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

4-star center commits to Purdue

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With Vince Edwards and Isaac Haas entering their senior seasons, adding front court options in the 2018 class was something that Purdue needed to do. Purdue added its second front court commitment in the 2018 class Tuesday evening, as four-star center Emmanuel Dowuona reportedly made his pledge. News of Dowuona’s commitment was first reported by the Lafayette Journal & Courier.

Dowuona, a 6-foot-11 big man who attends Westwood Christian School in Miami, joins fellow four-star prospect Trevion Williams in Purdue’s 2018 class to date.

Dowuona’s commitment comes just days before he was reportedly to visit Tennessee. Among the other programs to have offered Duwuona were Clemson, Georgia Tech, Miami and UConn.

Dowuona played for the Team Breakdown program on the Under Armour Association circuit during the summer, averaging 7.9 points, 7.0 rebounds and 2.1 blocks per game while shooting 59.3 percent from the field. While still a bit raw offensively, the native of Ghana provides value as a defender and rebounder. Dowuona is joining a program that during Painter’s tenure as head coach has done a good job of developing big men.

Dowuona and the aforementioned Williams will look to compete for playing time in 2018-19 alongside current redshirt junior Jacquil Taylor and 7-foot-3 redshirt freshman center Matt Haarms.

Dayton freshman Toppin ineligible for 2017-18 season

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Dayton announced Tuesday afternoon that one of the program’s incoming freshmen will not be eligible to compete this season. 6-foot-8 forward Obadiah Toppin has been ruled by the NCAA to have not met initial eligibility requirements, and he will have to sit out the 2017-18 season as a result.

Toppin will be allowed to remain a member of the team and participate in practices, and he will have four seasons of eligibility remaining beginning with the 2018-19 season. While the NCAA’s decision leaves the Flyers short a front court option in head coach Anthony Grant’s first season at the helm, it did not come as a surprise.

“We knew this was a possible scenario for Obi early on in the recruiting process,” Grant said in the release. “And if it came to pass, we saw this as a chance for him to utilize this year acclimate as a student and enhance his strength and skill as an academic redshirt. This is a great opportunity for Obi to develop as a player and student over the next 12 months, and prepare himself for a very successful college career.”

Toppin, who averaged 17 points and eight rebounds per game at Mt. Zion Academy last season, is one of five freshmen who have joined the program. Matej Svoboda and Jordan Pierce will look to earn minutes alongside returnees Josh Cunningham and Xeyrius Williams, and the same can be said for redshirt freshman Kostas Antetokounmpo.

Toppin being declared ineligible is the third hit Dayton has taken to its front court this offseason. Ryan Mikesell, who played in 32 games last season, will redshirt after undergoing two hip surgeries. And Sam Miller, who was also part of the team’s front court rotation last season, was suspended from school for the fall semester after he was arrested during the summer.

Four-star forward commits to Ohio State

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Ohio State is on the board with regards to the 2018 recruiting class, as Chris Holtmann’s program received a much-needed verbal commitment from four-star forward Jaedon LeDee. The 6-foot-9 Houston native announced his decision via his Twitter account Tuesday afternoon.

In receiving a verbal commitment from LeDee, Ohio State beat out California, Houston, Iowa State, LSU, Oklahoma, Texas A&M and UCLA. The Buckeyes hosted LeDee for his official visit the weekend of September 9, which coincided with the football team’s matchup with Oklahoma. Originally scheduled to visit Cal this past weekend, LeDee instead visited Texas A&M.

With LeDee’s commitment to Ohio State, visits to LSU (September 30) and UCLA (October 6) are likely off the board.

Currently attending the Kincaid School, LeDee played for the Texas PRO grassroots program on the adidas Uprising circuit this summer. The four-star prospect will likely be a combo forward for Ohio State, playing either the three or the four depending on the matchup.

With Jae’Sean Tate beginning his senior season and Keita Bates-Diop being a redshirt junior, Ohio State had a need to address in the front court. In landing a verbal pledge from Jaedon LeDee, the Buckeyes have done just that.

Among the front court players who will have eligibility remaining beyond the 2017-18 season are Bates-Diop, current sophomores Micah Potter and Andre Wesson, and freshmen Kaleb Wesson and Kyle Young.

The Pac-12 is foolish for scheduling Arizona-UCLA once during the regular season

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Last month, I wrote about one of the more troubling trends in college basketball: Teams steering away from playing the games that fans are going to care about the most.

It was the result of Georgetown head coach Patrick Ewing stating publicly that he was “not thinking about Maryland” after the rivalry between the DMV’s two most well-known programs went by the wayside.

Ewing isn’t the only coach that is culpable here. Kansas and Missouri don’t play. Kansas and Wichita State don’t play, either. Duke and Maryland don’t play. Ohio State doesn’t play Cincinnati, Xavier or Dayton. It goes on and on.

But the blame can no longer only be given to the coaches that schedule to protect themselves and/or their program.

The conferences deserve some criticism as well. Take, for instance, the Pac-12, who released their schedule recently after deciding that Arizona, a contender for the preseason No. 1 team in the country, should only play UCLA and USC, the only two teams that have a realistic chance of upending the Wildcats for the Pac-12 crown, once apiece.

Not only that, but the games will be played in Tucson, an incredible advantage for Sean Miller’s club as they pursue the league’s regular season title.

Look, I get it. There are 12 teams in the league and there is an 18-game schedule. Each team in the league is going to play four of their 11 league foes just once. It’s simple math. But the answer should never, ever be to schedule the Arizona schools and the Southern California schools just once.

The reasoning is simple: Arizona and UCLA are the two biggest brands in the league. When they play it will draw more interest than when any other two teams in the conference play, and that’s something the conference should be trying to capitalize on. It takes a lot to convince anyone on the east coast to stay up to watch a Pac-12 basketball game. I cover this sport for a living and I have a hard time making it all the way through a 10 p.m. ET tip. When a two-year old is going to be screaming at me to make breakfast at 6:30 a.m., do I really want to stay up to watch Arizona blow out Washington or UCLA to beat up on Cal?

The Pac-12 should do everything they can to ensure that Arizona and UCLA play twice every season.

That is even more true this year. Arizona might be the best team in the country and they might have the No. 1 pick in the 2018 NBA Draft on their roster in Deandre Ayton. UCLA is a top 15 team that just so happens to have Liangelo Ball, the worst of the three Ball brothers and potentially the last one to matriculate through the college ranks. The seemingly inevitable LaVar Ball blow-up is something we all will be watching patiently to see.

Should I mention the simmering hatred between Sean Miller and Steve Alford as they continually compete for the best prospects on the west coast?

And that’s before you factor in that USC is the second-best team in the league, and anyone that UCLA plays twice, USC will also play twice.

I’ll be sure to watch a number of Oregon games this season, and I think that Stanford, Oregon State and Colorado all have the pieces to sneak up on some people this year. I’ll be sure to check in on them a couple times as well.

But the games that I’ll have circled on my calendar, the games I’ll be excited about watching, are between Arizona, UCLA and USC.

By scheduling the Arizona schools and the Southern California schools just once during the regular season, the Pac-12 cost themselves a third of that inventory.

That doesn’t seems like the smartest way to run a business conference.

But hey, if conference realignment and the development of conference-only networks taught us anything, it’s that major college athletics are all about competitive balance over those advertising dollars.

Vanderbilt lands commitment from Aaron Nesmith

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Vanderbilt landed their first commitment in the Class of 2018 with four-star wing Aaron Nesmith.

Nesmith is a native of South Carolina, and the Commodores beat out South Carolina for his services. At 6-foot-6, Nesmith is the kind of defensive presence and athlete that Vandy will need to replace Jeff Roberson, who will be graduating this season.

This is a critical class for Bryce Drew, who is squarely in the mix for five-star guards Darius Garland and Romeo Langford. Nesmith isn’t on that level, but he will be a nice piece for Vandy for four years.