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Weekend Preview: Showdown between No. 2 Kansas at No. 4 Kentucky

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No. 2 Kansas got a bit of brutal news late on Thursday night when Bill Self announced that Carlton Bragg Jr., one of just nine scholarship players on the roster and one of two “big” men that see significant time in the Jayhawks rotation, is suspended for a violation of team rules.*

*(Worth noting here: the suspension, according to Self, has nothing to do with the current investigation into the alleged rape of a 16-year old in the dorm where the Kansas players live. Bragg has been interviewed as a witness in that case.)

This is a massive problem for a Kansas team that is already getting pummeled by opponents in the paint. Against No. 18 West Virginia, Esa Ahmad scored 27 points, the majority of which came in or around the lane. Jarrett Allen of Texas went for 22 points and 19 boards. TCU’s Vlad Brodziansky had 28 points and nine boards. Georgia’s Yante Maten had 30 points and 13 boards.

And No. 4 Kentucky?

They’ve got a guy named Bam Adebayo, who is playing some of the most efficient basketball of his career right now. He’s averaging 14.6 points over his last five games and shooting 84 percent, but he’s only getting five shots a night over the last five games. That’s something that is likely going to change on Saturday, as John Calipari is smart enough to know that getting Landen Lucas, who is basically the only center the Jayhawks have on the roster with Udoka Azubuike injured, in foul trouble could spell an easy win.

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So expect Adebayo to get the ball early and often on Saturday, which will likely take some of the luster off of what is the most intriguing positional matchup of the season to date: Frank Mason III and Devonte’ Graham vs. De’Aaron Fox and Malik Monk.

Those are the two of, if not the two best back courts in college basketball this season, and they’re very different in the way that they play. Mason and Graham are two well-rounded point guards who more or less play the same way. Graham is a little bit bigger and is better in an off-the-ball, spot-up-shooter, lock-down defender role while Mason is at his best when the ball is in his hands and he is making decisions.

Fox and Monk, on the other hands, are two totally different players whose skill-sets compliment each other perfectly. Fox is a dynamic athletic that thrives in transition and is one of the best passers in the country. Monk? He’s the high-volume shooter that plays along side him. Two five-star freshmen vs. two upper-classmen that originally committed to mid-major programs.

Perhaps the most fascinating part of this matchup, however, is that both John Calipari and Bill Self and reinvented themselves as coaches this season. Typically, their teams are two of the best defensive teams in the country, and neither of them have played like it thus far this season. Cal has turned his team, which is usually a slow-paced, marauding force, into the nation’s most dangerous transition team. Self? He has Kansas playing small-ball, which is something that he has been morally opposed to in the past.

Which brings me to Josh Jackson. The No. 1 prospect in the Class of 2016, Jackson plays the four for the Jayhawks and, so long as he stays out of foul trouble, is the guy that creates the matchup problems for them. How Kentucky handles that, and how the Jayhawks respond to Adebayo in the paint, will decide this game.

  • PREDICTION: With Carlton Bragg Jr. available, I would’ve had to think long and hard about picking Kentucky (-8). Without Bragg? It seems like easy money.
LAWRENCE, KS - JANUARY 30: Head coach John Calipari of the Kentucky Wildcats and head coach Bill Self of the Kansas Jayhawks greet each other prior to the game at Allen Fieldhouse on January 30, 2016 in Lawrence, Kansas. (Photo by Jamie Squire/Getty Images)
(Photo by Jamie Squire/Getty Images)

FIVE MORE GAMES TO WATCH THIS WEEKEND

  1. No. 12 Virginia at No. 1 Villanova, Sun. 1:00 p.m.: Virginia is coming off of a dominating, 17-point win at No. 14 Notre Dame earlier this week. Can they back that up with a win at Villanova, who just lost at Marquette, on Saturday? I will say this: Virginia’s pack-line defense is designed to dare teams to beat them with jumpers. Villanova shot 6-for-34 from three against Marquette. PREDICTION: Villanova (-3)
  2. N.C. State at No. 13 Louisville, Sat. 1:00 p.m.: The Wolfpack are coming off of a win at Duke where Dennis Smith Jr. went for 32 points and six dimes. Louisville? They’ll be without starting point guard Quentin Snider and backup point guard Tony Hicks. PREDICTION: N.C. State (+18)
  3. No. 22 Maryland at Minnesota, Sat. 2:15 p.m.: The Golden Gophers had such a strong start to the season, but they’ve struggled in recent weeks to find that same level. The Terrapins, on paper, are very beatable, but you’d be hard-pressed to find a better winner in college basketball than Melo Trimble. He’s 28-6 in his career – and 8-1 this season – in games decided by six points or less. PREDICTION: Maryland (+4)
  4. No. 9 North Carolina at Miami, Sat. 1:00 p.m.: Miami is one of those teams where we don’t really know what to expect from them night-to-night, but they’ve been pretty good at home while the Tar Heels have had their struggles on the road. PREDICTION: Miami (+5)
  5. No. 5 Baylor at Ole Miss, Sat. 6:00 p.m.: The Rebels have not had a great year, but this is a team with the talent to be better than what their record says. And the Bears? While they have just one loss on the season, Baylor has not exactly been storming through the Big 12. Can they handle a road game out of conference? PREDICTION: Ole Miss (+11)

Cal promotes assistant Wyking Jones to head coach

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Cal will promote interim head coach and former assistant coach Wyking Jones to head coach, a source confirmed to NBCSports.com. The story was first reported by Jon Rothstein of FanRagSports.com

A native of Inglewood, California, Jones has been an assistant coach for the Golden Bears for the past two seasons as he replaces former head coach Cuonzo Martin, who departed to take the Missouri job. This promotion comes as a bit of a surprise for some since Jones has never been a head coach at the Division I level.

Jones has spent 15 years as an assistant coach at the Division I level at places like Cal, Louisville, New Mexico, Pepperdine and Loyola Marymount — where Jones spent his playing career.

Helping Louisville to the Final Four in 2013, Jones is a respected coach and recruiter who gets a great opportunity for his first head coaching job at the Division I level with Cal.

The Golden Bears made the NCAA tournament last year but finished 21-13 this season as they missed making the field of 68. Sophomore big man Ivan Rabb has already declared for the NBA Draft and it will be interesting to see what kind of roster Jones gets to work with right away.

One of the reasons Jones might have been retained is to help Cal keep its solid five-man recruiting class from bolting. While the Golden Bears don’t have any five-star talents coming in, it is a solid foundation for the program’s future led by a four-star guard in Jemarl Baker.

Florida State freshman forward Jonathan Isaac declares for 2017 NBA Draft

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Florida State freshman forward Jonathan Isaac has declared for the 2017 NBA Draft.

The 6-foot-10 Isaac was a five-star prospect out of high school as he averaged 12.0 points and 7.8 rebounds per game. One of the most versatile defenders in the country, Isaac could protect the rim (1.5 blocks per game) and also switch out to the perimeter and cover smaller wings as well (1.2 steals per game). Also showing a solid skill level, Isaac shot 50 percent from the field, 34 percent from three-point range and 78 percent from the free-throw line.

That kind of versatility is what Isaac is banking on in the NBA Draft as he’s expected to be a top-15 pick. If Isaac can prove that he’s a reliable perimeter shooter then teams could be intrigued by him as a matchup nightmare in the front court.

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.