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).

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.