Aaron Craft, Todd Mayo

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.

BUBBLE BANTER: All of tonight’s bubbly action in one place

Connecticut head coach Kevin Ollie calls to his team during an NCAA college basketball game against Central Florida, Sunday, Jan. 31, 2016 at the CFE Arena in Orlando, Fla. (Jacob Langston/Orlando Sentinel via AP)
(Jacob Langston/Orlando Sentinel via AP)
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Tonight’s schedule. This post will be updated as the games are completed.

UConn (KenPom: 19, RPI: 46) at Temple (KenPom: 95, RPI: 69), 7:00 p.m.
Florida State (KenPom: 37, RPI: 38) at Syracuse (KenPom: 39, RPI: 44), 7:00 p.m.
VCU (KenPom: 32, RPI: 40) at UMass, 7:00 p.m.
Arkansas-Little Rock (KenPom: 41, RPI: 63) at Louisiana Monroe, 8:00 p.m.
Northern Kentucky at Valparaiso (KenPom: 22, RPI: 48), 8:00 p.m.
No. 4 Iowa at Indiana (KenPom: 24, RPI: 51), 9:00 p.m.
No. 11 Oregon at Cal (KenPom: 44, RPI: 32), 9:00 p.m.
Washington State at Colorado (KenPom: 56, RPI: 29), 11:00 p.m.
Gonzaga (KenPom: 33, RPI: 66) at Portland, 11:00 p.m.
Pepperdine at Saint Mary’s (KenPom: 26, RPI: 52), 11:00 p.m.
Oregon State (KenPom: 81, RPI: 31) at Stanford (KenPom: 104, RPI: 71), 11:00 p.m.

PREGAME SHOOTAROUND: Big Ten showdown and key bubble battles

Iowa's Jarrod Uthoff (20), Christian Williams, center, and Adam Woodbury, second from left, and Michigan State's Deyonta Davis (23) and Eron Harris (14) reach for a rebound during the first half of an NCAA college basketball game, Thursday, Jan. 14, 2016, in East Lansing, Mich. (AP Photo/Al Goldis)
AP Photo/Al Goldis
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GAME OF THE NIGHT: No. 4 Iowa at Indiana, 9:00 p.m.

As a result of their surprising loss at Penn State Saturday night, Tom Crean’s Hoosiers enter this pivotal contest a game back of the Hawkeyes in the Big Ten standings. And with their backloaded conference schedule, this is a game Indiana has to get if they’re to entertain thoughts of winning the Big Ten title. Two of the Big Ten’s best players will be on display in Iowa’s Jarrod Uthoff and Indiana’s Yogi Ferrell, but both have plenty of help behind them offensively.

Iowa’s Peter Jok has been one of the conference’s most improved players, and the Hoosiers can counter not only with forward Troy Williams but with freshman center Thomas Bryant as well. The key in this one: turnovers, as Indiana has lost the ball on more than 20 percent of their possessions in conference play. That can’t happen tonight if they’re to win.

THIS ONE’S GOOD TOO: No. 11 Oregon at California, 9:00 p.m.

The Ducks have been the class of the Pac-12 to this point, but a win in Berkeley won’t come easy. The Golden Bears may not be enjoying the success many expected before the season began, but Cuonzo Martin’s team has won all 14 of its home games this season, most recently whipping rival Stanford last weekend.

The problem for Cal: Tyrone Wallace is still out due to injury, and given Oregon’s many versatile scoring options that’s a problem. Pac-12 POY candidate Dillon Brooks leads the way, but Chris Boucher has emerged as one of the conference’s best big men in recent weeks. Jaylen Brown, Ivan Rabb and Jordan Mathews will need to come up big, as this is a huge contest for Cal’s NCAA tournament hopes.

FIVE THINGS TO WATCH FOR

  • The top two teams in the Big West get together in Honolulu, as Hawai’i hosts UC Irvine (1:00 a.m.) in the first of their two meetings this season. This will be a matchup of strengths when the Bows have the ball, as they lead the Big West in two-point field goal percentage (54.7) while UC Irvine leads the conference in two-point percentage defense (38.9) thanks in large part to 7-foot-6 Mamadou Ndiaye. Hawai’i forward Stefan Jankovic (15.3 ppg, 6.7 rpg) has been a much-improved player under first-year head coach Eran Ganot, leading the team in both scoring and rebounding.
  • Two ACC teams with matching 6-5 league records meet at the Carrier Dome, as Syracuse hosts Florida State (7:00 p.m.) in a game both teams need for their respective NCAA tournament résumés. Jim Boeheim’s team should be well-rested, as they haven’t played in nine days, and they’ll need that energy to slow down FSU guards Xavier Rathan-Mayes, Malik Beasley and Dwayne Bacon. The Seminole backcourt is young but talented, and they’ll face two fifth-year seniors in Syracuse’s Michael Gbinije and Trevor Cooney.
  • Picking up a home sweep of Utah and Colorado may have given Oregon State’s NCAA tournament hopes some life, but they really need to go on a run here. Tonight’s game at Stanford (11:00 p.m.) represents a good opportunity for Gary Payton II and company to win their third straight, but the Cardinal did win the first meeting in Corvallis back on January 6. In that game rebounding was the deciding factor (Rosco Allen finished with 21 and eight boards, too), as Stanford grabbed half of their available missed shots. OSU can’t let that happen again.
  • With SMU ineligible for postseason play, the other American Athletic Conference teams are jockeying for position in next month’s conference tournament. Tonight UConn looks to avenge its home loss to Temple January 5 with a win in Philadelphia (7:00 p.m.). Since Amida Brimah’s return the Huskies have played much better basketball, as they have their rim protector and a finisher for Daniel Hamilton’s alley-oop passes back on the court. The Owls have won their last three games, and tonight is their second-best remaining opportunity for a quality win (they play No. 1 Villanova next Wednesday).
  • At this point, no one’s catching Wichita State for the Missouri Valley regular season title without the Shockers collapsing in epic fashion. But when it comes to who can earn the conference’s automatic bid to the NCAA tournament, both Illinois State and Evansville have a shot. The two teams meet in Evansville tonight (8:00 p.m.), with three of the Valley’s best players on display in ISU’s DeVaughn Akoon-Purcell and Evansville’s D.J. Balentine and Edigijus Mockevicius. Evansville won the first meeting by 11 in mid-January, as the Redbirds shot 6-for-31 from three on the night.

OTHER NOTABLE GAMES

  • Mercer at Wofford, 7:00 p.m.
  • Hofstra at William & Mary, 7:00 p.m.
  • High Point at Coastal Carolina, 7:00 p.m.
  • James Madison at College of Charleston, 7:00 p.m.
  • Milwaukee at Oakland, 7:00 p.m.
  • Pepperdine at Saint Mary’s, 11:00 p.m.