Weekend Preview: Baylor-Missouri headlines a weekend with some good hoops


Game of the Weekend: Sat. 2:00 pm: No. 5 Missouri @ No. 3 Baylor

To know how important this game is, all you need to do is look at the numbers next to the names of these two teams. How often do two top five teams lock horns, especially when the loser of that game drops to two games out of the conference race? Hint: not that often.

But there is more to this matchup than simply have two of the best teams in the country going head to head. The contrast of styles in this game is simply fascinating. There may not be a team in the country with more length and athleticism in the country than Baylor. 6’11” Perry Jones III lines up at the four while either 6’9″ Quincy Miller or 6’10” Anthony Jones plays the three. Missouri, on the other hand, is one of the smallest teams in the country. It should be interesting to see how 6’6″ two-guard Kim English can match up with PJ3 or 6’3″ Marcus Demon handles Jones and/or Miller.

There are a couple of keys to this game. For Baylor, Pierre Jackson is going to be the deciding factor. A dynamic playmaker that has the ability to do some truly amazing things on a basketball court, Jackson has a tendency to try and take games over. He can do it, at times, but Baylor is much better when he embraces the role of being a playmaker. Against Missouri, with the kind of size advantage the Bears are going to have, Baylor is going to need Jackson to ignore the desire to try and out-gun Phil Pressey and Mike Dixon and, instead, focus on pounding the ball inside, allowing Baylor to take advantage of their size advantage.

Its quite obvious that Missouri is going to be firing up plenty of three pointers. The key, however, is going to be what kind of threes this group takes. Baylor plays a lot of zone, which means that the Tigers are going to have plenty of looks from the perimeter. But that zone is also going to open up lanes for penetration. If Missouri is willing to penetrate and kick — taking threes off of the catch instead off of the dribble — the Tigers should get plenty of open looks. If they settle for contested pull-up jumpers early in the shot clock, they could be in trouble.

I know the Tigers are on the road, but I’m buying into this team. I think that Phil Pressey is going to be impossible to keep out of the paint, and I believe both Denmon and English are due for big games.

Seven more games to watch:

Sat. 12:00 pm: Alabama @ No. 2 Kentucky: I saw Kentucky struggle to knock off Old Dominion at Mohegan Sun earlier this season, and I immediately made a mental note to circle this game on the calender. You see, the Monarchs pushed around the Wildcats in the paint, getting to the offensive glass and out-toughing a Kentucky team that looked like they wanted no part of the physical nature of the paint. Since that time, however, Anthony Davis and Michael Kidd-Gilchrist have come a long way while the Crimson Tide have, more or less, fallen off the face of the earth. One thing to keep an eye on: JaMychal Green went out with what looked like a head injury midway through the second half as Vandy smoked Alabama on Thursday night. Will he be ready to go?

Sat. 12:00 pm: Purdue @ No. 9 Michigan State: Want to hear a wild stat? There are currently five teams tied atop the Big Ten with two losses. One of those teams is Michigan State. Another one is Purdue. There may not be a conference race that ends up being as wild as the Big Ten’s, if for no reason other than the fact that its near impossible to win on the road in that league. Michigan State has struggled of late, losing at Northwestern and at Michigan in their last two games. It should be fun to see Robbie Hummel and Draymond Green, two of the nation’s best seniors, go head-to-head.

Sat. 3:00 pm: Cincinnati @ West Virginia: Cincinnati has done two things this season: they’ve established themselves as the second best team in the Big East and they appear to have staked a claim on being the best road team in the country. They have won their past seven road games in Big East play, including their last two, which consists win at Georgetown and at UConn. It doesn’t get any easier for the Bearcats on Saturday as they head to Morgantown to take on the Mountaineers.

Sat. 4:00 pm: Florida State @ No. 4 Duke: This is going to be an interesting matchup for the Blue Devils because Florida State’s strength counteracts Duke’s weaknesses. The ‘Noles are as big and physical in the paint as anyone in the country — just ask North Carolina — and they have a tough defense that doesn’t allow penetration. Duke’s big men are not as big of an issue as many make them out to be, but the Blue Devils definitely have issues when they struggles to get penetration.

Sat. 6:00 pm: Marshall @ Southern Miss: Conference USA has become a four team race, with Marshall, USM, UCF and Memphis breaking away from the pack. You cannot lose your home games against the other top teams in the league if you want to win the conference.

Sat. 6:00 pm: Stanford @ Washington: This matchup was much more intriguing when I was going through the schedule on Thursday night before both of these teams lost. At the time, they were tied with Cal for first in the Pac-12 standings. Now? They’re tied for second. The Pac-12 is going to have a tough time convincing people that the conference deserves at-large bids. Both Stanford and Washington need to win games like this to try and separate themselves from the rest of the league.

Sat. 10:00 pm: New Mexico @ No. 20 UNLV: This may end up being the most important game of the weekend behind the Baylor-Missouri game. San Diego State has already knocked off both of these teams, meaning that the loser of this game is going to drop to two games behind the Aztecs in the Mountain West race. That two game lead becomes an even bigger issue when you consider that BYU’s departure means there are only 14, and not 16, league games this season.

Who’s getting upset?: Sat. 7:00 pm: No. 15 Mississippi State @ Vanderbilt

If anyone can give me any kind of read on either of these two teams, I’d love it. Because I got nothing. Mississippi State may just be the second most talented team in the conference behind Kentucky, but for whatever reason — Renardo Sidney’s inability to dominate, Dee Bost’s inconsistency, the youth on the roster, Rick Stansbury — the Bulldogs just have not been able to figure it out in league play. They lost fairly handily at Arkansas. They lost at Ole Miss, who is playing without Dundrecous Nelson. And now they travel to Vanderbilt.

Vandy is just as confusing. Without Festus Ezeli, the Commodores looked downright bad. They were losing to teams like Indiana State and Cleveland State and dropped all the way out of the top 25 despite having three first round picks on their roster. But with Ezeli, they are winning games and doing it in impressive fashion, blowing out both Alabama and Marquette on the road. Can they defend their home court against a good team in the league? Does this even qualify as an upset?

Three more teams on upset watch:

Sat. 2:00 pm: No. 19 Michigan @ Arkansas: I don’t know if Arkansas is going to win this game, but I do know this: there isn’t going to be a more intriguing matchup stylistically this season. Michigan likes to control pace, running complicated Princeton-esque sets and settling into a 1-3-1 zone at times. Arkansas? They have Mike Anderson as a head coach, meaning the Wolverines are going to be getting 40 Minutes of Hell.

Sat. 4:00 pm: No. 7 Kansas @ Texas: Winning on the road in league play is never an easy thing to do, and with the performance that the Jayhawks are coming off of against Baylor, its almost impossible to think that they won’t have a letdown during this game. This has been a pretty good rivalry ever since TJ Ford wore burnt orange, so you know the ‘Horns will be ready to play.

Sun. 2:00 pm: Wisconsin @ No. 25 Illinois: Winning on the road in the Big Ten has been a very difficult thing to do this season, but I’m just not ready to fully buy into Illinois yet. And that was before their loss at Penn State on Thursday. The only reason that they knocked off Ohio State was because Brandon Paul played one of the more ridiculous games I’ve ever seen. They lost to Penn State despite getting 35 points from Paul and Meyers Leonard. Not buying it.

Mid Major matchup of the weekend: Sat. 1:00 Xavier @ Dayton

Spare me, Xavier fans. I know you’re program isn’t a mid-major. But I like balance, and by putting this game down here, I can do eight, four and eight. Its pretty. Its balanced. It makes sense. Right? Right.

Anyway, this is a huge game in the Atlantic 10 race. The Musketeers have now won four straight games and look like they have finally refound whatever it was they lost in the brawl with Cincinnati. But Dayton is one of the best teams in this conference as well and play in one of the tougher venues to steal a win. They also have a talented back court star of their own in Kevin Dillard.

The key to this game is going to be Xavier’s ability to get the ball into the paint. The Muskies have the biggest front line in the conference and Dayton lost their best big man in Josh Benson. If they pound the ball inside and avoid getting into a shootout with Dillard, they should win this game.

Seven more games to keep an eye on:

Sat. 7:00 pm: St. Joe’s @ Penn: Big 5 games are always going to be fun, but the matchups in this game make it all the more interesting. Zack Rosen, Penn’s point guard, is one of the most underrated in the country, but the Hawks have a talented back court of their own with Carl Jones and Langston Galloway. That will be fun.

Sat. 8:00 pm: Old Dominion @ VCU: VCU managed to hang on against William & Mary meaning they are still right in the thick of a crowded CAA race. Old Dominion is leading the conference right now. VCU is a game behind. As an added bonus, Kent Bazemore and Brad Burgess may be the two best players in the conference.

Sat. 8:00 pm: South Dakota State @ North Dakota State: This is a huge game for SDSU. NDSU is 6-2 in Summit League play, sitting a game behind the Jackrabbits. But the Jackrabbits are sitting a game behind undefeated Oral Roberts. Losing this game would put them in a big hole in the Summit race.

Sat. 8:30 pm: Denver @ North Texas: Tony Mitchell getting eligible has changed the Mean Green’s team, but Denver runs a difficult system to prepare and has been as impressive as anyone in that conference. A loss for UNT drops them two back from the Sun Belt West pace.

Sat. 11:00 pm: LBSU @ UCSB: What isn’t there to like about this matchup? The two best teams in the Big West. The two best players in the Big West in Casper Ware and Orlando Johnson. I’d be willing to be there will be a large contingent of NBA scouts in attendance for this game.

Sun. 2:00 pm: Milwaukee @ Cleveland State: These are the two best teams in the Horizon. Cleveland State is my pick to win the league, mainly because I think their athleticism and pressure will end up being too much for the rest of the league to overcome. But the Panthers are a tough defensive team that really make it difficult for opponents to score.

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

South Carolina’s leading scorer Jackson heads to NBA draft

Brianna Paciorka/News Sentinel / USA TODAY NETWORK

COLUMBIA, S.C. – South Carolina leading scorer Gregory “GG” Jackson II said Friday that he’s entering the NBA draft after one season in college.

The 6-foot-9 freshman said on Instagram Live that his year in college with the Gamecocks helped him mature.

“Now, I’m declaring for the NBA draft, just like that,” he said.

Jackson, 18, is projected as a mid-first round selection.

He started 29 of 32 games for the 11-21 Gamecocks, averaging a team-high 15.4 points a game. He also led South Carolina with 26 blocks and 24 steals.

Jackson, from Columbia, was rated the No. 1 college prospect in 2023. But he reclassified to join his hometown team and first-year coach Lamont Paris.

Gonzaga beats UCLA 79-76 in Sweet 16 on Julian Strawther’s late 3-pointer

Gonzaga's Malachi Smith
USA Today
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LAS VEGAS — Gonzaga and UCLA played one NCAA Tournament game that left the Zags’ star player bawling, and another game that stunned the Bruins.

Add another to the list. Maybe the maddest one in March yet.

Julian Strawther hit a 3-pointer with 7.2 seconds left to answer a 3-pointer by UCLA’s Amari Bailey, lifting Gonzaga to a wild 79-76 win over UCLA Thursday night in the Sweet 16.

“It’s moments like that you can’t make up,” said Strawther, a Las Vegas native. “Those are literally the moments you dream of. To even make a shot like that in March Madness and just to be back home in Vegas is like the cherry on top.”

The Bruins (31-6), the West Region’s No. 2 seed, stormed back from an eight-point deficit in the final 1:05 and took a 76-75 lead on Bailey’s 3-pointer with 12.2 seconds left.

The Zags (31-5) brought the ball up the floor and Strawther stepped into a 3-pointer after a drop pass from Hunter Sallis, sending Gonzaga fans to their feet.

“As soon as it came off, it looked like it was on line,” Strawther said.

The Zags still had to sweat it out.

Gonzaga’s Malachi Smith stole the ball from UCLA’s Tyger Campbell, but Strawther only hit 1 of 2 free throws at the other end, giving the Bruins a chance.

Campbell’s 3-pointer at the buzzer hit the back of the rim, sending the Zags rushing off the bench and into the Elite Eight against UConn on Saturday while leaving the Bruins disappointed again.

“Every game, try not to get too high, try not to get too low,” said UCLA’s Jaime Jaquez, who had 29 points and 11 rebounds. “He hit a big shot and we lost.”

Strawther’s shot was reminiscent of the one Villanova’s Kris Jenkins made off a drop pass to clinch the 2016 national championship – a shot that came after North Carolina’s Marcus Paige hit an off-balance 3-pointer with 4.7 seconds left.

There’s a reason it looked familiar.

“That’s Jay Wright’s play that he used in Villanova-Carolina, the championship,” Gonzaga coach Mark Few said. “That’s what we call it. He makes it all the time.”

It also is the latest chapter in what’s become the best West Coast rivalry in college basketball.

UCLA got the better of the teams’ first NCAA Tournament go-around, rallying from 17 points down to send the Zags out of the 2006 bracket and star Adam Morrison to the floor crying.

Jalen Suggs crushed the Bruins the last time, hitting a running 3-pointer at the buzzer to send the Zags to the 2021 national championship game.

“I can’t even describe what he did. It’s crazy,” Gonzaga’s Drew Timme said of Strawther’s game-winner. “It’s just like that Jalen shot, man.”

Timme had 36 points for his record 10th NCAA Tournament game with 20 points.

The flurry of a finish started off more like a prize fight, each team taking its turn landing blows in a game of wild swings.

UCLA led by 13 at the half, but went on an 11-minute field goal drought as Gonzaga went up by 10 with 2:40 left. The Bruins took their rally turn and retook the lead, but left Gonzaga with too much time on the clock.

“We should have been tighter on Strawther,” UCLA coach Mick Cronin said. “We were the whole game. We just weren’t on that play. If we were tighter then he couldn’t have looped behind.”

Timme kept Gonzaga in it during UCLA’s torrid first half and Gonzaga’s porous first-half defense tightened in the second, giving them a seven-point lead with 53 seconds left.

Jaquez brought the Bruins back in his final college game.

The Pac-12 player of the year scored on a three-point play and a layup to cut it 74-71 with 45 seconds left. Timme then missed two free throws, setting up Bailey’s shot.

Thankfully for the Zags, Strawther was on the mark with his long 3-pointer and Campbell was off the mark on his, sending Gonzaga to the Elite Eight for the fifth time under Few.

Florida Atlantic makes first Elite Eight, bounces Tennessee

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Robert Deutsch/USA TODAY Sports
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NEW YORK — Florida Atlantic, playing in just its second NCAA Tournament, moved within a victory of the Final Four by using a second-half push led by Michael Forrest to beat fourth-seeded Tennessee 62-55 on Thursday night.

The ninth-seeded Owls (34-3) will play third-seeded Kansas State in the East Region final at Madison Square Garden on Saturday.

Even before the tournament started, this was the unquestionably the greatest season in FAU history. Now it the Owls are one of the biggest stories in all of sports.

Johnell Davis led the Owls with 15 points and Forrest finished with 11, eight in a crucial second-half run where FAU took control.

The Volunteers (25-11), who were looking for just the second Elite Eight appearance in program history, shot just 33% – including 6 of 23 from 3-point range. Josiah-Jordan James and Jonas Aidoo scored 10 points apiece.


The Owls have never played Kansas State.

UConn a step from Final Four after 88-65 blowout of Arkansas

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Stephen R. Sylvanie/USA TODAY Sports

LAS VEGAS — After UConn lost as a 5 seed to 12th-seeded New Mexico State in the first round of last year’s NCAA Tournament, Huskies coach Dan Hurley told his core players they would be back on this stage.

Not only would they return, but Hurley said he would surround them with players capable of taking them deep into March.

They are certainly doing that.

The Huskies’ 88-65 victory over Arkansas in the West Region semifinals on Thursday night was their third by double digits in as many games. Jordan Hawkins scored 24 points to lead the dominant effort.

Fourth-seeded UConn (28-8) will play either UCLA or Gonzaga on Saturday for a spot in the Final Four, a stout response to last year’s early exit.

“We really from that day on really held each other to a higher standard and just told each other we’re going to push for a national championship,” UConn guard Andre Jackson Jr. said. “We’re going to push for that type of standard every day in practice and we’re going to hold each other to that.”

UConn is playing like a team capable of winning its fifth national title and first since 2014. The Huskies have outscored their three March Madness opponents by 62 points.

“They’ve got a real complete team, probably the most complete team in the country,” Arkansas guard Ricky Council IV said. “I think they can definitely win it all.”

The Huskies won their first two games by outscoring Iona and Saint Mary’s by a combined 86-49 in the second half. UConn surged early against Arkansas with a 14-point run and took a 46-29 lead into halftime.

The Huskies never trailed and led by as many as 29 points.

UConn, which has won nine of its past 10 games, shot 57.4% compared to 31.7% for Arkansas. The Huskies dominated inside, outrebounding the Razorbacks 43-31 and outscoring them 42-24 in the lane.

Adama Sanogo scored 18 points, Alex Karaban had 11 and Nahiem Alleyene 10 for UConn. Sanogo, who also had eight rebounds, has scored 71 points in 75 minutes in this tournament.

Anthony Black led Arkansas (22-14) with 20 points, Council had 17 and Nick Smith Jr. 11.

“I’m just proud of the way we’ve built this thing,” said Hurley, who is in his fifth season. “We’ve got an incredible group of players, and we get the right type of people and we’ve got great culture. We’re right where we thought we would be.”


Eighth-seeded Arkansas was seeking a third straight appearance in the Elite Eight, which would have been a first for the program. The Razorbacks made three consecutive Sweet 16s for the second time.

“There are not a lot of teams that have been to three straight Sweet 16s in the entire country, and we are one of them,” coach Eric Musselman said. “The culture is strong. As a staff, we’ll start working towards next year tonight as soon as we get back to the hotel.”

Senior Kamani Johnson won’t be around next season to see if the Razorbacks can get back to this point, but he said the program is in good hands.

“We’re doing something special in Arkansas and we’re of building on that,” Johnson said. “It hurts right now, but I’m really proud of this group.”


UConn improved to 15-0 in nonconference games, all by double digits. Oklahoma State came the closest, losing 74-64 on Dec. 1.

“When people see us for the first time, it’s a great advantage to us because we are not a ball-screen heavy team,” Hurley said. “We have a lot of movement on offense. We’ve got the two centers (Sanogo and Karaban) that can dominate a game. We’re a unique team to play against if you haven’t seen us.”


As dominant as UConn was inside, the Huskies also made 9 of 20 3-pointers and had 22 assists.

“To me, the most impressive thing is that they had 22 assists,” Musselman said. “We tried to cause turnovers and rush the quarterback, but 22 assists is a lot of assists.”

UConn entered the game averaging 17.4 assists.

Nowell breaks NCAA assist record, Kansas State beats Michigan State 98-93 in OT

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Brad Penner/USA TODAY Sports

NEW YORK — Markquis Nowell broke the NCAA Tournament record for assists in a game with 19, his last two on spectacular passes in the final minute of overtime, and Kansas State beat Michigan State 98-93 in a Sweet 16 thriller at Madison Square Garden.

Playing in his hometown and fighting through a second-half ankle injury, Nowell found Keyontae Johnson for a reverse alley-oop with 58 seconds left in OT to give the Wildcats (26-9) the lead for good in this back-and-forth East Region semifinal. He then threw an inbound pass to Ismael Massoud, who knocked down a jumper with 15 seconds left for a 96-93 lead.

With Michigan State needing a 3 to tie, Nowell stole the ball from the Spartans’ Tyson Walker and drove for a clinching layup at the buzzer. The 5-foot-8, Harlem-raised Nowell finished with 20 points and five steals in a signature performance at basketball’s most famous arena that drew tweets of praise from Patrick Mahomes and Kevin Durant.

“That was a legendary display of controlling a basketball game Markquis,” Durant tweeted.

Johnson scored 22 points for the No. 3 seed Wildcats, who will face either fourth-seeded Tennessee or ninth-seeded Florida Atlantic on Saturday as they seek the program’s first Final Four berth since 1964.

A.J. Hoggard scored a career-high 25 points for seventh-seeded Michigan State (21-13). Joey Hauser added 18 points and Walker had 16, including a layup with 5 seconds left in regulation that forced the first overtime of this year’s NCAA Tournament.

UNLV’s Mark Wade had the previous NCAA tourney assists record with 18 during the Runnin’ Rebels 1987 Final Four win over Indiana.

Nowell turned his ankle early in the second half, was helped off the court and had it taped. Michigan State took the lead with him sidelined, and when he returned, he pushed off the ankle to bank in a 3-pointer that beat the shot clock and tied the game at 55-all.

Turns out he was just getting started.