Tuesday’s Pregame Shootaround: Two top ten battles highlight a very good slate

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GAME OF THE DAY: No. 3 Ohio State at No. 5 Michigan State, 9:00 p.m.

Well, didn’t we get lucky. In the first day of the year without college football, we get a top five matchup between two football powerhouses. For my money, Michigan State is the best team in the Big Ten right now and the second best team in the country, to Arizona. Keith Appling and Adreian Payne have taken turns looking like first-team all-americans while Gary Harris seems to finally be getting healthy at the same time that Branden Dawson is starting to find a groove. Sparty is peaking as conference play begins. Not a bad time to do so.

But the Buckeyes are pretty darn good in their own right. This is a team that is as good on the defensive end of the floor as anyone you’ll see this season. Aaron Craft and Shannon Scott are nightmares. Quite literally. That said, I’m concerned about their size up front. Can they rebound with this Michigan State team? Who slows down Adreian Payne? Can LaQuinton Ross get going when he’s being checked by Dawson or Payne? The Breslin Center is a tough place to win, and I think MSU will be victorious tonight.

THE OTHER GAME OF THE DAY: No. 7 Baylor at No. 9 Iowa State, 7:00 p.m.

Oh, and it gets better. Not only do we have a top five matchup, but we have a pair of top ten Big 12 teams squaring off. Iowa State is still undefeated and is one of the more under-appreciated teams in the country. Their front line is long and athletic and a nightmare to matchup with given their versatility, while Deandre Kane is quietly playing like an all-american. They can really shoot the ball and are dangerous when they play in Hilton Coliseum.

That said, Baylor’s not a bad team, either. while Iowa State’s front court is made up of combo-forwards that are a bit shorter than most big men, Scott Drew runs out arguably the biggest front line in the country with Cory Jefferson and Isaiah Austin being backed up by Rico Gathers. The key for Baylor will be taking advantage of that size inside. If they can get guys like Georges Niang, Dustin Hogue and Melvin Ejim in foul trouble, it will make their work defensively that much easier. I;ll also be curious to see how they match up with Kane, who stands a physical 6-foot-7.

FIVE THINGS TO WATCH FOR:

1) Coming off of a loss at Notre Dame on Saturday, No. 16 Duke plays their first game since 2007 as a non-top 10 team when they host Georgia Tech at 7:00 p.m. The Yellow Jackets may be running into the Blue Devils on the wrong day. On the other end of the spectrum, Notre Dame is at home again tonight as they host N.C. State, who desperately need a win.

2) Only one top 25 team heads on the road against an unranked opponent tonight as No. 25 Kansas State heads down to Fort Worth to take on TCU. But two teams that cracked the NBCSports.com top 25 will be on the road tonight: Cincinnati will be visiting Houston while Creighton will take a trip to frigid Chicago to play DePaul.

3) Tennessee and LSU square off tonight in a key SEC battle between two teams that could end up being the third best team in the conference.

4) Saint Louis will pay a visit to Rhode Island tonight. URI picked up a big win at LSU on Saturday, but the Billikens may be more important.

5) Charleston’s Willis Hall is averaging 20.3 points and 17.0 boards in his last three games. He’ll be playing at James Madison tonight.

No. 7 South Carolina upends No. 3 Baylor to advance to the Elite 8

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NEW YORK — It was with a whipping and a whimper that Baylor’s season can to an end on Friday night.

The final two minutes of the game wasn’t actually a game. No. 7 seed South Carolina dished out a 70-50 beatdown that wasn’t in doubt after the Gamecocks used an 18-0 run at the end of the first half to turn a rock fight into statement, and for the final two minutes of the game, the Gamecocks and, eventually, Baylor dribbled out the remaining seconds before joining arms at center court for a postgame prater.

It’s the third straight year that Baylor has been bounced from the NCAA tournament by a team seeded lower than them. In 2015, it was R.J. Hunter’s heroics that knocked his dad off of a stool and sent No. 14 seed Georgia State into the second round of the tournament. In 2016, the Bears fell in the first round to No. 12 seed Yale, prompting one of the most memorable press conference moments in NCAA tournament history.

And on Friday night, it was South Carolina that sent the Bears into offseason hibernation.

It was a disheartening end to a season, a loss that will surely provide fodder for the people that traffic in ‘Scott Drew can’t coach’ jokes, the irony being that the 2016-17 season was definitive proof that Scott Drew is almost certainly better at his job than you are at yours.

“When you coach for a while and you make Elite Eights and Sweet 16, you kind of start taking it for granted that you will always be successful in March,” Drew said. “But it’s a good reminder to be here and know how hard it is.”

No. 1 North Carolina handles No. 4 Butler en route to Elite Eight

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North Carolina, the top seed in the South Region, led by as many as 20 en route to a 92-80 win over No. 4 Butler in the Sweet 16 matchup on Friday night at the FedEx Forum in Memphis.

The Tar Heels were led by 26 points, off 8-of-13 shooting, from junior point guard Joel Berry II. The 6-foot floor general had been hampered by an ankle injury through the first weekend. While he still seemed to favor that same ankle at times, his play was a big improvement on his 3-of-21 shooting through the NCAA Tournament’s first two rounds. Justin Jackson nearly matched Berry’s game-high with 24 points.

Andrew Chrabascz, in the final game of his four-year career at Butler, finished with 21 points, seven rebounds and four assists.

North Carolina, the last of the ACC’s nine tournament bids, advances to the Elite Eight to face the winner of No. 3 UCLA and No. 2 Kentucky. The Wildcats own a win over North Carolina, defeating the Tar Heels, 103-100, on Dec. 17 behind 47 points from Malik Monk.

Missouri lands No. 1 player in Class of 2017 as Michael Porter Jr. commits

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Missouri and new head coach Cuonzo Martin have landed the No. 1 player in the Class of 2017 a week after he took the job as forward Michael Porter Jr. committed to the Tigers on Friday.

Formerly a Washington commit under now-fired head coach Lorenzo Romar, the 6-foot-9 Porter was released from his Letter of Intent this week and many believed he’d end up back at Missouri.

The Porter family lived in Columbia for many years as two of Michael’s older sisters play for the Missouri women’s team while Michael Porter Sr. was an assistant coach for the women’s team.

When Porter Sr. was hired to Missouri to be an assistant coach on Martin’s staff this week — after losing his assistant coaching job at Washington when Romar was fired — it all but sealed the deal that the Porters would return to Missouri and Michael Jr. would play for the Tigers.

Missouri might not be an NCAA Tournament team next season after struggling to an 8-24 finish and 2-16 record in the SEC. But Porter might be the most productive freshman entering college basketball next season as he has a chance to be dominant in the SEC.

Oklahoma State promotes assistant coach Mike Boynton to head coach

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Oklahoma State has decided to promote assistant coach Mike Boynton to head coach, the school announced on Friday.

Boynton was an assistant with the Cowboys under former head coach Brad Underwood, who left Oklahoma State to take the Illinois job last weekend. Also an assistant coach at Stephen F. Austin, South Carolina, Wofford and Coastal Carolina, Boynton is a native of New York City who played his college ball for the Gamecocks.

The hire of Boynton is surprising since he doesn’t have any head-coaching experience as it follows in the footsteps of Cal promoting assistant coach Wyking Jones earlier in the day. Boynton also notably won the job over broadcaster and former Oklahoma State guard Doug Gottlieb as Gottlieb interviewed for the job but wasn’t selected.

 

Rhode Island junior E.C. Matthews will return to school

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Rhode Island junior guard E.C. Matthews will return to school for his redshirt senior season, the school announced on Friday.

The 6-foot-5 Matthews led the Rams in scoring at 14.9 points per game this past season as he returned from a torn ACL and helped Rhode Island reach the NCAA Tournament for the first time since 1999.

Besides for being a talented scorer, Matthews is a good overall playmaker for the Rams as he also put up 4.3 rebounds and 1.4 assists per game.

With Matthews returning, it gives head coach Dan Hurley a huge weapon for next season as Rhode Island returns everyone besides the senior front court of Hassan Martin and Kuran Iverson.