Pregame Shootaround: March begins with a huge ACC tilt

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GAME OF THE DAY: No. 4 Syracuse at No. 12 Virginia, (4:00 p.m., ESPN):

CBT’s own Rob Dauster broke down this weekend’s top matchups in our weekend preview:

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 DAY: No. 7 Louisville at No. 21 Memphis, (2:00 p.m., CBS):

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.

WHO’S GETTING UPSET? No. 15 Iowa State at Kansas State, (7:00 p.m., ESPNU)

Kansas State could use another top-25 win and they’re terrific in the Octagon of Doom, where they will host No. 15 Iowa State. The Cyclones picked up an 81-75 home win over the Wildcats in late January but are 2-4 on the road in Big 12 play this season and those wins came over a reeling Oklahoma State team in three overtimes and TCU. Can Kansas State stop alternating wins and losses after the big home win over Kansas and build some momentum going into the Big 12 Tournament?

MID-MAJOR GAME OF THE DAY: Western Michigan at Toledo (6 p.m., ESPN3)

The top two teams in the MAC’s West Division face-off in a big contest when division-leading Western Michigan (19-8, 12-3) visits Toledo (23-5, 11-4). Toledo looked like one of the mid-major teams you wouldn’t want to potentially face in the NCAA Tournament until recent road losses to Eastern Michigan and Northern Illinois while Western Michigan has won eight consecutive games and will look to sweep the season series against Toledo after beating them at home on January 8th.

FIVE THINGS TO KNOW

1) Cincinnati at UConn will be one of the most intriguing matchups of the weekend. The No. 11 Bearcats are 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.

2) Can No. 2 Wichita State finish the regular season undefeated? The 30-0 Shockers will attempt to be the first team to finish the regular season undefeated since Saint Joseph’s in 2003-04. There also hasn’t been an 18-0 team in the Missouri Valley Conference since Oklahoma in 1927-28.

3) Still a lot of intrigue when No. 5 Kansas travels to Oklahoma State. Three months ago, this looked like the best game of the season but Kansas has already clinched the conference and Oklahoma State is 6-9 in league play. The Cowboys really, really need a win.

4) Xavier needs wins to keep themselves on the right side of the bubble, and a home win against No. 9 Creighton will be a tough one to get. As good as Semaj Christon is, can this group matchup with Creighton’s front court? Matt Stainbrook isn’t chasing Doug McDermott or Ethan Wragge around.

5) No. 11 Cincinnati at UConn 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.

THE REST OF THE TOP 25:

  • LSU at No. 1 Florida, 4:00 p.m., CBS
  • No. 10 Saint Louis at VCU, 6:00 p.m., ESPN2
  • No. 13 San Diego State at Fresno State, 10:05 p.m., CBSSN
  • Minnesota at No. 16 Michigan, 6:00 p.m., BTN
  • No. 17 Kentucky at South Carolina, 6:00 p.m., ESPN
  • Illinois at No. 18 Michigan State, 4:00 p.m., ESPN2
  • No. 19 North Carolina at Virginia Tech, 2:30 p.m., ESPN3
  • UCF at No. 23 SMU, 4:00 p.m., ESPNN
  • No. 24 Texas at Oklahoma, 4:00 p.m., ESPN3

NOTABLES:

  • UMass at Dayton, Sat. 11:00 a.m., ESPNU
  • Vanderbilt at Tennessee, Sat. 12:00 p.m., ESPN2
  • TCU at West Virginia, Sat, 1:30 p.m., ESPN3
  • Texas Tech at Baylor, Sat. 1:30 p.m., ROOT
  • Mississippi State at Missouri, Sat. 1:30 p.m., ESPN3
  • Pitt at Notre Dame, Sat. 2:00 p.m., ESPN2
  • Colorado at Utah, Sat. 2:00 p.m., PAC12
  • Richmond at Rhode Island, Sat. 2:00 p.m.,
  • Georgia at Arkansas, Sat. 4:00 p.m., ESPN3
  • BYU at San Diego, Sat. 4:00 p.m., ROOT
  • Northwestern at Nebraska, Sat. 5:00 p.m., ESPNU
  • Cal at Arizona State, Sat. 6:00 p.m., PAC12
  • Gonzaga at Saint Mary’s, Sat. 10:00 p.m., ESPN2

Sweet 16 Preview: Thursday’s picks, predictions, betting lines and channels

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The Sweet 16 kicks off on Thursday night, and the games are going to be terrific.

Oregon-Michigan should be thrilling, Gonzaga-West Virginia is a fascinating contrast of styles and Kansas-Purdue features arguably the two best players in college basketball.

Oh, and then there’s Arizona-Xavier, with Sean Miller and Chris Mack doing battle.

For an in-depth look at each region, check these out:

SWEET 16 PREVIEW: Midwest | West | South | East

No. 3 Oregon vs. No. 7 Michigan (-1.5), 7:09 p.m. (CBS): So this run that Michigan on, is it a fluke?

Frankly, I don’t think that it is. Derrick Walton has been awesome for the better part of two months while Michigan’s perimeter shooters have always been shooters and the duo of D.J. Wilson and Mo Wagner are legit. I honestly do not believe that the Wolverines are a team of destiny after the plane crash. They are just really good and a perfect roster for John Beilein to tinker with.

That’s why they’re favored on Thursday night. But here’s the thing … Oregon is pretty good themselves. Dillon Brooks is going to be guarded by a big man, which should be a matchup that Brooks can take advantage of, and Tyler Dorsey has been playing terrific basketball since the start of the Pac-12 tournament.

If you like small-ball, spread-the-court basketball, you’ll love this game.

PREDICTION: Michigan (-1.5)

No. 1 Gonzaga (-3) vs. No. 4 West Virginia, 7:39 p.m. (TBS): On paper, I think Gonzaga should win this game. They have a good back court in Nigel Williams-Goss and Josh Perkins, a pair of talented point guards that have won a lot of games in their career. Gonzaga is also the best defensive team in the country. So if they don’t turn the ball over against West Virginia’s press and they make it difficult for West Virginia to score in the half court and get into their press, they should be able to win this thing, right?

Well, maybe not.

My concern with Gonzaga is game-pressure. They didn’t handle it well down the stretch against BYU in their one loss of the season, and I’m not convinced that they win that second round game against Northwestern if the officials don’t blow the goaltending call. How are they going to handle an endless wave of Mountaineers in their face?

PREDICTION: Gonzaga (-3)

No. 1 Kansas (-5) vs. No. 4 Purdue, 9:39 p.m. (CBS): More than any other game this weekend, I’m fascinated to see how these two teams decide to try and play each other. Kansas has, essentially, one big man that Bill Self can trust, and he’s going up against a Player of the Year candidate in Caleb Swanigan and one of the best big men in the country at drawing fouls in Isaac Haas. Will Self double-team Swanigan knowing that Purdue may be more effective offensively when Swanigan can find shooters out of the double-team, or will he risk Lucas getting in foul trouble by trying to guard Swanigan one-on-one?

Then, at the other end of the floor, how will Purdue deal with the Kansas back court? Frank Mason III, the NBC Sports National Player of the Year, and Devonte’ Graham are a nightmare for anyone to deal with, let alone a team that struggles against penetrating guards and that lacks rim protection. It should be a fascinating coaching battle.

PREDICTION: Kansas (-5)

No. 2 Arizona (-7.5) vs. No. 11 Xavier, 10:09 p.m. (TBS): On paper, Arizona should be able to handle a Xavier team that doesn’t have Edmond Sumner or Myles Davis. That said, as we all know, Chris Mack and Sean Miller are very close and used to work together. Mack knows everything that Miller is going to do and vice versa. I think this game will be a low-scoring, grind-it-out affair that comes down to the final minutes.

PREDICTION: Xavier (+7.5)

Shayok and Reuter transferring from Virginia

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Virginia announced the departure of two players Wednesday.

Marial Shayok and Jerred Shayok will both transfer out of the program, the school said.

“Marial and Jarred informed me today that they are leaving the Virginia basketball program and are looking to transfer to other schools,” Cavaliers coach Tony Bennett said in a statement released by the school. “I thank Marial and Jarred for their hard work and contributions to our program, and wish them success in the future.”

Shayok, a a 6-foot-5 junior, played 20.9 minutes per game last season for the Cavaliers, averaging 8.9 points and 2.4 rebounds per game while shooting 44.5 percent from the floor. The Ottawa native started 23 games in three seasons with Virginia.

Reuter played a minimal role for the Cavaliers, averaging just 10.8 minutes and 3.8 rebounds per game.

Wake’s Collins declares for NBA draft without hiring agent

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WINSTON-SALEM, N.C. (AP) Wake Forest’s John Collins is entering the NBA draft but will not hire an agent and is keeping open the option of returning to school for his junior season.

In a statement Wednesday announcing the decision, Collins said he wants “to make an informed decision about what is best for my future.”

Collins is a 6-foot-10 forward who as a sophomore blossomed into one of the best big men in the Atlantic Coast Conference and was voted to the Associated Press all-ACC team.

He averaged 19.2 points and 9.8 rebounds, putting together a string of 12 consecutive 20-point games late in the season.

His progression was a big reason why the Demon Deacons earned their first NCAA Tournament berth since 2010. Kansas State beat Wake Forest in the First Four.

More AP college basketball: http://www.collegebasketball.ap.org

Porter, Jr. will ask for Washington release

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There may be an overwhelming assumption on where Michael Porter, Jr. – and his father – will ultimately end up, but the five-star recruit is said publicly that he see his re-recruitment process through.

Porter, Jr. said in a teleconference Wednesday that he will ask for his release from Washington, and his father, a former Huskies assistant, has been offered a job at Missouri by new Tigers coach Cuonzo Martin.

“Right now I’m just trying to take it slow with my family and weigh my options,” Porter Jr. said, according to the Kansas City Star. “I plan to get my (national letter of intent) from Washington back and just go from there, not saying that I’m not going to Washington anymore, but I just want to get it back and weigh my options.”

The prevailing thought has been that the Porters will ultimately land in Columbia, where they have significant history.

Still, it would appear at least publicly that Porter, Jr., a potential No. 1 pick in the 2018 NBA draft, will weigh his options in at least the short-term.

Calipari signs two-year extension with Kentucky

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Kentucky continues to take care of John Calipari.

The Wildcats coach has received a two-year extension, keeping him under contract in Lexington through the 2024 season, the school announced Wednesday.

The contract will pay Calipari $7.75 million next season and increase to $8 million per season thereafter.

“John has achieved consistent championship-level performance at Kentucky,” Kentucky athletic director Mitch Barnhart said in a statement. “No one in America is better suited for everything that comes with being the coach here. Not only has he attained incredible success on the court, he is also a leader in our community and in college basketball.

“We have been blessed to have him and Ellen here for the last eight years and we are blessed they will continue to call Kentucky home.”

Not only does the deal extend Calipari, but it continues to keep Kentucky competitive with the NBA, which would seem to be the only outlet that would even potentially tempt Calipari away from Kentucky. An NBA franchise would have to make him among the highest-paid coaches in the league to even match Kentucky financially.

Of course, given that Calipari has spurned interest from the league since returning to college in 2000, it seems unlikely that financial considerations would be the lone or heaviest variable in making a decision to move on.

Certainly, Calipari has an excellent thing going at Kentucky as the premier recruiting program in the country that has enjoyed serious success on the court, culminating in a 2012 national title and a 38-0 start to the 2015 season before a loss in the Final Four.

“The last eight years at the University of Kentucky have been a terrific ride,” Calipari said in a statement. “This extension shows our full commitment to each other. I believe this school is the gold standard and I’m so thankful and blessed that this university has given me this opportunity at this point in my career.”

The Wildcats face UCLA in the Sweet 16 on Friday.