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Previewing your College Hoops Weekend: Happy New Year!

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Game of the weekend: 12:00 pm: No. 4 Louisville @ No. 3 Kentucky

Hopefully Chane Behanan is more accurate in his prediction that this game will “go down as one of the best games in history” than he was about Louisville’s undefeated season. The Battle of the Commonwealth is always going to be a passionate affair, but with both teams currently sitting in the top five of the country, on paper its easy to see why folks like Behanan are expecting this game to be an instant classic. The problem is that the games aren’t played on paper, they are played on a basketball court. And on a basketball court, Louisville simply is not in the same league as Kentucky right now.

That’s not meant as a shot at Louisville, either. I think the Cardinals are a quality basketball team. But they are borderline top ten quality, not Final Four favorite quality. The issue with the ‘Ville this year is on the offensive end of the floor — they ain’t scoring. For all the ability that Peyton Siva has when it comes to using his dribble to beat his defender, he’s yet to become the unstoppable playmaker that some hypothesized that he would turn into this year. As a result, Louisville’s half court offense tends to stagnate, something that won’t be helped by Kentucky’s top-five defense and shot-blocking ability around the rim.

Where Louisville is going to have to find success is defensively, specifically in their press. Marquis Teague has been playing better of late, but he is still quite turnover prone. The Cardinals have a couple of very good back court defenders that are known for their ability to wreak havoc on opposing ball-handlers. If they can force some turnovers, it will take some pressure off their offensive by creating easy baskets.

So what does Kentucky have to do to win? Well, frankly, they just need to play well. The Wildcats are just a better team than Louisville, even if Terrence Jones is struggling with his finger injury. And as good as Kentucky’s front court is, I think the biggest advantage the Wildcats are going to have is on the wing. I’m not sure who on Louisville is going to be big enough to defend Michael Kidd-Gilchrist in the paint. I also am not sure who is going to be the person tasked with making sure Doron Lamb doesn’t get hot, but I can see the sophomore getting quite a few open looks against.

My pick: Kentucky by 10 in a game that isn’t necessarily as close as the final score indicates.

Four other games to keep an eye on

Sat. 6:00 pm: No. 2 Ohio State @ No. 15 Indiana: The consensus feeling is that Ohio State is the best team in the Big Ten by a fairly decent margin. And, generally speaking, on topics like this, I tend to side with the consensus. But the key component here is whether or not Jared Sullinger is a) healthy and b) in game shape. He looked pretty good going for 17 points and 14 boards in a blow out of Northwestern, but playing well in a 30 point win is a different story than having to chase Cody Zeller up and down the court in Assembly Hall. That right there is the key. Indiana is capable of pushing the ball up the floor, and if Zeller can tire Sullinger out, that becomes a big factor for the Buckeyes on the offensive end of the floor.

There are a couple of other things to keep an eye on in this game. For starters, the matchup between Christian Watford and DeShaun Thomas pits two of the best face-up fours in the country, both of whom are dangerous offensive weapons that play marginal defense at best. Indiana is also the best three-point shooting team in the country. Will they be going down? And will Will Sheehey be in uniform in this one? He missed the last game with an ankle injury.

A win keep the Hoosiers from starting Big Ten play off 0-2, which could end up being a hole that is very difficult to pull themselves out of.

Sat. 6:00 pm: No. 19 Creighton @ Wichita State: This is what the Missouri Valley is all about. Creighton, the favorite to win the league and the only team from the conference that is ranked, is coming off of a loss to Missouri State in their conference opener and is an underdog in their second game. Wichita State is a team I am still trying to get a handle on. They beat UNLV by 19 at home, but they also lost to both Alabama and Temple on neutral courts, both of whom have seen their seasons get turned upside down in recent weeks. How the Shockers go about slowing down Doug McDermott will be interesting. Missouri State “held” him to 19 points and 12 boards, but much of that was the result of McDermott’s deference down the stretch.

Sat. 8:00 pm: Gonzaga @ Xavier: Two perennial powerhouses from outside the power conferences, both of whom have fallen off of late. Xavier has an excuse, although I’m not sure I want to call it valid. Since the brawl that they got in with Cincinnati, the Musketeers have gone 1-3, with their lone win coming against (wait for it) Southern Illinois. Xavier looked like a top ten team before that, and Gonzaga may be just the team they want to see to get back into a rhythm. As much as I like Kevin Pangos, he is not what you would call a defender. And when he is sharing the back court with David Stockton, Gonzaga’s ability to keep penetrating guards out of the paint is non-existent. Xavier is tough enough defensively that the Zags need their best offensive team on the floor, but that team includes Pangos and Stockton, who are going to get deep-fried by Tu Holloway and Mark Lyons. Xavier needs a big game out of Elias Harris, who will be a matchup problem for the Muskies.

Sat. 4:00 pm: Illinois @ Purdue: Here’s what makes this game so interesting to me: Illinois is a team full of role players that is lacking the kind of star power that will close out games. Purdue has Robbie Hummel, who has been playing some of the best basketball of his career this season, including being the guy that knocks down big shots for the Boilermakers. But he lacks the kind of supporting that he had with JaJuan Johnson and E’Twaun Moore in town. Its too bad we can’t combine these teams.

Who’s getting upset?: Fri. 7:00 pm: No. 8 Missouri @ Old Dominion

No team in the country has been playing a prettier brand of basketball over the first two months of the season than Missouri. The Tigers have two dynamic ball-handlers that are capable of getting into the lane at will and finding the Tiger’s shooters on the perimeter. Missouri’s biggest advantage comes in the form of Kim English, a 6’6″ two-guard that has slid over and taken the four spot. He’s big enough that he can battle in the paint defensively but he doesn’t miss when he gets his feet set beyond the arc. But here’s the thing about Old Dominion: they are big, they are physical and they can play at home. It will be interesting to see if the Monarchs are able to get Missouri out of their game-plan.

Four more teams on upset watch

Sat. 2:00 pm: Rice @ Texas: Texas A&M wasn’t on upset watch when they played Rice last week. You know what happened? The Aggies lost to the Owls in a game that the Owls controlled for much of the second half. I don’t think Texas is going to make that same mistake, but that by no means guarantees a Texas win. The Longhorns are 291st in the country in defensive rebounding percentage, and they will be facing the best pound-for-pound rebounder in the country in Arsalan Kazemi.

Sat. 2:05 pm: Utah State @ No. 14 Mississippi State: Has Utah State finally turned things around? After starting the year out just 4-5, the Aggies have rallied around the play of Preston Medlin and Brockeith Pane and won four in a row. The last of those wins was a 19 point whooping against Kent State. Now, the Bulldogs have much more talent, especially up front, than Kent State, but the point remains the same here: Utah State is coming off of their best win of the season since opening night, but both of those came at the Spectrum. Can Utah State win one on the road?

Sun. 5:00 pm: Penn @ No. 5 Duke: This pick might seem silly, but I think that Penn is pretty solid. Their point guard, Zach Rosen, might be the third best point guard in the ACC behind Kendell Marshall and Terrell Stoglin. Their off-guard, Tyler Bernardini, is finally healthy and playing like it. Prior to Thursday’s loss to Davidson, Bernardini had his eight threes in back-to-back games.

Sat. 8:00 pm: No. 20 UNLV @ Hawaii: Hawaii is playing with a little bit of confidence after a decent showing at the Diamondhead Classic. And, like the Diamondhead Classic, this game will take place on the islands, meaning the Runnin’ Rebels have a long trip in front of them. It will be interesting to see who Dave Rice uses against Zane Johnson and how he opts to guard the sharp shooter.

Mid-major matchup of the weekend: Sat. 4:00 pm: St. Joseph’s @ No. 23 Harvard

This game has fun written all over it. St. Joe’s is under-the-radar this season, but thanks to Jameer Nelson and Delonte West, the Hawks are a national brand that people pay attention to. Harvard, on the other hand, had a non-existent profile prior to Tommy Amaker’s tenure, and this season the Crimson have parlayed that notoriety into a top 25 rankings and a spot as the Ivy League favorite. Where St. Joseph’s is an uptempo team with a pair of high-scoring guards and a couple of athletic bigs, Harvard is much slower, a team that relies on the Ivy League version of Jared Sullinger (Keith Wright), execution offensively and a roster full of sharpshooters.

Four more mid-major matchups to watch

Fri. 7:00 pm: George Mason @ Charleston: How often do you see two freshmen that were both in the top 100 in the country square against one another in a matchup of true mid-majors? Not that often, but that’s what we have as Eric Copes and Adjehi Baru go toe-to-toe on Friday evening. Baru has had a much bigger role early in the season than Copes has, but neither has become a star. What will be interesting to watch here is how well Andre Cornelius reacts to the battle of the big.

Sat. 2:00 pm: Milwaukee @ Butler: Milwaukee looks like they may end up being the class of the Horizon League this season. But until Butler loses their grip — completely, as in they are knocked out of the Horizon League tournament — I won’t believe that anyone else is going to win a game in that conference.

Sat. 3:05 pm: Drake @ Missouri State: How many people that these two teams sitting at 1-0 after playing Creighton and Indiana State in their openers? I didn’t. But the Bluejays got the job done for us.

Sat. 6:00 pm: St. Louis @ New Mexico: This falls under the category of sneaky-good game that no one is going to talk about. St. Louis is not a secret anymore, and they just may be the second best team in the Atlantic 10. On the other hand, New Mexico has slowly but surely grown past the struggles that they had earlier in the year.

The rest of the top 25:

Sun. 5:00 pm: No. 1 Syracuse @ DePaul: The Orange have yet to slip up as the No. 1 team in the country. That time will come, but not against DePaul.

Fri. 7:00 pm: Western Michigan @ No. 5 Duke: Western Michigan has been playing much better basketball of late, but it won’t be enough against the Blue Devils.

Sun. 3:00 pm: Monmouth @ No. 6 UNC: I’ll pass. The only intrigue will be how much UNC scores.

Sat. 12:00 pm: St. John’s @ No. 9 UConn: St. John’s looked like they were dead in the water for a while, but the Johnnies had a terrific game in the eithr big East

Sat. 2:00 pm: Yale @ No. 10 Florida: Greg Mangano wants to play in the NBA? Here’s your chance, kid. Prove yourself against Patric Young.

Sat. 1:00 pm: Iowa @ No. 11 Wisconsin: Can Iowa break 40?

Sat. 2:00 pm: Providence @ No. 12 Georgetown: Providence is coming off of a seal-clubbing loss to St. John’s that ticked off their coach, forcing him to challenge his player to play and Practice hon i

Sun. 1:00 pm: Villanova @ No. 13 Marquette: Villanova was the original disappointment in the Big East. Then came Pitt and Cincinnati. Now, finally, Marquette is on the robs, having lost to LSU on the road and Vandy (by 20) at home. Who snaps out of it?

Sun. 4:00 pm: Minnesota @ No. 16 Michigan: Minnesota has actually been one of the most surprising teams in the country, but I just don’t see them matching up well with Minnesota, who can’t shoot a lick from the perimeter;;

Sat. 3:00 pm: No. 17 Michigan State @ Nebraska: Michigan State’s win over Indiana was fluky, but I expect a much more thorough performance against Nebraksa.

Sat. 4:00 pm: North Dakota @ No. 18 Kansas: The Jayhawks are fresh off of drilling Hampton in my picket. Literally.

Fri. 8:00 pm: No. 21 Murray State @ Eastern Illinois: This shouldn’t be a test for the Racers.

Sun. 7:00 pm: Cincinnati @ No. 22 Pitt: This game has all kinds of intriguing plot lines. The Panthers bouncing back from a trio of losses. Cincinnati trying to prove themselves a legitimate contender. Cincy’s four guards vs. Pitt’s bigs. The last game Yancy Smith can play in as well.

Fri. 7:00 pm: Towson @ No. 24 Virginia: With a loss, Towson will have gone winless in the calendar year in 2011.

Sat. 2:00 pm: Howard @ No. 25 Kansas State: Two days after getting absolutely worked by Kansas, Howard extends their trip to take on Kansas State.

Other notable games

Friday:

– 7:00 pm: CCSU @ UMass
– 7:00 pm: Princeton @ Florida State
– 7:00 pm: Ole Miss @ Dayton
– 8:00 pm: Oakland @ South Dakota State
– 8:00 pm: West Virginia @ Seton Hall

Saturday:

– 12:00 pm: Virginia Tech @ Oklahoma State
– 4:00 pm: UCLA @ Cal
– 9:00 pm: Charlotte @ Memphis
– 10:00 pm: Oregon @ Washington

Sunday:

– 4:00 pm: Akron @ Marshall

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

VIDEO: John Calipari vows to lose some weight

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John Calipari has a goal this offseason: to lose some weight.

“Mid-50s, I let it go a little bit,” Calipari said as he worked out on an elliptical. “Had a heck of a year. But going forward, gotta get in better shape. Gotta get the body right. Started a week ago. What I will say to you is really simple. I’m not showing you my body for a month.”

The reason why Cal needs to get into shape?

He’s going to have to coach this year, because Tyler Ulis is heading to the NBA.

“I shoulda got some of his salary,” Ulis joked.

Cal won’t have to coach too hard. He’s got one of the best recruiting classes in the country coming into the program, including three top ten players and five of the nation’s top 30 prospects.

Four-star PG Jaylen Fisher de-commits from UNLV

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Coaching changes can wreak havoc on a program’s recruiting class, and that’s been the case for UNLV thanks to the tumultuous nature of their search for a new head coach. Thursday evening one prospect who remained committed to the Mountain West program throughout the process that ultimately led to Marvin Menzies landing the job announced that he’s decided to reopen his recruitment.

Four-star point guard Jaylen Fisher, ranked 55th in the Class of 2016 by Rivals.com, announced via social media that he’s decided to de-commit from UNLV.

“I was very much looking forward to the opportunity to be a Rebel this year,” Fisher wrote. “But there have been a lot of changes with the program since I committed to UNLV; changes that have made me reconsider whether UNLV is still a good fit for me. So with that in mind and after much consideration with my family, I have decided it’s best that I reopen my recruitment.”

Fisher’s decision leaves wing Justin Jackson as the lone member of UNLV’s 2016 class at this point, with Jackson telling Scout.com in early April that he was undecided as to whether or not he’d reopen his recruitment. The school’s search for a coach began in January when they parted ways with Dave Rice, promoting Todd Simon in an interim role.

After deciding not to retain Simon, who’s now the head coach at Southern Utah, UNLV hired former Little Rock head coach Chris Beard…who left for Texas Tech less than two weeks later. UNLV landed Menzies, who they passed over for Beard, and he’s got a lot of work to do to field a roster that will be competitive in the Mountain West next season.

As for Fisher, the Arlington, Tennessee native should be a popular prospect with his decision to reopen things. And with Memphis losing former commit Charlie Moore, the Tigers are in need of help at the point. The question now is whether or not new head coach Tubby Smith will look to reach out to Fisher.

h/t Memphis Commercial-Appeal

NCAA rule change that impacts Memphis coaching staff now official

Memphis forward Dedric Lawson (1) goes up for a shot between Connecticut forward Shonn Miller (32) and guard Daniel Hamilton, right, during the first half of an NCAA college basketball game in the finals of the American Athletic Conference men's tournament in Orlando, Fla., Sunday, March 13, 2016. (AP Photo/Phelan M. Ebenhack)
AP Photo/Phelan M. Ebenhack
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One of the more popular topics in college basketball in recent weeks was the status of Memphis assistant coach Keelon Lawson and sons Dedric and K.J. in the aftermath of the school hiring Tubby Smith. Would Smith keep the elder Lawson on staff as an assistant, thus in all likelihood ensuring that Dedric and K.J. would return as well? Would he let go or attempt to reassign Keelon, and as a result risk losing two players from an already limited roster?

Ultimately Smith decided to reassign Keelon to a non-coaching position, making him director of player development. And with the NCAA having a rule that those with a connection to a prospective student-athlete had to serve in a coaching capacity for the player’s first two seasons, the question was whether or not Memphis would need a waiver to pull off the move.

Luckily for Memphis the NCAA was looking into an alteration of the rule, and on Thursday with the NCAA not taking action on Proposal 2015-30 the change became official.

Under the new rule a coach’s two years on staff would begin immediately upon his arrival. In the case of Lawson this is key as he spent a year on former Memphis head coach Josh Pastner’s staff before Dedric and K.J. enrolled. With the two-year requirement ruled to be served under the new proposal, Smith could reassign Keelon Lawson without having to ask the NCAA for a waiver.

The next step as far as Memphis is concerned is Dedric, who ultimately entered his name into the NBA Draft pool (without an agent), withdrawing and returning to school for his sophomore season. As a freshman Dedric was the best freshman in the American Athletic Conference, averaging 15.8 points and 9.3 rebounds per game for the Tigers. DraftExpress.com currently ranks him 28th amongst college freshmen, which makes him no sure thing to be drafted should he decide to stay in the draft.

At the very least the next month should result in Dedric receiving constructive feedback from NBA scouts and executives that he can use to improve next season.

K.J. played in just ten games last season due to a lingering Achilles tendon issue, averaging 8.8 points and 3.5 rebounds per game. The hope is that K.J. will be granted a medical redshirt for last season, thus preserving a year of eligibility.

Chattanooga men’s hoop coach McCall gets 2-year extension

Chattanooga head coach Matt McCall directs his team during the first half of an NCAA college basketball game against Iowa State, Monday, Nov. 23, 2015, in Ames, Iowa. (AP Photo/Charlie Neibergall)
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CHATTANOOGA, Tenn. (AP) Chattanooga men’s basketball coach Matt McCall has received a two-year contract extension after leading the Mocs to an NCAA Tournament appearance in his debut season.

The school announced the extension Thursday. McCall’s contract now runs through the 2021-22 season.

Chattanooga went 29-6 last season to set a school record for victories. The Mocs captured their first Southern Conference regular-season title since 1994 and also won the league’s postseason tournament to earn their first NCAA bid since 2009.

Indiana beat Chattanooga 99-74 in the first round of the NCAA Tournament.

Athletic director David Blackburn said in a statement, “We had great confidence in who we hired a year ago, and that never wavered. This is in recognition of him and his staff’s great work in equipping our student-athletes for success.”

Jim Valvano’s title-winning N.C. State team to finally get White House visit

FILE - In this April 5, 1983, file photo, North Carolina State coach Jim Valvano embraces sophomore forward Lorenzo Charles moments after Charles had dunked a shot to give North Carolina State the win over Houston in the national championship game at the Final Four of the NCAA college basketball tournament in Albuquerque, N.M. (AP Photo/Leonard Ignelzi, File)
(AP Photo/Leonard Ignelzi, File)
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The N.C. State men’s basketball team never got invited to the White House after they won the 1983 National Title.

It wasn’t a tradition in those days. They spoke with President Ronald Reagan, but they did so from the confines of a television studio in Raleigh. It’s commonplace now to see title winners from all sports making their way to the Oval Office to shake hands with our nation’s leader, but back then, the funding and invitation weren’t always available.

And that never say right with the guys on that team. Since Lorenzo Charles, whose memorable dunk was the title-winning bucket, passed away in 2011, that team has had a reunion every spring, and the topic of going to the White House to celebrate the win always came up. That inspired Thurl Bailey, who was the No. 7 pick of the 1983 NBA Draft, and his friend, Utah Senator Orrin Hatch, to write letters to President Obama requesting that the ’83 iteration of the Wolfpack get their White House visit.

“As definitive as a National Championship sounds, as an athlete there always seems to be unfinished business,” Bailey told N.C. State’s website. “You’re always looking for the next challenge, the next opportunity. This was it for me.  If I could get this done, it would be yet another story for me and the other members of that team to be able to pass along to our kids, grandkids and generations after that.”

Bailey’s efforts proved successful.

On Thursday, N.C. State announced that President Obama had not only received the letters, but he has issued a May 9th invitation for that 1983 team to visit him in Washington, D.C., meaning that Bailey, Dereck Whittenburg and the rest of that 1983 title-winning team will finally get to meet the Commander-in-Chief.

“The joy and the euphoria of winning a national title against all odds, as well as the pain and devastation of losing members of that family, are important parts of who I am,” Bailey said. “Contacting President Obama was one piece of our incredible journey that had eluded us for far too long.”