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Weekend Preview: Saturday will be the best day of hoops to date

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SATURDAY’S SHOWDOWNS

*(NOTE: Lines are not posted for Saturday or Sunday games as of publication. Spreads referenced are via Kenpom.com)

No. 3 PURDUE at No. 4 MICHIGAN STATE (-1), Sat. 4:00 p.m. (ESPN)

The game of the weekend, and one of the games that I have been looking forward to the most this season. Coming off of a home loss to Ohio State on Wednesday night, one where the Boilermakers blew a 14-point second half lead, Purdue will have to turn around and make the trip to the Breslin Center to take on a Michigan State team that could very well have the size inside needed to slow down Isaac Haas. And if you can slow down Isaac Haas without having to double-team him, then you can slow down what has become an uber-efficient offensive machine for Purdue. The key for Michigan State might simply be avoiding foul trouble and turnover, although with this group that is easier said than done.

  • PREDICTION: I think Michigan State gets it done at home. Michigan State (-1)

No. 5 XAVIER at CREIGHTON (-2), Sat. 2:30 p.m. (FOX)

The Musketeers have been really good this season, but they have also had a couple of games where they struggled to put away teams that they probably should not struggle with. Creighton has been up and down after losing their starting center, but they do have the two most underrated players in the league in Marcus Foster and Khyri Thomas. This game might come down to whether or not Thomas can slow down Trevon Bluiett in front of 18,000 people in Omaha.

  • PREDICTION: Like Michigan State, I think that Creighton gets this done at home. The Bluejays are not an easy team to beat in that building. Creighton (-2)

BUTLER at No. 1 VILLANOVA (-11), Sat. 12:00 p.m. (FOX)

Butler has beaten Villanova the last three times that they have played with Villanova, who is expected to be without Phil Booth and Eric Paschall on Saturday, is coming off of a home loss to St. John’s. Frankly, I think that the Wildcats will get this thing done — betting against Jalen Brunson to win a game coming off of a loss is silly, and the Wildcats had an outlier shooting performance on Wednesday — but 11 is a lot of points for a team that is missing a third of its six-man rotation.

  • PREDICTION: I don’t think the line will be 11. But if it is, this is easy. Butler (+11)

No. 24 KENTUCKY at TEXAS A&M (-4), Sat. 8:15 p.m. (ESPN)

Is Texas A&M actually back? I think that they are after winning at Auburn. I also do not think all that much of Kentucky this season, not when they are playing an Aggie team that excels at all of the things that Kentucky, in theory, should excel at.

  • PREDICTION: I think that A&M has a point to prove in this game and that they will prove it. Texas A&M (-4)

No. 12 GONZAGA at No. 11 SAINT MARY’S (-2), Sat. 10:00 p.m. (ESPN2)

If Gonzaga wins, the safe bet is probably that the WCC is going to end up being a tie for first place. If the Gaels win, they will win the regular season title outright for the first time since 2011. There is nothing better than capping off a wild Saturday with a late-night battle between these two rivals.

  • PREDICTION: Until you can prove to me that Gonzaga can slow down Jock Landale, I am riding with Saint Mary’s. Saint Mary’s (-2)

WHAT ELSE IS THERE TO WATCH?

So much.

Saturday might be the best day of basketball we get this season. Not only are there the big games, but EIGHT ranked teams play on the road against unranked teams. It is going to get wild. Here are the games you need to know about:

  • No. 10 KANSAS (-1) at BAYLOR, Sat. 2:00 p.m. (CBS): Kansas seems to play better away from home, but Baylor always gives them a fight. Kansas (-1)
  • No. 17 OKLAHOMA (-5) at IOWA STATE, Sat. 2:00 p.m. (ESPN): Who on Iowa State can slow down Trae Young? Oklahoma (-5)
  • No. 21 NORTH CAROLINA (-4) at N.C. STATE, Sat. 2:00 p.m. (ACC Net): North Carolina has already lost to N.C. State, they will be 42 hours removed from a win over Duke at tip-off and Joel Berry II riled everyone up by saying this isn’t a rivalry. N.C. State (+4)
  • No. 8 AUBURN at GEORGIA, Sat. 3:30 p.m. (SEC Net): Georgia badly needs this win, and Auburn will be without leading scorer Bryce Brown, but I like the Tigers to bounce back after losing to A&M midweek. Auburn (-5)
  • No. 15 TENNESSEE (-4) at ALABAMA, Sat. 6:00 p.m. (SEC Net): This is a tough line, and when it’s a tough line, go with the home team. Alabama (+4)
  • No. 7 TEXAS TECH (-2) at KANSAS STATE, Sat. 8:00 p.m. (ESPNU): I think that the Red Raiders have found their groove and figured out how to play without Zach Smith. Texas Tech (-2)
  • USC at No. 13 ARIZONA (-6), Sat. 10:15 p.m.: First place in the Pac-12 will be on the line on Saturday. USC gives the Wildcats a fight. USC (+6)
  • No. 6 CINCINNATI (-5) at SMU, Sun. 4:00 p.m. (ESPN): Will Shake Milton be back? If he is, I like SMU plus the points. If not, good luck breaking 50 points against this Cincinnati defense.

Bubble Banter: It is a massive night for teams on the bubble

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As we will do every day throughout the rest of the season, here is a look at how college basketball’s bubble teams fared on Saturday.

It’s worth reminding you here that the way winning are labeled have changed this season. Instead of looking at all top 50 wins equally, the selection committee will be using criteria that breaks wins down into four quadrants, using the RPI:

  • Quadrant 1: Home vs. 1-30, Neutral vs. 1-50, Road vs. 1-75
  • Quadrant 2: Home vs. 31-75, Neutral vs. 51-100, Road vs. 76-135
  • Quadrant 3: Home vs. 76-160, Neutral vs. 101-200, Road vs. 136-240
  • Quadrant 4: Home vs. 161 plus, Neutral vs. 201 plus, Road vs. 240 plus

The latest NBC Sports Bracketology can be found here.

YET TO PLAY

SYRACUSE
VIRGINIA TECH
PENN STATE
SETON HALL
PROVIDENCE
ST. BONAVENTURE
TCU
MARQUETTE
LOUISVILLE
FLORIDA
TEXAS
KANSAS STATE
USC

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.