North Carolina won’t have Leslie McDonald, P.J. Hairston this weekend

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We don’t know when North Carolina will be blessed with the services of Leslie McDonald and P.J. Hairston this season, but what we do know is that they two won’t be in Connecticut this weekend.

The Tar Heels head up to Mohegan Sun this weekend for the Hall of Fame Tip-Off when they will face Richmond on Saturday and, assuming the No. 3 Cardinals get past Fairfield, Louisville on Sunday. According to ESPN.com’s C.L. Brown, Hairston and McDonald are not only out for those two games, they won’t even be making the trip. They are still waiting to hear from the NCAA on an eligibility ruling.

Good thing I built part of my November schedule around getting the chance to see those two teams.

I’ve said it a number of times, but I’m not sure if I’ve written it here yet, so here goes: Without Hairston and McDonald, North Carolina is not an NCAA tournament team.


Well, let’s start with the obvious: Hairston is an all-american caliber talent, and when you lose a player that is that good, it is going to hurt your team. I don’t care who you are. It will hurt.

But what hurts more for this Tar Heel group is that without Hairston and McDonald, their severe lack of back court depth gets exposed. Freshman Nate Britt is forced into the point guard role. Britt’s talented, but I’m not sure he’s ready to take over this team yet. More importantly, it means that Marcus Paige has to slide over to the off-guard spot. That doesn’t sound like a major issue, but it is in Roy Williams’ system. The point guard and the off guard play two very different roles for the Tar Heels, and Paige has spent a year and a half in Chapel Hill learning to run the point. Now he has to move off the ball? That’s not an easy thing to do before you talk about the frustration of being forced out of position.

And then there is the issue of North Carolina’s big men. When the Tar Heels are good, they have a best on the block. Sean May, Tyler Hansbrough, Tyler Zeller. This year? Joel James, Kennedy Meeks, Brice Johnson and Desmond Hubert are good players, but they are North Carolina caliber big men.

Long story short: without Hairston and McDonald, I’m not sure that the Tar Heels will be able to get past Richmond on Saturday.

Skal Labissiere has not been cleared by the NCAA

Kelly Kline/Under Armour
Kelly Kline/Under Armor
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While the timeline surrounding Cheick Diallo’s eligibility has made headlines for months now, another elite recruit at a blue blood program is still awaiting word on whether or not he will be allowed to play college basketball this season.

Kentucky center Skal Labissiere, the No. 1 recruit in the Class of 2015 and a potential No. 1 pick in the 2016 NBA Draft, has not yet been cleared to play this season. His guard, Gerald Hamilton, confirmed as much to ESPN earlier today.

“Not yet,” Hamilton said. “We’re just trying to get everything squared away. They are asking a few questions.

“They haven’t cleared him, but we’re sticking with our faith. There’s no real concern about anything from the Kentucky compliance people.”

Labissiere has more red flags than you can count, almost all of them pertaining to Hamilton. It was the worst kept secret in high school basketball that Hamilton more or less had Labissiere for sale. It’s why he played three different AAU programs and two different high schools in four years. Hamilton runs a non-profit called Reach Your Dream and, after a transfer rendered him ineligible for his senior high school season, Labissiere played for a team called ‘Reach Your Dream Prep’, which Hamilton founded simply to ensure Labissiere had a place to play.

Here’s how CBSSports.com summarized things back in November:

Multiple coaches who have recruited Labissiere told CBSSports.com Hamilton either directly indicated or strongly suggested pursuing Labissiere would mostly be a waste of time if they couldn’t offer assistance in helping fund his foundation. One coach from a prominent staff said: “We couldn’t even get in the door.” Another added: “We recognized what it was about early on and decided not to get involved.”

In other words, no one is surprised that the NCAA is looking into Labissiere’s situation, and it’s not hard to look at Kentucky bringing in Isaac Humphries and Tai Wynyard as a sign that they’re not completely certain that Labissiere will make it through this. The surprise is in how quiet that investigation has been over the course of the last few months.

The shame in all of this is that Labissiere is a sweet kid with an incredible back-story. He survived the devastating earthquake in Haiti despite having a house collapse on him. If he can get through this investigation, he’ll easily be one of the biggest and most likeable stars in the sport this season.

Xavier commit to enroll early, redshirt

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Getty Images
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Xavier landed a commitment on Wednesday from four-star big man Eddie Ekiyor, a source confirmed to NBCSports.com.

Ekiyor, who picked the Musketeers over Miami and Florida, is a borderline top 100 recruit. He’s an athletic, 6-foot-8 post that shouldn’t have an issue adjusting to the pace and physicality of the game, although he needs to continue to develop offensively to be more than a catch-and-dunk big man down the road.

In other words, on paper, Ekiyor isn’t much different from the majority of high major big men. But what’s different about this situation is that Ekiyor will be enrolling at Xavier for the start of the spring semester, technically making him a member of the Class of 2015. Xavier won’t be rushing him through the process — he’ll redshirt the second half of the 2015-16 season — but getting him on campus early will allow him an extra six months of learning the Xavier system, developing in collegiate practices and working out with the Xavier strength coaches.

That should help him limit the adjustment phase as he transitions from high school. That’s important for the Musketeers, because there’s a chance that they could lose their starting front line — James Farr (graduation) and Jalen Reynolds (early entry) — after this season.