WEEKEND PREVIEW: Simmons-vs.-Hield, Kansas-Kentucky and a huge day for Wichita State

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GAME OF THE WEEKEND: No. 1 Oklahoma at LSU, Sat. 5:00 p.m.

All of the typical late-January storylines will be in play in Baton Rouge on Saturday afternoon when the Sooners pay a visit to the Tigers: No. 1 team in the country, true road game against a bubble team, upset potential, NCAA tournament bids on the line, etc. All that stuff matters, but that’s not what makes this game interesting.

Buddy Hield vs. Ben Simmons.

That’s why people are going to tune into this one, and deservedly so. Because the difference between these two Player of the Year favorites is fascinating. On the one hand, you have Hield, a underrated recruit coming out of high school — remember, he went to high school in Kansas, wanted to go to Kansas and wasn’t taken by Kansas — that has turned himself, over the course of a stellar four-year career, into the nation’s best player. And he is just that, by the way. Going beyond the simple fact that he is averaging 25.7 points for the No. 1 team in the country, Hield also has the highest offensive rating on KenPom for a player with a usage rate over 28% in the 13-year database on the site. He’s been better than Doug McDermott was as a senior. He’s been better than J.J. Redick and Adam Morrison. He’s shooting 51.7 percent from three while taking eight threes per game.

He deserves every bit of attention he gets.

And then there’s Simmons, who is the latest uber-recruit to matriculate through the college ranks. Simmons is putting up video games numbers this season, where 20 points, 12 boards and five assists equals a quiet night. He’s a virtual lock to be the No. 1 pick in the draft, but despite all the individual success, the incredibly bright future and the comparisons to LeBron and Magic, LeBen is playing on a team that may not find themselves in the NCAA tournament when it is all said and done.

Should we take bets on who will write the column praising Hield for staying in college for four years and being everything that’s right about amateur athletics while lambasting Simmons as the poster-child of one-and-done culture, where AAU ball teaches kids that hype and chasing a dollar is more important than winning?

It won’t be me.

I’ll be the guy that’s content to simply enjoy just how good and intriguing this matchup is going to be.

THE OTHER GAME OF THE WEEKEND: No. 14 Iowa State at No. 5 Texas A&M, Sat. 2:00 p.m.

The Cyclones bounced back from a 1-3 start to Big 12 play with a pair of statement wins at home over Oklahoma and Kansas. The problem? Both of those wins came at home, in an arena know for creating ‘Hilton Magic’. We need to see what the Cyclones can do on the road, and they’ll have a chance to prove it on Saturday as they pay a visit to College Station to take on Texas A&M. The Aggies are coming off of a loss to Arkansas in Fayetteville on Wednesday night, so they’ll be looking to make a statement of their own.

THE OTHER, OTHER GAME OF THE WEEKEND: No. 20 Kentucky at No. 4 Kansas, Sat. 7:00 p.m.

This game was so much more interesting back when we thought that Skal Labissiere was going to be an all-american. He’s not, which takes some of the luster off of this matchup. That said, Kansas has looked vulnerable in recent weeks while Kentucky is surging thanks to … Derek Willis?

Yup, Willis, who couldn’t find his way off the bench with the GPS on his cell phone the last two years, was inserted into the starting lineup earlier this month and it’s turned out to be the best thing that John Calipari has done this season. He’s averaging 12.3 points, 10.0 boards, 2.0 blocks and shooting 9-for-20 (45%) from three in the last four games. Can that continue against a team as good as Kansas?

(AP Photo/James Crisp)
(AP Photo/James Crisp)

SEVEN THINGS TO WATCH FOR

  1. No. 11 Virginia may have saved themselves with a trio of triples at Wake Forest midweek, but the Cavs aren’t fooling us. This team is not good on the road. At all. Which is perfect for No. 16 Louisville, who badly needs to adds wins to a résumeé that is far more empty at the top than would be ideal this late in the season. Tony Bennett’s Pack-Line defense against Rick Pitino’s zone pressure. An interesting contrast of styles that, unfortunately, is destined to be played in the 50s. Tip is on Saturday at 1:00 p.m.
  2. If anyone knows how the power structure in the Pac-12 shakes out, I’d love for you to share with me. Because I have no idea beyond the fact that Oregon looks like they’re the best team in the league. What I do know is this: Washington and USC are the two most entertaining teams in the conference, and they’ll be going head-to-head on Saturday afternoon. Appointment viewing.
  3. No. 22 Wichita State is tracking towards being the most interesting bubble discussion on Selection Sunday. They lost a bunch of games early, but none of them were bad losses and three of them came without Fred VanVleet on the floor. The MVC has not been as strong as we initially expected it to be, but there is one other really good team in the league: Evansville. The Shockers pay the Purple Aces a visit on Sunday at 4:00 p.m.
  4. No. 9 West Virginia’s visit to Florida is not going to be for the faint of heart. Florida is fourth nationally in defensive efficiency, according to KenPom. West Virginia? They’re first. This is a win the Gators desperately need for their NCAA tournament profile. Upset city on Saturday at 12:00 p.m.
  5. At one point, the Mountain West looked like it would be a wide-open conference race, but that was before San Diego State went out and won their first eight games in league play. That said, the most talented team in the conference is UNLV, and since Dave Rice was fired, the team has won four of their last five, including a come-from-behind win over Boise State on Monday night. The two square off on Saturday night at 8:00 p.m. in the Thomas and Mack Center.
  6. First place in three mid-major leagues will be on the line on Saturday: UAB and Marshall will be squaring off for first place in Conference USA, Stephen F. Austin and Texas A&M-CC go head-to-head in the Southland and Norfolk State will visit Hampton with the MEAC lead on the line.
  7. There are three games that will be featured on NBCSN this weekend: Fordham at UMass (Sat. 12:00 p.m.), La Salle at Dayton (Sat. 2:00 p.m.) and George Washington at George Mason (Sun. 12:00 p.m.)

WHO’S GETTING UPSET?: No. 10 Providence at Georgetown, Sat. 8:00 p.m.

This prediction may come back to bite me because A) Providence has yet to lose a true road game this season, including their win at Villanova, and B) Georgetown has yet to prove themselves to have any kind of consistency. That said, I’ve still on the bandwagon saying that Georgetown is a top 20 team waiting to come out of its NIT shell, and I think this is the game where it becomes apparent. There is a clear-cut blueprint for beating the Friars this season: Pack in the defense, force Kris Dunn into being a passer and challenge every perimeter jumper. That’s not the ideal way for Georgetown to defend, but if they can get it done, they can land themselves a win that will put them further into NCAA tournament consideration.

WHAT WE’LL BE TALKING ABOUT ON MONDAY: I think the biggest story line that is going to come out of this weekend will be Buddy Hield.

Look, I think Ben Simmons is as terrific of a prospect as you are going to find in the college ranks, but that doesn’t mean that the Tigers are a team that can defend, and you have to be able to defend if you have any hope of beating Oklahoma this season. I think Simmons is going to get his, but I also think that the Tigers are going to end up losing by 25 points.

And I think Hield is going to go bananas.

35 points? Eight threes? Maybe a couple of dunks thrown down between contested, step-back threes?

Look, I know how good Buddy Hield is. If you’re reading this, than you probably know how good Hield is. But if just feels like he isn’t getting the kind of hype that he should be based on the season that he is having. This is the game that is going to draw the nation in, when, for the second time this season, he goes crazy in front of a national audience, this time outplaying the projected No. 1 pick in the draft as his team wins in a blowout.

This is the weekend that Hield goes from ‘That kid at Oklahoma is pretty good, right?’ to ‘Buddy Hield, boy. That dude is cold-blooded!’

Top-ranked Houston grinds out 53-48 win over Saint Mary’s

Chris Jones-USA TODAY Sports
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FORT WORTH, Texas – J’Wan Roberts scored 15 points, Marcus Sasser added 13 and top-ranked Houston held on to beat Saint Mary’s 53-48 on Saturday night.

The Cougars (8-0) won twice in their first week as the No. 1 team since the final poll of the 1982-83 regular season, when Clyde Drexler and Hakeem Olajuwon led high-flying Phi Slama Jama.

Logan Johnson scored 17 points and Aidan Mahaney had 14 for the Gaels (6-3), who lost their third in a row following a 6-0 start.

Houston was the favorite to win it all in the second of three consecutive trips to the Final Four nearly 40 years ago, but lost to Jim Valvano and North Carolina State in one of the iconic championship games.

Coach Kelvin Sampson’s first top-ranked team is coming off trips to the Final Four and Elite Eight the past two seasons.

For the third straight year, the postseason path will start at Dickie’s Arena, where Sampson likes to bring his team during the regular season as prep for the American Athletic Conference tourney.

This victory in the Battleground 2k22 series improved the Cougars to 9-0 in the arena near downtown Fort Worth, where they have won AAC tournament titles each of the past two years.

Saint Mary’s whittled a 12-point deficit to a single possession when Mahaney hit a 3, and he made it a three-point game again at 46-43 with another from long range.

Roberts answered by backing down for a short jump hook before Sasser converted a three-point play to put the Cougars up 51-43.

Houston broke a 17-all tie with a 14-3 run to finish the first half, with Saint Mary’s going 1 of 11 from the field in that stretch against the vaunted Cougars defense. Both teams shot 37%.

BIG PICTURE

Saint Mary’s: Facing the No. 1 team isn’t foreign to the Gaels, who play in the West Coast Conference with Gonzaga. St. Mary’s is 2-7 against the Zags when they have the top ranking, with one of the victories coming last season.

Houston: The Cougars had no trouble in their debut with the No. 1 ranking, blowing out Norfolk State 100-52 at home Tuesday. A disciplined and tournament-tested opponent for the second game was just the threat Sampson’s club figured it could be.

UP NEXT

Saint Mary’s: Missouri State at home Wednesday.

Houston: North Florida at home Tuesday.

Clowney, No. 11 Alabama recover to beat South Dakota St

Gary Cosby Jr.-USA TODAY Sports
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TUSCALOOSA, Ala. – Freshman Noah Clowney’s breakout game – 22 points, nine rebounds, four assists and a steal – helped No. 11 Alabama recover from blowing a 20-point lead and beat South Dakota State 78-65 on Saturday night.

Clowney shot 8 of 17, including 5 of 12 on 3s, in his highest-scoring game of the season.

“We’ve encouraged him to shoot it, I’m glad he did,” Alabama coach Nate Oats said. “His senior year of high school, he started out pretty poorly from 3 then shot it 40% after that, so I kind of referenced that.”

Alabama (7-1) led 37-17 with 6 1/2 minutes left in the first half. South Dakota State (3-6) rallied to go ahead 51-50 on Alex Arians’ 3-pointer with 11 1/2 minutes remaining.

Nimari Burnett’s foul shot a minute later put the Crimson Tide ahead for good at 54-53. Alabama used a 9-0 run to pull away.

Mark Sears scored 19 points and Brandon Miller had 16 points and nine rebounds for the Crimson Tide

Alabama made 14 of its first 26 shots to build a big lead before it slipped away.

“I’m not going to call them mature, we still have some room to grow,” Oats said. “Our guys have to understand, no matter who we’re playing, even if their record isn’t great, they’re Division I basketball players, they’re good teams. Last year, we had issues with this going down the road.”

Charlie Easley and Arians each scored 17 points for the Jackrabbits. Zeke Mayo added 12 points and Matt Dentlinger contributed nine rebounds.

BIG PICTURE

Sears continues to be a force at home for Alabama. In Alabama’s last three home games – wins over Liberty, Jacksonville State and South Dakota State – he has scored 22, 18 and 19 points, making at least three 3-pointers in all three games. Alabama’s next home game comes against a Memphis team that already has two wins over SEC competition.

SECOND HALF SPRING

South Dakota State coach Eric Henderson noticed that in Alabama’s first two home games, Longwood and Liberty both trailed by fewer than 10 points at halftime before losing by 21 and 36 points, respectively. He viewed the first five minutes of the second half as critical in both instances, seeing an Alabama team using the home environment to its advantage.

Henderson stressed to his team that it had to win those five minutes to have a chance. Down 42-35 at the break, it did, and ultimately took the lead.

“They really increase the pressure, they try to play a little faster, they get downhill and they really spray it,” Henderson said. “I thought we were getting some 50-50 balls, I thought we were playing with some confidence. There’s been a lot of schools to come in here and have a good first half and it ends up being a 30- or 40-point game.”

UP NEXT

South Dakota State stays on the road to face Montana on Tuesday.

Alabama takes a weeklong break before its second game against the current No. 1 team in the nation, this time a road game against Houston on Saturday. The Crimson Tide beat former No. 1 North Carolina in its first shot at the top-ranked team, winning 103-101 in four overtimes on Nov. 27.

Rutgers beats No. 10 Indiana for sixth straight time, 63-48

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PISCATAWAY, N.J. – With the clock winding down in the final minutes, Rutgers fans didn’t hesitate in letting No. 10 Indiana how they felt about the Hoosiers’ rating.

Chants of “Who’s Your Daddy” and “Overrated” were shouted with glee at the Indiana bench after the team was knocked from the unbeaten ranks.

Make no mistake, Rutgers (6-2, 1-0 Big Ten) owns Indiana (7-1, 0-1) on the basketball floor these days.

Freshman guard Derek Simpson scored 10 straight points in a game-deciding run and Rutgers beat Indiana for the sixth time in a row and ninth time in 10 meetings, 63-48 on Saturday.

“As far as Indiana goes, I feel we just know the focus of this team,” said Rutgers senior Caleb McConnell, who had 16 points and 10 rebounds. “It gives us an advantage because we had beaten them five times in a row. We went in trying to execute our game plan and we did it again.”

Simpson scored all 14 of his points in the second half as Rutgers made coach Mike Woodson’s first visit to “The Banks” unpleasant.

“We got to make shots from the perimeter,” said Woodson, whose team shot 30.4% from the field, including 6 of 21 from long range. “But we just got out-toughed tonight. I thought, I mean, from the beginning to the end, I mean, we couldn’t rebound the basketball with him. I thought that was the difference in the ballgame and that was the cushion that they needed.”

Miller Kopp scored a season-high 21 points for Indiana . Star forward Trayce Jackson-Davis, who faced a packed in defense, was held to 13 points and 10 rebounds before fouling out late.

Jackson-Davis said Indiana just didn’t play well.

“I don’t necessarily say that it’s a bad matchup for us because I think defensively we’re still good,” he said. “But at the same time, our offense just wasn’t clicking tonight.”

The win was coach Steve Pikiell’s 14th over a ranked team since taking over a struggling Rutgers’ program in 2016-17. As usual, defense was at the center of its win.

The Hoosiers’ point total was a season low. They were averaging 87.1 points and were coming off a win over North Carolina.

Indiana played poorly in the first half in falling behind 31-24. The Hoosiers opened the final 20 minutes with a 13-4 spurt, taking two-point leads on baskets by Xavier Johnson and Kopp.

McConnell hit a 3-pointer to put Rutgers ahead for good and then Simpson took over, hitting a layup, a jumper, a 3-pointer and a big scoop shot for a 47-37 lead. His final point in the run came when Johnson hit him in the face in the offensive zone and a flagrant foul was eventually called. He made 1 of 2 free throws.

“I still have have much more to do and I am going to keep working and we’re going to keep working as a team,” Simpson said. “It was a fun game, and it really got loud. My ears are still ringing right now.”

MULCAHY RETURNS

Rutgers senior starting guard Paul Mulcahy returned to the lineup after missing four games with a shoulder injury. He came off the bench early in the first half and played almost 24 minutes, scoring six points and handing out four assists.

MISSING

Indiana starting guard Jalen Hood-Schifino did not play because of a back problem. He was averaging 8.7 points. Starting forward Race Thompson, who was averaging 7.3 points, was scoreless on 0 for 4 shooting.

BIG PICTURE

Indiana: This was poor performance by the Hoosiers. They are bound to take a tumble.

Rutgers: This was a big win for Rutgers, which was coming off a road loss at Miami. They are 6-0 at home.

UP NEXT

Indiana: Conference home opener against Nebraska on Wednesday.

Rutgers: At No. 25 Ohio State on Thursday.

Flagler, No. 6 Baylor rally late, top No. 14 Gonzaga 64-63

Baylor vs. Gonzaga
USA Today
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SIOUX FALLS, S.D. — In a rematch of the 2021 national championship game, Adam Flagler hit a pair of 3s as No. 6 Baylor scored the final eight points to rally past No. 14 Gonzaga 64-63 Friday night.

Gonzaga’s Rasir Bolton missed a wild, driving layup try at the buzzer.

Two seasons ago, Baylor beat the then-undefeated Zags 86-70 to win its first title. This time, the Bears didn’t take the lead for good until Jalen Bridges made two free throws with 16 seconds left.

“Adam is a great leader, but no one knew he wasn’t feeling well today,” Baylor head coach Scott Drew said. “To be honest, some players wouldn’t have played. He played through the pain and left it all out on the court. As a coach, I appreciate that.”

The Bears (6-2) trailed 63-56 before Flagler hit a 3-pointer with 1:33 left. Flagler’s 3 with just over a minute to play cut Baylor’s deficit to 63-62.

After a Gonzaga shot clock violation, Flagler’s 3-point attempt for the lead was off the mark, but Bridges was fouled by Drew Timme on the rebound attempt. Bridges hit two foul shots to put Baylor ahead.

The Zags (5-3) had a final chance when Bolton caught an inbounds pass near his own foul line with 4.6 seconds remaining. He drove the lane, but his off-balance shot went high off the glass and missed as the buzzer sounded.

“We took two balls down hill and tried to make plays at the rim. At that point in the game, those are tough,” Gonzaga head coach Mark Few said. “It’s very disappointing. They made plays, man.”

Freshman Keyonte George had 18 points and seven rebounds for Baylor. Flagler had 11 points and Langston Love added 10.

“I trust my work. I was able to knock them down,” George said. “My teammates believe in me each and every day. They give me that confidence in a big game to make big shots like that.”

Malchi Smith scored 16 points for Gonzaga. Anton Watson added a double-double with 13 points and 13 rebounds. Timme had nine points.

Baylor led by as many as 12 in the first half before Gonzaga closed to five at the break.

Watson’s basket put Gonzaga ahead 41-40. From there, the teams swapped leads over the next 13 minutes as the second half featured two ties and 14 lead changes.

A thunderous dunk from Smith gave Gonzaga its seven-point lead with under two minutes to go.

BIG PICTURE

Baylor: The win was a big rebound for Baylor after its 26-point loss to Marquette earlier in the week. The loss was the Bears’ most lopsided since they fell to Kansas 82-56 in 2007

Gonzaga: After opening the season ranked No. 2 in the AP preseason poll, the Zags have now lost two of three.

STAR WATCH

Timme began the night leading the Bulldogs in scoring at 20 points per game. He was hampered by foul trouble against Baylor and got his first field goal with six minutes remaining. He fouled out with 16 seconds to play.

REMATCH PLAYERS

Four players on the floor Friday night had significant minutes in the championship game two years ago including Flagler, Timme and Watson, along with Baylor’s Flo Thamba.

UP NEXT

Baylor: The Bears return home to host Tarleton on Tuesday before playing Washington State on Sunday in Dallas for the Pac 12 Coast-to-Coast Challenge.

Gonzaga: The Bulldogs return to Spokane for three straight beginning Monday when they face Kent State for the first time in school history.

Carr scores 19, No. 2 Texas beats No. 7 Creighton 72-67

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AUSTIN, Texas – Texas had pressured Creighton’s shooters into a miserable night, only to watch a late flurry of 3-pointers start swishing.

An 11-point Longhorns lead was down to three.

That hardly rattled Marcus Carr and the second-ranked Longhorns, who stepped up with big late shots of their own and steady free-throw shooting to secure another impressive early-season victory, 72-67 over the seventh-ranked Bluejays on Thursday night.

Carr scored 19 points and made two free throws with 10 seconds left as Texas held off Creighton’s furious late-game rally.

Creighton struggled through a wretched 3-point shooting night, but pulled within 62-59 thanks in part to five points in a row by Baylor Scheierman. Carr’s baseline jumper and an easy layup by Tyrese Hunter when Creighton lost him on an inbound pass with 46 seconds left stretched the Longhorns’ lead again.

That didn’t quite close the door on Creighton, which got two more 3-pointers from Scheierman, who had missed his first nine attempts. That forced Texas to finish it from the free-throw line behind Carr and Brock Cunningham. Cunningham’s two free throws with 4 seconds left were his only points of the game.

“There’s going to be a bunch of times one of us has to go down there and knock down a bunch of free throws,” Carr said. “We talk about it all the time.”

The matchup was part of the Big 12-Big East Battle and Texas earned its second win over a top-10 opponent in its new arena. The Longhorns (6-0) beat then-No. 2 Gonzaga on Nov. 16 and have their highest ranking since they were No. 1 during the 2009-2010 season.

“I don’t think we’ve proven anything,” Texas coach Chris Beard said. “We’re just a team that’s trying to get better.”

Hunter scored 15 points for Texas.

Ryan Kalkbrenner had 20 points and 13 rebounds for Creighton (6-2), and Ryan Nembhard scored 17 points. The Bluejays were 4 of 27 on 3-pointers.

Scheierman, a 44% shooter from beyond the arc this season, made three 3s in a row late. His off-balance shot from the right corner over a defender pulled the Bluejays within 68-65 with 11.4 seconds left.

Scheierman finished with 13 points and 11 rebounds.

“The reality is you are gonna have nights,” Creighton coach Greg McDermott said. “It just happens. We don’t ever want him to stop shooting.”

BIG PICTURE

Creighton: Kalkbrenner was all but unstoppable on a 9-of-10 shooting night for the Bluejays, who kept launching from long range instead of looking for their 7-foot-1 center.

Texas: The Longhorns couldn’t force their usual numbers of turnovers and fast-break points, but were exceptionally clean with the ball on offense. Texas had just three turnovers that Creighton turned into three points.

FORMER TEAMMATES

Texas senior forward Christian Bishop played three seasons at Creighton before transferring prior to last season. He finished with six points and four rebounds in 16 minutes.

“We understood what this game was, not just for our team but for Christian,” Carr said.

TIRED TEAM

McDermott suggested his team maybe just wore out. The Bluejays went 2-1 in the Maui Invitational last week and then played their first game of the season on an opponent’s home court.

“Three games in three days against ranked teams (in Hawaii) and then to come in here,” McDermott said. “That’s a lot to ask of my team.”

UP NEXT

Creighton hosts in-state rival Nebraska on Sunday.

Texas plays No. 16 Illinois in New York City on Dec. 6 in the Jimmy V Classic.