VCU edges Drexel, avoids Selection Sunday drama this year

Leave a comment

College hoops powerhouses, beware: VCU’s back in the Big Dance. And there’s no debate about it this year.

The Rams held off Drexel 59-56 in the CAA tournament final Monday night, clinching the automatic bid to the NCAA tournament and avoiding any drama on Selection Sunday. Last year, the Rams were one of the last teams given an at-large bid and played in the First Four before making an historic run to the Final Four.

“It’s great,” senior Bradford Burgess said. “Last year those six days after the championship were pretty rough for us not knowing what we were going to do. Now we can sit back and chill and relax and watch some basketball.”

source: AP

Not that the CAA final didn’t have some drama.

VCU (28-6) used its pressure defense to make a 23-10 run over the final 10 minutes of the first half for a 16-point lead at the break. But Drexel (27-6), the CAA’s regular-season champs, slowly crept back into the game thanks to better ball-handling, some better shooting (star Damion Lee scored 15 of his 20 points in the second half) and some missed VCU free throws in the final minutes.

The Dragons cut it into a one-possession game, but VCU junior guard Troy Daniels hit two free throws with 11.9 seconds remaining, forcing them to try a 3-pointer for the tie. It missed, VCU batted around the loose ball and that was it.

Daniels finished with 11, while Darius Theus had a career-high 16 points and five steals.

The Rams have now won 17 of their 18 games and epitomize the word “hot” as the tournament rolls around. Their defense – no team forces turnovers at a higher rate – ensures they’ll be a handful no matter which team draws them to start.

And if a team avoids VCU, the Dragons won’t be any easier. Provided the NCAA seeding committee makes the correct call and places Drexel in the 68-team field, it’s a team capable of making the Sweet 16.

After all, this is a team that hadn’t lost since Jan. 2, a school-record run of 19 consecutive wins. It’d played a relatively soft schedule, but its on-court performance makes it worthy of inclusion. If the committee does so, it’ll certainly be the right move. CAA teams have shown as much in the past.

But don’t just take my word for it. Ask VCU coach Shaka Smart. He knows a thing or two about who belongs in.

“There’s no doubt that they’re an NCAA tournament team,” he said.

You also can follow me on Twitter @MikeMillerNBC

Minnesota adds Vanderbilt transfer Payton Willis

AP Photo/Charlie Neibergall
Leave a comment

Minnesota has added some depth for the future.

The Golden Gophers received a pledge from Vanderbilt transfer Payton Willis over the weekend, giving him a guard with two seasons of eligibility remaining starting in 2019-20.

Willis will sit out the upcoming season under NCAA transfer rules.

The 6-foot-4 guard played a limited role in two seasons in Nashville, never averaging more than 18. 5 minutes or 5.2 points per game. He scored in double figures in three games as a sophomore.

Willis was a top-150 prospect in the Class of 2016 coming out of Fayetteville, Ark. with offers from the likes of Tulsa, Rice and Dayton. Vandy and Minnesota were his two high-major offers.

After being ranked in the top-15, Minnesota was beset by injury and suspensions last season as they limped to the finish line in a 15-17 season that featured losses in 12 of its last 13 games.

Richard Pitino still has two available scholarships for the 2018-19 campaign.

Report: Quade Green returning to Kentucky

Photo by Andy Lyons/Getty Images
Leave a comment

John Calipari just landed a critical recruit for 2018-19, and he was already on the roster.

Quade Green, who averaged 25 minutes per game last season, is returning to Kentucky for his sophomore season, his mother told the Lexington Herald-Leader on Monday.

Given that six Wildcat players have entered the draft (Kevin Knox, Shai Gilgeous-Alexander and Hami Diallo are signing with agents), getting the 6-foot point guard back for a second season is a massive deal for Calipari and Co. The Wildcats have always been at their best under Calipari with returning players as the cornerstones of the roster with talented one-and-dones providing the extra boost. Getting one such returner at the point guard position is even more critical.

Green, who came to Kentucky as a five-star recruit last year, averaged 9.3 points and 2.7 assists per game while shooting 45.1 percent from the field and a respectable 37.1 percent from 3-point range, an area where Kentucky continually needs help.

With Green back in the fold, Kentucky will now await the decisions of PJ Washington, Wenyen Gabriel and Jarred Vanderbilt, who are all going through the pre-draft process without hiring agents, which will potentially allow them to return to school and bolster a Kentucky roster has the look of a top-five team.

CBT Podcast: NBA Draft Early Entry Deadline: Winners, losers and who has the most on the line?

Eric Espada/Getty Images
Leave a comment

The NBA Draft Early Entry Deadline came and went on Sunday night, meaning there are now roughly 60 college players that have signed with an agent and another 100 or so that have declared for the draft while retaining their college eligibility. Who were the winners? Who were the losers? Who has the most on the line? Sam Vecenie of the Game Theory podcast joined Rob Dauster to talk through all of it. The rundown:

OPEN: What do NBA teams value in players these days?

10:00: Villanova has more on the line during this testing the water process than anyone

19:00: Just how important was De’Andre Hunter’s decision to return to Virginia

25:25: Gonzaga getting Rui and Killian Tillie back makes them a title favorite

32:10: Nevada has a top ten season on the line with the Martin twins and Jordan Caroline

36:15: #RANTALERT – The decision to turn pro is so much more complicated than “is he a first round pick”

48:30: Rapid fire: Maryland, Kansas, Syracuse, Nebraska, Purdue and Michigan. What do they have on the line?

North Carolina’s Luke Maye declaring for NBA draft without hiring agent

Streeter Lecka/Getty Images
1 Comment

CHAPEL HILL, N.C. (AP) — North Carolina junior Luke Maye has declared for the NBA draft but isn’t hiring an agent.

The 6-foot-8 forward was a third-team Associated Press All-American after averaging 16.9 points and 10.1 rebounds. He was named the Atlantic Coast Conference’s most improved player after increasing his scoring average by 11.4 points from his sophomore to junior seasons.

Coach Roy Williams says in a statement that it’s ”a great opportunity” for Maye to work out for NBA teams and get feedback on what to improve in his game.

The deadline for college players to declare early for the draft was Sunday night. Players who don’t hire an agent can maintain their college eligibility as long as they withdraw by May 30, which is 10 days after the NBA draft combine.

Gonzaga star undergoes surgery on his shoulder

Steve Dykes/Getty Images
Leave a comment

The most important players for Gonzaga heading into the 2018-19 season will have an offseason dedicated to rehabilitation.

Josh Perkins, Gonzaga’s starting point guard, underwent surgery on Friday to repair a shoulder that he injured back in December. According to the Spokesman-Review, Perkins expects to be healthy and ready to play by the start of next season.

Perkins averaged 12.3 points and 5.3 assists during the 2017-18 season despite playing through those shoulder issues. After December’s win over Washington, a game in which Perkins left wincing in pain and clutching his shoulders, Perkins said “Just popped out a little bit. It’s not very strong right now, but everything is good.”

For my money, Perkins is the player that is going to be the x-factor for the Zags next season. They have a terrific front court with Rui Hachimura and Killian Tillie returning, and with the likes of Zach Norvell and Corey Kispert back, there is plenty of talent on the wings. Perkins, the senior point guard, is the blue that is going to be needed to hold it all together.

Gonzaga is a top five team heading into next year. They have national title aspirations. Perkins might end up being the guy that determines whether they live up to those goals or get knocked out of the field in the Sweet 16.