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Iowa State upsets No. 15 West Virginia as the Mountaineers could be in serious trouble

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Iowa State picked up a blowout win over No. 15 West Virginia on Wednesday night as the Cyclones used some “Hilton Magic” to earn a 93-77 Big 12 home win.

While Iowa State (12-9, 3-6) had a balanced scoring effort to earn its biggest win of the season — getting huge outings from guards Donovan Jackson (25 points) and Lindell Wigginton (22 points) — the real story in this one is the continued freefall of West Virginia after a promising start to the 2017-2018 season.

Ranked as the No. 2 team in the country three weeks ago, the Mountaineers started the season at 15-1 with a 4-0 mark in the Big 12. After another meltdown against the Cyclones on Wednesday, West Virginia (16-6, 5-4) has lost five of its last six games while playing in the nation’s deepest conference.

So what happened to West Virginia to cause its sudden reversal? Opponents are figuring out the vaunted press that head coach Bob Huggins has used so successfully over the past few years.

After scoring only 45 points total in an ugly home loss to Tennessee over the weekend, Iowa State put up 53 points on the Mountaineers in the first half after West Virginia struggled to force turnovers. Giving up eye-opening point totals during a 20-minute stretch has been a common trend for the Mountaineers during this recent skid.

West Virginia has blown three second-half, double-digit leads during that span. The second half of games, overall, has been abysmal for the Mountaineers in recent weeks. They allowed 50 points in the second half to Kentucky, 47 points to TCU and 43 points to Kansas — all of them losses. And keep in mind that this team was ranked No. 16 in the country in adjusted defensive efficiency, according to KenPom, entering Wednesday night’s game. Defense and forcing turnovers is West Virginia’s identity.

The Iowa State first-half blitz is the outlier of that recent stretch, but it also shows that if a team is prepared to face West Virginia’s press then the Mountaineers are in serious trouble. The losses to Kentucky, TCU and Kansas all signified teams who made halftime adjustments and were able to put up serious points in a hurry once they figured out West Virginia’s first wave of defenders.

Iowa State didn’t even need a halftime break to beat the brakes off of West Virginia. The Cyclone backcourt of Jackson and Wigginton tore up the press and was good to go from the start.

That could be the main issue for West Virginia.

Now that we’re in the heart of conference play, teams in the Big 12 aren’t intimidated by “Press Virginia.” All of the Big 12’s coaches and players have faced the Mountaineers two-to-three times each season over the last few years. They know what to expect.

If a Big 12 team has strong guard play, and limits turnovers, like Iowa State did with only eight turnovers on Wednesday, then West Virginia is forced to create offense in the half court. That’s never been a strength for this group. As NBC colleague Rob Dauster noted, Mountaineer leading scorer Jevon Carter puts up more ridiculous shots than perhaps any All-American candidate in the country because West Virginia is so desperate for consistent half-court offense.

West Virginia is also still trying to effectively integrate Esa Ahmad back into the rotation since his return to the team. The second leading scorer and rebounder for the Mountaineers last season, Ahmad has looked visibly rusty since his return, as he went scoreless playing a combined 36 minutes in the losses to TCU and Kentucky.

A team that once looked like a potential No. 1 seed in the NCAA tournament is now desperately trying to prevent themselves from falling out of the top 25 all in the course of a month. And it doesn’t get any easier for West Virginia from here. The four teams that beat the Mountaineers in the Big 12 all get another crack at West Virginia. Shaky on the road during some recent games, the Mountaineers also have plenty of games away from Morgantown.

Once regarded as one of the best teams in college hoops, West Virginia should still be safely in the Field of 68. But they certainly don’t look like the darkhorse Final Four team that some predicted.

Wichita State’s Landry Shamet out sick against Tulane

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Wichita State guard Landry Shamet will miss the Shockers’ game against Tulane on Wednesday night as he sits out due to illness.

Dressed in street clothes for the AAC conference clash, Shamet has put up All-American-caliber numbers for Wichita State this season as he’s putting up 14.7 points, 5.2 assists and 3.1 rebounds per game.

Without Shamet in the lineup, it gives Samajae Haynes-Jones a potential shot at minutes as he’s fallen out of the rotation over the last several weeks. Wichita State is still heavily favored against Tulane at home on Wednesday but they have an important three-game stretch to close out the conference season. The Shockers have to go on the road to play SMU and UCF before closing out the conference slate with an important home game against Cincinnati.

Duke’s Marvin Bagley III out for the fourth straight game with knee injury

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Duke star freshman big man Marvin Bagley III will miss his fourth consecutive game on Wednesday night as he continues to battle a knee injury.

The 6-foot-11 freshman suffered a mild knee sprain in his right knee in Duke’s game against North Carolina on Feb. 8 as he’s missed the Blue Devils’ last three games — all wins. Bagley will miss Duke’s contest against Louisville on Wednesday as he’s also missed games against Georgia Tech, Virginia Tech and Clemson.

Duke still has three regular-season games after Wednesday before the ACC tournament starts as Bagley still has plenty of time to heal and recover before the postseason begins.

Bagley is putting up 21.2 points, 11.4 rebounds and 1.1 blocks per game for Duke this season as he’s a consensus top-five pick in most 2018 NBA mock drafts. Without Bagley in the lineup, Duke has continued to play well and win games as they’ve still had big man Wendell Carter to handle things on the interior.

 

Rick Pitino: ‘I had no knowledge’ of the violations that led to banner coming down

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Disgraced ex-Louisville head coach Rick Pitino spoke at a press conference in Manhattan on Wednesday afternoon and denied any knowledge of the violations that were committed by Andre McGee, any potential NCAA violations involving the recruitment of Brian Bowen and pushed for Louisville to file an injunction against the NCAA’s decision to remove the 2013 national title banner.

“I take full responsibility for everyone I hire,” Pitino said. “To say I’m disappointed with the NCAA ruling is a gross understatement.”

“I have apologized many times. I feel awful for what happened. I’ve run a clean program all my life. [Sitting where you are], I would agree with you. It looks bad. I’ve coached for 41 years. For 35, as a head coach, nothing has come up.”

Pitino went on to say that he “hired the wrong person” when he made the decision to bring McGee onto his staff. McGee is the one that was responsible for hosting the parties and bringing the strippers and sex workers to them.

“I had no knowledge of the reprehensible things that went on in that dormitory,” Pitino said. “Did a few of [my players] partake in parties they didn’t organize? Yes, they did. That had nothing to do with an extra benefit,” going on to add that attending these parties were not the reason that Louisville won the 2013 national title.

Pitino also denied any involvement in the recruit of Bowen, a five-star prospect that committed to Louisville in a deal that was supposed to get his family paid $100,000 from Adidas.

“In 40 years of coaching, I have never been involved, directly or indirectly, in any effort to pay any money or extend any improper benefit to any recruit or recruit’s family members or representatives,” he said.

Pitino said that he has not had any discussions about coaching again or looking for a job this spring, but he did say that he does “miss it.” He also urged the new University of Louisville administration to fight this decision in court, to file an injunction and do what they can to keep Louisville from having to sacrifice a national title banner.

No other Division I basketball program has ever had a national title vacated.

“The NCAA,” Pitino said, “cannot rewrite history by taking a banner down.

John Wall is heading back to school to get a business degree

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John Wall, the former Kentucky star that helped launch Coach Cal’s one-and-done movement in Lexington, is planning on using a piece of that $207 million contract extension that he signed last July for summer school.

“I’m going back to school this summer to get my business degree,” Wall told the Washington Post this week. “That’s what I’m focusing on. I promised my dad that.”

Wall’s dad died when he was eight years old, and anyone that knows his story knows that it hasn’t been the easiest path for Wall to get from that moment to this moment.

So good for John.

Seriously.

I do believe that it is important to educate yourself, even if that education is something as simple as learning how to run a business on your own.

But I also think that, in the larger context of basketball and, specifically, the one-and-done rule, this is important to note. Wall left school as a 19-year old, made a whole bunch of guaranteed money on his rookie deal, got more guaranteed money on his first contract extension and now is working under a contract that will pay him nine figures with a crooked number in front. Throw in endorsement deals, and by the time Wall hangs up his sneakers, he could end up banking close to half a billion dollars.

That’s more than enough money to be able to pay for three years worth of classes at Kentucky to finish his undergrad degree, get a master’s and become a PhD. For Wall, that financial hit would be like the financial hit you or I take for adding chips and guac at Chipotle. (But not queso. We pretend their queso doesn’t exist.)

My point is this: The time a person has to educate themselves never ends. The time that Wall, or any professional athlete, has to profit off of their ability does, and much sooner than most think.

So the next time you decide to criticize a player for leaving school early to chase their professional dreams or because they’re just looking to get paid or because they don’t care about education, just think about this.

USC guard to leave school, turn pro

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It appears that De’Anthony Melton’s college career has come to an end.

The 6-foot-3 shooting guard for the USC Trojans announced on Wednesday that he will be leaving school. Melton, a sophomore, was caught up in the FBI’s investigation into corruption in college basketball and has not played in a game this season.

“I have reached a crossroads wherein I have decided to focus on honing my strengths and improving upon my weakness for competition at the next level,” Melton said in a statement.

And athletic wing with a 6-foot-8 wingspan, Melton averaged 8.3 points, 4.7 boards, 3.5 assists and 1.9 steals as a freshman. He is considered a potential first round pick.