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Friday’s Pregame Beat: Previewing your college hoops weekend

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UPSET ALERT

Sat. 6:00 pm: No. 6 SDSU @ New Mexico: With Duke’s loss to Florida State on Wednesday night, there are now just four undefeated teams left in the country — Ohio State, Kansas, Syracuse, and SDSU. And while, on paper, SDSU seems to be the outlier in this group, don’t be fooled by their non-BCS conference affiliation. This team is legit.

They have arguably the best, and most versatile, front line in the country with Kawhi Leonard, Malcolm Thomas, Billy White, and Brian Carlwell. DJ Gay is an underrated point guard, and the addition of a shooter in James Rahon on the perimeter has given the Aztecs another dimension. But do not sleep on this Lobo team, especially at the Pit. They have a high-major front line with Drew Gordon and Emmanuel Negedu complementing Alex Kirk and AJ Hardemann. Dairese Gary, Kendall Williams, and Philip McDonald one of the best back courts out west.

Steve Alford’s crew has struggled early in the season, but this is a group that is still coming together with the addition of Gordon that will be playing in front of a raucous home crowd. This is a better game than the records indicate, and New Mexico has a real chance to beat the Aztecs and get a win they really need on their resume.

UPSET SPECIAL

Sat. 11:00 am: Marquette @ No. 17 Louisville: These two teams matchup really well with each other. Both are heavy on talented guards, both shoot a lot of threes, and neither is afraid to play an uptempo game. As Notre Dame found out on Monday, this Marquette club — as they seemingly are every season — is much better than their record indicates. The key for Marquette? Defend the three — which the haven’t done all that well this season — and get the ball to Jae Crowder and Jimmy Butler.

Sat. 1:00 pm: Northwestern @ No. 24 Michigan State: Northwestern has to get a win against a few of the big boys in the Big Ten if they are serious about making a run at their first NCAA Tournament bid. I think this is a pretty good matchup for the Wildcats. They spread the floor, they execute a difficult offensive to defend, and they are going against a team that has not defended the three point line all that well through two months. Shurna had 24 points in a win over Iowa on Tuesday. Is he finally healthy?

Sat. 5:00 pm: No. 22 UCF @ Southern Miss: UCF has played as well as anyone in Conference USA this season, but with Memphis slowly fading out of the picture, USM may actually be the most talented team in the league. The Golden Eagles have a couple of good perimeters to throw at Marcus Jordan, but the most intriguing matchup in this one is between Gary Flowers and Keith Clanton.

Sat. 6:00 pm: Baylor @ Iowa State: This would seem silly at first glance, but hear me out. Baylor is not as good as we all expected them to be this season. In the same way Kansas State has struggled, Baylor has as well. They have an all-american guard and a loaded front court. But do the Bears have anyone that can get LaceDarius Dunn or one of Baylor’s big men an open look? ISU hasn’t been terrible this season. They gave Kansas a bit of a scare on Wednesday night. Diante Garrett and Scott Christopherson deserve some national pub, as well.

Sat. 8:00 pm: Loyola Marymount @ Gonzaga: In terms of raw talent, there might not be a team in the WCC better than the Lions not named the Zags. With guys like Vernon Teel and Drew Viney, this LMU group was picked second in the preseason. They’ve lost a few games here early, but that talent is still on the roster. Teel-Viney going against Stephen Gray and Elias Harris? That’s worth it back ground noise as you pregame for your Saturday night.

Sun. 12:00 pm: No. 11 Notre Dame @ St. John’s: Notre Dame is 14-3 on the season. Their three losses? To Kentucky at Freedom Hall in Louisville, to Syracuse at the Carrier Dome, and to Marquette at the Bradley Center. They are 14-0 in home and neutral site games. Just like the Irish need to get a win on the road, the Johnnies need to get a win, period. They are in the midst of a tough eight game stretch, and coming off of a 15 point shellacking at the hands of the Irish in South Bend last Saturday. Now’s the time to turn around this losing streak.

Sun. 1:30 pm: No. 8 Purdue @ West Virginia: I made the decision to slot this game into the Upset Special category before I saw the Boilermakers nearly knock off Minnesota on the road despite getting poor performances out of, well, everyone except JaJuan Johnson. Johnson, on the other hand, torched a big Gopher front line for 29 points and 11 boards. That said, Bob Huggins has started to quiz his team on their scouting reports, and the difference is noticeable, as the ‘Eers are finally playing like they are capable of. They just beat Georgetown in Georgetown on Monday and on Thursday they mollywhopped Providence by 30 points. Morgantown is usually a great environment when West Virginia is good. Let’s hope that trend continues.

BEST MATCHUPS

Sat. 12:00 pm: Cincinnati @ No. 4 Syracuse: Actually, if I’m being truthful, I think that the Bearcats are going to get smoked against the Orange. Just like St. John’s got smoked on Wednesday night. This year’s version of the Syracuse zone just keeps getting scarier and scarier. Cincy is a bigger team that lacks a bit in the playmaking and shooting departments. Based on Syracuse’s size this season, and with Kris Joseph turning into the elite slasher we expected him to be and James Southerland providing just that much more versatility, Bearcat fans should be nervous.

Sat. 12:00 pm: Vanderbilt @ Tennessee
: Two games in, and the Tony Jones experiment has gotten off to a pretty poor start. Vanderbilt looks like they could end up being the second best team in the SEC East with Tennessee’s recent struggles, but remember, this is a Tennessee team that has beaten both Villanova and Pitt this year. The matchup of Jeff Taylor and Scotty Hopson could be the best individual matchup of the weekend.

Sat. No. 12 Missouri @ No. 13 Texas A&M: You cannot get two more differing styles than the Tigers and the Aggies. Mizzou likes to pressure for 40 minutes, push the tempo, force turnovers, and shoot threes. Texas A&M wins with ball control, half court defense, and rebounding. Kansas seems to be the best team in the conference with these two, and Texas, fighting for that second spot. Mizzou lost their first conference road game to Colorado, but the Aggies are relatively unproved. This should be a good gauge for both teams.

Sat. 1:00 pm: Maryland @ No. 7 Villanova: This Terrapins team has a bit of Marquette in them. What I mean is that they are now 11-5 on the season, but they aren’t your typical 11-5 team. All five losses have come to likely tournament teams, none by more than nine points. This is a tough, scrappy team that is still learning how to win. That said, Nova is a tough team to learn against. The Terp’s back court will have their work cut out for them against the likes of Maalik Wayns and My Two Corey’s. The key to this one? Jordan Williams staying out of foul trouble.

Sat. 3:00 pm: No. 16 Illinios @ No. 21 Wisconsin: I can’t imagine two teams with as similar a roster composition playing such different styles. Two talented points guard in Demetri McCamey. Nary a physical big man in sight, but you’ll be hard-pressed to find a better front court matchup than Jon Leuer and Keaton Nankivil going against Mike Tisdale and Mike Davis. Quality role players all over the place. The Kohl Center is a tough place to win, but this should be a dandy.

Sat. 7:00 pm: Seton Hall @ No. 5 Pitt: I don’t necessarily believe that the Pirates can win this game. The Peterson Events Center is not a place where road warriors win battles. But the storyline in this game deserves elaboration. Just a few days before Thanksgiving, Jeremy Hazel broke his wrist. He had surgery on Dec. 2nd to repair the wrist. On Christmas day, he was shot in an attempted robbery. On Wednesday night, he played against DePaul and had 23 points on 10-17 shooting. Tough kid.

BEST STORYLINES

Friday

  • 7:00 pm: Valpo @ Wright State; 9:00 pm: Butler @ Detroit: All four of these teams are tied atop the Horizon League standings at 4-1.

Saturday

  • 12:00 pm: No. 23 Temple @ Duquesne: Duquesne is a good team, but Temple looks to be the hands down favorite to win the A-10 this season.
  • 12:00 pm: No. 19 Georgetown @ Rutgers: No one in the country needs a win as badly as Georgetown does. But remember, they lost at the RAC last season.
  • 12:00 pm: Marshall @ Memphis: Can the Tigers snap out of their funk without Wesley Witherspoon?
  • 1:30 pm: Oklahoma State @ Colorado: The battle of the “we just upset Kansas State” teams.
  • 1:30 pm: Texas Tech @ No. 20 Kansas State: Well, maybe Kansas State needs a win as badly as Georgetown.
  • 1:30 pm: South Carolina @ Florida: If it seems like the SEC East is giving us a good game daily, its because they are.
  • 2:00 pm: Virginia @ No. 1 Duke: Virginia will be playing their first game without Mike Scott, while Duke will be taking the floor for the first time since their loss to FSU.
  • 2:00 pm: Nebraska @ No. 3 Kansas: With Wednesday’s performance by the twins, I must ask — are they the Morri, the Morrii, or the Morii? I’ve always gone Morrii.
  • 2:00 pm: No. 9 DePaul @ UConn: Cleveland Melvin originally committed to UConn. He parted ways, ended up at DePaul, and is averaging 13.5 ppg as a freshman.
  • 2:30 pm: Arizona State @ Arizona: Derrick Williams against a front line of … Kyle Cain? Pick him up for your fantasy team.
  • 4:00 pm: Oklahoma @ No. 14 Texas: The Red River rivalry doesn’t have much sizzle on the hardwood this year.
  • 4:00 pm: LSU @ No. 15 Kentucky: LSU has a better record in the SEC than Kentucky does. Enjoy it while it lasts.
  • 4:00 pm: NC State @ Florida State: The Seminoles can beat anyone when they are shooting well. They can lose to anyone when they aren’t. The Wolfpack really need this win.
  • 4:00 pm: Old Dominion @ Hofstra: This might be the best mid-major matchup of the day.
  • 4:00 pm: Austin Peay @ Tennessee State: The Governors have a chance to extend their lead on one of the teams chasing them in the OVC.
  • 5:00 pm: Georgia @ Ole Miss: Renardo Sidney has his best game of the season against Ole Miss on Thursday. Trey Thompkins is what Sidney would be if he actually cared.
  • 5:30 pm: Penn State @ No. 2 Ohio State: Note to the Buckeyes — all Penn State does is upset ranked teams. You’ve been warned.
  • 6:00 pm: UNLV @ Air Force: UNLV cannot afford to lose a game like this if they want to compete in the MWC, but Air Force has been a bit of a surprise this year.
  • 6:00 pm: Boston College @ Miami FL: You probably won’t find a better back court matchup than Reggie Jackson going against Durand Scott and Malcolm Grant.
  • 6:00 pm: UCLA @ Oregon: Have fun watching a game on Matt Court.
  • 7:00 pm: Oakland @ IUPUI: A matchup of the Summit favorites.
  • 8:00 pm: Washington State @ Stanford: After knocking off Washington, Stanford all of a sudden is in second place in the conference.
  • 8:00 pm: Wake Forest @ Virginia Tech: If Virginia Tech loses to Wake, the Hokies might as well pack in their season.
  • 8:00 pm: Dayton @ Xavier: This game looked much better before the season started.
  • 11:00 pm: Utah State @ Fresno State: The Aggies are already head and shoulders above the rest of the WAC, but this is a chance to further distance themselves from the pack.

Sunday

  • 1:00 pm: Valpo @ Detroit; 7:00 pm: Butler @ Wright State: Those Horizon League games from Friday? Butler goes from Detroit to Wright State while Valpo heads the other way.
  • 6:00 pm: Iowa @ No. 25 Minnesota: The Gophers must take care of business coming off of a big win against Purdue.
  • 7:45 pm: North Carolina @ Georgia Tech: The Tar Heels and the Yellow Jackets are probably doing the least with the talent on their respective rosters.
  • 10:00 pm: Washington @ Cal: Cal seems to be handling the loss of Gary Franklin better than U-Dub is the loss of Abdul Gaddy. The Huskies struggle on the road, and they cannot afford to get swept in their northern California trip.

Rob Dauster is the editor of the college basketball website Ballin’ is a Habit. You can find him on twitter @ballinisahabit.

John Calipari helping to raise money for Louisiana flood victims

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It’s easy to be critical of John Calipari.

You don’t have to be a Louisville fan to know all the jokes by now. He cheated at UMass. He cheated at Memphis. He’s had two Final Fours vacated. Teflon John. Yada yada yada.

I get it. Negativity comes with success, particularly for someone who is as brash about his success as Coach Cal is.

But even Cal’s harshest critics cannot begrudge the work he does — can get his players to do — for charity and how well he can harness the power of Big Blue Nation to make a tangible difference. Remember the ‘Hoops for Haiti’ telethon that raised more than $1 million to help earthquake victims back in 2010? Or the hundreds of thousands of dollars he raised for Hurricane Sandy relief? Or when his fantasy camps generated more than $1 million in charitable donations?

And should I mention the amount of times that stories of Kentucky players befriending sick kids or visiting children’s hospitals?

The cynic in me could say that all of this is for branding, helping ensure his players are image-conscious and aware of the sponsorship opportunities that come with being a likable, relatable and humble athlete. There’s probably some truth to that.

But do you think the kids that get visits from their Big Blue heroes care? Do you think it matters to the charities that get seven-figure checks to help with disaster relief?

I say all that to say this: During a press conference on Thursday morning, Cal had this to say, via SEC Country:

Calipari said former UK star Anthony Davis (currently of the New Orleans Pelicans) told Calipari, “Coach, you gotta do something” for Baton Rouge flood victims. Davis is out of the country but will try to get back for Sunday’s softball game to help. His 2012 title teammates, Terrence Jones and Michael Kidd-Gilchrist, were not previously on the celeb list for Sunday but will be there.

Calipari has decided to donate all proceeds from Sunday’s alumni/celebrity softball game will go to the Baton Rouge flood-relief fund, through Red Cross. “So what I’m asking you to do is buy these tickets.” They’re $5 apiece. The previously raised funds will still go to the other designated charities, like each year.

For those so inclined, you can donate to the flooding fund by texting “GIVE” to 859-955-8173.

Vermont women cancels game in North Carolina over HB2

DURHAM, NC - MAY 10:  A unisex sign and the "We Are Not This" slogan are outside a bathroom at Bull McCabes Irish Pub on May 10, 2016 in Durham, North Carolina.  Debate over transgender bathroom access spreads nationwide as the U.S. Department of Justice countersues North Carolina Governor Pat McCrory from enforcing the provisions of House Bill 2 that dictate what bathrooms transgender individuals can use.  (Photo by Sara D. Davis/Getty Images)
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The University of Vermont is the latest in a ever-growing line of organizations canceling events in North Carolina due to the controversial HB2 law.

The Catamounts will not be traveling to play the Tar Heels on Dec. 28th as previously scheduled.

“We strive very hard to create an inclusive climate for our students and staff in which they all can feel safe, respected, and valued,” the school wrote in a statement. “It would be hard to fulfill these obligations while competing in a state with this law, which is contrary to our values as an athletic department and university.”

“This decision was made in consultation with our coaches, the women’s basketball team, and key university officials. We fully understand and sympathize with the impact that this decision may have on the North Carolina women’s basketball schedule. However, we believe this decision is consistent with our values and the conversations with our coaches and student team members. These were the most important considerations.”

Known as the “bathroom bill”, HB2 is the law that requires transgender people to use the bathroom of the sex that they were born not the sex they identify with.

Earlier this year, Albany was forced to cancel a trip to Duke due to legislation in New York regarding visits to North Carolina. The NBA has taken the 2017 All-Star game from Charlotte, and the NCAA is heavily considering pulling NCAA tournament games from the state.

Interestingly, ACC commissioner John Swofford was very non-committal on the subject when asked yesterday.

Derek Willis won’t be suspended for offseason citiation

Kentucky's Derek Willis (35) hits an uncontested three point shot during the second half of an NCAA college basketball game against Tennessee Thursday, Feb. 18, 2016, in Lexington, Ky. Kentucky won 80-70. (AP Photo/James Crisp)
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John Calipari gave a press conference on Thursday morning and, for the first time since his arrest in June, the Kentucky head coach spoke about Derek Willis.

Willis, if you’ve forgotten, was found passed out in the street outside the open driver’s side door of his car at 4:30 a.m. You can see video of the arrest here. Willis is very lucky he wasn’t killed, and that he didn’t kill anyone else trying to drive in that condition.

Cal said that Willis will not be suspended for any games, but “Derek knows he’s under a different eye now than he was.” He did not elaborate on what kind of punishment Willis will receive beyond that, saying that “I don’t throw people under the bus.”

To be honest, I’m a little surprised that Willis won’t be forced to miss any games, but if we’re being frank, sitting out an exhibition and Kentucky’s opener sounds much more appealing than the kind of, ahem, ‘conditioning drills’ that Willis has likely spent the summer doing.

PODCAST: Boeheim’s non-controversy and the coaches we don’t want to fight

Jim Boeheim
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In today’s podcast, I’m joined by Travis Hines to discuss stuff that has been in the news over the course of the last two weeks, specifically Jim Boeheim’s comments about Carmelo Anthony and why it is a total non-controversy.

We also dive into why Boeheim’s comments are forced to be taken out of context as well as Monte’ Morris, ‘Pancake’ Thomas and which college basketball coaches we would least like to fight.

As always, you can subscribe to the podcast on either iTunes or Stitcher, and there’s also a link to listen to this podcast below. Thanks for listening.

Cyclones add big man for 2017

LOUISVILLE, KY - MARCH 15:  Head coach Steve Prohm of the Murray State Racers shouts from the sidelines against the Colorado State Rams  during the second round of the 2012 NCAA Men's Basketball Tournament at KFC YUM! Center on March 15, 2012 in Louisville, Kentucky.  (Photo by Andy Lyons/Getty Images)
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Iowa State secured its first commitment Wednesday of what will be a pivotal class of forwards in 2017.

KeyShawn Faezell of Mississippi committed to Steve Prohm and the Cyclones, he announced Wednesday.

“After praying to God to lead me in the right path and talking with my dad,” Faezell wrote, “I’ve decided to further my education and basketball career under coach Prohm at Iowa State University.”

Faezell, a 6-foot-9 consensus top-150 forward in the 2017 class, joins wing Terrence Lewis as the first two members of a class that figures to number at least six for ISU. The addition of Faezell is key because ISU will be losing three members of its frontcourt it will likely be leaning on heavily in 2015-16 in Deonte Burton, Merrill Holden and Darrell Bowie. A 2016 big man, Cameron Lard, has also yet to enroll in classes this fall due to academic issues, making Faezell’s commitment even more important should Lard be unable to get clearance.

“They need some people to come in and compete,” Feazell told the Ames Tribune. “I think I fit in the program.”

Prohm’s teams dating back to his Murray State days have always been guard-oriented and guard-heavy, but beginning to stack the roster with quality big men will be key as he looks to continue the Cyclones’ success in the Big 12, which includes a school-record five-straight NCAA tournament appearances.