Weekend Preview: Kansas-Ohio State, Bragging Rights on Saturday

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Game of the Weekend: Sat. 4:00 p.m.: No. 9 Kansas at No. 7 Ohio State (CBS)

It’s not Thomas Robinson vs. Jared Sullinger this year, but that doesn’t mean that a matchup between the Jayhawks and the Buckeyes is any less intriguing this season. Kansas looks like they are starting to hit their stride, as their defense is as rock solid as always while Ben McLemore is looking like he’s closer to being a superstar than many of us originally thought. Ohio State, on the other hand, has a scoring machine in Deshaun Thomas, but is still trying to figure out who slides into the role of the second and third scoring option.

There are going to be two key matchups to watch in this game. The first involves Thomas, a 6-foot-7 lefty that can score from anywhere on the court. The question that Kansas needs to answer is who will guard him. Do you put a freshman on him? Can Perry Ellis or Jamari Traylor be successful against a guy that can hit threes coming off of screens and score in the post? Do they use Travis Releford, their best defender who does stand 6-foot-6, on him?

The other matchup will be Elijah Johnson and Aaron Craft. Johnson has been solid handling the point guard duties for the Jayhawks, but it’s fairly obvious that he’s not a “natural point guard”. Craft is the kind of on-ball defender that can make life hell for opposing point guards. Can Johnson get the Jayhawks into their sets effectively and without turning the ball over?

The Other Game of the Weekend: Sat. 6:00 p.m.: No. 12 Missouri at No. 10 Illinois (ESPN2)

The Braggin’ Rights game, one of the few big time rivalries that hasn’t been destroyed by conference realignment. There may be more intrigue in this matchup than with Kansas-Ohio State simply because both the Tigers and the Illini have a lot to prove. Missouri lost starting two-guard Michael Dixon this season and only recently got Jabari Brown eligible. Having a player at the two-guard spot that is a lights-out three-point shooter is a key for the system that Frank Haith runs, and Missouri has yet to have that this year.

What they do have, however, is a pair of big men in Alex Oriakhi and Laurence Bowers, who may be the nation’s most-improved player, that are big and physical and like to muck things up in the paint. Illinois doesn’t quite have that. They are actually quite similar to what Missouri was last season: a team loaded with perimeter talent and three-point shooters that can be scary-good when they get hot. Missouri will have their work cut out for them trying to slow down Brandon Paul, but it won’t matter how much he scores if the Illini get manhandled in the lane.

Three more games that you have to watch:

  • Sat. 12:00 p.m.: No. 3 Syracuse at Temple (ESPN2): Syracuse has so much length and athleticism this season it’s terrifying. They have the second-coming of Jason Kidd at the point guard spot in Michael Carter-Williams. James Southerland is the nation’s best sixth-man. But the Orange struggled at home against a scrappy Canisius team and nearly blew a huge lead against Detroit. Temple has a couple of good scoring guards, led by Khalif Wyatt, and is a veteran group that could give the Orange some trouble.
  • Sat. 2:30 p.m.: South Dakota State at No. 16 New Mexico: South Dakota State has struggled this year as Nate Wolters is no longer a national secret. New Mexico has not lost yet this season, and for good reason: the Lobos look like they’ll be right there with UNLV and San Diego State at the top of the MWC this year.
  • Sat. 3:00 p.m.: St. Mary’s at Northern Iowa: The Gaels have been a bit beat up this season and haven’t exactly showcased the kind of balanced scoring that will take the pressure off of Matthew Dellavedova, who may be the most entertaining point guard in the country. But UNI has been a bit of a disappointment this season, especially defensively. Both teams really need this win.

And one tournament: The Diamond Head Classic out in Hawaii happens this weekend, and the field is actually fairly loaded. No. 4 Arizona, No. 18 San Diego State, Miami and Ole Miss headline the event, and while we may not get the excitement that we’ve seen out on the islands in years past, there is still the potential here for a couple of great matchups. Arizona and Miami could square off in a semifinal, while seeing the Aztecs go up against the Wildcats in the final should be the goal of everyone involved.

What about the mid-majors?:

  • Sat. 12:00 p.m.: Murray State at Dayton (CBS College Sports)
  • Sat. 2:00 p.m.: Evansville at No. 19 Butler
  • Sat. 8:00 p.m.: Southern Miss at Wichita State
  • Sat. 8:00 p.m.: Davidson at Drexel

Arizona freshman Lauri Markkanen to declare for NBA Draft

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Arizona freshman Lauri Markkanen will announce today that he is declaring for the NBA Draft and signing with an agent, according to multiple reports.

The program is holding a press conference for Thursday at 1 p.m. ET.

Markkanen is a 7-footer from Finland that averaged 15.6 points this season while shooting 42 percent from beyond the arc. He’s projected as a top ten pick, and his size and versatility should make him a valuable piece given the way that the NBA is trending.

There is very little surprise with this decision. The expectation always was that Markkanen would be gone after one season.

The news was first reported by Scout.com.

Anthony Grant to replace Archie Miller at Dayton

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Dayton has hired Anthony Grant to replace Archie Miller as head coach, the program announced on Thursday.

“Anthony Grant is a proven winner with the highest integrity,” Athletic Director Neil Sullivan said. “He has successful experience in coaching, recruiting and playing basketball at an elite level. I welcome Anthony to our staff and look forward to partnering with him as we continue to aggressively pursue graduating student-athletes, winning conference championships and advancing in the NCAA tournament. He is absolutely the right coach.”

Grant is a Dayton alum. He spent 12 years as Billy Donovan’s assistant coach before finally landing a head coaching gig at VCU. After three seasons with the Rams, he took over at Alabama, where he was fired in 2015.

Grant has spent the last two years with Donovan as an assistant with the Oklahoma City Thunder.

“I am honored and humbled to be the head coach at the University of Dayton,” Grant said. “It’s a great responsibility to take over at an institution that is so well-respected. Anyone you talk to in college basketball would say our program is a successful one, but the potential is here for so much more.”

North Carolina ‘repeals’ HB2 to satisfy NCAA, anti-LGBTQ discrimination remains legal

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Late on Wednesday night, literally hours before an NCAA-imposed deadline that would have prevented the state of North Carolina from hosting any and all NCAA tournament events until at least 2022, the lawmakers in the state announced that they have reached an agreement to repeal House Bill 2, a discriminatory law that is commonly known as the bathroom bill.

The question now is whether or not this repeal will be enough to satisfy the NCAA, who was one of a handful of businesses that pulled out of the state due to HB2. According to the AP, more than $3.7 billion in revenue will be lost over the next decade as a result.

The issue with HB2 isn’t just that it makes it illegal for transgender people to use the bathroom of the gender they identify as. That gets the headlines, but the real damage done by this law is that it curbs legal protections for the LGBTQ community by banning local governments from passing laws to make discrimination illegal for at least three years.

From the New York Times:

Gay rights advocates were harshly critical of the bill. Cathryn Oakley, senior legislative counsel for the Human Rights Campaign, said that the compromise would leave lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender people with no statewide anti-discrimination ordinance and no ability to seek such protections from local government for a number of years.

“What that means for the L.G.B.T. community is that we continue to be boxed out of nondiscrimination protections,” she said.

Chris Sgro, executive director of the gay rights group Equality North Carolina, said that the proposal “keeps North Carolina as the only state in the country obsessed with where trans people use the restroom through law.”

From the Charlotte Observer:

“The rumored HB2 ‘deal’ does nothing more than double-down on discrimination and would ensure North Carolina remains the worst state in the nation for LGBTQ people,” HRC President Chad Griffin said in a statement. “The consequences of this hateful law will only continue without full repeal of HB2. Sellouts cave under pressure. Leaders fight for what’s right.”

The NCAA had pulled first and second round games from Greensboro for this year’s tournament, instead allowing Greenville, South Carolina, to host the games. That’s significant because the NCAA, in 2002, pulled all events from that state because they flew the confederate flag on the statehouse grounds. The flag came down in 2015, and the NCAA rewarded the state with games; it’s hard not to see that as a statement to North Carolina.

In this year’s tournament, No. 2 seed Duke lost a game to No. 7 seed South Carolina in a game that was played in South Carolina instead of in North Carolina. The location wasn’t the only reason Duke lost that game, but you’ll have trouble convincing me that quasi-home court environment didn’t play a role.

Report: Texas’ Jones to test NBA possibility

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Both of Texas’ McDonald’s All-Americans from its 2016 class will test the NBA waters.

Andrew Jones will declare for the draft, but will not hire an agent, according to ESPN’s Jeff Goodman.

The 6-foot-4 guard joins Jarrett Allen, the Longhorns’ star center, in utilizing the rule change that became available to players last year in which they can declare, workout for teams, attend the NBA combine and still return to school.

Jones averaged 11.4 points, 3.9 rebounds and 3.5 assists per game as a freshman. He shot 42.5 percent from the field overall and 32.8 percent from 3-point range.

Allen seems the likelier candidate to remain in the draft as a potential lottery pick, but Jones came to Austin with similar one-and-done possibilities given his status as one of the class’ top recruits.

Texas, of course, is hoping both return, not just because they’re both big talents, but because incoming and highly-touted recruit Matt Coleman fills the major hole in last year’s lineup – point guard. If the three of them can share the floor together, Year 3 of the Shaka Smart era will be much more interesting.

Morrow announces transfer from Nebraska

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Nebraska was once again hit with a surprising and damaging transfer.

Ed Morrow, Jr., who led the Huskers in rebounding last year, announced his intention to transfer, the school announced Wednesday.

“I support Ed in his decision to transfer schools and wish him well,” Nebraska coach Tim Miles said in a statement. “We appreciate his hard work over the last two years. Although I am disappointed, we will continue to recruit young men who are committed to our mission of building Nebraska Basketball with a culture of success in all areas…life, school and winning basketball at its highest level.”

The 6-foot-7 sophomore’s departure is a major hit to the Huskers, who are coming off a 12-19 year in which Miles’ job security was called into question. It almost assuredly will be again this year as Nebraska hasn’t been able to build on its 2014 NCAA tournament appearance, instead putting together three-straight losing seasons.

Morrow’s decision is surprising not only given he’d been a productive member of the team – averaging 9.4 points and 7.5 rebounds per game – but because he was born in Nebraska before attending high school in Chicago and both his parents were Nebraska student-athletes his father winning a national title on the football team in 1994 and his mother an all-Big Eight performer on the basketball team.

“I want to say thank you to my teammates, coaches, the fans and the University of Nebraska athletics department for giving me the opportunity to play Division I basketball,” Morrow said in a statement. “It is hard to leave home, and Nebraska is my home. I was born and raised here, it is my parents’ alma mater, and I have a lot of friends here. But sometimes you have to venture out to pursue dreams and aspirations in a career. This is a sacrifice I have to make to better myself.”

Morrow’s transfer comes a year after Andrew White surprised Nebraska with his decision to graduate and transfer to Syracuse, which no doubt impacted the Huskers’ poor 2016-17 record.

Miles was on the hot seat at the end of last season and will assuredly begin this season there as well. A roster hit like Morrow won’t do much to help him improve the situation. Nebraska does, however, have three starters returning while Georgetown transfer Isaac Copeland is eligible, as is Miami (Fla.) transfer James Palmer, Jr.