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

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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.

No. 10 Kansas overcomes deficits and its own issues to win at No. 6 West Virginia

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It’s hard to look at Kansas – the roster, the stats, the resume and all that comes with it – and not conclude this is the most vulnerable squad the Jayhawks have fielded since its current domination of the Big 12 began in 2005. The flaws are apparent, and they’re serious. They could easily be enough to sink the Jayhawks in an unforgiving conference.

It also could just be business as usual for Bill Self’s program

Tenth-ranked Kansas sputtered and struggled Monday night, but, ultimately, it didn’t matter as the Jayhawks stole a game at a rowdy WVU Coliseum, topping sixth-ranked West Virginia, 71-66, to keep its spot atop the Big 12 despite whatever issues bothered them against the Mountaineers and may persist well into the winter.

One of the major differences of this Kansas team from the 13 that preceded it is the Jayhawks can’t overwhelm with talent and athleticism. There’s no Andrew Wiggins, Josh Jackson, Thomas Robinson or any other surefire lottery pick to just go get buckets. There isn’t a host of high-level athletes that can help Kansas just run inferior teams off the floor. When you have two things, your margin of error gets padded. Mistakes aren’t magnified. They’re minimized. That’s not a luxury Kansas now enjoys.

Then there’s the issue of the roster. Even with Silvio De Sousa being declared eligible, Kansas is still incredibly thin and inexperienced up front. Udoka Azubuike is a load, but he’s the only big man that even inspires a bit of fear from opponents. If Billy Preston ever gets on the floor, maybe this becomes less of an issue for the Jayhawks, but it’s difficult to believe a true freshman making a whole host of difference this late in the season.

So for Kansas to win its 14th-straight Big 12 regular season championship, the Jayhawks are going to have to have to play a specific way. There’s not much wiggle room. They’ve got to defend. They’ve got to shoot 3s. They’ve got to be tough. They’ve got to be resilient.

That’s exactly what the Jayhawks were against Bob Huggins’ team Monday. If you can out-tough, out-hustle and out-work a Huggins team on their home floor, you’re on to something.

West Virginia led by as many as 16 in the first half. The Mountaineers had Kansas shook. Well Sagaba Konate did, at least. Eulogies were already being written for Kansas, especially as West Virginia’s lead stayed in double digits past the midway point of the second half.

West Virginia is designed to wear down opponents. The Mountaineers try to create a crucible, especially in Morgantown, that will force opponents to wilt. That’s supposed to be its most potent late in games.

That’s when Kansas thrived.

The Jayhawks outscored West Virginia 26-11 over the final 8 minutes. The Mountaineers were 5 of 14 (35.7 percent) from the floor with four turnovers during that stretch. Kansas, conversely, make 7 of 10 shots overall and 3 of 4 from 3-point range.

It wasn’t exactly rope-a-dope, but Kansas saved its best for last. They made winning plays. That’s really what’s going to have to separate them from the pack this season. As good as Devonte Graham is, as effective as Svi Mykhailiuk can be and as good as Self is, the Jayhawks are going to have to grind more than they’re accustomed to. 

The Big 12 is unmerciful this season. Texas Tech already has a win at Allen Fieldhouse, Trae Young has gone full supernova and even the league’s bottom tier looks like tough outs. Kansas faces a major test, and they’ll do so without a roster that compares to some of the powerhouses Self has assembled. The Jayhawks have often been able to win just by delivering broad strokes. They were bigger, faster, stronger and, simply, better. When they coupled that with a mastery of the finer points of the game, they dominated.

If The Streak is going to reach 14, it won’t be with that blueprint. The grittier parts of the game are going to have to come to the forefront. Outlasting West Virginia in Morgantown while shooting 44 percent and facing double-digit deficits would suggest the Jayhawks have the toughness and ability to make clutch plays that can paper over other issues.

Kansas isn’t going to overwhelm the Big 12 this year. They still very well could win it.

Monday’s Three Things to Know: Duke wins, Kansas wins and … BC wins?

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1. SO MAYBE KANSAS IS GOING TO WIN THE BIG 12 AFTER ALL

It happens EVERY YEAR.

Kansas goes on some prolonged slump, plays like a hot garbage for a few weeks and gets all of us thinking that yes, this year is different than all of the other years, that this is the year the Jayhawks won’t actually win the Big 12 regular season title.

I am a member of that club, and I feel pretty stupid after Monday night.

Kansas went into Morgantown and knocked off No. 6 West Virginia, 71-66, despite trailing for the majority of the game and spending the first 12 minutes of the second half staring up at a double-digit deficit. Simply put: the Jayhawks had no business winning on Monday night, and yet they did anyway, moving themselves into sole possession of first place in the Big 12 and making up for the fact that they lost at home to Texas Tech earlier this season.

Our Travis Hines penned a column on this game, so I’ll let him elaborate more, but one thing I will note here is that Silvio De Sousa played well in some important minutes at the end of the first half. Turning him into a player that can be a competent energy for 10-15 minutes off the bench will be massive.

2. BC’S ROLLING

The Jim Christian era at Boston College hasn’t exactly been sunshine and rainbows. The Eagles have never finished a season above .500 and failed to reach double-digit wins the last two years. That put Christian on the hot seat coming into the season and with little reason to believe the temperature would come down in the always-competitive ACC.

Things, though, have been pretty good – at least when judged against the last three years – in Chestnut Hill. With Monday’s 81-75 win over Florida State, Boston College is now 3-3 in the ACC, which exceeds its conference win total from the last two years…combined. Yes. BC won just two games against ACC opponents combined in 2016 and 2017, winning two games last year after going 0-18 the season prior.

It hasn’t really been a function of scheduling or luck, either. Other than getting stomped by North Carolina in Chapel Hill, Boston College has been competitive every night out, losing by a combined five points to Virginia and Clemson. Now, don’t go putting Boston College in the FIeld of 68 or anything like that just yet, but it’s easy to see that after three years in the woods, the Eagles may be closer to finding something akin to consistent competency.

3. DUKE IS STARTING TO PLAY SOME DEFENSE

The Blue Devils won at No. 25 Miami tonight. Rob Dauster has a column up on that game right now which gets into everything you need to know.

But there is this tidbit that is important to know: Duke allowed less than 1.00 points-per-possession on Monday night. It’s the third straight game that they have allowed less than 1.00 PPP, and that’s the first time that they have done that since 2014.

Granted, the best offense in those three games ranks outside the top 50 in KenPom’s adjusted offensive efficiency metric (Wake Forest) and two of them (Miami, 107th, and Pitt, 236th) rank outside the top 100. but you have to start somewhere. Is this the beginning of another defensive renaissance?

VIDEO: West Virginia’s Sagaba Konate hosts block party vs. Kansas

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Do not try Sagaba Konate.

The West Virginia big man has no time for anyone – especially Kansas Jayhawks attempting dunks – at the rim.

Konate’s first half against Kansas on Monday night was borderline dominant on the defensive end, with the 6-foot-8 sophomore blocking five shots as the Mountaineers controlled the game against Big 12 favorite Kansas.

The numbers were great, but the actual blocks were even better.

It looked like Konate had submitted his Block of the Year candidate early when Kansas senior Svi Mykhailiuk challenged him on a fast break. Konate wasn’t having any of it.

Konate may have one-upped himself later in the half, though, when Marcus Garrett, despite presumably having eyes and a short-term memory, thought it was a good idea to try to put Konate on a poster with a dunk of his own.

Super bad idea.

The Big 12 has some dominant shot blockers in the 7-footer mold of Texas’ Mo Bamba and Jo Lual-Acuil, but Konate may be the best of the bunch.

Texas Tech fined, WVU’s Harris reprimanded after court-storm

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MORGANTOWN, W.Va. (AP) — The Big 12 fined Texas Tech $25,000 and reprimanded West Virginia forward Wes Harris for hitting a fan who joined thousands of others in storming the court during a weekend postgame celebration.

Big 12 Commissioner Bob Bowlsby said in a statement Monday that Texas Tech did not ensure the safety and security of West Virginia players following the game in Lubbock, Texas.

Videos posted on social media by fans show Harris and other West Virginia players trying to reach the sideline as Red Raider fans swarmed the court Saturday in celebration of No. 8 Texas Tech’s 72-71 win over then-No. 2 West Virginia.

The videos show Harris striking a fan who had run into him before Harris is pulled away. Other players were involved in a separate skirmish trying to protect a teammate in the swarm.

“We have a duty to provide a safe game environment,” Bowlsby said. “The Texas Tech Department of Athletics has a written event management policy, which was unsuccessful in ensuring the safety and security of the visiting team game participants.”

Texas Tech got the win it its first-ever Top 10 matchup on its home court.

Bowlsby noted that although the Big 12 does not have a policy prohibiting spectators from entering the court for postgame celebrations, “it is of utmost importance that home game management provide adequate security measures for our student-athletes, coaches, game officials and spectators.”

Texas Tech athletic director Kirby Hocutt said in a statement that the Red Raiders “admittedly did fail to meet our expectations Saturday in efforts to secure the floor and allow West Virginia to exit without incident.

“We will make the necessary adjustments to continue to ensure that all in attendance have an excellent experience at all of our events.”

West Virginia athletic director Shane Lyons said WVU, the Big 12 and Texas Tech had a “positive and open dialogue” over the incident, and court security, player safety and postgame emotions were taken into account.

“We will revisit with our student-athletes to again reinforce our expectations regarding sportsmanship issues across all sports,” Lyons said in a statement. “The Big 12 has issued its reprimand. We accept it, and I consider the matter closed.”

Harris, a sophomore, is averaging 6.2 points and 4.6 rebounds.

“Although the post-game environment did not live up to our expectations, Mr. Harris intentionally striking a fan is contrary to the conference’s sportsmanship standards,” Bowlsby said.

Harris started his 18th straight game Monday night when No. 6 West Virginia (15-2, 4-1 Big 12) faced No. 10 Kansas (14-3, 4-1) in Morgantown.

Texas Tech plays at Texas on Wednesday.

Gary Trent sparks comeback win for No. 5 Duke at No. 25 Miami

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Gary Trent Jr. scored 18 of his career-high 30 points in the final 12 minutes as No. 5 Duke overcame a 13-point second half deficit to knock off No. 25 Miami in Coral Gables, 83-75, on Monday night.

Miami was up 66-53 and cruising with less than eight minutes left on the clock when Trent buried threes on back-to-back possessions to spark a 27-4 run that gave the Blue Devils an 80-70 lead with 39 seconds left. Trent also made the biggest shot of the game in that run, a three with 1:18 left that put Duke ahead 76-70.

The story of this game is going to end up being Duke’s defense. After getting torched for the first 32 minutes of the game, Mike Krzyzewski went back to a 2-3 zone that completely took the Hurricanes out of the rhythm that they were in. That is true.

But that is not what changed the game.

Duke had 19 turnovers in the first 32 minutes of the game that led directly to 20 Miami points. In total, the Hurricanes scored 31 of their first 66 points in transition. In the final eight minutes of the game, Duke stopped throwing the ball all over the court and managed to score 30 points during that stretch; for comparison’s sake, Miami outscored Duke 19-4 in the first nine minutes of the second half when the Blue Devils had seven turnovers.

So credit Duke for getting it done on the offensive end against one of college basketball’s stiffest defenses; Miami entered the night ranked 7th in KenPom’s adjusted defensive efficiency metric.

And credit Coach K for throwing a 2-3 zone at Miami, because it works.

But I don’t think that this performance changes the overarching narrative of Duke’s season – that they are not good enough defensively to win a national title right now – because I think Miami’s struggles against the zone say far more about Miami than they do about Duke.

The Hurricanes are insanely talented. Lonnie Walker and Bruce Brown both look like they are going to play in the NBA and may end up being first round picks. The same can be said for big man Dewan Huell. JaQuan Newton, a senior, and Chris Lykes, a freshman, are both good ACC players. The problem, at least the way that I see it, is that all four of those guards are essentially the same guy: Score-first combo-guards that don’t really shoot it all that well and that don’t really make anyone around them all that much better.

In transition, when Jim Larrañaga’s talented guards can make plays in space, they are really effective. When they play against a man-to-man defense that doesn’t really know how to defend ball-screens, they look great. Against a zone, where trying to beat a man 1-on-1 won’t work, where ball movement and spacing and attacking gaps to create openings for teammates is needed, Miami comes up short.

Duke was not good defensively for the first 32 minutes on Monday night. They were better than they have been, and they do deserve some credit for slowly going from horrendous to just plain bad defensively, but there were still plenty of times where the Blue Devils looked like this trying to slow down Miami:

Duke made the plays they needed to make to come back, and that’s not an easy thing to do. They deserve credit for it.

But it is also fair to say that Miami lost their lead because they were clueless about what to do when faced with a 2-3.

It begs a larger question, one that will be tougher for Hurricane fans to stomach: Was this team overrated coming into the season?

Personally, I don’t think they were. A team with three potential NBA players and a roster full of guards that thrive in a ball-screen heavy offense that Larrañaga runs should be better than they are. But Newton is shooting a career-low from three and losing minutes to Lykes, who is 5-foot-7 and a gambler defensively. Brown did not make anywhere near the improvement many expected him to make – in some ways he’s regressed – and Walker entered Monday shooting under 30 percent from three.

The pieces on the roster aren’t as good as we thought they were and they don’t fit together as well as we had hoped that they would.

We’re now more than halfway through the season and the Hurricanes’ best win came against a Florida State team that has lost three of their last four and four of their last six. They’ve also beaten Minnesota, who has fallen off a cliff recently, and Middle Tennessee State, who probably needs to win their league to get to the NCAA tournament. They’ve now lost two in a row, three of their last four and four of their last seven.

Miami will have plenty of chances to figure this thing out and play their way into the Big Dance, but as of today, the Hurricanes are a bubble team.

Predicting them to win the ACC doesn’t look like my best prediction right now.