Is Florida for real?

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With a come-from-behind, 71-62 win over Georgia on Thursday night, No. 13 Florida clinched at least a share of the SEC East title.

They are now 22-5 overall and 11-2 playing in the (much) tougher division of the SEC. They’ve swept Tennessee and Georgia and taken care of business against Vanderbilt and Kentucky at home. They own non-conference wins over Kansas State and at Florida State and Xavier.

So why is no one talking about this team?

For one thing, the two national championship teams aside, Billy Donovan’s Florida teams have a reputation for being soft. They get beat up inside against bigger teams and they wilt when the pressure is on. Dating back to the days of Anthony Roberson and Matt Walsh, this is a program that has become synonymous with underachieving, failing to live up to the hype and the talent on the roster. The one year that the Gators performed to expectations was 2007, their second title season. But that was a direct result of the four guys that led Florida from unranked in the preseason to a 2006 title all ignored the NBA Draft and returned to school.

And on paper, this team looks like one that will end up disappointing.

Kenny Boynton is as talented as any guard in the country, but his shot selection is questionable and he is, without a doubt, the streakiest player in the country. Erving Walker is a diminutive, 5’9″ scoring point guard with a penchant for 28 footers and tough drives to the rim. Chandler Parsons has the skill set to be a top 10 pick, but he never seems willing or able to put it all together. And is anyone going to trust a front court of Alex Tyus, Vernon Macklin, and freshman Patrick Young?

Early in the season, Florida made a non-believer out of most.

They played to the level of their opponent and managed to lose to both Jacksonville and Central Florida.

But this has been a different team the past two months. Parsons has played like a potential SEC player of the year, leading the SEC in rebounding in conference games before a thigh injury slowed him. Macklin has slowly but surely developed into a scoring threat on the block. Walker is showing signs of becoming the point guard and the leader Donovan needed him to be.

And Boynton?

He’s still dreadfully streaky, but when he’s hot — like when he scored 12 straight points to lead Florida to open a 63-53 lead on the Gators — he can change the course of a game.

So do I trust Florida?

Not quite yet, not with their remaining schedule. The Gators have to play at Kentucky and at Vanderbilt and get Alabama at home. We’ll know who the Gators are once the regular season is over.

That’s a tough stretch for any team, but Florida is looking more prepared for it every game.

Rob Dauster is the editor of the college basketball website Ballin’ is a Habit. You can find him on twitter @ballinisahabit.

DePaul adds 2018 commit

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Wisconsin guard John Diener has committed to DePaul, his grassroots program announced Wednesday night.

The 6-foot-4 Class of 2018 guard ends his recruitment rather early with offers also from instate schools Green Bay and Milwaukee. He’s known as a shooter and becomes the first commit for Dave Leitao in the 2018 class.

Diener, who plays with the Wisconsin Playground Warriors in the spring and summer, commits to the Blue Demons with them coming off a disappointing campaign, Leitao’s first in Chicago. DePaul went 9-22 overall and 3-15 in the Big East, finishing only ahead of St. John’s.

DePaul has been recruiting the Midwest hard with incoming 2016 recruits from La Lumiere School in Indiana, Sagninow, Mich. and locally in Chicago.

Four-star guard Fisher commits to TCU

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Jamie Dixon’s presence is already being felt in the Big 12 and on the recruiting trail.

TCU received its first commitment of the Dixon era when four-star 2016 point guard Jaylen Fisher announced his decision to join the Horned Frogs on Wednesday.

“Due to how comfortable my family and I are with the coaching staff,” Fisher posted from his Twitter account, “and the emphasis the university has put on making basketball a priority, I’m committing to be a student-athlete at TCU.”

Getting a consensus top-75 prospect, who was once committed to UNLV, is a heck of a coup for being just a couple months on the job. It instantly shows the Frogs are going to be a player for some of the country’s top players, which is a necessity if you have designs on making a move up the ladder of arguably the country’s best league in the Big 12.

Maybe the most gratifying thing for TCU, though, is the reason Fisher publicly stated for making his decision, the school’s “making basketball a priority.” The hoops program has suffered immensely in the Big 12 (while the football program has flourished), winning a total of eight games in their four seasons (including a winless 2014), but the school sank $72 million into renovating its arena, made an aggressive move in firing Trent Johnson and then went out and got its dream candidate, Dixon, an alum. Fisher’s commitment is the first time those moves have shown that commitment to basketball paying off.

 

Report: Izundu’s San Diego State transfer ban rescinded

Ernie Kent
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Washington State transfer Valentine Izundu will be visiting San Diego State after all.

Coach Ernie Kent has rescinded his restriction on the 6-foot-10 graduate transfer from visiting the Aztecs, according to a report from the Spokesman-Review, citing an anonymous source. Izundu will also be reportedly visiting Fresno State and UNLV.

Izundu had previously been barred from considering the Aztecs by Kent because of suspcisions of tampering. Izundu vigorously denied that was the case as at the center of the dispute was a trip he made to San Diego for spring break. He publicly said he did not have any contact with the SDSU coaching staff , though he attended an Aztecs NIT game.

Kent, though, appears to have relented, as many coaches who have similarly faces public pressure in such situations before him have. In this era where so much attention is being paid to player rights and welfare, there only seems to be growing public sentiment against programs restricting transfers beyond the absolute bare minimum is rarely going to go over well. It may make things more difficult for coaches and programs, but it’s the deck is largely already stacked in their favor in most every other instance.

Ex-Michigan State player Keith Appling faces weapons charges

Keith Appling
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DEARBORN, Mich. (AP) Authorities say former Michigan State basketball player Keith Appling faces charges including carrying a concealed weapon after he was found in possession of guns and marijuana in suburban Detroit.

The Wayne County prosecutor’s office says 24-year-old Appling was arrested outside a Dearborn club on Sunday night. Club security called police after seeing a man pull a gun from the trunk of a car.

Prosecutors say Appling was in the driver’s seat of the car when police arrived. Officers found a handgun under the driver’s seat, a loaded weapon in the trunk and a small amount of suspected marijuana.

Weapons and marijuana possession charges were announced Wednesday.

The court says he doesn’t have a lawyer on record.

Appling played for the Spartans from 2010-2014 and plays for the NBA’s development league.

UNLV transfer to finish career at Michigan State

UNLV forward Ben Carter, right, celebrates after his team defeated Oregon in an NCAA college basketball game Friday, Dec. 4, 2015, in Las Vegas. UNLV won 80-69. (AP Photo/John Locher)
(AP Photo/John Locher)
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Former UNLV center Ben Carter announced on Wednesday that he will be transferring to Michigan State to finish his collegiate career.

Carter, who began his career at Oregon, averaged 8.6 points and 6.0 boards in his one season with UNLV before tearing his ACL in late January. He spent two seasons with the Ducks before transferring to Vegas, which is why he’s eligible immediately for the Spartans.

And that’s the biggest reason that Tom Izzo and company targeted him.

The Spartans lost Deyonta Davis to the NBA Draft after one season, a fact that became an inevitability midway through the year but one that the Spartans didn’t necessarily plan for heading into last season. Carter isn’t going to be an instant impact kind of player, particularly not when he’s coming off of an ACL injury, but he is a big body and a veteran presence on a front line that wasn’t going have much of either.