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Andy Katz | Correspondent | December 19, 2017

In-state rivalries SC-Clemson, Georgia-Ga. Tech are hidden gems

Andy Katz interview with Texas A&M's DJ Hogg

What you need to know for Tuesday, Dec. 19:

1. Ohio State coach Chris Holtmann loved playing in the Crossroads Classic in Indianapolis when he coached at Butler. The event with Butler, Purdue, Indiana and Notre Dame has been a major hit for the downtown and the four big-time Indiana schools. Purdue and Indiana don’t play each other since they are both in the Big Ten, so they rotate playing Butler and Notre Dame every season. Holtmann is trying to convince Xavier, Cincinnati and Dayton to do the same in Columbus at Nationwide Arena, starting in 2020 after Ohio State and Cincinnati finish their home-and-home series that will start in November of 2018 at Cincinnati’s refurbished on-campus arena. That game will be either the Tuesday or Wednesday when teams can play in 2018 (assuming the start date is moved off Friday, Nov. 16 to Nov. 13, 2018).

The Buckeyes will get the Bearcats at home to open the 2019 season. Holtmann said Dayton is in for certain for this potential event. Xavier coach Chris Mack told he would do it. Cincinnati coach Mick Cronin told he isn’t closed to the idea, either. He did say, though, “I want the Ohio State series to grow like UK vs. Louisville. I think it will have national appeal. It could be huge for both of us. Hopefully we will both have great teams and I’m confident Chris will win.’’

If Xavier is in, I can’t see how Cincinnati wouldn’t be in, either. This would be a tremendous deal for Ohio basketball and Columbus if this could happen in 2020 and beyond.

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2. Mercer vs. Alabama in Huntsville on Tuesday is yet another example of how Avery Johnson gets it. The Tide played UT-Arlington (W), Rhode Island (W), Louisiana Tech (W), UCF (L) and Lipscomb (W) at home, at Arizona (L), Minnesota (L) and BYU (W) on a neutral court in Brooklyn, and Memphis (W) on a neutral court in Annapolis. Seriously, there isn’t a bad game in that slate. The Tide has played one game against a team that won’t have a decent power rating (Alabama A&M, W). That’s it. Big Mercer fan here. Bob Hoffman’s crew has struggled lately, losing three of four. But the Bears will be a factor in the Southern and could be in play come March. This will/should not go easily for Alabama.

3. South Carolina at Clemson is one of those hidden gem in-state rivalries that gets no pub outside the state. Well, last season, the Gamecocks ultimately were a Final Four team. That’s not going to happen for a rebuilding South Carolina and it won’t for Clemson, either. But the Tigers are building an NCAA resume with wins over Ohio State and against Florida on a neutral court. Clemson cracked our Power 36 and should be in contention for an AP Top 25 spot. This team is defending and has shown great patience on the offensive end. But can South Carolina be a spoiler? Sure. The Gamecocks beat a Massachusetts team that took out Georgia and Providence at home. Stay tuned.

MORE: Full Power 36 rankings

4. Georgia Tech at Georgia is similar to the above rivalry: Good buzz locally, but not much nationally. The Yellow Jackets have struggled offensively but have defended well. Georgia was rolling before getting stunned at UMass by 10. The Bulldogs need to get this one and can’t afford to drop home games. They will have plenty of road opportunities in the SEC. But they need to have a stellar home record. The Yellow Jackets are keeping teams in check at 61 points a game. But they have lost three of the last four. This is the rebuilding season that Josh Pastner was supposed to have last season before the overachieving began. The Yante Maten-Ben Lammers stat comparison should be a good one later Tuesday night.

5. Illinois State has had a wild ride so far this season. The Redbirds have wins over South Carolina, Tulsa — twice — and then at Ole Miss. The win over Ole Miss was in overtime. Sure, Illinois State is 5-6, but it's dangerous in the Missouri Valley. Here’s why: Daouda Ndiaye hasn’t played yet due to a stress fracture. He is Illinois State’s returning 7-footer. Elijah Clarance played seven minutes against Ole Miss. Coach Dan Muller said he’s going to be “big time.’’ Phil Fayne, who is averaging 16.8 points and seven rebounds, missed the loss to Murray State to attend a funeral. But he scored 16 points and had 10 boards in the win at Ole Miss, and Muller is extremely high on his contributions in the coming weeks.

Milik Yarbrough (15.8 ppg, 5.6 rpg) only played 10 minutes against Nevada due to an injury. He’s the one who scored 30 against Murray State and 25 against Ole Miss. Oh, and Keyshawn Evans is averaging 19.2 a game. “Our strength of schedule is top 10-20, but I have three studs every night that are growing up,’’ said Muller. “We have been inconsistent. I think once we are healthy we can be there to win the league in the end. I love what the Valley has done so far (Northern Iowa in the Battle 4 Atlantis final, Loyola-Ill., winning at Florida). We are in position to get multiple bids in my opinion. We have a bunch of very good teams.’’

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