The SEC/Big 12 Challenge highlighted by two sensational matchups

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The SEC/Big 12 Challenge announced the schedule for its second season, and while the depth of games are weakened by the lack of intriguing teams in the SEC, it will be highlighted by a Friday night with what should end up being two best games of the season.

On December 5th, Florida will be heading to Lawrence to take on Kansas. The Jayhawks paid a visit to Gainesville last season and were smacked around by Florida for 35 minutes before Andrew Wiggins finally woke up and made the final score respectable. This season, despite Florida losing four senior starters to graduation and Kansas losing two players that could end up being top three picks, both the Gators and the Jayhawks are top 15 teams in the NBCSports.com preseason top 25.

Kansas reloads, as Cliff Alexander, Kelly Oubre and Devonte Graham will join Wayne Selden and Perry Ellis on a team that sits at No. 5 overall. While Florida also brings in a talented recruiting class and returns Michael Frazier and Dorian Finney-Smith, the key to their team is going to be the development of former McDonald All-Americans Kasey Hill and Chris Walker. They are 15th in our top 25 right now, but that could end up being too low is everyone develops like they are expected to.

Florida at Kansas, as intriguing as it is, is only the undercard on Friday as Texas will pay a visit to Rupp Arena to take on the consensus preseason No. 1 team in the country in Kentucky.

We all know how good the Wildcats are supposed to be this season. Not only do they once again bring in a promising recruiting class, but they returned six of the eight guys from last season that had a chance to get drafted this year. The presence of the Harrisons makes Kentucky the way-too-early title favorite, but it is their unbelievably big, talented and deep front line that will terrify opponents.

But here’s the thing: Texas will have one of the few front lines that will be able to matchup with the Wildcats. Cameron Ridley, Jonathan Holmes and Prince Ibeh all return while they add Myles Turner, a top ten recruit in the Class of 2014. With the ability of Holmes to play on the perimeter, the Longhorns are one of the few teams that can match Kentucky’s biggest lineup inch-for-inch.

The rest of the schedule is not quite as intriguing. Iowa State, who is a top 25 team, will host Arkansas, who returned enough talent that they could end up being an NCAA tournament team. With the up-and-down style of both teams, that game will at least be a fun watch. LSU should be another tournament-caliber team in the SEC, but with West Virginia losing Eron Harris, the Mountaineers look to be headed back to the NIT.

Missouri-Oklahoma should probably be the fourth-best game of the event, depending on what kind of team first year coach Kim Anderson fields. That should tell you what we’re working with here.

The Big 12 won the challenge 7-3 last season.

Here is the complete schedule:

Wednesday, Dec. 3

  • Auburn at Texas Tech

Thursday, Dec. 4

  • Arkansas at Iowa State
  • Baylor at Vanderbilt
  • LSU at West Virginia
  • TCU at Ole Miss

Friday, Dec. 5

  • Florida at Kansas
  • Missouri at Oklahoma
  • Texas at Kentucky

Saturday, Dec. 6

  • Kansas State at Tennessee
  • Oklahoma State at South Carolina

Kentucky fans flood Facebook page of official John Higgins’ company with negative reviews

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Unhappy with how John Higgins performed at his part-time job, Kentucky fans did their best trash him at his full-time gig.

The Facebook page of the referee’s Omaha-based roofing company was flooded by Big Blue Nation with negative comments and reviews after they were displeased with the official’s work in the Wildcats’ Elite Eight loss to North Carolina.

Not only did fans leave obviously fake and vulgar comments on the page, they also deluged it with one-star reviews to drive down its average significantly.

Once again, the Internet is struck by its proportionality problem. What could be considered a silly bit of online pranking by a small minority suddenly turns into an avalanche of nastiness that could do real damage to someone’s life, business and family, given the importance of social media for companies in 2017. It becomes cruel when it reaches a level like this.

When there’s so many general complaints about the state of officiating in college basketball, it’s also not helpful to do something like this to one of the referees generally considered to be one of the country’s best. It’s not exactly a glowing endorsement for prospective future officials to follow the career path if it brings this level of negative attention to you off the court.

Report: North Carolina to miss out on NCAA events through 2022 if HB2 not addressed by Thursday

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North Carolina is in danger of losing out on hosting NCAA events through 2022 if the state does not make changes to HB2, the controversial so-called “bathroom bill” by Thursday afternoon, according to the leader of the Greater Raleigh Sports Alliance.

“I have confirmed with a contact very close to the NCAA that its deadline for HB2 is 48 hours from now,” Scott Dupree, the head of the Greater Raleigh Sports Alliance, said, according to the Raleigh News & Observer. “If HB2 has not been resolved by that time, the NCAA will have no choice but to move forward without the North Carolina bids.”

“The NCAA has already delayed the bid review process once and has waited as long as it possibly can, and now it must finalize all championship site selections through spring of 2022.”

The NCAA, as it reminded North Carolina last week, is making its determinations on hosts for events from 2018-2022 this week. There was movement last week at the North Carolina statehouse for a compromise on the bill, but that apparently stalled out, the News & Observer reported, though there remain efforts to make progress on a pact.

Should lawmakers not reach an agreement in time, the state’s flagship basketball programs will be without an NCAA tournament home-court advantage that they have often enjoyed. HB2 just this past year moved the first and second rounds out of the state and to South Carolina, where No. 2 seed Duke lost to the seventh-seeded Gamecocks in their home state.

Clearly, there’s much more to consider here than NCAA tournament implications, but it’s another reminder of the economic impact the bill has made in North Carolina. This week, The Associated Press estimated it will cost the state $3.76 billion over a 12-year period.

Baylor’s Freeman to graduate and transfer

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Baylor is losing one of its contributors over the past three seasons.

Al Freeman, a 6-foot-3 guard, will graduate and transfer to another school, the Bears announced Tuesday.

“Al has been a tremendous student-athlete and made great contributions to our program over the last four years, and we’re thrilled that he’s going to complete his degree at Baylor,” Bears coach Scott Drew said in a statement. “He’ll always be part of the Baylor family, and we’ll be rooting for him as he continues his career.”

Freeman, who redshirted his freshman year due to a broken wrist, started 57 games during his career in Waco and averaged 8.6 points and 2.6 rebounds per game. He was a full-time starter as a sophomore, but made just 22 this past season and saw his minutes slashed.

As a graduate transfer, the Charlotte native will be immediately eligible at his next program for his final collegiate season.

Xavier sophomore Edmond Sumner declares for NBA Draft

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Xavier sophomore Edmond Sumner has declared for the NBA Draft and is expected to sign with an agent.

“First let me start by saying these three years at Xavier have been the best of my life,” Sumner said in a statement. “I have certainly been presented with some ups and downs but they have only served to make me a stronger person. This decision was very hard for me because of the love I have for X. After weighing my options with my family, I have decided to enter the 2017 NBA Draft, fulfilling a lifelong dream. I want to thank Coach Mack and the rest of the staff for believing in me and giving me a chance when no one did! I’ll always be grateful for that. Xavier Nation I will always love you!”

Sumner, a 6-foot-6 point guard with dynamic athleticism and first round potential that averaged 15.0 points, but he is coming off of a torn ACL that he suffered in January. He’s likely to be a second round pick in this year’s NBA Draft.

This is a big loss for the Musketeers, but it’s one that they planned for. After his eruption last season, most expected him to put his name in the draft this season.

Duke freshman Harry Giles III declares for NBA Draft

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Harry Giles III has declared for the NBA Draft after playing just one season at Duke.

“Playing in the NBA has been my goal for as long as I can remember, and I’m so excited to take the next step in that journey,” Giles said. “My time at Duke has been a dream come true. I’ve built so many strong relationships here and I have so many people to thank, from my teammates and coaches to our medical staff and strength coach. I can’t understate how proud I am to be part of the Duke Basketball program forever.”

Giles played in 26 games for the Blue Devils. He started six games and averaged 3.9 points and 3.8 rebounds, but the numbers don’t tell the whole story with Giles. At one point considered to be the best player in the loaded Class of 2016, Giles has dealt with a pair of devastating knee injuries already. He underwent a third surgery right before the start of the season and never seemed like he was fully able to get back to being the player he was when he was in high school.

This is the right decision for Giles to make, as there is still some uncertainty regarding the health of his knees. Were his struggles due to the fact that he was tossed right into the middle of a college basketball season after having sat out for 14 straight months, or was this simply a result of knees that no longer allow him to be the player that he used to be?

He might still end up being a first round pick this year. At the very least, he’s make some guaranteed money if he can get into a camp. Maybe returning to school could have helped vault him into the lottery in 2018, but another year like this year would’ve firebombed his draft stock.

“With his uplifting personality and love for the game, Harry Giles has been a joy to coach,” Duke head coach Mike Krzyzewski said. “He is only beginning to scratch the surface of how good he can be on the basketball court. Harry has an exciting NBA future ahead of him and we are here to fully support him as a member of our brotherhood.”

I know I’m not alone when I say I hope that Giles gets healthy and succeeds in the NBA.