A look at some unsuspecting undefeateds

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At the time of this writing, there remain 14 undefeated teams in college basketball. It is by no means an anomaly compared to previous seasons, but what might stick out are a few of the teams currently enjoying an unblemished record this holiday season.

Kentucky, Syracuse and Ohio State? You sort of expected them to run the table at least into the second week of December.

But a team that lost 61 percent of its scoring from a year ago, is averaging 83 points a game with a new head coach, or puts academics before hoops? That, my college basketball friend, is worth a look.

There’s plenty of season left, but here’s an audit of just how legit six teams that surprisingly remain undefeated are, now that they have our undivided attention.

Not listed is Hartford, or a handful of other America East teams, a conference with the dubious distinction of accounting for nearly half of the country’s eight winless clubs.

Kansas State aside – whose five wins are just not enough to qualify – if your team is undefeated and not discussed, well, then it’s because I had a hunch they’d be perfect. Consider it a compliment (I saw it coming, Murray State fans! I really did, and you are in good shape for a 30+ win season), by simply enjoying your squad’s current start.

Illinois

  • They had us at…Saturday’s 82-75 win over Gonzaga, in which sophomore Meyers Leonard outplayed the Bulldogs’ Elias Harris, a now former NBA prospect.
  • When they’ll lose: After averting a small crisis against St. Bonaventure, the Fighting Illini have two can’t-miss non conference games remaining before embarking into conference play. Both the 12/17 match-up against UNLV and annual game with Missouri are loseable, but also excellent opportunities to build that resume for the NCAA Tournament Committee. Remain undefeated before Christmas and Bruce Weber will be the head coach of a top 12 team entering the new year.
  • Then what? On paper this team has much less talent than a season ago,  but gone is the inconsistent play of Demetri McCamey and blue chip prospect turned criminal Jereme Richmond. If Leonard continues to lead the way, and Brandon Paul attacks the basket instead of relying on an average jumpshot, this could be your second best Big Ten squad. Consider yourself warned, Michigan.

Missouri

  • They had us at…a November 22nd 92-53 drubbing of Cal, one of those wins that evokes “oooohhh, so that’s how it’s gonna be” reactions.
  • When they’ll lose:  The aforementioned Braggin’ Rights game against Illinois will be of extra importance to both teams if they arrive in St. Louis undefeated.  Get a win, and Frank Haith shouldn’t have much to worry about until a game against Texas in mid-January, other than proof-reading his National Coach of the Year submission, of course.
  • Then what? The Big 12 is wide open, and if the Tigers are either undefeated or have a lone loss when they tip off league play against Oklahoma on January 3rd, they should be the favorites to win the conference. As a shameless self-promotion, I really like how they play.

Marquette

  • They had us at… Tuesday’s nail-biter against Washington, but a line to jump on the bandwagon really began Saturday after the Golden Eagles defeated in-state rival Wisconsin.
  • When they’ll lose: Their December 29th match-up against Vanderbilt could set either team in opposite directions, but I’m not entirely positive Marquette is a shoe-in to stay undefeated until then. Cross-town rival Milwaukee currently sits at 8-1, eying the chance to knock off the Golden Eagles just a few days before Christmas. You know those guys aren’t intimidated, and Marquette should not take them lightly.
  • Then what? Coming into the season I predicted the Golden Eagles to challenge Louisville for third place in the Big East. That’s looking accurate to date, as Buzz Williams’ club could earn a three-seed for the NCAA Tournament.

Xavier

  • They had us atThis.
  • When they’ll lose: The Musketeers are in the midst of one of the most treacherous strings of non-conference games in recent memory; like the 2009-2010 Presbyterian Blue Hose treacherous, only difference is that Chris Mack isn’t doing it for the money. They’ve already downed Vanderbilt in Nashville, broken the rules of win-probability against Purdue, and got revenge in Hinkle over Butler.  But Cincinnati, Oral Roberts, Long Beach State (in the Diamond Head Classic), and Gonzaga remain. Something’s gotta give, right? We shouldn’t fault this team if they can’t remain unbeaten to start the new year.
  • Then what? Oh hum, another Atlantic 10 regular season title is theirs to lose. Thankfully, a reprieve from the monotony comes in the form of Memphis on February 4th, a team with a style of play and personnel Xavier teams traditionally have trouble with.

Indiana

  • They had us at…the moment people started talking about the importance of this weekend’s game against Kentucky.
  • When they’ll lose: Saturday against the Wildcats, actually. Enjoy the build-up, everyone, because UK will take care of business in Bloomington.
  • Then what?: It’s time for IU to start getting real about earning an NCAA Tournament berth. Six players average nine or more points a game for the Hoosiers, and they’re one of the most efficient offensive teams this season. Kentucky aside, Tom Crean did not schedule a difficult non-conference slate. Personally, I have reservations about celebrating this program’s return to relevance, but true signs of improvement are staring us in the face.

Harvard

  • They had us at…a weekend in Paradise, when they won the Battle 4 Atlantis by downing Utah, Florida State and UCF.
  • When they’ll lose: The Crimson are 6.5 point underdogs tonight against UConn, and rightfully so. If they can pull off the improbable and beat the Huskies,  Jim Calhoun will throw a nice fit we can all enjoy, and an incredible story for the 2011-2012 college basketball season will be in the works.
  • Then what? I can’t go into much detail for fear of jinxing Tommy Amaker’s club, but all I’m saying is tonight’s game could be the one we look back on in a few months and pinpoint as the moment when a lot of fantastic things were set into motion.

Nick Fasulo is the manager of Searching for Billy Edelin. Follow him @billyedelinSBN.

Report: Texas’ Jones to test NBA possibility

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Both of Texas’ McDonald’s All-Americans from its 2016 class will test the NBA waters.

Andrew Jones will declare for the draft, but will not hire an agent, according to ESPN’s Jeff Goodman.

The 6-foot-4 guard joins Jarrett Allen, the Longhorns’ star center, in utilizing the rule change that became available to players last year in which they can declare, workout for teams, attend the NBA combine and still return to school.

Jones averaged 11.4 points, 3.9 rebounds and 3.5 assists per game as a freshman. He shot 42.5 percent from the field overall and 32.8 percent from 3-point range.

Allen seems the likelier candidate to remain in the draft as a potential lottery pick, but Jones came to Austin with similar one-and-done possibilities given his status as one of the class’ top recruits.

Texas, of course, is hoping both return, not just because they’re both big talents, but because incoming and highly-touted recruit Matt Coleman fills the major hole in last year’s lineup – point guard. If the three of them can share the floor together, Year 3 of the Shaka Smart era will be much more interesting.

Morrow announces transfer from Nebraska

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Nebraska was once again hit with a surprising and damaging transfer.

Ed Morrow, Jr., who led the Huskers in rebounding last year, announced his intention to transfer, the school announced Wednesday.

“I support Ed in his decision to transfer schools and wish him well,” Nebraska coach Tim Miles said in a statement. “We appreciate his hard work over the last two years. Although I am disappointed, we will continue to recruit young men who are committed to our mission of building Nebraska Basketball with a culture of success in all areas…life, school and winning basketball at its highest level.”

The 6-foot-7 sophomore’s departure is a major hit to the Huskers, who are coming off a 12-19 year in which Miles’ job security was called into question. It almost assuredly will be again this year as Nebraska hasn’t been able to build on its 2014 NCAA tournament appearance, instead putting together three-straight losing seasons.

Morrow’s decision is surprising not only given he’d been a productive member of the team – averaging 9.4 points and 7.5 rebounds per game – but because he was born in Nebraska before attending high school in Chicago and both his parents were Nebraska student-athletes his father winning a national title on the football team in 1994 and his mother an all-Big Eight performer on the basketball team.

“I want to say thank you to my teammates, coaches, the fans and the University of Nebraska athletics department for giving me the opportunity to play Division I basketball,” Morrow said in a statement. “It is hard to leave home, and Nebraska is my home. I was born and raised here, it is my parents’ alma mater, and I have a lot of friends here. But sometimes you have to venture out to pursue dreams and aspirations in a career. This is a sacrifice I have to make to better myself.”

Morrow’s transfer comes a year after Andrew White surprised Nebraska with his decision to graduate and transfer to Syracuse, which no doubt impacted the Huskers’ poor 2016-17 record.

Miles was on the hot seat at the end of last season and will assuredly begin this season there as well. A roster hit like Morrow won’t do much to help him improve the situation. Nebraska does, however, have three starters returning while Georgetown transfer Isaac Copeland is eligible, as is Miami (Fla.) transfer James Palmer, Jr.

Lonzo Ball says “I’m better than” Markelle Fultz

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Usually, it’s LaVar Ball that makes news for what he says.

His eldest son is now getting in on the business of generating headlines with something other than his play.

The UCLA star, who said he’ll enter the draft after just one season with the Bruins, claimed he’s the better prospect than Washington freshman Markelle Fultz, who many have pegged as the No. 1 pick in June’s draft.

“Markelle’s a great player,” Ball said, according to ESPN, “but I feel I’m better than him,” “I think I can lead a team better than him. Obviously he’s a great scorer — he’s a great player, so I’m not taking that away from him.”

Not exactly inflammatory stuff – like saying you could have beaten Michael Jordan, that you want a $1 billion apparel deal or a number of things his father has said – bu Ball is certainly projecting confidence. And there’s absolutely nothing wrong with that. There’s quite a bit of money – and pride – at stake with the draft, and Ball put up a season worthy of comparison to Fultz, who had great numbers but played for an abysmal Washington team. Ball, on the other had, had strong numbers while leading UCLA to the Sweet 16.

Both are going to go at the top of a draft that’s stocked full of promising point guards. Which player goes before the other remains to be seen, but it’s likely public pronouncements aren’t going to affect the draft order.

 

UMass hires McCall away from Chattanooga

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UMass has found, once more, the man to take over its basketball program.

The Minutemen have reached an agreement with Chattanooga coach Matt McCall, the school announce Wednesday

“The tradition and resources that are in place not only make this one of the best basketball jobs in the Atlantic 10 Conference,” McCall said in a statement released by the school, “but one of the best jobs in the country. We couldn’t be more excited about becoming part of the UMass family and look forward to building upon the rich tradition that has been established here in the past.”

In McCall’s two years at Chattanooga, the Mocs to the NCAA tournament in 2016 and a 19-12 record this year that featured five-straight losses to end the season.

The move will take McCall out of the southeast for the first time in his career as he previously served as at Florida and Florida Atlantic before getting his first head coaching job at Chattanooga.

McCall wasn’t the Minutemen’s first choice to replace Derek Kellogg after three-straight lackluster seasons. Winthrop coach Pat Kelsey had agreed to take the job before a last-minute about-face that saw him return to the Eagles program just before his introductory press conference was scheduled to begin.

“Matt is a rising star in college basketball coaching who has been a key piece of three successful programs in his career,” UMass athletic director Ryan Bamford said in a statement. “He has earned a reputation as a relentless worker, a great teammate and colleague and a confident leader of young men.

“Matt has worked with some of the most respected coaches and administrators in the country, who loudly sing his praises. Coach McCall’s appointment begins an exciting new chapter for our tradition-rich men’s basketball program at UMass.”

Despite being the second choice, McCall’s reputation in the coaching industry makes him a strong hire, having worked under Mike Jarvis and Billy Donovan. He took over at Chattanooga for Will Wade, and brought the Mocs to a 29-6 record and a  12-seed in the NCAA tournament in 2016.

UMass went to just one NCAA tournament under Kellogg (in 2014) during his nine seasons leading the Minutemen.

VIDEO: Frank Martin’s sideline demeanor as a high school coach

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South Carolina coach Frank Martin has the reputation of being rather, shall we say, intense on the sidelines during games.

The coach has a stare that seemingly could bore a hole through his players when they do something that doesn’t reach his level of expectation. Martin’s demeanor, though, didn’t just come into form once he hit the college ranks.

He was plenty intense on high school sidelines as well.

Martin won three titles while at Miami Senior in the mid-1990s, coaching the likes of future pros Steve Blake and Udonis Haslem. Now having reached his first career Final Four, that sideline persona has put him on the precipice of winning yet another championship, this time at the collegiate level.