WEEKEND PREVIEW: The ACC’s first place battle and a renewed Big Ten rivalry

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GAME OF THE WEEKEND: No. 11 Miami at No. 5 North Carolina, Sat. 1:00 p.m.

Believe it or not, but when North Carolina hosts Miami on Saturday afternoon, the winner will be walking out of the Dean Dome sitting all alone in first place in the ACC standings.

And that’s probably not even the most important thing about this game for either team.

Hear me out.

The Tar Heels are coming off of one of their most disappointing losses since this group kids has been together. They blew a lead at home to a Duke team that was down to essentially five guys thanks to an ankle injury to Matt Jones, combatting UNC’s overwhelming front court with Marshall Plumlee — who had four fouls for the final 14 minutes — and Brandon Ingram — who looks like he could struggle to curl a pipe cleaner. It was their third loss in last five games, and with road trips left against Virginia and Duke, this may be their last chance at landing an elite win this season.

Miami, on the other hand, has been playing some great basketball. They’ve won eight of their last nine games, with wins over Duke and Notre Dame in the process, but the rest of their league schedule is brutal. At UNC, home for Virginia and Louisville before a road trip to South Bend. Getting their momentum heading in the right direction for this one is big, but it’s also worth mentioning that few outside of the college hoops media and the good folks of Coral Gables probably realize just how good this Miami team is. They’re good enough to win the league title, they matchup well with a UNC team that struggles to guard ball-screens and they’ll have a chance to prove it in a game that will be featured nationally on CBS.

This is a bit of a statement game for Miami.

And I think they’ll get it done.

THE OTHER GAME OF THE WEEKEND: No. 3 Oklahoma at No. 10 West Virginia, Sat. 4:00 p.m.

Hopefully, the rematch will be as entertaining as the original. When these two teams last squared off, West Virginia was just five days removed from picking off then-No. 1 Kansas in Morgantown, and they followed that up by going into Norman and losing to the then-No. 2 Sooners on a last-second tip-in from Khadeem Lattin. Oklahoma is reeling. They’ve lost three of their last four games and have fallen two games off Kansas’ pace atop the Big 12. WVU sits a game behind the Jayhawks, meaning that a win will at least give them hope that they can earn a share of the league title. The good news for Oklahoma? Jaysean Paige and Jevon Carter, West Virginia’s two most dangerous perimeter scorers, are both banged up.

FIVE MORE GAMES TO KEEP AN EYE ON

  1. I can’t be the only one that’s fired up that the Purdue-Indiana rivalry is relevant again. On Saturday night at 8:30 p.m., the No. 17 Boilermakers will make the trip to Bloomington to take on the No. 22 Hoosiers in a game with more significance than you probably realize in the Big Ten race. Indiana is currently tied with Iowa — who may or may not be on the precipice of their typical late-season swan dive — for first place in the conference, sitting a game in front of Maryland — who lost their second straight game last night to … Minnesota (gross). The idea of Indiana winning a Big Ten regular season title isn’t as insane as we thought it was as recently as a month ago, and I’m sure there’s nothing that would make Purdue happier than doing everything in their power to make sure that doesn’t happen. Let’s get it!
  2. A month ago, we probably would have written a blurb about No. 14 Kentucky’s trip to Texas A&M with the spin that it was a chance for Kentucky to prove they’re still relevant to the SEC race. Fast forward to today and Jamal Murray looks like Steph Curry while Tyler Ulis is playing like the best point guard in the country, meaning Kentucky’s Final Four dreams are very much alive. The Aggies? They snapped a four-game losing streak with a win over Ole Miss during the week, meaning the 6:30 p.m. Saturday tip is their last opportunity to keep their SEC regular season title dreams alive.
  3. What Duke has done the last ten days should not be overlooked by anyone. Playing with a six-man rotation — that may be five again on Saturday, depending on Matt Jones’ ankle — the Blue Devils have reeled off three straight wins over ACC contender, beating Virginia and Louisville at home before Wednesday’s win in the Dean Dome. On Saturday at noon, No. 20 Duke will look to make it four straight over ranked teams at No. 18 Louisville. Can they win another when they’re so short-handed? I think the obvious answer is no, just like the obvious answer was that they couldn’t win in the Dean Dome on Wednesday.
  4. The last time that No. 8 Xavier and Georgetown got together, the Hoyas managed to find a way to dissect the Musketeer 1-3-1 zone while picking up a win over a then-top five team on the road. That win also happened to be the last time that Georgetown was seriously discussed as a bubble team. So while there is a revenge factor in Xavier’s return trip to D.C., it’s going to be more interesting to see if head coach Chris Mack has found a way to solve his issues with stopping the Hoya attack that day.
  5. I honestly have no idea what to make of either No. 25 Baylor or No. 24 Texas. I think Texas is good — they’ve won eight of their last 11 with the only three losses coming at Oklahoma, Kansas and Iowa State — but then I remember they’re the one team that loss to TCU. I don’t think Baylor’s really all that good but am I just going to ignore the sweep of Iowa State? In other words, this is life in the Big 12.

WHO’S GETTING UPSET?: No. 2 Kansas at Kansas State, Sat. 6:00 p.m.

This is as heated of a rivalry as you’re going to find in the Big 12, and while Kansas State has not exactly been great this season, they have been a thorn in the side for some of the nation’s better teams. They beat Oklahoma. They’ve taken both West Virginia and Baylor to double-overtime. They’re better and tougher than their record would indicate, and nothing would take the sting off of an ugly season quite like a win over their in-state rivals.

WHAT WE’LL BE TALKING ABOUT ON MONDAY: For all the talk about how crazy and unpredictable this season as been, when you look around some of the biggest leagues in the country, the usual suspects seem to be populating the top of the standings.

Villanova has a two-game stranglehold on the Big East. Kansas and Kentucky are all alone in first place in the Big 12 and SEC, respectively. Arizona has climbed back into sole possession of first place in the Pac-12. North Carolina owns a share of the ACC lead and, with a win on Saturday, will have the top spot all to themselves. Saint Joseph’s, VCU and Dayton are all tied atop the Atlantic 10. Gonzaga, Wichita State and San Diego State are all leading their respective conferences.

The Big Ten standings look the weirdest, but Indiana is still sitting tied for first place while Michigan State appears to be the best team in the league; they might be up there with Indiana if Denzel Valentine’s surgery didn’t throw them for a three-week loop at the start of league play. I’d argue that the American is the only conference that looks out of whack, but that probably has quite a bit to do with the fact that SMU has fallen off a cliff since their run at an undefeated season went ‘poof’.

The upsets have been fun to follow, but the cream is still rising to the top.

College basketball broadcaster Billy Packer dies at 82

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CHARLOTTE, N.C. — Billy Packer, an Emmy award-winning college basketball broadcaster who covered 34 Final Fours for NBC and CBS, died Thursday. He was 82.

Packer’s son, Mark, told The Associated Press that his father had been hospitalized in Charlotte for the past three weeks and had several medical issues, and ultimately succumbed to kidney failure.

Packer’s broadcasting career coincided with the growth of college basketball. He worked as analyst or color commentator on every Final Four from 1975 to 2008. He received a Sports Emmy for Outstanding Sports Personality, Studio and Sports Analyst in 1993.

“He really enjoyed doing the Final Fours,” Mark Packer said. “He timed it right. Everything in life is about timing. The ability to get involved in something that, frankly, he was going to watch anyway, was a joy to him. And then college basketball just sort of took off with Magic Johnson and Larry Bird and that became, I think, the catalyst for college basketball fans to just go crazy with March Madness.”

Packer played three seasons at Wake Forest, and helped lead the Demon Deacons to the Final Four in 1962, but it was his work as an analyst that brought him the most acclaim.

He joined NBC in 1974 and called his first Final Four in 1975. UCLA beat Kentucky in the title game that year in what was John Wooden’s final game as coach.

Packer was also part of the broadcast in 1979 with Dick Enberg and Al McGuire when Magic Johnson’s Michigan State team beat Larry Bird’s Indiana State squad in the title game. That remains highest-rated game in basketball history with a 24.1 Nielsen rating, which is an estimated 35.1 million viewers.

Packer went to CBS in the fall of 1981, when the network acquired the rights to the NCAA Tournament. He remained the network’s main analyst until the 2008 Final Four.

In 1996 at CBS, Packer was involved in controversy when he used the term “tough monkey? to describe then-Georgetown star Allen Iverson during a game. Packer later said he “was not apologizing for what I said, because what I said has no implications in my mind whatsoever to do with Allen Iverson’s race.?

Sean McManus, the chairman of CBS Sports, said Packer was “synonymous with college basketball for more than three decades and set the standard of excellence as the voice of the NCAA Men’s Basketball Tournament.”

“He had a tremendous impact on the growth and popularity of the sport.” McManus said. “In true Billy fashion, he analyzed the game with his own unique style, perspective and opinions, yet always kept the focus on the game. As passionate as he was about basketball, at his heart Billy was a family man. He leaves part of his legacy at CBS Sports, across college basketball and, most importantly, as a beloved husband, father and grandfather. He will be deeply missed by all.”

Packer was inducted into the National Collegiate Basketball Hall of Fame in 2008.

ESPN broadcaster Dick Vitale took to Twitter as word of Packer’s death spread. “So sad to learn of the passing of Billy Packer who had such a passion for college basketball,” Vitale tweeted. “My (prayers) go out to Billy’s son Mark & the entire Packer family. Always had great RESPECT for Billy & his partners Dick Enberg & Al McGuire-they were super. May Billy RIP.”

College basketball analyst Fran Fraschilla tweeted: “We fell in love (with) college basketball because of you. Your voice will remain in my head forever.”

Packer was viewed as a controversial figure during his broadcasting days, often drawing the ire of college basketball fans, particularly on North Carolina’s “Tobacco Road.”

“As a kid, I was a big NC State fan growing up, and I would watch a game and the next day I’d be like, `Boy you sure have it out for NC State, don’t you?’ And he would just laugh,” Mark Packer said.

The younger Packer, who is the host of ACC PM on the ACC Network, said it didn’t matter what school – most fans felt the same way about his father.

“He would cover North Carolina game and Tar Heels fans would be like, `you hate North Carolina,”‘ Mark Packer said. “Wake (Forest) fans would be like, `you hate us.’ And Billy just sort of got a kick out of that.”

Mark Packer said that while most fans will remember his father as a broadcaster, he’ll remember him even more for his business acumen. He said his father was a big real estate investor, and also owned a vape company, among other ventures.

“Billy was always a bit of a hustler – he was always looking for that next business deal,” Packer said.

Clemson starter Galloway will miss time after surgery

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CLEMSON, S.C. — Clemson starter Brevin Galloway is expected to miss games for the 24th-ranked Tigers after having surgery on his groin area Thursday.

The 6-foot-3 Galloway has started 20 of 21 games after transferring from Boston College this past offseason.

Galloway posted on social media that he’d had the surgery. Clemson coach Brad Brownell confirmed in a text to The Associated Press that Galloway had the operation.

Galloway said in his post he will be in uniform soon. He is not expected to play at Florida State on Saturday.

A fifth-year player, Galloway has averaged 10.6 points a game this season. He’s second on the Tigers with 55 assists and 18 steals.

The Tigers (17-4) lead the Atlantic Coast Conference at 9-1 in league play.

Clemson is already down two experienced players due to injury.

Point guard Chase Hunter, who started the team’s first 18 games, has missed the past three with a foot injury.

Guard Alex Hemenway, in his fourth season, has missed the past nine games with a foot injury. Hemenway was the team’s leading 3-point shooter (27 of 54) before getting hurt.

Zach Edey has 19 points, No. 1 Purdue beats Michigan 75-70

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ANN ARBOR, Mich. — Zach Edey had 15 of his 19 points in the first half and Fletcher Loyer finished with 17 points to help No. 1 Purdue hold off Michigan 75-70 on Thursday night.

The Boilermakers (20-1, 9-1 Big Ten) had a 15-0 run to go ahead 41-28 lead in the first half after there were 10 lead changes and four ties, but they couldn’t pull away.

The Wolverines (11-9, 5-4) were without standout freshman Jett Howard, who missed the game with an ankle injury, and still hung around until the final seconds.

Joey Baker made a 3-pointer – off the glass – with 5.9 seconds left to pull Michigan within three points, but Purdue’s Brandon Newman sealed the victory with two free throws.

Purdue coach Matt Painter said Michigan slowed down Edey in the second half by pushing him away from the basket.

“They got him out a little more, and got him bottled up,” Painter said.

The 7-foot-4 Edey, though, was too tough to stop early in the game.

“He’s one of the best in the country for a reason,” Michigan coach Juwan Howard said. “He’s very effective, especially if he’s 8 feet and in.”

With size and skills such as a hook shot, the junior center from Toronto scored Purdue’s first seven points and finished the first half 7 of 12 from the field and 1 of 2 at the line.

“He did a great job in the first half, going to his right shoulder and using his left hand,” Painter said. “He made four baskets with his left hand which is huge.”

Freshman Braden Smith had 10 points for the Boilermakers.

Purdue’s defense ultimately denied Michigan’s comeback hopes, holding a 22nd straight opponent to 70 or fewer points.

Hunter Dickinson scored 21, Kobe Bufkin had 16 points and Baker added 11 points for the Wolverines, who have lost four of their last six games.

Dickinson, a 7-1 center, matched up with Edey defensively and pulled him out of the lane offensively by making 3 of 7 3-pointers.

“Half his shots were from the 3, and that’s a little different,” Painter said. “His meat and potatoes are on that block. He’s the real deal.”

POLL IMPLICATIONS

The Boilermakers got the top spot in the AP Top 25 this week after winning six games, a stretch that followed a loss to Rutgers on Jan. 3 that dropped them from No. 1 in the poll. Purdue improved to 7-2 as the top-ranked team.

BIG PICTURE

Purdue: Edey can’t beat teams by himself and he’s surrounded by a lot of role players and a potential standout in Loyer. The 6-4 guard was the Big Ten player of the week earlier this month, become the first Boilermaker freshman to win the award since Robbie Hummel in 2008.

“Fletcher is somebody who has played better in the second half, and on the road,” Painter said.

Michigan: Jett Howard’s health is a critical factor for the Wolverines, who will have some work to do over the second half of the Big Ten season to avoid missing the NCAA Tournament for the first time since 2015. Howard averages 14.6 points and is the most dynamic player on his father’s team.

ROAD WARRIORS

The Boilermakers were away from home for 12 of 23 days, winning all five of their road games. They won at Ohio State, Michigan State and Michigan for the first time since the 1997-98 season and beat the Spartans and Wolverines on their home court in the same season for the first time in 12 years.

UP NEXT

Purdue: Hosts Michigan State on Sunday, nearly two weeks after the Boilermakers beat the Spartans by a point on Edey’s shot with 2.2 seconds left.

Michigan: Plays at Penn State on Sunday.

Miller scores 23, No. 10 Maryland tops No. 13 Michigan 72-64

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COLLEGE PARK, Md. – Diamond Miller scored 23 points, and No. 10 Maryland closed the first quarter with a 13-2 run and led the rest of the way in a 72-64 victory over No. 13 Michigan on Thursday night.

Abby Meyers contributed 12 points and 11 rebounds for the Terrapins (17-4, 8-2), who won for the 10th time in 11 games. Lavender Briggs scored 14 points and Shyanne Sellers added 13.

Maryland gained a measure of revenge after losing twice to Michigan last season – including a 20-point rout in College Park.

Leigha Brown led the Wolverines with 16 points.

Michigan (16-5, 6-4) led 13-9 in the first quarter before a three-point play by Miller started Maryland’s big run. Briggs and Faith Masonius made 3-pointers during that stretch.

The Terps pushed the lead to 16 in the third quarter before the Wolverines were able to chip away. Miller sat for a bit with four fouls, and Michigan cut the lead to seven in the fourth quarter, but the Wolverines still wasted too many possessions with turnovers to mount much of a comeback.

Michigan ended up with 24 turnovers, and Maryland had a 25-5 advantage in points off turnovers.

Miller fouled out with 2:19 remaining, but even after those two free throws, the Terps led 65-57 and had little trouble holding on.

Michigan lost for the second time in four days against a top-10 opponent. No. 6 Indiana beat the Wolverines 92-83 on Monday.

BIG PICTURE

Michigan: Whether it was against Maryland’s press or in their half-court offense, the Wolverines turned the ball over too much to score consistently. This was a lower-scoring game than the loss to Indiana, but the margin ended up being similar.

Maryland: While Miller clearly led the way, the Terps had plenty of offensive contributors. They also held Michigan to 13 points below its season average entering the game.

POLL IMPLICATIONS

The Wolverines have appeared in 48 straight AP polls, and although a two-loss week could certainly drop them, the quality of their opponents could save them from a substantial plunge.

Maryland is tied for 10th with an Iowa team that beat No. 2 Ohio State on Monday night. Now the Terps can boast an impressive victory of their own.

UP NEXT

Michigan: The Wolverines play their third game of the week when they visit Minnesota on Sunday.

Maryland: The Terps host Penn State on Monday night.

 

Boum, Jones lead No. 13 Xavier over No. 19 UConn, 82-79

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STORRS, Conn. – Souley Boum scored 21 points, Colby Jones added 20 and No. 13 Xavier went on the road and held off No. 19 Connecticut 82-79 Wednesday night.

The win was the 13th in 14 games for the Musketeers (17-4, 9-1 Big East) and it gave them a season sweep over the struggling Huskies (16-6, 5-6).

Jack Nunge had 12 points and Jerome Hunter added 11 for Xavier, which led by 17 in the first half and 39-24 at halftime.

Jordan Hawkins scored 26 of his 28 points in the second half for UConn, leading a comeback that fell just short.

Tristen Newton added 23 points for the Huskies, who won their first 14 games this season but have dropped six of eight since.

The Musketeers never trailed but had to withstand UConn runs that cut the lead to a single point four times in the second half.

A three-point play from Hawkins made it 78-77 with 2:40 left. But a second-chance layup from Nunge put the lead at 80-77 just over a minute later.

Newton was fouled with two seconds left by Desmond Claude, but his apparent attempt to miss his second free throw went into the basket.

Boum then hit two free throws at the other end, and Newton’s final attempt from just beyond halfcourt was well short.

Xavier jumped out to a 9-0 lead as UConn missed its first nine shots.

A 3-pointer from Zach Freemantle gave the Musketeers their first double-digit lead at 20-9, and another from Jones pushed it to 35-18.

BIG PICTURE

Xavier: The Musketeers lead the Big East, and the win over UConn was their ninth conference victory this season, eclipsing their total from last season.

UConn: The Huskies came in with a 17-game winning streak at Gampel Pavilion dating to February 2021. They fell to 1-4 against the four teams in front of them in the Big East standings. The lone win came at Gampel against Creighton.

UP NEXT

Xavier: The Musketeers continue their road trip with a visit to Creighton on Saturday.

UConn: Doesn’t play again until next Tuesday, when the Huskies visit DePaul.