Tuesday’s Pregame Shootaround: Two top ten battles highlight a very good slate

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GAME OF THE DAY: No. 3 Ohio State at No. 5 Michigan State, 9:00 p.m.

Well, didn’t we get lucky. In the first day of the year without college football, we get a top five matchup between two football powerhouses. For my money, Michigan State is the best team in the Big Ten right now and the second best team in the country, to Arizona. Keith Appling and Adreian Payne have taken turns looking like first-team all-americans while Gary Harris seems to finally be getting healthy at the same time that Branden Dawson is starting to find a groove. Sparty is peaking as conference play begins. Not a bad time to do so.

But the Buckeyes are pretty darn good in their own right. This is a team that is as good on the defensive end of the floor as anyone you’ll see this season. Aaron Craft and Shannon Scott are nightmares. Quite literally. That said, I’m concerned about their size up front. Can they rebound with this Michigan State team? Who slows down Adreian Payne? Can LaQuinton Ross get going when he’s being checked by Dawson or Payne? The Breslin Center is a tough place to win, and I think MSU will be victorious tonight.

THE OTHER GAME OF THE DAY: No. 7 Baylor at No. 9 Iowa State, 7:00 p.m.

Oh, and it gets better. Not only do we have a top five matchup, but we have a pair of top ten Big 12 teams squaring off. Iowa State is still undefeated and is one of the more under-appreciated teams in the country. Their front line is long and athletic and a nightmare to matchup with given their versatility, while Deandre Kane is quietly playing like an all-american. They can really shoot the ball and are dangerous when they play in Hilton Coliseum.

That said, Baylor’s not a bad team, either. while Iowa State’s front court is made up of combo-forwards that are a bit shorter than most big men, Scott Drew runs out arguably the biggest front line in the country with Cory Jefferson and Isaiah Austin being backed up by Rico Gathers. The key for Baylor will be taking advantage of that size inside. If they can get guys like Georges Niang, Dustin Hogue and Melvin Ejim in foul trouble, it will make their work defensively that much easier. I;ll also be curious to see how they match up with Kane, who stands a physical 6-foot-7.

FIVE THINGS TO WATCH FOR:

1) Coming off of a loss at Notre Dame on Saturday, No. 16 Duke plays their first game since 2007 as a non-top 10 team when they host Georgia Tech at 7:00 p.m. The Yellow Jackets may be running into the Blue Devils on the wrong day. On the other end of the spectrum, Notre Dame is at home again tonight as they host N.C. State, who desperately need a win.

2) Only one top 25 team heads on the road against an unranked opponent tonight as No. 25 Kansas State heads down to Fort Worth to take on TCU. But two teams that cracked the NBCSports.com top 25 will be on the road tonight: Cincinnati will be visiting Houston while Creighton will take a trip to frigid Chicago to play DePaul.

3) Tennessee and LSU square off tonight in a key SEC battle between two teams that could end up being the third best team in the conference.

4) Saint Louis will pay a visit to Rhode Island tonight. URI picked up a big win at LSU on Saturday, but the Billikens may be more important.

5) Charleston’s Willis Hall is averaging 20.3 points and 17.0 boards in his last three games. He’ll be playing at James Madison tonight.

Kevin Ollie alleges racial discrimination in new civil action against UConn

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Former UConn head coach Kevin Ollie is heading to court with the school over alleged racial discrimination. In a report from the Hartford Courant, Ollie has filed a civil action alleging that the school illegally attempted to deter him from filing a racial discrimination complaint.

Submitted on Tuesday in U.S. District Court, Ollie is claiming he was treated differently from predecessor Jim Calhoun, because Calhoun kept his job after receiving comparable recruiting violations.

Ollie was fired for those violations earlier this year as he’s been in a contentious back-and-forth battle with the school that has gone to court. The former head coach claims he informed UConn of his intention to file the complaint but the school said it would refuse to have a contractual-grievance arbitration process that would give Ollie the final $10 million on his contract.

Seeking an emergency injunction that would allow him to file the complaint while proceeding with an arbitration process.

UConn responded to the Courant on Tuesday through a spokesperson as they disputed Ollie’s account that race played a role in his firing.

“As UConn has stated from the outset, the university terminated Kevin Ollie’s employment due to violations of NCAA rules, pursuant to his employment agreement,” UConn spokesperson Stephanie Reitz said. “Any claim to the contrary is without merit.”

Ollie’s attorney told the Courant that the hope is to file and stay with a racial discrimination complaint, which could be addressed after the arbitration.

From the sound of it, UConn and Ollie are going to be in court for quite a bit of time as this whole firing process has been difficult from the start.

No. 15 Buckeyes overcome slow start, rout Youngstown State

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COLUMBUS, Ohio — Kaleb Wesson had a career-high 31 points as No. 15 Ohio State overcame a terrible start and beat Youngstown State 75-56 on Tuesday night.

Wesson was dominating in the second half, scoring 26 points as the Buckeyes were again forced to win in come-from-behind fashion. The sophomore topped his previous career-best 22 points, achieved in Saturday’s game against Bucknell.

The Buckeyes (10-1, 2-0 Big Ten) shot poorly in the first half and were forced to rally against a mid-major opponent they should have handled easily from the beginning.

Ohio State trailed 25-22 at the half, but took the lead with a Wesson put-back three minutes into the second half and took control from there.

Luther Muhammad and C.J. Jackson each had 11 points for Ohio State, which has won three in a row after losing their only game of the season Nov. 28.

Darius Quisenberry had 17 points, and Naz Bohannon added 11 for the Penguins (5-9), who have lost five of their last six.

The first half was a nightmare for Ohio State. The Penguins went on a 14-2 run to open the game as the Buckeyes missed shot after shot. Ohio State shot 24 percent from the floor and 1 for 11 from beyond the 3-point line before intermission. The score was so close mostly because Youngstown State wasn’t much better, hitting just 33 percent of its shots.

Wesson took a seat with 5:40 left in the first half when he picked up his second foul and got his third early in the second half before going on a scoring tear.

BIG PICTURE:

Youngstown State: Took advantage of Ohio State’s poor shooting to lead the entire first half, but couldn’t keep up once Wesson and the Buckeyes got themselves unglued.

Ohio State: After nearly losing to Bucknell on Saturday, the Buckeyes took another opponent too lightly and were getting stung for a while. They are making too many mistakes against teams they should be dominating.

UP NEXT:

Youngstown State: Hosts Detroit Mercy on Dec. 28.

Ohio State: At UCLA on Saturday.

No. 2 Duke emerges from exam break to beat Princeton 101-50

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DURHAM, N.C. — RJ Barrett continued his rookie-season scoring rush, finishing with 27 points to help second-ranked Duke beat Princeton 101-50 on Tuesday night.

Fellow freshman Zion Williamson had 17 points and 10 rebounds in the Blue Devils’ first game in more than a week due to an exam break. Duke (10-1) got off to a cold start and didn’t take its first lead until more than 14 minutes in, but eventually got rolling and handed the Tigers their most lopsided loss in program history.

Duke scored on 10 of 11 possessions to close the first half, then on four straight out of the break to take a 48-28 lead. The Blue Devils shot 64 percent after halftime as the game turned into a rout.

Myles Stephens had 19 points for Princeton (5-5), which scored the game’s first eight points and led 18-16 before Duke put together an 11-0 run to take over.

BIG PICTURE

Princeton: Those opening few minutes had to be encouraging for the Tigers, who avoided early turnovers and caught Duke with some backdoor cuts to build a lead in front of a hostile Cameron Indoor Stadium crowd. They just didn’t have an answer once Duke’s shots started falling and the Blue Devils did a better job of closing off those lanes. Princeton shot just 30 percent and surpassed its previous worst margin of defeat of 45 points, set against Penn in December 1908.

Duke: The Blue Devils hadn’t played since beating Yale here on Dec. 8, and it took a while for the offense to get into gear. Things went to script once that happened. Barrett came in averaging an Atlantic Coast Conference-best 24.2 points and finished 11 of 21 from the field. Meanwhile, Duke’s athleticism and length helped its defense finish with 12 steals, 14 blocks and 23 points off turnovers.

UP NEXT

Princeton: The Tigers visit Lafayette on Friday.

Duke: The Blue Devils face No. 12 Texas Tech in New York’s Madison Square Garden on Thursday.

VIDEO: Backboard nearly takes out Zion Williamson on blocked shot

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Zion Williamson was almost taken out by a backboard as Duke played Princeton at home on Tuesday night. Playing at home, Williamson went for a block as his arm and face appeared hit the backboard and caused him to fall to the ground.

Williamson was okay, but the startling block is yet another freakish play that the freshman forward has made on the defensive end this season. Although mostly known for his dunks, Williamson is showing himself to be one of the scariest shot blockers in college hoops this season.

No. 2 Duke has a big lead on Princeton in second half.

West Virginia reinstates big man Derek Culver

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West Virginia announced some positive news on Tuesday as freshman big man Derek Culver has been reinstated to the team.

Previously suspended earlier this season on Nov. 15 for a violation of team rules, the 6-foot-10 Culver is the highest-rated freshman in the Mountaineers’ freshman class as he’s got a chance to become a rotation player.

Rated as a four-star prospect coming out of high school, Culver did a postgrad year at Brewster Academy last season as he’s been someone West Virginia has been looking forward to adding for the past two classes. If Culver comes along and is able to contribute then he’ll alleviate some pressure from Sagaba Konate and potentially adding some life into a 6-4 West Virginia team.