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College basketball is back, but does anyone actually care?

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College basketball is BACK, baby!

Starting in just a matter of hours, we are going to be playing the first games of the college basketball season, and at this point, I think the most pressing question that we need answered is … does anyone actually give a ****?

I love college basketball as much as, if not more, than anyone. on the planet, and even I am having trouble getting myself excited for a weekend of are just blah. The most interesting part of the next 72 hours is going to be finding out who is playing and who is being held out because of concerns about the FBI investigation.

Let’s start with this: Of the more than 250 Division I games that are being played this weekend, there are just five games that feature two high-major programs, and just one of those five actually pits two teams that are ranked in the top 25 – No. 25 Texas A&M takes on No. 11 West Virginia at Ramstein Air Base in Germany.

In theory, this should be a terrific matchup, as Press Virginia takes on a team with arguably the best front line in college basketball. Potential Big 12 Player of the Year Jevon Carter vs. Potential Lottery Pick Big Bob Williams. But Williams won’t be playing, as he’s suspended for a violation of team rules. Two more starters, Admon Gilder and D.J. Hogg, were suspended for two games along with Williams, and that came a month after redshirt freshman point guard J.J. Caldwell, who might have started at the point, was suspended for five games.

In other words, the Aggies will essentially be playing without their starting lineup. That should go well.

It’s worth noting here that A&M is not the only program in that game that will be without a key player. Esa Ahmad, West Virginia’s second-leading returning scorer, is ineligible for the first semester.

So that game is a bust, as is the nightcap between Georgia Tech and No. 21 UCLA in Shanghai.

Josh Pastner is the happiest man in college basketball these days. Not eight hours after a story popped up on CBS Sports containing allegations that Pastner had helped funnel impermissible benefits to two players on his roster that are currently ineligible to play – Josh Okogie, his star guard, and Tadric Jackson, a starter for the Yellow Jackets – LiAngelo Ball and two of his teammates, Cody Riley and Jalen Hill, went and got themselves arrested for shoplifting in China.

Pastner went from being the biggest story in college basketball to being a total and complete afterthought in his opening game thanks to the Big Baller Brand’s inability to keep their hands off of Louis Vuitton sunglasses. At this point, the most interesting thing about this game is going to be whether or not LaVar Ball actually says something insane that gets his son sentenced to three years in a Chinese prison.

Maybe bust is the wrong word for that game.

Because I’m certainly going to be staying up until 11:30 p.m. ET to watch it, and it will have nothing to do with the actual basketball being played.

The third-most intriguing game of the weekend might have been Alabama taking on Memphis in the Veterans Classic in Annapolis, but Memphis is a dumpster fire in Tubby Smith’s second season while Alabama is not only missing Braxton Key, last year’s leading scorer who is dealing with a knee injury, but will likely be playing without star point guard Collin Sexton.

Sexton, a top ten freshman and a potential lottery pick, is a casualty of the FBI’s probe into college basketball corruption, which is the story that had dominated college basketball headlines for the last six weeks. No one is going to care about the buy-games that the best teams in the country play this weekend, but everyone is going to be looking to see who sits out for teams like Arizona and USC, and if any other big time programs have unexpected players in street clothes.

The only ranked team that will be playing a true road game this weekend is No. 14 Notre Dame, but they will be paying a visit to DePaul, who has won all of 18 games the last two years. That’s not exactly going to move the needle.

What we’re left with is Iowa State and Missouri squaring off in Columbia.

On paper, this has potential. Iowa State has been one of the best programs in the Big 12 of late and Missouri has a potential No. 1 pick in the 2018 NBA Draft on their roster in Michael Porter Jr. But the Cyclones are very likely going to be terrible this season after losing everyone and everything to graduation, while Cuonzo Martin is trying to rebuild a program that has been dreadful for three years running.

That’s the most interesting game on college basketball’s opening night.

And this is what’s supposed to distract us from the scandals that have blanketed the sport?

Ay yi yi.

The Champions Classic can’t get here soon enough.

At least there will be a Law & Order marathon on somewhere.

MOST INTERESTING GAMES

1. Iowa State at Missouri, Fri. 9:00 p.m.: Our first glimpse at Michael Porter Jr. at the college level will also be a chance for us to see just how Cuonzo Martin is going to play this year. Big or small?

2. Elon at No. 1 Duke, Fri. 7:00 p.m.: The last time these two teams play, Grayson Allen tripped Steven Santa Ana and the season went absolutely haywire.

3. Georgia Tech vs. No. 21 UCLA, Fri. 11:30 p.m. (Shanghai): If LaVar Ball doesn’t make an appearance on national television explaining why it was OK for his son to go into an authoritarian country and try to shoplift $700 sunglasses then the production team on site isn’t doing their job right.

4. Northern Iowa at No. 9 North Carolina, Fri. 7:00 p.m.: If you;re looking for a major upset this weekend, look here. North Carolina is overrated this early in the season, particularly with the loss of Joel Berry II to a broken hand, and UNI has traditionally been one of the better teams in the Missouri Valley.

5. No. 25 Texas A&M vs. No. 11 West Virginia, Fri. 6:00 p.m. (Germany): Half of the players that should be starting in this game won’t be. But hey, I’m here for Huggy Bear in a track suit.

6. Utah Valley’s opening weekend: The Wolverines open the season playing at Kentucky on Friday night and follow that up with a trip to Cameron Indoor Stadium to play Duke on Saturday night. Good luck with that.

BUYER’S REMORSE

Campbell at Penn State, Fri. 4:00 p.m.

Mercer at UCF, Fri. 7:00 p.m.

Louisiana at Ole Miss, Fri. 9:00 p.m.

Yale at Creighton, Fri. 9:00 p.m.

Yale at Wisconsin, Sun. 6:00 p.m.

Princeton at Butler, Sun. 6:00 p.m.

Belmont at Washington, Fri. 10:00 p.m.

Georgia Southern at Wake Forest, Fri. 7:30 p.m.

UNC Asheville at Rhode Island, Fri. 7:30 p.m.

Mount St. Mary’s at Marquette, Fri. 9:00 p.m.

Maryland at Stony Brook, Fri.7:00 p.m.

TITLE CONTENDERS IN ACTION

Elon at No. 1 Duke, Fri. 7:00 p.m.

Utah Valley at No. 1 Duke, Sat. 7:00 p.m.

North Florida at No. 2 Michigan State, Fri. 8:00 p.m.

Northern Arizona at No. 3 Arizona, Fri. 8:00 p.m.

UMBC at No. 3 Arizona, Sun. 6:00 p.m.

Tennessee State at No. 4 Kansas, Fri. 9:00 p.m.

Utah Valley at No. 5 Kentucky, Fri. 7:00 p.m.

Vermont at No. 5 Kentucky, Sun. 3:30 p.m.

Columbia at No. 6 Villanova, Fri. 8:30 p.m.

UMKC at No. 7 Wichita State, Fri. 8:00 p.m.

Cal St.-Fullerton at No. 10 USC, Fri. 10:00 p.m.

George Mason at No. 16 Louisville, Sun. 2:00 p.m.

College Basketball Power Rankings: Duke to No. 1, Xavier and Minnesota climb

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At this point, there really is no choice but to put Duke at No. 1 in the Power Rankings this week.

That’s what happens when you’re a consensus top three team in the preseason and, five days into the regular season, you pick off another top three team. Hell, we had Michigan State ranked No. 1 in the NBC Sports Power Rankings last week.

At this point, Michigan State is still No. 2 for me. Their one loss this season came on a night where Grayson Allen went crazy and they gave up 25 offensive rebounds and committed 18 turnovers, and they still were in the game down the stretch. Beyond that, the only teams in the top 25 that have lost so far this season are Kentucky, Northwestern and Providence. The Wildcats fell to Kansas while playing their best game of the season, while Northwestern and Providence both dropped out of the top 25.

But the truth is that, as of today, we still don’t really know anything about these teams. Arizona, Villanova and Wichita State didn’t have to play anywhere near their best basketball to start the season 3-0. The same can be said for anyone that is currently sitting at or near the top of these rankings.

This week is when we start to really find out about them. Arizona is playing in the Battle 4 Atlantis. Duke, Michigan State, North Carolina and Florida are in the PK80. Wichita State is out in Maui. There are events in New York City all week. UCLA, Creighton, Baylor and Wisconsin are in Kansas City. There are games in Las Vegas and Orlando and California

And while my opinion on the glut of exempt events still stands, I do think that we learn more about, say, Wichita State seeing them play potentially overmatched opponents in Maui over the course of three straight days than we do seeing them beat the brakes off of mid-major competition in Koch Arena.

Anyway, here is the NBC Sports Top 25 in its entirety:

1. Duke, 4-0 (Last Week: No. 2)
2. Michigan State, 3-1 (1)
3. Arizona, 3-0 (3)
4. Kansas, 3-0 (4)
5. Villanova, 3-0 (5)
6. Wichita State, 2-0 (6)
7. Florida, 3-0 (7)
8. Cincinnati, 3-0 (8)
9. USC, 4-0 (9)
10. Miami, 3-0 (10)
11. Xavier, 3-0 (14)
12. Texas A&M, 2-0 (11)
13. Minnesota, 4-0 (19)
14. Louisville, 2-0 (12)
15. Notre Dame, 3-0 (13)
16. Seton Hall, 4-0 (15)
17. Kentucky, 3-1 (16)
18. North Carolina, 2-0 (17)
19. Saint Mary’s, 4-0 (21)
20. Alabama, 3-0 (22)
21. Purdue, 4-0 (24)
22. Gonzaga, 3-0 (23)
23. UCLA, 3-0 (18)
24. Texas, 3-0 (NR)
25. Texas Tech, 4-0 (NR)

NEW ADDITIONS: 24. Texas, 25. Texas Tech
DROPPED OUT: 20. Northwestern, No. 25 Providence

Texas Tech mollywhops No. 21 Northwestern, stakes claim to second-best in Big 12

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No. 21 Northwestern was, technically, never even tied with Texas Tech on Sunday evening.

The Wildcats were given a technical foul at the start of the game because their players were not in the scorebook, which was more than adequate foreshadowing for what was to come. Keenan Evans made a free throw before the ball was tipped, the Red Raiders would then score the next eight points and jump out to a 23-5 lead that Chris Collins’ club never recovered.

Northwestern never was within single-digits again, let alone close enough to make this a game. They lost 85-49, the worst loss for the Northwestern program in nearly a decade, since Nov. 27th, 2007.

I could recite the stats to you, if you’d like. Northwestern shot 26.7 percent from the floor. They were 6-for-23 from three. Texas Tech forced 17 turnovers, and Northwestern had 12 field goals to 11 steals for the Red Raiders.

It was as bad of a beatdown as you’ll see between two teams in the NCAA tournament discussion.

It’s easy to read into this loss, and the loss that Northwestern suffered at home against Creighton on Wednesday, and think that the Wildcats are not yet cut out for being the hunted, and that might be fair. As cliché as it is, there is something to be said for the way an opponent plays when you are the quality win. At some point, Northwestern is going to have to prove they can handle that.

But Sunday was not about Northwestern.

Sunday was about Texas Tech.

It was about Chris Beard putting the Big 12 on notice.

This team is tough and they are old. They have size and athleticism. They have a star in lead guard Keenan Evans and a roster that is more than willing to put in the work on the defensive end of the floor. Most importantly, however, is that Beard has built a team full of guys that all have something to prove. There aren’t any four or five-star freshmen on his roster. The elite recruits that he does have are all transfers, cast-offs from other programs.

That’s just how Beard like it.

Now I don’t think the Red Raiders are going to be winning the Big 12 and ending Kansas’ streak of 14 straight Big 12 titles. But I do think that they’ll be right there in the mix for the title of second-best in the Big 12, and I’m not sure I would have felt that way before the start of the season.

Miles Bridges hurt as No. 2 Michigan State cruises past Stony Brook

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EAST LANSING, Mich. (AP) — Miles Bridges stayed in school to chase a national championship instead of cashing in on his potential in the NBA.

Three games into his sophomore season, he is hurt.

Bridges scored 20 points before limping off the court after injuring his left ankle, casting a pall over No. 2 Michigan State as it beat Stony Brook 93-71 on Sunday night.

“Thank God it’s not a high-ankle sprain,” coach Tom Izzo said. “It’s just a sprain where he rolled it. He’ll be day to day.”

The Spartans (2-1) bounced back from their loss to top-ranked Duke with a win that will be remembered as being costly if Bridges’ injury lingers.

Bridges was fouled with 8:32 left in the game as he went into the lane with the ball and awkwardly planted his left foot, rolling his ankle. After trying to stay in the game to shoot free throws, the preseason All-America player went back to the bench briefly before walking toward the locker room.

“By Tuesday morning, I’ll know more,” Izzo said. “Miles is tough enough to play through it but we’re not going to take any chances.”

Nick Ward scored a season-high 22 points, Joshua Langford had a career-high 19 points and Cassius Winston scored a season-high 13 points and had six assists for the Spartans.

The Seawolves (0-4) led for much of the first half, holding Bridges to two points as they led 22-15 midway through the first half.

Stony Brook’s Elijah Olaniyi scored 16, Akwasi Yeboah had 15 points, UC Iroegbu scored 12 and Tyrell Sturdivant added 10 points.

“The biggest positive was coming out and competing for 40 minutes,” coach Jeff Boals said. “We kept on fighting. I think we led 12 1/2 minutes in the first half. Our biggest thing was coming out and getting off to a good start, just to build some confidence.”

BIG PICTURE

Stony Brook: The America East Conference team made 13 of 26 3-pointers against one of the top teams in the country. That kind of shooting can help the Seawolves pull off an upset, something they had a chance to do in setbacks against Maryland and Connecticut.

“We’re 0-4 right now and it doesn’t look good on wins and losses, but we’ve competed in every game we’ve played,” Boals said.

Michigan State: Bridges’ health is a key factor for the team, and for himself. Izzo isn’t sure how long Bridges will be out.

POLL IMPLICATIONS

The Spartans will slip in The Associated Press poll after losing to the top-ranked Blue Devils and perhaps because Bridges is injured.

HUMBLED AT HOME

Michigan State standout freshman Jaren Jackson fouled out in 14 scoreless minutes. He missed his only shot, a 3-pointer, and had a team-high three turnovers.

“This might be the only time in that kid’s career he doesn’t score,” Boals said. “He is an unbelievable talent.”

The 6-foot-11 Jackson, rated as one of the top prospects for the 2018 NBA draft, was averaging 16 points and 10 rebounds.

“Jaren’s a great player, but he is a young player,” Langford said. “He’s way ahead of where I was.”

UP NEXT

Stony Brook: In its home opener on Wednesday night, hosts Brown.

Michigan State: Plays DePaul on Thursday night in Oregon at the Phil Knight Invitational. The Spartans will play the Ducks or Connecticut in the semifinals on Friday and could face No. 9 North Carolina on Sunday.

“It’s not the biggest stage like Duke was, but it’s time to get back to what we lost against Duke,” Langford said.

Donald Trump’s response to LaVar Ball: ‘I should’ve left them in jail!’

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I told you this was going to happen.

After LaVar Ball downplayed Donald Trump’s role in bringing home his son, LiAngelo, and the three other UCLA players that were arrested for shoplifting in China last week, Trump responded by taking to twitter and saying that he should have left American citizens in prison in a non-democratic, authoritarian country because they will not personally acknowledge his efforts enough:

Sigh.

Now we await LaVar’s response.

Five-star 2018 recruit Anfernee Simons could test NBA Draft process

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Five-star Class of 2018 guard Anfernee Simons is interested in potentially entering the 2018 NBA Draft.

According to a report from Jonathan Givony of ESPN, the former Louisville commit will likely be eligible to jump to the NBA straight out of high school since he graduated high school last year while turning 19 next June. The 6-foot-4 Simons, considered the No. 16 overall prospect in the Rivals’ Class of 2018 national rankings, is playing a post-grad season at IMG Academy for 2017-18 after reclassifying as a sophomore.

If Simons opts to go pro than college basketball loses a potential star as he’s been shooting up the national rankings over the past year. Simons was committed to the Cardinals since the beginning of his junior year but he opened things up once former head coach Rick Pitino lost his job in a fallout from the FBI investigation on college basketball.

Simons started his season at the National Prep Showcase this weekend as six NBA teams sent people to watch him play, according to Givony’s report.

It’ll be fascinating to see what happens in this situation as Simons hasn’t done much with the recruiting process over the last several months. Now that NBA teams are already watching him play, Simons could follow in Thon Maker’s footsteps and turn pro right away.