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_

Indiana hires Dayton head coach Archie Miller

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Indiana is expected to hire Dayton head coach Archie Miller, the school announced.

The deal will be for seven years, according to The Vertical. Miller had spent the last six seasons as the head coach at Dayton, getting to four straight NCAA tournaments, including the Elite 8 in 2014, while winning the last two Atlantic 10 regular season titles.

Miller had been targeted by seemingly every high major program with an opening since he reached the Elite 8, but similar to Shaka Smart when he left VCU, Miller simply waited for the right job to come long.

Indiana is the right job.

There had been some speculation that Miller wouldn’t want to take Indiana, that his dream job is Ohio State and that the idea of coaching in a fishbowl like Bloomington is not something that would be all that appealing to him. But Indiana is an elite job. It’s the kind of opening that happens once every four or five years, and if Miller had said no to the Hoosiers now, it’s very possible that an opportunity like this wouldn’t come along for years, if ever.

This hire is surprising, not because it’s the wrong hire — I think they got this right — but because Indiana actually made the right decision.

The overwhelming sentiment since Tom Crean was fired was that UCLA head coach Steve Alford would be named the next head coach at Indiana because the Hoosiers wanted an “Indiana Guy”. Alford was born in New Castle, he played at IU for Bobby Knight, he won a national title with the program. The goal was to get the Indiana fan base back, a fan base that was so estranged from the program that Indiana had to play an NIT game on the road as a higher seed because they were reportedly afraid of allowing ESPN’s cameras to see the empty seats.

But just because a hire appeases the fans doesn’t make it the right hire.

Miller was the right hire.

If they really want to get the fans back, winning is the best way to do it. Archie is as good of a bet to win at Indiana as anyone.

Elite 8 Preview: Saturday’s picks, predictions, betting lines and channels

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So Friday got good.

If Zak Showalter’s game-tying three and subsequent discount double-check wasn’t enough, we had Canyon Barry’s chasedown block and, well, this game-winner from Chris Chiozza.

And all that came after De’Aaron Fox took out what felt like a season’s worth of frustration out on Lonzo Ball.

What is on tap for tonight?

No. 1 GONZAGA (-8) vs. No. 11 XAVIER, 6:09 p.m., TBS: Someone is going to be making their way to the Final Four for the first time on Saturday night, as Xavier’s Chris Mack and Gonzaga’s Mark Few square off for the right to play on the final weekend of the season.

And in a way, this is the perfect Final Four game. Both the Zags and the Musketeers are basketball schools in basketball leagues. They come from outside the power structure and have head coaches that have spurned jobs from within the power structure to remain there. They are built for a run like this, even if they were both overlooked on the way here.

Xavier was obvious. Playing without Edmond Sumner and Myles Davis, the Musketeers just haven’t been the team that they were supposed to be this season. That’s why they lost six straight games in February, but things have turned around in March, as Trevon Bluiett has put the program on his back and willed them to the Elite 8. Gonzaga is the opposite. They went 29-0 to start the season, but they have yet to be accepted as a legitimate title contender by most of the people that watch the games.

My guess on Saturday night is that the Zags make their statement and emphatically get into the Final Four.

PREDICTION: Gonzaga (-8)

No. 1 KANSAS (-7) vs.  No. 3 OREGON, 8:49 p.m., TBS: This matchup is a lot tastier on paper than it is likely going to end up being on the floor. As good as Oregon has been this season, they are, essentially, Kansas light. They play two lead guards together and they play small-ball, with a natural wing lined up at the four.

The problem?

The Kansas guys are just better. Josh Jackson is a better player than Dillon Brooks. His length and athleticism should give the Oregon star fits. Frank Mason III and Devonte’ Graham are better than whatever combination of Payton Pritchard, Tyler Dorsey and Dylan Ennis the Ducks opt to use.

And, for that matter, no team is playing better right now that they Jayhawks, who beat Michigan State by 20, Purdue by 32 and became the first team to score 90 points in their first three NCAA tournament games since 1995. I think that trend continues on Saturday night.

PREDICTION: Kansas (-7)

Sunday’s NCAA Tournament Elite Eight schedule, tip times, and announcer pairings

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Regional Finals – Sunday, March 26

2:20 p.m.,CBS, New York
No. 7 South Carolina vs. No. 4 Florida (Verne Lundquist, Jim Spanarkel, Allie LaForce)

5:05 p.m., CBS, Memphis
No. 1 North Carolina vs. No. 2 Kentucky (Jim Nantz, Grant Hill, Bill Raftery, Tracy Wolfson)

Steve Alford: ‘I’m very happy at UCLA’

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UCLA head coach Steve Alford was still processing an 86-75 season-ending loss to Kentucky in the Sweet 16 on Friday night when he had to answer questions about another blueblood program.

Sine the dismal of Tom Crean at Indiana, Alford has been one of the names rumored to be in the mix for the coaching vacancy. A reporter in the press conference in Memphis didn’t even get a chance to finish his question before Alford cut him off and a publicly state that he was happy in Westwood.

“I said it last week, and I’ll reiterate it again even more so, I guess, that I love Los Angeles,” Alford said. “To begin with, it’s a beautiful place, and our family has fallen in love with it. I’ve got two sons now, Kory first and now Bryce, that have graduated. Bryce is done, so he’s graduating from UCLA, so I’ve got two sons that are graduates from there, a daughter that loves the school she’s going to in Thousand Oaks. I’m very happy. I’m at UCLA. I don’t know of a lot of people that are out there wanting to leave UCLA.

“This is a pretty special place. We’ve worked awfully hard. Our staff has worked hard. We’ve got the No. 2 recruiting class coming in next year. We’re opening a brand-new, state-of-the-art, 60-plus million practice facility, Mo Ostin Center, that is going to be spectacular that we’ve worked awfully hard to be a part of that, and I want to see that through, and we’ve got some special kids that are coming to join us.

“I’m very, very happy where I’m at, and hopefully, that’ll continue.”

Alford won a national championship with the Hoosiers in 1987, scoring more than 2,400 points in his career under head coach Bob Knight. He has been with UCLA since 2013, reaching the Sweet 16 in three of his four seasons with the Bruins.

Crean was fired on March 16 after nine season in Bloomington.

Lonzo Ball has officially declared for the 2017 NBA Draft

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Following a season-ending loss in the Sweet 16 of the 2017 NCAA Tournament, UCLA freshman point guard unsurprisingly announced that he will enter the NBA Draft.

“That was my final game for UCLA. I appreciate the fans,” Ball told reporters.

The 6-foot-6 point guard has a strong case to be the No. 1 overall pick. It could be almost too enticing for the Los Angeles Lakers to pass on a Southern Cal product if the ping pong balls fall in their favor. New Lakers president of basketball operations Magic Johnson and general manager Rob Pelinka were in Memphis for Friday night’s Sweet 16 matchup with Kentucky.

Ball, in an All-American freshman season with the Bruins, averaged 14.7 points, 6.1 rebounds and a nation’s best 7.6 assists per game, while shooting 56 percent from the field and 42 percent from three.

He ended his college career with an 86-75 loss to the Wildcats, scoring 10 points, off 4-of-10 shooting, with eight assists.