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Weekend Preview: The five biggest story lines this weekend

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The biggest story line of the weekend is No. 2 Kansas paying a visit to No. 4 Kentucky on Saturday afternoon.

We all know that.

We talked all about it on the podcast (here) and in a preview of the game (here).

Beyond that, here are five story lines to track this weekend:

1. Which Duke team is going to show up on Saturday?: As it stands, No. 17 Duke is currently 15-5 overall, but just 3-4 in the ACC. They’ve lost all three of their road games in league play and are coming off of a dreadfully disappointing performance in a home loss to N.C. State on Monday. We detailed what is going wrong with the Blue Devils here, and it’s worth noting that things have gotten bad enough for Duke that Coach K revoked locker room access and has banned the team from wearing clothing with a Duke logo on it.

Which leads us to Saturday.

Duke heads down the road to take on Wake Forest in Winston-Salem. The Demon Deacons are not all that good this year, but they are usually a tough out in their building, frankly, Duke has done nothing in the last six weeks to make us believe they can go on the road anywhere and come out with a win. Duke’s ceiling this season is still as high as anyone’s ceiling, and every game is going to be a test. Are they getting closer to reaching that ceiling, or is this team still not good?

2. The Big Ten bubble picture is heating up: Northwestern is the most under-reported story in college basketball this season. A program that has never – EVER – made the NCAA tournament is currently sitting at 17-4 overall with a 6-2 record in the Big Ten and a very, very good chance at ending that drought this March. Indiana? They are probably the most over-reported story in the conference, a flawed team whose expectations grew out of control with a pair of early-season wins and whose is now trying to find their way through league play and into the tournament without the services of O.G. Anunoby.

Think about that, for a second. Indiana plays at Northwestern on Saturday, and the Hoosiers probably need this win more than Northwestern does.

That’s not the only Big Ten game with heavy bubble implications.

Michigan’s visit to Michigan State will matter as well. Both of those teams seemed destined to sweat it out on Selection Sunday, although the Spartans and Tom Izzo may be in more trouble than John Beilein’s Wolverines. So Michigan State and Indiana, the two flagship program in the conference, desperately need to win games against Michigan and Northwestern.

What is going on?

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3. Will Gonzaga be No. 1?: The Zags are the nation’s lone undefeated team, and with No. 1 Villanova, No. 2 Kansas and No. 4 Kentucky all losing on Tuesday, there’s a good chance the the Bulldogs could find themselves climb to No. 1 in the country if they can find a way to avoid losing to 5-15 Pepperdine on Saturday.

And if they can get through the weekend without a loss to their name, it’s very likely that, barring a loss at Saint Mary’s in February, the Zags are going to head into the conference tournaments undefeated. And if they get to the conference tournaments undefeated, they’ll be the No. 1 team in the country for the rest of the year and lock themselves into the No. 1 seed out west.

I don’t want to get into a debate about whether or not that should happen (it should, and if you think otherwise you’re probably dumb), I’m just saying that it’s a thing that will happen.

4. Can Georgia Tech land another upset?: I’m not sure Josh Pastner deserves to be in the National Coach of the Year discussion. He may not even deserve to be in the ACC Coach of the Year discussion, at least not yet. But it’s inarguable that he is doing a fantastic job with this Yellow Jacket team. They were picked to finish 14th in the ACC this season, yet entering this weekend, they are sitting at 4-4 in league play – a half-game ahead of Duke – with wins over North Carolina, Florida State, N.C. State and Clemson. No. 14 Notre Dame is terrific, good enough to win the ACC regular season title, but they are coming off of a loss at home to No. 12 Virginia.

5. So was that N.C. State win at Duke a fluke or nah?: The Wolfpack have been bad this season, but on Monday night, they went into Cameron Indoor Stadium and beat the Blue Devils thanks to 32 points and six assists from Dennis Smith Jr. That’s a terrific win for the program’s bragging rights in the state of North Carolina, but beating Duke sounds better in real life than it looks on paper at the moment. That’s what makes Saturday’s visit to the Yum! Center interesting.

N.C. State has been bad on the road this year. Louisville is tough in their building. But the Cardinals will be without their top two points guards, who are both battling injury. This is N.C. State’s chance to make up for losing to Boston College and Georgia Tech.

DURHAM, NC - JANUARY 23:  Dennis Smith Jr. #4 of the North Carolina State Wolfpack drives in for a dunk as time expires during their win against the Duke Blue Devils at Cameron Indoor Stadium on January 23, 2017 in Durham, North Carolina. North Carolina State won 84-82.  (Photo by Grant Halverson/Getty Images)
Dennis Smith Jr. (Photo by Grant Halverson/Getty Images)

VIDEO: LaVar Ball gets female ref replaced after threatening to pull team from court

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A female referee was removed from a Big Ballers game after LaVar Ball threatened to pull his team from the court for the second time in a week.

The referee called Ball for a technical foul, which sparked the confrontation, but both Ball and an adidas rep told ESPN’s Jeff Borzello that the reason the ref was pulled was because she and Ball had a previous issue:

Before the game was over, Ball would receive a second technical foul and the game was eventually called with two minutes left and Big Ballers losing by 10.

Western Kentucky’s five-star recruit Mitchell Robinson has left campus

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The soap opera that has been Mitchell Robinson’s tenure at Western Kentucky took another on Friday, as the five-star center and top ten prospect in the Class of 2017 has reportedly left campus.

Robinson was a massive coup for Rick Stansbury when he committed to and signed for the Hilltoppers, but it has been non-stop drama since then. Less than two weeks after his commitment, Robinson tweeted that he would be decommitting from WKU before immediately deleting the tweet and claiming that his account was hacked. Robinson did not attend the first session of summer school on campus, and he was in class in the second summer school session and reportedly practicing with the team this month for a trip to Costa Rica, but he cleaned out his dorm room and left the campus last night.

Part of the reason that Robinson opted to go to Western Kentucky was that his godfather, former UNC star Shammond Williams, was an assistant coach on the staff. Williams left the program on July 3rd, and ever since then there have been questions surrounding where Robinson will play this season. There have been rumors that he will be heading overseas for a year before entering the 2018 NBA Draft, and there is also the potential that Robinson could end up transferring to a different college.

The question, however, is whether or not Robinson will be able to transfer and play immediately without sitting out a year since he enrolled in summer school.

Robinson is a 7-foot center and a terrific defensive prospect that is projected as a first round pick next year. If he does get a waiver to transfer, he immediately becomes the best available talent on the market, along with Marvin Bagley III, who is considering reclassifying.

Virginia, Seton Hall, Rhode Island, Vandy in NIT Tip-Off

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NEW YORK (AP) — Virginia and Vanderbilt will meet in one semifinal of the NIT Preseason Tip-Off on Thanksgiving Day at Barclays Center.

Rhode Island and Seton Hall face off in the other semifinal with the winners meeting on Friday, Nov. 24.

This is the third straight year the Tip-Off has been held at Barclays Center. Eventual NCAA champion Villanova won the event in 2015. All games will be televised on ESPNU.

Non-bracketed teams in the NIT Season Tip-Off who will play games at campus sites are: Austin Peay, Fairleigh Dickinson, Monmouth, Oakland City and UNC Asheville.

Miles Bridges explain why he returned to Michigan State

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Miles Bridges changed the landscape of the 2017-18 college basketball season on April 13.

The Michigan State forward spurned the NBA for another year in East Lansing. The decision not only meant that Bridges was a frontrunner for national player of the year, but solidified the Spartans as a national title contender.

But Bridges’ choice to return was still puzzling to many. The 6-foot-7 forward was projected as a lottery pick. Bridges explained his decision to Mike Decourcy of Sporting News in a story published on Thursday.

“He says, ‘You know what, Coach? I want to get better. I don’t want to be in the D-League. I’ve got buddies that are, and I just want to make sure when I go, I’m ready,’ ” Izzo recalled to Sporting News. “I looked at him and I said, ‘Done deal.’ For me, that was a done deal. It was a reasonable, sensible argument.”

Agents, friends, reporters, scouts, acquaintances, fans, strangers and family members — oh and, as we said, coaches — all had one opinion about how Bridges should spend the next year of his life. Miles had another, opposing, viewpoint.

Bridges told Decourcy that support came from his teammates, many of whom were returning to the team as well. Assuming the backcourt of Cassius Winston and Josh Langford make a leap forward, as well as incoming freshman Jaren Jackson providing an immediate impact, the Spartans’ title hopes could become a reality.

Bridges averaged 16.9 points, 8.3 boards, 2.1 assists and 1.5 blocks as a freshman at Michigan State. He’s rated as the No. 5 overall pick in the 2018 NBA Draft by DraftExpress.

Four conferences sign on to basketball officiating alliance

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GREENSBORO, N.C. (AP) — Four more Division I conferences will join a men’s basketball officiating alliance formed last year by the Atlantic Coast Conference, the Big East, the Atlantic 10 and Colonial Athletic Association.

The Big South, the Ivy League, the Northeast and the Patriot League are joining ahead of the 2017-18 season, according to announcements from the leagues Thursday. The alliance launched last summer for conferences to work together on officiating matters and enhance training, development, recruitment, retention and feedback for officials.

John Cahill, the Big East’s supervisor of officials, and Bryan Kersey, the ACC’s coordinator of men’s basketball officiating, will continue to lead the alliance operations.

ACC commissioner John Swofford says the new additions to the alliance “provide an even greater opportunity to build chemistry and quality” across the officiating ranks.