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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.

Big Ten releases conference schedule

CHARLOTTE, NC - MARCH 22:  Head coach Tom Izzo of the Michigan State Spartans reacts against the Virginia Cavaliers during the third round of the 2015 NCAA Men's Basketball Tournament at Time Warner Cable Arena on March 22, 2015 in Charlotte, North Carolina.  (Photo by Grant Halverson/Getty Images)
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The Big Ten released its 2016-17 conference schedule on Thursday as the conference season begins on Dec. 27 with a four-game set.

Conference play will conclude on March 5th before the 20th annual Big Ten Tournament is played at the Verizon Center in Washington D.C. from March 8-12.

Some notable games include Penn State hosting Michigan State at the Palestra on Jan. 7.

You can view the full Big Ten schedule here.

Arizona’s Talbott Denny injures knee, out for season

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TUCSON, Ariz. (AP) Arizona senior forward Talbott Denny will miss the season after tearing the ACL and medial meniscus in his left knee.

The school said Wednesday that the 6-foot-5 graduate transfer from Lipscomb will have surgery.

Denny, from Tucson’s Salpointe Catholic High School, missed all of last season at Lipscomb because of a shoulder injury.

Roy Williams: ‘There’s no question’ more ACC games equal no Kentucky in non-conference

SAN ANTONIO, TX - MARCH 23: Head coach Roy Williams of the North Carolina Tar Heels looks on during the third round of the 2014 NCAA Men's Basketball Tournament against the Iowa State Cyclones at the AT&T Center on March 23, 2014 in San Antonio, Texas.  (Photo by Ronald Martinez/Getty Images)
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Back in June, when the ACC officially announced that they would be expanding the league schedule to 20 games in 2019, I tried to warn you that it was going to put a dent into the non-conference schedule and the amount of quality, on-campus games that we’ll get prior to January.

Roy Williams essentially confirmed this as fact this week.

The North Carolina head coach hopped on a podcast with ESPN and more or less said that the bigger league schedule is going to lead to an end of some of UNC’s marquee home-and-home series.

“My feeling right now, and it could change by ’19, heck I could be fired by ’19, but my feeling right now is to play our conference schedule, play one exempt event where you have really good teams, and other than that play home games to help out your revenue and help out your budget,” Williams said. “We have the ACC/Big Ten and that’s not going to go away. So it’s 21 games already scheduled.”

When asked specifically if this would put an end to UNC’s series with Kentucky, Williams said, “Oh yeah, there’s no question. Why would I need to do that?”

There’s two reasons this makes sense. On the one hand, North Carolina needs to fill their home arena a certain number of times to help with the bottom line of the athletic department. They make enough off of ticket sales, merchandise sales, parking fees and food and beverage that they can afford to pay out more than $50,000 to bring a smaller opponent into their arena. More than that, playing a series of weaklings early in the year allows players to gain confidence, it allows Williams to figure out what his rotation will be and who can handle playing at this level, and it gives newcomers a chance to assimilate into his team against players that just aren’t that good.

And when a larger ACC schedule severely limits the number of non-conference games that UNC will be able to play, what’s going to get cut are the contracts that require the Tar Heels to play on the road when they don’t have to.

So buh-bye, Kentucky, it is.

John Calipari helping to raise money for Louisiana flood victims

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It’s easy to be critical of John Calipari.

You don’t have to be a Louisville fan to know all the jokes by now. He cheated at UMass. He cheated at Memphis. He’s had two Final Fours vacated. Teflon John. Yada yada yada.

I get it. Negativity comes with success, particularly for someone who is as brash about his success as Coach Cal is.

But even Cal’s harshest critics cannot begrudge the work he does — can get his players to do — for charity and how well he can harness the power of Big Blue Nation to make a tangible difference. Remember the ‘Hoops for Haiti’ telethon that raised more than $1 million to help earthquake victims back in 2010? Or the hundreds of thousands of dollars he raised for Hurricane Sandy relief? Or when his fantasy camps generated more than $1 million in charitable donations?

And should I mention the amount of times that stories of Kentucky players befriending sick kids or visiting children’s hospitals?

The cynic in me could say that all of this is for branding, helping ensure his players are image-conscious and aware of the sponsorship opportunities that come with being a likable, relatable and humble athlete. There’s probably some truth to that.

But do you think the kids that get visits from their Big Blue heroes care? Do you think it matters to the charities that get seven-figure checks to help with disaster relief?

I say all that to say this: During a press conference on Thursday morning, Cal had this to say, via SEC Country:

Calipari said former UK star Anthony Davis (currently of the New Orleans Pelicans) told Calipari, “Coach, you gotta do something” for Baton Rouge flood victims. Davis is out of the country but will try to get back for Sunday’s softball game to help. His 2012 title teammates, Terrence Jones and Michael Kidd-Gilchrist, were not previously on the celeb list for Sunday but will be there.

Calipari has decided to donate all proceeds from Sunday’s alumni/celebrity softball game will go to the Baton Rouge flood-relief fund, through Red Cross. “So what I’m asking you to do is buy these tickets.” They’re $5 apiece. The previously raised funds will still go to the other designated charities, like each year.

For those so inclined, you can donate to the flooding fund by texting “GIVE” to 859-955-8173.

Vermont women cancels game in North Carolina over HB2

DURHAM, NC - MAY 10:  A unisex sign and the "We Are Not This" slogan are outside a bathroom at Bull McCabes Irish Pub on May 10, 2016 in Durham, North Carolina.  Debate over transgender bathroom access spreads nationwide as the U.S. Department of Justice countersues North Carolina Governor Pat McCrory from enforcing the provisions of House Bill 2 that dictate what bathrooms transgender individuals can use.  (Photo by Sara D. Davis/Getty Images)
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The University of Vermont is the latest in a ever-growing line of organizations canceling events in North Carolina due to the controversial HB2 law.

The Catamounts will not be traveling to play the Tar Heels on Dec. 28th as previously scheduled.

“We strive very hard to create an inclusive climate for our students and staff in which they all can feel safe, respected, and valued,” the school wrote in a statement. “It would be hard to fulfill these obligations while competing in a state with this law, which is contrary to our values as an athletic department and university.”

“This decision was made in consultation with our coaches, the women’s basketball team, and key university officials. We fully understand and sympathize with the impact that this decision may have on the North Carolina women’s basketball schedule. However, we believe this decision is consistent with our values and the conversations with our coaches and student team members. These were the most important considerations.”

Known as the “bathroom bill”, HB2 is the law that requires transgender people to use the public restroom of the sex that they were born not the sex they identify with.

Earlier this year, Albany was forced to cancel a trip to Duke due to legislation in New York regarding visits to North Carolina. The NBA has taken the 2017 All-Star game from Charlotte, and the NCAA is heavily considering pulling NCAA tournament games from the state.

Interestingly, ACC commissioner John Swofford was very non-committal on the subject when asked yesterday.