Pregame Shootaround: Duke and Syracuse headlines the first day of February

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

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 DAY: No. 6 Kansas at No. 25 Texas, Sat. 4:00 p.m., ESPN

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 inside 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.

WHO’S GETTING UPSET? No. 21 UMass at St. Joseph’s, Sat. 6:00 p.m., CBS Sports Network

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. St. Joe’s will be looking for revenge after a 66-62 road loss at UMass on January 8th. With both of these teams being tied for third in the A-10 at 4-2, this will be a big game for the winner to keep pace with conference leader St. Louis, who is still unbeaten in the league at 6-0.

MID-MAJOR GAME OF THE DAY: Wright State at Green Bay, 7:00 p.m., ESPN2

Two of the preseason favorites in the Horizon collide as the Raiders (13-11, 5-4) travel to face the league-leading Phoenix (17-4, 7-1). Green Bay was cruising through the Horizon League until a 75-60 loss at Valpo earlier this week while Wright State desperately needs a conference road win after losing two straight to have any shot at the league’s regular-season crown.

FIVE THINGS TO KNOW

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. 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.

3) If you’re looking for an entertaining basketball game, check out No. 23 Oklahoma at No. 16 Iowa State. Both teams spread the floor, shoot threes, play at a faster and struggle defensively.

4) No. 11 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.

5) No. 1 Arizona will put its undefeated season on the line against a good Cal team that desperately needs this win. Cal has lost three consecutive games in Pac-12 play since starting 5-0 and after an overtime home loss to Arizona State earlier in the week, the Bears can’t afford to get swept at home by the Arizona schools.

THE REST OF THE TOP 25:

  • Texas A&M at No. 3 Florida, 4:00 p.m., ESPN3
  • Evansville at No. 4 Wichita State, 3 p.m., ESPNU
  • Colorado State at No. 5 San Diego State, 7 p.m., ESPNU
  • Baylor at No. 8 Oklahoma State, 2 p.m., ESPN
  • No. 9 Villanova at Temple, Sat. 4:00 p.m., CBS SN
  • UCF at No. 12 Louisville, 9:00 p.m., ESPNU
  • No. 24 Ohio State at No. 14 Wisconsin 12 p.m., ESPN
  • No. 22 Memphis at SMU, 2 p.m., CBS SN

NOTABLES:

  • Richmond at VCU, Sat. 11:00 a.m., ESPN2
  • N.C. State at North Carolina, Sat. 1:00 p.m., ESPN2
  • Northwestern at Minnesota, Sat. 2:00 p.m., Big Ten Network
  • Arizona State at Stanford, Sat. 4:00 p.m., PAC-12 Network
  • Arkansas at LSU, Sat. 5:00 p.m., ESPNU
  • Boise State at UNLV, Sat. 8:05 p.m., CBS Sports Network
  • Tennessee at Alabama, Sat. 9:00 p.m., ESPN2
  • Saint Mary’s at BYU, Sat. 11:00 p.m., ESPN2

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.