Pregame Shootaround 2.3.13: Marquette-Louisville sets table for Super Bowl

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Game of the Day: No. 12 Louisville vs. No. 25 Marquette (2:00 p.m. ET, ESPN)

Marquette coach Buzz Williams has his team where few expected it to be after losing key starters Darius Johnson-Odom and Jae Crowder after last season. The Golden Eagles are competing and contending in the Big East, off to a 6-1 start in league play thanks to increased production from Vander Blue and Davante Gardner.

Louisville comes into Sunday’s game on a much different note. The Cardinals were once the No. 1 team in the land, but have since dropped three of four games and find themselves in the middle of the pack in the Big East. The key Sunday will be increased offensive production. Against a tough Marquette defense, if Louisville can’t score points like it was earlier in the season, coach Rick Pitino’s team could be headed to a 5-4 mark in league play.

Who’s Getting Upset?: No. 23 Minnesota (-9.5) vs. Iowa (1:00 p.m. ET, Big Ten Network)

The Gophers snapped a four-game losing streak with a win over Nebraska earlier this week, but now they face an Iowa team that could give them problems. I have faith in this Iowa team, one that hung with Indiana and Michigan State before losing down the stretch, and gave Michigan a run for its money in the first half before the Wolverines shifted into another gear entirely.

The Hawkeyes match up well on the boards and can keep with Minnesota when it comes to scoring points. It will be a plus if Iowa can contain Trevor Mbakwe. In a Minnesota loss to Northwestern, Mbakwe was efficient, but the Gophers’ only scoring option.

Mid-Major Matchup of the Day: Lehigh vs. Army (1:00 p.m. ET) 

When star guard C.J. McCollum went down with an injury, the road to a Patriot League title got a lot tougher for Lehigh. But even without him, the Mountain Hawks are 5-1 in conference play and can pull into a tie for first with Bucknell if they can get  a win Sunday against Army. Lehigh already has a big road win over Bucknell, which gives them the advantage in the standings, but expect all roads to lead to Feb. 18, when the two teams meet again.

Five Things to Watch For

1) When Illinois was tearing through its non-conference schedule, the Illini looked like another legitimate contender in the loaded Big Ten. Coach John Groce’s team has now lost five of its last six games, which includes double-digit losses to Minnesota, Northwestern, Wisconsin, and Michigan. Illinois gets another shot at Bo Ryan’s Badgers on Sunday.

2) Villanova has been one of the most pleasant surprises in conference play so far, having beaten back-to-back Top 5 teams. The Wildcats take on a Providence team Sunday that ran Connecticut down to the wire before ultimately losing in overtime earlier this week.

3) It seems that Stanford might have flipped a switch and now become a solid contender in the middle of the Pac-12 race. Dominating wins over Utah and a short-handed Oregon team have the Cardinal closer to reaching its potential, considering the talent they feature on the roster. The more agressive Dwight Powell and Josh Huestis are, the better off Stanford will be.

4) Joe Harris and Akil Mitchell led Virginia to a solid home conference win over NC State earlier this week and will try to carry that momentum against Georgia Tech on Sunday.

5) Connecticut had to grind to beat Providence in overtime, but you still continue to get the sense that coach Kevin Ollie has this program moving in the right direction. They have a chance to improve to 5-3 in the conference with a win over South Florida on Sunday.

The Top 25

No. 12 Louisville vs. No. 25 Marquette (1:00 p.m. ET, ESPN)

No. 23 Minnesota vs. Iowa (2:00 p.m. ET, Big Ten Network)

Other Notable Games

Providence vs. Villanova (12:00 p.m. ET, ESPN3)

South Florida vs. Connecticut (2:00 p.m. ET, ESPN3)

Oregon State vs. Stanford (3:00 p.m. ET, Pac-12 Networks)

Virginia vs. Georgia Tech (3:00 p.m. ET, ESPNU)

Wisconsin vs. Illinois (3:30 p.m. ET, Big Ten Network)

Daniel Martin is a writer and editor at JohnnyJungle.com, covering St. John’s. You can find him on Twitter:@DanielJMartin_

Villanova lands four-star 2018 guard

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Villanova added its first recruit in the Class of 2018 on Wednesday night.

Jay Wright and his staff landed a verbal commitment from Paul VI Catholic High School’s Brandon Slater, a four-star guard by Rivals as the No. 42 overall prospect in the rising senior class.

The 6-foot-5 Slater announced his decision via Twitter.

Slater, according to Jeff Borzello of ESPN, picked the Wildcats over Maryland, Miami, South Carolina, and Virginia.

He is currently playing the Nike EYBL with Team Takeover, the same grassroots program that produced current Villanova guard Phil Booth.

Comic-Con forces Providence to play at Alumni Hall for home opener

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Providence will play its first game at Alumni Hall, the on-campus facility, for the first time in 35 years this fall.

The Friars unveiled their 2017-18 non-conference schedule on Thursday afternoon. The team’s home opener will play either Houston Baptist or Belmont in Mullaney Gym inside Alumni Hall.

According to Kevin McNamara of the Providence Journal, the reason for that is a schedule conflict at Providence’s home arena, the Dunkin’ Donuts Center, in downtown Providence. A Comic-Con convention is scheduled Nov. 10-12. As McNamara notes, it’s a busy part of the season for The Dunk. The arena also is home to the Providence Bruins, the American Hockey League affiliate of the Boston Bruins, and by mid-November, their season is in full swing.

The Friars haven’t played at Alumni Hall since 1972, the same year the Dunkin’ Donuts Center was opened. In the three decades since Providence last played a regular season game there, the facility has gone under necessary renovations, as you could imagine. Even with added seats, Mullaney Gym can host a maximum of 1,549. That’s a fraction of what The Dunk’s capacity of 12,400.

Providence will return to its downtown home on Nov. 13, hosting Minnesota as part of the Gavitt Games. The Golden Gophers will likely be a top-20 team to open the season. The Friars, who bring back every notable player from last year’s NCAA Tournament team, is a fringe top-25 team.

Jalen Coleman-Lands to transfer out of Illinois

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The already-thin Illinois roster got thinner on Thursday afternoon.

Evan Daniels of Scout.com reported that sophomore guard Jalen Coleman-Lands has requested and received his release from the program. He will have to sit out next season but will have two years of eligibility remaining.

Coleman-Lands was a top-40 recruit in the Class of 2015, according to Rivals. He becomes the second player from that recruiting class this month to exit the school. Reserve guard D.J. Williams elected to transfer on May 8. With Jeremiah Tilmon and Javon Pickett, two incoming recruits, both previously reopened their recruitments following John Groce’s firing.

Even with the addition of Wright State graduate transfer Mark Alstork, who officially joined the Fighting Illini on Wednesday, Illinois is left with only nine scholarship players as of right now.

Coleman-Lands’ production dipped from his freshman campaign, ending the 2016-17 season averaging 8.0 points and 2.3 rebounds per game, shooting 38 percent from three.

One destination that will likely be rumored will be nearby DePaul. Coleman-Lands played for new DePaul assistant coach Shane Heirman at prep school powerhouse La Lumiere School. Heriman quickly tapped into that prep pipeline, helping secure a commitment from La Lumiere from five-star 2019 point guard Tyger Campbell earlier this month.

Coleman-Lands had taken official visits to Notre Dame and UNLV before committing to the Illini in September 2014.

North Carolina releases response to latest NCAA Notice of Allegations

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North Carolina is still trying to convince the NCAA that their investigation into the paper classes given by the university’s African-American Studies Department is not, in fact, an NCAA matter.

On Thursday afternoon, the University released their response to the NCAA’s third iteration of the Notice of Allegations, and the core argument in that response is that the school’s “inadequate academic oversight” does not fall under the jurisdiction of the NCAA’s bylaws. In other words, North Carolina is arguing that a rogue professor creating fake classes is not an NCAA issue. It’s a school issue.

What’s more, North Carolina is also arguing that athletes taking these classes should not be classified as an extra benefit because they were available to the entire student body.

“No special arrangements were made for student-athletes in violation of NCAA extra-benefit legislation,” the response reads. “Student-athletes were not treated differently than other students who took the Courses.”

“The public narrative for the last six years, popularized by media accounts, is that Department of Athletics at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill took advantage of ‘fake classes’ in the Department of African and African-American Studies to keep student-athletes eligible. That narrative is wrong and contradicted by the facts in the record.”

The NCAA’s allegations center around the idea that UNC’s athletes, most notably members of the football and men’s and women’s basketball teams, were guided to the fake classes within that department in order to keep their GPAs high enough to remain eligible. The classes in question had a disproportionate percentage of athletes.

A hearing in front of the Committee on Infractions is expected to take place at some point this summer.

No indictment for escort, staffer in Louisville sex scandal

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LOUISVILLE, Ky. (AP) — A grand jury declined to indict an escort and former Louisville men’s basketball staffer in a sex scandal that engulfed the program.

The Jefferson County grand jury decided Thursday there wasn’t enough evidence for charges of prostitution and unlawful transactions with a minor against Katina Powell and Andre McGee.

Powell wrote in a book published in 2015 that McGee hired her to provide dancers to perform sex acts for Cardinal recruits and players from 2010-2014.

The announcement by the Commonwealth’s Attorney’s Office comes as the school awaits discipline in early June by the NCAA after an investigation.

Louisville has imposed its own penalties, including a postseason ban in 2015-16 and reductions in scholarships and recruiting visits by coaches.