Saturday’s Pregame Shootaround: Villanova and Iowa Battle 4 Atlantis

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GAME OF THE DAY: Villanova vs. No. 23 Iowa (9:30 p.m., NBCSN)  

Saturday’s best game features two undefeated teams as the No. 23 Hawkeyes (7-0) will face the Wildcats (6-0) for the championship of the Battle 4 Atlantis. Villanova upset Kansas last night to make the championship game while Iowa knocked off UTEP. It appears as though Villanova head coach Jay Wright has some of the grit and toughness of past Wildcat teams and it will be interesting to see how they matchup with a deep Iowa team that has a lot of experience.

THE OTHER GAME OF THE DAY: UTEP vs. No. 2 Kansas (7:00 p.m., NBCSN)

In the third-place matchup of the Battle 4 Atlantis, UTEP (4-3) meets up with the No. 2 Jayhawks (5-1), who suffered their first defeat of the season in Friday night’s semifinal loss to Villanova. Although UTEP fell to Iowa in the other semifinal, they will surely get a boost knowing that they get to face the No. 2 team in the country, so although Tim Floyd’s team won’t win the Battle 4 Atlantis, they can at least get a shot at playing a top team tonight. The Miners have the size to matchup with the Jayhawks at most positions, but Kansas has superior athleticism.

WHO’S GETTING UPSET?: Eastern Kentucky vs. North Carolina State, 8:00 p.m. (ESPN3)

There aren’t many games going on tonight, but one to keep an eye on for a potential upset is Eastern Kentucky visiting North Carolina State. The Colonels are a potent 6-1 team without a true road test, but with four double-digit scorers led by guard Glenn Cosey. Cosey has scored 20 points in four straight games and is averaging 19.6 points a game this season while he would also act as Eastern Kentucky’s closer, having going 41-for-44 from the free throw line this season. The Wolfpack have a lot of talent, but lost at home earlier this season in overtime to North Carolina Central, so they can slip-up from time-to-time. North Carolina State rebounded nicely after that loss with a 20-point win over Dunk City, but Eastern Kentucky can score enough to potentially upset the Wolfpack on the road if North Carolina State gets to a slow start.

MID-MAJOR GAME OF THE DAY: New Mexico State vs. Colorado State 6:00 p.m. (ROOT)

The Aggies have won seven straight games since dropping their season opener to Western Michigan and they’ll be tested today as they face host Colorado State in the Colorado State Challenge. With the WAC being down this season after conference re-alignment completely changed the look of the conference, New Mexico State has a chance to test itself in the next four games as they face the Rams, in-state rival New Mexico, Gonzaga and Arizona in their next four games. Colorado State finds itself at 5-2 on the season and is hoping to win their own challenge as they continue to figure out their rotation after last season’s Round of 32 appearance.

FIVE THINGS TO KNOW: 

1) After a surprising 6-1 start, Penn State faces Ole Miss (5-0) in the Barclays Center Classic today. The Nittany Lions knocked off St. John’s in overtime to advance to face Ole Miss and will look to build on their strong start.

2) Virginia had a nice win over SMU last night in the Corpus Christi Classic and now they face undefeated Missouri State. The Bears knocked off Texas A&M and are 6-0 this season as they’ll be a team to watch in the always tough Missouri Valley Conference.

3) BYU and Utah State will square off tonight in a neutral site contest in Salt Lake City in what should be a really good game. The Cougars have lost two of their last three games — to Top 25 teams Iowa State and Wichita State — and will look to right the ship against 5-0 Utah State. Utah State started the season with a solid victory over USC and also own a big win over Mississippi State early this season.

4) If you’re up for some late-night hoops, TCU and Harvard will meet for the Great Alaska Shootout title tonight. TCU has made a nice run to the title game with a win over host Alaska Anchorage and Tulsa after starting the season 0-2. Harvard is one of the premier mid-major teams in the country and a win at the Great Alaska Shootout would look positive for potential seeding purposes in the NCAA Tournament.

5) In the consolation of the Corpus Christi Challenge, nonconference in-state rivals SMU and Texas A&M meet. This game doesn’t have many implications on the floor except for being a solid match-up of high-major teams at this point in the season. Texas A&M hasn’t had a lot of tests this season, but blew a halftime lead over Missouri State yesterday, so it will be interesting to see how they bounce back.

THE TOP 25: 

  • UTEP vs. No. 2 Kansas, 7:00 p.m. (NBCSN)
  • North Dakota vs. No. 14 Oregon, 6:30 p.m. (PAC 12)
  • Villanova vs. No. 23 Iowa, 9:30 p.m. (NBCSN)

NOTABLES: 

  • Lipscomb vs. Georgetown, 12:00 p.m. (FSN)
  • Xavier vs. USC 1:00 p.m. (AXS)
  • St. John’s vs. Georgia Tech 2:00 p.m.
  • San Diego vs. New Mexico 3:00 p.m. (ROOT)
  • Tennessee vs. Wake Forest 3:30 p.m. (AXS)
  • Rhode Island at George Mason 4:00 p.m.
  • Penn State vs. Ole Miss 4:30 p.m.
  • New Mexico St. vs. Colorado State 6:00 p.m. (ROOT
  • SMU vs. Texas A&M 6:30 p.m. (CBSSN)
  • BYU vs. Utah State 9:00 p.m.
  • Virginia vs. Missouri State 9:00 p.m. (CBSSN)
  • TCU vs. Harvard 12:30 a.m. (CBSSN)

Sweet 16 Preview: Thursday’s picks, predictions, betting lines and channels

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The Sweet 16 kicks off on Thursday night, and the games are going to be terrific.

Oregon-Michigan should be thrilling, Gonzaga-West Virginia is a fascinating contrast of styles and Kansas-Purdue features arguably the two best players in college basketball.

Oh, and then there’s Arizona-Xavier, with Sean Miller and Chris Mack doing battle.

For an in-depth look at each region, check these out:

SWEET 16 PREVIEW: Midwest | West | South | East

No. 3 Oregon vs. No. 7 Michigan (-1.5), 7:09 p.m. (CBS): So this run that Michigan on, is it a fluke?

Frankly, I don’t think that it is. Derrick Walton has been awesome for the better part of two months while Michigan’s perimeter shooters have always been shooters and the duo of D.J. Wilson and Mo Wagner are legit. I honestly do not believe that the Wolverines are a team of destiny after the plane crash. They are just really good and a perfect roster for John Beilein to tinker with.

That’s why they’re favored on Thursday night. But here’s the thing … Oregon is pretty good themselves. Dillon Brooks is going to be guarded by a big man, which should be a matchup that Brooks can take advantage of, and Tyler Dorsey has been playing terrific basketball since the start of the Pac-12 tournament.

If you like small-ball, spread-the-court basketball, you’ll love this game.

PREDICTION: Michigan (-1.5)

No. 1 Gonzaga (-3) vs. No. 4 West Virginia, 7:39 p.m. (TBS): On paper, I think Gonzaga should win this game. They have a good back court in Nigel Williams-Goss and Josh Perkins, a pair of talented point guards that have won a lot of games in their career. Gonzaga is also the best defensive team in the country. So if they don’t turn the ball over against West Virginia’s press and they make it difficult for West Virginia to score in the half court and get into their press, they should be able to win this thing, right?

Well, maybe not.

My concern with Gonzaga is game-pressure. They didn’t handle it well down the stretch against BYU in their one loss of the season, and I’m not convinced that they win that second round game against Northwestern if the officials don’t blow the goaltending call. How are they going to handle an endless wave of Mountaineers in their face?

PREDICTION: Gonzaga (-3)

No. 1 Kansas (-5) vs. No. 4 Purdue, 9:39 p.m. (CBS): More than any other game this weekend, I’m fascinated to see how these two teams decide to try and play each other. Kansas has, essentially, one big man that Bill Self can trust, and he’s going up against a Player of the Year candidate in Caleb Swanigan and one of the best big men in the country at drawing fouls in Isaac Haas. Will Self double-team Swanigan knowing that Purdue may be more effective offensively when Swanigan can find shooters out of the double-team, or will he risk Lucas getting in foul trouble by trying to guard Swanigan one-on-one?

Then, at the other end of the floor, how will Purdue deal with the Kansas back court? Frank Mason III, the NBC Sports National Player of the Year, and Devonte’ Graham are a nightmare for anyone to deal with, let alone a team that struggles against penetrating guards and that lacks rim protection. It should be a fascinating coaching battle.

PREDICTION: Kansas (-5)

No. 2 Arizona (-7.5) vs. No. 11 Xavier, 10:09 p.m. (TBS): On paper, Arizona should be able to handle a Xavier team that doesn’t have Edmond Sumner or Myles Davis. That said, as we all know, Chris Mack and Sean Miller are very close and used to work together. Mack knows everything that Miller is going to do and vice versa. I think this game will be a low-scoring, grind-it-out affair that comes down to the final minutes.

PREDICTION: Xavier (+7.5)

Shayok and Reuter transferring from Virginia

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Virginia announced the departure of two players Wednesday.

Marial Shayok and Jerred Shayok will both transfer out of the program, the school said.

“Marial and Jarred informed me today that they are leaving the Virginia basketball program and are looking to transfer to other schools,” Cavaliers coach Tony Bennett said in a statement released by the school. “I thank Marial and Jarred for their hard work and contributions to our program, and wish them success in the future.”

Shayok, a a 6-foot-5 junior, played 20.9 minutes per game last season for the Cavaliers, averaging 8.9 points and 2.4 rebounds per game while shooting 44.5 percent from the floor. The Ottawa native started 23 games in three seasons with Virginia.

Reuter played a minimal role for the Cavaliers, averaging just 10.8 minutes and 3.8 rebounds per game.

Wake’s Collins declares for NBA draft without hiring agent

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WINSTON-SALEM, N.C. (AP) Wake Forest’s John Collins is entering the NBA draft but will not hire an agent and is keeping open the option of returning to school for his junior season.

In a statement Wednesday announcing the decision, Collins said he wants “to make an informed decision about what is best for my future.”

Collins is a 6-foot-10 forward who as a sophomore blossomed into one of the best big men in the Atlantic Coast Conference and was voted to the Associated Press all-ACC team.

He averaged 19.2 points and 9.8 rebounds, putting together a string of 12 consecutive 20-point games late in the season.

His progression was a big reason why the Demon Deacons earned their first NCAA Tournament berth since 2010. Kansas State beat Wake Forest in the First Four.

More AP college basketball: http://www.collegebasketball.ap.org

Porter, Jr. will ask for Washington release

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There may be an overwhelming assumption on where Michael Porter, Jr. – and his father – will ultimately end up, but the five-star recruit is said publicly that he see his re-recruitment process through.

Porter, Jr. said in a teleconference Wednesday that he will ask for his release from Washington, and his father, a former Huskies assistant, has been offered a job at Missouri by new Tigers coach Cuonzo Martin.

“Right now I’m just trying to take it slow with my family and weigh my options,” Porter Jr. said, according to the Kansas City Star. “I plan to get my (national letter of intent) from Washington back and just go from there, not saying that I’m not going to Washington anymore, but I just want to get it back and weigh my options.”

The prevailing thought has been that the Porters will ultimately land in Columbia, where they have significant history.

Still, it would appear at least publicly that Porter, Jr., a potential No. 1 pick in the 2018 NBA draft, will weigh his options in at least the short-term.

Calipari signs two-year extension with Kentucky

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Kentucky continues to take care of John Calipari.

The Wildcats coach has received a two-year extension, keeping him under contract in Lexington through the 2024 season, the school announced Wednesday.

The contract will pay Calipari $7.75 million next season and increase to $8 million per season thereafter.

“John has achieved consistent championship-level performance at Kentucky,” Kentucky athletic director Mitch Barnhart said in a statement. “No one in America is better suited for everything that comes with being the coach here. Not only has he attained incredible success on the court, he is also a leader in our community and in college basketball.

“We have been blessed to have him and Ellen here for the last eight years and we are blessed they will continue to call Kentucky home.”

Not only does the deal extend Calipari, but it continues to keep Kentucky competitive with the NBA, which would seem to be the only outlet that would even potentially tempt Calipari away from Kentucky. An NBA franchise would have to make him among the highest-paid coaches in the league to even match Kentucky financially.

Of course, given that Calipari has spurned interest from the league since returning to college in 2000, it seems unlikely that financial considerations would be the lone or heaviest variable in making a decision to move on.

Certainly, Calipari has an excellent thing going at Kentucky as the premier recruiting program in the country that has enjoyed serious success on the court, culminating in a 2012 national title and a 38-0 start to the 2015 season before a loss in the Final Four.

“The last eight years at the University of Kentucky have been a terrific ride,” Calipari said in a statement. “This extension shows our full commitment to each other. I believe this school is the gold standard and I’m so thankful and blessed that this university has given me this opportunity at this point in my career.”

The Wildcats face UCLA in the Sweet 16 on Friday.