Marcus Smart

Weekend Preview: Saturday is the best slate of games this season

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GAME OF THE WEEKEND: No. 9 Oklahoma State at No. 15 Kansas, 4:00 p.m.

This is going to be a doozy. Let’s start with the obvious: Oklahoma State and Kansas are the two best teams in the Big 12. And while the preseason luster of Marcus Smart vs. Andrew Wiggins (who, at the time, were considered the two favorites to win National Player of the Year) has faded a bit, there is still a bit of animosity there. Marcus Smart called out this year’s freshmen class in the preseason. He also infamously did a back-flip after the Pokes knocked off Kansas in Stillwater last year. Add in the intrigue of Bill Self being a graduate of Oklahoma State and, well, you have your pick of storylines heading into this one.

The basketball should be just as intriguing, although I think that Oklahoma State is going to have some trouble with Kansas for one reason: Joel Embiid. He may actually have the highest ceiling of any prospect in this draft class, and as a 7-footer with a low-post game, he is going to give an Oklahoma State team lacking in post front court depth problems. Travis Ford is really going to feel the loss of Michael Cobbins on Saturday.

 

THE OTHER GAME OF THE WEEKEND: No. 22 Pittsburgh at No. 2 Syracuse, Sat. 4:00 p.m.

Since having one intriguing game on the docket at 4:00 p.m. on Saturday isn’t enough, why don’t we just go ahead and have the two best teams in the ACC square off at the same time as well. That’s right, I said the “two best teams in the ACC”. Pitt and Syracuse, longtime Big East rivals, are now taking over Tobacco Road. Part of me loves this, part of it breaks my Big East-born-and-raised heart, but what I know for certain is that this matchup doesn’t have any shortage of storylines, either.

As far as the actual game is concerned, I think Pitt actually matches up fairly well with the Orange. Lamar Patterson is the prototype for high-post zone busters given his size and skill, James Robinson isn’t going to be flustered by Syracuse’s length and ability to force turnovers, and the Panthers can get to the offensive glass against the zone. But playing without Durand Johnson, one of their better perimeter shooters, is going to hurt.

FIVE  TO KEEP AN EYE ON:

  • Tennessee at No. 13 Kentucky, Sat. 12:00 p.m.: Kentucky isn’t going to have a chance to pick up too many quality wins in the SEC this season, and given their mediocre resume to date and a loss to Arkansas this week, they cannot afford to lose to a Tennessee team that is, quite frankly, desperate.
  • No. 25 Oklahoma at No. 12 Baylor, Sat. 2:00 p.m.: Oklahoma has a ton of perimeter talent but they don’t have much front court depth. Baylor has a loaded front line. Neither team plays any defense, and both have a number of highlight reel dunkers. Fundamentals may go out the window, but it will be fun.
  • Indiana State at No. 5 Wichita State, Sat. 4:00 p.m.: If the Shockers are going to lose to anyone in Missouri Valley play, it’s probably going to be Indiana State and Jake Odum, who already own a win at Notre Dame this season.
  • Michigan at No. 3 Wisconsin, Sat. 6:00 p.m.: Wisconsin might be a bit overrated at this point, while Michigan, sans Mitch McGary, looks like they are finally finding their stride.
  • No. 18 Louisville at UConn, Sat. 9:00 p.m.: It’s ironic, really. UConn and Louisville are incredibly similar. They both have an all-american lead guard, a talented-but-enigmatic back court mate, an inconsistent wing forward and a front line that could use some depth. Shabazz Napier vs. Russ Smith is going to be must-see TV.

WHO’S ON UPSET ALERT?

  • N.C. State at No. 23 Duke, Sat. 2:00 p.m.: Duke struggles defending quick, penetrating guards. N.C. State has Cat Barber and Tyler Lewis, not to mention one of the best scorers in the country in T.J. Warren.
  • No. 8 Iowa State at Texas, Sat. 4:00 p.m.: Iowa State is a team that is notorious for struggling in road games. Texas may not be a tournament team this year, but they are nowhere near as bad as was originally thought.
  • UNLV at No. 10 San Diego State, Sat. 6:05 p.m.: UNLV is talented and desperate for a big win. They have the size to matchup with SDSU, and if DeVille Smith, Bryce Dejean-Jones and Kevin Olekaibe play like they did Wednesday, the Runnin’ Rebels are dangerous.
  • No. 16 UMass at Elon, Sat. 7:00 p.m.: Elon is the best team in the SoCon, coming off of a win at Davidson on Thursday. UMass is talented and 15-1, but they’ve had a tendency to start slow and struggle to beat teams they’re better than of late.
  • No. 4 Michigan State at Illinois, Sat. 8:00 p.m.: Are the Spartans healthy? Because if they aren’t, they could lose to anyone. And for all of Illinois’ issues this season, they have two talented guards and they can get after it defensively.

FIVE MORE THINGS TO WATCH FOR:

1) There are going to be three good games on the NBC Sports Network this weekend. There will be a double-header on Saturday, with George Mason heading to Rhode Island (12:30 p.m.) and Fordham visiting No. 24 Saint Louis (2:30 p.m.). On Sunday, there will be a CAA battle as Towson heads to Charleston at 3:30 p.m.

2) The Big Ten is going to churn out awesome matchups on a daily basis this season, and Minnesota at No. 14 Iowa at 1:00 p.m. on Sunday falls into that category. The Gophers looked great beating Ohio State at home. Road trips are a different story.

3) Doug McDermott continues his initiation into the Big East as No. 20 Creighton makes the trip to Providence on Saturday at 8:00 p.m.

4) Florida State heads to Virginia at noon on Saturday in a game that will have some real implications in the ACC standings. Both the ‘Noles and the ‘Hoos are sitting at 3-1 in ACC play..

5) A pair of SEC teams with unblemished league records hit the road on Saturday: Texas A&M at Mississippi State, Sat. 1:30 p.m., and No. 7 Florida at Auburn, Sat. 4:00 p.m.

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)
(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.