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Weekend Preview: The five most important story lines this side of the Super Bowl

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1. #CoachKback: The four weeks are up.

After seven games on the sideline and more than a month laid up after undergoing surgery on his back, Duke head coach Mike Krzyzewski is headed back to the bench on Saturday afternoon. Duke went 4-3 in his absence, but over the course of the last two games, it seems as if they have started to get some things figured out. That run started after a meeting at Coach K’s house where, among other things, the Duke players had their access to the locker room taken away and lost the right to wear gear with a Duke logo on it.

But the other thing that happened after that meeting is that Duke seems to have made the changes we all thought they needed to make. In their last two games, the Blue Devils have made a concerted effort to run their offense through Luke Kennard, primarily, and Grayson Allen. Without a point guard, their best option is to get the ball in the hands of their best playmakers and let them do what they can do, right? The other change has been that Jayson Tatum has played primarily at the four – when he manages to stay out of foul trouble – while Harry Giles III has been relegated to playing a bit role off the bench.

So it looks like the Blue Devils are starting to figure this thing out.

And, at the same time, one of the greatest to ever do it returns to the sidelines.

Is Duke back to being back again?

2. Maryland has a chance to prove they’re not frauds: Other than Duke, whose season has been nothing short of a soap opera, Maryland is the nation’s most intriguingly confounding team. They’re 20-2, but they haven’t even played a team that is currently ranked or that was ranked at the time that they played. So they’re record is unproven, and the believe in them isn’t helped by the fact that they seem to play down to the level of their opponent, struggling through every game until Melo Trimble finds a way to bail them out down the stretch.

For metrics like KenPom and Sagarin, that heavily value margin of victory and level of competition, this is a good way to get your rating dropped.

RELATED: What should we make of Maryland?

On Saturday, the Terps have a chance to prove themselves to everyone. Playing in their first game that will attract anything close to a national audience – they’re on ESPN, playing No. 23 Purdue is what is the marquee early game of the day – Maryland will have a chance to, more or less, give us our first impression of who they are and what they can be. Are they truly a Big Ten title contender? Are they a team that can get to the Final Four? If they are, they should be able to beat Purdue at home.

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3. Jim Boeheim goes for his 1,000th win on Saturday: Syracuse won for the 999th time with Jim Boeheim as their head coach on Saturday, coming from 17 points down in the second half to knock off N.C. State on the road. They will host No. 9 Virginia this weekend with the chance for Boeheim to win for the 1,000th time in his long, illustrious and – dare I say it – tarnished career.

In the eyes of the NCAA, it is.

Thanks to a ruling that came down last year, Syracuse had to vacate 101 of Boeheim’s 999 wins due to various infractions the program had committed over the course of the last decade. What that means is that beating Virginia on Saturday would give Boeheim 899 career wins in the eyes of the NCAA, who will be watching the Orange closely on Saturday.

“The NCAA has written and sent us a letter. We got a letter right away,” Boeheim told the Syracuse-Post Standard this week. “‘You delete all these, and this is how many wins you have. Period.’ We’re forbidden from saying something in the Dome at any time. Or post anything. Or congratulate in any way.”

So what that means is that instead of being on the verge of being celebrated for becoming just the second men’s Division I coach – and just the fourth Division I coach, period, behind Coach K, Pat Summitt and Tara Vanderveer – to ascend the 1,000 win plateau, Boeheim will find himself just one win away from winning his second 900th game.

And I get it, I guess.

The NCAA’s gotta do what they gotta do, even if vacating wins is the single-dumbest punishment in the history of punishments.

But keep in mind that, with a win on Saturday, Boeheim will be doing something that has only happened once before in men’s Division I basketball.

HOUSTON, TEXAS - APRIL 02: Head coach Jim Boeheim of the Syracuse Orange reacts in the first half against the North Carolina Tar Heels during the NCAA Men's Final Four Semifinal at NRG Stadium on April 2, 2016 in Houston, Texas. (Photo by Streeter Lecka/Getty Images)
Jim Boeheim (Photo by Streeter Lecka/Getty Images)

4. The Pac-12 title race may come to an end Saturday: If No. 5 Arizona goes into Eugene and knocks off No. 13 Oregon on Saturday, the Wildcats will, for all intents and purposes, have basically locked up the Pac-12 title.

They’ll be two games up on Oregon and three games up on UCLA with a home game left against the Bruins while the Ducks will still have to head to Pauley Pavilion for their rematch. At the risk of jinxing a good thing, that’s as close to a lock as you can get for a team that’s sitting pretty with a 21-2 record and a 10-0 mark in the Pac-12 entering the weekend.

And to think, this was supposed to be the year where Arizona came back to earth. Terrence Ferguson went pro in Australia. Ray Smith tore his ACL for the third time. Allonzo Trier sat out the first 19 games of the season. Sean Miller was forced to rely on a pair of freshmen guards and a 7-foot forward from Finland to headline a roster with seven healthy guys.

5. Kentucky’s SEC title could be in jeopardy this weekend: The Wildcats have been in a rut the last two weeks. They lost at Tennessee, they lost at home to Kansas, they nearly lost at home to Georgia and their star point guard has a stomach bug. Should I mention that on Saturday, they get the pleasure of tripping down to Gainesville to play No. 24 Florida, a team that currently sits 9th in KenPom’s rankings.

Fun!

Kentucky is currently tied atop the SEC with South Carolina, a game in front of Florida. A Gator win would, in all likelihood, drop Kentucky out of the top spot in the league standings with just eight games left in league play.

Creighton’s Khyri Thomas posterizes defender

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Creighton rising junior wing Khyri Thomas, like several of his teammates, are taking part in the Omaha Summer League this offseason.

On Thursday night, the 6-foot-3, 205-lb. Thomas eviscerated a defender with a one-handed posterization.

Thomas is coming off a breakout sophomore campaign for the Bluejays. He started all 35 games, averaging 12.3 points, 5.8 rebounds, 3.3 assists and 1.5 steals per game. Aside from the increase in offensive production, Thomas served as one of the top defenders in the Big East. He shared the Big East Defensive Player of the Year Award with Villanova’s Josh Hart and Mikal Bridges.

Zion Williamson throws down 360 windmill dunk

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Zion Williamson added another jaw-dropping dunk in the layup lines on the first night of the second live evaluation period.

Williamson and his SC Supreme team took on Each 1 Teach 1 at the Hoopseen Best of the South at the LakePoint Sporting Community in greater Atlanta.

The 6-foot-7 power forward threw down a 360 windmill dunk during his pregame routines.

Each 1 Teach 1 would pick up a 70-67 victory over SC Supreme. Williamson would end with a monster stat line of 37 points and seven rebounds.

Appalachian State freshman shooter to transfer

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A 3-point threat became a late addition to the transfer market earlier this week.

Appalachian State rising sophomore Patrick Good informed head coach Jim Fox on his intentions to leave the program. He was granted his release on Wednesday, according to Bret Strelow of the Winston-Salem Journal.

“I was pretty shocked when he came in to tell me he was leaving,” Fox told the Winston Salem-Journal. “He was a guy who had a very good freshman season, and we’re surprised to see him go.”

“I enjoyed being around the team and the experience that I got from the first year,” Good added. “I don’t think I would change that for anything. I just felt like moving forward, there is just so much more that I was capable of.”

Good appeared in 29 of 30 games, all of the bench, for the Mountaineers. The 6-foot guard averaged 7.0 points, 2.3 rebounds, and 1.6 assists per game. His biggest asset to his newest team will  be in his ability to shoot from deep, connecting on 41 percent of his attempts during the 2016-17 season.

If Good plans to remain in at the Division I level, avoiding a year spent at a junior college, he will need to sit out the 2017-18 season due to NCAA transfer regulations. He will have three years of eligibility remaining.

Iowa State adds graduate transfer Zoran Talley

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Iowa State added a scoring option on Thursday night, one who is eligible immediately.

Zoran Talley, who spent his first three seasons at Old Dominion, will join the Cyclones as a graduate transfer this season.

“We are excited to add Zoran to our program,” Iowa State head coach Steve Prohm said in a statement issued by the athletic department. “He has had great success, both personally and as a team, at ODU and will be an asset for our team. Zoran brings versatility on both ends of the floor and his ability to play and guard several positions will benefit us. He can score and make plays and with him being immediately eligible, that is great for us.”

Talley, a 6-foot-7 wing, averaged 11.3 points for the Monarchs last season as a sophomore. However, he was dismissed from the team in April for a violation of team rules. This was preceded by two separate suspensions during the 2015-16 and 2016-17 seasons, according to Ed Miller of the Virginia Pilot.

He redshirted the 2014-15 season, leaving him two years of eligibility remaining at Iowa State. He is set to graduate in August.

Talley and fellow graduate transfer Hans Brase (Princeton) provides a boost in scoring, as well as in experience, in a frontline that returns Solomon Young, the rising sophomore big man.

Ex-NCAA scoring leader Daniel ready to return for new team

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KNOXVILLE, Tenn. (AP) — Tennessee guard James Daniel III finally has the chance to deliver a follow-up performance to his 2015-16 NCAA scoring title, an opportunity that essentially eluded him last season.

After an ankle injury caused Daniel to play just two games last season at Howard, the 6-foot graduate transfer brings experience and offense to Tennessee’s backcourt.

“I wanted to go on the biggest stage for my last year and try to pursue my hopes and dreams since I’ve been a little kid, which was to get to the NBA,” Daniel said.

Daniel likely won’t be shooting or scoring as much as he did at Howard, where he averaged 27.1 points per game to lead all Division I players in 2015-16. He’s more interested in getting to the NCAA Tournament, something he hasn’t done and Tennessee hasn’t accomplished since 2014.

“At this point in my career I’m ready to win,” Daniel said. “That’s pretty much what I have to do. I feel like if we win, my personal goals will be met.”

Daniel believed that NCAA berth would come last season as Howard was favored to win the Mid-Eastern Athletic Conference.

Those plans quickly went awry.

Daniel was diagnosed with a high ankle sprain that caused him to miss the first 14 games of the season. After returning and playing just two games, Daniel learned he had a chipped bone in his ankle. With Daniel out for the rest of the season, Howard finished 10-24.

That injury allowed Daniel to redshirt the 2016-17 season, giving him one more year of eligibility. He decided to spend that season in a bigger conference and considered Michigan, Ohio State and DePaul before selecting Tennessee.

Daniel remembered watching Tennessee games when he was younger and appreciating prolific guard Chris Lofton, who starred for the Volunteers from 2004-08. When Daniel visited Tennessee, he bonded with the team and sensed a family atmosphere.

“They’re competitive,” Daniel said. “They all want to win. That was the most intriguing part.”

Although Daniel’s ankle leaves his status uncertain for Tennessee’s three exhibition games next month in France and Spain, he’s expected to be ready in plenty of time for the start of the season.

Tennessee is counting on the additions of Daniel and Vincennes University transfer Chris Darrington to solidify a backcourt that struggled with inexperience last year.

“With Chris Darrington and James Daniel, we felt like we could get guys who liked to score and were not afraid to go make plays,” Tennessee coach Rick Barnes said. “I think that’s going to help these younger guys because they were put in situations they’d never been put in before.”

Barnes cited the maturity Daniel brings as Tennessee’s lone senior. Daniel will turn 24 on Jan. 29, about a month after Tennessee begins Southeastern Conference play. Nobody else on Tennessee’s roster is older than 20, though juniors Kyle Alexander and Brad Woodson will have their 21st birthdays before the season starts.

“He’s older than all of us, so I think I can learn some things from him,” Darrington said.

Daniel’s teammates will learn plenty about his knack for drawing fouls. Not only did Daniel lead all Division I players in scoring during that 2015-16 season, he also topped the nation in free-throw attempts with 331.

They’ll also learn about his work ethic. Daniel’s father, James Daniel Jr., remembers how his son used to take about 200 jump shots every morning before his classes started at Phoebus High School in Hampton, Virginia.

“He’s just been a workaholic,” James Daniel Jr. said. “Well, we’d call it a workaholic, but he’d probably say it was something that he loved doing.”

All that practice helped Daniel overcome his lack of height at Howard to become an NCAA scoring leader. Now he’s ready to compete at a higher level.

He got an idea of what to expect from Quinton Chievous, who made the move in reverse by leading MEAC program Hampton to the NCAA Tournament after starting out at Tennessee. Daniel said Chievous told him he “should do really well here.”

Daniel agrees.

“I don’t think they would have brought me here if they didn’t think I could compete at this level,” Daniel said.