College Basketball Nation: New Mexico Lobos

3-point shot: A valuable Pearl

March, 19, 2014
Mar 19
9:15
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Andy Katz on Auburn's hiring of Bruce Pearl, Virginia Tech's coaching search and how New Mexico is hoping to avoid another upset in the NCAA tournament.

Video: New Mexico takes MWC title

March, 15, 2014
Mar 15
9:18
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video
Cameron Bairstow scored 17 points to lead No. 20 New Mexico to a 64-58 victory over No. 8 San Diego State in the Mountain West Conference championship game, giving the Lobos the automatic berth into the NCAA tournament.

Tournament preview: Mountain West

March, 11, 2014
Mar 11
10:30
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Would it be so wrong to want a rubber match between regular-season champion San Diego State and No. 2 seed New Mexico? Both teams have won six of their past seven games entering the league tournament. The only loss for both came to each other on the road. The Aztecs and Lobos towered over the league while parity defined every remaining team, with the exception of last-place San Jose State. UNLV and Nevada finished tied for third, but were only two games over .500 in conference. The three-way tie for fifth place featured 9-9 teams in Boise State, Wyoming and Fresno State. There’s really no telling which teams will challenge San Diego State and New Mexico for the title.

The Mountain West tournament contains a bad omen for the Aztecs. While the regular-season champion has advanced to the final 10 out of 14 years, the No. 1 seed has taken home the trophy just three times. San Diego State in 2006 and New Mexico last season are the only two teams to have won an undisputed regular-season title and the tournament title in the same season.

[+] EnlargeCameron Bairstow
Aaron Sweet/Getty ImagesCameron Bairstow and New Mexico want to three-peat as Mountain West tournament champions, preferably over San Diego State.
What’s at stake?

San Diego State is in a tough position because the only thing that might be at stake is pride. Winning the league tournament might not provide a bump for its NCAA tournament seeding. Losing it might not matter either because the Aztecs won the regular-season title and their body of work -- including a marquee win at Kansas -- speaks for itself. The motivation is likely to come from within. SDSU coach Steve Fisher is a believer in league tournaments, so it’s not like he’s going to rest players -- he’ll be playing to win the game.

Boise State would be viewed much differently if it had an ability to close out games. The Broncos have to look back at a two-point loss to Wyoming, a four-point loss to UNLV, and a pair of losses to San Diego State by a combined five points and wonder what might have been. They enter the league tournament with a double-overtime loss to Nevada and an overtime loss to Air Force in consecutive games. Fresno State is the only team that dominated Boise, beating the Broncos 76-56. Entering the season, the Broncos had good reason to believe they would earn a second-straight NCAA berth for the first time in school history. Boise will need its luck to change in the closing minutes for that to happen now.

Team with the most to gain

The view nationally is that San Diego State is the best team in the Mountain West. Despite their second-place finish in the standings, the feeling in Albuquerque, N.M., is that the Lobos are better. They beat the Aztecs at home by 14 and seemed headed for another double-digit win at SDSU. New Mexico held a 16-point lead with 12 minutes left in the second meeting before succumbing to an Aztecs rally. The Lobos, who have won the past two league tournament titles, want another opportunity to face San Diego State. If they get it and win, it could help keep them out of the 8-9 game and staring at the possibility of playing a No. 1 seed in the third round.

UNLV, like Boise State, has been close to turning from a good team to a contender. Six of the Rebels' losses, including a 63-58 setback at Arizona, came in games decided by only two possessions. ESPN’s Joe Lunardi does not include the 19-12 Rebels on his latest installment of Bracketology, and their résumé probably isn’t strong enough for an at-large bid. But it wouldn’t be too shocking if they had a run in them. The tournament is being held on their home court, the Thomas & Mack Center in Las Vegas. They won at New Mexico and were within two points against San Diego State before being held to two points in the final 2:33 of a 73-64 loss.

Weekend Homework: Show and tell

March, 7, 2014
Mar 7
10:30
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The game of the day isn't in Durham, N.C.

It's not in Gainesville, Fla.

Saturday's showdown is in front of the Show, San Diego State's self-dubbed student section at Viejas Arena.

San Diego State hosts New Mexico with the Mountain West Conference title on the line as well as the No. 1 seed in next week's conference tournament in Las Vegas and a potential high seed in the NCAA tournament.

Need more?

The MWC conference player of the year and a possible spot on the second-team All-America team are also on the line.

New Mexico's Cameron Bairstow might be having the best season of any forward not named Jabari Parker. Yet few are chatting about the Australian because he has been a bit under the radar. He's averaging 20.3 points and 7.2 rebounds a game and put up 26 and nine in a win over the Aztecs at the Pit on Feb. 22. San Diego State's Xavier Thames has been as good for the Aztecs and is nearly as unheralded as Bairstow.

The Aztecs had a better nonconference schedule than New Mexico. Both played Kansas. San Diego State beat the Jayhawks at the Phog; the Lobos lost in Kansas City. San Diego State's win catapulted the Aztecs into the national discussion over the Lobos. But UNM has been as, if not more, consistent in 2014.

New Mexico has won 12 of its past 13 games, with the only loss coming 71-70 to Boise State, a game in which the Lobos had a shot to win the game. San Diego State's one other league blemish outside of the loss at the Pit was at Wyoming on Feb. 11.

So how does UNM complete the sweep?

New Mexico coach Craig Neal laid out four key steps:
1. "We've got to stop their transition.”

2. "We can't let their pressure bother us.”

3. "We must be able to contain Thames.”

4. "We have to get to the line."

UNM's Hugh Greenwood locked up Thames in their first meeting, limiting him to 3-of-15 shooting for seven points, nine below his average, in a 58-44 victory.

It will be harder to replicate such a stifling defensive performance now that the Aztecs have found their offensive identity.

Since scoring just 44 points against the Lobos, San Diego State has scored 90, 82 and 73 points in its past three games, two of which were on the road. Balance is back, and so is Thames, who has scored 19 and 22 points, respectively, in the past two games.

The MWC tournament will have a buzz because of the draw of Las Vegas, but these teams can count on a frenzied environment whenever they play each other during the regular season. This game will cap what has been a solid season for both schools.

Video: Jay Bilas' weekly report

February, 26, 2014
Feb 26
9:30
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In his weekly report, Jay Bilas identifies four teams that could be dangerous as the NCAA tournament approaches.

3-point shot: Player, teams of the week

February, 24, 2014
Feb 24
9:30
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ESPN reporter Andy Katz hands out awards for college basketball's player and teams of the week.

Weekend Picks: So much popcorn

February, 21, 2014
Feb 21
12:00
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So I usually address five games every Friday. But this weekend is just too stacked for the typical lineup. So I’m going with seven games, all key matchups that you’ll want to see.

I’m even introducing the Popcorn Factor (a scale of 1-10 Bags) to give you an idea of the amount of popcorn you’ll need to get through this weekend.

Now, let’s talk about last weekend.

According to the Internet, the phrase “egg on my face” hails from an ancient theater culture where eggs were thrown at subpar performers. Maybe. I can’t confirm it.

But I had egg on my face after a daring slate of picks went flat by Saturday night.

I had a lot of confidence in Florida prior to its matchup with Kentucky. But that was the only bright spot in the most recent edition of my picks, other than Creighton over Villanova.

Saint Louis topped VCU, Wisconsin beat Michigan and UConn defeated Memphis.

Not a great weekend for my Weekend Picks.

Let’s see how things go this time.

Last week: 2-3

Overall: 37-18

Saturday

No. 1 Syracuse at No. 5 Duke, 7 p.m. ET, ESPN: Oh no! The sky is falling in Syracuse, N.Y., and Durham, N.C.! It’s over. … Not even close. I actually think this game is more interesting now with both teams coming off losses. Sure, Boston College beat Cuse. I can’t explain that. But I still think the previously undefeated Orange have an edge here. I know Cuse is on the road, but a few things still stand out from that first matchup. I’ll give Duke credit for fighting in one of the best games of the year on Feb. 1. The Blue Devils survived even after foul trouble put Jabari Parker and other key players on the bench down the stretch. But the Orange scored their final 23 points inside the paint or at the charity stripe in that game, according to ESPN Stats & Info. The Blue Devils had problems keeping North Carolina from the rim on Thursday, too. Plus, did you see how Duke responded to UNC’s zone? Another thriller. Same result.

Prediction: Syracuse 67, Duke 66

Popcorn Factor (9)

No. 4 Arizona at Colorado, 9 p.m. ET, ESPN: Colorado lost four of five games after Spencer Dinwiddie suffered a season-ending knee injury in a loss at Washington on Jan. 12. It was a sad moment for a program on the rise and a player with legit NBA dreams. But sophomore Xavier Johnson has scored 20 or more four times since Dinwiddie’s injury (he hadn't scored 20 this season before then). He’s stepped up to help a Colorado team that’s won five of its last six while boasting a top-50 adjusted defensive efficiency per Ken Pomeroy. But Arizona understands loss, too. On Feb. 1, Brandon Ashley suffered a season-ending foot injury that changed the dynamics of the program. His midrange game, size and defense were all vital for the nation's former No. 1 team. The Wildcats are not the same without him, but they’re still a viable contender. Why? Because Rondae Hollis-Jefferson is reminding all doubters that Sean Miller’s recruiting classes have brought a bunch of talent to Tucson in recent years. Including the California game (Ashley left the contest after just two minutes of action), Hollis-Jefferson has averaged 12.6 PPG, 6.8 RPG, 1.2 BPG and 1.2 SPG. Yeah, the Wildcats are different. But they’re still good. Just not good enough to knock off this soaring, reinvigorated Colorado squad on the road.

Prediction: Colorado 73, Arizona 71

Popcorn Factor (8)

No. 6 San Diego State at New Mexico, 10 p.m. ET, ESPN2: While most of us have been paying attention to other leagues, the Mountain West has been engaged in a fascinating two-team battle at the top. San Diego State’s achievements (zero losses between Nov. 14 and Feb. 11) have been well-documented. Steve Fisher’s program is ninth in adjusted defensive efficiency per Ken Pomeroy, and it’s stacked with a roster full of veterans. But SDSU will face New Mexico twice in the next two weeks. Those meetings will likely determine the final outcome of the Mountain West race. New Mexico has the league’s top scoring offense, and the Lobos don’t commit many turnovers (26th in offensive turnover rate per Ken Pomeroy). Plus, Alex Kirk seems healthy again following a lower-leg injury that affected him in late January. The Pit will be hectic on Saturday night, especially after fans storm the floor following New Mexico’s win. Yes, you’re allowed to storm the floor.

Prediction: New Mexico 70, SDSU 65

Popcorn Factor (10)

No. 11 Louisville at No. 7 Cincinnati, noon ET, CBS: The first game was bizarre. Cincinnati had a 28-20 advantage at halftime and led by as many as 17 points overall. Louisville bounced back, however, and nearly overcame Cincinnati. But Cincy senior guard Sean Kilpatrick (28 points, 11-for-11 from the free throw line) was clutch down the stretch. So what will change on Saturday, especially with Cincinnati at home? Well, this will obviously be another defensive battle between a pair of teams ranked in the top 10 in adjusted defensive efficiency per Ken Pomeroy. But Terry Rozier has been more effective for Rick Pitino in recent weeks, and Mangok Mathiang is growing, too. For Cincy, Shaquille Thomas has matured. Young players on both rosters have stepped up lately, and that could be the key to a game that might again be decided by a few points. Sure, Kilpatrick and Russ Smith will battle, but the victor might be the team that gets the most from a reserve or underclassmen who wasn’t a major factor in the first meeting.

Prediction: Cincinnati 72, Louisville 68

Popcorn Factor (7)

No. 19 Texas at No. 8 Kansas, 7:30 p.m. ET, ESPNU: The last time these two squads met, Texas beat Kansas by 12 points. That was unexpected. But the Longhorns were living off momentum, and Cameron Ridley and Jonathan Holmes had the size to clog the paint against Kansas, which shot just 39 percent from the floor. KU freshman Andrew Wiggins had seven points and eventually fouled out. But Wiggins hasn’t played that poorly since that awful night in Austin. And Joel Embiid, 3-for-9 in the first game against Texas, is coming off an 18-point, eight-rebound, one-block effort in a one-point win at Texas Tech. Ridley has been inconsistent, but the Longhorns are still a difficult team to control. They haven’t looked good on the road, however, since a 14-point win at Baylor last month. This will be their most challenging trip.

Prediction: Kansas 75, Texas 65

Popcorn Factor (6)

Bonus Picks:

No. 16 Wisconsin at No. 15 Iowa, noon ET, ESPN2: The first game might have ended differently if Fran McCaffery had avoided a second-half ejection. The Hawkeyes had outplayed the Badgers to that point and their size on the perimeter was a problem for Wisconsin, which has won four in a row. I think Iowa will finish what it started in early January and get the win.

Prediction: Iowa 70, Wisconsin 68

Popcorn Factor (8)

Sunday

No. 13 Michigan State at No. 20 Michigan, noon ET, CBS: Michigan State is somewhat healthy. Keith Appling is playing through a wrist injury, Adreian Payne is out there even though he’s still dealing with a foot injury, and Branden Dawson could return from a broken hand as early as this weekend. The Spartans suffered a loss in the first meeting last month, but that came without Payne and Dawson. Even then, the Spartans still had a chance to beat Michigan, which was then undefeated in the Big Ten squad. Different outcome on Sunday.

Prediction: Michigan State 73, Michigan 68

Popcorn Factor (10)

3-point shot: Injury updates for Cincy, UNM

January, 28, 2014
Jan 28
8:45
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video

College basketball reporter Andy Katz gives injury updates at Cincinnati and New Mexico and takes a look at a situation at Iowa State involving the Cyclones and the state Supreme Court.

A conversation with Craig Neal

January, 27, 2014
Jan 27
12:00
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Last April, Craig Neal moved into the first seat on the bench when best friend Steve Alford left for UCLA and became the new head coach at New Mexico. It hasn’t been an easy transition. His Lobos dropped out of the national rankings after a few tough nonconference losses. But they’ve won three in a row and currently possess a second-place slot in the Mountain West. On Saturday, his program won a road game against Colorado State even though starting center Alex Kirk missed the game because of injury. Injuries aren’t the only things that Neal has had to overcome thus far. He recently talked to ESPN.com about his first season as the Lobos’ leader.

What did Saturday’s 68-66 road win over Colorado State, a game you all played without Kirk, say about this team?

[+] EnlargeCraig Neal
AP Photo/Juan Antonio LabrecheCraig Neal has had to deal with some adversity during his first season as head coach of New Mexico.
Neal: Well, I just think our veteran guys have been there before, and I think it took us a [half] to figure out Alex wasn’t there. You’re losing 14, 15 points a game and 10 rebounds, and they hurt us on the offensive boards in the first half. He makes a difference with blocked shots. We played a little bit of a different style, but I think our guys were in tune with what we were trying to do. We went four guards a little bit and changed some things up. Their resilience has been amazing. To go 4-0 on the road to start conference season is really, really an accomplishment that is good for our team and our younger kids and our newcomers.

What’s the latest with Kirk?

Neal: It’s a day-to-day thing. He’s had it for about three games. Thought it was shin splints and just got a little bit, progressively worse. Our doctors are just taking precautionary measures to make sure he’s OK. … You want to make sure you don’t put a kid out there that’s hurt or in a bad situation with an injury or health-wise.

What’s been the biggest adjustment for you this season, moving from assistant to head coach?

Neal: Well, I think the biggest adjustment is not having Steve around. It might be a big adjustment for him, too, with me not around. I think that’s the biggest thing. We were together for so long. I got an opportunity to coach with my best friend for nine years and spend a lot of time together, not only coaching games, but off the floor and watching our kids grow up and just having a great relationship in basketball and off the court. Then I think the biggest transition for me is [the same for] any assistant coach who gets an opportunity … I recruited most of these kids, had relationships with these kids. My relationship doesn’t change but the way they view you and the way you view them as a head coach; there’s a transition period. Sometimes you were the buffer before, and sometimes you’re the guy making sure they’re all right and their families are good. And now it’s a little bit changed because you’re the head coach and you’re making a decision on who’s playing and who’s not playing. Your relationship doesn’t change. It’s [from] the perspective of you being a head coach now.

Your son, Cullen, suffered an appendix rupture during an offseason international trip. How scary was that situation for you and your family?

Neal: It was difficult because he’s taken a lot of criticism, a lot of hits to start the season, unfairly. He didn’t play up to his capabilities early. You’re talking about a kid that almost lost his life. [He then] came back, and a lot of the doctors didn’t know if it was a good idea that he came back, but he wanted to play this year. And now he’s finally gotten healthy and playing at a high level. He played a really good game against Marquette (24 points) that got us a good win in Vegas [Dec. 21], and he played very well against Fresno (17 points Jan. 18). … I think he’s back to normal health-wise and strength-wise, but you kind of lose perspective on how serious it was and [that] he was in a bad state. Got down to 158 pounds from 180. It makes you appreciate things a lot better and that he’s healthy and he’s OK. He’s going to miss shots. He’s going to turn the ball over, but at least he’s healthy, and he’s not in the state he was back in August.

3-point shot: A look at the weekly honors

January, 27, 2014
Jan 27
9:00
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College basketball reporter Andy Katz hands out awards for the team and player of the week. He also gives credit to New Mexico and Texas for key wins.

It was another eventful Saturday in the world of college basketball.

These 10 players were responsible for some of the most significant performances of the day.

  1. Melvin Ejim (Iowa State) -- A few weeks ago, Fred Hoiberg identified the senior as the glue guy who has helped him rebuild Iowa State basketball. The veteran recorded 20 points, nine rebounds, two assists, three steals and three blocks in No. 16 Iowa State’s 81-75 home win over No. 22 Kansas State. He also blocked Shane Southwell's 3-point attempt in the final seconds, snatched a key rebound and hit a pair of late free throws to seal it.
  2. Treveon Graham (VCU) -- The junior guard scored a career-high 34 points in VCU’s 97-89 double-overtime win at La Salle. Graham scored six straight points to send the game into its first overtime. He also finished with 12 rebounds and two assists for a VCU squad that has won 12 of its last 14 games.
  3. [+] EnlargeLe'Bryan Nash
    AP Photo/Sue OgrockiWith Marcus Smart struggling, Le'Bryan Nash came through with a huge game to lead Oklahoma State past West Virginia.
  4. Le'Bryan Nash (Oklahoma State) -- Travis Ford needed some help on a horrible day for Marcus Smart, who fouled out with just four points and a 1-for-7 tally. Nash stepped up. He recorded 29 points, nine rebounds, two assists and two blocks in No. 11 Oklahoma State’s 81-75 win over West Virginia, which played tough for 40 minutes.
  5. Ryan Arcidiacono (Villanova) -- The controversial offensive foul call at the end of No. 4 Villanova’s 94-85 overtime win over Marquette shouldn’t mask the exceptional effort by Arcidiacono. The point guard finished with 20 points, 11 assists and, most impressively, zero turnovers in 39 minutes. He also grabbed a critical loose ball and steadied the Wildcats in the extra period.
  6. Isaiah Taylor (Texas) -- Why are the Longhorns legitimate Big 12 contenders now after winning three consecutive games against ranked opponents (Iowa State, Kansas State and Baylor)? Because players such as Taylor continue to step up for Rick Barnes. The guard finished with 27 points (10-for-18), three assists and three steals in Texas’ 74-60 road win over Baylor.
  7. Kendall Williams (New Mexico) -- The Lobos dealt with some tough losses during the nonconference season, but they’re 6-1 in league play after a 68-66 victory over Colorado State. Williams finished with 23 points, five assists and one steal in that game. He hit 5 of 10 3-pointers.
  8. Michael Frazier II (Florida) -- The guard anchored a balanced attack in No. 6 Florida’s 67-41 win over Tennessee. Frazier finished with 17 points (3-for-6 from beyond the arc), four rebounds and two assists. The Gators haven’t lost since Dec. 2.
  9. Tyler Ennis (Syracuse) -- It wasn’t a pretty performance. But No. 2 Syracuse scored a 64-52 win at Miami in a tough road game. Ennis continues to make a case for “best point guard in America” status. He finished with 14 points, five rebounds and four assists. That effort included some clutch plays in the final minutes.
  10. Willie Cauley-Stein (Kentucky) -- The sophomore hasn’t been a consistent offensive threat, but his defensive presence is undeniable. He only scored eight points in No. 14 Kentucky’s 79-54 win over Georgia. But he also recorded six steals, six blocks and altered multiple shots. He's such a vital player for that young Kentucky team.
  11. Chase Fieler (Florida Gulf Coast) -- The “Dunk City” contributor had an impressive stat line during Florida Gulf Coast’s 83-62 win over Kennesaw State. He hit 7 of 14 shots and went 9-for-9 from the free throw line for 24 points while also recording 7 rebounds, one block and two steals.

Appreciating the underappreciated

January, 16, 2014
Jan 16
12:03
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North Carolina State forward T.J. Warren can’t catch much of a break. Even when I was ready to talk about how underappreciated he is nationally, he got overshadowed by Wake Forest guard Codi Miller-McIntyre.

Miller-McIntyre made the game-winning basket to cap off a 20-point performance in the Demon Deacons’ 70-69 win Wednesday.

Miller-McIntyre ranks in the top 10 in assists (3.9) and field goal percentage (45.5.) in the ACC and is 11th in scoring at 15.6 points per game.

Warren does it all for the Wolfpack. He entered Wednesday leading the ACC in scoring at 22.2 points per game. He's fourth in field goal percentage at 50.5, sixth in rebounding with 7.5 per game and 10th with 1.6 steals per game.

With conference play just starting to heat up, it’s time to take a look at a few other players whose impressive seasons have gone underappreciated:

Xavier guard Semaj Christon scored a team-high 18 points in the Musketeers' win over Georgetown, while shooting an efficient 9-for-12 from the field. Christon leads the team in scoring (16.2 points) and ranks third in the Big East with 4.4 assists per game. But really, he just has a knack for making whatever play is needed at the time. Against the Hoyas, eight of his points and two of his three steals came during a run that brought the Musketeers back from a 17-point deficit to take the lead.

UMass center Cady Lalanne isn’t going to score in bunches -- his 19-point effort against George Mason notwithstanding -- but he’s a big reason the Minutemen are sitting at 15-1 and ranked 16th. He leads the team with 9.0 rebounds, but more importantly, he’s a shot-blocking deterrent in the middle of the lane. Lalanne averages 2.5 blocks per game, each of which has been crucial since the emphasis on freedom of movement has made it easier to get to the basket.

West Virginia guard Juwan Staten is truly running things in Morgantown. Talk about a do-it-all player: He leads the Big 12 with 6.1 assists per game, is tied for third with 17.4 points and ranks third in field goal percentage at 53.4. Despite being just 6-foot-1, Staten is second on the Mountaineers with a 5.9 rebounding average per game.

SMU guard Nic Moore functions in what could be the toughest work environment of any player on this list. Playing point guard for Larry Brown isn’t easy, but Moore is making it look that way, averaging 13.3 points and 4.6 assists per game. He’s second in the American with a 51.5 3-point field goal percentage.

Texas Tech forward Jaye Crockett leads the Big 12 in field goal percentage at 57.9 -- that was before he shot 7-of-12 for 19 points in the upset of Baylor Wednesday. His 14.4 points and 6.3 rebounds rank in the top 15 in the league in both categories.

New Mexico forward Cameron Bairstow embraced his expanded scoring role this season and is second in the Mountain West averaging 20.0 points. Turnaround jumpers from the blocks, hook shots, step backs -- he does it all, which makes him difficult to defend because you don’t know what’s coming next. He was one shot short for the Lobos against UNLV Wednesday, scoring 27 points but missing what would have been a go-ahead basket with 35 seconds left.

Houston forward TaShawn Thomas is shooting 63 percent from the field en route to averaging 17 points per game. But his strength is rebounding (8.9) per game, which ranks second in the American.

California forward Richard Solomon is as dependable as it gets on the boards. He ranks 14th nationally in rebounding at 10.2 per game and has posted five double-doubles for the Bears this season. Who knows how well the Bears could have matched up with Syracuse had Solomon not injured his eye against Arkansas.

3-point shot: Awards, significant wins

December, 23, 2013
12/23/13
10:17
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Andy Katz dishes out awards for team of the week and player of the week and points out a couple other significant wins across the college basketball landscape.

3-point shot: Stanford win big for Pac-12

December, 19, 2013
12/19/13
8:30
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Andy Katz discusses the big win for Stanford, as well as injuries to UConn transfer Rodney Purvis and New Mexico guard Hugh Greenwood.

Weekend picks: U-M takes down Arizona?

December, 13, 2013
12/13/13
10:00
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In last week’s predictions, I “called” Baylor over Kentucky, but I missed Missouri over UCLA and Colorado over Kansas.

It happens. It will continue to happen, I’m sure. I’ll get a few right (maybe) and I’ll miss some. Either way, you all will let me know.

There are a variety of must-see matchups this weekend. Let’s see how many games I can pick correctly in a new round of weekend predictions.

Last week: 3-2

Overall: 3-2

Friday

No. 23 Iowa at No. 17 Iowa State, 9:30 p.m. ET, ESPNU: There will be fireworks in Ames on Friday night. Iowa State averages 91.7 points per game (the NCAA's No. 1 scoring offense) and Iowa averages 89.5 (No. 6). This is only the second time that both teams have been ranked during the rivalry’s history. Both teams can obviously push the tempo. But I think the game will be decided at the 3-point line. Iowa State coach Fred Hoiberg’s offense is built on the 3-ball (five Cyclones shoot 38 percent or better from beyond the arc). But Iowa’s 6-foot-6 wing Roy Devyn Marble & Co. have held opponents to a 26 percent clip from the 3-point line this year. I think this will be a tight game. But I expect Iowa’s length, depth and ability to defend the 3-point to be the difference Friday night.

Prediction: Iowa 98, Iowa State 97 (OT)

Saturday

No. 1 Arizona at Michigan, noon ET, CBS: I think we’ll see the best Michigan performance of the year Saturday. The Wolverines will be home and they’re due for an upset. But it still won’t be enough. This is just a terrible matchup for Michigan. I think there’s definitely a chance the Wolverines could get hot from beyond the arc (38.6 percent). But there are so many mismatches against an Arizona team that’s eighth in offensive rebounding percentage per Ken Pomeroy and boasts (arguably) America’s best frontcourt with Aaron Gordon, Kaleb Tarczewski, Brandon Ashley and Rondae Hollis-Jefferson. The Wildcats have held opponents to just 58.0 PPG and a 27.2 percent mark from the 3-point line. That’s a problem for Michigan, even though it’s hosting Arizona.

Prediction: Arizona 73, Michigan 67

No. 11 Kentucky at No. 18 North Carolina, 5:15 p.m. ET, ESPN: Probably the best game of the weekend. I hope. You really don’t know what you’ll get from North Carolina. The Tar Heels have lost to UAB and Belmont and they’ve defeated Michigan State and Louisville. So recent history suggests that they’ll be ready for Kentucky, which will play its first true road game of the season, because this is another big game. Kentucky’s Julius Randle had eight turnovers in his team’s loss to Michigan State last month. He’s averaging 3.5 TPG. That’s significant because he’s such an offensive catalyst for the Wildcats. And North Carolina has the length to frustrate him and force him into mistakes. Marcus Paige will help the Tar Heels harass Andrew Harrison. North Carolina has already defeated two teams that are playing better basketball than Kentucky is right now. The Tar Heels will get another big win on Saturday in Chapel Hill.

Prediction: North Carolina 81, Kentucky 78

Tennessee at No. 12 Wichita State, 2 p.m. ET, ESPN2: Last season, the Vols topped the Shockers 69-60 in Knoxville. But Tennessee has struggled in the first few weeks of the 2013-14 season. Cuonzo Martin has utilized some young players and re-inserted Jeronne Maymon into his rotation after the forward missed last season with a knee injury. The Vols have won three in a row and Maymon is gradually regaining his pre-injury form (15-for-20 in his last three games). But Wichita State is still riding the wave that was created in last year’s Final Four run. And this Shockers team might be even better than last season’s crew. Fred VanVleet is one of America’s top point guards and a healthy Ron Baker has emerged as a star (15.3 PPG). The Shockers recently held BYU (90.8 PPG) to a season-low 62 points. That defense will be tough for Tennessee to overcome.


Prediction: Wichita State 75, Tennessee 67

New Mexico vs. No. 13 Kansas (Kansas City), 7 p.m. ET, ESPN2: Kansas suffered its third loss in four games Tuesday when it faced Florida in Gainesville. Saturday’s matchup against New Mexico will be Kansas’ sixth consecutive matchup outside Lawrence, Kan. The road has not been kind to Kansas thus far. The Jayhawks had a lot of issues against the Gators. But they showed some fight down the stretch. They’ll have to fight for 40 minutes, however, to beat Mountain West contender New Mexico. The Lobos have a potent trio of Cameron Bairstow, Kendall Williams and Alex Kirk. But they’re facing a wounded animal. Kansas is desperate for a win. And the Jayhawks have the size, skill and athleticism to end this slide.

Prediction: Kansas 78, New Mexico 74

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