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.

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.