Victor Oladipo

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

Cyclones add big man for 2017

LOUISVILLE, KY - MARCH 15:  Head coach Steve Prohm of the Murray State Racers shouts from the sidelines against the Colorado State Rams  during the second round of the 2012 NCAA Men's Basketball Tournament at KFC YUM! Center on March 15, 2012 in Louisville, Kentucky.  (Photo by Andy Lyons/Getty Images)
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Iowa State secured its first commitment Wednesday of what will be a pivotal class of forwards in 2017.

KeyShawn Faezell of Mississippi committed to Steve Prohm and the Cyclones, he announced Wednesday.

“After praying to God to lead me in the right path and talking with my dad,” Faezell wrote, “I’ve decided to further my education and basketball career under coach Prohm at Iowa State University.”

Faezell, a 6-foot-9 consensus top-150 forward in the 2017 class, joins wing Terrence Lewis as the first two members of a class that figures to number at least six for ISU. The addition of Faezell is key because ISU will be losing three members of its frontcourt it will likely be leaning on heavily in 2015-16 in Deonte Burton, Merrill Holden and Darrell Bowie. A 2016 big man, Cameron Lard, has also yet to enroll in classes this fall due to academic issues, making Faezell’s commitment even more important should Lard be unable to get clearance.

“They need some people to come in and compete,” Feazell told the Ames Tribune. “I think I fit in the program.”

Prohm’s teams dating back to his Murray State days have always been guard-oriented and guard-heavy, but beginning to stack the roster with quality big men will be key as he looks to continue the Cyclones’ success in the Big 12, which includes a school-record five-straight NCAA tournament appearances.

BYU adds commit for 2019

Dave Rose
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BYU added a commitment from a high school senior this week, but the Cougars won’t be seeing him on campus until 2019.

Kolby Lee, a 6-foot-9 forward from Idaho, pledged to BYU on Monday evening, but won’t suit up until after serving a two-year mission for the Church of Latter Day Saints, according to the Deseret News.

“I had a great feeling about BYU, and I prayed about it,” Lee told the paper. “I just feel like it’s the right fit for me. It just seems right. It feels right.”

Lee chose BYU over offers from  Utah State, Boise State and UC Davis. He was rated a four-star prospect by ESPN and three by Scout.

His decision to forego immediately joining BYU certainly isn’t a new wrinkle for the Cougars, who routinely see their players either delay their initial eligibility or pause it mid-career while serving on missions.

Self pays freshman Jackson a major compliment

Josh Jackson, from Napa, Calif.,, dunks over Nancy Mulkey, from Cypress, Texas, as he competes in the slam dunk contest during the McDonald's All-American Jam Fest, Monday, March 28, 2016, in Chicago. (AP Photo/Matt Marton)
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Freshman phenom production under Bill Self has been something of a contentious topic. Many fault the coach, who has won one national title and 12-straight Big 12 championships, for not developing one-and-done talent to their fullest potential during their single-season stays in Lawrence. Cliff Alexander and Cheick Diallo are Exhibit 1-A and 1-B for this argument in recent years.

Whatever outside criticism there is (Andrew Wiggins did go No. 1 overall just 2 years ago, after all), Self isn’t shying away from hyping the latest freshman with big expectations to come to KU. When asked who the greatest athlete of all-time is at the school’s annual Tradition Night last week, Self had a simple, if tongue-and-cheek, response.

“I’ll say Josh Jackson,” Self said of the the 6-foot-8 shooting guard ranked No. 1 in his class, according to Lawrence Journal-World.

With others answering with the likes of Michael Jordan and Muhammed Ali, it’s pretty fair to say Self was playing to the crowd with the answer, but it’s still telling that he was willing to deliver such a sound bite, even if it was before a welcoming audience. Self didn’t try to seriously depress expectations for Wiggins, a player Jackson is often compared to, and it looks like he won’t for Jackson as well.

Jackson, though, won’t have the burden Wiggins had as there’s one of the country’s best backcourts in Frank Mason II and Devonte Graham to help shoulder the workload for the Jayhawks.

 

ACC non-commital on HB2 stance

John Swofford
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With North Carolina unwilling to rescind their controversial so-called bathroom bill, the NBA has withdrawn its All-Star Game from the state this year and numerous high-profile music acts have canceled performances as a result.

The ACC is declining to join them with a hard-line, or really any, position.

“We don’t want to damage our league with any premature decisions,” commissioner John Swofford said on The David Glenn Show. “We’ll just see how it plays out.”

The ACC, of course, has quite the presence in the state with North Carolina, N.C. State, Duke and Wake Forest all in the Tar Heel State. Swofford’s comments are sure to draw the interest of the LGBT community, which has roundly been critical of the bill, which requires people to use the bathroom which corresponds to the gender on their birth certificate, and has recently been active in college athletics, opposing the Big 12’s potential inclusion of BYU in its expansion plans over concerns of the Church of Latter Day Saints school’s honor code.

North Carolina’s bill has also drawn the eye of the NCAA, which is requiring potential championship sights to provide information on local anti-discrimination laws.

One of the loudest voices in the ACC, Duke coach Mike Krzyzewski, has come out against the law.

“It’s an embarrassing bill,” Coach K said last month.

The Champions Classic renewed through 2019

LAWRENCE, KS - FEBRUARY 27: Bill Self head coach of the Kansas Jayhawks claps for his team as they celebrate winning the Big 12 Conference Championship after they defeated Texas Tech Red Raiders 67-58 at Allen Fieldhouse on February 27, 2016 in Lawrence, Kansas. With the win, Kansas clinched its 12th straight conference championship. (Photo by Ed Zurga/Getty Images)
Ed Zurga/Getty Images
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The Champions Classic is back, baby!!!

On Wednesday, the four schools that participate in the event — Kentucky, Duke, Kansas and Michigan State — announced that they have signed deals to extend the life of the doubleheader for another three years.

This is terrific news. The Champions Classic is always the best early-season event of the season, an annual double-header that always ends up putting together two of the best non-conference games in packed NBA arenas. This year, it features Duke, the consensus preseason No. 1 team in the country, squaring off with Kansas, who is a consensus top three team with the No. 1 freshman in the class, Josh Jackson, on their roster, in one game.

The other game? Kentucky, the third consensus top three team nationally, going up against Tom Izzo and Michigan State, who will be, at worst, a top 15 team in the preseason polls.

So yeah, we’re going to get a pair of sensational basketball games in Madison Square Garden on Nov. 15th. MSG also just so happens to be the best arena to watch a great neutral site basketball game.

It’s going to be awesome.

There’s only one possible way to make it better: turn it into a two-day event, with the winners squaring off for the Champions Classic title the following night.

Make it happen.

Anyway, here’s the schedule:

Nov. 14, 2017 (United Center, Chicago)
Kansas vs. Kentucky
Duke vs. Michigan State

Nov. 13, 2018 (Bankers Life Fieldhouse, Indianapolis)
Michigan State vs. Kansas
Duke vs. Kentucky

Nov. 12, 2019 (Madison Square Garden, New York)
Kansas vs. Duke
Michigan State vs. Kentucky