Pregame Shootaround: Eight Sweet 16 spots up for grabs Saturday

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12:15 p.m.: No. 1 Florida vs. No. 9 Pittsburgh (CBS)

2:45 p.m.: No. 4 Louisville vs. No. 5 Saint Louis (CBS)

5:15 p.m.: No. 2 Michigan vs. No. 7 Texas (CBS)
6:10 p.m.: No. 4 San Diego State vs. No. 12 North Dakota State (TNT)
7:10 p.m.: No. 3 Syracuse vs. No. 11 Dayton (TBS)

7:45 p.m.: No. 2 Wisconsin vs. No. 7 Oregon (CBS)
8:40 p.m.: No. 4 Michigan State vs. No. 12 Harvard (TNT)
9:40 p.m.: No. 2 Villanova vs. No. 7 UConn (TBS)

RECAP: Catch up on Friday’s NCAA Tournament action

GAME OF THE DAY: No. 2 Villanova vs. No. 7 UConn

One year after seeing their time as conference foes come to an end thanks to realignment, the Wildcats and Huskies will meet in Buffalo with a trip to Madison Square Garden for next week’s East Regional on the line. The guard play will be entertaining to say the least, with UConn being led by Shabazz Napier and Ryan Boatright and Villanova countering with Ryan Arcidiacono, James Bell and Darrun Hilliard. The question for UConn to answer: how will they account for JayVaughn Pinkston in the front court after struggling to contain Saint Joseph’s Halil Kanacevic on Thursday? The answer to this question may determine the outcome.

THE OTHER GAME OF THE DAY: No. 2 Wisconsin vs. No. 7 Oregon

Wisconsin has proven to be more capable of playing at a higher pace this season, and that will make for an interesting matchup with Oregon in Milwaukee. Frank Kaminsky was a first team All-Big Ten selection, with his ability to score both inside and out being one reason why. He’ll face an Oregon front court led by Mike Moser, who’s improved play over the last month helped spark the Oregon turnaround. As for the perimeter play Oregon’s corps of quick guards is led by junior Joseph Young, who’s averaging 18.6 points per game, and Wisconsin will need to keep this group in check if they’re to advance to the Sweet 16.

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WHO’S GETTING UPSET?: No. 4 San Diego State (vs. No. 12 North Dakota State)

This matchup may be an issue for the Aztecs, whose ability to attack the basket off the dribble will be challenged by North Dakota State’s pack line defense. With the amount of attention Xavier Thames is bound to receive, the production of reserves Dwayne Polee II and Matt Shrigley will be something to keep an eye on with Polee playing well of late. NDSU will counter with four players averaging double figures led by guard Taylor Braun, and on both ends of the floor they’ve got the skill needed to make life difficult for the Aztecs.


  • No. 1 Florida vs. No. 9 Pittsburgh: Florida’s Scottie Wilbekin has been one of the best point guards in the country, and Pittsburgh will need James Robinson to match his effort if they’re to upset the top overall seed.
  • No. 4 Louisville vs. No. 5 Saint Louis: It’s going to be fun watching Saint Louis’ physical guard Jordair Jett do his best to corral Louisville’s Russ Smith.
  • No. 4 Michigan State vs. No. 12 Harvard: How Harvard’s Steve Moundou Missi deals with Michigan State’s Adreian Payne will determine just how much of a chance the Crimson have of advancing to their first-ever Sweet 16.


  • No. 2 Michigan vs. No. 7 Texas: Texas had the most dramatic win of the Round of 64, beating Arizona State at the buzzer on a Cameron Ridley basket. The question for the Longhorns against Michigan is whether or not their perimeter can outperform Michigan’s backcourt led by Nik Stauskas and Caris LeVert.
  • No. 3 Syracuse vs. No. 11 Dayton: The key for Dayton will be a simple one: don’t allow the Syracuse zone to slow them down on the offensive end of the floor. If the Flyers can move the ball consistently they’ll have a chance against the Orange, who on the other end need Trevor Cooney to build on his 18-point outing against Western Michigan.

College Basketball Talk’s Top 25: Xavier, Syracuse, Texas A&M are big winners

AP Photo/Willie J. Allen Jr.
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At this point in the season, I think it is still too early to solely base rankings off of on-the-court results. That’s why you’re going to find North Carolina higher in this poll than likely anywhere else on the internet. Until we see what the Tar Heels look like with Marcus Paige — which, mind you, could happen on Tuesday night when they host Maryland — I’m not sure I’m ready to drop them, even for a team that looks as good as Michigan State or Kansas.

The biggest risers of the week: Xavier and Syracuse, who both won big tournaments over the Thanksgiving holiday. They also both happened to knock off rivals in the process, as the Musketeers blew out Dayton while the Orange knocked off UConn.

1. Kentucky (6-0, LW: No. 1): Kentucky got a real scare over the weekend, as Tyler Ulis hyper-extended his elbow against South Florida. He appears to be just fine.

2. Maryland (6-0, LW: No. 2): The Terps have not looked great early on this season, but they’re going to get a real test on Tuesday when they visit UNC.

3. North Carolina (5-1, LW: No. 3): Here’s to hoping Marcus Paige is healthy when Maryland comes to visit this week.

4. Michigan State (7-0, LW: No. 4): Denzel Valentine has been sensational this season, but the most impressive part of Michigan State’s win over Providence on Sunday was that they did it while Valentine was in foul trouble and struggling to shoot the ball.

5. Kansas (4-1, LW: No. 6): The Jayhawks had a pretty good week. They won Maui, they blew out a good Vanderbilt team, Wayne Selden showed up and Cheick Diallo got eligible. I hope Bill Self bought some lottery tickets.

6. Villanova (6-0, LW: No. 5): I really like the Wildcats this year, I do, but I dropped them a spot for two reasons: 1. I thought Kansas was better entering the season and the Jayhawks looked terrific this week in Maui, before Cheick Diallo played, and 2. Villanova hasn’t beaten anyone of note yet. Next Monday they get Oklahoma. We’ll know then.

7. Iowa State (5-0, LW: No. 7): The Cyclones are 5-0 with wins over three high-major programs, but their best win may be the win over Chattanooga. I think we’ll really get a feel for how good this team next month, when, in a 12-day stretch, they get Iowa, Northern Iowa and Cincinnati on the road.

8. Oklahoma (4-0, LW: No. 8): The Sooners put a whooping on Wisconsin on Sunday afternoon, the kind of performance that made it very clear Oklahoma is a contender this season and Wisconsin is not. Buddy Hield has been terrific, but so has big man Ryan Spangler.

9. Duke (6-1, LW: No. 10): The loss to Kentucky continues to look like the aberration in Duke’s early season schedule, as they rolled over Utah State and Yale this week. The big news: Luke Kennard has finally found his rhythm, as he scored 22 points and went 4-for-5 from the floor on Sunday.

10. Virginia (5-1, LW: No. 11): Virginia has won four straight since their loss at GW, scoring at least 80 points in every game and never giving up more than 66. It’s not the stiffest of competition, but it should go to show you (like I said at the time) that the loss at GW said more about GW than Virginia.

11. Xavier (7-0, LW: No. 21)
12. Purdue (6-0, LW: No. 15)
13. Vanderbilt (5-1, LW: No. 16)
14. Miami (5-1, LW: No. 9)
15. Syracuse (6-0, LW: UR)
16. Texas A&M (6-1, LW: UR)
17. Gonzaga (4-1, LW: No. 17)
18. Oregon (5-0, LW: No. 25)
19. Cincinnati (7-0, LW: No. 20)
20. Baylor (4-1, LW: No. 22)
21. Butler (4-1, LW: No. 23)
22. UConn (4-2, LW: No. 18)
23. Providence (6-1, LW: UR)
24. West Virginia (6-0, LW: UR)
25. SMU (4-0, LW: UR)

DROPPED OUT: No. 12 Cal, No. 13 Arizona, No. 14 Indiana, No. 19 Notre Dame, No. 24 Wichita State

WEEKLY AWARDS: Denzel Valentine’s big week, Kansas makes a statement

Denzel Valentine
(AP Photo/Alex Gallardo)
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PLAYER OF THE WEEK: Denzel Valentine, Michigan State

In the title game of the Wooden Legacy, a game that was billed as a matchup between the two best players in college basketball — Valentine and Kris Dunn — Valentine was downright bad …

… by his standards. He finished with “just” 17 points, six assists and five boards. I say “just” because, in the previous two games of the tournament, the Spartan superstar averaged 30.5 points, 10.0 boards and 8.0 assists. He’s been, hands down, the best player in college basketball this season, and that didn’t change this week.


  • Ben Bentil, Providence: Kris Dunn is the guy that is going to get all the national praise, but it was Bentil’s emergence that was critical for the Friars. He averaged 21.7 points and 6.0 boards in three games in the Wooden Legacy, carrying PC when Dunn was battling foul issues.
  • Wayne Selden, Kansas: The highlight of Selden’s week was scoring 25 points on 8-for-11 shooting in the Maui title game win over No. 19 Vanderbilt. For the week, he averaged 19.3 points and shot 12-for-17 from three.
  • Justin Robinson, Monmouth: Robinson averaged 25.7 points in three games for Monmouth at the Advocare Invitational. The Hawks beat No. 17 Notre Dame and USC in the process, only losing to Dayton by three.
  • Justin Jackson, North Carolina: Remember when Justin Jackson was struggling? He averaged 21.5 points, 9.0 boards and 5.0 assists in wins over Northwestern and Kansas State. That came on the heels of a 25-point performance in the loss at Northern Iowa.
  • Henry Ellenson, Marquette: Ellenson notched three straight double-doubles for the Golden Eagles this week, which included 16 points and 11 boards in a win over Ben Simmons and LSU.

TEAM OF THE WEEK: Kansas Jayhawks

Kansas headed out to Maui as a team that many weren’t really sure what to make of. They looked good against Michigan State for 30 minutes, then they blew that game as Denzel Valentine went bananas. They had as much depth as anyone in the country, but Brannen Greene was suspended, Cheick Diallo was ineligible and Wayne Selden was the most notable of a handful of talented players that had been somewhere between inconsistent and ineffective this year.

That all changed in Maui — well, other than Greene’s suspension — as Kansas rolled over Chaminade, UCLA and Vanderbilt to bring home the tournament title. Blowing out Chaminade was to be expected. But beating down a talented UCLA team? Dominating a very good Vanderbilt squad? That’s the Kansas we’ve been hoping to see show up for a few years now. The question is whether or not it’s sustainable, and at least on paper, it appears to be. Selden’s shooting percentages will come back to earth, but his raw numbers are less important than his confidence and aggressiveness. Frank Mason and Devonte’ Graham are going to continue to take pressure off of each other in the back court. Perry Ellis isn’t going anywhere.

I questioned whether or not Kansas was truly one of the nation’s elite when the season started. I think they answered that question for me.


  • Xavier: The Musketeers not only won the Advocare Invitational in Orlando, they blew out in-state — and former Atlantic 10 — rival Dayton in the finals.
  • Syracuse: The Orange are going to be a factor in the ACC this season. How much? I don’t know. But after winning the Battle 4 Atlantis by knocking off No. 18 UConn and No. 25 Texas A&M, it’s clear they’re going to be involved all season.
  • Northeastern: The Huskies picked up a road win against No. 15 Miami on this buzzer-beating jumper.
  • Arkansas-Little Rock: The Trojans picked up their second huge road win of the year, going into Tulsa and knocking off the Golden Hurricane. They’re now 5-0 on the season, having also won at SDSU.
  • Tournament winners: West Virginia knocked off Richmond and San Diego State to bring home the Las Vegas Invitational title, No. 24 Cincinnati beat Nebraska and George Washington in the Barclays Center Classic and Marquette knocked off LSU and Arizona State to win the Legends Classic.


Tuesday: No. 2 Maryland at No. 9 North Carolina, 9:30 p.m.
Wednesday: Butler at No. 24 Cincinnati, 7:00 p.m.
Wednesday: Louisville at No. 3 Michigan State, 7:15 p.m.
Wednesday: No. 13 Indiana at No. 6 Duke, 9:15 p.m.
Saturday: No. 11 Arizona at No. 10 Gonzaga, 3:15 p.m.