Pregame Shootaround: No. 3 Kentucky meets No. 20 Baylor in Arlington

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GAME OF THE NIGHT: No. 3 Kentucky vs. No. 20 Baylor, 10:00 p.m. (ESPN)

This isn’t a difficult choice, as the meeting between the Wildcats and Bears at the site of this season’s Final Four is the only contest matching ranked teams. And it’s a chance to make a statement nationally for Baylor, with sophomore Isaiah Austin stating before the game that “Kentucky is not better than us in any way, shape or form.” He’s certainly entitled to that line of thinking, and Austin will be one of the key figures in this contest. Kentucky’s front court features Julius Randle and Willie Cauley-Stein, with the Bears countering with a deep group led by Austin and senior Cory Jefferson. The team that wins the rebounding battle will more than likely emerge victorious, with both teams rebounding at least 43% of their missed shots (UK: 48%, Baylor: 43.6%).

You can read more about this matchup and the other marquee games this weekend here.

WHO’S GETTING UPSET? California (at UCSB, 10:00 p.m.) 

First off, kudos to the Golden Bears for being willing to visit the “Thunderdome,” as few high-major programs would take on such a challenge. And it’s definitely a challenge, as the Gauchos hung with UCLA for much of the night on Tuesday before running out of steam late. Alan Williams is a very good interior player, and UCSB has multiple players capable of knocking down perimeter shots. Cal’s veterans, led by seniors Justin Cobbs and Richard Solomon, will need to keep the group (they have five freshmen) composed in front of what should be a frenzied atmosphere.

MID-MAJOR GAME OF THE NIGHT: Towson at Stephen F. Austin, 9:00 p.m. (ESPN3) 

Both the Tigers and Limberjacks have the pieces needed to make a run at an NCAA tournament berth this season, as both are considered to be serious contenders in their respective leagues. Towson’s Jerrelle Benimon (17.0 ppg, 9.6 rpg, 4.0 apg) should be well-known amongst college basketball diehards by now, but how about SFA’s Jacob Parker? Parker’s (17.1, 7.9) more than doubled his scoring average from a season ago, with his best performance of the season being a 31-point, 11-rebound night in a win over Marshall last month.

FIVE THINGS TO KNOW

1) After suffering a sprained ankle in a loss to Miami on Sunday, Arizona State point guard Jahii Carson is expected to play tonight at DePaul (7:00 p.m., FS1). With Carson not at 100% the Sun Devils will need someone to step up offensively as the look to win at DePaul, with Cleveland Melvin leading the way for the Blue Demons (Brandon Young’s out with an ankle injury).

2) No. 9 Oklahoma State is back in action, as they host South Carolina in the SEC/Big 12 Challenge. Frank Martin’s Gamecocks are young but they compete, and they took Baylor down to the wire back in November. Marcus Smart will look to rebound from a subpar performance in the Cowboys’ Old Spice Classic final loss to Memphis.

3) Of the four ranked teams in action No. 12 UConn has the “easiest” matchup as they host Maine (7:00 p.m., ESPN3). One thing to keep an eye on in this one: how the big men rebound. This should be a game in which the Huskies, who have struggled on the glass, control that aspect of the game.

4) Four MAAC games on the slate, including newcomers Quinnipiac hosting Fairfield (8:30 p.m., ESPN3). The Stags have just one player averaging double figures (Marcus Gilbert- 13.0 ppg, 4.6 rpg) while QU has five, led by versatile guard Zaid Hurst (15.0, 10.7).

5) Not sure that Loyola Marymount has enough to knock off Pittsburgh, but in senior Anthony Ireland the Lions have one of the nation’s best floor generals. This experience should benefit Pitt sophomore PG James Robinson down the line.

TOP 25 GAMES 

  • No. 3 Kentucky vs. No. 20 Baylor, 10:00 p.m. (ESPN)
  • South Carolina at No. 9 Oklahoma State, 9:30 p.m. (ESPNU)
  • Maine at No. 12 UConn, 7:00 p.m. (ESPN3)

NOTABLE GAMES

  • Loyola Marymount at Pittsburgh, 7:00 p.m. (ESPN3)
  • Arizona State at DePaul, 7:00 p.m. (FS1)
  • Fairfield at Quinnipiac, 8:30 p.m. (ESPN3)

Diallo withdrawing from draft, returning to Kentucky

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It took plenty of time for the news to make its way public, but it was a wait that proved welcome for Kentucky fans.

Wildcat freshman Hamidou Diallo will withdraw his name from the NBA Draft and return to Kentucky, the school announced

Diallo’s situation was one of the more interesting in college basketball as he became an incredibly intriguing pro prospect despite being on a college roster and never playing a minute.

The five-star recruit enrolled at Kentucky in January after attending a semester of prep school with the plan to redshirt the season and then play for the Wildcats in 2017-18. There were rumblings and rumors about Diallo potentially playing for John Calipari’s group last year, but ultimately they stuck to the plan to keep him on the bench and preserve his eligibility. Throughout it all, there was always the specter that Diallo could just decide to go the professional route anyway.

That possibility moved fully into the forefront earlier this month when Diallo showed off a 44.5-inch vertical leap at the NBA Draft combine in Chicago. The 6-foot-5 guard also recorded a wingspan that nearly measured 7-feet. With those types of physical traits, he makes for an awfully interesting professional prospect, regardless of refinement or experience.

Given Diallo’s lack of high-level experience, though, there was no guarantee he’d be a first-round selection as teams would be wary of drafting solely on potential, rather than the mostly they typically do.

“I hope to play in the NBA one day — just not this season,” Diallo said in a statement. “Based on the information I received by testing the waters, I believe it’s in my best interests to return to school. Although I was a part of the team last season and trained with my teammates, I never fulfilled another one of my dreams, which was to play for a major college program and win a national title.

“I am excited about returning to Kentucky for the 2017-18 season. I can’t wait to play in a Kentucky jersey for the first time.”

Going back to Lexington to play college basketball gives Diallo a chance to showcase his skills against competition the NBA will be able to evaluate him against. It also makes Kentucky – surprise, surprise – extremely formidable this season as they, once again, restock the roster with potential lottery- and first-round picks. With Diallo officially in the fold, Kentucky is a no-doubt top-five team that will be among the favorites to cut down the nets in April 2018.

“I’m really proud of Hami,” Calipari said in a statement. “He took in all the information, asked a lot of questions, including questions to the NBA teams. I love the fact that he wants to put himself in a better position and help lead this new team to a championship.
“I can’t wait to get him on the court and have all of you fans see what I know.  He’s a special player and a special person.”

LaVar Ball selling “Stay In Yo Lane” shirts

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Create controversy. Profit from controversy.

It’s not an especially new or original strategy, but it’s one that LaVar Ball continues to try to exploit.

The infamous basketball dad is at it again, looking to capitalize on the uproar/kerfuffle/news cycle/debate/ickiness he created when he belittled FS1’s Kristine Leahy, telling her to “stay in your lane” on multiple occasions when claiming the Big Baller Brand didn’t need to market to women.

Well, they are now, with a nod to Ball’s proclamation, selling “STAY IN YO LANE” tees, for both men and women.

Marketing misogyny. Isn’t that nice.

It’s clear that LaVar Ball isn’t going to shy away from the public spotlight anytime soon, especially with eldest son Lonzo looking destined for the Lakers and middle son LiAngelo set to join UCLA, and he’s going to do his best to use that light to push the BBB franchise that scared away the world’s biggest apparel companies.

This plan has no mystery, subtlety or taste. Which might as well be the Big Baller Brand slogan.

Mykhailiuk returning to Kansas for senior season

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Kansas’ attempt for a 14th consecutive Big 12 title, and run for Bill Self’s second national title, got a shot in the arm Wednesday.

Svi Mykhailiuk announced that he will return to Lawrence for his final season of eligibility. “Senior year going to be fun,” he wrote on his Instagram page.

Senior year gonna be fun😈👌🏼🤘🏼 #KUCMB

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The Jayhawks were already going to be loaded this season with Devonte Graham, a potential All-American, returning for his senior season and Udoka Azubuike healthy after missing last year due to injury along with Malik Newman becoming eligible after a transfer from Mississippi State and recruits Billy Preston and Marcus Garrett bolstering the ranks. The return of Mykhailiuk, though, only solidifies Kansas’ place not only atop the Big 12, but in the country.

Mykhailiuk, a 6-foot-8 forward, had something of a breakthrough season as a junior, posting career highs nearly across the board, including shooting 39.8 percent on nearly five 3-point shot attempts per game. With his size and shooting ability, Mykhailiuk was sure to garner professional interest, even though it would have been more likely than not he would been drafted in the second round of next month’s draft.

Mykhailiuk’s situation is certainly a unique one for college basketball as the Ukraine native enrolled at Kansas in 2014 just after his 17th birthday. He won’t turn 20 until next month, making him the same age as many sophomores and more likely to be viewed by NBA teams in the future as having upside, rather than a typical 22- or 23-year-old senior who scouts look at as having come close to reaching their ceiling.

Mykhailiuk wasn’t going to be the linchpin of Kansas’ success next season, but his decision to return shouldn’t be underestimated. His size, experience, skill and versatility provide the Jayhawks with a real weapon that will help alleviate pressure and expectations from other players up and down the roster. He’s very much a difference-maker for a team that will be contending for a spot in the Final Four.

Caleb Swanigan to stay in NBA draft

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Caleb Swanigan is leaving Purdue and staying in the NBA draft.

The Boilermaker big man held as much sway on the college basketball landscape with his decision as nearly any player who declared for the draft without an agent. After a season in which he became a double-double machine and averaged 18.5 points, 12.5 rebounds and 3.1 assists per game, Swanigan would have been one of – if not the – favorites for National Player of the Year while also making Purdue right at the top of the Big Ten with Michigan State.

Instead, he’ll end his collegiate career after a pair of seasons and one Sweet 16 appearance in West Lafayette. As a professional prospect, Swanigan is an interesting case. He was as productive of player as college basketball has seen in recent years as a sophomore, putting up 20-20 games with ridiculous consistency. He’s got some range, but limited quickness and athleticism. The question will be how his game – and frame – will translate into the new NBA that prioritizes versatility, shooting and athleticism. Right now, not many have him pegged as a sure-fire first-round pick.

The loss for Purdue is hard to overstate given just how good “Biggie” was. There’s just no replacing that type of production in the lineup. Still, Matt Painter and the Boilermakers still have an intriguing group, with Isaac Haas and Vince Edwards both electing to return to school after dipping their toes in the NBA waters. There’s some other intriguing young pieces there that will keep Purdue interesting in the Big Ten race.

Florida State picks up late commit from McDonald’s All-American

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The losses sustained by Florida State have been numerous and significant. Three players declared early for the NBA Draft. Another two contributors were lost to graduation. All in all, the Seminoles haven’t had the greatest of springs.

Wednesday, though, they got some good news.

McDonald’s All-American wing M.J. Walker committed Leonard Hamilton’s program to give Florida State a late, and important, addition to its 2017 recruiting class, beating the likes of Ohio State, Georgia Tech and UCLA.

Walker, a 6-foot-5 guard, gives the Seminoles yet another five-star prospect after landing Dwayne Bacon and Jonathan Isaac in the last two recruiting classes. Walker will help Hamilton and Co. reboot after both Bacon and Isaac, along with Xavier Rathan-Mayes, all left school to pursue professional careers after the Seminoles’ 26-9 season that saw them advance to the second round of the NCAA tournament.

Walker becomes the sixth member of Hamilton’s 2017 recruiting class that was previously headlined by four-star 7-footer Ikechukwu Obiagu. That group will be tasked to retool a team losing not only major NBA-level talent, but also major production. The Seminoles won’t return a single player who averaged double-digit points per-game last year and just one who played at least 20 minutes per night.