Keith Appling

Weekend Preview: Is this the weekend Michigan State takes control of B1G?

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Is this the weekend Michigan State takes control of the Big Ten?: It seems like we make the mistake every season: we forget about the Spartans after a couple of losses to good teams in the non-conference portion of the schedule, only to watch as Tom Izzo leads his team on a courageous run through the Big Ten regular season before reestablishing his dominance in March. You think we would have learned by now.

But apparently we haven’t.

Because all anyone can talk about in the Big Ten is Michigan and Indiana, conveniently forgetting about the team that is currently tied with them at the top of the league standings. And if the Spartans ended up taking over sole possession of first place in the conference on Monday morning, no one should be surprised. Michigan is at Wisconsin on Saturday. Indiana is at Ohio State on Sunday. The Spartans can’t overlook a scrappy Purdue squad (7:00 p.m. ET, Big Ten Network), but how many people would have thought back in December that the Spartans could have control of the best conference in the country in February?

Is Kansas in trouble in the Big 12?: All of a sudden, the Big 12 race is wide-open. Thanks to back-to-back losses to Oklahoma State and TCU, the Jayhawks have lost their two-game advantage and have fallen back into a first-place tie with Kansas State. And not only are they coming off of their worst performance of the Bill Self era, they have to visit Oklahoma on Saturday (4:00 p.m. ET, ESPN) and follow that up with a visit from Kansas State on Big Monday.

All of a sudden, what looked like it could have simply been a two-game blip on the Kansas radar has become the potential for catastrophe for the Jayhawks. They’ve won at least a share of eight straight Big 12 regular season titles. I doubt anyone on the roster wants to have their name associated with the one Kansas team that broke that streak. Is that adding to the pressure that Kansas feels? Does that play a role in their lack of confidence on the offensive side of the ball? Who knows, but what’s clear is that a third straight loss would be a disaster for Kansas.

The season’s top two scorers square off: South Dakota State’s Nate Wolters went for 53 points on Thursday night in a come-from-behind win at IPFW. That’s the most points that any player has scored in a game this season. The previous high? Travis Bader of Oakland, who went for 47 in a win over IPFW. SDSU visits Oakland on Saturday afternoon (5:00 p.m. ET). That should be fun.

Does anyone want to be the second-best team in the SEC?: Have we really reached a point in the season where Kentucky is the second-best team in the SEC? Because, at this point, we can say with complete certainty that it’s not Missouri, who lost to Texas A&M on the road on Thursday night. The Tigers have no cohesiveness, can’t win on the road and lack leadership. But they also got smacked at home by an Ole Miss team that hanged their hat on the fact that they beat Missouri this year. For what it’s worth, Kentucky hosts Auburn on Saturday afternoon, meaning that the Rebels will likely have to win at Missouri on Saturday if they want to remain a game out of first place in the league.

Every Saturday is going to be insane in the Atlantic 10: But this seems more ridiculous that usual:

  • VCU at Charlotte (7:00 p.m. ET)
  • No. 14 Butler at George Washington (2:00 p.m. ET)
  • Temple at Dayton (11:00 a.m. ET, ESPNU)
  • St. Joe’s at UMass (2:00 p.m. ET, ESPN2)
  • St. Louis at Richmond (6:00 p.m. ET)

You can find Rob on twitter @RobDauster.

No. 14 Cal goes 0-2 in Las Vegas Invitational

Jaylen Brown
AP Photo/Ben Margot
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After midnight on the east coast on Thanksgiving, No. 14 Cal blew a 15 point second half lead against San Diego State, allowing the Aztecs to use a 30-6 run to put away the game and advance to the final of the Las Vegas Invitational. That’s the same San Diego State team had scored 43 points in a loss to Arkansas-Little Rock last week.

Not 24 hours later, the Golden Bears were shredded defensively by the Richmond Spiders, losing 94-90 in the consolation game of a four-team tournament they were considered to be the heavy favorite in.

It’s a disappointing two-game stretch for Cal, who entered the season as a Pac-12 favorite and had looked the part for the first four games of the season.

And the issue appears to be on the defensive end of the floor.

Richmond is a good Atlantic 10 team. Terry Allen and Marshall Wood are high-major big men, Shawn’Dre Jones is a jitterbug at the point and Chris Mooney runs a Princeton-esque system that is very difficult to prepare for without a day in-between games. So it’s not really surprising that the Spiders gave Cal a fight.

But 94 points?

On the heels of giving up 44 points in the second half against the offensively-challenged Aztecs?

That’s a problem, one that I’m sure that Cuonzo Martin is going to address this week in practice. Martin has managed to put together a roster that is build for small-ball, with four talented perimeter players surrounding a first round pick in the post. But that’s not the style that he’s known for. Martin played his college ball at Purdue in the Gene Keady days. He cut his teeth as a head coach at Missouri State in the Missouri Valley. His team’s at Tennessee were known for being tough and physical defensively.

That’s how Martin coaches, which is part of the reason Cal had such hype entering the year.

The talents of Tyrone Wallace, Jaylen Brown, Ivan Rabb, Jabari Bird and Jordan Mathews on a team with a coach that gets teams to defend the way Martin does? It’s no surprise that pundits would be optimistic.

But as of now, they have some work to do defensively if they want to live up to that hype.

Tyler Ulis injured as No. 1 Kentucky beats South Florida

Tyler Ulis, Ky Howard
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MIAMI (AP) Jamal Murray had 21 points and No. 1 Kentucky scored the final 15 points of the first half on the way to beating South Florida 84-63 in the HoopHall Miami Invitational on Friday.

Skal Labissiere added 17 points for the Wildcats (6-0), who led by as many as 31. Charles Matthews scored 11 points and Isaiah Briscoe finished with seven assists for Kentucky, now a winner of 37 consecutive regular-season games and 39 in a row against unranked opponents.

Chris Perry scored 14 points for USF (1-5), which has lost 18 consecutive games against teams ranked in the Top 25. Jaleel Cousins added 12 points on 5-for-6 shooting, and Jahmal McMurray scored 11 points for the Bulls.

Kentucky played the second half without starting guard Tyler Ulis, who departed with a right elbow injury after getting hurt while fighting for a ball loose on the floor.

Kentucky announced after the game that the injury was a hyperextension of the elbow and that he will be day-to-day.

The Bulls were within 27-21 with 6 minutes left in the first half after McMurray banked in a 3-pointer only a few feet away from where John Calipari was standing, and the look of anguish on the Kentucky coach’s face was clear.

It didn’t last long.

The Wildcats scored on seven of their next nine possessions and the game was over by halftime, Kentucky going into the break with a 42-21 lead.

It was a reunion for plenty of people on both benches. Calipari squared off with his former assistant Orlando Antigua, now in his second year leading USF. Antigua’s staff includes another former Calipari assistant in Rod Strickland, plus former Kentucky basketball staff members Mike Malone and Dominic Lombardi.

So the staffs have plenty of familiarity. On the court, there was plenty of disparity. Kentucky finished with a commanding 23-6 edge in points off turnovers and finished with 16 assists to the Bulls’ six.