rick-byrd

Atlantic Sun Conference tournament preview

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Belmont’s off to the Ohio Valley next season, which means the Bruins get to spend their final two seasons in the A-Sun dominating the league (35-3 vs. conference foes) and then trying not to stumble in the conference tournament for that automatic bid.

And where will they try to clinch the tournament title this season? At Mercer, which finished tied for second in the regular-season standings.

That’s what you call stress. And drama!

THE BRACKET

Where: University Center, Macon, Ga.
When: Feb. 29-March 3
Final: March 3, 7 p.m., ESPN2

Studs
Kerrion Johnson, Belmont
: The Bruins’ junior point guard has no shortage of options around him (5.2 apg) and can score himself (14.0 ppg). Little wonder Belmont’s offense thrives with him.

Ian Clark, Belmont: Sure, this could be Ian Clark or Drew Hanlon, but the 6-3 junior is more reliable with the ball and  better at creating scoring options for others. Himself, too (12.4 ppg).

Langston Hall, Mercer: A 6-4 sophomore who rarely comes off the floor, Hall leads the Bears in scoring (11.3 ppg) and assists (4.0 apg).

Torrey Craig, South Carolina Upstate: The conference’s leading scorer puts up 17 points a night and is the focal point of the offense. In a bigger league, the 6-6 sophomore would be an undersized forward. Not here.

Favorite: Belmont. Rick Byrd’s team has owned this league the last two years. The Bruins are an overwhelming favorite because of their depth, skill and style of play. Few A-Sun teams can handle them. Plus, Belmont isn’t getting an at-large berth if it doesn’t win. This is a team that’ll come in focused and ready.

And if they lose? Mercer. That’s an easy call, too. The tournament’s hosts have lost twice to Belmont this season, but by a combined five points, including last week’s 62-61 home loss. The Bears have lost three of their last four, but two were on the road. If the home crowd can help them through some rough patches, the Bears will be tough.

Sleepers: S.C. Upstate tied with Mercer for second and has the league’s leading scorer in Torrey Craig. But the odds of them reaching the championship aren’t great. If they get there, they are one of the two teams to have beaten Belmont, though. Lipscomb is the other, but it’ll be lucky to win one game.

You also can follow me on Twitter @MikeMillerNBC.

Top-100 guard commits to Xavier

Chris Mack has Xavier back in the Sweet 16 (AP Photo)
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Xavier has added a top-100 prospect into its 2017 recruiting class Wednesday.

Elias Harden, a shooting guard from Georgia, pledged to the Musketeers via social media to become the second member of Chris Mack’s next class.

“The recruiting process was not EASY AT ALL,” Harden wrote on Twitter. “I wanna thank all the coaches that took time to recruit me.

“WIth that being said I will continue my academic and athletic career at Xavier University.”

The 6-foot-6 guard is ranked 92nd overall by 247Sports and had offers from Auburn, Maryland, Texas Tech and Ole Miss. He joins Jared Ridder, a Missouri guard, as part of the 2017 Xavier class.

The Musketeers return the bulk of last year’s 28-6 team that narrowly missed out on the Sweet 16.

Clemson recruit to enroll early

Brad Brownell
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Clemson will get a four-star recruit on campus a year earlier than it expected, though his on-court debut for the Tigers will remain on schedule.

A.J. Oliver, a guard from South Carolina, will enroll early at Clemson and redshirt this upcoming season, he announced via social media Wednesday.

“I woke up this morning and realized that the greatest opportunity for me is to enroll early into Clemson,” he wrote on Twitter. “I will redshirt a year & start my college career early.”

Oliver, whose mother is the head women’s basketball coach at Clemson, was a consensus top-100 player in the class of 2017 who committed to the Tigers last December. Texas Tech and the College of Charleston were involved before his commitment.

A three-star shooting guard, Scott Spencer of Virginia, was previously the only member coach Brad Brownell’s 2016 class. While Oliver’s decision to redshirt will keep him off the court for the 2016-17 season, he’ll have spent a full season in the Tiger program before making his debut in 2017

The cupboard isn’t bare in 2017 for the Tigers due to Oliver’s reclassification because Clemson received a commitment from power forward Malik Williams, a consensus top-150 player, earlier Wednesday.

Kentucky used Calipari-Chaney fight in media training

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Kentucky held some media training sessions yesterday, and one of the topics that head coach John Calipari used to make a point was … his blow-up with John Chaney. The moment was captured on SnapChat by a trio of Kentucky newcomers.

You remember that incident. Chaney, then the head coach at Temple, and Cal, who was coaching Atlantic 10 rival UMass at the time, nearly came to blows over the way that Cal handled officials during the game. Before the video below picks up, the two shared this exchange:

“Could I say this to you, please?” Chaney said, before the video above picks up. “You’ve got a good ball club. But what you did with the officials out there is wrong, and I don’t want to be a party to that. You understand?”

Cal responded: “You weren’t out there, Coach. You don’t have any idea.”

Chaney fired back: “You got a game given to you by officials right here with G.W. on three bad calls, O.K.? Then you send your kids out there pushing and shoving. You had the best officiating you could ever get here. And for you to ride them, I don’t want to be a party to that.”

And that led to “I’ll kill you”:

(h/t KSR)

VIDEO: Shaq’s son, Shareef O’Neal, with monster dunk in Vegas

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Shareef O’Neal is a top 50 prospect in the Class of 2018. In Vegas this past weekend, he threw down a monster put-back dunk.

South Dakota State gets two commits

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Tuesday was a busy and productive one for South Dakota State on the recruiting trail.

The Jackrabbits secured two 2017 commitments from the state of Wisconsin in Ryan Krueger and Alex Arians, a source tells NBCSports.com.

Krueger is a 6-foot-5 wing player from New London, Wisc. while Arians is a 6-foot-4 guard from Madison, Wisc., who also held an offer from Wright State, which is coached by former SDSU coach Scott Nagy. Both players spend their summers playing for the Wisconsin Swing grassroots program.

The pair make it a trio of commits for the Jackrabbits in 2017 with another Wisconsinite, Alou Dillon, pledging to first-year Jackrabbits coach T.J. Otzelberger, himself a Wisconsin native, earlier this summer.

South Dakota State went 26-8 last year and the bulk of the team that made the NCAA tournament last year, including sophomore Mike Daum, who led the team in scoring and rebounding as a freshman.