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Nick Johnson will get the headlines, but Aaron Gordon was Arizona’s MVP vs. SDSU

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The conversation after No. 1 Arizona’s 70-64 win over No. 4 San Diego State is going to center around Nick Johnson.

He’s Arizona’s all-american shooting guard. He’s the guy that couldn’t buy a bucket for the first 37 minutes and 14 seconds. He’s also the guy that scored¬†15 of the final 16 points for the Wildcats, including a huge three and ten critical free throws.

He deserves the headlines that he is going to get.

But will get lost in the shuffle is just how many important plays that star freshman Aaron Gordon made in the second half that kept Arizona in a position for Johnson to close out the game.

Gordon finished with a solid line — 15 points, seven boards, two assists and two blocks — but that doesn’t do justice to the plays that he was able to make down the stretch. There was the thunderous, soaring alley-oop that he caught midway through the second half that trimmed what had been an eight-point SDSU lead down to 40-38. There was the tip-in he had on a T.J. McConnell airball that put the Wildcats up 52-50. There was the gorgeous assist that he dished out to Kaleb Tarczewski to push the lead to 54-51, setting the stage for Johnson’s finishing kick.

There were defensive rebounds that he grabbed in traffic. There were hedges that he made on ball-screens, helping to keep Xavier Thames from getting a full head of steam going towards the rim. There were double-teams that he drew and screens that he set.

He didn’t make every play for the Wildcats, but it sure seemed like he had some kind of a hand in all the important ones.

And that’s what Gordon has done all season long.

At this point in his development, Gordon is not all that skilled. He’s a capable perimeter shooter but not a great one. He’s a good ball-handler and a good passer, but not one that is good enough to be able to be a primary facilitator on the offensive end. He is, however, the best athlete left in the tournament, the best defender in all of college basketball and a guy whose motor never stops running.

In simpler terms, he’s Arizona’s best NBA prospect and he just so happens to be a prototype glue-guy. He’s the piece that brings the entire puzzle together for the Wildcats, and he showed why on Thursday night.

BUBBLE BANTER: Key Atlantic 10, Big East bubble games

Kelan Martin, Kyle Alexander
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This post will be updated throughout the night.

Butler (KenPom: 41, RPI; 67) at Seton Hall (KenPom: 31, RPI: 37), 6:30 p.m.
LSU (KenPom: 53, RPI: 76) at South Carolina (KenPom: 45, RPI: 28), 7:00 p.m.
Nebraska at Wisconsin (KenPom: 51, RPI: 62), 7:00 p.m.
Saint Joseph’s (KenPom: 48, RPI: 30) at George Washington (KenPom: 71, RPI: 34), 7:00 p.m.
Missouri at Vanderbilt (KenPom: 35, RPI: 58), 9:00 p.m.
No. 14 Iowa State at Texas Tech (KenPom: 59, RPI: 51), 9:00 p.m.
Michigan (KenPom: 46, RPI: 56) at Minnesota, 9:00 p.m.
Washington (KenPom: 80, RPI: 57) at Utah (KenPom: 44, RPI: 16), 9:00 p.m.
San Diego State (KenPom: 65, RPI: 47) at Fresno State, 11:00 p.m.

PREGAME SHOOTAROUND: Ben Simmons, LSU get tested at South Carolina; more important bubble matchups

FILE - In this Nov. 24, 2015, file photo, LSU forward Ben Simmons (25) drives downcourt as teammate Antonio Blakeney (2) follows in the first half of an NCAA college basketball game against North Carolina State in New York. For all of his gaudy numbers, Simmons is still trying to figure out the best way to put the Tigers in position to win. And now the schedule gets harder, starting with Tuesday night's, Dec. 29, 2015, tilt against Wake Forest, followed by the opening of Southeastern Conference play against Vanderbilt and No. 10 Kentucky. (AP Photo/Kathy Willens, File)
(AP Photo/Kathy Willens)
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GAME OF THE NIGHT: LSU at South Carolina, 7:00 p.m.

LSU attempts to stay atop the SEC standings when they travel on the road to face South Carolina. The Gamecocks have been very tough at home this season and they’re trying to form a potential four-way tie in the conference standings if they’re able to win this one (and Texas A&M wins tonight). It will be intriguing to see how Ben Simmons fares against South Carolina’s stingy defense.

THIS ONE’S GOOD, TOO: Saint Joseph’s at George Washington, 7:00 p.m.

An important game in the Atlantic 10 as Saint Joseph’s heads to the Smith Center to play surging George Washington. The Colonels have won three straight games as they try to stay with VCU and Dayton and make a move to tie the Hawks in the league standings. CBT’s Rob Dauster will be in the building for this one, so make sure to follow him on Twitter for updates.

FIVE THINGS TO WATCH FOR

  1. No. 21 Baylor will have a tough one in the Big 12 when they go on the road at Kansas State. The Wildcats just knocked off Oklahoma and the Octagon of Doom is a very tough place to play, even if Kansas State is struggling in the standings.
  2. No. 16 SMU will try to stay in the lead in the American as they host Tulsa. The Golden Hurricane could really use a road win like this for its postseason chances.
  3. An intriguing Pac-12 contest tips as Washington heads to Utah. The Pac-12 standings are a mess right now, but these two teams still have a chance to make one final move for the regular season title if they start building momentum now.
  4. In the SEC, Alabama hosts No. 15 Texas A&M, a team that has lost three of its last four games. The Aggies will be favored in this road contest, but this one could be interesting because of Avery Johnson’s unique connection to Texas A&M. Avery Johnson Jr., a transfer guard sitting out this season at Alabama, played for the Aggies last season, so he could have some useful tips for his dad on slowing down Texas A&M’s potent offense.
  5. No. 20 Providence will be looking for revenge when they head to Milwaukee to face Marquette. The Golden Eagles currently sit eighth in the Big East standings, but they did win on the road by a point over the Friars earlier this season.