Michigan v Indiana

Pregame Shootaround 2.12.13: Two massive rivalry games

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Game of the Night: No. 4 Michigan at No. 8 Michigan State (9:00 p.m. ET, ESPN)

It’s just another day in the Big Ten, as Michigan and Michigan State square off in an in-state rivalry that just so happens to be between two top ten teams looking win the league’s regular season title. The way the standings currently breakdown, the Wolverines are a game in back of the Spartans, who are tied with Indiana for first place. A win tonight would put Tom Izzo’s club in a great position to win the title, as the Hoosiers have a number of tough road games left on the schedule.

Michigan will have their hands full tonight trying to avoid falling two games out of first place. The key matchup for them is going to be at the power forward spot. Michigan plays small, using Glenn Robinson III — a natural small forward — there while the Spartans are one of the biggest teams in the country. Adreian Payne will likely draw the matchup with GR3. Can Michigan exploit Payne’s perimeter deficiencies defensively, or will his size be too much for the Wolverines to overcome?

The Other Game of the Night: No. 25 Kentucky at No. 7 Florida (7:00 p.m. ET, ESPN)

Here’s the matchup everyone’s been waiting for in the SEC. Kentucky, who has struggled in stretches this season, has found a rhythm playing against come of the SEC’s bottom-feeders, climbing their way back into the top 25 and the race for the SEC regular season title. That won’t be an easy thing to accomplish with a trip to the O-Dome in Gainesville standing in front of them. It wasn’t that long ago that people were talking about Florida like they were the best team in the country, and one ugly performance at Arkansas is an easy way to forget just how good this team has been this season.

The x-factor here: Will Yeguete’s injury. He was such a key component to Florida’s press, and that press would have been a major factor in Tuesday’s game with Kentucky’s back court question marks. Can the Wildcats take advantage? A win would draw them into a tie with the Gators for first in the SEC.

Mid-Major matchup of the night: Boston U. at Vermont (7:00 p.m. ET, ESPN3)

This will be the last time that two of the most storied programs in the America East history square off as league rivals, as BU will be heading for the Patriot League after this season.

Five Things to Watch For

1) If there is any team in the country that cannot afford a bad loss right now, it’s Virginia. They already have one of the most difficult resumes to project, losing to rival Virginia Tech at home would be disastrous. (7:00 p.m. ET, ESPN2)

2) Indiana State has had some trouble on the road this season, and Missouri State has done a fine job of playing spoiler in the MVC. The Sycamores are in a good position to in the Missouri Valley and earn an at-large bid. They cannot go risking that with a loss in Springfield. (8:00 p.m. ET, ESPN3)

3) Alabama has one of this season’s biggest scheduling quirks — they play nine straight SEC games against teams ranked above 100 in the RPI. I guess their are some major conference teams getting a taste of the mid-major lifestyle this season. Georgia’s no pushover, however. Kentavious Caldwell-Pope is playing some of the best basketball of his career and the Bulldogs have won five straight. (9:00 p.m. ET, ESPNU)

4) Set0n Hall and Rutgers square off in the Big East’s intra-state rivalry that no one seems to care about. (7:00 p.m. ET, ESPN2)

5) Cincinnati looks to end their losing skid by knocking off a pesky Villanova team at home. (8:00 p.m. ET, ESPN3)

Top 25

No. 4 Michigan at No. 8 Michigan State (9:00 p.m. ET, ESPN)

No. 25 Kentucky at No. 7 Florida (7:00 p.m. ET, ESPN)

You can find Rob on twitter @RobDauster.

No. 22 Cincinnati’s loss to No. 16 Butler shines light on AAC’s struggles

INDIANAPOLIS, IN - DECEMBER 10: Head coach Mick Cronin of the Cincinnati Bearcats reacts against the Butler Bulldogs in the first half of the game at Hinkle Fieldhouse on December 10, 2016 in Indianapolis, Indiana. (Photo by Joe Robbins/Getty Images)
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Kelan Martin scored 20 points and Andrew Chrabascz added 12 points, four boards and five assists as No. 16 Butler bounced back from a tough loss at Indiana State to beat No. 22 Cincinnati, 75-65.

The Bulldogs had been undefeated on the season prior to the loss to the Sycamores, but their ranking was built on the fact that they had beaten Arizona, who was No. 8 at the time, as well as a trio of high-major programs that look destined for the NIT.

Cincinnati probably isn’t destined for the NIT. Their top 25 ranking is justified, which is what makes this win valuable. Quality non-conference wins matter, and this is just one of a handful of good wins for what has proven to be one of the most top-heavy conferences in the country. Villanova, Creighton, Xavier and Butler all look capable of reaching the Sweet 16 this season.

The opposite is true for Cincinnati, who look like the flag-bearer in a conference that isn’t really all that good. They’re the best team in the AAC this season, but that’s a conference that has consistently disappointed this year. SMU, Temple and UConn have all struggled more than we expected them to. Tulsa and Memphis are in rebuilding mode. Houston was supposed to be good this season but they’ve yet to live up to the preseason hype.

Think about it like this: The only team in the AAC without multiple losses on the season is now UCF. That’s … not ideal, and it’s going to be interesting to see just how many bids the league is able to generate.

Think about it. Temple has beaten West Virginia and Florida State while losing to New Hampshire and UMass. SMU’s best win is either Pitt or TCU, both of whom are borderline tournament teams. UConn beat Syracuse but has some atrocious losses on their resume. Houston beat Rhode Island but lost to Arkansas and LSU. Memphis beat Iowa, but Iowa’s not all that good. UCF’s best win is … Mississippi State?

Cincinnati’s lone quality win is at Iowa State, who is about to drop out of the top 25.

POSTERIZED: Wichita State’s Daishon Smith dunks on Oklahoma big man

WICHITA, KS - NOVEMBER 13:  Guard Daishon Smith of the Wichita State Shockers drives up court past forward Roschon Prince #23 of the Long Beach State 49ers during the first half on November 13, 2016 at Charles Koch Arena in Wichita, Kansas.  (Photo by Peter Aiken/Getty Images)
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Daishon Smith is 6-foot-1.

Kristian Doolittle is 6-foot-7.

The lil guy won this battle:

Here’s another angle of the dunk, which sent Wichita State’s bench into hysterics:

POSTERIZED: Duke’s Grayson Allen with a Dunk of the Year candidate (VIDEO)

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It looks like Grayson Allen’s toe is healthy. I’d say his explosivness is back:

Whoa.

Yeah.

POSTERIZED: Five-star Class of 2017 guard Trevon Duval dunks on 6’8″ defender

CHARLOTTE, NC - JULY 9: Trevon Duval during the 2015  Under Armour All-America Basketball Camp on July 9, 2015 at Queens College in Charlotte, NC. (Photo by Ned Dishman/Under Armour)
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Class of 2017 point guard Trevon Duval put down a huge poster dunk on a 6’8″ defender on Saturday as the five-star prospect showed why many consider him the top lead guard in high school basketball.

The 6-foot-2 Duval is considered the No. 3 overall prospect in the Class of 2017 by Rivals.

Nigel Hayes shines against as No. 17 Wisconsin beats Marquette

MILWAUKEE, WI - DECEMBER 10:  Nigel Hayes #10 of the Wisconsin Badgers is fouled by Luke Fischer #40 of the Marquette Golden Eagles during the first half of a game at the BMO Harris Bradley Center on December 10, 2016 in Milwaukee, Wisconsin.  (Photo by Stacy Revere/Getty Images)
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What a difference a year makes.

Last season at this time, Wisconsin dropped a home game to a Marquette team that was headed to the NIT.

This year?

The Badgers put six players in double-figures as they went into Milwaukee and knocked off Marquette, 93-84.

Bronson Koenig continued his hot shooting, finishing with 18 points and six assists while shooting 4-for-6 from beyond the arc. Vitto Brown chipped in with 15 points, Khalil Iverson had 16 and Ethan Happ chipped in with 11 despite battling foul trouble all afternoon.

But the really story here – hell, the story of Wisconsin’s season to date – has been the change in the way that Nigel Hayes plays.

Hayes was terrific again on Saturday. He had 17 points, nine boards, four assists and three steals. He shot 6-for-10 from the floor and attempted just a pair of threes, making one of them. He had the ball in his hands when Wisconsin was trying to kill off the game, and, more importantly, head coach Greg Gard has seem to start to take advantage of just how good Hayes can be as a facilitator.

There are a couple of points that need to be made here:

  1. When Hayes plays like this, he deserves to be in the all-american discussion. He’s averaging 18.0 points, 7.3 boards and 6.7 assists in the three games Wisconsin has played against high-major competition since the change, and the Badgers have won five straight games while playing easily their best basketball of the season.
  2. And it’s not just because of the numbers he puts up. When Hayes operates as Wisconsin’s de-facto point guard, it makes everyone else on the roster better. For starters, it allows Koenig to play off the ball, where he seems to be more effective. He’s at his best when he’s hunting shots and trying to create off the bounce, but his aggressiveness can be detrimental when he’s the only one touching the ball. It also means offense runs through Happ more often since Koenig isn’t dominating possession, and it lets guys like Brown space the floor because they’re actually able to get rhythm threes.

As of today, Wisconsin is the favorite to win the Big Ten, even if Indiana is far more likely to end up being a No. 1 seed in March.