Brandon Paul, Aaron Craft

Pregame Shootaround 1.9.2013: Minnesota-Illinois, UNM-UNLV, loaded A-10 slate

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Game of the Day: 9:00 p.m.: No. 8 Minnesota at No. 12 Illinois (Big Ten)

Minnesota is embarking on as difficult of a three-game stretch as you are going to find this season. They’re at Illinois tonight, they head to Indiana on Saturday and they host Michigan next week. Brutal. But the good news? We’ll at least get a pretty thorough feel for just how good the Gophers are. At the end of the day, the team that wins the Big Ten is going to be the team that wins on the road.

I actually think that Minnesota matches up really well with the Illini. Rodney Williams is mobile enough to guard on the perimeter and negate some of Illinois’ four-out, one-in advantage, while Trevor Mbakwe is enough of a hoss around the rim that he’ll give any and all of John Groce’s big men trouble. Also worth nothing: Brandon Paul vs. Andre Hollins will be fun.

The Other Game of the Day: 10:00 p.m.: No. 24 UNLV at No. 25 New Mexico (CBS Sports Net)

Like the Big Ten, the Mountain West is going to end up being a bloodbath as league play rolls on. Kicking things off? The Rebels head down to Albuquerque to take on a New Mexico team that had a surprising loss at St. Louis last week. UNM is more disciplined that UNLV, who should have Mike Moser back. But who is going to guard Anthony Bennett?

Who’s Getting Upset?: 7:00 p.m.: No. 14 Butler at St. Joseph’s

Road games in league play. They’ll getcha eventually. And I actually think the Hawks matchup pretty well with Butler. Both teams play three forwards with a slow-footed playmaker at the three — Roosevelt Jones and Halil Kanacevic. And both teams have a pair of high-scoring guards. If Rotnei Clarke and Kellen Dunham are hitting from the perimeter, there aren’t many teams that are going to have a chance against Butler this year. The key will be whether or not St. Joe’s can get into their offensive sets against Butler’s frustrating defense.

Mid-Major Matchup of the Day: 7:00 p.m.: Dayton at VCU

I don’t think either of these team are technically “mid-majors”, but I did want to riff a little about this game. This will be a good gauge game for both clubs. Dayton has had some nice wins this season, but they have also lost to Weber State, Illinois State and USC. The Rams are one of the more underrated teams in the country in my opinion, but they also barely hung on against a Lehigh team missing CJ McCollum. If the Flyers are truly going to compete in the A-10, they are going to have to knock off someone at the top of the conference at some point.

Five Things to Watch For

1) Russ Smith and No. 3 Louisville head to New Jersey to take on Seton Hall at 7:00 p.m. (ESPN2). The reason Smith, a potential all-american, is at Louisville? The father of Kevin Willard, Seton Hall’s head coach.

2) Maryland will host Florida State is a battle for relevance in the ACC. Maryland has yet to notch a quality win, while Florida State is desperately looking to turn around the course of their season. The game tips at 8:00 p.m.

3) Valparaiso and Illinois-Chicago are two of the best teams in the Horizon League, but one of them will be 1-2 in the league after the square off tonight.

4) As always, there is some good stuff happening in the Missouri Valley tonight. Northern Iowa looks to get back to .500 in league play, while Indiana State and Bradley — two teams sitting at 2-1 in the league — play in Terre Haute.

5) The Mountain West is going to be a fun league to follow mainly because a matchup like Boise State at Wyoming is very relevant and, in all likelihood, is happening in the bottom half of the conference. Due tune in.

Other Top 25 Games

  • 7:00 p.m. Nebraska at No. 2 Michigan (Big Ten)
  • 7:00 p.m. Iowa State at No. 6 Kansas (ESPNU)
  • 7:00 p.m. No. 7 Syracuse at Providence (ESPN3)
  • 7:00 p.m. Georgia at No. 11 Florida (ESPN3)
  • 8:00 p.m. Georgia Tech at No. 20 NC State (ESPN3)
  • 8:00 p.m. Southern Illinois at No. 23 Wichita State (ESPN3)
  • 11:30 p.m. No. 16 San Diego State at Fresno State

Other Notable Games

  • 7:30 p.m. La Salle at Charlotte
  • 8:00 p.m. Villanova at South Florida
  • 8:00 p.m. East Carolina at Memphis
  • 8:00 p.m. Eastern Kentucky at Murray State
  • 8:00 p.m. Ole Miss at Tennessee (ESPN3)
  • 9:00 p.m. Virginia at Wake Forest
  • 11:00 p.m. Washington at Cal (ESPN2)

You can find Rob on twitter @RobDauster.

Illinois’ injury woes continue as starting center needs knee surgery

George Niang,Abdel Nader,Mike Thorne, Jr.
AP Photo/Mark Wallheiser
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Illinois suffered another blow in what has already turned out to be a brutal season.

Mike Thorne is expected to miss the rest of the season after tearing his meniscus. He reportedly underwent surgery on Monday to repair the injury.

Thorne, a transfer from Charlotte, was starting at center for the Illini and doing a good job of it as well. He was averaging 13.4 points and 8.4 boards, although Illinois has started off the season 3-4.

The reason for that slow start has mainly been those injuries. Tracy Abrams is already out for the season after tearing his achilles, and the Illini training room looked like a M.A.S.H. unit. Kendrick Nunn just returned two games ago from surgery to repair a torn thumb ligament. LeRon Black is still getting back to speed after offseason knee surgery. Jaylon Tate is back after dislocating a finger. Jalen Coleman-Lands was slowed by a stress fracture.

John Groce entered this season on the hot seat, and dealing with all of these injuries certainly isn’t helping his cause.

NEW PODCAST: Recapping Feast Week

Kris Dunn
AP Photo/Mark J. Terrill
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We talk about a lot of stuff of the podcast today, mainly because a lot of stuff happened since we last spoke with you all.

For starters, we need to discuss the ‘realness’ of Syracuse and Xavier. Are they both truly top 15 teams, or do they just have top 15 resumes? We also dive into Chris Mack’s epic troll-job of Dayton at the Advocare Invitational final.

Other topics we touched on: Whether or not Scott is ever going to apologize to Wayne Selden, Wichita State’s tournament hopes, Texas A&M and whether we’d take Ben Simmons, Kris Dunn or Denzel Valentine today.

As always, you can subscribe to the podcast in iTunes right here. It’s the quickest way to get access on your cell phone or tablet.