Virginia bolsters NCAA tournament resume with win over No. 3 Duke

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With an overall resume that continues to baffle even the most esteemed of bracketologists, Virginia entered Thursday’s game against No. 3 Duke in need of another resume-building victory.

Thanks to Joe Harris and Tony Bennett’s pack-line defense the Cavaliers accomplished that feat, beating Duke 73-68 in Charlottesville. Now 10-5 in ACC play (20-8 overall), Virginia still has work to do but the ultimate goal of getting back to the NCAA tournament is within reach.

Harris was outstanding, shooting 12-of-20 from the field and scoring a game-high 36 points to go along with seven rebounds before fouling out in the game’s final minute. Duke threw a number of defenders at Harris throughout the night but to no avail, as he was consistently able to find quality looks.

Akil Mitchell added 19 points and 12 rebounds for Virginia, which made up for a 3-of-11 night from beyond the arc by making 51% of its two-pointers and shooting 22-of-29 from the foul line.

Just as important was Virginia’s play on the defensive end, as Duke shot 39.6% from the field and made just eight of their 32 three-point attempts. The goal of the pack-line defense is to keep offenses away from the paint, and with Duke lacking a forward capable of stretching a defense (that, of course, would be the injured Ryan Kelly) the Cavaliers were able to not only keep Quinn Cook from driving but also limit Mason Plumlee’s touches on the low block.

Plumlee attempted just five shots, finishing with ten points, seven rebounds and three turnovers. Cook managed to score 22 points (8-of-17 FG) but tallied just two assists (he entered the game averaging 5.5 assists/game in ACC play).

Virginia has now won five of its last seven games, and Thursday night was their last shot at a “marquee” win before the ACC tournament.

Does the win over Duke mean that they’re a lock to reach the NCAA tournament? When considering their overall resume the Cavaliers aren’t a “lock,” but they have to feel good about their chances at this point.

Raphielle also writes for the NBE Basketball Report and can be followed on Twitter at @raphiellej.

WATCH LIVE: Atlantic 10 basketball tripleheader Saturday on NBCSN

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The Atlantic 10 comes to NBCSN and the NBC Sports app on Saturday with three games that will air as part of a tripleheader.

It starts with George Washington at VCU at 12:30 p.m., continues with La Salle playing at Richmond at 2:30 p.m. and concludes with George Mason traveling to Duquesne at 4:30 p.m.

CLICK HERE to watch the Atlantic 10 on NBCSN

Sexual assault investigation involving Saint Louis basketball players becoming public

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A messy situation could be unfolding at Saint Louis University as a sexual assault investigation involving the men’s basketball team is coming more into public focus.

Saint Louis is a private school who is going through a Title IX investigation and there hasn’t been a lot of publicity surrounding the case. Back in September, three women told police they were sexually assaulted by four members of the Saint Louis men’s basketball team at an on-campus apartment.

A lawyer for three of the four accused players is claiming that his clients committed no crime. Lawyer Scott Rosenblum spoke to Ben Frederickson of the St. Louis Post-Dispatch, giving the players’ account of what happened that night in graphic detail. Rosenblum said his clients have received suspensions ranging from 18 months to two years and a fourth player was expelled.

According to Rosenblum, his clients don’t intend to stay silent as they are considering an appeal. Legal action against Saint Louis University has also been discussed.

“At the end of the day, on every college campus, unfortunately, both genders make decisions that after they walk away from that decision, they regret,” Rosenblum said to Frederickson. “They think, this maybe wasn’t the best decision. But it wasn’t a crime. And it wasn’t actionable.”

Rosenblum also claimed that Saint Louis has, “overly prosecuted with an agenda from the beginning,” as he posed several questions about the case.

One of the accused players had been allowed to play at Saint Louis while three others were held out, according to Rosenblum. The three players held out of games were also allowed to practice and travel with the team. Players were also told to move off campus, eventually welcomed back, then forced to move off campus once again. Suspensions were also handed out weeks into the new semester instead of the break between semesters.

Rosenblum’s remarks about the investigation are the most public details to come out about this investigation as Saint Louis University officials have remained silent throughout the process.

Government shutdown forces Air Force to cancel all athletic events

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The Air Force Academy has been forced to cancel all home and away games due to the government shutdown, the school announced on Saturday.

Announcing on the official Air Force Academy Twitter page, the school will attempt to reschedule as many missed events as possible.

Canceled games include a home men’s basketball game against Fresno State on Saturday and a home hockey game against Sacred Heart. According to a report from the Colorado Springs Gazette, the women’s basketball team is in Fresno, Calif., for a road game against Fresno State, but that game will also not be played.

This is an unprecedented measure for the Air Force Academy as they’ve been able to play through government shutdowns before. In 2013, the USAA gave a $230,000 check to help Air Force football travel to Navy for its game. Government shutdowns in the 1990s also never forced the cancellation of any major Air Force games in the past.

A source told NBC Sports that Army’s athletic department has not been affected as it is privately funded. Navy’s athletic department should also be able to operate and continue under the government shutdown since they are privately funded.

Without private sponsors helping, it looks like Air Force won’t be playing until the government shutdown is over. The Gazette also reported on Saturday that Air Force athletic officials knew that this could be a possibility and said it would be an “11th hour decision.”

Air Force men’s basketball is 8-10 with a 2-4 record in the Mountain West this season. While the Falcons haven’t been a major contender, they had the momentum of a small two-game winning streak heading into Saturday’s home game against Fresno State.

The Falcons are also scheduled to play on the road at Utah State on Wednesday and host Boise State next Saturday.

Bosnian professional team announces they have signed Billy Preston

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Billy Preston has signed with BC Igokea, a Bosnian professional team, according to a release put out by the club on Saturday.

“We are thrilled to welcome Billy Preston to our club,” the statement read. “We were watching his situation closely and reached out to his family to show interest and ultimately reached an agreement with the family attorney in California on a contract for the rest of the season. We know Billy is an NBA prospect so we will do our best to continue his development to help him excel for our club and fulfill his goal which is to be an NBA star in the near future.”

“Billy Preston is foregoing his eligibility to play at Kansas and has signed with a professional team in Bosnia,” head coach Bill Self said in a statement provided to NBC Sports. “Billy’s family has been very upfront telling us that his first choice was to stay at Kansas, but with the uncertainty of the situation they needed to look at other potential options. This opportunity in Bosnia came with a deadline for a decision, and the family reached that decision Friday afternoon.”

“We are all disappointed that Billy never had the opportunity to experience college basketball competition but we certainly support him and wish him the best. Although he has been frustrated with the situation, Billy’s attitude has been tremendous and he has developed as a person and as a player. I’m sure that will continue as he prepares for his professional career.”

Igokea’s roster also includes former UCLA guard Malcolm Lee, former Oregon and UTEP guard Dominic Artis and Katin Reinhardt, who played at UNLV, USC and Marquette.

Preston had enrolled at Kansas as a freshman this season, but he was involved in a car accident prior to the start of the season. He was held out from competition as the school attempted to find out who was paying for the vehicle.

Ugly growing pains: No. 18 Kentucky needs to fix mistakes

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LEXINGTON, Ky. (AP) — John Calipari warned the growing pains would be ugly for his youngest Kentucky squad.

It’s been an annual caution from the coach, but this time he may not have been exaggerating. Kentucky has two losses in its last three Southeastern road contests.

But all is not lost.

The No. 18 Wildcats (14-4, 4-2) return home to face first-place Florida (13-5, 5-1) Saturday night with a chance to erase a one-game deficit to the Gators. And after playing four of its first six SEC games on the road, Kentucky gets to close January with three of its next four at Rupp Arena.

The immediate goal is correcting mistakes in a loss to South Carolina, a setback that Calipari said revealed how green his freshman really are.

“My issue right now is we’re playing a really good team and we needed some time to focus on them, but at this point we can’t,” Calipari said Friday. “If we get this right and it’s not good enough, then we move on to the next game.

“But if we get it right, then I’m going to feel good. If I don’t get it right, it doesn’t matter. At some point this has got to change and we’ve got to focus.”

Though Calipari is accustomed to annually guiding a new group of talented yet inexperienced teenagers through high expectations, this particular group is his youngest with no upperclassmen among his regulars. The communication and unselfish play he has stressed was absent as Kentucky blew a 14-point, second-half lead in Tuesday’s 76-68 loss at South Carolina .

Already short handed with point guard Quade Green sidelined for a third straight game because of a back issue, the Wildcats had three players foul out in the contest. Kentucky was also outrebounded 40-35 and recorded a season-low seven assists — with none from Hamidou Diallo or fellow guard Shai Gilgeous-Alexander.

Calipari said the performance was the first time the Wildcats truly resembled freshmen but isn’t using youth as an excuse. If anything, he’s pushing players shake their youthful bad habits along with the memory of that defeat.

Calipari “just wants us to play harder the whole 40 minutes,” forward PJ Washington said. “We’ve been scrimmaging a lot more to get us in game-like situations. … You can never really try too hard. You just have to keep that mindset and just move on to the next opponent.”

One bright spot for Kentucky’s rotation was the debut of 6-foot-9 forward Jarred Vanderbilt after being sidelined with a left foot injury. The freshman had six points, five rebounds and a team-high three assists in 14 minutes against the Gamecocks, an encouraging start that has allowed the Wildcats to scrimmage more with him.

“He plays with a lot of energy,” freshman forward Nick Richards said of Vanderbilt. “We see it in practice a lot. He plays hard every possession. That could be one thing that could help us.”

Green’s availability meanwhile remains a game-time decision. If nothing else, Calipari would like him back to have another shooter, not to mention with someone who communicates with teammates. On the other hand, Green’s absence has allowed Gilgeous-Alexander to play the point alongside Diallo.

But after fouls and shaky play forced Kentucky to use a number of combinations at South Carolina, the mission this weekend is ensuring whatever lineup is out there plays more consistently to slow down a Florida squad seeking its eighth win in nine games.

“It just comes with your mental” approach, Washington said. “You just gotta be prepared every day in and every day out and just fight on a consistent basis, just get shots up in the gym and just continue to focus on you and getting better.”