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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)

 

Cal promotes assistant Wyking Jones to head coach

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Cal will promote interim head coach and former assistant coach Wyking Jones to head coach, a source confirmed to NBCSports.com. The story was first reported by Jon Rothstein of FanRagSports.com

A native of Inglewood, California, Jones has been an assistant coach for the Golden Bears for the past two seasons as he replaces former head coach Cuonzo Martin, who departed to take the Missouri job. This promotion comes as a bit of a surprise for some since Jones has never been a head coach at the Division I level.

Jones has spent 15 years as an assistant coach at the Division I level at places like Cal, Louisville, New Mexico, Pepperdine and Loyola Marymount — where Jones spent his playing career.

Helping Louisville to the Final Four in 2013, Jones is a respected coach and recruiter who gets a great opportunity for his first head coaching job at the Division I level with Cal.

The Golden Bears made the NCAA tournament last year but finished 21-13 this season as they missed making the field of 68. Sophomore big man Ivan Rabb has already declared for the NBA Draft and it will be interesting to see what kind of roster Jones gets to work with right away.

One of the reasons Jones might have been retained is to help Cal keep its solid five-man recruiting class from bolting. While the Golden Bears don’t have any five-star talents coming in, it is a solid foundation for the program’s future led by a four-star guard in Jemarl Baker.

Florida State freshman forward Jonathan Isaac declares for 2017 NBA Draft

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Florida State freshman forward Jonathan Isaac has declared for the 2017 NBA Draft.

The 6-foot-10 Isaac was a five-star prospect out of high school as he averaged 12.0 points and 7.8 rebounds per game. One of the most versatile defenders in the country, Isaac could protect the rim (1.5 blocks per game) and also switch out to the perimeter and cover smaller wings as well (1.2 steals per game). Also showing a solid skill level, Isaac shot 50 percent from the field, 34 percent from three-point range and 78 percent from the free-throw line.

That kind of versatility is what Isaac is banking on in the NBA Draft as he’s expected to be a top-15 pick. If Isaac can prove that he’s a reliable perimeter shooter then teams could be intrigued by him as a matchup nightmare in the front court.

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.