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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.

John Calipari helping to raise money for Louisiana flood victims

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It’s easy to be critical of John Calipari.

You don’t have to be a Louisville fan to know all the jokes by now. He cheated at UMass. He cheated at Memphis. He’s had two Final Fours vacated. Teflon John. Yada yada yada.

I get it. Negativity comes with success, particularly for someone who is as brash about his success as Coach Cal is.

But even Cal’s harshest critics cannot begrudge the work he does — can get his players to do — for charity and how well he can harness the power of Big Blue Nation to make a tangible difference. Remember the ‘Hoops for Haiti’ telethon that raised more than $1 million to help earthquake victims back in 2010? Or the hundreds of thousands of dollars he raised for Hurricane Sandy relief? Or when his fantasy camps generated more than $1 million in charitable donations?

And should I mention the amount of times that stories of Kentucky players befriending sick kids or visiting children’s hospitals?

The cynic in me could say that all of this is for branding, helping ensure his players are image-conscious and aware of the sponsorship opportunities that come with being a likable, relatable and humble athlete. There’s probably some truth to that.

But do you think the kids that get visits from their Big Blue heroes care? Do you think it matters to the charities that get seven-figure checks to help with disaster relief?

I say all that to say this: During a press conference on Thursday morning, Cal had this to say, via SEC Country:

Calipari said former UK star Anthony Davis (currently of the New Orleans Pelicans) told Calipari, “Coach, you gotta do something” for Baton Rouge flood victims. Davis is out of the country but will try to get back for Sunday’s softball game to help. His 2012 title teammates, Terrence Jones and Michael Kidd-Gilchrist, were not previously on the celeb list for Sunday but will be there.

Calipari has decided to donate all proceeds from Sunday’s alumni/celebrity softball game will go to the Baton Rouge flood-relief fund, through Red Cross. “So what I’m asking you to do is buy these tickets.” They’re $5 apiece. The previously raised funds will still go to the other designated charities, like each year.

For those so inclined, you can donate to the flooding fund by texting “GIVE” to 859-955-8173.

Vermont women cancels game in North Carolina over HB2

DURHAM, NC - MAY 10:  A unisex sign and the "We Are Not This" slogan are outside a bathroom at Bull McCabes Irish Pub on May 10, 2016 in Durham, North Carolina.  Debate over transgender bathroom access spreads nationwide as the U.S. Department of Justice countersues North Carolina Governor Pat McCrory from enforcing the provisions of House Bill 2 that dictate what bathrooms transgender individuals can use.  (Photo by Sara D. Davis/Getty Images)
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The University of Vermont is the latest in a ever-growing line of organizations canceling events in North Carolina due to the controversial HB2 law.

The Catamounts will not be traveling to play the Tar Heels on Dec. 28th as previously scheduled.

“We strive very hard to create an inclusive climate for our students and staff in which they all can feel safe, respected, and valued,” the school wrote in a statement. “It would be hard to fulfill these obligations while competing in a state with this law, which is contrary to our values as an athletic department and university.”

“This decision was made in consultation with our coaches, the women’s basketball team, and key university officials. We fully understand and sympathize with the impact that this decision may have on the North Carolina women’s basketball schedule. However, we believe this decision is consistent with our values and the conversations with our coaches and student team members. These were the most important considerations.”

Known as the “bathroom bill”, HB2 is the law that requires transgender people to use the bathroom of the sex that they were born not the sex they identify with.

Earlier this year, Albany was forced to cancel a trip to Duke due to legislation in New York regarding visits to North Carolina. The NBA has taken the 2017 All-Star game from Charlotte, and the NCAA is heavily considering pulling NCAA tournament games from the state.

Interestingly, ACC commissioner John Swofford was very non-committal on the subject when asked yesterday.

Derek Willis won’t be suspended for offseason citiation

Kentucky's Derek Willis (35) hits an uncontested three point shot during the second half of an NCAA college basketball game against Tennessee Thursday, Feb. 18, 2016, in Lexington, Ky. Kentucky won 80-70. (AP Photo/James Crisp)
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John Calipari gave a press conference on Thursday morning and, for the first time since his arrest in June, the Kentucky head coach spoke about Derek Willis.

Willis, if you’ve forgotten, was found passed out in the street outside the open driver’s side door of his car at 4:30 a.m. You can see video of the arrest here. Willis is very lucky he wasn’t killed, and that he didn’t kill anyone else trying to drive in that condition.

Cal said that Willis will not be suspended for any games, but “Derek knows he’s under a different eye now than he was.” He did not elaborate on what kind of punishment Willis will receive beyond that, saying that “I don’t throw people under the bus.”

To be honest, I’m a little surprised that Willis won’t be forced to miss any games, but if we’re being frank, sitting out an exhibition and Kentucky’s opener sounds much more appealing than the kind of, ahem, ‘conditioning drills’ that Willis has likely spent the summer doing.

PODCAST: Boeheim’s non-controversy and the coaches we don’t want to fight

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In today’s podcast, I’m joined by Travis Hines to discuss stuff that has been in the news over the course of the last two weeks, specifically Jim Boeheim’s comments about Carmelo Anthony and why it is a total non-controversy.

We also dive into why Boeheim’s comments are forced to be taken out of context as well as Monte’ Morris, ‘Pancake’ Thomas and which college basketball coaches we would least like to fight.

As always, you can subscribe to the podcast on either iTunes or Stitcher, and there’s also a link to listen to this podcast below. Thanks for listening.

Cyclones add big man for 2017

LOUISVILLE, KY - MARCH 15:  Head coach Steve Prohm of the Murray State Racers shouts from the sidelines against the Colorado State Rams  during the second round of the 2012 NCAA Men's Basketball Tournament at KFC YUM! Center on March 15, 2012 in Louisville, Kentucky.  (Photo by Andy Lyons/Getty Images)
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Iowa State secured its first commitment Wednesday of what will be a pivotal class of forwards in 2017.

KeyShawn Faezell of Mississippi committed to Steve Prohm and the Cyclones, he announced Wednesday.

“After praying to God to lead me in the right path and talking with my dad,” Faezell wrote, “I’ve decided to further my education and basketball career under coach Prohm at Iowa State University.”

Faezell, a 6-foot-9 consensus top-150 forward in the 2017 class, joins wing Terrence Lewis as the first two members of a class that figures to number at least six for ISU. The addition of Faezell is key because ISU will be losing three members of its frontcourt it will likely be leaning on heavily in 2015-16 in Deonte Burton, Merrill Holden and Darrell Bowie. A 2016 big man, Cameron Lard, has also yet to enroll in classes this fall due to academic issues, making Faezell’s commitment even more important should Lard be unable to get clearance.

“They need some people to come in and compete,” Feazell told the Ames Tribune. “I think I fit in the program.”

Prohm’s teams dating back to his Murray State days have always been guard-oriented and guard-heavy, but beginning to stack the roster with quality big men will be key as he looks to continue the Cyclones’ success in the Big 12, which includes a school-record five-straight NCAA tournament appearances.