Indiana vs. Michigan State: B1G’s latest Game of the Century

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Based on the way that this year’s schedule has played put, the Big Ten Game of the Century has become a weekly occurrence.

First, it was Indiana hosting Michigan State. Then, it was Indiana hosting Michigan. Then Michigan visited East Lansing. And on Tuesday night, No. 1 Indiana will make their return visit to East Lansing, as the No. 4 Spartans look to exact revenge for a nail-biting loss back in January while taking over sole possession of first-place in the Big Ten.

The latter part of that sentence is what makes this battle so important. With just five games left in the Big Ten schedule, Michigan State and Indiana are currently tied for first place in league play with a two-game lead on both Michigan and Wisconsin. And while that’s anything but an insurmountable lead at this point — MSU still has to visit Michigan and Ohio State while hosting Wisconsin, while IU is on the road at Minnesota and Michigan with a return visit from the Buckeyes coming up — it certainly puts them in the driver’s seat with the finish line fast approaching.

So who wins tonight?

Well, much of that will depend on the health of the players in the back court. MSU’s backup point guard Travis Trice is still battling concussion symptoms and has missed the past four games. Gary Harris has a bum shoulder and a back that won’t stop spasming. Victor Oladipo left Saturday’s game against Purdue with a sprained ankle. Both Oladipo and Harris are expected to play.

But if Oladipo’s ankle is bothering him, it could create some problems on the defensive end of the floor. Will be be as effective defensively? Will it cut into his quickness or his explosiveness? As much as Oladipo as developed his all-around game, the main reason’s he’s so effective is that he’s an unbelievable athlete and on-ball defender.

Keith Appling spent much of the first game in foul trouble, logging just 19 minutes and turning the ball over four times without an assist before fouling out with just three points. The reason that the Spartans were able to keep things close, besides Harris playing arguably his best game of the season, was that their front court manhandled IU’s. Adreian Payne finished with 18 points and nine boards. Branden Dawson had 12 points, eight boards and four steals. Derrick Nix had eight points, grabbed four offensive rebounds and handed out six assists from his spot on the block. Combined, they held Cody Zeller to just nine points and seven boards.

Zeller’s been playing much more aggressive basketball of late, although the same can be said of Appling, which means that two teams that we have projected as No. 1 seeds in the tournament are squaring off tonight as they are peaking in late-February.

Is it 7:00 p.m. ET yet?

Oh, and it gets better.

We still have two more Games of the Century. At least. Both Michigan State (on March 2nd) and Indiana (on March 10th, the final day of the regular season) still have to pay a visit to Ann Arbor this season.

And that doesn’t even account for the Big Ten tournament, where two of those three should end up meeting in the semifinals.

It’s too bad this sport is so irrevocably broken.

You can find Rob on twitter @RobDauster.

Old Dominion lands former four-star center

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Elbert Robinson came out of high school in 2014 as a borderline top-50 recruit with offers from the likes of Florida, Kansas and Louisville before he ultimately chose to attend LSU.

The 7-foot-1 center, though, never even averaged 10 minutes a game in Baton Rouge and now will be finishing his career as a graduate transfer at Old Dominion, according to multiple reports.

“Old Dominion was perfect for him,” Lawrence Johns, Robinson’s grassroots coach, told the Virginian-Pilot. “I know for a fact that nobody in (Conference USA) is over 7 feet.

“I told him to go there and show people why he was the No. 1 center the year he came out.”

Robinson, who sat out last year for medical reasons, could step right into a major role with the Monarchs, who lost their starting frontcourt this offseason. He averaged 2.1 points and 1.4 rebounds in 6.4 minutes per game last year for the Tigers.

VIDEO: Mixtape for North Carolina-bound Nassir Little

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Nassir Little is one of the most improved players in the high school basketball ranks, going from being a guy that was a borderline five-star prospect to being a potential No. 1 pick in the 2019 NBA Draft.

At 6-foot-7 with a 7-foot-1 wingspan and athleticism to burn, he has all the makings of being one of the switchable wing defenders that are en vogue in the modern era of the NBA.

Former UNC star Phil Ford has surgery for prostate cancer

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CHAPEL HILL, N.C. (AP) — North Carolina says former point guard Phil Ford has had surgery for prostate cancer.

Team spokesman Steve Kirschner said Wednesday that Ford underwent the procedure Tuesday after he was diagnosed during his annual physical. Dr. Eric Wallen, the UNC physician who is treating Ford, says the cancer was caught early because Ford “has been proactive regarding his health.”

Ford played for Dean Smith in the 1970s and scored 2,290 points, a mark that stood as the school record until Tyler Hansbrough broke it in 2008. Ford also spent 12 seasons as an assistant to Smith after a seven-year NBA career in which he was the rookie of the year in 1979.

Bruce Pearl: ‘Good chance’ Auburn returns four players testing the waters

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Bruce Pearl told reporters on Monday that there is a “good chance” that his Auburn program will return all four of the players that are currently testing the waters of the NBA draft.

“I think there’s a good chance they’re all going to consider coming back,” Pearl said. “There’s a chance they’re all going to come back, but that’s been the case since the beginning.”

“I just feel as we get closer to the deadline and they gather more and more information, I think that chance improves. It would not surprise me, still, to see a couple of them stay in.”

Those four players are Mustapha Heron, Austin Wiley, Bryce Brown and Jared Harper. Brown was the leading scorer for the Tigers last season, while Heron was arguably their best player and Harper a steady floor general that is the piece that holds everything together. Wiley did not play after he was ruled ineligible as a result of the FBI’s investigation into college basketball. If he returns he will be eligible to play the 2018-19 season.

Heron will be the most interesting decision of the four. A former McDonald’s All-American, when he declared for the draft last month, he announced that he intended to sign with an agent. But he has told reporters in the last week that he never actually signed and is still “50-50” on whether or not he will return. He was not invited to the NBA Draft Combine in Chicago last week. Wiley was, but he did not make enough of an impression to earn himself a first round guarantee. Brown and Harper are very unlikely to be drafted, but both juniors will get feedback from NBA teams on what they might need to do to play their way into the league.

Auburn is coming off of a year where they shared the SEC regular season title with Tennessee, but they struggled down the stretch of the season after Anfernee McLemore suffered a gruesome ankle injury. As it stands, under the assumption that Heron and Wiley are gone, we currently have the Tigers ranked as a top 15 team in the country in the NBC Sports Preseason Top 25.

With Heron and Wiley back, however, Auburn will have the pieces to make a case as one of college basketball’s five best teams next season.

Forward Lance Thomas transferring from Louisville

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With Anas Mahmoud out of eligibility and Ray Spalding having made the decision to enter the 2018 NBA Draft, new Louisville head coach Chris Mack had some holes to fill in the front court ahead of his first season at the helm. There’s now another departure to account for, as it was announced Tuesday afternoon that 6-foot-8 forward Lance Thomas has decided to transfer.

Thomas, who will have three seasons of eligibility remaining at his next school, appeared in 12 games for the Cardinals last season and averaged 2.2 points and 1.3 rebounds in 4.2 minutes per game.

Losing Thomas may not appear to be a big deal based upon his production as a freshman. But, given the combination of player departures and misses on the recruiting trail this spring it can also be argued that Louisville is not in a position where it can afford any more personnel losses.

Louisville is now down to four scholarship players in the front court, wings V.J. King and Jordan Nwora and forwards Malik Williams and Steven Enoch, with Enoch eligible after sitting out last season after transferring in from UConn.

Williams made 12 starts as a freshman, averaging 3.8 points and 2.4 rebounds in 10.6 minutes per game, with King averaging 8.6 points per game and Nwora 5.7 points per game. Enoch played in 29 games at UConn during the 2016-17 season, averaging 3.4 points and 2.3 rebounds in 12.1 minutes per appearance.