Weekend Preview: Iowa-Iowa State highlights a rivalry-heavy weekend slate

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GAME OF THE WEEKEND: No. 23 Iowa at No. 17 Iowa State, Fri. 9:30 p.m. (all times eastern)

It’s been a while since this in-state rivalry game held as much meaning as it does this season. The Cyclones enter the season as one of the nation’s most surprising teams, a group that Fred Hoiberg has kept quite relevant despite the fact that they’ve lost a number of key pieces over the course of the last couple of seasons. This year, it’s been the arrival of Deandre Kane and the impressive play of guy like Georges Niang, Dustin Hogue and Naz Long that have made the difference.

The Hawkeyes are a different story. They’ve been on the brink of a breakthrough for a couple seasons under Fran McCaffery, and it looks like this is the year that it’s finally happened. Iowa is deep, they are balanced, and they are talented. Most importantly, both teams play a fun style of basketball to watch, which can only mean good things for Friday night’s marquee game.

THE OTHER GAME OF THE WEEKEND: No. 11 Kentucky at No. 18 North Carolina, Sat. 5:15 p.m.

Kentucky’s in trouble, right? As many issues as North Carolina has this season, they’ve knocked off both Louisville and Michigan State already. The Heels can’t handle the likes of Belmont or UAB, but if you entered the season as a Final Four favorite, the last thing you want to do is go up against these Heels.

I’m mostly joking, because I think Kentucky’s size actually nullifies a lot of what North Carolina is going to try to do. The Heels picked up those two wins because of the play of their big guys, specifically Kennedy Meeks, on the interior. What happens when Meeks runs into Julius Randle and Willie Cauley-Stein? What will be interesting to keep an eye on, however, is Kentucky’s defense. They’ve struggled with the pick-and-roll and defensive rebounding the last couple of games.

FIVE MORE TO KEEP AN EYE ON:

  • No. 1 Arizona at Michigan, Sat. 12:00 p.m.: This game had a lot more intrigue before Michigan’s flaws early on this season became so readily apparent. That said, the Wolverines may actually have more individual talent than the Wildcats. Nick Johnson vs. Nik Stauskas will be fun.
  • Tennessee at No. 12 Wichita State, Sat. 2:00 p.m.: A football game on a basketball court. The Vols handed the Shockers their first loss last season, and WSU will look to return the favor.
  • Notre Dame vs. Indiana, Sat. 3:15 p.m.: Interesting contrast of styles here. Notre Dame has a ton of shooters and guard play but lacks the length and athleticism to be tough defensively. Indiana? Well, they’re the exact opposite.
  • St. Mary’s at Boise State, Sat. 6:05 p.m.: Two of the nation’s better under-the-radar teams this season. Both need the win to make a statement and help bolster their league’s non-conference resume. Brad Waldow for St. Mary’s is the truth; he should have a big game.
  • No. 2 Syracuse at St. John’s, Sun. 12:00 p.m.: An old school Big East reunion at the Garden! St. John’s has been a bit of a disappointment this season, and they certainly won’t be more athletic than the Orange.

WHO’S ON UPSET ALERT?

  • Eastern Kentucky at No. 4 Wisconsin, Sat. 1:00 p.m.: I know how good Wisconsin is this season and I know how good they are at home, but EKU is a good team this season.
  • No. 7 Oklahoma State at Louisiana Tech, Sat. 2:00 p.m.: Louisiana Tech likes to pressure, and the knock on Marcus Smart this season is that he has been a bit turnover prone.
  • New Mexico at No. 13 Kansas, Sat. 7:00 p.m.: The Lobos might be getting the Jayhawks at the wrong time, as they’re coming off of two losses, but they matchup well with Bill Self’s team. Keep an eye on Alex Kirk and Cameron Bairstow.
  • La Salle at No. 10 Villanova, Sun. 2:30 p.m.: Big 5 hoops. Guards on guards on guards. Games like this never seem to disappoint.

FIVE MORE THINGS TO WATCH FOR:

1) West Virginia at Marshall, Sat. 7:30 p.m.: The Friends of Coal rivalry is intense. Last year, five players were ejected after a scuffle late in the game. The basketball isn’t great, but games where a fight could break out at any moment are fun. I’d love to see Bob Huggins and Tom Herrion get into a ring.

2) Cincinnati vs. Xavier, Sat. 8:00 p.m.: The Crosstown Shootout, which is no longer called the Crosstown Shootout. Everything I said about the Friends of Coal game could be said about this rivalry. Remember this?

3) North Dakota State at No. 3 Ohio State, Sat. 8:15 p.m.: North Dakota State is good. They just beat Notre Dame at Notre Dame. Taylor Braun and Marshall Bjorklund are legit. Plus, they calmly slop pigs in the middle of the day.

4) Illinois at No. 15 Oregon, Sat. 9:00 p.m.: Illinois really needs to pick up a marquee victory. For the Ducks, this will be the last time they have to play without Dominic Artis and Ben Carter. It’s also the last chance for Johnathon Loyd to prove he deserves playing time along side — or ahead — of Artis.

5) BYU at Utah, Sat. 10:00 p.m.: More in-state rivalry games. This may be the last time that the Cougars head to Salt Lake for a while.

 

College Basketball Coaches Poll: Michigan State moves atop the Top 25

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Michigan State is your new No. 1 team in the country, according to the USA Today Coaches Poll.

The Spartans received 20 of a possible 32 first-place votes after their comeback from 27 points down to beat Northwestern on the road on Saturday.

Virginia is still sitting at No. 2 while Villanova and Xavier round out the top four. Duke climbed a few spots to No. 5.

Here is the full coaches poll:

1. Michigan State (20 first-place votes)
2. Virginia (8)
3. Villanova (4)
4. Xavier
5. Duke
6. Gonzaga
7. Texas Tech
8. Kansas
9. Purdue
10. North Carolina
11. Cincinnati
12. Wichita State
13. Auburn
14. Arizona
15. Ohio State
16. Michigan
17. Clemson
18. Rhode Island
19. Tennessee
20. Saint Mary’s
21. West Virginia
22. Nevada
23. Houston
24. Middle Tennessee State
25. Arizona State

Was Bob Huggins justified in his anger over foul shots in Kansas win over West Virginia?

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Much has been made of Bob Huggins’ ejection on Saturday evening, as West Virginia blew yet another double-digit lead at Phog Allen Fieldhouse as Kansas picked up a critical, 77-69 win.

The ejection was hilarious, and everything that I want to remember Huggy Bear by: Cussing out all three refs as he earns his second technical and an ejection while needing to hold up his pants with his hands:

Huggs is a national treasure.

The more interesting conversation, however, centered around why Huggins was tossed. Kansas shot 35 free throws on Saturday. West Virginia shot just two, which is an absolutely staggering number.

And I thought this was deserving of further scrutiny.

Let’s start with the obvious: West Virginia fouls a lot, enough that it’s not an exaggeration to say that a foul could probably be called on every possession. Part of the strategy of playing the way that Press Virginia does is that they are betting that officials are not going to call a foul on every possession, because they won’t. West Virginia is also a jump-shooting team this season, as nearly 40 percent of their field goal attempts come from beyond the arc. Their free throw rate both offensively and defensively is dead last in the Big 12.

Put another way, the Mountaineers are always going to be outshot from the free throw line.

Then you have to combine that with the Kansas stats. The Jayhawks are second in the Big 12 on offensive free throw rate and third in defensive free throw rate. Throw in the home court advantage that comes with playing in the Phog, and the safest bet in the world would have been Kansas outshooting West Virginia from the charity stripe.

It also needs to be noted that the 35-2 advantage was 27-2 before West Virginia started fouling intentionally and before Kansas went to the line for those two late Huggins’ technical fouls.

But that didn’t stop Huggins from going off in the press conference after the game:

“We blew the game last year,” Huggins said. “We should have won the game. We had the game. They did a great job, they made shots, we threw it around, we missed free throws, we did everything humanly possible to lose the game. That was us.”

“I’ve been doing this 40 years. I don’t I’ve ever been in a game where we shot two free throws. I don’t think I’ve ever been in a game where the disparity 35-2. I’ve never been in a game like that.”

But perhaps his most telling line was this, when asked what his message to his team was:

“It wasn’t their fault.”

It’s pretty clear that Huggins believed his team was hosed on the road.

The truth is probably somewhere in the middle.

West Virginia is normally going to shoot fewer free throws than their opponents. Kansas is normally going to shoot more free throws that their opponents. Studies have proven that home environments in college basketball have an impact referee decisions as much as any sport in the world, including English soccer. That’s part of having a home court advantage, and it’s part of the advantage of having a rowdy, raucous and loud crowd. It’s why places like Phog Allen, and Cameron Indoor Stadium, and Koch Arena, and the McKale Center, and anywhere else with a big and loud fan base.

But 35-2 is 35-2, and it will take quite a bit of video evidence to proof to me that Kansas did not get a significant benefit from playing in front of their home crowd on Saturday night.

So did the referees cost West Virginia the game?

Debatable. I’d argue that Jevon Carter missing some shots and Daxter Miles’ insistence on passing up open threes to try and pass the ball to players going for a rebound played a pretty big role, as did the fact that Kansas is a really good team that made some big shots down the stretch.

But the whistles played some kind of a role.

Just like they always do in the Phog.

College Basketball AP Poll: Virginia, Michigan State, Villanova top the Top 25

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Virginia remained in the No. 1 spot in the AP Poll while Michigan State and Villanova still sit at No. 2 and No. 3 with Xavier once again in fourth.

The biggest change in the poll was that Duke rose to No. 5 after three straight wins; they were No. 12 last week.

Kentucky is still not a part of the top 25.

Here is the full AP Poll:

1. Virginia (42 first-place votes)
2. Michigan State (19)
3. Villanova (4)
4. Xavier
5. Duke
t-6. Texas Tech
t-6. Gonzaga
8. Kansas
9. Purdue
10. North Carolina
11. Cincinnati
12. Auburn
13. Wichita State
14. Arizona
15. Clemson
16. Ohio State
17. Michigan
18. Rhode Island
19. Tennessee
20. Nevada
21. West Virginia
22. Saint Mary’s
23. Houston
24. Middle Tennessee
25. Florida State

VIDEO: Wichita State celebrates in locker room after win over Cincinnati

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Wichita State went into Cincinnati — well, Northern Kentucky — on Sunday evening and landed their biggest win of the season.

They were fired up about it, as you might imagine.

And their locker room celebrating after the win was, as the kids say, litty:

Here’s the funny part to me: This game wasn’t played at Cincinnati. It wasn’t played at Wichita State. It was played at Northern Kentucky, where the Bearcats are playing their home games while they wait for the renovations on their arena to be completed.

Which means that some poor NKU employee that had nothing to do with either of these two programs had to spend the time cleaning up this mess.

CBT Podcast: Monday Overreactions: Villanova-Xavier, the Big 12 is drunk, the best in the Big Ten is … ?

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Rob Dauster was joined by Eamonn Brennan of The Athletic on today’s show to overreact to everything that happened this weekend, from Villanova pasting Xavier to the insanity that is the Big 12 to what happened in the Big Ten in the last ten days. We also spend a good 30 minutes talking about bubble teams, tournament resumes and some misconceptions with both. The rundown.

OPEN: Bubble Banter. We talk about weird bubble teams and whether or not we like the new Quadrant system.

36:08: Villanova’s win over Xavier and the Big East title race.

45:15: The Big 12 makes no sense and I love it.

58:30: Michigan State deserves the Big Ten title.