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Weekend Preview: Here are the games you need to be ready to watch

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SATURDAY’S SHOWDOWNS

No. 5 Arizona at No. 13 Oregon, Sat. 4:00 p.m.: First place in the Pac-12 is on the line on Saturday afternoon as Arizona, who currently sits at 10-0 in the league, a game ahead of the Ducks, makes the trek up to Eugene to square off with Oregon. The Wildcats have quietly turned into one of the nation’s best and most dangerous teams. They vaulted their way among the elite when Allonzo Trier returned, which just so happened to coincide with Arizona’s 96-85 win in Pauley Pavilion.

But Trier has turned into the best guard on the Wildcats, which is saying quite a bit considering how well Kobi Simmons and Rawle Alkins have played at times this season. Coming off the bench, Trier is averaging 14.8 points and 3.8 assists after his 18-point outburst on Thursday night, a season-high, and the key for Sean Miller moving forward is going to be how he manages egos and playing time. Because Trier needs to be on the floor. But Simmons and Alkins have become accustomed to playing 29 minutes a night, and not only is Trier cutting into their minutes but Parker Jackson-Cartwright, who missed time with an ankle injury early in league play, is healthy and playing well, too.

And that’s before you factor in Kadeem Allen, who has turned into the defensive stopper and glue guy this group needed. Throw in Lauri Markannen – who, by the way, is having an all-american season – and Dusan Ristic, and this Arizona team that had depth and experience issues entering the year suddenly has a wealth of weapons.

They’ll pay a visit to an Oregon team that is coming off a strenuous, one-point win over Arizona State. The Sun Devil guards ripped the Ducks apart on Thursday, which isn’t a good sign considering that Arizona’s back court is, well, better. The Wildcats, however, are going to have to figure out a way to deal with Dillon Brooks, who went off for 27 points on Thursday night – including the final 12 for the Ducks – as he continues to prove just how good he is when he’s healthy.

Sitting a game out of first place in the conference, Oregon more or less has to win this if they want a shot at the conference regular season title. There is no return trip to the McKale Center, and not only does Oregon have to make a trip to Pauley Pavilion next week, but the Wildcats get UCLA at home later this year. If Arizona is good enough to win in Eugene, they’re probably good enough that they won’t blow a two-game lead with seven games left.

And if Arizona is able to get this win, the battle for the No. 1 seed in the west with Gonzaga is going to get awful interesting.

  • PREDICTION: I actually think that Arizona will go in and win this outright, so I’ll take Arizona (+2).
Maryland guard Melo Trimble (AP Photo/Matt Hazlett)
Maryland guard Melo Trimble (AP Photo/Matt Hazlett)

No. 23 Purdue at No. 17 Maryland, Sat. 12:00 p.m.: There are Big Ten title implications in this game. Maryland sits tied with Wisconsin for first place, a full two games ahead of both Purdue and and Northwestern. If the Boilermakers lose this, any chance they had of winning a Big Ten regular season title is all-but out the window. You don’t make up three games on two teams in the span of a month. It doesn’t work that way.

But the far more interesting angle here is in regard to Maryland. The Terps are 20-2 this season. They’re ranked No. 17 in the country. They’re 8-1 in the Big Ten. And they have yet to play a single team that is currently ranked in the top 25 or that was ranked in the top 25 at the time that they played them. Purdue will be the first.

RELATED: What should we make of Maryland?

It’s that lack of elite competition, and the fact that the Terps seem to play everyone close, regardless of how good they are, that has people wondering whether or not Maryland is the real deal. This will be their chance to prove it.

  • PREDICTION: I expect this game to be close. KenPom expects this game to be close. Melo Trimble, in his career, is 29-6 in games decided by six points or less, including 9-1 this season. If you can get Maryland (+3), take it.

No. 8 Kentucky at No. 24 Florida, Sat. 8:15 p.m.: For those of you that want to see Kentucky lose out on the SEC regular season title, this game could not have come at a more perfect moment in time. The Gators after playing some of their best basketball of the season at the moment while Kentucky is doing exactly the opposite. The Wildcats lost at Tennessee last week and followed that up with a home loss to Kansas over the weekend. On Tuesday night, Malik Monk’s 37-point outburst is the only thing that kept the Wildcats from dropping a game to Georgia at home, and all this is going on while De’Aaron Fox and, seemingly, half the Kentucky roster battles some sort of stomach bug.

The way the SEC standings currently breakdown, Kentucky is tied for first in the conference with South Carolina at 8-1 while Florida sits a game back of them at 7-2. This is Florida’s chance.

  • PREDICTION: KenPom is currently projecting a two-point Florida win, but KenPom’s ratings of Florida might be skewed a little bit because the Gators were unable to play in the O-Dome until Dec. 21st. Still, I think I’d take Florida (-2).

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FIVE MORE GAMES TO WATCH

  • No. 20 Notre Dame at No. 12 North Carolina, Sat. 6:00 p.m.: The Game of the Weekend in the ACC. The Irish enter this one having lost three straight and four of their last five games. Righting that ship is not going to be an easy thing to do in the Dean Dome. PREDICTION: North Carolina (-9)
  • No. 9 Virginia at Syracuse, Sat. 12:00 p.m.: This game is more or less a must-win for a Syracuse team that badly needs marquee wins to make up for some of the horrendous losses they took earlier this season. The Orange have won three straight. PREDICTION: Syracuse (+7)
  • Xavier at No. 22 Creighton, Sat. 3:00 p.m.: Two teams learning to play without their star point guards. Xavier barely survived Seton Hall at home on Wednesday, and now they have to head to play a Creighton team in Omaha coming off of a win at Butler. PREDICTION: Creighton (-6)
  • Illinois State at Wichita State, Sat. 8:00 p.m.: This is Illinois State’s chance to essentially lock up the MVC regular season title; they sit a game in front of the Shockers in the standings. And Illinois State win here and a Wichita State conference tournament title is also probably the only way the MVC will get two bids into the NCAA tournament. PREDICTION: Wichita State (-7)
  • Iowa State at No. 3 Kansas, Sat. 2:00 p.m.: It always seems to be a thriller when these two programs get together, and while the Cyclones seemed destined to spend the next month on the bubble, it is worth noting that the Jayhawks can’t seem to keep themselves out of the headlines for off-the-court stuff. Can Iowa State strike while the iron is … distracted? PREDICTION: Kansas (-10)

Comic-Con forces Providence to play at Alumni Hall for home opener

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Providence will play its first game at Alumni Hall, the on-campus facility, for the first time in 35 years this fall.

The Friars unveiled their 2017-18 non-conference schedule on Thursday afternoon. The team’s home opener will play either Houston Baptist or Belmont in Mullaney Gym inside Alumni Hall.

According to Kevin McNamara of the Providence Journal, the reason for that is a schedule conflict at Providence’s home arena, the Dunkin’ Donuts Center, in downtown Providence. A Comic-Con convention is scheduled Nov. 10-12. As McNamara notes, it’s a busy part of the season for The Dunk. The arena also is home to the Providence Bruins, the American Hockey League affiliate of the Boston Bruins, and by mid-November, their season is in full swing.

The Friars haven’t played at Alumni Hall since 1972, the same year the Dunkin’ Donuts Center was opened. In the three decades since Providence last played a regular season game there, the facility has gone under necessary renovations, as you could imagine. Even with added seats, Mullaney Gym can host a maximum of 1,549. That’s a fraction of what The Dunk’s capacity of 12,400.

Providence will return to its downtown home on Nov. 13, hosting Minnesota as part of the Gavitt Games. The Golden Gophers will likely be a top-20 team to open the season. The Friars, who bring back every notable player from last year’s NCAA Tournament team, is a fringe top-25 team.

Jalen Coleman-Lands to transfer out of Illinois

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The already-thin Illinois roster got thinner on Thursday afternoon.

Evan Daniels of Scout.com reported that sophomore guard Jalen Coleman-Lands has requested and received his release from the program. He will have to sit out next season but will have two years of eligibility remaining.

Coleman-Lands was a top-40 recruit in the Class of 2015, according to Rivals. He becomes the second player from that recruiting class this month to exit the school. Reserve guard D.J. Williams elected to transfer on May 8. With Jeremiah Tilmon and Javon Pickett, two incoming recruits, both previously reopened their recruitments following John Groce’s firing.

Even with the addition of Wright State graduate transfer Mark Alstork, who officially joined the Fighting Illini on Wednesday, Illinois is left with only nine scholarship players as of right now.

Coleman-Lands’ production dipped from his freshman campaign, ending the 2016-17 season averaging 8.0 points and 2.3 rebounds per game, shooting 38 percent from three.

One destination that will likely be rumored will be nearby DePaul. Coleman-Lands played for new DePaul assistant coach Shane Heirman at prep school powerhouse La Lumiere School. Heriman quickly tapped into that prep pipeline, helping secure a commitment from La Lumiere from five-star 2019 point guard Tyger Campbell earlier this month.

Coleman-Lands had taken official visits to Notre Dame and UNLV before committing to the Illini in September 2014.

North Carolina releases response to latest NCAA Notice of Allegations

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North Carolina is still trying to convince the NCAA that their investigation into the paper classes given by the university’s African-American Studies Department is not, in fact, an NCAA matter.

On Thursday afternoon, the University released their response to the NCAA’s third iteration of the Notice of Allegations, and the core argument in that response is that the school’s “inadequate academic oversight” does not fall under the jurisdiction of the NCAA’s bylaws. In other words, North Carolina is arguing that a rogue professor creating fake classes is not an NCAA issue. It’s a school issue.

What’s more, North Carolina is also arguing that athletes taking these classes should not be classified as an extra benefit because they were available to the entire student body.

“No special arrangements were made for student-athletes in violation of NCAA extra-benefit legislation,” the response reads. “Student-athletes were not treated differently than other students who took the Courses.”

“The public narrative for the last six years, popularized by media accounts, is that Department of Athletics at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill took advantage of ‘fake classes’ in the Department of African and African-American Studies to keep student-athletes eligible. That narrative is wrong and contradicted by the facts in the record.”

The NCAA’s allegations center around the idea that UNC’s athletes, most notably members of the football and men’s and women’s basketball teams, were guided to the fake classes within that department in order to keep their GPAs high enough to remain eligible. The classes in question had a disproportionate percentage of athletes.

A hearing in front of the Committee on Infractions is expected to take place at some point this summer.

No indictment for escort, staffer in Louisville sex scandal

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LOUISVILLE, Ky. (AP) — A grand jury declined to indict an escort and former Louisville men’s basketball staffer in a sex scandal that engulfed the program.

The Jefferson County grand jury decided Thursday there wasn’t enough evidence for charges of prostitution and unlawful transactions with a minor against Katina Powell and Andre McGee.

Powell wrote in a book published in 2015 that McGee hired her to provide dancers to perform sex acts for Cardinal recruits and players from 2010-2014.

The announcement by the Commonwealth’s Attorney’s Office comes as the school awaits discipline in early June by the NCAA after an investigation.

Louisville has imposed its own penalties, including a postseason ban in 2015-16 and reductions in scholarships and recruiting visits by coaches.

2017 NBA Mock Draft: Post Early Entry Withdrawal Deadline

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Last week, the fearless leaders of Pro Basketball Talk and College Basketball Talk joined forces to put together a comprehensive mock of the first round of the NBA Draft.

That podcast was recorded prior to the NBA Draft Lottery, which took place last week, and the NCAA’s deadline for underclassmen to return to school, which was Wednesday night at midnight. At a later date, we’ll roll through the updated draft order more in depth, but for now, here is a new mock draft based on the order the teams will actually be picking in.

At the bottom of this post you can find the original podcast, with all of our prospect analysis and thought processes for each team’s draft needs:

1. BOSTON (via Brooklyn) – Markelle Fultz, PG, Washington
2. LAKERS – Lonzo Ball, PG, UCLA
3. PHILADELPHIA – Josh Jackson, SF, Kansas
4. PHOENIX – De’Aaron Fox, PG, Kentucky
5. SACRAMENTO – Jayson Tatum, SF, Duke
6. ORLANDO – Malik Monk, SG, Kentucky
7. MINNESOTA – Lauri Markkanen, PF, Arizona
8. NEW YORK – Frank Ntilikina, PG, France
9. DALLAS – Jonathan Isaac, PF, Florida State
10. SACRAMENTO (via New Orleans) – Dennis Smith Jr., PG, N.C. State
11. CHARLOTTE – Zach Collins, C, Gonzaga
12. DETROIT –  Donovan Mitchell, CG, Louisville
13. DENVER – O.G. Anunoby, SF, Indiana
14. MIAMI – Justin Jackson, SG, North Carolina
15. PORTLAND – Jarrett Allen, C, Texas
16. CHICAGO – Luke Kennard, SG, Duke
17. MILWAUKEE – Justin Patton, C, Creighton
18. INDIANA – John Collins, C, Wake Forest
19. ATLANTA – Terrence Ferguson, SG, Austrailia
20. PORTLAND (via Memphis) – Ike Anigbogu, C, UCLA
21. OKLAHOMA CITY – Semi Ojeleye, PF, SMU
22. BROOKLYN (via Washington) – Isaiah Hartenstein, C, Lithuania
23. TORONTO (via Clippers) – Harry Giles III, C, Duke
24. UTAH – T.J. Leaf, PF, UCLA
25. ORLANDO (via Toronto) – Tyler Lydon, PF, Syracuse
26. PORTLAND (via Cleveland) – Ivan Rabb, PF, Cal
27. BROOKLYN (via Boston) – Bam Adebayo, PF, Kentucky
28. LAKERS (via Houston) – Rodions Kurucs, SF, Barcelona
29. SAN ANTONIO – Jonathan Jeanne, C, France
30. UTAH (via Golden State) – D.J. Wilson, PF, Michigan