Weekend Preview: Can Virginia win the ACC outright?

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GAME OF THE WEEKEND: No. 4 Syracuse at No. 12 Virginia, Sat. 4:00 p.m.

All of a sudden, this looks like the biggest game in the ACC this season. Believe it or not, Virginia currently holds a one game lead over the Orange in the ACC standings, and a win would clinch the ‘Hoos the outright regular season title. But Virginia has not beaten one of the other top four teams in the conference since January 20th and they only play Duke, North Carolina and the Orange once each. It’s weird when you think about it, but there’s a possibility that the ACC champ could end up being the fourth-highest seed from the ACC once the bracket is announced.

THE OTHER GAME OF THE WEEKEND: No. 7 Louisville at No. 21 Memphis, Sat. 2:00 p.m.

Louisville added a bit of credibility to their resume when they knocked off Cincinnati in Cincinnati last weekend. They’ll head to Memphis this weekend to try and exact revenge for a whipping that the Tigers put on the Cardinals at the Yum! Center earlier this season. Russ Smith vs. Joe Jackson will be a battle between two of the most under-appreciated guards in college basketball.

THE OTHER, OTHER GAME OF THE WEEKEND: No. 10 Saint Louis at VCU, Sat. 6:00 p.m.

This will be fun. VCU game the Billikens all that they could handle in Saint Louis two weeks ago, but Richmond is one of the tougher places to play in the country. The Rams have lost a couple games in recent weeks and really struggle to score the ball when they are forced into a half-court game — and that won’t likely change against a team as good defensively as Saint Louis is — but if VCU can force some turnovers and turn up the Havoc, they’ll have a chance.

FIVE MORE GAMES TO WATCH:

  • No. 11 Cincinnati at UConn, Sat. 12:00 p.m.: This will be one of the most intriguing matchups of the weekend. Cincinnati is a big, physical team that loves to pound the offense glass. UConn? They don’t have much size up front and they rely heavily on Shabazz Napier to generate offense for them.
  • No. 9 Creighton at Xavier, Sat. 5:00 p.m.: Xavier needs wins to keep themselves on the right side of the bubble, but this will be a tough one to get. As good as Semaj Christon is, I just can’t see this group being able matchup with Creighton’s front court. Matt Stainbrook isn’t chasing Doug McDermott or Ethan Wragge around.
  • Minnesota at No. 16 Michigan, Sat. 6:00 p.m.: Michigan nearly lost to Purdue in West Lafayette on Wednesday night while Minnesota is coming off of a big win over Iowa at home. The Gophers are going to have to find a way to slow down Nik Stauskas and Caris LeVert.
  • No. 5 Kansas at Oklahoma State, Sat. 9:00 p.m.: Three months ago, this looked like the best game of the season. There is still plenty of intrigue heading into the game, but Kansas has already clinched the conference and Oklahoma State is 6-9 in league play. That said, the Pokes really, really need a win.
  • Stanford at No. 3 Arizona, Sun. 8:00 p.m.: Stanford is in good enough position to earn themselves a tournament bid as of today, but if Arizona continues to play like they have the last two games, the Wildcats aren’t getting beaten by anyone.

WHO’S GETTING UPSET?:

  • No. 15 Iowa State at Kansas State, Sat. 7:00 p.m.: Kansas State is in a tough position right now given some of their struggles on the road. They’ve been terrific in the Octagon of Doom, however, and should give the Cyclones a fight.
  • No. 24 Texas at Oklahoma, Sat. 4:00 p.m.: The key to this game for Oklahoma will be taking advantage of the mismatches that will be created with their perimeter. Texas has a big, powerful front line but smaller, quicker guards. The Sooners basically play four guards, all of whom are bigger and more athletic that Texas’ perimeter.
  • No. 13 San Diego State at Fresno State, Sat. 10:05 p.m.: Fresno State is playing some good basketball of late. They can really score, and if the Bulldogs find a way to slow down Xavier Thames, they have the horses to pull off this upset.
  • No. 14 Wisconsin at Penn State, Sun. 12:00 p.m.: The Nittany Lions are a tough club that have pulled off a couple upsets this year. They have penetrating guards, which is something that has given Wisconsin issues.
  • No. 25 New Mexico at Nevada, Sun. 6:00 p.m.: New Mexico is playing as well as anyone in the country right now, but they will be paying a visit to a scrappy Nevada team that has one of the nation’s most underrated players in Deonte Burton.

FIVE THINGS TO WATCH FOR

1) No. 2 Wichita State’s bid for a perfect regular season will come to an end one way or another on Saturday. They host Missouri State in their last game before the MVC tournament begins.

2) There will be a pair of Atlantic 10 battles on the NBC Sports Network this weekend. George Mason will play at George Washington on Sunday 1:00 p.m. while Saint Joseph’s visits St. Bonaventure on Saturday at 3:00 p.m.

3) Illinois heads to East Lansing to take on No. 18 Michigan State in what will likely be Branden Dawson’s first game back from a broken hand.

4) Marquette desperately needs a marquee win to keep their bubble hopes alive. They’ll have a chance to land one at No. 8 Villanova on Sunday at 2:00 p.m.

5) This weekend’s Bubble Games:

  • UMass at Dayton, Sat. 11:00 a.m.
  • Vanderbilt at Tennessee, Sat. 12:00 p.m.
  • TCU at West Virginia, Sat, 1:30 p.m.
  • Texas Tech at Baylor, Sat. 1:30 p.m.
  • Mississippi State at Missouri, Sat. 1:30 p.m.
  • Pitt at Notre Dame, Sat. 2:00 p.m. ; Colorado at Utah, Sat. 2:00 p.m.
  • Richmond at Rhode Island, Sat. 2:00 p.m.
  • Georgia at Arkansas, Sat. 4:00 p.m.
  • BYU at San Diego, Sat. 4:00 p.m.
  • Northwestern at Nebraska, Sat. 5:00 p.m.
  • Cal at Arizona State, Sat. 6:00 p.m.
  • Gonzaga at Saint Mary’s, Sat. 10:00 p.m.

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.