Weekend Preview: Saturday is the best slate of games this season

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GAME OF THE WEEKEND: No. 9 Oklahoma State at No. 15 Kansas, 4:00 p.m.

This is going to be a doozy. Let’s start with the obvious: Oklahoma State and Kansas are the two best teams in the Big 12. And while the preseason luster of Marcus Smart vs. Andrew Wiggins (who, at the time, were considered the two favorites to win National Player of the Year) has faded a bit, there is still a bit of animosity there. Marcus Smart called out this year’s freshmen class in the preseason. He also infamously did a back-flip after the Pokes knocked off Kansas in Stillwater last year. Add in the intrigue of Bill Self being a graduate of Oklahoma State and, well, you have your pick of storylines heading into this one.

The basketball should be just as intriguing, although I think that Oklahoma State is going to have some trouble with Kansas for one reason: Joel Embiid. He may actually have the highest ceiling of any prospect in this draft class, and as a 7-footer with a low-post game, he is going to give an Oklahoma State team lacking in post front court depth problems. Travis Ford is really going to feel the loss of Michael Cobbins on Saturday.

 

THE OTHER GAME OF THE WEEKEND: No. 22 Pittsburgh at No. 2 Syracuse, Sat. 4:00 p.m.

Since having one intriguing game on the docket at 4:00 p.m. on Saturday isn’t enough, why don’t we just go ahead and have the two best teams in the ACC square off at the same time as well. That’s right, I said the “two best teams in the ACC”. Pitt and Syracuse, longtime Big East rivals, are now taking over Tobacco Road. Part of me loves this, part of it breaks my Big East-born-and-raised heart, but what I know for certain is that this matchup doesn’t have any shortage of storylines, either.

As far as the actual game is concerned, I think Pitt actually matches up fairly well with the Orange. Lamar Patterson is the prototype for high-post zone busters given his size and skill, James Robinson isn’t going to be flustered by Syracuse’s length and ability to force turnovers, and the Panthers can get to the offensive glass against the zone. But playing without Durand Johnson, one of their better perimeter shooters, is going to hurt.

FIVE  TO KEEP AN EYE ON:

  • Tennessee at No. 13 Kentucky, Sat. 12:00 p.m.: Kentucky isn’t going to have a chance to pick up too many quality wins in the SEC this season, and given their mediocre resume to date and a loss to Arkansas this week, they cannot afford to lose to a Tennessee team that is, quite frankly, desperate.
  • No. 25 Oklahoma at No. 12 Baylor, Sat. 2:00 p.m.: Oklahoma has a ton of perimeter talent but they don’t have much front court depth. Baylor has a loaded front line. Neither team plays any defense, and both have a number of highlight reel dunkers. Fundamentals may go out the window, but it will be fun.
  • Indiana State at No. 5 Wichita State, Sat. 4:00 p.m.: If the Shockers are going to lose to anyone in Missouri Valley play, it’s probably going to be Indiana State and Jake Odum, who already own a win at Notre Dame this season.
  • Michigan at No. 3 Wisconsin, Sat. 6:00 p.m.: Wisconsin might be a bit overrated at this point, while Michigan, sans Mitch McGary, looks like they are finally finding their stride.
  • No. 18 Louisville at UConn, Sat. 9:00 p.m.: It’s ironic, really. UConn and Louisville are incredibly similar. They both have an all-american lead guard, a talented-but-enigmatic back court mate, an inconsistent wing forward and a front line that could use some depth. Shabazz Napier vs. Russ Smith is going to be must-see TV.

WHO’S ON UPSET ALERT?

  • N.C. State at No. 23 Duke, Sat. 2:00 p.m.: Duke struggles defending quick, penetrating guards. N.C. State has Cat Barber and Tyler Lewis, not to mention one of the best scorers in the country in T.J. Warren.
  • No. 8 Iowa State at Texas, Sat. 4:00 p.m.: Iowa State is a team that is notorious for struggling in road games. Texas may not be a tournament team this year, but they are nowhere near as bad as was originally thought.
  • UNLV at No. 10 San Diego State, Sat. 6:05 p.m.: UNLV is talented and desperate for a big win. They have the size to matchup with SDSU, and if DeVille Smith, Bryce Dejean-Jones and Kevin Olekaibe play like they did Wednesday, the Runnin’ Rebels are dangerous.
  • No. 16 UMass at Elon, Sat. 7:00 p.m.: Elon is the best team in the SoCon, coming off of a win at Davidson on Thursday. UMass is talented and 15-1, but they’ve had a tendency to start slow and struggle to beat teams they’re better than of late.
  • No. 4 Michigan State at Illinois, Sat. 8:00 p.m.: Are the Spartans healthy? Because if they aren’t, they could lose to anyone. And for all of Illinois’ issues this season, they have two talented guards and they can get after it defensively.

FIVE MORE THINGS TO WATCH FOR:

1) There are going to be three good games on the NBC Sports Network this weekend. There will be a double-header on Saturday, with George Mason heading to Rhode Island (12:30 p.m.) and Fordham visiting No. 24 Saint Louis (2:30 p.m.). On Sunday, there will be a CAA battle as Towson heads to Charleston at 3:30 p.m.

2) The Big Ten is going to churn out awesome matchups on a daily basis this season, and Minnesota at No. 14 Iowa at 1:00 p.m. on Sunday falls into that category. The Gophers looked great beating Ohio State at home. Road trips are a different story.

3) Doug McDermott continues his initiation into the Big East as No. 20 Creighton makes the trip to Providence on Saturday at 8:00 p.m.

4) Florida State heads to Virginia at noon on Saturday in a game that will have some real implications in the ACC standings. Both the ‘Noles and the ‘Hoos are sitting at 3-1 in ACC play..

5) A pair of SEC teams with unblemished league records hit the road on Saturday: Texas A&M at Mississippi State, Sat. 1:30 p.m., and No. 7 Florida at Auburn, Sat. 4:00 p.m.

No. 5 Villanova beats Tennessee 85-76 in Battle 4 Atlantis

BUFFALO, NY - MARCH 16: Jalen Brunson #1 of the Villanova Wildcats drives against Elijah Long #55 of the Mount St. Mary's Mountaineers in the first half during the first round of the 2017 NCAA Men's Basketball Tournament at KeyBank Center on March 16, 2017 in Buffalo, New York. (Photo by Maddie Meyer/Getty Images)
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PARADISE ISLAND, Bahamas — Jalen Brunson scored 25 points to help fifth-ranked Villanova rally from 15 down and beat Tennessee 85-76 in Thursday’s semifinals at the Battle 4 Atlantis.

The Wildcats (5-0) trailed 44-29 with 1:39 left before roaring out of a break with a dominating run. Villanova scored the first 11 points as part of that 23-2 burst, with the Wildcats playing far more aggressively and getting out in transition.

Mikal Bridges added 21 points for Villanova, which shot 52 percent after halftime and built a 15-point lead with 4:40 left before having to hold off a late rally by the Volunteers.

Grant Williams scored 20 points for Tennessee (3-1), which clawed to within 79-76 on Admiral Schofield’s 3-pointer with 51.6 seconds left. But that was as close as the Volunteers got, with Villanova hitting four free throws and getting a breakaway dunk from Donte DiVincenzo with 13.2 seconds left to seal it.

BIG PICTURE

Tennessee: The Volunteers were coming off an overtime win against No. 18 Purdue in the first round and they were poised to add an even bigger upset. But that flat second-half start wiped out a strong half’s worth of work and squandered the momentum that came through their board work and converting turnovers.

Villanova: That’s two straight days the Wildcats put together a second-half spurt to take control in the Bahamas. They did it in Round 1 against Western Kentucky to finally break the game open, but this one — full of active hands, deflected passes and guys diving on the floor — brought them back in a game that was once getting away from them.

UP NEXT

Tennessee: The Volunteers will play the North Carolina State-Northern Iowa loser in Friday’s third-place game.

Villanova: The Wildcats will play the N.C. State-Northern Iowa winner in Friday’s championship game.

VIDEO: Mike Brey celebrates Maui win shirtless

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Notre Dame head coach Mike Brey celebrated his team’s win in the Maui Invitational by going shirtless in the team locker room:

This came after Brey spent the entire tournament coaching in shorts and a t-shirt:

Mike Brey (Darryl Oumi/Getty Images)

I think it’s safe to say Brey enjoyed himself on the islands.

No. 13 Notre Dame lands come-from-behind win to beat No. 6 Wichita State in Maui

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Notre Dame led twice during Wednesday night’s Maui Invitational title game.

At 4-2, and, after Martinas Geben hit the second of two free throws with 2.3 seconds left, at 67-66.

That score would end up being the final, as the 13th-ranked Irish erased a 14-point second half deficit to knock off No. 6 Wichita State and bring home that Maui trophy.

Bonzie Colson led the way with 25 points and 11 boards while Matt Farrell chipped in with 15 points, four assists, four boards and three steals. Geben chipped in with 12 points, including those two free throws that served as the eventual game-winners.

Beyond the simple fact that they did it against one of the best teams in the country, what makes this comeback so impressive is that the Irish didn’t rely on a flurry of threes to change the course of the game. This comeback came through grit, toughness defensively and, if we’re being honest, a little bit of luck.

With less than 20 seconds left on the clock and the Irish down by three points, Colson airballed a pretty good look at a three from the top of the key. On the ensuing inbounds, Farrell stole the ball and happened to find Colson under the rim for a layup. The lead was cut to one, and Wichita State proceeded to miss the front end of a one-and-one after being fouled.

The ball once again ended up underneath Notre Dame’s basket, but this time it was the Irish ball, and after a gorgeous inbounds play, Geben headed to the line for two shots. The first shots somehow managed to go down after bouncing off the back of the rim, the backboard and the front of the rim twice.

And with that, Notre Dame would get off of the islands with another quality win for their résumé and a title to their name.

No. 8 Kentucky finally has it easy against Fort Wayne, 86-67

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LEXINGTON, Ky. (AP) — Nick Richards had career highs of 25 points and 15 rebounds, and 70 percent first-half shooting propelled No. 8 Kentucky to an 86-67 rout of Fort Wayne on Wednesday night.

Kentucky’s 19-of-27 shooting before halftime countered the Mastodons’ eight 3-pointers that kept them close for a while. Once Fort Wayne started missing, it couldn’t match the length or speed of the young Wildcats (5-1), who eventually led 78-48 with 6:50 remaining on the way to their most decisive win this season.

Richards thrived in both halves and on both ends, making 9 of 10 from the field and all seven free throws for his first career double-double. The 6-foot-11 freshman’s previous highs were 10 points against Utah Valley and nine rebounds against Kansas last week.

Quade Green, Kevin Knox and Shai Gilgeous-Alexander each added 11 points as Kentucky shot a season-best 33 of 55 (60 percent) and dominated the rebounding 44-21.

Junior guard John Konchar had 19 points and Bryson Scott 18 for Fort Wayne (3-2), who had won three in a row before losing on 40 percent shooting.

BIG PICTURE

Fort Wayne: A year after upsetting Indiana, the Mastodons led Kentucky 37-36 with 3:51 left in the first half behind 8-of-22 shooting from long range. They went cold from outside and elsewhere after that and the Wildcats pounced to lead at the break and stretch the advantage to 30 points in the second half. The Mastodons’ 12 3-pointers were their third-highest total this season.

Kentucky: Something had to give after all those tense performances and the Wildcats thrived because of their size and best shooting effort this season. Richards couldn’t be stopped on either end, and teammates seemed in sync for the first time. Sophomore forward Wenyen Gabriel came up just short of a double-double with 10 rebounds and nine points.

UP NEXT

Kentucky hosts Illinois-Chicago on Sunday to wrap up the Rupp Classic before getting a few days off.

Fort Wayne visits East Tennessee State on Saturday. ETSU lost 78-31 to Kentucky last Friday.

VIDEO: Providence beats Belmont on Kyron Cartwright’s buzzer-beating three

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We got the first wild buzzer-beater of the college basketball season on Wednesday night, as Kyron Cartwright answered a Belmont bucket with 3.7 seconds left by going 94-feet to hit a leaning three at the buzzer:

Providence won the game 65-63.

Cartwright finished with 17 points in the win.