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Weekend Preview: Saint Mary’s is the last team with a chance to end Gonzaga’s undefeated regular season

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SATURDAY’S SHOWDOWNS

No. 1 Gonzaga at No. 20 Saint Mary’s, Sat. 8:15 p.m. (ESPN): This is the last game standing between Gonzaga and an undefeated regular season.

Technically, that’s not true. Gonzaga will still play four games in league play after Saturday – three of which are at home – but the Zags have won every league game by double-figures this season, and that includes a road trip to BYU and their home date with Saint Mary’s back in January.

So while this is college basketball and anything is possible, I feel pretty confident saying that the Zags are going to be able to get into the WCC tournament undefeated … if they can escape Moraga with a win.

And that isn’t going to be an easy task.

The Gaels are good. They control as well as anyone in college basketball. They don’t force a ton of turnovers, instead relying on their ability to make you take tough shots and clearing the defensive glass. They spread the floor with snipers around Jock Landale, the best big man you’ve never heard of, and have yet another in their pipeline of awesome Aussie guards that are straight killers in pick-and-roll action in Emmett Naar.

The question is whether or not they have the weapons you need to beat a Gonzaga team that has as few weaknesses as anyone in college basketball. The best way to beat Gonzaga is to attack their back court with big, athletic guards, as Nigel Williams-Goss and Josh Perkins just don’t have the physical tools that elite back courts do. They do, however, thrive in pick-and-rolls, so it will be interesting to see if Randy Bennett can find a way to scheme Przemek Karnowski into those ball-screens actions.

Bennett is one of the best coaches in the country. McKeon Pavilion will be rocking for Gameday. Will that be enough?

  • PREDICTION: I think Saint Mary’s wins this game, which means that I’ll gladly take the Gaels (+2).

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No. 2 Villanova at No. 24 Xavier, Sat. 2:30 p.m. (FOX): Xavier is playing without Edmond Sumner right now, who tore his ACL two weeks ago, but that hasn’t slowed the Musketeers down. They’re 3-0 since the injury and they’re the only team that is still within a game of first place Villanova in the Big East standings.

This is going to be their chance to make a run at winning at least a share of the Big East title. It’s not going to be easy to do – Villanova is really good at switching defensively and Xavier doesn’t have the horses inside to capitalize on the fact that Darryl Reynolds is Villanova’s starting center – but they will be playing in the Cintas Center and they will have Trevon Bluiett, who has been sensational of late. He’s hit for at least 20 points in five of his last six games, and he’ll need to do at least that to win on Saturday.

  • PREDICTION: I think this is the game where the Musketeers come back to earth. Villanova is too good, so give me the Wildcats (-3).

FIVE MORE GAMES TO WATCH

  • Cal at No. 9 Arizona, Sat. 10:00 p.m. (ESPN2): Cal has quietly climbed their way into the Pac-12 title discussion, as they sit just two games out of first place in the league standings. Arizona is in first place. Cal badly needs to add some quality wins to their profile, and this is one of the few they have left. PREDICTION: Arizona (-8)
  • No. 5 Oregon at USC, Sat. 10:30 p.m. (Pac-12): Oregon is coming off of a loss at UCLA on Thursday night and will be asked to handle USC, a team with a very similar style of play, on Saturday. The Trojans are currently playing for NCAA tournament seeding. PREDICTION: Oregon (-3)
  • No. 11 Cincinnati at No. 25 SMU, Sun. 4:00 p.m. (ESPN): It’s tough to figure out just how good these two teams are because the rest of the AAC stinks. Last month they played a barn-burner in Cincinnati, and you can bet that Semi Ojeleye and the Mustangs will be ready to get some revenge. PREDICTION: SMU (-5)
  • No. 12 Virginia at Virginia Tech, Sat. 6:30 p.m. (ESPNU): Nothing like a little in-state rivalry game to kick your Saturday up a notch. The ‘Hoos are in the mix for the ACC regular season title while the Hokies are on the edge of the bubble. This is a critical game for both teams. PREDICTION: Virginia (-8)
  • No. 14 Florida State at Notre Dame, Sat. 6:00 p.m. (ESPN): The Irish have a point to prove after they lost at Florida State earlier this season. Notre Dame hit 15 threes in that game but had no answer for Jonathan Isaac. PREDICTION: Notre Dame (-1)

 

Michigan lands four-star 2018 forward Ignas Brazdeikis

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Michigan added to an already strong Class of 2018 recruiting haul on Friday night as four-star forward Ignas Brazdeikis pledged to the Wolverines on Twitter.

The 6-foot-8 Canadian was one of the premier scorers in the Nike EYBL this past spring and summer playing with CIA Bounce as Brazdeikis averaged 21.1 points per game on 49 percent shooting from the floor. Well-rounded outside of his scoring, Brazdeikis also put up 7.4 rebounds and 2.1 assists per game while also showing a workable jumper that was 26 percent from three-point range.

With the job that Michigan head coach John Beilein has done developing forwards, most recently with the rapid improvement of players like D.J. Wilson and Moritz Wagner, it’ll be fascinating to see how Brazdeikis will look at the college level after some time on campus. Beilein’s offense is favorable for skilled forwards with a penchant for scoring and Brazdeikis could end up being a tremendous fit for the Wolverines.

Brazdeikis becomes the fourth member of Michigan’s Class of 2018 recruiting haul as he joins four-star forward Brandon Johns, four-star guard David Dejulius and three-star forward Taylor Currie.

Sex assault count dropped against ex-Creighton player Watson

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OMAHA, Neb. (AP) — Prosecutors have dropped a first-degree sexual assault charge against former Creighton point guard Maurice Watson after questions arose about the accuser’s story.

Douglas County Attorney Don Kleine announced Friday that his office had dropped the felony charge, filed earlier this year when a 19-year-old woman accused Watson of assaulting her early Feb. 4 at a party in an Omaha home. Watson has denied that allegation.

The 24-year-old Watson pleaded no contest Friday to misdemeanor assault for an encounter the same night with a different Creighton student, who said Watson touched her thigh and tried to make her touch his genitals. Watson was sentenced to the five days he’d already served in jail.

Watson was a senior when he suffered a season-ending knee injury in January, just days before the party.

Storm damage forces Paradise Jam out of Virgin Islands

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MIAMI (AP) — The Paradise Jam basketball tournament will not be played in the U.S. Virgin Islands this year because of damage caused by Hurricane Irma and Hurricane Maria.

The tournament will be played in the U.S., with a new site expected to be announced by Sept. 29.

The Paradise Jam field this year includes Wake Forest, Colorado, Drake, Drexel, Houston, Liberty, Mercer and Quinnipiac, and each of those schools was given the chance to bid for the right to host the tournament.

Tournament officials say they looked at multiple other options, such as moving to another island and using a cruise ship for accommodations, before deciding to move the event to the U.S.

For now, the tournament is scheduled to be played from Nov. 17-20.

Kentucky lands commitment from five-star point guard

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Kentucky landed a commitment from Immanuel Quickley on Friday night, a top ten prospect and arguably the best point guard in the Class of 2018.

Quickley picked the Wildcats over Kansas, who he visited earlier this month, and Miami, who he was scheduled to visit before Hurricane Irma struck south Florida.

The 6-foot-3 point guard is the first commitment in the class of head coach John Calipari, and it really comes as no surprise. He’s been considered a Kentucky lean for months, and Quickley played for Calipari on the USA U19 team during the 2017 FIBA World Cup.

While Quickley has the size and the build – he’s 180 pounds with broad shoulders and long arms – of some of Kentucky’s former elite point guards, he’s not the same kind of point guard as, say, De’Aaron Fox or John Wall. He’s more of a smooth athlete than an explosive one, and while his long strides allow him to get out into transition, he’s not the finisher at the rim that those two were. What he is, however, is an intelligent player. He’s good in ball-screens, he’s an excellent passer and facilitator and he is a good enough shooter that he forces defenses to stay honest. He also has the potential to be a plus defender given his physical tools and the fact that he’ll try on that end of the floor.

Where this commitment gets interesting is the current point guard in Kentucky’s back court, Quade Green. Green was a five-star recruit in his own right, but he’s not quite built as a potential one-and-done prospect. Calipari has maneuvered through two point guards in the past, and each of the last five national champions have played major minutes with two point guards on the floor at the same time, but if Green is back next season that will be something to monitor.

That, however, is a long ways away.

What matters now is that Kentucky has gotten this commitment out of the way, and it paves the way for them to also receive a commitment from Zion Williamson. There has long been talk of those two attending college together, and with Quickley on the board, that likely keeps Kentucky in the driver’s seat as they pursue the South Carolina native.

If Kentucky can also wrangle a commitment out of R.J. Barrett, the No. 1 player in the 2018 recruiting class, that would likely be the end of the discussion of whether or not Duke has surpassed the Wildcats on the recruiting trail.

Five-star forward King picks Oregon

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Oregon has nabbed one of the top players in the 2018 class.

Louis King, a top-20 forward, committed to Dana Altman and the Ducks on Thursday via a video on social media.

“It’s been a tough, strenuous process,” King said, “but today makes all of that worth it. I’ve been blessed with great opportunities.”

The 6-foot-8 New Jersey native selected Oregon over other finalists Seton Hall, NC State, Purdue and Kansas.

“I would like to thank each of them for all the time and effort they put into my recruitment,” King said. “I would like to thank my coaches and my teammates that have pushed me and helped get me to this point in my career. My friends for all their love and support, but most of all I would like to thank my family, who has been by my side through it all.”

King is Altman’s second commit in 2018, joining four-star big man Miles Norris, a top-75 recruit in the class. It’s the beginning of what could be an absolutely dynamic class for Oregon, which still has two scholarships remaining.

“Out of all of my schools I felt like it was best for me and my family,” King said to MADE Hoops. “Coach Altman said that I would have the ball in my hands throughout the season. When I get there, it will be an easy adjustment for me with how I handle rock and get my teammates open. Our goal is to win a national championship next year.”