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Weekend Preview: Kentucky-Baylor, a trio of in-state rivalry games

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GAME OF THE WEEKEND: No. 3 Kentucky vs. No. 20 Baylor, Fri. 10:00 p.m.

Braving the ice and sleet in Dallas, Kentucky will be squaring off with the Bears at the Jerry Dome in a game that will almost assuredly see more UK fans show up than Baylor fans. The irony is that this is a game that Baylor will actually have a shot at winning. If there is anything we know about Julius Randle at this point in his career, it’s that he can have a tendency to struggle when he is forced to go up against size and length. All Baylor has along their front line is size and length in Cory Jefferson and Isaiah Austin.

You know what else Baylor does? They play zone, which is a good way to try and slow down penetration from opposing guards and force the Wildcats into settling for threes. Aaron Harrison and James Young, Kentucky’s shooters, have been anything but consistent this season. How well the Bears handle Kentucky’s size on the defensive end will be key.

THE OTHER GAME OF THE WEEKEND: Marquette at No. 8 Wisconsin, Sat. 2:15 p.m. (all times EST)

One of the best non-conference rivalries in the country takes place this weekend, as the Golden Eagles make the trek to Madison to square off with the Badgers. Marquette has been a disappointment early on this season, as they will enter the weekend with three losses. The issue is offensively: Marquette just doesn’t have enough dynamic offensive weapons. They’re relying on Todd Mayo to be their go-to guy offensively. If Wisconsin proved anything against Virginia this year, it’s that their new desire to run the floor hasn’t affected their ability to defend when they need to. Where Marquette will have an advantage is inside. Who can guard Davante Gardner? Sam Dekker can’t. I’m not sure Frank Kaminsky can, either. Give the big fella the rock.

FIVE MORE TO KEEP AN EYE ON:

  • No. 18 UCLA at Missouri, Sat. 12:30 p.m.: Two undefeated, yet untested teams. It will be fun to see these two perimeter attacks square off, as both the Bruins and the Tigers are loaded with talented wings — Jordan Adams, Zach LaVine, Norman Powell, Kyle Anderson vs. Jordan Clarkson, Jabari Brown, Earnest Ross.
  • BYU vs. No 21 UMass, Sat. 1:30 p.m.: This may be the most entertaining game of the weekend, as both teams love to get out and run the floor. Tyler Haws and Chaz Williams are both borderline all-americans. Eric Mika vs. Cady Lalanne up front will be fun, too.
  • No. 6 Kansas at Colorado, Sat. 3:15 p.m.: Colorado got absolutely embarrassed by Kansas in Lawrence last season. Is this their chance for revenge? They’re probably getting KU at the wrong time; I’m sure the last week of practice after the debacle that was the Battle 4 Atlantis was fun.
  • New Mexico at Cincinnati, Sat. 4:05 p.m.: The best player in the country you’re not talking about? Alex Kirk of New Mexico. Cincinnati will try to slow him down on Saturday afternoon.
  • UNLV at No. 2 Arizona, Sat. 5:15 p.m.: Do we trust UNLV this season? It’s a risky proposition, especially as they go to visit Arizona, who has been the best team in the country this year.

WHO’S ON UPSET ALERT?

  • Cal at UC-Santa Barbara, Fri. 10:00 p.m.: UC-Santa Barbara is good. Alan Williams is the truth inside, as he’s averaging 27.5 points, 10.8 boards and 3.0 blocks. Cal may not have an answer for him inside, but UCSB will have to contend with Cal’s perimeter contingent.
  • Delaware at Notre Dame, Sat. 4:00 p.m.: Devon Saddler isn’t back yet, but the combination of Davon Usher and Jarvis Threatt has kept the Blue Hens at the top of the CAA picture. They’ll have their hands full with Notre Dame’s talented guards.
  • Virginia at Green Bay, Sat. 5:00 p.m.: UVA head coach was born in Green Bay and played for Green Bay for his dad who founded the packline defense while running the show with the Pheonix. Green Bay has Kiefer Sykes and Alec Brown this season; they’re no pushover.
  • No. 17 Iowa State at Northern Iowa, Sat. 6:00 p.m.: It’s been a rough start to the season for Northern Iowa, but they’re one of the best teams in the Valley and they win games at home. Plus, the Interlude Dance!
  • No. 13 Oregon at Ole Miss, Sun. 5:00 p.m.: Oregon will be getting a test at Ole Miss on Sunday evening. This will be a good gauge for what we should expect out of the Rebels this year. They looked solid at the Barclays Center last weekend, but they dropped a game on the road against Kansas State on Thursday night. They need Marshall Henderson to not have a 4-for-18 shooting night again.

FIVE MORE THINGS TO WATCH FOR:

1) New Mexico State plays at No. 11 Gonzaga in an 11:00 p.m. on Saturday night. The Aggies should be pretty good this season and they’ll give Gonzaga a fight in Spokane. The matchup to watch: 7-foot-5 Sim Bhullar vs. 7-foot-1 Przemek Karnowski.

2) The Holy War! No. 14 Villanova takes on St. Joseph’s on Saturday at 6:00 p.m. The Hawks are down a bit this season, but this is the kind of rivalry where records get thrown out the window.

3) Maryland will play George Washington at 3:30 p.m. on Sunday in the nightcap of the BB&T Classic. The Colonials have been one of the more surprising teams in the Atlantic 10 this season, and Maryland is struggling without Seth Allen. If GW wants to take that next step, these are the games they have to win.

4) The Cornhuskers head to Omaha to take on Creighton at 6:00 p.m. Sunday in an in-state rivalry that is healthier than you might think. Nebraska is better than they have gotten credit for this year. Hop on the Tai Webster bandwagon now.

5) The Monarchs may have left the CAA, but VCU and Old Dominion are still rivals. There isn’t a lot of like between those two schools. Tip is at 1:30 p.m. on Sunday. If you go, keep an eye out for our old friend Eric Angevine. He bleeds ODU blue.

Cyclones add big man for 2017

LOUISVILLE, KY - MARCH 15:  Head coach Steve Prohm of the Murray State Racers shouts from the sidelines against the Colorado State Rams  during the second round of the 2012 NCAA Men's Basketball Tournament at KFC YUM! Center on March 15, 2012 in Louisville, Kentucky.  (Photo by Andy Lyons/Getty Images)
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Iowa State secured its first commitment Wednesday of what will be a pivotal class of forwards in 2017.

KeyShawn Faezell of Mississippi committed to Steve Prohm and the Cyclones, he announced Wednesday.

“After praying to God to lead me in the right path and talking with my dad,” Faezell wrote, “I’ve decided to further my education and basketball career under coach Prohm at Iowa State University.”

Faezell, a 6-foot-9 consensus top-150 forward in the 2017 class, joins wing Terrence Lewis as the first two members of a class that figures to number at least six for ISU. The addition of Faezell is key because ISU will be losing three members of its frontcourt it will likely be leaning on heavily in 2015-16 in Deonte Burton, Merrill Holden and Darrell Bowie. A 2016 big man, Cameron Lard, has also yet to enroll in classes this fall due to academic issues, making Faezell’s commitment even more important should Lard be unable to get clearance.

“They need some people to come in and compete,” Feazell told the Ames Tribune. “I think I fit in the program.”

Prohm’s teams dating back to his Murray State days have always been guard-oriented and guard-heavy, but beginning to stack the roster with quality big men will be key as he looks to continue the Cyclones’ success in the Big 12, which includes a school-record five-straight NCAA tournament appearances.

BYU adds commit for 2019

Dave Rose
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BYU added a commitment from a high school senior this week, but the Cougars won’t be seeing him on campus until 2019.

Kolby Lee, a 6-foot-9 forward from Idaho, pledged to BYU on Monday evening, but won’t suit up until after serving a two-year mission for the Church of Latter Day Saints, according to the Deseret News.

“I had a great feeling about BYU, and I prayed about it,” Lee told the paper. “I just feel like it’s the right fit for me. It just seems right. It feels right.”

Lee chose BYU over offers from  Utah State, Boise State and UC Davis. He was rated a four-star prospect by ESPN and three by Scout.

His decision to forego immediately joining BYU certainly isn’t a new wrinkle for the Cougars, who routinely see their players either delay their initial eligibility or pause it mid-career while serving on missions.

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