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Saturday’s Things To Know: Recapping all of the college hoops action

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PLAYER OF THE DAY: Cassius Winston, Michigan State

Cassius Winston was at his very best on Saturday afternoon. Playing in the early tip on the first fully-loaded conference season college hoops slate, Winston finished with 25 points and five assists as the No. 8 Spartans went into Columbus without Josh Langford and knocked off No. 14 Ohio State, 86-77.

Winston finished with 18 of his 25 points in the second half, as he torched C.J. Jackson for layups three times in the opening minutes of the half and forced Chris Holtmann to change his personnel. The Spartans played without their starting point guard on the floor for long stretches of the second half as a result. Ohio State’s offense stalled. Michigan State continued to execute, and by the time it was all said and done, Tom Izzo’s team had turned a seven point halftime deficit into a nine point road win to move to 3-0 in Big Ten play.

It was Winston that was the star on Saturday, outshining Columbus-native Nick Ward and outdueling a young Buckeye backcourt. He’s now averaging 17.7 points and 7.7 assists on the season with shooting splits of 47.7/83.0/45.7. He’s as efficient as point guards can get, and he’s doing all of that on a team that is going to push Michigan atop the Big Ten standings.

At this point, I need to start paying more attention to Winston in the Player of the Year Power Rankings.

TEAM OF THE DAY: Virginia Cavaliers

What No. 4 Virginia did to Florida State on Saturday afternoon should not go overlooked by anyone.

The final score was 65-52, which is impressive in its own right but is nothing compared to the way that the game actually played out. With just over two minutes left in the game and well after Virginia had already emptied their bench, the Cavaliers held a 65-36 lead. Florida State had scored eight points in the first four minutes, which means that over the course of a 34-minute stretch, Virginia held Florida State to just 28 points.

Should I mention that Florida State entered Saturday as the No. 9 team in the AP Poll and ranked in the top 15 on KenPom?

This was a total and utter annihilation of a team that is very capable of making it back to the Elite Eight this year. That should tell you everything that you need to know about this Virginia team. They are just as good defensively as they have been over the years, and this year they have two pros that carry their offense. That doesn’t include Kyle Guy, who finished with 21 points and five threes on Saturday, just three days after he went for a career-high 30 points against Marshall.

The Wahoos are better than they were last season, and that’s saying something.

ONIONS OF THE DAY: Justin Wright-Foreman, Hofstra

Justin Wright-Foreman might actually be the player of the day. The Hofstra star went for 42 points as the Pride knocked off Northeastern on Saturday afternoon, but that’s not all he did.

He also hit this ridiculous game-winner at the buzzer:

Not a bad afternoon for that young man.

EXTRA ONIONS: Curran Scott, Tulsa

Right after USF at tied the game at 75 with 4.4 seconds left, the Golden Hurricane went the length of the court and did this:

Believe it or not, this is actually a pretty important win for Tulsa because USF has been decidedly not-that-bad this year.

WTF OF THE DAY: Lavall Jordan rips his pants

It was quite the afternoon for Butler head coach Lavall Jordan.

Not only did he coach his team to a blowout win over Creighton in Hinkle Fieldhouse, but he also managed to go viral because … he ripped the seam of his pants while coaching.

(AP Photo/Darron Cummings)

And when you rip the seam of your pants while coaching, the only option is to tie a towel around your waste and keep on coaching:

WINNERS

ALABAMA: The Crimson Tide made a statement on Saturday, as No. 13 Kentucky came into Tuscaloosa and left with a 77-75 loss. That final score would look much more impressive had the Tide not found a way to let the Wildcats back into the game in the final minutes. Tevin Mack was the hero, popping off for 20 of his 22 points in the first half while Donta Hall found a way to put Reid Travis in his back pocket. This Alabama team is more talented that I think anyone realizes, and this is the kind of win that will look really good for them on Selection Sunday.

IOWA STATE: I don’t need to say anything about the Cyclones beyond this.

GONZAGA: The Zags smoked Santa Clara on Saturday night, but the best news for them is that they got back both Killian Tillie and Geno Crandall from their injuries.

NEW MEXICO: The Lobos have not been good this season. They entered Saturday with a 6-6 record against Division I competition. They were ranked 190th on KenPom. They had lost to New Mexico State by 35 points. They lost to Saint Mary’s by 25. They lost at home to North Texas and Penn.

And on Saturday, they handed No. 6 Nevada their first loss of the season, an 85-58 beatdown in The Pit. I mean, what in the world? With all due respect to the Lobos, I think that this loss said more about Nevada than it did New Mexico, but it also left me scratching my head — I know that they just got Carlton Bragg back, but there is enough talent on that roster that New Mexico probably should be better than it has been this year.

OKLAHOMA: The Sooners went into Stillwater and picked off Oklahoma State, which means that this Oklahoma team is now 12-2 on the season and is sitting pretty with eight Quadrant 1 and Quadrant 2 wins, the most of any team in college basketball. They were already a No. 4 seed in our most recent bracket projection.

SHAMORIE PONDS: Ponds finished with another monster performance at Georgetown, finishing with 37 points in a 97-94 overtime win over the Hoyas. It is going to be a tremendously fun race to watch and see who wins Big East Player of the Year, Ponds or Markus Howard.

LOSERS

OREGON: As if things weren’t already bad enough for the Ducks after losing Bol Bol for the season and Kenny Wooten for a couple more weeks, Oregon went out on Saturday and lost a rivalry game at home, falling to Oregon State, 77-72, behind a 28 point outburst from Tres Tinkle. The Ducks were supposed to be the second-most likely option for an at-large bid in the Pac-12 behind Arizona State. Both teams lost at home this week to teams projected to finish in the bottom half of the conference.

That’s not ideal.

FLORIDA: The Gators had been one of the hottest teams in college basketball heading into Saturday. Then they opened up a double-digit lead on South Carolina in both the first half and the second half. Then they blew both of those leads, allowed the Gamecocks to tie the game up in the final seconds and then lost like this:

That’s not ideal, either.

CINCINNATI: The Bearcats had finally managed to convince people that they might actually be pretty god this year, and then they had to go and do this: Lose at East Carolina. This is a bad loss. A really, really bad loss. East Carolina is the team in the AAC that, along with Tulane, you cannot lose to. They are going to go onto Cincinnati’s tournament profile as a bad loss and drag down their computer numbers. In our most recent bracket, Cincinnati was a No. 6 seed, so they have some room to work with.

NEVADA: Oh, we’ll get to them.

FINAL THOUGHT

Nevada was absolutely embarrassed on Saturday night.

New Mexico mollywhopped them. The Pit looked like it did in Steve Alford’s glory days. The Wolf Pack got down 22-9, trailed by as many as 16 points in the first half and eventually ended up losing 85-58 in a game that they never truly threatened to win.

And that’s a problem for this group, who did not look all that impressive through the first six weeks of the season. They needed a second half comeback to beat Arizona State. They struggled to knock off Grand Canyon. They beat South Dakota State by four, Akron by six and needed to pull away from Utah in the second half to win.

Now this, a 27 point home loss to a team that entered the day ranked 190th by KenPom, a team that had lost by 35 points to New Mexico State, 25 points to Saint Mary’s and to Colorado, North Texas and Penn in the same building that they manhandled Nevada.

The question that we now need answered is which team is Nevada — the one that we fell in love with because of last year’s run to the Sweet 16 and their wins away from home against teams we once thought were pretty good (Arizona State, USC, etc.), or are they the team whose best win, according to KenPom, is either at Loyola-Chicago or at home against Utah State?

I understood why Nevada had some slow starts early on this season. This is a team full of fifth-year seniors that thought they were headed to the NBA. They’ve already won the Mountain West title and are playing out a regular season where they may not end up with a top 50 KenPom team on their schedule when it’s all said and done. It makes sense that this group threw it into cruise control — hell, the Warriors have done it for three straight regular seasons.

On Saturday, they finally got caught coasting by a team that was able to slow down their one-on-one game in the second half.

Frankly, I’m pretty interested in seeing where Nevada goes from here, because I do think that this team can beat just about anyone in college basketball. That’s how high their ceiling is. This roster is built around three all-american caliber players that thrive in isolation and when asked to make a play against smaller, less-talented defenders. That’s what they do, and on the nights when the Martin twins and Jordan Caroline get it rolling, they can do things like they did in the second round of the NCAA tournament last year: light up Cincinnati, one of the nation’s toughest defensive teams.

But Saturday proved that they are not talented enough to avoid getting caught on the nights they decide not to show up, and that matters because of how weak their schedule is. To put this into context, Saint Mary’s entered Selection Sunday with a 28-5 record last season, a win at Gonzaga and four of their five losses away from home — their one home less was to the Zags. They missed the NCAA tournament. Now, Nevada’s non-conference schedule was tougher than that Saint Mary’s team, and the Mountain West is better than last year’s WCC, but there’s nothing that Nevada can do that will be remotely as impressive as winning at Gonzaga.

We’re still three losses away from really needing to have this conversation, but if Nevada can lose by 27 points at New Mexico, why should we assume that they’ll go 17-1 in the Mountain West?

No. 13-seed UC Irvine pulls off upset of No. 4-seed Kansas State

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And the Anteaters go marching on.

Max Hazzard hit five threes, including a critical three with less than two minutes left on the clock to give UC Irvine a five-point lead, and scored 19 points to lead the No. 13-seed to the first real upset of the NCAA tournament.

Evan Leonard added 19 points, six boards, four assists and four steals, making four free throws to ice the game in the final 20 seconds, as No. 4-seed Kansas State went down, 70-64.

Jarrett Culver’s big game leads No. 3 Texas Tech past No. 14 Northern Kentucky

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All-American Jarrett Culver had a monster outing as No. 3 seed Texas Tech cruised to a 72-57 win over No. 14 seed Northern Kentucky during a Friday afternoon NCAA tournament first-round game in the West Region.

Finishing with 29 points, eight rebounds and seven assists, Culver was efficient and dominant for the Red Raiders as they opened up the game in the second half. Only a 30-26 lead for Texas Tech at the break, the Red Raiders clamped down and used the offense of Culver and it’s No. 1 overall defense to break the game open.

The Big 12 Player of the Year had one of the best individual games of any player in the first round as he was 10-for-17 from the floor and 3-for-5 from three-point range. Big man Tariq Owens also finished in double-figures for Texas Tech with 12 points while Davide Moretti added 10 points.

Northern Kentucky (26-9) stayed in the game for a half thanks to the hot shooting of junior guard Tyler Sharpe as he finished with 23 points on 8-for-13 shooting. The Norse couldn’t generate much consistent offense outside of Sharpe, however, as Northern Kentucky shot 5-for-21 from the three-point line. Horizon League Player of the Year Drew McDonald was held to only five points on 2-for-12 shooting as he struggled to get going. Dantez Wilson (11 points) was the only other double-figure scorer for the Norse.

The Red Raiders advance to face either No. 6 seed Buffalo or No. 11 seed Arizona State in Tulsa on Sunday.

Oklahoma advances past Ole Miss in rout

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Rashard Odomes and Christian James both popped off for 20 points and Kristian Doolittle added 19 points, 14 boards and five assists as No. 9-seed Oklahoma blew out No. 8-seed Ole Miss, 95-72, in the first round of the NCAA tournament.

The Sooners, with the win, will advance to face No. 1-seed Virginia as long as Virginia can get past Gardner-Webb in the first round.

This was something of a cathartic win for an Oklahoma team that was among the handful of at-large invites that had thoroughly mediocre performances in league play. The Sooners opened the Big 12 season with eight losses in their first 11 games and finished with a 7-11 record in the conference.

One game samples really should not determine whether or not a body of work merited inclusion in an event like that, but it’s hard to see the performance that this team — and the Big 12 as a whole — put together thus far in the event and think the committee was wrong to add a sub-.500 team from the Big 12 to the field.

It’s also a sign for what this Oklahoma program is and can be under Lon Kruger.

It’s difficult to compare things like this year over year, but it is certainly interesting to note than not only did Oklahoma get a better seed this year than they did last year, with Trae Young on the roster, but they advanced to the second round of the NCAA tournament, which is something they did not do with Trae.

That’s not to say that the team is better without him — frankly, I think that’s a silly argument to make. Guys are a year older and a year better, which matters, and I think that the 7-11 mark in Big 12 play says more than the result of a one-game knockout tournament.

It is, however, important to note that Kruger has this thing to the point that they can lose a guy that is now averaging 18.5 points and 7.8 assists in the NBA and still be good enough to get a bid and win a game.

No. 10 Iowa rallies past No. 7 Cincinnati

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Iowa rallied from a slow start to get past No. 7 seed Cincinnati with a 79-72 win on Friday in a South Region NCAA tournament game in Columbus.

Cincinnati generated an early 18-5 lead in the first half as they fed off of the Bearcat-friendly Columbus crowd only to see the No. 10-seed Hawkeyes get hot in the second half.

Things turned in Iowa’s favor about midway through the first half when the Hawkeyes started working the ball more inside. Behind sophomore big man Luka Garza (20 points, 8-for-11 shooting), the Hawkeyes were able to establish an inside presence while opening up the team’s perimeter-shooting options.

In the second half, freshman Joe Wieskamp (19 points) and the Hawkeyes started to make an abundance of threes as they finished 11-for-22 (50 percent) from the perimeter — including a blistering 7-for-10 mark in the second half. Junior guard Jordan Bohannon also tallied 13 points while Nicholas Baer added 10 points as Iowa outscored Cincinnati 48-36 in the second half.

Using the hot shooting of senior point guard Justin Jenifer (19 points), Cincinnati appeared to be completely in the driver’s seat in the first half. But once Iowa started responding with a flurry of second-half threes, the Bearcats struggled to play from behind in the final minutes. Jarron Cumberland (18 points) didn’t get rolling as a scorer until the second half while big man Nysier Brooks (11 points) fouled out with a few minutes left. Tre Scott also finished with 10 points on the afternoon for the Bearcats. Cincinnati struggled to match Iowa’s hot perimeter shooting as they were 6-for-27 from three-point range (24 percent) on the day.

This is a great comeback win for Iowa, as they overcame the bad start by working to take better shots. Forcing a lot of early looks, once the Hawkeyes started getting Garza comfortable on the block, it opened up looks for their shooters. It’s also notable that junior forward Tyler Cook, one of Iowa’s best players, was limited to only five points on 1-for-9 shooting.

Iowa was playing sluggish basketball the final three weeks of the regular season. Friday’s second half was a reminder of how dangerous the Hawkeyes can be if they are hitting shots. And for Iowa to rally when Cook was playing this poorly is yet another positive sign that the Hawkeyes are not to be taken lightly going forward.

With Iowa’s win, the Big Ten now moves to 6-0 in the 2019 NCAA tournament after a 5-0 start on Thursday. Iowa advances to face the winner of No. 2 seed Tennessee and No. 15 seed Colgate on Sunday in Columbus.

Best Bets: The Bettor’s Guide to Saturday’s NCAA tournament games

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12:10 p.m.: No. 3 LSU vs. No. 6 Maryland, CBS

  • LINE: LSU (-2)
  • TOTAL: 147
  • IMPLIED SCORE: LSU 74.5, Maryland 72.5
  • KENPOM: LSU 74, Maryland 73

If you love watching soon-to-be NBA big men do battle in the paint, this is the matchup for you. Naz Reid, Kavell Bigby-Williams and Emmitt Williams facing off with Bruno Fernando, Jalen Smith and Ricky Lindo. Buckle up!

I think I lean towards the Maryland side here. The Terps have the size and athleticism on the wings to be able to handle Skylar Mays and Javonte Smart, their big men should be able to keep LSU’s frontcourt in check and Tremont Waters is a pest, I do think Anthony Cowan will be able to avoid the live-ball turnovers that are killers.

PICK: This is a toss-up and a fascinating matchup between two teams with very similar roster constructions. That said, my money here will be on Mark Turgeon, who isn’t exactly the best coach in the world but who should be able to find a way to get it done against Tony Benford, LSU’s interim head coach. This is where it’s worth nothing that LSU blew a big lead in the second half against Florida in the SEC tournament quarterfinals before nearly blowing a bigger lead to Yale in the first round. Thats the difference-maker for me.

2:40 p.m.: No. 2 Kentucky vs. No. 7 Wofford, CBS

  • LINE: Kentucky (-5.5)
  • TOTAL: 138.5
  • IMPLIED SCORE: Kentucky 72, Wofford 66.5
  • KENPOM: Kentucky 72, Wofford 68

P.J. Washington will not be playing in this one, which is a problem for the Wildcats if this is a longterm injury but not necessarily one that I think will cost them against Wofford. The key here is going to be Kentucky’s ability to chase Wofford’s shooters around screens and how well they deal with Cameron Jackson in the paint. I think that Tyler Herro, Ashton Hagans and Keldon Johnson will be able to keep Fletcher Magee, Storm Murphy and Nathan Hoover from going absolutely bonkers. Jackson is not all that dissimilar from Grant Williams in terms of the way he does his job, and Travis did a good job keeping Williams in check when they played.

PICK: I do like the Kentucky side here, although I don’t feel great about it. We’ll see if that line continues to climb, and maybe that would change things.

5:15 p.m.: No. 2 Michigan vs. No. 10 Florida, CBS

  • LINE: Michigan (-7)
  • TOTAL: 120
  • IMPLIED SCORE: Michigan 63.5, Florida 56.5
  • KENPOM: Michigan 63, Florida 56

I fully expect this to end up being one of the ugliest games of the tournament. Both teams have top 15 defenses, and Florida has guys that can guard the likes of Jordan Poole and Ignas Brazdeikis. I think this game plays out as a possession-by-possession battle played in the 50s that ends up being a one or two possession game in the final minute.

PICK: I don’t know if Florida will win this game, but seven points is a lot of points in a game that should be as slow and low-scoring as this game will be.

6:10 p.m.: No. 4 Florida State vs. No. 12 Murray State, TNT

  • LINE: Florida State (-5)
  • TOTAL: 143
  • IMPLIED SCORE: Florida State 74, Murray State 69
  • KENPOM: Florida State 74, Murray State 69

This is so tough. On the one hand, Florida State should have the bodies to be able to keep Ja Morant in check. They have a roster full of length and athleticism on the perimeter and they are a top 15 defense nationally. They are going to do a lot of switching, but that shouldn’t matter as Leonard Hamilton has built a team that is designed to defend like that. The matchup, to me, screams Florida State, especially at just (-5).

But my heart?

My heart says that Ja Morant is about to go on a Stephen Curry-esque run. He’s going to be an NBA superstar, and while we saw what he can do as a creator on Thursday, we have not yet seen just how dangerous he can be as a scorer. I want the Ja Morant ride to last.

PICK: My head says Florida State (-5). My heart says go along for the Racer ride. So I’ll probably just take the over.

7:10 p.m.: No. 1 Gonzaga vs. No. 9 Baylor, TBS

  • LINE: Gonzaga (-12.5)
  • TOTAL: 148
  • IMPLIED SCORE: Gonzaga 80.25, Baylor 67.75
  • KENPOM: Gonzaga 81, Baylor 69

I think Killian Tillie is the important piece in this matchup. He’s such a good shooter, an underrated passer and the piece that should allow Gonzaga’s offense to get unclogged against this Baylor zone. In three games back since returning from his second foot injury of the season, he’s averaging 10.3 points in just 15 minutes per game, shooting 6-for-7 from three and 80 percent from the floor.

PICK: The Bears getting 12.5 points is a lot of points for a team that is going to be able to get only the offensive glass. The biggest issue for Baylor this year is that they turn the ball over like crazy, and Gonzaga has not been all that good at forcing turnovers this season. I think I lean Gonzaga, but I won’t bet it myself unless the line moves towards the Zags.

7:45 p.m.: No. 2 Michigan State vs. No. 10 Minnesota, CBS

  • LINE: Michigan State (-10)
  • TOTAL: 141.5
  • IMPLIED SCORE: Michigan State 75.75, Minnesota 65.75
  • KENPOM: Michigan State 77, Minnesota 67

Minnesota was not great this season. They are playing a wing at the point guard spot because Isaiah Washington has been a mess. They only go five deep at this point, and they were able to run over Louisville because the one guy that can make threes on their roster made a bunch of threes.

Michigan State beat Minnesota by 24 points the one time that they played this season, but they are a team that relies almost entirely on Cassius Winston running ball-screens, and Minnesota has been pretty good defending ball-screens this season.

PICK: With the spread at (-10), I think I would lean towards taking Minnesota. That’s a lot of points. But I think my favorite bet in this game is actually the under. Michigan State looked gassed in the first round after playing three games in three days during their run to the Big Ten tournament title. Minnesota is basically running out a five-man rotation these days. Legs will catch up with them eventually.

8:40 p.m.: No. 3 Purdue vs. No. 6 Villanova, TNT

  • LINE: Purdue (-3.5)
  • TOTAL: 137
  • IMPLIED SCORE: Purdue 70.25, Villanova 66.75
  • KENPOM: Purdue 72, Villanova 67

This is my favorite bet of the Saturday slate. The defense that Villanova runs is pretty simple: They switch everything, 1-through-5, because it forces you out of the offense that you want to run. They dare teams to beat them 1-on-1, betting that their players are good enough to defend a cross-match regardless of opponent.

The problem for Purdue here is that, like Saint Mary’s, so much of what they get offensively comes out of the sets and actions they run. Put another way, Matt Painter doesn’t have all that many guys on his roster that can efficiently create for themselves in isolation. That includes Carsen Edwards, who is a tough-shot taker but, in the last month, has not exactly been a tough-shot maker.

The other part of this that makes me lean towards Villanova is that Villanova shoots more than 53 percent of their field goal attempts from three, and Purdue has not made running teams off the three-point line a priority this year.

PICK: If you are going to give me the defending national champs plus the points, I’ll take it. Villanova, if you’re tracking at home, has won 24 straight neutral court games. They win in knockout settings.

9:40 p.m.: No. 4 Kansas vs. No. 5 Auburn, TBS

  • LINE: PK
  • TOTAL: 147.5
  • IMPLIED SCORE: Kansas 73.75, Auburn 73.75
  • KENPOM: Auburn 75, Kansas 74

This is tough because Auburn is just so up-and-down while Kansas has looked downright bad for the last month until they faced Northeastern and suddenly turned into Kansas again.

What Auburn wants to do is to is to turn defense into offense. They are going to gamble — for steals, for blocks, for leak-outs — and look to get quick threes in transition once they get possession. For 33 minutes, it worked against New Mexico State. Twice in the last two weeks it worked for 40 minutes against Tennessee. Kansas has been turnover prone this season, particularly their ball-handlers, but they have cleaned that up in recent weeks. Devon Dotson, for example, had a turnover rate higher than 20 percent entering the Big 12 tournament and has committed just three turnovers in the last four games.

PICK: The matchup is going to get won based on how well Kansas protects the ball and how well they defend in transition — they finished the year in the 51st percentile nationally. It’s worth nothing that the Jayhawks struggled with West Virginia once this season but handled them easily on two different occasions in the last three weeks.

I think I will probably stay away, personally, but when it comes down to it, I think Auburn is the better team with the better players.