Ohio State Buckeyes' Craft picks up a charge on Kansas Jayhawks' Johnson during the first half of their men's NCAA Final Four semi-final college basketball game in New Orleans

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

Four-star 2017 shooting guard commits to Virginia Tech

Virginia Tech head coach Buzz Williams celebrates a play in the first half of an NCAA college basketball game against Virginia, Monday, Jan. 4, 2016, in Blacksburg, Va. (Matt Gentry/The Roanoke Times via AP) LOCAL STATIONS OUT; LOCAL INTERNET OUT; LOCAL PRINT OUT (SALEM TIMES REGISTER; FINCASTLE HERALD; CHRISTIANSBURG NEWS MESSENGER; RADFORD NEWS JOURNAL; ROANOKE STAR SENTINEL; MANDATORY CREDIT
Matt Gentry/The Roanoke Times via AP
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Recruiting, and on-court results, have picked up at Virginia Tech since Buzz Williams took over as head coach. In his second year at the helm the Hokies won ten conference games, and in reaching the Postseason NIT made their first postseason appearance since 2011.

Thursday night Virginia Tech landed its first verbal commitment in the Class of 2017, as four-star shooting guard Nickeil Alexander-Walker made his pledge.

The 6-foot-5 Alexander-Walker, who’s ranked 91st in his class by Rivals.com, also took official visits to Maryland and USC before making his pledge to the ACC program. Alexander-Walker attends Hamilton Heights Christian Academy in Chattanooga, Tennessee, but as a native of Canada plays his grassroots basketball for the Canada Elite program on the Under Armour Association circuit.

Good with either hand, Alexander-Walker can play either on or off the basketball. And that versatility should serve him well in a system that places a high value on “switch-ables,” or players who can fill multiple roles.

The Canada connection paid off for Virginia Tech in the recruitment of Alexander-Walker, with assistant coach Jamie McNeilly being a native of the country himself and having a connection to the Walker family. The Hokies will lose two perimeter players at the end of the 2016-17 season in Devin Wilson and Seth Allen, which will give Alexander-Walker the opportunity to earn minutes as a freshman.

Oakland lands former Oklahoma State guard Clark

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When point guard Stevie Clark began his career at Oklahoma State in 2013, the Top 100 prospect was expected by many to be an impact player for the Cowboys. Things didn’t go as planned however, as off-court issues ultimately led to Clark’s dismissal from the program before his sophomore season. Add in a lawsuit filed by Clark in which he alleged that he was forced by the school to take psychotropic drugs, and it’s safe to say that his time in Stillwater was anything but smooth.

Clark ultimately landed at Arkansas Baptist College, and on Thursday it was reported by the Detroit Free Press that he’s committed to Oakland University to play for head coach Greg Kampe. Clark joins a program with an immediate need at the point, with All-American Kahlil Felder having entered the NBA Draft and hired an agent as well.

The obvious question regarding Clark is whether or not he’s managed to take care of business off the court, and in an interview with Mark Snyder of the Free Press the Oklahoma native made note of the benefits of getting away from home for college.

Playing in Rochester, far from his home, will serve him well, he said.

“Anywhere away from home is the best thing,” Clark said. “It’s just hard balancing everything being close to home.”

Clark will be one of the options Kampe has to choose from at the point, with incoming freshmen Brailen Neely and Billy Thomas also among the new arrivals, and sophomore Jaevin Cumberland looking to earn more playing time than the 5.6 minutes per contest he averaged as a freshman.

Creighton point guard Watson Jr. to return for senior season

Creighton's Maurice Watson Jr. (10) reacts after scoring during the second half of an NCAA college basketball game against Xavier in Omaha, Neb., Tuesday, Feb. 9, 2016. Creighton won 70-56. (AP Photo/Nati Harnik)
AP Photo/Nati Harnik
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Creighton’s chances of moving up the Big East standings and returning to the NCAA tournament for the first time since 2014 improved a great deal Thursday, as starting point guard Maurice Watson Jr. announced that he will be returning for his senior season. Watson, who began his college career at Boston University, entered his name into the NBA Draft pool without hiring an agent but decided that another year in Omaha would be best for him.

Watson was one of the most impactful transfers in the country last season, as his play at the point was a major factor in the Bluejays winning 20 games and going 9-9 in conference play after being picked to finish eighth in the Big East preseason poll. Watson averaged 14.1 points, 3.4 rebounds and 6.5 assists per game last season, earning second team All-Big East honors.

With Watson’s return the Bluejays will welcome back three of their top four scorers from last season, with center Geoffrey Groselle being the lone departure. Head coach Greg McDermott adds a talented shooting guard in Marcus Foster, who sat out last season after transferring in from Kansas State. With Watson and Foster working together, Creighton will have a formidable perimeter tandem leading the way in 2016-17 with the likes of forward Cole Huff and guard Isaiah Zierden also being key contributors.

In addition to what Watson can provide in games he’ll also serve as a good mentor for Kaleb Joseph, who will have to sit out next season after transferring in from Syracuse. Joseph, who will have two seasons of eligibility remaining, fell out of the rotation as a sophomore so the year in residency should benefit him as he works towards grabbing the reins in 2017-18.

h/t ESPN.com

UConn, four-star 2017 big man Brown part ways

Brown, Zach
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Back in mid-January UConn made waves on the recruiting trail by securing a verbal commitment from 7-foot-1 center Zach Brown, a player seen by many as one of the top prospects in the Class of 2017. That partnership came to an end Thursday, as the two parties decided to part ways. News of the mutual decision was first reported by Scout.com.

The Miami native is currently ranked 28th in the Class of 2017 by Rivals.com, and Thursday’s news opens up a spot in the front court that UConn head coach Kevin Ollie and his staff will now have to fill. Amida Brimah, who’s currently going through the NBA pre-Draft process, will be a senior next season should he return to Storrs as will Kentan Facey.

Among the interior options who will have eligibility remaining beyond next season for the Huskies are sophomore Steven Enoch and incoming freshmen Mamadou Diarra and Juwan Durham.

UConn was in the running for 2016 power forward Taurean Thompson, but multiple outlets have the Brewster Academy product considering Michigan State (which added UNLV grad transfer Ben Carter Wednesday), Seton Hall and Syracuse at this point in his recruitment.

UCF lands commitment from transfer Terrell Allen

New UCF men's NCAA college basketball coach Johnny Dawkins speaks at his introductory press conference Thursday, March 24, 2016 in Orlando, Fla. (Jacob Langston/Orlando Sentinel via AP) MAGS OUT; NO SALES; MANDATORY CREDIT
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Having already landed one transfer in former Michigan guard Aubrey Dawkins (the new head coach’s son), UCF landed a second Thursday afternoon as former Drexel guard Terrell Allen announced that he’ll finish out his college career playing for Johnny Dawkins.

Allen, a CAA All-Rookie Team selection in his lone season at Drexel, announced the news by way of his Twitter account. After sitting out the 2016-17 season per NCAA transfer rules, Allen will have three seasons of eligibility remaining.

On a team that struggled throughout the 2015-16 season, winning just six games, Allen averaged 9.8 points, 3.0 rebounds and 3.5 assists in 32.5 minutes of action per game. The 6-foot-2 point guard finished the season ranked in the top ten in the CAA in both assists and assist-to-turnover ratio, with his assist tally ranking eighth and his A/T ratio of 1.9 placing him seventh.

With B.J. Taylor entering his junior season and Jeremy Carter-Sheppard joining the ranks this summer, the addition of Allen gives UCF another option at the point for the 2017-18 campaign.