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Elite 8 Preview: North Carolina vs. Kentucky

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When: Sunday, 5:05 pm EST, CBS

The Details: In an NCAA Tournament that has been all about the underdog and the cinderella story, a matchup of Kentucky and North Carolina gives the traditional college hoops fan their dose of blueblood.

The Wildcats and the Tar Heels have already played once this season. UNC won at home, beating Kentucky by two points on a night that Terrence Jones shot 3-17. North Carolina is a very different team than the one that played that night, thanks in large part to the play of Kendall Marshall. But Kentucky is a different team as well. Instead of relying entirely on their talented freshmen to carry them, John Calipari’s team has gotten tremendous play and leadership out of the trio of upperclassmen that see playing time.

Key Matchups: Big men in transition

Tyler Zeller has developed into a very good low post scorer. He has a nice little jump hook that he’s put some range on, he’s a decent face-up shooter, and he can score on the offensive glass. But where Zeller has become the most dangerous is in transition.

I cannot remember the last big man that I’ve seen run the floor as well as Zeller. He routinely beats slower footed post players to the rim, getting easy dunks off of makes and misses. It helps that Kendall Marshall is like a quarterback running the show, throwing sensational outlet passes. John Henson can get out and run the floor as well.

That’s going to be an issue for Kentucky. Josh Harrellson is not the most fleet afoot. He can get beat down the floor. The lack of depth that Kentucky has in their front court won’t help Harrellson stay fresh, either.

Key Stats: Terrence Jones scoring

Jones has not shown up for the NCAA Tournament. He has 30 points and 20 rebounds in three games. He’s taken all of 23 shots in those three games, has grabbed just three offensive boards, and taken just 10 free throws.

Keep in mind, this is the Terrence Jones that some thought had an outside shot at winning national player of the year early in the season. He’s a muscular, 6’9″ lefty with the ability to score in the post, off the dribble, or on the perimeter. The issue with Jones has been that he tends to be a ball hog, and Kentucky certainly does not need him to become a black hole on offense. But they will need him to become a scoring threat.

X-factors: DeAndre Liggins vs. Harrison Barnes

Slowly but surely, DeAndre Liggins has become one of the most important glue guys in the country. On the one hand, he is a terrific defender. He’s got length, he’s got size, and he moves his feet well. He’ll have his work cut out for him against Barnes, who is one of the most talented offensive players in the country. There isn’t much that Barnes cannot do on the offensive end of a basketball court, and he’s played his best basketball of the season down the stretch.

Liggins has also become a valued weapon offensively this year. He’s knocking down threes. He’s putting the ball on the floor and getting to the rim. He’s finding assists. Coach Cal has shown that he trusts Liggins quite a it late in the season.

And the winner is?: North Carolina

I picked Kentucky in my bracket (so please don’t kill me, Big Blue Nation), but the more I think about it the more I like this matchup for the Tar Heels. I don’t think that Jones and Harrellson are going to be able to stay with UNC’s bigs in transition.

DePaul adds 2018 commit

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Wisconsin guard John Diener has committed to DePaul, his grassroots program announced Wednesday night.

The 6-foot-4 Class of 2018 guard ends his recruitment rather early with offers also from instate schools Green Bay and Milwaukee. He’s known as a shooter and becomes the first commit for Dave Leitao in the 2018 class.

Diener, who plays with the Wisconsin Playground Warriors in the spring and summer, commits to the Blue Demons with them coming off a disappointing campaign, Leitao’s first in Chicago. DePaul went 9-22 overall and 3-15 in the Big East, finishing only ahead of St. John’s.

DePaul has been recruiting the Midwest hard with incoming 2016 recruits from La Lumiere School in Indiana, Sagninow, Mich. and locally in Chicago.

Four-star guard Fisher commits to TCU

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Jamie Dixon’s presence is already being felt in the Big 12 and on the recruiting trail.

TCU received its first commitment of the Dixon era when four-star 2016 point guard Jaylen Fisher announced his decision to join the Horned Frogs on Wednesday.

“Due to how comfortable my family and I are with the coaching staff,” Fisher posted from his Twitter account, “and the emphasis the university has put on making basketball a priority, I’m committing to be a student-athlete at TCU.”

Getting a consensus top-75 prospect, who was once committed to UNLV, is a heck of a coup for being just a couple months on the job. It instantly shows the Frogs are going to be a player for some of the country’s top players, which is a necessity if you have designs on making a move up the ladder of arguably the country’s best league in the Big 12.

Maybe the most gratifying thing for TCU, though, is the reason Fisher publicly stated for making his decision, the school’s “making basketball a priority.” The hoops program has suffered immensely in the Big 12 (while the football program has flourished), winning a total of eight games in their four seasons (including a winless 2014), but the school sank $72 million into renovating its arena, made an aggressive move in firing Trent Johnson and then went out and got its dream candidate, Dixon, an alum. Fisher’s commitment is the first time those moves have shown that commitment to basketball paying off.

 

Report: Izundu’s San Diego State transfer ban rescinded

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Washington State transfer Valentine Izundu will be visiting San Diego State after all.

Coach Ernie Kent has rescinded his restriction on the 6-foot-10 graduate transfer from visiting the Aztecs, according to a report from the Spokesman-Review, citing an anonymous source. Izundu will also be reportedly visiting Fresno State and UNLV.

Izundu had previously been barred from considering the Aztecs by Kent because of suspcisions of tampering. Izundu vigorously denied that was the case as at the center of the dispute was a trip he made to San Diego for spring break. He publicly said he did not have any contact with the SDSU coaching staff , though he attended an Aztecs NIT game.

Kent, though, appears to have relented, as many coaches who have similarly faces public pressure in such situations before him have. In this era where so much attention is being paid to player rights and welfare, there only seems to be growing public sentiment against programs restricting transfers beyond the absolute bare minimum is rarely going to go over well. It may make things more difficult for coaches and programs, but it’s the deck is largely already stacked in their favor in most every other instance.

Ex-Michigan State player Keith Appling faces weapons charges

Keith Appling
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DEARBORN, Mich. (AP) Authorities say former Michigan State basketball player Keith Appling faces charges including carrying a concealed weapon after he was found in possession of guns and marijuana in suburban Detroit.

The Wayne County prosecutor’s office says 24-year-old Appling was arrested outside a Dearborn club on Sunday night. Club security called police after seeing a man pull a gun from the trunk of a car.

Prosecutors say Appling was in the driver’s seat of the car when police arrived. Officers found a handgun under the driver’s seat, a loaded weapon in the trunk and a small amount of suspected marijuana.

Weapons and marijuana possession charges were announced Wednesday.

The court says he doesn’t have a lawyer on record.

Appling played for the Spartans from 2010-2014 and plays for the NBA’s development league.

UNLV transfer to finish career at Michigan State

UNLV forward Ben Carter, right, celebrates after his team defeated Oregon in an NCAA college basketball game Friday, Dec. 4, 2015, in Las Vegas. UNLV won 80-69. (AP Photo/John Locher)
(AP Photo/John Locher)
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Former UNLV center Ben Carter announced on Wednesday that he will be transferring to Michigan State to finish his collegiate career.

Carter, who began his career at Oregon, averaged 8.6 points and 6.0 boards in his one season with UNLV before tearing his ACL in late January. He spent two seasons with the Ducks before transferring to Vegas, which is why he’s eligible immediately for the Spartans.

And that’s the biggest reason that Tom Izzo and company targeted him.

The Spartans lost Deyonta Davis to the NBA Draft after one season, a fact that became an inevitability midway through the year but one that the Spartans didn’t necessarily plan for heading into last season. Carter isn’t going to be an instant impact kind of player, particularly not when he’s coming off of an ACL injury, but he is a big body and a veteran presence on a front line that wasn’t going have much of either.