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Weekend Preview: Four games featuring two ranked teams this weekend

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GAME OF THE WEEKEND: No. 14 Kentucky at No. 3 Florida, Sat. 9:00 p.m.

Here’s Kentucky’s chance to prove themselves. Here’s their chance to say that they are more than just a talented group of wimps. Florida is as good of a defensive team as you are going to find in the country, largely because they are so versatile in how they can defend. They’ll press. They’ll man. They’ll zone, playing 2-3 or a 1-3-1. They have size. They have tough on-ball defenders in the back court. They have versatile forwards that allow them to switch ball-screens.

Florida is legit. How will Kentucky handle that? They lost at Arkansas. They got beat up at LSU in a game where they could never truly answer the punches the Tigers were throwing. They came much closer to losing at Auburn that Kentucky ever should. Any chance of winning a league title will be on the line here. How will the Wildcats respond?

THE OTHER GAME OF THE WEEKEND: No. 6 Villanova at No. 18 Creighton, Sun. 5:00 p.m.

Villanova has one loss in Big East play this season. It came at home in truly embarrassing fashion, and it came against Creighton. They were down 20 after seven minutes. They were down 40 in the second half, rallying to make it “respectable” when the buzzer sounded. Not only will Villanova have something to prove, they’re going to basically be playing for total control of the Big East regular season crown. A win would give them a two-game lead with less than a month left in the season.

FIVE MORE TO KEEP AN EYE ON:

  • No. 21 Wisconsin at No. 15 Michigan, Sun. 1:00 p.m.: Wisconsin has now won three in a row to get back on track, but this will be one of two remaining challenges they have this season. Can they stop Nik Stauskas? Michigan won the first matchup in Madison.
  • No. 20 Memphis at No. 24 UConn, Sat. 12:00 p.m.: Memphis lost the last time these two teams tangled in Memphis. Deandre Daniels is the x-factor for UConn, but watching Shabazz Napier deal with Mike Dixon and Joe Jackson will be fun.
  • No. 25 Pitt at North Carolina, Sat. 1:00 p.m.: This is the last chance that Pitt is going to have before the ACC tournament to land a quality win. They need a quality win.
  • VCU at No. 12 Saint Louis, Sat. 2:00 p.m.: The two best teams in the Atlantic 10? Two of the top ten defenses in the country? It’s probably not going to be pretty. But it will be good. VCU needs a win if they want any chance of winning the A-10 regular season title.
  • Maryland at No. 8 Duke, Sat. 6:00 p.m.: This will be the last time in the foreseeable future that these two teams will square off. In the early 2000’s, this was one of the best rivalries in all of college basketball.

WHO’S GETTING UPSET?:

  • No. 2 Arizona at Arizona State, Fri. 9:00 p.m.: Arizona is a different team when they don’t have Brandon Ashley on the floor, but that doesn’t necessarily mean that they are a worse team. Arizona State will be healthy this game, and they badly need the win.
  • No. 16 Iowa at Penn State, Sat. 1:00 p.m.: Penn State is a thorn in the Big Ten’s side this season. Are they scrappy enough to pull out a win against Iowa at home?
  • No. 17 Virginia at Clemson, Sat. 12:00 p.m.: Clemson and Virginia are both grind-it-out teams built around their defense. This may not be a high-scoring game, and that’s better for the Tigers. They’re looking to secure positioning as an at-large candidate.
  • West Virginia at No. 19 Texas, Sat. 8:00 p.m.: West Virginia has been one of the most surprising teams in the country. If Jonathan Holmes doesn’t play for Texas, the Mountaineers have a shot. Juwan Staten is the best player in the country you haven’t heard of.
  • No. 22 Ohio State at Illinois, Sat. 8:00 p.m.: Ohio State will matchup well with Illinois, but the Illini are a desperate team with something to prove. A loss would all-but guarantee them an NIT trip.

FIVE THINGS TO WATCH FOR:

1) There are a pair of good, off-the-radar games in the Big 12 this weekend. Kansas State will visit Baylor in a game that the Bears have to win, while Oklahoma and Oklahoma State will renew the Bedlam Rivalry without Marcus Smart’s participation.

2) Both of the nation’s undefeated teams will be playing games that they should win this weekend. No. 4 Wichita State will be at Evansville on Sun at 5:00 p.m. while N.C. State will visit No. 1 Syracuse on Saturday 3:00 p.m.

3) Texas Tech  has been playing much better of late, winning three in a row and beating both of the Oklahoma schools in the last week. They’re at No. 11 Iowa State on Saturday at 1:45 p.m.

4) TCU at No. 7 Kansas wouldn’t normally be a must watch game, but Joel Embiid’s health will be something to keep an eye on in the coming weeks.

5) Key Bubble Games:

  • Southern Miss at Middle Tennessee State, Sat. 2:00 p.m.
  • UMass at George Washington, Sat. 2:00 p.m.
  • Cal at Washington, Sat. 3:00 p.m.
  • Xavier at Marquette, Sat. 4:00 p.m.
  • Tennessee at Missouri, Sat. 4:00 p.m.
  • Ole Miss at Georgia, Sat. 4:00 p.m.
  • LSU at Arkansas, Sat. 5:00 p.m.
  • BYU at Saint Mary’s, Sat. 8:00 p.m.
  • Minnesota at Northwestern, Sun. 6:00 p.m.
  • Georgetown at St. John’s, Sun. 7:00 p.m.

Kentucky-Kansas headlines the 2017 SEC/Big 12 Challenge

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The Big 12 and the SEC announced the matchups for the 2017 SEC/Big 12 Challenge on Tuesday, and the highlight is, of course, Kansas and Kentucky.

The two schools, who played an instant classic in Phog Allen Fieldhouse last season, will square off in Lexington this season. If that wasn’t enough, Kentucky and Kansas are currently sitting second and third, respectively, in the NBCSports.com Preseason Top 25.

So that should be fun.

The game will be played on January 28th along with the rest of the matchups in the series. Those matchups are:

Texas at Georgia
Texas A&M at West Virginia
Florida at Oklahoma
Baylor at Ole Miss
Iowa State at Vanderbilt
Kansas State at Tennessee
Arkansas at Oklahoma State
Auburn at TCU
LSU at Texas Tech

To be frank, the rest of that schedule is not all that enticing. West Virginia should be a top 25 team, and they host a Texas A&M team that is talented but young. Florida and Georgia are arguably the two best non-Kentucky teams in the league, but they face off with a rebuilding Oklahoma and a young Texas squad, neither of whom are guaranteed to make the tournament.

The problem here?

Both the SEC and the Big 12 are likely going to be down this season, which puts a damper on just how excited we can get about this challenge.

Purdue forward to return to school, withdraw from NBA Draft

Purdue center A.J. Hammons (20) celebrates with forward Vince Edwards (12) in the second half of an NCAA college basketball game against Michigan State in West Lafayette, Ind., Tuesday, Feb. 9, 2016. Purdue defeated Michigan State 82-81 in overtime. (AP Photo/Michael Conroy)
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Purdue announced on Tuesday that forward Vince Edwards will be returning to school for his junior season.

Edwards declared for the NBA Draft without signing with an agent and went through the process to gauge his value at the next level.

“After getting the NBA experience and going through the evaluation process, I have talked with my family and Coach Painter and decided it is best for me to return for my junior year,” Edwards said in a statement. “Although the NBA is still a dream for me one day, I am coming back to Purdue to make next year a special one. Thank you to all the organizations who gave me the chance to not only showcase my talents, but also the chance to know me as a young man and not just an athlete.”

Edwards averaged 11.3 points and 5.4 boards last season.

Purdue now has to wait to hear from Caleb Swanigan, a rising sophomore that was a top 20 recruit in the Class of 2015. The deadline to withdraw from the draft is Wednesday.

Five-star 2017 forward Porter Jr. releases top five schools

Father Tolton Catholic's Michael Porter, Jr. (1) celebrates after sinking a basket and drawing a foul during the first half of the Missouri Class 3 boys high school championship basketball game against the Barstow Saturday, March 12, 2016, in Columbia, Mo. (AP Photo/Jeff Roberson)
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As one of the top players in the Class of 2017, 6-foot-8 small forward Michael Porter Jr. has been on the receiving end of attention from many high-major programs. Monday night Porter, a native of Columbia, Missouri who’s ranked second in the class by Rivals.com, revealed his top five schools at this point in time.

The five schools that made the cut (in alphabetical order): Indiana, Missouri, Oklahoma, Virginia and Washington.

"Top 5 Top 5 Top 5" 🙏🏽 #Blessed

A photo posted by Michael Porter Jr. (@m1chael_porter) on

Of the five schools on Porter’s list Missouri and Washington may be the most interesting given the family connections. Not only is Missouri the hometown school, but Porter’s older sisters Bri and Cierra are members of the women’s basketball team.

And one of the assistants on that coaching staff was Porter’s father, who earlier this spring joined Lorenzo Romar’s staff at Washington. The elder Porter isn’t the only Washington connection either, with Michael’s younger brother Jontay being a commit in the Class of 2018.

Texas A&M lands Spanish forward Eric Vila

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With the loss of all-conference forward Jalen Jones, Texas A&M was in a position where they could afford to add another front court body alongside the likes of Tyler Davis and Tonny Trocha-Morelos. Thursday afternoon head coach Billy Kennedy and his staff managed to do just that, as 6-foot-9 forward Eric Martinez Vila made his pledge to the SEC program.

News of Vila’s commitment was first reported by TexAgs.com, and the FC Barcelona Lassa (that’s the club’s basketball program) product took visits to Texas A&M, Missouri and Wake Forest earlier this spring. Vila’s viewed as more of a combo forward, with the ability to step away from the basket and hit perimeter shots, giving the Aggies some added versatility in the front court.

Vila has plenty of experience playing for both FC Barcelona’s B team (however he did appear with the A-team during the 2014-15 season), and he represented Spain in the 2014 FIBA U16 EuroBasket and 2015 FIBA U18 EuroBasket events. Vila is the fifth member of Texas A&M’s 2016 class, joining guards J.J. Caldwell and J.C. Hampton, wing DeShawn Corprew and forward Robert Williams.

Nevada forward Cameron Oliver to return for sophomore season

LAS VEGAS, NV - MARCH 11: Angelo Chol #3 of the San Diego State Aztecs drives to the hoop against Cameron Oliver #0 of the Nevada Wolf Pack during a semifinal game of the Mountain West Conference basketball tournament at the Thomas & Mack Center on March 11, 2016 in Las Vegas, Nevada. (Photo by Jeff Bottari/Getty Images)
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With the deadline for early entrants to withdraw from the NBA Draft set for Wednesday, some college basketball teams will receive important news as it pertains to the 2016-17 campaign. One of those teams was Nevada, which surprised many last season by winning 24 games in Eric Musselman’s first season at the helm. And with one of the key contributors from that team deciding to withdraw from the NBA Draft, the Wolf Pack will be well positioned to be even better in 2016-17.

Forward Cameron Oliver, who was one of the Mountain West’s best freshmen this past season, will return to Reno for his sophomore season with Musselman making the news official Monday afternoon.

The 6-foot-8 Oliver averaged 13.4 points, 9.1 rebounds and 2.6 blocks per game for Nevada, shooting 50.8 percent from the field in his debut season. Oliver was named third team All-Mountain West while also earning conference All-Defensive team honors.

Oliver and wing D.J. Fenner (13.7 ppg) are the team’s top two returning scorers, with guard Marqueze Coleman (15.1 ppg) out of eligibility, and they’ll lead the way for a team that can contend in the Mountain West next season.

In addition to Oliver and Fenner, Nevada adds two talented transfers in Leland King and Marcus Marshall, with the latter averaging 19.5 points per game at Missouri State in 2014-15.