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It’s far too early to rule on Duke’s Austin Rivers

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There’s one thing that needs to be made clear: Duke’s Austin Rivers is a very skilled basketball player.

You don’t become the number one-ranked player in the nation, get named a McDonald’s All-American, and become the ACC’s Freshman of the Week in your first seven days on the job if you’re not skilled.

And following Rivers’ performance in the first two rounds of the Maui Invitational, games in which he averaged 19 points in two Blue Devil victories, the 6’4” freshman guard has become an interesting case study in how the flashiness and athleticism of a high school star can mesh with the controlled, calculated system of head coach Mike Krzyzewski.

Through the first six games of Rivers’ college career, his straight statline looks good: 15.1 points, 2.5 assists per game. It’s a deeper look, though, and a dissection of what doesn’t show up in the box score that reveals the struggles of this Florida native.

Take a look: he had five turnovers in Duke’s 77-76 win over Belmont. He shot 1/7 from the field against Michigan State. It took him 15 shots to get his 18 points against Tennessee and another 14 shots to get 20 points against Michigan.

The flashes of brilliance that have shown themselves in Rivers’ first six games have been tempered by some harsh freshman realities that, many times, plague star freshman guards.

Rivers is undoubtedly Duke’s best weapon to attack off the dribble, slashing to the basket, collapsing the defense, and getting to the free throw line.

But for every hopstep into the lane that ends with a shifty layup at the basket, Rivers has a rushed, out-of-control floater that leads to a run-out and easy points for the opponent.

From high school, his strong handle and quickness have translated. He can still get by defenders and get into the lane. What Rivers still needs to understand is twofold: 1) there are big men who will step up to defend in the paint 2) there are other viable options on the floor who can be relied on to score the basketball, those whose names are not “Austin Rivers.”

With outside threats in Seth Curry and Andre Dawkins, along with the Plumlee brothers and Ryan Kelly inside, Rivers’ ability to find the open man after he gets into the paint will mark his growth and maturity during his freshman year.

As his ill-advised and forced shots decrease, his lightning-quick first step and deceptive moves in the lane will become more effective, as defenses will have to compensate for his court vision.

In the first half of Duke’s win over Tennessee in Maui, Rivers drove into the lane and came to a jump stop. Defenders converged and he found Mason Plumlee for an alley-oop slam. Well done.

Not two possessions later, he drove into the lane, spun, and threw a hard layup off the glass that led to a run-out and transition points for the Volunteers. Freshman mistake.

The struggles are partly amplified by Coach K’s system at Duke.

Rivers is accustomed to a fast-paced, one-on-one style game, where defenses are spread out in transition and he can wreak havoc.

Krzyzewski’s system slows everything down, manufactures shots, and is devoid of the flashiness Rivers typically brings.

Take a look at recent Duke point guards: Nolan Smith, Kyrie Irving, and even Rivers’ classmate from 2011, Quinn Cook.

What do they all have in common? None are exceptionally athletic, but they fit well into Duke’s system and, within it, have and will thrive.

Rivers is different.

Would he have been more immediately effective at North Carolina or Kansas, two other schools he was considering? Perhaps.

But Rivers’ time at Duke could prove to be a blessing in disguise, as growing his game in the half-court is like a tough medicine to swallow; something that may be difficult to adjust to in the short-term, but beneficial in the long run.

To his credit, he has the overwhelming confidence to work through difficult stretches, so long as it doesn’t become his downfall.

After the aforementioned out-of-control layup against Tennessee, Rivers came back with two rise-and-fire, no-doubter three-pointers, part of his 11 first-half points, and 18 total, for the game.

There will be overreactions on both sides. Some will call him overrated. Some will venture to call him the best Duke guard since Jay Williams.

Both, for now, are unproven.

For now.

Illinois PG expected to be ready for practice

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Illinois point guards and injuries have been an unfortunate trend over the past two seasons with Tracy Abrams, who missed the past two seasons with a torn ACL followed by a torn Achilles the next year.

On Sunday, Jon Rothstein of CBS Sports reported some good news for an incoming Fighting Illini floor general. Te’Jon Lucas, a three-star prospect from the Class of 2016, will be fully cleared for the start of practice, according to Rothstein. In February, Lucas had broke his fibula in his right leg in two places during a game.

Lucas had committed to Illinois the previous September.

Abrams received a sixth year of eligibility by the NCAA in June, and he decided to remain in Champaign for his final season. If healthy, he’ll be the starter. Jaylon Tate is also back for another season. But they are both seniors, which makes Sunday’s report important for John Groce’s program. Lucas will be on the floor Day 1 of practice, being molded for the future by two experienced guards.

The 5-foot-11 Lucas is the only true freshman on the roster.

Illinois begins the 2016-17 season on November 11, hosting Southeast Missouri State.

Xavier adds to class with three-star center

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Xavier added a fourth piece to its 2017 recruiting class on Sunday morning.

Kentravious Jones, a 6-foot-11, three-star recruit, committed to the Musketeers. He announced the decision via Twitter.

Chris Mack’s current recruiting class is headlined by four-star swingman Naji Marshall. The incoming quartet also includes guard Elias Harden and forward Jared Ridder. But Jones’ commitment fits an area that needs to be addressed for the Musketeers moving forward. Xavier isn’t particularly deep when it comes to big men. That frontcourt only gets thinner once RaShid Gaston, a graduate transfer from Norfolk State, exhausts his eligibility after this season.

Jones, along with current freshman forward Tyrique Jones, gives Xavier a young foundation for the future. Jones is an old-school, big-bodied center. He’s got a nice back-to-the-basket game, and had his best stretch of the summer during the UAA Finals. In three games with the Atlanta Xpress, he averaged 15.3 points, shot 59 percent from the field, and grabbed nine boards per game.

Conditioning will be the emphasis for him over the course of the next year. However, we have seen Xavier work well with a big, skilled centers in the past (see: Stainbrook, Matt). According to Shannon Russell of the Cincinnati Enquirer, Jones has dropped 30 pounds.

Sunday morning’s news may not even be Xavier’s last score on the recruiting trail. The Musketeers have one scholarship remaining (two, or three if Edmond Sumner and Trevon Bluiett enter the NBA Draft this spring), and are in play for several coveted prospects like point guards Paul Scruggs, Quade Green and Matt Coleman, as well as forward Kris Wilkes.

Minnesota center to miss a month

ST. LOUIS, MO - MARCH 7: Reggie Lynch #22 of the Illinois State Redbirds and Fred VanVleet #23 of the Wichita State Shockers fight for control of a loose ball during the MVC Basketball Tournament Semifinals at the Scottrade Center on March 7, 2015 in St. Louis, Missouri.  (Photo by Dilip Vishwanat/Getty Images)
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Minnesota’s projected starting center is sidelined, but is expected to be ready for the season opener.

Reggie Lynch, the Illinois State transfer, had surgery on his left knee, the program announced on Friday night. According to Marcus R. Fuller of the Star-Tribune, the Golden Gophers are anticipating that Lynch is available for the season opener on Nov. 11 against Louisiana-Lafayette.

The 6-foot-10 Lynch has been in the news this offseason prior to his impending debut with Minnesota. In May, he was arrested on suspicion of sexual assault. On August 1, the Hennepin County attorney’s office was announced he would not face charges, citing insufficient evidence.

Lynch spent two seasons at Illinois State, averaging 9.5 points and 5.4 rebounds per game for the Redbirds as a sophomore. He sat out the 2015-16 season due to NCAA transfer rules. Minnesota is coming off a second-to-last place finish in the Big Ten with an 8-23 (2-16 Big Ten) record.

Women’s hoops coaches boycotting recruiting events

DENVER, CO - MARCH 31:  Head coach Muffet McGraw of the Notre Dame Fighting Irish directs her team during practice prior to the NCAA Women's Basketball Tournament Final Four at Pepsi Center on March 31, 2012 in Denver, Colorado.  (Photo by Doug Pensinger/Getty Images)
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For some high-major women’s basketball programs, the final evaluation period of 2016 is being used as a vacation from the recruiting trail.

According to a report from Lindsay Schnell of Sports Illustrated, are not attending events during this weekend’s recruiting period for a host of reasons.

First, many are fed up with the price of tournament packets, booklets of rosters that college coaches receive upon paying their entry fee. Packets are supposed to be chock-full of contact information for the prospects, but sometimes aren’t accurate or up-to-date. (This has become a well-documented issue on the men’s side of college hoops. CBS Sports’ Gary Parrish wrote on it this summer.) Furthermore, there are so many events now that college coaches are often forced to pay obscene amounts of money to watch just one player at a single event, and play recruiting hopscotch around the country, criss-crossing the nation to see so many events and spend thousands of dollars. One Power Five coach said her staff crunched the numbers, and found that in just two years, they’ve spent more than $4,000 more than they did in 2014 on packets alone. Another coach told a story of sending an assistant across the country for one day, to one event, to watch one team. When the assistant arrived, the team had left early for its next event. No refund was available for the college that had paid what turned out to be a useless entry fee. The head coach called it “exasperating.”

Jeff Borzello of ESPN, who spoke to Notre Dame head coach and eventual Hall of Famer Muffet McGraw for his report, estimated that the cost for one of the coaches packets — the ones that include player contact information, rosters, etc. — can cost each school an average of $600 per event.

This era of grassroots basketball has taken off in recent years with Nike, Under Armour and adidas all creating their own sponsored leagues. All three run exceptional events from the staff to the facilities, all the way to the three, free meals a day for coaches. Organizers of these events will argue that there’s a cost to running such high-end events. These packets, some of which are so in-depth they include players’ GPAs, help fund these tournaments (events, paying a staff, etc.).

Coaches, mostly mid to low-major coaches, will argue that these packets aren’t worth the cost, considering that every coach (head and assistant) must purchase them in order to gain entrance. And you will find packets where the information inside is either inaccurate, or missing or both. For elite programs, this isn’t an issue. You show up, you’re seen, you leave, you go to the next event, repeat. For mid to low-major coaches, this really puts a dent in their budget, especially when they have to travel to multiple events (buying packets at each one) because you have to land that “steal,” you have to find that player who is overlooked.

This protest, or boycott (or whatever you want to call it) will hurt those these events are intended to help the most: the players. If coaches continue to avoid these tournaments, that late-bloomer may miss out on a scholarship, or that player with mid-major offers won’t get the chance to play in front of high-major coaches.

According to Schnell, there is a proposal, voted on in April, to eliminate a live recruiting period in April and September. But many coaches in women’s basketball have made it clear this weekend how they feel about the issue.

USC lands commitment from three-star center

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USC added to its 2017 recruiting class with a commitment from a 7-foot big man.

Andy Enfield and the Trojans beat out Florida, Vanderbilt and Tennessee for the services of Calvary Christian Academy (Florida) center Victor Uyaelunmo. He announced his college decision on Friday afternoon.

“It was the best fit for me academically and athletically,” Uyaelunmo said according to David Furones of the Sun Sentinel. “The basketball coaches really wanted me to come, and I thought it was the best place for me.

“They told me how they were going to use me, and they have a couple of guys leaving this year, so I just fit in right.”

Uyaelunmo is regarded as a three-star prospect by Rivals, however, ESPN rates him a four-star recruit. He joins a two-man class which includes four-star forward Jordan Usher.

The departure of Nikola Jovanovic, the Trojans’ leading rebounder during the 2015-16, was a surprising one, and one that left USC with a hole in the middle. While Uyaelunmo still has one more year before arriving on the Los Angeles campus, the Trojans have a promising piece in the paint for the future; a long, athletic big man who has the potential, in time, to become one of the nation’s top shot blockers.

Uyaelunmo played for Nike South Beach in the EYBL this spring and summer. In 12 appearances, he averaged 5.0 points. 5.9 rebounds and 1.0 block in 17.6 minutes per game.