UCLA v Arizona - Quarterfinals

Will Ben Howland’s recruiting class solve UCLA’s problems?

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Shabazz Muhammad had plenty to say during his national television appearance to announce his commitment to UCLA.

In addition to confirming earlier reports that he would be headed to UCLA, Muhammad said the reason he wanted to go to UCLA was the “challenge” of rebuilding the program after “how bad they were” in recent years. He said he wanted to get them back on top, he commented on their record 11 national titles and he talked with Kyle Anderson about what it would be like to team up for the Bruins.

But easily the most interesting comment that Muhammad made during the ESPN U broadcast was this: “Hopefully we can sell out Pauley.”

It’s not a secret that UCLA has had issues with attendance of late. That was the case prior to last season, when the Bruin’s attendance was dreadful thanks to renovations at their home court, Pauley Pavilion, that forced them to play home games at the LA Sports Arena 17 miles away. In a game against Pepperdine in late November, one of the nation’s blue-bloods only managed to attract 34 students.

If anything, that is the difference that this year’s recruiting class is going to make.

Howland has brought in two of the nation’s consensus top three recruits in Muhammad and Anderson. He also landed top 75 recruit Jordan Adams and is in the running to bring in top 30 big man Tony Parker, a haul that would, at worst, be the nation’s second best class. There are still question marks littering this roster. Can Kyle Anderson run the point on a full-time basis? How much will Howland have to rely on Larry Drew? Is there enough perimeter options on the roster? Will Joshua Smith be in shape? Are the Wears actually any good?

And while it may take some time to answer all of those question marks fully, what is clear is that this recruiting class will bring the excitement back to Westwood and, hopefully, help to sell the tickets. Before Muhammad’s commitment was even official, a hoops-loving friend from Southern California messaged me about how excited he was for this group and how he would be attending more than just one game next season.

That, more than anything, is likely the reason that Howland has received a stay of execution as the head coach of the Bruins.

Remember, were talking about a coach who, reportedly, was running a program where members of the team thought that he was allowing one of their teammates to intentionally injure them without repercussion. That’s not exactly high-praise for a head coach.

This group will, at least for one season, help to erase those memories and the fact that Howland’s been unable to build on the success his program had from 2006-2008, when they made three straight Final Fours. The question is whether or not  the wins last. Is this a turning point for the UCLA program or has Howland managed to recruit his way into a pair of one-and-done superstars that will be a temporary solution to a much bigger problem?

In other words, will Muhammad and Anderson buy Howland the time he needs to fix the issues within his program, or are they the bandaid used to mend a broken arm?

Whatever the case, it’s not crazy to think that Howland’s job depends on it.

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

Report: Virginia Tech forward Blackshear still recovering from offseason foot surgery

WASHINGTON, DC - MARCH 10: Kerry Blackshear Jr. #24 of the Virginia Tech Hokies and Kamari Murphy #21 of the Miami Hurricanes go for a rebound in the second half during the quarterfinals of the 2016 ACC Basketball Tournament Verizon Center on March 10, 2016 in Washington, DC.  (Photo by Rob Carr/Getty Images)
(Photo by Rob Carr/Getty Images)
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Virginia Tech sophomore forward Kerry Blackshear will miss the start of training camp as he continues to recover from offseason foot surgery, according to a report from Mike Barber of the Richmond Times-Dispatch.

The 6-foot-10 Blackshear played in all 35 games for the Hokies last season as he battled through the foot injury to average 6.2 points and 4.5 rebounds per game. According to Barber’s report, Blackshear had surgery on his right foot five days after the 2015-16 season ended, but he’s still wearing a walking boot to help recover. There has been no timetable given for Blackshear’s return.

Blackshear will be a key piece for a Virginia Tech team that is a bit thin up front this season. Freshman Khadim Sy can provide some minutes up front, but he’s inexperienced and center Nick Fullard has to sit out this season due to NCAA transfer rules. Getting a healthy Blackshear will be a key storyline for a Virginia Tech team that many will have in the preseason top 25.

Indiana roster dealing with handful of injuries as practice begins

BLOOMINGTON, IN - NOVEMBER 20:  A general view of  the SMU Mustangs game against the Indiana Hoosiers at Assembly Hall on November 20, 2014 in Bloomington, Indiana.  (Photo by Andy Lyons/Getty Images)
(Photo by Andy Lyons/Getty Images)
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Indiana has been hit with the injury buy a bit during the start of practice and it doesn’t only involved the recent announcement of knee surgery for senior Collin Hartman.

According to a report from the Indiana Daily Student the Hoosiers are also dealing with a knee injury for junior college transfer forward Freddie McSwain and sophomore Juwan Morgan hasn’t been cleared for practice yet after offseason shoulder surgery.

The 6-foot-6 McSwain had a knee injury flare up when he came to Indiana and had surgery to clean it up. Crean told the Indiana Daily Student that McSwain was still a few weeks from returning.

That means Indiana has to find early practice minutes to replace Hartman, Morgan and McSwain up front which gives more reps to players like O.G. Anunoby and freshman big man De’Ron Davis.

Since Anunoby and Davis both dealt with some offseason injuries and guard Robert Johnson was recently cleared to return, Hoosiers head coach Tom Crean is remaining cautious during the early part of practice this season. Crean also has to monitor the return of starting guard James Blackmon Jr. after he missed most of last season with a torn ACL.

“We would have already practiced this morning and they would be ready to go tonight, if this were a year ago,” Crean said in the report. “We have to tailor make this thing. We can’t be in too much of a rush with these guys.”

Obviously, the frontcourt injuries are something to keep an eye on for Indiana during the early part of the season. None of the three injuries seem severe, but Hartman’s timetable to return hasn’t been listed and McSwain and Morgan are missing valuable early time in practice.

It’ll be interesting to see if this helps younger players like Anunoby and Davis get more acquainted with the first team early on since both could have an impact this season.

Texas lands four-star Class of 2017 guard Jase Febres

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Texas and head coach Shaka Smart continue to recruit at a high level, especially in the state of Texas, as the Longhorns landed a commitment from Class of 2017 four-star guard Jase Febres on Friday night.

The 6-foot-5 Febres is considered the No. 63 overall prospect in the Rivals national Class of 2017 rankings as he burst on the national radar this summer with some strong shooting performances. Febres shot over 40 percent from three-point range during the month of July after battling through injury during the spring. Besides owning good size for a wing shooter, Febres also takes pride in defending and he can rebound a bit from the wing as well.

Febres is going to have to improve his overall offensive package if a defense plays him off the three-point line, but he has upside as a three-and-D guy with the Longhorns.

The Class of 2017 is starting to round into shape for Texas as Febres joins four-star power forward Jericho Sims and four-star forward Royce Hamm. Since taking over the Texas job, Smart has done a great job of keeping local talent home as he now has five four- and five-star prospects from the state in the last two classes.

 

VIDEO: Kentucky fans get married in the ticket line for Big Blue Madness

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Kentucky fans have unique ways of making their annual Big Blue Madness event the most chaotic tip-off event of the season. While Big Blue Nation is waiting in line for tickets to this year’s festivities in Tent City, one couple decided to go the extra mile.

After securing the first spot in line for tickets, Ray Branham and Vicki Harvey opted to get married. According to a post from Drew Franklin of Kentucky Sports Radio, the couple had already been talking about tying the knot, but decided to make the move once they had the top spot in line. As you can see by the wedding video, it was a very Kentucky-themed ceremony as the duo got married in front of friends and other Kentucky fans.

I can’t say I’m surprised two Kentucky fans decided to get married in line for something like Big Blue Madness and this (unplanned) wedding gives this year’s event something unique that we will always remember.

Penn State loses freshman on day practice starts

Patrick Chambers
AP Photo/Kiichiro Sato
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On the day that college basketball practice is to start, Penn State head coach Pat Chambers announced that his roster would be changing.

Joe Hampton, a 6-foot-8, 290 pound power forward from Maryland, will be leaving the program.

“Joe has made the decision to leave the program based on personal reasons,” Chambers said. “We wish him the best of luck with his future endeavors.”

Hampton was a three-star prospect that missed his senior season at Oak Hill Academy with torn ACL, but he reportedly enrolled at Penn State in May, before the rest of the Nittany Lion recruit class.