Weekend Preview: Michigan-Iowa, Gonzaga-Memphis, and Lumberjack Night!

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GAME OF THE WEEKEND: No. 10 Michigan at No. 17 Iowa, Sat. 2:00 p.m.

Just how good is Iowa? That’s the question that everyone has on their mind at this point in the season. Looking at the numbers, the Hawkeyes look like a top 10 team. Looking at their roster, that theory is more or less confirmed. They are deep, they have lineup versatility, and Roy Devyn Marble and Aaron White are two of the best players you don’t hear talked about.

The problem? Iowa hasn’t beaten anyone this season. Their best win is against an Ohio State team that collapsed after playing them. But here’s the thing: they haven’t lost to anyone that’s not really good. Their six losses are all against teams that are ranked in the top 20 on KenPom, including Ohio State.

We know what Michigan is at this point. They’ve been the best team in the Big Ten during league play, currently sitting in a tie for first place with a Michigan State team that they’ve beaten. The Hawkeyes are just two games behind them. Are they really going to be a contender in this conference, or is Fran McCaffery’s club nothing but a pretender.

THE OTHER GAME OF THE WEEKEND: No. 23 Gonzaga at No. 24 Memphis, Sat. 9:00 p.m.

Gonzaga probably needs this win more than Memphis. The Zags have eight top 100 RPI wins this season, but just one of them against a team in the top 50. That was BYU. So while Mark Few’s club has once again put up an impressive record, how many people are going to think back to last season’s gaudy record and NCAA tournament collapse with this year’s Gonzaga. Memphis was smacked around by SMU and lost to UConn at home, but at least they already own wins over Oklahoma State, LSU and Louisville.

FIVE MORE TO WATCH

  • No. 15 Texas at Kansas State, Sat. 1:30 p.m.: Ahh, the Big 12, where every weekend yields matchups between tournament teams. This may be the best of the bunch, as a Texas team that owns the league’s only win over conference-leading Kansas will pay a visit to the Octagon of Doom.
  • West Virginia at No. 8 Kansas, Sat. 4:00 p.m.: West Virginia has been one of the most surprising teams in the country in conference play, but it will take a minor miracle for them to pull off an upset in Phog Allen Fieldhouse.
  • Missouri at Ole Miss, Sat. 5:00 p.m.: Missouri whiffed on two chances to land a season-defining win over Kentucky or Florida, which makes Saturday’s matchup with the Rebels that much more important. They’ll only have so many more chances to land quality wins.
  • Baylor at No. 21 Oklahoma, Sat. 7:00 p.m.: Is Baylor ever going to turn their season around? A win at Oklahoma State looked like it could be a catalyst, but they followed that up by getting drilled by Kansas at home.
  • No. 9 Michigan State at Wisconsin, Sun. 1:00 p.m.: The Spartans finally have Adreian Payne back in the lineup, which is not a good thing for a Wisconsin team that has lost five of their last seven games. .

WHO’S GETTING UPSET?

  • No. 13 Saint Louis at La Salle, Sat. 5:00 p.m.: Defensively, the Billikens are as good as anyone in the country, but they are middle-of-the-pack in the Atlantic 10 in offensive efficiency. Can the Explorers take advantage?
  • No. 7 Cincinnati at SMU, Sat. 7:30 p.m.: The Mustangs have knocked off a pair of top 25 teams in Dallas this season, and they have the pieces to matchup with Cincinnati. They have size inside, a quality point guard and talent on the wings. They’ll have their work cut out for them scoring on the Bearcats.
  • No. 4 Wichita State at Northern Iowa, Sat. 9:00 p.m.: This may be the last real chance for someone in the MVC to knock off the Shockers this season. Wednesday’s loss to Illinois State isn’t exactly promising for the Panthers, however.
  • No. 19 Oklahoma State at Texas Tech, Sat. 9:30 p.m.: The Cowboys are reeling and Marcus Smart is struggling. Texas Tech? They’ve got some size, they’ve got some athletes and they can be tough at home.
  • No. 12 Creighton at St. John’s, Sun. 7:00 p.m.: The Bluejays nearly lost to a streaking St. John’s team a couple of weeks ago in Omaha. Now, the Johnnies will get a crack at them at home. Doug McDermott had 39 in that game and hit the game-winner. Maybe try to slow him down?

FIVE THINGS TO KEEP AN EYE ON:

1) Three other top five teams will be in action on their home floors this weekend:

  • Clemson at No. 1 Syracuse, Sun. 6:00 p.m. 
  • Oregon State at No. 2 Arizona, Sun. 7:00 p.m.
  • Nevada at No. 5 San Diego State, Sat. 10:00 p.m.

2) Four more top 25 teams will be heading out on the road this weekend:

  • No. 20 Virginia at Georgia Tech, Sat. 12:00 p.m.
  • No. 18 Kentucky at Mississippi State, Sat. 2:00 p.m.,
  • No. 11 Duke at Boston College, Sat. 6:00 p.m.
  • No. 22 UConn at UCF, Sat. 6:00 p.m.

3) Everyone is talking about Saint Louis in the Atlantic 10, but VCU has been pretty impressive in their own right. They’re just a game out of first place, but they’ll visit a St. Joseph’s team playing for their tournament lives on Saturday.

4) Lumberjack Night!!!

5) Minnesota was safely in the NCAA tournament before they lost three straight games to Nebraska, Northwestern and Purdue. Indiana was out before they beat Michigan. The Hoosiers probably need the win more than Minnesota.

Texas Tech forward Zach Smith returns to school after withdrawing from NBA Draft

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Texas Tech forward Zach Smith will return for his senior season, the school confirmed on Monday.

The 6-foot-8 forward is one of the most intriguing athletes in college basketball as he’s been a double-figure scorer for the Red Raiders the past two seasons. As a junior, Smith put up 12.1 points, 7.2 rebounds and 1.4 blocks per game as he shot 50 percent from the field.

Three-point shooting was something that Smith improved dramatically last season as he increased it to 39 percent in a small sample size. If Smith can continue to show that he’s a perimeter shooting threat then he could be an ideal three-and-d candidate at the pro level.

By returning to Texas Tech, Smith gives head coach Chris Beard a potential all-league candidate who should be counted on to be a double-double threat next season.

 

Missouri lands five-star forward Jontay Porter

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Missouri has another member of the Porter family in the fold as forward Jontay Porter officially committed to the Tigers on Monday night.

Following in the footsteps of older brother Michael Porter Jr., and father Michael Porter Sr., Jontay is currently a member of the Class of 2018 who is rumored to be reclassifying to the Class of 2017.

A 6-foot-10 forward who was recently elevated to five-star status on Rivals.com, Porter is having a monster spring in the Nike EYBL with MoKan Elite. Porter has been one of the best players in the league, as he’s putting up 18.1 points and 12.7 rebounds per game while shooting 40 percent from three-point range.

If Jontay is able to join Missouri next season then he gives the Tigers another intriguing piece to play alongside his brother Michael, who is good enough to be a potential No. 1 pick in the 2018 NBA Draft.

Although Jontay isn’t the go-to player that his brother is, he could be a very effective SEC role player early in his career, as his ability to rebound and stretch the floor makes him an extremely intriguing piece on the floor.

Kevin Stallings is a tone-deaf clown

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Pitt guard Cameron Johnson is the most coveted transfer in college basketball this offseason.

The 6-foot-8 Johnson is coming off of a strong campaign with the Panthers in which he put up 11.9 points per game while shooting 42 percent from three-point range.

Not only is Johnson a proven double-figure scorer in a league like the ACC, but he’s eligible to play right away thanks to his graduation from Pitt. Johnson graduating from school in three years and missing one season due to injury also makes him the rare graduate transfer who has two seasons of eligibility remaining. So, not only can Johnson come in and make an immediate impact, but he’s also able to stay for another year after.

This sort of thing almost never happens, let alone with a 6-foot-8 shooter that could sway the national title race.

It’s why blueblood programs like Kentucky and UCLA are in hot pursuit of Johnson. It’s why another ACC school, reigning national champion North Carolina, is also intrigued by Johnson being on the market.

Except Johnson won’t be allowed to attend North Carolina, or any other school in the ACC, without first sitting out a season and losing one season of eligibility. At least that’s how things currently stand thanks to Pitt’s power over Johnson — despite Johnson graduating from the school and having no more formal educational ties to the school.

Here’s what Pitt said on the matter in a release to the News-Observer.

“Cameron Johnson and his father were informed of our policy as well as the appeals process when they elected to seek to transfer. They went through our transfer appeals process and were granted permission to contact ACC schools; however, the committee upheld the policy to limit immediate eligibility within the conference.

If Cameron were to transfer within the ACC, he would be eligible to receive financial aid immediately but would have to sit out a year of competition due to standard NCAA transfer regulations. Throughout this process, we have remained consistent to our department policy and we will continue to do so.”

Pitt head coach Kevin Stallings had a peculiar interview with the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette that was published about two weeks ago. During the interview, of which the full transcript was made public, Stallings went in-depth about Johnson’s transfer and the current state of college basketball. Stallings also made remarks about how the media holds programs accountable for trying to bully certain players.

Here’s a small sample of what Stallings had to say.

“But the unexpected departures are the things that are becoming more common than uncommon in college basketball. You have guys constantly trying to transfer up. You have guys going pro that have never played a minute of college basketball after they’ve sat out a year at a school. You have guys asking out of their letters of intent with frequency. We’re dealing in a landscape in college basketball right now that is as probably as difficult and peculiar as it’s ever been. It used to be if a kid signed his letter of intent and he wanted out of it, you had to play a year of junior-college ball to get out of it.

“The media didn’t basically force institutions to let people break a binding agreement. It’s kind of interesting now the media tries to put so much pressure on programs, whether it be athletic directors or coaches, saying ‘Well, the coaches can move.’ Well, hey, guess what? I’ve got a great big buyout in my deal that prevents me from moving. I’ve got something in my contract saying I can’t go to another league school. It’s not as easy for coaches to go. That’s everyone’s rationale — ‘Well, the coaches can leave.’ We’re dealing in an environment right now that is as fluid as it’s ever been. It’s just where we’re at in the whole thing with the unexpected departures.”

Stallings makes some sound points–particularly about coaches having buyouts and the general perception of coaching changes in basketball.

But Kevin Stallings mostly sounds like a tone-deaf clown here.

Nobody is going to feel sorry for a millionaire coach who willingly makes the decision to change jobs.

Nobody.

Especially if that same millionaire is comparing a choice to change jobs to the transfer decisions of unpaid student-athletes. It’s even more laughable now that Stallings is holding power over an unpaid student-athlete from going to play at another school because of purely basketball reasons.

Pitt and Stallings need to do the right thing and release Johnson to play at any school right away because Johnson has already done everything he needs to do to appease the program.

Things changed dramatically for Johnson during his three years at Pitt. He became one of the ACC’s better players and earned his degree. Johnson held up his end of the bargain when he signed his Letter of Intent.  Now Johnson just wants the chance improve his basketball future by playing with one of the nation’s elite programs.

Stallings can blame the current state of college basketball, the media, or whoever he wants for Johnson’s transfer from Pitt.

But Stallings also has to realize that he’s going to be the one who looks stupid if he continues to leave these restrictions in place for Johnson. Stallings already has a history of this sort of thing when he placed transfer restrictions on former player Sheldon Jeter. If Stallings continues to uphold transfer restrictions on Johnson, then he’s going to gain a permanent reputation in recruiting during a time when players continue to gain more freedom over their basketball futures.

If Johnson does happen to go to an ACC school like North Carolina, it’s not as if Pitt has any sort of competitive roster that is going to be fighting the Tar Heels for league supremacy during the next two seasons.

Stallings and Pitt need to just bite the bullet, let Johnson have his freedom, and hope it doesn’t come back to hurt them for one or two seasons in ACC play.

It surely beats the alternative of being labeled a head coach who limits player freedom after six players left Pitt during a single offseason. That type of burn lasts a lot longer than two years.

Presbyterian hires Wofford assistant Dustin Kerns as new head coach

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Presbyterian finally has its new head coach as the program is set to hire Wofford assistant coach Dustin Kerns, a source confirmed to NBCSports.com.

Kerns has been an assistant at Wofford for the past seven years during his second stint with the program. Also spending six seasons as an assistant coach at Santa Clara, the Tennessee native is getting his first shot at running his own program.

Finishing last in the Big South last season at 5-25 and 1-17 in conference play, Presbyterian is trying to rebuild after head coach Gregg Nibert resigned in April. Nibert was the head coach of the Blue Hens for 28 seasons, so Kerns is going to be a completely fresh start for the program.

Tennessee lands impact graduate transfer James Daniel

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Tennessee and head coach Rick Barnes earned a commitment from one of the top graduate transfers on the market on Monday when Howard guard James Daniel pledged to the Volunteers.

The 6-foot-0 Daniel was the nation’s leading scorer at 27.1 points per game his junior season in 2015-16. Daniel played in only two games last season as a left ankle injury caused him to have surgery.

With nearly 2,000 career points to his name, Daniel gives Tennessee an additional perimeter scorer who should come in and make an immediate impact right away. While Howard has low shooting percentages and a high usage rate during his time at Howard, it’ll be interesting to see how the year off and more talented teammates will alter his game.

If Howard can be a more efficient scorer in his final season, then he has a chance to be one of the better players for the Volunteers this season.