Thursday’s slate and what to watch: three league titles on the line?

Leave a comment

All times ET. Television guide via here.

Game of the Night: No. 5 Duke @ No. 15 Florida State, 7 p.m. (ESPN)

Do I really need to explain to you how important this game is in the ACC standings? Three teams are tied for first place in league play with four games left on the schedule. Duke and Florida State are two of those teams. The Seminoles already have wins at Duke and against UNC in their only meeting, which means that a win tonight puts them in the driver’s seat. In other words, if Florida State wins their last four games, they’ll be the No. 1 seed in the ACC Tournament. Raise your hand if you thought that was even a possibility back in November.

(I’ll wait.)

There will be a couple of interesting personnel matchups in this one. In the paint, the Plumlee have played better basketball of late, but from a physicality perspective, they will be at a disadvantage against FSU’s massive front line. On the perimeter, the Seminoles have some terrific on-ball defenders and should make life difficult for a Duke team that already has issues penetrating off the bounce. If you’ve forgotten, the last time these two teams played, this happened. The Blue Devils have been waiting for a month to run it back. In other words, this should be fun.

Who’s getting upset?: No. 16 Wisconsin @ Iowa, 9 p.m. (ESPN2)

The Hawkeyes have been one of the most pesky teams in the country this season. They’ve beaten No. 11 Michigan at home. They’ve beaten No. 23 Indiana at home. And they’ve gone into the Kohl Center and knocked off Wisconsin already this season. Matt Gatens is coming off of a 30 point performance in Sunday’s upset win over the Hoosiers. Can he keep the streak going?

Also on upset alert:

No. 14 Murray State @ Tennessee State, 8 p.m. (ESPNU): Murray State doesn’t have an undefeated season to worry about anymore, which takes a bit of luster off of their remaining schedule. I’ll watch this team play simply because I enjoy Isaiah Canaan and what he is capable of doing on the court, but most other people are not addicted to this game like I am. Who is the reason that Murray State blemish on their record? Tennessee State. Like Duke, the Racers have probably been waiting to run this back.

No. 17 Louisville @ Cincinnati, 9 p.m. (ESPN): I’m not sure you can even technically justify this as an upset if Cincy were to win, but I’ll go with it because a) Louisville has that number to the left of their name which signifies that the top 25 polls that you should all-but disregard are think the Cardinals are better and b) NBC gave me the power to do so and you better believe I’m going to take advantage of that authority. Was I rambling? Sorry. Winner moves into a three-way tie with USF and Georgetown for the fourth double-bye in the Big East Tournament.

St. Mary’s @ Portland, 10 p.m. (ESPNU): This is going to be a game that you will want to keep a very close eye on. The Gaels are in the midst of another late-season swoon, having lost three of their last four. They were given a gift when Gonzaga lost to San Francisco and opened the door for the Gaels to win the WCC regular season title, but for that to happen St. Mary’s has to win their last two games. On the road in league play from a team that’s struggling? Portland is just the appetizer to Saturday’s trip to San Francisco.

Mid-major matchup of the night: Bucknell @ American, 7 p.m. (CCS)

After losing to Lehigh at the buzzer last week, the Bison stumbled at Holy Cross, meaning that both the Mountain Hawks and the Eagles, who are one game behind Bucknell, will have their shot at getting even in league play with two games left. In all likelihood this is the last chance that they will have. Bucknell’s final game of the year is against Navy, who is 0-13 this season.

Bubblicious:

Alabama @ Arkansas, 7 p.m. (ESPN2): The Crimson Tide, who are still without JaMychal Green after Tony Mitchell was booted from the team, are playing for their NCAA Tournament lives against an Arkansas team that is very, very tough to beat at home. That’s a rough combination.

BYU @ Gonzaga, 11 p.m. (ESPN2): This isn’t quite a bubble game, but it does become important with the way the WCC standings look like they are going to shake out. Both BYU and Gonzaga at 11-3 in the league, a game behind St. Mary’s. But the Gaels are playing some poor basketball right now and have two road games left this season. The winner tonight will have the best chance of beating out St. Mary’s for the league title.

Be sure to keep an eye on:

Elon @ Davidson, 7 p.m.: The Wildcats will win the SoCon’s regular season title with a victory.

Belmont @ Kennesaw State, 7 p.m.: Ditto, Bruins in the Atlantic Sun.

Middle Tennessee State @ Louisiana-Monroe, 8 p.m.: MTSU has already clinched the No. 1 seed in the Sun Belt Tournament, but a win tonight gives them the outright league title.

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

Report: Texas’ Jones to test NBA possibility

Photo by Jamie Squire/Getty Images
1 Comment

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

Photo by Dylan Buell/Getty Images
Leave a comment

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

Photo by Ethan Miller/Getty Images
1 Comment

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

AP Photo/Charlie Neibergall
Leave a comment

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

Photo by Al Bello/Getty Images
Leave a comment

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.