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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, covering St. John’s. You can find him on Twitter:@DanielJMartin_

VIDEO: East Tennessee State players hit back-to-back halfcourt shots to win free tuition for two students

VILLANOVA, PA - NOVEMBER 20: A.J. Merriweather #13 and Peter Jurkin #5 of the East Tennessee State Buccaneers try to grab a rebound away from Daniel Ochefu #23 of the Villanova Wildcats at The Pavilion on November 20, 2015 in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. (Photo by Drew Hallowell/Getty Images)
(Photo by Drew Hallowell/Getty Images)
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East Tennessee State’s Bluenanza hoops celebration reached a new level on Monday night when the team incredibly made back-to-back halfcourt shots to give two ETSU students free tuition.

ETSU students Garrett Pack and Jeremiah Pearson were both selected by the school to attempt halfcourt shots to win free tuition. Both students missed their attempts, but Director of Intercollegiate Athletics Dr. Richard Sander gave them a second chance to win with a unique twist — each student could pick one player on the team to shoot for them.

The students picked senior T.J. Cromer and junior Devontavious Payne to take the shots. Both players delivered clutch shots to secure free tuition for Pack and Pearson.

Talk about a ridiculous way to end a madness-type of event.

That wasn’t the only highlight-reel play from the team on Monday night. Senior AJ Merriweather also threw down this ferocious windmill.

Utah grabs important commitment from four-star center

DENVER, CO - MARCH 19:  Head coach Larry Krystkowiak of the Utah Utes shouts in the first half against the Gonzaga Bulldogs during the second round of the 2016 NCAA Men's Basketball Tournament at the Pepsi Center on March 19, 2016 in Denver, Colorado.  (Photo by Justin Edmonds/Getty Images)
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Utah landed an important player for its future on Sunday as four-star center Branden Carlson pledged to the Utes.

The 6-foot-10, 210-pound center is great commitment for Utah as he’s regarded as the No. 113 overall prospect in the Class of 2017 by Rivals. Carlson’s development is going to be especially intriguing because he won’t play for Utah until the 2019-20 season because of a two-year LDS mission out of high school, according to’s Josh Gershon.

Since Carlson needed to add strength and weight, that should give him a little more time to bulk up before college begins. Utah also has freshman center Jayce Johnson just entering the program — another four-star center — so that spaces the two big men out by a few years.

Head coach Larry Krystkowiak has done a nice job developing big men, specifically Jakob Poeltl, and it appears to be paying off on the recruiting trail.

Tar Heels ready for Final Four push after title-game loss

JACKSONVILLE, FL - MARCH 19:  Head coach Roy Williams of the North Carolina Tar Heels reacts on the bench against the Harvard Crimson during the second round of the 2015 NCAA Men's Basketball Tournament at Jacksonville Veterans Memorial Arena on March 19, 2015 in Jacksonville, Florida.  (Photo by Kevin C. Cox/Getty Images)
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CHAPEL HILL, N.C. (AP) North Carolina won’t have a difficult time finding motivation this season.

The memories of losing in the NCAA championship game on a last-second 3-pointer to Villanova still sting more than six months later. It was the crushing final play in a 33-win season that saw the Tar Heels go from a preseason No. 1-ranked team questioned about its toughness to a group that matured enough to sweep the Atlantic Coast Conference regular-season and tournament titles before reaching the Final Four.

There are enough veteran returnees for UNC to have the potential to do it again, driven by the memory of coming so oh-so-close to cutting down the nets in April.

“Every time I turn around and look up at the banners, where the national championship banners are,” junior Joel Berry II said, “sometimes it hurts me that we don’t have the 2016 national championship up there. So it’s just motivation to me.”

Some Tar Heels, including Hall of Fame coach Roy Williams, still haven’t watched film from the loss.

“I thought we had a great, great year but it’s just like somebody pulls your heart out and taunts you by shaking it in front of you,” Williams said. “But you’ve got to get over it.”

The Tar Heels (33-7, 14-4 ACC) have some big holes with the losses of four-year starter Marcus Paige – the guy UNC looked for when it needed a big shot – and Associated Press all-American Brice Johnson inside. But they return six of their top eight scorers while adding a top-10 recruiting class.

Berry is the top returning scorer (12.8 points), while fellow junior Justin Jackson (12.2) and senior big man Kennedy Meeks are returning starters. The Tar Heels also return ACC sixth man of the Isaiah Hicks, now likely to earn a promotion into the starting lineup.

On the bench, senior Nate Britt provides backcourt depth along with junior Theo Pinson – out indefinitely with a broken bone in his right foot – and sophomore wing Kenny Williams III.

The Tar Heels also will get help up front from McDonald’s All-American Tony Bradley Jr., who headlines a wing-heavy recruiting class.

Some other things to know about the Tar Heels this season:

PINSON’S INJURY: Pinson’s injury during a recent practice, announced Friday, has the potential to be a big blow. The versatile swingman is the team’s top defender, a good passer and a leader with a knack for keeping up team morale .

BERRY IN CHARGE?: Berry looks like the top candidate to take Paige’s role as the guy to entrust with taking the big shot. He was the team’s best outside shooter (38 percent from 3-point range) and led the team in assists, steals and free-throw percentage. And in a sign that Berry could be ready for a leap, he upped his game by averaging 13.7 points and shooting 50 percent in six NCAA Tournament games – ending with 20 points against Villanova.

HICKS’ FOUL TROUBLE: Keeping Hicks on the floor last season was a challenge, including twice in the final 10 games when he picked up four or five fouls in fewer than 10 minutes. The 6-foot-9 forward brings scoring and rebounding, and he was the team’s defensive player of the game eight times – third most on the team behind Paige and Berry. The Tar Heels need him out there this year with fewer frontcourt options.

JACKSON’S GROWTH: Jackson has good size on the perimeter and has been a complimentary scorer through his first two seasons. The Tar Heels need him to become a consistent scorer now in a leading role, especially when it comes to improving his 29-percent shooting from behind the arc last year. He’s an unselfish player and has occasionally seemed content to blend into the background, but the Tar Heels are tougher to stop when he’s playing assertively .

THE ROOKIES: The 6-foot-10 Bradley, a native of Bartow, Florida, will have a shot at immediate minutes for a team with only Meeks and Hicks returning to the frontcourt. The rest of that recruiting class brings depth on the wing with Brandon Robinson, Seventh Woods and Shea Rush.

Follow Aaron Beard on Twitter at and the AP’s college basketball site at

Coaches pick Cincinnati to win American Athletic Conference

CINCINNATI, OH - JANUARY 24:  Gary Clark #11 of the Cincinnati Bearcats shoots the ball against the Tulane Green Wave at Fifth Third Arena on January 24, 2016 in Cincinnati, Ohio.  (Photo by Andy Lyons/Getty Images)
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PHILADELPHIA (AP) American Athletic Conference coaches have picked Cincinnati to win the league title this season.

The Bearcats edged UConn in the poll, which was released Monday at the conference’s annual media day.

Cincinnati received 95 points and six first-place votes, while UConn claimed the other five and finished with 94 points.

Cincinnati guard Troy Caupain and Memphis’ Dedric Lawson were chosen as the league’s preseason co-players of the year.

Caupain is joined on the preseason conference first team by teammate Gary Clark, Lawson, SMU forward Ben Moore and Houston guard Damyean Dotson.

UConn guard Alterique Gilbert was projected as the league’s top rookie, the fourth straight season a Huskies player has been chosen for that honor.

SWAC Preview: Will Texas Southern get back to the NCAA tournament?

Texas Southern forward Derrick Griffin (23), left, blocks the shot of Baylor forward Johnathan Motley (5), right, in the second half of an NCAA college basketball game, Tuesday, Dec. 29, 2015, in Waco, Texas. Baylor won 72-59. (AP Photo/Rod Aydelotte)
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Beginning in September and running up through November 11th, the first day of the regular season, College Basketball Talk will be unveiling the 2016-2017 college hoops preview package.

Today, we are previewing the SWAC.

Texas Southern ripped through the league last year before seeing its NCAA bid chances evaporate with a loss to Southern in the SWAC tournament, but coach Mike Davis has conference player of the year Derrick Griffin back and committed to hoops after being dismissed from the football program, making the Tigers a favorite in the league once more.

Paris Collins returns to lead Jackson State after their third-place finish from a year ago.Chance Franklin is also back after putting up 12.3 points per game for the Tigers, who lost the SWAC title game a year ago by a single point to Southern.

The Jaguars will be looking for big contributions from Tre’lun Banks and Jared Sam, their top two returnees from last year’s NCAA tournament team. They’ll be needed in a big way to offset the losses of Christopher Hyder, Adrian Rodgers and Shawn Prudhomme.

Alcorn State was the regular-season runner-up last season, but is down four senior starters from the group and the Braves are ineligible for postseason play due to APR scores.

MORE: 2016-17 Season Preview Coverage | Conference Previews | Preview Schedule

PRESEASON SWAC PLAYER OF THE YEAR: Derrick Griffin, Texas Southern

The two-sport star is down to one after getting dismissed from the Texas Southern football team this fall, but he’s back for hoops following a year in which he averaged 13.3 points and 11.1 rebounds per game.


  • Paris Collins, Jackson State: Averaged 13 points and 6.2 rebounds per game last season.
  • Marcus Romain, Mississippi Valley State: The 6-foot-2 senior guard averaged 18.6 points, 5.4 rebounds and 2.4 assists per game.
  • Tommy Armstrong, Alabama State: Armstrong returns to power an Alabama State team that won eight of its last 11
  • Trelun Banks, SouthernShot 36.4 percent from 3-point range while scoring 12.4 points, grabbing 2.8 rebounds and dishing out 2.2 assists per game.



1. Texas Southern
2. Jackson State
3. Southern
4. Alabama State
5. Alcorn State
6. Prairie View A&M
7. Mississippi Valley State
8. Alabama A&M
9. Arkansas-Pine Bluff
10. Grambling State