Tom Izzo

Weekend Preview: No. 13 Michigan State visits No. 7 Indiana on Sunday

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Game of the Weekend: No. 13 Michigan State at No. 7 Indiana (Sun. 1:00 p.m. ET, CBS)

It hasn’t been pretty for the Spartans, but after almost a month of Big Ten play, Tom Izzo’s team is sitting all alone in first place in the league standings at 6-1. And when you look at what the Spartans have done this season, it’s tough not to wonder why they’re not being discussed as a true contender. They have three losses on the year. One was in the season’s opening game in Germany when they played an ugly 15 minutes to start the game. One came at Miami before Reggie Johnson broke his thumb. One came Minnesota when they were up by five with nine minutes left.

This is a really good basketball team, one that may actually be able to knock Michigan and Indiana out of the Big Ten’s top spot.

The Hoosiers are not going to be an easy team to beat at home, however. Not after Wisconsin went in there and won. But Michigan State can do some of the same things Wisconsin did. They can control the tempo, they can control the back boards, they have size to bother Cody Zeller and they have athletes on the perimeter that can chase people off of the three point line. Whatever the case, Sunday’s game should be a dandy, and Assembly Hall should be rocking.

Five more games to watch:

  • No. 15 New Mexico at San Diego State (4:00 p.m. ET NBC Sports Net): This is a long way from a must-win game for the Aztecs, but if they have any thoughts of winning the Mountain West regular season title, this is a game that they need. New Mexico currently holds a two-game lead on every in the conference. The Aztecs get them at home with a chance to avoid falling three games off of the pace. And you don’t want to have to make up three games in this meat-grinder that is the Mountain West.
  • No. 12 Minnesota at Wisconsin (2:00 p.m. ET, Big Ten Net): After being tossed into the conversation with Michigan and Indiana at the top of the Big Ten, the Gophers all of a sudden appear to be pretty average. After losing to Indiana and Michigan, Minnesota went into Evanston and lost their third game in a row to Northwestern. And now they have to visit the Badgers while trying to avoid a fourth straight loss and a fall below .500 in the Big Ten? Ugh. Good luck.
  • La Salle at No. 19 VCU (8:00 p.m. ET, CBS Sports Net): La Salle is coming off of beating No. 9 Butler at the buzzer. VCU is coming off of a loss to rival Richmond on the road in overtime. Will momentum carry over? La Salle does matchup fairly well with the Rams, as they have a quartet of solid guards in their back court.
  • North Carolina at No. 18 NC State (7:00 p.m. ET, ESPN): This game as a chance to be as entertaining to watch as any game this weekend. North Carolina loves to get up and down the floor, and NC State is no stranger to pushing the tempo either. Both teams have quality scorers and some high-flying athletes, and neither team is a big fan of playing defense. James Michael McAdoo and CJ Leslie going head-to-head should be interesting, and it should allow us to determine who is the captain of the “All-You-Should-Be-Better” team.
  • No. 5 Louisville at Georgetown (12:00 p.m. ET, ESPN): Can Louisville turnaround this two game losing streak? Can the Hoyas build off of the momentum they established with their win at Notre Dame? It’s going to come down to two things for the Hoyas — Can they avoid turning the ball over against Louisville’s pressure? And can they score in the half court against their 2-3 zone without a lot of shooters on the floor?

And the Mid-Majors?

  • North Dakota State at South Dakota State (3:05 p.m. ET)
  • Stephen F. Austin at Northwestern State (4:00 p.m. ET)
  • Belmont at Eastern Kentucky (7:00 p.m. ET)
  • Iona at Loyola (MD) (Sun. 12:00 p.m. ET)
  • George Mason at Northeastern (Sun. 8:00 p.m. ET)

You can find Rob on twitter @RobDauster.

Southern Conference to keep championships in North Carolina

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COLUMBIA, S.C. (AP) The Southern Conference will keep four league championships in North Carolina despite the NCAA and the Atlantic Coast Conference withdrawing championships because of the state law restricting the rights of LGBT people.

The league said it will honor commitments for these tournaments: men’s soccer in Greensboro, men’s and women’s basketball in Asheville and men’s golf in Pinehurst.

“We don’t want to punish the local host communities by pulling the championships out of the state this year,” Commissioner John Iamarino said Friday. “That point did resonate with presidents and chancellors.”

The league said in a statement its presidents and chancellors “reaffirmed their resolute opposition to legislation that discriminates against any individual.”

Iamarino said his conference was prepared for criticism in light of the NCAA and ACC decisions over the North Carolina’s law, which excludes gender identity and sexual orientation from local and statewide antidiscrimination protections. It also requires transgender people to use restrooms at schools and government buildings corresponding to the sex on their birth certificates.

HB2 was signed into law this year by Republican Gov. Pat McCrory, who has defended it as a commonsense safety and security measure.

The Southern Conference is headquartered in Spartanburg, South Carolina. Its 10 schools – Citadel, Chattanooga, East Tennessee, Furman, Mercer, UNC Greensboro, Samford, VMI, Western Carolina and Wofford – are in Alabama, Georgia, North Carolina, South Carolina, Tennessee and Virginia.

The decision on the championships came after two conference calls among league leaders.

“While not unanimous, we found enough common ground to get to this point,” Iamarino said.

He said the league was influenced by the North Carolina host communities, all urging the conference to hold its events as planned. In Asheville, Iamarino said he met with about 30 people, including some from the LGBT community, who promised to fight the HB2 law but wanted the basketball tournaments to remain.

Iamarino said the venues involved are privately controlled and the league is confident of there will be an inclusive atmosphere at the events. The men’s golf event will be held at Pinehurst Country Club and the basketball at a neutral site in Asheville.

The soccer will be played on the Greensboro campus.

Earlier this month, the NCAA removed seven championships from North Carolina, including first- and second-round games of the men’s basketball tournament scheduled for Greensboro. The ACC soon followed suit, pulling 10 of its championships from the state, including the football title game that was scheduled for Charlotte.

The ACC on Thursday relocated the football game to Orlando, Florida.

Iamarino said Southern Conference presidents and chancellors will meet in May to see if more action is necessary. He said there’s concern similar laws could extend beyond North Carolina.

“This could be a long-term issue,” he said.

Iamarino said he’s also concerned the schools against keeping the championships in North Carolina might take their own actions, perhaps boycotting the league events played there.

“It’s a real concern,” he said. “We’ll continue to communicate and prepare for everything.”

Report: Virginia Tech forward Blackshear still recovering from offseason foot surgery

WASHINGTON, DC - MARCH 10: Kerry Blackshear Jr. #24 of the Virginia Tech Hokies and Kamari Murphy #21 of the Miami Hurricanes go for a rebound in the second half during the quarterfinals of the 2016 ACC Basketball Tournament Verizon Center on March 10, 2016 in Washington, DC.  (Photo by Rob Carr/Getty Images)
(Photo by Rob Carr/Getty Images)
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Virginia Tech sophomore forward Kerry Blackshear will miss the start of training camp as he continues to recover from offseason foot surgery, according to a report from Mike Barber of the Richmond Times-Dispatch.

The 6-foot-10 Blackshear played in all 35 games for the Hokies last season as he battled through the foot injury to average 6.2 points and 4.5 rebounds per game. According to Barber’s report, Blackshear had surgery on his right foot five days after the 2015-16 season ended, but he’s still wearing a walking boot to help recover. There has been no timetable given for Blackshear’s return.

Blackshear will be a key piece for a Virginia Tech team that is a bit thin up front this season. Freshman Khadim Sy can provide some minutes up front, but he’s inexperienced and center Nick Fullard has to sit out this season due to NCAA transfer rules. Getting a healthy Blackshear will be a key storyline for a Virginia Tech team that many will have in the preseason top 25.

Indiana roster dealing with handful of injuries as practice begins

BLOOMINGTON, IN - NOVEMBER 20:  A general view of  the SMU Mustangs game against the Indiana Hoosiers at Assembly Hall on November 20, 2014 in Bloomington, Indiana.  (Photo by Andy Lyons/Getty Images)
(Photo by Andy Lyons/Getty Images)
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Indiana has been hit with the injury buy a bit during the start of practice and it doesn’t only involved the recent announcement of knee surgery for senior Collin Hartman.

According to a report from the Indiana Daily Student the Hoosiers are also dealing with a knee injury for junior college transfer forward Freddie McSwain and sophomore Juwan Morgan hasn’t been cleared for practice yet after offseason shoulder surgery.

The 6-foot-6 McSwain had a knee injury flare up when he came to Indiana and had surgery to clean it up. Crean told the Indiana Daily Student that McSwain was still a few weeks from returning.

That means Indiana has to find early practice minutes to replace Hartman, Morgan and McSwain up front which gives more reps to players like O.G. Anunoby and freshman big man De’Ron Davis.

Since Anunoby and Davis both dealt with some offseason injuries and guard Robert Johnson was recently cleared to return, Hoosiers head coach Tom Crean is remaining cautious during the early part of practice this season. Crean also has to monitor the return of starting guard James Blackmon Jr. after he missed most of last season with a torn ACL.

“We would have already practiced this morning and they would be ready to go tonight, if this were a year ago,” Crean said in the report. “We have to tailor make this thing. We can’t be in too much of a rush with these guys.”

Obviously, the frontcourt injuries are something to keep an eye on for Indiana during the early part of the season. None of the three injuries seem severe, but Hartman’s timetable to return hasn’t been listed and McSwain and Morgan are missing valuable early time in practice.

It’ll be interesting to see if this helps younger players like Anunoby and Davis get more acquainted with the first team early on since both could have an impact this season.

Texas lands four-star Class of 2017 guard Jase Febres

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Texas and head coach Shaka Smart continue to recruit at a high level, especially in the state of Texas, as the Longhorns landed a commitment from Class of 2017 four-star guard Jase Febres on Friday night.

The 6-foot-5 Febres is considered the No. 63 overall prospect in the Rivals national Class of 2017 rankings as he burst on the national radar this summer with some strong shooting performances. Febres shot over 40 percent from three-point range during the month of July after battling through injury during the spring. Besides owning good size for a wing shooter, Febres also takes pride in defending and he can rebound a bit from the wing as well.

Febres is going to have to improve his overall offensive package if a defense plays him off the three-point line, but he has upside as a three-and-D guy with the Longhorns.

The Class of 2017 is starting to round into shape for Texas as Febres joins four-star power forward Jericho Sims and four-star forward Royce Hamm. Since taking over the Texas job, Smart has done a great job of keeping local talent home as he now has five four- and five-star prospects from the state in the last two classes.

 

VIDEO: Kentucky fans get married in the ticket line for Big Blue Madness

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Kentucky fans have unique ways of making their annual Big Blue Madness event the most chaotic tip-off event of the season. While Big Blue Nation is waiting in line for tickets to this year’s festivities in Tent City, one couple decided to go the extra mile.

After securing the first spot in line for tickets, Ray Branham and Vicki Harvey opted to get married. According to a post from Drew Franklin of Kentucky Sports Radio, the couple had already been talking about tying the knot, but decided to make the move once they had the top spot in line. As you can see by the wedding video, it was a very Kentucky-themed ceremony as the duo got married in front of friends and other Kentucky fans.

I can’t say I’m surprised two Kentucky fans decided to get married in line for something like Big Blue Madness and this (unplanned) wedding gives this year’s event something unique that we will always remember.