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Weekend Preview: Kentucky-Louisville showdown, Arizona vs. Arizona State

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WEEKEND SHOWDOWNS

LOUISVILLE at No. 16 KENTUCKY (-5), Fri. 1:00 p.m.

To be frank, I really have no idea what to make of either one of these teams at this point in the season. Neither of these teams played all that demanding of a non-conference schedule, and both have undergone a ridiculous amount of turnover this offseason. Kentucky is essentially an entirely new team, with a team of freshmen led by “veterans” playing their second college season. Louisville, as we all know, lost Donovan Mitchell to the NBA, Brian Bowen to the FBI and Rick Pitino to a pink slip.

The result?

Kentucky’s only top 70 KenPom win came against Virginia Tech. Louisville’s only top 100 KenPom win came against Indiana. And one of these two programs will enter league play with three non-conference losses after Friday. Someone is going to have all the angst in the Bluegrass State come 3 p.m. ET on Friday.

  • PREDICTION: Kentucky wins and Kentucky covers. Kentucky (-5)

No. 12 OKLAHOMA at No. 10 TCU (-2), Sat. 2:00 p.m.

There is so much to learn from this game. On the one hand, we get to see Trae Young playing his first road game in conference play. How will he handle the crowd (he did fine at Wichita State) and will TCU throw any new defenses at him to try and slow him down? He is the nation’s leading scorer and leader in assists.

TCU, on the other hand, is a team that I still think has something to prove. They’re still somewhat unknown at this point. Their win over SMU came on the same night as the Jimmy V Classic, and their win over Nevada tipped after 1 a.m. ET. Everyone will be watching them host Trae Young, however. What will they have in store?

  • PREDICTION: TCU finds a way to get the job done at home while solidifying their presence in the state of Texas. TCU (-2)

No. 3 ARIZONA STATE at No. 17 ARIZONA (-5), Sat. 9:00 p.m.

What will win out on Saturday night in Arizona: The matchup or the home court?

Because on paper, Arizona State is precisely the kind of team that gives the Wildcats trouble. When they get spread out, when they are asked to guard a lot of ball-screens, they struggle defensively. Arizona State plays two point guards and, quite often, puts three ball-handlers on the floor together with sharpshooter Kodi Justice at the four. That should give Arizona some trouble.

But Arizona has the advantage of the McKale Center. And they have the advantage of Deandre Ayton. As difficult of a matchup as ASU will be, there are, what, a handful of people that matchup with Ayton in the sport? And Arizona State doesn’t have one of them.

  • PREDICTION: In the end, I think that Ayton and company will be too much. But I do think that the game will be close and that Arizona State will have a chance to win. ASU (+5)
Deandre Ayton (Christian Petersen/Getty Images)

WHAT ELSE IS WORTH WATCHING?

  • No. 7 WEST VIRGINIA (-3) at OKLAHOMA STATE, Fri. 7:00 p.m.: The Mountaineers are one of the hottest teams in college basketball at this point in the season, and I’m not convinced that OK State’s record isn’t fluky. Throw in the fact that the students are on break, and home court isn’t what Gallagher-Iba should be. PICK: WVU (-3)
  • No. 18 BAYLOR at No. 22 TEXAS TECH (-6), Fri. 8:00 p.m.: Baylor’s zone is going to be tricky for the Red Raiders to deal with, but I do think that Chris Beard is going to find a way to get this win at home and cover. PICK: Texas Tech (-6)
  • No. 11 KANSAS (-2) at TEXAS, Fri. 9:00 p.m.: As much as I would love to pick the Longhorns here, they have not been able to score effectively without Andrew Jones (they barely could with him) and the Jayhawks can put up big numbers in a hurry with the way that they can shoot. PICK: Kansas (-2)
  • No. 19 TENNESSEE at ARKANSAS (-3), Sat. 1:00 p.m.: It is not easy to win in Fayetteville. As much as I like Tennessee this season, this is a bad matchup for them in a tough place to play. PICK: Arkansas (-3)
  • No. 24 FLORIDA STATE at No. 4 DUKE (-10), Sat. 2:00 p.m.: Duke struggles to contain penetration and the Seminoles have some slashers at their disposal this season. Plus, Leonard Hamilton always has big bodies. PICK: FSU (+10)
  • No. 1 VILLANOVA (-8) at BUTLER, Sat. 4:00 p.m.: I don’t think that Butler will beat Villanova at home again, but I do think that the Bulldogs will find a way to keep it close. PICK: Butler (+8)
  • No. 5 TEXAS A&M (-5) at ALABAMA, Sat. 6:00 p.m.: Alabama has not looked right this season outside of the 13 minutes they played 3-on-5. Maybe Avery Johnson should look into doing that more often. PICK: A&M (-5)

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.

Georgia Tech’s Okogie to sign with agent

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Georgia Tech guard Josh Okogie, one of the big winners from this past weekend’s NBA combine, announced on Monday that he will be signing with an agent and remaining in the NBA Draft.

The 6-foot-4 Okogie finished his sophomore season averaged 18.5 points and shooting 38.4 percent from three. The numbers he posted during the athletic testing at the combine, as well as his 7-foot wingspan, makes Okogie an ideal 3-and-D wing at the NBA level.

“Josh is a tremendous young man and an excellent student-athlete,” said head coach Josh Pastner. “He has set a tremendous example, making the Dean’s List this past semester, and deserves a lot of credit for making himself a much better player over the course of his two years here. We will miss him in our program in many respects, from his performance on the court to the energy he plays with and brought to our team. We fully support his decision to take this next step, and wish him all the best.”