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Weekend Preview: The Battle for Michigan marred by injury

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GAME OF THE WEEKEND: No. 21 Michigan at No. 3 Michigan State, Sat. 7:00 p.m.

Michigan State may be playing this game in the Breslin Center, but it’s hard to see a way that the Spartans will be considered a favorite heading into this game. We already know they are going to be without Branden Dawson, who broken a bone in his hand slapping a table during a film session this week. But it appears likely that they will be without Adreian Payne as well, as the big fella is still dealing with a sprained foot that is no where near healthy yet. 

The good news? The Wolverines don’t necessarily have the size inside to take advantage of the Spartans missing their two most athletic big men. Keith Appling and Gary Harris should be able to matchup with nik Stauskas and Caris LeVert. The key is going to be what happens with Glenn Robinson III. He’s been more aggressive of late, and the Spartans don’t have a win that can match his size and athleticism without Dawson.

The winner will take over sole possession of first place in the Big Ten.

THE OTHER GAME OF THE WEEKEND: No. 22 Kansas State at No. 16 Iowa State, Sat. 1:45 p.m.

Iowa State desperately needs this win. The Cyclones have lost three games in a row in league play. Their next three games? At Kansas, Oklahoma and at Oklahoma State. If this group doesn’t get things figured out quickly, there’s a real possibility that they could end up sitting at 2-7 in Big 12 play, a hole deep enough that it could cost them a trip to the NCAA tournament. Rebounding from seven straight losses is not an easy thing to do.

Kansas State is one of the best defensive teams in the country, and they’ll have their work cut out for them against an Iowa State team that thrives on the mismatches they can create with opposing front court. Thomas Gipson should have his way down low on Saturday, but who does he guard on Iowa State’s perimeter?

FIVE MORE TO KEEP AN EYE ON:

  • No. 4 Villanova at Marquette, Sat. 2:00 p.m.: Marquette has been one of the major disappointments in college basketball this season. This may be the most important game of their season, and they get Villanova days after the Wildcats got embarrassed by Creighton at home. 
  • Cal at UCLA, Sun. 8:00 p.m.: The Bears are still sitting all alone in second place in the Pac-12, but they are coming off of an embarrassing loss at USC. They really need to right the ship in Pauley Pavilion.
  • Florida State at No. 18 Duke, Sat. 12:00 p.m.: Duke has been rolling in the last two games, winning by a combined 56 points. The Seminoles have the athleticism to matchup with Duke’s forwards, however.
  • Tennessee at No. 6 Florida, Sat. 4:00 p.m.: Florida has had some issues offensively this season, and while Tennessee has been too up and down this year, there is a reason they were picked third in the SEC. Jarnell Stokes and Jeronne Maymon vs. Patric Young could be a wrestling match.
  • BYU at Gonzaga, Sat. 10:00 p.m.: Both BYU and Gonzaga can put up points in a hurry, and neither of them are very adept at defending. A high-scoring WCC game is a nice way to cap off a college hoops Saturday.

WHO’S GETTING UPSET?:

  • No. 2 Syracuse at Miami, Sat. 1:00 p.m.: Miami had the lead on Syracuse for about 35 minutes in the Carrier Dome. They’re a scrappy team that controls tempo and forces you to hit jumpers. Will Syracuse make enough jumpers in the MIA?
  • No. 10 Iowa at Northwestern, Sat. 12:00 p.m.: Northwestern is essentially the Big Ten’s version of Miami. They’ve also beaten Illinois, Indiana (on the road) and Purdue. Is Iowa next?
  • Texas at No. 24 Baylor, Sat. 1:30 p.m.: I don’t even know if this would technically be considered an upset at this point, but Texas is good and they have the size to matchup with Baylor in the paint. 
  • No. 9 Wisconsin at Purdue, Sat. 5:00 p.m.: The Badgers are skidding right now, playing the worst defense a Bo Ryan team has ever played. Will they right the ship in West Lafayette?
  • No. 8 Kansas at TCU, Sat. 9:00 p.m.: You haven’t forgotten already, have you?

FIVE THINGS TO WATCH FOR:

1) There will be four games on the NBC Sports Network this weekend. On Saturday, George Washington heads to George Mason at 12:00 p.m. while the 4:00 p.m. tip features Atlantic 10 conteders St. Joe’s at Richmond. On Sunday, Jon Severe and Fordham pay a visit to No. 13 UMass at noon while Harvard looks to bounce back from a loss to Florida Atlantic at Dartmouth at 4:00 p.m.

2) No. 5 Wichita State will put their undefeated record on the line at Drake on Sat. at 8:00 p.m. Whenever the Shockers go on the road in the MVC, they will be on upset watch.

3) The Big East will host two big games on Saturday. At 8:00 p.m., Georgetown will visit the sharpshooters at Creighton while 5-1 Xavier is at 4-2 Providence, which tips at 12:00 p.m. Are the Friars really a Big East contender?

4) Five more ranked teams play, three of which are on the road:

  • No. 7 San Diego State at Utah State, Sat. 11:00 p.m.
  • No. 20 Pitt at Maryland, Sat. 6:00 p.m.
  • No. 25 Oklahoma at Texas Tech, Sat. 4:00 p.m.
  • West Virginia at No. 11 Oklahoma State, Sat. 2:00 p.m.
  • Georgia at No. 14 Kentucky, Sat. 1:30 p.m.

5) New Mexico has a huge game at Colorado State. The cannot afford another loss in the league to anyone other than San Diego State if they want a chance to win the conference.

No. 22 Indiana falls at Penn State

Penn State's Shep Garner (33) moves towards the basket during the first half of an NCAA college basketball game against Indiana in State College, Pa., Saturday, Feb. 6, 2016. (AP Photo/Ralph Wilson)
(AP Photo/Ralph Wilson)
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Brendan Taylor scored 24 points to lead Penn State to a 68-63 upset of No. 22 Indiana on Saturday night.

The Nittany Lions were 2-8 in Big Ten play entering the weekend. Indiana? They were 9-1 and tied for first in the conference. It’s the second loss in four games for the Hoosiers following a 7-0 start to Big Ten play, a fact made all the more concerning by the fact that their league schedule is finally about to get difficult.

The Hoosiers play No. 5 Iowa at home and No. 10 Michigan State in East Lansing next week. The following week they get No. 18 Purdue at home. In the final week of the regular season, Indiana squares off with No. 5 Iowa on the road and close the regular season with a visit from No. 4 Maryland.

That’s a lot of good teams that the Hoosiers to close out the year.

The question has been asked since Indiana’s hot start to league play: Are they for real? Did the Hoosiers really somehow turn things around defensively, or was that winning streak simply a by-product of their schedule?

The truth is that it was probably a combination of both. Calling them a fraud would be unjust — if you watched those games, there wasn’t much fluky about them; Indiana earned the Ws — but it does seem fair to say this is something of a regression to the mean.

They were going to slip up eventually.

And it will totally be forgotten if the Hoosiers can find a way to close the regular season with a winning record in their final seven games.

Bonzie Colson leads Notre Dame to come-from-behind win over No. 2 North Carolina

Notre Dame's Demetrius Jackson (11) hugs teammate Notre Dame's Bonzie Colson following an NCAA college basketball game against Duke at Cameron Indoor Stadium in Durham, N.C., Saturday, Jan. 16, 2016. Notre Dame beat Duke 95-91. (AP Photo/Ben McKeown)
(AP Photo/Ben McKeown)
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Less than an hour after No. 1 Oklahoma lost to Kansas State, No. 2 North Carolina fell on the road against Notre Dame, 80-76.

The Tar Heels led by 15 points with two minutes left in the first half. They were still up double-figures with 16 minutes left in the game, but the Irish made more plays down the stretch and, quite frankly, were the tougher team in crunch time.

The final sequence was a microcosm of the second half. With North Carolina down 80-76 and 10 seconds left, Notre Dame let the Tar Heels roll the ball all the way to their own three-point line. Joel Berry II picked the ball up and went in for a relatively uncontested layup … that he bricked. Notre Dame’s Zach Auguste grabbed the rebound and was fouled. He missed the front end of a one-and-one, but he was able to knock the ball out of Brice Johnson’s hands and run out the clock.

That’s the way it went for most of the second half.

Notre Dame shot just 34.8 percent from the floor and 3-for-16 from three, but they got to the foul line 38 times, they finished with 20 offensive boards — 12 came in the second half, when UNC only got 10 defensive boards — and they snagged seemingly every loose ball.

Combine that with the fact that the Tar Heels had fits trying to defend Notre Dame’s ball-screens, and this is what you get.

Bonzie Colson led the way with 19 points and 10 boards for UNC, and if you need any more examples for why I’m saying that the Irish won this game because they were tougher, this is it. Colson is 6-foot-5 on a good day, and he posted a double-double with six offensive boards against a front line that includes Brice Johnson, Kennedy Meeks and Isaiah Hicks. He posted 13 of those points and seven of those boards (four offensive) in the second half.

So congratulations to Notre Dame.

This is a big win for them.

But it’s also the kind of loss that we’ve seen far too often with this North Carolina team. Seeing them get pushed around like this is not exactly new. They’re big and strong and athletic and talented … and soft. They’re the most talented team in the country but there is no one on this team that you could call a junkyard dog.

“I’ve got a wonderful bunch of kids, but we’ve got to decide that we want to compete when it’s tough, not just when it’s easy,” Roy Williams said.

As one coaching friend puts it, “they don’t have MFers, and it’s hard to win without them.”

That’s why the team that, on paper, should be the best in the country is not. That’s why they lose games on the road and why they’ve made a reputation out of underperforming in the last few years.

The good news?

They’re not the only flawed team in college basketball this season.

Everyone is.

Literally everyone.

Which is why the Tar Heels can certainly still win either ACC title and reach a Final Four, especially if the Marcus Paige we got tonight — 19 points, 5-for-7 from three — is the Marcus Paige we get for the rest of the season.

But if you’re wondering why North Carolina loses games like this, games where their opponent shoots 34.2 percent while erasing a 15-point deficit, you have your answer.