Joe Jackson, Nigel Spikes

Conference USA Title Game Preview: Memphis vs. Marshall

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All of a sudden, the Conference USA title game is loaded with intrigue.

Heading into the tournament, this league was looking very much like Memphis and everyone else. With Marshall’s return to mediocrity during conference play and Southern Miss taking a nosedive late in the season, the only real challenger that the Tigers appeared to have was Central Florida; they took care of the Knights by 30 on Friday evening.

On the other hand, Marshall not only played their way into the tournament’s title game, they all of a sudden look like a team that may be able to sneak into the NCAA Tournament with an at-large bid even if they lose to the Tigers on Saturday morning. The triple-overtime win over Tulsa on Thursday was thrilling, but it was the win over Southern Miss on Friday that really left its mark. The Thundering Herd saw their RPI shoot up into the low-40’s which, when combined with their performance in the non-conference, has the bubble speculators giving credence to the idea that a competitive loss may end up being enough.

That said, Marshall would be wise to take some advice from the boxing world: never leave it in the judge’s hands. There is an easy way to avoid sweating out Selection Sunday, and that is to win the automatic bid. Its easier said than done, considering Memphis is not only playing their best basketball of the season, they will be hosting the title game, but in a one game scenario, anything can happen.

And it just so happens that Marshall may have the pieces to pull of the upset.

Early in the season, defensive rebounding was a major issue for the Tigers. They’ve shored that aspect of their game up quite a bit, but its still not exactly a strength for Memphis. Offensive rebounding, however, is a strength for Marshall. They are sixth in the country in offensive rebounding percentage and have a slew of bid, athletic bodies, headlined by one of the nation’s best rebounders in Dennis Tinnon. Tarik Black, Ferrakhon Hall and company are going to have to box out.

Marshall also has a pair of talent back court players. Damier Pitts has been terrific throughout his career at Marshall, while Deandre Kane has continued his ascent into CUSA stardom, making play after play as he went for 40 points in the win over Tulsa. Joe Jackson and Will Barton have been playing terrific basketball for the Tigers over the last month, but they certainly will have their hands full against Marshall.

The bottom-line is this: there may or may not be a bid on the line in this game, depending on how you view Marshall’s current bubble-standing. But a win for the Thundering Herd will undoubtedly make the teams currently on the cut-line sweat just that much more.

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

Iowa State lands three-star SG Jakolby Long

Steve Prohm
Associated Press
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Iowa State received its fourth verbal commitment in the Class of 2016 Friday morning, as 6-foot-4 shooting guard Jakolby Long made his pledge to Steve Prohm’s program. A native of Mustang, Oklahoma, Long attends Mustang HS and played for the Athletes First grassroots program this summer.

In Nike EYBL play for Athletes First, Long averaged 16.2 points and 5.0 rebounds per game.

According to Cyclone Fanatic, Long was also considering Georgia, Texas and Utah before deciding that he’ll play his college basketball at Iowa State. Long will join junior Matt Thomas, sophomore Hallice Cooke and transfer Nick Babb in the competition for minutes off the ball when he arrives on campus next year. According to Travis Hines of the Ames Tribune, Long could be a in a position where he sees solid playing time immediately.

Long joins junior college products Donovan Jackson and Emmanuel Malou, and 2016 forward Solomon Young in Iowa State’s 2016 class to date. And the Cyclones, who won’t use all 13 scholarships this season, still have room for a couple more additions for next season.

Iowa State has four seniors (Naz Long, Abdel Nader, Georges Niang and Jameel McKay), and junior point guard Monte’ Morris is considered by some to be a candidate to enter the 2016 NBA Draft.

UofL foundation hires firm to review escort allegations

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An independent Louisville affiliate has hired a law firm to review an escort’s allegations that former men’s basketball staffer Andre McGee hired dancers to strip and have sex with recruits and players.

The University of Louisville Foundation announced the hiring Thursday of the Stites & Harbison law firm. The foundation does fundraising for the university.

Louisville President James Ramsey also said Thursday he “fully” supports athletic director Tom Jurich “as we work to identify the facts in this situation.” Ramsey reiterated the school has hired former NCAA enforcement official Chuck Smrt to lead the athletic department’s investigation.

Men’s basketball spokesman Kenny Klein had no comment on a CBS Sports report that former Cardinals recruit JaQuan Lyle, now an Ohio State freshman, confirmed the “gist of allegations” detailed in Katina Powell’s book during a meeting Tuesday with the NCAA.

Lyle originally signed with Louisville before de-committing and eventually landing with the Buckeyes. OSU spokesman Dan Wallenberg confirmed the NCAA meeting via email on Wednesday but said there were no issues with Ohio State. He did not mention Louisville.

Powell’s book, “Breaking Cardinal Rules: Basketball and the Escort Queen” was released online last weekend by a publishing affiliate of the Indianapolis Business Journal. A hardcover version of the 104-page book is scheduled for release on Monday.

The book states that McGee hired Powell and other dancers, including three of her daughters, for 22 shows allegedly performed from 2010 to 2014 at the players’ Billy Minardi Hall dormitory.

McGee left Louisville in 2014 for Missouri-Kansas City, which placed him on paid leave Friday. A message left Thursday with his Louisville attorney, Scott C. Cox, was not immediately returned. A spokeswoman for IBJ’s publishing arm could not be reached either.

Louisville coach Rick Pitino has said McGee denied Powell’s allegations. In a radio interview Tuesday he denied knowledge of what took place and said last week that others he talked to didn’t know about the activities described in the book.

“I’m going through 15 people who worked here, and not one person even had a premonition of something wrong,” Pitino said Friday. “Not one person living in the dorm had even the slightest premonition. It just doesn’t make sense to me.”

The Hall of Fame coach wasn’t mentioned in Ramsey’s statement in which the chancellor praised Jurich’s athletic program as “exemplary” at the school.

“It is important that the university – all of us – stay focused on our day-to-day work of providing our outstanding students with a world-class education,” Ramsey said. “The investigation of the allegations may take time and we must, as one university, continue doing the work we do to move our university and our community forward.”