Andrew Wiggins (Photo by Ed Zurga/Getty Images)

Weekend Preview: 14 ranked teams will be hitting the road this weekend

2 Comments

GAME OF THE WEEKEND: No. 25 Kansas State at No. 18 Kansas, Sat. 2:00 p.m.

Back in October, this didn’t look like it was going to be much of a rivalry game this season. Kansas was a top five team and Kansas State lost three of their first five games, dropping their opener to Northern Colorado and getting drubbed by 27 points against Georgetown in Puerto Rico. But then Andrew Wiggins slowly-but-surely failed to be “Andrew Wiggins, greatest freshman ever” while Kansas State’s Marcus Foster turned into one of the nation’s 10 most impressive freshmen and here we are.

I know that the Jayhawks have stumbled a bit in non-conference play, but I still have a tough time seeing Bruce Weber’s club going into Phog Allen Fieldhouse and taking down Kansas. I don’t think they have the size inside to slow down the Jayhawk’s post game, and if Wayne Selden’s big night on Wednesday was indicative of what he’ll be providing this group in the coming months, KU is going to be a tough team to beat.

THE OTHER GAME OF THE WEEKEND: No. 20 Iowa at No. 3 Ohio State, Sun. 1:30 p.m.

After serving a one-game suspension during Thursday’s win over Northwestern, Iowa head coach Fran McCaffery will return to the Hawkeye bench on Sunday afternoon to lead his team into Columbus in a win that they really, truly need. The Hawkeyes are a really good team, but they’ve lost to the three best teams that they’ve played this season — Villanova, Iowa State and Wisconsin, who have a total of one loss — by all of 12 points. And in all three games, Iowa blew second half leads in games that they probably should have won. Can they finally pull out a win against an Ohio State team that came within a Keith Appling block of beating Michigan State at Michigan State?

FIVE  TO KEEP AN EYE ON:

  • North Carolina at No. 2 Syracuse, Sat. 12:00 p.m.: North Carolina is obviously going to win this game, right? They already have wins over Louisville, Kentucky and Michigan State to go along with their five losses this season. Consistency, it’s what the Tar Heels do. In all seriousness, if UNC struggled with Miami’s zone defense, Syracuse is going to give them fits.
  • No. 9 Iowa State at Oklahoma, Sat. 12:00 p.m.: This is a good gauge game for Iowa State. They’ve been impressive this season, but I’m reserving judgement until I see them take down a quality opponent on the road. Oklahoma is a quality opponent and this game is on the road. Expect a shootout.
  • Minnesota at No. 5 Michigan State, Sat. 2:15 p.m.: The Spartans are, for my money, the best team in the country that doesn’t reside in Tucson, but Minnesota can sneak up on you. They press and they force turnovers, and we all saw what happened when Ohio State got up in Michigan State defensively on Tuesday night.
  • Xavier at Creighton, 3:05 p.m. Sun: Outside of Villanova, these may be the two best teams in the Big East this season. Throw in the fact that they also feature the league’s two best players — Doug McDermott and Semaj Christon — and this quickly becomes the best game in a strong Big East slate this weekend.
  • Stanford at No. 17 Oregon, Sun. 5:00 p.m.: Stanford is coming off of a loss at Oregon State, while the Ducks got dropped by Cal at home on Thursday. Suffice to say, both teams really need this win.

WHO’S ON UPSET ALERT?

  • No. 11 Oklahoma State at West Virginia, Sat. 4:00 p.m.: Are we really going to need to pay attention to West Virginia in the Big 12 race this season? They’ve had some impressive performances in non-conference play, but their strength — back court play — matches up too well with Oklahoma State’s strength.
  • No. 10 Florida at Arkansas, Sat. 1:00 p.m.: Florida is really good this season, but if Scottie Wilbekin is hampered after the ankle injury he suffered this week, the Gators could be in trouble. Arkansas is a tough team to beat at Bud Walton Arena and they are going to bring waves of pressure.
  • No. 8 Villanova at St. John’s, Sat. 1:00 p.m.: One of the things that makes Villanova dangerous this season is their ability to create mismatches when they go to a smaller lineup. St. John’s has the athletes to nullify those mismatches. But will the Johnnies lack of an offense survive Villanova’s defensive pressure?
  • No. 15 Colorado at Washington, Sun. 3:00 p.m.: The Buffs, and specifically Spencer Dinwiddie, were awful on Wednesday when they were taken to overtime by Washington State. If they play like that on Saturday, Washington will beat them.
  • No. 13 San Diego State at Air Force, Sun. 4:00 p.m.: SDSU’s strength is in their front court,but Air Force runs a Princeton-style system that will pull the Aztec big men away from the basket. Tre Coggins and company will need to shoot the ball well from the perimeter if they want to pull off this upset.

FIVE MORE THINGS TO WATCH FOR:

1) There are six more ranked teams heading on the road this weekend:

  • No. 16 Duke at Clemson, Sat. 2:00 p.m.
  • No. 24 Memphis at Temple, Sat. 3:00 p.m. Sat
  • No. 14 Kentucky at Vanderbilt, Sat. 3:30 p.m.
  • No. 6 Wichita State at Missouri State, Sat. 8:00 p.m.
  • No. 23 Illinois at Northwestern, Sun. 7:30 p.m.
  • No. 1 Arizona at USC, Sun. 9:00 p.m.

2) NBC Sports Network will be featuring three games this weekend: St. Bonaventure visiting No. 19 UMass, Rhode Island heading to D.C. to take on George Washington and Princeton squaring off with Penn on Sunday. Watch them all via NBC Sports Live Extra.

3) Saint Louis at Dayton are two of the best teams in the Atlantic 10 this year and they will be facing off early on Saturday to get the day kick-started.

4) SMU pays a visit to No. 12 Louisville on Sunday afternoon. After losing to Memphis on Thursday, the Cardinals really, really need this win in a big way.

5) Big game in the ACC standings between Virginia and N.C. State. There are six or seven teams sitting in the middle of the pack in that league that have a chance to finish third in the conference. Virginia and N.C. State are two of them.

St. John’s to lose center to transfer

PHILADELPHIA, PA - FEBRUARY 13: Josh Hart #3 of the Villanova Wildcats has his shot blocked by Yankuba Sima #35 of the St. John's Red Storm at the Wells Fargo Center on February 13, 2016 in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. Villanova won 73-63. (Photo by Drew Hallowell/Getty Images)
Drew Hallowell/Getty Images
Leave a comment

Yankuba Sima will transfer out of the St. John’s program, the school announced on Friday.

“I want to thank the coaching staff and the administration for all of their support since I arrived at St. John’s,” said Sima. “I enjoyed my experience at St. John’s, but right now I feel it is best for me to explore options that will be a better fit for me as I work toward my goals.”

“We wish Yankuba the best of luck,” said head coach Chris Mullin. “I know this wasn’t an easy decision for him, but we respect and understand it. He’s a good basketball player and a good person with a bright future ahead.”

Sima started 26 of the 34 games he played with the Johnnies, including eight starts this season. He was averaging 6.0 points and 3.5 boards this year.

Kansas forward arrested on suspicion of battery

DES MOINES, IA - MARCH 19:  Carlton Bragg Jr. #15 of the Kansas Jayhawks reacts after scoring in the first half against the Connecticut Huskies during the second round of the 2016 NCAA Men's Basketball Tournament at Wells Fargo Arena on March 19, 2016 in Des Moines, Iowa.  (Photo by Kevin C. Cox/Getty Images)
Kevin C. Cox/Getty Images
Leave a comment

Kansas forward Carlton Bragg Jr. was arrested on suspicion of domestic battery, according to a report from the Kansas City Star.

Bragg, who was still in custody as of Friday morning, is being held without bond. No charges have yet been filed.

“We are still trying to gather information,” head coach Bill Self told The Star. “But it is a charge which we take very seriously.”

Bragg is a 6-foot-8 sophomore that lost his spot in the starting lineup earlier this year. He is averaging 7.8 points and 5.3 boards in 16 minutes. No. 3 Kansas hosts Nebraska on Saturday.

Frank Martin comments on Sindarius Thornwell suspension

NEW YORK, NY - NOVEMBER 26:  Sindarius Thornwell #0 of the South Carolina Gamecocks drives to the basket defended by Tyler Lydon #20 of the Syracuse Orange in the second half during the Brooklyn Hoops Holiday Invitational at Barclays Center on November 26, 2016 in the Brooklyn borough of New York City.  (Photo by Michael Reaves/Getty Images)
Michael Reaves/Getty Images
Leave a comment

South Carolina head coach Frank Martin commented on Sindarius Thornwell’s suspension during his call-in show on Thursday.

Thornwell, who was the leading scorer for the 8-0 No. 19 Gamecocks, was suspended indefinitely last Sunday. Martin has yet to provide a reason for the suspension.

“He’s been with us at practice, he’ll travel with us, he’s excited about our team, his role on the team,” he said, according to South Carolina’s 247 site. “Sindarius is one of my favorite guys I’ve ever come across. He messed up and it is what it is. He’s like a son to me. He messed up and he’s owned up to his mess up.”

“Outside of that, I’m not going to get into anything else. He has my full support. Our job is to prepare our team to play, we don’t prepare individual players to play. It’s no different to someone rolling an ankle. We’re down because of a bad decision. We’ll be fine.”

Thornwell is averaging 18.7 points, 6.0 boards and 4.1 assists. The Gamecocks play Seton Hall in New York City on Monday night.

UCF star point guard out indefinitely with thumb injury

STORRS, CT - JANUARY 22: B.J. Taylor #1 of the Central Florida Knights carries the ball up the court in front of Ryan Boatright #11 of the Connecticut Huskies in the first half during the game at Harry A. Gampel Pavilion on January 22, 2015 in Storrs, Connecticut.  (Photo by Jared Wickerham/Getty Images)
Jared Wickerham/Getty Images
Leave a comment

Sophomore guard B.J. Taylor is out indefinitely after suffering a hand injury, UCF head coach Johnny Dawkins confirmed at a press conference earlier today.

According to a report from 247 Sports’ UCF site, the injury is a broken thumb, which was suffered in Saturday’s win over UMass.

Taylor is not expected to miss the rest of the season but will be out for an extended amount of time. He missed all of 2015-16 season dealing with a foot injury.

On the season, Taylor, a 6-foot-2 point guard, was having an all-AAC caliber season, averaging 17.0 points, 5.0 assists and 4.3 boards.

Weekend Preview: Villanova tested by Notre Dame, bounce-backs for Xavier, Butler

Notre Dame's Steve Vasturia (32), Bonzie Colson (35) and V.J. Beachem (3) talk during the second half of a first-round men's college basketball game against Michigan in the NCAA Tournament, Friday, March 18, 2016, in New York. Notre Dame won 70-63. (AP Photo/Frank Franklin II)
AP Photo/Frank Franklin II
Leave a comment

SATURDAY’S SHOWDOWNS

No. 1 Villanova vs. No. 23 Notre Dame, Sat. 12:00 p.m.: This is a fascinating matchup for a couple of reasons. For starters, this is the first real test that undefeated Notre Dame is going to be getting this season. We honestly have no idea how good the Irish actually are, and you wouldn’t be alone in needing to see a team starting Matt Farrell and Bonzie Colson prove it before buying in.

But we also haven’t see Villanova tested in a while, either. They won at Purdue earlier this season and, since then, have more-or-less coasted to their undefeated mark. This will not only be a nice gauge game for Villanova, but it will also be a chance for them to pad an NCAA tournament résumé that will need to be strong for them to get a No. 1 seed this year.

The other part of this that’s fascinating? Both of these teams play small ball. There are going to be times on Saturday where 6-foot-5 Bonzie Colson is playing center and being guarded by 6-foot-5 Kris Jenkins, who will be at center for the Wildcats.

No. 22 Cincinnati at No. 16 Butler, Sat. 4:30 p.m.: Butler could really use this win. Coming off of a road loss to Indiana State during the week, the Bulldogs will be playing back in Hinkle Fieldhouse on Saturday. But here’s the thing: Cincinnati could really use this win as well, and that Bearcat program already owns a road win over Iowa State.

The matchup here will be intriguing as well. Butler plays a more open, run-and-gun style than they did under Brad Stevens. Tyler Lewis is a show-man in transition, as is Kamar Baldwin, and getting Kelan Martin spotting up or attacking a close out is always a good coaching maneuver. Cincinnati is tough and big and physical. They try to wear you down. They pound the glass. They really, really defend. How does Butler handle it?

You can subscribe to the podcast on iTunes, Stitcher and Audioboom

FIVE MORE GAMES TO WATCH

  • No. 17 Wisconsin at Marquette, Sat. 2:00 p.m.: In one of the more under-appreciated rivalries in college basketball, Marquette will be looking to land a marquee win to bolster the non-conference portion of their NCAA tournament résumé. Will
    Nigel Hayes continue to play like an all-american?
  • Utah at No. 13 Xavier, Sat. 5:30 p.m.: The Musketeers have lost back-to-back games and are really struggling to shoot the ball from the perimeter. Utah has struggled this season as they have a young roster waiting on a pair of transfers to get eligible.
  • Michigan at No. 2 UCLA, Sat. 8:00 p.m.: UCLA is now a week removed from their win over then-No. 1 Kentucky in Rupp Arena. This will be the first time they see the floor since then. Michigan had the look of a tournament team earlier in the season, but they’ve lost a pair of winnable games in recent weeks.
  • Hofstra vs. No. 6 Kentucky, Sun. 3:00 p.m.: The Wildcats will square off with Hofstra on Sunday, a game that is only really notable because it will be played in the Barclays Center.
  • No. 21 Florida at Florida State, Sun. 4:00 p.m.: The Gators looked the part of an NCAA tournament team when they lost to Duke in New York City on Tuesday. Florida State is more talented, however, but it’s difficult to trust them. This will be a big win for whoever gets it.

FIVE STORY LINES TO FOLLOW

1. Kentucky’s perimeter shooting is officially a concern: The Wildcats are currently shooting 32.2 percent from beyond the arc, which is 254th nationally. The only real threat they have from three in their starting lineup is Malik Monk, and he’s streaky. They can play Derek Willis at the four, but Willis is such a step-down on the defensive end of the floor from Wenyen Gabriel that it may not end up being a net-positive to play him, not when the Wildcats rely so heavily on their defense to create offense in transition.

I’m not sure what the answer is. I’m not even sure there is an answer. This is just what Coach Cal has to work with this season. Can they improve? Probably. The great thing about being a bad shooting team is that shooting is the easiest thing to develop. Teams without size can’t get bigger. Teams without athleticism can’t get more athletic. The only problem? There are just four months left of the season. How much better can Kentucky really get?

One thing worth noting here: The 2010 Kentucky team, the one with John Wall, DeMarcus Cousins and Eric Bledsoe, the one that lost in the Elite 8 because of their shooting issues, finished the season making 33.1 percent of their threes.

LEXINGTON, KY - DECEMBER 07:  De'Aaron Fox #0 of the Kentucky Wildcats dribbles the ball during the game against the Valparaiso Crusaders at Rupp Arena on December 7, 2016 in Lexington, Kentucky.  (Photo by Andy Lyons/Getty Images)
De’Aaron Fox (Photo by Andy Lyons/Getty Images)

2. Let’s see if Notre Dame is for real: The Fighting Irish are one of nine undefeated teams left in college basketball, but as good as they have been this season, Mike Brey’s club still hasn’t really beaten anyone. The Colorado win looks better after the Buffaloes beat Xavier. Beating Fort Wayne, the team that upset Indiana, is good. Northwestern and Iowa are Big Ten teams.

But none of those four wins – none of Notre Dame’s nine wins – have come against a team we know will be in the NCAA tournament. We know Villanova will be, and the interesting thing about this matchup is how well the two teams matchup, particularly up front. Neither the Irish nor the Wildcats have much size inside. If Notre Dame can pull off the upset, it will be time to start talking about them much more.

3. UCLA’s first action since the win at Kentucky: The last time that we saw the Bruins take the court they put up 97 points on Kentucky in Rupp Arena. That’s pretty good. It’s also an easy way to get a big head, especially for a team that has so many freshmen on the roster. UCLA will face off with Michigan at home on Saturday. It will be interesting to see how they come out early on in this one.

4. Bounce-back chances for Big East programs: No. 13 Xavier has lost two games in a row now, both of them coming on the road. They were felled at No. 4 Baylor before getting dropped at Colorado on Wednesday. The Musketeers will host Utah, a winnable game that could help them find a rhythm shooting the ball.

No. 16 Butler is coming off of a loss of their home, having been upset at Indiana State by the Sycamores. The Bulldogs will have a bigger test than the Musketeers, as they host a top 25 team in No. 22 Cincinnati.

5. Jonathan Isaac’s health, Florida State’s tournament hopes?: Isaac is the forgotten top ten pick. He’s been terrific this season and has a chance to play his way into the top ten if he continues doing what he’s been doing, but he’s missed the last two games with a hip injury. This is an important game for the Seminoles, as they host Florida this weekend. Will Isaac be available?