Pregame Shootaround: Syracuse – Duke 2 highlights big day of top-25 battles

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GAME OF THE DAY: No. 1 Syracuse at No. 5 Duke, (7:00 p.m., ESPN):

CBT’s own Rob Dauster broke down this weekend’s top matchups in our weekend preview:

This game has lot a bit of luster, hasn’t it? Three weeks ago, the Orange and the Blue Devils played the best game of the season. The rematch was supposed to be between a streaking Duke team and an undefeated Syracuse team. Instead, the Orange lost at home to Boston College while the Blue Devils dropped a game at North Carolina.

The key here? What is Duke going to be able to do against the Syracuse zone. They struggled when Maryland went zone last Saturday. They lost on Thursday because North Carolina switched to a zone, and while the 2-3 that Syracuse runs is very different from the junk defenses that the Terps and the Heels threw at them, it still doesn’t change the fact that Duke’s offense has struggled getting the ball into the middle of the defense.

THE OTHER GAME OF THE DAY: No. 11 Louisville at No. 7 Cincinnati, (12:00 p.m., CBS) :

This is the start of Louisville’s brutal last-season slate. In their last five games, they play at Cincinnati, at SMU, at Memphis and at home against UConn. The Cardinals have been much improved from the team that we saw earlier this season, but they’ve done it beating up on lesser competition that, quite frankly, they should be beating up on. Cincinnati, for lack of a better word, big-boyed the Cardinals the first time these two got together. Russ Smith vs. Sean Kilpatrick will be fun.

WHO’S GETTING UPSET? No. 2 Florida at Ole Miss (12:00 p.m., CBS) :

I really like Florida and still believe them to be a Final Four team, but with the way the Gators played at home this week are they going to be prepared to travel into Oxford for a tough road game at Ole Miss? The Rebels have lost three straight games but at 16-10 and 7-6, they really need a high-profile win to feel safer going into March.

MID-MAJOR GAME OF THE DAY: South Dakota State at North Dakota State (3 p.m.)

Big game in the Summit League on Saturday afternoon as Dakota rivals South Dakota State and North Dakota State goes head-to-head. South Dakota State has won six straight games but its last loss came at home to the Bison. Now North Dakota has a chance to sweep the season series with a home win and they already own a one-game lead over South Dakota State in the league.

FIVE THINGS TO KNOW

1) The Big Ten has a big top-25 battle on Saturday as No. 16 Wisconsin travels to No. 15 Iowa. The Badgers seem to have righted their ship in recent weeks, which makes this win all the more important for an Iowa team that has yet to really prove themselves.

2) The Big 12 also has a pair of top-25 teams doing battle Saturday as No. 19 Texas goes to No. 8 Kansas. Texas might be the team best-equipped to beat Kansas given the size that they have along their front line. They can match up with the Kansas big men, and as long as Isaiah Taylor and Javan Felix are making good decisions, they’ll have a shot to win at Phog Allen.

3) Can No. 18 Kentucky play better after its mediocre showing against LSU on the road? The Wildcats are playing better now and they should be aided by their home crowd, but this one is one to track.

4) St. John’s needs a win to bolster its NCAA Tournament profile and they’ll have a great chance when they go against No. 9 Villanova on the road in a Big East clash at 1:30 p.m.

5) New Mexico also gets a nice chance for a signature win with a home game against No. 6 San Diego State. The Lobos have the pieces to match-up with the Aztecs and are always very tough at home.

THE REST OF THE TOP 25:

  • Drake at No. 3 Wichita State, 8:00 p.m., ESPN3
  • No. 4 Arizona at Colorado, 9:00 p.m., ESPN
  • George Washington at No. 10 Saint Louis, 8:00 p.m.
  • Notre Dame at No. 14 Virginia, 2:00 p.m., ESPN2
  • No. 17 Iowa State at TCU, 4:00 p.m., ESPN2
  • Temple at No. 22 Memphis, 9:30 p.m., ESPNU
  • No. 23 UCLA at Stanford, 6:00 p.m., ESPN2
  • Minnesota at No. 24 Ohio State, Sat. 6:00 p.m., BTN

NOTABLES:

  • Xavier at Georgetown, Sat. 11:30 a.m.
  • Baylor at West Virginia, Sat. 1:47 p.m.
  • Marquette at DePaul, Sat. 2:00 p.m.
  • N.C. State at Virginia Tech, Sat. 2:00 p.m.
  • Tennessee at Texas A&M, Sat. 3:00 p.m.
  • Fordham at Saint Joseph’s, Sat. 3:00 p.m.
  • La Salle at Richmond, Sat. 4:00 p.m.
  • Saint Mary’s at Santa Clara, Sat. 4:00 p.m.
  • Missouri at Alabama, Sat. 8:00 p.m.

New-look Virginia back to work after winning NCAA title

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Tony Bennett’s first offseason as a national champion coach has come with benefits on the recruiting trail. His first season at Virginia after winning the title, however, will bring challenges.

Five players who helped Virginia beat Texas Tech to capture the first basketball title in school history are gone, and that’s four more than expected. Center Jack Salt graduated, and guards De’Andre Hunter, Ty Jerome and Kyle Guy declared for the NBA draft. Seldom-used Marco Anthony transferred.

Recruiting was already well underway before the Cavaliers won it all, but Bennett said Wednesday the result “certainly can’t hurt and I think it has helped. It validates a lot of good stuff that’s happened in the past.”

Virginia hopes the spoils of those improvements are evident quickly in incoming freshmen guard Casey Morsell, big men Justin McKoy and Kadin Shedrick and junior college shooting guard Tomas Woldetensae.

Virginia opened its summer practice period on Tuesday, and Bennett said he’s not sure just yet who will be ready to contribute.

“Everyone will have ample opportunity, the newcomers, so to speak,” he said. “To say who, you just don’t know. … There are some opportunities out there. So it’s the returners and we can go down the list of the guys we brought in, but I think they’re excited about the opportunity.

“There’s always a learning curve any time you go from whether it’s high school to college or junior college to college or coming from a redshirt to being eligible. … Going up a level and playing in the ACC, for any of these guys, there’s the challenge of the physicality and the level of talent and the speed.”

Woldetensae, a left-handed shooter, averaged 17.3 points per game and shot 47.6 percent from 3-point range last season at Indian Hills Community College.

“We thought we needed to add some experience and a quality player on the perimeter and when he was mentioned and we did our homework and watched film and all those kinds of things,” he said. “His personality came out as a young man of character and we always start there. He seemed wanting to challenge himself at a very high level.”

The Cavaliers were delighted that Mamadi Diakite decided to come back for his senior year after testing the professional waters. And they added senior transfer Sam Hauser, who averaged 14.9 points and 7.2 rebounds last season at Marquette. Hauser will be eligible to practice with the team, but won’t be able to play until 2020-21.

Bennett’s offseason included numerous speaking engagements, recruiting, talking to NBA scouts about his players and some time to decompress.

He also checked an item off his bucket list when, with his father, longtime college coach Dick Bennett, he played Augusta National Golf Club, home of The Masters. That, he said, “was amazing.”

Now, it’s back to work.

“I’m grateful for the busy-ness of it,” he said of the offseason. “It means something good happened.”

Four-star forward commits to West Virginia

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West Virginia landed a top-75 recruit Thursday night.

Isaiah Cottrell, a 6-foot-9 forward from Bishop Gorman in Las Vegas, committed to West Virginia’s 2020 recruiting class.

Cottrell picked the Mountaineers overs offers from the likes of Kansas, Washington and Arizona, among others. His father, Brian Lewin, played for West Virginia in the 1990s. The four-star prospect continues a promising recruiting trend for Bob Huggins, who landed a top-40 commit in center Oscar Tshiebwe in the 2019 class.

The Mountaineers missed the NCAA tournament last season for the first time in four years as they slid to 15-21 overall and last in the Big 12 with a 4-14 mark.

John Calipari’s new deal at Kentucky worth $86 million over 10 years

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John Calipari and Kentucky agreed in April to what was described as a “lifetime contract.” Thursday, the exact terms of that deal were disclosed.

The Wildcats coach’s new contract worth $86 million over 10 years.

“I’ve said from day one that this would be the gold standard and it has been for student-athletes and coaches,” Calipari said in a statement released by the school. “As I enter my 11th year, I’m reminded it took me 20 years to get an opportunity to like this. There is no other place I want to be. As I look forward, my mindset is what’s next and how can we be first at it for the young people that we coach.”

Calipari, 60, will likely continue to be a source of speculation for other jobs presuming he keeps things rolling in Lexington as he has for the last 10 years, but what Kentucky is paying him will almost certainly be more than any other program – and potentially NBA franchises – are going to be willing to. Calipari’s success, NBA history and ability to always be central to the broader college basketball conversation means he’ll always be in demand, but it’s hard to picture a situation that could intrigue Calipari enough to leave one of – if not the – best jobs in basketball.

“(Calipari) has added a special chapter to the greatest tradition in college basketball and it’s a chapter we want him to continue writing until the end of his coaching career,” Kentucky athletic director Mitch Barnhart said in a statement. “We are pleased to announce a new contract that will enable him to do exactly that.”

Calipari 305-71 with one national championship, four Final Fours and 26 first-round draft picks in 10 years with the Wildcats. He and Kentucky will likely open the 2019-20 season as one of the frontrunners for the national championship.

Michigan State reports violation for Tom Izzo hosting visit for former high school

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Michigan State self-reported an NCAA rules violation for Tom Izzo hosting Iron Mountain High School for a tour while the team was in town to compete for its first ever state title that weekend.

Izzo unknowingly committed the violation — which only occurred because Iron Mountain was competing in the Breslin Center that weekend — and the Spartans immediately gave notice once they became aware of it. Proud of his alma mater for advancing to Michigan’s final weekend, Izzo was merely taking interest in players and a team connected to his youth. The Iron Mountain program toured the Breslin Center with Izzo and toured Michigan State’s locked room while also watching the Spartans practice before their state semifinal game.

Since it was a special privilege for Iron Mountain, playing in an event there, the Spartans were technically at fault for a violation. The fact that Izzo and Michigan State have to report a violation for this sort of thing is kind of ridiculous since Izzo has a natural connection to the team in question. Although Michigan State likely isn’t going to get hit with any NCAA issues from this, it’s the kind of thing that critics come to question about the NCAA’s rulebook.

Former lacrosse star Pat Spencer commits to Northwestern for basketball

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Northwestern landed a unique graduate transfer on Thursday as Loyola lacrosse star Pat Spencer will spend his final year of college eligibility hooping for the Wildcats, according to Stadium’s Jeff Goodman.

A former high school basketball standout at Boys’ Latin (MD), Spencer was one of the best lacrosse players in the country for the Greyhounds the past four years in college. He was selected in two drafts during the Spring. Spencer was taken first overall in the inaugural PLL College Draft while getting taken seventh overall in the MLL’s Collegiate Draft. Loyola remains in the NCAA tournament as Spencer is playing out his senior season of college.

Spencer is passing up multiple professional lacrosse opportunities to play Big Ten basketball for Northwestern. For a stud athlete in a sport to pass up money to pursue another athletic dream is one of the college basketball’s best things to follow next season.

As if Spencer’s background wasn’t unique enough, he’ll be at a Northwestern team starving for an identity since making the NCAA tournament a few seasons ago. By playing in the Big Ten, Spencer will be thrown against Final Four contenders and potential draft picks, which makes this transition particularly intriguing. It’s a cool story to follow this season as college hoops doesn’t often get athletes from other sports playing in such prominent conferences.

Greg Paulus famously went from Duke point guard to Syracuse quarterback as a graduate transfer, but he was leaving the sport to pursue an opportunity to play football. Spencer choosing basketball over a sure pro shot in lacrosse is an interesting opportunity for him this season. It’ll be interesting to see if he can still contribute anything on the hardwood.

(Ht: Jeff Goodman, Stadium)