Weekend Preview: The regular season comes to a close

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GAME OF THE WEEKENDNo. 14 North Carolina at No. 4 Duke, 9:00 p.m.

It really doesn’t get better than the Duke-Carolina on the final weekend of the regular season. The only odd part about it is that there really isn’t all that much on the line anymore. Virginia’s already locked up the ACC regular season title. Duke pretty much cost themselves a shot at a No. 1 seed by losing to Wake Forest on Wednesday. North Carolina did the same with their struggles earlier this season. If anything, this game will be a chance for the Blue Devils to prove that they actually are a Final Four contender.

THE OTHER GAME OF THE WEEKEND: No. 21 New Mexico at No. 10 San Diego State, Sat. 10:00 p.m.

This will be fun. The two best programs in the Mountain West will square off in arguably the rowdiest environment on the west coast for the right to call themselves Mountain West regular season champions. The Aztecs have long been considered the favorite to win the league title, with their win at Kansas and New Mexico’s struggles earlier in the season. But the Lobos are peaking at the right time. Like I said, this will be fun.

THE OTHER, OTHER GAME OF THE WEEKEND: No. 19 UConn at No. 11 Louisville, Sat. 2:00 p.m.

Senior night for Russ Smith will also feature a chance for the Cardinals to lock up the AAC regular season title in their only year in the conference. The Cards already went up to Storrs and knocked off UConn this season. The Huskies will be playing to stay out of the 4-5 game in the AAC tournament, which means they would have to play Memphis or SMU instead of one of the league’s bottom-feeders. Shabazz Napier vs. Russdiculous is appointment viewing.

FIVE MORE TO WATCH:

  • No. 18 SMU at No. 20 Memphis, Sat. 12:00 p.m.: SMU is tough to peg. They were rolling people at home and struggling on the road … and then won at UConn and lost to Louisville in Dallas.
  • No. 25 Kentucky at No. 1 Florida, Sat. 12:00 p.m.: So is Kentucky really going to make some noise in March? Or is this team a lost cause? If it’s the latter, Saturday could get ugly in Gainesville.
  • Oklahoma State at No. 16 Iowa State, Sat. 2:00 p.m.: Oklahoma State is a different team when Marcus Smart plays the way he has since the 10 minute mark of the second half against Kansas. Even still, I don’t think anyone is expecting a win at Iowa State.
  • Providence at No. 13 Creighton, Sat. 8:00 p.m.: Doug McDermott’s senior night. The Friars will hope that the Bluejays are distracted so they can pick up a much-needed resume win, while Creighton is looking to end a two-game losing skid.
  • No. 22 Michigan State at Ohio State, Sun. 4:30 p.m.: Can Michigan State turn this thing around? Are they ever going to be able to live up to the potential they had earlier this season?

WHO’S GETTING UPSET?

  • No. 3 Arizona at Oregon, Sat. 4:00 p.m.: The Wildcats struggled at Oregon State on Wednesday night. The Ducks like to get up and down the floor as well, which is how Sean Miller is now trying to get his team to play. Mike Moser’s scalding hot of late, and will be fun to watch matchup with Aaron Gordon.
  • No. 5 Virginia at Maryland, Sun. 12:00 p.m.: Maryland is probably out of the bubble picture at this point, but it would be nice for them to pick off Virginia in their final regular season game as a member of the conference.
  • No. 7 Syracuse at Florida State, Sun. 2:00 p.m.: Syracuse apparently cannot score anymore. Florida State is good defensively and desperate for a win. Hmm.
  • No. 17 Saint Louis at UMass, Sun. 2:00 p.m.: The Billikens are struggling of late and play a completely different style from that of UMass. Who stops Chaz Williams?
  • No. 9 Wisconsin at Nebraska, Sun. 7:30 p.m.: Lincoln has suddenly turned into one of the toughest places in the Big Ten to play, and that won’t change with the Huskers needing a win over Wisconsin to get a bid to the Big Dance.

FIVE THINGS TO KEEP AN EYE ON:

1) Five automatic bids to the NCAA tournament will be determined by the Sunday night, the most notable of which is the Missouri Valley’s. Arch Madness kicked off on Thursday night, Wichita State will play their first game on Friday night and, if all goes to plan, they’ll be ready to head to the NCAA tournament with an undefeated record Sunday afternoon.

RELATED: Our latest bracket projections — is your team in?

Harvard will earn the Ivy’s automatic bid on Friday night with a win at Yale. If the Crimson lose, they’ll need a win at Brown or a Yale loss to Dartmouth on Saturday. The Ohio Valley’s championship game is on Saturday, while the Atlantic Sun and Big South bids will be given out on Sunday.

2) The four biggest bubble games of the weekend:

  • Georgetown at No. 6 Villanova, Sat. 2:00 p.m.
  • Utah at Stanford, Sat. 2:30 p.m.
  • Missouri at Tennessee, Sat. 4:00 p.m.
  • Colorado at Cal, Sat. 6:30 p.m.
  • Pitt at Clemson, Sat. 4:00 p.m.
  • Arkansas at Alabama, Sat. 4:00 p.m.
  • Arizona State at Oregon State, Sat. 4:30 p.m.
  • Indiana at No. 12 Michigan, Sat. 6:00 p.m.
  • Richmond at Dayton, Sat. 7:00 p.m.

3) No. 8 Kansas at West Virginia, Sat. 12:00 p.m.: Don’t be surprised if West Virginia gives the Jayhawks a fight in Morgantown.

4) St. John’s at Marquette, Sat. 12:00 p.m.: St. John’s has to win this game if they want a chance to dance.

5) Baylor at Kansas State, Sat. 1:30 p.m.: Both teams are likely going dancing already.

Jim Larranaga believes he’s ‘Coach-3’ in FBI investigation

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Despite losing key contributors Davon Reed and Kamari Murphy from last season’s NCAA tournament team, the Miami Hurricanes are expected to be a player both within the ACC and nationally this season. But instead of having the focus solely on the likes of JaQuan Newton, Bruce Brown and Lonnie Walker, Jim Larrañaga’s program is also having to deal with the impact of the ongoing FBI investigation into corruption and fraud in college basketball.

While no one connected to the Miami men’s basketball program was arrested last month, the program is referenced in the FBI report. On Monday, Larrañaga stated during a press conference that he believes that he is “Coach-3” in the FBI report. Larrañaga also maintained his innocence, saying that he had done nothing wrong while also being thankful that none of his assistant coaches were involved.

“It’s been a strain, physically, emotionally, mentally and spiritually,” Larrañaga said according to the Palm Beach Post. “It’s something that’s there. I have to deal with it. I have the support of my wife and a wonderful family. I have the support of the university, my staff and players.”

According to the FBI report, “Coach-3” requested that payments totaling $150,000 be funneled to “Player-12” in order to ensure his commitment to their university. It has been reported that “Player-12” was 2018 five-star prospect Nassir Little, who has also stated that he had done nothing wrong. Two of the schools recruiting Little at the time, Arizona and Miami, have been entangled in the FBI investigation to varying degrees.

While Miami has not had anyone connected to its program arrested, Arizona assistant coach Emmanuel “Book” Richardson was one of the four Division I coaches were were indicted. As a result Little removed both Arizona and Miami from consideration before ultimately committing to North Carolina earlier this month.

There’s no telling what the FBI investigation will ultimately uncover, which for the schools involved could take a heavy toll not only for the 2017-18 season but for future years as well. The FBI case has been comparatively quiet since the first set of indictments, with future moves likely to be influenced by what authorities learn from the ten individuals named in the first announcement.

Miles Bridges discusses being offered money during recruiting process

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With the FBI launching an investigation into corruption and fraud in college basketball last month, the entire sport has found itself under the microscope. Ten people, including four Division I assistant coaches, were arrested and there’s no telling just how long the FBI’s investigation will last or what information it will produce.

Michigan State forward Miles Bridges is considered by many to be the leading candidate for national Player of the Yeah honors, and he had the opportunity to turn pro after a good freshman season. But Bridges made the decision to return to East Lansing, and with that comes questions as to why he would do that as opposed to cashing in on his NBA potential as soon as possible.

In an interview with Brendan Quinn of The Athletic (subscription required) Bridges discussed a host of issues, including being offered money by people while going through the recruiting process.

“I mean, if you get caught, that might be the end of your career. I wanted to play in college really bad,” Bridges told Quinn. “I don’t know — materialistic things, they don’t really get to me. So when people were offering me money, I would say no right away, because I wanted to be able to live out my college experience. But really, I don’t know, it is hard, especially because I was so young at the time — 17.”

Given the ongoing investigation, high-profile players and teams will be on the receiving end of increased scrutiny even if they aren’t part of the FBI probe. It’s an unfair situation for a player like Bridges to deal with, as even in the actual cases of alleged wrongdoing the players themselves are essentially commodities whose services are being auctioned as opposed to the main characters looking to cash in.

Unfortunately, due to recent events a decision like the one made by Bridges will result in some questioning whether or not the player received something from the school or another entity/individual. And that’s a tough — and unfair — thing for a young player to have to deal with.

Broken hand sidelines North Carolina PG Joel Berry II

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North Carolina’s defense of its national title will likely begin without its most important player, as it was announced on Monday that senior point guard Joel Berry II will miss approximately four weeks due to a broken bone in his right hand.

Berry started at the point each of the last two seasons, earning Most Outstanding Player honors in April as the Tar Heels defeated Gonzaga to win the national title. As a junior, Berry averaged 14.7 points, 3.6 assists and 3.1 rebounds per game and started 37 of the 38 games in which he played. Berry shot 42.6 percent from the field and 38.3 percent from three, with the latter percentage being the best on team amongst players who attempted at least two three-pointers per game.

Berry was named an NBC Sports Preseason Third-Team All-American in late September.

With Berry out of the lineup, North Carolina loses its floor general as well as one of their top perimeter shooters. Sophomore Seventh Woods and freshman Jalek Felton become more important options at the point as a result of Berry’s injury, and the team doesn’t lack for perimeter shooters either with Cameron Johnson, Brandon Robinson, Kenny Williams and freshman Andrew Platek all being capable of helping to pick up the slack.

North Carolina opens its regular season on November 10 against Northern Iowa.

Bill Self’s stance on Kansas/Missouri series remains unchanged

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Sunday afternoon in Kansas City, bitter rivals Kansas and Missouri got together on the basketball court for the first time since 2012, with the Showdown for Relief raising $1.75 million for recent hurricane victims. In what was an entertaining game, the Jayhawks won by the final score of 93-87 with point guard Devonté Graham leading the way for the winners with 25 points and ten rebounds.

Kansas finished the game with five players in double figures, including Mississippi State transfer Malik Newman (17 points) and center Udoka Azubuike (16). On the other side freshman Michael Porter Jr. paced four Tigers in double figures with 21 points while younger brother Jontay grabbed a game-high 12 rebounds off the bench.

However despite the excitement for the two rivals being on the same court in any capacity, Sunday’s meeting was different given the circumstances. Following the game Kansas head coach Bill Self was asked about the possibility of the two teams meeting in a regular season game, and he maintained the stance he’s held since Missouri left the Big 12 for the SEC.

“I’m not going to say never, but I don’t think there’s been any change in our position as far as the university goes,” Self said following Sunday’s exhibition. “I’m the spokesman, I guess, on this but trust me, I’m not the only one that feels that way.”

While it would certainly benefit college basketball if Kansas and Missouri were to renew acquaintances down the line, it is understandable that Self — and maybe some others on the Kansas side of things — would have reservations. The programs, even with the arrival of Cuonzo Martin in Columbia and the freshman class led by the aforementioned Michael Porter Jr., are in different places right now.

The Jayhawks have their sights set on a 14th consecutive Big 12 title and a run at their first national title since 2008, Missouri is looking to fast-track a rebuilding process after struggling mightily under former head coach Kim Anderson. Yet with that being said, the state of the two athletic departments during realignment likely has more to do with the teams not playing each other.

Missouri was a school with options earlier this decade before joining the SEC, but that was not the case for Kansas. Had the Big 12 broken up as some believed would be the case, where would the Jayhawks have landed? Fortunately for the school the Big 12 survived the realignment craze, losing four schools (Missouri and Texas A&M to the SEC, Colorado to the Pac-12 and Nebraska to the Big Ten) and adding TCU and West Virginia to get their membership number to ten.

Given that, the best bet for college basketball fans who want to see this rivalry played during the regular season may be to hope for the programs wind up in the same in-season tournament. Even better, how about the same NCAA tournament region?

Top 100 Players Countdown

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Starting on Monday morning and continuing throughout the week, we will be counting down the top 100 players in college basketball on the College Basketball Talk twitter account.

Check back to this page – or to the CBT twitter account – throughout the week to get caught up on the rankings.

MOREThe Enigma of Miles Bridges | NBC Sports Preseason All-American Team
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