Thad Matta

Weekend Preview: Yet another Big Ten battle, two key Big East games, UNLV’s last chance?

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Game of the Weekend: No. 1 Indiana at No. 10 Ohio State (Sun. 1:00 p.m. ET, CBS)

Oh hey, look at that. The best game of the weekend is in the Big Ten. Who saw that coming?

Last Saturday, the Hoosiers beat Michigan in a thriller at Assembly Hall in Bloomington, but they turned around and lost to Illinois on Thursday on the road in Champagne. Ohio State, on the other hand, is coming off of an overtime loss to the Wolverines on Tuesday that just may have been the game of the year to this point in the season, dropping them a game behind Indiana, Michigan and Michigan State in the Big Ten race.

It will be interesting to see how these two teams matchup with each other. Does Aaron Craft guard the bigger, more athletic Victor Oladipo? Is Oladipo going to get matched up with Deshaun Thomas? Is this the kind of game where Indiana’s zone can be effective? How in the world will the Buckeyes keep Cody Zeller in check in transition?

The fascinating thing about the Big Ten this year is that all of the top five teams are so different. In college basketball, styles win the fight, and there is so much contrast between the way that the teams at the top of the Big Ten play that makes all of these games so intriguing to watch. At some point, the analysis stops and you simply have to sit back and watch the shot. This is one of those games.

Five more games you need to watch:

  • No. 11 Louisville at No. 25 Notre Dame (9:00 p.m. ET, ESPN): On paper, this looks like a great matchup for the Irish. They have plenty of shooters, they have a talented pair of veteran guards in the back court, they have a bruiser in the middle in Jack Cooley and they pass the ball extremely well. But the Cardinals seem to be getting back in stride after a three-game losing streak earlier this year. Anyone else excited to see Dickie V call a game featuring Russ Smith?
  • No. 15 New Mexico at UNLV (9:00 p.m. ET, NBC Sports Network): This is the last chance for the Rebels. A loss at Fresno State dropped UNLV to 4-4, a full three games behind the Lobos in the Mountain West standings. Losing on Saturday puts them four back, an insurmountable deficit given the strength of this year’s MWC. UNLV is a flawed team, and while I’m not completely sold on New Mexico yet, they haven’t done anything to make anyone believe they are the favorite to win the league.
  • Memphis at Southern Miss (4:00 p.m. ET, CBS Sports Network): The Tigers got huge news on Thursday when they received word that Conference USA had overturned the Flagrant 2 call on Shaq Goodwin and ruled it a Flagrant 1, meaning that he wouldn’t be automatically suspended by the league for Saturday’s game. Because this is a huge game. USM lost this week, meaning that it is no longer a battle of the undefeateds in CUSA, but a loss to the Tigers on Saturday drops the Golden Eagles two games out of first place.
  • No. 23 Pitt at No. 17 Cincinnati (6:00 p.m. ET, ESPN): You will never see a more prototypically Big East basketball game than this year’s Pitt team taking on this year’s Cincinnati team. Both play a slower pace. Both have really good guard play. Both have a big, physical, athletic front court that’s more raw talent than it is skill. The key to beating the Bearcats? Stifling Sean Kilpatrick and Cashmere Wright. Tray Woodall and James Robinson will have their work cut out for them.
  • Iowa State at No. 13 Kansas State (6:00 p.m. ET, ESPN2): It’s time for the Wildcats to exact some revenge. Back in January, the Cyclones knocked off the Wildcats at home. Fred Hoiberg has his team playing well. They are versatile, they are athletic, their front court is a matchup nightmare and they love to fire away from three. They’re a fun team to watch. But Bramlage Coliseum isn’t a fun place to play.

And what about the mid-majors?:

  • Sacred Heart at Bryant (Sun. 4:00 p.m. ET)
  • Oral Roberts at Stephen F. Austin (7:00 p.m. ET)
  • Tennessee State at Murray State (8:00 p.m. ET)
  • Stony Brook at Hartford (7:00 p.m. ET, ESPN3)
  • Illinois State at No. 16 Creighton (10:00 p.m. ET, ESPN2)

You can find Rob on twitter @RobDauster.

Swanigan staying for sophomore season

Purdue's Vince Edwards (12), Purdue's Caleb Swanigan (50) and Purdue's A.J. Hammons (20) celebrate during the second half of an NCAA college basketball game against the Illinois in the quarterfinals at the Big Ten Conference tournament, Friday, March 11, 2016, in Indianapolis. Purdue won 89-58. (AP Photo/Michael Conroy)
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Purdue will once again be rolling out a formidable frontcourt in the 2016-17 season.

Boilermaker big man Caleb Swanigan is withdrawing from the NBA Draft to return to West Lafayette for his sophomore season, the school announced Wednesday.

The NBA is right there and always will be,” Swanigan said in the school’s press release, “but you always have to have patience and do what’s best for you.”

Purdue is losing 7-foot senior A.J. Hammons, but will be once again teaming Swanigan with Isaac Haas (7-2) and Vince Edwards (6-8) that will allow them to roll out a supersized lineup that is sure to be a difficult one to face off against.

The 6-foot-9, 250-pound Swanigan, who likely would have landed as a second-round pick, averaged 10.2 points, 8.3 rebounds and 1.2 assists and was a finalist for the Wayman Tisdale Award for the country’s top freshman.

“We are excited that (Swanigan) has withdrawn from the NBA Draft and will return to Purdue,” head coach said Matt Painter in a statement released by the school. “He has the potential to make a huge jump from his freshman season and will be a big part of what we do next year. He received great experience going through this process and will use the feedback he received to make him a more diverse player.”

Purdue is probably a rung down from Michigan State and Wisconsin at the top of the league, but the return of Swanigan pulls them closer to competing at the top of the league next season.

USC’s Nikola Jovanovic not expected to return to USC

Southern California forward Nikola Jovanovic pauses on the court during an NCAA college basketball game against Washington State, Friday, Jan. 1, 2016, in Pullman, Wash. (AP Photo/Ted S. Warren)
(AP Photo/Ted S. Warren)
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Nikola Jovanovic’s college career has come to a close.

The USC center will not withdraw his name from NBA Draft consideration by Wednesday’s 11:59 p.m., a source confirmed to NBCSports.com. Jovanovic, a 6-foot-11 Serbian, averaged 12.3 points and 7.0 boards as a junior with the Trojans.

Jovanovic is not expected to be drafted, which means that Andy Enfield’s club will be losing two players to the professional ranks with eligibility to spare that likely won’t end up on an NBA roster next season. Julian Jacobs, who averaged 11.6 points, 5.5 assists and 4.9 boards, signed with an agent back in April.

The Trojans were a top 25 team last season despite many considering them to still be “a year away”. But with two starters departing, the Trojans will be a borderline preseason top 25 team as opposed to a top 15 team.

Marcus Lee withdrawing from the draft, transferring from Kentucky

Kentucky forward Marcus Lee dunks during the first half of a second-round men's college basketball game against Indiana in the NCAA Tournament, Saturday, March 19, 2016, in Des Moines, Iowa. (AP Photo/Charlie Neibergall)
(AP Photo/Charlie Neibergall)
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For the second time this season and just the sixth time in John Calipari’s tenure at Kentucky, the Wildcats are losing a player to transfer.

Marcus Lee announced on Wednesday that he will be withdrawing from the NBA Draft, but the 6-foot-9 forward will not be returning to Kentucky. He will be transferring out of the program to a new school.

“I want to thank the University of Kentucky, the basketball staff and the Big Blue Nation for supporting me over the years,” Lee said. “I’m sorry it took me so long to come to this decision, but I’m trying to do what’s right for me and my family. I’ll always think fondly of my time at Kentucky.”

Lee averaged 6.4 points and 6.0 boards this season, seeing his first major minutes as a member of the Wildcats. But he seemed destined for a bench role if he had opted to return to Kentucky this season as John Calipari has landed a recruiting class that includes five-star freshmen Bam Adebayo, Wenyen Gabriel and Sacha Killeya-Jones.

The tough part?

It does not appear that Lee will be able to finish his degree and be eligible to play immediately next season. He’ll have to sit a year at whatever school he opts to transfer to.

“Marcus Lee informed us today that he is pulling his name out of the draft but has decided he is going to transfer to a school out west to be closer to his family,” head coach John Calipari said. “We talked it through together and discussed the team next season, which he said had no bearing on his decision. I also told him he was a semester away from graduating. With that said, he was still adamant that, after the combine experience, a year off and regrouping would be the best thing. As always I support my players and their decisions.”

Lee joins Charles Matthews as members of last year’s Wildcats that are transferring out of the program. Darnell Dodson (Southern Miss), Stacey Poole (Georgia Tech) , Ryan Harrow (Georgia State) and Kyle Wiltjer (Gonzaga) are the other four players that have transferred.

Isaiah Briscoe to return to Kentucky

Eric Johnson, Isaiah Briscoe
(AP Photo/James Crisp)
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Isaiah Briscoe announced on Wednesday that he will be returning to Kentucky for his sophomore season.

The 6-foot-3 guard had one of the more difficult decisions to make for players in this year’s draft class. On the one hand, there was a very real chance that he would go through this draft without getting picked. He was a role-playing guard on last year’s team that isn’t a point guard, isn’t big enough to be a two-guard and was a total liability shooting the ball.

But he’s returning to a team that is as loaded as the group that won their first 38 games two years ago, particularly in the back court. He’ll be playing behind De’Aaron Fox and Malik Monk who both play essentially the same role that Briscoe does: playmaking guards that thrive with the ball in their hands. And since Briscoe can’t shoot, he may not be the best option at the three, where Derek Willis will likely see minutes.

In other words, Briscoe returning to school is essentially a two-year decision.

Kentucky now awaits an announcement from Marcus Lee on whether or not he will be returning to school.

James Blackmon Jr. to return to Indiana, Troy Williams to remain in draft

James Blackmon Jr.
(AP Photo/Doug McSchooler)
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James Blackmon Jr. will be returning to Indiana for his junior season, the school announced on Wednesday morning.

Blackmon missed the final 22 games of his sophomore season following surgery on his knee in December. As a freshman, Blackmon averaged 15.8 points and shot 46 percent from beyond the arc.

Indiana now awaits word on the decision that will be made by Troy Williams. A junior swingman, Williams has a shot to be an early second round pick if he opts to stay in the draft. There is a report from the Indy Star that he will keep his name in the draft, but the program has yet to confirm that news.

Losing Williams would hurt, but it’s a loss that Indiana can overcome. The emergence of O.G. Anunoby as a versatile defender means that the Hoosiers have a guy that can be a defensive stopper and can allow them to play small and fast. Anunoby also has not proven to be prone to bouts of poor decision-making, which arguably may make him a better fit.