Weekend Preview: 14 ranked teams will be hitting the road this weekend

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GAME OF THE WEEKEND: No. 25 Kansas State at No. 18 Kansas, Sat. 2:00 p.m.

Back in October, this didn’t look like it was going to be much of a rivalry game this season. Kansas was a top five team and Kansas State lost three of their first five games, dropping their opener to Northern Colorado and getting drubbed by 27 points against Georgetown in Puerto Rico. But then Andrew Wiggins slowly-but-surely failed to be “Andrew Wiggins, greatest freshman ever” while Kansas State’s Marcus Foster turned into one of the nation’s 10 most impressive freshmen and here we are.

I know that the Jayhawks have stumbled a bit in non-conference play, but I still have a tough time seeing Bruce Weber’s club going into Phog Allen Fieldhouse and taking down Kansas. I don’t think they have the size inside to slow down the Jayhawk’s post game, and if Wayne Selden’s big night on Wednesday was indicative of what he’ll be providing this group in the coming months, KU is going to be a tough team to beat.

THE OTHER GAME OF THE WEEKEND: No. 20 Iowa at No. 3 Ohio State, Sun. 1:30 p.m.

After serving a one-game suspension during Thursday’s win over Northwestern, Iowa head coach Fran McCaffery will return to the Hawkeye bench on Sunday afternoon to lead his team into Columbus in a win that they really, truly need. The Hawkeyes are a really good team, but they’ve lost to the three best teams that they’ve played this season — Villanova, Iowa State and Wisconsin, who have a total of one loss — by all of 12 points. And in all three games, Iowa blew second half leads in games that they probably should have won. Can they finally pull out a win against an Ohio State team that came within a Keith Appling block of beating Michigan State at Michigan State?

FIVE  TO KEEP AN EYE ON:

  • North Carolina at No. 2 Syracuse, Sat. 12:00 p.m.: North Carolina is obviously going to win this game, right? They already have wins over Louisville, Kentucky and Michigan State to go along with their five losses this season. Consistency, it’s what the Tar Heels do. In all seriousness, if UNC struggled with Miami’s zone defense, Syracuse is going to give them fits.
  • No. 9 Iowa State at Oklahoma, Sat. 12:00 p.m.: This is a good gauge game for Iowa State. They’ve been impressive this season, but I’m reserving judgement until I see them take down a quality opponent on the road. Oklahoma is a quality opponent and this game is on the road. Expect a shootout.
  • Minnesota at No. 5 Michigan State, Sat. 2:15 p.m.: The Spartans are, for my money, the best team in the country that doesn’t reside in Tucson, but Minnesota can sneak up on you. They press and they force turnovers, and we all saw what happened when Ohio State got up in Michigan State defensively on Tuesday night.
  • Xavier at Creighton, 3:05 p.m. Sun: Outside of Villanova, these may be the two best teams in the Big East this season. Throw in the fact that they also feature the league’s two best players — Doug McDermott and Semaj Christon — and this quickly becomes the best game in a strong Big East slate this weekend.
  • Stanford at No. 17 Oregon, Sun. 5:00 p.m.: Stanford is coming off of a loss at Oregon State, while the Ducks got dropped by Cal at home on Thursday. Suffice to say, both teams really need this win.

WHO’S ON UPSET ALERT?

  • No. 11 Oklahoma State at West Virginia, Sat. 4:00 p.m.: Are we really going to need to pay attention to West Virginia in the Big 12 race this season? They’ve had some impressive performances in non-conference play, but their strength — back court play — matches up too well with Oklahoma State’s strength.
  • No. 10 Florida at Arkansas, Sat. 1:00 p.m.: Florida is really good this season, but if Scottie Wilbekin is hampered after the ankle injury he suffered this week, the Gators could be in trouble. Arkansas is a tough team to beat at Bud Walton Arena and they are going to bring waves of pressure.
  • No. 8 Villanova at St. John’s, Sat. 1:00 p.m.: One of the things that makes Villanova dangerous this season is their ability to create mismatches when they go to a smaller lineup. St. John’s has the athletes to nullify those mismatches. But will the Johnnies lack of an offense survive Villanova’s defensive pressure?
  • No. 15 Colorado at Washington, Sun. 3:00 p.m.: The Buffs, and specifically Spencer Dinwiddie, were awful on Wednesday when they were taken to overtime by Washington State. If they play like that on Saturday, Washington will beat them.
  • No. 13 San Diego State at Air Force, Sun. 4:00 p.m.: SDSU’s strength is in their front court,but Air Force runs a Princeton-style system that will pull the Aztec big men away from the basket. Tre Coggins and company will need to shoot the ball well from the perimeter if they want to pull off this upset.

FIVE MORE THINGS TO WATCH FOR:

1) There are six more ranked teams heading on the road this weekend:

  • No. 16 Duke at Clemson, Sat. 2:00 p.m.
  • No. 24 Memphis at Temple, Sat. 3:00 p.m. Sat
  • No. 14 Kentucky at Vanderbilt, Sat. 3:30 p.m.
  • No. 6 Wichita State at Missouri State, Sat. 8:00 p.m.
  • No. 23 Illinois at Northwestern, Sun. 7:30 p.m.
  • No. 1 Arizona at USC, Sun. 9:00 p.m.

2) NBC Sports Network will be featuring three games this weekend: St. Bonaventure visiting No. 19 UMass, Rhode Island heading to D.C. to take on George Washington and Princeton squaring off with Penn on Sunday. Watch them all via NBC Sports Live Extra.

3) Saint Louis at Dayton are two of the best teams in the Atlantic 10 this year and they will be facing off early on Saturday to get the day kick-started.

4) SMU pays a visit to No. 12 Louisville on Sunday afternoon. After losing to Memphis on Thursday, the Cardinals really, really need this win in a big way.

5) Big game in the ACC standings between Virginia and N.C. State. There are six or seven teams sitting in the middle of the pack in that league that have a chance to finish third in the conference. Virginia and N.C. State are two of them.

Osun Osunniyi picks St. Bonaventure over Syracuse, Georgetown

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St. Bonaventure has made something of a late splash on the recruiting trail.

Osun Osunniyi, a 6-foot-10 from Putnam (Conn.) Science Academy, signed with the Bonnies, the school announced Monday.

It’s a bit of a recruiting coup for coach Mark Schmidt, who won the services of Osunniyi over offers from Syracuse and Georgetown, both of whom hosted the prospect on official visits this spring.

“Osun oozes with potential. His ceiling is extremely high. He has so much God-given ability,” Schmidt said in a statement. “And, he’s a great kid, a character kid who is level-headed. He has a great wingspan, he runs well, he has a natural talent for blocking shots and is a very good rebounder. He can score around the basket.

“Osun wants to get better, like all of our players. We saw how he developed at Putnam, which is a credit to coach Espinosa and the staff there. He’s come a long way to become a kid who was highly recruited. We’re thrilled to have him come to St. Bonaventure.”

Osunniyi, who previously committed to La Salle before taking a prep year, becomes the fourth member of the Bonnies’ 2018 freshman class. He averaged 10 points, six rebounds and three blocked shots per game while Putnam won a national prep championship.

The Bonnies made the NCAA tournament as an 11 seed last year after going 26-8.

Christian Vital going back to UConn for junior season

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Dan Hurley is keeping his roster intact at the top.

Christian Vital, UConn’s second-leading scorer a season ago, is returning to school after declaring for the NBA draft without hiring an agent, he announced Monday via social media.

“Great Talk Today Coach! Appreciate The Wisdom You Have Let Me In On!” Vital wrote “I Think It’s Time To Get Back To Winning Ways In Storrs! I’m Going To Need That #1 Back ASAP! WE GOT (UNFINISHED) BUSINESS!”

The 6-foot-2 junior-to-be Vital joins Jalen Adams, who was the Huskies’ top-returning scorer, back in Storrs in Hurley’s first year. Vital averaged 14.9 points on 38.3 percent shooting. Adams previously announced he would return to school without declaring for the draft.

The return of UConn’s top two scorers underscores an even bigger trend under Hurley as the Huskies appear to have avoided any major defections from last year’s roster despite the coaching change.

UConn is coming off a 14-18 season that proved to be the last of coach Kevin Ollie’s six years with the Huskies that included a national championship but also back-to-back losing seasons.

Chris Silva returning to South Carolina for senior season

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South Carolina is getting an first-team all-SEC performer back.

Chris Silva, who led the Gamecocks in scoring and rebounding last season, is returning to school after declaring for the NBA draft without hiring an agent, the school announced Monday.

“I’m thankful for the experience of going through the draft process,” Silva said in a statement. “I want to thank all of the teams that gave me the opportunity to workout for their organization. I’m excited to announce that I’m returning to South Carolina for my senior season. I can’t wait to get back on the court with my brothers and continue to work on my game.”

The 6-foot-9 Silva, who did not get an NBA draft combine invite, averaged 14.3 points and 8 rebounds per game as a junior.  He shot 46.7 percent from the floor.

“Going through the evaluation process was an unbelievable experience for Chris and us,” South Carolina coach Frank Martin said in a statement. “He comes back to a place he loves with some knowledge on some of the things that we have to help him improve on in his efforts to one day fulfill his lifelong dream of playing in the NBA.”

In addition to being South Carolina’s leading scorer, he was the SEC co-defensive player of the year last season after averaging 1.4 blocks per game. His return to Columbia gives the Gamecocks a potential contender for SEC player of the year in 2018-19.

Kansas fires athletic director Sheahon Zenger

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Kansas has fired athletic director Sheahon Zenger, effective immediately, citing a lack of progress in key areas within the athletic department.

“Sheahon has been a loyal Jayhawk, and our athletics department has improved in many areas under his leadership,” Kansas Chancellor Doug Girod wrote in an email to KU faculty and staff. “But athletics continues to face a number of challenges, and progress in key areas has been elusive. To achieve the level of success we need and expect, I have determined a change in leadership is necessary.”

Zenger had been in the role of AD since 2011.

The issue, of course, is not the play of the Kansas basketball program. The Jayhawks have won every Big 12 regular season title since 2004, and head coach Bill Self has taken the program to two Final Fours since Zenger was hired.

The football team is still a disaster, but one can’t help but wonder whether or not the real issue at hand here is Kansas’ getting tied into the FBI’s investigation into college basketball.

The Jayhawks were not mentioned in the initial indictments that were handed down, but Kansas was a central figure in the superseding indictments that were dropped after the national title game. The mother of Billy Preston, who did not play for the Jayhawks this season, was alleged to have been funneled $90,000 by Adidas, while Silvio De Sousa’s status is currently in question after the FBI alleged his guardian was paid at least $20,000 to help offset money that the family had already accepted from a rival shoe company.

All of that came in the aftermath of dealing with Cheick Diallo and Cliff Alexander, both of whom had their one season in Lawrence reduced due to off the court issues.

“Since becoming chancellor, I have spent countless hours with higher education peers and Jayhawks to hear their perspective on KU,” Girod wrote. “A common thread in these conversations is that, as a major public university with national aspirations, we must continue to strive for excellence in all areas — including athletics. As I have said many times, a successful athletics department is inextricably linked to our broader mission as a flagship research university.”

Louisville, ex-AD Tom Jurich reach $4.5M settlement

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LOUISVILLE, Ky. — The University of Louisville has reached a $4.5 million settlement with former athletic director Tom Jurich, who was fired in the wake of a national federal corruption investigation of college basketball.

Jurich disputed his Oct. 18 firing for cause after nearly 20 years as AD and had considered suing the school. The University of Louisville Athletic Association and Board of Trustees on Friday approved the settlement. Jurich’s employment ended “without cause” as a result of his resignation, also described in the settlement as “retirement.”

He’ll also receive another $2.6 million in accrued employment benefits, along with home game tickets and parking for Louisville football and basketball for 20 years.

An audit of the University of Louisville Foundation released last June showed that Jurich averaged annual compensation of more than $2.76 million from 2010-16, including more than $5.35 million in 2016.

Then-interim president Greg Postel had placed Jurich on paid administrative leave in September after the school’s acknowledgement of its involvement in the investigation. Trustees voted 10-3 to fire Jurich, two days after the ULAA unanimously fired Hall of Fame men’s basketball coach Rick Pitino.

The former AD said in a joint statement that he “spent the better part of my career” working with dedicated athletes, coaches and staff to elevate Louisville. He added, “I am proud of what we accomplished, which is well documented.”

Jurich’s legal team had stressed that the ex-AD did nothing illegal and hadn’t violated NCAA rules.

Trustee chairman J. David Grissom said in the statement that “Everyone is pleased that this matter has been successfully resolved. All parties can move forward to begin the next chapter.”

Jurich played a major role in Louisville’s success on the field and how the school handled issues off it. He led the school’s 2014 entry into the Atlantic Coast Conference and oversaw numerous program and facility upgrades, including a $63 million expansion of the football stadium due for completion by fall.

He also hired several successful coaches including Pitino, who guided the Cardinals to the 2013 NCAA men’s basketball championship. Louisville ultimately vacated that title in February as part of NCAA penalties for a sex scandal after an escort’s book allegations that former basketball staffer Andre McGee hired her and other dancers to strip and have sex with players and recruits.

Pitino has filed a $38.7 million federal lawsuit against Louisville, alleging breach of contract.