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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.

Whitehead to stay in NBA Draft

Seton Hall guard Isaiah Whitehead (15) shoots past Xavier forward Sean O'Mara (54) during the first half of an NCAA college basketball game Sunday, Feb. 28, 2016, in Newark, N.J. (AP Photo/Mel Evans)
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Seton Hall sophomore guard Isaiah Whitehead has signed with an agent and will remain in the NBA Draft, according to multiple reports.

Whitehead averaged 18.2 points, 5.1 assists and 3.6 rebounds per game last season for Seton Hall, which went 25-9 and reached the NCAA tournament. He likely projects as a second-round pick with a bit of a shaky shot, but a high usage and assist rates. His strong finish to the season likely lifted him on some draft boards, but his inefficiency will cap his ceiling in June’s draft.

The loss is significant for the Pirates as Whitehead was so much of their offense, but they’ll bring back Khadeen Carrington, Desi Rodriguez, Angel Delgado and Ismael Sanogo. It’s a group that will miss Whitehead’s playmaking, but is still a solid enough foundation that Seton Hall will still likely be competitive in the Big East and vying for another NCAA tournament berth.

Hart returning for Villanova’s title defense

LOUISVILLE, KY - MARCH 26:  Josh Hart #3 of the Villanova Wildcats reacts in the second half against the Kansas Jayhawks during the 2016 NCAA Men's Basketball Tournament South Regional at KFC YUM! Center on March 26, 2016 in Louisville, Kentucky.  (Photo by Kevin C. Cox/Getty Images)
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Villanova’s title defense just got a whole lot stouter.

Josh Hart, the leading scorer of the Wildcats’ national championship team, will return for his senior season, he announced on Twitter.

The decision for Hart to return is a major boost for Villanova in its quest to become the first back-to-back champions since Florida in 2006 and 2007. Hart, a 6-foot-5 guard,  averaged 15.5 points and 6.8 rebounds per game while shooting 51.3 percent from the floor and 35.7 percent from 3-point range.

Most draft pundits had him pegged as a potential end-of-the-first-round pick in next month’s draft though he could have certainly slid into the second should he had decided to forego his senior season. Instead, Hart will be a potential first-team All-American exhausting his eligibility in Philadelphia.

The 2016-17 season is taking shape nicely, and Hart returning to Villanova only increases the strength of the field at the top. Title game hero Kris Jenkins as well as Jalen Brunson, Phil Booth and Mikal Bridges are also back for the defending champs while the super recruiting classes of Duke, Kentucky and Michigan State, Kansas’ returning core along with Josh Jackson and a solid group of teams including North Carolina, Arizona, Louisville and Wisconsin make for an intriguing upper-tier of teams that could very well make for a top-heavy season following last year’s free for all.

College basketball isn’t the NFL. Parity doesn’t equal strength and quality, and when the sport has a handful high-quality teams, it is at its best. It’s looking like that is a possibility for the 2016-17 campaign.

UConn duo returning to school

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Connecticut may have lost its 6-foot-7 wing scorer but it is keeping its defensive stalwart and leading scorer.

Center Amida Brimah and guard Rodney Purvis have withdrawn their names from NBA Draft consideration and will return to the Huskies for another year, the school announced Tuesday.

The decisions from Brimah, a 7-foot center, and Purvis, a 6-foot-4 shooting guard, help soften the blow dealt by Daniel Hamilton’s decision to sign with an agent and leave school despite having some shaky draft stock. The Huskies may not open the season as a top-25 team, but they won’t be far behind and will be one of the AAC’s favorites, along with Cincinnati.

Brimah averaged 6.5 points per game last year, but blocked 2.7 shots per game. He missed 11 games last season with a broken finger. Purvis registered 12.8 points per game while shooting 43.4 percent from the floor.

Neither Brimah or Purvis were among those invited to this month’s NBA Draft combine nor were either expected to be drafted should they have kept their names in the draft.

Gonzaga’s Karnowski returning for fifth year

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The man in the middle is returning to Gonzaga.

Przemek Karnowski will return to the Bulldogs for his final year after a medical redshirt waiver was granted allowing him a fifth season in Spokane, the school announced Tuesday.

“I’m excited to be coming back,” Karnowski said in a statement. “After talking with the coaches, my parents and the team, I decided this was the best decision for me. I still have a ways to go with my rehab, but I’m staying positive about the upcoming season.”

The 7-foot-1 Karnowski, a Poland native, would have, at minimum, had professional opportunities overseas, but instead will return to play for the Bulldogs once more after a back injury limited him to five games last season. He averaged 10.9 points and 5.8 rebounds per game as a junior in 2014-15.

With Karnowski returning along with  Josh Perkins and Silas Melson, Gonzaga coach Mark Few will be having newcomers Nigel Williams-Goss, Zach Norvell, Johnathan Williams II and Zach Collins joining an experienced and talented group.

Gonzaga (shocker) will be the West Coast Conference favorite once more, but the Bulldogs will also be fielding a team that should open the season in most everyone’s top-15.

Michigan St. at Duke highlights ACC/Big Ten Challenge

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A matchup in Durham of likely top-10 teams is the headliner of the ACC/Big Ten Challenge, whose schedule was released Tuesday.

Michigan State, expected to open the season in the top-10, and Duke, the presumptive preseason No. 1, will meet Tuesday, Nov. 29, at Cameron Indoor Stadium in the most intriguing contest of the 14-game event.

The Spartans are losing Denzel Valentin, Bryn Forbes and Matt Costello, but the recruiting class of Miles Bridges, Cassius Winston, Joshua Langford and Nick Ward is one of coach Tom Izzo’s best and has Michigan State positioned as one of the Big Ten’s favorites.

Izzo’s recruiting class, though, pales in comparison to what coach Mike Krzyzewski is bringing to the Blue Devils, with Harry Giles, Jayson Tatum, Marques Bolden, Frank Jackson and Javin DeLaurier in their 2016 class, which is why, when paired with the likes of Grayson Allen, Amile Jefferson and Luke Kennard, make Duke nearly everyone’s No. 1 heading into next season.

Krzyzewski is 9-1 all-time against Izzo’s Spartans.

Among the other highlights of the conference competition is Syracuse at Wisconsin (Nov. 29) Pittsburgh at Maryland (Nov. 29), Purdue at Louisville (Nov. 30) and Ohio State at Virginia (Nov. 30).  

Monday, Nov. 28

Minnesota at Florida State

Wake Forest at Northwestern

Tuesday, Nov. 29

Syracuse at Wisconsin

Michigan State at Duke

Pittsburgh at Maryland

Iowa at Notre Dame

Georgia Tech at Penn State

N.C. State at Illinois

 

Wednesday, Nov. 30

Purdue at Louisville

North Carolina at Indiana

Ohio State at Virginia

Virginia Tech at Michigan

Rutgers at Miami (Fla.)

Nebraska at Clemson