*(NOTE: Lines are not posted for Saturday or Sunday games as of publication. Spreads referenced are via Kenpom.com)
No. 25 CREIGHTON at No. 15 GONZAGA, Fri. 10:00 p.m.
The battle of the former mid-majors. This will be an interesting one to watch play out. Both of these teams proved themselves to be somewhat underrated from where they were heading into the season. Creighton thrives in a more uptempo game, while Gonzaga wants to grind things out a little bit more. There are two things that intrigue me about this game: The first is who ends up getting put on Khyri Island? Khyri Thomas is the best perimeter defender in college basketball. He shut down Manu Lecomte when the Jays nearly beat Baylor, and I expect him to get put on Josh Perkins in this one. The second is how Creighton slows down Johnathan Williams III, and that’s a bigger issue.
PREDICTION: I really, really like Creighton this year, but I think this is a difficult matchup for the Jays. I’m not quite sure how they’ll handle Williams, who put 39 on a Florida team that is similar to Creighton. Gonzaga (-7)
No. 11 CINCINNATI at No. 21 XAVIER, Sat. 12:00 p.m.
The Crosstown Shootout is one of the most fierce and more underrated rivalries in all of sports, and this year, it will feature two teams that are talented enough to get to the Final Four. Cincinnati is a rough-and-tumble team that has some toughness up front in Gary Clark Jr. and Kyle Washington, while Xavier is more perimeter-oriented … but just as tough as the Bearcats. I’m telling you, this will be great theater, as will the battle between Jacob Evans and Trevon Bluiett.
PREDICTION: Kenpom projects this as a one-point Xavier win in the Cintas Center, so I’ll ride with Xavier here. I don’t think either of these teams would lose a home game in this rivalry this season. Xavier (-1)
No. 8 WICHITA STATE at No. 16 BAYLOR, Sat. 2:00 p.m.
This is the most fascinating matchup of the day to me. On the one hand, I think Wichita State is terrific. They’re well-coached, they have talent and they can beat you inside or outside. On the other hand, at some point they are going to have to actually beat someone at this level for us to continue talking about them as a Final Four and national title contender. Baylor can play. Their zone can mess with teams and Manu Lecomte has proven time and again that he is one of the best clutch shooters in the sport. It won’t be all that pretty or high-scoring, but for x’s-and-o’s nerds, it will be appointment viewing. The x-factor is how Baylor will be able to play without Terry Maston, who broke his hand against Xavier.
PREDICTION: KenPom has Baylor getting points at home, and while I’m on record saying some fairly ridiculous things about the Shockers, I want to see them beat someone real before I invest my hard earned money betting on them. That said, with no Maston, I think the Shockers make it too hard for the Bears to score. Wichita State (-1)
WHAT ELSE IS THERE TO WATCH?
You mean besides a ridiculous slate of college football games?
No. 13 North Carolina at Davidson, Fri. 8:00 p.m.: Davidson is defense-averse and shoots more threes than anyone else in college hoops. I like UNC here, but I love the over. PREDICTION: UNC (-10.5)
Providence at Rhode Island, Sat. 5:00 p.m.: It doesn’t the attention of other rivalry games, but the hate between Providence and URI is real and both teams are good this season. PREDICTION: Providence (+2)
No. 2 Kansas vs. Syracuse, Sat. 5:30 p.m.: I think we’ll get a much better idea of what to make of this Syracuse team after this game, because as of now I really don’t know. They’ve been impressive through six games. PREDICTION: Kansas (-11)
No. 4 Villanova vs. St. Joseph’s, Sat. 5:30 p.m.: The Holy War was a lot more interesting before St. Joe’s got hit with injuries. PREDICTION: Villanova (-10)
No. 14 USC at SMU, Sat. 10:00 p.m.: USC struggled at Vanderbilt earlier this season and got beat fairly handily by Texas A&M. Will they be willing to defend in Moody Coliseum? PREDICTION: SMU (-2)
Arizona at UNLV, Sat. 10:00 p.m.: Brandon McCoy and Deandre Ayton, former AAU teammates and both potential lottery picks, meet again. The Thomas & Mack Center will be packed. This is a chance for Arizona to prove they’ve figured out the issues that cost them three wins in the Bahamas. PREDICTION: UNLV (+7)
Seton Hall at No. 17 Louisville, Sun. 4:00 p.m.: Kevin Willard, a former Louisville and Rick Pitino assistant, pays a visit to the Yum! Center to take on David Padgett, another former Pitino assistant and current Louisville interim head coach. The Cardinals are going to have to be ready for a fight on Sunday. PREDICTION: Seton Hall (+3)
Wake Forest guard Keyshawn Woods to transfer or go pro after graduation
Wake Forest will be down a key player next season as the school announced that guard Keyshawn Woods will either transfer or go pro after graduation.
The 6-foot-3 Woods was the team’s second-leading scorer this season as he put up 11.9 points, 2.5 rebounds and 1.9 assists per game. Woods shot 43 percent from the floor and 37 percent from three-point range for the 2017-18 campaign.
Also a key member of last season’s NCAA tournament team for the Demon Deacons, Woods transferred to Wake Forest after spending his first season at Charlotte.
“I appreciate the opportunity that Coach Manning gave me to be a part of this program and to graduate from this great university,” said Woods in the release. “I am proud that I was able to help the coaches change the culture of the program and build a foundation for the future.”
The loss of Woods won’t be easy for Wake Forest, but the team is scheduled to return some talented guards like Bryant Crawford and Brandon Childress next season. Incoming freshmen like Jaime Lewis and Sharone Wright Jr. are also signed to add to the perimeter depth.
Louisville announced on Wednesday afternoon that interim head coach David Padgett would not be retained.
Padgett, who is 32 years old, stepped in and took the program over in the wake of a scandal that cost Hall of Fame head coach Rick Pitino his job.
“We all owe a great debt of gratitude to David for his leadership and poise this season,” said U of L Interim Director of Athletics Vince Tyra. “He took over during incredible circumstances, has handled himself respectfully throughout the season and I believe he has a bright future in coaching. We expect to determine a new head coach in a short period to build upon the great basketball tradition of this university.”
Pitino was fired because an FBI complaint contained an allegation that he and his staff had arranged for a $100,000 payment to be funneled to Brian Bowen from Adidas.
In his one season with the Cardinals, Padgett went 22-14 and reached the quarterfinals of the NIT.
Louisville will now conduct a search for their next head coach, and current Xavier coach Chris Mack has long been considered the favorite to take that job.
Kansas State’s injured star hoping to play Thursday
One of the most surprising parts about Kansas State’s run to the Sweet 16 is that they have done it without the services of their leading scorer, Dean Wade.
Wade injured his foot prior to the Big 12 tournament loss to Kansas. He did not play in that game or in either of Kansas State’s first two tournament games, but it is looking more and more like he’ll be on the floor on Thursday night when they play Kentucky.
“I don’t play percentages very well, but I’m feeling good,” Wade said, via SEC Country. “I’m very positive about it. It’s getting better every day and today I felt great out there, doing a little more than usual. It felt good.”
Wade averaged 16.5 points per game, but the big question is going to be whether or not he is actually healthy when he takes the court. Just because he’s on the floor doesn’t mean he’s at 100 percent.
“Really just trying to get it out of my mind that it’s not hurt,” Wade said. “Just more of a mental thing, just getting out there and running around. I think I got moved past that and it’s feeling better.”
Arizona’s Sean Miller: ‘I am not a candidate’ at Pitt
With speculation mounting about who Pitt will hire to replace Kevin Stallings as their new head coach, current Arizona head coach Sean Miller released a statement saying that he is not in the running to fill the opening.
“I am not a candidate for the University of Pittsburgh men’s basketball head coaching vacancy. I wish them well in their search for a new coach,” the statement read.
Miller is a native of Pittsburgh and an alumni of the school — he’s the guy that had the assist on Jerome Lane’s famous dunk — and with the issues that are currently swirling around him and the Arizona program, there was speculation that he was looking for an escape plan.
Maybe he wasn’t.
Maybe he was and the Pitt administration decided they couldn’t risk hiring someone who had an assistant coach arrested in the FBI’s sweep of college basketball and who himself may be on wiretaps talking about who knows what. Releasing this statement would then be a way for him to save face and say he was never interested.
And then maybe there’s option No. 3: Pitt has won the Dan Hurley sweepstakes.
As it stands, both the Panthers and UConn are in the process of chasing after the Rhode Island head coach, and it’s not uncommon in coaching searches for a coach to announce that he is not a candidate for the job after the job decides they want someone else. Call it a professional courtesy.
But that’s neither here nor there.
What we do know now is that Sean Miller will not be the next head coach at Pitt.
Report: Notre Dame’s Bonzie Colson suffers another fracture in foot
Bonzie Colson rushed back from a broken foot to try and help his Notre Dame team get into the NCAA tournament this season.
They were bumped out of the field when Davidson upset Rhode Island and earned the Atlantic 10’s third bid to the league tournament. The Fighting Irish were NIT bound, and in their second round loss to Penn State late last week, Colson reinjured the left foot that held him out of action for eight weeks.
On Wednesday, Yahoo reported that Colson suffered another fracture in the foot.
“I’m sitting there and he’s limping off and I’m going, ‘You gotta be kidding me,’” coach Mike Brey said after the game. “Everything we’ve been through? I thought we were out of the woods with him.”
There was a poignant moment at the end of the game.
Colson’s injury came during the third quarter. He returned to the bench at Purcell Pavilion with ice on his foot after going into the locker room. With 30 seconds left and a loss imminent, Colson walked right past Mike Brey, said “I’m going in”, and finished his college career on the court.
Colson is a potential second round pick. He was an all-american last year and a preseason selection this year. He was averaging 19.7 points, 10.2 boards and 2.2 blocks when he was injured.