Pregame Shootaround 2.23.13: Classic Syracuse-Georgetown Big East rivalry ends Saturday

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Game of the Day: No. 8 Syracuse vs. No. 11 Georgetown (4:00 p.m. ET, CBS)

The story lines are not in short supply Saturday. No. 11 Georgetown and No. 8 Syracuse meet at the Carrier Dome for the final time as Big East members. The two teams are tied atop the conference standings. A record-breaking on-campus crowd is expected to be in attendance. The fire of the rivalry has been stoked by some inflammatory comments by Syracuse guard Michael Carter-Williams.

The spirit of Big East basketball, a spirit that so many have eulogized with the onset of conference realignment, will be showcased Saturday.

James Southerland has been a big boost to the Orange lineup since returning to the lineup, scoring in double digits in each of the four games he has played in and helping to extend defenses out toward the perimeter. Georgetown’s biggest obstacle will be avoiding the offensive woes that plagued it early in the season, those of which have mostly disappeared in the past 11 games.

Who’s Getting Upset?: Kentucky (-2) vs. Missouri (9:00 p.m. ET, ESPN)

In two games without Nerlens Noel, Kentucky was blown out by Tennessee and came together as a team to beat Vanderbilt and avoid a bad loss. Against Missouri Saturday at home, the biggest concern will be in the backcourt and on the glass. Ryan Harrow and Archie Goodwin played well against Vanderbilt, but will be tested against Phil Pressey and Jabari Brown. If Harrow slips back into the slump we saw in his two games previous to that, when he went scoreless, it affects the rest of the offense for the Wildcats.

On the glass, Willie Cauley-Stein is now tabbed with picking up the slack without Noel. He had his biggest game of the year against Vanderbilt with 20 points and seven rebounds, but meets an experienced Alex Oriakhi in the frontcourt Saturday.

Mid-Major Matchup of the Day: No. 16 New Mexico vs. No. 22 Colorado State (4:00 p.m. ET, NBC Sports Network)

Simply put, Colorado State is tough to beat at home. The Rams have won 27 straight games at Moby Arena, good for the third-best active streak in the country. On Saturday, the battle begins down low. Colorado State is one of the best rebounding teams in the country, even owning a +18 rebounding margin in a loss to New Mexico earlier in the year. To combat that, New Mexico will need production from big man Alex Kirk, who had 17 points and 16 rebounds just two games ago against UNLV.

In the matchup earlier this season between these two teams, the Rams struggled with turnovers and shot just 37 percent from the floor, which contributed to the loss. On Saturday, that will mean getting guard Dorian Green more involved and efficient.

Five Things to Watch For

1) No. 9 Kansas suffered one of the ugliest losses of the season for any national title contender when they went on the road Feb. 6 and lost to TCU. Since that loss, the Jayhawks have two dominating wins and a hard-fought double OT victory over Oklahoma State. Expect Bill Self’s team to be back in stride on Saturday.

2) Arkansas blew out No. 5 Florida when the Gators traveled to Fayetteville on Feb. 5. The problem is, the Razorbacks are a different team on the road. They are 1-5 on the road in SEC play, as compared to 7-0 at home. Arkansas tips off in Gainesville at 7 p.m. ET.

3) Two of the best players in mid-major basketball and in the country as a whole face off Saturday when Doug McDermott and Creighton meet Matthew Dellavedova and Saint Mary’s. McDermott has the Bluejays back on the right track after a three-game losing streak, but Dellavedova and the Gaels will try to show what the second-best team in the WCC can do.

4) Villanova sits in the bubble conversations with a pair of big wins over Top 5 teams. The Wildcats would go a long way toward helping their NCAA tournament hopes if they could get a win over No. 17 Marquette at home on Saturday.

5) California got a big win over No. 23 Oregon on Thursday when Justin Cobbs hit a last-second jumper. That win put them squarely in the race for the top of the Pac-12. Nothing would be worse than following up that big victory with a letdown loss to Oregon State.

The Top 25

No. 2 Miami vs. Wake Forest (1:00 p.m. ET, ESPN3)

No. 3 Gonzaga vs. San Diego (7:00 p.m. ET, ROOT Sports)

No. 5 Florida vs. Arkansas (7:00 p.m. ET, ESPNU)

No. 8 Syracuse vs. No. 11 Georgetown (4:00 p.m. ET, CBS)

No. 9 Kansas vs. TCU (4:00 p.m. ET, ESPN3)

No. 10 Louisville vs. Seton Hall (12:00 p.m. ET, ESPN3)

No. 12 Arizona vs. Washington State (3:00 p.m. ET, Fox Sports Net National)

No. 13 Kansas State vs. Texas (8:00 p.m. ET, Longhorn Network)

No. 14 Oklahoma State vs. West Virginia (2:00 p.m. ET, ESPN2)

No. 16 New Mexico vs. No. 22 Colorado State (4:00 p.m. ET, NBC Sports Network)

No. 17 Marquette vs. Villanova (6:00 p.m. ET, ESPN2)

No. 21 Memphis vs. Southern Miss (1:00 p.m. ET, Fox Sports Net National)

No. 23 Oregon vs. Stanford (8:00 p.m. ET, Pac-12 Networks)

No. 24 Virginia Commonwealth vs. Xavier (2:00 p.m. ET, CBS Sports Network)

Other Notable Games

Iona vs. Indiana State (11:00 a.m. ET, ESPNU)

Canisius vs. Vermont (1:00 p.m. ET, ESPN3)

Eastern Kentucky vs. Valparaiso (1:00 p.m. ET, ESPNU)

Montana vs. Davidson (3:00 p.m. ET, ESPNU)

NC State vs. North Carolina (4:00 p.m. ET, ESPN)

Tennessee vs. Texas A&M (4:00 p.m. ET, ESPN3)

Detroit vs. Wichita State (4:00 p.m. ET, ESPN2)

Baylor vs. Oklahoma (5:00 p.m. ET, ESPNU)

Nevada vs. San Diego State (6:00 p.m. ET, NBC Sports Network)

California vs. Oregon State (6:00 p.m. ET, Pac-12 Networks)

Creighton vs. St. Mary’s (6:00 p.m. ET, ESPN)

Missouri vs. Kentucky (9:00 p.m. ET, ESPN)

Illinois State vs. Utah State (9:00 p.m. ET)

Ohio vs. Belmont (10:00 p.m. ET, ESPN2)

Washington vs. Arizona State (11:00 p.m. ET, ESPNU)

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

Pro golfer, Wisconsin fan Steve Stricker does not like J.P. Macura

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Wisconsin resident, Badger fan and pro golfer Steve Stricker was not happy after UW lost to Xavier on Thursday night.

For starters, his team lost.

That sucks.

Then J.P. Macura went and rubbed it in everyone’s face, doing the Gator Chomp at the student section after he threw down an alley-oop with less than a minute left:

Stricker was not having any of it:

Me?

I loved it.

And maybe, just maybe, the fact that Wisconsin’s entire student section spent the game telling Macura that he’s an a****** had something to do with his reaction.

Also … how many middle fingers do you see in this picture?

Thank you Badger fans. What a hostile environment.. I appreciate the love

A post shared by Jp Macura (@jpmacura) on

Lonnie Walker hurt as No. 11 Hurricanes beat A&M 90-59

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CORAL GABLES, Fla. (AP) — Highly touted freshman Lonnie Walker IV twisted his left ankle Thursday night, and coach Jim Larranaga was sore himself after the latest lopsided win by the 11th-ranked Miami Hurricanes.

Larranaga said Walker wasn’t seriously hurt, and the coach seemed more concerned about his team’s effort and focus in a 90-59 victory over Florida A&M.

“I didn’t think we were very good from start to finish,” Larranaga said. “We need to play a whole lot harder, and better defensively. We looked sluggish. I told the team I was extremely disappointed in our effort.”

Walker was assisted to the locker room in the first half after stepping on another player. The Hurricanes are scheduled to play La Salle next Wednesday in Walker’s hometown of Reading, Pennsylvania.

“We won’t know for a couple of days, but I think he’s fine,” Larranaga said.

Is he likely to play in the next game?

“Oh, he’s going to play in Reading,” Larranaga said.

Trump urges 3 UCLA players to thank China leader for release

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WASHINGTON (AP) — President Donald Trump urged three suspended UCLA basketball players on Thursday to thank China’s president for their freedom after they shoplifted in China.

The president’s suggestion came a day after he tweeted: “Do you think the three UCLA basketball players will say thank you President Trump. They were headed for 10 years in jail.”

The trio apologized that day and publicly thanked Trump, who was in Asia last week, for his help. On Thursday morning, the president sent another tweet: “You’re welcome. go out and give a big Thank You to President Xi Jinping of China who made your release possible.”

In the same tweet, Trump said, “HAVE A GREAT LIFE! Be careful, there are many pitfalls on the long and winding road of life!”

Later in the day, as he rallied House Republicans before a crucial vote on a tax overhaul, Trump talked about his efforts to release the players

Rep. Steve Womack of Arkansas said Trump “personally engaged the Chinese president and it turned out the way it did,” with the players released. He said China is known for being “extremely punitive” with criminal suspects, adding: “This could have been a disaster for those families.”

Freshmen LiAngelo Ball, Jalen Hill and Cody Riley were detained in Hangzhou for questioning last week before the Bruins beat Georgia Tech in their season-opening game in Shanghai. The rest of the team returned home Saturday.

Athletic director Dan Guerrero said the shoplifting occurred when the team had 90 minutes of free time on Nov. 6 in Hangzhou. He said the three took items from three stores.

The players are suspended indefinitely, and coach Steve Alford says they will have to earn their way back onto the team.

Weekend Preview: We’ve reached the oversaturation point of early-season exempt events

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Typically, I use these Weekend Previews to discuss the best games of the weekend, but this weekend, there just aren’t any games that are actually worth talking about.

So I’m going to go on a rant instead.

We’ve officially reached the point of over-saturation when it comes to the early-season exempt events.

This is the second weekend of the college basketball season and we’re right in the middle of what should be one of the better weeks of college hoops. The Gavitt Games are happening, the Champions Classic more or less lived up to the hype and, starting on Thursday, we dove head first into tropical locale tournament season.

Except … these events all suck.

The Charleston Classic started on Thursday. Auburn beat Indiana State to advance and take on Temple, who dispatched Old Dominion. The winner of that game will take on the winner of Clemson and Hofstra, because Hofstra upset Dayton in the first round. There are four mid-major teams in the Charleston Classic, and none of the high-major teams look like they will be tournament-bound.

The Puerto Rico tip-off is even worse. It features teams from the Missouri Valley, Conference USA, the Sun Belt and the SoCon. The best team in the event is either an Iowa State team that lost to Milwaukee at home by double-digits, a Tulsa team that lost to Lamar at home, a South Carolina team that got picked off in the first round of the event or Boise State, who wasn’t picked to be in the top two of the Mountain West.

It won’t get any better when the Paradise Jam starts today. The three best teams in that event are Houston, Colorado and Wake Forest and features an opening round game between Mercer and Liberty.

There are also a number of events in the Northeast this weekend and next week. I live an hour from New York City and I won’t be making the trek up to any of the games at the Garden or the Barclays Center until next Saturday, and these are what are supposed to be big games being held there for the next eight days. I cover this sport for a living, but I’d rather watch on TV and spend time with my son than go see Pitt play Penn State or Texas Tech square off with Boston College.

Even the Maui Invitational isn’t all that intriguing. Cal is down. VCU is down. Michigan and Marquette have struggled early. LSU is intriguing but only in the sense that they appear to not be a train-wreck this year. If Notre Dame doesn’t play Wichita State in the final, that tournament will not feature a single must-see game.

Now granted, much of this is due to the fact that Nike pulled 14 power programs out of the exempt event rotation for the PK80, and I’ll admit, that event should be fun. But man, it was such a buzzkill when I realized that the 16-team event was really just two eight-team tournaments.

It makes sense – you can’t have conference rivals facing off in the same tournament – but it just never clicked for me.

Which brings me back around to the larger point that I wanted to make: Can we start doing away with some of these events and play marquee non-conference games on campus again? On Thursday night, we got a chance to see No. 15 Xavier pay a visit to Wisconsin for the Gavitt Games, and it was everything that we love about college basketball. Two elite programs featuring an all-american facing off in front of a raucous crowd that spent the entire second half letting J.P. Macura know that they think he is an a******. Ethan Happ, the best post player in the country, according to Chris Mack, got pissed about not getting a couple of foul calls and proceeded to will Wisconsin back into the game only to see Trevon Bluiett bury two dagger threes in a minute stretch to put the game away.

After hitting those threes, Bluiett proceeded to shush the crowd. A minute later, after throwing down an alley-ooo to put Xavier up 12 with just seconds left on the clock, Macura proceeded to do the Gator Chomp over and over and over at the Wisconsin student section to remind them of who knocked the Badgers out of last year’s NCAA tournament.

That was awesome!

Yes, Macura was a little over the top, and yes, the Wisconsin fans probably earned Macura’s trolling, but everything about that game was what makes college basketball great.

And it was a game between the No. 15 team in America and an unranked Wisconsin program. It wasn’t even a marquee matchup. The environment at the Champions Classic rivaled that – there really is nothing better than having an arena packed with fan bases from both teams playing – but when those neutral site games don’t feature blue blood programs or teams with large alumni bases in the city or fans that are willing to spend the money to travel, it’s boring. Virginia Tech got upset by Saint Louis at Madison Square Garden last night and I’m pretty sure I could have put my son to sleep while sitting behind the basket.

So this is my plea to the NCAA tournament Selection Committee: Make it obvious just how much you value quality road wins in non-conference play. Make them so valuable that programs simply cannot afford not to play them. Make Xavier’s win at Wisconsin on Thursday night worth at least a seed line even if Wisconsin ends up being a bubble team.

That’s the only way we’re going to get teams to play great games on campus in the fall.

No. 15 Xavier’s win over Wisconsin should, and will, be rewarded by Selection Committee

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This Wisconsin team is probably not going to end up being quite as good as past Wisconsin teams.

That’s inevitable when you lose the players that they lost to graduation, but it also doesn’t change the fact that No. 15 Xavier went into the Kohl Center and snagged a win that is going to look quite good on Selection Sunday.

The Musketeers took care of the Badgers, 80-70, thanks to 25 points and nine boards from Trevon Bluiett and 20 points from J.P. Macura. Bluiett struggled to find a rhythm for much of the game, but he hit a pair of critical jumpers midway through the second half to stem a Wisconsin run and, with the game tied and just over a minute left on the clock, buried three-pointers on back-to-back possessions to lock up the win.

For a stretch midway through the second half, it looked like Wisconsin was getting ready to run away with this game. Ethan Happ – who finished with 21 points and eight assists and who Xavier head coach Chris Mack referred to as “one of the best post players in the entire country” – was in the midst of taking the game over and Wisconsin’s sold out Kohl Center was in full voice. That’s when Bluiett went into takeover mode, quieting the crowd and getting Xavier out of Madison with a win.

That shouldn’t be overlooked, and if there is any justice in the world, it will be the kind of thing that the Musketeers get rewarded for come Selection Sunday.

I enjoy the neutral site tournaments that pop up every year. They create some drama every November, and there are always some fun matchups over the weekend and afternoon basketball during the week. That’s great. But the best part of college hoops is the environment of playing a big game on campus. The crowd, the student section, players like Macura doing the Gator Chomp at the Wisconsin fans – the Badgers lost to Florida in the NCAA tournament last year – after they spent the entire second half bombarding him with ‘a******’ chants every time he touched the ball.

It was great.

And it will be better if that kind of a win, even against a Wisconsin team that is probably closer to being top 40-good than top 25-good, is something that the Selection Committee values. Those changes are supposedly coming, and it will be a good thing for the sport. Give top 15 teams an incentive to play road games in November.

Because Thursday night’s clash in the Kohl Center was everything that is great about college hoops.