Michael Porter Jr. Cleared for Madness

Missouri’s Michael Porter Jr. returned to practice Friday, being cleared to play just four months removed from major back surgery.

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Though positive news for the top-ranked 6-foot-10 freshman forward, it’s still uncertain he’ll dress for Saturday’s conference contest against Kentucky … or if he’ll be in playing plans for the remainder of the regular season.

But it’s not the end of the world if he doesn’t.

News in November of his once thought of as season-ending surgery put a damper on his collegiate career outlook as the No. 2 overall prospect of the 2017 class (No. 1 before Marvin Bagley reclassified). But his absence wasn’t the know-all, say-all for his team. Mizzou has since survived the wild SEC this season, exceeding expectations of the team without the star. The Tigers are 8-7 in a competitive conference and 18-10 overall. So why scramble to fit Michael Porter Jr. into a game plan that has been working just fine without?

The Tigers travel to play a struggling Kentucky squad Saturday. Even if Michael Porter Jr. were to contribute minutes to the team, Mizzou wouldn’t need to work miracles to earn a ‘W’ in Cat country. Missouri travels to play a docile Vanderbilt group Tuesday before the Tigers wrap up the season at home against Arkansas March 3. Missouri is a dominate 12-3 at home, and can easily go 3-0 to finish the regular season of conference action. The Tigers are in a six-way tie for third now in the SEC.

The other factor in this is the possibility of Porter playing alongside his brother, and for his dad, at least once this year. Family is a big piece for Porter, whose brother Johntay reclassified to 2017 just for the chance to play with Michael. One collegiate game on the court with his brother and dad would mean the world to Porter Jr.

Missouri set itself up nicely postseason play creeps up. The addition of a healthy, talented Porter Jr. gives the Tigers a scary edge as March Madness approaches. But there Is no need to rush the freshman in.

Everything That’s Wrong With Kentucky Basketball

It’s been a historic season for the Kentucky Wildcats. Just not the kind of history the Big Blue Nation is used to. For the first time in almost two decades Tennessee swept the Cats, and Kentucky is barely treading  in the thick of the SEC. After falling to Tennessee at home Tuesday, John Calipari and company find themselves in unfamiliar territory. This team is barely .500 (6-5) in a above average conference at best. They made their way back in the AP polls the past two weeks after watching from the outside in. It was the first time the school was unranked since 2014.

So what’s going on?

You can blame youth, as this is Calipari’s youngest team of his tenure in Kentucky, and thee youngest group in the entire NCAA. That’s not a great excuse for a man all too familiar with a constant flow of faces fresh off the AAU circuit though. Big Blue Nation has been (barely) hanging on in recent weeks as their beloved Cats look like a shell of a team they can be on paper. The win in West Virginia was for sure a statement win, but the problem seems to be bringing the same style of play to the next game.
Inconsistency is the only consistent thing for the group. And it is apparent in games. Whether or not the green crop is lacking because of the big stage or not, fundamentals seem out of the window.

Their last win? It was a struggle against a team holding steady at the bottom of the conference in last place. How they got there? Two made free throws to force OT. It was a celebration and seeming miracle to force the extra play. At the end of the day it’s called a charity stripe for good reason. Nothing was done extraordinary, yet you would think it was a three ball with the clock running out.

BBN isn’t used to losing, but this too shall pass. And there are two different courses this team can take from here on out. Two different roads to season end points. Just six years removed since a title and three since their historic win streak…Kentucky’s season is far from over. It’s just the odds aren’t stacked in their favor.
Kentucky hits the road for its next two contest – a trip to College Station for Texas A&M Saturday before visiting a No. 8 ranked Auburn Wednesday in prime time.

Big Ten Games to Watch for Upcoming 2017-18 Season

Illinois at Northwestern – Dec. 1

In-state foes meet on opening night of Big Ten Conference play. Northwestern is a program still inflated from last season after having its first NCAA tournament appearance in school history. The Fighting Illini can set their season’s tone early with a road win while the Wildcats look to spark the start of their season with a win. Brad Underwood will look to start his Big Ten coaching career with a win on December 1st. 

Purdue at Indiana – Jan. 28

Both Big Ten programs are eager to earn bragging rights of the state as Purdue travels to Indiana. It is the two team’s only meeting of the season. Purdue had Indiana’s number last season in a series sweep, not to mention being 5-of-6 in their last few meetings. Both teams will have new looks however, after losing talent to the NBA.

Michigan State at Maryland – Jan. 28

A favored Michigan State team will come across its toughest road game yet when it travels to Maryland in late January. A winnable early schedule for Maryland could have the Terps hosts inflated with momentum. Look for sophomore Justin Jackson to have a break out campaign for Maryland. It will need to be a win for Michigan State to keep up with appearances.

Expect Justin Jackson to draw a lot of attention from both NBA scouts and opposing teams this season

Purdue at Michigan State – Feb. 10

This game comes at a very deciding time for the state of the Big Ten Conference. Purdue will be hungry to win another conference title, but Michigan State is one of the programs to beat in the NCAA. And the Spartans will have the home advantage down the stretch. This contest may very well be a bTig deciding factor for the final eye test of the season as both programs will be vying for a favorable NCAA tournament seeding.

Wisconsin at Michigan – Feb 11

A rematch of last year’s Big Ten championship game, where Michigan got the best of the Badgers. This game will feature two of the conferences best big men in Moe Wagner and Ethan Happ. Both teams will be hitting their stride in mid-February and we should be in for a tight one with March just around the corner.

Michigan State at Minnesota – Feb. 13

These are two teams that have the potential to win the conference and have a promising 2018 campaign in the NCAA. This will just be a good match-up to gauge where the two programs are at. Minnesota will look to continue their rise in the Big Ten with a win over the conference favorite. 

Michigan at Maryland – Feb. 24

Both programs are missing some key pieces on their rosters, specifically in point guards. The game comes on the second to last day of regular season play. It’s really the final frontier of proving grounds for players alike.

What to watch:

Michigan State is ranked No. 2 in the early polls, and the Spartans bring back talent and then some. With Miles Bridges returning to play another season with the program, key players around him will include Nick Ward and newcomer Jaren Jackson, along with Cassius Winston and Josh Langford. This is a talented Michigan State team.

ACC Games To Watch for Upcoming 2017-18 Season

With the basketball season right around the corner, starting Nov. 10, let’s break down some highlighted games and match-ups in one of the most talented, lethal conferences – the ACC.

A few exhibition games here and there, we won’t see action as a collective until the 19th annual Big 10/ACC Challenge Nov. 27-30. The conference leads the Big Ten in the challenge, 11-5-2.

ACC conference play

The ACC starts conference play Dec. 9, when Duke travels to Boston College. Don’t expect a riveting contest between the Eagles and the Blue Devils. Boston College has finished dead last the past two season, and they had an infamous 0-18 conference play record during the 2015-16 season. The battle begins in a conference that has won eight of the last 17 NCAA Championship Tournaments and combined for 63 Final Four appearances.

Tough proving ground for the faint-hearted.

The following match ups are in chronological order as the season progresses and give fans some excitement to look forward to.

Virginia at Virginia Tech –  Wednesday, January 3rd

Why not highlight a showdown between the two in-state teams. Virginia is looking to find its identity again on the road. Last year Virginia Tech topped off Virginia in a double overtime game in Blacksburg. It may be a down year for Tony Bennett and the Cavaliers, which will make this rivalry all the more interesting during the 17-18 season. 

North Carolina at Notre Dame – Saturday, January 13th

Any game that pits two of the most talented players in the conference head-to-head. Joel Berry II is an all-around stud, when healthy. He is an early favorite to win ACC Player of the Year. But Notre Dame forward Bonzie Colson, another favorite to win the PoY, is going to protect his house when the Tar Heels come to town.

Duke at Miami – Monday, January 15th

Miami is a contender in the ACC. This isn’t news. They won the ACC title in 2013, and they see no reason why this year isn’t their year. Highly touted freshman Lonnie Walker is recovering from a knee injury, but should be back by the start of the season and fully healthy by this game. The game is highlighted because Duke is favored to win the ACC with their talented group of incoming freshman, giving the Hurricanes the ultimate proving ground early in conference play. Duke will look to outplay with talent in order to overcome a more experienced, sized Miami team.

Louisville at Miami – Wednesday, January 24th

Miami could have momentum coming into this contest if they manage a win at home against Duke. Louisville’s season is going to start with distraction, as Rick Pitino will be suspended the first five games for an off the court scandal. In early season polls, Miami sits atop of the Cardinals, who while was a No. 2 seed in last year’s tournament lost a key piece in Donovan Mitchell.

Duke at UNC – Thursday, February 8th

It’s the rivalry game we as basketball fans wait all season for. It’s part one of the epic saga between two powerhouse programs, separated by the 10-mile stretch on Tobacco Road. This game will be a perfect gauge of talent among the two programs. For obvious reasons, this game is going to draw the attention of the entire NCAA, not just the ACC. 

Last season’s results: Duke topped UNC, 86-78, at Cameron while the Tar Heels had the final say at home, closing out the season with a 90-83 win.

Louisville at Duke – Wednesday, February 21st

This is a big test for Louisville. The Cardinals look for a pair of wins in thee days against UNC and Duke. Two wins would give Louisville a boost up in polls and nods for better seeding in the tournament. While back to back games against UNC and Duke is never easy, the Cards have a veteran team capable of handling this tough test. It won’t be an easy year for the Cardinals. Hopefully they have talent to back up the team.

UNC at Duke – Saturday, March 3rd

The battle on Tobacco Road part two is a hands-down, no-brainer hyped game. Why not save the best for last. UNC not only has to take on a prolific Blue Devils team, but they have to keep their focus in one of the most legendary gyms in Cameron Indoor. At this point in the season, you can expect the two teams to be vying for the best eye bid. It will be a challenge to take on the Crazies at home. Not to mention it’s senior night for Grayson Allen. Talk about your momentum. 

Player watch list:

  • Joel Berry II, UNC

  • Deng Adel, Louisville

  • Bonzie Colson, Notre Dame

  • Grayson Allen, Duke

  • Bruce Brown, Miami

  • Marvin Bagley, Duke

Late Rollie Massimino Leaves Mark On Basketball

Rollie Massimino is a name synonymous with college basketball. When you think of Massimino, you picture a larger-than-life persona in a coach that will forever be remembered as a hero at Villanova and a founder for the Big East Conference. And on Wednesday, Rollie Massimino passed at the age of 82.

The former Villanova coach will be remembered for everything he has done for the game of basketball.

Massimino sealed his name in the record books when he lead the 1984-1985 Wildcats to a NCAA title season as head coach of Villanova. The New Jersey native led his team in what was one of the greatest upsets in the NCAA tournament history, knocking off Georgetown University and its big man, the great Patrick Ewing. He was head coach at Villanova University for 19 seasons and will forever be remembered as a Wildcat.

Massimino coached for more than five decades, starting out as an assistant coach at Cranford High School in Cranford, N.J. His collegiate coaching career started at Stony Brook before he was assistant coach at Penn.

During his 19-year stint at Villanova, Massimino was a part of a crew of outspoken, big personalities that led the almighty Big East Conference during its prime. He was unapologetically an in-your-face coach. And he could back it up.

Massimino spent two years at UNLV from 1992-1994 where he was hired in hopes of bringing back a Runnin’ Rebels ball program to good standing with the forced departure of coach Jerry Tarkanian.

He ended his coaching career with assumed positions at Cleveland State and finally Keiser University, where he earned his 800th career win on Dec. 14, 2016 in its 77-47 blowout win over Trinity Baptist.