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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)

SMU gets transfer in Georgetown’s Akoy Agau

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SMU pulled in a frontcourt player in Georgetown transfer Akoy Agau, a source confirmed to NBCSports.com. Agau is immediately eligible for next season as a graduate transfer.

The 6-foot-8 Agau started his career at Louisville before transferring to Georgetown after one season. Spending two seasons with the Hoyas, Agau was limited to 11 minutes in his first season due to injuries. He averaged 4.5 points and 4.3 rebounds per game last season.

Coming out of high school, Agau was a four-star prospect but he’s never lived up to that billing in-part because of injuries. Now, Agau gets one more chance to make a difference as he’s hoping to help replace some departed pieces like Ben Moore and Semi Ojeleye.

South Carolina loses big man Sedee Keita to transfer

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South Carolina big man Sedee Keita will transfer from the program, he announced on Friday.

The 6-foot-9 Keita was once regarded as a top-100 national prospect in the Class of 2016, but he never found consistent minutes with the Gamecocks for last season’s Final Four team.

Keita appeared in 29 games and averaged 1.1 points and 2.0 rebounds per game while shooting 27 percent from the field.

A native of Philadelphia, Keita will have to sit out next season before getting three more seasons of eligibility.

Although Keita failed to make an impact during his only season at South Carolina, he’ll be a coveted transfer thanks to his size and upside.

Mississippi State losing two to transfer

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Mississippi State will lose two players to transfer as freshmen Mario Kegler and Eli Wright are leaving the program.

Both Kegler and Wright were four-star prospects coming out of high school as they were apart of a six-man recruiting class that is supposed to be a major foundation for Ben Howland’s future with the Bulldogs.

The 6-foot-7 Kegler was Mississippi State’s third-leading scorer last season as he averaged 9.7 points and 5.5 rebounds per game. Kegler should command some quality schools on the transfer market, especially since he’ll still have three more years of eligibility after sitting out next season due to NCAA transfer regulations. Kegler’s loss is also notable for Mississippi State because it is the second consecutive offseason that Howland lost a top-100, in-state product to transfer after only one season after Malik Newman left for Kansas.

Wright, a 6-foot-4 guard, was never able to find consistent minutes as he was already behind underclass perimeter options like Quinndary Weatherspoon, Lamar Peters and Tyson Carter last season. With Nick Weatherspoon, Quinndary’s four-star brother, also joining the Bulldogs next season, the writing was likely on the wall that Wright wasn’t going to earn significant playing time.

 

N.C. State lands second transfer of day with Utah’s Devon Daniels

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A big recruiting day for N.C. State continued on Saturday afternoon as Utah transfer and guard Devon Daniels pledged to the Wolfpack.

Earlier in the day, N.C. State and new head coach Kevin Keatts landed another quality transfer in UNC Wilmington guard C.J. Bryce.

The 6-foot-5 Daniels just finished his freshman season with the Utes in which he put up 9.9 points 4.6 rebounds and 2.7 assists per game while shooting 57 percent from the field and 40 percent from three-point range. Just like Bryce, Daniels will have to sit out the 2017-18 season due to NCAA transfer regulations before he has three more seasons of eligibility.

N.C. State now has two potential starters on the perimeter for the 2018-19 season with the addition of Bryce and Daniels as it will be interesting to see what kind of talent the Wolfpack can get around them.

 

UNC Wilmington transfer C.J. Bryce follows Kevin Keatts to N.C. State

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N.C. State landed an impact transfer on Saturday as UNC Wilmington guard C.J. Bryce will be following former head coach Kevin Keatts to the Wolfpack, a source confirmed to NBCSports.com

The 6-foot-5 Bryce averaged 17.4 points, 5.4 rebounds and 3.0 assists per game last season as he helped the Seahawks to an NCAA tournament appearance. Bryce will have to sit out the 2017-18 season due to NCAA transfer regulations, but he’ll have two seasons of eligibility remaining after sitting out one season.

With N.C. State getting center Omer Yurtseven back for next season, and with the addition of Bryce, it means that Keatts has retained, or added, some talented players for the next few seasons. The Wolfpack still have to fill a lot of roster spots from last season’s team, but Keatts seems to be having a really good week.