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Weekend Preview: Duke-North Carolina, plus four tickets getting punched

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SATURDAY’S SHOWDOWNS

No. 17 Duke at No. 5 North Carolina, Sat. 8:15 p.m. (ESPN): The biggest game of the night lost a bit of its luster when Duke dropped back-to-back road games last week. The Blue Devils bounced back this week with a win over No. 15 Florida State, but that doesn’t change the fact that the Tar Heels can now win an outright ACC regular season title even if they lose this game.

But it’s Duke-North Carolina.

That rivalry game is always going to be terrific, and this should be no different. The Tar Heels currently sit a game up on Notre Dame in the ACC regular season standings. A win locks them into the outright ACC regular season title, the eighth regular season title that Roy Williams has won in the last 13 seasons, but there should be little doubt that Duke, who is still playing for seeding in both postseason tournaments, would love to be able to say that they swept UNC in a year they won the ACC title.

And Duke has a real shot at this thing. The key is going to be the matchup at the four spot, where Duke’s Jayson Tatum is going to go up against Isaiah Hicks. Duke wants to play small-ball. North Carolina wants to play big. If Tatum can find a way to hold his own in the post and keep whoever he’s guarding from getting to the offensive glass, the Blue Devils will be in a really good spot. He did it when these two met in Cameron Indoor Stadium, but that came on a day where Isaiah Hicks was not in the lineup.

PREDICTION: North Carolina (-7)

FIVE MORE GAMES TO WATCH

No. 24 Iowa State at No. 10 West Virginia, Fri. 7:00 p.m.: The Cyclones, who have been one of the hottest teams in the Big 12 and are now sitting all alone in second place in the Big 12, will pay a visit to Morgantown, which has not been a fun place for ranked teams to visit this season. Monte’ Morris has 68 assists and just six turnovers in his last 10 games. Will that last against WVU’s pressure? PREDICTION: Iowa State (+8)

No. 19 Notre Dame at No. 8 Louisville, Sat. 2:00 p.m.: Surprisingly enough, Notre Dame is currently sitting all alone in second place in the ACC standings as of today. Louisville, however, is coming off of a confounding loss at Wake Forest and are not an easy team to beat in the KFC Yum! Center. PREDICTION: Louisville (-8)

No. 25 Miami at No. 15 Florida State, Sat. 4:00 p.m. (ACCN): There is a lot on the line in terms of seeding in this game, for both the ACC tournament and the NCAA tournament. Miami has been one of the hot teams in the ACC in recent weeks. PREDICTION: Florida State (-7)

No. 1 Kansas at Oklahoma State, Sat. 6:00 p.m. (ESPN): The Jayhawks have already clinched the outright Big 12 title and, in all likelihood, a No. 1 seed in the tournament. What do they have to play for? Not enough to keep them from needing to come back from 12 down in the second half to beat Oklahoma. PREDICTION: Oklahoma State (-1)

Tournament Finals: There are going to be four automatic bids earned this weekend. It starts on Saturday night in the Ohio Valley Conference, while Sunday features the Atlantic Sun, the Big Sky and the Missouri Valley title games. The race for the MVC title may be the most interesting, as both Wichita State and Illinois State are looking to get themselves off of the bubble by earning that automatic bid.

Lonzo Ball says “I’m better than” Markelle Fultz

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Usually, it’s LaVar Ball that makes news for what he says.

His eldest son is now getting in on the business of generating headlines with something other than his play.

The UCLA star, who said he’ll enter the draft after just one season with the Bruins, claimed he’s the better prospect than Washington freshman Markelle Fultz, who many have pegged as the No. 1 pick in June’s draft.

“Markelle’s a great player,” Ball said, according to ESPN, “but I feel I’m better than him,” “I think I can lead a team better than him. Obviously he’s a great scorer — he’s a great player, so I’m not taking that away from him.”

Not exactly inflammatory stuff – like saying you could have beaten Michael Jordan, that you want a $1 billion apparel deal or a number of things his father has said – bu Ball is certainly projecting confidence. And there’s absolutely nothing wrong with that. There’s quite a bit of money – and pride – at stake with the draft, and Ball put up a season worthy of comparison to Fultz, who had great numbers but played for an abysmal Washington team. Ball, on the other had, had strong numbers while leading UCLA to the Sweet 16.

Both are going to go at the top of a draft that’s stocked full of promising point guards. Which player goes before the other remains to be seen, but it’s likely public pronouncements aren’t going to affect the draft order.

 

UMass hires McCall away from Chattanooga

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UMass has found, once more, the man to take over its basketball program.

The Minutemen have reached an agreement with Chattanooga coach Matt McCall, the school announce Wednesday

“The tradition and resources that are in place not only make this one of the best basketball jobs in the Atlantic 10 Conference,” McCall said in a statement released by the school, “but one of the best jobs in the country. We couldn’t be more excited about becoming part of the UMass family and look forward to building upon the rich tradition that has been established here in the past.”

In McCall’s two years at Chattanooga, the Mocs to the NCAA tournament in 2016 and a 19-12 record this year that featured five-straight losses to end the season.

The move will take McCall out of the southeast for the first time in his career as he previously served as at Florida and Florida Atlantic before getting his first head coaching job at Chattanooga.

McCall wasn’t the Minutemen’s first choice to replace Derek Kellogg after three-straight lackluster seasons. Winthrop coach Pat Kelsey had agreed to take the job before a last-minute about-face that saw him return to the Eagles program just before his introductory press conference was scheduled to begin.

“Matt is a rising star in college basketball coaching who has been a key piece of three successful programs in his career,” UMass athletic director Ryan Bamford said in a statement. “He has earned a reputation as a relentless worker, a great teammate and colleague and a confident leader of young men.

“Matt has worked with some of the most respected coaches and administrators in the country, who loudly sing his praises. Coach McCall’s appointment begins an exciting new chapter for our tradition-rich men’s basketball program at UMass.”

Despite being the second choice, McCall’s reputation in the coaching industry makes him a strong hire, having worked under Mike Jarvis and Billy Donovan. He took over at Chattanooga for Will Wade, and brought the Mocs to a 29-6 record and a  12-seed in the NCAA tournament in 2016.

UMass went to just one NCAA tournament under Kellogg (in 2014) during his nine seasons leading the Minutemen.

VIDEO: Frank Martin’s sideline demeanor as a high school coach

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South Carolina coach Frank Martin has the reputation of being rather, shall we say, intense on the sidelines during games.

The coach has a stare that seemingly could bore a hole through his players when they do something that doesn’t reach his level of expectation. Martin’s demeanor, though, didn’t just come into form once he hit the college ranks.

He was plenty intense on high school sidelines as well.

Martin won three titles while at Miami Senior in the mid-1990s, coaching the likes of future pros Steve Blake and Udonis Haslem. Now having reached his first career Final Four, that sideline persona has put him on the precipice of winning yet another championship, this time at the collegiate level.

South Carolina fans raise money to send “Gamecock Jesus” to Final Four

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South Carolina fans are sending one of their most recognizable compatriots to represent them this weekend.

Gamecock Jesus is heading to the Final Four.

South Carolina super fan Carlton Thompson is following the Gamecocks to Glendale as his fellow fans have raised over $7,500 to send the man known as “Gamecock Jesus” to Arizona for the team’s Final Four meeting with Gonzaga on Saturday night.

Thompson’s long hair, beard and presence at South Carolina games, even in lean times, earned him his nickname and apparently a following fervent enough to foot the bill for quite the trip.

“I’ve always dreamed it would be like this,” Thompson said last week about fan support at Gamecock games to the Post and Courier. “For years and years, it was so sparse with the crowds at the games. But once they started winning, the crowds started coming.”

Thompson is a 63-year-old VA hospital nurse, and has been attending South Carolina games for nearly 50 years.

Maryland’s Melo Trimble declares for the NBA Draft

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Melo Trimble’s career as a Maryland Terrapin is coming to an end. The junior guard is declaring for the NBA Draft and will sign with an agent.

“I am confident and excited to pursue an opportunity to play in the NBA,” Trimble said in a release. “I am proud of what my teammates and I were able to accomplish these past three seasons at Maryland. I developed many great relationships and friendships and together we able to create some very special moments for Maryland basketball. I want to thank Coach Turgeon for all of his support. He always believed in me. He challenged me and really helped in the development of my overall game. I am a more complete basketball player because of Coach Turgeon and the coaching staff. To stay at home and attend the University of Maryland is the best decision that I ever made and it was truly special to play in front of my family, friends and our amazing fans. Maryland will always be home.”

There was no better winner in college basketball the last three years than Melo. He changed the trajectory of Mark Turgeon’s program, winning 79 games in three years and ending his career 30-8 in games decided by six points or less. As a junior, Trimble and the Terps earned a No. 6 seed to the NCAA tournament, but they lost in the first round to Xavier. It was the only time in Trimble’s career that he didn’t reach the Sweet 16.

“Melo Trimble is a winner,” Mark Turgeon said on twitter. “Humble, hard-working, dedicated. Words can’t express what he’s done for our program. Always #StayMelo!”