Rick Pitino, Russ Smith

Sunday’s Pregame Shootaround: Louisville has first test of the season against North Carolina

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GAME OF THE DAY: No. 3 Louisville vs. No. 24 North Carolina, 1:00 p.m. (ESPN) 

North Carolina isn’t the team that many projected in the preseason thanks to the absence of P.J. Hairston and Leslie McDonald, but the Tar Heels still have enough firepower to challenge Louisville in the championship game of the Hall of Fame Tipoff at Mohegan Sun. Louisville defeated Fairfield 71-57, while North Carolina earned a solid win over Richmond, 82-72, the the semifinal games yesterday.

THE OTHER GAME OF THE DAY: Virginia Commonwealth vs. Georgetown, 2:00 p.m. (ESPNU)

Georgetown is feeling the ill effects of losing Otto Porter to the NBA and has struggled in the early going with losses to Oregon and Northeastern — the latter loss very disconcerting as the Hoyas were outscored 38-20 in the second half en route to a 63-56 loss. Things don’t get easier as they have to now cope with VCU’s havoc defense. Look for Georgetown to feature Josh Smith on the offensive end as he will have a distinct size advantage against VCU.

MID-MAJOR MATCHUP OF THE DAY: North Dakota vs. North Dakota State, 6:00 p.m.

If you like scoring and three-pointers, keep an eye on this game between these in-state rivals. North Dakota State has high aspirations this season as they return Taylor Braun, among others, but North Dakota is a solid team in their own right as they showed against Wisconsin last Tuesday. The Bagders are good this season, and North Dakota hung with them for much of the game, eventually succumbing 103-85.

FIVE THINGS TO WATCH: 

1) Will UMass continue their hot start and knock off another BCS opponent in Clemson? On the young season, UMass has already defeated Boston College, LSU, Youngstown State, Nebraska, and — most impressively — New Mexico. A win against the Tigers, and don’t be surprised to see the Minutemen in the Top 25 come Monday.

2) Another Massachusetts school, Harvard has their first true test of the season as they travel to Colorado. It’s been hard to gauge just how good the Crimson are, but we should learn much more about them against Colorado. The match-up between Harvard’s guards Siyani Chambers and Wesley Saunders vs. Colorado’s Spencer Dinwiddie and Askia Booker will be a good battle.

3) Providence has impressed thus far, compiling a 5-0 record with solid wins over Boston College and Vanderbilt. Against Vanderbilt, the Friars ended the game on a 27-4 run to win 67-60. They have another good test today against La Salle. Seniors Bryce Cotton and Kadeem Batts have been tremendous, and the Friars are looking like a team that has the potential to make the NCAA Tournament for the first time since 2004.

4) Maryland has gotten off to a slow start with losses to Connecticut and Oregon State, and their game against Northern Iowa at the Paradise Jam in St. Thomas figures to be a tough one. Nick Faust has to be better in order for the Terps to get on track — through four games he is shooting just 36% on two-pointers and 22% on three-pointers.

5) You should be paying close attention to Belmont this season; the Bruins are for real and very good. Fresh off of their win against North Carolina last weekend, they dismantled rival Lipscomb 94-64, and then had a solid victory against Holy Cross last night. Through six games, they have eclipsed the 80 point mark five times, and have one of the most efficient offenses in college basketball. Belmont doesn’t figure to be challenged much by Hofstra today.

THE REST OF THE TOP 25:

  • No. 6 Duke vs. Vermont, 6:30 p.m. (ESPNU)
  • No. 14 Michigan vs. Charlotte, 6:30 p.m. (ESPN2)
  • No. 17 Oregon vs. San Francisco, 8:00 p.m. (Pac-12 Network)
  • No. 19 New Mexico vs. Davidson, currently airing on ESPNU
  • No. 22 UCLA vs. Chattanooga, 10:00 p.m. (Pac-12 Network)

NOTABLES: 

  • UAB vs. Temple, 6:30 p.m. (ESPN3)
  • Florida State vs. Northeastern, 4:30 p.m. (ESPN2)
  • Richmond vs. Fairfield, 3:00 p.m. (ESPN3)

UT-Arlington dominates, upsets No. 12 St. Mary’s

Texas-Arlington's Kevin Hervey, left, reacts to a 73-68 NCAA college basketball game win as Ohio State's Jae'Sean Tate looks on  in Columbus, Ohio, Friday, Nov. 20, 2015. (AP Photo/Paul Vernon)
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UT-Arlington made a statement on Thursday night, completely dominating No. 12 Saint Mary’s in a 65-51 upset win in a true road game in Moraga.

Back in October, I ranked both the Gaels and the Mavericks in the top-5 of my Mid-Major Power Rankings. Saint Mary’s was the obvious top choice, one of the nation’s most efficient offenses that returned Emmett Naar and Jock Landale. UT-Arlington, ranked fifth, served as a dangerous opponent. The Mavs had defeated Ohio State and Memphis in 2015, but their season was derailed once Kevin Hervey, a player with serious pro potential, tore his ACL.

With five starters back, including Hervey, who is just now getting back to 100 percent, UT-Arlington looks every bit the part of a March Cinderella.

The Mavericks jumped out to an early lead and forced the Gaels to play out of character. Saint Mary’s had only committed a season-high 14 turnovers before the midway point of the second half. The Gaels, who entered shooting 40 percent from three as a team, was held to 8-of-27 (30 percent) from beyond the arc.

UT-Arlington did an incredible job of closing out on shooters. And it didn’t matter the matchup, at times we saw Hervey, a 6-foot-9 junior, come out and run a guard off the 3-point line. While those statistics mentioned above show up in the box score, the amount of deflections don’t. The Mavericks used its length and athleticism to get their hands everywhere on the defensive end of the floor, making it difficult to find good looks.

In the first half, UT-Arlington controlled the glass. Saint Mary’s found more success in that department after halftime, as Kevin Clark’s offensive putback capped an 11-2 run, which cut the deficit to 52-41. However, the Mavs were able to counter each time the Gaels threatened, never letting the lead get to single digits.

Aside from the struggles the typically-efficient Saint Mary’s offense had, the Gaels struggled to keep UT-Arlington guards Erick Neal and Kaelon Wilson out of the lane, whether it be on a high ball screen or a handoff. Saint Mary’s never seemed to have a help-side defender there to protect the rim. Neal had 13 points and eight assists (five turnovers), while Wilson had 10 points off the bench. Hervey had a game-high 15 points and seven rebounds.

UT-Arlington is winners of eight straight after losing three straight. One of those wins includes a double-digit win over Texas in Austin. The Mavericks are the clear-cut favorite to win the Sun Belt. Come Selection Sunday, I’d say plenty of at-large teams would not like to be paired up with Scott Cross’ team.

Iowa cruises past No. 25 Iowa State

NEW YORK, NY - MARCH 20:  Head coach Fran McCaffery of the Iowa Hawkeyes reacts in the first half against the Villanova Wildcats during the second round of the 2016 NCAA Men's Basketball Tournament at Barclays Center on March 20, 2016 in the Brooklyn borough of New York City.  (Photo by Elsa/Getty Images)
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Iowa picked up a major win on Thursday night, defeating in-state rival No. 25 Iowa State, 78-64, in a contest the Hawkeyes thoroughly dominated.

Let’s put it this way: the Hawkeyes have played four top-100 teams, according to kenpom. In those games, all losses by the way, their defense has surrendered 91 points to Seton Hall, 74 points to a Virginia team that plays at the slowest tempo in the country, 100 points to Memphis and 92 points to Notre Dame.

On Saturday, on the same floor Iowa demolished the Cyclones, its defense allowed 98 points in a loss to Nebraska Omaha.

This is exactly the sort of win Fran McCaffery and Co. needed to right the ship as we inch closer and closer to conference play.

When the Cyclones went to their bench in the first half, Nick Baer sparked a 10-0 run which helped set the tone for the remainder of the half. Iowa State went without a field goal for more than six minutes during that span.

Iowa kept Iowa State from getting out and running, holding the Cyclones to zero fast break points through the first 20 minutes and limiting them to only 36 percent from the floor as a team. Iowa, on the other hand, shot 47 percent, including 59 percent in the first half, which led to a 15-point halftime lead.

Peter Jok torched Iowa State to the tune of 23 points (4-of-7 from distance).

Monte Morris was held in check with 10 points, while Naz Mitrou-Long and Matt Thomas shot a combined 4-of-13 from three (they each hit a three with less than three minutes to play and the outcome all but decided).

Iowa State’s offense is becoming a bigger concern. Just like against Gonzaga, the Cyclones dug a first-half hole they could shoot out their way of. And like last week’s overtime loss to Cincinnati, they struggled from beyond the arc.

Iowa landed a marquee win it needed, while its rival headed home with questions to answer after losing three of four.

 

Alabama wing sidelined due to weight loss

ORLANDO, FL - NOVEMBER 29: Head coach Avery Johnson of the Alabama Crimson Tide during the game against the Notre Dame Fighting Irish at HP Field House on November 29, 2015 in Orlando, Florida.  (Photo by Rob Foldy/Getty Images)
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Alabama junior wing Nick King will not be with the team for Sunday evening’s matchup against No. 24 Oregon in Eugene.

According to Rainer Sabin of the AL.com, Alabama head coach Avery Johnson said King undergoing a series of tests after losing more than 10 pounds in less than a week and a half.

Johnson told reporters that he is “very concerned” and estimates that as of now King will be sidelined for “a week or two.”

King, who played his first two seasons at Memphis, has appeared in all seven games for the Crimson Tide, averaging 3.3 points and 2.9 rebounds in 12.7 minutes per game.

Damonte Dodd out with MCL sprain

COLLEGE PARK, MD - FEBRUARY 13: Melo Trimble #2 and Damonte Dodd #35 of the Maryland Terrapins react to a call as Alex Illikainen #25 of the Wisconsin Badgers looks on in the second half at Xfinity Center on February 13, 2016 in College Park, Maryland. Wisconsin won 70-57.  (Photo by Rob Carr/Getty Images)
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Maryland could be without the services of starting center Damonte Dodd for the remainder of the non-conference slate, the team announced on Wednesday.

Dodd suffered a MCL sprain in his left knee during practice earlier this week. The injury caused him to miss Wednesday’s 76-56 win over Howard. He will not be available for matchups with St. Peter’s and Jacksonville State. The Terrapins then close out the non-conference slate at Charlotte on Dec. 20 before opening up Big Ten play a week later.

Dodd has started in six of seven games he’s appeared in this season. He’s averaging 5.9 points, 5.3 rebounds and 2.4 blocks per game. Michael Cekovsky started in place of Dodd on Wednesday night. Ivan Bender, who returned to the lineup against Howard after missing the previous contest, should also see an increase in minutes with Dodd sidelined.

Federico Mussini goes coast-to-coast, beats buzzer with and-1

CINCINNATI, OH - FEBRUARY 03:  Chris Mullin the head coach of the St. John's Red Storm gives instructions to Federico Mussini #4 during the game against the  Xavier Musketeersat Cintas Center on February 3, 2016 in Cincinnati, Ohio.  (Photo by Andy Lyons/Getty Images)
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St. John’s capped the first half with a 6-0 run.

Sophomore guard Federico Mussini went coast-to-coast to beat the buzzer, and draw the foul, as the Johnnies went into the break up 42-33 on city rival Fordham.

The 6-foot-4 guard had gone cold during a five-game stretch, but since Thanksgiving he’s scored in double figures in four consecutive games, including on Thursday night.