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Late Night Snacks: No. 7 Florida, No. 8 Michigan State both make statements Tuesday

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Game of the Day: No. 8 Michigan State 75, No. 4 Michigan 52

In a crowded Big Ten race, Michigan State is starting to prove its worth. Granted, it caught Michigan at the end of a long stretch of tough conference games, but the Spartans were firing on all cylinders Tuesday. The inside game was working with Derrick Nix. The outside game was working with Gary Harris. The defense was disrupting Michigan’s array of offensive weapons.

Michigan State can win games in a number of ways, showing another unique way Tuesday night. I’m not saying Michigan is no longer an elite team, but Michigan State proved that the Wolverines need to improve that interior play before the NCAA tournament rolls around.

Important Outcomes

1. Florida 69, Kentucky 52

Florida was in cruise control for much of this one, though Kentucky looked like they had chances to make a comeback. The biggest story and really the only story considering both of these teams will likely be in the NCAA tournament, is the health of Kentucky freshman Nerlens Noel. He left the game with what appeared to be a pretty serious knee injury. For the sake of the Wildcats and his NBA future, hopefully it is only minor.

2. Virginia 73, Virginia Tech 55

Virginia could not suffer a letdown win Tuesday and they avoided such a scenario. With road games at UNC and Miami coming up, this win over the Hokies scores another victory in a key category: winning games at home in which you are favored. The Cavaliers are now 8-3 in conference play.

3. Missouri State 67, Indiana State 65

The Missouri Valley race is a wild one. Wichita State lost three in a row before bouncing back against Indiana State. Creighton has lost two games in a row. Now, Indiana State, poised to have taken at least a share of the lead in the MVC race Tuesday, could not capitalize. Jake Odum did all he could with 21 points, nine rebounds, and seven assists, but it was not enough.


1. Gary Harris, Michigan State (17 points, 5-of-9 3pt FG, 4 rebounds, 3 assists, 3 steals)

While still battling through back spasms, Harris was a key engine for Michigan State in its win over Michigan. The Spartans are looking like a serious contender not only in the Big Ten, but in March as we move forward.

2. Joe Harris, Virginia (26 points, 7-of-12 FG, 5-of-7 3pt FG)

Harris has hit the 20-point mark in four of the last five games and, fittingly enough, the Cavaliers are 4-1 when he reaches that scoring total. He was 5-of-7 from three-point range and helped Virginia keeps its NCAA tournament hopes alive. At 8-3 in the ACC, the Cavaliers are now solidly in third place in the ACC.

3. Patric Young, Florida (12 points, 5-of-7 FG, 11 rebounds)

Without Will Yeguete in the lineup due to injury, Young had to step up on the interior and did so with a big double-double in a blowout win. He will only become more important as we come down the home stretch of conference play.


1. Tim Hardaway, Jr., Michigan (2 points, 1-of-11 FG, 0-of-5 3pt FG)

The Michigan offense was stagnant against an active Michigan State defensive attack and Hardaway, Jr. fell victim to it as well. He never found his groove from the field and, alongside Glenn Robinson III, who also struggled.

2. Ryan Harrow, Kentucky (0 points, 0-of-3 FG, 2 TOs)

One key element that has been missing from the Kentucky offense this season is reliable point guard play. Part of the reason the Wildcats slumped against Florida Tuesday was because Harrow struggled and was unable to spark much on the offensive end.

3. Derek Needham, Fairfield (5 points, 1-of-10 FG, 6 TOs)

Fairfield trailed by 21 points at halftime and a lack of production from the team’s leading scorer did not help matters.

Daniel Martin is a writer and editor at JohnnyJungle.com, covering St. John’s. You can find him on Twitter:@DanielJMartin_

Battle 4 Atlantis title proves Syracuse will be relevant this season

rad Horrigan/The Courant via AP
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Michael Gbinije scored 20 points and Trevor Cooney added 15 points and five assists as Syracuse left the Bahamas with a title, beating No. 25 Texas A&M 74-67 in the finals of the Battle 4 Atlantis.

I guess it’s time to start taking the Orange seriously.

There’s a lot to like about this group. Gbinije and Cooney are both fifth-year seniors that not only understand how to operate at the top of the 2-3 zone that Jim Boeheim runs, but they both have developed into versatile offensive weapons. Cooney was known as nothing more than a jump-shooter when he arrived up north, but he’s now averaging 3.5 assists on the season.

And Gbinije?

He has been one of the best players in the country through the first two weeks of the season. Through six games, he’s averaged 19.7 points, 4.2 assists, 3.0 boards and 2.8 steals while shooting 51.3 percent from beyond the arc.

Freshman Malachi Richardson, who had 16 points in the win over A&M, has scored double-figures in all six games this season while another freshman, Tyler Lydon, was against terrific on Friday, finishing with 13 points and eight boards. He’s now shooting 58.8 percent from beyond the arc this season.

And that’s where this team is going to do the majority of their damage this season.

Through six games, they’re shooting 41.1 percent from beyond the arc. In the three wins in the Bahamas, the Orange knocked were 34-for-73 from beyond the arc, a 46.5 percent clip. The question isn’t whether or not that rate can continue — four of the six players that saw action on Friday are dangerous three-point shooters while the other two, Tyler Roberson  and DaJuan Coleman, aren’t going to be shooting threes — but what happens on the nights where the threes aren’t going down.

There are going to be nights where they shoot 5-for-25 instead of 11-for-25. Will they have enough firepower then? Will their defense be good enough? Will guys like Roberson and Coleman be able to supply a scoring punch? Will Cooney, Gbinije and Richardson attack the paint instead of settling for jumpers?

Because at the very least, these three games in the Bahamas have proven that the Orange are going to be relevant this season, even in the loaded ACC. Whether that means they’re going to push for a top four finish or simply end the year as a tournament team remains to be seen, but this much is clear: Jim Boeheim has himself a squad Upstate.

No. 10 Gonzaga outlasts No. 18 UConn despite late offensive struggles

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No. 10 Gonzaga survived a furious rally from No. 18 UConn to win the third place game in the Battle 4 Atlantis, 73-70.

The Zags were up by as much as 21 points early in the second half, leading 48-27, but UConn slowly chipped away at the lead. Kyle Wiltjer led four players in double-figures with 17 points while Eric McClellan added 15 points, making a number of key plays in the second half when it looked like the Zags were in danger of giving away the lead.

As good as Gonzaga looked in the first 22 minutes of this game — and they looked really, really good — the second half exposed the concerns that many had with this group entering the season. Kevin Pangos and Gary Bell Jr., who both shot around 40 percent from beyond the arc and started for four years, graduated, meaning that Gonzaga’s point guard situation is, more or less, Josh Perkins.

Perkins was terrific in the second half of a loss to Texas A&M on Thursday. He played 17 foul-plagued minutes against UConn. When UConn’s defense ratcheted up during the second half, Gonzaga struggled finding a way to consistently get good shots on the offensive end. Part of that was due to ineffective point guard play and part of it was a result of not really having anyone on the offensive end that can create a look on their own. As skilled as Wiltjer is, his impact can be limited when pick-and-pop actions aren’t working and he’s getting doubled in the post.

Perkins is talented, but this is essentially his first season of college basketball; he was a medical redshirt last season after breaking his jaw last November. There are going to be ups-and-downs, and that’s problematic on a team where he is essentially the only point guard on the roster.

The good news?

Gonzaga beat a good UConn team on a day when their best players struggled in crunch-time. It was McClellan and Kyle Dranginis that made the big plays down the stretch, not the big names on the Gonzaga roster.