UNC’s confident entering Duke rematch (and then some)


Every Duke-North Carolina game receives a massive amount of hype. But sometimes it’s justified when the game promises to be fantastic.

Like Saturday.

The ACC regular-season title is at stake when the Blue Devils (27-3, 13-2) play at Chapel Hill against a Tar Heels team (23-6, 13-2) that’s growing more confident by the day.

In fact, they’re confident enough to go all Joe Namath on us.

“I’m glad it’s home; that will give us a little advantage,” Kendall Marshall Dexter Strickland told the Charlotte Observer. “I feel like the last time we played them, we just made mental errors that can be mentally corrected. I think that on Saturday, we’re going to win. I know we’re going to win on Saturday. I have a lot of confidence in myself and in my teammates. And if everybody has the same attitude I do, I know we’re going to win.”

Brash? Yes. But Strickland’s not trying to glib. He’s just calling it like he sees it. When you have that much talent on the roster, it’s an easy thing to say.

“I knew my potential, and my team’s potential,” he told the paper. “All-Americans … we just have to play to our potential. If everyone plays to our potential, who’s going to stop us?”

That confidence can’t be all bad. With two freshmen and three sophomores getting loads of playing time, they need all the confidence they can muster. Be brash. Be bold. It’s doing wonder for Harrison Barnes.

As Mike DeCourcy writes, the freshman wing isn’t shooting well, but his confidence is off the charts. He’s playing aggressively on offense, which is creating opportunities for his teammates (when he’s not hitting game-winning shots).

Their oldest rival comes to town Saturday. They’re going to need all the confidence they can get.

Avoiding a cold spell in the second half also would help.

You also can follow me on Twitter @MikeMillerNBC.

Skal Labissiere has not been cleared by the NCAA

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Kelly Kline/Under Armor
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While the timeline surrounding Cheick Diallo’s eligibility has made headlines for months now, another elite recruit at a blue blood program is still awaiting word on whether or not he will be allowed to play college basketball this season.

Kentucky center Skal Labissiere, the No. 1 recruit in the Class of 2015 and a potential No. 1 pick in the 2016 NBA Draft, has not yet been cleared to play this season. His guard, Gerald Hamilton, confirmed as much to ESPN earlier today.

“Not yet,” Hamilton said. “We’re just trying to get everything squared away. They are asking a few questions.

“They haven’t cleared him, but we’re sticking with our faith. There’s no real concern about anything from the Kentucky compliance people.”

Labissiere has more red flags than you can count, almost all of them pertaining to Hamilton. It was the worst kept secret in high school basketball that Hamilton more or less had Labissiere for sale. It’s why he played three different AAU programs and two different high schools in four years. Hamilton runs a non-profit called Reach Your Dream and, after a transfer rendered him ineligible for his senior high school season, Labissiere played for a team called ‘Reach Your Dream Prep’, which Hamilton founded simply to ensure Labissiere had a place to play.

Here’s how CBSSports.com summarized things back in November:

Multiple coaches who have recruited Labissiere told CBSSports.com Hamilton either directly indicated or strongly suggested pursuing Labissiere would mostly be a waste of time if they couldn’t offer assistance in helping fund his foundation. One coach from a prominent staff said: “We couldn’t even get in the door.” Another added: “We recognized what it was about early on and decided not to get involved.”

In other words, no one is surprised that the NCAA is looking into Labissiere’s situation, and it’s not hard to look at Kentucky bringing in Isaac Humphries and Tai Wynyard as a sign that they’re not completely certain that Labissiere will make it through this. The surprise is in how quiet that investigation has been over the course of the last few months.

The shame in all of this is that Labissiere is a sweet kid with an incredible back-story. He survived the devastating earthquake in Haiti despite having a house collapse on him. If he can get through this investigation, he’ll easily be one of the biggest and most likeable stars in the sport this season.

Xavier commit to enroll early, redshirt

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Xavier landed a commitment on Wednesday from four-star big man Eddie Ekiyor, a source confirmed to NBCSports.com.

Ekiyor, who picked the Musketeers over Miami and Florida, is a borderline top 100 recruit. He’s an athletic, 6-foot-8 post that shouldn’t have an issue adjusting to the pace and physicality of the game, although he needs to continue to develop offensively to be more than a catch-and-dunk big man down the road.

In other words, on paper, Ekiyor isn’t much different from the majority of high major big men. But what’s different about this situation is that Ekiyor will be enrolling at Xavier for the start of the spring semester, technically making him a member of the Class of 2015. Xavier won’t be rushing him through the process — he’ll redshirt the second half of the 2015-16 season — but getting him on campus early will allow him an extra six months of learning the Xavier system, developing in collegiate practices and working out with the Xavier strength coaches.

That should help him limit the adjustment phase as he transitions from high school. That’s important for the Musketeers, because there’s a chance that they could lose their starting front line — James Farr (graduation) and Jalen Reynolds (early entry) — after this season.