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. 5 Xavier stumbles at Creighton, lose 70-54

Creighton's Cole Huff (13) and Toby Hegner, left, guard Xavier's Jalen Reynolds (1) during the first half of an NCAA college basketball game in Omaha, Neb., Tuesday, Feb. 9, 2016. (AP Photo/Nati Harnik)
(AP Photo/Nati Harnik)
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Mo Watson went for a career-high 32 points, seven boards and five assists as Creighton jumped out to an early 21-4 lead and never looked back, beating No. 5 Xavier, 70-54, in Omaha on Tuesday night.

 

It was a massive win for the Bluejays, who still have an outside shot at earning an at-large bid this season. (We wrote all about that here.)

As well as Creighton played, the bigger story here may actually be Xavier, who lost for just the third time this season; they had been the only top ten team with just two losses to their name.

The issue for the Musketeers tonight was two-fold, but they both are a symptom of what could be an issue down the road for this team: Xavier doesn’t really have a true point guard.

They certainly didn’t have anyone to stop Watson. By the second half, they had essentially asked Reynolds, who was playing the middle of their 1-3-1 zone to matchup with Watson. It was weird but was actually somewhat effective.

The Musketeers also started out ice cold from the floor, missing 11 of their first 13 shots, and those misses led to leak outs from Bluejays, who got layups and open threes in transition to build that 17 point lead. Once Xavier got behind, it turned into scramble mode for Xavier. They forced shots early in the clock and didn’t start pounding the ball into the paint until it was too late. What they needed was someone to be able to settle things, to ensure that offensive would get initiated and sets would get executed when they were able to get the lead down to single digits.

That 1-for-19 shooting performance from beyond the arc certainly didn’t help matters, and neither did the fact that they got just nine field goals all game from players not named James Farr or Jalen Reynolds. The most frustrating part for head coach Chris Mack? They had good shots. It wasn’t like Creighton took away everything that Xavier wanted to do.

The kids just had one of those nights where nothing went down.

Those happen.

And when you combine them with a total inability to contain the opposing team’s point guard, what you get is a 16 point loss on the road against a team that was desperate to get a good win.

Gill’s 16, ‘D’ lead No. 7 Virginia past Virginia Tech, 67-49

Lehigh Virginia Basketball
AP Photo/Andrew Shurtleff
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CHARLOTTESVILLE, Va. (AP) Anthony Gill scored 16 points and No. 7 Virginia turned the tables on state rival Virginia Tech with a 67-49 victory Tuesday night, the Cavaliers’ seventh straight.

Isaiah Wilkins added a career-best 14 points and Malcolm Brogdon had 12 for the Cavaliers (20-4, 9-3 Atlantic Coast Conference). Virginia avenged a 70-68 loss to the Hokies in Blacksburg on Jan. 4 in what rates as their worst performance of the season, and extended their winning streak at John Paul Jones Arena to 17 games.

Freshman Justin Robinson scored 16 points and classmate Chris Clarke had 11 in his first action for the Hokies (13-12, 5-7) since breaking his right foot in late December. Virginia Tech’s top two scorers, Zach LeDay (16.0 ppg) and Seth Allen (14.5), were limited to seven and six points, respectively, in part because of foul trouble.

Virginia coach Tony Bennett said his team wasn’t ready to play when it lost to the Hokies earlier, but they have been surging of late and were focused from the outset. They were credited with assists and 14 of their first 15 baskets and forced 10 turnovers in the first half; they forced just eight in the last meeting of the teams.

For most of the game, the Hokies had more turnovers than field goals.

The Cavaliers led 32-20 at halftime and extended their advantage to 47-29 on a three-point play by Mike Tobey with 12:11 remaining. It capped an 11-4 run for Virginia, during which LeDay was whistled for his fourth foul. On Virginia’s next trip down court, it got the ball to Gill inside and LeDay basically backed off and let him score, quickly earning a spot on the bench.

The Cavaliers’ lead never dipped into single digits again.

The Hokies had just eight turnovers and outscored Virginia 26-6 off turnovers in their first meeting. This time, Virginia Tech had 10 turnovers by halftime and the Cavaliers had already turned them into 15 points. Virginia Tech finished with 16 field goals and 15 turnovers.

Already leading 9-6, Virginia got scoring from eight players in a 23-8 run that spanned about 8 1/2 minutes.

Gill started it with a dunk, Brogdon hit a 3-pointer, London Perrantes had a four-point play and Wilkins finished it with two free throws, giving the Cavaliers a 32-14 lead with 2:06 left in the half. They didn’t score again, and the Hokies closed within 32-20 by halftime.

TIP-INS

Virginia Tech: The Hokies shot 57.1 percent (15 of 26) from the field in the second half of their 70-68 victory against Virginia on Jan. 4. … Virginia Tech’s starting five totaled four points in the first half.

Virginia: The Cavaliers have held four consecutive opponents to 50 points or fewer.

UP NEXT

Virginia Tech plays at No. 12 Miami next Wednesday.

Virginia plays at Duke on Saturday.

Follow Hank on Twitter: http://www.twitter.com/hankkurzjr

The AP’s college basketball page: http://www.collegebasketball.ap.org