Weekend Preview: Sunday’s big, and not just on gridiron

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GAME OF THE WEEKEND: No. 21 San Diego State at No. 16 Kansas, Sun. 4:30 p.m.

This is a huge game not only for San Diego State, but for the Mountain West as well. The Aztecs have been one of the more surprising teams in the country this season, but they don’t exactly have a ton of great wins. They beat Creighton and Marquette, who both could end up in the tournament, and knocked off Washington as well, but that’s it. But here’s the thing: even that mediocre non-conference schedule places SDSU near the top of the MWC in terms of performance outside the league. The Mountain West as a whole needs this win.

Can they get it? Well, it’s not going to be easy. Andrew Wiggins was the talk of Lawrence entering the season, but over the course of the last month, the Jayhawks have become a team that pounds the ball into the paint. Joel Embiid, Perry Ellis, Tarik Black. Those are the guys that have shined for Kansas in recent games, and I’m not sure the Aztecs have the front court to deal with them. It will be interesting to see what happens when Wiggins guards Winston Shepard as well. Shepard has been sensational the last three games.

THE OTHER GAME OF THE WEEKEND: No. 10 Oregon at No. 20 Colorado, Sun. 5:00 p.m.

Oregon barely hung on to beat Utah on the road on Thursday night, meaning that the Ducks will head into Sunday’s visit to Colorado without a loss on their record and with a chance to sweep what is the most difficult road trip in the Pac-12 this season. These two teams are Arizona’s two biggest challengers in the conference.

FIVE MORE TO KEEP AN EYE ON:

  • No. 22 Iowa at No. 4 Wisconsin, Sun. 8:00 p.m.: The Jarrod Uthoff bowl! Wisconsin has been one of the most impressive teams nationally this season, but Iowa is a couple of ugly possessions away from being undefeated with wins over Villanova and Iowa State.
  • No. 5 Michigan State at Indiana, Sat. 2:00 p.m.: Indiana really needs to start piling up quality wins, and what better place to start than knocking off Michigan State. The Spartans are starting to hit their stride, however. Once they get healthy, this team will be scary-good.
  • No. 7 Duke at Notre Dame, Sat. 4:00 p.m.: Two interesting story lines here: Notre Dame will be getting their first real test post-Jerian Grant, and they’ll be doing so as Mike Brey takes on his former boss, Mike Krzyzewski, in the first ACC game for the Irish.
  • Virginia at Florida State, Sat. 4:00 p.m.: Does anyone have any idea how the ACC is going to play out once you get past Syracuse, Duke and North Carolina? Both FSU and UVA have to pieces for finish fourth in the league.
  • Oklahoma at Texas, Sat. 8:00 p.m.: The Red River Shootout! The Sooners are one of the more underrated teams in the Big 12, but Texas has been arguably the most surprising team in the country.
  • Cincinnati at No. 18 Memphis, Sat. 12:00 p.m.: It seems like everyone is talking about UConn and Louisville in the American, but Memphis and Cincinnati are both good enough to make some noise in league play. This will be a good gauge for a Bearcat team that has had some trouble scoring.

WHO’S ON UPSET ALERT?

  • No. 13 Iowa State at Texas Tech, Sat. 1:30 p.m.: There are few teams in the country that have a bigger difference between home and road performance than the Cyclones.
  • No. 17 UConn at SMU, Sat. 2:00 p.m.: UConn is overrated. It’s that simple. On nights where Shabazz Napier doesn’t go crazy, they are very, very beatable. Ask Houston, who picked the Huskies off on New Year’s Eve.
  • No. 6 Oklahoma State at Kansas State, Sat. 4:00 p.m.: Oklahoma State will be adjusting to life without Michael Cobbins — or Stevie Clark? — and will be doing so against a Kansas State team that has come on strong in the last month.
  • Northern Iowa at No. 8 Wichita State, Sun. 2:00 p.m.: The Shockers are going to be a tough team to beat at home, but if anyone is going to do it, it’s going to be Northern Iowa or Indiana State.

FIVE MORE THINGS TO WATCH FOR:

1) Yale heads to St. Louis to square off with the Billikens at 5:30 p.m. on the NBC Sports Network. You can stream the game online on the NBC Sports Live Extra App.

2) Pacific will pay a visit to No. 24 Gonzaga at 8:00 p.m. on Saturday. The Tigers have been the biggest surprise in the WCC this year.

3) Both of the top two teams in the country will be playing at home at 2:00 p.m. on Saturday. Washington will visits No. 1 Arizona after whipping Arizona State and Miami will head up to No. 2 Syracuse.

4) A couple of good games in the Big East this weekend. Butler visits Xavier at 2:00 p.m. Saturday while St. John’s pays a visit to Georgetown at 1:00 p.m.

5) In the ‘Are either of these teams for real?’ bowl, Pitt will head down to Raleigh in their ACC opener to take on N.C. State at noon Saturday.

Washington’s Thybulle returning for senior season

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Matisse Thybulle will return to Washington for his senior season after contemplating declaring for the NBA draft following a junior campaign in which he was named the Pac-12 defensive player of the year.

“The NBA is really enticing and it was definitely something that I seriously considered when the season was over,” Thybulle told the Seattle Times. “I talked it over with my family and we came to the conclusion that it would be in my best interest to stay and get my degree (in communications) and grow as a basketball player and take this last year to mature and fine tune everything so I can be fully prepared to take that next step when it’s time.”

The 6-foot-5 guard averaged 11.2 points, 2.9 rebounds, 2.0 assists and 3.0 steals per game last season. He shot 44.5 percent from the field and 36.5 percent from 3-point range.

“I talked to coach (Mike Hopkins) and he gave me some good advice that was honestly something that helped in the grand scheme of things,” Thybulle said. “He told me that if I do it (enter the draft), then I should be all in because that’s what I’m going to be up against is a whole bunch of guys fighting for their lives. He thought it would be a better idea for me to stay in school until I’m at that point.”

Washington is awaiting the decision of Noah Dickerson, who declared for the draft but has not hired an agent. The 6-foot-8 averaged 15.5 points and 8.4 rebounds last season.

Koby McEwen transferring to Marquette

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Steve Wojciechowski added a significant piece to his 2019-20 team over the weekend.

Koby McEwen announced his intention to transfer to Marquette from Utah State late Sunday evening.

“I would like to thank God, my family, inner circle and all the schools/coaches that recruited me during this process!” McEwen tweeted. “With that being said, I’m proud to announce that I’ll be furthering my college career at Marquette University.”

McEwen picked the Golden Eagles over fellow finalists Creighton and Grand Canyon after he decided to transfer when the Aggies announced South Dakota coach Craig Smith was taking over the program last month. The 6-foot-4 guard averaged 15.6 points, 5.4 rebounds and 3.2 assists per game while shooting 40 percent from the field and 30 percent from 3-point range as a sophomore.

After sitting out the upcoming season, McEwen will have to years of eligibility remaining. Marquette went 21-14 last season, but missed the NCAA tournament for the third time in Wojciechowski’s four years in Milwaukee.

Minnesota adds Vanderbilt transfer Payton Willis

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Minnesota has added some depth for the future.

The Golden Gophers received a pledge from Vanderbilt transfer Payton Willis over the weekend, giving him a guard with two seasons of eligibility remaining starting in 2019-20.

Willis will sit out the upcoming season under NCAA transfer rules.

The 6-foot-4 guard played a limited role in two seasons in Nashville, never averaging more than 18. 5 minutes or 5.2 points per game. He scored in double figures in three games as a sophomore.

Willis was a top-150 prospect in the Class of 2016 coming out of Fayetteville, Ark. with offers from the likes of Tulsa, Rice and Dayton. Vandy and Minnesota were his two high-major offers.

After being ranked in the top-15, Minnesota was beset by injury and suspensions last season as they limped to the finish line in a 15-17 season that featured losses in 12 of its last 13 games.

Richard Pitino still has two available scholarships for the 2018-19 campaign.

Report: Quade Green returning to Kentucky

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John Calipari just landed a critical recruit for 2018-19, and he was already on the roster.

Quade Green, who averaged 25 minutes per game last season, is returning to Kentucky for his sophomore season, his mother told the Lexington Herald-Leader on Monday.

Given that six Wildcat players have entered the draft (Kevin Knox, Shai Gilgeous-Alexander and Hami Diallo are signing with agents), getting the 6-foot point guard back for a second season is a massive deal for Calipari and Co. The Wildcats have always been at their best under Calipari with returning players as the cornerstones of the roster with talented one-and-dones providing the extra boost. Getting one such returner at the point guard position is even more critical.

Green, who came to Kentucky as a five-star recruit last year, averaged 9.3 points and 2.7 assists per game while shooting 45.1 percent from the field and a respectable 37.1 percent from 3-point range, an area where Kentucky continually needs help.

With Green back in the fold, Kentucky will now await the decisions of PJ Washington, Wenyen Gabriel and Jarred Vanderbilt, who are all going through the pre-draft process without hiring agents, which will potentially allow them to return to school and bolster a Kentucky roster has the look of a top-five team.

CBT Podcast: NBA Draft Early Entry Deadline: Winners, losers and who has the most on the line?

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The NBA Draft Early Entry Deadline came and went on Sunday night, meaning there are now roughly 60 college players that have signed with an agent and another 100 or so that have declared for the draft while retaining their college eligibility. Who were the winners? Who were the losers? Who has the most on the line? Sam Vecenie of the Game Theory podcast joined Rob Dauster to talk through all of it. The rundown:

OPEN: What do NBA teams value in players these days?

10:00: Villanova has more on the line during this testing the water process than anyone

19:00: Just how important was De’Andre Hunter’s decision to return to Virginia

25:25: Gonzaga getting Rui and Killian Tillie back makes them a title favorite

32:10: Nevada has a top ten season on the line with the Martin twins and Jordan Caroline

36:15: #RANTALERT – The decision to turn pro is so much more complicated than “is he a first round pick”

48:30: Rapid fire: Maryland, Kansas, Syracuse, Nebraska, Purdue and Michigan. What do they have on the line?