Pregame Shootaround: Battle for Michigan headlines a busy Saturday of hoops

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GAME OF THE DAY: No. 21 Michigan at No. 3 Michigan State (7 p.m., ESPN)

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 and the Spartans 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 DAY: No. 22 Kansas State at No. 16 Iowa State (1:45 p.m., ESPN3)

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?

WHO’S GETTING UPSET? No. 9 Wisconsin at Purdue (5 p.m., Big Ten Network)

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? Wisconsin started the season at 16-0 but have dropped three straight following its Wednesday loss to Minnesota while Purdue is also hoping to figure things out after falling in double-overtime to Northwestern on the road earlier this week. These two teams have traded wins the last six games and Purdue owns a 37-3 advantage over Wisconsin in Mackey Areana — although the Badgers won at Mackey Arena in 2012, the last time they went there.

Rebounding could come up big in this one.  The Boilermakers lead the Big Ten with an average margin of plus-8.3 rebounds during conference play, while Wisconsin ranks 10th at minus-4.2 rebounds in conference play. The Badgers will have to defend and hit the glass to get out of Mackey Arena.

MID-MAJOR GAME OF THE DAY: Eastern Kentucky at Belmont, (8 p.m.)

The top two teams in the Ohio Valley Conference’s East Division square off on Saturday night as Eastern Kentucky (14-6, 5-2) travels to Belmont (15-7, 6-1). Belmont’s only loss in conference play came at Eastern Kentucky on January 16th, as the Colonels won 74-63 at home. Now Eastern Kentucky will look for the top spot in the East Division by sweeping Belmont. These two teams and Murray State are currently the class of the OVC and this game could mean a lot for conference tournament seeding purposes.

FIVE THINGS TO KNOW

1) There will be two games on the NBC Sports Network on Saturday. George Washington heads to George Mason at 12:00 p.m. while the 4:00 p.m. tip features Atlantic 10 contenders St. Joe’s at Richmond.

2) A big day for Big East hoops in on-tap Saturday. This may be Marquette’s most important game of the season and they get No. 4 Villanova days after the Wildcats got embarrassed by Creighton at home. Georgetown will visit the sharpshooters at Creighton while 5-1 Xavier is at 4-2 Providence. Are the Friars really a Big East contender?

3) Texas battling No. 24 Baylor will be an intriguing Big 12 clash. The Longhorns are playing good ball and have the size to match-up with Baylor on the interior. Can Baylor bounce back from its 1-4 Big 12 start?

4) Two top-ten teams face interesting road tests as No. 2 Syracuse travels to Miami and No. 10 Iowa goes to Northwestern. 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? Northwestern is essentially the Big Ten’s version of Miami. They’ve also beaten Illinois, Indiana (on the road) and Purdue. Is Iowa next?

5) If you want to end the night on a high note, check out the WCC contest between BYU and Gonzaga. 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.

THE REST OF THE TOP 25:

  • No. 5 Wichita State at Drake, 8:05 p.m.
  • Tennessee at No. 6 Florida, 4 p.m., ESPN
  • No. 7 San Diego State at Utah State, 11 p.m., ESPNU
  • No. 8 Kansas at TCU, 9 p.m., ESPNU
  • West Virginia at No. 11 Oklahoma State, 2 p.m., ESPN2
  • Georgia at No. 14 Kentucky, 1:30 p.m., ESPN3
  • Florida State at No. 18 Duke 12 p.m., ESPN
  • No. 20 Pitt at Maryland, 6 p.m., ESPN2
  • No. 25 Oklahoma at Texas Tech, 4 p.m., ESPN3

NOTABLES:

  • Ohio at Eastern Michigan, 11 a.m., ESPNU
  • Notre Dame at Wake Forest, 3 p.m., ESPN3
  • New Mexico at Colorado State, 4 p.m., ESPN3
  • Mississippi State at Ole Miss, 4 p.m., ESPN3
  • Colorado at Arizona State, 7 p.m., PAC12
  • Hawaii at UC Irvine, 10 p.m., ESPN3

No. 2 Michigan State matches largest comeback in a decade with 27-point rally over Northwestern

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Michigan State overcame a 27-point deficit on Saturday afternoon to beat Northwestern, 65-60, for a memorable Big Ten road win. It’s the biggest comeback win in Big Ten history while also matching the largest college basketball comeback of the last decade.

Trailing by 22 points at halftime and by 18 points with 14 minutes left, the comeback for the Spartans was slow and methodical at first, as Michigan State’s defense slowly suffocated the Wildcat offense.

And when the jumpers started falling with a Josh Langford (eight points) three with a little over 13 minutes left, the Spartans made their big push.

Sophomore point guard Cassius Winston was a major catalyst in the comeback for Michigan State as he buried multiple top-of-the-key threes and pull-up jumpers to help give the Spartans a new-found confidence. Winston finished with 17 points, nine rebounds and seven assists as he came through in a major way in the second half. With star Miles Bridges (eight points) battling foul trouble in the second half, Winston and other Michigan State role players stepped up in a big way. Big man Nick Ward grinded to 15 points and a lot of key stops on the defensive end. Matt McQuaid knocked down some big shots while taking a charge and playing well on both ends. Jaren Jackson had the go-ahead three-point play to finally give the Spartans their first lead.

This was a team comeback in which Michigan State (26-3, 14-2) used the sum of its parts to slowly dismantle Northwestern. It was one of the more impressive comebacks in recent memory. Doing commentary for Fox, Steve Lavin said this was one of the biggest one-half swings in his 30 years of being around Division I basketball.

While beating Northwestern isn’t some sort of monumental achievement this season, Michigan State didn’t have a huge comeback win this season. The biggest deficit that the Spartans had overcome to win this season was only 13 points. Now we know that Michigan State is capable of making a comeback from a very large deficit as they showed they’re capable of coming through with the offensive firepower. And Bridges, the team’s leading scorer, only had two field goals.

This is the Michigan State we’ve wanted to consistently see this season. Michigan State getting stops is nothing new. The Spartans held Northwestern scoreless for over 11 minutes at one point in the second half as the Wildcats were brutal shooting the ball in the first half. But if Michigan State’s offense gets rolling like that because of balanced inside/outside contributions from role players? That’s the Spartans everyone keeps hoping will show up in March.

No. 23 Oklahoma loses fifth-straight, Trae Young at risk of missing NCAA tournament?

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Trae Young has hit the freshman wall, and there are few signs that he is ready to break through to the other side.

Let’s start with the good news, I guess: In today’s 77-66 home loss to a Texas team that entered the day tied for eighth in the Big 12 standings, Young finally snapped his streak of 20 missed three-pointers. After starting off Saturday 0-for-4 after missing all nine of his threes at Texas Texas and his last seven threes at Iowa State, Young hit three of his last six triples.

He also made all nine of his free throws, extending that streak to nearly 30 consecutive makes, while scoring 26 points and committing fewer than four turnovers in a game for the first time since December 8th.

Those are all good things!

The problem, however, is that they came in Oklahoma’s fifth straight loss, their sixth loss in the last seven games and their eighth loss in their last ten games. The Sooners have been dreadful for more than a month, and it’s not going to get any easier; they play at Kansas on Monday.

The question “why?” is pretty simple, too. Young is struggling and the rest of the pieces on the roster just have not been good enough to be able to pick up the slack. Brady Manek is a spot-up shooter that has struggling shooting the ball. Kameron McGusty went from being a player that looked like a potential all-Big 12 guy last season to Just A Guy this season. Christian James hasn’t been bad, and Jamuni McNeace and Khadeem Lattin hold their own in the paint, but by and large Young’s supporting cast has not been providing enough support while Young has been in this slump.

The question of whether or not Oklahoma can turn this around is not quite so simple unless you know the reason for Young’s struggles. Has he simply found himself in a place where the grind of a full season of college basketball and two months of Big 12 play — a league where every team has a good-to-great player at the point — has worn him down physically and mentally, or has the blueprint for how to beat the Sooners become too prevalent?

Or is it all of the above?

If Young is gassed, that’s an issue that, in theory, can be solved.

If the Sooners, are a flawed roster that cannot function or win games when opponents sell out to stop their superstar freshman, that isn’t as easy to deal with. Rest can solve the former. You’re not solving the latter, you’re not bring more talent into the program, while Young is still on campus.

At 16-10 overall and 6-8 in the Big 12, Oklahoma still looks like a pretty safe bet to reach the NCAA tournament. For starters, they were listed as a No. 4 seed just six days ago when the Selection Committee unveiled their first iteration of the top 16 seeds. They also have six Quadrant 1 wins and no bad losses to their name. Their won-loss record is a casualty of the Big 12 meat-grinder.

But that doesn’t mean they are safe. If they finish up the Big 12 season going 1-3 — which is feasible given how they’ve played the last month and their remaining opponents: at Kansas, Kansas State, at Baylor, Oklahoma State — then they’ll be 7-11 in the league. No one in more than 25 years has reached the NCAA tournament with a league record four games under .500.

The Sooners aren’t doomed yet.

But it is time for them to figure their issues out.

PHOTOS: Miami, Syracuse wear shirts honoring Florida shooting victims

Photo via Mike Waters, Syracuse.com
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Syracuse is playing in Miami on Saturday, the first game that the Hurricanes have played at home since the shooting at Parkland, Florida’s, Stoneman Douglas High School.

Both teams wore warmup shirts honoring the victims of the shooting prior to the game:

Parkland and Coral Gables are about 50 miles apart, but both towns are suburbs with the same Miami-Fort Lauderdale metro area.

St. John’s guard Lovett to leave school, turn pro

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Marcus Lovett announced on Saturday morning that he will be leaving St. John’s to pursue a professional career.

This decision doesn’t come as much of a surprise. Lovett, who averaged 14.9 points through the first seven games of the season, was ruled out for the rest of the season with a knee injury despite reports that he was healthy enough to play.

According to the New York Post, Lovett was not even enrolled in school for the spring semester.

Lovett spent three seasons in New York with the Johnnies and played less than a year and a half.

Yale’s Makai Mason expected to play vs. Harvard

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For the first time since the 2016 NCAA tournament, Yale basketball fans are going to have a chance to see Makai Mason play for the Bulldogs.

A star point guard that is already committed to play for Baylor as a grad transfer in 2018-19, Mason missed all of the 2016-17 season and the 2017-18 season to date with a series of foot injuries.

As a sophomore, Mason averaged 16.0 points and 3.8 assists for the Bulldogs as they won the Ivy League and knocked off Baylor in the first round of the NCAA tournament as a No. 12 seed. He had 31 points in that win.

The Elis are currently 5-4 in the Ivy League after beating Dartmouth on Friday night. With Mason back in the fold, they seem like a safe bet to get to the Ivy League tournament and a contender to win it all.

The way that Ivy League rules are written, players are not allowed to redshirt, even if they are injured for the season. Since Mason was in classes as a junior, during the season that he missed, this year is the last year that he would be allowed to play for an Ivy League program.