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Pregame shootaround: Monster doubleheader dominates Saturday’s action

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GAME OF THE DAY: No. 8 Villanova at No. 2 Syracuse (2 p.m., CBS)

I mean no disrespect to one of the greatest rivalries in all of sports, but when you have a matchup of two unbeaten, top-10 teams on December 28th, it takes precedence. It should be a good one as No. 8 Villanova (11-0) travels to the Carrier Dome to face No. 2 Syracuse (11-0) in a matchup of old Big East foes. This is a big non-conference tilt that will test each team before conference season and Syracuse is in for its biggest game of the season — so far — after winning the Maui Invitational while Villanova won the Battle 4 Atlantis earlier this season. How will Syracuse’s young backcourt of freshman Tyler Ennis and Trevor Cooney handle a big game and a big test against Villanova?

THE OTHER GAME OF THE DAY: No. 6 Louisville at No. 18 Kentucky (4 p.m., CBS)

If you’re up for more college hoops after the matchup of unbeatens — and of course you are — then you’ll want to stick around for one of the best rivalries in sports. Although No. 6 Louisville (11-1) and No. 18 Kentucky (9-3) aren’t both in the top ten, they’re still the last two national champions and this is a rivalry game unlike many others. Can Kentucky finally get over the hump and earn a marquee victory heading into SEC play? The young Wildcats have fallen in their previous tests against Michigan State, Baylor and North Carolina, but this time, they’ll have Rupp Arena and Big Blue Nation behind them. And how will Louisville handle its most talented opponent so far this season in a big rivalry game on the road? Louisville’s only test this season was against North Carolina, and, like Kentucky, they fell to the Tar Heels as well.

WHO’S GETTING UPSET? No. 25 Missouri at North Carolina State (8 p.m., ESPN2)

North Carolina State (9-2) is playing very well after a bit of a rocky start and sophomore T.J. Warren is playing at an All-American level for the Wolfpack. Today the Wolfpack will host No. 25 Missouri (10-1) after the Tigers are fresh off their loss in the Braggin’ Rights game against Illinois and Missouri could be in for a letdown. Warren is averaging a team-leading 23.9 points and 7.3 rebounds — on 55 percent shooting — and poses a major challenge for Missouri’s defense. The Wolfpack have won seven straight games since the return of 7-foot-1 center Jordan Vandenburg and freshman point guard Anthony “Cat” Barber has also played better much better since the 2-2 start, as he’s registered at least four assists in all seven of those wins. One thing to monitor in this one: How will Missouri handle its first true road game of the season?

MID-MAJOR GAME OF THE DAY: Belmont at Indiana State, (1:05 p.m., ESPN3)

This is an interesting match-up between Ohio Valley contender Belmont (8-5) and Missouri Valley contender Indiana State (8-3), in-part because they already played earlier this season and Belmont won 96-95 at home on November 14th. Since then, Belmont has won at North Carolina, but has lost four of five games and they’ll look to right the ship against a good Indiana State team. The Sycamores have won five of six games entering this rematch and are trending in the opposite direction.

FIVE THINGS TO KNOW

1) How about the matchup between senior guards Chaz Williams and Bryce Cotton in the matchup between No. 23 UMass and Providence? That should be a fun one as Providence (10-2) will look to hand UMass (10-1) its second loss of the season.

2) Duke (9-2) will be in for an interesting non-conference matchup at Cameron Indoor Stadium with 7-3 Eastern Michigan. The Eagles have already traveled to Rupp Arena and faced No. 21 UMass this season and own sold mid-major wins over Green Bay and Cleveland State and won’t be scared to face No. 9 Duke.

3) Wake Forest is off to a solid 10-2 start, but how will they react to their first true road game of the season at Xavier? The Demon Deacons went 1-2 at the Battle 4 Atlantis and would love to pick up a quality road win before ACC play. Xavier, meanwhile, has rebounded nicely with four straight wins after an 0-3 trip to the Battle 4 Atlantis. Although both teams played in the Battle 4 Atlantis, they have yet to play each other.

4) An interesting doubleheader at the Brooklyn Winter Hoops Festival kicks off today as Tulane (7-6) faces Kansas State (8-3) and Boston College (4-8) takes on VCU (10-3). Tulane has lost six of seven and will look for an upset against red-hot Kansas State and their six straight wins, while Boston College hasn’t beaten a Division I opponent in the month of December and will look to rebound against the Rams.

5) Although Michigan lost Mitch McGary indefinitely due to back surgery, they can’t hang their head for too long, as they’ll face Holy Cross and senior center Dave Dudzinski. Dudzinski is one of the top mid-major big men in the country so far this season as he’s averaging 17.1 points and 7.6 rebounds per game on 50 percent shooting from the field and 45 percent shooting from three-point range.

THE REST OF THE TOP 25:

  • Prairie View A&M at No. 4 Wisconsin, 2:00 p.m., ESPNU
  • New Orleans at No. 5 Michigan State, 4:15 p.m., BTN
  • Eastern Washington at No. 15 UConn, 1:00 p.m., ESPN3
  • Jackson State at No. 17 Memphis, 12:00 p.m., ESPNU
  • Georgia at No. 21 Colorado, 10:00 p.m., Pac 12
  • Santa Clara at No. 24 Gonzaga, 8:00 p.m., ESPNU

NOTABLES:

  • Nebraska at Cincinnati, 12:00 p.m., ESPN2
  • Florida International at Georgetown, 12:00 p.m., Fox Sports 1
  • UIC vs Illinois, 2:00 p.m., BTN
  • Samford at Marquette, 2:00 p.m., Fox Sports Net
  • Columbia at St. John’s, 2:30 p.m.
  • Harvard at Fordham, 4:00 p.m.
  • Akron at South Carolina, 4:00 p.m., ESPNU
  • BYU at Loyola Marymount, 4:00 p.m.
  • Old Dominion at Richmond, 6:30 p.m., NBCSN
  • Alabama at UCLA, 10:00 p.m., ESPN2

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.