Pregame Shootaround: Top-25 Pac-12, Valley clashes highlight 150 games and lots of Bubble drama

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GAME OF THE DAY:  No. 7 Arizona at No. 13 Utah, 9:00 p.m.

From Rob Dauster’s Weekend Preview:

When these two teams met in Tucson earlier this season, the Wildcats embarrassed the Utes and their all-american, Delon Wright. Don’t think, for a second, that Utah has forgotten about that. With their Pac 12 title hopes on the line and the league’s power coming into their building, Utah will be ready for this one. It helps that they’ve been playing some of their best basketball of the season of late, as their defense as been embarrassingly good. As in, they embarrass people. Ask Arizona State, who was down 41-9 at halftime on Thursday night.

THE OTHER GAME OF THE DAY: No. 10 Northern Iowa at No. 11 Wichita State, 2:00 p.m.

Also from Rob’s preview:

Big games in the Missouri Valley are always going to be entertaining to watch, and this matchup will be no different. Both the Shockers and the Panthers are exceedingly well-coached defensive powerhouses that execute well offensively and count the three best players in the conference — Seth Tuttle, Ron Baker and Fred Van Vleet — on their rosters. Oh, and should I mention that this is the Missouri Valley championship game? Both teams are currently tied at 16-1 in the league.

With all due respect to Utah, Kentucky and Kansas, you will not find a better environment for a basketball game on Saturday than in Koch Arena.

UPSET ALERT: No. 6 Villanova at Xavier, 2:00 p.m.

Weekend Preview:

The Wildcats are far and away the best team in the Big East this season, which says more about Villanova than it does the rest of the conference. Xavier is one of those teams in the next team, in the conversation with Georgetown, Providence and Butler as the second-best team in the league. The Wildcats can clinch the outright Big East title with a win, but the Musketeers are playing for the chance to avoid sweating out Selection Sunday.

FIVE THINGS TO WATCH FOR:

1. Saturday will be the first time that No. 1 Kentucky has faced a ranked team this year. Literally. The last time was in December, when they won at Louisville. This is not a great matchup for No. 18 Arkansas, but their pressure might rattle Kentucky’s back court.

2. Texas is on the verge of playing themselves out of the NCAA tournament, while No. 8 Kansas was on the verge of playing themselves out of the Big 12 title race before Iowa State lost.

3. BYU is currently out of CBT Bracketologist Dave Ommen’s latest bracket, but a road win at No. 3 Gonzaga could certainly change that. The Zags just need to keep winning to stay in the No. 1 seed conversation.

4. Miami desperately needs this win if they are going to get an at-large bid, and No. 15 North Carolina has had some issues this season. Which Angel Rodriguez will show up on Saturday?

5. Bubble games to track:

  • Missouri at Georgia, 12:00 p.m.
  • Georgetown at St. John’s, 12:00 p.m.
  • N.C. State at Boston College, Sat. 12:00 p.m.
  • Ole Miss at LSU, 2:00 p.m.
  • Cincinnati at Tulane, 2:00 p.m.
  • Oklahoma State at Texas Tech, 4:00 p.m.
  • Iowa at Penn State, 6:00 p.m.
  • George Washington at Davidson, 7:00 p.m.
  • Northwestern at Illinois, 7:00 p.m.
  • Tulsa at Memphis, 8:00 p.m.
  • Auburn at Texas A&M, 8:30 p.m.

PROGRAMMING NOTE: There will be a game on NBCSN and streaming on Live Extra on Saturday:

  • Rhode Island at La Salle, 12:30 p.m.

THE REST OF THE TOP 25

  • Virginia Tech at No. 2 Virginia, 4:00 p.m.
  • Syracuse at No. 4 Duke, 7:00 p.m.
  • No. 12 Iowa State at Kansas State, 4:00 p.m.
  • Michigan at No. 14 Maryland 12:00 p.m.
  • TCU at No. 16 Oklahoma, 2:00 p.m.
  • No. 17 Louisville at Florida State, 12:00 p.m.
  • No. 20 West Virginia at No. 19 Baylor, 4:00 p.m.
  • Dayton at No. 22 VCU 2:00 p.m.
  • No. 23 Butler at DePaul, 2:00 p.m.
  • Boise State at No. 24 San Diego State, 8:00 p.m.

Vanderbilt lands five-star forward Simi Shittu

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Vanderbilt continues to build a monster recruiting class under head coach Bryce Drew as five-star 2018 forward Simi Shittu pledged to the Commodores on Wednesday.

The second five-star commitment for Vanderbilt in the Class of 2018, Shittu joins top point guard prospect Darius Garland to form one of the best freshman combinations in the country for next season. The Commodores also have a top-150 forward in Aaron Nesmith.

The 6-foot-9, 220-pound Shittu is coming off of a monster summer in which he became a major problem and top-ten recruit. The No. 8 overall prospect in the Rivals national Class of 2018 recruiting rankings, Shittu is a huge get and an instant starter for Vanderbilt next season.

By landing prospects like Garland and Shittu, Drew is also becoming a major player in a short amount of time as a high-major coach. Always a noted recruiter at the mid-major level at Valparaiso, now Vanderbilt is seeing Drew’s hiring workout as he’s bringing top talent to the program.

If Drew can continue to recruit like this then Vanderbilt could be in position to be in the top half of the SEC as the league has seen some of its rebuilds go poorly over the last few years.

Kansas still without freshman Billy Preston

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Kansas freshman Billy Preston has yet to make his debut for the Jayhawks and it appears he’ll have to wait a bit longer before that happens.

Head coach Bill Self met with media earlier this week to discuss the Preston situation, saying that nothing has changed about his status quite yet. Preston was previously suspended for violating a team rule when he missed the game against Tennessee State. Before Preston was set to debut against Kentucky in the Champions Classic he was also withheld from the contest after the revelation that Preston had been in a single-vehicle accident the previous weekend.

“I have actually been out, until I just pulled back in, so as of this morning, there was no movement. The last time you guys asked me was Friday and so you don’t work on Saturday or Sunday, so there is nothing new on that situation,” Self said.

“Sure, I’m worried,” Self also added. “I’m concerned and I do think that it can work itself, based on what I’ve been told. I also think that it obviously hadn’t happened yet.”

It’s uncertain when the next step in any of this will play out but Self doesn’t appear to be too concerned over it. Kansas has won without Preston so far but they could definitely use his size, scoring punch and overall depth to a team that isn’t very deep right now.

A matchup nightmare, Preston could help the Jayhawk offense while also giving Udoka Azubuike additional help on the glass and protecting the rim.

(H/t: Jesse Newell, Kansas City Star)

Brian Bowen not allowed to play at Louisville

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Louisville announced on Wednesday that freshman wing Brian Bowen will not be allowed to play at the school. The former McDonald’s All-American will be allowed to remain on scholarship but he can’t participate in any team activities.

Bowen was tied into the FBI’s investigation into college basketball this fall as an adidas company executive is alleged to have been part of a scheme to deliver $100,000 to Bowen’s family, according to court documents.

Bowen hired attorney Jason Setchen to fight the case and seek reinstatement as Setchen had experience dealing with college basketball scandals before. When DeQuan Jones was suspended from Miami after the Nevin Shapiro case in 2011, Setchen helped Jones re-gain his eligibility as Miami.

With this case, Bowen was not allowed back at Louisville as the school has fired head coach Rick Pitino and most of his previous staff. Athletic Director Tom Jurich also lost his job, so the Cardinals are definitely cleaning house and trying to detach themselves from anyone involved.

It will be interesting to see what Bowen opts to do in light of this news. He’s talented enough that other schools could want him, if he’s eligible, but he’s also a former five-star prospect who could have pro aspirations. But since Bowen won’t be playing this season, he also hasn’t had a chance to spotlight his game to potential pro suitors.

 

President Trump fires back at LaVar Ball on Twitter

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The never-ending war of words between President Donald Trump and LaVar Ball escalated to another level on Wednesday morning.

Starting his early-morning tweets with some messages aimed at Ball, President Trump continued to double down on his insistence that he helped play a role in the safe return of three UCLA players arrested in China for shoplifting. LiAngelo Ball, LaVar’s middle son, was one of the three players involved in the international incident as fellow Bruins Jalen Hill and Cody Riley were also arrested. The trio returned to the United States last week after UCLA left China without them following a win over Georgia Tech in the Pac-12 China Game.

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LaVar has drawn the ire of President Trump for downplaying the President’s role in the return of the UCLA trio as Ball maintains that others had more to do with the release. All three UCLA players publicly thanked President Trump and the United States government during their return press conference on Nov. 15. The three players remain suspended indefinitely from all activities with the men’s basketball team.

In an interview with CNN earlier this week, LaVar was critical of Trump’s role in the whole ordeal while also questioning why the President would spend so much time bothering for a thank you from the father of one of those arrested.

No. 22 Baylor comes from 12 down to beat Creighton

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It was another rough night for the Scott Drew Can’t Coach crowd.

No. 22 Baylor got 15 points apiece from Jo Lual-Acuil and Terry Maston and closed the game on a 37-19 run as they knocked off Creighton, 65-59, in the title game of the Hall Of Fame Classic in Kansas City.

King McClure led the way for the Bears with 19 points, picking up the pieces for Manu Lecomte, who struggled to deal with the defense of Khyri Thomas.

Creighton jumped out to a 33-24 lead at the break and extended it to 40-28 with 18 minutes left in the game, but that’s when Baylor turned the game around. A couple of tweaks to the way that they played their zone coupled with the Bluejays missing some shots that they were capable of making led to the comeback. Instead of simply writing another ‘See, I told you Scott Drew can coach’ column, I figured it would make more sense to show exactly what I mean when I say that.

Creighton had a smart, simple game-plan offensively on Tuesday night. Get the ball into the paint, whether it was via dribble penetration or finding one of their big guys near the foul line or at the short corner, and then find a shooter on the perimeter, a cutter going to the rim or, simply, score from 8-10 feet out. That’s the best way to beat a zone, especially a zone that has the amount of length and athleticism that Baylor’s does. Notice in the clip below how extended Baylor’s guards are and, as a result, the space it creates:

Once Baylor got down by 12, their game-plan changed. Instead of extending, their defense became more compact. What is usually something of a 1-1-3 zone turned into more of a 2-3, with the focus seemingly being cutting off penetration. Baylor dared Creighton to let Ronnie Harrell be the guy that beat them, and it worked. The result was that the open threes dried up, and the jumpers that Creighton shot in down the stretch were much more contested than the looks they were getting earlier in the game:

That’s coaching right there.

Game-planning is a part of coaching. Player development is, too, as is recruiting. But making in-game adjustments like that, figuring out how a team is beating you, devising a way to stop them from doing that and getting your players to execute those adjustments is arguably the most important part of being a coach.

Here’s another example of what I mean.

Khyri Thomas might be the best on-ball defender in college basketball, and I don’t say that lightly. He essentially eliminated Manu Lecomte from the game. He is to point guards what Darrelle Revis was to No. 1 receivers. Whoever he is guarding is on Khyri Island.

Lecomte is typically Baylor’s closer, but Drew ran actions that allowed Lecomte to be a facilitator and a decoy, taking Khyri out of the play and taking advantage of matchups he thought his guys could win. That involved running a double-high ball-screen, which confused Harrell and Martin Krampelj defensively a couple of times, and resulted in a high-low action between Maston and Lual-Acuil on a number of possessions down the stretch.

But then there was also this set he drew up, using McClure as the ball-handler in that double-high ball-screen and while putting Lecomte in the same side corner. McClure refused the ball-screen, drove straight at the gap where Thomas was not going to help off Lecomte and got a bucket out of it:

That’s coaching!

And I’m not trying to say McDermott got out-coached here. His game-plan worked. Drew’s adjustment turned out to be just a bit better.

But Creighton also has players that can make the tough shots that they were forced into in the second half. If two more of them go down – if the Bluejays shoot 37.5 percent from the floor instead of 34.4 percent, if they go 7-for-30 from three instead of 5-for-30 – then they probably win this game.

Sometimes that’s how basketball works.

It’s why you always hear coaches refer to it as a ‘make or miss game’.

The larger takeaway from this game should be this: Both Baylor and Creighton are good teams. Both landed good non-conference wins during this event. Both are likely headed to the NCAA tournament.

And both took part in a fun, tactical battle between head coaches on Tuesday night that one of them had to lose.