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Monday’s Pregame Shootaround: Preseason NIT starts, SMU heads to Arkansas

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GAME OF THE NIGHT: SMU at Arkansas, 8:00 p.m. ET

Larry Brown’s SMU Mustangs have been quite intriguing early on this season, as they are sitting pretty at 2-0 with a dominating win over Rhode Island. They’ll get a real test tonight, however, as they make the trip to Fayetteville to take on Arkansas. The Razorbacks aren’t exactly expected to be great this year, but they do have a tremendous home court advantage and they play a style that is difficult to prepare for. This will be a good gauge for us: should we take SMU seriously?

WHO’S GETTING UPSET?: Southern Miss at North Dakota State, 8:00 p.m. ET

Do we consider Southern Miss a high-major program still? Even in this new, watered down Conference USA? I’ll go with yes just so that I can say that NDSU will pull off the upset when they beat them at home tonight. The Bison, led by Taylor Braun, are good.

MID-MAJOR MATCHUP OF THE DAY: Drexel vs. Elon at Rutgers, 5:00 p.m. ET

Elon is one of the better mid-major teams in the country this season, as they are the favorite to win the Big South this season. But Drexel is a scrappy, physical group that is finally healthy and gave UCLA a fight in Pauley Pavilion earlier this season.

FIVE THINGS TO WATCH FOR:

1) The Preseason NIT kicks off tonight, with the regional being held at Rutgers, Alabama, No. 6 Duke and No. 5 Arizona. That’s what Drexel and Elon will be taking part in. So not only will Jabari Parker and Aaron Gordon be in action tonight, but Ryan Harrow — the Kentucky transfer now at Georgia State — will launch his campaign to get to MSG.

2) No. 1 Michigan State will look to have a bit of a better performance against Portland tonight than they did against Columbia this weekend.

3) Canisius heads to Rutgers tonight, where we will get a chance to see Billy Baron go up against a high-major program again.

4) Miami FL has not been overly impressive early on this season. They’ll head to Charleston tonight to take on the Cougars who trailed Louisville by just three points with seven minutes left in the game in their opener.

5) Mercer just knocked off Seton Hall in double overtime at home on Saturday. They’ll head to Indiana to take on Evansville on Monday night.

THE REST OF THE TOP 25

  • Southern at No. 16 Florida, 7:00 p.m. ET
  • St. Francis NY at No. 9 Syracuse, 7:30 p.m. ET
  • Sacramento State at No. 22 UCLA, 11:00 p.m. ET

NOTABLES

  • Vermont at Providence, 7:00 p.m. ET
  • The Citadel at Tennessee, 7:00 p.m. ET
  • Houston Baptist at Texas, 8:00 p.m. ET
  • Arkansas State at Colorado, 9:00 p.m ET
  • Southern Utah at Cal, 11:00 p.m. ET

UNLV’s Stephen Zimmerman out with a knee injury

UNLV forward Stephen Zimmerman Jr. shoots against San Diego State during an NCAA college basketball game Saturday, Jan. 30, 2016, in Las Vegas. (L.E. Baskow/Las Vegas Sun via AP)
(L.E. Baskow/Las Vegas Sun via AP)
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The injury Stephen Zimmerman suffered on Saturday will keep the star UNLV freshman out for at least a week, a source told NBC Sports.

The injury is not thought to be serious, however. Zimmerman may be kept out for longer as a precaution, but that’s a result of the Runnin’ Rebels being in a situation where the rest of their regular season is relatively meaningless.

They’re not getting an at-large bid to the NCAA tournament regardless of how they finish out league play. With back-up center Ben Carter out with a torn ACL, it’s more important to make sure that Zimmerman, who is averaging 10.6 points and 9.1 boards this season, is totally healthy for the Mountain West tournament.

That tournament, mind you, will be played at UNLV’s Thomas & Mack Center.

So the Runnin’ Rebels, regardless of how poor they’ve played this season, will always have a chance to land an automatic bid.

Anyway, the more interesting aspect of this story is how Zimmerman injured the knee. It was a completely avoidable play that came after the whistle, but I’m not sure it was what you would call a “dirty play”. You tell me:

VIDEO: Buddy Hield is ‘all money’ on game-winning three vs. No. 24 Texas

Oklahoma guard Buddy Hield (24) takes a shot over Oklahoma State forward Chris Oliver during the second half of an NCAA college basketball game in Stillwater, Okla., Wednesday, Jan. 13, 2016. (AP Photo/Brody Schmidt)
(AP Photo/Brody Schmidt)
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With a little more than three minutes left on Monday night, No. 24 Texas held a 57-51 lead on No. 3 Oklahoma in Norman as Jordan Woodard struggled again and Buddy Hield failed to find the rhythm that he had throughout the first three months of the season.

At that point in the game, Hield was 4-for-14 from the floor with 15 points and four turnovers. He had just missed a pair of wide-open threes

“I couldn’t make a shot,” Hield said after the game. But that changed down the stretch. First, Hield finally got a three to drop. On the next possession, he got all the way to the rim and scored. On the following two possessions, he was fouled on a drive to the rim and hit four free throws. And after missing a pull-up jumper, Hield did this:

“I told coach I wanted the ball,” Hield said, “I saw Lammert coming to bite, so I pulled up.”

“It’s all money.”

Hield is already the favorite to win National Player of the Year, and this performance is only going to help his cause further. Think about it like this: Buddy was not good on Monday night, at least according to his (admittedly lofty) standards. But he still finished with 27 points and shook off a cold shooting night just in time to take over down the stretch.

Now think about this: Hield’s head coach has enough confidence in him to hand him the keys in the final minutes despite the fact that he’s struggling and on a team that has two other players that Lon Kruger trusts on game-winning possessions. Think about it. When Oklahoma beat West Virginia at the buzzer, it was Jordan Woodard that the play was drawn up for. When they beat LSU, it was Isaiah Cousins that got the rock on the final possession while Hield was used as a decoy. .

Want to talk about coaching luxuries?

Kruger has three guards that can shoot, penetrate and score, and penetrate and kick, and one of them is the National Player of the Year that doesn’t mind being used as a decoy.