The Morning Mix

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I know you’re anxious. We’re roughly 24 hours away from real, live, meaningful college basketball. No messing around today. Time to get dialed it.

Top Stories:

Dez Wells is able to play, Maryland suddenly much better: Xavier-transfer Dezmine Wells was approved by the NCAA to participate with Maryland on Wednesday morning. When added to a core of Pe’Shon Howard, Nick Faust, David Padgett, Alex Len and Shaq Cleare, the Terrapins should now be considered a legitimate threat in the ACC.

Indiana tops preseason NCAA tournament projections: Dave Ommen, NBC Sport’s resident bracketologist released his first NCAA tournament projections of the season, and as you would expect, Indiana is the No.1 overall seed. He also has the Atlantic-10 getting five bids while the Pac-12 only gets three. Kinda makes sense, though.

Who is the best team in “Kentuckiana”?: The latest installment of our “Burning Questions” series features a made-up region just north of the greater “Charlanta” region. You can clearly tell my answer was not used.

While there are better X’s and O’s coaches than John Calipari, there is nobody better at marketing (or recruiting): Much of the public’s disdain for John Calipari and the Kentucky Wildcats stems from the seemingly endless national media coverage of the man many call “Teflon John”. But while Kentucky does command a lot of attention, Coach Calipari uses the spotlight better than anybody in order to benefit the university, the program and the community. There is no denying that he’s the game’s best recruiter, public speaker and marketer.

Son of legendary UNLV coach Tarkanian loses House race in Nevada: Danny Tarkanian (R), the youngest son of lengendary, towel-bitting UNLV head coach Jerry Tarkanian was unsuccessful in his bid at a seat in Nevada’s 4th Congressional District. Senate Majority Leader Steven Horsford (D) won the race  by a 50-42 margain according to 80% of the reporting precincts. Who doesn’t love politco hoops?

Hoops Housekeeping:

– Ben Howland got a commitment from three-star wing Noah Allen despite never actually scouting the player in person. That’s kinda bizarre. That’s so UCLA. (Bruins Nation)

– Speaking of UCLA, Shabazz Muhammad may actually be able to play in the Bruins season opener (Los Angeles Times)

– Missouri guard Michael Dixon will remain suspended for the season opener on Saturday. Keion Bell will return to the starting lineup after sitting out with a fever of 103-degrees (Columbia Tribune)

– Hawaii-transfer Shaq Stokes has been granted a hardship waiver by the NCAA and will be able to play immediately at Hofstra. The Brooklyn native averaged 8.4ppg as a freshman at Hawaii and was named the New York City Player of the Year coming out of high school. (Zags Blog, SNY.tv)

– Villanova backup guard Ty Johnson has decided to transfer schools. The sophomore averaged just 3.3ppg last season. (Philly Inquirer)

– Jordan Daniels started 25 games as a freshman for Steve Donahue’s Boston College Eagles. But the sophomore guard has decided to transfer out of Chestnut Hill and back closer to his family on the West Coast. (SB Nation Boston)

– Suspended Murray State sophomore Zay Jackson had his plea deal rejected by Calloway County Judge Craig Clymer. It seems like Jackson could be headed to jail for more than a month’s time (OVC Ball)

Observations & Analysis:

– With the season just 24 hours away, the UCLA Bruins are preparing as if they will be without freshman phenom Shabazz Muhammad (Fox Sports)

– No.18 UNLV needed a Carlos Lopez-Sosa overtime buzzer-beater in order to defeat Dixie State in their final exhibition game, 81-80 (Las Vegas Sun)

– John Wilner previews the upcoming season for the six Bay-area schools (Oakland Tribune)

– Billy Donovan is concerned that his Florida squad may struggle to dominate the glass (Gainesville Sun)

– Pitt Panther fans are very excited to see freshman big-man Stephen Adams in real, meaningful action. Why else would they chart his progress through the exhibition games? (Cardiac Hill)

– An current evaluation of the major trends in Texas Tech hoops (Viva The Matadors)

Lists, Polls & Rankings:

– Eamonn Brennan must moonlight as a television critic, because his viewing guide of the must-see non-conference games is spot-on (ESPN)

– Former-Virginia Tech head coach Seth Greenberg ranks the top shooters in the country (ESPN)

– Mike DeCourcy does roughly the same thing, ranks the non-conference games (The Sporting News)

– It’s no #AllNameTeam, but it will work: The All-Hipster Freshman Team (Grantland)

– The Patriot Center is arguably the toughest venue for road teams in the CAA, but it’s not alone. Three other places are gaining notoriety for being hard places to win on the road (CAA Hoops)

– Pat Forde provides a solid list of the top-25 most intriguing coaches to watch for in 2012-2013. One notable absence is Loyola’s Jimmy Patsos, arguably college basketball’s most entertaining interviewee. (Yahoo Sports)

Odds & Ends:

– I apologize for missing this earlier in the week, but ESPN released their broadcast announce pairings for the upcoming season.  My favorite pairings? Joe Tessatore & Sean Farnham, Dave O’Brien & Doris Burke, John Schiambi & Fran Fraschilla, and Bob Wischusen & Stephen Bardo. I will miss Gottlieb. Raftery, Bilas & McDonough are always appointment viewing too (ESPN Media Zone)

– A broadcast viewing guide for all you Creighton Bluejay fans out there. any televised game featuring Grant Gibbs (@DoubleGfor3) is mandatory appointment-viewing (White & Blue Review)

– A viewing guide for those interested in watching the postponed Battle on the Midway between San Diego State and Syracuse (Syracuse Post-Standard)

– Despite the decriminalization of marijuana in Washington and Colorado, THC remains off-limits for college athletes in the two states (The Dagger)

– A quick Q&A session with Belmont head coach Rick Byrd, who for my money is the nicest college basketball coach I’ve ever come across. He’s also a winner (545-284 at Belmont) and a sure-fire Hall-of-Famer (The Byrd Cage)

Video of the Day:

In honor of Dez Wells getting cleared by the NCAA to participate at Maryland, let me reintroduce you to the nastiest single-game display of #POSTERIZATION I have ever seen. In person too. #BIAHRoadTrip was court side at the Cintas Center for this. Rick Broering can vouch for us. (Ballin’ is a Habit)

Do you like the new Morning Mix? Hate it? Have a suggestion or wanted something featured? Troy Machir will take all your praise, insults and inquiries via Twitter (@TroyMachir)

Stanford’s surprising mid-season turnaround continues with upset of No. 16 Arizona State

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Stanford earned a huge home win over No. 16 Arizona State on Wednesday night, taking down the Sun Devils for an 86-77 Pac-12 win.

The win for the Cardinal continues one of the best (and most surprising) turnarounds in the nation as Stanford is keeping pace with Arizona atop the Pac-12 standings. Now sitting at 5-1 in the conference, the Cardinal have won five consecutive games after sitting at 6-8 for the season following a loss to Cal. Stanford has picked off UCLA, USC and Arizona State since the start of 2018 while also sweeping the Washington schools on the road last week. Now Stanford is 11-8 overall while looking like one of the more dangerous teams in the Pac-12.

So how did this turnaround exactly happen?

Stanford figured things out with the mid-season addition of touted freshman forward Kezie Okpala. A bit of a late-blooming prospect coming out of high school, the 6-foot-8 Okpala was a high-end four-star recruit who had to sit out Stanford’s first 12 games this season due to academic complications.

During his final semester of high school, Okpala dropped below the threshold of what Stanford required in an AP calculus course while he tried to juggle the academic rigors of three AP classes. Stanford’s Office of Undergraduate Admissions notified Okpala of this and said they’d honor the original decision to admit him if he agreed to sit out of competition.

It was initially unclear if Okpala would play this season, but he’s figured out the academic side of things, and Stanford is very happy that he’s with them on the court. Since Okpala’s debut, the team has gone 5-2 with the freshman playing extended minutes in all seven contests. Okpala has even scored in double-figures in five of seven games he’s played in so far this season.

While Okpala actually had his worst shooting performance of the season on Wednesday in the win over Arizona State — finishing with four points on 1-for-8 shooting — his size and skill level on the wing (five assists) helped the Cardinal in other facets of the game. Outrebounding the Sun Devils, 44-30, while adding 13 offensive rebounds, Stanford has a long and athletic main lineup with Okpala in the mix.

Forward Reid Travis (18 points, 10 rebounds) remains one of the Pac-12’s most productive players after helping dismantle the Sun Devils with another double-double. Seniors like guard Dorian Pickens (19 points) and center Michael Humphrey (four points, five rebounds) are solid contributors. Freshman guard Daejon Davis (13 points, eight assists) is also seeing his play improve over time as he’s been picking things up lately as conference play gets going.

It might be too-little, too-late when it comes to Stanford’s NCAA tournament hopes after such a rough start. At least the Cardinal are showing plenty of fight now that they have their prized recruit in the lineup. Okpala’s return has given Stanford a major boost as the Cardinal look like a real threat with its rotation in place.

There’s still a long way to go before the Pac-12 conference race is decided. Stanford still has to prove this five-game winning streak isn’t merely a fluke like the half-court buzzer-beater that lifted them past USC. But the Cardinal has at least put themselves in the conversation among the league’s better teams. Nobody saw that coming a few weeks ago.

Wednesday’s Three Things To Know: No. 8 Texas Tech, No. 19 Seton Hall get dropped on the road

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The nights where there aren’t any marquee games are always the nights where college basketball goes absolutely batty.

Wednesday night was no different.

Here are the three things you need to know.

1. TEXAS TECH BLEW THE ADVANTAGE THEY HAD IN THE BIG 12 RACE

It’s a talking point that never really caught on, but prior to Wednesday night’s trip to Austin, No. 8 Texas Tech had the inside lane in the race for the Big 12 regular season title.

There is a clear-cut top four in the conference: Kansas, West Virginia, Oklahoma and the Red Raiders. The way to win the league was simple: Beat the teams outside of the top four and protect your home court against the other three contenders. Entering Wednesday, Texas Tech and Kansas were sitting one game ahead of West Virginia, who had lost at home to Kansas, and Oklahoma, had lost on the road to Kansas State. Texas Tech already had a leg up on the Jayhawks as well, as they won in Phog Allen Fieldhouse earlier this year.

I would hesitate to call anyone a favorite in the Big 12 that isn’t named Kansas, but the Red Raiders had certainly put themselves in a position where they had the easiest path.

And then the Texas game happened.

Mo Bamba went for 15 points, 11 boards and five blocks and Kerwin Roach poured in 20 in a return to the lineup as Texas beat No. 8 Texas Tech, 67-58. We knew losses were likely coming for the Red Raiders – no one is going to make it through this league without taking some lumps – but it has to be frustrating that those losses came when the program had a chance to keep pace with Kansas.

Credit to Texas. Their defense played as well as it has in weeks, they showed some toughness to get the win against a physical Tech team and they landed a résumé win that should age well.

Texas Tech also did a really cool thing for Andrew Jones prior to the game.

2. SETON HALL GOT BLOWN OUT ON THE ROAD AND DESI RODRIGUEZ GOT BENCHED

Twice in the last eight days, No. 19 Seton Hall has lost by at least 17 points on the road after they fell, 80-63, at Creighton on Wednesday night.

Creighton is a good team. They were playing at home in an arena that routinely puts 17,000 butts in seats. When they get it going they are tough to beat, so there really isn’t all that much to be concerned about here in a vacuum.

But we’re not in a vacuum.

Creighton lost by 20 points at Marquette last Tuesday. Marquette is not as good as Creighton and they do not play in as tough of an atmosphere as there is in Omaha.

What’s worse, however, is that Desi Rodriguez – the guy that has probably been Seton Hall’s Player of the Year – played just six minutes. Here is Kevin Willard’s explanation:

“He had that look in his face where he just didn’t want to be out there. When he gets that way, you just got to let him regroup and refocus. And it just never happened.”

That’s probably a cover for something else, but the concern for Seton Hall fans was that Rodriguez was hurt.

Getting benched isn’t ideal. But it’s better than getting hurt.

3. ALABAMA ENDED NO. 17 AUBURN’S 14-GAME WINNING STREAK

But what is more impressive is that they did it without Collin Sexton, who was sitting out with an injury.

That is a massive win for the Crimson Tide’s NCAA tournament hopes, which our Scott Phillips detailed here.

No. 24 TCU snaps 3-game skid with 96-73 over Iowa State

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FORT WORTH, Texas — Vladimir Brodziansky had 26 points and No. 24 TCU snapped a three-game losing streak with a 96-73 win over Iowa State on Wednesday night, when the Horned Frogs played for the first time without injured starting point guard Jaylen Fisher.

Alex Robinson, who started at point guard, scored eight points and had a school-record 17 assists for the Horned Frogs (14-4, 2-4 Big 12), who never trailed and shot 60 percent from the field. He had only one turnover in 38 minutes.

Brodziansky shot 11 of 13 for his third 20-point game in five games. JD Miller added 21 points on 8-of-12 shooting with five 3-pointers. Kouat Noi scored 16 points and Kenrich Williams had his eighth double-double with 11 points and 11 rebounds.

Donovan Jackson had 19 points for Iowa State (10-6, 1-5). Cameron Lard and Lindell Wigginton each had 16.

Fisher was scheduled to have surgery Thursday, two days after injuring his right knee during practice. The sophomore guard missed the team’s trip to Australia in August after tearing meniscus in his left knee during practice then, but was back for the start of the season after surgery.

Robinson’s 12th assist, surpassing his previous career high of 11, was on pass to Brodziansky for a slam dunk that made it 70-53 with 11:36 left before an Iowa State timeout. That was among many plays applauded by Fisher, who sat in a chair near the TCU bench.

TCU jumped out to a 14-4 lead in the game’s first 5 minutes, and led by as many as 17 in the first half.

BIG PICTURE

Iowa St.: Even while they shot 51 percent from the field (30 of 59), the Cyclones couldn’t gain any momentum coming off their first Big 12 victory Saturday against Baylor. Wigginton, the freshman who was the Big 12 newcomer of the week after games with 30 and 27 points last week, had only two points at halftime after he got two fouls in the first 9 minutes.

TCU: After so many close games, including consecutive overtime losses on the road last week, the Frogs finally had a game in which they didn’t have to press in the closing minutes. Their four Big 12 losses are by a combined 11 points, and their only previous conference win was by three points in overtime.

UP NEXT

Iowa St.: Another ranked opponent for the Cyclones, who host No. 8 Texas Tech on Saturday.

TCU: The Horned Frogs play three of their next four games on the road. They are at Kansas State (13-5, 3-3) on Saturday.

No. 14 Arizona overcomes slow start, runs past Cal 79-58

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BERKELEY, Calif. — Deandre Ayton had 20 points and 11 rebounds, and No. 14 Arizona overcame a slow, sloppy start to beat California 79-58 on Wednesday night.

Parker Jackson-Cartwright scored 14 points with three 3-pointers during a decisive stretch spanning halftime as the Wildcats won their third straight since losing at Colorado on Jan. 6.

Dylan Smith made all four of his 3s and added 14 points and Allonzo Trier scored 15 as Arizona (15-4, 5-1 Pac-12) played without sophomore guard Rawle Alkins, held out as a precaution with what the school said was mild right foot soreness.

Justice Sueing scored 19 points to lead Cal (7-12, 1-5) but missed all six of his 3-point attempts for the cold-shooting Golden Bears, held to 35.3 percent and outrebounded 36-22. Don Coleman had 11 points but shot just 3 of 13.

Ayton made 9 of 11 shots and Arizona shot 62 percent, going 11 for 19 from deep.

Arizona connected on six straight 3-pointers from the 9:20 mark until 2:32 left before halftime to take control, three by Parker Jackson-Cartwright, then seven in all spanning halftime. Cal got within single digits, down by nine, for all of 17 seconds in the second half.

The Wildcats went four possessions until getting their first shot off while committing three quick turnovers and falling behind 6-0. They had turnovers on six of their initial nine possessions and 21 overall but still wound up shooting 70 percent in the opening half.

Arizona won its fourth straight in the series.

BIG PICTURE

Arizona: The Pac-12’s top team from the free throw line, the Wildcats followed up a 34-of-37 showing at the line against Oregon last Saturday — the program’s first time at 90 percent or higher with at least 35 attempts since going 38 of 40 (.950) vs. Washington on Jan. 27, 2005, a span of 454 games — by shooting just 13 free throws and making six. Arizona came in shooting 85.3 percent at the line. … The Wildcats are 18-11 in Pac-12 road games played in the state of California under Sean Miller since 2009. Miller also is 12-4 vs. Cal.

Cal: Kingsley Okoroh, a 7-foot-1 center, scored 10 points to post his first game in double figures scoring since Nov. 16 against Wofford. … Cal has beaten ranked Arizona teams 11 times, including No. 1 four years ago at Haas Pavilion. While the Bears averaged 54.5 points over their recent road trip to Washington and Washington State last weekend, they hurt their chances with a 1-for-13 shooting performance from 3-point range but made 21 of 30 free throws.

UP NEXT

Arizona: At Stanford on Saturday afternoon.

Cal: Hosts Arizona State on Saturday night.

Holtmann makes Big Ten history as Ohio St. tops Northwestern

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ROSEMONT, Ill. — Chris Holtmann became the first coach in 95 years to win his first seven Big Ten games as No. 22 Ohio State defeated Northwestern 71-65 on Wednesday night.

C.J. Jackson had 12 points, eight assists and three steals, Micah Potter scored 13 points off the bench, Jae’Sean Tate added 12 and Keita Bates-Diop had 10 points and eight rebounds for the Buckeyes (16-4, 7-0), who won their sixth straight overall.

Holtmann is the third Big Ten coach to win his first seven conference games, joining Wisconsin’s Walter Meanwell (1911-12) and Iowa’s Sam Barry (1922-23). Holtmann replaced Thad Matta, the program’s all-time wins leader, this season.

Vic Law scored 14 points and Scottie Lindsey added 13 for Northwestern (11-9, 2-5) as the Wildcats suffered their second straight double-digit loss.

Picked to finish 11th in the Big Ten in a preseason media poll, the Buckeyes have been the story of the conference so far this season.

Coming off successive routs of then-No. 1 Michigan State, Maryland and Rutgers, Ohio State led Northwestern by as many as 15 in the second half before holding off a late Wildcats charge.

Northwestern got within three at 68-65 on a 3-pointer by Lindsey with 43 seconds left, but Jackson sealed the the victory from the foul line.

BIG PICTURE

Ohio State: The Buckeyes won on the road without a big game from Bates-Diop. The reigning two-time Big Ten Player of the Week, Bates-Dio entered the game leading the Big Ten in scoring (20.3) and third in rebounding (8.8).

Northwestern: With four starters back from the program’s first NCAA Tournament appearance, the Wildcats have fallen far short of expectations and are going to have turn things around in a hurry to make a case for another invitation to the dance.

UP NEXT

Ohio State: The Buckeyes host Minnesota on Saturday.

Northwestern: The Wildcats host Penn State on Saturday.