Weekend Preview: 14 ranked teams will be hitting the road this weekend

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GAME OF THE WEEKEND: No. 25 Kansas State at No. 18 Kansas, Sat. 2:00 p.m.

Back in October, this didn’t look like it was going to be much of a rivalry game this season. Kansas was a top five team and Kansas State lost three of their first five games, dropping their opener to Northern Colorado and getting drubbed by 27 points against Georgetown in Puerto Rico. But then Andrew Wiggins slowly-but-surely failed to be “Andrew Wiggins, greatest freshman ever” while Kansas State’s Marcus Foster turned into one of the nation’s 10 most impressive freshmen and here we are.

I know that the Jayhawks have stumbled a bit in non-conference play, but I still have a tough time seeing Bruce Weber’s club going into Phog Allen Fieldhouse and taking down Kansas. I don’t think they have the size inside to slow down the Jayhawk’s post game, and if Wayne Selden’s big night on Wednesday was indicative of what he’ll be providing this group in the coming months, KU is going to be a tough team to beat.

THE OTHER GAME OF THE WEEKEND: No. 20 Iowa at No. 3 Ohio State, Sun. 1:30 p.m.

After serving a one-game suspension during Thursday’s win over Northwestern, Iowa head coach Fran McCaffery will return to the Hawkeye bench on Sunday afternoon to lead his team into Columbus in a win that they really, truly need. The Hawkeyes are a really good team, but they’ve lost to the three best teams that they’ve played this season — Villanova, Iowa State and Wisconsin, who have a total of one loss — by all of 12 points. And in all three games, Iowa blew second half leads in games that they probably should have won. Can they finally pull out a win against an Ohio State team that came within a Keith Appling block of beating Michigan State at Michigan State?

FIVE  TO KEEP AN EYE ON:

  • North Carolina at No. 2 Syracuse, Sat. 12:00 p.m.: North Carolina is obviously going to win this game, right? They already have wins over Louisville, Kentucky and Michigan State to go along with their five losses this season. Consistency, it’s what the Tar Heels do. In all seriousness, if UNC struggled with Miami’s zone defense, Syracuse is going to give them fits.
  • No. 9 Iowa State at Oklahoma, Sat. 12:00 p.m.: This is a good gauge game for Iowa State. They’ve been impressive this season, but I’m reserving judgement until I see them take down a quality opponent on the road. Oklahoma is a quality opponent and this game is on the road. Expect a shootout.
  • Minnesota at No. 5 Michigan State, Sat. 2:15 p.m.: The Spartans are, for my money, the best team in the country that doesn’t reside in Tucson, but Minnesota can sneak up on you. They press and they force turnovers, and we all saw what happened when Ohio State got up in Michigan State defensively on Tuesday night.
  • Xavier at Creighton, 3:05 p.m. Sun: Outside of Villanova, these may be the two best teams in the Big East this season. Throw in the fact that they also feature the league’s two best players — Doug McDermott and Semaj Christon — and this quickly becomes the best game in a strong Big East slate this weekend.
  • Stanford at No. 17 Oregon, Sun. 5:00 p.m.: Stanford is coming off of a loss at Oregon State, while the Ducks got dropped by Cal at home on Thursday. Suffice to say, both teams really need this win.

WHO’S ON UPSET ALERT?

  • No. 11 Oklahoma State at West Virginia, Sat. 4:00 p.m.: Are we really going to need to pay attention to West Virginia in the Big 12 race this season? They’ve had some impressive performances in non-conference play, but their strength — back court play — matches up too well with Oklahoma State’s strength.
  • No. 10 Florida at Arkansas, Sat. 1:00 p.m.: Florida is really good this season, but if Scottie Wilbekin is hampered after the ankle injury he suffered this week, the Gators could be in trouble. Arkansas is a tough team to beat at Bud Walton Arena and they are going to bring waves of pressure.
  • No. 8 Villanova at St. John’s, Sat. 1:00 p.m.: One of the things that makes Villanova dangerous this season is their ability to create mismatches when they go to a smaller lineup. St. John’s has the athletes to nullify those mismatches. But will the Johnnies lack of an offense survive Villanova’s defensive pressure?
  • No. 15 Colorado at Washington, Sun. 3:00 p.m.: The Buffs, and specifically Spencer Dinwiddie, were awful on Wednesday when they were taken to overtime by Washington State. If they play like that on Saturday, Washington will beat them.
  • No. 13 San Diego State at Air Force, Sun. 4:00 p.m.: SDSU’s strength is in their front court,but Air Force runs a Princeton-style system that will pull the Aztec big men away from the basket. Tre Coggins and company will need to shoot the ball well from the perimeter if they want to pull off this upset.

FIVE MORE THINGS TO WATCH FOR:

1) There are six more ranked teams heading on the road this weekend:

  • No. 16 Duke at Clemson, Sat. 2:00 p.m.
  • No. 24 Memphis at Temple, Sat. 3:00 p.m. Sat
  • No. 14 Kentucky at Vanderbilt, Sat. 3:30 p.m.
  • No. 6 Wichita State at Missouri State, Sat. 8:00 p.m.
  • No. 23 Illinois at Northwestern, Sun. 7:30 p.m.
  • No. 1 Arizona at USC, Sun. 9:00 p.m.

2) NBC Sports Network will be featuring three games this weekend: St. Bonaventure visiting No. 19 UMass, Rhode Island heading to D.C. to take on George Washington and Princeton squaring off with Penn on Sunday. Watch them all via NBC Sports Live Extra.

3) Saint Louis at Dayton are two of the best teams in the Atlantic 10 this year and they will be facing off early on Saturday to get the day kick-started.

4) SMU pays a visit to No. 12 Louisville on Sunday afternoon. After losing to Memphis on Thursday, the Cardinals really, really need this win in a big way.

5) Big game in the ACC standings between Virginia and N.C. State. There are six or seven teams sitting in the middle of the pack in that league that have a chance to finish third in the conference. Virginia and N.C. State are two of them.

Pro golfer, Wisconsin fan Steve Stricker does not like J.P. Macura

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Wisconsin resident, Badger fan and pro golfer Steve Stricker was not happy after UW lost to Xavier on Thursday night.

For starters, his team lost.

That sucks.

Then J.P. Macura went and rubbed it in everyone’s face, doing the Gator Chomp at the student section after he threw down an alley-oop with less than a minute left:

Stricker was not having any of it:

Me?

I loved it.

And maybe, just maybe, the fact that Wisconsin’s entire student section spent the game telling Macura that he’s an a****** had something to do with his reaction.

Also … how many middle fingers do you see in this picture?

Thank you Badger fans. What a hostile environment.. I appreciate the love

A post shared by Jp Macura (@jpmacura) on

Lonnie Walker hurt as No. 11 Hurricanes beat A&M 90-59

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CORAL GABLES, Fla. (AP) — Highly touted freshman Lonnie Walker IV twisted his left ankle Thursday night, and coach Jim Larranaga was sore himself after the latest lopsided win by the 11th-ranked Miami Hurricanes.

Larranaga said Walker wasn’t seriously hurt, and the coach seemed more concerned about his team’s effort and focus in a 90-59 victory over Florida A&M.

“I didn’t think we were very good from start to finish,” Larranaga said. “We need to play a whole lot harder, and better defensively. We looked sluggish. I told the team I was extremely disappointed in our effort.”

Walker was assisted to the locker room in the first half after stepping on another player. The Hurricanes are scheduled to play La Salle next Wednesday in Walker’s hometown of Reading, Pennsylvania.

“We won’t know for a couple of days, but I think he’s fine,” Larranaga said.

Is he likely to play in the next game?

“Oh, he’s going to play in Reading,” Larranaga said.

Trump urges 3 UCLA players to thank China leader for release

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WASHINGTON (AP) — President Donald Trump urged three suspended UCLA basketball players on Thursday to thank China’s president for their freedom after they shoplifted in China.

The president’s suggestion came a day after he tweeted: “Do you think the three UCLA basketball players will say thank you President Trump. They were headed for 10 years in jail.”

The trio apologized that day and publicly thanked Trump, who was in Asia last week, for his help. On Thursday morning, the president sent another tweet: “You’re welcome. go out and give a big Thank You to President Xi Jinping of China who made your release possible.”

In the same tweet, Trump said, “HAVE A GREAT LIFE! Be careful, there are many pitfalls on the long and winding road of life!”

Later in the day, as he rallied House Republicans before a crucial vote on a tax overhaul, Trump talked about his efforts to release the players

Rep. Steve Womack of Arkansas said Trump “personally engaged the Chinese president and it turned out the way it did,” with the players released. He said China is known for being “extremely punitive” with criminal suspects, adding: “This could have been a disaster for those families.”

Freshmen LiAngelo Ball, Jalen Hill and Cody Riley were detained in Hangzhou for questioning last week before the Bruins beat Georgia Tech in their season-opening game in Shanghai. The rest of the team returned home Saturday.

Athletic director Dan Guerrero said the shoplifting occurred when the team had 90 minutes of free time on Nov. 6 in Hangzhou. He said the three took items from three stores.

The players are suspended indefinitely, and coach Steve Alford says they will have to earn their way back onto the team.

Weekend Preview: We’ve reached the oversaturation point of early-season exempt events

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Typically, I use these Weekend Previews to discuss the best games of the weekend, but this weekend, there just aren’t any games that are actually worth talking about.

So I’m going to go on a rant instead.

We’ve officially reached the point of over-saturation when it comes to the early-season exempt events.

This is the second weekend of the college basketball season and we’re right in the middle of what should be one of the better weeks of college hoops. The Gavitt Games are happening, the Champions Classic more or less lived up to the hype and, starting on Thursday, we dove head first into tropical locale tournament season.

Except … these events all suck.

The Charleston Classic started on Thursday. Auburn beat Indiana State to advance and take on Temple, who dispatched Old Dominion. The winner of that game will take on the winner of Clemson and Hofstra, because Hofstra upset Dayton in the first round. There are four mid-major teams in the Charleston Classic, and none of the high-major teams look like they will be tournament-bound.

The Puerto Rico tip-off is even worse. It features teams from the Missouri Valley, Conference USA, the Sun Belt and the SoCon. The best team in the event is either an Iowa State team that lost to Milwaukee at home by double-digits, a Tulsa team that lost to Lamar at home, a South Carolina team that got picked off in the first round of the event or Boise State, who wasn’t picked to be in the top two of the Mountain West.

It won’t get any better when the Paradise Jam starts today. The three best teams in that event are Houston, Colorado and Wake Forest and features an opening round game between Mercer and Liberty.

There are also a number of events in the Northeast this weekend and next week. I live an hour from New York City and I won’t be making the trek up to any of the games at the Garden or the Barclays Center until next Saturday, and these are what are supposed to be big games being held there for the next eight days. I cover this sport for a living, but I’d rather watch on TV and spend time with my son than go see Pitt play Penn State or Texas Tech square off with Boston College.

Even the Maui Invitational isn’t all that intriguing. Cal is down. VCU is down. Michigan and Marquette have struggled early. LSU is intriguing but only in the sense that they appear to not be a train-wreck this year. If Notre Dame doesn’t play Wichita State in the final, that tournament will not feature a single must-see game.

Now granted, much of this is due to the fact that Nike pulled 14 power programs out of the exempt event rotation for the PK80, and I’ll admit, that event should be fun. But man, it was such a buzzkill when I realized that the 16-team event was really just two eight-team tournaments.

It makes sense – you can’t have conference rivals facing off in the same tournament – but it just never clicked for me.

Which brings me back around to the larger point that I wanted to make: Can we start doing away with some of these events and play marquee non-conference games on campus again? On Thursday night, we got a chance to see No. 15 Xavier pay a visit to Wisconsin for the Gavitt Games, and it was everything that we love about college basketball. Two elite programs featuring an all-american facing off in front of a raucous crowd that spent the entire second half letting J.P. Macura know that they think he is an a******. Ethan Happ, the best post player in the country, according to Chris Mack, got pissed about not getting a couple of foul calls and proceeded to will Wisconsin back into the game only to see Trevon Bluiett bury two dagger threes in a minute stretch to put the game away.

After hitting those threes, Bluiett proceeded to shush the crowd. A minute later, after throwing down an alley-ooo to put Xavier up 12 with just seconds left on the clock, Macura proceeded to do the Gator Chomp over and over and over at the Wisconsin student section to remind them of who knocked the Badgers out of last year’s NCAA tournament.

That was awesome!

Yes, Macura was a little over the top, and yes, the Wisconsin fans probably earned Macura’s trolling, but everything about that game was what makes college basketball great.

And it was a game between the No. 15 team in America and an unranked Wisconsin program. It wasn’t even a marquee matchup. The environment at the Champions Classic rivaled that – there really is nothing better than having an arena packed with fan bases from both teams playing – but when those neutral site games don’t feature blue blood programs or teams with large alumni bases in the city or fans that are willing to spend the money to travel, it’s boring. Virginia Tech got upset by Saint Louis at Madison Square Garden last night and I’m pretty sure I could have put my son to sleep while sitting behind the basket.

So this is my plea to the NCAA tournament Selection Committee: Make it obvious just how much you value quality road wins in non-conference play. Make them so valuable that programs simply cannot afford not to play them. Make Xavier’s win at Wisconsin on Thursday night worth at least a seed line even if Wisconsin ends up being a bubble team.

That’s the only way we’re going to get teams to play great games on campus in the fall.

No. 15 Xavier’s win over Wisconsin should, and will, be rewarded by Selection Committee

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This Wisconsin team is probably not going to end up being quite as good as past Wisconsin teams.

That’s inevitable when you lose the players that they lost to graduation, but it also doesn’t change the fact that No. 15 Xavier went into the Kohl Center and snagged a win that is going to look quite good on Selection Sunday.

The Musketeers took care of the Badgers, 80-70, thanks to 25 points and nine boards from Trevon Bluiett and 20 points from J.P. Macura. Bluiett struggled to find a rhythm for much of the game, but he hit a pair of critical jumpers midway through the second half to stem a Wisconsin run and, with the game tied and just over a minute left on the clock, buried three-pointers on back-to-back possessions to lock up the win.

For a stretch midway through the second half, it looked like Wisconsin was getting ready to run away with this game. Ethan Happ – who finished with 21 points and eight assists and who Xavier head coach Chris Mack referred to as “one of the best post players in the entire country” – was in the midst of taking the game over and Wisconsin’s sold out Kohl Center was in full voice. That’s when Bluiett went into takeover mode, quieting the crowd and getting Xavier out of Madison with a win.

That shouldn’t be overlooked, and if there is any justice in the world, it will be the kind of thing that the Musketeers get rewarded for come Selection Sunday.

I enjoy the neutral site tournaments that pop up every year. They create some drama every November, and there are always some fun matchups over the weekend and afternoon basketball during the week. That’s great. But the best part of college hoops is the environment of playing a big game on campus. The crowd, the student section, players like Macura doing the Gator Chomp at the Wisconsin fans – the Badgers lost to Florida in the NCAA tournament last year – after they spent the entire second half bombarding him with ‘a******’ chants every time he touched the ball.

It was great.

And it will be better if that kind of a win, even against a Wisconsin team that is probably closer to being top 40-good than top 25-good, is something that the Selection Committee values. Those changes are supposedly coming, and it will be a good thing for the sport. Give top 15 teams an incentive to play road games in November.

Because Thursday night’s clash in the Kohl Center was everything that is great about college hoops.