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Final Four Preview: Sunday’s picks, predictions, betting lines and channels

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It’s finally here.

Six days after the Final Four was set, things will kick off here in Phoenix on Saturday night.

Let’s take a look at the two games:

No. 1 GONZAGA (-7) vs. No. 7 SOUTH CAROLINA, 6:09 p.m., CBS: Gonzaga is the heavy favorite in Saturday’s opener, and rightfully so, but there are plenty of reasons to believe that South Carolina will give them a fight, not the least of which is the fact that the Gamecocks are just so good and so disruptive defensively. The Gamecocks don’t play the same way that West Virginia does — their pressure exists in the half-court where West Virginia plays in the full court — but they do the same things, overplaying every passing lane and daring an opponent’s play makers to be able to beat their defenders off the bounce. To put it far too simply, Frank Martin bets on the fact that his players, defensively, are better.

And the Zags, as good as they are and as great of a year as Nigel Williams-Goss and Josh Perkins have had, don’t really have guards on their roster that are great in one-on-one situations like that, particularly against defenders that are more athletic than them. Take West Virginia: Perkins was invisible and Willaims-Goss played about as poorly as he is capable of playing.

Gonzaga has an incredible size advantage over South Carolina, one that Mark Few should be able to capitalize on, but I fully expect the Gamecocks to muck this game up. The Zags should be just fine playing in a game like that — they are, after all, the nation’s best defense — which is why the key for South Carolina is going to be whether or not Sindarius Thornwell can take advantage of the fact that Gonzaga doesn’t really have anyone that can guard him. South Carolina is going to struggle to score, but if they can run things through the Thornwell, they should be able to score enough to keep this thing close.

PREDICTION: South Carolina (+7)

No. 1 NORTH CAROLINA (-4.5) vs. No. 3 OREGON, 8:49 p.m., CBS: The first question that has to be answered here is whether or not Joel Berry II is actually healthy. He said he was 85 percent on Thursday as he battles a pair of injured ankles, and that will be critical to a UNC team that relies so much on him. As Berry goes, so goes UNC, and if he’s at all limited in tonight’s nightcap, it will be a brutal blow for the Tar Heels.

But it won’t change the fact that Roy Williams’ club has so much more size in the paint than the Ducks. Oregon plays small-ball. Without Chris Boucher available, they’ve relied even more heavily on a lineup that features Dillon Brooks — who is more of a shooting guard than anything else — at the four. It’s lethal offensively when hit creates mismatches. But it also leaves Oregon susceptible to teams with a bigger front court, and North Carolina’s front court is as big as anyone’s. Can Isaiah Hicks and Kennedy Meeks force Oregon to play big, or will UNC, who is the best offensive rebounding team in the country, be forced to play a smaller lineup to defend Brooks?

I would expect Oregon to spend quite a bit of time in a zone as a result, which means that the Tar Heels are going to have to make perimeter jumpers on Saturday. If they’re going down, and the Heels are getting to the offensive glass, it could be a long day for Oregon.

PREDICTION: North Carolina (-4.5)

Elite Class of 2020 point guard to reclassify

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Nico Mannion, a five-star point guard from Arizona, announced on Friday that he will be reclassifying into the Class of 2019.

Mannion was a top 20 player in 2020 but, according to 247 Sports, he will be ranked No. 11 in 2019. The athletic, 6-foot-3 Mannion was long-rumored to be considering a move up a class because of his age. He’ll turn 18 in March of next year, meaning that he’ll arrive on campus the same age as a typical college freshman.

Mannion cut his list to ten schools in June — Duke, Arizona, Villanova, Kansas, USC, UCLA, Oregon, Vanderbilt, Marquette and Utah — but Duke and Arizona appear to be the favorites at this point.

Mannion plays his high school ball for Pinnacle High School in Phoenix and with West Coast Elite on the Under Armour Association circuit. He played for Team USA’s youth ranks, but his mother is Italian and, in June, he was called up to the Italian men’s senior national team, scoring nine points in 29 minutes of a FIBA World Cup Qualifier.

Nebraska to lose junior big man to transfer

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Nebraska’s frontcourt depth took a blow on Thursday as junior big man Jordy Tshimanga informed the program that he will be transferring.

“Jordy called me tonight and asked for his release,” head coach Tim Miles said in a statement that was given to the Lincoln Journal-Star. “The University of Nebraska and our program wish Jordy and his family the best.”

Tshimanga averaged 4.0 points and 4.6 boards in 13 minutes this past season, and a source close to the program told NBC Sports he wasn’t expected to play much more than that this season.

Miles’ has spent the better part of the last two seasons on the hot seat, and this certainly doesn’t make his job easier, but with the talent the Cornhuskers have on their roster, they look like an NCAA tournament team already. They bring back their top four scorers, including former five-star prospect Isaac Copeland and potential first-team all-Big Ten wing James Palmer. With or without Tshimanga, Nebraska has a shot to finish top four in the Big Ten.

North Carolina, UCLA, Michigan State part of Las Vegas event

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LAS VEGAS (AP) — North Carolina, UCLA, Michigan State and Texas will play in an early season basketball tournament in Las Vegas.

The Las Vegas Invitational will include games at campus sites, then the final two rounds on Nov. 22-23 in Las Vegas. North Carolina takes on Texas in one semifinal, and Michigan State faces UCLA in the other.

UNC, UCLA and Michigan State are all top 20 teams in the NBC Sports preseason top 25.

The championship is Nov. 23, and the semifinal losers also play each other that day.

NCAA to study possible effects of widespread legal wagering

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INDIANAPOLIS (AP) — The NCAA plans to study how the expansion of legalized betting could affect college athletics and member schools.

The NCAA announced Thursday it will create a working group of “subject matter experts” to assess areas such as officiating, NCAA rules, federal and state laws, and the use of integrity services. NCAA leadership has already called for federal regulation on sports betting. NCAA rules prohibit sports wagering by athletes and athletic department employees.

The Supreme Court opened the door for states to have legal wagering on sporting events when it struck down a federal ban in May. Schools in some states such as West Virginia, Mississippi and New Jersey are already exploring the possibility of collecting integrity fees in anticipation of legal sports books opening in their states.

“While we certainly respect the Supreme Court’s decision, our position on sports wagering remains,” said Donald Remy, NCAA chief legal officer. “With this new landscape, we must evolve and expand our long-standing efforts to protect both the integrity of competitions and the well-being of student-athletes.”

The NCAA Board of Governors has already suspended the association’s ban on holding championships in states with legalized sports betting, a policy that only affected Nevada.

“Legalized sports gambling across the country is rather new, but the NCAA and its members have committed significant resources over the years to policy, research and education around sports wagering,” said Joni Comstock, senior vice president of championships and alliances. “With student-athlete well-being as the centerpiece, we will continue to build upon these efforts to assist members as they adapt to legalized sports wagering in their states and regions.”

Arizona releases non-conference schedule

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A trip to Maui, a home date against Baylor and trips to UConn and Alabama highlight Arizona’s non-conference schedule, which the school released Thursday, this season.

Despite losing nearly the entirety of last year’s talented-but-troubled group, Sean Miller still scheduled aggressively. The first test will come the week of Thanksgiving in Hawaii at the Maui Invitational. It’s an extremely competitive field with Duke, Auburn, Gonzaga, Iowa State, Illinois, San Diego State and Xavier. The bracket for the event has yet to be released.

The Wildcats travel to Storrs to face UConn in Dan Hurley’s first season on Dec. 2, and then a week later visit Alabama in Tuscaloosa.

The marquee home game will be Saturday, Dec. 16, when Scott Drew and Baylor come to Tucson.

Here’s the full schedule:

Day Date Opponent Location

Sunday Nov. 11 Cal Poly Tucson, Ariz.

Wednesday Nov. 14 UTEP Tucson, Ariz.

Monday Nov. 19 vs. TBA Lahaina, Hawai’i

Tuesday Nov. 20 vs. TBA Lahaina, Hawai’i

Wednesday Nov. 21 vs. TBA Lahaina, Hawai’i

Wednesday Nov. 28 Texas Southern Tucson, Ariz.

Sunday Dec. 2 at UConn Hartford, Conn.

Thursday Dec. 6 Utah Valley Tucson, Ariz.

Sunday Dec. 9 at Alabama Tuscaloosa, Ala.

Saturday Dec. 15 Baylor Tucson, Ariz.

Wednesday Dec. 19 Montana Tucson, Ariz.

Saturday Dec. 22 UC Davis Tucson, Ariz.