Chris Udofia, Pierce Hornung

Pregame Shootaround 2.13.13: Two great rivalries highlight loaded slate

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Game of the Day: San Diego State at No. 24 Colorado State (10:00 p.m. ET, CBS Sports Network)

This is a game that Colorado State really needs to win if they are going to bring home the Mountain West regular season title. While the Rams do get New Mexico at home, they still have road trip to UNLV, Air Force, Boise State and Wyoming. Putting themselves in a one-game hole behind the Lobos with that kind of schedule remaining would be tough.

The Rams also happen to matchup quite well with the Aztecs. Colorado State is big and physical and one of the best rebounding teams in the country. They’ll be going up against an SDSU team that’s perimeter oriented and currently dealing with injuries to their starting back court of Chase Tapley and Xavier Thames.

Part of what makes the MWC so entertaining this season is that the conference is so deep, and that, in turn, means that there really aren’t all that many bad losses to be had. But just because it’s not a bad loss doesn’t mean that the loss won’t hurt.

Who’s Getting Upset?: No. 6 Syracuse at UConn (7:00 p.m. ET, ESPN)

This is a rivalry game, and rivalry games are always going to be difficult to predict. But there’s so much more to the story here. UConn, with everything that they’re dealing with as a program, has nothing to play for this season beyond pride and the chance to play spoiler. And there would be nothing that the Huskies would enjoy more than handing a loss to the Orange — the team that helped precipitate the downfall of the Big East, which leaves UConn as a team without a conference — that would knock them out of sole possession of first place in the Big East.

Mid-Major Matchup of the Day: Creighton at Northern Iowa (8:00 p.m. ET)

Creighton needs a win. Badly. They’ve lost two in a row and four of their last seven games. Four of their next five games are on the road, and they close the season with a home game against Wichita State. That’s a long way from an easy schedule, but thanks to some question performances from Indiana State and Wichita State of late, the Bluejays still control their own destiny in the Missouri Valley. Win out, and they’re regular season champs. Sounds easy, but it won’t be. Northern Iowa has had a tough season, but Cedar Rapids is never an easy place to get a win.

Five Things to Watch For

1) North Carolina and Duke play tonight. We gave it the preview treatment here. I think the Blue Devils win easily. (9:00 p.m. ET, ESPN)

2) Butler will be playing without starting center Andrew Smith as they take on one of the A-10’s biggest surprises in Charlotte. The Bulldogs cannot afford to lose a game and fall a game off the pace in the conference standings. (7:00 p.m. ET)

3) No. 22 Memphis has finally made their way back into the top 25, but the question is whether or not this team has really gotten better, or if they are simply feasting on the lesser competition in Conference USA. Want to prove it’s not the latter? Don’t lose league games you should win. (8:00 p.m. ET, CBS Sports Network)

4) Believe it or not, a visit to Texas A&M may be the toughest game that Ole Miss has left on their schedule. And considering that they’re anything but a lock for the NCAA tournament at this point, the Rebels probably cannot afford a loss tonight. (7:00 p.m. ET, ESPN3)

5) Oregon is 2-3 since losing Dominic Artis to a foot injury. Their first game without the freshman point guard was against Washington at home. The Ducks won. (11:00 p.m. ET, ESPN2)

The Top 25

  • Nebraska at No. 1 Indiana (7:00 p.m. ET, Big Ten Network)
  • North Carolina at No. 2 Duke (9:00 p.m. ET, ESPN)
  • No. 3 Miami at Florida State (7:00 p.m. ET, ESPN2)
  • No. 6 Syracuse at UConn (7:00 p.m. ET, ESPN)
  • Charlotte at No. 11 Butler (7:00 p.m. ET)
  • No. 17 Oklahoma State at Texas Tech (7:00 p.m. ET, ESPNU)
  • DePaul at No. 21 Notre Dame (7:00 p.m. ET, ESPN3)
  • Central Florida at No. 22 Memphis (8:00 p.m. ET, CBS Sports Network)
  • San Diego State at No. 24 Colorado State (10:00 p.m. ET, CBS Sports Network)
  • No. 23 Oregon at Washington (11:00 p.m. ET, ESPN2)

Other Notable Games

  • Delaware at Northeastern (7:00 p.m. ET)
  • Akron at Eastern Michigan (7:00 p.m. ET)
  • Iowa State at Texas (8:00 p.m. ET, ESPN3)
  • Creighton at Northern Iowa (8:00 p.m. ET)
  • Purdue at Illinois (9:00 p.m. ET, Big Ten Network)
  • West Virginia at Baylor (9:00 p.m. ET, ESPN2)

You can find Rob on twitter @RobDauster.

Duke knocks off No. 13 Louisville in first game of critical four-game stretch

Duke's Grayson Allen (3) and Marshall Plumlee (40) react during the second half of an NCAA college basketball game against Louisville in Durham, N.C., Monday, Feb. 8, 2016. Duke won 72-65. (AP Photo/Gerry Broome)
(AP Photo/Gerry Broome)
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Grayson Allen scored 16 of his 19 points in the first half and Brandon Ingram added 18 points, 10 boards and four assists as Duke picked up a critical win over No. 13 Louisville in Cameron Indoor Stadium on Monday night, 72-65.

A call this a critical win for the Blue Devils because it kicks off what may be the most important two-week stretch of Duke’s schedule This weekend, the Blue Devils square off with No. 9 Virginia. Next Wednesday, they’re at the Dean Dome to take on No. 7 North Carolina. Four days after that, they head to the Bluegrass State to pay a visit to Louisville.

 

With the way that Duke has been struggling on the defensive end of the floor without Amile Jefferson, that’s a stretch that could derail Duke’s season; entering Monday, all four of those games were losable. But a four-game winning streak — or even going 3-1 in that stretch — could completely change the tenor of what has been a fairly disappointing year for the defending champs, and that’s before they get Jefferson back to 100 percent.

And the difference was defensively, at least in the first half.

I’ve written in this space a number of times about how opponents know what they’re going to get from Duke defensively. Coach K, traditionally, plays half court man-to-man defense, switching every exchange — ball-screen, off-ball pick or simply when two players run by one another — that doesn’t involve the center. In recent years, he’s played some zone in situations where he defense has struggled or, like this season, when he doesn’t have the depth to risk foul trouble. We’ve even seen some 2-2-1 pressure from him of late.

But on Monday night, Duke played straight man-to-man for much of the game, and in the first half, it seemed to fluster the Cardinals. They scored just 24 points in the first 20 minutes, and while Louisville did find a way to break Duke down defensively in the second half — they shot better than 55 percent from the floor after the break — but part of the reason Duke was able to win this game was the lead they built. After a three from Allen opened scoring in the second half, the Blue Devils were up by 14, and while Louisville made a run down the stretch, they could never get control of the game.

Duke is becoming appointment viewing for basketball nerds like me that pay too much attention to X’s-and-O’s to see what kind of wrinkle Coach K is going to put in to try and compensate defensively, so I’m not sure that this performance sticks. But it is worth noting that this was the first time in eight games the Blue Devils gave up less than 1.0 PPP, and the first time since Dec. 19th they did so against an NCAA tournament-caliber team.

As far as Louisville is concerned, you have to tip your hat to those kids. They played their hearts out and fought back from a big deficit in one of the toughest places in the country to play. They did all that three days after their school ripped their hearts out with an NCAA tournament ban for this season.

So good for them. You never know how a team is going to react to something like that, but the Cardinal players showed that they have some serious fight in them.

Iowa State’s starting center Jameel McKay remains suspended

Iowa State forward Jameel McKay celebrates on the court at the end of an NCAA college basketball game against Oklahoma, Monday, Jan. 18, 2016, in Ames, Iowa. Iowa State won 82-77. (AP Photo/Charlie Neibergall)
(AP Photo/Charlie Neibergall)
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Steve Prohm announced on Monday that starting center Jameel McKay will not be in the lineup on Wednesday when the Cyclones take on Texas Tech.

“He’ll practice today because I want him in practice,” Prohm said, “but game-wise, he’s suspended.”

McKay did not make the trip to Stillwater with the team on Saturday, where Iowa State beat Oklahoma State, 64-59. Prohm has not gotten into specifics regarding the cause of McKay’s suspension, but it’s reportedly an issue with the way he has been practicing. McKay is dealing with a nagging knee injury, which may play a role in the situation as well.

“My hope is he’ll be with us on Saturday,” Prohm said.