Jamie Skeen making his impact felt at VCU

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NEW YORK – VCU’s bread and butter is the three.

Well, that’s not exactly true. They like to spread the floor and take advantage of the talented perimeter players on the roster. Joey Rodriguez, Brandon Rozzell, Brad Burgess, Ed Nixon. Even young guys Darius Theus and Rob Brandenburg stepped up and made some big plays this afternoon.

When you have that many good players on your perimeter, and that many players that are unselfish, what you end up with is great ball movement and a lot of open looks. And this group is going to knock down those open looks. They did just that tonight, banging home 10-22 shots from beyond the arc in their 89-85 win over UCLA.

The problem with having so many talented back court players is that, at times, the ball fails to make its way into the post.

Jamie Skeen made sure to address that problem.

“We were at dinner. I just made a joke about it at first,” Skeen said with a laugh after the game. “My coach took it seriously. He said ‘Okay, we’re going to get you the ball for real.’ I said that would nice.”

It worked out well tonight.

Skeen scored 10 points in the first five minutes of the game. He was the focal point offensively down the stretch, scoring and drawing fouls in the post and creating shots for his teammates. And not just the three baskets he created via an assist, but by forcing UCLA’s defense to adjust by moving the ball.

“Down the stretch, they ran a play for me I would say probably 10, 12 times in a row,” Skeen said. “The same play over and over and over again. I wasn’t complaining.”

“My whole life I’ve been playing inside-out basketball. You play inside-out and then the threes start coming because they start clamping down and double-teaming. So it opened it up for everyone else.”

All told, Skeen finished with 23 points, 9 rebounds, and 3 assists while shooting 8-13 from the floor and playing a major role in getting UCLA’s big men in foul trouble.

“Before the Tennessee game, Skeen said that he wanted the ball more,” VCU head coach Shaka Smart said after the game. “So we said OK. We’ll give you the ball more. But to whom much is given, much is expected.”

“He produced tonight.”

The most important stat produced for VCU tonight was one win. The biggest difference between tonight’s win and Wednesday’s loss was the perimeter shooting. And while Skeen did help to create open looks for the multitude of Ram shooters tonight, he also got them open looks on Wednesday.

The threes were dropping tonight.

And, as I said on Wednesday, when the threes are dropping, VCU is going to be able to play with anyone in the country. Tonight proves it.

UCLA has a way to go before they get back to the heights that this program expects. They are a younger team, one that has a number of talented pieces that head coach Ben Howland is still trying to fit together.

That said, this is a Bruins team that many expected to be a sleeper in the Pac-10. (Isn’t it a bad sign for UCLA that they are now disappointing when they are not a sleeper in a bad Pac-10 conference?) A team that some believe was in the running for a potential second tournament bid coming out of that league.

VCU blitzed them. The Rams jumped out to an early lead riding Skeen’s coattails, and they held that lead throughout.

Sure, UCLA got close. They cut it to three at the half. They got the lead down to one with early in the second half, missing a chance to take the lead with Malcolm Lee missed two free throws. After VCU built the lead back up to 11, the Bruins made another run, once again getting to within one possession.

And, once again, the Rams held them off. With the score 80-79, VCU forced Lazeric Jones into two turnovers, both of which led to dunks. The lead was pushed to five, and while a couple misses at the line made things interesting, the Rams were able to hang on for the win.

“I thought UCLA did a great job of making shots and rebounding and usually if we give up that many points its going to be a losing night for us,” Smart said.

“I’m proud of our guys. They stepped up. Showed a lot of fight.”

The experience of playing on national TV in an arena like Madison Square Garden is great and the confidence boost of competing with, and beating, two of the top programs in the country is invaluable.

But how much value with this win have come March?

UCLA is a bubble team at best. While it is no doubt a good win for the Ram program, will it be as good of a win in the eyes of the tournament committee?

It may only be the day after Thanksgiving, but for a team with tournament aspirations — like VCU has — that is a questions that has to be asked. VCU still gets South Florida and Richmond in non-conference play, but neither of those teams would be marquee wins. If VCU doesn’t win their conference tournament, they better be rooting for UCLA to have a resurgence.

But, for now, VCU just wants to enjoy this win.

“We had a seven, eight hour drive up here,” Skeen said.

“We didn’t want to go back down the road on two losses.”

Can’t blame him for that.

N.C. State adds grad transfer Sam Hunt

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N.C. State added its fourth transfer this offseason. Like ex-Baylor guard Al Freeman, the latest one is eligible to play next season.

Sam Hunt, a double-digit scorer the past two seasons at North Carolina A&T, officially enrolled at North Carolina State on Monday morning.

“Sam is a great young man and will bring much needed depth to our backcourt,” N.C. State head coach Kevin Keatts said in a statement. “I want guys who are excited about being a part of our program and Sam really wants to be here.

“Sam is a combo guard that can space the floor with his ability to shoot the basketball. He is a good fit for the system and will bring a wealth of experience to our roster.”

Hunt, the 6-foot-2 guard, averaged 12.7 points per game last season, a dip from the 15.4 points per game he posted for the Aggies as a redshirt sophomore.

Hunt joins a roster that lost its three leading scorers from a season ago, one that ended 15-17 (4-14 ACC). Dennis Smith Jr. is a member of the Dallas Mavericks. Maverick Rowan also pursued a professional career and Terry Henderson was denied an additional year from the NCAA.

The Wolf Pack bring back forwards Abdul-Malik Abu and Omer Yurtseven as well as Torin Dorn.

Keatts, who took over the program after leading UNC Wilmington to back-to-back NCAA Tournaments, has already built for the future. UNC Wilmington transfer C.J. Bryce, 17.4 points, 5.4 rebounds and 3.0 assists per game for the Seahawks, has followed him to Raleigh. Utah transfer Devon Daniels committed to the Wolf Pack the same day as Bryce. Both will have to sit out next season due to NCAA transfer rules. Bryce will have two years of eligibility while Daniels will have three.

LaVar Ball stars in an uncomfortably entertaining segment on WWE’s Raw

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LaVar Ball’s statements and antics over this past year always seemed better suited a professional wrestling ring.

It was only natural that the patriarch of the Ball family — and the head of the Big Baller Brand — made an appearance on WWE’s Monday Night Raw at the Staples Center for an awkwardly entertaining segment with WWE Intercontinental Champion The Miz.

With sons, Lonzo — in his first appearance in the Staples Center as a member of the Los Angeles Lakers — and LaMelo looking on, LaVar was the center of attention. When The Miz mentioned something about a partnership between the two, the scripted interview went south. It resulted in LaVar saying nonsensical things like, “There’s only two dudes better than me, and I’m both of ’em!” before later taking off his shirt. When Dean Ambrose, a WWE superstar feuding with The Miz came out on to the ramp, LaVar didn’t quite grasp the concept that that was his cue to stop talking.

This segment was somehow entertaining and cringeworthy at the same time.

Now that Lonzo is beginning his NBA career, maybe it’s time LaVar try something different. A manager in the WWE may just be his true calling. He’s certainly had plenty of practice.

Maryland lands commitment from five-star 2018 forward

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Maryland added to its 2018 recruiting class with its second commit, the newest addition being a five-star in-state product.

Jalen Smith, a 6-foot-9 forward from Baltimore powerhouse Mount St. Joseph, committed to the Terrapins, making the announcement on Twitter.

“I believe that I can academically and athletically achieve my goals at home through my commitment to the University of Maryland … Go Terps,” he tweeted as part of a long passage.

Smith is listed as the No. 13 overall recruit in the Class of 2013 by Rivals. He joins four-star swingman Aaron Wiggins in Mark Turgeon’s current recruiting class.

Playing for Team Takeover on the Nike EYBL circuit, Smith is averaging 10.9 points, 5.6 rebounds, and 1.0 blocks per game.

Recent grad’s joyride reportedly did $100,000 of damages to Mizzou Arena

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A recent graduate and temporary employee of the University of Missouri took an early morning joy ride that reportedly could rack up around $100,000 to Mizzou Arena.

According to Dave Mater of the St. Louis Post-Dispatch, Nathaniel J. Contant, 23, who graduated from the school in December 2016, drove his Volkswagen Passat through a gate and eventually on to the floor of the 15,000-seat on-campus arena.

At 7:15 a.m. Sunday, MU police were dispatched to Mizzou Arena for a report of property damage. Officers determined that around 4 a.m., the suspect drove his vehicle through a closed gate on the south side of the arena. He ran through a garage door and drove into a dock area where he damaged several golf carts that were stored in the area. He also drove his car onto the basketball court. The man couldn’t leave through the area he used to enter the building, so he drove through the arena’s press gate.

Contant, unsurprisingly, is no longer an employee of the university. He’s being charged with second-degree burglary and first-degree property damage, both of which are felonies. He was released on a $4,500 bond.

The motive for this early-morning joyride remains unclear.

Despite the hype surrounding the upcoming Mizzou season — one that includes the debut of new head coach Cuonzo Martin and the projected No. 1 overall pick in the 2018 NBA Draft Michael Porter, Jr. — Twitter users couldn’t help but poke fun at the dismal recent history the Tigers have had.

(h/t Kansas City Star)

Vance Jackson transfers to New Mexico

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With more than a handful of departures this offseason, New Mexico is set to have a new-look roster for the 2017-18 season. On Monday, Paul Weir, now at the helm of the program, landed a player who should make an impact in the three remaining seasons of eligibility he has left.

Vance Jackson, who spent this past season at UConn, decided to make the move from Storrs to Albuquerque, picking the Lobos over Rutgers, San Diego State, TCU, and Washington.

The 6-foot-8 rising sophomore will have to sit out next year due to NCAA transfer rules before resuming his collegiate career in the fall of 2018.

“The coaches — they trust in me,” Jackson told Geoff Grammer of the Albuquerque Journal last month during his official campus visit. “We’re on the same page. They see a vision.”

Weir, who led New Mexico State this past season to a NCAA Tournament appearance in his one and only season as head coach, succeeded Craig Neal in April.

This offseason has been headlined by transfers, though, those mostly were about players leaving the program. Jackson is the second transfer to land at UNM with Akron’s Antino Jackson electing to use his final season of eligibility with the Lobos. Antino Jackson is a graduate transfer, allowing him to play immediately next season.

Vance Jackson, who was rated as the No. 80 overall player in the Class of 2016 by Rivals, averaged 8.1 points, 3.8 rebounds, and 1.4 assists per game while shooting just under 40 percent from three for the Huskies as a freshman.