Victor Oladipo’s poetic milestone gives Indiana the Big Ten lead

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First, it was Duke’s rise to No. 1 after their terrific run through the non-conference schedule.

Then, it was the cavalcade of suitors for the top spot — Louisville, Duke again, Kansas, even Florida tossed themselves in the mix — that took turns using a few first-place votes as motivation for a losing streak.

Next came Michigan, as their ascendence to the top of the Big Ten standings, mowing through the weaker part of their Big Ten schedule, was halted when the Wolverines were knocked off in Bloomington.

And finally, it was Michigan State, who one writer (ahem, me) called the best team in the Big Ten after their deconstruction of Michigan last Tuesday night.

Through it all, Indiana has been there, winning games, producing two players worthy of all-american consideration and, after a thrilling, 72-68 win over No. 4 Michigan State in East Lansing, proving themselves quite worthy of their current No. 1 ranking while taking over sole possession of first-place in the Big Ten.

It hasn’t quite happened how we all predicted it would.

Cody Zeller, the consensus Preseason Player of the Year, has been excellent. But he’s also been overshadowed by Victor Oladipo, Indiana’s hyper-active defensive stopper who just so happens to show out in the biggest games of the season. On Tuesday night, Oladipo finished with 19 points, nine boards and five steals while playing a major role in Keith Appling’s devolvement into ‘overwhelmed freshmen’ mode and scoring the game-winning bucket — his 1,000th point as an Indiana Hoosier — on a tip-in with less than a minute left that gave the Hoosiers a 68-67 lead.

It’s fitting, really.

Poetic, even.

Oladipo was never supposed to be this good. He’d spent the last two seasons making a name for himself as a good defender that threw down some great dunks and couldn’t be trusted to shoot outside four feet. This season, he’s not only become Indiana’s best player and one of the team’s emotional leaders, but he’s developed a knack for making big plays in big moments and playing his best basketball in the games with the most on the line.

So of course, the guy that turned himself from a 20.8% three-point shooter into a 52.4% three-point shooter — a player who should have been complimented if he was even considered an NBA Draft afterthought that is now a virtual lock for the lottery — reached a scoring milestone on a hustle play that gave Indiana the lead for good in a game that puts them on the inside track for a Big Ten title.

And that’s precisely where Indiana sits right now.

They have a one-game lead over Michigan State in the Big Ten standings that, essentially, doubles as a two-game lead when it comes to seeding. The Hoosiers swept the Spartans meaning they have the tie-breaker for the No. 1 seed in the Big Ten tournament. And if things go as expected, it would mean that Indiana would avoid having to play Michigan or Michigan State until the Big Ten title game.

But that’s getting ahead of ourselves.

What matters right now is that Indiana went on the road and beat the latest Flavor of the Week.

Any doubt about the Hoosiers that had crept into your mind after the Illinois, or after the Wisconsin loss, or the Butler loss, or at any point during the season can be put to rest.

It may not be how they drew it up, but who are we to argue with the results?

You can find Rob on twitter @RobDauster.

Villanova lands four-star 2018 guard

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Villanova added its first recruit in the Class of 2018 on Wednesday night.

Jay Wright and his staff landed a verbal commitment from Paul VI Catholic High School’s Brandon Slater, a four-star guard by Rivals as the No. 42 overall prospect in the rising senior class.

The 6-foot-5 Slater announced his decision via Twitter.

Slater, according to Jeff Borzello of ESPN, picked the Wildcats over Maryland, Miami, South Carolina, and Virginia.

He is currently playing the Nike EYBL with Team Takeover, the same grassroots program that produced current Villanova guard Phil Booth.

Comic-Con forces Providence to play at Alumni Hall for home opener

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Providence will play its first game at Alumni Hall, the on-campus facility, for the first time in 35 years this fall.

The Friars unveiled their 2017-18 non-conference schedule on Thursday afternoon. The team’s home opener will play either Houston Baptist or Belmont in Mullaney Gym inside Alumni Hall.

According to Kevin McNamara of the Providence Journal, the reason for that is a schedule conflict at Providence’s home arena, the Dunkin’ Donuts Center, in downtown Providence. A Comic-Con convention is scheduled Nov. 10-12. As McNamara notes, it’s a busy part of the season for The Dunk. The arena also is home to the Providence Bruins, the American Hockey League affiliate of the Boston Bruins, and by mid-November, their season is in full swing.

The Friars haven’t played at Alumni Hall since 1972, the same year the Dunkin’ Donuts Center was opened. In the three decades since Providence last played a regular season game there, the facility has gone under necessary renovations, as you could imagine. Even with added seats, Mullaney Gym can host a maximum of 1,549. That’s a fraction of what The Dunk’s capacity of 12,400.

Providence will return to its downtown home on Nov. 13, hosting Minnesota as part of the Gavitt Games. The Golden Gophers will likely be a top-20 team to open the season. The Friars, who bring back every notable player from last year’s NCAA Tournament team, is a fringe top-25 team.

Jalen Coleman-Lands to transfer out of Illinois

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The already-thin Illinois roster got thinner on Thursday afternoon.

Evan Daniels of Scout.com reported that sophomore guard Jalen Coleman-Lands has requested and received his release from the program. He will have to sit out next season but will have two years of eligibility remaining.

Coleman-Lands was a top-40 recruit in the Class of 2015, according to Rivals. He becomes the second player from that recruiting class this month to exit the school. Reserve guard D.J. Williams elected to transfer on May 8. With Jeremiah Tilmon and Javon Pickett, two incoming recruits, both previously reopened their recruitments following John Groce’s firing.

Even with the addition of Wright State graduate transfer Mark Alstork, who officially joined the Fighting Illini on Wednesday, Illinois is left with only nine scholarship players as of right now.

Coleman-Lands’ production dipped from his freshman campaign, ending the 2016-17 season averaging 8.0 points and 2.3 rebounds per game, shooting 38 percent from three.

One destination that will likely be rumored will be nearby DePaul. Coleman-Lands played for new DePaul assistant coach Shane Heirman at prep school powerhouse La Lumiere School. Heriman quickly tapped into that prep pipeline, helping secure a commitment from La Lumiere from five-star 2019 point guard Tyger Campbell earlier this month.

Coleman-Lands had taken official visits to Notre Dame and UNLV before committing to the Illini in September 2014.

North Carolina releases response to latest NCAA Notice of Allegations

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North Carolina is still trying to convince the NCAA that their investigation into the paper classes given by the university’s African-American Studies Department is not, in fact, an NCAA matter.

On Thursday afternoon, the University released their response to the NCAA’s third iteration of the Notice of Allegations, and the core argument in that response is that the school’s “inadequate academic oversight” does not fall under the jurisdiction of the NCAA’s bylaws. In other words, North Carolina is arguing that a rogue professor creating fake classes is not an NCAA issue. It’s a school issue.

What’s more, North Carolina is also arguing that athletes taking these classes should not be classified as an extra benefit because they were available to the entire student body.

“No special arrangements were made for student-athletes in violation of NCAA extra-benefit legislation,” the response reads. “Student-athletes were not treated differently than other students who took the Courses.”

“The public narrative for the last six years, popularized by media accounts, is that Department of Athletics at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill took advantage of ‘fake classes’ in the Department of African and African-American Studies to keep student-athletes eligible. That narrative is wrong and contradicted by the facts in the record.”

The NCAA’s allegations center around the idea that UNC’s athletes, most notably members of the football and men’s and women’s basketball teams, were guided to the fake classes within that department in order to keep their GPAs high enough to remain eligible. The classes in question had a disproportionate percentage of athletes.

A hearing in front of the Committee on Infractions is expected to take place at some point this summer.

No indictment for escort, staffer in Louisville sex scandal

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LOUISVILLE, Ky. (AP) — A grand jury declined to indict an escort and former Louisville men’s basketball staffer in a sex scandal that engulfed the program.

The Jefferson County grand jury decided Thursday there wasn’t enough evidence for charges of prostitution and unlawful transactions with a minor against Katina Powell and Andre McGee.

Powell wrote in a book published in 2015 that McGee hired her to provide dancers to perform sex acts for Cardinal recruits and players from 2010-2014.

The announcement by the Commonwealth’s Attorney’s Office comes as the school awaits discipline in early June by the NCAA after an investigation.

Louisville has imposed its own penalties, including a postseason ban in 2015-16 and reductions in scholarships and recruiting visits by coaches.