syracuse

Pregame Shootaround: Duke and Syracuse headlines the first day of February

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GAME OF THE DAY: No. 17 Duke at No. 2 Syracuse, 6:30 p.m., ESPN

Could this get any juicier? Let’s ignore, for a second, the fact that the team currently sitting in first place in the ACC will be taking on the team that may be playing the best basketball in the ACC. Let’s also ignore that this is the game between the biggest name in the ACC and the biggest name to join the ACC. Then we can also look past the fact that there are going to be somewhere around 35,000 people in the Carrier Dome to watch this game. Or Coach K vs. Boeheim.

Let’s focus, instead, on the fact this game will feature one of the nation’s three remaining undefeated teams taking on a team that features arguably the nation’s best player and just so happens to be well-suited to breaking down the Syracuse zone. Going beyond the multitude of story lines, the game itself should be fantastic.

THE OTHER GAME OF THE DAY: No. 6 Kansas at No. 25 Texas, Sat. 4:00 p.m., ESPN

Kansas vs. Texas was the single biggest game in the Big 12 for a number of years, and it looks like it may be that way again this season. The Longhorns are much improved this year, defending as well as anyone in the Big 12 and getting enough out of their offense to slide into second in the conference standings. Texas might also be the best matchup of any Big 12 team with the Jayhawks given the size they have inside to combat Joel Embiid and Perry Ellis. The problem? If the Andrew Wiggins that has scored 56 points in the last two games shows up, I’m not sure Texas has a chance.

WHO’S GETTING UPSET? No. 21 UMass at St. Joseph’s, Sat. 6:00 p.m., CBS Sports Network

Based on the way that they’ve played over the last month, UMass is one of the most overrated teams in the country. They’ll visit St. Joe’s after losing at St. Bonaventure on Wednesday. St. Joe’s will be looking for revenge after a 66-62 road loss at UMass on January 8th. With both of these teams being tied for third in the A-10 at 4-2, this will be a big game for the winner to keep pace with conference leader St. Louis, who is still unbeaten in the league at 6-0.

MID-MAJOR GAME OF THE DAY: Wright State at Green Bay, 7:00 p.m., ESPN2

Two of the preseason favorites in the Horizon collide as the Raiders (13-11, 5-4) travel to face the league-leading Phoenix (17-4, 7-1). Green Bay was cruising through the Horizon League until a 75-60 loss at Valpo earlier this week while Wright State desperately needs a conference road win after losing two straight to have any shot at the league’s regular-season crown.

FIVE THINGS TO KNOW

1) There will be four games on the NBC Sports Network on Saturday:

  • 12:30 p.m.: George Washington at Dayton
  • 2:30 p.m.: George Mason at No. 19 Saint Louis
  • 4:30 p.m.: Drexel at Towson
  • 9:00 p.m.: Penn at Harvard

2) No. 7 Michigan State will be without Adreian Payne and Branden Dawson on Saturday as they face Georgetown, which is key for the Hoyas. They don’t have much size inside and this will be a must-win game for them.

3) If you’re looking for an entertaining basketball game, check out No. 23 Oklahoma at No. 16 Iowa State. Both teams spread the floor, shoot threes, play at a faster and struggle defensively.

4) No. 11 Kentucky is coming off of an embarrassing road loss at LSU. Missouri, who is better at home, just picked up a win at Arkansas. Will trends continue? The Tigers need this win if they are going to be a tournament team.

5) No. 1 Arizona will put its undefeated season on the line against a good Cal team that desperately needs this win. Cal has lost three consecutive games in Pac-12 play since starting 5-0 and after an overtime home loss to Arizona State earlier in the week, the Bears can’t afford to get swept at home by the Arizona schools.

THE REST OF THE TOP 25:

  • Texas A&M at No. 3 Florida, 4:00 p.m., ESPN3
  • Evansville at No. 4 Wichita State, 3 p.m., ESPNU
  • Colorado State at No. 5 San Diego State, 7 p.m., ESPNU
  • Baylor at No. 8 Oklahoma State, 2 p.m., ESPN
  • No. 9 Villanova at Temple, Sat. 4:00 p.m., CBS SN
  • UCF at No. 12 Louisville, 9:00 p.m., ESPNU
  • No. 24 Ohio State at No. 14 Wisconsin 12 p.m., ESPN
  • No. 22 Memphis at SMU, 2 p.m., CBS SN

NOTABLES:

  • Richmond at VCU, Sat. 11:00 a.m., ESPN2
  • N.C. State at North Carolina, Sat. 1:00 p.m., ESPN2
  • Northwestern at Minnesota, Sat. 2:00 p.m., Big Ten Network
  • Arizona State at Stanford, Sat. 4:00 p.m., PAC-12 Network
  • Arkansas at LSU, Sat. 5:00 p.m., ESPNU
  • Boise State at UNLV, Sat. 8:05 p.m., CBS Sports Network
  • Tennessee at Alabama, Sat. 9:00 p.m., ESPN2
  • Saint Mary’s at BYU, Sat. 11:00 p.m., ESPN2

Johnson, Paige help No. 9 Tar Heels roll past Panthers 85-64

North Carolina's Isaiah Hicks (4) dunks against Pittsburgh during the first half of an NCAA college basketball game in Chapel Hill, N.C., Sunday, Feb. 14, 2016. (AP Photo/Gerry Broome)
AP Photo/Gerry Broome
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CHAPEL HILL, N.C. (AP) Brice Johnson scored 19 points to lead a dominating offensive performance that helped No. 9 North Carolina beat Pittsburgh 85-64 on Sunday.

Marcus Paige added 15 points for the Tar Heels (21-4, 10-2 Atlantic Coast Conference), who shot 59 percent to stay atop the league ahead of the next renewal of their fierce rivalry with Duke.

UNC had plenty of balance, shared the ball and got out in transition in arguably their best performance in weeks, using a 13-0 second-half burst to blow the game open. UNC finished with 26 assists on 32 baskets, 24 points off turnovers and scored 16 fast-break points after managing a combined five in the past two games.

Michael Young and James Robinson each scored 15 points to lead Pitt (17-7, 6-6). But the Panthers shot 37 percent and committed 19 turnovers, and a strong effort on the glass did little to offset their troubles.

The Tar Heels were playing their first home game in two weeks after a difficult three-game road trip that started with losses at Louisville and Notre Dame. Then came Tuesday’s game at Boston College, where the Tar Heels struggled against a winless league team then had a scare when Hall of Fame coach Roy Williams briefly collapsed in a second-half huddle after an attack of vertigo and had to leave the sideline for the rest of the game.

Williams was back in the office on Wednesday’s off day, returned to practice Thursday and told reporters Friday he was fine and even cracked jokes about a two-decade history with vertigo dating to his Kansas years.

Getting back home certainly helped everyone feel better. After wrestling with shooting struggles for much of the past month, UNC’s offense kicked back into an efficient and balanced gear, while Paige – the player the Tar Heels are practically begging to jolt free from a prolonged shooting slump – looked more like his old self against the Panthers.

That included one second-half play in which he caught a crosscourt pass from Theo Pinson in transition and made sure to step back behind the arc before burying a 3-pointer.

The Panthers had lost three of four since a 5-2 league start coming in, including 65-63 on a late tip-in at No. 12 Miami on Tuesday. And Pitt again had trouble getting their offense going, failing to crack 70 points for the third straight game.

TIP-INS

Pittsburgh: Second-leading scorer Jamel Artis scored five points on 2-for-8 shooting. … Pitt finished with a 41-29 rebounding advantage. … Pitt made 9 of 21 3-point attempts.

UNC: Justin Jackson scored 14 points. … UNC made 8 of 15 shots from 3-point range and 13 of 15 free throws. … Jackson and Pinson had six assists each. … UNC managed just one offensive rebound.

UP NEXT

Pittsburgh hosts Wake Forest on Tuesday.

UNC hosts Duke on Wednesday.

Follow Aaron Beard on Twitter at http://www.twitter.com/aaronbeardap and the AP’s college basketball site at http://collegebasketball.ap.org

Denzel Valentine dominant as No. 8 Michigan State whips Indiana

Michigan State's Denzel Valentine (45) shoots over Indiana's Kevin Yogi Ferrell during the first half of an NCAA college basketball game, Sunday, Feb. 14, 2016, in East Lansing, Mich. (AP Photo/Al Goldis)
AP Photo/Al Goldis
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Trailing by one point at the half, Indiana appeared to be in good shape at No. 8 Michigan State. However the fact that they were unable to slow down Denzel Valentine, who scored 15 first-half points, was a major concern for Tom Crean’s Hoosiers. Sure enough the national Player of the Year candidate continued on his tour de force in the second half, scoring another 15 points and dishing out seven assists as the Spartans rolled to an 88-69 victory.

For the game Valentine finished with 30 points, five rebounds, 13 assists and just one turnover. Of Michigan State’s 48 second half points, Valentine had a hand in 29 of them with all seven of his assists resulting in Michigan State layups. It was a dominant performance from one of the nation’s best players, a versatile guard whose four games missed due to injury may have led to some overlooking him when it comes to those national Player of the Year conversations.

When Valentine’s on everything else flows smoothly for Tom Izzo’s team, as his ability to both score and create results in quality looks for teammates who would struggle if they had to get that part of the job done themselves.

The biggest beneficiary Sunday afternoon was forward Matt Costello, who finished the game with 22 points and 11 rebounds. Of Costello’s ten made field goals (10-for-12 FG) five were assisted by Valentine, and he accounted for 13 points and seven rebounds in the second half. As a team Michigan State shot 63.3 percent from the field and assisted on 16 of their 19 made field goals in the second half, turning a tight contest into a blowout.

Tum Tum Nairn returned the court for the first time in seven games, but he played just two minutes and his time on the court will be managed carefully by Izzo moving forward. For many teams not having your point guard at full strength would represent a crippling blow, but that hasn’t been the case for Michigan State thanks in large part to Valentine. Michigan State went 4-3 in those seven games without Nairn, but the three losses were by a total of three points.

Valentine’s ability to make his teammates better will be a key factor down the stretch for Michigan State, and that skill was what led to the Spartans blowing out Indiana on Sunday.