Thad Matta

Weekend Preview: Yet another Big Ten battle, two key Big East games, UNLV’s last chance?

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Game of the Weekend: No. 1 Indiana at No. 10 Ohio State (Sun. 1:00 p.m. ET, CBS)

Oh hey, look at that. The best game of the weekend is in the Big Ten. Who saw that coming?

Last Saturday, the Hoosiers beat Michigan in a thriller at Assembly Hall in Bloomington, but they turned around and lost to Illinois on Thursday on the road in Champagne. Ohio State, on the other hand, is coming off of an overtime loss to the Wolverines on Tuesday that just may have been the game of the year to this point in the season, dropping them a game behind Indiana, Michigan and Michigan State in the Big Ten race.

It will be interesting to see how these two teams matchup with each other. Does Aaron Craft guard the bigger, more athletic Victor Oladipo? Is Oladipo going to get matched up with Deshaun Thomas? Is this the kind of game where Indiana’s zone can be effective? How in the world will the Buckeyes keep Cody Zeller in check in transition?

The fascinating thing about the Big Ten this year is that all of the top five teams are so different. In college basketball, styles win the fight, and there is so much contrast between the way that the teams at the top of the Big Ten play that makes all of these games so intriguing to watch. At some point, the analysis stops and you simply have to sit back and watch the shot. This is one of those games.

Five more games you need to watch:

  • No. 11 Louisville at No. 25 Notre Dame (9:00 p.m. ET, ESPN): On paper, this looks like a great matchup for the Irish. They have plenty of shooters, they have a talented pair of veteran guards in the back court, they have a bruiser in the middle in Jack Cooley and they pass the ball extremely well. But the Cardinals seem to be getting back in stride after a three-game losing streak earlier this year. Anyone else excited to see Dickie V call a game featuring Russ Smith?
  • No. 15 New Mexico at UNLV (9:00 p.m. ET, NBC Sports Network): This is the last chance for the Rebels. A loss at Fresno State dropped UNLV to 4-4, a full three games behind the Lobos in the Mountain West standings. Losing on Saturday puts them four back, an insurmountable deficit given the strength of this year’s MWC. UNLV is a flawed team, and while I’m not completely sold on New Mexico yet, they haven’t done anything to make anyone believe they are the favorite to win the league.
  • Memphis at Southern Miss (4:00 p.m. ET, CBS Sports Network): The Tigers got huge news on Thursday when they received word that Conference USA had overturned the Flagrant 2 call on Shaq Goodwin and ruled it a Flagrant 1, meaning that he wouldn’t be automatically suspended by the league for Saturday’s game. Because this is a huge game. USM lost this week, meaning that it is no longer a battle of the undefeateds in CUSA, but a loss to the Tigers on Saturday drops the Golden Eagles two games out of first place.
  • No. 23 Pitt at No. 17 Cincinnati (6:00 p.m. ET, ESPN): You will never see a more prototypically Big East basketball game than this year’s Pitt team taking on this year’s Cincinnati team. Both play a slower pace. Both have really good guard play. Both have a big, physical, athletic front court that’s more raw talent than it is skill. The key to beating the Bearcats? Stifling Sean Kilpatrick and Cashmere Wright. Tray Woodall and James Robinson will have their work cut out for them.
  • Iowa State at No. 13 Kansas State (6:00 p.m. ET, ESPN2): It’s time for the Wildcats to exact some revenge. Back in January, the Cyclones knocked off the Wildcats at home. Fred Hoiberg has his team playing well. They are versatile, they are athletic, their front court is a matchup nightmare and they love to fire away from three. They’re a fun team to watch. But Bramlage Coliseum isn’t a fun place to play.

And what about the mid-majors?:

  • Sacred Heart at Bryant (Sun. 4:00 p.m. ET)
  • Oral Roberts at Stephen F. Austin (7:00 p.m. ET)
  • Tennessee State at Murray State (8:00 p.m. ET)
  • Stony Brook at Hartford (7:00 p.m. ET, ESPN3)
  • Illinois State at No. 16 Creighton (10:00 p.m. ET, ESPN2)

You can find Rob on twitter @RobDauster.

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.