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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.

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.