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Friday’s Pregame Shootaround: Top 10 showdown highlights ‘Black Friday’ slate

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GAME OF THE DAY: No. 4 Arizona vs. No. 6 Duke (6:00 p.m., ESPN) 

This one’s an easy choice, as two teams with hopes of winning a national title face off at Madison Square Garden. One thing to watch: how both teams defend on the perimeter. Duke’s issues have been well-publicized to this point in the season, and while Arizona has improved defensively the Blue Devils represent their biggest test to date (by far). The freshmen, Arizona’s Aaron Gordon and Duke’s Jabari Parker, will receive a lot of the pregame hype but the veterans for each team will be key as well.

THE OTHER GAME OF THE DAY: No. 20 Creighton vs. San Diego State (9:30 p.m., ESPN2) 

Both teams advanced to the semifinals of the Wooden Legacy with impressive efforts on Thursday night, as Creighton whipped Arizona State and SDSU took care of the College of Charleston. To borrow an old boxing saying, “styles make fights,” and in this one there’s are two questions to consider. One, how will Creighton deal with San Diego State’s length? And two, will SDSU be able to knock down enough shots to keep up with one of the nation’s best offenses? Creighton’s Doug McDermott will be a difficult matchup for San Diego State, but don’t ignore junior guard Devin Brooks either. SDSU will counter with versatile forwards J.J. O’Brien and Winston Shepard III.

WHO’S GETTING UPSET?: No. 15 Florida (vs. Florida State, 7:30 p.m. ESPN2)  

The powers that be have moved this rivalry back to the day before the two football programs meet, with the two prior meetings taking place in December. Florida’s won the last four meetings in the series, but the combination of Gator injuries and Seminole interior depth make an upset possible. Scottie Wilbekin is back, which is a positive for Florida, but FSU has the big men (led by Okaro White and Robert Gilchrist) to give the Florida front court trouble. Five Seminoles are averaging at least 10.5 points per game, and leading scorer Ian Miller should bounce back after scoring just two points in their win over Northeastern.

MID-MAJOR GAME OF THE DAY: Green Bay vs. Harvard, Midnight (CBS SN)

If capable it would be wise to stay up for this one, as the Crimson will be tested by the Phoenix. Green Bay has four players averaging double figures with high-scoring guard Keifer Sykes (21.5 ppg) leading the way, and in Alec Brown they’ve got one of the Horizon League’s best big men. Harvard certainly doesn’t lack for depth, and forward Steve Moundou-Missi has been much-improved. Given their non-conference schedule Harvard may need to win the Great Alaska Shootout from a resume standpoint, but it won’t be an easy feat to pull off.

FIVE THINGS TO KNOW: 

1) Villanova is off to a 5-0 start and Jay Wright’s team will have the opportunity to show just how much they’ve improved in their matchup with No. 2 Kansas. The question for the Wildcats is a simple one: can they keep the Jayhawk big men from dominating the glass? If so, Villanova has a shot at the upset?

2) Another team off to a good start is 5-1 SMU, and the Mustangs take on Virginia in the Corpus Christi Challenge. Junior college transfer Yanick Moreira has received high praise for his play thus far, but the task of slowing down Virginia’s Joe Harris will be a difficult one for the SMU perimeter players.

3) No. 1 Michigan State is back in action, as they host a struggling Mount St. Mary’s squad. So what’s there to watch? Michigan State’s approach. Elite teams take care of overmatched opponents quickly and efficiently, and after the Spartans’ struggles with Columbia and Portland it will be interesting to see if they show improved focus against the Mountaineers.

4) Butler’s game against No. 5 Oklahoma State will be an interesting one given the Bulldogs’ ability to frustrate opponents with their defense. Kellen Dunham and Khyle Marshall combined to score 62 points on Thursday, and a similar effort may be needed to knock off Marcus Smart and co.

5) Memphis may not be facing a ranked team in LSU tonight, but the Bayou Bengals have the size needed to test the young Memphis big men. Memphis may have dominated an overmatched Siena team on Thursday but they were inconsistent on the glass, and a similar effort will get them beat by LSU.

THE TOP 25: 

  • Mount St. Mary’s at No. 1 Michigan State, 1:00 p.m. (BTN)
  • Villanova vs. No. 2 Kansas, 9:30 p.m. (NBC SN)
  • No. 6 Duke vs. No. 4 Arizona, 6:00 p.m. (ESPN)
  • Butler vs. No. 5 Oklahoma State, 1:30 p.m. (ESPN)
  • North Florida at No. 7 Ohio State, 5:00 p.m. (BTN)
  • Southern Miss at No. 9 Louisville, 7:00 p.m. (ESPN3)
  • Pacific at No. 14 Oregon, 3:00 p.m. (Pac-12 Network)
  • Florida State at No. 15 Florida, 7:30 p.m. (ESPN2)
  • Northwestern vs. No. 19 UCLA, 11:30 p.m. (ESPN2)
  • San Diego State vs. No. 20 Creighton, 9:30 p.m. (ESPN2)
  • LSU vs. No. 21 Memphis, 5:30 p.m. (ESPN2)
  • Coppin State at No. 22 Michigan, 3:00 p.m. (BTN)
  • UTEP vs. No. 23 Iowa, 7:00 p.m. (NBC SN)
  • George Washington vs. No. 25 Marquette, 3:30 p.m. (ESPN)

NOTABLES: 

  • Xavier vs. Tennessee, 1:00 p.m. (AXS)
  • Alabama vs. Drexel, 3:30 p.m. (ESPN2)
  • USC vs. Wake Forest, 3:30 p.m. (AXS)
  • Georgia Tech vs. Ole Miss, 4:30 p.m. (NBC SN)
  • Northeastern at VCU, 7:00 p.m.
  • Penn State vs. St. John’s, 7:00 p.m.
  • SMU vs. Virginia, 7:30 p.m. (CBS SN)
  • IPFW at Illinois, 8:00 p.m. (ESPN3)

Self pays freshman Jackson a major compliment

Josh Jackson, from Napa, Calif.,, dunks over Nancy Mulkey, from Cypress, Texas, as he competes in the slam dunk contest during the McDonald's All-American Jam Fest, Monday, March 28, 2016, in Chicago. (AP Photo/Matt Marton)
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Freshman phenom production under Bill Self has been something of a contentious topic. Many fault the coach, who has won one national title and 12-straight Big 12 championships, for not developing one-and-done talent to their fullest potential during their single-season stays in Lawrence. Cliff Alexander and Cheick Diallo are Exhibit 1-A and 1-B for this argument in recent years.

Whatever outside criticism there is (Andrew Wiggins did go No. 1 overall just 2 years ago, after all), Self isn’t shying away from hyping the latest freshman with big expectations to come to KU. When asked who the greatest athlete of all-time is at the school’s annual Tradition Night last week, Self had a simple, if tongue-and-cheek, response.

“I’ll say Josh Jackson,” Self said of the the 6-foot-8 shooting guard ranked No. 1 in his class, according to Lawrence Journal-World.

With others answering with the likes of Michael Jordan and Muhammed Ali, it’s pretty fair to say Self was playing to the crowd with the answer, but it’s still telling that he was willing to deliver such a sound bite, even if it was before a welcoming audience. Self didn’t try to seriously depress expectations for Wiggins, a player Jackson is often compared to, and it looks like he won’t for Jackson as well.

Jackson, though, won’t have the burden Wiggins had as there’s one of the country’s best backcourts in Frank Mason II and Devonte Graham to help shoulder the workload for the Jayhawks.

 

ACC non-commital on HB2 stance

John Swofford
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With North Carolina unwilling to rescind their controversial so-called bathroom bill, the NBA has withdrawn its All-Star Game from the state this year and numerous high-profile music acts have canceled performances as a result.

The ACC is declining to join them with a hard-line, or really any, position.

“We don’t want to damage our league with any premature decisions,” commissioner John Swofford said on The David Glenn Show. “We’ll just see how it plays out.”

The ACC, of course, has quite the presence in the state with North Carolina, N.C. State, Duke and Wake Forest all in the Tar Heel State. Swofford’s comments are sure to draw the interest of the LGBT community, which has roundly been critical of the bill, which requires people to use the bathroom which corresponds to the gender on their birth certificate, and has recently been active in college athletics, opposing the Big 12’s potential inclusion of BYU in its expansion plans over concerns of the Church of Latter Day Saints school’s honor code.

North Carolina’s bill has also drawn the eye of the NCAA, which is requiring potential championship sights to provide information on local anti-discrimination laws.

One of the loudest voices in the ACC, Duke coach Mike Krzyzewski, has come out against the law.

“It’s an embarrassing bill,” Coach K said last month.

The Champions Classic renewed through 2019

LAWRENCE, KS - FEBRUARY 27: Bill Self head coach of the Kansas Jayhawks claps for his team as they celebrate winning the Big 12 Conference Championship after they defeated Texas Tech Red Raiders 67-58 at Allen Fieldhouse on February 27, 2016 in Lawrence, Kansas. With the win, Kansas clinched its 12th straight conference championship. (Photo by Ed Zurga/Getty Images)
Ed Zurga/Getty Images
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The Champions Classic is back, baby!!!

On Wednesday, the four schools that participate in the event — Kentucky, Duke, Kansas and Michigan State — announced that they have signed deals to extend the life of the doubleheader for another three years.

This is terrific news. The Champions Classic is always the best early-season event of the season, an annual double-header that always ends up putting together two of the best non-conference games in packed NBA arenas. This year, it features Duke, the consensus preseason No. 1 team in the country, squaring off with Kansas, who is a consensus top three team with the No. 1 freshman in the class, Josh Jackson, on their roster, in one game.

The other game? Kentucky, the third consensus top three team nationally, going up against Tom Izzo and Michigan State, who will be, at worst, a top 15 team in the preseason polls.

So yeah, we’re going to get a pair of sensational basketball games in Madison Square Garden on Nov. 15th. MSG also just so happens to be the best arena to watch a great neutral site basketball game.

It’s going to be awesome.

There’s only one possible way to make it better: turn it into a two-day event, with the winners squaring off for the Champions Classic title the following night.

Make it happen.

Anyway, here’s the schedule:

Nov. 14, 2017 (United Center, Chicago)
Kansas vs. Kentucky
Duke vs. Michigan State

Nov. 13, 2018 (Bankers Life Fieldhouse, Indianapolis)
Michigan State vs. Kansas
Duke vs. Kentucky

Nov. 12, 2019 (Madison Square Garden, New York)
Kansas vs. Duke
Michigan State vs. Kentucky

Hartford makes smart decision to allow ‘Pancake’ Thomas transfer

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Hartford coach John Gallagher, AP Photo
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Another talented graduate transfer has hit the market.

Cleveland ‘Pancake’ Thomas — that’s a helluva name, isn’t it? — has been granted a release by Hartford and will be allowed to transfer to another program for his fifth season.

“Our biggest priority for Cleveland was that he graduate from the University of Hartford with a valuable degree,” Hartford head coach John Gallagher said in a statement released to ESPN after some speculation that Thomas wasn’t going to be given a release. “That happened. Beyond wishing him the very best, we don’t comment on other program’s players. We are very excited about our group and the upcoming season.”

The term “release” is needed here because Thomas, a 6-foot-3 guard who averaged 18.9 points and shot 42.6 percent from three this past season, spent his first two years of eligibility at New Mexico. A graduate transfer exception is granted to any player making their first transfer after receiving an undergraduate degree. But since Pancake had already transferred once, he was only eligible to apply for a graduate transfer waiver, which the school he is leaving must support.

Remember the saga of Todd O’Brien? He tried to leave St. Joseph’s to spend his fifth-year at UAB but made headlines everywhere when Phil Martelli wouldn’t let it happen? That’s because O’Brien had started his career at Bucknell and needed Martelli to support the waiver.

Gallagher could have done the same to Pancake.

He made the right decision not to — Martelli has enough coaching cache to withstand the onslaught on criticism he received, I’m not sure that is true for Gallagher — even if it will result in Thomas playing elsewhere, hence the cold-hearted nature of that statement.

Anyway, Thomas never averaged more than 3.9 points at New Mexico, so while he’s a tantalizing prospect for programs that are dying for perimeter depth and shooting, this isn’t exactly a kid that’s going to launch himself into the NBA Draft’s first round by jumping up to a higher level.

Shawn Forrest named assistant coach for Jankovich at SMU

LAS VEGAS, NV - DECEMBER 22:  Head coach Larry Brown (L) and associate head coach Tim Jankovich of the Southern Methodist Mustangs look on during the team's game against the Kent State Golden Flashes during the 2015 Continental Tire Las Vegas Classic basketball tournament at the Orleans Arena on December 22, 2015 in Las Vegas, Nevada. Southern Methodist won 90-74. The game marks Brown's return from a nine-game suspension.  (Photo by Ethan Miller/Getty Images)
Ethan Miller/Getty Images
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DALLAS (AP) Shawn Forrest has been named an assistant basketball coach at SMU, his third school since the end of last season.

Mustangs coach Tim Jankovich announced Forrest’s hiring Tuesday.

Forrest spent the past three seasons as an assistant at Western Kentucky before head coach Ray Harper resigned. Forrest was named a UTSA assistant in May, but two weeks later left for Louisiana Tech before the unexpected opening at SMU.

Jankovich was SMU’s associate head coach before the abrupt resignation last month of Hall of Fame coach Larry Brown. Forrest fills the open assistant spot created on the staff when Jankovich was promoted to head coach.

Before Western Kentucky, Forrest was an assistant coach at Louisiana-Lafayette, North Texas, Arkansas State and Florida A&M.