Pregame Shootaround 3.3.13: Michigan-Michigan State highlights Sunday’s slate

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Game of the Day: No. 4 Michigan vs. No. 9 Michigan State (4:00 p.m. ET, CBS)

The last time these two teams met, Michigan was at the tail end of a brutal four-game stretch in the Big Ten. The Wolverines had faced Indiana, Ohio State, and Wisconsin in succession and were subsequently blown out by Michigan State in East Lansing, 75-52. At the time, there were questions about how much of that was a matter of fatigue and how much was related to Michigan State as an opponent.

Now, almost three weeks later, they meet again and Michigan is fresh off a loss to lowly Penn State, while Michigan State is in its own brutal stretch of the Big Ten. The Spartans have losses to Indiana and Ohio State, will face Michigan Sunday, then welcome Wisconsin back at home.

Guard play is key in this one. Michigan’s Trey Burke is a National Player of the Year candidate and the player tabbed with containing Keith Appling. Appling has struggled of late, combining to go 2-of-14 for nine points in consecutive losses to Indiana and Ohio State. Whoever wins the battle of the point guards will go far to win this game, but continue reading below for the matchup that will decide this one.

Who’s Getting Upset?: No. 4 Michigan (-5) vs. No. 9 Michigan State

One of the biggest questions that faces the Michigan Wolverines is how they handle the interior. Few questions the potency of their offense or the play of point guard Trey Burke, but when it comes to depth in the paint, there are question marks. That’s why Sunday comes down to a matchup that Michigan State should use to its advantage. Can Mitch McGary and Jordan Morgan handle Derrick Nix and Adreian Payne?

If Tom Izzo gameplans accordingly, they should be able to exploit that matchup and can use it as an engine to get a big road win.

Mid-Major Matchup of the Day: Stony Brook vs. Albany (2:00 p.m. ET, ESPN3)

Stony Brook has already locked up the regular season title in the America East, but they’re worth watching Sunday because they could be dangerous if they make it to March. They are a very solid rebounding team, led by freshman Jameel Warney, and contrast that with help from do-it-all senior Tommy Brenton. Low majors always face a battle because, regardless of what happens in the regular season, the automatic bid is usually the only ticket to the Big Dance. We’ll see if the Seawolves can make a run.

Five Things to Watch For

1) No. 17 Wisconsin is fortunate to have one of the more favorable final stretches in the Big Ten, but Sunday against Purdue is a major trap game. The Badgers can’t be looking ahead to Michigan State on the horizon and must take care of this one at home.

2) Virginia scored an emotional upset win over Duke on Thursday and faces something similar to what Wisconsin is looking at here in the final three regular season games. The Cavaliers draw Boston College Sunday, then Florida State and Maryland. All three should be wins, but any one could also be a stumbling block before the ACC tournament.

3) Villanova is squarely on the bubble. With all the shifting going on yesterday, they have a chance to solidify their spot in the tournament with a win over No. 23 Pittsburgh. A loss would certainly hurt, but at least it can’t be on the level of Ole Miss’ loss to Mississippi State or Tennessee’s loss to Georgia.

4) Maryland popped its own bubble with a loss to Georgia Tech earlier this week. NC State is much more solidly in the NCAA tournament than the Terrapins, but they’ll need to avoid stumbling against the Yellow Jackets Sunday.

5) Close games have hurt Stanford’s chances in the Pac-12. This team has lost three games by two points or less this season and sit at the bottom of a crowded conference because of it. Regardless, they face Utah Sunday and want to finish out the regular season strong.

The Top 25

No. 4 Michigan vs. No. 9 Michigan State (4:00 p.m. ET, CBS)

No. 17 Wisconsin vs. Purdue (1:00 p.m. ET, ESPN)

No. 23 Pittsburgh vs. Villanova (12:00 p.m. ET, ESPN3)

Other Notable Games

Florida State vs. North Carolina (2:00 p.m. ET, CBS)

Washington State vs. Washington (3:30 p.m. ET, Fox Sports Net National)

Virginia vs. Boston College (4:00 p.m. ET, ESPN3)

Utah vs. Stanford (5:00 p.m. ET, Pac-12 Networks)

NC State vs. Georgia Tech (6:00 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_

Player Of The Week: Jock Landale, Saint Mary’s

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Prior to this week, Saint Mary’s season had been defined by a slump at the most inopportune time.

The Gaels lost to both Washington State and Georgia in the Wooden Legacy, the only two non-conference games they played against relevant opponents, and it put the program behind the eight-ball when it came to trying to earn  bid to the NCAA tournament.

What Saint Mary’s needed to do was win at least won – and quite likely two – games against Gonzaga during the WCC regular season. Consider the first step complete. Landale finished with 24 points, 12 boards, three assists and two blocks on Thursday night as Randy Bennett took his team into Spokane and picked off the No. 13 Zags. Saint Mary’s followed that up with a tougher-than-expected win over Pacific where Landale finished with 32 points and seven boards.

All told, Saint Mary’s is now in sole possession of first place in the league and in the midst of a 14 game winning streak, the final four of which all came on the road.

And Landale, who has quietly been one of the most productive and efficient big men in college basketball, led the way once again. He’s now averaging 22.4 points and 10.2 boards for a team that should get ranked in the top 25 this week. He’s very much in consideration for an All-American team now, and I’m not sure that would have been the case without that win on Thursday night.

THE ALL-‘THEY WERE GOOD, TOO’ TEAM

  • SHAKE MILTON, SMU: Milton played the best game of his career in the most important game of the season for the Mustangs, putting 33 points on 11-for-14 shooting and five assists on No. 7 Wichita State and Landry Shamet in a road win. He followed that up with 20 points, five boards and five assists in a win against Tulane.
  • JAMES PALMER, Nebraska: Palmer scored 24 points and hit a game-winning, buzzer-beating three against Illinois, following that up with 19 points, four boards and a pair of assists in a blowout win over No. 23 Michigan.
  • DEAN WADE, Kansas State: The Wildcats put themselves firmly in the NCAA tournament picture with a pair of wins over ranked teams this week, beating No. 4 Oklahoma and No. 24 TCU. Wade, in those two games, averaged 20.5 points, 6.5 boards and 6.5 assists with four steals and two blocks.
  • J.P. MACURA, Xavier: Macura scored 16 points on Wednesday night to help Xavier put away St. John’s before leading the Musketeers with 27 points and five boards in a 73-64 win at No. 19 Seton Hall. The Musketeers had lost their previous two games on the road.
  • PARKER JACKSON-CARTWRIGHT, Arizona: Jackson-Cartwright has gotten plenty of stick this season for his issues on the defensive end of the floor, and it’s not necessarily unfair. But in a game at Stanford with first place in the Pac-12 on the line, Jackson-Cartwright made two massive defensive plays down the stretch to help seal the win.

College Basketball Power Rankings: Kentucky drops out of the Top 25

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I’m not sure that this Kentucky season can be considered a worst-case scenario.

Kentucky fans have seen a worst-case scenario.

That came during the 2012-13 season, when a Wildcat team that was trending towards the back end of the top 25 lost their star center Nerlens Noel to a torn ACL in February, dooming them to the NIT, where they lost in the first round to Robert Morris.

That is a worst-case scenario, and barring something totally unforeseen, this Kentucky team is not going to turn into that Kentucky team.

This group looks much more like the team we saw the following year, the one that featured Julius Randle, James Young, the Harrison twins and Willie Cauley-Stein and entered the NCAA tournament as a No. 8 seed with a 24-10 record before making a run to the national title game. That team had plenty of talent, but they never quite gelled until March.

This year’s team does not have that same level of talent, but they are running into some of the same problems.

The question is whether or not this group actually has the potential to come together and make a run like that 2014 team.

RELATED: Kentucky just is not that good

And frankly, I still think they do. Shai Gilgeous-Alexander has emerged as a go-to guy while Kevin Knox had seemingly regained his confidence before a poor performance in the home loss to Florida. Quade Green has returned to the lineup, as has Jarred Vanderbilt, who might be the key to unlock the potential on this roster.

In an ideal world, Kentucky’s length and athleticism allows them to be one of the nation’s best defensive teams while the playmaking of Vanderbilt and Green makes their offense fluid enough that they overcome some of their shooting issues. I can still tell myself a story where Kentucky finds a way to put it all together for six straight games in March.

But that’s not who they are right now.

And with each passing game, I grow less and less confident that the elite will ever come out of this group.

Kentucky is not a top 25 basketball team right now. They are nowhere near one of the favorites to win a national title right now. And, at this point, Kentucky fans would do well to adjust their expectations, as a trip out of the Sweet 16 should be considered a success.

Here is the full top 25.

1. Villanova, 18-1 (Last Week: No. 1)
2. Purdue, 19-2 (2)
3. Virginia, 18-1 (5)
4. Kansas, 16-3 (13)
5. Michigan State, 17-3 (7)
6. Duke, 17-2 (10)
7. West Virginia, 16-3 (4)
8. Arizona, 16-4 (8)
9. Xavier, 18-3 (11)
10. Oklahoma, 14-4 (6)
11. North Carolina, 16-4 (17)
12. Texas Tech, 15-4 (3)
13. Cincinnati, 17-2 (19)
14. Ohio State, 17-4 (22)
15. Auburn, 17-2 (18)
16. Tennessee, 13-5 (23)
17. Wichita State, 15-4 (9)
18. Clemson, 16-3 (20)
19. Saint Mary’s, 19-2 (NR)
20. Gonzaga, 17-4 (16)
21. Nevada, 18-3 (NR)
22. Florida, 14-5 (NR)
23. Rhode Island, 15-3 (NR)
24. Arizona State, 15-4 (14)
25. TCU, 14-5 (25)

DROPPED OUT: No. 12 Seton Hall, No. 15 Kentucky, No. 21 Michigan, No. 24 Miami

NEW ADDITIONS: No. 19 Saint Mary’s, No. 21 Nevada, No. 22 Florida, No. 23 Rhode Island

VIDEO: Northern Colorado wins game with halfcourt buzzer beater

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Northern Colorado knocked off North Dakota on Saturday night thanks to a half court buzzer-beating three from Andre Spight.

Spight is averaging 20.3 points on the season and finished with 34 points and six assists in the 94-91 win.

Clemson’s Grantham tears ACL

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The news on Donte Grantham’s knee was not good.

No. 20 Clemson announced on Sunday morning that Grantham, the team’s second-leading scorer and rebounder, would miss the rest of the season after tearing his ACL in a win over Notre Dame on Saturday.

“I’m disappointed that Donte’s career at Clemson had to end this way,” head coach Brad Brownell said. “He was putting together a terrific season statistically, but he really helps this team is so many ways. He’s been a pleasure to coach and it has been fun to watch him mature and grow into the leader of our program.”

Grantham was averaging 14.2 points and 7.1 boards this year.

The Tigers are 16-3 on the season and in line to make a run at an NCAA tournament bid.

VIDEO: West Virginia honored Andrew Jones before game vs. Texas

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The West Virginia basketball team donned burnt orange ‘Big 12 Strong’ warmup shirts with the No. 1 on the back in honor of Texas point guard Andrew Jones.

Jones was diagnosed with leukemia earlier this month.

Texas Tech also honored Jones before a game this week, and Texas has raised more than $100,000 for his medical expenses.