Previewing your College Hoops Weekend

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Game of the Weekend: Sat. 4:00 pm: No. 14 San Diego State @ No. 16 UNLV:

By now you should all know what happened the last time these two teams got together. Playing on a bum ankle, SDSU’s Jamaal Franklin had 22 points and 10 boards, including a tough, driving layup with just 0.3 seconds left on the clock as the Aztecs knocked off league favorite UNLV in Viejas Arena. That was the win that catapulted the Aztecs into the national consciousness and, frankly, to their spot at the top of the MWC standings.

But if you know anything about college basketball, you know that the Rebels are itching to get their shot at redemption in the Thomas and Mack Center on Saturday. UNLV is a different team playing in their own arena, which is a scary proposition considering that the Rebels are already considered arguably the most dangerous team on the west coast. With the taste of a last-second defeat still lingering on their palate and possibly their last shot to keep themselves within reach of a Mountain West regular season title on the line, you better believe that Dave Rice’s club is going to be ready to play.

The matchup alone is juicy enough. UNLV is one of the most entertaining teams in the country to watch. They are loaded with athletes, they love to get up and down the floor, they shoot — and make — quite a few threes and they have one of the country’s best kept secrets in Mike Moser. From a talent perspective, the Rebels should run away with this game. But SDSU is a poor man’s Missouri. They are well coached, they have a crop of talented perimeter players and they win games because their whole is greater than the sum of their parts. Getting a chance to see talents like Anthony Marshall and Franklin share a court is worth tuning in for.

But, as I mentioned, the intensity of this game is going to be ratcheted up by the importance of it. SDSU is currently sitting at 6-1 in the league, with a one game lead on both UNLV and New Mexico. With the MWC having just eight members this season, it means that there are only going to be 14 games played. Falling two games back with just six to play is a huge hole for UNLV to try and dig out of, especially when SDSU has already won both matchups.

My pick: I think UNLV gets it done on their home floor, and I think that the final isn’t going to be as close as the first meeting was.

Seven more you need to watch:

Sat. 1:00 pm: No. 20 Virginia @ No. 5 UNC: As the saying goes, ‘styles make the fight’, and no game this weekend is going to have a more intriguing contrast of styles than this one. Where UNC likes to get out and run the floor at every opportunity, UVA is as deliberate as teams come. They want to pack in their defense and turn this into a half court game. Think Wisconsin. And when UNC played Wisconsin, the Badgers nearly knocked off the Tar Heels despite playing far from their best game. UNC is coming off a dreadfully disappointing loss to Duke on Wednesday night. Unfortunately for the Cavs, they may have caught UNC at the exact wrong time. Of note: it should be interesting, especially for NBA scouts, to see Mike Scott work against the front line of Tyler Zeller and John Henson.

Sat. 1:47 pm: No. 6 Baylor @ No. 4 Missouri: Why the weird start time? Because somehow one of the best games of the season ended up getting stuck in the awkward time slot that the big 12 utilizes on every Saturday. So instead of being able to watch two top ten teams battle — one trying to regain some of the national respect they lost in an embarrassing performance against Kansas on Wednesday and the other trying to prove to the country that they, in fact, deserve to remain in the Big 12 race with Kansas — on that flatscreen HD you have, you better hope and pray that your internet service provider has ESPN3.

Sat. 3:00 pm: Cincinnati @ No. 19 Marquette: Cincinnati is reeling a bit. After picking up road wins against Georgetown and UConn, there was chatter that the Bearcats were actually the second-best team in the Big East. The inability to keep up that kind of play knocked the Bearcats back to the pack, however. Now Marquette is one of the teams that is getting put into that conversation, but they are coming off of a recent loss to Notre Dame. Of note: the Bearcats are one of the best road teams in the Big East, if not the country.

Sat. 6:00 pm: No. 12 Michigan State @ No. 3 Ohio State: The best basketball games always seem to be the ones where the individual matchup involves the coaching staff. With Tom Izzo going up against Thad Matta, there is little doubt in my mind that both teams will end up with perfectly drawn-up scouting reports. On the court, I see three keys to the game: how well Ohio State is able to keep the Spartans off the glass, how Jared Sullinger does against a defense that you know is going to be prepared and how William Buford plays.

Sat. 9:00 pm: Xavier @ Temple: Its a shame this game didn’t happen back in November, because in the events since then, neither team has been quite like themselves. Xavier is still reeling from the brawl, unable to get back into the kind of rhythm they had earlier in the season. Temple, on the other hand, seems to finally be hitting their stride with Michale Eric back in the lineup. I don’t care what the standings say, I still think these are the two best teams in the Atlantic 10.

Who’s getting upset?: Sat. 9:00 pm: No. 1 Kentucky @ Vanderbilt

Here’s my theory: the way that you beat Kentucky is by getting physical with their big guys. The Wildcats don’t have much depth up front and the big men that they do have (Anthony Davis, Terrence Jones) can get pushed around by bigger opponents. Enter Festus Ezeli. Ezeli is a big, strong, first-round pick that is going to do nothing if not try to get Davis into foul trouble. If he succeeds in using his physicality inside — and John Jenkins and Jeff Taylor get into a rhythm shooting the ball, Vandy has a shot to win this game at home.

Three more teams who should be on upset watch:

Sat. 12:00 pm: No. 23 Louisville @ West Virginia: The Mountaineers are heading into what many would probably terms a must-win. WVU has now lost four of their last five games, which assuredly is making West Virginia fans fret. They are getting dangerously close to being back towards the wrong side of the bubble. But with league player of the year favorite Kevin Jones anchoring their lineup and a mad Bob Huggins, this is the kind of game that is primed for the picking.

Sat. 1:00 pm: Miami @ No. 17 Florida State: I thought that I was convinced by Florida State after they won against UNC and knocked off Duke in Cameron. And then FSU had to go and lose to Boston College. I officially have no idea what to make of that team, but I do believe that Miami is going to be one of the nation’s late-risers. With an upset of Duke in Cameron already under their belt as well and a roster with a ton of firepower — including matchup nightmare Kenny Kadji — the Canes just may have the pieces to beat the Noles.

Sat. 4:00 pm: No. 21 Harvard @ Princeton: Princeton is down a bit this season. Heading into the weekend, the Tigers are sitting at 2-3 in conference play. But with Harvard coming to town, you know that team is going to be ready to play.

Mid-major matchup of the weekend: Sat. 5:00 pm: Wichita State @ No. 15 Creighton

Well, this was pretty obvious, wasn’t it? Do I even need to set the stage? Creighton went into Wichita and knocked off the Shockers a month ago, but that win and public sentiment made it difficult to convince people that the Shockers may actually be the best team in the Missouri Valley. They don’t have the same kind of high-powered that the Bluejays do, but they have a much better defense. WSU has a slew of talented perimeter players, but no one in the Valley — hell, very few players across the country — have been playing as well as Garrett Stutz over the last three weeks. The question is whether or not WSU will have an answer to Doug McDermott.

Five more mid-major matchups worth keeping an eye on:

Fri. 7:00 pm: No. 21 Harvard @ Penn: If it wasn’t for Creighton-Wichita State, I would have put this game up at the top of the evidence. In this one, you will get a chance to see one of the best point guars in the country — Scott Machado.

Fri. 7:00 pm: Iona @ Loyola (MD): First place in the MAAC is on the line. With how many points Iona is capable of putting up, why wouldn’t you check in for this game.

Sat. 1:00 pm: Arkansas-Little Rock @ Middle Tennessee State: The Sun Belt’s division leaders square off. If you have still not seen MTSU play, this may be a good game to sneak in on them. The Blue Raiders may not have the profile to earn themselves an at-large big, but this is certainly a group that can win in the tournament if need be.

Sat. 2:00 pm: VCU @ Old Dominion: Both VCU and ODU are down, which could actually be better news for this. The CAA is wide-open, with four teams all within a game of that first.

Sun. 12:00 pm: Vermont @ Stony Brook: First place in the America East is on the line.

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

Deng Adel to return to Louisville

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Deng Adel is withdrawing his name from the NBA Draft and returning to school for his junior season.

A 6-foot-7 wing, Adel was projected as a second round pick at best coming off of a season where he averaged 12.1 points and 4.5 rebounds while starting 30 games.

But Adel did play his best basketball down the stretch, averaging better than 16 points in Louisville’s final six games.

His return was critical for the Cardinals, who lost Donovan Mitchell to the NBA Draft. For a team that struggled to score at times this past season, losing their top two scorers would have been a brutal blow. With Adel back in the fold, Louisville looks like a top ten team that could push for an ACC title.

The Adel news was first reported by FanRag Sports.

Texas Tech forward Zach Smith returns to school after withdrawing from NBA Draft

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Texas Tech forward Zach Smith will return for his senior season, the school confirmed on Monday.

The 6-foot-8 forward is one of the most intriguing athletes in college basketball as he’s been a double-figure scorer for the Red Raiders the past two seasons. As a junior, Smith put up 12.1 points, 7.2 rebounds and 1.4 blocks per game as he shot 50 percent from the field.

Three-point shooting was something that Smith improved dramatically last season as he increased it to 39 percent in a small sample size. If Smith can continue to show that he’s a perimeter shooting threat then he could be an ideal three-and-d candidate at the pro level.

By returning to Texas Tech, Smith gives head coach Chris Beard a potential all-league candidate who should be counted on to be a double-double threat next season.

 

Missouri lands five-star forward Jontay Porter

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Missouri has another member of the Porter family in the fold as forward Jontay Porter officially committed to the Tigers on Monday night.

Following in the footsteps of older brother Michael Porter Jr., and father Michael Porter Sr., Jontay is currently a member of the Class of 2018 who is rumored to be reclassifying to the Class of 2017.

A 6-foot-10 forward who was recently elevated to five-star status on Rivals.com, Porter is having a monster spring in the Nike EYBL with MoKan Elite. Porter has been one of the best players in the league, as he’s putting up 18.1 points and 12.7 rebounds per game while shooting 40 percent from three-point range.

If Jontay is able to join Missouri next season then he gives the Tigers another intriguing piece to play alongside his brother Michael, who is good enough to be a potential No. 1 pick in the 2018 NBA Draft.

Although Jontay isn’t the go-to player that his brother is, he could be a very effective SEC role player early in his career, as his ability to rebound and stretch the floor makes him an extremely intriguing piece on the floor.

Kevin Stallings is a tone-deaf clown

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Pitt guard Cameron Johnson is the most coveted transfer in college basketball this offseason.

The 6-foot-8 Johnson is coming off of a strong campaign with the Panthers in which he put up 11.9 points per game while shooting 42 percent from three-point range.

Not only is Johnson a proven double-figure scorer in a league like the ACC, but he’s eligible to play right away thanks to his graduation from Pitt. Johnson graduating from school in three years and missing one season due to injury also makes him the rare graduate transfer who has two seasons of eligibility remaining. So, not only can Johnson come in and make an immediate impact, but he’s also able to stay for another year after.

This sort of thing almost never happens, let alone with a 6-foot-8 shooter that could sway the national title race.

It’s why blueblood programs like Kentucky and UCLA are in hot pursuit of Johnson. It’s why another ACC school, reigning national champion North Carolina, is also intrigued by Johnson being on the market.

Except Johnson won’t be allowed to attend North Carolina, or any other school in the ACC, without first sitting out a season and losing one season of eligibility. At least that’s how things currently stand thanks to Pitt’s power over Johnson — despite Johnson graduating from the school and having no more formal educational ties to the school.

Here’s what Pitt said on the matter in a release to the News-Observer.

“Cameron Johnson and his father were informed of our policy as well as the appeals process when they elected to seek to transfer. They went through our transfer appeals process and were granted permission to contact ACC schools; however, the committee upheld the policy to limit immediate eligibility within the conference.

If Cameron were to transfer within the ACC, he would be eligible to receive financial aid immediately but would have to sit out a year of competition due to standard NCAA transfer regulations. Throughout this process, we have remained consistent to our department policy and we will continue to do so.”

Pitt head coach Kevin Stallings had a peculiar interview with the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette that was published about two weeks ago. During the interview, of which the full transcript was made public, Stallings went in-depth about Johnson’s transfer and the current state of college basketball. Stallings also made remarks about how the media holds programs accountable for trying to bully certain players.

Here’s a small sample of what Stallings had to say.

“But the unexpected departures are the things that are becoming more common than uncommon in college basketball. You have guys constantly trying to transfer up. You have guys going pro that have never played a minute of college basketball after they’ve sat out a year at a school. You have guys asking out of their letters of intent with frequency. We’re dealing in a landscape in college basketball right now that is as probably as difficult and peculiar as it’s ever been. It used to be if a kid signed his letter of intent and he wanted out of it, you had to play a year of junior-college ball to get out of it.

“The media didn’t basically force institutions to let people break a binding agreement. It’s kind of interesting now the media tries to put so much pressure on programs, whether it be athletic directors or coaches, saying ‘Well, the coaches can move.’ Well, hey, guess what? I’ve got a great big buyout in my deal that prevents me from moving. I’ve got something in my contract saying I can’t go to another league school. It’s not as easy for coaches to go. That’s everyone’s rationale — ‘Well, the coaches can leave.’ We’re dealing in an environment right now that is as fluid as it’s ever been. It’s just where we’re at in the whole thing with the unexpected departures.”

Stallings makes some sound points–particularly about coaches having buyouts and the general perception of coaching changes in basketball.

But Kevin Stallings mostly sounds like a tone-deaf clown here.

Nobody is going to feel sorry for a millionaire coach who willingly makes the decision to change jobs.

Nobody.

Especially if that same millionaire is comparing a choice to change jobs to the transfer decisions of unpaid student-athletes. It’s even more laughable now that Stallings is holding power over an unpaid student-athlete from going to play at another school because of purely basketball reasons.

Pitt and Stallings need to do the right thing and release Johnson to play at any school right away because Johnson has already done everything he needs to do to appease the program.

Things changed dramatically for Johnson during his three years at Pitt. He became one of the ACC’s better players and earned his degree. Johnson held up his end of the bargain when he signed his Letter of Intent.  Now Johnson just wants the chance improve his basketball future by playing with one of the nation’s elite programs.

Stallings can blame the current state of college basketball, the media, or whoever he wants for Johnson’s transfer from Pitt.

But Stallings also has to realize that he’s going to be the one who looks stupid if he continues to leave these restrictions in place for Johnson. Stallings already has a history of this sort of thing when he placed transfer restrictions on former player Sheldon Jeter. If Stallings continues to uphold transfer restrictions on Johnson, then he’s going to gain a permanent reputation in recruiting during a time when players continue to gain more freedom over their basketball futures.

If Johnson does happen to go to an ACC school like North Carolina, it’s not as if Pitt has any sort of competitive roster that is going to be fighting the Tar Heels for league supremacy during the next two seasons.

Stallings and Pitt need to just bite the bullet, let Johnson have his freedom, and hope it doesn’t come back to hurt them for one or two seasons in ACC play.

It surely beats the alternative of being labeled a head coach who limits player freedom after six players left Pitt during a single offseason. That type of burn lasts a lot longer than two years.

Presbyterian hires Wofford assistant Dustin Kerns as new head coach

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Presbyterian finally has its new head coach as the program is set to hire Wofford assistant coach Dustin Kerns, a source confirmed to NBCSports.com.

Kerns has been an assistant at Wofford for the past seven years during his second stint with the program. Also spending six seasons as an assistant coach at Santa Clara, the Tennessee native is getting his first shot at running his own program.

Finishing last in the Big South last season at 5-25 and 1-17 in conference play, Presbyterian is trying to rebuild after head coach Gregg Nibert resigned in April. Nibert was the head coach of the Blue Hens for 28 seasons, so Kerns is going to be a completely fresh start for the program.