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Weekend preview: Who breaks loose in the Atlantic 10?

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Who proves themselves to be elite in the Atlantic 10 this weekend?

If there was a conference that had a collective of bigger games this weekend, I’ve yet to see it. Three games, six teams, with conference title hopes play on Saturday. St. Joseph’s (14-9, 5-5) at La Salle (17-6, 7-3), Temple (16-8, 5-5) at UMass (16-7, 6-4), and Charlotte (18-6, 6-4) at St. Louis (18-5, 7-2).

The 49ers/Billikens match-up is the biggest. St. Louis could further themselves in the league race with a win and create some space and get themselves locked with VCU at the top. It’s truly a testament to the late Rick Majerus with what this St. Louis team has done. They’re his recruits and coach Jim Crews has really been able to blend his own philosophy in with Majerus’ system. That game could definitely be a final possession game.

La Salle and UMass have the most to lose this weekend, obviously, with losses crippling their hopes at a regular season conference championship. This is an especially big game for Temple, who has been exposed recently for not having much offense outside of Khalif Wyatt.

How much does Pitt have left?

It’s not that this team doesn’t have the talent or the will, they’ve just played arguably the toughest six-game stretch of anyone since conference play started.

Starting two weeks ago, they lost 64-61 at Louisville, then beat Syracuse 65-55. The Panthers followed that by beating Cincinnati 62-52. Now Jamie Dixon’s gang is playing No. 16 Marquette on Saturday, with Notre Dame to follow. This stretch could decide their NCAA tournament fate in terms of seeding. I’d say they’re definitely in, so it’s all about not getting beaten down before the Big East Conference tournament starts

Because, if you were counting, Pitt is playing their fourth ranked team in five games and will have played five ranked teams in six games when this stretch is done.

There has to be a delicate balance for Dixon. Don’t allow Steven Adams to get too beat up. Let Tray Woodall get his reps but limit the contact. The younger players need their burn. But obviously, this is about wins. Get them, and I’m sure the college kids can get themselves pumped up for the postseason.

Virginia could sweep North Carolina for first time in over a decade on Saturday

This is more significant than you might think.

These two teams have played at least twice a season seven times in the last 11 years. In that time, the Cavaliers haven’t beaten them twice in a season since 2001-02, winning 71-67 in the Dean Dome and 75-63 at home.

The Cavaliers have one of the most polarizing resumes when it comes to The Bubble this season and North Carolina has dealt with injuries and youth in trying to get back to the NCAA Tournament.

If the Tar Heels do it, it may have to come from their already thin front court. James Michael McAdoo (14.6 points per game) and Reggie Bullock (14.1) have held this team together due to lackluster guard play all season and will need to continue to do so.

The thing about Virginia is, their six losses have really outweighed their 18 wins. L’s to Old Dominion, who have three wins on the season, as well as Delaware, George Mason and Wake Forest. The combined record of the six teams that have beat the Cavs is 69-78. That says something about them. Though they have wins against North Carolina State and Wisconsin, so who knows.

Can Miami keep it up?

Someone had to ask it, sorry.

The only reason we do is because the Hurricanes upcoming contest screams “trap game”.

After winning at Florida State, a tough place to win regardless of season, Miami now waits on a date with Virginia, an NCAA Tournament hopeful, at home. Before that, they go to Clemson, who at 13-11 and 5-7 in the ACC isn’t much to look at. But lest we all forget they pushed North Carolina State twice this season — 66-62 at NC State, 58-57 at home — and are 5-2 at home. The other home loss was just 71-66 to FSU.

So they know how to hold their on when in the friendly confines of Littlejohn Coliseum.

Devin Booker will have to lead as always, his 12.3 points and 7.9 rebounds pacing the Tigers, and Jordan Roper, Milton Jennings and K.J. Daniels all average at least a steal per game while Daniels, Jennings and Booker average over a block per game. The defense is there, it’s the offense that isn’t when they lose.

Follow David on Twitter at @David_Harten.

Stanford loses key veteran guard to stress fracture

Marcus Allen
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Stanford guard Marcus Allen will be out indefinitely after suffering a stress fracture in his right foot, the school announced on Monday evening.

“We want to make sure Marcus is fully healthy before returning to the court,” Stanford coach Johnny Dawkins said in a statement. “Marcus played at a high level during our summer exhibition competition in Italy, where he was one of our leading scorers. We will certainly miss him as we continue to prepare for the season, but we are fortunate that this happened now and he will be back before he knows it.”

The loss of Allen is a potentially brutal blow in an already-thin back court. The 6-foot-3 Allen started 23 games as a sophomore last season, averaging 6.4 points and 3.5 boards. But he averaged 11.4 points and 5.4 boards as the Cardinal made a run to the NIT championship and looked poised to be able to replace the departed Chasson Randle’s production this year.

What’s worse is that without Allen, Stanford does not return a single player in their back court that averaged more than 11.5 minutes. Sophomore Robert Cartwright looks poised to step into the starting point guard role, but neither Dorian Pickens nor Christian Sanders looked like they were ready for that kind of role in the Pac-12 last season. Dawkins does return Malcolm Allen, Marcus’ twin brother, who sat out last season with a broken wrist.

The good news is that Stanford’s front court is strong enough to carry the Cardinal until Marcus is healthy. Rosco Allen, Reid Travis and Michael Humphrey will be able to hold their own against any front line in the Pac-12, while Grant Verhoeven and freshman Josh Sharma will provide adequate depth.

Utah lands top-75 center Jayce Johnson

Larry Krystkowiak
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Utah picked up its center of the future on Monday as four-star center Jayce Johnson pledged to the Runnin’ Utes, a source confirmed to NBCSports.com. The 7-foot Johnson recently cut his list to Cal, Colorado and Utah with the possibility of reclassifying to the Class of 2015.

Regarded as the No. 67 overall prospect in the Class of 2016, Johnson will look to attend Utah in December as a walk-on who will redshirt. While Johnson likely won’t play this season, he does give head coach Larry Krystkowiak another big man to use in practice to go against sophomore center Jakob Poeltl. A solid long-term prospect, Johnson has a good frame to add weight and he’s also skilled finishing with both hands. Utah now has its replacement for Poeltl if he opts to leave for the NBA after the season and he gets an extra semester to work with the program.

Johnson is coming off of his official visit to Utah this weekend as he joins junior college guard Jojo Zamora in the Class of 2016.