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Colonial Athletic conference tournament preview

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Unless you have a dog in this fight, here is your homework: root for Drexel and VCU to make it to the CAA title game.

Root as hard as you can.

Because if you are one of those people — like me — that would rather see a quality mid-major basketball team that has put together a stirring run late in the season get a bid over a team like UConn or Mississippi State, a talented group that clearly is not enjoying the season and would get just as much out of a trip to the NIT as they would a spot in the Big Dance, than you need VCU and Drexel in the title game.

Because both of those teams have a very really shot at getting an at-large bid if that were to happen.

Look, the CAA did not do a lot of good things in the non-conference portion of their schedule. They don’t have many stirring non-conference wins. But this is also a league that, on the whole, is young this season. They’ve grown. They’ve gotten better. And now there are (at least) two teams that are deserving of a spot in the NCAA Tournament but, for what ever reason, just don’t have a powerful enough resume to command lock-status.

The Bracket

Where: Richmond, VA

When: March 2nd-March 5th

Final: March 5th, 7:00 p.m., ESPN2

Favorite: Drexel

Drexel started out the season 2-4, but that came as they were getting freshman Damion Lee adjusted to playing basketball at this level and while working Chris Fouch back from an offseason injury. Two of those losses came with Fouch in street clothes. Two more of them came in Fouch’s first two games back. Now he’s healthy and Lee is playing great, which is why Drexel has won 17 straight games and 23 of their last 24. They have one — just one — loss since Dec. 3rd.

And if they lose?: VCU

The Rams are on a similar run. They’ve won 14 of their last 15 games. The one loss? At George Mason, when Mason caught fire over the last minute. VCU went 5-6 from the free throw line and didn’t commit a turnover while blowing a five point lead in the final 50 seconds. Brad Burgess has not exactly had the season we all imagined he would have, but VCU has gotten some impressive play out of big man Juvonte Reddic and point guard Dareus Theus. This group still loves to press, they still force turnovers and they still shoot threes.

Sleepers: I don’t know if you can call George Mason a sleeper, but they ended up finishing the league in third place and have the best front line in the conference. Old Dominion has been rebuilding this year, but they still play as hard as anyone in the league and have a kid by the name of Kent Bazemore. He went for 37 in a loss to Drexel last week. Keep an eye on Georgia State as well, as they have put together a very nice season in Ron Hunter’s first year in Atlanta.

Studs:

Kent Bazemore, Old Dominion: Bazemore is a delight to watch play basketball. He’s 6’5″ and a terrific athlete. He defends as hard as anyone in the country and, this season, he’s scoring the ball very well.

Ryan Pearson, George Mason: Pearson is like the anti-Bazemore. He’s a slow-footed, bearded, 6’7″ power forward with “Old Man” game. But he’s a double-double waiting to happen and a threat to hit a three as well.

Mike Moore, Hofstra: He’s not Charles Jenkins and he hasn’t led Hofstra to 20 wins, but Moore is averaging 20.0 ppg on the season. He can light it up.

Devon Saddler, Delaware: Just a sophomore, Saddler has a chance to be a very good player by the time his career is done.

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

Indiana lands four-star Class of 2017 wing Justin Smith

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Indiana landed an athletic wing commitment on Monday night as four-star small forward Justin Smith pledged to the Hoosiers on Twitter.

The 6-foot-6 Smith is a native of Lincolnshire, Illinois and comes from Stevenson High School as he’s regarded as the No. 105 overall prospect in the Rivals national Class of 2017 rankings.

A high-flying wing who is great in the open floor, Smith should fit the Hoosiers’ uptempo system perfectly and if he’s able to get a more consistent perimeter jumper then he has a chance to be a really nice piece for Indiana.

Smith joins three-star guard Al Durham in Indiana’s recruiting Class of 2017.

Michigan State addingTom Izzo Hall of History wing in remodeled Breslin Center

CHARLOTTE, NC - MARCH 22:  Head coach Tom Izzo of the Michigan State Spartans reacts against the Virginia Cavaliers during the third round of the 2015 NCAA Men's Basketball Tournament at Time Warner Cable Arena on March 22, 2015 in Charlotte, North Carolina.  (Photo by Grant Halverson/Getty Images)
(Photo by Grant Halverson/Getty Images)
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Michigan State head coach Tom Izzo has already been inducted into the Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame this fall and the longtime Spartans head coach is receiving another unique honor in the remodeled Breslin Center.

The school announced over the weekend that the Tom Izzo Hall of History will be added to the Breslin Center renovations as the building is supposed to be completed by the fall of 2017.

“The Tom Izzo Hall of History will become a great gathering place on our campus where together we can celebrate the excellence of Spartan Basketball and MSU Athletics,” athletic director Mark Hollis said in a release. “When this facility project is complete it will be the finest college basketball facility in the country, so it’s only fitting that Tom’s name will be a permanent part of it.”

Overall, this is a nice addition to the Breslin Center, especially since Izzo and Michigan State basketball will forever be associated with one another. It should be cool for fans to go through it and re-live great moments in Michigan State history and the wing is another nice recruiting tool that can help point out all of Izzo’s biggest accomplishments.

 

Puerto Rico Tip-Off Tournament moving to Orlando amid Zika concerns

Lon Kruger
(AP Photo/Brandon Dill)
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Amid concerns over the Zika virus, the annual Puerto Rico Tip-Off announced a change in venue on Monday. Rather than staying on the island, the tournament will move to Orlando and all games will be played at the ESPN Wide World of Sports Complex at Disney.

The dates and teams will remain the same for the event as it will be played Thursday, Nov. 17, Friday, Nov. 18 and Sunday, Nov. 20. The field for the event includes Arizona State, Clemson, Davidson, Missouri, Northern Iowa, Oklahoma, Tulane and Xavier.

“We enjoy the beauty and accommodations that are afforded in Puerto Rico and wanted to make every effort in playing the event in San Juan, but the concern for student-athlete and spectator welfare became the primary driver in the decision,” Pete Derzis, senior vice president of ESPN Events said in the official release.  “We intend to return to Puerto Rico in the future.”

Puerto Rico is currently under a Level 2 alert for Zika according to the CDC. Since there have been cases of Zika on the island with native mosquitoes, it’s probably a smart move to eliminate all concerns over the virus if they can easily move the tournament elsewhere. It probably isn’t ideal for fans who purchased travel packages to Puerto Rico to watch the event, but it’s a small price to pay for the safety of everyone involved.

The Puerto Rico Tourism Company is also upset with the decision as Executive Director Ingrid Rivera Rocafort released a statement on Monday night.

“We are disappointed about this decision that we believe has been based on fear not the facts about Puerto Rico,” the statement read.

“There is no public health reason to cancel the Puerto Rico Tip Off or any sporting event in Puerto Rico. There is no doubt that our strong fan base and local spectators would have turned out to support their teams. Less than one percent of Puerto Rico’s 3.5 million population has contracted Zika, a far cry from projections. The hype and misinformation is fostering irrational decisions.”

PHOTO: Purdue unveils statue of John Wooden outside Mackey Arena

John Wooden (Purdue Athletics)
Purdue Athletics
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John Wooden will forever be associated with the UCLA program for what he did while coaching there.

10 national titles in 12 years, including seven in a row. Not bad, right?

What some people may forget is that before he got into coaching, Wooden was one of the best basketball players in the world. He played his collegiate ball at Purdue, where he was a three-time all-american and the 1932 National Player of the Year.

To honor Wooden’s legacy as one of the greatest Boilermakers ever, Purdue built a statue of Wooden and unveiled it in front of Mackey Arena this weekend:

“Not many people think of Johnny Wooden as a Boilermaker, but when I got here in 1957, some of the old-timers still remembered him as a player,” Jim Hicks, the alumnus that donated the statue, said. “I’m so delighted that people will see this statue and read his Pyramid of Success because I think the pyramid was his most important contribution.”

One of the neat touches of the statue: Wooden’s Pyramid of Success is right there for all to see.

North Carolina lands third commitment in 2017 class

SAN ANTONIO, TX - MARCH 23: Head coach Roy Williams of the North Carolina Tar Heels looks on during the third round of the 2014 NCAA Men's Basketball Tournament against the Iowa State Cyclones at the AT&T Center on March 23, 2014 in San Antonio, Texas.  (Photo by Ronald Martinez/Getty Images)
Ronald Martinez/Getty Images
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North Carolina picked up their third commitment in the Class of 2017 on Monday in big man Brandon Huffman.

A four-star prospect who will play his final season of high school ball at Word of God Academy in North Carolina, Huffman’s strength at this point in his development is as a defensive presence around the basket. He stands 6-foot-10 with a 7-foot-5 wingspan and should be able to help replace Kennedy Meeks, who graduates this spring.

Huffman’s development on the offensive end of the floor isn’t quite there yet. A native of Anchorage, Alaska, Huffman is still learning how to be more influential on that end.

Huffman joins Jalek Felton and Andrew Platek in UNC’s 2017 class.