Victor Oladipo

Weekend Preview: Two B1G clashes, and Duke’s toughest test of the year

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Game of the Week: Sat. 12:00 p.m.: No. 8 Minnesota at No. 5 Indiana (Big Ten Net)

Full disclosure: when I write these Weekend Preview posts, it’s usually some point between Thursday afternoon and Friday morning. Right now, as I’m typing these words, it is Thursday afternoon, and let me tell you: I am already fired up about the prospect of seeing Indiana get tested at home by Minnesota. (Also, it’s worth noting that Indiana has a bit of reason to be looking to get some revenge.)

I’m buying the Gophers. I believe in them. I believe that the win over Michigan State at home and the deconstruction of Illinois in Champaign are legit. I love their balance, I love the inside-outside combo of Andre Hollins and Trevor Mbakwe, I think they are terrific defensively and I think they know their roles offensively. I’m not, however, all-in on the Gophers … yet. You know what can change my opinion on that? Guess.

As far as Indiana is concerned, I feel like the attention that has been put on them has waned ever since they lost to Butler. That’s what happens when your non-conference schedule includes 10 teams where I would have had a shot at making the rotation. But there are two things to remember about this team: they are still the same club that was more-or-less the consensus No. 1 team in the country in the preseason, except Victor Oladipo is playing like an all-american.

Six More Games You Need To Watch:

  • Sat. 12:00 p.m.: No. 1 Duke at No. 20 NC State (ESPN): Duke will be without Ryan Kelly, which is terrific news for NC State, because Kelly is arguably the most important player for the Blue Devils. He’s turned himself into a terrific defender while also providing the ability to stretch the floor at the power forward spot. That’s a huge loss, one that could very realistically change the outcome of the game. If NC State is going to have a chance to win the ACC this season, this is a game they must get.
  • Sat. 2:00 p.m.: No. 14 Butler at Dayton (NBC Sports Net): You may not have ever heard of Kevin Dillard, but I promise you that he is one of the best point guards in the Atlantic 10 and probably deserves to be considered a snub on the Cousy Award list. He’ll be going up against Butler and Rotnei Clarke on Saturday. Making the game all the more important? The Flyers lost at VCU in their A-10 opener.
  • Sat. 2:00 p.m.: UCLA at Colorado (Pac-12): More than anything, the biggest reason that the Pac-12 is perceived to be down this season is that two of the three most talented teams in the conference — two programs that have enough pieces to be ranked in the top 20 — struggle to put together the kind of consistent effort that is needed by elite teams. But with Arizona losing at Oregon — and, technically, “losing” to Colorado — the conference is wide-open. Will that be enough motivation?
  • Sat. 6:00 p.m.: St. Louis at Temple (ESPNU): St. Louis has won nine straight games since Rick Majerus passed away and just got their star point guard back. Temple beat Syracuse in Madison Square Garden and nearly beat Kansas at the Phog. Both of those games, Khalif Wyatt went off. Against Xavier on Thursday night? He was 2-11 and the Owls get beaten.
  • Sat. 8:00 p.m.: Colorado State at No. 16 San Diego State (NBC Sports Net): There may not be a tougher conference in the country that the Mountain West this season. It’s set up in such a way that the favorites simply cannot afford to lose games at home. But how will the Aztecs match up with CSU big fella Colton Iverson?
  • Sun. 1:30 p.m.: No. 2 Michigan at No. 15 Ohio State (CBS): The Big Ten is another league where losing home games is simply going to be unacceptable for a true title contender. Ohio State likes to think of themselves that way, but on the nights that Deshaun Thomas isn’t shooting well, they are very average. The best matchup here will be Trey Burke against Aaron Craft. The best point guard in the country, who just so happens to be a Columbus native, going up against the best on-ball defender in the country. Yes. Please.

And What About The Mid-Majors?:

  • Fri. 9:05 p.m.: San Jose State at Utah State (ESPN3)
  • Fri. 9:00 p.m.: Wright State at Loyola (IL) (ESPNU)
  • Sat. 4:30 p.m.: BYU at Santa Clara
  • Sat. 7:00 p.m.: Hawaii at Long Beach State
  • Sat. 8:30 p.m.: Stephen F. Austin at Oral Roberts
  • Sun. 2:00 p.m.: Canisius at Iona

POSTERIZED: Wyoming’s Josh Adams takes flight

Josh Adams
Associated Press
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Not only is Wyoming senior guard Josh Adams the lone returning starter from a team that won the Mountain West tournament last season, but he’s also one of college basketball’s best dunkers. And if anyone may have forgotten about his jumping ability, Adams put it on display Saturday during the Cowboys’ win over Montana State.

After splitting two Montana State players at the top of the key Adams attacked the basket, dunking with two hands over a late-arriving help-side defender. If you’re going to rotate over, have to do it quicker than that.

Video credit: Wyoming Athletics

Defensive progress will determine No. 4 Iowa State’s ceiling

Monte Morris
Associated Press
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Even with the coaching change from Fred Hoiberg to Steve Prohm, No. 4 Iowa State remains one of the nation’s best offensive teams. Given their skills on that end of the floor many teams find it tough to go score for score with the Cyclones, and that’s what happened to Illinois in Iowa State’s 84-73 win in the Emerald Coast Classic title game.

Georges Niang scored 23 points and grabbed eight rebounds, with Monté Morris adding 20, nine rebounds and six assists and Abdel Nader 18 points as the Cyclones moved to 5-0 on the season. The three-pointers weren’t falling in the second half, as Iowa State shot 0-f0r-12, but they shot 19-for-24 inside of the arc to pull away from a team that lost big man Mike Thorne Jr. late in the first half to a left knee injury.

Illinois’ loss of size in the paint opened things up offensively for Iowa State, and the Cyclones took advantage. But where this group grabbed control of the game was on the defensive end of the floor, and that will be the key for a team with Big 12 and national title aspirations.

Nader took on the responsibility of defending Illinois’ Malcolm Hill (20 points) in the second half and did a solid job of keeping the junior wing in check, with that serving as the spark to a 12-2 run that put the game away. There’s no denying that the Cyclones can put points on the board; most of the talent from last season is back and the productivity on that end of the floor hasn’t changed as a result. Niang’s one of the nation’s best forwards, and both Morris (who now ranks among the country’s best point guards) and Nader have taken significant strides in their respective games.

Iowa State will add Deonte Burton in December, giving them another option to call upon. Front court depth is a bit of a concern, as Iowa State can ill afford to lose a Niang or Jameel McKay, but there’s enough on the roster to compensate for that and force mismatches in other areas.

But the biggest question for this group is how effective they can become at stringing together stops. Illinois certainly had its moments in both halves Saturday night, but Iowa State also showed during the game’s decisive stretch that they can step up defensively. The key now is to do so consistently, and if that occurs the Cyclones can be a threat both within the Big 12 and nationally.