Andrew Wiggins (Photo by Ed Zurga/Getty Images)

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.

Cyclones add big man for 2017

LOUISVILLE, KY - MARCH 15:  Head coach Steve Prohm of the Murray State Racers shouts from the sidelines against the Colorado State Rams  during the second round of the 2012 NCAA Men's Basketball Tournament at KFC YUM! Center on March 15, 2012 in Louisville, Kentucky.  (Photo by Andy Lyons/Getty Images)
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Iowa State secured its first commitment Wednesday of what will be a pivotal class of forwards in 2017.

KeyShawn Faezell of Mississippi committed to Steve Prohm and the Cyclones, he announced Wednesday.

“After praying to God to lead me in the right path and talking with my dad,” Faezell wrote, “I’ve decided to further my education and basketball career under coach Prohm at Iowa State University.”

Faezell, a 6-foot-9 consensus top-150 forward in the 2017 class, joins wing Terrence Lewis as the first two members of a class that figures to number at least six for ISU. The addition of Faezell is key because ISU will be losing three members of its frontcourt it will likely be leaning on heavily in 2015-16 in Deonte Burton, Merrill Holden and Darrell Bowie. A 2016 big man, Cameron Lard, has also yet to enroll in classes this fall due to academic issues, making Faezell’s commitment even more important should Lard be unable to get clearance.

“They need some people to come in and compete,” Feazell told the Ames Tribune. “I think I fit in the program.”

Prohm’s teams dating back to his Murray State days have always been guard-oriented and guard-heavy, but beginning to stack the roster with quality big men will be key as he looks to continue the Cyclones’ success in the Big 12, which includes a school-record five-straight NCAA tournament appearances.

BYU adds commit for 2019

Dave Rose
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BYU added a commitment from a high school senior this week, but the Cougars won’t be seeing him on campus until 2019.

Kolby Lee, a 6-foot-9 forward from Idaho, pledged to BYU on Monday evening, but won’t suit up until after serving a two-year mission for the Church of Latter Day Saints, according to the Deseret News.

“I had a great feeling about BYU, and I prayed about it,” Lee told the paper. “I just feel like it’s the right fit for me. It just seems right. It feels right.”

Lee chose BYU over offers from  Utah State, Boise State and UC Davis. He was rated a four-star prospect by ESPN and three by Scout.

His decision to forego immediately joining BYU certainly isn’t a new wrinkle for the Cougars, who routinely see their players either delay their initial eligibility or pause it mid-career while serving on missions.

Self pays freshman Jackson a major compliment

Josh Jackson, from Napa, Calif.,, dunks over Nancy Mulkey, from Cypress, Texas, as he competes in the slam dunk contest during the McDonald's All-American Jam Fest, Monday, March 28, 2016, in Chicago. (AP Photo/Matt Marton)
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Freshman phenom production under Bill Self has been something of a contentious topic. Many fault the coach, who has won one national title and 12-straight Big 12 championships, for not developing one-and-done talent to their fullest potential during their single-season stays in Lawrence. Cliff Alexander and Cheick Diallo are Exhibit 1-A and 1-B for this argument in recent years.

Whatever outside criticism there is (Andrew Wiggins did go No. 1 overall just 2 years ago, after all), Self isn’t shying away from hyping the latest freshman with big expectations to come to KU. When asked who the greatest athlete of all-time is at the school’s annual Tradition Night last week, Self had a simple, if tongue-and-cheek, response.

“I’ll say Josh Jackson,” Self said of the the 6-foot-8 shooting guard ranked No. 1 in his class, according to Lawrence Journal-World.

With others answering with the likes of Michael Jordan and Muhammed Ali, it’s pretty fair to say Self was playing to the crowd with the answer, but it’s still telling that he was willing to deliver such a sound bite, even if it was before a welcoming audience. Self didn’t try to seriously depress expectations for Wiggins, a player Jackson is often compared to, and it looks like he won’t for Jackson as well.

Jackson, though, won’t have the burden Wiggins had as there’s one of the country’s best backcourts in Frank Mason II and Devonte Graham to help shoulder the workload for the Jayhawks.

 

ACC non-commital on HB2 stance

John Swofford
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With North Carolina unwilling to rescind their controversial so-called bathroom bill, the NBA has withdrawn its All-Star Game from the state this year and numerous high-profile music acts have canceled performances as a result.

The ACC is declining to join them with a hard-line, or really any, position.

“We don’t want to damage our league with any premature decisions,” commissioner John Swofford said on The David Glenn Show. “We’ll just see how it plays out.”

The ACC, of course, has quite the presence in the state with North Carolina, N.C. State, Duke and Wake Forest all in the Tar Heel State. Swofford’s comments are sure to draw the interest of the LGBT community, which has roundly been critical of the bill, which requires people to use the bathroom which corresponds to the gender on their birth certificate, and has recently been active in college athletics, opposing the Big 12’s potential inclusion of BYU in its expansion plans over concerns of the Church of Latter Day Saints school’s honor code.

North Carolina’s bill has also drawn the eye of the NCAA, which is requiring potential championship sights to provide information on local anti-discrimination laws.

One of the loudest voices in the ACC, Duke coach Mike Krzyzewski, has come out against the law.

“It’s an embarrassing bill,” Coach K said last month.

The Champions Classic renewed through 2019

LAWRENCE, KS - FEBRUARY 27: Bill Self head coach of the Kansas Jayhawks claps for his team as they celebrate winning the Big 12 Conference Championship after they defeated Texas Tech Red Raiders 67-58 at Allen Fieldhouse on February 27, 2016 in Lawrence, Kansas. With the win, Kansas clinched its 12th straight conference championship. (Photo by Ed Zurga/Getty Images)
Ed Zurga/Getty Images
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The Champions Classic is back, baby!!!

On Wednesday, the four schools that participate in the event — Kentucky, Duke, Kansas and Michigan State — announced that they have signed deals to extend the life of the doubleheader for another three years.

This is terrific news. The Champions Classic is always the best early-season event of the season, an annual double-header that always ends up putting together two of the best non-conference games in packed NBA arenas. This year, it features Duke, the consensus preseason No. 1 team in the country, squaring off with Kansas, who is a consensus top three team with the No. 1 freshman in the class, Josh Jackson, on their roster, in one game.

The other game? Kentucky, the third consensus top three team nationally, going up against Tom Izzo and Michigan State, who will be, at worst, a top 15 team in the preseason polls.

So yeah, we’re going to get a pair of sensational basketball games in Madison Square Garden on Nov. 15th. MSG also just so happens to be the best arena to watch a great neutral site basketball game.

It’s going to be awesome.

There’s only one possible way to make it better: turn it into a two-day event, with the winners squaring off for the Champions Classic title the following night.

Make it happen.

Anyway, here’s the schedule:

Nov. 14, 2017 (United Center, Chicago)
Kansas vs. Kentucky
Duke vs. Michigan State

Nov. 13, 2018 (Bankers Life Fieldhouse, Indianapolis)
Michigan State vs. Kansas
Duke vs. Kentucky

Nov. 12, 2019 (Madison Square Garden, New York)
Kansas vs. Duke
Michigan State vs. Kentucky