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Weekend Preview: Can Virginia win the ACC outright?

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GAME OF THE WEEKEND: No. 4 Syracuse at No. 12 Virginia, Sat. 4:00 p.m.

All of a sudden, this looks like the biggest game in the ACC this season. Believe it or not, Virginia currently holds a one game lead over the Orange in the ACC standings, and a win would clinch the ‘Hoos the outright regular season title. But Virginia has not beaten one of the other top four teams in the conference since January 20th and they only play Duke, North Carolina and the Orange once each. It’s weird when you think about it, but there’s a possibility that the ACC champ could end up being the fourth-highest seed from the ACC once the bracket is announced.

THE OTHER GAME OF THE WEEKEND: No. 7 Louisville at No. 21 Memphis, Sat. 2:00 p.m.

Louisville added a bit of credibility to their resume when they knocked off Cincinnati in Cincinnati last weekend. They’ll head to Memphis this weekend to try and exact revenge for a whipping that the Tigers put on the Cardinals at the Yum! Center earlier this season. Russ Smith vs. Joe Jackson will be a battle between two of the most under-appreciated guards in college basketball.

THE OTHER, OTHER GAME OF THE WEEKEND: No. 10 Saint Louis at VCU, Sat. 6:00 p.m.

This will be fun. VCU game the Billikens all that they could handle in Saint Louis two weeks ago, but Richmond is one of the tougher places to play in the country. The Rams have lost a couple games in recent weeks and really struggle to score the ball when they are forced into a half-court game — and that won’t likely change against a team as good defensively as Saint Louis is — but if VCU can force some turnovers and turn up the Havoc, they’ll have a chance.

FIVE MORE GAMES TO WATCH:

  • No. 11 Cincinnati at UConn, Sat. 12:00 p.m.: This will be one of the most intriguing matchups of the weekend. Cincinnati is a big, physical team that loves to pound the offense glass. UConn? They don’t have much size up front and they rely heavily on Shabazz Napier to generate offense for them.
  • No. 9 Creighton at Xavier, Sat. 5:00 p.m.: Xavier needs wins to keep themselves on the right side of the bubble, but this will be a tough one to get. As good as Semaj Christon is, I just can’t see this group being able matchup with Creighton’s front court. Matt Stainbrook isn’t chasing Doug McDermott or Ethan Wragge around.
  • Minnesota at No. 16 Michigan, Sat. 6:00 p.m.: Michigan nearly lost to Purdue in West Lafayette on Wednesday night while Minnesota is coming off of a big win over Iowa at home. The Gophers are going to have to find a way to slow down Nik Stauskas and Caris LeVert.
  • No. 5 Kansas at Oklahoma State, Sat. 9:00 p.m.: Three months ago, this looked like the best game of the season. There is still plenty of intrigue heading into the game, but Kansas has already clinched the conference and Oklahoma State is 6-9 in league play. That said, the Pokes really, really need a win.
  • Stanford at No. 3 Arizona, Sun. 8:00 p.m.: Stanford is in good enough position to earn themselves a tournament bid as of today, but if Arizona continues to play like they have the last two games, the Wildcats aren’t getting beaten by anyone.

WHO’S GETTING UPSET?:

  • No. 15 Iowa State at Kansas State, Sat. 7:00 p.m.: Kansas State is in a tough position right now given some of their struggles on the road. They’ve been terrific in the Octagon of Doom, however, and should give the Cyclones a fight.
  • No. 24 Texas at Oklahoma, Sat. 4:00 p.m.: The key to this game for Oklahoma will be taking advantage of the mismatches that will be created with their perimeter. Texas has a big, powerful front line but smaller, quicker guards. The Sooners basically play four guards, all of whom are bigger and more athletic that Texas’ perimeter.
  • No. 13 San Diego State at Fresno State, Sat. 10:05 p.m.: Fresno State is playing some good basketball of late. They can really score, and if the Bulldogs find a way to slow down Xavier Thames, they have the horses to pull off this upset.
  • No. 14 Wisconsin at Penn State, Sun. 12:00 p.m.: The Nittany Lions are a tough club that have pulled off a couple upsets this year. They have penetrating guards, which is something that has given Wisconsin issues.
  • No. 25 New Mexico at Nevada, Sun. 6:00 p.m.: New Mexico is playing as well as anyone in the country right now, but they will be paying a visit to a scrappy Nevada team that has one of the nation’s most underrated players in Deonte Burton.

FIVE THINGS TO WATCH FOR

1) No. 2 Wichita State’s bid for a perfect regular season will come to an end one way or another on Saturday. They host Missouri State in their last game before the MVC tournament begins.

2) There will be a pair of Atlantic 10 battles on the NBC Sports Network this weekend. George Mason will play at George Washington on Sunday 1:00 p.m. while Saint Joseph’s visits St. Bonaventure on Saturday at 3:00 p.m.

3) Illinois heads to East Lansing to take on No. 18 Michigan State in what will likely be Branden Dawson’s first game back from a broken hand.

4) Marquette desperately needs a marquee win to keep their bubble hopes alive. They’ll have a chance to land one at No. 8 Villanova on Sunday at 2:00 p.m.

5) This weekend’s Bubble Games:

  • UMass at Dayton, Sat. 11:00 a.m.
  • Vanderbilt at Tennessee, Sat. 12:00 p.m.
  • TCU at West Virginia, Sat, 1:30 p.m.
  • Texas Tech at Baylor, Sat. 1:30 p.m.
  • Mississippi State at Missouri, Sat. 1:30 p.m.
  • Pitt at Notre Dame, Sat. 2:00 p.m. ; Colorado at Utah, Sat. 2:00 p.m.
  • Richmond at Rhode Island, Sat. 2:00 p.m.
  • Georgia at Arkansas, Sat. 4:00 p.m.
  • BYU at San Diego, Sat. 4:00 p.m.
  • Northwestern at Nebraska, Sat. 5:00 p.m.
  • Cal at Arizona State, Sat. 6:00 p.m.
  • Gonzaga at Saint Mary’s, Sat. 10:00 p.m.

UT-Arlington dominates, upsets No. 12 St. Mary’s

Texas-Arlington's Kevin Hervey, left, reacts to a 73-68 NCAA college basketball game win as Ohio State's Jae'Sean Tate looks on  in Columbus, Ohio, Friday, Nov. 20, 2015. (AP Photo/Paul Vernon)
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UT-Arlington made a statement on Thursday night, completely dominating No. 12 Saint Mary’s in a 65-51 upset win in a true road game in Moraga.

Back in October, I ranked both the Gaels and the Mavericks in the top-5 of my Mid-Major Power Rankings. Saint Mary’s was the obvious top choice, one of the nation’s most efficient offenses that returned Emmett Naar and Jock Landale. UT-Arlington, ranked fifth, served as a dangerous opponent. The Mavs had defeated Ohio State and Memphis in 2015, but their season was derailed once Kevin Hervey, a player with serious pro potential, tore his ACL.

With five starters back, including Hervey, who is just now getting back to 100 percent, UT-Arlington looks every bit the part of a March Cinderella.

The Mavericks jumped out to an early lead and forced the Gaels to play out of character. Saint Mary’s had only committed a season-high 14 turnovers before the midway point of the second half. The Gaels, who entered shooting 40 percent from three as a team, was held to 8-of-27 (30 percent) from beyond the arc.

UT-Arlington did an incredible job of closing out on shooters. And it didn’t matter the matchup, at times we saw Hervey, a 6-foot-9 junior, come out and run a guard off the 3-point line. While those statistics mentioned above show up in the box score, the amount of deflections don’t. The Mavericks used its length and athleticism to get their hands everywhere on the defensive end of the floor, making it difficult to find good looks.

In the first half, UT-Arlington controlled the glass. Saint Mary’s found more success in that department after halftime, as Kevin Clark’s offensive putback capped an 11-2 run, which cut the deficit to 52-41. However, the Mavs were able to counter each time the Gaels threatened, never letting the lead get to single digits.

Aside from the struggles the typically-efficient Saint Mary’s offense had, the Gaels struggled to keep UT-Arlington guards Erick Neal and Kaelon Wilson out of the lane, whether it be on a high ball screen or a handoff. Saint Mary’s never seemed to have a help-side defender there to protect the rim. Neal had 13 points and eight assists (five turnovers), while Wilson had 10 points off the bench. Hervey had a game-high 15 points and seven rebounds.

UT-Arlington is winners of eight straight after losing three straight. One of those wins includes a double-digit win over Texas in Austin. The Mavericks are the clear-cut favorite to win the Sun Belt. Come Selection Sunday, I’d say plenty of at-large teams would not like to be paired up with Scott Cross’ team.

Iowa cruises past No. 25 Iowa State

NEW YORK, NY - MARCH 20:  Head coach Fran McCaffery of the Iowa Hawkeyes reacts in the first half against the Villanova Wildcats during the second round of the 2016 NCAA Men's Basketball Tournament at Barclays Center on March 20, 2016 in the Brooklyn borough of New York City.  (Photo by Elsa/Getty Images)
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Iowa picked up a major win on Thursday night, defeating in-state rival No. 25 Iowa State, 78-64, in a contest the Hawkeyes thoroughly dominated.

Let’s put it this way: the Hawkeyes have played four top-100 teams, according to kenpom. In those games, all losses by the way, their defense has surrendered 91 points to Seton Hall, 74 points to a Virginia team that plays at the slowest tempo in the country, 100 points to Memphis and 92 points to Notre Dame.

On Saturday, on the same floor Iowa demolished the Cyclones, its defense allowed 98 points in a loss to Nebraska Omaha.

This is exactly the sort of win Fran McCaffery and Co. needed to right the ship as we inch closer and closer to conference play.

When the Cyclones went to their bench in the first half, Nick Baer sparked a 10-0 run which helped set the tone for the remainder of the half. Iowa State went without a field goal for more than six minutes during that span.

Iowa kept Iowa State from getting out and running, holding the Cyclones to zero fast break points through the first 20 minutes and limiting them to only 36 percent from the floor as a team. Iowa, on the other hand, shot 47 percent, including 59 percent in the first half, which led to a 15-point halftime lead.

Peter Jok torched Iowa State to the tune of 23 points (4-of-7 from distance).

Monte Morris was held in check with 10 points, while Naz Mitrou-Long and Matt Thomas shot a combined 4-of-13 from three (they each hit a three with less than three minutes to play and the outcome all but decided).

Iowa State’s offense is becoming a bigger concern. Just like against Gonzaga, the Cyclones dug a first-half hole they could shoot out their way of. And like last week’s overtime loss to Cincinnati, they struggled from beyond the arc.

Iowa landed a marquee win it needed, while its rival headed home with questions to answer after losing three of four.

 

Alabama wing sidelined due to weight loss

ORLANDO, FL - NOVEMBER 29: Head coach Avery Johnson of the Alabama Crimson Tide during the game against the Notre Dame Fighting Irish at HP Field House on November 29, 2015 in Orlando, Florida.  (Photo by Rob Foldy/Getty Images)
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Alabama junior wing Nick King will not be with the team for Sunday evening’s matchup against No. 24 Oregon in Eugene.

According to Rainer Sabin of the AL.com, Alabama head coach Avery Johnson said King undergoing a series of tests after losing more than 10 pounds in less than a week and a half.

Johnson told reporters that he is “very concerned” and estimates that as of now King will be sidelined for “a week or two.”

King, who played his first two seasons at Memphis, has appeared in all seven games for the Crimson Tide, averaging 3.3 points and 2.9 rebounds in 12.7 minutes per game.

Damonte Dodd out with MCL sprain

COLLEGE PARK, MD - FEBRUARY 13: Melo Trimble #2 and Damonte Dodd #35 of the Maryland Terrapins react to a call as Alex Illikainen #25 of the Wisconsin Badgers looks on in the second half at Xfinity Center on February 13, 2016 in College Park, Maryland. Wisconsin won 70-57.  (Photo by Rob Carr/Getty Images)
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Maryland could be without the services of starting center Damonte Dodd for the remainder of the non-conference slate, the team announced on Wednesday.

Dodd suffered a MCL sprain in his left knee during practice earlier this week. The injury caused him to miss Wednesday’s 76-56 win over Howard. He will not be available for matchups with St. Peter’s and Jacksonville State. The Terrapins then close out the non-conference slate at Charlotte on Dec. 20 before opening up Big Ten play a week later.

Dodd has started in six of seven games he’s appeared in this season. He’s averaging 5.9 points, 5.3 rebounds and 2.4 blocks per game. Michael Cekovsky started in place of Dodd on Wednesday night. Ivan Bender, who returned to the lineup against Howard after missing the previous contest, should also see an increase in minutes with Dodd sidelined.

Federico Mussini goes coast-to-coast, beats buzzer with and-1

CINCINNATI, OH - FEBRUARY 03:  Chris Mullin the head coach of the St. John's Red Storm gives instructions to Federico Mussini #4 during the game against the  Xavier Musketeersat Cintas Center on February 3, 2016 in Cincinnati, Ohio.  (Photo by Andy Lyons/Getty Images)
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St. John’s capped the first half with a 6-0 run.

Sophomore guard Federico Mussini went coast-to-coast to beat the buzzer, and draw the foul, as the Johnnies went into the break up 42-33 on city rival Fordham.

The 6-foot-4 guard had gone cold during a five-game stretch, but since Thanksgiving he’s scored in double figures in four consecutive games, including on Thursday night.