Victor Oladipo

Pregame Shootaround 3.10.13: Two more NCAA tickets to be punched Sunday

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Game of the Day: No. 2 Indiana vs. No. 7 Michigan (4:00 p.m. ET, CBS)

Indiana has already locked up at least a share of the Big Ten title by (oddly enough) losing to Ohio State this week, so it will be Michigan who is clawing for a piece of the pie Sunday. If Michigan wins, they will finish 13-5 in the conference on the year as part of what could be a four-way tie, depending upon the outcomes of Ohio State-Illinois and Michigan State-Northwestern.

The key for Michigan will be the level of physicality that it can bring against Indiana. The problem is, interior depth has been one of its major problems this season. Having a presence in the paint and disrupting Cody Zeller’s offensive flow can go a long way toward derailing the Hoosiers’ offense. Taking away the inside puts more offensive pressure on Victor Oladipo and Christian Watford. The less weapons available and clicking offensively, the better for the Wolverines.

Michigan will want to turn Indiana missed shots and turnovers into points in transition, where they thrive. Indiana can combat that by being efficient and getting Oladipo in positions where he can be aggressive offensively.

Who’s Getting Upset?: Michigan (-1.5) vs. Indiana (See above)

Mid-Major Matchup of the Day: Wichita State vs. Creighton (MVC tournament championship) (2:05 p.m. ET, CBS)

Last time Doug McDermott faced Wichita State, he dropped 41 points and clinched the regular season conference title for the Bluejays. This time, it’s for the automatic bid to the NCAA tournament. What should we expect? More McDermott. Wichita State needs to know, though, that they’re running into a hot Creighton team. After that dominating performance by McDermott in the season finale, the Bluejays shot 54 percent in their win over Indiana State Saturday. The recipe for a win is more Cleanthony Early and Carl Hall for the Shockers, along with contributions from point guard Malcolm Armstead.

Five Things to Watch For

1) No. 14 Ohio State and No. 10 Michigan State are, for one day, Michigan fans. Both teams need a win Sunday and an Indiana loss to create a four-way tie atop the Big Ten.

2) Saint Louis clinched at least a share of the Atlantic 10 regular season title Saturday by beating La Salle. Now the spotlight shifts to Virginia Commonwealth Sunday against Temple. A Ram victory gets Shaka Smart’s team a piece of the title pie in its first season in the A-10. A loss gives Saint Louis the title outright.

3) In a battle of NCAA tournament bubble teams, Maryland and Virginia match up Sunday. The winner has a leg up on the other in the race for the Big Dance. Expect Virginia’s Joe Harris to shine.

4) Stony Brook has been the best team in the America East regular season, but this is where mid-major hoops is at its best. Host team Albany is looking for an upset in the America East tournament. Winner moves on. Loser goes home.

5) Liberty pulled the upset Saturday over Gardner-Webb and now advances to the Big South championship game against Charleston Southern at noon. Winner gets the conference’s automatic bid to the NCAA tournament.

The Top 25

No. 2 Indiana vs. No. 7 Michigan (4:00 p.m. ET, CBS)

No. 10 Michigan State vs. Northwestern (6:00 p.m. ET, CBS/Big Ten Network)

No. 14 Ohio State vs. Illinois (12:30 p.m. ET, ESPN)

No. 21 Virginia Commonwealth vs. Temple (12:00 p.m. ET, CBS)

No. 22 Wisconsin vs. Penn State (12:00 p.m. ET, Big Ten Network)

Other Notable Games

Liberty vs. Charleston Southern (12:00 p.m. ET, ESPN2)

Iona vs. Niagara (2:00 p.m. ET, ESPN3)

Wichita State vs. Creighton (2:05 p.m. ET, CBS)

Maryland vs. Virginia (6:00 p.m. ET, ESPNU)

Albany vs. Stony Brook (7:00 p.m. ET)

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

Johnson, Paige help No. 9 Tar Heels roll past Panthers 85-64

North Carolina's Isaiah Hicks (4) dunks against Pittsburgh during the first half of an NCAA college basketball game in Chapel Hill, N.C., Sunday, Feb. 14, 2016. (AP Photo/Gerry Broome)
AP Photo/Gerry Broome
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CHAPEL HILL, N.C. (AP) Brice Johnson scored 19 points to lead a dominating offensive performance that helped No. 9 North Carolina beat Pittsburgh 85-64 on Sunday.

Marcus Paige added 15 points for the Tar Heels (21-4, 10-2 Atlantic Coast Conference), who shot 59 percent to stay atop the league ahead of the next renewal of their fierce rivalry with Duke.

UNC had plenty of balance, shared the ball and got out in transition in arguably their best performance in weeks, using a 13-0 second-half burst to blow the game open. UNC finished with 26 assists on 32 baskets, 24 points off turnovers and scored 16 fast-break points after managing a combined five in the past two games.

Michael Young and James Robinson each scored 15 points to lead Pitt (17-7, 6-6). But the Panthers shot 37 percent and committed 19 turnovers, and a strong effort on the glass did little to offset their troubles.

The Tar Heels were playing their first home game in two weeks after a difficult three-game road trip that started with losses at Louisville and Notre Dame. Then came Tuesday’s game at Boston College, where the Tar Heels struggled against a winless league team then had a scare when Hall of Fame coach Roy Williams briefly collapsed in a second-half huddle after an attack of vertigo and had to leave the sideline for the rest of the game.

Williams was back in the office on Wednesday’s off day, returned to practice Thursday and told reporters Friday he was fine and even cracked jokes about a two-decade history with vertigo dating to his Kansas years.

Getting back home certainly helped everyone feel better. After wrestling with shooting struggles for much of the past month, UNC’s offense kicked back into an efficient and balanced gear, while Paige – the player the Tar Heels are practically begging to jolt free from a prolonged shooting slump – looked more like his old self against the Panthers.

That included one second-half play in which he caught a crosscourt pass from Theo Pinson in transition and made sure to step back behind the arc before burying a 3-pointer.

The Panthers had lost three of four since a 5-2 league start coming in, including 65-63 on a late tip-in at No. 12 Miami on Tuesday. And Pitt again had trouble getting their offense going, failing to crack 70 points for the third straight game.

TIP-INS

Pittsburgh: Second-leading scorer Jamel Artis scored five points on 2-for-8 shooting. … Pitt finished with a 41-29 rebounding advantage. … Pitt made 9 of 21 3-point attempts.

UNC: Justin Jackson scored 14 points. … UNC made 8 of 15 shots from 3-point range and 13 of 15 free throws. … Jackson and Pinson had six assists each. … UNC managed just one offensive rebound.

UP NEXT

Pittsburgh hosts Wake Forest on Tuesday.

UNC hosts Duke on Wednesday.

Follow Aaron Beard on Twitter at http://www.twitter.com/aaronbeardap and the AP’s college basketball site at http://collegebasketball.ap.org

Denzel Valentine dominant as No. 8 Michigan State whips Indiana

Michigan State's Denzel Valentine (45) shoots over Indiana's Kevin Yogi Ferrell during the first half of an NCAA college basketball game, Sunday, Feb. 14, 2016, in East Lansing, Mich. (AP Photo/Al Goldis)
AP Photo/Al Goldis
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Trailing by one point at the half, Indiana appeared to be in good shape at No. 8 Michigan State. However the fact that they were unable to slow down Denzel Valentine, who scored 15 first-half points, was a major concern for Tom Crean’s Hoosiers. Sure enough the national Player of the Year candidate continued on his tour de force in the second half, scoring another 15 points and dishing out seven assists as the Spartans rolled to an 88-69 victory.

For the game Valentine finished with 30 points, five rebounds, 13 assists and just one turnover. Of Michigan State’s 48 second half points, Valentine had a hand in 29 of them with all seven of his assists resulting in Michigan State layups. It was a dominant performance from one of the nation’s best players, a versatile guard whose four games missed due to injury may have led to some overlooking him when it comes to those national Player of the Year conversations.

When Valentine’s on everything else flows smoothly for Tom Izzo’s team, as his ability to both score and create results in quality looks for teammates who would struggle if they had to get that part of the job done themselves.

The biggest beneficiary Sunday afternoon was forward Matt Costello, who finished the game with 22 points and 11 rebounds. Of Costello’s ten made field goals (10-for-12 FG) five were assisted by Valentine, and he accounted for 13 points and seven rebounds in the second half. As a team Michigan State shot 63.3 percent from the field and assisted on 16 of their 19 made field goals in the second half, turning a tight contest into a blowout.

Tum Tum Nairn returned the court for the first time in seven games, but he played just two minutes and his time on the court will be managed carefully by Izzo moving forward. For many teams not having your point guard at full strength would represent a crippling blow, but that hasn’t been the case for Michigan State thanks in large part to Valentine. Michigan State went 4-3 in those seven games without Nairn, but the three losses were by a total of three points.

Valentine’s ability to make his teammates better will be a key factor down the stretch for Michigan State, and that skill was what led to the Spartans blowing out Indiana on Sunday.