Fred Hoiberg

Weekend Preview: Iowa-Iowa State highlights a rivalry-heavy weekend slate

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GAME OF THE WEEKEND: No. 23 Iowa at No. 17 Iowa State, Fri. 9:30 p.m. (all times eastern)

It’s been a while since this in-state rivalry game held as much meaning as it does this season. The Cyclones enter the season as one of the nation’s most surprising teams, a group that Fred Hoiberg has kept quite relevant despite the fact that they’ve lost a number of key pieces over the course of the last couple of seasons. This year, it’s been the arrival of Deandre Kane and the impressive play of guy like Georges Niang, Dustin Hogue and Naz Long that have made the difference.

The Hawkeyes are a different story. They’ve been on the brink of a breakthrough for a couple seasons under Fran McCaffery, and it looks like this is the year that it’s finally happened. Iowa is deep, they are balanced, and they are talented. Most importantly, both teams play a fun style of basketball to watch, which can only mean good things for Friday night’s marquee game.

THE OTHER GAME OF THE WEEKEND: No. 11 Kentucky at No. 18 North Carolina, Sat. 5:15 p.m.

Kentucky’s in trouble, right? As many issues as North Carolina has this season, they’ve knocked off both Louisville and Michigan State already. The Heels can’t handle the likes of Belmont or UAB, but if you entered the season as a Final Four favorite, the last thing you want to do is go up against these Heels.

I’m mostly joking, because I think Kentucky’s size actually nullifies a lot of what North Carolina is going to try to do. The Heels picked up those two wins because of the play of their big guys, specifically Kennedy Meeks, on the interior. What happens when Meeks runs into Julius Randle and Willie Cauley-Stein? What will be interesting to keep an eye on, however, is Kentucky’s defense. They’ve struggled with the pick-and-roll and defensive rebounding the last couple of games.

FIVE MORE TO KEEP AN EYE ON:

  • No. 1 Arizona at Michigan, Sat. 12:00 p.m.: This game had a lot more intrigue before Michigan’s flaws early on this season became so readily apparent. That said, the Wolverines may actually have more individual talent than the Wildcats. Nick Johnson vs. Nik Stauskas will be fun.
  • Tennessee at No. 12 Wichita State, Sat. 2:00 p.m.: A football game on a basketball court. The Vols handed the Shockers their first loss last season, and WSU will look to return the favor.
  • Notre Dame vs. Indiana, Sat. 3:15 p.m.: Interesting contrast of styles here. Notre Dame has a ton of shooters and guard play but lacks the length and athleticism to be tough defensively. Indiana? Well, they’re the exact opposite.
  • St. Mary’s at Boise State, Sat. 6:05 p.m.: Two of the nation’s better under-the-radar teams this season. Both need the win to make a statement and help bolster their league’s non-conference resume. Brad Waldow for St. Mary’s is the truth; he should have a big game.
  • No. 2 Syracuse at St. John’s, Sun. 12:00 p.m.: An old school Big East reunion at the Garden! St. John’s has been a bit of a disappointment this season, and they certainly won’t be more athletic than the Orange.

WHO’S ON UPSET ALERT?

  • Eastern Kentucky at No. 4 Wisconsin, Sat. 1:00 p.m.: I know how good Wisconsin is this season and I know how good they are at home, but EKU is a good team this season.
  • No. 7 Oklahoma State at Louisiana Tech, Sat. 2:00 p.m.: Louisiana Tech likes to pressure, and the knock on Marcus Smart this season is that he has been a bit turnover prone.
  • New Mexico at No. 13 Kansas, Sat. 7:00 p.m.: The Lobos might be getting the Jayhawks at the wrong time, as they’re coming off of two losses, but they matchup well with Bill Self’s team. Keep an eye on Alex Kirk and Cameron Bairstow.
  • La Salle at No. 10 Villanova, Sun. 2:30 p.m.: Big 5 hoops. Guards on guards on guards. Games like this never seem to disappoint.

FIVE MORE THINGS TO WATCH FOR:

1) West Virginia at Marshall, Sat. 7:30 p.m.: The Friends of Coal rivalry is intense. Last year, five players were ejected after a scuffle late in the game. The basketball isn’t great, but games where a fight could break out at any moment are fun. I’d love to see Bob Huggins and Tom Herrion get into a ring.

2) Cincinnati vs. Xavier, Sat. 8:00 p.m.: The Crosstown Shootout, which is no longer called the Crosstown Shootout. Everything I said about the Friends of Coal game could be said about this rivalry. Remember this?

3) North Dakota State at No. 3 Ohio State, Sat. 8:15 p.m.: North Dakota State is good. They just beat Notre Dame at Notre Dame. Taylor Braun and Marshall Bjorklund are legit. Plus, they calmly slop pigs in the middle of the day.

4) Illinois at No. 15 Oregon, Sat. 9:00 p.m.: Illinois really needs to pick up a marquee victory. For the Ducks, this will be the last time they have to play without Dominic Artis and Ben Carter. It’s also the last chance for Johnathon Loyd to prove he deserves playing time along side — or ahead — of Artis.

5) BYU at Utah, Sat. 10:00 p.m.: More in-state rivalry games. This may be the last time that the Cougars head to Salt Lake for a while.

 

DePaul adds 2018 commit

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Wisconsin guard John Diener has committed to DePaul, his grassroots program announced Wednesday night.

The 6-foot-4 Class of 2018 guard ends his recruitment rather early with offers also from instate schools Green Bay and Milwaukee. He’s known as a shooter and becomes the first commit for Dave Leitao in the 2018 class.

Diener, who plays with the Wisconsin Playground Warriors in the spring and summer, commits to the Blue Demons with them coming off a disappointing campaign, Leitao’s first in Chicago. DePaul went 9-22 overall and 3-15 in the Big East, finishing only ahead of St. John’s.

DePaul has been recruiting the Midwest hard with incoming 2016 recruits from La Lumiere School in Indiana, Sagninow, Mich. and locally in Chicago.

Four-star guard Fisher commits to TCU

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Jamie Dixon’s presence is already being felt in the Big 12 and on the recruiting trail.

TCU received its first commitment of the Dixon era when four-star 2016 point guard Jaylen Fisher announced his decision to join the Horned Frogs on Wednesday.

“Due to how comfortable my family and I are with the coaching staff,” Fisher posted from his Twitter account, “and the emphasis the university has put on making basketball a priority, I’m committing to be a student-athlete at TCU.”

Getting a consensus top-75 prospect, who was once committed to UNLV, is a heck of a coup for being just a couple months on the job. It instantly shows the Frogs are going to be a player for some of the country’s top players, which is a necessity if you have designs on making a move up the ladder of arguably the country’s best league in the Big 12.

Maybe the most gratifying thing for TCU, though, is the reason Fisher publicly stated for making his decision, the school’s “making basketball a priority.” The hoops program has suffered immensely in the Big 12 (while the football program has flourished), winning a total of eight games in their four seasons (including a winless 2014), but the school sank $72 million into renovating its arena, made an aggressive move in firing Trent Johnson and then went out and got its dream candidate, Dixon, an alum. Fisher’s commitment is the first time those moves have shown that commitment to basketball paying off.

 

Report: Izundu’s San Diego State transfer ban rescinded

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Washington State transfer Valentine Izundu will be visiting San Diego State after all.

Coach Ernie Kent has rescinded his restriction on the 6-foot-10 graduate transfer from visiting the Aztecs, according to a report from the Spokesman-Review, citing an anonymous source. Izundu will also be reportedly visiting Fresno State and UNLV.

Izundu had previously been barred from considering the Aztecs by Kent because of suspcisions of tampering. Izundu vigorously denied that was the case as at the center of the dispute was a trip he made to San Diego for spring break. He publicly said he did not have any contact with the SDSU coaching staff , though he attended an Aztecs NIT game.

Kent, though, appears to have relented, as many coaches who have similarly faces public pressure in such situations before him have. In this era where so much attention is being paid to player rights and welfare, there only seems to be growing public sentiment against programs restricting transfers beyond the absolute bare minimum is rarely going to go over well. It may make things more difficult for coaches and programs, but it’s the deck is largely already stacked in their favor in most every other instance.

Ex-Michigan State player Keith Appling faces weapons charges

Keith Appling
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DEARBORN, Mich. (AP) Authorities say former Michigan State basketball player Keith Appling faces charges including carrying a concealed weapon after he was found in possession of guns and marijuana in suburban Detroit.

The Wayne County prosecutor’s office says 24-year-old Appling was arrested outside a Dearborn club on Sunday night. Club security called police after seeing a man pull a gun from the trunk of a car.

Prosecutors say Appling was in the driver’s seat of the car when police arrived. Officers found a handgun under the driver’s seat, a loaded weapon in the trunk and a small amount of suspected marijuana.

Weapons and marijuana possession charges were announced Wednesday.

The court says he doesn’t have a lawyer on record.

Appling played for the Spartans from 2010-2014 and plays for the NBA’s development league.

UNLV transfer to finish career at Michigan State

UNLV forward Ben Carter, right, celebrates after his team defeated Oregon in an NCAA college basketball game Friday, Dec. 4, 2015, in Las Vegas. UNLV won 80-69. (AP Photo/John Locher)
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Former UNLV center Ben Carter announced on Wednesday that he will be transferring to Michigan State to finish his collegiate career.

Carter, who began his career at Oregon, averaged 8.6 points and 6.0 boards in his one season with UNLV before tearing his ACL in late January. He spent two seasons with the Ducks before transferring to Vegas, which is why he’s eligible immediately for the Spartans.

And that’s the biggest reason that Tom Izzo and company targeted him.

The Spartans lost Deyonta Davis to the NBA Draft after one season, a fact that became an inevitability midway through the year but one that the Spartans didn’t necessarily plan for heading into last season. Carter isn’t going to be an instant impact kind of player, particularly not when he’s coming off of an ACL injury, but he is a big body and a veteran presence on a front line that wasn’t going have much of either.