Marcus Smart

Pregame Shootaround: Conference play hits full swing

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GAME OF THE DAY: No. 6 Oklahoma State at Kansas State (4 p.m., ESPNU)

This game is much bigger for the No. 6 Cowboys than might appear at face value. Following the loss of starting center Michael Cobbins for the season with an Achilles’ tendon injury, and freshman point guard Stevie Clark was arrested — but not charged — for possession of marijuana during a traffic stop earlier in the week. Will the Cowboys be prepared for a Kansas State team playing really good basketball after the week filled with distractions? The Wildcats have won eight straight and will be hungry to beat a ranked conference opponent in their home building. One thing worth watching: How will Kansas State freshman guard Marcus Foster handle the pressure of facing Marcus Smart?

THE OTHER GAME OF THE DAY: No. 7 Duke at Notre Dame (4 p.m., CBS)

Is this a new and budding ACC basketball rivalry? There were some interesting remarks made in the summer between the programs and this is Notre Dame’s inaugural game as a member of the ACC. Although the Irish have struggled to find themselves since the loss of Jerian Grant, they should be fired up at a chance to face Duke and one of the best players in the country in Jabari Parker. Under Mike Brey, Notre Dame is a fantastic 12-6 against top-10 programs at home and Duke has yet to play a true road game this season.

WHO’S GETTING UPSET? No. 17 Connecticut at SMU (2 p.m., ESPNU)

This wouldn’t be an Earth-shattering upset by any means, but Connecticut is still the ranked team with the major name recognition while SMU is still looking for signature wins under Larry Brown. Both teams enter the day 0-1 in the brand-new American Athletic Conference following UConn’s disappointing loss at Houston and SMU’s loss to Cincinnati, so each team will be hungry to right the ship going forward. It should also be a lot of fun to see SMU point guard Nic Moore — one of the underrated floor generals in all of college basketball — take on UConn’s backcourt.

MID-MAJOR GAME OF THE DAY: Denver at St. Joseph’s, (2 p.m.)

Denver has struggled to a 7-7 start and was one of the favorites in the Summit League, but they’re still trying to figure things out as they travel to visit a good Atlantic 10 opponent in St. Joseph’s. Although the Pioneers have played a difficult schedule, they still have some bad losses on their resume and Chris Udofia needs to find his perimeter shot, as he’s struggled from that area this season. St. Joseph’s, meanwhile, is winners of four straight games and would love to keep that momentum going heading into the grind of the A-10

FIVE THINGS TO KNOW

1) Saturday’s contest between North Carolina Central and Wagner has been canceled due to the storm that meteorologists are calling “Hercules”. This is the third game this week to be canceled or postponed after Iona’s MAAC contest with Quinnipiac was postponed from Thursday to Monday and no makeup has been announced for Friday’s postponed South Dakota State and Buffalo contest. This could be something to watch the next few days with the winter weather getting very bad in some parts of the country.

2) Syracuse also makes its ACC debut on Saturday, as the No. 2 Orange look to become the first power conference team to win its league in the first year of play since Arkansas in 1992. The Orange open ACC play with a home game against Miami.

3) Is an interesting Pac-12 clash in the making when Washington visits No. 1 Arizona? The Huskies are only 9-5, but they were impressive in a road win at Arizona State on Thursday to open the conference season and they would love to pick up the sweep in their trip through Arizona.

4) A couple of interesting Big East games to monitor on Saturday include St. John’s visiting former Big East foe Georgetown while Big East newbies Butler and Xavier collide when the Bulldogs travel to Cincinnati. In each game, the road team is 0-1 and the home team is 1-0 and St. John’s and Butler will look to jumpstart their Big East season with a road win.

5) Pittsburgh travels to North Carolina State in a game that should help dictate how good both teams really are. The Panthers are new in the ACC but travel to Raleigh as a 12-1 team thanks to their light non-conference schedule and they’ll be tested by a Wolfpack team that has won eight of its last nine games against mostly inferior competition.

THE REST OF THE TOP 25:

  • Nebraska at No. 3 Ohio State, 12:00 p.m., BTN
  • No. 5 Michigan State at Indiana, 2:00 p.m., CBS
  • Richmond at No. 12 Florida, 3:00 p.m., ESPN3
  • No. 13 Iowa State at Texas Tech, 1:30 p.m., ESPN3
  • No. 14 Louisville at Rutgers, 6:00 p.m., CBSSN
  • Cincinnati at No. 18 Memphis, 12:00 p.m., ESPN2
  • Miami of Ohio at No. 23 UMass, 7:00 p.m.
  • Pacific at No. 24 Gonzaga, 8:00 p.m., ROOT
  • Long Beach State at No. 25 Missouri, 5:00 p.m.

NOTABLES:

  • Georgia Tech at Maryland, 2:00 p.m., ESPN3
  • Cornell at St. Bonaventure, 2:00 p.m., NBCSN
  • Penn State at Illinois, 2:15 p.m., BTN
  • Creighton at Seton Hall, 3:00 p.m., Fox Sports 1
  • Virginia at Florida State, 5:00 p.m., ESPN2
  • Yale at Saint Louis, 5:30 p.m., NBCSN
  • Oklahoma at Texas, 8:00 p.m., Longhorn Network
  • Dayton at Ole Miss, 8:00 p.m., ESPN3

Swanigan staying for sophomore season

Purdue's Vince Edwards (12), Purdue's Caleb Swanigan (50) and Purdue's A.J. Hammons (20) celebrate during the second half of an NCAA college basketball game against the Illinois in the quarterfinals at the Big Ten Conference tournament, Friday, March 11, 2016, in Indianapolis. Purdue won 89-58. (AP Photo/Michael Conroy)
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Purdue will once again be rolling out a formidable frontcourt in the 2016-17 season.

Boilermaker big man Caleb Swanigan is withdrawing from the NBA Draft to return to West Lafayette for his sophomore season, the school announced Wednesday.

The NBA is right there and always will be,” Swanigan said in the school’s press release, “but you always have to have patience and do what’s best for you.”

Purdue is losing 7-foot senior A.J. Hammons, but will be once again teaming Swanigan with Isaac Haas (7-2) and Vince Edwards (6-8) that will allow them to roll out a supersized lineup that is sure to be a difficult one to face off against.

The 6-foot-9, 250-pound Swanigan, who likely would have landed as a second-round pick, averaged 10.2 points, 8.3 rebounds and 1.2 assists and was a finalist for the Wayman Tisdale Award for the country’s top freshman.

“We are excited that (Swanigan) has withdrawn from the NBA Draft and will return to Purdue,” head coach said Matt Painter in a statement released by the school. “He has the potential to make a huge jump from his freshman season and will be a big part of what we do next year. He received great experience going through this process and will use the feedback he received to make him a more diverse player.”

Purdue is probably a rung down from Michigan State and Wisconsin at the top of the league, but the return of Swanigan pulls them closer to competing at the top of the league next season.

USC’s Nikola Jovanovic not expected to return to USC

Southern California forward Nikola Jovanovic pauses on the court during an NCAA college basketball game against Washington State, Friday, Jan. 1, 2016, in Pullman, Wash. (AP Photo/Ted S. Warren)
(AP Photo/Ted S. Warren)
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Nikola Jovanovic’s college career has come to a close.

The USC center will not withdraw his name from NBA Draft consideration by Wednesday’s 11:59 p.m., a source confirmed to NBCSports.com. Jovanovic, a 6-foot-11 Serbian, averaged 12.3 points and 7.0 boards as a junior with the Trojans.

Jovanovic is not expected to be drafted, which means that Andy Enfield’s club will be losing two players to the professional ranks with eligibility to spare that likely won’t end up on an NBA roster next season. Julian Jacobs, who averaged 11.6 points, 5.5 assists and 4.9 boards, signed with an agent back in April.

The Trojans were a top 25 team last season despite many considering them to still be “a year away”. But with two starters departing, the Trojans will be a borderline preseason top 25 team as opposed to a top 15 team.

Marcus Lee withdrawing from the draft, transferring from Kentucky

Kentucky forward Marcus Lee dunks during the first half of a second-round men's college basketball game against Indiana in the NCAA Tournament, Saturday, March 19, 2016, in Des Moines, Iowa. (AP Photo/Charlie Neibergall)
(AP Photo/Charlie Neibergall)
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For the second time this season and just the sixth time in John Calipari’s tenure at Kentucky, the Wildcats are losing a player to transfer.

Marcus Lee announced on Wednesday that he will be withdrawing from the NBA Draft, but the 6-foot-9 forward will not be returning to Kentucky. He will be transferring out of the program to a new school.

“I want to thank the University of Kentucky, the basketball staff and the Big Blue Nation for supporting me over the years,” Lee said. “I’m sorry it took me so long to come to this decision, but I’m trying to do what’s right for me and my family. I’ll always think fondly of my time at Kentucky.”

Lee averaged 6.4 points and 6.0 boards this season, seeing his first major minutes as a member of the Wildcats. But he seemed destined for a bench role if he had opted to return to Kentucky this season as John Calipari has landed a recruiting class that includes five-star freshmen Bam Adebayo, Wenyen Gabriel and Sacha Killeya-Jones.

The tough part?

It does not appear that Lee will be able to finish his degree and be eligible to play immediately next season. He’ll have to sit a year at whatever school he opts to transfer to.

“Marcus Lee informed us today that he is pulling his name out of the draft but has decided he is going to transfer to a school out west to be closer to his family,” head coach John Calipari said. “We talked it through together and discussed the team next season, which he said had no bearing on his decision. I also told him he was a semester away from graduating. With that said, he was still adamant that, after the combine experience, a year off and regrouping would be the best thing. As always I support my players and their decisions.”

Lee joins Charles Matthews as members of last year’s Wildcats that are transferring out of the program. Darnell Dodson (Southern Miss), Stacey Poole (Georgia Tech) , Ryan Harrow (Georgia State) and Kyle Wiltjer (Gonzaga) are the other four players that have transferred.

Isaiah Briscoe to return to Kentucky

Eric Johnson, Isaiah Briscoe
(AP Photo/James Crisp)
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Isaiah Briscoe announced on Wednesday that he will be returning to Kentucky for his sophomore season.

The 6-foot-3 guard had one of the more difficult decisions to make for players in this year’s draft class. On the one hand, there was a very real chance that he would go through this draft without getting picked. He was a role-playing guard on last year’s team that isn’t a point guard, isn’t big enough to be a two-guard and was a total liability shooting the ball.

But he’s returning to a team that is as loaded as the group that won their first 38 games two years ago, particularly in the back court. He’ll be playing behind De’Aaron Fox and Malik Monk who both play essentially the same role that Briscoe does: playmaking guards that thrive with the ball in their hands. And since Briscoe can’t shoot, he may not be the best option at the three, where Derek Willis will likely see minutes.

In other words, Briscoe returning to school is essentially a two-year decision.

Kentucky now awaits an announcement from Marcus Lee on whether or not he will be returning to school.

James Blackmon Jr. to return to Indiana, Troy Williams to remain in draft

James Blackmon Jr.
(AP Photo/Doug McSchooler)
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James Blackmon Jr. will be returning to Indiana for his junior season, the school announced on Wednesday morning.

Blackmon missed the final 22 games of his sophomore season following surgery on his knee in December. As a freshman, Blackmon averaged 15.8 points and shot 46 percent from beyond the arc.

Indiana now awaits word on the decision that will be made by Troy Williams. A junior swingman, Williams has a shot to be an early second round pick if he opts to stay in the draft. There is a report from the Indy Star that he will keep his name in the draft, but the program has yet to confirm that news.

Losing Williams would hurt, but it’s a loss that Indiana can overcome. The emergence of O.G. Anunoby as a versatile defender means that the Hoosiers have a guy that can be a defensive stopper and can allow them to play small and fast. Anunoby also has not proven to be prone to bouts of poor decision-making, which arguably may make him a better fit.