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

Sweet 16 Preview: Thursday’s picks, predictions, betting lines and channels

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The Sweet 16 kicks off on Thursday night, and the games are going to be terrific.

Oregon-Michigan should be thrilling, Gonzaga-West Virginia is a fascinating contrast of styles and Kansas-Purdue features arguably the two best players in college basketball.

Oh, and then there’s Arizona-Xavier, with Sean Miller and Chris Mack doing battle.

For an in-depth look at each region, check these out:

SWEET 16 PREVIEW: Midwest | West | South | East

No. 3 Oregon vs. No. 7 Michigan (-1.5), 7:09 p.m. (CBS): So this run that Michigan on, is it a fluke?

Frankly, I don’t think that it is. Derrick Walton has been awesome for the better part of two months while Michigan’s perimeter shooters have always been shooters and the duo of D.J. Wilson and Mo Wagner are legit. I honestly do not believe that the Wolverines are a team of destiny after the plane crash. They are just really good and a perfect roster for John Beilein to tinker with.

That’s why they’re favored on Thursday night. But here’s the thing … Oregon is pretty good themselves. Dillon Brooks is going to be guarded by a big man, which should be a matchup that Brooks can take advantage of, and Tyler Dorsey has been playing terrific basketball since the start of the Pac-12 tournament.

If you like small-ball, spread-the-court basketball, you’ll love this game.

PREDICTION: Michigan (-1.5)

No. 1 Gonzaga (-3) vs. No. 4 West Virginia, 7:39 p.m. (TBS): On paper, I think Gonzaga should win this game. They have a good back court in Nigel Williams-Goss and Josh Perkins, a pair of talented point guards that have won a lot of games in their career. Gonzaga is also the best defensive team in the country. So if they don’t turn the ball over against West Virginia’s press and they make it difficult for West Virginia to score in the half court and get into their press, they should be able to win this thing, right?

Well, maybe not.

My concern with Gonzaga is game-pressure. They didn’t handle it well down the stretch against BYU in their one loss of the season, and I’m not convinced that they win that second round game against Northwestern if the officials don’t blow the goaltending call. How are they going to handle an endless wave of Mountaineers in their face?

PREDICTION: Gonzaga (-3)

No. 1 Kansas (-5) vs. No. 4 Purdue, 9:39 p.m. (CBS): More than any other game this weekend, I’m fascinated to see how these two teams decide to try and play each other. Kansas has, essentially, one big man that Bill Self can trust, and he’s going up against a Player of the Year candidate in Caleb Swanigan and one of the best big men in the country at drawing fouls in Isaac Haas. Will Self double-team Swanigan knowing that Purdue may be more effective offensively when Swanigan can find shooters out of the double-team, or will he risk Lucas getting in foul trouble by trying to guard Swanigan one-on-one?

Then, at the other end of the floor, how will Purdue deal with the Kansas back court? Frank Mason III, the NBC Sports National Player of the Year, and Devonte’ Graham are a nightmare for anyone to deal with, let alone a team that struggles against penetrating guards and that lacks rim protection. It should be a fascinating coaching battle.

PREDICTION: Kansas (-5)

No. 2 Arizona (-7.5) vs. No. 11 Xavier, 10:09 p.m. (TBS): On paper, Arizona should be able to handle a Xavier team that doesn’t have Edmond Sumner or Myles Davis. That said, as we all know, Chris Mack and Sean Miller are very close and used to work together. Mack knows everything that Miller is going to do and vice versa. I think this game will be a low-scoring, grind-it-out affair that comes down to the final minutes.

PREDICTION: Xavier (+7.5)

Shayok and Reuter transferring from Virginia

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Virginia announced the departure of two players Wednesday.

Marial Shayok and Jerred Shayok will both transfer out of the program, the school said.

“Marial and Jarred informed me today that they are leaving the Virginia basketball program and are looking to transfer to other schools,” Cavaliers coach Tony Bennett said in a statement released by the school. “I thank Marial and Jarred for their hard work and contributions to our program, and wish them success in the future.”

Shayok, a a 6-foot-5 junior, played 20.9 minutes per game last season for the Cavaliers, averaging 8.9 points and 2.4 rebounds per game while shooting 44.5 percent from the floor. The Ottawa native started 23 games in three seasons with Virginia.

Reuter played a minimal role for the Cavaliers, averaging just 10.8 minutes and 3.8 rebounds per game.

Wake’s Collins declares for NBA draft without hiring agent

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WINSTON-SALEM, N.C. (AP) Wake Forest’s John Collins is entering the NBA draft but will not hire an agent and is keeping open the option of returning to school for his junior season.

In a statement Wednesday announcing the decision, Collins said he wants “to make an informed decision about what is best for my future.”

Collins is a 6-foot-10 forward who as a sophomore blossomed into one of the best big men in the Atlantic Coast Conference and was voted to the Associated Press all-ACC team.

He averaged 19.2 points and 9.8 rebounds, putting together a string of 12 consecutive 20-point games late in the season.

His progression was a big reason why the Demon Deacons earned their first NCAA Tournament berth since 2010. Kansas State beat Wake Forest in the First Four.

More AP college basketball: http://www.collegebasketball.ap.org

Porter, Jr. will ask for Washington release

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There may be an overwhelming assumption on where Michael Porter, Jr. – and his father – will ultimately end up, but the five-star recruit is said publicly that he see his re-recruitment process through.

Porter, Jr. said in a teleconference Wednesday that he will ask for his release from Washington, and his father, a former Huskies assistant, has been offered a job at Missouri by new Tigers coach Cuonzo Martin.

“Right now I’m just trying to take it slow with my family and weigh my options,” Porter Jr. said, according to the Kansas City Star. “I plan to get my (national letter of intent) from Washington back and just go from there, not saying that I’m not going to Washington anymore, but I just want to get it back and weigh my options.”

The prevailing thought has been that the Porters will ultimately land in Columbia, where they have significant history.

Still, it would appear at least publicly that Porter, Jr., a potential No. 1 pick in the 2018 NBA draft, will weigh his options in at least the short-term.

Calipari signs two-year extension with Kentucky

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Kentucky continues to take care of John Calipari.

The Wildcats coach has received a two-year extension, keeping him under contract in Lexington through the 2024 season, the school announced Wednesday.

The contract will pay Calipari $7.75 million next season and increase to $8 million per season thereafter.

“John has achieved consistent championship-level performance at Kentucky,” Kentucky athletic director Mitch Barnhart said in a statement. “No one in America is better suited for everything that comes with being the coach here. Not only has he attained incredible success on the court, he is also a leader in our community and in college basketball.

“We have been blessed to have him and Ellen here for the last eight years and we are blessed they will continue to call Kentucky home.”

Not only does the deal extend Calipari, but it continues to keep Kentucky competitive with the NBA, which would seem to be the only outlet that would even potentially tempt Calipari away from Kentucky. An NBA franchise would have to make him among the highest-paid coaches in the league to even match Kentucky financially.

Of course, given that Calipari has spurned interest from the league since returning to college in 2000, it seems unlikely that financial considerations would be the lone or heaviest variable in making a decision to move on.

Certainly, Calipari has an excellent thing going at Kentucky as the premier recruiting program in the country that has enjoyed serious success on the court, culminating in a 2012 national title and a 38-0 start to the 2015 season before a loss in the Final Four.

“The last eight years at the University of Kentucky have been a terrific ride,” Calipari said in a statement. “This extension shows our full commitment to each other. I believe this school is the gold standard and I’m so thankful and blessed that this university has given me this opportunity at this point in my career.”

The Wildcats face UCLA in the Sweet 16 on Friday.