John Calipari

Weekend Preview: Top storylines to follow


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.

Stanford loses key veteran guard to stress fracture

Marcus Allen
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Stanford guard Marcus Allen will be out indefinitely after suffering a stress fracture in his right foot, the school announced on Monday evening.

“We want to make sure Marcus is fully healthy before returning to the court,” Stanford coach Johnny Dawkins said in a statement. “Marcus played at a high level during our summer exhibition competition in Italy, where he was one of our leading scorers. We will certainly miss him as we continue to prepare for the season, but we are fortunate that this happened now and he will be back before he knows it.”

The loss of Allen is a potentially brutal blow in an already-thin back court. The 6-foot-3 Allen started 23 games as a sophomore last season, averaging 6.4 points and 3.5 boards. But he averaged 11.4 points and 5.4 boards as the Cardinal made a run to the NIT championship and looked poised to be able to replace the departed Chasson Randle’s production this year.

What’s worse is that without Allen, Stanford does not return a single player in their back court that averaged more than 11.5 minutes. Sophomore Robert Cartwright looks poised to step into the starting point guard role, but neither Dorian Pickens nor Christian Sanders looked like they were ready for that kind of role in the Pac-12 last season. Dawkins does return Malcolm Allen, Marcus’ twin brother, who sat out last season with a broken wrist.

The good news is that Stanford’s front court is strong enough to carry the Cardinal until Marcus is healthy. Rosco Allen, Reid Travis and Michael Humphrey will be able to hold their own against any front line in the Pac-12, while Grant Verhoeven and freshman Josh Sharma will provide adequate depth.

Utah lands top-75 center Jayce Johnson

Larry Krystkowiak
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Utah picked up its center of the future on Monday as four-star center Jayce Johnson pledged to the Runnin’ Utes, a source confirmed to The 7-foot Johnson recently cut his list to Cal, Colorado and Utah with the possibility of reclassifying to the Class of 2015.

Regarded as the No. 67 overall prospect in the Class of 2016, Johnson will look to attend Utah in December as a walk-on who will redshirt. While Johnson likely won’t play this season, he does give head coach Larry Krystkowiak another big man to use in practice to go against sophomore center Jakob Poeltl. A solid long-term prospect, Johnson has a good frame to add weight and he’s also skilled finishing with both hands. Utah now has its replacement for Poeltl if he opts to leave for the NBA after the season and he gets an extra semester to work with the program.

Johnson is coming off of his official visit to Utah this weekend as he joins junior college guard Jojo Zamora in the Class of 2016.