By Jon Rothstein
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DUKE AT NC STATE
This will be the first time that the Blue Devils take the floor without Ryan Kelly, and it will be interesting to see how it affects their offense. Kelly, a terrific pick and pop power forward is out indefinitely with a foot injury. His absence means Duke will need more mileage from reserves Josh Hairston and Amile Jefferson up front, but we find it hard to believe that either one will come close to replacing Kelly’s outside shooting. The senior was shooting better than 52% from 3-point range and totally altered the way defenses could play the Blue Devils. We’re still not sold on the Wolfpack, but they’ve got enough talent to give Duke their first loss of the season.
PREDICTION: NC STATE 79, DUKE 72
MINNESOTA AT INDIANA
If I was a financial adviser, I’d tell my clients to buy stock in the Gophers. Minnesota is an extremely difficult team to prepare for because they have several guys that can be the assassin on a given night. Tubby Smith said before the season that this was his deepest team ever and he was right. The Gophers have solid guards in Andre Hollins, Austin Hollins, and Joe Coleman as well two capable baseline players in Rodney Williams and Trevor Mbakwe. This team was good enough to win at Assembly Hall last season without Mbakwe and they’re a better squad this year — but we still like the Hoosiers by the smallest of margins.
PREDICTION: INDIANA 76, MINNESOTA 75
COLORADO STATE AT SAN DIEGO STATE
This is power against athleticism at its finest. Larry Eustachy has made the Rams into a rebounding machine thanks to an extremely underrated power forward/center combo in Pierce Hornung and Colton Iverson. Colorado State is a serious sleeper in a balanced Mountain West Conference and has a chance to make a major statement on Saturday against the Aztecs. San Diego State point guard Xavier Thames missed the team’s win at Fresno State on Wednesday due to a back injury and they’ll need their floor general to beat the Rams. An emerging player for Steve Fisher is freshman forward Winston Shepard, who seems to get better each time he steps on the floor. Shepard — along with the rest of the Aztecs will have too much length for Colorado State in a hard fought league win.
PREDICTION: SAN DIEGO STATE 69, COLORADO STATE 65
UCONN AT NOTRE DAME
Just because the Huskies can’t play in the postseason doesn’t mean they’re not capable of being a factor in the Big East. Shabazz Napier and Ryan Boatright are as good of a back court tandem as there is in the conference, and if DeAndre Daniels plays like he did in UConn’s win over DePaul (26 points, eight rebounds) then Kevin Ollie has a chance to make his first season as head coach in Storrs a memorable one. We’ll have a better idea of what the Huskies are capable of after Saturday’s tilt in South Bend. Mike Brey said this week that he feels this is one of his better teams at Notre Dame and it’s hard to argue that notion when you watch the Irish play. This squad is balanced, experienced, and confident. We say they hold off the Huskies at home.
PREDICTION: NOTRE DAME 78, UCONN 73
MICHIGAN AT OHIO STATE
This was thought to be a battle of two of the better teams in the Big Ten. The Wolverines have exceeded expectations in the early part of the season while the Buckeyes have yet to identify a secondary scorer next to Deshaun Thomas. If Ohio State is to have a chance against Michigan in this game, they’re going to have to get more out of sophomore guard LaQuinton Ross. Ross has yet to find the consistency many hoped he would at the beginning of the season but he still is capable of emerging as a double-figure scorer. The Buckeyes are a solid team and should have a fine season, but John Beilein’s squad is the real deal. Just how good are the Wolverines? Good enough to get to Atlanta and win the whole darn thing.
PREDICTION: MICHIGAN 83, OHIO STATE 73
THIS AND THAT:
– Mississippi State transfer Rodney Hood will have a monster year for Duke in 2013-14. The 6-8 lefty forward already has a year of experience in the SEC where he averaged 10.3 PPG and he’ll benefit tremendously from sitting out this season in Durham. This will be one of the better players in the ACC next season.
– Saturday’s home game against Missouri is a huge opportunity for Andy Kennedy and Ole Miss. The Rebels impressively scored 92 points in their SEC opener against Tennessee and beating the Tigers in the same week could do wonders for this team’s confidence. Ole Miss is 12-2 but needs a quality win over a good opponent. A 2-0 start in league play with a win over the talented Tigers could do wonders for this group.
– UMass big man Cady Lalanne looked like the player many thought he’d be this season in the Minutemen’s loss last night’s against Saint Louis. The 6-10 sophomore scored 18 points and grabbed 13 rebounds in 29 minutes of action and gave Umass a post presence they’ve been lacking for the majority of the year. Lalanne’s level of production will have a major affect on whether or not this team can compete for a bid to the NCAA Tournament.
– Rutgers has a major opportunity on Saturday night at the RAC against Cincinnati. The Scarlet Knights are 11-3 and off to a 2-1 start in Big East play. Beating the Bearcats would be another major step in the right direction in year three under Mike Rice and this game will come down to how well Rutgers guards the three-point line. If the Scarlet Knights can limit Cincinnati’s opportunities from deep than they should have a great chance to win their third straight game in conference play.
– Iowa State has a real gem in freshman power forward Georges Niang. Every coach that faces the Cyclones raves about Niang’s basketball IQ and overall feel for the game. The 6-7 freshman is averaging 11 PPG and 5.5 RPG and will have a big hand in if Iowa State can return to the NCAA Tournament for the second time in as many seasons.
– One of the real reasons why Arizona State has jumped out to a 14-2 start is Carrick Felix. The 6-6 wing is up in all major categories from last year and has posted two double-doubles in his last three games. Herb Sendek’s team is 3-0 in PAC-12 play has a chance to win every night because of freshman point guard Jahii Carson. What a difference a year makes in Tempe.
– So Virginia won at Wisconsin and beat North Carolina at home but lost to Wake Forest, Old Dominion,George Mason, and Delaware? Yep, that just about sums up this college basketball season in a nutshell.
– Julian Gamble’s importance can’t be understated for Miami. The 6-10 big man is fully recovered from last season’s knee injury and was enormous for the Hurricanes in their 68-59 win last night at North Carolina. Gamble had 14 points, six rebounds, and three blocked shots as Miami made a major statement on the road in the ACC. We’re really interested to see what this team looks like once they get Reggie Johnson back healthy in February.
– Oregon has gotten serious mileage out of Arsalan Kazemi and Waverly Austin, two players that were added to the Ducks’ roster just before the season. The 6-11 Austin didn’t qualify at South Florida and then headed for Eugene while Kazemi was granted a waiver to play immediately after transferring from Rice. The 6-7 forward scored six points and grabbed eight rebounds in Oregon’s win last night over previously unbeaten Arizona and has given the Ducks a legitimate double-double threat.
– One of the main reasons for Cincinnati’s offensive struggles is directly related to how JaQuon Parker’s role has changed in comparison to last season. A year ago, Parker excelled as an undersized power forward and now he feels like he has to score as a third wheel next to Cashmere Wright and Sean Kilpatrick. If Parker just focused on being a warrior and out toughing opponents like he did last season, Cincinnati would be much better off. Parker has scored just 11 points in the past two games, noticeably forcing things on offense. This team can’t get back in stride until Parker gets back to playing like he did last season.
What’ll you be watching this weekend in college hoops? Be heard in the comments!