Column: Major college matchups for the weekend ahead
For the Weekend Shootaround, we take a gander at a few matchups this weekend that carry massive implications in regards to conference standings. Will Cincinnati remain perfect in the American Athletic Conference after playing UConn and SMU over the next couple of days? After dropping its first Big-10 decision of the year at Indiana on Sunday, can Michigan regroup on the road by beating a dangerous Iowa squad? Plus, it took a Doug McDermott buzzer-beater for Creighton to escape at home versus St. John's just over a week ago. What do the Red Storm have in store for the return game on Sunday?
THURSDAY: No. 22 UConn at No. 7 Cincinnati (7:00, ESPN): For the second straight week, Cincinnati represents the first preview in the Weekend Shootaround Column. If you recall, the Bearcats got 28 points out of star shooting guard Sean Kilpatrick-including an 11-11 performance at the charity stripe-at the KFC Yum! Center to take down what was a scorching-hot Louisville team. Cincinnati has no time to breathe, though, as they'll play host to UConn on Thursday night before heading to SMU for a Saturday date. UConn, who climbed back into the polls after clobbering Houston 80-43 a week ago, will hopefully get back forward DeAndre Daniels (13.4 points per game, 48 percent from "3"), who has been fighting both back spasms and a gimpy ankle. Expect a highly physical, grind-it-out affair, despite the fact that UConn and Cincy now compete in the Americana and not the Big East. This will come down to which star shines brighter down the stretch: Kilpatrick or Shabazz Napier (17.9 PPG, 6 rebounds per game, 5.7 assists per game).
SATURDAY: No. 10 Michigan at No. 17 Iowa (2:00, ESPN): We all know the backdrop for Michigan by now. The Wolverines have responded beautifully after losing All-American center Mitch McGary for the year, as Nik Stauskas (17.8 PPG, 2.5 made "3's" per game) has all-too-coolly stepped into the role of go-to guy-which is absolutely fine with the more reserved Glenn Robinson III, by the way. UM fell victim to the Yogi Ferrell show on Sunday (Ferrell finished with 27 points on 7-8 shooting from behind the arc), as Stauskas had an off day (6 points on 1-6 shooting) and Michigan dropped its first conference tilt. A Final Four sleeper, UM will face another potential dark horse March candidate in the Hawkeyes. Iowa, whose offense usually flows as smoothly as a Kyle Korver jumper, shot 3-20 from deep in a setback to Ohio State earlier this week. Roy Devyn Marble, the team's best player, was heckled by OSU's Aaron Craft all night long-Marble somehow netted 11 points, but it took him 11 shots to do so. Back in January, Michigan took down then-No. 10 Iowa 75-67 at the Crisler Center. Stauskas scored 26 in that one, and Iowa's normally-elite bench failed to show up (The Hawkeyes had only 8 bench points). For Iowa to return the favor, they must keep Stauskas from going off and get better production out of Marble.
SUNDAY: No. 12 Creighton at St. John's (7:00, Fox Sports 1): Creighton possesses the best player in the country in Doug McDermott (25.0 PPG, 7.1 RPG), the best frontcourt shooter in Ethan Wragge (has made 2 two-pointers and 78 three-pointers this season), and features an offense that is second-to-none when it coms to freedom, sharing the ball, and efficiency. So would it be ludicrous to say that St. John's might be the more talented squad in this Big East battle? No. Creighton (8-1 conference mark) may be the darlings of the league along with Villanova, but St. John's (4-6 BE) has won five of six after a five-game losing streak. The Red Storm gave Creighton all it could handle in a 63-60 outcome back on January 28th in Omaha, and probably would've pulled off the upset had it not been for McDermott's (39 points, 15-26 FG, game-winning "3") performance-a performance, that is, that may have sealed the envelope in the Player of the Year race. In SJU's most recent win over Providence, junior D'Angelo Harrison (18.3 PPG, 2 "3's" per game) scored 22 points, while JaKarr Sampson (12.7 PPG, 6.3 RPG, attended same high school as LeBron James) chipped in with 21 points and 7 boards. The Johnnies are extremely gifted, and they're currently playing their best basketball of the season. I think I'm smelling a shocker at Madison Square Garden Sunday evening.
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