Pregame Shootaround 1.23.13: Miami tries to knock off No. 1 Duke at home

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Game of the Day: No. 1 Duke vs. No. 25 Miami (7:00 p.m. ET, ESPN)

Both teams will be without a key piece on Wednesday, Ryan Kelly for Duke and Reggie Johnson for Miami.

Without Kelly in the lineup the past two games, Duke has gone 1-1, including a loss to NC State. The major concern continues to be the ability of the Blue Devils’ offense to spread the floor in his absence. When the Duke offense is spread, it allows more opportunities for guard Seth Curry and center Mason Plumlee.

Julian Gamble has been important for Miami in Johnson’s absence. He has averaged 8.9 points and 7.5 rebounds per game in eight games without Johnson. That production has helped to patch the offensive and rebounding hole, but the focus will still be on the guards Wednesday. Durand Scott and Shane Larkin must be the engines of the offensive attack against Curry, point guard Quinn Cook, and freshman Rasheed Sulaimon.

Who’s Getting Upset?: La Salle (-3) vs. No. 9 Butler (7:00 p.m. ET)

It’s hard to believe that La Salle is favored against a team ranked in the nation’s Top 10, but the Bulldogs walk into a tough matchup on the road Wednesday. Butler will again be without leading scorer Rotnei Clarke, who sprained his neck in a win over Dayton. His absence didn’t seem to faze coach Brad Stevens’ team against Gonzaga, though it didn’t hurt that Roosevelt Jones had some heroics in store as the buzzer sounded.

Without Clarke in the lineup, La Salle guard Ramon Galloway will be the biggest backcourt scoring threat on the floor. The senior guard has scoring in double figures in 15 of the Explorers’ 17 games, including 26 points in an overtime win over Villanova, 24 in a win over Northeastern, and 21 in a win over Iona.

Butler will likely try to work the ball into the interior Wednesday, using center Andrew Smith and exploiting the rebounding advantage.

Mid-Major Matchup of the Day: Colorado State vs. No. 15 New Mexico

It’s becoming increasingly difficult to call the Mountain West a “mid-major,” but this non-BCS matchup Wednesday is the best of the slate. New Mexico coach Steve Alford has been in the news this week talking about the lack of respect that the conference has gotten from poll voters and Wednesday night has the potential to be his “Exhibit A”.

New Mexico is the lone Mountain West team undefeated in league play, having knocked off UNLV and grinding out an overtime win against Boise State. Tony Snell came up big in that game against Boise by scoring 22 points, but the focus Wednesday will likely be on center Alex Kirk, who was neutralized for much of that game.

His importance will be amplified Wednesday when he matches up with Colorado State’s Colton Iverson, who is averaging 14.4 points and 9.0 rebounds per game. The Rams will try to use their advantage on the glass to get second-chance opportunities.

Iverson and forward Pierce Hornung (9.6 points, 10.1 rebounds per game) will be centerpieces, but Greg Smith will also be looking to carry momentum from the win over UNLV when he scored 16 points.

Five Things to Watch For

1) No. 8 Florida has been absolute dominant in SEC play so far. Through four games, the Gators have won by an average of close to 27 points per game. There is another chance for a blowout win Wednesday vs. Georgia.

2) No. 12 Minnesota hit a rough patch in the Big Ten schedule and has lost back-to-back games against Indiana and Michigan. They have a chance to bounce back against Northwestern.

3) No. 16 Oregon sits atop the Pac-12 and is the lone remaining undefeated team in conference play at 5-0. Washington State comes in with a 1-4 record in the league, making it likely that Oregon will move to 6-0.

4) Lehigh vs. Bucknell would have a lot more luster if C.J. McCollum had been able to play, but it still features two teams who are undefeated in Patriot League play. Winner gets sole ownership of the conference for now.

5) Towson won just one game last season and finished with an overall record of 1-31. He has worked wonders for the Tigers this year and has his team at 10-10. A win tonight against George Mason would put them at second in the CAA with a 6-2 mark in the conference.

The Top 25

No. 1 Duke vs. No. 25 Miami (7:00 p.m. ET, ESPN)

No. 7 Indiana vs. Penn State (7:00 p.m. ET, Big Ten Network)

No. 8 Florida vs. Georgia (8:00 p.m. ET, ESPN3)

No. 9 Butler vs. La Salle (7:00 p.m. ET)

No. 12 Minnesota vs. Northwestern (9:00 p.m. ET, Big Ten Network)

No. 15 New Mexico vs. Colorado State (8:00 p.m. ET, CBS Sports Network)

No. 16 Oregon vs. Washington State (9:30 p.m. ET, Pac-12 Networks)

No. 17 Creighton vs. Drake (8:05 p.m. ET)

No. 20 Wichita State vs. Missouri State (8:05 p.m. ET, ESPN3)

Other Notable Games

George Mason vs. Towson (7:00 p.m. ET)

Fresno State vs. Boise State (8:00 p.m. ET)

Texas A&M vs. LSU (8:00 p.m. ET, ESPN3)

Georgia Tech vs. North Carolina (9:00 p.m. ET, ESPN)

Iowa State vs. Texas Tech (9:00 p.m. ET, ESPNU)

San Diego State vs. Nevada (10:15 p.m. ET, CBS Sports Network)

Washington vs. Oregon State (11:30 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_

Pro golfer, Wisconsin fan Steve Stricker does not like J.P. Macura

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Wisconsin resident, Badger fan and pro golfer Steve Stricker was not happy after UW lost to Xavier on Thursday night.

For starters, his team lost.

That sucks.

Then J.P. Macura went and rubbed it in everyone’s face, doing the Gator Chomp at the student section after he threw down an alley-oop with less than a minute left:

Stricker was not having any of it:

Me?

I loved it.

And maybe, just maybe, the fact that Wisconsin’s entire student section spent the game telling Macura that he’s an a****** had something to do with his reaction.

Also … how many middle fingers do you see in this picture?

Thank you Badger fans. What a hostile environment.. I appreciate the love

A post shared by Jp Macura (@jpmacura) on

Lonnie Walker hurt as No. 11 Hurricanes beat A&M 90-59

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CORAL GABLES, Fla. (AP) — Highly touted freshman Lonnie Walker IV twisted his left ankle Thursday night, and coach Jim Larranaga was sore himself after the latest lopsided win by the 11th-ranked Miami Hurricanes.

Larranaga said Walker wasn’t seriously hurt, and the coach seemed more concerned about his team’s effort and focus in a 90-59 victory over Florida A&M.

“I didn’t think we were very good from start to finish,” Larranaga said. “We need to play a whole lot harder, and better defensively. We looked sluggish. I told the team I was extremely disappointed in our effort.”

Walker was assisted to the locker room in the first half after stepping on another player. The Hurricanes are scheduled to play La Salle next Wednesday in Walker’s hometown of Reading, Pennsylvania.

“We won’t know for a couple of days, but I think he’s fine,” Larranaga said.

Is he likely to play in the next game?

“Oh, he’s going to play in Reading,” Larranaga said.

Trump urges 3 UCLA players to thank China leader for release

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WASHINGTON (AP) — President Donald Trump urged three suspended UCLA basketball players on Thursday to thank China’s president for their freedom after they shoplifted in China.

The president’s suggestion came a day after he tweeted: “Do you think the three UCLA basketball players will say thank you President Trump. They were headed for 10 years in jail.”

The trio apologized that day and publicly thanked Trump, who was in Asia last week, for his help. On Thursday morning, the president sent another tweet: “You’re welcome. go out and give a big Thank You to President Xi Jinping of China who made your release possible.”

In the same tweet, Trump said, “HAVE A GREAT LIFE! Be careful, there are many pitfalls on the long and winding road of life!”

Later in the day, as he rallied House Republicans before a crucial vote on a tax overhaul, Trump talked about his efforts to release the players

Rep. Steve Womack of Arkansas said Trump “personally engaged the Chinese president and it turned out the way it did,” with the players released. He said China is known for being “extremely punitive” with criminal suspects, adding: “This could have been a disaster for those families.”

Freshmen LiAngelo Ball, Jalen Hill and Cody Riley were detained in Hangzhou for questioning last week before the Bruins beat Georgia Tech in their season-opening game in Shanghai. The rest of the team returned home Saturday.

Athletic director Dan Guerrero said the shoplifting occurred when the team had 90 minutes of free time on Nov. 6 in Hangzhou. He said the three took items from three stores.

The players are suspended indefinitely, and coach Steve Alford says they will have to earn their way back onto the team.

Weekend Preview: We’ve reached the oversaturation point of early-season exempt events

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Typically, I use these Weekend Previews to discuss the best games of the weekend, but this weekend, there just aren’t any games that are actually worth talking about.

So I’m going to go on a rant instead.

We’ve officially reached the point of over-saturation when it comes to the early-season exempt events.

This is the second weekend of the college basketball season and we’re right in the middle of what should be one of the better weeks of college hoops. The Gavitt Games are happening, the Champions Classic more or less lived up to the hype and, starting on Thursday, we dove head first into tropical locale tournament season.

Except … these events all suck.

The Charleston Classic started on Thursday. Auburn beat Indiana State to advance and take on Temple, who dispatched Old Dominion. The winner of that game will take on the winner of Clemson and Hofstra, because Hofstra upset Dayton in the first round. There are four mid-major teams in the Charleston Classic, and none of the high-major teams look like they will be tournament-bound.

The Puerto Rico tip-off is even worse. It features teams from the Missouri Valley, Conference USA, the Sun Belt and the SoCon. The best team in the event is either an Iowa State team that lost to Milwaukee at home by double-digits, a Tulsa team that lost to Lamar at home, a South Carolina team that got picked off in the first round of the event or Boise State, who wasn’t picked to be in the top two of the Mountain West.

It won’t get any better when the Paradise Jam starts today. The three best teams in that event are Houston, Colorado and Wake Forest and features an opening round game between Mercer and Liberty.

There are also a number of events in the Northeast this weekend and next week. I live an hour from New York City and I won’t be making the trek up to any of the games at the Garden or the Barclays Center until next Saturday, and these are what are supposed to be big games being held there for the next eight days. I cover this sport for a living, but I’d rather watch on TV and spend time with my son than go see Pitt play Penn State or Texas Tech square off with Boston College.

Even the Maui Invitational isn’t all that intriguing. Cal is down. VCU is down. Michigan and Marquette have struggled early. LSU is intriguing but only in the sense that they appear to not be a train-wreck this year. If Notre Dame doesn’t play Wichita State in the final, that tournament will not feature a single must-see game.

Now granted, much of this is due to the fact that Nike pulled 14 power programs out of the exempt event rotation for the PK80, and I’ll admit, that event should be fun. But man, it was such a buzzkill when I realized that the 16-team event was really just two eight-team tournaments.

It makes sense – you can’t have conference rivals facing off in the same tournament – but it just never clicked for me.

Which brings me back around to the larger point that I wanted to make: Can we start doing away with some of these events and play marquee non-conference games on campus again? On Thursday night, we got a chance to see No. 15 Xavier pay a visit to Wisconsin for the Gavitt Games, and it was everything that we love about college basketball. Two elite programs featuring an all-american facing off in front of a raucous crowd that spent the entire second half letting J.P. Macura know that they think he is an a******. Ethan Happ, the best post player in the country, according to Chris Mack, got pissed about not getting a couple of foul calls and proceeded to will Wisconsin back into the game only to see Trevon Bluiett bury two dagger threes in a minute stretch to put the game away.

After hitting those threes, Bluiett proceeded to shush the crowd. A minute later, after throwing down an alley-ooo to put Xavier up 12 with just seconds left on the clock, Macura proceeded to do the Gator Chomp over and over and over at the Wisconsin student section to remind them of who knocked the Badgers out of last year’s NCAA tournament.

That was awesome!

Yes, Macura was a little over the top, and yes, the Wisconsin fans probably earned Macura’s trolling, but everything about that game was what makes college basketball great.

And it was a game between the No. 15 team in America and an unranked Wisconsin program. It wasn’t even a marquee matchup. The environment at the Champions Classic rivaled that – there really is nothing better than having an arena packed with fan bases from both teams playing – but when those neutral site games don’t feature blue blood programs or teams with large alumni bases in the city or fans that are willing to spend the money to travel, it’s boring. Virginia Tech got upset by Saint Louis at Madison Square Garden last night and I’m pretty sure I could have put my son to sleep while sitting behind the basket.

So this is my plea to the NCAA tournament Selection Committee: Make it obvious just how much you value quality road wins in non-conference play. Make them so valuable that programs simply cannot afford not to play them. Make Xavier’s win at Wisconsin on Thursday night worth at least a seed line even if Wisconsin ends up being a bubble team.

That’s the only way we’re going to get teams to play great games on campus in the fall.

No. 15 Xavier’s win over Wisconsin should, and will, be rewarded by Selection Committee

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This Wisconsin team is probably not going to end up being quite as good as past Wisconsin teams.

That’s inevitable when you lose the players that they lost to graduation, but it also doesn’t change the fact that No. 15 Xavier went into the Kohl Center and snagged a win that is going to look quite good on Selection Sunday.

The Musketeers took care of the Badgers, 80-70, thanks to 25 points and nine boards from Trevon Bluiett and 20 points from J.P. Macura. Bluiett struggled to find a rhythm for much of the game, but he hit a pair of critical jumpers midway through the second half to stem a Wisconsin run and, with the game tied and just over a minute left on the clock, buried three-pointers on back-to-back possessions to lock up the win.

For a stretch midway through the second half, it looked like Wisconsin was getting ready to run away with this game. Ethan Happ – who finished with 21 points and eight assists and who Xavier head coach Chris Mack referred to as “one of the best post players in the entire country” – was in the midst of taking the game over and Wisconsin’s sold out Kohl Center was in full voice. That’s when Bluiett went into takeover mode, quieting the crowd and getting Xavier out of Madison with a win.

That shouldn’t be overlooked, and if there is any justice in the world, it will be the kind of thing that the Musketeers get rewarded for come Selection Sunday.

I enjoy the neutral site tournaments that pop up every year. They create some drama every November, and there are always some fun matchups over the weekend and afternoon basketball during the week. That’s great. But the best part of college hoops is the environment of playing a big game on campus. The crowd, the student section, players like Macura doing the Gator Chomp at the Wisconsin fans – the Badgers lost to Florida in the NCAA tournament last year – after they spent the entire second half bombarding him with ‘a******’ chants every time he touched the ball.

It was great.

And it will be better if that kind of a win, even against a Wisconsin team that is probably closer to being top 40-good than top 25-good, is something that the Selection Committee values. Those changes are supposedly coming, and it will be a good thing for the sport. Give top 15 teams an incentive to play road games in November.

Because Thursday night’s clash in the Kohl Center was everything that is great about college hoops.