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Weekend Preview: The Battle for Michigan marred by injury

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GAME OF THE WEEKEND: No. 21 Michigan at No. 3 Michigan State, Sat. 7:00 p.m.

Michigan State may be playing this game in the Breslin Center, but it’s hard to see a way that the Spartans will be considered a favorite heading into this game. We already know they are going to be without Branden Dawson, who broken a bone in his hand slapping a table during a film session this week. But it appears likely that they will be without Adreian Payne as well, as the big fella is still dealing with a sprained foot that is no where near healthy yet. 

The good news? The Wolverines don’t necessarily have the size inside to take advantage of the Spartans missing their two most athletic big men. Keith Appling and Gary Harris should be able to matchup with nik Stauskas and Caris LeVert. The key is going to be what happens with Glenn Robinson III. He’s been more aggressive of late, and the Spartans don’t have a win that can match his size and athleticism without Dawson.

The winner will take over sole possession of first place in the Big Ten.

THE OTHER GAME OF THE WEEKEND: No. 22 Kansas State at No. 16 Iowa State, Sat. 1:45 p.m.

Iowa State desperately needs this win. The Cyclones have lost three games in a row in league play. Their next three games? At Kansas, Oklahoma and at Oklahoma State. If this group doesn’t get things figured out quickly, there’s a real possibility that they could end up sitting at 2-7 in Big 12 play, a hole deep enough that it could cost them a trip to the NCAA tournament. Rebounding from seven straight losses is not an easy thing to do.

Kansas State is one of the best defensive teams in the country, and they’ll have their work cut out for them against an Iowa State team that thrives on the mismatches they can create with opposing front court. Thomas Gipson should have his way down low on Saturday, but who does he guard on Iowa State’s perimeter?

FIVE MORE TO KEEP AN EYE ON:

  • No. 4 Villanova at Marquette, Sat. 2:00 p.m.: Marquette has been one of the major disappointments in college basketball this season. This may be the most important game of their season, and they get Villanova days after the Wildcats got embarrassed by Creighton at home. 
  • Cal at UCLA, Sun. 8:00 p.m.: The Bears are still sitting all alone in second place in the Pac-12, but they are coming off of an embarrassing loss at USC. They really need to right the ship in Pauley Pavilion.
  • Florida State at No. 18 Duke, Sat. 12:00 p.m.: Duke has been rolling in the last two games, winning by a combined 56 points. The Seminoles have the athleticism to matchup with Duke’s forwards, however.
  • Tennessee at No. 6 Florida, Sat. 4:00 p.m.: Florida has had some issues offensively this season, and while Tennessee has been too up and down this year, there is a reason they were picked third in the SEC. Jarnell Stokes and Jeronne Maymon vs. Patric Young could be a wrestling match.
  • BYU at Gonzaga, Sat. 10:00 p.m.: Both BYU and Gonzaga can put up points in a hurry, and neither of them are very adept at defending. A high-scoring WCC game is a nice way to cap off a college hoops Saturday.

WHO’S GETTING UPSET?:

  • No. 2 Syracuse at Miami, Sat. 1:00 p.m.: Miami had the lead on Syracuse for about 35 minutes in the Carrier Dome. They’re a scrappy team that controls tempo and forces you to hit jumpers. Will Syracuse make enough jumpers in the MIA?
  • No. 10 Iowa at Northwestern, Sat. 12:00 p.m.: Northwestern is essentially the Big Ten’s version of Miami. They’ve also beaten Illinois, Indiana (on the road) and Purdue. Is Iowa next?
  • Texas at No. 24 Baylor, Sat. 1:30 p.m.: I don’t even know if this would technically be considered an upset at this point, but Texas is good and they have the size to matchup with Baylor in the paint. 
  • No. 9 Wisconsin at Purdue, Sat. 5:00 p.m.: The Badgers are skidding right now, playing the worst defense a Bo Ryan team has ever played. Will they right the ship in West Lafayette?
  • No. 8 Kansas at TCU, Sat. 9:00 p.m.: You haven’t forgotten already, have you?

FIVE THINGS TO WATCH FOR:

1) There will be four games on the NBC Sports Network this weekend. On Saturday, George Washington heads to George Mason at 12:00 p.m. while the 4:00 p.m. tip features Atlantic 10 conteders St. Joe’s at Richmond. On Sunday, Jon Severe and Fordham pay a visit to No. 13 UMass at noon while Harvard looks to bounce back from a loss to Florida Atlantic at Dartmouth at 4:00 p.m.

2) No. 5 Wichita State will put their undefeated record on the line at Drake on Sat. at 8:00 p.m. Whenever the Shockers go on the road in the MVC, they will be on upset watch.

3) The Big East will host two big games on Saturday. At 8:00 p.m., Georgetown will visit the sharpshooters at Creighton while 5-1 Xavier is at 4-2 Providence, which tips at 12:00 p.m. Are the Friars really a Big East contender?

4) Five more ranked teams play, three of which are on the road:

  • No. 7 San Diego State at Utah State, Sat. 11:00 p.m.
  • No. 20 Pitt at Maryland, Sat. 6:00 p.m.
  • No. 25 Oklahoma at Texas Tech, Sat. 4:00 p.m.
  • West Virginia at No. 11 Oklahoma State, Sat. 2:00 p.m.
  • Georgia at No. 14 Kentucky, Sat. 1:30 p.m.

5) New Mexico has a huge game at Colorado State. The cannot afford another loss in the league to anyone other than San Diego State if they want a chance to win the conference.

Four-star 2017 shooting guard commits to Virginia Tech

Virginia Tech head coach Buzz Williams celebrates a play in the first half of an NCAA college basketball game against Virginia, Monday, Jan. 4, 2016, in Blacksburg, Va. (Matt Gentry/The Roanoke Times via AP) LOCAL STATIONS OUT; LOCAL INTERNET OUT; LOCAL PRINT OUT (SALEM TIMES REGISTER; FINCASTLE HERALD; CHRISTIANSBURG NEWS MESSENGER; RADFORD NEWS JOURNAL; ROANOKE STAR SENTINEL; MANDATORY CREDIT
Matt Gentry/The Roanoke Times via AP
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Recruiting, and on-court results, have picked up at Virginia Tech since Buzz Williams took over as head coach. In his second year at the helm the Hokies won ten conference games, and in reaching the Postseason NIT made their first postseason appearance since 2011.

Thursday night Virginia Tech landed its first verbal commitment in the Class of 2017, as four-star shooting guard Nickeil Alexander-Walker made his pledge.

The 6-foot-5 Alexander-Walker, who’s ranked 91st in his class by Rivals.com, also took official visits to Maryland and USC before making his pledge to the ACC program. Alexander-Walker attends Hamilton Heights Christian Academy in Chattanooga, Tennessee, but as a native of Canada plays his grassroots basketball for the Canada Elite program on the Under Armour Association circuit.

Good with either hand, Alexander-Walker can play either on or off the basketball. And that versatility should serve him well in a system that places a high value on “switch-ables,” or players who can fill multiple roles.

The Canada connection paid off for Virginia Tech in the recruitment of Alexander-Walker, with assistant coach Jamie McNeilly being a native of the country himself and having a connection to the Walker family. The Hokies will lose two perimeter players at the end of the 2016-17 season in Devin Wilson and Seth Allen, which will give Alexander-Walker the opportunity to earn minutes as a freshman.

Oakland lands former Oklahoma State guard Clark

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When point guard Stevie Clark began his career at Oklahoma State in 2013, the Top 100 prospect was expected by many to be an impact player for the Cowboys. Things didn’t go as planned however, as off-court issues ultimately led to Clark’s dismissal from the program before his sophomore season. Add in a lawsuit filed by Clark in which he alleged that he was forced by the school to take psychotropic drugs, and it’s safe to say that his time in Stillwater was anything but smooth.

Clark ultimately landed at Arkansas Baptist College, and on Thursday it was reported by the Detroit Free Press that he’s committed to Oakland University to play for head coach Greg Kampe. Clark joins a program with an immediate need at the point, with All-American Kahlil Felder having entered the NBA Draft and hired an agent as well.

The obvious question regarding Clark is whether or not he’s managed to take care of business off the court, and in an interview with Mark Snyder of the Free Press the Oklahoma native made note of the benefits of getting away from home for college.

Playing in Rochester, far from his home, will serve him well, he said.

“Anywhere away from home is the best thing,” Clark said. “It’s just hard balancing everything being close to home.”

Clark will be one of the options Kampe has to choose from at the point, with incoming freshmen Brailen Neely and Billy Thomas also among the new arrivals, and sophomore Jaevin Cumberland looking to earn more playing time than the 5.6 minutes per contest he averaged as a freshman.

Creighton point guard Watson Jr. to return for senior season

Creighton's Maurice Watson Jr. (10) reacts after scoring during the second half of an NCAA college basketball game against Xavier in Omaha, Neb., Tuesday, Feb. 9, 2016. Creighton won 70-56. (AP Photo/Nati Harnik)
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Creighton’s chances of moving up the Big East standings and returning to the NCAA tournament for the first time since 2014 improved a great deal Thursday, as starting point guard Maurice Watson Jr. announced that he will be returning for his senior season. Watson, who began his college career at Boston University, entered his name into the NBA Draft pool without hiring an agent but decided that another year in Omaha would be best for him.

Watson was one of the most impactful transfers in the country last season, as his play at the point was a major factor in the Bluejays winning 20 games and going 9-9 in conference play after being picked to finish eighth in the Big East preseason poll. Watson averaged 14.1 points, 3.4 rebounds and 6.5 assists per game last season, earning second team All-Big East honors.

With Watson’s return the Bluejays will welcome back three of their top four scorers from last season, with center Geoffrey Groselle being the lone departure. Head coach Greg McDermott adds a talented shooting guard in Marcus Foster, who sat out last season after transferring in from Kansas State. With Watson and Foster working together, Creighton will have a formidable perimeter tandem leading the way in 2016-17 with the likes of forward Cole Huff and guard Isaiah Zierden also being key contributors.

In addition to what Watson can provide in games he’ll also serve as a good mentor for Kaleb Joseph, who will have to sit out next season after transferring in from Syracuse. Joseph, who will have two seasons of eligibility remaining, fell out of the rotation as a sophomore so the year in residency should benefit him as he works towards grabbing the reins in 2017-18.

h/t ESPN.com

UConn, four-star 2017 big man Brown part ways

Brown, Zach
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Back in mid-January UConn made waves on the recruiting trail by securing a verbal commitment from 7-foot-1 center Zach Brown, a player seen by many as one of the top prospects in the Class of 2017. That partnership came to an end Thursday, as the two parties decided to part ways. News of the mutual decision was first reported by Scout.com.

The Miami native is currently ranked 28th in the Class of 2017 by Rivals.com, and Thursday’s news opens up a spot in the front court that UConn head coach Kevin Ollie and his staff will now have to fill. Amida Brimah, who’s currently going through the NBA pre-Draft process, will be a senior next season should he return to Storrs as will Kentan Facey.

Among the interior options who will have eligibility remaining beyond next season for the Huskies are sophomore Steven Enoch and incoming freshmen Mamadou Diarra and Juwan Durham.

UConn was in the running for 2016 power forward Taurean Thompson, but multiple outlets have the Brewster Academy product considering Michigan State (which added UNLV grad transfer Ben Carter Wednesday), Seton Hall and Syracuse at this point in his recruitment.

UCF lands commitment from transfer Terrell Allen

New UCF men's NCAA college basketball coach Johnny Dawkins speaks at his introductory press conference Thursday, March 24, 2016 in Orlando, Fla. (Jacob Langston/Orlando Sentinel via AP) MAGS OUT; NO SALES; MANDATORY CREDIT
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Having already landed one transfer in former Michigan guard Aubrey Dawkins (the new head coach’s son), UCF landed a second Thursday afternoon as former Drexel guard Terrell Allen announced that he’ll finish out his college career playing for Johnny Dawkins.

Allen, a CAA All-Rookie Team selection in his lone season at Drexel, announced the news by way of his Twitter account. After sitting out the 2016-17 season per NCAA transfer rules, Allen will have three seasons of eligibility remaining.

On a team that struggled throughout the 2015-16 season, winning just six games, Allen averaged 9.8 points, 3.0 rebounds and 3.5 assists in 32.5 minutes of action per game. The 6-foot-2 point guard finished the season ranked in the top ten in the CAA in both assists and assist-to-turnover ratio, with his assist tally ranking eighth and his A/T ratio of 1.9 placing him seventh.

With B.J. Taylor entering his junior season and Jeremy Carter-Sheppard joining the ranks this summer, the addition of Allen gives UCF another option at the point for the 2017-18 campaign.