Friday’s Pregame Shootaround: Opportunity knocks for Arizona State

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GAME OF THE NIGHT: No. 2 Arizona at Arizona State, 9:00 p.m. (ESPN)

No. 2 Arizona remains ahead of the pack in the Pac-12 by two games, but there may be some teams who sense an opportunity now that Brandon Ashley’s out for the year. However Arizona’s won its last two games after falling at Cal, with freshman Rondae Hollis-Jefferson one of the reasons why they’ve been able to adjust. He averaged 15.0 points and 7.5 rebounds in wins over Oregon and Oregon State, and he’ll be a key figure moving forward for the Wildcats.

As for their in-state rivals, tonight represents a great resume-building opportunity for Herb Sendek’s Sun Devils. Arizona State looks well-positioned to reach the NCAA tournament for the first time since 2009, with point guard Jahii Carson and center Jordan Bachynski leading the way. But the difference-maker may be senior guard Jermaine Marshall, who missed the first meeting due to a hip injury. The Penn State transfer’s averaging 15.6 points per game, giving Arizona State a needed perimeter scorer. If he has a solid night, the Sun Devils are more than capable of winning this one.

WHO’S GETTING UPSET: No. 23 SMU (-5) at Rutgers, 7:00 p.m.

Last month the Mustangs earned a comfortable 70-56 win over Rutgers in Dallas, and from a talent standpoint Nic Moore and company should win the rematch. But funny things can happen at The RAC, and with the weather forcing a one-day delay this could be one of those scenarios. Myles Mack and company have won their last two home games, and if he and Kadeem Jack show up the potential for an upset is there.

MID-MAJOR GAME OF THE NIGHT: Harvard at Columbia, 7:00 p.m.

After dropping a seven-point decision to Yale last Saturday the Crimson look to rebound with a win at Columbia. And this begins a key stretch for Tommy Amaker’s team, as they’ll play their next four games away from Cambridge. The problem against Yale for Harvard: their defense. The Bulldogs shot 51%, and a similar effort against Columbia could lead to trouble. The Lions are led by Alex Rosenberg and Maodo Lo, and they’re also shooting 38% from beyond the arc on the season.

FIVE THINGS TO WATCH FOR: 

1) No. 13 Louisville visits Temple (6:00 p.m., ESPN2) in a game that was originally scheduled to be played on Thursday. The Cardinals have won six of their last seven games, with Russ Smith leading the way for a team that trails Cincinnati by a game in the loss column.

2) Iona looks to maintain its two-game lead atop the MAAC with a win over Monmouth. The Gaels won the first meeting 89-71 just ten days ago, with Sean Armand scoring 22 points and David Laury III adding 21 and 12 rebounds.

3) Mercer hosts Lipscomb, and the Bears’ weekend schedule was thrown for a loop due to the inclement weather. Instead of the originally scheduled Thursday/Saturday split, Bob Hoffman’s team will host Northern Kentucky on Sunday.

4) Yale looks to move to 6-1 in Ivy League play with a win over Penn, but they aren’t the only team with hopes of winning the league. There’s also 4-2 Brown, which needs to get hot in order to keep pace with the Bulldogs and Harvard, with both having already beaten the Bears.

5) The Southern Conference no longer has divisions, which makes the race for seeding in next month’s conference tournament even more important. Chattanooga hosts Western Carolina with the Mocs leading the Catamounts by a game in the loss column. Will Wade’s team has lost three of its last four after starting SoCon play 8-0 (one of the three losses was a non-conference loss to Eastern Kentucky).

Arizona lands Pitt transfer forward Ryan Luther

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Arizona landed a key addition for its frontcourt on Wednesday as Pitt transfer forward Ryan Luther pledged to the Wildcats.

The 6-foot-9 Luther is expected to receive a hardship waiver that would give him immediate eligibility, a source confirmed to NBCSports.com, as Arizona gets some much-needed help up front.

Playing in 10 games last season before a stress reaction in his right foot ended the season, Luther averaged 12.7 points and 10.1 rebounds per game for the Panthers. In his final game of the season, Luther went for 13 points and 12 rebounds in a Pitt loss to West Virginia. Luther shot 45 percent from the field and is a noted perimeter threat as he was 38 percent from behind the three-point line.

Luther hasn’t logged heavy minutes as a contributor through a full season. Mostly a role player at Pitt until last season, Luther was the team’s most productive player when he was on the floor. But that production also didn’t come during ACC play and through the course of a full season.

Thankfully at a program like Arizona, Luther should have a bit more help around him. He could be a nice addition to the Wildcats, particularly if he rebounds and spaces the floor in the frontcourt as he did at Pitt. Arizona needed someone like Luther to provide more stability after losing players like Deandre Ayton and Dusan Ristic.

In the last few weeks, Arizona has rebounded nicely to land three commitments for next season — including freshmen Devonaire Doutrive and Omar Thielemans. The group isn’t as heralded as some past Arizona recruiting efforts. Given where the Wildcats were in recruiting a few weeks ago, however, this isn’t a bad turnaround.

TCU extends Jamie Dixon’s contract by two more years

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TCU has given head coach Jamie Dixon a two-year contract extension through the 2023-24 season, according to a release from the school.

Dixon took the Horned Frogs to the NCAA tournament for the first time in 20 years this season as he’s done a great job of turning around his alma mater. The release also notes that TCU had the highest average attendance in program history this season. Fans are also taking notice of a revitalized team.

With back-to-back 20-win seasons and postseason appearances, Dixon and TCU have a lot of positive momentum going on right now. The two-year extension for Dixon should help a bit in recruiting when it comes to overall stability, as well, as he’s been able to attract some quality talent so far.

Report: Kevin Ollie claims UConn violated rights with firing

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Fired former UConn head coach Kevin Ollie is claiming that the school violated his constitutional rights during his departure.

Ollie sent a letter to UConn school president Susan Herbst which was obtained by ESPN’s Myron Medcalf in a report released on Wednesday. Ollie’s lawyers are claiming the school proceeded with his firing before giving Ollie a proper chance to contest his termination — which was guaranteed in his contract and also the collective bargaining agreement with the University of Connecticut’s branch of the American Association of University Professors. Ollie was fired, with cause, in late March as the school mentioned an NCAA inquiry as the reason why. According to Medcalf’s report, the NCAA has not sent a notice of allegations to the school.

Ollie’s union membership includes thousands of faculty members around the country as the collective bargaining agreement demands a hearing process before any employee can be terminated for allegations of serious misconduct. Ollie claims he didn’t receive a letter he was supposed to get to begin the termination process.

“From our review of the facts and circumstances relating to Coach Ollie’s employment status, it is apparent that the University of Connecticut has already violated [Coach Ollie’s] rights under the Fourteenth Amendment to the United States Constitution by subverting Coach Ollie’s opportunity to respond to charges and evidence in a meaningful way in advance of the decision to terminate his employment,” said the letter dated April 3.

“The public record, action taken, and authorized communications by representatives of the University of Connecticut, demonstrate that the decision to terminate Coach Ollie has already been made and therefore the University of Connecticut has effectively negated Coach Ollie’s property right protected by the Fourteenth Amendment to the United States Constitution.”

This letter to UConn likely begins a long legal battle to try to get an eight-figure payout back as Ollie is going to do everything he can to clear his name.

South Carolina’s Brian Bowen, still ineligible, to declare for draft

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Former Louisville forward and current South Carolina Gamecock Brian Bowen will declare for the NBA draft without signing with an agent as a safety measure in case the NCAA does not clear him to play in the 2018-19 season.

Bowen is the former top 25 prospect that was forced to leave the Louisville program after the FBI’s investigation into corruption in college hoops turned up evidence that his family had accepted the first payment of what was supposed to be a $100,000 fee to get him to be a Cardinal.

That investigation was ultimately what got Rick Pitino fired.

“I just felt that it was the right decision,” Bowen told ESPN. “My goal is still to play college basketball, but I felt as though it makes sense to cover my bases.”

Bowen is in a tough spot right now.

On the one hand, he has already missed an entire season of college basketball and there is no guarantee that he will be cleared to play next season, if at all.

On the other hand, the fact that he has not played in a year and that he has not played against any collegiate level competition is one of the reasons that NBA front offices are going to be hesitant to draft him, and that’s not a good thing for a player that was considered a second round pick before he spent a year on the sidelines.

North Carolina’s Cam Johnson undergoes hip surgery

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For the second time in the last six months, North Carolina wing Cam Johnson has undergone the knife.

On Wednesday, North Carolina announced that Johnson underwent an arthroscopic procedure on his hip on Monday, and that he is expected to make a full recovery and return to school in time for the start of the 2018-19 season.

The 6-foot-9 Johnson was UNC’s third-leading scorer a season ago, averaging 12.4 points while shooting 34.1 percent from three. He only played 26 games, however, after missing time due to a surgery to fix a torn meniscus.