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Friday’s Pregame Shootaround: Harvard looks to make NCAA tournament return

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GAME OF THE DAY: Harvard at Yale, 7:30 p.m. (NBC Sports Network)

The Crimson play their second-to-last game of the season against the only team capable of catching them in the Ivy League race. If Tommy Amaker’s team gets the win, they get the automatic bid to the NCAA tournament for the third consecutive season. But that’s easier said than done, as the Bulldogs won the first meeting on February 8. Yale forward Justin Sears was the difference-maker, as he accounted for 21 points and 11 rebounds. Also of note was Yale’s defensive effort, as they limited Harvard to 39% shooting from the field and 7-for-21 from three.

THIS ONE’S GOOD TOO: Eastern Kentucky vs. Murray State, 10:00 p.m. (ESPNU)

The second semifinal in the OVC matches the two (Murray State) and three (EKU) seeds, and the two teams haven’t met since January 8. Steve Prohm’s Racers won that meeting, 77-64, shooting 51% from the field and attempting 28 free throws (making 19) to Eastern Kentucky’s eight (making six). Freshman Cameron Payne and forward Jarvis Williams scored 19 points apiece for the Racers in that meeting, with Williams making all nine of his shots from the field. EKU, which has won five straight games, is led by the veteran trio of Glenn Cosey, Corey Walden and Marcus Lewis.

CONFERENCE TOURNAMENTS

  • Big South: Quarterfinals begin
    The Big South moves to the quarterfinal round after playing for first-round games on Wednesday, and among the teams in action are host Coastal Carolina. The Chanticleers face Charleston Southern, an 81-71 winner over Campbell on Wednesday. These teams haven’t met since January 8, when the Buccaneers beat the Chanticleers 70-58 in Charleston. Regular season champion High Point also begins its tournament, matchup up with Winthrop in the first game of the day.
  • Horizon League: Wright State, Valparaiso enter the fray
    The Horizon League bracket favors those who finish highest in the standings, meaning that champion (and host) Green Bay and Cleveland State won’t play until Saturday’s semifinals. Friday night, Wright State and Valparaiso play their first games with the Raiders facing Oakland and Valpo taking on Milwaukee. Wright State swept the Golden Grizzlies during the regular season, and the Crusaders did the same to Milwaukee.
  • Missouri Valley: No. 2 Wichita State looks to snap a streak
    The primary focus regarding the Shockers will be whether or not they can pick up three more wins and enter the NCAA tournament 34-0. But, the program hasn’t won the conference tournament since 1987. They’ll look to take the first step towards ending that dry spell with a win over Evansville Friday afternoon. The game that may provide the most suspense in St. Louis: Illinois State – Missouri State, with the home team winning both regular season meetings.
  • OVC: Belmont looks to return to the title game
    Eastern Kentucky – Murray State will be good, but so will Belmont’s matchup with Morehead State. Rick Byrd’s Bruins went 14-2 in OVC play, and two of those wins came against the Eagles. Belmont won the second meeting by just three points on January 29, with J.J. Mann scoring 22 points and the Bruins closing the game on a 10-0 run. Drew Kelly scored 23 points in that game for the Eagles, who led 73-66 with 1:19 remaining.
  • SoCon: Day one in Asheville
    The SoCon tournament gets going with a triple header in Asheville, with Georgia Southern and UNCG favored to advance to Saturday’s quarterfinals. The opener matches Samford and Appalachian State, with the Mountaineers having won both regular season meetings. Jason Capel’s team beat the Bulldogs 63-57 on February 27, with Tommy Spagnolo (21 points, ten rebounds) sparking a late rally. As for the other two games, the individual matchup between Furman’s Stephen Croone (19.3 ppg, 3.7 apg) and Georgia Southern’s Jelani Hewitt (20.0, 3.2) should be fun to watch.

Video: Coach K talks Team USA with Dan Patrick

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Team USA has blown through its competition in its first two exhibition games ahead of next month’s Olympics in Rio De Janeiro with wins over Argentina and China by a combined a combined 96 points.

Tonight, they’ll have a rematch against China, which they defeated 106-57 on Sunday, but it will also serve as the unofficial debut of Kevin Durant in front of his new hometown fans with the game taking place at the home of the Golden State Warriors, Oracle Arena, in Oakland.

“Excited for Kevin tonight to make his debut in front of the Golden State fans,” coach Mike Krzyzewski said Tuesday on the Dan Patrick Show. “He got a great reception (Monday) at a function. He was, as he should be, warmly welcomed.”

The team has been together since July 18 in the run-up to its first Olympic contest on Aug. 6 against China. For Krzyzewski, a couple of players have made an impression already.

“You see these guys on TV,” the Duke coach said, “but I don’t get a chance to see them in person. (Clipper) DeAndre Jordan is such a good player. A great athlete, a great guy. To see him run, defend, holy mackerel. He’ s really good.

“I haven’t seen Paul George in two years when he had that horrific (leg) injury in Las Vegas at one of our camps, and he’s so darn good. On defense, tremendous.”

It’s on the defensive side of the floor that Coach K believes his team can really make its mark even with the incredible collection of offensive talent the roster has.

“We’re very athletic so defensively we could be a very good defensive team,” he said. “We’ve shown a willingness to want to do that in the first two games.”

As usual, Team USA is the prohibitive favorite to bring back gold for the third consecutive Olympics, which will be Coach K’s last at the helm after taking over after the 2004 bronze medal debacle.

“I’m excited about the team,” he said. “It’s a short time. to see our guys working so hard and they get along so well, I’m excited about the team we might be in Rio. We’ll use tonight to get a little bit better.

“I kind of have the blinders on. You only have a short time. It’s a little over a month, and we want to win the gold medal in Rio.”

Rose’s transfer to BYU becomes official

Ge'Lawn Guyn, L.J. Rose
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His commitment came more than a month ago, but L.J. Rose’s transfer to BYU became official Tuesday.

The former Houston guard was officially announced as an immediately-eligible graduate transfer by BYU on Tuesday. He’ll bring much needed help to a Cougars backcourt that lost Kyle Collinsworth and Chase Fischer to graduation and Jordan Chatman and Jack Toolson to transfers.

“L.J. will add great experience and talent to our guard line,” BYU coach Dave Rose said in a statement released by BYU. “We’re excited about the leadership he will bring on the court and in the locker room. He will make us a deeper and more versatile team.”

As a junior, L.J. Rose averaged 9.8 points and 5.3 assists, but a foot injury limited him to just two games last season and allowed him to receive a medical redshirt and the opportunity to be a graduate transfer for his final collegiate season. He’ll be a big part of BYU’s attempt to build on last year’s 26-11 season as a former top-100 recruit, who began his career at Baylor, on a team in need of an infusion of talent after absorbing the losses from last year’s roster.

His father, Lynden, Sr., was a teammate of BYU coach Dave Rose at Houston during the program’s Phi Slama Jama era.

UCLA loses key forward to professional ranks

LOS ANGELES, CA - MARCH 02:  Dillon Brooks #24 of the Oregon Ducks steals the ball from Jonah Bolden #43 of the UCLA Bruins during a 76-68 Ducks win at Pauley Pavilion on March 2, 2016 in Los Angeles, California.  (Photo by Harry How/Getty Images)
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UCLA announced on Tuesday afternoon that Jonah Bolden will be forgoing his college eligibility to turn professional.

“Jonah Bolden has informed the coaching staff that he has opted to play professionally this season,” the release said.

Bolden is a versatile, 6-foot-10 forward with some NBA potential. In his only season playing with the Bruins, he averaged 4.6 points and 4.8 boards while starting 11 games. His ability on the defensive end of the floor was something the UCLA staff was counting on this season.

A sophomore this past season, Bolden was ruled a partial qualifier by the NCAA as a freshman, meaning that he was allowed to be on scholarship and in class but could not play during the 2014-15 season.

He had two seasons of eligibility remaining. Without Bolden, T.J Leaf will likely be counted on to play more minutes at the four.

D.J. Harvey cuts list to ten schools

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With the July Live Period coming to an end, it’s time for schools to starts deciding who they’re going to target, who they’re going to offer a scholarship to and who they’re going to cut bait with.

At the same time, we’re going to see a flurry of players starting whittling down the number of schools they’re actually considering.

D.J. Harvey was once considered a top ten prospect in the Class of 2017, and while the DeMatha product has seen his stock slide a bit in the last year, he’s still a top 50 player that has a number of power programs knocking on his door.

Over the weekend, he announced that he has cut his list to ten schools: Notre Dame, Oklahoma, Duke, Texas, Villanova, UConn, UCLA, Maryland, Arizona and Louisville.

Rick Pitino: ‘We’re going to press more than we’ve ever pressed’

Louisville coach Rick Pitino shouts instructions to his team during the first half of its NCAA college basketball game against Florida State, Wednesday, Jan. 20, 2016, in Louisville, Ky. (AP Photo/Timothy D. Easley)
AP Photo/Timothy D. Easley
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Rick Pitino hopped on the air with 93.9 in Louisville recently and discussed the stuff you expect to hear a coach discuss on the radio in July.

He talked about the players that are improving (Jaylen Johnson). He talked about how he’s worried about how his team is going to score next season. He talked about the glut of big men on his roster and how none of them have done much to separate themselves from the pack.

It was all fairly typical.

But this line did catch my eye:

“Defensively, we’re going to press more than we’ve ever pressed,” Pitino said. “We’ve pressed a lot in the past but this team is very long, very athletic. I’m very bullish on this basketball team.”

Pitino’s teams have always pressed but he hasn’t been mentioned with the likes of Shaka Smart (Havoc) or Bobby Huggins (Press Virginia) because it isn’t an all-out press. Typically, the Cards run a 2-2-1 zone press that drops back to a half-zone/half-man amalgam that’s designed, in part, to confuse opponents as much as it is to force turnovers.

Is that going to change this year?

It would make some sense. This team is as athletic, long and versatile as any that he’s coached in recent memory. Think about the kind of physical tools that Ray Spalding and Jaylen Johnson and Deng Adel have. Think about what Donovan Mitchell can do if he’s allowed to ball-hawk the way Peyton Siva and Russ Smith did in the past.

This group can cause a lot of problems if they’re allowed to fly around the floor, and it sounds like Pitino may let them do just that.