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Weekend Preview: Kansas-Missouri highlights the best games

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Game of the weekend: Sat. No. 3 Missouri @ No. 4 Kansas, 4 p.m. (CBS)

I’m giddy just thinking about this game. Seriously. I’m writing this sentence with a huge smile on my face. Games like this are what makes this sport incredible. Two top five teams playing their final regular season game for the foreseeable future in what is one of the most intense rivalries in college athletics with the Big 12 title on the line. If I could change anything, I would make this game, which could be the final regular-season matchup in the 105-year history of the Border War, played on the last day of the regular season. It feels like this is for all the marbles. It would be even better if it actually was.

The biggest difference between these two teams now as opposed to the last time these teams got together is Jeff Withey. He went scoreless in 22 minutes against Missouri. Since then, he’s played like an All-American. It’s not a  stretch to say that in the last five games, all wins, Withey has been as good as, if not better than, Player of the Year candidate Thomas Robinson. Kim English was matched up on Withey the last go-round. Withey needs to make that mismatch go in the Jayhawks’ favor on Saturday.

The Tigers are coming off of a loss to Kansas State at home on Tuesday in which Phil Pressey played his worst game of the season and everything that has been mentioned as a potential issue for this team — perimeter defense, interior size, shot selection — became an issue. I am as high on Missouri this season as anyone, but it almost looks like teams have figured out the blueprint for beating the Tigers. Winning in Phog Allen is not going to be an easy thing for Missouri to do, so I’m not going to come down too hard on them for a loss. But I do want to see them but up a fight.

My pick: I’m going with Kansas. I think the duo of Withey and Robinson will be too much, and the fact the game is in Lawrence will make a difference. I do, however, think it will be just as close and entertaining as their last matchup.

Five more games you can’t miss

Sat. Vanderbilt @ No. 1 Kentucky, 12 p.m. (CBS): The last time these two teams got together, Vanderbilt tore apart Kentucky’s defense for much of the second half, erasing a 13 point deficit and coming as close as anyone to knocking off the Wildcats. But that was in Nashville. This is in Rupp, and that makes all the difference in the world. John Calipari as yet to lose in Lexington as the head coach of Kentucky, and I don’t see it happening on Saturday. That said, if Kentucky comes out like they did in the first half against Mississippi State and Vanderbilt’s shooters get going, we may have ourselves a ball game.

Sat. Iowa State @ Kansas State, 1:30 p.m. (ESPN3): Both Iowa State and Kansas State have all-but punched their tickets to the dance barring a late-season collapse. What makes this game so intriguing to me is that a) it is essentially a battle for who is the fourth-best team in the Big 12 and b) a terrific matchup of styles. The Wildcats are your typical Frank Martin club — tenacious defensively and on the glass, big up front and with a couple of talents in the back court. Iowa State, on the other hand, is a team that plays their 6’8″ power forward at the point (Royce White) and likes to spread the floor and let the threes fly.

Sat. No. 7 UNC @ Virginia, 4 p.m. (ESPN): Back in January, UVA got torched by the Tar Heels in the Dean Dome, losing by 18 points and getting manhandled in the paint by Tyler Zeller and John Henson. And frankly, its tough to picture something different happening on Saturday. I think the Cavs are a terrific team when they are healthy, but I think that until they get Assane Sene — their seven-foot center — healthy, this is a group that is going to continue to struggle. With Sene, they had lost one game since Thanksgiving, and that was by three at Duke. Without him, they are 6-4 with losses to Virginia Tech and Clemson.

Sat. No. 22 Temple @ St. Joseph’s, 7 p.m. (ESPNU): Temple is as underrated as any team in the country right now. With Michael Eric back, they have size up front and as much talent in the back court as you will find this season. They are playing at a much faster pace than we usually expect from a Fran Dunphy coached team. That said, St. Joe’s is probably a bit better than their record indicates. Like Temple, they have some size and athleticism up front and a very good perimeter attack. I can’t be the only one expected to see Juan Fernandez, Ramone Moore and Khalif Wyatt go up against Carl Jones and Langston Galloway in a Big 5 game were one team is playing at home with their backs up against the NCAA Tournament bubble, can I?

Sun. No. 16 Wisconsin @ No. 8 Ohio State, 4 p.m. (CBS): Thanks to Wisconsin’s inability to deal with Matt Gatens and Iowa, this game has lost a bit of its luster. The Badgers have lost three of their last five games and currently sit all alone in fourth place in the conference with almost no chance of actually making a run at the league title. That said, the Buckeyes aren’t exactly playing well, either. It was nice to see William Buford get back on track a bit for Ohio State against Illinois, but that was also against Illinois. He struggled against Michigan and Michigan State in recent weeks. Without Buford performing consistently, the Buckeyes are very beatable.

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

White decides to return to Nebraska

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Nebraska’s second-leading scorer from last season will return for his senior season as Andrew White III announced Wednesday he will withdraw his name from the NBA Draft.

“I felt good about the pre-draft process, White said in a statement released by Nebraska. “It was encouraging, and I gained as much ground as anyone throughout the process. I wanted one more year to fine tune my game and put myself in better position for the NBA next summer.  

“I want to thank the teams who invited me their in-house workouts, and Nebraska for supporting me during this process.  It has been very helpful in gathering information in preparation for my future Thank you to everyone who has been following my progress throughout the spring and being understanding and supportive, as I evaluated whether to turn pro or return for my senior year.”

White, a Kansas transfer, tallied 16.6 points per game last season while shooting 48.1 percent from the floor and 41.2 percent from 3-point range. He also pulled down 5.9 rebounds per game.

“We are excited to have Andrew remain with our program,” coach Tim Miles said. “This has been a valuable time for him, as he has tested his skills against some of the best competition and received very important insight from key NBA personnel.  

“We look forward to continuing to help Andrew’s development to improve his NBA profile even more than he already has done through this process.  I believe next year could be our most complete team with a great opportunity for success in the Big Ten and NCAA tournament, I’m happy Andrew will be with us to go out and prove it.”

The news is certainly welcome for the Cornhuskers and Miles, who will be under pressure to show improvement after back-to-back disappointing seasons following an NCAA tournament appearance in 2014. Shavon Shields, last year’s leading scorer, has exhausted his eligibility and the Huskers will need White to help fill the void.

Trimble coming back to Terps

Maryland guard Melo Trimble (AP Photo/Matt Hazlett)
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Melo Trimble is returning to Maryland.

The Terrapin guard will be back to for his junior season in College Park, according to multiple reports.

Trimble went from freshman first-rounder to question mark after a rough end to his sophomore season for Maryland in which his points per game, shooting percentage (both overall and from 3-point range) and rebounding dipped from his first season. Only his assists per game showed any sort of improvement. He waited until the last possible day to announce his intentions to return to school, but really his options were limited after seeing his production drop.

His decision to come back to school gives him a shot to restore his draft stock while Maryland gets its floor general back to help ease the transition from last year’s Sweet 16 squad that lost Diamond Stone, Rasheed Sulaimon and Jake Layman. The Terps might not be a sure-fire top-25 team with Trimble back, but their NCAA tournament chances are now significantly higher.

Nevada lands Martin twins

Caleb Martin, Jordan Roper
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Eric Musselman keeps adding reinforcements to his roster. For the 2017-18 season.

Musselman and Nevada received commitments from N.C. State transfers and twin brothers Caleb and Cody Martin, according to multiple reports.

That brings Nevada’s sit-out transfer count for this upcoming season to four with Hallice Cooke (Iowa State) and Kendall Stephens (Purdue) already in the fold. Under NCAA transfer rules, the quartet will have to sit out the upcoming season before being eligible in 2017-18.

Caleb averaged 11.5 points, 4.7 rebounds and 1.4 assists while shooting 36 percent from deep while Cody put up 6.0 points, 4.4 rebounds and 2.3 assists, shooting 43 percent from beyond the arc.

The timing of having four sit-out transfers works well for the Wolf Pack given that two of the team’s three leading scorers from last year, D.J. Fenner (a senior) and Cameron Oliver (a sophomore), return while senior transfers Marcus Marshall (Missouri State) becomes eligible. Having those four experienced transfers begin playing in 2017-18 while all but two players from this upcoming team slated to return makes Nevada an interesting team, a year from now.

Louisville big man heading to NBA Draft

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After a day of mixed messages, Louisville’s Chinanu Onuaku finally made it official.

He’s staying in the NBA Draft.

“After talking to my family and going through the NBA process,” Onuaku wrote in an Instagram post, “me and my family have decided that it would be best for me to keep my name in the draft.”

The day started out with Cardinals coach Rick Pitino telling multiple media outlets that the 6-foot-10 sophomore would remain in the draft after he declared last month without an agent and attended the draft combine. Onuaku, though, appeared to at least mildly refute that with an Instagram post that said his decision wouldn’t come until later Wednesday evening. Which it did, confirming Pitino’s words.

The confusion may have been frustrating for observers, but Onuaku’s social media presence no doubt has benefited from the bizarre day.

Onuaku averaged 9.9 points, 8.5 rebounds, 2.0 blocks and 1.6 assists in 24.6 minutes per game last season, making his per-40 numbers, a metric NBA teams like to take into consideration, nothing short of fantastic. He also shot a not-so-shabby 62.0 percent from the floor. His size, athleticism and ability to score around the basket (he’s taken one 3-pointer in two seasons) make him a potential first-round selection in next month’s draft.

The 19-year-old Onuaku underwent a procedure on his heart last week due to Wolff-Parkinson-White syndrome. It has been described as a minor procedure that will not affect his ability to play long-term or work out with teams leading up to the draft.

The Cardinals, meanwhile, should be able to absorb Onuaku’s loss seemlessly as they return the bulk of last year’s team that went 23-8 and was ranked 10th in KenPom, but was banned from the postseason as a result of the Katina Powell bombshell. Newcomers Tony Hicks (Penn transfer) and V.J. King (consensus top-30 recruit) will also make for solid additions.

Swanigan staying for sophomore season

Purdue's Vince Edwards (12), Purdue's Caleb Swanigan (50) and Purdue's A.J. Hammons (20) celebrate during the second half of an NCAA college basketball game against the Illinois in the quarterfinals at the Big Ten Conference tournament, Friday, March 11, 2016, in Indianapolis. Purdue won 89-58. (AP Photo/Michael Conroy)
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Purdue will once again be rolling out a formidable frontcourt in the 2016-17 season.

Boilermaker big man Caleb Swanigan is withdrawing from the NBA Draft to return to West Lafayette for his sophomore season, the school announced Wednesday.

The NBA is right there and always will be,” Swanigan said in the school’s press release, “but you always have to have patience and do what’s best for you.”

Purdue is losing 7-foot senior A.J. Hammons, but will be once again teaming Swanigan with Isaac Haas (7-2) and Vince Edwards (6-8) that will allow them to roll out a supersized lineup that is sure to be a difficult one to face off against.

The 6-foot-9, 250-pound Swanigan, who likely would have landed as a second-round pick, averaged 10.2 points, 8.3 rebounds and 1.2 assists and was a finalist for the Wayman Tisdale Award for the country’s top freshman.

“We are excited that (Swanigan) has withdrawn from the NBA Draft and will return to Purdue,” head coach said Matt Painter in a statement released by the school. “He has the potential to make a huge jump from his freshman season and will be a big part of what we do next year. He received great experience going through this process and will use the feedback he received to make him a more diverse player.”

Purdue is probably a rung down from Michigan State and Wisconsin at the top of the league, but the return of Swanigan pulls them closer to competing at the top of the league next season.