Indiana v Purdue

10 tidbits to know: Saturday night showdown in Bloomington, the A-10 and more

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Vin Parise is a former assistant college coach and the college basketball insider for NBC Sports. Look for his Top 10 Tidbits every week.

1. It doesn’t get much better than No. 1 Michigan at  No. 3 Indiana this weekend. Not only can this be a preview of the Big Ten Championship Game — it can also be a possible preview of the Sweet 16, Elite 8 or Final 4. If you’re not watching live at 9:00 pm ET Saturday night…you better have a good excuse.

2. Speaking of the Big Ten, remember when Illinois was one of the top 15-20 teams in the nation? It’s amazing what a few weeks of conference play reveals. Illinois is 3-7 in their last 10 games and is currently 2-6 in Big Ten play.

3. The A-10 has taken the slogan ‘middle of the pack’ to another level. After VCU and Xavier as the top 2 teams, Butler, Charlotte, St. Louis, UMass, George Washington and La Salle all own a 4-2 conference record. And St. Joe’s and Temple are currently at 3-3 in league.

4. I thought the leader in Blocked Shots conversation would always be between Chris Obekpa from St. John’s and Jeff Whithey from Kansas. But freshman Nerlens Noel from Kentucky now leads the nation in rejections. Noel’s school record 12 blocks in the win over Ole Miss helped his cause.

5. Speaking of St. John’s, Steve Lavin’s Red Storm are rolling right now. After losing back to back games to Rutgers and Georgetown, St. John’s has now won 5 straight conference games. It was a great stretch of the schedule for Lavin – the 5 games were DePaul twice, Rutgers, Seton Hall and an upset home win vs Notre Dame. 3 of the next 4 are on the road for St. John’s – and those road wars are at Georgetown, at Louisville and at Syracuse. The Red Storm are in 3rd place by themselves in Big East standings.

6. After good non-conference wins vs Western Michigan and West Virginia, the reality of how much rebuilding needs to actually be done has hit Jim Ferry at Duquesne. The Dukes are the only A-10 team that hasn’t earned a conference win. But expect Ferry’s program to make a significant jump the next few years.

7. Do you think Marshall Bjorklund from North Dakota State gets and takes high percentage shots? The 6-8, Bison Junior leads the nation in Field Goal Percentage – shooting 70.7% from the floor this season.

8. The CAA didn’t forecast the season well at all this year. Northeastern was picked to come in 5th — they are 8-1 in 1st place. Townson was picked 10th — they are tied for 5th. Drexel was picked 1st — they’re in 7th. Old Dominion was picked 4th — they’re in last place at 0-8.

9. MAAC Coach of the Year right now has to be Joe Mihalich from Niagara. The Purple Eagles are 10-1 in MAAC play and sit at 1st place all by themselves. The scary part for MAAC opponents is how many young players Mihalich has. The future is bright in Niagara Falls.

10. Take Belmont in your March Madness brackets when the time comes. The Bruins are 18-4 overall and undefeated in Ohio Valley conference play. The year started with Belmont winning at Stanford and they haven’t looked back. Rick Byrd’s team is currently 14th in RPI rankings.

Follow Vin on Twitter @VinParise and check him out in studio for NBC Sports Network and SNY.

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.