College Basketball Nation: Minnesota Gophers

Bracket reveal: Maui Invitational

July, 17, 2013
7/17/13
10:50
AM ET
Editor's note: Over two days, we're releasing the brackets/matchups for 11 of the top early-season events. A thread of previews and info for all 11 tourneys can be found here.

Tournament bracket for the EA Sports Maui Invitational

When and where: Nov. 25-27 at the Lahaina Civic Center in Maui, Hawaii

Initial thoughts: The 2012 EA Sports Maui Invitational will be tough to top.

Chaminade’s stunning annihilation of Texas ... Rotnei Clarke’s buzzer-beater to lift Butler past Marquette ... North Carolina’s uncharacteristic display of mediocrity ... Illinois players hoisting the championship trophy after winning three games by an average of 23.3 points. Each game brought a new storyline.

This year’s event could provide similar drama. Although there is only one preseason top-10 team (Syracuse) in the bracket, the 2013 field is far from weak. Gonzaga spent time as the nation’s No. 1 team last season, Cal and Minnesota made the NCAA tournament, and Baylor won the NIT championship.

Each of those teams (with Baylor being the possible exception) should take a small step back this season, but all of them will still be solid and contend for NCAA tournament berths. In other words, there’s not a dud in this bunch, which leads me to believe that almost every game in this year’s event will be entertaining and competitive.

[+] EnlargeAndre Hollins
Kevin Jairaj/US PresswireMinnesota will be counting on Andre Hollins to provide a scoring punch again this season.
Matchup I can’t wait to see: Minnesota vs. Syracuse. Event organizers couldn’t ask for anything better than a first-round game pitting two of the biggest names in coaching: Pitino and Boeheim. Ha-ha. Gotcha. This isn’t Hall of Famer Rick Pitino we’re talking about. Instead it’ll be his son, Richard, coaching for Minnesota against Jim Boeheim’s Orange. Richard is in his first season with the Gophers after being plucked from Florida International to replace Tubby Smith. Minnesota lost two of its best players (forwards Trevor Mbakwe and Rodney Williams) to graduation, but guards Austin Hollins and Andre Hollins return in the backcourt and may be able to make this game competitive, especially since Syracuse is replacing a few key parts as well.

Potential matchup I’d like to see: Baylor vs. Gonzaga. Baylor shouldn’t have any problems beating Chaminade in the opening round and advancing to the semifinals against either Gonzaga or Dayton. The Flyers are always pesky, but I still think Gonzaga wins that game. Baylor and Gonzaga have faced off in two of the past three seasons, with Gonzaga winning both times by single digits. But I’d pick the Bears in this one. The Zags lost their top two post players (Kelly Olynyk and Elias Harris), and Baylor’s strength is in the paint with Cory Jefferson, Isaiah Austin, Ricardo Gathers, Taurean Prince and Royce O’Neale. Gonzaga boasts one of the country’s top point guards in Kevin Pangos while Baylor is searching for a replacement at that position following the graduation of Big 12 scoring leader Pierre Jackson. Still, Baylor’s overall depth in the backcourt is strong with experienced players such as Brady Heslip and Gary Franklin there to guide newcomers like Ishmail Wainright, Kenny Chery and Allerik Freeman.

Five players to watch

Justin Cobbs, Cal: Transfers are hit and miss, but things couldn’t have worked out any better when Cobbs left Minnesota for Cal a few years ago. The athletic guard averaged 15.1 points and 4.8 assists a game as a junior last season. He’ll be asked to do even more following the departure of leading scorer Allen Crabbe to the NBA.

Tyler Ennis, Syracuse: Returning standouts C.J. Fair and Jerami Grant are more recognizable names, but no player in the Maui Invitational will be under as much scrutiny as Ennis, the freshman point guard who has been tabbed to replace NBA lottery pick Michael Carter-Williams. How Syracuse fares in the ACC and, ultimately, the postseason will depend heavily on how Ennis performs in his first season of college basketball.

Andre Hollins, Minnesota: Hollins led the Gophers in scoring last season with 14.6 points per game. His 41-point effort in a victory over Memphis in the Battle 4 Atlantis was one of the top performances in college basketball all season. He should combine with Austin Hollins (no relation) to give Minnesota one of the more formidable backcourts in the Maui field. The biggest issue for the Gophers will be finding scoring down low.

Cory Jefferson, Baylor: The Bears power forward is fresh off a breakthrough season in which he averaged 13.3 points and eight rebounds a game. Jefferson was particularly effective in the postseason, when he averaged 21.2 points over a five-game stretch to lead Baylor to the NIT championship. The freakishly athletic Jefferson will combine with the 7-foot Austin and a bruiser in Gathers to give Baylor one of the nation’s top frontcourts.

Kevin Pangos, Gonzaga: A point guard, Pangos ranked third on the Zags in scoring last season with 11.9 points per game and averaged a team-high 3.3 assists. He shot just 42 percent from the field, a number that will need to increase this season. The loss of leading scorers Olynyk and Harris (who combined to average 32.4 PPG) means that Pangos will likely be asked to score at a higher rate.

Title game prediction: Syracuse over Baylor

Baylor has the size, depth, talent and experience to hang with Syracuse, and winning the championship of such an elite tournament would be a huge momentum boost for a squad loaded with potential. Syracuse, though, is an incredibly difficult team to prepare for on short notice because of its unorthodox style. Even though they lost Carter-Williams, James Southerland and Brandon Triche, the Orange aren’t short on experience, depth or talent either. Fair averaged a team-high 14.5 points and seven rebounds a game for a team that reached the Final Four last spring. Grant showed flashes of brilliance when his minutes increased during Southerland’s suspension, and DaJuan Coleman, Rakeem Christmas and Baye Keita are poised for breakthrough seasons. They’ve proved they can excel at the highest level. Look for Syracuse to win an entertaining championship game.

Who others are picking:

Eamonn Brennan: Baylor over Syracuse
Jeff Goodman: Gonzaga over Syracuse
Andy Katz: Syracuse over Gonzaga
Myron Medcalf: Syracuse over Baylor
Dana O'Neil: Syracuse over Baylor

Rapid Reaction: MSU 61, Minnesota 50

February, 6, 2013
2/06/13
9:05
PM ET


EAST LANSING, Mich. -- A few quick thoughts from Michigan State's 61-50 victory over Minnesota.

Overview: Indiana commanded the Big Ten spotlight Saturday by defeating then-No. 1 Michigan. Three nights later, the Wolverines became the buzz after they bounced back with a 76-74 overtime win in an epic tilt with Ohio State.

Wednesday, it was Michigan State's turn.

The Spartans reminded everyone that they, too, are legitimate contenders for the Big Ten title by emerging from a physical battle with Minnesota in front of a sold out crowd at the Breslin Center. Gary Harris had 15 points and four assists and Keith Appling added 14 points and three steals for Michigan State. Trevor Mbakwe led the Gophers with nine points and 14 rebounds.

Michigan State trailed 20-18 at intermission before rallying in the second half for its eighth win in nine games. The Spartans led by as many as 12 points with 9:57 remaining. Minnesota pulled within four points, 49-45, on an Austin Hollins free throw with 2:48 remaining. But the Spartans scored the next five points to put the game out of reach.

The victory gives No. 12 Michigan State a 19-4 record overall and an 8-2 mark in league play. Eighteenth-ranked Minnesota fell to 17-6 and 5-5. The Gophers have lost five of their past seven games.

Turning point: Trailing 25-20 early in the second half, Michigan State uncorked a 21-4 scoring run that ended with the Spartans leading 41-29. Minnesota never recovered.

Player of the game: Harris and Appling combined to score 29 points and made a collective 7-of-12 attempts from 3-point range. They also combined for seven assists.

Observations: Adreian Payne (nose) and Appling (shoulder) both had to go to the locker room in the second half Tuesday with apparent injuries. But each eventually returned.

Key stat: Michigan State went 9-of-18 from 3-point range.

Up next: Michigan State plays at Purdue on Saturday. Minnesota hosts Illinois on Sunday.

Battle 4 Atlantis primer

November, 21, 2012
11/21/12
10:45
AM ET
Rick PitinoJamie Squire/Getty ImagesRick Pitino's Louisville Cardinals are part of a loaded field in the Battle 4 Atlantis event.
Thanksgiving weekend temperatures in the Bahamas are expected to hover in the low 80s -- perfect for an afternoon of snorkeling, sunbathing or sculpting sand near the ocean.

But really, who needs the beach?

Basketball will be the main attraction at the Atlantis Resort in Nassau, where eight of the country’s top teams will play in the Battle 4 Atlantis. In just its second year, the tournament boasts one of the most impressive fields of any early-season event in recent memory.

Or at least that’s how things appear.

No. 2 Louisville is a favorite to reach the Final Four for the second straight year. Fifth-ranked Duke is high on momentum after last week’s victory against Kentucky. Missouri, which is ranked 13th, is one of the deepest squads in America, and No. 19 Memphis has its best team yet under Josh Pastner.

That’s four teams ranked in this week’s Top 20 -- not to mention Minnesota, which received more votes than any team not in the poll. Stanford, last season’s NIT champion, is also in the field along with mid-major powers VCU and Northern Iowa.

Whoever wins this tournament will deserve a spot in the national championship discussion -- if it's not already -- and maybe an extra day or two to enjoy the resort. Goodness knows it won’t have much time to relax before Sunday.

The basics: Nov. 22-24 at the Atlantis Resort in Nassau, Bahamas

Thursday's set matchups: Missouri vs. Stanford, 1 p.m. ET; Duke vs. Minnesota, 3:30 p.m. ET; Memphis vs. VCU, 7 p.m. ET; Louisville vs. Northern Iowa, 9:30 p.m. ET

THE FAVORITE

Louisville: No team in the field touts a résumé quite like the Cardinals, who are led by a Hall of Fame-caliber coach, Rick Pitino, and a point guard, Peyton Siva, who was named Big East Preseason Player of the Year. Louisville returns virtually every key piece of last season’s Final Four squad, and potential stars such as Chane Behanan and Wayne Blackshear have a chance to blossom into stars after showing flashes of brilliance as freshmen. Louisville -- in particular, forward Gorgui Dieng -- plays with a toughness that makes it one of the top defensive teams in America.

FIVE PLAYERS TO WATCH

Mason Plumlee, Duke: Not many big men in the country have opened the season as strong as Plumlee, who averages 21.7 points and 8.7 rebounds for the 3-0 Blue Devils. The future first-round NBA draft pick had 18 points on 7-of-8 shooting against Kentucky and heralded freshman Nerlens Noel.

Phil Pressey, Missouri: Pressey, whose quickness helps him blow by defenders on the perimeter and create for others, is having to become more of a vocal leader after the departures of Kim English and Marcus Denmon. The Bob Cousy Award candidate averages a team-high 15.3 points and 4.7 assists.

Adonis Thomas, Memphis: Thomas might have left school for the NBA draft if not for an ankle injury that cut his freshman season short. The 6-foot-6 small forward is a highly skilled offensive player who can shoot the 3, pull up from midrange or drive to the basket. He’s averaging 12 points on a well-balanced team.

Gorgui Dieng, Louisville: Dieng’s numbers thus far (10.0 points, 8.7 rebounds) look somewhat pedestrian until you realize he’s playing only 21 minutes a game. His court time -- and his production -- will increase this week against tougher competition. Dieng, who's 6-11, averaged 3.2 blocks last season.

Trevor Mbakwe, Minnesota: The Gophers standout came off the bench and played limited minutes in Minnesota’s first three games following reconstructive knee surgery that ended his 2011-12 season after seven contests. Mbakwe, though, saw 27 minutes of action Sunday, a sign that he’s building stamina. Mbakwe is one of the country’s top forwards when healthy.

FIVE BIG QUESTIONS

Who drew the toughest first-round game? The folks who made the bracket didn’t do Duke any favors by pitting it against Minnesota in the opening round. Mike Krzyzewski’s squad will be favored, and rightfully so. But Minnesota is a dangerous, athletic team with Austin and Andre Hollins, Rodney Williams Jr. and Joe Coleman. And if Mbakwe is close to 100 percent, a Gophers victory would be considered only a mild upset.

Will Michael Dixon Jr. play for Missouri? No announcement has been been made, but the Tigers will be on a different level once coach Frank Haith lifts the suspension on Dixon, who has yet to play because of disciplinary reasons. Dixon is a tough-nosed guard who plays his best in close games. He and Pressey developed a chemistry in the backcourt last season that was a key reason for the Tigers’ success. Missouri can’t win this tournament without him.

Who is the sleeper in this field? Memphis has enough talent to beat any team in the bracket. The Tigers boast experience, too, with veterans such as Joe Jackson, Chris Crawford, Tarik Black and Antonio Barton. To win games in this loaded field, though, Josh Pastner’s squad must get significant contributions from Thomas, who is still adapting to the college game despite being a sophomore, and highly touted freshman Shaq Goodwin, who is averaging just 5.0 points in his first two contests.

What’s the best potential individual matchup? The dream matchup is obviously a title game pitting Duke against Louisville -- and not just because it’d be Coach K vs. Rick Pitino. The battle in the paint between Plumlee and Dieng would feature two of college basketball’s premier big men going head-to-head. Plumlee is more skilled, while Dieng is tougher physically. It would certainly be exciting to watch.

Will the Battle 4 Atlantis replace the Maui Invitational as the nation’s premier nonconference tournament? That’s definitely the case this season, although the Maui Invitational has a long tradition of putting on one of the best early-season tournaments in America. But hey, what’s wrong with having two marquee events? Nothing has been announced officially, but next year’s Battle 4 Atlantis will include Kansas, USC, Tennessee, Xavier, UTEP, Villanova, Wake Forest and a Big Ten school that likely will be Michigan State.

THE PICKS

Quarterfinals: Missouri over Stanford; Louisville over Northern Iowa; Duke over Minnesota; Memphis over VCU

Semifinals: Louisville over Missouri; Duke over Memphis

Championship: Louisville over Duke
1. Highly-touted freshman forward Sam Dekker will be a major factor for Wisconsin. But he's not the player who has wowed coach Bo Ryan during the first 10 days of official practice. Sophomore center Frank Kaminsky is the player who has caught Ryan's eye more than any other. "He's one of the most improved guys I've ever coached,'' said Ryan of Kaminsky, who averaged 1.8 points in 7.7 minutes a game last season. "He's really doing some nice things. It's going to be hard to keep him off the floor. He moves his body, he know how to move. He has a good feel for passing as a big and he's knocking down the 3-pointer like crazy. He's a big that can stretch and in the post he's developed more than last year.'' Somehow no one should be surprised that Ryan has found yet another big that developed and will suddenly be on the Big Ten radar two years into his career.

2. Iowa is a legitimate sleeper in the Big Ten. I had a question tweeted to me that Iowa coach Fran McCaffery answered on our ESPNU college basketball podcast Monday. The question was simple: Can Iowa win the Big Ten? McCaffery's answer was direct. "I do think it's possible,'' he said. "Can you win the Big Ten with a freshman point guard? Aaron Craft (Ohio State) did. And last year nobody was talking about Trey Burke at Michigan except for me. We're going to beat each other up but we can't lose games by four. At some point we have to win the close games. Michigan did that last year with a freshman point guard. We'll have to do that with a freshman point guard.'' McCaffery is referring to freshman Mike Gesell, who will be the point guard. Meanwhile, Michigan did have a freshman point guard in Burke and the Wolverines finished in a three-way tie for first with Ohio State and Michigan State last season.

3. One of the reasons I have long speculated about why Tubby Smith has stayed at Minnesota is how much he enjoys working with his son Saul on the staff. I spent time with them two years ago and saw how rich their relationship had become professionally with Saul on the staff. Saul's arrest for suspicion of a DUI and subsequent suspension has to be a crushing blow to Tubby. The Minnesota experiment has not been smooth since Day One and this is yet another major obstacle. But this is personal and it will be very interesting to see the long-term effects on the father if Saul doesn't come back to the bench.

Saddle Up: Showdown in the Colonial

February, 14, 2012
2/14/12
4:53
PM ET
Saddle Up is our semi-daily preview of the night's best basketball action. Its browser keeps crashing, which, as it has discovered today, can be quite counterproductive. And also quite infuriating.

Virginia Commonwealth at George Mason, 9 p.m. ET: Can either of these teams notch an at-large bid? It doesn't look good. Their respective RPIs, per Jerry Palm's CollegeRPI.com, are 83 (VCU) and 99 (GMU). Neither schedule is ranked among the top 230 in the nation, and the nonconference SOS numbers don't look much better. The CAA is down as a whole this season, and without much in the way of notable nonconference victories for any of its luminaries (these two, Drexel, and ODU are among that group), it's hard to see how this league will end up with more than one NCAA tournament bid. Alas, the conference tournament may be all that matters.

At least to us. To these two teams and their respective fan bases, there is much more on the line tonight. (Indeed, the smack-talk has long since commenced.) Both enter Tuesday night's game 13-2 in league play with three CAA games (and a BracketBusters matchup) left on the docket. VCU is on an impressive 11-game winning streak since its January loss to Drexel. Had Mason avoided a bad loss to Delaware two weeks ago, it would be winners of its last 10 following, you guessed it, a January loss to Drexel.

Considering all that VCU lost after 2011's miracle run to the Final Four, coach Shaka Smart deserves credit for another excellent coaching job this season. Few would have expected VCU to return to the top of the league in 2012, but Smart's defensive style -- codename: havoc -- is again wreaking exactly that on opposing offenses. The Rams'pressure has yielded the nation's second-highest steal percentage (15.7 percent), and as such VCU is forcing opponents into the nation's second-highest turnover rate (27.1). The Rams' offense is about as good as it was for most of last season (except for the sudden barrage in the tournament, of course), but the defense has been vastly improved despite the loss of guard 2011 point-pressure specialist Joey Rodriguez. Impressive stuff.

If one of these teams is going to be an at-large NCAA tournament selection, it would probably have to VCU. To get there, the Rams almost certainly have to win out in the league, which means they'd need to take tonight's road trip and a Feb. 25 rubber match with Mason in Richmond. Even then, it might not be enough. But forget the bubble picture for now. The regular-season CAA race is heating up -- we see you, 19-and-1-in-your-last-20 Drexel -- just in time for these teams to sharpen their swords for what should be an excellent conference tournament. You don't need bubble projections to enjoy that.

No. 12 Florida at Alabama, 7 p.m. ET, ESPN: What appears to be a rather ho-hum mid-February SEC conference game -- which is not the same thing as boring, per se; just ordinary -- actually contains a handful of fascinating subplots. On one side, you have an Alabama team that suspended four of its best players last weekend violations of team rules. Two, including guard Trevor Releford, have been reinstated in time to play tonight, but the other two, JayMychal Green and Tony Mitchell, have not, and Green and Mitchell just so happen to be the Crimson Tide's two leading scorers and most important players. Whatever they did to necessitate a suspension, you have to give coach Anthony Grant some credit. The Tide can nary afford a collapse down the stretch if they want to get into the tournament, but Grant is apparently willing to risk as much to teach his players a lesson. Strong stuff.

On the other side, you have a Florida team coming off two straight losses. One was a beatdown at Kentucky. The other was a baffling home loss to 13-12 Tennessee. "Hey, it happens" was the common refrain after the former, but it does not apply to the latter. Can the Gators gain some confidence -- not to mention some semblance of defense -- against a hollowed-out opponent, even on the road? If the Gators don't, and Alabama somehow keeps this thing close without its two leading scorers, will it be time to enter full-on freakout mode? Most importantly, do the Gators have some defensive improvement left to uncover? If not, can this team -- which has to make outside shots to win -- make good on its talent and potential? All valid questions in advance of tonight's trip to Tuscaloosa.

No. 6 Ohio State at Minnesota, 9 p.m. ET, ESPN: Before Saturday's home loss to the defensively brilliant Michigan State Spartans, Ohio State had been defeated a mere three times. Their combined margin of victory in the three games following those losses is ... carry the one ... 72 points. Granted, two of those blowouts came against South Carolina Upstate (not as bad as you'd think, by the way) and Nebraska (about as bad as you'd think), but the point remains: You don't want to make Ohio State angry. You wouldn't like it when Ohio State gets angry.

Surely, the Gophers would have been hoping for a different Buckeyes-Spartans outcome Saturday. Tubby Smiths' team is 5-7 in the Big Ten and teetering on the tail end of the bubble picture and, well, opportunities to improve your résumé don't get much any better than "vs. Ohio State." A win here would be massive for the fledgling, Trevor Mbakwe-less Gophers, a team that has remained competitive despite the devastating loss of its best player to a career-ending knee injury in November.

Can Minnesota pull it off? To do so, they'll need to play a near-perfect game. Specifically, they'll have to kick their turnover habit, no small feat when Aaron Craft is harassing your point guard for 40 minutes. But the Gophers do have the benefit of a blueprint: On Saturday, Michigan State showed that you can defend the Buckeyes -- heck, might even out-defend the best per-possession defensive team in the country -- if you can manage to make everything difficult for Jared Sullinger without losing track of William Buford, Deshaun Thomas and the rest of Ohio State's perimeter threats. Knowing how to do this is one thing. Executing it with Spartans-esque efficiency is another. But if the Gophers want in the tournament, a similar plan may be their best bet.

Everywhere else: UNLV travels to TCU. ... Mississippi State will be eager to bounce back from its home loss to Georgia at LSU, but the upset-minded Tigers are no pushover in 2012. ... Speaking of bubble teams, Texas could certainly use a win at rival Oklahoma. ... Seton Hall can't afford to lose at home to St. John's. ... and Creighton, purveyors of a three-game losing streak, will attempt to right the ship on the road against a bad Southern Illinois team. It should be a win, but we said that about Evansville, too. You never know.

Midweek Watch: Wednesday predictions

January, 25, 2012
1/25/12
11:00
AM ET
Editor's Note: Former Maryland head coach Gary Williams is overwhelmed with emotion about tonight's court-naming ceremony and talked with Andy Katz about it in today's Daily Word. In the same piece, you'll also find former coach Lefty Driesell's reaction -- let's just say he's not quite as thrilled.

The Maryland Terrapins are probably a year or two away from being good enough to compete for the ACC title again, but there will still be plenty to play for in tonight’s home game against Duke.

“We have to play for Coach [Gary] Williams,” guard Sean Mosley told reporters. “We don’t want to let him down on this big night.”

Less than a year after he resigned, Maryland is naming the Comcast Center court after the former coach. The move will become official during a pregame ceremony that’s scheduled to begin approximately 20 minutes before the 9 p.m. ET tip.

“We all know how Gary got up for the Duke game,” said Williams’ successor, Mark Turgeon, “so it’s an appropriate night for us to unveil his name on the floor.”

Williams coached Maryland from 1989-2011. The Terps went 461-252 in his 22 seasons, winning the NCAA title in 2002. Williams resigned after a 19-14 finish last season.

“It was great to have the opportunity to play for him,” forward James Padgett told assembled media. “It’s great to play in the game that they’re honoring his name.”

Revved up as the Comcast Center crowd may be, beating Duke certainly won’t be easy. Maryland is just 12-6 overall and 2-2 in ACC play. The Terps enter the game on a two-game losing streak and have lost nine of their past 10 against the Blue Devils, who fell to No. 6 in this week’s poll following Saturday’s home loss to Florida State.

Still, Turgeon told reporters there is no opponent more appropriate than Duke for tonight’s game.

“I don’t think there’s any question that Duke, in our fans’ minds, in our players’ minds, has been the rivalry game that we need to play well and be ready to play,” Turgeon said. “It will be our first game that’s sold out. From Day 1, getting out in the community, people talk about Duke.”

No one more so than Williams.

“I’m sure we’ll get a fist pump [Wednesday],” Turgeon said.

Prediction: Duke 75, Maryland 68 -- The atmosphere should be incredible tonight in College Park, but the Terrapins aren’t quite good enough -- at least not yet -- to capitalize. Duke will be looking to bounce back from Saturday’s home loss to Florida State. Austin Rivers is averaging 19.5 points in his last two games.

Some more picks for tonight's games:


Missouri at Oklahoma State -- The Cowboys have lost five of their last seven games, so it will be interesting to see what kind of crowd shows up at the normally raucous Gallagher-Iba Arena for tonight’s showdown with second-ranked Missouri. The Tigers are coming off a huge road win at Baylor. On a neutral court, this would be a mismatch.

Prediction: Missouri 80, Oklahoma State 64

Minnesota at Michigan State -- The Gophers are on a three-game winning streak with wins against Northwestern, Penn State and Indiana, the latter two of which occurred on the road. Playing Michigan State in East Lansing, however, is a different beast. Minnesota will have trouble stopping Draymond Green, Branden Dawson, Adreian Payne, Derrick Nix and the rest of the physical Spartans in the paint.

Prediction: Michigan State 70, Minnesota 56

BYU at Virginia Tech -- This is a rather strange game to be playing in the middle of the conference season, but that doesn’t make it any less intriguing. Virginia Tech was regarded as one of the worst teams in the ACC before it shocked Virginia on Sunday. The win should provide a huge momentum boost to the Hokies entering tonight’s game. BYU has won six of its last seven contests, but all against weak competition.

Prediction: BYU 70, Virginia Tech 63

LSU at Mississippi State -- The Bulldogs need to make sure this doesn’t turn into a trap game. Mississippi State plays at Florida on Saturday, so there’s a danger that Rick Stansbury’s squad could be looking ahead. There’s absolutely no way MSU and its vaunted trio of Dee Bost, Arnett Moultrie and Renardo Sidney should lose to LSU at home. The Tigers have dropped three of their last four games.

Prediction: Mississippi State 78, LSU 67

Villanova at Louisville -- With wins in its last two games, Villanova is finally tasting some success after a rough first half of the season. But like any team, the Wildcats will be hard-pressed to beat Louisville at the KFC Yum! Center. The Cardinals have a little bit of momentum again after winning at Pittsburgh over the weekend.

Prediction: Louisville 62, Villanova 54

Florida State at Wake Forest -- The Seminoles have thrust themselves into the national spotlight with victories over North Carolina and Duke. The question is whether they can stay there. In past years, big victories have often been followed by shocking defeats. A loss to the Demon Deacons would certainly qualify as that.

Prediction: Florida State 78, Wake Forest 64

Providence at Pittsburgh -- The Panthers’ free fall has been shocking. One year after winning the Big East regular-season title, Jamie Dixon’s squad is 0-7 in the league standings, the only team without a conference win. Things will hit an all-time low if Pittsburgh can’t beat Providence (1-6) at home.

Prediction: Pittsburgh 68, Providence 60

West Virginia at St. John’s -- If West Virginia wants to be a serious player for the Big East title -- and the Mountaineers certainly have a chance -- it can’t afford to lose road games to inferior opponents. That certainly describes the youthful Red Storm, who have lost six of their last seven games, including five by double digits.

Prediction: West Virginia 82, St. John’s 65

Central Florida at Tulsa -- With a 5-1 league record, UCF has a half-game lead over Southern Miss, Marshall and Memphis (all 4-1) in the Conference USA standings. Tulsa (4-2) isn’t far behind. Winning on the road is never easy, but Donnie Jones’ squad surely realizes the importance of tonight’s game. Forward Keith Clanton (15.4 ppg, 9.1 rpg) needs to play well for the Knights.

Prediction: Central Florida 61, Tulsa 58

Notre Dame at Seton Hall -- Notre Dame is fresh off a victory against then-No. 1 Syracuse. Seton Hall, meanwhile, wasted the momentum gained from victories over West Virginia and Connecticut by losing to South Florida and Villanova. Can Herb Pope, Jordan Theodore and the rest of the Pirates rediscover their groove at home?

Prediction: Seton Hall 68, Notre Dame 65

Saint Louis at Xavier -- The Musketeers had won four straight games before Saturday’s 15-point loss at Dayton. Home wins are imperative if Chris Mack’s squad wants to stay in the hunt for the Atlantic 10 title, which is why I think Xavier will beat the Billikens tonight. Mark Lyons has passed Tu Holloway as X’s scoring leader by the way.

Prediction: Xavier 71, Saint Louis 67
When I heard that Minnesota’s Trevor Mbakwe had torn the ACL in his right knee and will miss the rest of the season as a result, I had flashbacks. And they were all based off phone calls I received during my time covering that team.

The star recruit who delivered a farewell address to the program and its fans through YouTube. Seriously.
The Mom who traveled from Canada and contacted me at 3 a.m. to confirm that her son, another highly touted recruit under Tubby Smith, had played his last game for the Gophers. The Dad who wanted to know how his son had ended up in the academic bind that would force him to miss the majority of the 2009-10 season. The same Dad who called a year later to say his son had suffered a broken foot and would miss most of the following year, too.

Monday’s news felt familiar for me and others who’ve tracked Smith’s Gophers. Not the specific injury, but the damage to the program’s prospects.

When Minnesota’s season was separated from its potential as Mbakwe clutched his right knee, I was shocked but not surprised, if that makes sense. I couldn’t believe that the injury had occurred at this juncture of the season.

But bad news has become the norm at Minnesota. Few teams have experienced the breadth of Minnesota’s tough luck in recent years.

Check out this timeline:

2009-10

- Royce White, the program’s first five-star recruit in nearly a decade, announces his decision to quit college basketball through YouTube. Minnesota’s 2009 Mr. Basketball eventually leaves the program and signs with Iowa State without suiting up for the Gophers.

- Mbakwe is suspended for the entire season due to legal issues connected to a felony assault charge in Miami. He never pled guilty. By entering a pretrial intervention program, he’s reinstated by athletic director Joel Maturi.

- Starting point guard Al Nolen is ruled academically ineligible for the entire second semester.
2009-10 (Offseason)

- Justin Cobbs and Paul Carter transfer.

2010-11

- Devoe Joseph transfers to Oregon in January.

- Nolen misses the majority of the season with multiple foot injuries. The Gophers lose 10 of their last 11 games. They started the year with a Puerto Tip-Off championship anchored by wins over North Carolina and West Virginia.

2010-11 (Offseason)

- Colton Iverson transfers to Colorado State

2011-12

- Mbakwe suffers a torn ACL in the team’s seventh game. Smith has had missing parts for three years. Injuries, transfers and other issues have rocked the program. Mbakwe’s injury, however, is Smith’s biggest setback because of his significance to Minnesota’s slim postseason hopes. Past Gophers teams had veterans who’d experienced major setbacks in the past. They knew how to recover and adjust.

But this is Tubby’s youngest team. Mbakwe was an old man on a squad with multiple newcomers. Someone will have to step up, but most of the candidates are still learning their roles and transitioning to Division I basketball.

Junior Rodney Williams and senior Ralph Sampson III will face the most pressure to help the program avoid a collapse. But their time at Minnesota has been defined by inconsistency. Andre Hollins and Austin Hollins are tough young guards who continue to mature. And Julian Welch has gotten off to a strong start, too.
They can help.

But Mbakwe was The Man for the Gophers. A potential All-American. One of the nation’s top rebounders. And after experiencing international competition and high-level instruction at top camps during the offseason, he was a more polished player on offense.

Now, the Gophers will have to find a way to compete without him.

Bad luck is one thing. But at what point is a team considered to be cursed?

You have to wonder why things continue to go south for Smith and the Gophers.

This is just bizarre.
When John Calipari isn't busy exposing fake Twitter accounts on behalf of his players, he's doing what he's best at: recruiting. To that end, Calipari told the media Thursday that he might have one more addition in 2010. Calipari didn't name names, naturally, but Minneapolis Star Tribune hoops writer Myron P. Medcalf helped fill in the blanks: The player Calipari referred to could very well be former Minnesota Gopher Royce White.

As a quick reminder, White was the No. 8-ranked power forward in the class of 2009. White committed to Tubby Smith as part of the coach's best recruiting class in his Minnesota tenure and was slated for future stardom almost as soon as he arrived.

Things quickly went downhill. White was charged with shoplifting and assault in an incident at the Mall of America; soon thereafter, he was implicated in the theft of a laptop from a dorm room. That led to a suspension and White's eventual YouTube "retirement," which was both thoroughly entertaining and thoroughly bizarre. White came back to the Gophers shortly after that retirement, but eventually left, saying he couldn't trust Minnesota university police and didn't feel safe on campus.

In other words, if Tubby Smith didn't have heartburn before he signed Royce White, he certainly does now.

Whether Calipari would be willing to take on White has a lot to do with whether he thinks White's talent outweighs his baggage. An athletic 6-foot-8, 225 pounds, White could be a force on the court. But he'd also face eligibility issues. White's academic failures would force him to enroll in fall classes and hope to get eligible in time for the spring semester, as players cannot use summer school toward eligibility for the fall semester.

It's risky. White is a good player, and maybe he can get figure things out and make the most of a second chance at another high-profile hoops program. But if his time at Minnesota is any indication, White could be more trouble than he's worth.
It's the province of the SEC and the Big 12, but, until recently, not the Big Ten: Conference divisions.

Now that the Big Ten has 12 teams -- the most likely number for 2011, unless something crazy happens with Notre Dame or the Big East -- the conference has to decide whether it wants to institute some sort of SEC-esque regional division structure. Is it East/West? North/South? Which configurations work best, and why? And does the Big Ten really need two divisions anyway?

FanHouse's Bruce Ciskie took a look at a few potential geographic divisions. Splitting the conference right down the middle into East and West doesn't quite work, at least not for football; it would shove Ohio State, Michigan, and Penn State in the East, leaving a Big Ten West that would look awfully similar to Nebraska's old digs in the Big 12 North.

In the end, it's hard to disagree with NBC's Mike Miller -- the best option is North/South No. 2. That grouping puts Iowa, Michigan, Michigan State, Nebraska, Minnesota, Wisconsin in the North and Indiana, Illinois, Northwestern, Ohio State, Penn State and Purdue in the South. It's not geographically perfect, sure, but it does create a nice bit of competitive balance in both sports, even if the North looks a bit stronger in the football.

But the real issue for hoops fans here is whether or not the basketball side needs divisions at all. And that answer? No. If the conference does decide to use the format, it should make sure the divisional rankings have nothing to do with conference tournament seeding, something the SEC has consistently failed to get right. Hoops divisions are fine and dandy if you want them; just make sure they exist more as a scheduling shortcut than a delineated way to organize the conference competitively. Leave that to football, thanks.

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