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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.

Indiana lands four-star Class of 2017 wing Justin Smith

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Indiana landed an athletic wing commitment on Monday night as four-star small forward Justin Smith pledged to the Hoosiers on Twitter.

The 6-foot-6 Smith is a native of Lincolnshire, Illinois and comes from Stevenson High School as he’s regarded as the No. 105 overall prospect in the Rivals national Class of 2017 rankings.

A high-flying wing who is great in the open floor, Smith should fit the Hoosiers’ uptempo system perfectly and if he’s able to get a more consistent perimeter jumper then he has a chance to be a really nice piece for Indiana.

Smith joins three-star guard Al Durham in Indiana’s recruiting Class of 2017.

Michigan State addingTom Izzo Hall of History wing in remodeled Breslin Center

CHARLOTTE, NC - MARCH 22:  Head coach Tom Izzo of the Michigan State Spartans reacts against the Virginia Cavaliers during the third round of the 2015 NCAA Men's Basketball Tournament at Time Warner Cable Arena on March 22, 2015 in Charlotte, North Carolina.  (Photo by Grant Halverson/Getty Images)
(Photo by Grant Halverson/Getty Images)
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Michigan State head coach Tom Izzo has already been inducted into the Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame this fall and the longtime Spartans head coach is receiving another unique honor in the remodeled Breslin Center.

The school announced over the weekend that the Tom Izzo Hall of History will be added to the Breslin Center renovations as the building is supposed to be completed by the fall of 2017.

“The Tom Izzo Hall of History will become a great gathering place on our campus where together we can celebrate the excellence of Spartan Basketball and MSU Athletics,” athletic director Mark Hollis said in a release. “When this facility project is complete it will be the finest college basketball facility in the country, so it’s only fitting that Tom’s name will be a permanent part of it.”

Overall, this is a nice addition to the Breslin Center, especially since Izzo and Michigan State basketball will forever be associated with one another. It should be cool for fans to go through it and re-live great moments in Michigan State history and the wing is another nice recruiting tool that can help point out all of Izzo’s biggest accomplishments.

 

Puerto Rico Tip-Off Tournament moving to Orlando amid Zika concerns

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Amid concerns over the Zika virus, the annual Puerto Rico Tip-Off announced a change in venue on Monday. Rather than staying on the island, the tournament will move to Orlando and all games will be played at the ESPN Wide World of Sports Complex at Disney.

The dates and teams will remain the same for the event as it will be played Thursday, Nov. 17, Friday, Nov. 18 and Sunday, Nov. 20. The field for the event includes Arizona State, Clemson, Davidson, Missouri, Northern Iowa, Oklahoma, Tulane and Xavier.

“We enjoy the beauty and accommodations that are afforded in Puerto Rico and wanted to make every effort in playing the event in San Juan, but the concern for student-athlete and spectator welfare became the primary driver in the decision,” Pete Derzis, senior vice president of ESPN Events said in the official release.  “We intend to return to Puerto Rico in the future.”

Puerto Rico is currently under a Level 2 alert for Zika according to the CDC. Since there have been cases of Zika on the island with native mosquitoes, it’s probably a smart move to eliminate all concerns over the virus if they can easily move the tournament elsewhere. It probably isn’t ideal for fans who purchased travel packages to Puerto Rico to watch the event, but it’s a small price to pay for the safety of everyone involved.

The Puerto Rico Tourism Company is also upset with the decision as Executive Director Ingrid Rivera Rocafort released a statement on Monday night.

“We are disappointed about this decision that we believe has been based on fear not the facts about Puerto Rico,” the statement read.

“There is no public health reason to cancel the Puerto Rico Tip Off or any sporting event in Puerto Rico. There is no doubt that our strong fan base and local spectators would have turned out to support their teams. Less than one percent of Puerto Rico’s 3.5 million population has contracted Zika, a far cry from projections. The hype and misinformation is fostering irrational decisions.”

PHOTO: Purdue unveils statue of John Wooden outside Mackey Arena

John Wooden (Purdue Athletics)
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John Wooden will forever be associated with the UCLA program for what he did while coaching there.

10 national titles in 12 years, including seven in a row. Not bad, right?

What some people may forget is that before he got into coaching, Wooden was one of the best basketball players in the world. He played his collegiate ball at Purdue, where he was a three-time all-american and the 1932 National Player of the Year.

To honor Wooden’s legacy as one of the greatest Boilermakers ever, Purdue built a statue of Wooden and unveiled it in front of Mackey Arena this weekend:

“Not many people think of Johnny Wooden as a Boilermaker, but when I got here in 1957, some of the old-timers still remembered him as a player,” Jim Hicks, the alumnus that donated the statue, said. “I’m so delighted that people will see this statue and read his Pyramid of Success because I think the pyramid was his most important contribution.”

One of the neat touches of the statue: Wooden’s Pyramid of Success is right there for all to see.

North Carolina lands third commitment in 2017 class

SAN ANTONIO, TX - MARCH 23: Head coach Roy Williams of the North Carolina Tar Heels looks on during the third round of the 2014 NCAA Men's Basketball Tournament against the Iowa State Cyclones at the AT&T Center on March 23, 2014 in San Antonio, Texas.  (Photo by Ronald Martinez/Getty Images)
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North Carolina picked up their third commitment in the Class of 2017 on Monday in big man Brandon Huffman.

A four-star prospect who will play his final season of high school ball at Word of God Academy in North Carolina, Huffman’s strength at this point in his development is as a defensive presence around the basket. He stands 6-foot-10 with a 7-foot-5 wingspan and should be able to help replace Kennedy Meeks, who graduates this spring.

Huffman’s development on the offensive end of the floor isn’t quite there yet. A native of Anchorage, Alaska, Huffman is still learning how to be more influential on that end.

Huffman joins Jalek Felton and Andrew Platek in UNC’s 2017 class.