Weekend Preview: Duke-Cuse, Kansas-Texas, Arizona’s roadtrip highlight huge weekend

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GAME OF THE WEEKEND: No. 17 Duke at No. 2 Syracuse, 6:30 p.m.

Could this get any juicier? Let’s ignore, for a second, the fact that the team currently sitting in first place in the ACC will be taking on the team that may be playing the best basketball in the ACC. Let’s also ignore that this is the game between the biggest name in the ACC and the biggest name to join the ACC. Then we can also look past the fact that there are going to be somewhere around 35,000 people in the Carrier Dome to watch this game. Or Coach K vs. Boeheim.

Let’s focus, instead, on the fact this game will feature one of the nation’s three remaining undefeated teams taking on a team that features arguably the nation’s best player and just so happens to be well-suited to breaking down the Syracuse zone. Going beyond the multitude of story lines, the game itself should be fantastic.

THE OTHER GAME OF THE WEEKEND: No. 6 Kansas at No. 25 Texas, Sat. 4:00 p.m.

Kansas vs. Texas was the single biggest game in the Big 12 for a number of years, and it looks like it may be that way again this season. The Longhorns are much improved this year, defending as well as anyone in the Big 12 and getting enough out of their offense to slide into second in the conference standings. Texas might also be the best matchup of any Big 12 team with the Jayhawks given the size they have source: Getty Imagesinside to combat Joel Embiid and Perry Ellis. The problem? If the Andrew Wiggins that has scored 56 points in the last two games shows up, I’m not sure Texas has a chance.

FIVE MORE TO KEEP AN EYE ON

  • No. 24 Ohio State at No. 14 Wisconsin, Sat. 12:00 p.m.: I’m not sure there are two teams in the country that need a win as badly as Ohio State and Wisconsin both need a win. Well, except for maybe …
  • Baylor at No. 8 Oklahoma State, Sat. 2:00 p.m.: … Baylor, who currently sits at 1-6 in the Big 12 with Kansas and Oklahoma as the next two games on their schedule. This is about as must-win as a game gets.
  • No. 23 Oklahoma at No. 16 Iowa State, Sat. 4:00 p.m.: If you’re looking for an entertaining basketball game, this is going to be it. Both teams spread the floor, shoot threes, play at a faster and struggle defensively.
  • Virginia at No. 18 Pitt, Sun. 12:30 p.m.: Duke and Syracuse are the trendy picks as the two best teams in the ACC, but Virginia and Pitt are both putting together strong cases. They need big wins to validate it, however. Saturday is their chance.
  • No. 10 Michigan at Indiana, Sun. 1:00 p.m.: Michigan is the hottest team in the country and currently sitting in first place in the Big Ten. Indiana? They desperately need to land a marquis win over someone like — oh, I don’t know — the Big Ten leader.

WHO’S GETTING UPSET?

  • No. 11 Kentucky at Missouri, Sat. 1:00 p.m.: Kentucky is coming off of an embarrassing road loss at LSU. Missouri, who is better at home, just picked up a win at Arkansas. Will trends continue? The Tigers need this win if they are going to be a tournament team.
  • No. 22 Memphis at SMU, Sat. 2:00 p.m.: SMU is still in the hunt for the NCAA tournament spot, but losing to South Florida on Wednesday hurt. They need to pick up a win like this.
  • No. 15 Iowa at Illinois, Sat. 7:30 p.m.: Illinois’ season is almost over. Like Baylor, this is almost a must-win game. Iowa, on paper, is as good as anyone, but this is a team that has yet to prove themselves with a marquee win.
  • No. 21 UMass at St. Joseph’s, Sat. 6:00 p.m.: Based on the way that they’ve played over the last month, UMass is one of the most overrated teams in the country. They’ll visit St. Joe’s after losing at St. Bonaventure on Wednesday.
  • No. 1 Arizona at Cal, Sat. 10:30 p.m.: Arizona will put their undefeated season on the line against a good Cal team that desperately needs this win.

FIVE THINGS TO WATCH FOR:

1) There will be four games on the NBC Sports Network on Saturday:

  • 12:30 p.m.: George Washington at Dayton
  • 2:30 p.m.: George Mason at No. 19 Saint Louis
  • 4:30 p.m.: Drexel at Towson
  • 9:00 p.m.: Penn at Harvard

2) No. 4 Wichita State will once again put their undefeated season on the line as they host Evansville on Saturday afternoon at 3:00 p.m.

3) No. 7 Michigan State will be without Adreian Payne and Branden Dawson on Saturday as they face Georgetown, which is key for the Hoyas. They don’t have much size inside and this will be a must-win game for them.

4) There are a couple of important bubble games on the schedule for the weekend:

  • Northwestern at Minnesota, Sat. 2:00 p.m.
  • Arizona State at Stanford, Sat. 4:00 p.m.
  • Arkansas at LSU, Sat. 5:00 p.m.
  • Boise State at UNLV, Sat. 8:05 p.m.
  • Tennessee at Alabama, Sat. 9:00 p.m.
  • Saint Mary’s at BYU, Sat. 11:00 p.m.

5) And who doesn’t love a good rivalry game?

  • Richmond at VCU, Sat. 11:00 a.m.
  • N.C. State at North Carolina, Sat. 1:00 p.m.
  • No. 9 Villanova at Temple, Sat. 4:00 p.m.

Swanigan to stay in draft

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Caleb Swanigan is leaving Purdue and staying in the NBA draft.

The Boilermaker big man held as much sway on the college basketball landscape with his decision as nearly any player who declared for the draft without an agent. After a season in which he became a double-double machine and averaged 18.5 points, 12.5 rebounds and 3.1 assists per game, Swanigan would have been one of – if not the – favorites for National Player of the Year while also making Purdue right at the top of the Big Ten with Michigan State.

Instead, he’ll end his collegiate career after a pair of seasons and one Sweet 16 appearance in West Lafayette. As a professional prospect, Swanigan is an interesting case. He was as productive of player as college basketball has seen in recent years as a sophomore, putting up 20-20 games with ridiculous consistency. He’s got some range, but limited quickness and athleticism. The question will be how his game – and frame – will translate into the new NBA that prioritizes versatility, shooting and athleticism. Right now, not many have him pegged as a sure-fire first-round pick.

The loss for Purdue is hard to overstate given just how good “Biggie” was. There’s just no replacing that type of production in the lineup. Still, Matt Painter and the Boilermakers still have an intriguing group, with Isaac Haas and Vince Edwards both electing to return to school after dipping their toes in the NBA waters. There’s some other intriguing young pieces there that will keep Purdue interesting in the Big Ten race.

Florida State picks up late commit from McDonald’s All-American

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The losses sustained by Florida State have been numerous and significant. Three players declared early for the NBA Draft. Another two contributors were lost to graduation. All in all, the Seminoles haven’t had the greatest of springs.

Wednesday, though, they got some good news.

McDonald’s All-American wing M.J. Walker committed Leonard Hamilton’s program to give Florida State a late, and important, addition to its 2017 recruiting class, beating the likes of Ohio State, Georgia Tech and UCLA.

Walker, a 6-foot-5 guard, gives the Seminoles yet another five-star prospect after landing Dwayne Bacon and Jonathan Isaac in the last two recruiting classes. Walker will help Hamilton and Co. reboot after both Bacon and Isaac, along with Xavier Rathan-Mayes, all left school to pursue professional careers after the Seminoles’ 26-9 season that saw them advance to the second round of the NCAA tournament.

Walker becomes the sixth member of Hamilton’s 2017 recruiting class that was previously headlined by four-star 7-footer Ikechukwu Obiagu. That group will be tasked to retool a team losing not only major NBA-level talent, but also major production. The Seminoles won’t return a single player who averaged double-digit points per-game last year and just one who played at least 20 minutes per night.

Michigan returns Mo Wagner, loses D.J. Wilson

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The best-case scenario did not take place for Michigan this week.

The Wolverines waited for four weeks to hear back from their pair of mobile big men, and the news on Mo Wagner was positive. The 6-foot-10 junior from Germany announced on Wednesday that he will return to school after testing the NBA Draft waters.

The news was not as fortunate with D.J. Wilson, who announced less than ten hours before the deadline that he will be signing with an agent and turning pro. Wilson is projected as a late first round or early second round pick.

Without Wilson in the fold, Michigan lacks some front court depth, which will probably be enough to keep them out of the preseason top 25.

Gonzaga to return Johnathan Williams III

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Losing Nigel Williams-Goss and Zach Collins to the professional ranks probably torpedoed Gonzaga’s chance of making another run to the NCAA tournament national title game, but after Johnathan Williams III announced on Wednesday that he will be returning to school and withdrawing from the NBA Draft, Gonzaga does appear to be a favorite to win the WCC title again.

Williams is now Gonzaga’s leading returning scorer and rebounder, anchoring a front court that also loses Przemek Karnowski to graduation. He was expected to go undrafted.

With Williams back in the fold, the Zags should be right there with Saint Mary’s in the race for the WCC title. Josh Perkins, Silas Melson and Killian Tillie all return as well.

ESPN was the first to report the news.

Injured Gamecocks point guard Blanton gives up basketball

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COLUMBIA, S.C. (AP) — South Carolina guard TeMarcus Blanton is giving up basketball after struggling with a serious hip injury he suffered before his freshman season.

Gamecocks coach Frank Martin says Blanton told him he could not get his body to respond to a level that would allow him to continue playing basketball. Blanton is a 6-foot-5 junior from Locust Grove, Georgia, who hurt his hip during preseason for the 2014-15 season. He needed surgery and could not return to the court until his sophomore year.

Blanton played in 29 games, averaging 1.4 points a game.

He said on social media he is grateful to his coaches, teammates and South Carolina fans, “but my journey of basketball has come to an end.”

Blanton received a medical exemption from the Southeastern Conference to remain part of the Gamecocks’ program moving forward.