It's fairly unusual for a head coach to get fired at this point in the season as conference play has just begun around the country and there's still plenty of time to turn things around. But the University of South Florida has pulled the plug on Orlando Antigua. The former assistant to John Calipari at Kentucky was 23-55 in his tenure at USF, which started in the 2014-15 season. The Bulls are 6-7 this season, and their best player, Jahmal McMurray, transferred out of the program last month. I actually think this has more to do with the fact that USF is facing an NCAA investigation into the program regarding academic fraud. Over the summer, Orlando's brother Oliver resigned from his position as an assistant for his role in that. Assistant coach Murry Bartow, who needs to buy a vowel, will take over as the interim head coach. USF is next in action Saturday at SMU.
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UConn at Memphis (-6.5)
American Athletic Conference game at 7 p.m. ET on ESPN2. Memphis actually opened AAC play on Dec. 27 with a 58-54 home loss to SMU but then went back out of conference on Friday and beat a pretty solid South Carolina team 70-54, although the Gamecocks were missing their best player. Markel Crawford had a career-high 28 points vs. USC for the Tigers and Dedric Lawson added 19 points, 15 rebounds and a career-high eight assists. Lawson is the team leader in points (20.6) and rebounds (11.1) per game, leading the American in scoring and second in rebounding.
The bloom is suddenly off the rose of Huskies coach Kevin Ollie as his 5-8 team (0-2 in conference) seems likely to miss the NCAA Tournament barring a run to the conference tournament title. UConn beat Memphis three times last season, including 72-58 in the AAC Championship Game in Orlando. But this year's team enters on a three-game losing streak, two of those in overtime. Four of UConn's losses this season have come by four points or fewer while it has three wins by three points or less. Nonconference home losses to Wagner, Northeastern and Auburn aren't going to help that NCAA Tournament resume. UConn is 6-2 vs. Memphis since joining the American in 2013.
Key trends: UConn is 2-9 against the spread in its past 11 games. Memphis is 4-10 ATS in its past 14 on Thursday.
I'm leaning: Memphis.
Minnesota at Northwestern ( -3 )
Big Ten game at 9 p.m. ET on ESPNU. The two losses for Minnesota are both quality, coming at now-ranked Florida State back in November and then in overtime to Michigan State in the Big Ten opener last Tuesday, and the Gophers blew a nice lead in that one. They are off an impressive 91-82 overtime win at No. 15 Purdue on Sunday. Junior captain Nate Mason became the first Minnesota player to record at least 31 points and 11 assists in a game. He landed right on both numbers and added six rebounds with just one turnover. The Golden Gophers had lost eight in a row at Purdue. Mason was named Big Ten Co-Player of the Week.
Northwestern remains the only Power 5 school yet to make the NCAA Tournament but just might this year at 12-3 overall and with solid wins over Texas and Dayton and very close losses to Notre Dame and Butler. NU is 1-1 in the Big Ten after a 61-52 loss at Michigan State last Friday. The big story here for the Wildcats is the return from injury of starting center Dererk Pardon. He has missed five weeks following wrist surgery. The sophomore leads the team with 7.0 rebounds and 2.6 blocks per game and averages 6.9 points while shooting 57.6 percent from the field.
Key trends: The Gophers are 1-5 ATS in their past six vs. the Big Ten. Northwestern is 5-1 ATS in its past six conference games. The Gophers are 2-7 ATS in their past nine at Northwestern.
I'm leaning: Minnesota.
Cal at No. 4 UCLA (-11)
A 9 p.m. ET tipoff in the Pac-12 on ESPN. California ended a two-game losing streak with an 81-65 home win over Arizona State on Sunday. That was huge with the two-game swing through Los Angeles against the ranked Bruins and USC up next. All-American candidate Ivan Rabb dominated the Sun Devils with 20 points, 15 rebounds and five assists. Rabb has grabbed at least 10 rebounds eight times in his 12 games this year. Meanwhile, Grant Mullins got a spot start and responded with a season-high 20 points. California is 0-2 vs. ranked teams this year, losing to then-No. 12 Virginia, 56-52, on Dec. 21 and to then-No. 18 Arizona, 67-62, on Dec. 30. The Bears are looking for their first road win over a Top-5 team since March 2007 in the Pac-10 Tournament over UCLA.
UCLA bounced back from its lone loss of the season at Oregon last Wednesday, on a buzzer-beater, with an 76-63 victory at Oregon State on Friday. Freshmen were the stars again for UCLA as Lonzo Ball, a lock Top-5 pick in this year's draft, scored a career-high 23 points to go with seven assists and six rebounds, and TJ Leaf had a double-double with 21 points and 10 rebounds. Ball is the only player in the country averaging at least 10 points, five rebounds and eight assists per game. UCLA and Cal met just once last year and the Bears won 75-63 at home. The Bruins shot 33 percent in the first half and never led.
Key trends: The Bears are 2-9-1 ATS in their past 12 vs. teams with a winning record. UCLA is 8-1 ATS in its past nine home games. The home team is 6-1 ATS in the past seven meetings.
I'm leaning: UCLA has won each of its last four games in Pauley Pavilion against California, will do so again and cover.
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Read more articles by Alan Matthews
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