Weekend Preview: Two B1G clashes, and Duke’s toughest test of the year

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Game of the Week: Sat. 12:00 p.m.: No. 8 Minnesota at No. 5 Indiana (Big Ten Net)

Full disclosure: when I write these Weekend Preview posts, it’s usually some point between Thursday afternoon and Friday morning. Right now, as I’m typing these words, it is Thursday afternoon, and let me tell you: I am already fired up about the prospect of seeing Indiana get tested at home by Minnesota. (Also, it’s worth noting that Indiana has a bit of reason to be looking to get some revenge.)

I’m buying the Gophers. I believe in them. I believe that the win over Michigan State at home and the deconstruction of Illinois in Champaign are legit. I love their balance, I love the inside-outside combo of Andre Hollins and Trevor Mbakwe, I think they are terrific defensively and I think they know their roles offensively. I’m not, however, all-in on the Gophers … yet. You know what can change my opinion on that? Guess.

As far as Indiana is concerned, I feel like the attention that has been put on them has waned ever since they lost to Butler. That’s what happens when your non-conference schedule includes 10 teams where I would have had a shot at making the rotation. But there are two things to remember about this team: they are still the same club that was more-or-less the consensus No. 1 team in the country in the preseason, except Victor Oladipo is playing like an all-american.

Six More Games You Need To Watch:

  • Sat. 12:00 p.m.: No. 1 Duke at No. 20 NC State (ESPN): Duke will be without Ryan Kelly, which is terrific news for NC State, because Kelly is arguably the most important player for the Blue Devils. He’s turned himself into a terrific defender while also providing the ability to stretch the floor at the power forward spot. That’s a huge loss, one that could very realistically change the outcome of the game. If NC State is going to have a chance to win the ACC this season, this is a game they must get.
  • Sat. 2:00 p.m.: No. 14 Butler at Dayton (NBC Sports Net): You may not have ever heard of Kevin Dillard, but I promise you that he is one of the best point guards in the Atlantic 10 and probably deserves to be considered a snub on the Cousy Award list. He’ll be going up against Butler and Rotnei Clarke on Saturday. Making the game all the more important? The Flyers lost at VCU in their A-10 opener.
  • Sat. 2:00 p.m.: UCLA at Colorado (Pac-12): More than anything, the biggest reason that the Pac-12 is perceived to be down this season is that two of the three most talented teams in the conference — two programs that have enough pieces to be ranked in the top 20 — struggle to put together the kind of consistent effort that is needed by elite teams. But with Arizona losing at Oregon — and, technically, “losing” to Colorado — the conference is wide-open. Will that be enough motivation?
  • Sat. 6:00 p.m.: St. Louis at Temple (ESPNU): St. Louis has won nine straight games since Rick Majerus passed away and just got their star point guard back. Temple beat Syracuse in Madison Square Garden and nearly beat Kansas at the Phog. Both of those games, Khalif Wyatt went off. Against Xavier on Thursday night? He was 2-11 and the Owls get beaten.
  • Sat. 8:00 p.m.: Colorado State at No. 16 San Diego State (NBC Sports Net): There may not be a tougher conference in the country that the Mountain West this season. It’s set up in such a way that the favorites simply cannot afford to lose games at home. But how will the Aztecs match up with CSU big fella Colton Iverson?
  • Sun. 1:30 p.m.: No. 2 Michigan at No. 15 Ohio State (CBS): The Big Ten is another league where losing home games is simply going to be unacceptable for a true title contender. Ohio State likes to think of themselves that way, but on the nights that Deshaun Thomas isn’t shooting well, they are very average. The best matchup here will be Trey Burke against Aaron Craft. The best point guard in the country, who just so happens to be a Columbus native, going up against the best on-ball defender in the country. Yes. Please.

And What About The Mid-Majors?:

  • Fri. 9:05 p.m.: San Jose State at Utah State (ESPN3)
  • Fri. 9:00 p.m.: Wright State at Loyola (IL) (ESPNU)
  • Sat. 4:30 p.m.: BYU at Santa Clara
  • Sat. 7:00 p.m.: Hawaii at Long Beach State
  • Sat. 8:30 p.m.: Stephen F. Austin at Oral Roberts
  • Sun. 2:00 p.m.: Canisius at Iona

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.

Svi Mykhailiuk drops 20 pounds, makes weird Kansas roster even weirder

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Kansas is a weird team this season.

They’re talented, they’re probably going to win the Big 12 again and I fully expect them to be in the national title picture come March, but that doesn’t change the fact that they’re … weird.

25 percent of their scholarship players are transfers sitting out the year. That doesn’t include Sam Cunliffe, who won’t be eligible until December. So that’s unusual, as is the fact that Bill Self, a coach that had steadfastly remained dedicated to playing two big men together despite the gradual shift to small-ball, has three big men on his roster in total.

One of those three is Mitch Lightfoot, which means that there are just two big men on the roster that a potential Final Four team should feel comfortable having as a major part of their rotation. That would be sophomore Udoka Azubuike and freshman Billy Preston.

That makes it seem pretty clear that the Jayhawks will be going with another small-ball look, just as they did last season, right? But they don’t really have a piece to replace Josh Jackson, who was a perfect fit as a college four in a small-ball lineup. He was a natural wing that was athletic enough to block shots and tough enough to battle bigs on the glass.

So who plays that role this season?

Some thought it could be Svi Mykhailiuk, the 20-year old Ukranian senior, but he’s never really been that guy. Oh, and he just so happened to lose 20 pounds this offseason.

“I’m trying to stay light-weight this year, so it’s going to help me a lot,” Mykhailiuk told the Kansas City Star. “I feel like I’m faster with the light weight. I’m more athletic. It just helps me overall in the game.”

Which means … what, exactly?

Losing 20 pounds isn’t exactly going to help a player that has some question marks about his toughness and physicality battle with college fours in the paint. Does it mean he’ll be playing more on the wing? If so, who plays at the four? Will LaGerald Vick — all six feet, five inches and 175 pounds — be playing in the Josh Jackson role?

Or is Self going to use Preston as his new Perry Ellis, hoping that this five-star freshman becomes what his last five-star four-man — Carlton Bragg — never could?

My guess is that it will likely end up being all of the above, depending on matchups.

But it doesn’t make the Jayhawks’ weird roster any clearer.