Weekend Preview: Top storylines to follow

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The Weekend’s Top Storyline: Who bounces back on Saturday, No. 8 Kentucky or Baylor?

If you were paying attention, Kentucky’s loss in South Bend to the Fighting Irish shouldn’t have come as a surprise to you. The Wildcats are the youngest team in the country and were playing their first game on the road this season, and it just so happened to be against a veteran, disciplined Irish team in front of one of the toughest home courts in the country that was already fired up because their football team is headed to the national title game and their Heisman candidate was front row in the student section.

For the cynics and Scott Drew haters, Baylor’s start to the season isn’t a surprise, either. With enough talent to be a top ten team and win the Big 12, Drew has once again watched as his program struggles to live up to the hype and expectation, losing to Charleston at home after struggling with Boston College despite having as many as four future draft picks on the roster.

So who bounces back on Saturday at 12:30 ET? Will Alex Poythress be motivated? Will Pierre Jackson be distributing? Which athletic front line earns control of the paint?

Five More Storylines to Track:

Battle of the unbeatens: Ok, so it’s not a huge surprise that Alabama and No. 17 Cincinnati (Saturday, 3:00 p.m.) are both undefeated at this point in the season. Cincy was woefully underrated heading into the year, and Alabama appeared to have some addition by subtraction going on with Tony Mitchell and JaMychal Green. (You like back court battles? Sean Kilpatrick and Cashmere Wright vs. Trevor Lacey and Trevor Relelford should make you salivate.) But get this: Oklahoma State and Virginia Tech (Saturday, 2:00 p.m.) are also both undefeated heading into December. How many people saw that coming?

Missouri without Mike Dixon: At 3:00 p.m. on Saturday, the Tigers will take on Appalachian State at home as they take the floor for the first time since Preseason All-Big 12 guard Michael Dixon left the program amid multiple sexual assault allegations. How will the Tigers respond without him? We may not know that answer until mid-December, when Jabari Brown gets eligible.

UCLA without Joshua Smith: It’s been a rough week to be a Bruin fan. They blew an 18 point lead to Cal Poly with 12 minutes left to lose at home on Sunday night, and then watched as two former starters — Tyler Lamb and Smith — transferred out of the program this week. The Bruins now have depth and roster make-up issues, but they bounced back nicely with a big win over Cal Cat.-Northridge on Wednesday. But what happens when they are forced to play a top 25 program like San Diego State, one that can matchup up with them wing for wing? Jamaal Franklin vs. Shabazz Muhammad will be fun.

Jerod Haase is back: Jerod Haase played for Roy Williams at Kansas. He was an assistant there from 1999-2003, when he followed Williams to North Carolina. He’s a lifer … well, was a lifer. This offseason, Haase accepted the head coaching position at UAB, and on Saturday, he’ll be taking his Blazer team into the Dean Dome for the first time.

Can Villanova or Vanderbilt turn their season around?: Neither one has been impressive this season, and while we knew that both the Wildcats and the Commodores would be rebuilding this season, how many people expected Jay Wright’s team to lose to Columbia and La Salle, or Kevin Stallings’ team to put up 33 points in a blowout loss to Marist? Both programs really needs a bounce back win.

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

No. 11 Cincinnati rallies for 82-74 win over Tulsa

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HIGHLAND HEIGHTS, Ky. — Gary Clark led a 24-4 run that put Cincinnati ahead to stay early in the second half, and the 11th-ranked Bearcats held on for an 82-74 victory over Tulsa on Sunday that preserved their one-game lead in the American Athletic Conference heading into the final week.

Cincinnati (25-4, 14-2) stayed ahead of No. 13 Wichita State (23-5, 13-3) in the race for the regular-season title. The Shockers won on Cincinnati’s home court 76-72 a week ago.

Wichita State plays at UCF on Thursday and hosts Cincinnati next Sunday in a potential showdown game. The Bearcats play at Tulane on Thursday before heading to Wichita State.

The Bearcats struggled defensively, giving up a season-high 14 3-pointers, but made a season-high 15 from beyond the arc. Clark and Jarron Cumberland had 17 points apiece.

Tulsa (17-11, 10-7) led by eight points early in the second before Clark scored during the decisive run. Junior Etou scored 21 for Tulsa, which had its six-game winning streak snapped.

Cincinnati completed its season playing at Northern Kentucky University while its on-campus arena is renovated, going 14-1 at BB&T Arena.

BIG PICTURE

Tulsa: The Golden Hurricane is wrapping up a regular season that marks a step up for the program. Tulsa went 15-17 last season and 8-10 in the AAC, finishing seventh. It’s fourth in the league with two games to go.

Cincinnati: Even though the Bearcats rank second nationally in defense, they’d given up a lot of open shots in the previous two games, a concern to coach Mick Cronin. The Golden Hurricane got plenty of those, too, while shooting 59 percent in the first half. The Golden Hurricane led 47-44 at the break, the most points Cincinnati has allowed in a half this season.

UP NEXT

Tulsa: Golden Hurricane plays at East Carolina on Thursday. Tulsa opened AAC play by beating ECU 79-53 on Dec. 28.

Cincinnati: The Bearcats have won four straight and 14 of 15 against Tulane, including a 78-61 victory last season.

Bubble Banter: Sunday Funday on the bubble

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As we will do every day throughout the rest of the season, here is a look at how college basketball’s bubble teams fared on Sunday.

It’s worth reminding you here that the way winning are labeled have changed this season. Instead of looking at all top 50 wins equally, the selection committee will be using criteria that breaks wins down into four quadrants, using the RPI:

  • Quadrant 1: Home vs. 1-30, Neutral vs. 1-50, Road vs. 1-75
  • Quadrant 2: Home vs. 31-75, Neutral vs. 51-100, Road vs. 76-135
  • Quadrant 3: Home vs. 76-160, Neutral vs. 101-200, Road vs. 136-240
  • Quadrant 4: Home vs. 161 plus, Neutral vs. 201 plus, Road vs. 240 plus

The latest NBC Sports Bracketology can be found here.

YET TO PLAY

TEMPLE
UCLA
PENN STATE
NEBRASKA
N.C. STATE

Georgia’s Mark Fox ‘disgusted’ by investigation into college basketball

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Georgia head coach Mark Fox did not hold back when asked about the FBI investigation into corruption in college basketball, calling is “disgusting” and pleading with coaches and the institutions that employ them to do right.

“It starts with our coaches, and then you ask how the NCAA has handled it,” Fox said. “The NCAA is made up of member institutions. How are the institutions handling it? That’d be my first question. How are they handling it? Putting their head in the sand and looking the other way? I’m past anger, sadness. It’s just disgusting, and we’re really hurting the game, and the game has been so good to everybody.”

Fox is in a difficult position. He’s regarded as one of the nicer coaches in the business and is considered to be ‘clean’. He team also appears headed for another NIT, which could end up costing him his job.

“We’ve had some situations where we didn’t get players because of that reason, and other teams have, too,” Fox said.

“I’m disgusted,” he added. “I’m disgusted with how people have treated our game. It’s absolutely disgusting.”

Cuonzo Martin: ‘No timetable’ for a Michael Porter Jr. return

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There still is not clarity on whether or not Missouri freshman Michael Porter Jr. will return to the court this season.

On Saturday, he participated in Missouri’s shootaround at Kentucky but did not run through warmups and did not play in the game.

“I don’t have a timeline,” Missouri head coach Cuonzo Martin said after Saturday’s 87-66 loss. “He wants to play.”

“We have to make sure he’s ready to go.”

Porter has only had one full practice since he underwent surgery on his back in November, and that came on Friday. A source confirmed to NBC Sports that Porter was, in fact, cleared for full contact on Thursday afternoon after a visit with a doctor.

Porter is expected to continue practicing with the team. He told reporters earlier this month that he would like to get a few games prior to the start of tournament play if he happens to take part in any games.

Kentucky, Duke, Arizona comment on player eligibility amidst FBI scandal

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On Saturday night, Kentucky won their third straight game over an opponent that will be in next month’s NCAA tournament. They were led by freshman Kevin Knox, who finished with 21 points just 36 hours after his name appeared in a report by Yahoo Sports in connection with a runner that was tied to disgraced NBA agent Andy Miller.

“I’m not here to talk about that,” Knox said in response to questions regarding the runner, Christian Dawkins, or the story that Yahoo published.

“That was all the university dealing with it,” Kentucky head coach John Calipari said, adding that he did not discuss the matter with Knox. “I wasn’t involved in any way. But I felt good about it.”

“I was sure I would be able to play this whole week,” Knox told reporters. “I wasn’t really focused on none of that. I let Kentucky handle it.

“I just focused on me, focused on my game, and let them handle it. I slept well at night knowing I was going to be able to play.”

Duke head coach Mike Krzyzewski went a step further, detailing precisely how he found out about the report and how Wendell Carter’s parents were involved. Carter’s mother called him while he was walking his dog and told him what was in the story. According to Coach K, Wendell’s parents went to break bread with Dawkins, but Wendell’s father did not like him and left immediately while Wendell’s mother stayed to be polite. She said she did not have anything to eat.

“It wasn’t a distraction because I know I didn’t do anything wrong,” Carter told reporters after going for 16 points, 10 boards, four steals, four assists and two blocks in a win over Syracuse. “My family didn’t do anything wrong. No one around me did anything wrong. I knew I was going to play. Once I got out on the court, it was all good. It felt good.”

“We are very comfortable with where we are on this,” Coach K said. “We don’t feel like we are taking any chances with this. We very confident about this particular thing.”

Alabama told ESPN that any connection that Collin Sexton had to Dawkins or the Yahoo story was dealt with during his one-game suspension at the start of the season.

“We reviewed i, and after we reviewed it, we made the decision that Collin was going to be available for us,” Alabama coach Avery Johnson said. “That’s the extent of it.”

Meanwhile, Arizona lost at Oregon after Sean Miller was replaced by Lorenzo Romar as head coach for the night. Romar offered no answers as to whether or not Miller, who was reportedly caught on a fire tap talking about a $100,000 payment to Deandre Ayton, will return to the program anytime soon because, as he put it, “I don’t know.” Romar was unable to even answer if he would be coaching practice on Sunday.