Previewing your college hoops weekend: Marquee matchups are few

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Game of the weekend: Sat. 2:30 pm: No. 22 Texas A&M @ No. 13 Florida

This is the one and only game this weekend between ranked teams, and there is good reason to be excited about it as it presents an interesting battle of strengths. Texas A&M really struggled offensively without Khris Middleton in the lineup. Middleton is back in the lineup now, and while he is a guy capable of scoring off the dribble, he’s not a big-time slasher or creator. He thrives as a mid-range scorer and saw his production drop-off last season when Big 12 play came around.

Florida, on the other hand, is a powerhouse offensively. Thanks to their terrific three-point shooting and the emergence of Patric Young in the paint. While they have their struggles on the defensive end of the floor, the Gators are the most efficient offensive team in the country.

Where Texas A&M’s strength lies is in their defense. More specifically, in their perimeter defense. Its not because they are a great rebounding team or force a ton of turnovers, its because they simply do not allow you to get good looks from the field, particularly from three; only Virginia Tech and Alabama State force opponents into shooting a worse percentage from beyond the arc.

So what wins out? Texas A&M’s defense or Florida’s shooters?

Seven more games to keep an eye on

Sat. 2:00 pm: No. 7 Baylor @ BYU: The Bears are a frustrating team to watch. And its not because they are playing poorly; its because they haven’t played anyone yet. Their schedule is 341st in the country to date. Baylor has enough talent to make the Final Four this season, but we thought the same thing about this team last year. The pieces never came together. BYU may not be the same team that they were with Jimmer and Jackson Emery, but they will undoubtedly be the best team that the Bears have faced to date. Let’s see how they fair.

Sat. 2:30 pm: Temple @ Texas: Before the season started, Temple was thought to be the favorite to unseat Xavier from the top of the Atlantic 10. That sentiment may still be true, but with Michael Eric sidelined, the Owls are simply not the same team. They do have a ton of talent on their perimeter, however, and the same can be said for Texas. There may not be a lot of posting up in this game, but seeing these two perimeter attacks go back and forth will be worth the price of admission.

Sat. 4:00 pm: Memphis @ No. 4 Louisville: Two old rivals take the court as the Tigers and the Cardinals meet up in Louisville. The intrigue in this game lies solely in the Tigers. This Memphis team was thought by many to be a Final Four contender heading into the season, and that sentiment hasn’t exactly changed as much as it has been put on hold. For all the talent on their roster, Memphis simply has not been able to perform up to expectations. The key may lie in their effort, or lack thereof, on a nightly basis. Louisville is a stout defensive team that should give the Tigers fits, but the Cardinals have had issues scoring the ball all season long.

Sat. 4:00 pm: Arizona @ Gonzaga: Coming into the year, the sentiment was that these were the best two teams on the west coast. And while that still may end up being true once the season ends, the flaws in both of these teams have been exposed early in the season. Arizona lacks interior depth and playmaking guards that can stay on the court (ahem, Josiah Turner). Gonzaga’s issues lie in the inconsistency in their talented front court — specifically Elias Harris — and the inability of their back court to defend playmakers.

Sat. 5:00 pm: UNLV @ No. 19 Illinois: Illinois is a bit of a question mark at this point in the season. The Illini have made it through the first month of the season with an unblemished record, but they have yet to truly prove themselves. They have some unimpressive wins over uninspiring teams. UNLV, on the other hand, seemingly proved themselves with a win over North Carolina over Thanksgiving weekend, but since then the Rebels have struggled, getting taken to double overtime by UC-Santa Barbara and losing to both Wichita State and Wisconsin in a lackluster fashion. We should learn a lot about both teams in this game.

Sat. 8:00 pm: Villanova @ St. Joe’s: When we talk about heated rivalries, Villanova and St. Joe’s rarely gets mentioned. But The Holy War is widely considered the most intense rivalry in the Big 5. The game has lost some of its luster over the last two years due to the struggles of St. Joe’s, but with the Hawks returning to relevancy and Villanova struggling, we’re looking at what should be a heckuva battle. Believe it or not, St. Joe’s may actually have a better perimeter attack than the Wildcats this year.

Sat. 10:00 pm: Kansas State @ No. 21 Alabama: If you like defense and gritty, gutty basketball, this game is perfect for you. We all know about the kind of team that the Wildcats field under Frank Martin — physical, aggressive, defensive-minded, voracious rebounders. Alabama is similar. They can lock-down defensively as well as anyone in the country, but they struggle to score the ball. Those struggles won’t get any easier against Frank Martin’s team.

Who’s getting upset?: Fri. 10:30 pm: Weber State @ Cal

Cal may actually be the best team in the Pac-12, which isn’t exactly saying much, but with Jorge Gutierrez, Allen Crabbe and Harper Kamp on the roster, the Bears have enough talent to be an NCAA Tournament team. But don’t sleep on Weber State. Damian Lillard is leading the country at 26.9 ppg, capable of putting up some impressive scoring displays — he had 41 points in a win over San Jose State and went for 36 (including 21 straight in the second half) at St. Mary’s. Throw in players like Scott Bamforth, Kyle Tresnak and Kyle Bullinger, and the Wildcats have enough to knock off the Bears.

Five more teams on upset watch

Fri. 10:30 pm: UC-Santa Barbara @ Washington: Once again, Washington has been an enigma this season. They have plenty of talent on their roster — enough that they lost by a combined eight points to both Marquette and Duke in NYC — but they’ve also lost to the likes of Nevada and St. Louis this year. UCSB, on the other hand, has one of the best players in the country that you’ve never heard of in Orlando Johnson. With Joe Nunnally also on the roster, the Gauchos are one of the best mid-major teams in the country.

Sat. 12:00 pm: No. 16 Mississippi State @ Detroit: Mississippi State has a shot to be one of the better teams in the SEC this season, but Detroit actually matches up with them fairly well. Ray McCallum is a talented lead guard, and while he isn’t the same player as Dee Bost, there is a reason that so many high-major programs were disappointed when he opted for the Titans. Eli Holman is a good enough big man that he should be able to hand with rnett Moultrie on the block. Throw is leading scorer Chase Simon and the location of this game — Dickie V Court — and the Bulldogs better show up ready to play.

Sat. 2:00 pm: Central Connecticut State @ Northwestern: Normally, it would be a concern if a team was getting just 4.6 ppg out of their fourth-leading scorer. Not with CCSU, however. The Blue Devils have three players averaging more than 19.3 ppg, which should be enough to give Northwestern issues. The Wildcats are 8-1 on the year, but that one loss was a dismantling at home at the hands of Baylor.

Sat. 4:30 pm: Ole Miss @ Southern Miss: The Rebels are an interesting team this season. They are 9-1 on the season and they’ve put together a couple of decent wins this season, but in their one true test they were beaten by 30 by Marquette. Southern Miss lost a lot to graduation last year, but they’ve bounced back nicely this season, putting together a couple of wins against decent opponents en route to a 7-2 record early in the year. More than anything, this game is a chance for us to see if either of these two teams are for real.

Sat. 5:30 pm: Indiana State @ No. 25 Vanderbilt: We all know about the issues that Vanderbilt has had early in the season. They have questionable decision-makers in their back court and they struggle to defend. The good news, however, is that Festus Ezeli is back in the lineup for the ‘Dores. Ezeli will be a problem for Indiana State in the paint, but the Sycamores have more talent than you may think coming from a team that doesn’t look like it will crack the top three in the MVC. At the very least, this game is worth tuning in for to see Jake Odum play.

Mid-major matchups of the weekend: Sun. 1:00 pm: Oral Roberts @ No. 9 Xavier

I know, I know. Its blasphemy saying that Xavier is a mid-major team. But I wanted to write about this game, and its the only place that fit. Oral Roberts is quality Summit League team led by a veteran front court, one good enough to give Gonzaga a fight in Spokane on Thursday night. Xavier will be heading into this game short-handed, as Tu Holloway, Mark Lyons and Dez Wells will all begin their suspensions stemming from the brawl last weekend.

Five more mid-major matchups to watch

Sat. 1:00 pm: Iona @ Vermont: Iona is one of the most entertaining teams in the country to watch, regardless of conference affiliation. With Scott Machado, Michael Glover and Momo Jones on their roster, it should be no surprise that this team has been able to pull-off a couple of impressive wins early in the season. But the Catamounts are a tough team to beat at home.

Sat. 5:00 pm: Old Dominion @ Central Florida: Old Dominion is clearly not the same team that they were last season, although that isn’t exactly unexpected given the amount of talent that graduated from Blaine Taylor’s roster. Central Florida, on the other hand, is fairly loaded and already has a win over UConn on their resume.

Sat. 6:30 pm: Boise State @ Denver: This will be one of the more interesting games to keep an eye on this weekend. Both Boise and Denver managed to put together some solid wins early in the season despite not having overwhelming expectations coming into the season. The Broncos match-up well with the Pioneers, who run a Princeton-style offense that loves to control the tempo.

Sat. 7:00 pm: Richmond @ Bucknell: Its never easy to replace players of the caliber of Kevin Anderson and Justin Harper, particularly if you are a program like Richmond. Coming off of a fairly solid beat down at the hands of Iona in their own building, the Spiders must head to Bucknell, the Patriot League favorite.

Sat. 8:00 pm: Oakland @ Valpo: Oakland’s Reggie Hamilton is one of the single-most entertaining players in the country to watch, and this season his Grizzly team has managed to regroup despite losing Keith Benson to graduation. But Valpo looks like they will be a contender in the Horizon this season, coming into this game with a 7-3 record.

The rest of the top 25:

Sat. 6:30 pm: No. 1 Syracuse @ NC State: In their first game with the No. 1 ranking in the country, the Orange leave New York for a non-conference game for the first time three years. NC State is a bit of a sleeper in the ACC this year, but they’ll need big games out of CJ Leslie, Lorenzo Brown and Scott Wood to handle the Orange.

Sat. 12:00 pm: No. 2 Ohio State @ South Carolina: Bruce Ellington is finally back in the lineup for South Carolina. But Jared Sullinger has returned for the Buckeyes as well. I think the latter will be more important.

Sat. 8:00 pm: Chattanooga @ No. 3 Kentucky: After watching Terrence Jones sulk his way through a loss at Indiana, I am certainly not the only person that has stated concerns for what kind of player he is going to end up being. Its not so much that he had an off-night shooting the ball, its that he had an off-night effort-wise. That cannot happen. Let’s see how he bounces back.

Sat. 6:00 pm: Appalachian State @ No. 6 UNC: Kendall Marshall is an exquisite passer, but I think that his ability to get Harrison Barnes open looks from the perimeter has helped fuel the theory that Barnes is nothing but a streaky jump-shooter.

Sun. 3:00 pm: William & Mary @ No. 8 Missouri: When you are going up against a team that has been absolutely lethal using a four-guard lineup, its not necessarily a good thing to be a team that puts a four-guard lineup on the floor.

Sun. 1:00 pm: Holy Cross @ No. 10 UConn: I can’t be the only one waiting to see if Alex Oriakhi can break out of the season-long struggles he’s had.

Sat. 4:00 pm: Northern Colorado @ No. 11 Marquette: Chris Otule’s knee injury looks like it will keep him out of the lineup for a while. Will that affect the Eagles?

Sat. 6:00 pm: South Carolina State @ No. 14 Pitt: It will be really interesting to see if Khem Birch is on the court — or even on the roster — when this game is played.

Sat. 12:00 pm: American @ No. 17 Georgetown: Its impossible to overstate how much Henry Sims has improved this season. He’s been one of the best big men in the Big East and a perfect fit for John Thompson III’s offense.

Sat. 12:00 pm: Alabama A&M @ No. 18 Michigan: Michigan deserves much of the credit, along with Indiana, for being the reason that everyone is talking about how good the Big Ten is this season.

Sat. 7:00 pm: Bowling Green @ No. 23 Michigan State: The Spartans have made their way back into the top 25 this season. College hoops is better when Tom Izzo’s team matters.

Sat. 8:05 pm: Houston Baptist @ No. 24 Creighton: How will the Bluejays bounce back from a loss to St. Joe’s?

Other notable games:

Saturday:

– 12:00 pm: Florida Atlantic @ Miami FL
– 2:00 pm: Texas A&M-CC @ West Virginia
– 2:00 pm: Radford @ Cincinnati
– 2:00 pm: Butler @ Purdue
– 2:30 pm: Fordham @ St. John’s
– 3:00 pm: UC-Davis @ UCLA
– 4:00 pm: Campbell @ Virgnia Tech
– 5:30 pm: Notre Dame @ No. 20 Indiana
– 8:00 pm: Arkansas State @ Murray State
– 8:00 pm: San Diego @ Stanford
– 8:00 pm: Alabama State @ St. Louis
– 8:00 pm: Houston @ Oklahoma
– 10:30 pm: New Mexico @ Oklahoma State

Sunday:

– 12:00 pm: Mercer @ Seton Hall
– 2:30 pm: Loyola MD @ St. Bonaventure
– 3:00 pm: South Dakota State @ Washington
– 3:00 pm: Loyola Marymount @ Florida State
– 5:30 pm: Virginia @ Oregon
– 10:00 pm: Portland State @ Oregon State

Rob Dauster is the editor of the college basketball website Ballin’ is a Habit. You can find him on twitter @ballinisahabit.

Bubble Banter: It’s that time of year again!

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It’s getting to be that time of year.

Bubble Banter is back, baby!

Over the course of the next three days, we are going to be diving headlong into bubble chatter right here, breaking down every single team that is on or near the bubble for the NCAA tournament Field of 68. This, of course, is according to our Dave Ommen, who sent me a list of all the bubble teams. Our cut-off, at least for this conversation, is teams that currently sit as a No. 9 seed or better in the most recent bracket that we released.

Why?

Because — with the notable exception of Ohio State — it is difficult to see how any of those teams can end up out of the NCAA tournament before our next bracket projection gets published on Monday.

So, you know, they’re not currently on the bubble.

Anyway, come back throughout the weekend to see who the winners and the losers are and what it means for their standing in regards to the cut line.

WINNERS

PURDUE (NET: 37, NBC: Off the bubble): Purdue’s schizophrenic January continued on Friday with a blowout win over Wisconsin (30) at home. The Boilermakers have lost four of their last six, and the two wins were utterly dominant wins over the Badgers and Michigan State (10). Their 11-9 (4-5) record isn’t pretty, but three Quad 1 wins and just one Quad 3 loss — at Nebraska (165) — is enough to keep them in the mix.

YALE (NET: 60, NBC: 12): The Elis are in this conversation because they don’t really have a bad loss to speak of. Their “worst” loss was a road game at San Francisco (!00), and if North Carolina gets Cole Anthony back, then that loss is not going to look nearly as bad by Selection Sunday. Their problem is a lack of quality wins. They won at Clemson (75), which is barely a Quad 1 win. That’s their only win that didn’t come against Quad 3 or 4 opponents. That’s not going to change in the Ivy. I think they need to win out and lose to Harvard in the Ivy title game to have a real at-large chance.

LOSERS

LEFT TO PLAY

SATURDAY

VCU at La Salle, 12:00 p.m.
PITT at SYRACUSE, 12:00 p.m.
ST. JOHN’S at DEPAUL, 2:00 p.m.
VIRGINIA TECH at Boston College, 2:00 p.m.
LSU at TEXAS, 2:00 p.m.
OKLAHOMA at MISSISSIPPI STATE, 2:00 p.m.
RHODE ISLAND at St. Bonaventure, 3:00 p.m.
UNCG at Samford, 3:00 p.m.
AKRON at Ohio, 3:30 p.m.
LIBERTY at Stetson, 4:00 p.m.
Chattanooga at EAST TENNESSEE STATE, 4:00 p.m.
N.C. STATE at Georgia Tech, 4:00 p.m.
SMU at MEMPHIS, 4:00 p.m.
TENNESSEE at No. 3 Kansas, 4:00 p.m.
BYU at San Francisco, 5:00 p.m.
No. 7 Dayton at RICHMOND, 6:00 p.m.
No. 15 Kentucky at No. 18 TEXAS TECH, 6:00 p.m.
Kansas State at ALABAMA, 6:00 p.m.
Washington State at UTAH, 7:00 p.m.
NOTRE DAME at No. 5 Florida State, 8:00 p.m.
SAINT MARY’S at LMU, 9:00 p.m.
WASHINGTON at No. 23 Colorado, 9:00 p.m.
No. 22 Arizona at ARIZONA STATE, 9:30 p.m.
Colorado State at UTAH STATE, 10:00 p.m.

SUNDAY

VIRGINIA at Wake Forest, 12:00 p.m.
No. 11 Michigan State at MINNESOTA, 3:00 p.m.
Fordham at SAINT LOUIS, 3:00 p.m.
XAVIER at Creighton, 4:00 p.m.
Loyola-Chicago at NORTHERN IOWA, 4:00 p.m.
OHIO STATE at Northwestern, 6:30 p.m.

Best Bets: Previewing Baylor-Florida, Texas Tech-Kentucky

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As always, the Vegas lines are not out for the weekend games, so we will be breaking them down using KenPom, Torvik and Haslametric projections.

FRIDAY

MARQUETTE at No. 13 BUTLER, 9:00 p.m.

  • KENPOM: Butler 72, Marquette 66
  • TORVIK: Butler 72, Marquette 66
  • HASLAM: Butler 71, Marquette 64
  • VEGAS IMPLIED SCORE: Butler 70, Marquette 64

In theory, this is an ideal buy-low spot for Butler. They are coming off of three straight losses, the last two of which came on the road. The loss at DePaul was a bad matchup, and the loss at Villanova was a result of Sean McDermott and Jordan Tucker shooting a combined 1-for-12 from three until the final minute of a 15-point loss.

Marquette, on the other hand, is in a prime sell-high spot. The Golden Eagles have won three in a row. Two of them came at home and the third was at Georgetown, a team that is down to just seven scholarship players. Trying to predict the nights that Markus Howard doesn’t score 30-plus is more or less impossible, but I do think that it is worth noting Butler is 12th nationally in defensive three-point field goal percentage and has a couple of quality perimeter defenders they can throw at him.

BEST BET: The logic says to bet Butler here. The problem is that, at Butler (-6) or (-6.5), I don’t think we’re buying Butler low or selling Marquette high. KenPom and Torvik both have the line at (-6) while Haslam has it at (-7). I was hoping to get it at (-5) or lower, which is unfortunate. Either way, if I’m going to be betting this game — which, let’s be honest, is probably going to happen — it will be with Butler.

Oh, and Butler is unveiling Butler IV, their new puppy, tonight. Never fade the puppy play.

SATURDAY

No. 15 KENTUCKY at No. 18 TEXAS TECH, 6:00 p.m.

  • KENPOM: Texas Tech 67, Kentucky 64
  • TORVIK: Texas Tech 67, Kentucky 64
  • HASLAM: Texas Tech 69, Kentucky 63
  • VEGAS IMPLIED SCORE: N/A

The more I think about this, the more I like the Texas Tech side here. I do think that the Red Raiders have one of the best coaching staffs when it comes to developing and instituting a game-plan. That’s a problem for a Kentucky team that tends to be fairly limited in what they run offensively. Put another way, Kentucky tends to figure out what works for them and run it over and over and over again. Their playbook shrinks as the season progresses, and that’s the kind of thing that Chris Beard and Mark Adams can take advantage of.

This is also a good buy-low spot for Texas Tech, considering that they are coming home off of a loss at TCU.

On the other side of the ball, I do worry about Texas Tech’s ability to create offense. They have struggled on that end, and I don’t think they actually have the front court pieces to be able to pull Nick Richards out of the paint.

BEST BETS: I’ll be curious to see where the line opens up here. I lean Texas Tech at anything (-4) and below, and I hope that the Kentucky effect can push that line much lower. I also will be on the under. If I think Texas Tech will have trouble to score, and Kentucky will have trouble to score, it only makes sense.

*SATURDAY UPDATE: This line opened at Texas Tech (-4) and has moved to (-4.5). I still like the Tech side here, but I think number I think that under (132.5) is a better bet at this point.

No. 1 BAYLOR at FLORIDA, 6:00 p.m.

  • KENPOM: Baylor 65, Florida 64
  • TORVIK: Baylor 65, Florida 63
  • HASLAM: Baylor 65, Florida 64
  • VEGAS IMPLIED SCORE: N/A

Baylor feels like they’re due for a loss, right?

They needed to erase a 12-point second half deficit at Oklahoma State last weekend. On Monday night, they nearly had Austin Reaves hitting a three in the final seconds to give Oklahoma a win in Waco. And now they are heading back out on the road to take on a Florida team that has been better of late?

Here’s to hoping that this line gets inflated because of the number next to Baylor’s name.

I also believe that the under is in play here. Baylor is one of the nation’s best defensive teams. Florida has not been as good on that end of the floor of late, but they, too, have shown flashes of being able to guard. They also matchup well with the Bears. But more importantly, I don’t believe that either of these teams are going to try and push the tempo. Florida has shown a frustrating determination to play possession by possession this season, while the Bears rank 269th in average offensive possession length.

BEST BET: I’ll be targeting the Florida ML here, particularly if the Gators end up getting points, but taking the under seems like the best play in this game.

*SATURDAY UPDATE: This game opened up as a pick-em and, as of 9 a.m. ET, had moved to Florida (-2.5). I know I said I liked Florida in the section above, but this line has moved too much for my liking. I think the value is on Baylor at this number, and I’ll have a little bit on their ML (+120).

But like Texas Tech-Kentucky, this is another spot where the under (130.5) seems like the best play in the game.

No. 8 VILLANOVA at PROVIDENCE, 12:00 p.m.

  • KENPOM: Villanova 70, Providence 68
  • TORVIK: Providence 70, Villanova 69
  • HASLAM: Villanova 68, Providence 66
  • VEGAS IMPLIED SCORE: N/A

It’s not going to feel comfortable, but this feels like a good spot to take Providence. Villanova has won five in a row and 11 of their last 12, but their last four games have been played at home. They’ve failed to cover in two of their last three games and are just 1-3 against the spread on the road this season.

Providence has lost back-to-back games on the road, covering the spread in both games, and have covered in six of their last eight games.

BEST BET: I’ll be on the Providence side, but whether I take the Providence ML or take the points will depend on what the line opens up at.

*SATURDAY UPDATE: This line is bouncing between Providence (+2) and (+1.5). I like the Friars at that number, and I’ll be on the ML (+104) myself.

No. 21 ILLINOIS at MICHIGAN, 12:00 p.m.

  • KENPOM: Michigan 71, Illinois 68
  • TORVIK: Michigan 71, Illinois 68
  • HASLAM: Michigan 71, Illinois 69
  • VEGAS IMPLIED SCORE: N/A

The logic here is going to be exceedingly simple: Illinois is as hot as any team in the country right now. They’ve won five straight games, including wins at Wisconsin and at Purdue, the latter of which was by 17 points. Michigan, on the other hand, has not been the same team since they lost Isaiah Livers to a groin injury and, since January 1st, they’ve ranked 127th nationally in adjusted defensive efficiency, according to Torvik.

BEST BET: I’ll be all over the Illinois ML, especially if this line opens up at Illinois (+3).

*SATURDAY UPDATE: Turns out that the line opens at Illinois (+3.5) and moved to (+4). Ride the Illini, and a sprinkle on the ML (+155) seems tasty as well.

TENNESSEE at No. 3 KANSAS, 4:00 p.m.

  • KENPOM: Kansas 68, Tennessee 54
  • TORVIK: Kansas 68, Tennessee 54
  • HASLAM: Kansas 70, Tennessee 50
  • VEGAS IMPLIED SCORE: N/A

Kansas ranks No. 1 nationally in adusted defensive efficiency, according to KenPom. They’re third in Torvik’s rating system. Since Lamonte Turner saw his season come to an end, Tennessee has ranked 251st nationally if adjusted offensive efficiency. The one point guard on their roster, freshman Santiago Vescovi, is averaging 5.0 turnovers per game despite playing just 24.5 minutes — to be fair, he had 21 turnovers in his first three games and has had just nine in the last three.

BEST BETS: I think Kansas rolls here after a week of hearing how bad they are because of Tuesday night’s fight.

*SATURDAY UPDATE: I thought the line would open around Kansas (-14), which means (-13.5) is tasty.

SUNDAY

No. 17 MARYLAND at INDIANA, 1:00 p.m.

  • KENPOM: Maryland 67, Indiana 66
  • TORVIK: Indiana 67, Maryland 65
  • HASLAM: Maryland 66, Indiana 64
  • VEGAS IMPLIED SCORE: N/A

Maryland is 1-4 on the road this season. Their one win came at Northwestern in a game where they trailed by 14 points in the first half. The Terps might be the worst road team in the Big Ten, a league where road teams have been terrible this season.

BEST BET: If Indiana is getting points, take the ML. I also will be interested in betting the Indiana first half line. Fade Turgeon is in full effect this weekend.

No. 11 MICHIGAN STATE at MINNESOTA, 3:00 p.m.

  • KENPOM: Michigan State 72, Minnesota 71
  • TORVIK: Michigan State 72, Minnesota 71
  • HASLAM: Michigan State 72, Minnesota 70
  • VEGAS IMPLIED SCORE: N/A

This is a tough spot for me. Michigan State has not been great away from East Lansing this season and they are coming off of a road loss at Indiana on Thursday night. That said, their loss came after erasing a 16-point first half deficit in a game where Xavier Tillman missed a wide-open layup that would have forced overtime.

BEST BET: I will be staying away from this game.

Kentucky’s Kahlil Whitney is leaving school

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Kentucky will be down a five-star recruit for the rest of the season.

Kahlil Whitney, who was the No. 11 prospect in the Class of 2019, according to 247 Sports’ composite ranking, announced on Friday that he will be leaving the Kentucky program.

“My time at Kentucky has not gone as I had hoped,” Whitney wrote in a statement released on his twitter page, “and I therefore need to make a difficult decision quickly to put myself back in to the best position possible as I continue to develop and work towards my ultimate goal.

“I’ve realized since high school that the business of basketball waits for no one, and sometimes tough choices need to be made in order to progress.”

Whitney was a starter early on in the season for the Wildcats, but he has been relegated to a limited role off the bench since league play started. He’s averaged 3.3 points in less than 13 minutes. In the last seven games he’s averaging just 6.1 minutes.

Whitney’s statement does not mention transferring, but if he did opt to head to a different school, he will not be eligible to play until 2021-22 without a waiver.

Bracketology: The top seeds remain in place

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Here is the latest NCAA tournament bracketology projection.

It’s been a while since we could say this:  All four No. 1 seeds remained in place between bracket updates: Baylor, Gonzaga, Kansas and San Diego State.

Elsewhere, more than a handful of teams still have significant resume questions.  And several current bubble teams have important showdowns this weekend – including key matchups in the Big 12 / SEC Challenge.

On a closing note … remember that the Selection Committee evaluates a team’s entire profile, from beginning to end.  How a team performed in its last ten games is no longer an official criteria (although each Committee member may have his or her own perspective on its importance).  So while Ohio State and Michigan, as examples, have both struggled of late, each team’s early wins remain relevant considerations with regard to team sheet evaluation.

The latest look at where our NCAA tournament bracketology projection stands …

UPDATED: January 24, 2020

FIRST FOUR – DAYTON
EAST REGION Oklahoma vs. VCU
MIDWEST REGION Minnesota vs. Texas Tech
SOUTH REGION  PR VIEW AM vs. NORFOLK ST
WEST REGION MONMOUTH vs. ROBERT MORRIS

SOUTH Houston                  WEST – Los Angeles 
Omaha Spokane
1) BAYLOR 1) GONZAGA
16) PV-AM / NORFOLK ST 16) MONMOUTH / ROB MORRIS
8) USC 8) Wichita State
9) Michigan 9) Arkansas
St. Louis Sacramento
5) Butler 5) Arizona
12) EAST TENNESSEE ST 12) AKRON
4) Maryland 4) Iowa
13) S.F. AUSTIN 13) NEW MEXICO ST
Albany Greensboro
6) Wisconsin 6) Marquette
11) Virginia Tech 11) NC State
3) Villanova 3) West Virginia
14) COLGATE 14) LITTLE ROCK
Tampa Spokane
7) Rutgers 7) Indiana
10) Memphis 10) BYU
2) Florida State 2) Oregon
15) AUSTIN PEAY 15) UC-IRVINE
EAST – New York MIDWEST – Indianapolis
Sacramento Omaha
1) SAN DIEGO STATE 1) Kansas
16) WINTHROP 16) MONTANA
8) STANFORD 8) HOUSTON
9) Florida 9) Ohio State
Tampa Cleveland
5) Penn State 5) Creighton
12) LIBERTY 12) YALE
4) Kentucky 4) DAYTON
13) VERMONT 13) NORTH TEXAS
Greensboro St. Louis
6) Auburn 6) Colorado
11) Oklahoma / VCU 11) Minnesota / Texas Tech
3) Duke 3) LOUISVILLE
14) WRIGHT STATE 14) LOYOLA-CHICAGO
Albany Cleveland
7) Illinois 7) LSU
10) Saint Mary’s 10) DePaul
2) SETON HALL 2) MICHIGAN STATE
15) WILLIAM & MARY 15) SOUTH DAKOTA ST

BUBBLE NOTES
Last 4 Byes Last 4 IN      First 4 OUT Next 4 OUT
Saint Mary’s Oklahoma Xavier Arizona State
DePaul Minnesota Richmond Alabama
Virginia Tech Texas Tech Georgetown Mississippi State
NC State VCU Rhode Island Tennessee

Top Seed Line
Baylor, Gonzaga, Kansas, San Diego State
Seed List

Breakdown by Conference …
Big Ten (11)
Big East (6)
ACC (5)
SEC (5)

Big 12 (5)
Pac 12 (5)
American (3)

West Coast (3)
Atlantic 10 (2)
Mountain West (1)

Duarte’s 30 points leads No. 12 Oregon past USC 79-70 in double OT

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EUGENE, Ore. — Paying close attention paid off for Oregon’s Chris Duarte.

The junior guard had 30 points, 11 rebounds and eight steals, and the No. 12 Ducks outlasted Southern California 79-70 in double overtime Thursday night.

“I was watching the point guard’s eyes. I was watching everybody’s eyes. So I knew where they were going to pass the ball,” Duarte said. “So I took that as an advantage.”

Oregon teammate Payton Pritchard added 24 points and seven assists, becoming the first Pac-12 player to reach 1,500 career points, 600 assists and 500 rebounds. When the achievement was noted on the video scoreboard at Matthew Knight Arena in the second half, the crowd gave the senior guard a standing ovation.

Pritchard is the sixth player in Pac-12 history with 1,500 points and 600 assists, joining Oregon State’s Gary Payton, Arizona’s Damon Stoudamire and Jason Gardner, USC’s Jordan McLaughlin and UCLA’s Tyus Edney.

Oregon (16-4, 5-2) led by 11 in the second half but USC rallied with a 17-2 run to take a 62-58 lead, capped by Jonah Mathews’ 3-pointer with 1:24 left.

C.J. Walker and Pritchard hit consecutive layups to tie it at 62 and send the game to overtime.

Pritchard’s 3-pointer in the first extra period gave the Ducks a 65-64 lead, but Ethan Anderson’s layup and free throw put the Trojans up by two. Duarte made free throws for the Ducks to tie it again, and Mathews and Pritchard both missed shots down the stretch.

Duarte and Pritchard each hit a pair of free throws that gave Oregon a four-point advantage to open the second overtime. Duarte’s 3-pointer put the Ducks up 74-68, and USC couldn’t catch up.

Duarte’s eight steals were one shy of the school record.

“He was the difference in the game,” Oregon coach Dana Altman said. “No doubt about it.”

Onyeka Okongwu had 23 points and 14 rebounds for the Trojans (15-4, 4-2).

“You’ve got to take care of the ball. Some ill-timed passes that went to the other guys. We just have to make the right basketball play,” USC coach Andy Enfield said. “Give them credit, they’re a good defensive team.”

It was Oregon’s third overtime game in league play.

Oregon was coming off a 64-61 overtime win at Washington last weekend. The Ducks overcame a 16-point deficit and won it on Pritchard’s 3-pointer with 3.4 seconds left. But Oregon lost to Washington State 72-61 last Thursday, resulting in a fall from No. 8 to No. 12 in the AP Top 25.

USC had won nine of its last 10 games and three straight, including last Saturday’s 82-78 overtime victory against Stanford. The Trojans came back from a 21-point deficit in the second half to beat the Cardinal.

The Ducks built an early 15-7 lead after Duarte’s fast-break layup and 3-pointer. Oregon stayed in front, but USC closed to 24-23 on Daniel Utomi’s jumper.

The teams went to the break with Oregon ahead 32-30. Utomi led all scorers with 10 points.

Okongwu’s layup for USC tied it at 32 to start the second half but the Ducks responded with a 10-0 run, capped by Duarte’s jumper off a dish from Pritchard. Okongwu’s dunk ended the Trojans’ scoring drought.

Okongwu made consecutive baskets to pull USC to 56-53, and Matthews tied it with a 3-pointer to top off an 11-0 Trojans run. Pritchard answered with a layup for Oregon.

Freshman forward Chandler Lawson’s layup stretched the Ducks’ lead to 49-38 midway through the second half.

“A lot of things we’ve got to work on. But we got some defensive stops when we needed it, we got some big rebounds when we needed it, and just found a way to win the game,” Altman said. “We’ve been doing that too much, though. We’ve got to find a way to get our offense cranked a little bit.”

Lawson made his first start for the Ducks after he had 16 points and 12 rebounds against Washington. Oregon was without center N’Faly Dante, who was questionable for the game after hurting his knee against the Huskies.

Pritchard was one of just two Division I players averaging at least 19 points, five assists and four rebounds per game, joining Pepperdine’s Colbey Ross.

BIG PICTURE

USC: The Trojans started 4-1 in conference play for the first time since 2016. USC went 5-0 to open conference play in 2002. … Enfield said afterward that this loss stung. “We’ve played a few close games this year. We won three or four close ones,” he said. “We were right there and we lost. It hurts when you lose a game and have a chance.”

Oregon: Pritchard is closing in on Oregon’s career record of 614 assists held by Kenya Wilkins. … Pritchard has won 96 games as a Ducks player, one shy of Oregon’s career leader, Johnathan Lloyd. … Sabrina Ionescu, star guard for the No. 4 Oregon women, was at the game and was interviewed by the Pac-12 broadcast team during the first half.

UP NEXT

USC visits Oregon State on Saturday.

Oregon hosts UCLA on Sunday.