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Pregame Shootaround 1.12.13: Duke on upset alert against NC State without Ryan Kelly

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Games of the Day: No. 8 Minnesota vs. No. 5 Indiana (12:00 p.m. ET, Big Ten Network)

With wins over Michigan State and Illinois, Minnesota has officially shown that it has staying power in the nation’s most powerful conference. The Gophers are in the nation’s Top 50 in scoring and the Top 25 in rebounding and assists, thanks in large part to the play of point guard Andre Hollins (13.7 points, 3.7 assists per game). The most important part, though, has been balance, with four players averaging in double figures and senior Trevor Mbakwe just outside double-digit scoring with 9.3 per game.

The biggest task for the Gophers Saturday will be containing Player of the Year candidate Cody Zeller. If Zeller has his way inside, it opens up opportunities on the perimeter for guards Yogi Ferrell and Jordan Hulls, as well as forward Victor Oladipo. Assembly Hall is never an easy place for a conference opponent to get a win, but Minnesota could make it happen on Saturday.

Who’s Getting Upset?: No. 1 Duke (-3.5) vs. No. 20 NC State (12:00 p.m. ET, ESPN)

Duke will be without forward Ryan Kelly, who is out at least two weeks with a foot injury. His absence will be felt most on the offensive end where he typically spaces the floor and allows guard Seth Curry and center Mason Plumlee to match up in more isolated situations. Without Kelly last season in the NCAA tournament, the Blue Devils were upset by 15th-ranked Lehigh in the Round of 64.

NC State has a chance for a major conference win, especially with Kelly out. Saturday will be a chance for forward C.J. Leslie to produce, but it will be equally important that center Richard Howell not get into foul trouble against Plumlee.

With the advantage on the interior, NC State will try to win the battle on the perimeter as well. The key matchup will be at the point guard spot between the Wolfpack’s Lorenzo Brown and Duke’s Quinn Cook. Brown’s perimeter defense needs to disrupt Cook, which puts more stress on a Duke offense that is already missing a key asset.

Mid-Major Matchups of the Day: 

No. 14 Butler vs. Dayton (2:00 p.m. ET, NBC Sports Network)

Butler endured a tough road fight to beat St. Joe’s on Wednesday and now has to go on the road again against a tough Dayton team. Watch for the matchup in the backcourt in this one between Dayton’s Kevin Dillard and Butler’s Rotnei Clarke. Dillard has already outdueled Trevor Releford when the Flyers beat Alabama and outplayed Isaiah Canaan in a win over Murray State. But, if Clarke’s 28 points vs. St. Joe’s were any indication, he no difficulties coming up big on the road. Andrew Smith will be important in the paint for Butler, as well.

Saint Louis vs. Temple (6:00 p.m. ET, ESPNU)

Saint Louis has not lost since its former coach, Rick Majerus, passed away on Dec. 1. They face one of their toughest tests of the season Saturday, though, against a Temple team that took down Syracuse and nearly walked out of Allen Fieldhouse with a win over Kansas. The key for Saint Louis will be to contain Khalif Wyatt, who has shown that his relentless old-school style of play can consistently frustrate defenses. Kwamain Mitchell needs to continue to find his stride after missing much of the season recovering from injury.

Five Things to Watch For

1) Freshman Ben McLemore saved Kansas with his 33 points in a comeback overtime win over Iowa State on Wednesday. They travel to Texas Tech Saturday and should be able to bounce back with a win.

2) After suffering its first loss of the season to Oregon, No. 4 Arizona continues its swing through the Beaver State with a matchup against Oregon State. In the loss, Arizona allowed Oregon to shoot 7-of-11 from three-point range. Saturday, they’ll need to rotate defensively and get a hand in the face of shooters Roberto Nelson and Ahmad Starks. Both guards shoot better than 40 percent from three.

3) Villanova has won seven games in a row, including quality wins over South Florida on the road and over a tough mid-major, St. Joe’s. Freshman point guard Ryan Arcidiacono will get one of his toughest matchups of the season so far, as he goes up against Syracuse sophomore Michael Carter-Williams. If Villanova wants the upset, they ought to take a page out of Temple’s book. Force Carter-Williams to score and be physical on the interior.

4) Aside from the Big Ten, the Mountain West might end up being the most exciting conference race to watch this season. We’ve got another good matchup Saturday, as Jamaal Franklin and San Diego State face Colorado State. The Rams will have to contain Franklin and Chase Tapley on the perimeter, but the combination of Colton Iverson and Pierce Hornung gives CSU the advantage in the paint.

5) Georgetown ranks 263rd in the country in scoring offense with just over 63 points per game. They scored just 45 in a blowout loss to Pittsburgh. Shots around the rim won’t be easy Saturday, as the Hoyas run into Chris Obekpa, the St. John’s freshman tied with Kansas’ Jeff Withey for the nation’s lead in blocks per game (5.1).

The Top 25

No. 1 Duke vs. No. 20 NC State (12:00 p.m. ET, ESPN)

No. 3 Louisville vs. South Florida (4:00 p.m. ET, ESPN3)

No. 4 Arizona vs. Oregon State (8:00 p.m. ET, ESPNU)

No. 8 Minnesota vs. No. 5 Indiana (12:00 p.m. ET, Big Ten Network)

No. 6 Kansas vs. Texas Tech (4:00 p.m. ET, ESPN3)

No. 7 Syracuse vs. Villanova (12:00 p.m. ET, ESPN3)

No. 10 Missouri vs. Ole Miss (8:00 p.m. ET, ESPN3)

No. 11 Florida vs. LSU (4:00 p.m. ET, ESPNU)

No. 12 Illinois vs. Wisconsin (2:15 p.m. ET, Big Ten Network)

No. 14 Butler vs. Dayton (2:00 p.m. ET, NBC Sports Network)

No. 16 San Diego State vs. Colorado State (8:00 p.m. ET, NBC Sports Network)

No. 17 Notre Dame vs. Connecticut (2:00 p.m. ET, ESPN3)

No. 18 Kansas State vs. West Virginia (1:30 p.m. ET, ESPN3)

No. 19 Georgetown vs. St. John’s (11:00 a.m. ET, ESPN2)

No. 21 Cincinnati vs. Rutgers (8:00 p.m. ET, ESPN3)

No. 24 UNLV vs. Air Force (10:00 p.m. ET)

No. 25 New Mexico vs. Fresno State (3:00 p.m. ET)

Other Notable Games

Pittsburgh vs. Marquette (12:00 p.m. ET, ESPNU)

Tennessee vs. Alabama (1:00 p.m. ET, ESPN2)

UCLA vs. Colorado (2:00 p.m. ET, Pac-12 Networks)

Texas vs. Iowa State (2:00 p.m. ET, ESPNU)

North Carolina vs. Florida State (2:00 p.m. ET, ESPN)

Oklahoma State vs. Oklahoma (3:00 p.m. ET, ESPN2)

Washington State vs. California (4:00 p.m. ET, Pac 12 Networks)

Texas A&M vs. Kentucky (4:00 p.m. ET, ESPN3)

Saint Louis vs. Temple (6:00 p.m. ET, ESPNU)

Washington vs. Stanford (11:00 p.m. ET, Fox Sports Net National)

San Francisco vs. St. Mary’s (11:00 p.m. ET)

Daniel Martin is a writer and editor at JohnnyJungle.com, covering St. John’s. You can find him on Twitter:@DanielJMartin_

VIDEO: Bill Simmons talks Ben Simmons on DP Show

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Ben Simmons will likely be the No. 1 pick in the 2016 NBA draft, and possibly end up with the Celtics, making Boston sports junkie Bill Simmons very happy. Bill jokes about sharing a last name with a future NBA star.

PLAYER OF THE YEAR POWER RANKINGS: Kris Dunn still tops a strong list

Kris Dunn, D'Angelo Harrison
AP Photo
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1. Kris Dunn, Providence: I had Kris Dunn as the Preseason Player of the Year, and while he probably hasn’t been the best player in the country through four games — he hasn’t yet had a statement game on national television — he is averaging 18.8 points, 7.8 boards, 6.8 assists and 5.3 steals.

And while his shooting splits are down from a season ago, he only has eight turnovers through four games. I’m not going to drop my guy when he does that just because he hasn’t gotten into the meat of his schedule yet. No way.

I’ve charted the four games that Dunn has played to determine how much of Providence’s offensive runs through him, a stat I’m going to call, for lack of a better word, possessions “ended”.

When he’s on the floor, how many of Providence’s possessions ended with Dunn shooting, getting to the free throw line, turning the ball over, assisting on a bucket, assisting on free throws or assisting on a missed shot.

Through four games, 62.6 percent of Providence’s offense runs through Dunn, which is an insanely high number and a reason that his efficiency, and shooting percentages, are going to be lower than ideal.

Defenses know this.

Illinois had all five defenders in the paint trying to stop Dunn’s ball-screen actions:

(Screengrab via Synergy)
(Screengrab via Synergy)

His defender went over the screen while the man guarding the screener stayed with Dunn. The weak-side defender is in the lane helping on Ben Bentil’s role to the rim while the strong-side defender is helping on Dunn’s drive. Here’s video of the entire action:

2. Denzel Valentine, Michigan State: Valentine is almost averaging a triple-double this season. Seriously. He’s at 15.3 points, 9.8 assists and 9.0 boards through four games. That won’t last, but we can celebrate it while it does. He also is the own of the most impressive performance of the young season, going for 29 points, 12 boards and 12 assists in MSU’s come-from-behind win over Kansas in the Champions Classic.

And just to put Dunn’s numbers in perspective, Valentine “ended” 60.6 percent of Michigan State’s possessions against Kansas.

3. Ben Simmons, LSU: Since we keep talking about whether or not Ben Simmons is overrated, I think this is worth mentioning: He’s currently the leading rebounder in college basketball, averaging 14.5 boards to go along with his 19.3 points, 5.3 assists, 2.0 steals and 1.0 blocks. Oh, and he has just six turnovers in four games.

I’m not going to sit here trying to convince he’s not a great player. He is. Unquestionably. But there are a few things you need to understand when analysts and scouts try to temper the comparisons to LeBron James.

MORE: Transcendent? Overhyped? The shame is if Ben Simmons is irrevelant

Simmons spends a lot of time at the five for LSU, meaning that he is quite often guarded by guys like Luke Fischer, a 7-footer that doesn’t have a prayer of trying to slow down a player that big and that skilled in transition or in a half court setting:

He’s also a terrific passer, one that is so skilled at making defenses pay when the help defenders are too focused on him. Look at Traci Carter when Simmons throws this lob:

(Image via ESPN)
(Screengrab via ESPN)

That’s a direct result of the mismatches that he gets at the college level.

There are layers to this, too. The numbers you don’t hear with Simmons: he hasn’t even attempted a three-pointer this season. Through his first three games, he only shot five jump shots and missed all five. (Synergy’s logs haven’t been updated with last night’s games yet.) He’s shooting 81 percent from the line, so the stroke is there, but it has yet to manifest itself as part of his offensive repertoire.

Put it all together: NBA teams have guys that are big enough and quick enough to guard Simmons — especially if he doesn’t become a consistent shooter from the NBA three-point line — and while his passing ability rivals LeBron’s, he’s not as quick, explosive or athletic.

In simpler terms, Simmons won’t be exploiting mismatches in the NBA the way he can in college, and defenses won’t have to sellout to slow him down. That’s why I would rather see him compared to Lamar Odom, who, by the way, averaged 13.3 points, 8.4 boards and 3.7 assists in a 15-year career that produced two NBA titles and an appearance on a U.S. Olympic team.

He was damn good.

Comparing him to Odom is a compliment.

4. Tyler Ulis, Kentucky: The latest argument that seems to be clogging by mentions is whether or not Ulis or Dunn is the best point guard in the country. My take: Dunn is the best player in the country while Ulis is the best point guard in the country. While the two technically play the same position, the role they play is entirely different. Ulis is a facilitator, a pure point guard. Dunn is the prototype new-age lead guard, a guy built in the mold of Russell Westbrook, John Wall and MVP-era Derrick Rose.

Ulis has been OK in three of Kentucky’s four games, but his performance in the win over Duke — 18 points, six assists, four rebounds, two steals, no turnovers — is what got him this high on this list.

5. Grayson Allen, Duke: Allen has been unbelievable in four of the five games he’s played this season, including back-to-back 30-burgers as the Blue Devils beat VCU and Georgetown in the 2K Classic. Even with that putrid performance against Kentucky, his numbers look like this: 24.4 ppg, 4.4 rg, 3.2 apg and shooting splits of 52.2/53.6/89.7.

6. Tyrone Wallace, Cal: Only one player in college basketball averaged more than 20 points, five boards and five assists last season. This year, Wallace is averaging 20.3 points, 5.8 boards and 5.3 assists for a Cal team that could end up winning the Pac-12. He’ll climb this list if his numbers look as good when the competition gets tougher.

7. Sheldon McClellan, Miami: Picking a player on Miami for this spot was tough, but I decided to go with McClellan for a couple of reason. One: He’s Miami’s leading scorer at 17.4 points. Two: his shooting splits are outrageous (61.7/52.4/94.7) meaning his efficiency numbers are outrageous as well. Three: he’s the guy on that Miami roster that, if I was an opposing coach, I would build a game-plan around stopping.

8. Buddy Hield, Oklahoma: Hield was a first-team all-american entering the season and has scored 54 points in two games this year. He went for 30 in a win at Memphis. Not bad.

9. Domantas Sabonis, Gonzaga: Kyle Wiltjer was the guy that was on all the preseason all-american lists, but through two (And a half? Does Pitt still count?) games this season, Sabonis has been Gonzaga’s best player. He’s averaging 20.5 points and 10.5 boards, scoring on post-ups and offensive boards and shooting a robust 82.6 percent from the floor.

10. Evan Bradds, Belmont: There are a number of guys deserving consideration for this spot — Demetrius Jackson, Melo Trimble, Shaq Harrison, Josh Hart — but I’m going to give Bradds a little love here. Through five games, he’s averaging 21.3 points, 8.6 boards and 2.4 assists while shooting 76.2 percent from the floor. He had 24 points and nine rebounds in Belmont’s win at Marquette and, in his last two games, is averaging 29 points and 10 boards while shooting 27-for-28 from the field. A run like that can’t last, but while he’s in the middle of it, we’re going acknowledge it.