Friday’s Pregame Shootaround: VCU visits UMass and a showdown in the A-Sun

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GAME OF THE NIGHT: VCU at UMass, 7:00 p.m. (ESPN2)

Like teams that prefer to play fast? This is the game to watch then, with both the Rams and Minutemen ranked in the top 25 nationally in adjusted tempo. Both have speed and a desire to pressure defensively, with the Minutemen being led by senior point guard Chaz Williams. As Williams goes so goes UMass, with the Minutemen entering tonight’s game having won three of their last four. He’ll be tested by a VCU team that makes things incredibly difficult on opposing point guards, with guard Briante Weber being the toughest perimeter defender of the bunch.

The thing to watch in this matchup: turnovers. UMass may play fast but they’re only forcing around 14 turnovers per game, with VCU forcing 19 turnovers per game. If VCU has success in forcing live-ball turnovers and Juvonte Reddic outplays the UMass front court, the Rams are more than capable of leaving Amherst with the win.

MID-MAJOR GAME OF THE NIGHT: Mercer at FGCU, 6:00 p.m. (ESPNU)

The Atlantic Sun race essentially comes down to this matchup in Fort Myers. A win for the Eagles moves them into a tied for first with Mercer, but a loss gives Bob Hoffman’s Bears a two-game lead and a sweep of the season series. Two of the best guards at the mid-major level will be on display as well, with Langston Hall pacing Mercer and Brett Comer doing the same for FGCU. The differences in the first meeting, a 68-55 Mercer win on January 23, were Mercer’s forcing 15 FGCU turnovers and limiting the Eagles to 1-for-17 shooting from beyond the arc.

FIVE THINGS TO WATCH FOR:

  • The two teams tied for first place in the Ivy League are both on the road, with Yale visiting Cornell and Harvard playing at Penn. For the Bulldogs this is the first of four straight games on the road before they host the Crimson on March 7.
  • Iona looks to maintain its two-game lead in the MAAC with a win at Rider. The Broncs are in the fight for fifth place and the final first-round by in the MAAC tournament, and a win would move them two games ahead of Marist and Siena.
  • Oakland is hoping to improve its standing within the Horizon League with a win over a UIC team that’s 0-13 in league play and mired in a 16-game losing streak. A Duke Mondy three-pointer as time expired gave the Golden Grizzlies a 76-75 win in the first meeting.
  • Also of note in the Horizon League is Wright State’s game against Detroit, with the Raiders looking to make a run at the three-seed in next month’s conference tournament. They currently trail Valparaiso by a game for third.
  • Manhattan visits Siena with the Jaspers needing a win to keep pace with Quinnipiac in the race for second in the MAAC. And with the Bobcats having swept the season series, Steve Masiello’s team will need QU to drop a game at some point.

Wichita State’s Landry Shamet out sick against Tulane

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Wichita State guard Landry Shamet will miss the Shockers’ game against Tulane on Wednesday night as he sits out due to illness.

Dressed in street clothes for the AAC conference clash, Shamet has put up All-American-caliber numbers for Wichita State this season as he’s putting up 14.7 points, 5.2 assists and 3.1 rebounds per game.

Without Shamet in the lineup, it gives Samajae Haynes-Jones a potential shot at minutes as he’s fallen out of the rotation over the last several weeks. Wichita State is still heavily favored against Tulane at home on Wednesday but they have an important three-game stretch to close out the conference season. The Shockers have to go on the road to play SMU and UCF before closing out the conference slate with an important home game against Cincinnati.

Duke’s Marvin Bagley III out for the fourth straight game with knee injury

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Duke star freshman big man Marvin Bagley III will miss his fourth consecutive game on Wednesday night as he continues to battle a knee injury.

The 6-foot-11 freshman suffered a mild knee sprain in his right knee in Duke’s game against North Carolina on Feb. 8 as he’s missed the Blue Devils’ last three games — all wins. Bagley will miss Duke’s contest against Louisville on Wednesday as he’s also missed games against Georgia Tech, Virginia Tech and Clemson.

Duke still has three regular-season games after Wednesday before the ACC tournament starts as Bagley still has plenty of time to heal and recover before the postseason begins.

Bagley is putting up 21.2 points, 11.4 rebounds and 1.1 blocks per game for Duke this season as he’s a consensus top-five pick in most 2018 NBA mock drafts. Without Bagley in the lineup, Duke has continued to play well and win games as they’ve still had big man Wendell Carter to handle things on the interior.

 

Rick Pitino: ‘I had no knowledge’ of the violations that led to banner coming down

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Disgraced ex-Louisville head coach Rick Pitino spoke at a press conference in Manhattan on Wednesday afternoon and denied any knowledge of the violations that were committed by Andre McGee, any potential NCAA violations involving the recruitment of Brian Bowen and pushed for Louisville to file an injunction against the NCAA’s decision to remove the 2013 national title banner.

“I take full responsibility for everyone I hire,” Pitino said. “To say I’m disappointed with the NCAA ruling is a gross understatement.”

“I have apologized many times. I feel awful for what happened. I’ve run a clean program all my life. [Sitting where you are], I would agree with you. It looks bad. I’ve coached for 41 years. For 35, as a head coach, nothing has come up.”

Pitino went on to say that he “hired the wrong person” when he made the decision to bring McGee onto his staff. McGee is the one that was responsible for hosting the parties and bringing the strippers and sex workers to them.

“I had no knowledge of the reprehensible things that went on in that dormitory,” Pitino said. “Did a few of [my players] partake in parties they didn’t organize? Yes, they did. That had nothing to do with an extra benefit,” going on to add that attending these parties were not the reason that Louisville won the 2013 national title.

Pitino also denied any involvement in the recruit of Bowen, a five-star prospect that committed to Louisville in a deal that was supposed to get his family paid $100,000 from Adidas.

“In 40 years of coaching, I have never been involved, directly or indirectly, in any effort to pay any money or extend any improper benefit to any recruit or recruit’s family members or representatives,” he said.

Pitino said that he has not had any discussions about coaching again or looking for a job this spring, but he did say that he does “miss it.” He also urged the new University of Louisville administration to fight this decision in court, to file an injunction and do what they can to keep Louisville from having to sacrifice a national title banner.

No other Division I basketball program has ever had a national title vacated.

“The NCAA,” Pitino said, “cannot rewrite history by taking a banner down.

John Wall is heading back to school to get a business degree

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John Wall, the former Kentucky star that helped launch Coach Cal’s one-and-done movement in Lexington, is planning on using a piece of that $207 million contract extension that he signed last July for summer school.

“I’m going back to school this summer to get my business degree,” Wall told the Washington Post this week. “That’s what I’m focusing on. I promised my dad that.”

Wall’s dad died when he was eight years old, and anyone that knows his story knows that it hasn’t been the easiest path for Wall to get from that moment to this moment.

So good for John.

Seriously.

I do believe that it is important to educate yourself, even if that education is something as simple as learning how to run a business on your own.

But I also think that, in the larger context of basketball and, specifically, the one-and-done rule, this is important to note. Wall left school as a 19-year old, made a whole bunch of guaranteed money on his rookie deal, got more guaranteed money on his first contract extension and now is working under a contract that will pay him nine figures with a crooked number in front. Throw in endorsement deals, and by the time Wall hangs up his sneakers, he could end up banking close to half a billion dollars.

That’s more than enough money to be able to pay for three years worth of classes at Kentucky to finish his undergrad degree, get a master’s and become a PhD. For Wall, that financial hit would be like the financial hit you or I take for adding chips and guac at Chipotle. (But not queso. We pretend their queso doesn’t exist.)

My point is this: The time a person has to educate themselves never ends. The time that Wall, or any professional athlete, has to profit off of their ability does, and much sooner than most think.

So the next time you decide to criticize a player for leaving school early to chase their professional dreams or because they’re just looking to get paid or because they don’t care about education, just think about this.

USC guard to leave school, turn pro

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It appears that De’Anthony Melton’s college career has come to an end.

The 6-foot-3 shooting guard for the USC Trojans announced on Wednesday that he will be leaving school. Melton, a sophomore, was caught up in the FBI’s investigation into corruption in college basketball and has not played in a game this season.

“I have reached a crossroads wherein I have decided to focus on honing my strengths and improving upon my weakness for competition at the next level,” Melton said in a statement.

And athletic wing with a 6-foot-8 wingspan, Melton averaged 8.3 points, 4.7 boards, 3.5 assists and 1.9 steals as a freshman. He is considered a potential first round pick.