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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.

Alabama loses Nick King, Brandon Austin to transfer

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Alabama is losing a pair to transfer as junior Nick King and sophomore Brandon Austin are planning to transfer, according to a release.

The 6-foot-7 King is expected to graduate and be eligible to play anywhere right away as a graduate transfer while the 6-foot-5 Austin will likely have to sit out a season before playing.

King started his career at Memphis but transferred to Alabama. A former starter at small forward, King played the first seven games of the season until a lung infection shut down his season. He averaged 3.3 points and 2.9 rebounds per game before shutting it down.

A former top-50 recruit from the Class of 2013, King will look to jumpstart his career elsewhere during his final season of college basketball.

Austin only appeared in six games and played a total of 44 minutes this season as he also dealt with injuries like an early bone bruise.

The Crimson Tide are bringing in one of the best recruiting classes in the country next season as their freshmen could see a lot of playing time. So it comes as no surprise that players like King and Austin would transfer to assure more playing time.

Candidates Georgetown could target for head coach

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Georgetown moved on from head coach John Thompson III after 13 years at the helm on Thursday as the move sent shockwaves throughout college basketball.

The Thompson family has been a major institution for Georgetown basketball, dating back to the ’70s when John Thompson Jr. was head coach. So this new hire for the Hoyas will be a fascinating process.

Here’s a list of some early names that could be involved with Georgetown.

Tommy Amaker, Harvard — With a successful tenure at Harvard that at one point included four NCAA tournament bids in a row, Amaker has won at his latest job while coaching at an elite academic institution.

Put together with previous stops at Seton Hall and Michigan and Amaker has run a big-time program while also winning at an Ivy League school. Leaving Harvard might be tough though when Amaker is beginning to recruit at a national level at the program.

Jamion Christian, Mount St. Mary’s — Five years at Mount St. Mary’s has produced two NCAA tournament appearances for Christian as the 34-year-old would represent a bold, young hire for Georgetown.

Also an assistant coach for a season at VCU under Shaka Smart, Christian has recruited in that area before and he’s regarded by many as one of the bright, young head coaches in a low-major league. Coming from Smart at VCU, it should come as no surprise that Christian plays an uptempo system and presses on defense.

It would be a bit risky for Georgetown to hire someone as young as Christian but he also has the kind of enthusiasm to lead the tough rebuild that the Hoyas potentially face.

Nathan Davis, Bucknell — After leading Bucknell to the NCAA tournament in only his second season as a Division I head coach, Davis is someone to keep an eye on for the future.

The Washington D.C. native has quickly established himself as a potential young star in the coaching ranks but he also might be too inexperienced to take one of the Big East’s prestige positions. As a Division I head coach for only two seasons, Davis hasn’t faced the pressure of the high-major level at any of his previous coaching stops. Davis certainly deserves credit for his Division III coaching success and Final Four appearance with Randolph-Macon (Bo Ryan was pretty good in DIII before moving to Division I) but that’s a long way from the Big East.

Davis would have to prove that he’s capable as a coach and recruiter at the Big East level and he would be a risk if hired by the Hoyas.

Patrick Ewing Sr., Charlotte Hornets assistant  — The Hall of Fame center and Georgetown alum would be an intriguing name. Adrian Wojnarowski of Yahoo Sports reported that the Hoyas are considering Ewing as a potential head coach.

This wouldn’t just be a Chris Mullin at St. John’s type of scenario where Mullin had no coaching experience before taking the job. Ewing has been grinding as an NBA assistant coach for the past 15 years in the hopes of getting an NBA head coaching job. Georgetown represents an unique opportunity for Ewing to rebuild his former program and his son, Patrick Ewing Jr., would potentially work for him.

Recruiting would obviously be a major question mark but Ewing has the playing and coaching pedigree to be a wild card in this.

Dan Hurley, Rhode Island — The Rams finally broke through and made the NCAA Tournament in Hurley’s fifth year as head coach this season as Rhode Island made the second round before falling to Oregon in a close game.

Of the coaches on this list, the Rams have recruited a lot of top-100 prospects and futures pros like E.C. Matthews and Hassan Martin, so we know that Hurley knows how to navigate elite recruiting.

As the son of legendary high school coach Bob Hurley and younger brother of Arizona State head coach Bobby Hurley, Dan Hurley comes from a long line of basketball coaches. He’s made Rhode Island one of the premier programs in the Atlantic 10. Although he’s only made one NCAA Tournament appearance in seven seasons as a head coach, Hurley has things trending in the right direction.

Shaka Smart, Texas — This isn’t likely going to happen but Georgetown is at least going to call. Since Smart was so successful at nearby VCU before taking the Texas job, the Hoyas are going to see if he’d be interested in returning to the area after this season’s disappointing last-place Big 12 finish.

If this Georgetown coaching position had been made available two years ago, before Smart had taken the Texas job, then it would have been intriguing to see where things might stand between the two. But now that Smart has at least four, four-star prospects entering Texas next season, while returning most of the current roster, he has a chance to build from this season’s last-place finish.

VIDEO: Why did the NCAA ban dunking in 1967?

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With UCLA playing in the Sweet 16 tonight, it’s a fitting time to bring up the story of the time that the association banned dunking.

It was in 1967, and it was because there was a kid named Lew Alcindor (who would change his name to Kareem Abdul-Jabbar) at UCLA who led the Bruins to a 30-0 record and a national title.

And just think, that rule change, which lasted until 1976, kept some of the game’s greatest dunkers from showing what they could really do in college. Imagine David Thompson rattling rims, rather than his assortment of finger-rolls and layups. Dr. J soared at UMass, but never like Dr. J really could. And so on.

So as you’re watching the rest of the NCAA tournament, thank the rule-makers who brought the dunk back. We’re better for it.

Cleveland State hires Dennis Felton as head coach

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Cleveland State has found its next head coach as the school announced the hiring of Dennis Felton.

A veteran head coach with previous stops at Western Kentucky and Georgia, Felton made three consecutive NCAA Tournament appearances with the Hilltoppers before taking the job with the Bulldogs before the 2003-04 season.

Felton takes over for previous head coach Gary Waters, who retired after 11 seasons at Cleveland State.

“I’m extremely excited to return to the head coaching ranks with this opportunity at Cleveland State University,” Felton said in the release. “I’m grateful to Dr. Berkman and Mike Thomas for the opportunity to lead this program. Cleveland State is an outstanding University that continues to grow in stature on the national landscape. I’m eager to start working with our players to build a championship program and getting out to share my vision of how we plan to partner with the entire community to do special things at Cleveland State.”

Felton made one NCAA Tournament appearance in six seasons with Georgia as he was fired in the middle of the 2008-09 season. Having a tough time overcoming NCAA sanctions lobbied after the Jim Harrick’s time with the school, Felton’s time with the Bulldogs never got rolling as he dealt with scholarship limitations and other obstacles.

After his time coaching in college, Felton spent time as a college scout with the Phoenix Suns before becoming director of pro player personnel for the San Antonio Spurs for a few seasons.

Cleveland State finished 18-45 over the last two seasons as they’ve struggled in the Horizon League. Felton will be tasked with turning the Vikings around as he hopes to find some of the magic that helped make Western Kentucky a consistent winner.

But with NBA connections and a lot of head coaching experience, Cleveland State made a solid hire here.

Frank Kaminsky trolls Arizona after high school teammate Sean O’Mara gets winning basket for Xavier

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No. 11 seed Xavier’s upset win over No. 2 seed Arizona left a lot of people stunned late Thursday night. Naturally, people took to Twitter to share their opinions of the Musketeers advancing to the Elite Eight to face No. 1 seed Gonzaga.

Some of those with comments on Arizona’s loss included members of Wisconsin’s back-to-back Final Four teams in 2014 and 2015. You might recall that the Badgers eliminated the Wildcats in both years in the Elite Eight to make the trips to the Final Four–so there is some history here between the two schools.

The Twitter comments started with former Wisconsin guard Ben Brust questioning Arizona head coach Sean Miller for going away from his big men. Brust’s “should have kept touching the big Serb” comment would indicate that getting touches for Arizona center Dusan Ristic was important–although others were pointing out freshman Lauri Markkanen’s minimal involvement in the Arizona offense during the last 10 minutes.

That’s when former Wisconsin center Frank Kaminsky entered the discussion and promptly shut things down.

Wisconsin’s personal history with Arizona hit closer for Kaminsky than a normal game when Xavier junior big man Sean O’Mara scored the game-winning bucket for the Musketeers with just under a minute left.

There’s a major connection here. O’Mara hails from Benet Academy in the Western Suburbs of Chicago, the same high school program that produced Kaminsky.

So Kaminsky made sure to mention that after the loss.

When Kaminsky was a senior and Benet started its season 29-0 and was nationally ranked in the USA Today High School rankings, O’Mara was the freshman big man that Kaminsky was beating up in practice every day.

While Kaminsky has turned into a productive member of the Charlotte Hornets rotation this season, O’Mara is having himself a solid 2017 NCAA Tournament run as he’s averaging 12.3 points a game after putting up 6.1 per game during the regular season.

We definitely know who Kaminsky will be rooting for when it comes to the West Region.