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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)

NEXT ONE? Hoops phenom at 13 has college offer, NBA height

AP Photo/Paul Sancya
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ANN ARBOR, Mich. (AP) — Emoni Bates walks out a front door of Clague Middle School with just inches to spare.

A wide smile tops his 6-foot-7, extra-lean frame. He’s holding a seventh-grade honor society certificate in his right hand. His braces gleam in the afternoon sun.

Meet the best 13-year-old basketball player in America, according to some recruiting services. One of his highlight reels on YouTube has been viewed about 1 million times.

“I don’t really pay attention to it,” Emoni insists in a voice just louder than a whisper, “because if I pay attention to it, it’s just going to get to my head.

“And I don’t want it to get to my head. I just want to play basketball.”

He’s got the pedigree.

Emoni’s father, E.J. Bates, has been around the game most of his life. He picked greens and baled hay as a kid in nearby Milan, Michigan, then developed into a smooth-shooting guard. But he didn’t take school seriously until it was too late. Instead of playing for a basketball power like Kansas and maybe even in the NBA, E.J. wound up going to Kentucky Wesleyan and settling for pro hoops in Switzerland.

E.J. is determined to make sure his son doesn’t make the same mistake. The academics are a sign of that. House rules bar Emoni from picking up a basketball until his homework is done.

Yet E.J. knows when kids are this good this early, distractions roll in like waves. Already, it seems, lots of people want a piece of Emoni. Prep, private and public high school coaches are lining up. Colleges have him on their radar. DePaul took it a step further, offering Emoni a scholarship in late August. Two other much-touted players in the Class of 2022 — Amari Bailey of Illinois and Skyy Clark of California — also have offers from DePaul.

E.J. knows the shoe company bird dogs and other hustlers looking to buy favors are lurking, too. So he and wife Edith, who works for the Red Cross, keep their inner circle very tight.

“I’m his coach to keep the snakes away,” Bates says, sitting on one of Clague’s concrete benches. “We’re not for sale.”

The Bates family has agreed to provide The Associated Press with a rare, behind-the-scenes look at the life of one of the most coveted basketball prospects in the country for at least the next five years. The periodic series will include video, photos, audio and text updates to track his progress.

Will Emoni stay near his current home to attend a public high school? Or will he take his next step at a private school like Detroit Country Day, like Michigan native Chris Webber?

Will he follow the footsteps of Marvin Bagley III and other five-star prospects, reclassifying to finish high school in three years? Bagley did to play college ball at Duke this coming season — and potentially to get a jump on a pro future.

Will E.J. and Emoni emulate the father-son team of LaVar and Lonzo Ball, grabbing headlines while hawking their own brand at every turn?

No one knows.

E.J. says all options are on the table. But he won’t be loud, unlike LaVar Ball in the lead-up to his son Lonzo being drafted by the Los Angeles Lakers.

“I don’t have to brag about what we’re doing,” E.J. says. “I let other people do all the talking about how good Emoni is because word of mouth is the best advertising there is.”

A POTENTIAL STAR IS BORN

Emoni James-Wayne Bates was born Jan. 28, 2004, at the University of Michigan hospital. He was on the light side — 6 pounds, 7 ounces — and a little long at 21 inches. Just over a year later, Emoni slept with his head cradled in his left arm and his right wrapped around a black and red basketball. A cherished photo was made.

“He would always sleep with the ball,” his father recalls, holding a framed picture in his Ypsilanti, Michigan, home. “If the ball wasn’t around, he would cry about the ball. Even to this day, he has a mini-ball he keeps with him, which is crazy to me.”

There were more hints. During a second visit to the doctor, E.J., who is 6-foot-4, and Edith, 5-9, asked how tall their son might grow.

“He was off the charts,” E.J. laughs, “so they couldn’t tell us.”

Emoni has shot up 7 inches in the last two years. He’s tall enough right now to play shooting guard at any level. He handles the ball like a point guard and launches 3-pointers like a savvy veteran. He can create his own shot like a wing or drive the lane and dish off to a teammate like another rail-thin former prodigy, Golden State Warriors star Kevin Durant.

But adding weight and muscle is an ongoing challenge. He weighs just 155 pounds — not heavy or strong enough to play a dominating inside game that would complement his fluid perimeter skills.

“We try to stuff him full of food at night and hope it sticks,” E.J. sighs.

TEEN CELEBRITY

The Adidas Invitational in Fishers, Indiana, attracts some of the Midwest’s top seventh-grade AAU teams. Inside Best Choice Fieldhouse, talk centers on whether the Bates Fundamentals squad starring Emoni and coached by E.J. can live up to the hype.

“They’ve been hearing a lot about him,” says Bernetta Kelly, watching her son’s Peoria Area Elite team take its shot.

Bates Fundamentals wins 95-44 and Kelly understands why. She approaches Emoni and asks for a photo with her son and his team.

“I’ve seen the best players from Pittsburgh to Vegas the last four years, and he’s been the best in his class,” Peoria coach Zach Martin says. “I told the guys, ‘There are not many times you will be able to say you played an NBA player, but you just did.'”

After another lopsided victory in the two-day tournament won easily by Bates Fundamentals, Emoni walks off the court. A younger competitor darts out of his team’s pregame layup line to slap his hand. Moments later, the excitement follows Emoni out the door.

“Hey, that’s him,” a young boy entering the facility says to teammates.

How does a 10-year-old from Fort Wayne, Indiana, know who Bates is?

“YouTube,” he says.

Duh.

The highlight reel posted last summer had nearly 1 million views before Emoni walked into the doors at Clague for the first time as an eighth-grader. Several other videos have racked up 500,000-plus views in less than one year.

By the spring of 2018, the suspense about where he plans to attend high school may be its own mini-drama. Then a few years later: Which college?

E.J. and Edith hardly need reminding that’s still a long way off. As good as the recruiting services have become at projecting stars, it’s easy to forget the object of all that attention is still just 13. At times, the recruiting experts simply miss.

“It’s always a crap shoot,” E.J. says. “You don’t know what life will deal you. You never know what can happen with injuries, the loss of motivation or pressure getting to be too much.”

Yet fans of two college basketball powers with the inside track can already start thinking about the fall of 2021, when Bates can officially sign a scholarship offer. In quiet moments, Emoni sometimes does, too.

Asked about his favorite programs, the soft-spoken kid doesn’t hesitate to name the early front-runners.

“Michigan State and Kentucky,” Emoni says.

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Follow the series: https://www.apnews.com/tag/TheKid

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Follow Larry Lage at http://twitter.com/larrylage

NCAA punishes Pacific men’s basketball for violations

AP Photo/Young Kwak
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STOCKTON, Calif. (AP) — The men’s basketball team at Pacific has been punished by the NCAA for academic and recruiting violations under former coach Ron Verlin.

The NCAA said Wednesday that Verlin failed to promote an atmosphere of compliance when he violated academic misconduct and recruiting rules to get prospects eligible. He also failed to monitor his coaches and violated NCAA ethics rules when he encouraged others to give false information during the investigation.

The baseball program was also cited because former coach Ed Sprague impermissibly provided an athletic training student with a $16,000 scholarship to help with the housing costs of two baseball student-athletes, including her brother.

Penalties for the school include two years of probation, recruiting and scholarship reductions, a $5,000 fine and a vacation of all games in which ineligible athletes participated.

Memphis lands commitment from 2018 center Connor Vanover

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Memphis picked up its first commitment in the Class of 2018 on Wednesday night as unique center prospect Connor Vanover announced his decision on Twitter.

At 7-foot-2, Vanover brings elite size to the interior for the Tigers and he’s also skilled enough that he was a 43 percent three-point shooter during his stint playing with Pro Skills in the Nike EYBL this spring. Although Vanover needs to add strength and athleticism to adapt to the college level, he simply has size that you can’t teach. Pair that size with an intriguing perimeter jumper and it’ll be interesting to see how head coach Tubby Smith is able to develop Vanover the next few years.

A three-star prospect according to Rivals, Vanover averaged 9.1 points, 5.5 rebounds and 1.5 blocks per game during the spring. Originally from Arkansas, Vanover is spending his senior season of high school ball at prep school powerhouse Findlay Prep.

Bill Self unsure of how long he will continue to coach

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Kansas head coach Bill Self is one of the most decorated college basketball coaches of all time.

Recently inducted into the Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame earlier this month, Self has won a record 13 consecutive Big 12 regular-season championships while also claiming a national title for the Jayhawks during his storied career.

But while most legendary coaches in contemporary college basketball have stayed around to coach well into their late 60s or early 70s, the 54-year-old Self doesn’t necessarily see his career playing out that way.

Speaking with ESPN.com reporter Myron Medcalf on Wednesday, Self acknowledged that he’s thinking about potentially retiring once his next contract ends after the 2021-22 season. With five more years left on his current deal, that would mean that Self would be retiring before he would even turn 60.

“I’ve said all along that if I could go to my late 50s, that’d be good for me,” Self said to Medcalf. “Now that I’m getting close to my late 50s, I’m like, ‘Well…’ but my contract runs until I’m 59, so I’ve got five more years left. I definitely want to do that. Then whatever happens after that I’d be happy with whatever. But I don’t want to [coach too late].”

While Hall of Fame coaches like Syracuse’s Jim Boeheim (72 years old), Duke’s Mike Krzyzewski (70 years old) and North Carolina’s Roy Williams (67 years old) are showing no signs of slowing down, Self acknowledged to Medcalf that coach, and specifically recruiting, has started to take its toll on him.

“With recruiting the way that it is, it just wears you down,” Self said to Medcalf.

With Kansas pursuing so many potential one-and-done prospects over the past few seasons, it means that Self usually has to recruit sizable recruiting classes

Self is certainly entitled to do what he wants with his career and his life but it would be a shame to see one of the game’s greats hang it up at that point in his career. Potentially retiring at that age means that Self won’t chase 1,000 wins or any additional longevity records

Ohio State lands second pledge in two days with 2018 guard Duane Washington

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Ohio State stayed hot on the recruiting trail on Wednesday as the Buckeyes landed a commitment from Class of 2018 guard Duane Washington.

The 6-foot-3 Washington is the second commitment for Ohio State and new head coach Chris Holtmann in the last two days after four-star forward Jaedon LeDee pledged to the Buckeyes on Tuesday.

One of the better shooters in the Class of 2018, Washington averaged 14.9 points per game on tremendous shooting splits (48% FG, 87% FT, 45% 3PT) playing with The Family in the Nike EYBL this spring. A Michigan native who now resides in California, Washington gives Ohio State a much-needed guard commitment in the Class of 2018.

With the Buckeyes needing to fill a lot of scholarships due to roster turnover, Washington is a solid start to their perimeter class. While Washington isn’t likely to play point guard, he can play multiple perimeter spots and should be a solid addition to the Buckeye rotation.