robdauster

Getty Images

Weekend Preview: Saturday will be the best day of hoops to date

Leave a comment

SATURDAY’S SHOWDOWNS

*(NOTE: Lines are not posted for Saturday or Sunday games as of publication. Spreads referenced are via Kenpom.com)

No. 3 PURDUE at No. 4 MICHIGAN STATE (-1), Sat. 4:00 p.m. (ESPN)

The game of the weekend, and one of the games that I have been looking forward to the most this season. Coming off of a home loss to Ohio State on Wednesday night, one where the Boilermakers blew a 14-point second half lead, Purdue will have to turn around and make the trip to the Breslin Center to take on a Michigan State team that could very well have the size inside needed to slow down Isaac Haas. And if you can slow down Isaac Haas without having to double-team him, then you can slow down what has become an uber-efficient offensive machine for Purdue. The key for Michigan State might simply be avoiding foul trouble and turnover, although with this group that is easier said than done.

  • PREDICTION: I think Michigan State gets it done at home. Michigan State (-1)

No. 5 XAVIER at CREIGHTON (-2), Sat. 2:30 p.m. (FOX)

The Musketeers have been really good this season, but they have also had a couple of games where they struggled to put away teams that they probably should not struggle with. Creighton has been up and down after losing their starting center, but they do have the two most underrated players in the league in Marcus Foster and Khyri Thomas. This game might come down to whether or not Thomas can slow down Trevon Bluiett in front of 18,000 people in Omaha.

  • PREDICTION: Like Michigan State, I think that Creighton gets this done at home. The Bluejays are not an easy team to beat in that building. Creighton (-2)

BUTLER at No. 1 VILLANOVA (-11), Sat. 12:00 p.m. (FOX)

Butler has beaten Villanova the last three times that they have played with Villanova, who is expected to be without Phil Booth and Eric Paschall on Saturday, is coming off of a home loss to St. John’s. Frankly, I think that the Wildcats will get this thing done — betting against Jalen Brunson to win a game coming off of a loss is silly, and the Wildcats had an outlier shooting performance on Wednesday — but 11 is a lot of points for a team that is missing a third of its six-man rotation.

  • PREDICTION: I don’t think the line will be 11. But if it is, this is easy. Butler (+11)

No. 24 KENTUCKY at TEXAS A&M (-4), Sat. 8:15 p.m. (ESPN)

Is Texas A&M actually back? I think that they are after winning at Auburn. I also do not think all that much of Kentucky this season, not when they are playing an Aggie team that excels at all of the things that Kentucky, in theory, should excel at.

  • PREDICTION: I think that A&M has a point to prove in this game and that they will prove it. Texas A&M (-4)

No. 12 GONZAGA at No. 11 SAINT MARY’S (-2), Sat. 10:00 p.m. (ESPN2)

If Gonzaga wins, the safe bet is probably that the WCC is going to end up being a tie for first place. If the Gaels win, they will win the regular season title outright for the first time since 2011. There is nothing better than capping off a wild Saturday with a late-night battle between these two rivals.

  • PREDICTION: Until you can prove to me that Gonzaga can slow down Jock Landale, I am riding with Saint Mary’s. Saint Mary’s (-2)

WHAT ELSE IS THERE TO WATCH?

So much.

Saturday might be the best day of basketball we get this season. Not only are there the big games, but EIGHT ranked teams play on the road against unranked teams. It is going to get wild. Here are the games you need to know about:

  • No. 10 KANSAS (-1) at BAYLOR, Sat. 2:00 p.m. (CBS): Kansas seems to play better away from home, but Baylor always gives them a fight. Kansas (-1)
  • No. 17 OKLAHOMA (-5) at IOWA STATE, Sat. 2:00 p.m. (ESPN): Who on Iowa State can slow down Trae Young? Oklahoma (-5)
  • No. 21 NORTH CAROLINA (-4) at N.C. STATE, Sat. 2:00 p.m. (ACC Net): North Carolina has already lost to N.C. State, they will be 42 hours removed from a win over Duke at tip-off and Joel Berry II riled everyone up by saying this isn’t a rivalry. N.C. State (+4)
  • No. 8 AUBURN at GEORGIA, Sat. 3:30 p.m. (SEC Net): Georgia badly needs this win, and Auburn will be without leading scorer Bryce Brown, but I like the Tigers to bounce back after losing to A&M midweek. Auburn (-5)
  • No. 15 TENNESSEE (-4) at ALABAMA, Sat. 6:00 p.m. (SEC Net): This is a tough line, and when it’s a tough line, go with the home team. Alabama (+4)
  • No. 7 TEXAS TECH (-2) at KANSAS STATE, Sat. 8:00 p.m. (ESPNU): I think that the Red Raiders have found their groove and figured out how to play without Zach Smith. Texas Tech (-2)
  • USC at No. 13 ARIZONA (-6), Sat. 10:15 p.m.: First place in the Pac-12 will be on the line on Saturday. USC gives the Wildcats a fight. USC (+6)
  • No. 6 CINCINNATI (-5) at SMU, Sun. 4:00 p.m. (ESPN): Will Shake Milton be back? If he is, I like SMU plus the points. If not, good luck breaking 50 points against this Cincinnati defense.

No. 21 North Carolina defeats No. 9 Duke in Chapel Hill

Streeter Lecka/Getty Images
1 Comment

Joel Berry II is going to get the headlines. He finished with 21 points, six assists and four boards.

Kenny Williams might, too. He busted out of a shooting slump with 20 points and six threes, four of which came in the first six minutes. Hell, even Luke Maye managed to find a way not to get outscored by any of Duke far more talented front court pieces.

But the real reason that No. 21 North Carolina handed No. 9 Duke their second straight loss, 82-78, on Thursday night, the real reason that the Tar Heels can ahead into Saturday’s date in Raleigh against the team that isn’t an actual rival, is Cameron Johnson.

The talk heading into the first matchup between the Tobacco Road rivals is something that I’ve been mentioning since November: The roles had reversed for these two programs. More than just about any other coach in the country, Roy Williams has stayed as far away from the small-ball revolution as possible. He wants two bigs on the floor. He wants to pound the offensive glass. He wants to play high-low basketball and throw the ball into the post. He wants Kennedy Meeks and Isaiah Hicks to carry him to a national title. He wants Brice Johnson to be his all-american.

This year?

He just doesn’t have the roster to do that. Sterling Manley, Garrison Brooks, Brandon Huffman. They all have a chance to be somewhere between good and really good in the ACC, but they’re all three- and four-star freshmen. Asking them to step in from day one and dominate just isn’t going to happen. The result is that UNC has been playing Theo Pinson and Johnson, natural threes, at their forward spot with Luke Maye, who is probably at his best as a stretch-four, as their starting center.

That is the epitome of small-ball, which has been the bread-and-butter for the Blue Devils since Coach K fully-embraced the one-and-done roster construct. This season, however, with a front line that consists of Marvin Bagley III and Wendell Carter, Duke has pounded the ball into the paint more than anyone. They’re leading the nation in offensive rebounding percentage. They physically overpower anyone that gets in their way.

And that’s what they were planning on doing to UNC, but it didn’t work.

Johnson was the foil. The 6-foot-8 junior, a transfer from Pitt, finished with 18 points and 13 boards. He not only hit four of North Carolina’s 11 threes, effectively taking advantage of the reluctance of Duke’s bigs to step away from the rim, but he also grabbed six of their 20 offensive rebounds. Frankly, UNC won the battle in the paint. They grabbed 20 offensive rebounds and held Duke to a 31.4 offensive rebounding percentage; on the season, Duke collected more than 41 percent of their misses. They held Bagley in check — keeping him to 15 points and 16 boards is a win — and kept Carter from really having much impact on the game; he finished with just 10 points and five boards.

More importantly, they made Duke a jump-shooting team. In my mind, this is the stat that defines the game, that epitomizes North Carolina’s win and, frankly, paints a nice picture for some of the issues going on with this Duke team right now: In the final 11:35 of the game, Duke attempted just two two-point field goals and 12 three-pointers. One of those two-pointers was a jumper from Bagley. The other was a dunk from Bagley with 34 seconds left after he grabbed an offensive rebound on a possession where Duke had already missed two three-pointers.

Duke, who has now lost three of their last four games to fall four games out of first place in the ACC, is far more talented than UNC.

But North Carolina is the team that knows themselves, and even if just for a night, played in a way that proved they understand their roles and how they fit within the roster.

And that, often times, trumps raw talent.

Bubble Banter: UCLA headlines a big night for the Pac-12 bubble teams

Jamie Squire/Getty Images
Leave a comment

As we will do every day throughout the rest of the season, here is a look at how college basketball’s bubble teams fared on Thursday night.

It’s worth reminding you here that the way winning are labeled have changed this season. Instead of looking at all top 50 wins equally, the selection committee will be using criteria that breaks wins down into four quadrants, using the RPI:

  • Quadrant 1: Home vs. 1-30, Neutral vs. 1-50, Road vs. 1-75
  • Quadrant 2: Home vs. 31-75, Neutral vs. 51-100, Road vs. 76-135
  • Quadrant 3: Home vs. 76-160, Neutral vs. 101-200, Road vs. 136-240
  • Quadrant 4: Home vs. 161 plus, Neutral vs. 201 plus, Road vs. 240 plus

The latest NBC Sports Bracketology can be found here.

WINNERS

UCLA (RPI: 57, KenPom: 57, NBC seed: First four out): UCLA landed what is easily their biggest win of the season on Thursday night, as they went into the McKale Center and knocked off No. 13 Arizona in the only matchup that the two Pac-12 powerhouses are going to play this season. For a team on the outside of the bubble picture at the start of the day, I cannot overstate the importance of this win. It’s only UCLA’s second Quadrant 1 win of the season, with the other being an underwhelming Kentucky team. This doesn’t probably doesn’t guarantee the Bruins a trip to the NCAA tournament, but it sure will get them closer to the right side of the bubble.

ARIZONA STATE (RPI: 39, KenPom: 29, NBC seed: 8): The slide may have ended for Arizona State, as the Sun Devils came back late to beat USC at home. I don’t think that Arizona State is actually in danger of missing the NCAA tournament yet, but they might have been with a loss considering their next two games were against UCLA and Arizona.

LOUISVILLE (RPI: 43, KenPom: 37, NBC seed: 9): The Cardinals won a game they couldn’t afford to lose, beating Georgia Tech at home by 23 points. The Cards biggest issue right now is that they just don’t have enough good wins. They only have one Quadrant 1 win and two Quadrant 2 wins. Five of their last six games are Quadrant 1 opponents, and three of them — North Carolina, at Duke, Virginia — are elite wins. They’ll have chances to get it done.

HOUSTON (RPI: 38, KenPom: 35, NBC seed: Play-in game): Houston added another Quadrant 2 win to their profile on Thursday night, as they knocked off SMU at home. The Cougars have a gaudy record, a 3-2 mark against Quadrant 1 teams and a 6-4 record against the top two Quadrants. The biggest issue right now: How did this team lose to Drexel?

MIDDLE TENNESSEE STATE (RPI: 22, KenPom: 43, NBC seed: 12): With just one Quadrant 1 win to their name and a loss to a Quadrant 3 team already this season, the Blue Raiders can probably not afford another regular season loss if they want an at-large bid. They beat Rice (319) on Thursday.

WESTERN KENTUCKY (RPI: 51, KenPom: 56, NBC seed: Out): At this point, Western Kentucky’s at-large hopes seem dim at best. Yes, they beat Purdue, but wins over SMU and at Old Dominion are no longer Quadrant 1 wins. Throw in five Quadrant 3 losses, and yikes. They must win out — including at Middle Tennessee State — and lose to Middle in the Conference USA tournament if they want an at-large.

LOSERS

SMU (RPI: 71, KenPom: 51, NBC seed: First four out): It’s time to start getting a little worried about SMU’s chances of getting into the NCAA tournament. They’ve now lost two in a row, three of their last four and six of their last nine games this week. If we’re being fair, those last two losses came without Shake Milton. But in a league where just three Quadrant 1 games remain for a team that only has two Quadrant 1 wins and three Quadrant 2 wins, that’s a concern. SMU is 7-9 against non-Quadrant 4 teams.

WASHINGTON (RPI: 33, KenPom: 89, NBC seed: 10): Fresh off of a weekend where they swept the Arizona schools, Washington tripped down to Oregon on Thursday night and promptly gotten taken behind the woodshed to the tune of a 25-point beating. This is only a Quadrant 2 loss for the Huskies, one that might become a Quadrant 1 loss if the Ducks make a late run this season, but that’s not what Mike Hopkins needed, not when there are no more Quadrant 1 games left on the schedule.

USC (RPI: 44, KenPom: 45, NBC seed: 11): USC whiffed on landing their third Quadrant 1 win of the season on Thursday night, as they went into Tempe and blew a late lead against Arizona State. The Trojans would have been tied for first place in the Pac-12 with a game at Arizona. The Trojans are probably on the right side of the bubble right now — losing at a top 50 team doesn’t hurt — but there is one glaring hole on their résumé: They lost to Princeton (178) on a neutral. That’s a Quadrant 4 loss. This would have helped a lot.

VIDEO: Duke’s Trevon Duval posterizes North Carolina

Streeter Lecka/Getty Images
1 Comment

We’ve been trying to tell you about how athletic Trevon Duval is, how special he can be as a dunker and as a leaper, and for the first time this season, Duval showed it off on Thursday night.

Check this dunk out:

Colorado State expected to part ways with Larry Eustachy

Ethan Miller/Getty Images
Leave a comment

Colorado State is expected to part ways with head coach Larry Eustachy, sources confirmed to NBC Sports.

Eustachy has been on paid administrative leave since Saturday, which came days after the University opened up an investigation into the culture that the coach has created within his program and his conduct and behavior towards his team.

His associate head coach, Steve Barnes, has been in the interim role in the days since.

According to the Denver Post, the decision is the result of the school determining that Eustachy violated a zero tolerance mandate that he was given after an investigation into this same issue back in 2013-14. That investigation found that Eustachy verbally and emotionally assaulted the players on his roster. The athletic director at the time recommended that Eustachy be fired, but he was overruled by the university president, who is still with the school.

One source told NBC Sports that the sticking point would end up being whether or not the school could fire Eustachy for cause. His contract has a significant buyout — according to the Post, more than $3 million — and Colorado State is not a school that can flush money like that away. A violation of that zero tolerance policy is believed to be enough to fire him for cause.

Sources told NBC Sports that South Dakota’s Craig Smith and Drake’s Niko Medved, both former CSU assistant coaches under Tim Miles, are two names that will be involved in the search for a replacement.

Colorado State is 10-16 this season and 3-10 in the Mountain West, easily the worst season that Eustachy has had in Fort Collins. He made the 2013 NCAA tournament but has yet to be back. Last year, the Rams went 24-12 and 13-5 in the MWC. In 2003, Eustachy lost his job as the head coach at Iowa State after photos of him drinking with and kissing students at Kansas State and Missouri were made public.

Auburn’s leading scorer Bryce Brown could miss time with shoulder injury

Michael Reaves/Getty Images
Leave a comment

There is a chance that Auburn’s leading scorer, junior guard Bryce Brown, could miss time with a shoulder injury that he suffered late in the first half of a loss to Texas A&M on Wednesday night.

The injury is to his right shoulder and being described as a strain. Auburn held him out of Thursday’s practice, and the program is awaiting a diagnosis from the medical staff. Pearl told reporters that Brown’s shoulder was “pretty tight”.

Brown has been one of college basketball’s breakout stars this season, averaging 16.6 points while shooting 41.5 percent from three. If he does miss time it would be a major blow to a team that is clinging to a one game lead in the SEC title race.

The No. 8 Tigers travel to Georgia to play on Saturday afternoon.