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Best Bets: Previewing Kansas-Baylor, the biggest game of the season

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Baylor vs. Kansas.

The No. 1 vs. No. 3 in the AP Poll. The No. 1 vs. No. 2 in KenPom. And the No. 1 team is not the same in both rankings.

The Bears have won a Big 12 record 23 straight games. Kansas has only lost once since Christmas, and that loss came the first time they faced off with Baylor this season.

This is, almost without a doubt, the biggest game of the college basketball season to date. The first time these two teams faced off, the Bears went into Phog Allen Fieldhouse and knocked off a banged up Kansas team, 67-55, while landing the first win for Scott Drew in Lawrence in his 17-year tenure in Waco.

Saturday is the rematch.

Here’s the breakdown.

No. 3 KANSAS at No. 1 BAYLOR, Sat. 12:00 p.m.

  • KENPOM: Baylor 64, Kansas 63
  • TORVIK: Baylor 64, Kansas 61
  • HASLAM: Kansas 64, Baylor 62

Bill Self is the king of adjustments, so I will be fascinated to see what he schemes up to try and create some space for Udoka Azubuike to operate. The first time these two teams squared off, Baylor fronted the post and helped all the way off whoever was in the corner of the floor, making sure that a lob pass over the top of the defense was not possible. The concept was simple, really: Make sure that Doke was going to have to beat two guys just to get a post touch, pressure the hell out of the Kansas ball-handlers and force them to beat a crop of elite defenders off the dribble and make kick-out threes.

It did not go well.

I expect much of the same from the Bears on Saturday. This was nothing more than a somewhat exaggerated version of the defense that they play on a nightly basis, and I can’t imagine that Scott Drew will switch up too much considering the fact that this defense has led him to three months worth of consecutive wins. So the question then becomes whether or not Bill Self, who has had four days to prepare and install a game-plan for Saturday, can figure out something to beat this Baylor defense.

As far as what he’ll do, I think that the Jayhawks will end up doing two things to try and beat this Baylor defense. The first is to get out and run in transition. As good as Devon Dotson has been, I still think that he is at his best when he is running at a defense before it gets set, and considering just how hard Baylor goes to the offensive glass, Dotson will get his opportunities in transition. I also expect that Kansas will play more four guard lineups and will run more ball-screen stuff. Baylor likes to switch 1-through-5, and if Kansas can create situations where either Dotson can turn the corner or force a switch, it will play into the KU advantage.

All that said, the truth might end up being this simple: This game will probably come down to whether or not Kansas can continue to make threes at the rate that they have made threes the last two games. They are a combined 23-for-49 the last two games. They shot 4-for-15 the first time they faced off with Baylor.

BEST BET: I know this game is going to be played in Waco, but I think the answer here is Kansas. If they’re getting points, I’ll be on the moneyline. I just think that you’re giving Bill Self too much time to prepare, and that the Jayhawks have been playing much better basketball of late. I also think that Kansas has figured things out defensively to the point that they are the nation’s best defensive team.

Personally, I’m hoping that the Jayhawks win, that we get to the Big 12 title game with neither team taking another loss and that battle gets played to determine the No. 1 overall seed. That would be fun.

*SATURDAY UPDATE: This line is currently sitting at Kansas (+1.5) and the moneyline is (+104). I’m on the moneyline.

No. 2 GONZAGA at BYU, Sat. 10:00 p.m.

  • KENPOM: Gonzaga 82, BYU 80
  • TORVIK: Gonzaga 82, BYU 80
  • HASLAM: Gonzaga 85, BYU 79

Gonzaga and BYU both rank in the top five nationally in offensive efficiency, according to KenPom. They both rank in the top three of effective field goal percentage. BYU leads the nation in three-point shooting at a crisp 41.9 percent. Gonzaga is third at 39.4 percent. These are two of the nation’s elite offenses. obviously, which is why you are seeing projections that are so high.

I’m going to assume that Killian Tillie is playing for the Zags because he played on Thursday night against San Francisco, and that ends up being a major difference maker. He’s the athletic four that can create all of the mismatch problems against a smaller team like the Cougars.

BEST BET: My favorite bet here is going to be Gonzaga (-2), and the biggest reason is that the way Gonzaga wants to play, they pound the ball into the post for Filip Petrusev and Drew Timme. BYU’s best player, Yoeli Childs, has committed four fouls in the last two, three of the last four and four of the last six games. I would also lean towards the over, especially if the total ends up somewhere south of 160.

*SATURDAY UPDATE: This total opened for me at 158, shot up to 160 and has come back down to 158.5. I tend to lean towards the over here.

No. 14 OREGON AT No. 24 ARIZONA, Sat. 9:00 p.m.

  • KENPOM: Arizona 74, Oregon 69
  • TORVIK: Arizona 73, Oregon 67
  • HASLAM: Arizona 71, Oregon 66

This has suddenly turned into a must-win spot for Oregon if they want to remain in the Pac-12 regular season title race. The Ducks lost on Thursday night at Arizona State while Arizona is coming off of an easy home win over Oregon State.

The first time these two teams played, Oregon erased a big second half deficit, eventually winning in overtime. I do think that the Oregon zone will cause some problems for Arizona, but there won’t be enough size inside to deal with Zeke Nnaji.

BEST BET: I think I lean Oregon here, especially if this line gets up past (+6). I do think the Ducks are the better team, because the metrics are way higher on Arizona than they should be.

*SATURDAY UPDATE: With the line currently sitting at Oregon (+4.5), I think I’m going to stay away. I would take Oregon if you forced me to pick.

No. 21 BUTLER at No. 13 CREIGHTON, Sun. 4:00 p.m.

  • KENPOM: Creighton 73, Butler 68
  • TORVIK: Creighton 72, Butler 66
  • HASLAM: Creighton 72, Butler 65

The first time that these two teams played, Butler won fairly easily. But the Bulldogs were a different team then. They were 14-1 on the season. They were playing as well defensively as anyone in the country. Kamar Baldwin wasn’t having to put the team on his back as often. Since that game, these two teams have gone in entirely different directions. Creighton has won eight of their last nine games and, with three of their last four games at home and a date with Seton Hall in the season finale, they have a very real chance of winning the Big East regular season title. Butler, on the other have, has lost two straight, three of their last four and seven of their last 11. They are now just .500 in Big East play.

BEST BET: The Bluejays have covered four in a row and seven of their last eight games. They are playing at home, where they have won three straight by double-digits and lost just once this season. I’ll be on Creighton up to (-6.5).

MICHIGAN at PURDUE, Sat. 2:00 p.m.

  • KENPOM: Purdue 67, Michigan 65
  • TORVIK: Purdue 65, Michigan 63
  • HASLAM: Purdue 66, Michigan 63

I know how good Purdue can be at home. But Michigan has turned a corner, and if Isaiah Livers is playing, than I want my money on the Wolverines. Michigan is 11-3 with a healthy Rivers. They are 6-6 when he sits out, and they just because the first team in college basketball this season to win at Rutgers, and they did that without Livers.

BEST BET: Michigan ML if and when we get word that Isaiah Livers will be healthy.

*SATURDAY UPDATE: The moneyline for the Wolverines here is (+143), but Livers is currently listed as a game-time decision. Keep an eye on that.

FLORIDA at No. 12 KENTUCKY, Sat. 6:00 p.m.

  • KENPOM: Kentucky 72, Florida 67
  • TORVIK: Kentucky 70, Florida 66
  • HASLAM: Kentucky 70, Florida 67

As this projection continues to creep towards Kentucky, it does feel like the value here is on Florida. The Gators are not going to have to worry about big wings taking advantage of their smaller guards, and while Nick Richards has been a monster this season, Kerry Blackshear ranks 16th nationally by drawing 6.9 fouls per 40 minutes. If Richards gets into foul trouble, Kentucky is going to be in trouble.

BEST BET: I lean Florida in this spot, but I’m going to hope that I can find the line at (+6) somewhere.

*SATURDAY UPDATE: With the line sitting at Florida (+4.5), I think I’ll be staying away.

Race and Sports in America: Steph Curry, Charles Barkley on impact of George Floyd’s death, Black Lives Matter

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Stephen Curry and Charles Barkley were among the athletes that say down and spoke with NBC about the intersection of sports and race in America.

The Black Lives Matter movement reached a crescendo in late May, when a police officer knelt on the neck of a Minneapolis man named George Floyd for eight minutes and 46 seconds, suffocating him while knowingly being recorded. The murder, which followed the deaths of Breonna Taylor and Ahmaud Arbary, set off weeks of riots and has led to two months of protest across the country and around the world.

Race and Sports in America: Conversations is a one-hour show with two segments that debuts on NBCSN on Monday, July 13 at 8 pm ET.

It will be simulcast on Golf Channel, Olympic Channel, and the regional sports networks. Along with Curry and Barkley, Minnesota Vikings tight end Kyle Rudolph, San Diego Chargers coach Anthony Lynn, golfer Troy Mullins, tennis player James Blake, former Saint Louis Cardinals shortstop Ozzie Smith and former Pittsburgh Steeler Jerome Bettis participated in the discussions.

Below, you can find an excerpt of Barkley and Curry discussing the way they are treated by white America as famous, Black athletes.


DAMON HACK:  It’s interesting.  You guys have all played at the highest level.  You’ve had people that would cheer for you when you were in uniform.  But if you were walking down the street and not wearing your uniform and you had a hoodie on, they might look at you a little bit different.

How do you navigate that?

CHARLES BARKLEY:  The notion that rich and famous Black people are treated like regular Black people, that’s not right.  We get treated great.  But I always worry about how we treat poor Black people.

You know, there’s a great thing  and Spike Lee, who I really admire and respect  in that movie, “Do The Right Thing,” that’s a perfect illustration what Ozzie is talking about, what I’m talking about, when the guy says, you know, you hate Black people.  He says, yeah, I hate Black people.  He says, who is your favorite entertainer.  He says Michael Jackson.  He says, who is your favorite jock.  He says, Michael Jordan.  He’s says, they’re Black.  And he said, well, they’re not “Black.”

And that’s the disadvantage that us four we’re at a disadvantage because White people treat us great.  And, like I say, I’m not worried about how they treat us because it really comes down to economics, too, at some point, because rich Black people aren’t treated like poor Black people.  And that’s the thing we’ve got to really engage conversation.

How can we get more Black people and poor White people also, but they’re in the same boat, give them economic opportunity.  That’s what America’s really got to grapple with.

STEPH CURRY:  I think one thing you said, too, is the preconceived notions of how they view rich, successful Black people as anomalies and our intelligence and our well spokenness, that’s always the first thing you hear.  If somebody knows how to be articulate, if they know how to

ALL:  So well spoken.

STEPH CURRY:  Come into a room  that’s the subtle racism and prejudice that kind of starts to add on itself.  And if another White person hears that comment, they’re going to think the same thing.  And it’s not going to trickle down to anybody else, and be able to create opportunities for somebody else to get that in that room and prove their value, prove their worth.

It’s just shifting perspectives and, again, holding everybody accountable whether it’s a private conversation, whether it’s a tweet, whether it’s a video.  Whatever it is, to do the right thing, no pun intended, but to see everybody as equal and that’s all we’re asking for.

Kara Lawson hired as new Duke head coach

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Duke announced on Saturday that Kara Lawson, a former Tennessee guard and ESPN commentator, has been hired as the new head coach of the school’s women’s basketball team.

Lawson, 39, had been an assistant coach with the Boston Celtics before accepting the job at Duke, where she will be replacing Joanne McCallie. McCallie announced earlier this month that she would not be returning to the program.

Lawson is the first Black head coach in the program’s history, the second Black head coach hired by an ACC school this offseason and the third Black woman coaching an ACC women’s team. In total, there are five Black head coaches in the league on the women’s side.

Zion’s attorneys: Court filing claiming $400K payment contains fraudulent information

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Attorneys representing Zion Williamson in a lawsuit filed by former his marketing agent Gina Ford have claimed that the allegations set forth in her latest court filing are “fraudulent” and “a desperate and irresponsible attempt to smear Mr. Williamson.”

Ford claimed to have obtain “newly-discovered evidence” regarding her lawsuit against Zion, specifically that the player and his stepfather accepted $400,000 from a marketing agent named Slavko Duric in October of 2018. Zion signed a contract with Ford and her company, Prime Sports Marketing, on April 20, 2019, five days after he declared for the NBA draft. Less than two months later, he backed out of that deal to sign with CAA, the most powerful agency in the business that will also be representing his basketball interests. Ford is suing Williamson for breach of contract.

The outcome of the case hinges on a law in the state of North Carolina known as UAAA — the Uniform Athlete Agent Act — that requires a contract to make it clear to a student-athlete that by signing with an agent, they forfeit their remaining eligibility. This marketing contract did not have that language in it, and Williamson’s lawyers are arguing that this made the contract itself invalid. Ford’s attorneys, on the other hand, are attempting to prove that Zion was actually ineligible at the time, meaning that he was not protected by UAAA, and this evidence is their latest attempt to do it.

Except, according to the attorneys representing Zion Williamson’s family, all of the evidence in the latest filing in this lawsuit is fake.

Included in the exhibits attached to the motion filed by Ford’s lawyers is a statement from a man named Donald Kreiss, who claims that he invested in a company owned by Duric called Maximum Management Group. MMG purportedly had an exclusive marketing agreement with Williamson, the proof being an agreement that was allegedly signed by Williamson, a letter of declaration to repay the $400,000 that was paid in 2018 and a copy of Zion’s driver’s license.

“The alleged ‘agreements’ and driver’s license attached to these papers are fraudulent,” read a statement from Jeffery Klein, Zion’s attorney and obtained by Daniel Wallach of The Athletic. “Neither Mr. Williamson nor his family know these individuals nor had any dealing with them. We had previously alerted Ms. Ford’s lawyers to both this fact and that we had previously reported the documents to law enforcement as forgeries, but they chose to go ahead with another frivolous filing anyway.”

Here is a photo, courtesy of Wallach’s twitter feed, of Zion’s license.

Via @WALLACHLegal

Speaking as someone that bartended on a college campus for a decade, I would not accept this ID. The ‘E’ at the end of LICENSE is not in bold. The last three digits of his zip code are a different font than the first two. There is no shadow behind his ears in the picture, which is the first thing I was taught to look for on an ID I thought was fake. Most conspicuous? His weight is listed as a height and his height is listed as a weight.

Furthermore, Zion’s attorneys claim that Duric is the same man that tried to run a similar scam on Luka Doncic.

“A simple Google search reveals that Slavko Duric, whose ostensible sports marketing entity has no online presence, purportedly attempted to defraud Luka Doncic … using a scheme in which he forged Doncic’s and his mother’s signatures on a contract,” read a letter, obtained by Wallach. that Williamson’s attorney sent to Ford’s attorney before the motion was filed.

The intrigue into Zion Williamson’s lawsuit is about smearing Duke basketball’s image

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This column was originally published on May 11th of 2020.

The public intrigue into Zion Williamson’s current lawsuit and legal battle has nothing to do with Zion Williamson himself and everything to do with smearing the glossy veneer of the Duke basketball program.

That’s the truth.

The numbers involved in this litigation — reportedly up to $200 million is at stake — will certainly raise some eyebrows, but contract disputes are rarely interesting for anyone that isn’t in law school. That’s what this is. Zion signed a contract with Gina Ford and Prime Sports Marketing on April 20, 2019, five days after he declared for the NBA draft. Less than two months later, he backed out of that deal to sign with CAA, the most powerful agency in the business that will also be representing his basketball interests. Ford is suing Williamson for breach of contract.

The outcome of this civil case is going to hinge on a law in the state of North Carolina known as UAAA — the Uniform Athlete Agent Act — that requires a contract to make it clear to a student-athlete that by signing with an agent, they forfeit their remaining eligibility. This marketing contract did not have that language in it, and Williamson’s lawyers will argue that this made the contract itself invalid.

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(And no, I don’t, for a second, think that Zion was ever returning to Duke. Neither does Ford, or anyone with any common sense. It’s why I wrote this “column” last May, when the rumors of Zion returning to school started rolling through the basketball world. That said, if I was a cynic, I would take a close look at that timeline. Rumors of Zion returning to school just happened to start circulating right around the time that he was trying to find a way out of a marketing contract to sign with a bigger agency? Hmm. Interesting. But I’m not a cynic, so I certainly won’t suggest that it was nothing other than a well-orchestrated PR ploy knowing that this would inevitably end up in the court system one day. Wouldn’t dream of insinuating anything like it.)

Which brings us to Mother’s Day.

That’s when Daniel Wallach of The Athletic first published snippets of the latest Zion Williamson lawsuit that was filed by Ford and her attorneys. Among them were requests for admission that Zion and his family received all kinds of money, benefits and gifts to play at Duke and to induce him to wear Nike and Adidas at different points during his high school career. The legal ploy is simple, really: If Zion or his parents are forced, under oath, to admit that they accepted illegal benefits at any point during his recruitment or while on the roster at Duke, it would mean that he was retroactively ineligible. If he was actually ineligible during his one season in Durham, then the UAAA wouldn’t be relevant. The contract, which, according to Ford’s lawsuit, could only be terminated with cause, would stand and Zion would be on the hook for a lot of money.

At this point, it does not appear that there is much evidence proving that Zion accepted illegal benefits. When asked by Dana O’Neil of The Athletic if they have any proof of wrongdoing, Ford’s attorney said, “We have ideas, opinions and some leads of our own. We are looking for information to support our case. This is what we want to know.” Requests for admission are, essentially, fact-finding missions during discovery in civil cases. Put another way, at this point, these requests are nothing more than proof that Ford’s lawyers have heard the same rumors and read the same court docs that people in basketball circles and on college basketball message boards have.

But no one actually cares about the legalese here, because if they did, they’d realize that Zion is under no obligation to answer, and even if he is somehow forced to, nothing will come of this for a long, long time.

The people that care this case care about catching Coach K in a lie. They care about proving that the holier-than-thou way that Duke carries itself is fraudulent. They care about finding a way to get something — anything — to stick to the program that recruits better than anyone else in an era where recruiting is the Wild, Wild West.

Do you remember when Lance Thomas dropped $30,000 in cash as a down payment for $67,800 in jewelry a year before Thomas and Duke won the 2010 national title? Nothing came of it. Remember when Corey Maggette admitted to receiving payments from Myron Piggie before becoming a member of the team that made it to the 1999 national title game? Nothing came of that, either. Nothing happened when Wendell Carter’s name popped up on expense reports submitted by Christian Dawkins. Nothing happened when Michael Avenatti alleged that Nike paid Marvin Bagley’s family.

All told, there are 13 high-major programs that are dealing with the fallout from the FBI’s investigation into college basketball: Alabama, Arizona, Auburn, Creighton, Kansas, Louisville, LSU, Memphis, N.C. State, Oklahoma State, South Carolina, TCU and USC.

Duke, despite a cloud of smoke surrounding Zion that would make Seth Rogen envious, has been hit with … nada.

The public is looking for their pound of flesh, and nothing would satiate that bloodlust quite like an admission from Zion Williamson in this lawsuit that he was paid to go to Duke.

Ivy League calls off fall sports due to outbreak

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The Ivy League on Wednesday became the first Division I conference to say it will not play sports this fall because of the coronavirus pandemic, a person with knowledge of the decision told The Associated Press. The league left open the possibility of moving some seasons to the spring if the outbreak is better controlled by then.

The decision was described to the AP by a person speaking on the condition of anonymity in advance of the official announcement.

Although the coalition of eight academically elite schools does not grant athletic scholarships or compete for an NCAA football championship, the move could have ripple effects throughout the big business of college sports. Football players in the Power Five conferences have already begun workouts for a season that starts on Aug. 29, even as their schools weigh whether to open their campuses to students or continue classes remotely.

The Ivy decision affects not just football but everything before Jan. 1, including soccer, field hockey, volleyball and cross country, as well as the nonconference portion of the basketball season.

Power Five conferences told The Associated Press on Wednesday that they were still considering their options. But it was the Ivy League’s March 10 decision to scuttle its postseason basketball tournament that preceded a cascade of cancellations that eventually enveloped all major college and professional sports.

“What’s happening in other conferences is clearly a reflection of what’s happening nationally and any decisions are made within that context,” said Dr. Chris Kratochvil, the chair of the Big Ten’s infectious disease task force, adding that there is no “hard deadline” for a decision.

“Clearly, regardless of what happens in the fall, sports are coming back eventually,” he said. “So we want to make sure that whenever that time (is) right to return to competition, that we have the infrastructure and the recommendations in place to be able to do so safely for the student-athletes, staff, coaches, fans, students.”

Ivy League schools are spread across seven Northeastern states that, as of mid-July, have seen some success at controlling the COVID-19 outbreak. But most of those states still ban large gatherings; under the Massachusetts reopening plan, Harvard would not be allowed to have fans in the stands until a vaccine is developed.

Harvard has already announced that all classes for both semesters will be held virtually; dorms will be open only to freshmen and seniors. Yale said it would limit its dorms to 60% capacity and said most classes would be conducted remotely. Princeton will also do most of its teaching online, with dorms at half capacity.