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Pregame Shootaround 2.24.13: Big Ten rules the day with Michigan State-Ohio State

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Game of the Day: No.4 Michigan State vs. No. 18 Ohio State (4:00 p.m. ET, CBS)

The heavyweight bouts in the Big Ten have been a Sunday treat throughout conference play and it continues today. Ohio State got a key win over Minnesota on Wednesday, but now welcomes a Michigan State team that had won five straight before falling to No. 1 Indiana earlier this week.

The biggest positional matchup Sunday will be at the point guard spot. Michigan State’s Keith Appling was bothered by the different types of pressure that Indiana placed on him on the defensive end and he struggled because of it. It gets no easier Sunday, as Appling meets one of the best defenders in the country, Aaron Craft. To compensate, Appling will need to get others involved, including Adreian Payne and Derrick Nix down low, as well as Gary Harris and Branden Dawson on the perimeter.

For Ohio State, it will be the same as it always is. Turn defense into offense and provide support for Deshaun Thomas offensively so he doesn’t have to shoulder all of the scoring load. If Thomas can settle in and have a comfortable 25% stake in the overall scoring output and the Buckeyes are efficient with the ball, they are tough to beat.

Who’s Getting Upset?: No. 20 Pittsburgh (-7) vs. St. John’s (12:00 p.m. ET, ESPN3)

St. John’s has made it tough for quality teams to come into Madison Square Garden over the past few seasons under Steve Lavin and Pittsburgh will face that Sunday. The scoring duo of D’Angelo Harrison and JaKarr Sampson has emerged as one of the better young combos in the Big East, plus junior college transfer Marco Bourgault is providing quality minutes and a three-point threat to stretch the defense.

Pittsburgh will be limited on the interior if shot-blocking freshman Chris Obekpa and his 4.1 blocks per game can stay out of foul trouble on Sunday. Ultimately, though, it will come down to whether St. John’s is making shots. If they struggle from the field, Pittsburgh has enough to win. If the Red Storm are hot, we could have an upset in New York City.

Mid-Major Matchup of the Day: Lehigh vs. Lafayette (12:00 p.m. ET)

Even without C.J. McCollum for much of the season, Lehigh has powered on. The Mountain Hawks still trail Bucknell by a game in the Patriot League race and face a tough matchup against Lafayette Sunday. Even with a win, though, it is unlikely that Lehigh pulls into a tie for the lead because Bucknell takes on Holy Cross today, but the Mountain Hawks need a win to keep pace.

Five Things to Watch For

1) There’s a trap game awaiting No. 6 Duke Sunday. Prior to a key back-to-back stretch against Virginia and Miami, the Blue Devils face Boston College. The Blue Devils are heavily favored, but this BC team is riding high after upsetting Maryland earlier in the week and winning two of their last three games.

2) St. John’s sits squarely on the bubble and could use another quality win. There’s no better place to get it than at home. The Red Storm meet No. 20 Pittsburgh at Madison Square Garden.

3) Illinois will make the NCAA tournament if the wheels don’t fall off down the stretch here, but a win over No. 4 Michigan on Sunday would go a long way toward improving its seeding.

4) With California’s recent run and Oregon slipping back a bit, the Pac-12 is getting interesting. That means UCLA is in a “can’t lose” situation if wants to stay in the race for the conference regular season title. USC is a winnable game and the Bruins need to capitalize.

5) Temple is another team on the NCAA tournament bubble. Their final four games, with Charlotte included Sunday, is both difficult and favorable. The Owls still have to meet Detroit in a rescheduled non-conference game, plus VCU to end the season, but also get Rhode Island and Fordham in the middle. Point being, Temple needs a win Sunday against Charlotte.

The Top 25

No. 4 Michigan State vs. No. 18 Ohio State (4:00 p.m. ET, CBS)

No. 6 Duke vs. Boston College (2:00 p.m. ET, ESPN3)

No. 7 Michigan vs. Illinois (1:00 p.m. ET, ESPN)

No. 20 Pittsburgh vs. St. John’s (12:00 p.m. ET, ESPN3)

No. 25 Notre Dame vs. Cincinnati (2:00 p.m. ET, CBS)

Other Notable Games

Lehigh vs. Lafayette (12:00 p.m. ET)

Georgia Tech vs. Virginia (2:00 p.m. ET, ESPN3)

UCLA vs. USC (3:30 p.m.  ET, Fox Sports Net National)

Temple vs. Charlotte (4:00 p.m. ET)

LIU Brooklyn vs. Wagner (8:00 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_

WATCH LIVE: Hofstra travels to Delaware on NBCSN

James Madison forward Yohanny Dalembert (40) prepares to shoot against Hofstra forward Rokas Gustys, behind, during the first half of an NCAA basketball game in Harrisonburg, Va., Sunday, Feb. 7, 2016. (Daniel Lin/Daily News-Record via AP) MANDATORY CREDIT
(Daniel Lin/Daily News-Record via AP)
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Hofstra tries to keep pace with the conference’s elite as they travel to Delaware on Saturday afternoon. You can watch this CAA battle live on NBCSN at 5:00 p.m. EST.

The Pride (17-8, 9-4) are currently two games behind conference leader UNC-Wilmington and they’re trying to make a run to close out the season. Senior guard Juan’ya Green leads the Pride in points (17.7 ppg), assists (7 apg) and steals (1.8 spg) and he’s surrounded by a dangerous supporting cast.

Delaware (6-18, 1-12) had lost 15 consecutive games before beating Drexel in their last game. The Blue Hens have struggled in CAA play but Kory Holden (17.5 ppg, 4 apg) will try to help lead the upset.

These two teams met on Dec. 31 with Hofstra winning that one, 90-80, at home.

CLICK HERE to watch these games on NBC Sports Live Extra Saturday afternoon.

Michigan gets Caris LeVert back in a win over No. 18 Purdue

Purdue forward Caleb Swanigan (50) tries to steal the ball from Michigan guard Caris LeVert (23) in the first half of an NCAA college basketball game at Crisler Center in Ann Arbor, Mich., Saturday, Feb. 13, 2016. (AP Photo/Tony Ding)
(AP Photo/Tony Ding)
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Zak Irvin scored 22 points and Michigan’s outmanned front line held Purdue’s redwoods to just seven offensive boards, six second chance points and just 22 points in the paint as the Wolverines landed a critical, 61-56, win over the No. 18 Boilermakers.

Depending on who you listen to, Michigan entered the day, at worst, on the bubble and at best, in headed for the 8-9 game.

And they picked up a top 25 win.

So yes, this win was big for them moving forward.

But more important than the win itself was that Wolverine fans got a glimpse of all-american guard Caris LeVert. He played just 11 points and didn’t return in the second half, he didn’t score and he missed the only shot that he took, but LeVert took the court for the first time since Dec. 30th. That day, LeVert rolled his left ankle and most likely reinjured a foot that had had a broken bone surgically repaired twice in the last 20 months. Michigan never confirmed what the actual injury was and never gave a timetable for when he would be back in the lineup, which is what made his brief appearance so important.

LeVert isn’t done for the season.

And since the Wolverines managed to post a 9-4 Big Ten record with LeVert acting as little more than a spectator, they have a chance to make a run in the Big Ten tournament and get into the NCAA tournament.

That will happen with LeVert in the rotation and, if all goes according to plan, the starting lineup.

So even with a loss against Purdue, the Wolverines had a good day. Bolstering their NCAA tournament profile was an added bonus.