9:00 p.m.

The Ducks have been the class of the Pac-12 to this point, but a win in Berkeley won’t come easy. The Golden Bears may not be enjoying the success many expected before the season began, but Cuonzo Martin’s team has won all 14 of its home games this season, most recently whipping rival Stanford last weekend.

The problem for Cal: Tyrone Wallace is still out due to injury, and given Oregon’s many versatile scoring options that’s a problem. Pac-12 POY candidate Dillon Brooks leads the way, but Chris Boucher has emerged as one of the conference’s best big men in recent weeks. Jaylen Brown, Ivan Rabb and Jordan Mathews will need to come up big, as this is a huge contest for Cal’s NCAA tournament hopes.

FIVE THINGS TO WATCH FOR

  • The top two teams in the Big West get together in Honolulu, as Hawai’i hosts UC Irvine (1:00 a.m.) in the first of their two meetings this season. This will be a matchup of strengths when the Bows have the ball, as they lead the Big West in two-point field goal percentage (54.7) while UC Irvine leads the conference in two-point percentage defense (38.9) thanks in large part to 7-foot-6 Mamadou Ndiaye. Hawai’i forward Stefan Jankovic (15.3 ppg, 6.7 rpg) has been a much-improved player under first-year head coach Eran Ganot, leading the team in both scoring and rebounding.
  • Two ACC teams with matching 6-5 league records meet at the Carrier Dome, as Syracuse hosts Florida State (7:00 p.m.) in a game both teams need for their respective NCAA tournament résumés. Jim Boeheim’s team should be well-rested, as they haven’t played in nine days, and they’ll need that energy to slow down FSU guards Xavier Rathan-Mayes, Malik Beasley and Dwayne Bacon. The Seminole backcourt is young but talented, and they’ll face two fifth-year seniors in Syracuse’s Michael Gbinije and Trevor Cooney.
  • Picking up a home sweep of Utah and Colorado may have given Oregon State’s NCAA tournament hopes some life, but they really need to go on a run here. Tonight’s game at Stanford (11:00 p.m.) represents a good opportunity for Gary Payton II and company to win their third straight, but the Cardinal did win the first meeting in Corvallis back on January 6. In that game rebounding was the deciding factor (Rosco Allen finished with 21 and eight boards, too), as Stanford grabbed half of their available missed shots. OSU can’t let that happen again.
  • With SMU ineligible for postseason play, the other American Athletic Conference teams are jockeying for position in next month’s conference tournament. Tonight UConn looks to avenge its home loss to Temple January 5 with a win in Philadelphia (7:00 p.m.). Since Amida Brimah’s return the Huskies have played much better basketball, as they have their rim protector and a finisher for Daniel Hamilton’s alley-oop passes back on the court. The Owls have won their last three games, and tonight is their second-best remaining opportunity for a quality win (they play No. 1 Villanova next Wednesday).
  • At this point, no one’s catching Wichita State for the Missouri Valley regular season title without the Shockers collapsing in epic fashion. But when it comes to who can earn the conference’s automatic bid to the NCAA tournament, both Illinois State and Evansville have a shot. The two teams meet in Evansville tonight (8:00 p.m.), with three of the Valley’s best players on display in ISU’s DeVaughn Akoon-Purcell and Evansville’s D.J. Balentine and Edigijus Mockevicius. Evansville won the first meeting by 11 in mid-January, as the Redbirds shot 6-for-31 from three on the night.

OTHER NOTABLE GAMES

  • Mercer at Wofford, 7:00 p.m.
  • Hofstra at William & Mary, 7:00 p.m.
  • High Point at Coastal Carolina, 7:00 p.m.
  • James Madison at College of Charleston, 7:00 p.m.
  • Milwaukee at Oakland, 7:00 p.m.
  • Pepperdine at Saint Mary’s, 11:00 p.m.