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.

Top 2018 recruit R.J. Barrett names final five schools

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A top player in 2018 is down to five schools.

R.J. Barrett, a 6-foot-6 guard out of Monteverde Academy in Florida, announced Wednesday he’ll consider Arizona, Duke, Michigan, Oregon and Kentucky as his college destination.

Barrett is among those in the mix for the top spot in his class now with Marvin Bagley III reclassifying to 2017 this week and committing to Duke. He starred in Canada’s run to a gold medal at the FIBA U19 World Championships this summer, dropping 38 points on Team USA in a shocking semifinals win for the Canadians, who went on to defeat Italy in the finals. He averaged 21.6 points, 8.3 rebounds and 4.6 rebounds per game during the event.

The schools to make the cut for certainly are of little surprise. They’re among the biggest brands in basketball and have been among the recruiting elites for years.

Barrett was originally part of the 2019 class, but decided to reclassify earlier this summer.”Really, it’s been a thought of mine for the last year,” Barrett wrote for USA TODAY, “but I wanted to wait and see how the season would go and how school would go and when everything went well it became more and more real so I made the decision to go ahead and do it.

“I’m right on track to graduate in 2018 and academically everything is great.”

 

Big Ten reveals conference schedule with early-December games

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We knew it was coming, but seeing it in black-and-white is still plenty jarring.
The Big Ten is going to play conference games in early December.

The league announced its full conference schedule Wednesday, unveiling 14 first-week-of-December games ahead of nearly a month-long hiatus before Big Ten play picks up again in January.

It’s a move that was forced after the Big Ten decided it needed to expand its east coast presence after its expansion to Rutgers and Maryland, and will be playing its conference tournament on the eastern seaboard for the second-consecutive year, this time at New York’s Madison Square Garden.

The problem with MSG is that the Big East hosts its annual conference tournament there, meaning the B1G will have to play its tournament a week early, March 1-4. That means a week less of January, February and March for the conference to play its 18 league games. Thus the early December start. NBC Sports’ Rob Dauster broke down the situation in even more detail – and bite – last spring here.

Every team in the league will play both a home and a road game during that league’s first week, a soft opening if you will. Whether teams like the change or not will likely come down to circumstance  – what players they have injured or suspended, what players their opponents have injured or suspended and any other host of issues, but it’s hard to believe with all things being equal, Big Ten coaches will like this move. They’re playing extremely meaningful league games less than three weeks into the season with other conferences getting nearly 2 months of preparation before facing their toughest slate of games.

The B1G, though, will have more favorable and interesting games – even if they’re programmed against college football championship games (including their own) – that week than any other conference can boast, which likely means some nice TV ratings. Given why this change is being made, that’s probably the priority anyway.

South Carolina adds Maine grad-transfer Myers

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South Carolina is adding some immediate help in its follow-up season to a Final Four run.

Wesley Myers, a graduate transfer from Maine, is joining the Gamecocks’ program, according to FanRag Sports’ Jon Rothstein.

The 6-foot-2 guard gives Frank Martin’s team an instant infusion of scoring as they look to replace SEC player of the year Sindarius Thornwell and PJ Dozier. Myers 16.9 points per game last year on 43.7 percent shooting, including a 34.3 percent mark from 3-point range.

He’s the second grad-transfer Martin has picked up this offseason, joining Florida Atlantic’s Frank Booker. The pair should help ease the transition from last year’s success to a much less experienced team that returns just a pair of starters.

Myers, though, doesn’t arrive in Columbia without some notable history.

Last year, after transferring to Maine from Niagara, was suspended after an altercation with a teammate, according to reports. He and teammate Marko Pirovic argued over locker room music, and the alleged ensuing altercation left Pirovic with a broken jaw, according to reports. Three other Maine players were suspended after telling a team athletic trainer that Pirovic had injured himself in a fall in the shower. Pirovic declined to press charges.

Virginia head coach Tony Bennett: ‘We believe in diversity and unity to its fullest extent’

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Virginia’s Tony Bennett finally spoke out on last weekend’s clash between white supremacists protesting the removal of a statue of Robert E. Lee and counter-protesters that resulted in the deaths of a 32-year old woman named Heather Heyer and two police officers involved in a helicopter crash:

Bennett does not exactly take a hard-line stance — the message is more about healing within the community and how much he loves his current hometown than it is about condemning what happened — but he does say “we believe in diversity and unity to its fullest extent.”

Kyle Guy, a sophomore on the Virginia roster, had this to say on Sunday:

UNC academic case finally reaches NCAA infractions hearing

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RALEIGH, N.C. (AP) — It has taken more than two years for North Carolina to appear before an NCAA infractions committee panel since initially being charged with five top-level violations amid its long-running academic scandal.

The two-day hearing begins Wednesday in Nashville, Tennessee. The panel will ultimately determine whether the school faces penalties that could include fines, probation or vacated wins and championships, making this a major step toward resolution in an oft-delayed case filled with starts, stops and twice-rewritten charges.

“The hearing stage, no matter what size of a case, it’s a big deal to any university,” said Michael L. Buckner, a Florida-based attorney who has worked on infractions cases. “I’ve been a part of what you’d consider small cases, I’ve been a part of one of the largest cases. And trust me: The client feels the same anxiousness and apprehension no matter what size of a case it is.

“But I can definitely imagine with North Carolina, this is definitely a momentous occasion.”

The charges include lack of institutional control in a case tied to irregular courses in the formerly named African and Afro-American Studies (AFAM) department. The case is an offshoot of a 2010 football probe, with the NCAA reopening an investigation in summer 2014, filing charges in May 2015, revising them in April 2016 and then again in December.

The panel, which would typically issue a ruling weeks to months later, is chaired by Southeastern Conference Commissioner Greg Sankey and includes former U.S. Attorney General Alberto Gonzales.

UNC’s representatives were seen arriving for the closed-door hearing at a Nashville hotel Wednesday morning. The contingent included athletic director Bubba Cunningham, men’s basketball coach Roy Williams, football coach Larry Fedora and women’s basketball coach Sylvia Hatchell. Jan Boxill and Deborah Crowder, two former UNC employees charged individually in the case, were also seen with their attorneys.

None of the coaches are charged with a violation. But football and men’s basketball are referenced in a broad-based improper benefits charge tied to athlete access to the irregular courses, while women’s basketball is tied to a charge focused on a former professor and academic counselor providing improper assistance on assignments.

Fedora wasn’t working at UNC during the time in question.

“There’s nothing that I can add to what happened before I ever got here,” Fedora said last week. “But I’m there for support. I think me being there is important — not only for the NCAA but the university — that it shows compliance is important to me and our program.”

The focus is independent study-style courses misidentified as lecture classes that didn’t meet and required a research paper or two for typically high grades. In a 2014 investigation, former U.S. Justice Department official Keorneth Wainstein estimated more than 3,100 students were affected between 1993 and 2011, with athletes making up roughly half the enrollments.

The NCAA has said UNC used those courses to help keep athletes eligible.

UNC has challenged the NCAA’s jurisdiction, saying its accreditation agency — which sanctioned the school with a year of probation — was the proper authority. In a May filing , the school stated it “fundamentally believes that the matters at issue here were of an academic nature” and don’t involve NCAA bylaws.

The NCAA enforcement staff countered in a July filing: “The issues at the heart of this case are clearly the NCAA’s business.”

UNC has argued non-athletes had access to the courses and athletes didn’t receive special treatment. It has also challenged Wainstein’s estimate of athlete enrollments, saying Wainstein counted athletes who were no longer team members and putting the figure at less than 30 percent.

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