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Providence earns huge win over No. 5 Xavier

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Providence earned its biggest win of the season on Saturday with a 81-72 Big East home victory over No. 5 Xavier.

The Friars had dropped the previous two Big East games on the road at Creighton and at home to Marquette when Markus Howard went bonkers for 52 points. So a win over a top-five opponent — the first top-five win at home for Providence since 2009 — gives the Friars a huge win for its NCAA tournament resume.

Kyron Cartwright helped the Friars pull ahead early and stay ahead throughout as he finished with 19 points, nine assists and four steals, playing with a ton of confidence that rubbed off on his teammates. Isaiah Jackson added 18 points while Rodney Bullock finished with 17 points as the Friars shot very well from the perimeter (9-for-20 from three-point range).

In a tight game that saw Xavier never really go away until the final minute, Providence also did a great job closing the game out at the line as they finished 20-for-22 from the free-throw line.

Since Providence has only defeated teams like Washington, Boston College and Saint Louis in the non-conference portion, this was a huge win for their credibility — especially coming off of a 1-2 start and back-to-back conference losses.

Meanwhile, Xavier has developed a concerning habit of playing some games from behind. The Musketeers have three comeback wins when trailing by double-digits this season but they weren’t able to overcome those issues during a sluggish afternoon. Trevon Bluiett (12 points) and J.P. Macura (nine points) combined to go only 8-for-24 from the field as they were particularly cold in the second half and down the stretch when Xavier needed a bucket.

The rest of the Musketeers weren’t much better from the perimeter as the team was only 27 percent (5-for-18) from three-point range. Big man Karim Kanter was a major bright spot for Xavier, dominating by scoring in the block and finishing with 24 points, but he didn’t have much consistent offensive help around him.

If this game — and this past week — has taught us anything, it’s that the Big East is once again going to be really tough and really good from top to nearly bottom.

Previously No. 1 Villanova lost on the road at unranked Butler last week. Now another top-five team in Xavier, a team on a ten-game winning streak, gets clipped on the road at unranked Providence.

With Seton Hall, Creighton and Marquette also off to solid starts — and Georgetown and St. John’s not being pushovers — this is going to be a really tough league to win this season. I don’t believe the Big East is as good as the Big 12 or ACC is in terms of overall talent from top-to-bottom but you can make a solid case that the league might be the toughest to actually¬†win.

The top two teams in the league have already fallen to unranked teams and we haven’t even gotten to some of the better matchups in conference play. The Big East is going to be bonkers.

Arizona lands Pitt transfer forward Ryan Luther

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Arizona landed a key addition for its frontcourt on Wednesday as Pitt transfer forward Ryan Luther pledged to the Wildcats.

The 6-foot-9 Luther is expected to receive a hardship waiver that would give him immediate eligibility, a source confirmed to NBCSports.com, as Arizona gets some much-needed help up front.

Playing in 10 games last season before a stress reaction in his right foot ended the season, Luther averaged 12.7 points and 10.1 rebounds per game for the Panthers. In his final game of the season, Luther went for 13 points and 12 rebounds in a Pitt loss to West Virginia. Luther shot 45 percent from the field and is a noted perimeter threat as he was 38 percent from behind the three-point line.

Luther hasn’t logged heavy minutes as a contributor through a full season. Mostly a role player at Pitt until last season, Luther was the team’s most productive player when he was on the floor. But that production also didn’t come during ACC play and through the course of a full season.

Thankfully at a program like Arizona, Luther should have a bit more help around him. He could be a nice addition to the Wildcats, particularly if he rebounds and spaces the floor in the frontcourt as he did at Pitt. Arizona needed someone like Luther to provide more stability after losing players like Deandre Ayton and Dusan Ristic.

In the last few weeks, Arizona has rebounded nicely to land three commitments for next season — including freshmen Devonaire Doutrive and Omar Thielemans. The group isn’t as heralded as some past Arizona recruiting efforts. Given where the Wildcats were in recruiting a few weeks ago, however, this isn’t a bad turnaround.

TCU extends Jamie Dixon’s contract by two more years

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TCU has given head coach Jamie Dixon a two-year contract extension through the 2023-24 season, according to a release from the school.

Dixon took the Horned Frogs to the NCAA tournament for the first time in 20 years this season as he’s done a great job of turning around his alma mater. The release also notes that TCU had the highest average attendance in program history this season. Fans are also taking notice of a revitalized team.

With back-to-back 20-win seasons and postseason appearances, Dixon and TCU have a lot of positive momentum going on right now. The two-year extension for Dixon should help a bit in recruiting when it comes to overall stability, as well, as he’s been able to attract some quality talent so far.

Report: Kevin Ollie claims UConn violated rights with firing

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Fired former UConn head coach Kevin Ollie is claiming that the school violated his constitutional rights during his departure.

Ollie sent a letter to UConn school president Susan Herbst which was obtained by ESPN’s Myron Medcalf in a report released on Wednesday. Ollie’s lawyers are claiming the school proceeded with his firing before giving Ollie a proper chance to contest his termination — which was guaranteed in his contract and also the collective bargaining agreement with the University of Connecticut’s branch of the American Association of University Professors. Ollie was fired, with cause, in late March as the school mentioned an NCAA inquiry as the reason why. According to Medcalf’s report, the NCAA has not sent a notice of allegations to the school.

Ollie’s union membership includes thousands of faculty members around the country as the collective bargaining agreement demands a hearing process before any employee can be terminated for allegations of serious misconduct. Ollie claims he didn’t receive a letter he was supposed to get to begin the termination process.

“From our review of the facts and circumstances relating to Coach Ollie’s employment status, it is apparent that the University of Connecticut has already violated [Coach Ollie’s] rights under the Fourteenth Amendment to the United States Constitution by subverting Coach Ollie’s opportunity to respond to charges and evidence in a meaningful way in advance of the decision to terminate his employment,” said the letter dated April 3.

“The public record, action taken, and authorized communications by representatives of the University of Connecticut, demonstrate that the decision to terminate Coach Ollie has already been made and therefore the University of Connecticut has effectively negated Coach Ollie’s property right protected by the Fourteenth Amendment to the United States Constitution.”

This letter to UConn likely begins a long legal battle to try to get an eight-figure payout back as Ollie is going to do everything he can to clear his name.

South Carolina’s Brian Bowen, still ineligible, to declare for draft

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Former Louisville forward and current South Carolina Gamecock Brian Bowen will declare for the NBA draft without signing with an agent as a safety measure in case the NCAA does not clear him to play in the 2018-19 season.

Bowen is the former top 25 prospect that was forced to leave the Louisville program after the FBI’s investigation into corruption in college hoops turned up evidence that his family had accepted the first payment of what was supposed to be a $100,000 fee to get him to be a Cardinal.

That investigation was ultimately what got Rick Pitino fired.

“I just felt that it was the right decision,” Bowen told ESPN. “My goal is still to play college basketball, but I felt as though it makes sense to cover my bases.”

Bowen is in a tough spot right now.

On the one hand, he has already missed an entire season of college basketball and there is no guarantee that he will be cleared to play next season, if at all.

On the other hand, the fact that he has not played in a year and that he has not played against any collegiate level competition is one of the reasons that NBA front offices are going to be hesitant to draft him, and that’s not a good thing for a player that was considered a second round pick before he spent a year on the sidelines.

North Carolina’s Cam Johnson undergoes hip surgery

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For the second time in the last six months, North Carolina wing Cam Johnson has undergone the knife.

On Wednesday, North Carolina announced that Johnson underwent an arthroscopic procedure on his hip on Monday, and that he is expected to make a full recovery and return to school in time for the start of the 2018-19 season.

The 6-foot-9 Johnson was UNC’s third-leading scorer a season ago, averaging 12.4 points while shooting 34.1 percent from three. He only played 26 games, however, after missing time due to a surgery to fix a torn meniscus.