Pregame Shootaround: The Round of 64 kicks off with four must-see games

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THURSDAY’S SCHEDULE (all times ET)

12:15 p.m.: No. 6 Ohio State vs No. 11 Dayton (CBS)
12:30 p.m.: No. 2 Wisconsin vs. No. 15 American (Tru TV)
1:30 p.m.: No. 8 Colorado vs. No. 9 Pittsburgh (TBS)
2:00 p.m.: No. 5 Cincinnati vs. No. 12 Harvard (TNT)
———-
2:30 p.m.: No. 3 Syracuse vs. No. 14 Western Michigan (CBS)
3:00 p.m.: No. 7 Oregon vs. No. 10 BYU (Tru TV)
4:00 p.m.: No. 1 Florida vs. No. 16 Albany (TBS)
4:30 p.m.: No. 4 Michigan State vs. No. 13 Delaware (TNT)
———-
6:45 p.m.: No. 7 UConn vs. No. 10 St. Joseph’s (TBS)
7:00 p.m.: No. 2 Michigan vs. No. 15 Wofford (CBS)
7:15 p.m.: No. 5 St. Louis vs. No. 12 NC State (TNT)
7:25 p.m.: No. 5 Oklahoma vs. No. 12 North Dakota State (Tru-TV)
———-
9:15 p.m.: No. 2 Villanova vs. No. 15 Milwaukee (TBS)
9:30 p.m.: No. 7 Texas vs. No. 10 Arizona State (CBS)
9:45 p.m.: No. 4 Louisville vs. No. 13 Manhattan (TNT)
9:55 p.m.: No. 4 San Diego State vs. No. 13 New Mexico State (Tru-TV)

Top 68 players in the tournament | Lead Guards | Off Guards | Wing Forwards | Big Men

GAME OF THE DAY: No. 7 Oregon vs. No. 10 BYU

The Ducks and the Cougars are both talented teams offensively. They both like to get up and down the floor. Neither team is all that interested in playing defense, however, which should make for another thriller. Oregon knocked off BYU in Eugene during the regular season in an overtime game that featured 196 total points. Oregon got the win that day, and BYU will be without Kyle Collinsworth — their second-best player — due to a knee injury.

THE OTHER GAME OF THE DAY: No. 5 Oklahoma vs. No. 12 North Dakota State

North Dakota State was one of a handful of mid-majors that I circled back in February as teams that had a chance to win a game or two in the NCAA tournament. They’re good. Ask Notre Dame. The Irish lost to NDSU at home. The problem? They just don’t matchup all that well with Oklahoma. That said, it should be one of the better games of the day. Taylor Braun vs. Buddy Hield will be fun.

source: Getty Images
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WHO’S GETTING UPSET?: No. 3 Syracuse

I might be taking a risk here, but at this point in the season I don’t think I trust Syracuse. If Trevor Cooney’s confidence isn’t completely shot, he sure is playing like it. And while it looks like Jerami Grant is just about back to full health, the Orange have been downright bad offensively for a month. Western Michigan is a good team. They notched five top 100 wins this season and won the MAC regular season and tournament titles.

WHO ELSE IS GETTING UPSET?: No. 5 Cincinnati

If you are as physical and as athletic as Cincinnati is, you can beat them if you slow down Sean Kilpatrick. No. 12 Harvard is as as athletic as the Bearcats, and while they may not be as physical — frankly, no one is — they are not going to be pushed around. Tommy Amaker has a roster full of top 100 recruits led by a stud point guard in Siyani Chambers.

MORE8 teams that can win it all | 8 that won’t | 7 must-watch games | Sleeper teams

FOUR KEY INDIVIDUAL MATCHUPS

  • Shabazz Napier vs. Langston Galloway: No. 7 UConn is led by Napier, a future NBA point guard, but Galloway, who is the leading scorer for No. 10 St. Joseph’s has spent his entire career under the radar.
  • St. Louis vs. T.J. Warren: The key to beating No. 12 N.C. State is not a secret: slow down Warren, the ACC Player of the Year. I’d expect Jordair Jett to see the majority of the minutes on Warren, but against a dude as talented as he is, it becomes a team effort.
  • Xavier Johnson vs. Lamar Patterson: Patterson is one of the most versatile players in the country and the primary option for No. 9 Pitt. Johnson will likely draw the assignment for No. 8 Colorado.
  • Jonathan Holmes vs. Jonathan Gilling: Slowing down Jahii Carson is a key for No. 7 Texas to beat No. 10 Arizona State, but if they do, they need to find a way to capitalize on Holmes’ size and athleticism advantage over Gilling.

YOU CAN IGNORE THESE (UNLESS THEY’RE CLOSE LATE!):

  • No. 2 Wisconsin vs. No. 15 Americ
  • No. 1 Florida vs. No. 16 Albany
  • No. 2 Michigan vs. No. 15 Wofford
  • No. 2 Villanova vs. No. 15 Milwaukee

NOTABLES

  • No. 4 Louisville vs. No. 13 Manhattan: Steve Masiello and Rick Pitino are very close friends. Masiello was a ballboy for the Knicks when Pitino was their coach. He was a walk-on for Pitino’s Kentucky teams. He was an assistant for Pitino at Louisville.
  • No. 4 San Diego State vs. No. 13 New Mexico State: New Mexico State has the nation’s biggest player in Sim Bhullar. And he’s actually pretty good.
  • No. 4 Michigan State vs. No. 13 Delaware: Delaware has three guards (Davon Usher, Devon Saddler and Jarvis Threatt) that combine to average nearly 60 points.
  • No. 6 Ohio State vs. No. 11 Dayton: Take your pick: Ohio State head coach Thad Matta and Arizona head coach Sean Miller are really, and Dayton head coach Archie Miller is Sean’s younger brother. Matta doesn’t schedule Dayton. Dayton’s Jordan Sibert originally played at Ohio State before transferring.

N.C. State adds grad transfer Sam Hunt

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N.C. State added its fourth transfer this offseason. Like ex-Baylor guard Al Freeman, the latest one is eligible to play next season.

Sam Hunt, a double-digit scorer the past two seasons at North Carolina A&T, officially enrolled at North Carolina State on Monday morning.

“Sam is a great young man and will bring much needed depth to our backcourt,” N.C. State head coach Kevin Keatts said in a statement. “I want guys who are excited about being a part of our program and Sam really wants to be here.

“Sam is a combo guard that can space the floor with his ability to shoot the basketball. He is a good fit for the system and will bring a wealth of experience to our roster.”

Hunt, the 6-foot-2 guard, averaged 12.7 points per game last season, a dip from the 15.4 points per game he posted for the Aggies as a redshirt sophomore.

Hunt joins a roster that lost its three leading scorers from a season ago, one that ended 15-17 (4-14 ACC). Dennis Smith Jr. is a member of the Dallas Mavericks. Maverick Rowan also pursued a professional career and Terry Henderson was denied an additional year from the NCAA.

The Wolf Pack bring back forwards Abdul-Malik Abu and Omer Yurtseven as well as Torin Dorn.

Keatts, who took over the program after leading UNC Wilmington to back-to-back NCAA Tournaments, has already built for the future. UNC Wilmington transfer C.J. Bryce, 17.4 points, 5.4 rebounds and 3.0 assists per game for the Seahawks, has followed him to Raleigh. Utah transfer Devon Daniels committed to the Wolf Pack the same day as Bryce. Both will have to sit out next season due to NCAA transfer rules. Bryce will have two years of eligibility while Daniels will have three.

LaVar Ball stars in an uncomfortably entertaining segment on WWE’s Raw

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LaVar Ball’s statements and antics over this past year always seemed better suited a professional wrestling ring.

It was only natural that the patriarch of the Ball family — and the head of the Big Baller Brand — made an appearance on WWE’s Monday Night Raw at the Staples Center for an awkwardly entertaining segment with WWE Intercontinental Champion The Miz.

With sons, Lonzo — in his first appearance in the Staples Center as a member of the Los Angeles Lakers — and LaMelo looking on, LaVar was the center of attention. When The Miz mentioned something about a partnership between the two, the scripted interview went south. It resulted in LaVar saying nonsensical things like, “There’s only two dudes better than me, and I’m both of ’em!” before later taking off his shirt. When Dean Ambrose, a WWE superstar feuding with The Miz came out on to the ramp, LaVar didn’t quite grasp the concept that that was his cue to stop talking.

This segment was somehow entertaining and cringeworthy at the same time.

Now that Lonzo is beginning his NBA career, maybe it’s time LaVar try something different. A manager in the WWE may just be his true calling. He’s certainly had plenty of practice.

Maryland lands commitment from five-star 2018 forward

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Maryland added to its 2018 recruiting class with its second commit, the newest addition being a five-star in-state product.

Jalen Smith, a 6-foot-9 forward from Baltimore powerhouse Mount St. Joseph, committed to the Terrapins, making the announcement on Twitter.

“I believe that I can academically and athletically achieve my goals at home through my commitment to the University of Maryland … Go Terps,” he tweeted as part of a long passage.

Smith is listed as the No. 13 overall recruit in the Class of 2013 by Rivals. He joins four-star swingman Aaron Wiggins in Mark Turgeon’s current recruiting class.

Playing for Team Takeover on the Nike EYBL circuit, Smith is averaging 10.9 points, 5.6 rebounds, and 1.0 blocks per game.

Recent grad’s joyride reportedly did $100,000 of damages to Mizzou Arena

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A recent graduate and temporary employee of the University of Missouri took an early morning joy ride that reportedly could rack up around $100,000 to Mizzou Arena.

According to Dave Mater of the St. Louis Post-Dispatch, Nathaniel J. Contant, 23, who graduated from the school in December 2016, drove his Volkswagen Passat through a gate and eventually on to the floor of the 15,000-seat on-campus arena.

At 7:15 a.m. Sunday, MU police were dispatched to Mizzou Arena for a report of property damage. Officers determined that around 4 a.m., the suspect drove his vehicle through a closed gate on the south side of the arena. He ran through a garage door and drove into a dock area where he damaged several golf carts that were stored in the area. He also drove his car onto the basketball court. The man couldn’t leave through the area he used to enter the building, so he drove through the arena’s press gate.

Contant, unsurprisingly, is no longer an employee of the university. He’s being charged with second-degree burglary and first-degree property damage, both of which are felonies. He was released on a $4,500 bond.

The motive for this early-morning joyride remains unclear.

Despite the hype surrounding the upcoming Mizzou season — one that includes the debut of new head coach Cuonzo Martin and the projected No. 1 overall pick in the 2018 NBA Draft Michael Porter, Jr. — Twitter users couldn’t help but poke fun at the dismal recent history the Tigers have had.

(h/t Kansas City Star)

Vance Jackson transfers to New Mexico

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With more than a handful of departures this offseason, New Mexico is set to have a new-look roster for the 2017-18 season. On Monday, Paul Weir, now at the helm of the program, landed a player who should make an impact in the three remaining seasons of eligibility he has left.

Vance Jackson, who spent this past season at UConn, decided to make the move from Storrs to Albuquerque, picking the Lobos over Rutgers, San Diego State, TCU, and Washington.

The 6-foot-8 rising sophomore will have to sit out next year due to NCAA transfer rules before resuming his collegiate career in the fall of 2018.

“The coaches — they trust in me,” Jackson told Geoff Grammer of the Albuquerque Journal last month during his official campus visit. “We’re on the same page. They see a vision.”

Weir, who led New Mexico State this past season to a NCAA Tournament appearance in his one and only season as head coach, succeeded Craig Neal in April.

This offseason has been headlined by transfers, though, those mostly were about players leaving the program. Jackson is the second transfer to land at UNM with Akron’s Antino Jackson electing to use his final season of eligibility with the Lobos. Antino Jackson is a graduate transfer, allowing him to play immediately next season.

Vance Jackson, who was rated as the No. 80 overall player in the Class of 2016 by Rivals, averaged 8.1 points, 3.8 rebounds, and 1.4 assists per game while shooting just under 40 percent from three for the Huskies as a freshman.