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.

Washington’s Thybulle returning for senior season

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Matisse Thybulle will return to Washington for his senior season after contemplating declaring for the NBA draft following a junior campaign in which he was named the Pac-12 defensive player of the year.

“The NBA is really enticing and it was definitely something that I seriously considered when the season was over,” Thybulle told the Seattle Times. “I talked it over with my family and we came to the conclusion that it would be in my best interest to stay and get my degree (in communications) and grow as a basketball player and take this last year to mature and fine tune everything so I can be fully prepared to take that next step when it’s time.”

The 6-foot-5 guard averaged 11.2 points, 2.9 rebounds, 2.0 assists and 3.0 steals per game last season. He shot 44.5 percent from the field and 36.5 percent from 3-point range.

“I talked to coach (Mike Hopkins) and he gave me some good advice that was honestly something that helped in the grand scheme of things,” Thybulle said. “He told me that if I do it (enter the draft), then I should be all in because that’s what I’m going to be up against is a whole bunch of guys fighting for their lives. He thought it would be a better idea for me to stay in school until I’m at that point.”

Washington is awaiting the decision of Noah Dickerson, who declared for the draft but has not hired an agent. The 6-foot-8 averaged 15.5 points and 8.4 rebounds last season.

Koby McEwen transferring to Marquette

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Steve Wojciechowski added a significant piece to his 2019-20 team over the weekend.

Koby McEwen announced his intention to transfer to Marquette from Utah State late Sunday evening.

“I would like to thank God, my family, inner circle and all the schools/coaches that recruited me during this process!” McEwen tweeted. “With that being said, I’m proud to announce that I’ll be furthering my college career at Marquette University.”

McEwen picked the Golden Eagles over fellow finalists Creighton and Grand Canyon after he decided to transfer when the Aggies announced South Dakota coach Craig Smith was taking over the program last month. The 6-foot-4 guard averaged 15.6 points, 5.4 rebounds and 3.2 assists per game while shooting 40 percent from the field and 30 percent from 3-point range as a sophomore.

After sitting out the upcoming season, McEwen will have to years of eligibility remaining. Marquette went 21-14 last season, but missed the NCAA tournament for the third time in Wojciechowski’s four years in Milwaukee.

Minnesota adds Vanderbilt transfer Payton Willis

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Minnesota has added some depth for the future.

The Golden Gophers received a pledge from Vanderbilt transfer Payton Willis over the weekend, giving him a guard with two seasons of eligibility remaining starting in 2019-20.

Willis will sit out the upcoming season under NCAA transfer rules.

The 6-foot-4 guard played a limited role in two seasons in Nashville, never averaging more than 18. 5 minutes or 5.2 points per game. He scored in double figures in three games as a sophomore.

Willis was a top-150 prospect in the Class of 2016 coming out of Fayetteville, Ark. with offers from the likes of Tulsa, Rice and Dayton. Vandy and Minnesota were his two high-major offers.

After being ranked in the top-15, Minnesota was beset by injury and suspensions last season as they limped to the finish line in a 15-17 season that featured losses in 12 of its last 13 games.

Richard Pitino still has two available scholarships for the 2018-19 campaign.

Report: Quade Green returning to Kentucky

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John Calipari just landed a critical recruit for 2018-19, and he was already on the roster.

Quade Green, who averaged 25 minutes per game last season, is returning to Kentucky for his sophomore season, his mother told the Lexington Herald-Leader on Monday.

Given that six Wildcat players have entered the draft (Kevin Knox, Shai Gilgeous-Alexander and Hami Diallo are signing with agents), getting the 6-foot point guard back for a second season is a massive deal for Calipari and Co. The Wildcats have always been at their best under Calipari with returning players as the cornerstones of the roster with talented one-and-dones providing the extra boost. Getting one such returner at the point guard position is even more critical.

Green, who came to Kentucky as a five-star recruit last year, averaged 9.3 points and 2.7 assists per game while shooting 45.1 percent from the field and a respectable 37.1 percent from 3-point range, an area where Kentucky continually needs help.

With Green back in the fold, Kentucky will now await the decisions of PJ Washington, Wenyen Gabriel and Jarred Vanderbilt, who are all going through the pre-draft process without hiring agents, which will potentially allow them to return to school and bolster a Kentucky roster has the look of a top-five team.

CBT Podcast: NBA Draft Early Entry Deadline: Winners, losers and who has the most on the line?

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The NBA Draft Early Entry Deadline came and went on Sunday night, meaning there are now roughly 60 college players that have signed with an agent and another 100 or so that have declared for the draft while retaining their college eligibility. Who were the winners? Who were the losers? Who has the most on the line? Sam Vecenie of the Game Theory podcast joined Rob Dauster to talk through all of it. The rundown:

OPEN: What do NBA teams value in players these days?

10:00: Villanova has more on the line during this testing the water process than anyone

19:00: Just how important was De’Andre Hunter’s decision to return to Virginia

25:25: Gonzaga getting Rui and Killian Tillie back makes them a title favorite

32:10: Nevada has a top ten season on the line with the Martin twins and Jordan Caroline

36:15: #RANTALERT – The decision to turn pro is so much more complicated than “is he a first round pick”

48:30: Rapid fire: Maryland, Kansas, Syracuse, Nebraska, Purdue and Michigan. What do they have on the line?