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Wednesday’s Things to Know: Maryland earns critical Big Ten win; Kansas, Texas Tech win Big 12 openers

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Wednesday saw the first night of 2019 where college basketball had a full slate of games as conference play started for a number of leagues. While the Big Ten picked up its conference play from early December, the Big 12 opened league play with some close finishes.

1. Maryland earns crucial home Big Ten win over No. 24 Nebraska

To begin the evening, Maryland picked up its biggest win of the season with a 74-72 win over No. 24 Nebraska. While the Terps have a solid record, this was the first time all season that they’ve knocked off a legitimate NCAA tournament team.

For a young Maryland team that is still trying to figure itself out, this is the kind of game they needed. Bruno Fernando dominated on the interior with 18 points and 17 rebounds while point guard Anthony Cowan added 19 points.

Perhaps most importantly for Maryland, freshman Jalen Smith lived up to his five-star billing by taking over the game down the stretch. Smith finished with 15 points, including Maryland’s final seven points, as his runner with under five seconds left was the difference. As long as Maryland gets interior play like that from Fernando and Smith, they’re going to be a tough out for any team in the Big Ten.

2. Big 12 favorites No. 5 Kansas and No. 11 Texas Tech earn tight wins 

The Big 12 opened conference play for a few teams on Wednesday night as some of the league’s heavyweights won in close games.

In the undercard, No. 11 Texas Tech earned an ugly win over West Virginia on the road in a game that featured more fouls than anyone would ever care to see. Jarrett Culver performed like a Player of the Year candidate by scoring all 18 of his points in the second half as he battled foul trouble to come through in the clutch.

The Big 12 main event for Wednesday night featured No. 5 Kansas winning over No. 23 Oklahoma. Although the Jayhawks held the Sooners at arm’s length for the majority of the contest, a feisty Oklahoma bunch wouldn’t give up until the final minute. Freshman Devon Dotson paced a balanced Jayhawks offense with 16 points as Kansas had four double-figure scorers.

3. A half-court buzzer-beater and a scary chasedown block

Wednesday didn’t feature many upsets. It did have some memorable plays however.

Valparaiso earned a two-point win over Missouri Valley Conference rival Illinois State as Markus Golder buried a half-court buzzer-beater as time expired to earn the win.

In the Division III ranks, a chasedown block nearly turned into a scary moment as North Central’s Blaise Meredith hit his head and went horizontal before crashing to the ground. Meredith was thankfully okay, but it made for a surreal moment.

Horizon League filed a lawsuit against Valparaiso

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The Horizon League is looking to take Valparaiso to court, only this time it’s not on the hardwood of a college campus.

On Thursday, Jason Belzer of Forbes, reported that the league is suing the university for breach of contract. The Horizon League claims Valpo did not give the conference a year’s notice and owes $500,000 in exit fees.

Valparaiso left its conference home since 2007 in order to join the Missouri Valley Conference. The Crusaders were replacing Wichita State, which departed for the American Athletic Conference, as the Missouri Valley’s 10th member.

The Horizon League voted to up the exit fee from $50,000 to $500,000 in 2012. The change came following Butler’s back-to-back national championship game appearances in 2010 and 2011, which led to the university accepting an invitation to join the Atlantic 10 Conference. Valpo’s defense is that the exit fee was not part of the initial agreement the two sides reached in 2006. Belzer went on to note the several cases of exit fees as precedents that would go against Valpo’s defense.

This lawsuit was filed on June 27. A day later IUPUI was added to the Horizon League as Valparaiso’s replacement.

Valparaiso picks up key non-conference win over No. 21 Rhode Island

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Alec Peters had 27 points, nine boards and a pair of blocks, including on a potential game-tying three, as Valparaiso picked up yet another impressive win, knocking off No. 21 Rhode Island, 65-62.

Peters, who entered the game averaging better than 25 points on the season, is one of the best players in the country, not just at the mid-major level, and what makes this result so significant is that it means the Crusaders are in a really good spot to earn an at-large bid to the NCAA tournament.

Granted, there is a ton of basketball left to be played.

But as of today, Valpo has wins over URI, BYU and Alabama. The Rams figure to contend for the Atlantic 10 title, the Cougars look like a potential tournament team and Alabama plays in the SEC, which means that it should at least be a top 100 win come Selection Sunday. Their only loss? On the road against an Oregon team that you have to figure will end up back in the mix at the top of the Pac-12 come February.

And they still get a chance to swing up at Kentucky in Rupp Arena next week.

I’m not saying that this team is a lock to get an at-large bid, not by any stretch.

But if they beat who they’re supposed to beat, if they take care of business in the Horizon League and falter in their conference tournament, they should find themselves in a really good spot to hear their name called on Selection Sunday.

For a team in a mid-major league, that’s really all you can ask.

Valpo’s Carter denied fifth season

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Three games and 39 minutes from 2012 has cost Valparaiso’s Keith Carter a season of college eligibility.

The Crusaders guard was denied a fifth year of eligibility by the NCAA on Wednesday, according to The Times of Northwest Indiana.

As a freshman at St. Louis, Carter played in the Billikens’ first two games of the 2012-13 season and once more on  Dec. 19 before suffering a foot injury. Interim coach Jim Crews would not allow Carter to redshirt that season, and he subsequently transferred, playing the second semester of the 2013-14 season for Valpo. 

I wish I would’ve never played half a season at Valpo,” Carter told The Times, “and I would’ve just sat out the whole year.”

Valpo worked with St. Louis to try to get Carter a medical redshirt for that season but to no avail, according to the Times.

Carter averaged 10.3 points and 4.5 assists per game in what proved to be his final season as a Crusader.

Now, Valpo will be left waiting to learn the fate of another one of its players. Alec Peters, who averaged 18.4 points and 8.5 rebounds per game last season, has declared for the NBA Draft, but has not hired an agent. He was not invited to this week’s NBA Draft Combine, but still is able to work out for teams and has two weeks before he needs to decide whether to return or not for his senior season.

PREGAME SHOOTAROUND: Top-ranked Wildcats visit UCLA

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GAME OF THE DAY: No. 1 Kentucky at UCLA, 9:00 p.m. (ESPN)

The Wildcats and Bruins meet at Pauley Pavilion, and hopefully this game is more competitive than last season’s matchup in Chicago. Kentucky dominated from start to finish, posting a halftime score more fitting of a college football “buy” game than a college basketball game between two of the sport’s storied programs (41-7). Many of the faces have changed for John Calipari’s team but the results remain the same to this point, although it remains to be seen how healthy sophomore point guard Tyler Ulis is (hyperextended right elbow). That, along with UCLA’s front court tandem of Tony Parker and Thomas Welsh, will be keys to keep an eye on tonight.

MID-MAJOR GAME OF THE DAY: Belmont at Valparaiso, 8:00 p.m.

Two of the top mid-major programs will meet in Valparaiso, with the Crusaders hosting the Bruins in a matchup of the preseason favorites in the OVC (Belmont) and Horizon League (Valparaiso). Bryce Drew’s Crusaders have been stingy defensively with senior Vashil Fernandez serving as the anchor, and they’ve got a number of scoring options including forward Alec Peters. That defense will need to be at its best to slow down Rick Bryd’s team, which features guard Craig Bradshaw and forward Evan Bradds.

FIVE THINGS TO WATCH FOR

1. No. 6 Oklahoma is the only other ranked team in action tonight, with the Sooners hosting Central Arkansas (8:00 p.m., ESPNU). The perimeter triumvirate of Buddy Hield, Isaiah Cousins and Jordan Woodard have played well thus far, as has senior forward Ryan Spangler. If anything, this game should give front court players such as Akolda Manyang, Jamuni McNeace and Khadeem Lattin added reps with the struggling Bears arriving in Norman with a 1-5 record.

2. USF, which has won two of its last three games after starting the season 0-4 (the lone loss to Kentucky, so no shame there), hits the road to take on Delaware. This is an important game for Orlando Antigua’s team, as their next two contests are against South Carolina and NC State. If the Bulls are to have any shot at leaving Newark with a win, they’ll need to slow down a balanced offensive attack that boasts five players averaging between 8.3 and 13.5 points per game led by forward Cazmon Haynes (13.5, 7.0 rpg).

3. UT-Arlington, which already has wins over Ohio State and Memphis to its credit and lost at Texas in overtime earlier this week, hosts North Texas in a game they should take care of. Scott Cross’s Mavericks haven’t been great when it comes to shooting the ball but they’re one of the nation’s best on the offensive glass, as they’ve rebounded 42.5 percent of their missed shots (fifth nationally). Leading the way has been forward Kevin Hervey, who’s averaging 17.3 points and ten rebounds per game.

4. Colorado State, which has won five of its first six games, hosts a tested Long Beach State team in what should be an entertaining contest. And if you like transfers this game’s loaded with them, with Nick Faust (Maryland) leading the way for the 49ers and junior college transfer Emmanuel Omogbo being one of five averaging double figures for Colorado State while also leading the team in rebounding (12.5 ppg, 8.5 rpg). CSU’s Gian Clavell has been one of the Mountain West’s most improved players thus far, averaging 21.5 points, 7.5 rebounds and 3.3 assists per game.

5. USC will look to rebound from their 1-2 weekend in Orlando by winning at UCSB. The Gauchos are led by senior guard Michael Bryson, who accounted for 23 points, five rebounds and six assists in a two-point loss at Arizona State over the weekend. He’s joined in the backcourt by John Green, who will look to bounce back from a 2-for-12 outing against the Sun Devils. USC doesn’t lack for talent on the perimeter either with Jordan McLaughlin leading the way, and forwards Nikola Jovanovic and Bennie Boatwright can score as well.

6. Louisiana and ULM meet in the Sun Belt opener for both, with the Ragin’ Cajuns pegged as the preseason favorites to win the league. Shawn Long will lead the way for the Ragin’ Cajuns, with ULM countering with its own 6-foot-10 senior big man in Majok Deng. These are two of the top offensive teams in the Sun Belt, with the Ragin’ Cajuns shooting a league-best 51.3 percent from the field and the Warhawks third in the conference at 45.5 percent. But ULM has been the better defensive team thus far, which should make for an interesting matchup.

OTHER NOTABLE GAMES

  • UMass-Lowell at LIU Brooklyn, 7:00 p.m.
  • Central Michigan at Grand Canyon, 9:00 p.m.
  • IPFW at Cal Poly, 10:00 p.m.

NBCSports.com’s Preseason All-Defensive Teams

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“Offense sells tickets, but defense wins championships.”

Whether or not you agree with the statement made by the late Paul “Bear” Bryant, there’s no denying the importance of defense when it comes to winning games. Teams can score as much as they want, but if they can’t get stops on the other end they’ll be in trouble. Ahead of the start of the 2015-16 season, we’ve put together our picks for the best defensive players in the country. Some will be shot blockers and others masters of the steal, and there will be a couple strong positional defenders as well.

Who’d we miss? Who should they replace? Feel free to leave your answers below.

FIRST TEAM ALL-DEFENSE

G Kris Dunn, Providence
As a redshirt sophomore the 6-foot-4 Dunn averaged 2.7 steals per game, with his length and athleticism allowing the national Player of the Year candidate to make life difficult for opposing point guards. He can be a bit of a gambler at times, but overall he’s a very difficult matchup at a position where many point guards hover around the 6-foot mark.

G Ron Baker, Wichita State
If you don’t know Baker’s résumé by now, that’s on you. Baker is one of the nation’s top on-ball defenders, keeping his man out of the paint while also challenging scoring opportunities on the perimeter. As a junior Baker led the Shockers in both defensive rebounds (157) and blocked shots (27).

G Gary Payton II, Oregon State
Payton’s selection as Pac-12 Defensive Player of the Year was a controversial one, with many believing that Arizona’s Rondae Hollis-Jefferson should have been the choice. But neither that nor the fact that Oregon State relied on a matchup zone to mask its lack of depth should not overshadow the impact “The Mitten” had defensively as he led the Beavers in steals (95) and was second in blocks (39).

F Hassan Martin, Rhode Island
The 6-foot-7 Martin became just the second player in URI history to record 100 blocks or more in a season, tallying 103 (3.1 bpg). The Staten Island native is also a good rebounder (7.7 rpg), and his length and athleticism allow Martin to play “bigger” than his height in the paint.

C Amida Brimah, Connecticut
The 7-footer from Ghana led the nation in blocked shots a season ago, recording 121 which was good for an average of 3.46 rejections per game (second nationally). Having a rim protector the caliber of Brimah helps teams be more active on the perimeter, as they have a big man capable of cleaning up mistakes.

Kentucky's Tyler Ulis (Michael Chang/Getty Images)
Kentucky’s Tyler Ulis (Michael Chang/Getty Images)

SECOND TEAM ALL-DEFENSE

G Tyler Ulis, Kentucky
The 5-foot-9 Ulis is an absolute pest defensively, thanks to a combination of effort and quickness. Ulis played in a reserve role last season, which somewhat explains the average of just one steal per game. But defending isn’t all about impressive stats, and with Kentucky’s shot blockers Ulis can afford to be aggressive in defending the ball. We’re betting that his reputation grows in this area in 2015-16.

G Malcolm Brogdon, Virginia
Virginia’s pack line defense doesn’t lend itself to eye-popping individual stats. But that shouldn’t be used as a reason to overlook what the fifth-year senior does on the defensive end of the floor. One of the top players in the country, the 6-foot-5 Brogdon was also named to the ACC’s All-Defensive Team in 2014-15.

G Rapheal Davis, Purdue
Last season the Boilermakers’ team leader was named Big Ten Defensive Player of the Year, winning the honor despite finishing the year with eight blocks and 28 steals. He isn’t going to dominate those statistical areas, but that doesn’t mask his ability to make life difficult for whoever head coach Matt Painter asks him to guard (usually the opponent’s best perimeter player).

F Skylar Spencer, San Diego State
Spencer is the rim protector on one of the nation’s best defenses, averaging 2.5 blocks per game as a junior. The 6-foot-10 Spencer finished the year with an individual block percentage of 12.7 per Ken Pomeroy’s numbers, a figure that ranked seventh nationally. Teams don’t get many chances to penetrate the SDSU defense, and once in the paint Spencer serves as quite the deterrent.

C Vashil Fernandez, Valparaiso
Fernandez receiving his fourth year of eligibility was a big boost to a program expected to make a return trip to the NCAA tournament. Last season the 6-foot-10 center earned Horizon League Defensive Player of the Year honors, as he ranked 11th in the country with an average of 2.9 blocks per game and sixth in block percentage (13.0).

Also considered: Anthony Gill (Virginia), A.J. Hammons (Purdue), Buddy Hield (Oklahoma), Brice Johnson (North Carolina), Jameel McKay (Iowa State), A.J. West (Nevada)