Weekend preview: Ohio State/Wisconsin highlight, Duke/Maryland is sneaky good

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Game of the weekend: No. 13 Ohio State at No. 20 Wisconsin (Sun., 1:00 p.m. EST, CBS): Another weekend, another huge battle in the Big Ten battle. These things are starting to ease into the place of NFL Sundays real quick.

Wisconsin took a loss at Minnesota on Thursday night. That hurts, but a win at home over the Buckeyes, who beat Northwestern on Thursday night in a game that was closer than the score indicated, would help. Truth be told, this game will truly show what kind of team Ohio State is. Because what a lot of people haven’t looked at recently, is that they haven’t won a big game recently. Back-to-back losses at Michigan, then at home to Indiana — not exactly easy wins, in fairness. But looking back, they haven’t won any big road game all season, taking losses at Illinois and Kansas as well.

Well now they head to the Kohl Center, where they have a shot to disprove that road game theory. The Buckeyes do have the 1-0 edge this season over the Badgers, a 58-49 win at home on Jan. 29.

With all the heroics the Badgers have had recently (or maybe just Ben Brust) it’s a safe bet that this game will come down to a few possessions. There’s so much balance on Wisconsin’s team — Jared Breggren is the team’s leading scorer at 11.9 points per game, with five players between 6.2 and 11.2 ppg  and four averaging at least five rebounds per game — that, as comes per most Bo Ryan teams, they value those possessions more. So much of Ohio State’s offense  runs through Deshaun Thomas, but that’s offset by a stingy defensive scheme led by Aaron Craft and role players like Amir Williams (1.7 blocks per game in 17.1 minutes per game).

It’ll be a battle of wills. And a battle that Ohio State really needs to prove to the college basketball world that they can get a prized road win in conference.

Five more games you need to watch

No. 2 Duke at Maryland (Sat., 6 p.m. EST, ESPN): We need to value these games, because they’re now becoming less and less. There are so many great games in this rivalry and this could be another one. The Blue Devils have proven they’ve had trouble this season on the road in the ACC — both their losses were to ranked teams on the road in-conference — and Maryland has a home win over a ranked team in North Carolina State. Plus, the Terrapins need to prove they can hang in the conference before anyone truly gives them NCAA Tournament consideration. A win over Duke would do that.

No. 16 Pittsburgh at No. 18 Marquette (Sat., 1:00 p.m. EST, CBS): Surprisingly, this is the only other game between Top 25 teams on Saturday besides the aforementioned Wisconsin/Ohio State game. Pittsburgh is in the middle of possibly the toughest stretch of any team in a conference schedule this season. The Golden Eagles will be the Panthers’ fourth ranked opponent in the last five games and a fifth ranked opponent in Notre Dame awaits after this. Buzz Williams’ team needs to bounce back from a setback at Georgetown, and will need offensive production from someone besides Vander Blue.

San Diego State at UNLV (Sat. 9:00 p.m. EST, NBC Sports): This game was obviously getting more love when the teams were ranked. But don’t sleep on it. Both these teams are prime candidates for the Field of 68 and are having solid seasons, but a win for either team enhances their at-large bid hopes exponentially. The Aztecs are in the middle of the Mountain West Murderer’s Row part of their schedule — loss at Colorado State, playing UNLV, then finishing the season at Wyoming, with games against New Mexico, Air Force and Boise State — and UNLV needs to find another low post option behind Anthony Bennett as we get closer to the conference tournament.

Boise State at No. 19 New Mexico (Sat. 9:00 p.m., check listings): This game could realistically lock up the Broncos an at-large bid that no one saw coming. They haven’t won them all, but they have won the ones that mattered most of the time, with victories over UNLV, Air Force and Wyoming to this point. However, they need a banner conference win that catches the committee’s collective eye. This is in The Pit, and this would be it. The Lobos are just hoping for more production out of Alex Kirk, who had 17 points and 16 rebounds in a loss to UNLV two games ago. Anthony Drmic has been on a roll lately for Boise State, scoring 20-plus points in four of the last six games.

St. Joseph’s at La Salle (Sat., 1:00 p.m. EST, NBC Sports): This is a sneaky good Atlantic 10 game between two teams that still have conference championship hopes. The Hawks have won four of their last six in conference play, with games at St. Louis and Charlotte still to come. The Explorers have wins over Butler and VCU already this season and this stretch with St. Joe’s and then Temple could alter their situation going into the A-10 tournament. Plus, it’s a Big 5 game in The Palestra. Who could argue with that?

What about the mid-majors?

New Mexico State at Utah State (Sat. 11:00 p.m. EST)

Western Illinois at South Dakota State (Sat., 5:05 p.m. EST)

Bryant at Wagner (Sat., 4:00 p.m.)

Southern Miss at East Carolina (Sat., 5:00 p.m. EST)

Jacksonville State at Eastern Kentucky (Sat. 7:00 p.m. EST)

Follow David on Twitter at @David_Harten

Diallo withdrawing from draft, returning to Kentucky

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It took plenty of time for the news to make its way public, but it was a wait that proved welcome for Kentucky fans.

Wildcat freshman Hamidou Diallo will withdraw his name from the NBA Draft and return to Kentucky, the school announced

Diallo’s situation was one of the more interesting in college basketball as he became an incredibly intriguing pro prospect despite being on a college roster and never playing a minute.

The five-star recruit enrolled at Kentucky in January after attending a semester of prep school with the plan to redshirt the season and then play for the Wildcats in 2017-18. There were rumblings and rumors about Diallo potentially playing for John Calipari’s group last year, but ultimately they stuck to the plan to keep him on the bench and preserve his eligibility. Throughout it all, there was always the specter that Diallo could just decide to go the professional route anyway.

That possibility moved fully into the forefront earlier this month when Diallo showed off a 44.5-inch vertical leap at the NBA Draft combine in Chicago. The 6-foot-5 guard also recorded a wingspan that nearly measured 7-feet. With those types of physical traits, he makes for an awfully interesting professional prospect, regardless of refinement or experience.

Given Diallo’s lack of high-level experience, though, there was no guarantee he’d be a first-round selection as teams would be wary of drafting solely on potential, rather than the mostly they typically do.

“I hope to play in the NBA one day — just not this season,” Diallo said in a statement. “Based on the information I received by testing the waters, I believe it’s in my best interests to return to school. Although I was a part of the team last season and trained with my teammates, I never fulfilled another one of my dreams, which was to play for a major college program and win a national title.

“I am excited about returning to Kentucky for the 2017-18 season. I can’t wait to play in a Kentucky jersey for the first time.”

Going back to Lexington to play college basketball gives Diallo a chance to showcase his skills against competition the NBA will be able to evaluate him against. It also makes Kentucky – surprise, surprise – extremely formidable this season as they, once again, restock the roster with potential lottery- and first-round picks. With Diallo officially in the fold, Kentucky is a no-doubt top-five team that will be among the favorites to cut down the nets in April 2018.

“I’m really proud of Hami,” Calipari said in a statement. “He took in all the information, asked a lot of questions, including questions to the NBA teams. I love the fact that he wants to put himself in a better position and help lead this new team to a championship.
“I can’t wait to get him on the court and have all of you fans see what I know.  He’s a special player and a special person.”

LaVar Ball selling “Stay In Yo Lane” shirts

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Create controversy. Profit from controversy.

It’s not an especially new or original strategy, but it’s one that LaVar Ball continues to try to exploit.

The infamous basketball dad is at it again, looking to capitalize on the uproar/kerfuffle/news cycle/debate/ickiness he created when he belittled FS1’s Kristine Leahy, telling her to “stay in your lane” on multiple occasions when claiming the Big Baller Brand didn’t need to market to women.

Well, they are now, with a nod to Ball’s proclamation, selling “STAY IN YO LANE” tees, for both men and women.

Marketing misogyny. Isn’t that nice.

It’s clear that LaVar Ball isn’t going to shy away from the public spotlight anytime soon, especially with eldest son Lonzo looking destined for the Lakers and middle son LiAngelo set to join UCLA, and he’s going to do his best to use that light to push the BBB franchise that scared away the world’s biggest apparel companies.

This plan has no mystery, subtlety or taste. Which might as well be the Big Baller Brand slogan.

Mykhailiuk returning to Kansas for senior season

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Kansas’ attempt for a 14th consecutive Big 12 title, and run for Bill Self’s second national title, got a shot in the arm Wednesday.

Svi Mykhailiuk announced that he will return to Lawrence for his final season of eligibility. “Senior year going to be fun,” he wrote on his Instagram page.

Senior year gonna be fun😈👌🏼🤘🏼 #KUCMB

A post shared by Sviatoslav Mykhailiuk (@sviat_10) on

The Jayhawks were already going to be loaded this season with Devonte Graham, a potential All-American, returning for his senior season and Udoka Azubuike healthy after missing last year due to injury along with Malik Newman becoming eligible after a transfer from Mississippi State and recruits Billy Preston and Marcus Garrett bolstering the ranks. The return of Mykhailiuk, though, only solidifies Kansas’ place not only atop the Big 12, but in the country.

Mykhailiuk, a 6-foot-8 forward, had something of a breakthrough season as a junior, posting career highs nearly across the board, including shooting 39.8 percent on nearly five 3-point shot attempts per game. With his size and shooting ability, Mykhailiuk was sure to garner professional interest, even though it would have been more likely than not he would been drafted in the second round of next month’s draft.

Mykhailiuk’s situation is certainly a unique one for college basketball as the Ukraine native enrolled at Kansas in 2014 just after his 17th birthday. He won’t turn 20 until next month, making him the same age as many sophomores and more likely to be viewed by NBA teams in the future as having upside, rather than a typical 22- or 23-year-old senior who scouts look at as having come close to reaching their ceiling.

Mykhailiuk wasn’t going to be the linchpin of Kansas’ success next season, but his decision to return shouldn’t be underestimated. His size, experience, skill and versatility provide the Jayhawks with a real weapon that will help alleviate pressure and expectations from other players up and down the roster. He’s very much a difference-maker for a team that will be contending for a spot in the Final Four.

Caleb Swanigan to stay in NBA draft

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Caleb Swanigan is leaving Purdue and staying in the NBA draft.

The Boilermaker big man held as much sway on the college basketball landscape with his decision as nearly any player who declared for the draft without an agent. After a season in which he became a double-double machine and averaged 18.5 points, 12.5 rebounds and 3.1 assists per game, Swanigan would have been one of – if not the – favorites for National Player of the Year while also making Purdue right at the top of the Big Ten with Michigan State.

Instead, he’ll end his collegiate career after a pair of seasons and one Sweet 16 appearance in West Lafayette. As a professional prospect, Swanigan is an interesting case. He was as productive of player as college basketball has seen in recent years as a sophomore, putting up 20-20 games with ridiculous consistency. He’s got some range, but limited quickness and athleticism. The question will be how his game – and frame – will translate into the new NBA that prioritizes versatility, shooting and athleticism. Right now, not many have him pegged as a sure-fire first-round pick.

The loss for Purdue is hard to overstate given just how good “Biggie” was. There’s just no replacing that type of production in the lineup. Still, Matt Painter and the Boilermakers still have an intriguing group, with Isaac Haas and Vince Edwards both electing to return to school after dipping their toes in the NBA waters. There’s some other intriguing young pieces there that will keep Purdue interesting in the Big Ten race.

Florida State picks up late commit from McDonald’s All-American

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The losses sustained by Florida State have been numerous and significant. Three players declared early for the NBA Draft. Another two contributors were lost to graduation. All in all, the Seminoles haven’t had the greatest of springs.

Wednesday, though, they got some good news.

McDonald’s All-American wing M.J. Walker committed Leonard Hamilton’s program to give Florida State a late, and important, addition to its 2017 recruiting class, beating the likes of Ohio State, Georgia Tech and UCLA.

Walker, a 6-foot-5 guard, gives the Seminoles yet another five-star prospect after landing Dwayne Bacon and Jonathan Isaac in the last two recruiting classes. Walker will help Hamilton and Co. reboot after both Bacon and Isaac, along with Xavier Rathan-Mayes, all left school to pursue professional careers after the Seminoles’ 26-9 season that saw them advance to the second round of the NCAA tournament.

Walker becomes the sixth member of Hamilton’s 2017 recruiting class that was previously headlined by four-star 7-footer Ikechukwu Obiagu. That group will be tasked to retool a team losing not only major NBA-level talent, but also major production. The Seminoles won’t return a single player who averaged double-digit points per-game last year and just one who played at least 20 minutes per night.