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Thursday’s Pregame Shootaround: Loaded day of conference tournament action

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GAME OF THE NIGHT: No. 18 Memphis vs. No. 21 UConn, 8:00 p.m., ESPNU

This is one heck of a quarterfinal matchup in the inaugural American Athletic Conference Tournament that pits the only matchup of the day between ranked teams. Memphis will have the homecourt advantage playing in its hometown, even though they are the No. 5 seed, and they’ll look to avenge being swept in the regular season by the Huskies. UConn, meanwhile, has struggled on the offensive end down the stretch as they’ve failed to crack 70 points in their last six games. The last time the Huskies cracked 70? An 86-81 overtime win over Memphis on February 15th.

RELATED: Is your team in the field of 68? Check our latest Bracketology

THE OTHER GAME OF THE NIGHT: Oklahoma State vs. No. 10 Kansas, 3:00 p.m., ESPN2

The Cowboys have won five out of six games — including a 72-65 home win over Kansas — since the return of Marcus Smart and they’ll look to keep that momentum going in this Big 12 quarterfinal matchup. Oklahoma State looks like a different team in these last few weeks after their nearly devastating mid-season swoon, and a win over Kansas would continue to build momentum going into the NCAA Tournament. Kansas, meanwhile, will see how they fare without center Joel Embiid in the lineup once again and it will be interesting to see how Andrew Wiggins plays after his monster performance against West Virginia. Whether Wiggins has a huge game or not, Kansas needs more consistency from its guard-play, as Naadir Tharpe, Frank Mason and company were soundly outplayed on both ends of the floor in the loss to West Virginia last Saturday.

RELATED: Conference Tournament schedules for every league

WHO’S GETTING UPSET? Florida State vs. Maryland, 12:00 p.m., ESPN

This would be an upset only in the sense that Florida State (18-12) is still fighting for a potential at-large bid while Maryland is playing the role of spoiler. The Terps (17-14) are playing some decent ball down the stretch as they’ve beaten Virginia Tech and Virginia and have close losses to Clemson, Duke, Syracuse and Virginia. Maryland also knocked off Florida State the last two times these teams played in February. The Seminoles need all the wins they can muster at this point in the season and they had won three consecutive games before a double-digit loss to Syracuse. It’s tough to get a read on this Florida State team this season and their inconsistent play could come back to bite them in this one.

Get to know all of the NCAA Tournament’s automatic bids here.

MID-MAJOR GAME OF THE DAY: Ohio vs. Akron, 6:30 p.m., ESPN3

A really solid battle in the MAC as Ohio (23-10, 11-7) and Akron (20-11, 12-6 MAC) square off in the quarterfinals of the conference tournament. These two teams split in the regular season as Akron has won three straight games while Ohio has won four straight games and is also playing some good ball entering the conference tournament. It’s not very common to see a battle of 20-win teams in a mid-major quarterfinal, but both of these teams could use a win like this to propel them to the tournament title and NCAA Tournament bid. Buffalo, Toledo and Western Michigan might have something to say about that, but the MAC is pretty deep with teams that could win the conference tournament.

(MORE: Browse through all of our conference tournament previews)

FIVE THINGS TO KNOW

1) The Big 12 quarterfinals are easily the best top-to-bottom matchups of the day as West Virginia (17-14) takes on Texas (22-9), Baylor (22-10) faces No. 17 Oklahoma (23-8) and Kansas State (20-11) battles with No. 16 Iowa State (23-7) besides the aforementioned Oklahoma State and Kansas showdown.

2) While No. 3 Villanova and No. 14 Creighton should get by Seton Hall and DePaul, respectively, in the Big East quarterfinals, an interesting potential play-in game is brewing as St. John’s (20-11) takes on Providence (20-11) at 2:30 p.m. Both teams sit squarely on the bubble and the loser’s bubble would likely burst. Marquette (17-14) and Xavier (20-11) in the nightcap at MSG is also an enticing matchup.

3) Not to overlook our friends on the West Coast, the Pac-12 quarterfinal slate is also tremendous. Utah (21-10) will be looking for a major boost to its tournament resume with a win over No. 4 Arizona (28-3), UCLA (23-8) and Oregon (23-8) will square off in a great matchup, while bubble implications occur as Arizona State (21-10) takes on Stanford (20-11) and Colorado (22-10) matches up with Cal (19-12).

4) The SEC has some bubble teams playing in the quarterfinals as well as Missouri (21-10) takes on Texas A&M (17-14) and Arkansas (21-10) battles South Carolina (13-19). A win likely doesn’t do much good for either team, but a loss would be potentially devastating to an at-large bid.

5) The Conference-USA quarterfinals will be one to monitor today as Southern Miss and Louisiana Tech still battle for at-large bids while fighting for the automatic birth, as well. Southern Miss (26-5) has a challenging game with UTEP (23-9) while Louisiana Tech (25-6) will take on Charlotte (17-13). It’s worth noting that Southern Miss and Louisiana Tech tied atop the league standings at 13-3 with Middle Tennessee (23-8) and Tulsa (18-12), who also have quarterfinal matchups today.

THE REST OF THE TOP 25:

  • Rutgers vs. No. 5 Louisville, 3:00 p.m.
  • Utah State vs. No. 8 San Diego State, 3:00 p.m.
  • UCF vs. No. 13 Cincinnati, 7:00 p.m.
  • Fresno State vs. No. 20 New Mexico, 9:00 p.m.
  • Purdue vs. No. 24 Ohio State, 2:25 p.m.
  • Houston vs. No. 25 SMU, 1:00 p.m.

NOTABLES:

  • Penn State vs. Minnesota, 6:30 p.m.
  • Northwestern vs. Iowa, 8:30 p.m.

Seton Hall’s Derrick Gordon won’t pursue pro basketball to become a firefighter

NEW YORK, NY - MARCH 12:  Derrick Gordon #32 of the Seton Hall Pirates celebrates after hitting a basket against the Villanova Wildcats during the Big East Basketball Tournament Championship at Madison Square Garden on March 12, 2016 in New York City. Seton Hall Pirates defeated Villanova Wildcats 69-67.  (Photo by Mike Stobe/Getty Images)
(Photo by Mike Stobe/Getty Images)
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After a successful career that included stops at Western Kentucky, UMass and Seton Hall, Derrick Gordon, Division I college basketball’s first openly gay player, will not pursue professional opportunities and will instead become a firefighter.

The 6-foot-3 Gordon averaged 8.0 points and 3.3 rebounds per game as a senior for the Pirates, helping the team reach the NCAA tournament during his graduate transfer year. By making the NCAA tournament with Seton Hall this past season, Gordon became the first college basketball player to reach the event with three different teams.

A tenacious perimeter defender who could have earned a pro contract if he stuck with basketball, Gordon will instead pursue a career as a firefighter in San Francisco.

“I’ve had an amazing basketball career and want to thank everybody who has always been there supporting me every step on the way,” Gordon said via his Instagram. “But I’m making a change in my career…I will now be working towards becoming a San Francisco Firefighter!! I’m excited about this and looking forward to having a long career!!”

While Gordon likely would have never made the NBA on talent alone, his defensive prowess would have likely given him a shot overseas or in the D League. It’s hard to say why Gordon is making this decision, but given what we saw with all of the attention surrounding Michael Sam when he tried to play in the NFL, Gordon was probably going to face a lot of scrutiny wherever he decided to play.

Hopefully Gordon finds his calling as a firefighter and brings the same energy and leadership that he brought on the floor to helping other people outside of basketball.

Washington guard Markelle Fultz pulls off sick spin and dunk at FIBA U18 Americas

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Kelly Kline/Under Armour
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Washington incoming freshman guard Markelle Fultz is going to be one of the premier players in the country next season as his unique game is going to be fascinating to watch.

The 6-foot-5 Fultz is currently playing with the USA U18 team in Chile for the FIBA U18 Americas as he’s second on the team in scoring and first in assists as the Americans play Canada for the title on Saturday.

Against the host country, Fultz had an electric spin move in the paint and finished with an easy dunk. If you’re not willing to stay up late to watch this dude play this year, then set your DVRs, because Fultz is going to have some fun moments during the season.

(H/t: Jonathan Wasserman, Bleacher Report)

POSTERIZED: Class of 2016 forward Chris Seeley has a massive dunk on defender

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The Las Vegas AAU events are all going on this week and it’s the final event for rising seniors.

At the Las Vegas Fab 48, forward Chris Seeley of the Splash City 17U team put down one of the best poster dunks of the summer as he skied over a defender for an emphatic finish.

The Class of 2016 forward attends Central High School in Fresno, California as he’s receiving plenty of buzz for his recent play.

 

 

 

Five-star forward Jarred Vanderbilt cuts list to nine

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LAS VEGAS, NV — Five-star Class of 2017 forward Jarred Vanderbilt has been one of the most sought-after recruits in the country since he was a freshman in high school.

The 6-foot-8 native of Houston is beginning to wind things down in the recruiting process as he cut his list to nine schools on Friday. Vanderbilt’s list includes some of the most storied programs in college basketball and plenty of schools from his home state of Texas.

“I just followed my heart. Went with the schools I liked the most and who I have the best relationships with. Thear were the schools I could see myself playing for,” Vanderbilt told NBCSports.com.

Regarded as the No. 13 overall prospect in the Rivals.com national rankings, Vanderbilt is currently recovering from a broken fifth metatarsal in his left foot.

Vanderbilt will see a doctor in three-to-four weeks as he’s currently in a boot to help his foot heal.

Report: Michigan State and Penn State will play at the Palestra

INDIANAPOLIS, IN - MARCH 10: Head coach Patrick Chambers of the Penn State Nittany Lions looks on against the Ohio State Buckeyes in the second round of the Big Ten Basketball Tournament at Bankers Life Fieldhouse on March 10, 2016 in Indianapolis, Indiana. (Photo by Joe Robbins/Getty Images)
(Photo by Joe Robbins/Getty Images)
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Michigan State head coach Tom Izzo has previously expressed a desire to coach a game at the legendary Palestra in Philadelphia and it appears he’ll get his chance in a Big Ten game this season.

According to a report from Brendan F. Quinn of MLive, Penn State will use the Palestra as its home gym for the Jan. 7, 2017 Big Ten game against Michigan State. It is the only time the two teams are scheduled to play during Big Ten season and Penn’s home gym will offer a unique setting for the game.

Since the capacity of the Palestra is 8,722, it should make for a fun atmosphere for both programs since this will be a game both fan bases will likely want to attend.

With Nittany Lions head coach Pat Chambers making Philadelphia a major recruiting priority for his program, a game like this in Philadelphia makes sense while Michigan State has always been open to playing games in unique settings such as aircraft carriers.

The Palestra has been a college basketball mainstay since it was built in 1927 as it hosts all Penn home games and, in the past, hosted a lot of Big 5 Philadelphia college games between La Salle, Penn, Saint Joseph’s, Temple and Villanova.

Overall, a fun idea that should make for an interesting experience for both programs. It’s not often that a team will change its home venue for a conference game, but it could be the start of something we see other schools look to do.