Weekend Preview: Villanova-Creighton, Louisville-Indiana headline loaded New Year’s

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Note: Betting lines for Saturday’s game won’t be out until Friday afternoon or evening. This post will be updated then. For now, we’ll be using the projections on KenPom.com as a line. It’s usually pretty close to what Vegas sets.

SATURDAY’S SHOWDOWNS

No. 1 Villanova at No. 10 Creighton, Sat. 1:00 p.m.

The Big East is home to the biggest game of the day, as undefeated reigning champion Villanova will make the trek to Omaha, somewhere in middle america, to take on undefeated Creighton. That’s notable, because it’s just the second time in the history of the Big East that two undefeated teams will square off in conference play. The only other time it happened was in January of 1989, when Georgetown took on Seton Hall.

But there is so much more in this game. Creighton is one of, if not the most underrated team in college basketball. They are the nation’s best three-point shooting team. They are the seventh-most efficient offense in the country. They play at as fast of a pace offensively as anyone. They spread the floor and may actually have a better set of guards than Villanova does. What’s more is that the Bluejays matchup perfectly with the Wildcats. What makes Villanova so good is that they create mismatches everyone on the floor. Kris Jenkins can play the four or the five. Josh Hart can play any position on the floor. They can both guard big men. It’s a nightmare for opponents to deal with …

… but it’s exactly what Creighton does as well. Their four-man is Cole Huff, who is – or thinks he is – a natural wing. Their bigs, Justin Patton and Toby Hegner, are 7-foot and 6-foot-10, respectively, but shoot a combined 47.4 percent from three. Patton has the chance to be lottery pick one day.

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What’s more is that a loss here will essentially take Creighton out of the Big East title race. Yes, I know how that sounds with 16 games left, but think about it like this: Villanova has gone 16-2 in the Big East each of the last two seasons, and this team may be better than the team that won the national title last season. They’re not losing many games this season, and this loss would not only put Creighton a game behind the Wildcats, it would mean they would have to win in the return game in Philly to have any shot of winning the league outright. Forgive me if I don’t see that happening, which is what makes this game so important.

  • Prediction: Creighton historically gives Villanova trouble and plays in an arena that holds 17,000 people. That town will be fired up and so will the team. If you can get Creighton (+2), take it.

No. 6 Louisville at No. 16 Indiana, Sat. 12:30 p.m.

The matchup of styles here is quite intriguing. Louisville is the best defensive in the country, according to KenPom’s defensive efficiency metric, and the number of different looks they can give on that end of the floor is a nightmare for teams that don’t have strong point guard play. Indiana doesn’t have strong point guard play but what they do have is a team that can score in transition, spread the floor with shooters and bang 15 threes in a game. The Hoosiers are the most unpredictable team in college basketball because they can quite literally win or lose any game they play.

What may be more interesting about this game is that one of these two teams is going to have their New Year’s Eve ruined and the future of their season questioned after this game. Indiana is coming off of a home loss to Nebraska which came two weeks after a loss to Butler in Indianapolis. The Hoosiers, who beat North Carolina and Kansas earlier this season, need to turn things around. Louisville, on the other hand, followed up a home win over Kentucky by getting punished in that same building by Virginia.

  • Prediction: Louisville’s defense will be too much for Indiana, even in Indianapolis, so give me Louisville (-3).
CHARLOTTESVILLE, VA - DECEMBER 06: Kyle Guy #5 of the Virginia Cavaliers goes to the basket in the second half during a game against the East Carolina Pirates at John Paul Jones Arena on December 6, 2016 in Charlottesville, Virginia. The Cavaliers defeated the Pirates 76-53. (Photo by Patrick McDermott/Getty Images)
Kyle Guy (Photo by Patrick McDermott/Getty Images)

No. 20 Florida State at No. 12 Virginia, Sat. 2:00 p.m.

Florida State has quite a bit of talent on their roster this year, namely future lottery pick Jonathan Isaac, and a gaudy record through the first seven weeks of the year. But they haven’t beaten anyone yet that would make you believe they are “for real”. They’ll get a chance to do just that against a Virginia team that is coming off of a resounding win at Louisville last week.

The ‘Hoos are going to have to figure out a way to deal with both Isaac and Dwayne Bacon, who are two of the best scorers in the ACC and guys with the kind of size and athleticism that can conceivably give Virginia’s perimeter options some trouble. It is important to note, however, that FSU is a team that likes to run, and Virginia is as good as anyone in the country at taking away the transition game.

  • Prediction: I think Virginia runs away with this. Like Louisville, this just isn’t a good matchup, so I’ll be on Virginia (-10).

FIVE MORE GAMES TO WATCH

  • No. 11 West Virginia at Oklahoma State, Fri. 4:00 p.m.: There are two intriguing things about this game: 1. West Virginia’s press going up against Jawun Evans, and 2. Brad Underwood, a former Bob Huggins assistant, taking a swing at Huggy Bear. Underwood upset WVU in the first round of last year’s NCAA tournament, when he was the head coach of Stephen F. Austin. Pick: I loved Oklahoma State at (+5.5), but the line has moved to OSU (+1), in which case I’m on West Virginia
  • No. 22 USC at No. 21 Oregon, Fri. 10:00 p.m.: Coming off of the high of a home win over UCLA on Wednesday night, the Ducks have to regroup to take on a still-undefeated USC team. The Trojans picked off Oregon State this week and are still playing without Bennie Boatwright. I think the Trojans are a good team, but this is a tough ask. Pick: Oregon (-7)
  • No. 18 Arizona at Cal, Fri. 11:00 p.m., and Stanford, Sun. 8:00 p.m.: Arizona has themselves quite a weekend with a pair of road games to kick off Pac-12 play. We’ll get into this more in a bit. Pick for Friday: Arizona (+1) over Cal
  • No. 5 Duke at Virginia Tech, Sat. 12:00 p.m.: Virginia Tech is a good basketball team that has been glossed over this season. This is their first chance to prove it. Pick: I think the Blue Devils make a statement Saturday, so I’ll be on Duke (-6)
  • No. 24 Notre Dame at Pitt, Sat. 2:00 p.m.: There are going to be a lot of sneaky-good games in the ACC this season, and this is one of them. The Irish make the road trip to Pittsburgh to take on the Panthers in a game that will feature about 12 6-foot-8 combo-forwards. Michael Young of Pitt is one of the best players you’ve never heard of. Pick: Notre Dame (-1)
EUGENE, OR - DECEMBER 28: Dillon Brooks #24 of the Oregon Ducks hits the game winning shot over Lonzo Ball #2 and Bryce Alford #20 of the UCLA Bruins on December 28, 2016 at Matthew Knight Arena in Eugene, Oregon. (Photo by Steve Dykes/Getty Images)
Dillon Brooks (Photo by Steve Dykes/Getty Images)

FOUR STORY LINES TO FOLLOW

1. Conference play officially begins this weekend: While league play has slowly started to happen this week, it won’t be until this weekend that conference play starts in full. We get a full slate on games, starting on Friday afternoon, as the Big 12 and the Pac-12 get festivities going a day earlier than usual. As anyone with even a mild interest in college basketball can tell you, it gets real once those league foes start coming to town, and if I can guarantee one thing this weekend, it’s that …

2. … there will be upsets: The hardest thing to do in college basketball is to win road games in league play. League rivals know each other so well and the crowds create such a difficult environment to play in it’s inevitable. And this weekend, it just so happens that the only top ten team playing a home game is No. 10 Creighton, who hosts No. 1 Villanova.

No. 2 UCLA is at Oregon State on Friday night. No. 5 Duke and No. 9 North Carolina both tip off at noon on Saturday at Virginia Tech and Georgia Tech, respectively. No. 6 Louisville is at Indiana. No. 7 Gonzaga is at Pacific.

Things get particularly interesting in the Big 12, the conference that had the best record in non-conference play of anyone. TCU will get their chance to prove their 11-1 record is legit when they host No. 3 Kansas on Friday night. Oklahoma will have the opportunity to bounce-back from some disappointing non-conference losses when they host No. 4 Baylor in the opener. Even Bobby Huggins will have a chance to get some revenge on Brad Underwood as No. 11 West Virginia visits Oklahoma State.

Things are going to get weird this weekend.

They always do in league play.

NEW YORK, NY - NOVEMBER 15: Luke Kennard #5 of the Duke Blue Devils reacts against the Kansas Jayhawks in the second half during the State Farm Champions Classic at Madison Square Garden on November 15, 2016 in New York City. (Photo by Michael Reaves/Getty Images)
Luke Kennard (Photo by Michael Reaves/Getty Images)

3. Duke will play their first game without Grayson Allen at Virginia Tech: It feels like Duke has all of the story lines this season. First, it was Jayson Tatum and Marques Bolden getting injured. Then, there were questions about when those two would finally return. After that, those questions landed at the feet of Harry Giles III, who still hasn’t really shown up yet this season. And now, nearly two months into the season, we have to wonder about Grayson Allen, the NBC Sports Preseason National Player of the Year. He’s been suspended indefinitely due to his third tripping incident of 2016.

The issue isn’t necessarily when he will return; I’d be shocked if Allen wasn’t in the lineup when Duke plays at Florida State in two weeks. The issue is A) who will Allen be when he returns to the floor, and B) how is Duke going to react to his absence? They’ve been fine without Tatum and fine with Allen banged up, but this feels different. Allen is supposed to be one of the veteran leaders on this roster and he’s out here tripping people and throwing tantrums on the bench in a game where Luke Kennard told reporters that he didn’t think his team was “unselfish” enough.

Oh, and Virginia Tech is good and scrappy and everything you’d expect out of a team coached by Buzz Williams. This will be a test.

4. Arizona will have a chance to prove their mettle in the Pac-12 race: The No. 18 Wildcats have been flying under the radar a little bit. Many wrote them off due to the disastrous start they had to the season, losing Ray Smith, appearing to lose Allonzo Trier and watching Parker Jackson-Cartwright go down with a bad ankle injury. But a funny thing happened to Sean Miller’s team: he coached ’em up. Lauri Markkanen has been terrific all year while Rawle Alkins and Kobi Simmons, two super-talented freshmen that arrived at Arizona with red flags, have gotten better game-by-game.

Now it looks like Arizona might have Jackson-Cartwright available this weekend, meaning they’ll essentially be at full strength as they pay visits to Cal and Stanford. Why is this relevant? Because UCLA is unquestionably awesome and Oregon looked like they were back to being awesome when they beat UCLA on Wednesday. This is Arizona’s chance to make a statement: “We Outchea, Too.”

New Mexico State suspends player after shooting

Nathan J. Fish/Sun News/USA TODAY NETWORK
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LAS CRUCES, N.M. — New Mexico State’s athletic director says power forward Mike Peake has been suspended indefinitely from the team in connection with last month’s fatal shooting of a student from a rival university.

That game was canceled along with the Dec. 3 rematch in Las Cruces.

Mario Moccia also told reporters that neither he nor the school could comment on Peake’s enrollment status as a student. The 21-year-old Peake has not been charged in the Nov. 19 pre-dawn shooting on the University of New Mexico’s campus in Albuquerque hours before the host Lobos were to play the Aggies.

“Mike is suspended from our basketball team until the completion of the university’s investigation and the investigation of the proper authorities,” Moccia said. “When those investigations will be complete, I can’t say.”

State police investigators said 19-year-old Brandon Travis conspired with two other UNM students and a teenage girl to lure Peake onto campus.

The subsequent shootout left Travis dead at the scene and Peake hospitalized with a leg wound that has required several surgeries.

A brawl at an Oct. 15 UNM-NMSU football game in Las Cruces was a precursor to the shooting, police said.

First-year NMSU men’s basketball coach Greg Heiar was not made available to talk to media until 10 days after the shooting.

He expressed his condolences for Travis and his family and said he took full responsibility for the actions of multiple players who sneaked out of the hotel on that morning of the game.

But NMSU officials had not spoken publicly about any specific discipline for Peake related to the shooting.

“If there is criticism over this decision, I am in a position to take it on myself,” Moccia said. “I’ve known this player for years and I know what kind of person he is. I didn’t feel a need to rush to judgment. I wanted to give the investigation time to play out before making any decisions.”

Peake, a 6-foot-7 junior from Chicago, played one season at Georgia before transferring to Austin Peay. He joined New Mexico State in 2021 and averaged 4.1 points and 2.4 rebounds last season, helping the Aggies reach the second round of the NCAA Tournament.

No. 18 Gonzaga withstands scare from Kent State for 73-66 win

James Snook-USA TODAY Sports
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SPOKANE, Wash. – Drew Timme scored 29 points and grabbed 17 rebounds, and No. 18 Gonzaga closed the game on an 11-0 run to rally past Kent State 73-66 on Monday night.

The nation’s longest home win streak was extended to 69 games but not without a major scare by the Golden Flashes. Kent State led 66-62 with 3:38 left after Miryne Thomas’ 3-pointer, but the Bulldogs tightened on the defensive end and got a handful of big plays offensively to hold off the Flashes.

Julian Strawther added 14 points, including a 3-pointer with 3:19 left that started Gonzaga’s decisive run. Timme’s spinning basket in the lane with 2:29 left gave Gonzaga (6-3) the lead, and he added a key defensive play blocking Sincere Carry’s layup attempt at the other end.

Timme was fouled and split free throws with 1:55 left, but Malachi Smith grabbed the offensive rebound and his three-point play gave the Bulldogs a 71-66 lead. It was Smith’s first basket of the game.

“(Timme) was heroic. He wasn’t really looking for the ball much early and wasn’t demanding it . he was splitting the defense and scoring in a variety of ways like he does,” Gonzaga coach Mark Few said. “To end up with 17 boards is monster and we needed every one of them.”

Nolan Hickman added 10 points and seven rebounds for the Bulldogs, who held a 43-30 advantage on the boards. It was just the second home game inside the McCarthey Athletic Center for Gonzaga and first since Nov. 7 against North Florida.

Thomas led Kent State (6-3) with 16 points, including four 3-pointers. Malique Jacobs added 11 points and Carry, who was averaging 18.5 points per game, was held to 10.

“I think in the second half we moved the ball well, we got some turnovers, got some easy shots and was able to give us a lead playing a great team and great program. . Unfortunately we couldn’t finish it off. Give them a lot of credit for that,” Kent State head coach Rob Senderoff said.

Kent State nearly pulled off a surprising upset on the road for the second time in two weeks but couldn’t withstand Gonzaga’s late surge. Kent State led No. 1 Houston by one-point with less than a minute to go nine days ago in Houston but couldn’t make the plays in the closing seconds to finish off the upset in a 49-44 loss.

“Coach Few has told us all week that this is a great team that could go to the Sweet 16. . We knew what they were capable of and we weren’t taking them lightly and we knew it was going to be a dog fight,” Strawther said.

JERSEY RETIRED

Kelly Olynyk’s No. 13 jersey number was retired in front of a sellout crowd. Olynyk played for Gonzaga from 2009-13 and led the Bulldogs to its first ever No. 1 seed in the NCAA Tournament while earning first team AP All-American status as a senior.

“You’re almost speechless,” Olynyk said. “It’s just such an honor, especially with the names that you’re up beside. They’re unbelievable players.”

BIG PICTURE

Kent State: The Golden Flashes lost their third game of the season and their second against a ranked opponent. Kent State has three non-conference games left before beginning Mid-American Conference play at home against Western Michigan.

Gonzaga: The Bulldogs bounced back from a one-point loss to No. 12 Baylor last week with the win. All three of Gonzaga’s losses are to teams ranked in the top 12 of the AP Top 25.

UP NEXT:

Kent State: At Cleveland State on Saturday.

Gonzaga: Host in-state rival Washington on Friday.

Preseason No. 1 North Carolina drops out of AP Top 25

Trevor Ruszkowski-USA TODAY Sports
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Houston and Texas remain firmly entrenched atop The Associated Press men’s college basketball poll, while preseason No. 1 North Carolina has dropped out entirely after a fourth straight loss.

The Cougars earned 37 of 62 first-place votes in the poll, extending the program’s first stay at No. 1 since the “Phi Slama Jama” days in the 1980s for another week. Houston (8-0) beat Norfolk State and Saint Mary’s in its first week at the top.

“I don’t dwell on it,” coach Kelvin Sampson said last week about the No. 1 ranking. “We’re not running around here pushing our chest out, thinking we’re something we’re not.”

The Longhorns received 14 first-place votes. No. 3 Virginia got three votes and No. 4 Purdue got the remaining eight.

Connecticut (9-0) climbed to No. 5, the program’s highest ranking since early in the 2011-12 season. Other than the top five, there are three other teams in the AP Top 25 that entered Monday undefeated (No. 11 Auburn, No. 13 Maryland and No. 23 Mississippi State).

SWIFT FALL

North Carolina is only the sixth team to go from preseason No. 1 to unranked since at least the 1961-62 season, most recently with Michigan State during the 2019-20 season.

Of that group, the Tar Heels had the swiftest exit from the poll to start the season (four weeks) excet for UCLA in 1965-66. The Bruins fell out of the poll after just three weeks back when only 10 teams were ranked.

Ranked No. 18 last week, the Tar Heels (5-4) l ost their fourth straight game over the weekend at Virginia Tech while playing without banged-up big man Armando Bacot. They appeared on a single ballot this week from the 62-member panel that votes on the AP Top 25.

“I told them also that I’m not panicked, I’m not any of that,” coach Hubert Davis said afterward. “I’m convinced we’re going to be a great basketball team by the end of the season.”

Last year’s Tar Heels were on the bubble to even make the NCAA Tournament well into February in Davis’ debut season. They went on a final-month tear all the way to the NCAA championship game before falling to Kansas.

THE TOP TIER

Kansas climbed to No. 6, followed by three Southeastern Conference teams in Tennessee, Alabama and Arkansas. For the Volunteers and Crimson Tide, it marked their first appearances inside the top 10 this year. Arizona rounded out the top 10, falling six spots after a loss at Utah.

RISING

No. 13 Maryland had the biggest jump of the week, vaulting nine spots after wins against Louisville and Illinois last week in the Terrapins’ first year under Kevin Willard. That marks the program’s highest ranking since pushing into the top 10 during the 2019-20 season.

Tennessee was next up with a six-spot climb, while No. 11 Auburn rose four spots.

In all, 13 teams climbed from last week.

SLIDING

Creighton had the week’s biggest fall, tumbling 14 spots to No. 21 after losing at Texas and at home to Nebraska last week.

No. 12 Baylor fell six spots after a loss to Marquette, though the Bears responded by beating Gonzaga on Friday in a rematch of the 2021 NCAA championship game won by Baylor.

The Zags, now No. 18, fell four spots to their lowest ranking since checking in at No. 20 on Christmas Day in 2017.

In all, four teams slid from last week.

STATUS QUO

Beyond the top three, No. 25 Ohio State remained in place after a tough loss at No. 15 Duke last week.

WELCOME

No. 23 Mississippi State and No. 24 TCU were the new additions to the poll, with the Bulldogs (8-0) earning their first AP Top 25 ranking under first-year coach Chris Jans since January 2019.

The Horned Frogs were ranked 14th and 15th, respectively, in the first two polls before falling out for two weeks.

FAREWELL (FOR NOW)

In addition to UNC, Michigan State (No. 20) fell out after losses to Notre Dame and Northwestern.

CONFERENCE WATCH

The SEC led the way with six ranked teams, including No. 16 Kentucky. The Big Ten and Big 12 each had five ranked teams, followed by two each for the Atlantic Coast, Pac-12 and Big East conferences.

The American Athletic, West Coast and Mountain West conferences each had one.

Stanford’s Tara VanDerveer tops women’s AP Top 25 appearances

Kirby Lee-USA TODAY Sports
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Stanford coach Tara VanDerveer stands atop The Associated Press women’s basketball poll with the most appearances all time, breaking a tie with the late Pat Summitt.

VanDerveer’s Cardinal remained No. 2 behind top-ranked South Carolina, giving her 619 weeks with one of her teams in the AP Top 25: 592 weeks with Stanford and 27 with Ohio State when she was in charge of that program. Summitt’s 618 weeks in the poll all came with Tennessee.

The Hall of Fame coach downplayed the achievement.

“Fortunate to be here for 36 years. We have great players and have been successful,” VanDerveer said. “I don’t pay attention to (records). People bring it up and I’m like `OK, great.”‘

Louisville fell out of the Top 25 for the first time since 2016, a span of 127 weeks. That was the fifth longest active streak. The Cardinals (5-4) started the season ranked seventh and have struggled to find consistency this year, dropping their last two games to Ohio State and Middle Tennessee.

They are the third preseason top 10 team to fall out of the poll, joining Texas (this week) and Tennessee (last week). Before this year, only 10 preseason top 10 teams had fallen out of the rankings at some point during the year since the AP Top 25 became a writers’ poll in 1994-95.

Even more rare has been a preseason top five school dropping out. Only five teams had done that prior to this year and none before January. Tennessee was the last to do it, starting the 2015-16 season at No. 4 before falling out of the rankings Feb. 22.

Now Texas and Tennessee are both out before the New Year.

“Two factors are at play here. One of them is more parity with more good teams,” said Rebecca Lobo, the former UConn star, ESPN analyst and Top 25 voter. “The other factor at play is the transfer portal. I think those three teams all have multiple players who start who weren’t in their program a year ago. It’s a reflection that you can’t just assemble teams and right away expect them to be good. I think all those teams will in the poll by the end of the season.”

Ohio State moved up to No. 3 after, the Buckeyes’ best ranking since Nov. 30, 2009, when they also were third. Indiana and Notre Dame round out the top five.

UConn fell three spots to sixth with Virginia Tech seventh, the best ranking ever for the school. North Carolina and N.C. State were tied in eighth and Iowa State is 10th.

RANKED RAZORBACKS

Arkansas (10-0) vaulted into the poll at No. 21. The Razorbacks have a difficult month ahead with games against No. 18 Creighton and a tournament in San Diego that has Oregon, South Florida and Ohio State.

“I do think we know a lot about our team,” Arkansas coach Mike Neighbors said.

He was also happy his team made the poll as every sports team on campus that has played this year has been ranked, including football, men’s basketball, soccer and cross country.

“We didn’t want to be the team that stops that streak,” he said..

FALLING LOUISVILLE

The Cardinals had been ranked ever week since Jan. 11, 2016. That was the same season they started the year at No. 8 before falling out on Nov. 30, the earliest a top 10 team had fallen out of the poll until last week. Things got better for Louisville as the Cardinals finished that regular season 24-6 and went 15-1 in the ACC.

HISTORIC WEEK

With Louisville, Texas and Tennessee all out of the Top 25, it marks only the second time in the poll’s history that none of those three teams were ranked. The only other time was the first-ever poll in 1976.

COMING AND GOING

Oklahoma and Kansas State also returned to the Top 25 this week, coming in at No. 23 and No. 24. Marquette dropped out after losing to Seton Hall.

Northwestern beats No. 20 Michigan State in Big Ten opener

Nick King/Lansing State Journal / USA TODAY NETWORK
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EAST LANSING, Mich. – Boo Buie scored 20 points and Northwestern beat No. 20 Michigan State 70-63 on Sunday night in the Big Ten opener for both teams.

Chase Audige added 15 points and Ty Berry had 13 for Northwestern (6-2), which ended a two-game losing streak.

“Needless to say, this was a huge win for us,” coach Chris Collins said. “Coming off our performance in the ACC-Big Ten challenge, where we lost badly on our home floor (to Pittsburgh), I was really pleased with our resolve the past couple days.”

Mady Sossoko and A.J. Hoggard each had 12 points for Michigan State (5-4) and Joey Hauser added 10. The Spartans have lost two in a row, falling to Notre Dame earlier in the week.

Hoggard cut Northwestern’s lead to 64-63 with 46 seconds left. After a timeout, Buie scored on a layup with 23 seconds left.

“We got out-toughed,” Michigan State coach Tom Izzo said.

Northwestern took the lead late in the first half on a layup by Buie and never relinquished it, leading by as many as nine points.

“We put (the loss to Pittsburgh) under the rug,” Buie said. “We turned the page, just like we do with any win or loss. The season is so long you can’t get caught up on one single game. Just like tonight. We’re super happy with the win, but after tonight it’s over. You can’t dwell on things.”

The Wildcats went 21 of 24 on free throws, while the Spartans were 9 of 12.

“I was concerned about a knockout punch early,” Collins said. ‘I knew they would be revved up after the Notre Dame loss. They hit us early and got a seven-point lead, and then we settled down.”

UP NEXT

Northwestern: Hosts Prairie View A&M on Dec. 11

Michigan State: At Penn State on Wednesday night.