Pregame Shootaround: Battle for Michigan headlines a busy Saturday of hoops

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GAME OF THE DAY: No. 21 Michigan at No. 3 Michigan State (7 p.m., ESPN)

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 and the Spartans 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 DAY: No. 22 Kansas State at No. 16 Iowa State (1:45 p.m., ESPN3)

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?

WHO’S GETTING UPSET? No. 9 Wisconsin at Purdue (5 p.m., Big Ten Network)

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? Wisconsin started the season at 16-0 but have dropped three straight following its Wednesday loss to Minnesota while Purdue is also hoping to figure things out after falling in double-overtime to Northwestern on the road earlier this week. These two teams have traded wins the last six games and Purdue owns a 37-3 advantage over Wisconsin in Mackey Areana — although the Badgers won at Mackey Arena in 2012, the last time they went there.

Rebounding could come up big in this one.  The Boilermakers lead the Big Ten with an average margin of plus-8.3 rebounds during conference play, while Wisconsin ranks 10th at minus-4.2 rebounds in conference play. The Badgers will have to defend and hit the glass to get out of Mackey Arena.

MID-MAJOR GAME OF THE DAY: Eastern Kentucky at Belmont, (8 p.m.)

The top two teams in the Ohio Valley Conference’s East Division square off on Saturday night as Eastern Kentucky (14-6, 5-2) travels to Belmont (15-7, 6-1). Belmont’s only loss in conference play came at Eastern Kentucky on January 16th, as the Colonels won 74-63 at home. Now Eastern Kentucky will look for the top spot in the East Division by sweeping Belmont. These two teams and Murray State are currently the class of the OVC and this game could mean a lot for conference tournament seeding purposes.

FIVE THINGS TO KNOW

1) There will be two games on the NBC Sports Network on Saturday. George Washington heads to George Mason at 12:00 p.m. while the 4:00 p.m. tip features Atlantic 10 contenders St. Joe’s at Richmond.

2) A big day for Big East hoops in on-tap Saturday. This may be Marquette’s most important game of the season and they get No. 4 Villanova days after the Wildcats got embarrassed by Creighton at home. Georgetown will visit the sharpshooters at Creighton while 5-1 Xavier is at 4-2 Providence. Are the Friars really a Big East contender?

3) Texas battling No. 24 Baylor will be an intriguing Big 12 clash. The Longhorns are playing good ball and have the size to match-up with Baylor on the interior. Can Baylor bounce back from its 1-4 Big 12 start?

4) Two top-ten teams face interesting road tests as No. 2 Syracuse travels to Miami and No. 10 Iowa goes to Northwestern. 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? Northwestern is essentially the Big Ten’s version of Miami. They’ve also beaten Illinois, Indiana (on the road) and Purdue. Is Iowa next?

5) If you want to end the night on a high note, check out the WCC contest between BYU and Gonzaga. 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.

THE REST OF THE TOP 25:

  • No. 5 Wichita State at Drake, 8:05 p.m.
  • Tennessee at No. 6 Florida, 4 p.m., ESPN
  • No. 7 San Diego State at Utah State, 11 p.m., ESPNU
  • No. 8 Kansas at TCU, 9 p.m., ESPNU
  • West Virginia at No. 11 Oklahoma State, 2 p.m., ESPN2
  • Georgia at No. 14 Kentucky, 1:30 p.m., ESPN3
  • Florida State at No. 18 Duke 12 p.m., ESPN
  • No. 20 Pitt at Maryland, 6 p.m., ESPN2
  • No. 25 Oklahoma at Texas Tech, 4 p.m., ESPN3

NOTABLES:

  • Ohio at Eastern Michigan, 11 a.m., ESPNU
  • Notre Dame at Wake Forest, 3 p.m., ESPN3
  • New Mexico at Colorado State, 4 p.m., ESPN3
  • Mississippi State at Ole Miss, 4 p.m., ESPN3
  • Colorado at Arizona State, 7 p.m., PAC12
  • Hawaii at UC Irvine, 10 p.m., ESPN3

Villanova lands four-star 2018 guard

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Villanova added its first recruit in the Class of 2018 on Wednesday night.

Jay Wright and his staff landed a verbal commitment from Paul VI Catholic High School’s Brandon Slater, a four-star guard by Rivals as the No. 42 overall prospect in the rising senior class.

The 6-foot-5 Slater announced his decision via Twitter.

Slater, according to Jeff Borzello of ESPN, picked the Wildcats over Maryland, Miami, South Carolina, and Virginia.

He is currently playing the Nike EYBL with Team Takeover, the same grassroots program that produced current Villanova guard Phil Booth.

Comic-Con forces Providence to play at Alumni Hall for home opener

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Providence will play its first game at Alumni Hall, the on-campus facility, for the first time in 35 years this fall.

The Friars unveiled their 2017-18 non-conference schedule on Thursday afternoon. The team’s home opener will play either Houston Baptist or Belmont in Mullaney Gym inside Alumni Hall.

According to Kevin McNamara of the Providence Journal, the reason for that is a schedule conflict at Providence’s home arena, the Dunkin’ Donuts Center, in downtown Providence. A Comic-Con convention is scheduled Nov. 10-12. As McNamara notes, it’s a busy part of the season for The Dunk. The arena also is home to the Providence Bruins, the American Hockey League affiliate of the Boston Bruins, and by mid-November, their season is in full swing.

The Friars haven’t played at Alumni Hall since 1972, the same year the Dunkin’ Donuts Center was opened. In the three decades since Providence last played a regular season game there, the facility has gone under necessary renovations, as you could imagine. Even with added seats, Mullaney Gym can host a maximum of 1,549. That’s a fraction of what The Dunk’s capacity of 12,400.

Providence will return to its downtown home on Nov. 13, hosting Minnesota as part of the Gavitt Games. The Golden Gophers will likely be a top-20 team to open the season. The Friars, who bring back every notable player from last year’s NCAA Tournament team, is a fringe top-25 team.

Jalen Coleman-Lands to transfer out of Illinois

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The already-thin Illinois roster got thinner on Thursday afternoon.

Evan Daniels of Scout.com reported that sophomore guard Jalen Coleman-Lands has requested and received his release from the program. He will have to sit out next season but will have two years of eligibility remaining.

Coleman-Lands was a top-40 recruit in the Class of 2015, according to Rivals. He becomes the second player from that recruiting class this month to exit the school. Reserve guard D.J. Williams elected to transfer on May 8. With Jeremiah Tilmon and Javon Pickett, two incoming recruits, both previously reopened their recruitments following John Groce’s firing.

Even with the addition of Wright State graduate transfer Mark Alstork, who officially joined the Fighting Illini on Wednesday, Illinois is left with only nine scholarship players as of right now.

Coleman-Lands’ production dipped from his freshman campaign, ending the 2016-17 season averaging 8.0 points and 2.3 rebounds per game, shooting 38 percent from three.

One destination that will likely be rumored will be nearby DePaul. Coleman-Lands played for new DePaul assistant coach Shane Heirman at prep school powerhouse La Lumiere School. Heriman quickly tapped into that prep pipeline, helping secure a commitment from La Lumiere from five-star 2019 point guard Tyger Campbell earlier this month.

Coleman-Lands had taken official visits to Notre Dame and UNLV before committing to the Illini in September 2014.

North Carolina releases response to latest NCAA Notice of Allegations

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North Carolina is still trying to convince the NCAA that their investigation into the paper classes given by the university’s African-American Studies Department is not, in fact, an NCAA matter.

On Thursday afternoon, the University released their response to the NCAA’s third iteration of the Notice of Allegations, and the core argument in that response is that the school’s “inadequate academic oversight” does not fall under the jurisdiction of the NCAA’s bylaws. In other words, North Carolina is arguing that a rogue professor creating fake classes is not an NCAA issue. It’s a school issue.

What’s more, North Carolina is also arguing that athletes taking these classes should not be classified as an extra benefit because they were available to the entire student body.

“No special arrangements were made for student-athletes in violation of NCAA extra-benefit legislation,” the response reads. “Student-athletes were not treated differently than other students who took the Courses.”

“The public narrative for the last six years, popularized by media accounts, is that Department of Athletics at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill took advantage of ‘fake classes’ in the Department of African and African-American Studies to keep student-athletes eligible. That narrative is wrong and contradicted by the facts in the record.”

The NCAA’s allegations center around the idea that UNC’s athletes, most notably members of the football and men’s and women’s basketball teams, were guided to the fake classes within that department in order to keep their GPAs high enough to remain eligible. The classes in question had a disproportionate percentage of athletes.

A hearing in front of the Committee on Infractions is expected to take place at some point this summer.

No indictment for escort, staffer in Louisville sex scandal

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LOUISVILLE, Ky. (AP) — A grand jury declined to indict an escort and former Louisville men’s basketball staffer in a sex scandal that engulfed the program.

The Jefferson County grand jury decided Thursday there wasn’t enough evidence for charges of prostitution and unlawful transactions with a minor against Katina Powell and Andre McGee.

Powell wrote in a book published in 2015 that McGee hired her to provide dancers to perform sex acts for Cardinal recruits and players from 2010-2014.

The announcement by the Commonwealth’s Attorney’s Office comes as the school awaits discipline in early June by the NCAA after an investigation.

Louisville has imposed its own penalties, including a postseason ban in 2015-16 and reductions in scholarships and recruiting visits by coaches.