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Weekend Preview: First place in the Pac-12, SEC on the line

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NOTE: This preview was written before the Allonzo Trier news broke.

SATURDAY’S SHOWDOWNS

No. 14 Arizona at No. 3 UCLA, Sat. 4:00 p.m. (CBS): First place in the Pac-12 is on the line on Saturday when Arizona makes the trek to Pauley Pavilion to square off with UCLA. The Bruins, who many believe are actually the best team in college basketball, currently sit a game behind both Arizona and Oregon – who may or may not have just lost Dillon Brooks to another foot injury – in the Pac-12 race, and this will be their chance to close the gap on at least one of those two.

Arizona is an interesting team. On paper, this team has some serious question. As talented as Lauri Markkanen, Rawle Alkins and Kobi Simmons – and, as of midnight last night, Allonzo Trier – are, and as good as that 17-2 record looks, the Wildcats still really haven’t done anything this season that would make you believe they are the No. 14 team in the country. Their best win is either Michigan State, who is not the Michigan State we thought they were going to be entering the season, or USC on the road.

UCLA, on the other hand, has an offense that is capable of putting up more than 100 points on anyone. They made 19 threes at Colorado. They made 16 threes against Arizona State on Thursday night, knocking down 10-of-13 in the first half. They’ve had two different players go for more than 30 points in Pac-12 play, and neither of them are Lonzo Ball or T.J. Leaf, UCLA’s two lottery picks. UCLA’s issue is that they don’t defend. As dangerous as this team is, they’re currently sitting at 11th in KenPom because they rank 92nd in defensive efficiency, and while I have my doubts about the Wildcats, they do have three guys that can light it up offensively.

  • PREDICTION: I was on UCLA (-4), but with the line moving and Allonzo Trier getting cleared, Arizona (+6) is where I would want my money, and I think that this game will hit over (+/- 162), too.

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No. 24 South Carolina at No. 5 Kentucky, Sat. 6:00 p.m. (ESPN): The Pac-12 isn’t the only conference where first-place is on the line. South Carolina and Kentucky are the only two undefeated teams left in the league after the Gamecocks beat No. 19 Florida on Wednesday night, and we will get a chance to see the pair of them square off Saturday evening. I think that South Carolina is the second-best team in the SEC, and I think that they do have the pieces to give the Wildcats a fight. It’s worth noting that with Sindarius Thornwell available, South Carolina is undefeated on the season.

Frank Martin’s clubs are never going to get out-toughed, and that is particularly true with this group, whose roster of big, physical veterans have used a pressuring, half-court man defense to sit atop KenPom’s adjusted defensive efficiency metric. It will be strength on strength for South Carolina, as Kentucky has the nation’s No. 2 offense.

The key? Keep the Wildcats out of transition. Given the lack of perimeter shooting on Kentucky’s roster, if South Carolina can find a way to avoid live-ball turnovers and prevent Kentucky from getting easy buckets on the break – for what it’s worth, no one has really been able to do this – they should be able to keep this game interesting.

The x-factor? Foul trouble. The style that both of these teams like to play does not exactly align with the way college basketball is being officiated this season.

  • PREDICTION: I think Kentucky wins this, but I think the nation’s best defensive team will be able to avoid getting run off the floor, so I’ll take South Carolina (+13).

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No. 12 Louisville at No. 10 Florida State, Sat. 2:00 p.m. (ESPN): Florida State is part of a three-way tie for first place in the ACC with Notre Dame and North Carolina after the Seminoles knocked off the Fighting Irish on Wednesday evening. The way Leonard Hamilton’s club got that done was to pressure the Irish in the half court and force them to make mistakes offensively. Notre Dame had to shoot 15-for-21 from three to keep that thing respectable.

Louisville is going to face similar issues offensively as well. Already a team with question marks on that end of the floor, they are going to be playing this game without the services of Quentin Snider, who is dealing with a hip flexor injury. Donovan Mitchell looked good against Clemson on Thursday night, but Clemson and Florida State are two different beasts.

It’s worth noting, however that the ‘Noles have point guard issues as well. Xavier Rathan-Mayes isn’t exactly Chris Paul, and Louisville currently has the nation’s second-best defense.

  • PREDICTION: I don’t think Louisville wins this game on the road without their point guard, so I was on Florida State (-1). With the line now at FSU (-4.5), I think I’d rather bet the under (+/- 149). Two tough defenses, two teams without point guards.
LOUISVILLE, KY - JANUARY 11: Donovan Mitchell #45 of the Louisville Cardinals shoots the ball during the game against the Pittsburgh Panthers at KFC YUM! Center on January 11, 2017 in Louisville, Kentucky. (Photo by Andy Lyons/Getty Images)
Donovan Mitchell (Photo by Andy Lyons/Getty Images)

FIVE MORE GAMES TO WATCH

  • Syracuse at No. 15 Notre Dame, Sat. 12:00 p.m. (ESPN): The Irish are coming off of their first loss of the season, falling at Florida State despite the fact that they shot 15-for-21 from three. Given the way that Notre Dame can shoot the ball and pass the ball, this may not be the best matchup for the Orange zone. PREDICTION: Syracuse (+8)
  • Georgia Tech at No. 16 Virginia, Sat. 2:00 p.m. (ACC Network): If you haven’t noticed yet, Josh Pastner actually have Georgia Tech playing some good basketball. The Yellow Jackets have wins over North Carolina, Clemson and N.C. State. Their only losses? At Duke, at Louisville and at Virginia Tech. PREDICTION: Virginia (-18)
  • No. 17 Wisconsin at Minnesota, Sat. 4:30 p.m. (BTN): The Golden Gophers got off to a good start to the season, but in the last week they’ve lost at Michigan State and at Penn State. Richard Pitino’s club, if they are going to be a tournament team, needs to land a couple more wins over the top teams from the Big Ten. This is the perfect opportunity. PREDICTION: Wisconsin (-4.5)
  • No. 7 West Virginia at Kansas State, Sat. 6:00 p.m. (ESPN2): The Wildcats have been on the wrong end of three tough losses already this season. If they are going to have a real chance to get to the NCAA tournament this is the kind of game they need to win. PREDICTION: Kansas State (+3)
  • No. 6 Baylor at TCU, Sat. 8:00 p.m. (ESPNU): TCU is sitting pretty with a 14-4 record, but the Horned Frogs really have beaten anyone yet this season. Two wins over Washington, UNLV, Iowa State, Oklahoma. If this program is going to be good instead of, “Hey, TCU isn’t a guaranteed win anymore,” they need to do things like beat the best teams in the conference at home. That would be Baylor. PREDICTION: Baylor (-2.5)

Alabama loses Nick King, Brandon Austin to transfer

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Alabama is losing a pair to transfer as junior Nick King and sophomore Brandon Austin are planning to transfer, according to a release.

The 6-foot-7 King is expected to graduate and be eligible to play anywhere right away as a graduate transfer while the 6-foot-5 Austin will likely have to sit out a season before playing.

King started his career at Memphis but transferred to Alabama. A former starter at small forward, King played the first seven games of the season until a lung infection shut down his season. He averaged 3.3 points and 2.9 rebounds per game before shutting it down.

A former top-50 recruit from the Class of 2013, King will look to jumpstart his career elsewhere during his final season of college basketball.

Austin only appeared in six games and played a total of 44 minutes this season as he also dealt with injuries like an early bone bruise.

The Crimson Tide are bringing in one of the best recruiting classes in the country next season as their freshmen could see a lot of playing time. So it comes as no surprise that players like King and Austin would transfer to assure more playing time.

Candidates Georgetown could target for head coach

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Georgetown moved on from head coach John Thompson III after 13 years at the helm on Thursday as the move sent shockwaves throughout college basketball.

The Thompson family has been a major institution for Georgetown basketball, dating back to the ’70s when John Thompson Jr. was head coach. So this new hire for the Hoyas will be a fascinating process.

Here’s a list of some early names that could be involved with Georgetown.

Tommy Amaker, Harvard — With a successful tenure at Harvard that at one point included four NCAA tournament bids in a row, Amaker has won at his latest job while coaching at an elite academic institution.

Put together with previous stops at Seton Hall and Michigan and Amaker has run a big-time program while also winning at an Ivy League school. Leaving Harvard might be tough though when Amaker is beginning to recruit at a national level at the program.

Jamion Christian, Mount St. Mary’s — Five years at Mount St. Mary’s has produced two NCAA tournament appearances for Christian as the 34-year-old would represent a bold, young hire for Georgetown.

Also an assistant coach for a season at VCU under Shaka Smart, Christian has recruited in that area before and he’s regarded by many as one of the bright, young head coaches in a low-major league. Coming from Smart at VCU, it should come as no surprise that Christian plays an uptempo system and presses on defense.

It would be a bit risky for Georgetown to hire someone as young as Christian but he also has the kind of enthusiasm to lead the tough rebuild that the Hoyas potentially face.

Nathan Davis, Bucknell — After leading Bucknell to the NCAA tournament in only his second season as a Division I head coach, Davis is someone to keep an eye on for the future.

The Washington D.C. native has quickly established himself as a potential young star in the coaching ranks but he also might be too inexperienced to take one of the Big East’s prestige positions. As a Division I head coach for only two seasons, Davis hasn’t faced the pressure of the high-major level at any of his previous coaching stops. Davis certainly deserves credit for his Division III coaching success and Final Four appearance with Randolph-Macon (Bo Ryan was pretty good in DIII before moving to Division I) but that’s a long way from the Big East.

Davis would have to prove that he’s capable as a coach and recruiter at the Big East level and he would be a risk if hired by the Hoyas.

Patrick Ewing Sr., Charlotte Hornets assistant  — The Hall of Fame center and Georgetown alum would be an intriguing name. Adrian Wojnarowski of Yahoo Sports reported that the Hoyas are considering Ewing as a potential head coach.

This wouldn’t just be a Chris Mullin at St. John’s type of scenario where Mullin had no coaching experience before taking the job. Ewing has been grinding as an NBA assistant coach for the past 15 years in the hopes of getting an NBA head coaching job. Georgetown represents an unique opportunity for Ewing to rebuild his former program and his son, Patrick Ewing Jr., would potentially work for him.

Recruiting would obviously be a major question mark but Ewing has the playing and coaching pedigree to be a wild card in this.

Dan Hurley, Rhode Island — The Rams finally broke through and made the NCAA Tournament in Hurley’s fifth year as head coach this season as Rhode Island made the second round before falling to Oregon in a close game.

Of the coaches on this list, the Rams have recruited a lot of top-100 prospects and futures pros like E.C. Matthews and Hassan Martin, so we know that Hurley knows how to navigate elite recruiting.

As the son of legendary high school coach Bob Hurley and younger brother of Arizona State head coach Bobby Hurley, Dan Hurley comes from a long line of basketball coaches. He’s made Rhode Island one of the premier programs in the Atlantic 10. Although he’s only made one NCAA Tournament appearance in seven seasons as a head coach, Hurley has things trending in the right direction.

Shaka Smart, Texas — This isn’t likely going to happen but Georgetown is at least going to call. Since Smart was so successful at nearby VCU before taking the Texas job, the Hoyas are going to see if he’d be interested in returning to the area after this season’s disappointing last-place Big 12 finish.

If this Georgetown coaching position had been made available two years ago, before Smart had taken the Texas job, then it would have been intriguing to see where things might stand between the two. But now that Smart has at least four, four-star prospects entering Texas next season, while returning most of the current roster, he has a chance to build from this season’s last-place finish.

VIDEO: Why did the NCAA ban dunking in 1967?

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With UCLA playing in the Sweet 16 tonight, it’s a fitting time to bring up the story of the time that the association banned dunking.

It was in 1967, and it was because there was a kid named Lew Alcindor (who would change his name to Kareem Abdul-Jabbar) at UCLA who led the Bruins to a 30-0 record and a national title.

And just think, that rule change, which lasted until 1976, kept some of the game’s greatest dunkers from showing what they could really do in college. Imagine David Thompson rattling rims, rather than his assortment of finger-rolls and layups. Dr. J soared at UMass, but never like Dr. J really could. And so on.

So as you’re watching the rest of the NCAA tournament, thank the rule-makers who brought the dunk back. We’re better for it.

Cleveland State hires Dennis Felton as head coach

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Cleveland State has found its next head coach as the school announced the hiring of Dennis Felton.

A veteran head coach with previous stops at Western Kentucky and Georgia, Felton made three consecutive NCAA Tournament appearances with the Hilltoppers before taking the job with the Bulldogs before the 2003-04 season.

Felton takes over for previous head coach Gary Waters, who retired after 11 seasons at Cleveland State.

“I’m extremely excited to return to the head coaching ranks with this opportunity at Cleveland State University,” Felton said in the release. “I’m grateful to Dr. Berkman and Mike Thomas for the opportunity to lead this program. Cleveland State is an outstanding University that continues to grow in stature on the national landscape. I’m eager to start working with our players to build a championship program and getting out to share my vision of how we plan to partner with the entire community to do special things at Cleveland State.”

Felton made one NCAA Tournament appearance in six seasons with Georgia as he was fired in the middle of the 2008-09 season. Having a tough time overcoming NCAA sanctions lobbied after the Jim Harrick’s time with the school, Felton’s time with the Bulldogs never got rolling as he dealt with scholarship limitations and other obstacles.

After his time coaching in college, Felton spent time as a college scout with the Phoenix Suns before becoming director of pro player personnel for the San Antonio Spurs for a few seasons.

Cleveland State finished 18-45 over the last two seasons as they’ve struggled in the Horizon League. Felton will be tasked with turning the Vikings around as he hopes to find some of the magic that helped make Western Kentucky a consistent winner.

But with NBA connections and a lot of head coaching experience, Cleveland State made a solid hire here.

Frank Kaminsky trolls Arizona after high school teammate Sean O’Mara gets winning basket for Xavier

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No. 11 seed Xavier’s upset win over No. 2 seed Arizona left a lot of people stunned late Thursday night. Naturally, people took to Twitter to share their opinions of the Musketeers advancing to the Elite Eight to face No. 1 seed Gonzaga.

Some of those with comments on Arizona’s loss included members of Wisconsin’s back-to-back Final Four teams in 2014 and 2015. You might recall that the Badgers eliminated the Wildcats in both years in the Elite Eight to make the trips to the Final Four–so there is some history here between the two schools.

The Twitter comments started with former Wisconsin guard Ben Brust questioning Arizona head coach Sean Miller for going away from his big men. Brust’s “should have kept touching the big Serb” comment would indicate that getting touches for Arizona center Dusan Ristic was important–although others were pointing out freshman Lauri Markkanen’s minimal involvement in the Arizona offense during the last 10 minutes.

That’s when former Wisconsin center Frank Kaminsky entered the discussion and promptly shut things down.

Wisconsin’s personal history with Arizona hit closer for Kaminsky than a normal game when Xavier junior big man Sean O’Mara scored the game-winning bucket for the Musketeers with just under a minute left.

There’s a major connection here. O’Mara hails from Benet Academy in the Western Suburbs of Chicago, the same high school program that produced Kaminsky.

So Kaminsky made sure to mention that after the loss.

When Kaminsky was a senior and Benet started its season 29-0 and was nationally ranked in the USA Today High School rankings, O’Mara was the freshman big man that Kaminsky was beating up in practice every day.

While Kaminsky has turned into a productive member of the Charlotte Hornets rotation this season, O’Mara is having himself a solid 2017 NCAA Tournament run as he’s averaging 12.3 points a game after putting up 6.1 per game during the regular season.

We definitely know who Kaminsky will be rooting for when it comes to the West Region.