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As July nears, familiar faces have strong starts for 2013

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The men’s college basketball July evaluation period is around the corner, and several familiar upper echelon college basketball programs are well positioned as a key month on the recruiting trail approaches. It’s too early to formulate team recruiting rankings, with around 30 of the top-100 high school prospects in the 2013 class verbally committed, but several schools have started strong in their efforts for next season. Ten schools that appear to be ahead of the game, in no order, are as follows:

North Carolina: Two top-20 prospects would be considered a haul at many schools, and the Tar Heels have locked down two potential impact players with in-state power forward Isaiah Hicks and USA U18 team member point guard Nate Britt. Hicks is an interior talent with massive potential, while Britt is a consummate point guard who has proven his talent in tough D.C.-area contests.

Florida: The Gators are no strangers to backcourt talent under coach Billy Donovan, but top-5 national talent Kasey Hill could star as an impact freshmen. Hill is considered the No. 2 point guard prospect and is the total package as a lead guard. The next step is to add a big man to Hill and what looks to be a deep backcourt going forward.

Kansas: If the 2012 recruiting class for the Jayhawks was meant to build depth, the 2013 class emphasizes quality. Two top-50 prospects are already locked up, with in-state combo guard Conner Frankamp currently playing from USA Basketball’s U17 team, and 6-6 swingman Brannen Greene. The Jayhawks can afford to be selective in targeting another top tier talent or two to complete this class.

Duke: While the Blue Devils will have to add some depth around him, 6-4 shooting guard Matt Jones is an all-around dandy. With scoring pop that extends deep across the 3-point line, Jones will be capable of stretching the floor. Additionally, it doesn’t hurt that Jones plays on a grassroots team with the national No. 2 prospect, undecided power forward Julius Randle.

Michigan: There arguably isn’t a star in this group, but with three easy top-100 players, the Wolverines have a great group already committed to join a program on a definite upswing. Derrick Walton is the heir apparent at point guard if Trey Burke heads to the NBA after his sophomore season, and shooting guard Zak Irvin and power forward Mark Donnal both look like future starters.

Marquette: A great group of talent in Wisconsin is to the Golden Eagles’ benefit, as coach Buzz Williams and his crew of relentless recruiters have already snagged three pledges. All three are natives of Milwaukee, with burly wing forward Deonte Burton a strong player that fits perfectly in the system, as well as point guard Duane Wilson. Touted junior college forward Jameel McKay is also a Milwaukee native, though he’s playing at Indian Hills CC in Iowa.

Purdue: Perhaps like no other conference, the Big Ten schools have emphasized early verbal commitments in recent years. The Boilermakers will add tremendous depth and potential star power with their three early verbal commitments, headlined by knock down outside shooter Kendall Stephens, a long 6-5 guard with skills. In-state point guard Bryson Scott looks competent, and wing Basil Smotherman is a guy with some potential. Overall, this is a solid group.

Arkansas: When the Razorbacks received a verbal pledge from 6-9 power forward Bobby Portis, not many people had a firm evaluation on him. That’s changed. Portis has shot up player rankings charts with tremendous play at times. In Portis, the Razorbacks have a legitimate top-25 player that has the potential to go even higher. In-state point guard Dederick Lee recently decommitted from Arkansas, but the Hogs have time to find another lead guard to fill his shoes.

Alabama: It’s not always easy to find big men that can walk and chew gum, but the Crimson Tide has two early pledges from top-100 players in the 2013 class, in 6-10 center Jimmie Taylor and 6-8 forward Shannon Hale. Both big men have shown flashes in the spring, and have participated on different squads in the Nike Elite Youth Basketball League. Alabama was among the last BCS schools to land a pledge in 2012, but is off to a hot start in this class.

Louisville: Dynamo combo guard Anton Gill looks like a slick fit after his pledge to the Cardinals. He’s a value with potential to play both guard slots, and has the ability to be a top notch guard at the college level. Strong numbers returning to the roster allows Louisville to be picky in their recruiting efforts, but it’s no secret that they’d like to add a talent big man to Gill.

Next Five: BYU, Indiana, Ohio State, Georgetown, Notre Dame..

Kellon Hassenstab runs Hoopniks.com. Follow him on Twitter @hoopniks.

UNLV’s Stephen Zimmerman out with a knee injury

UNLV forward Stephen Zimmerman Jr. shoots against San Diego State during an NCAA college basketball game Saturday, Jan. 30, 2016, in Las Vegas. (L.E. Baskow/Las Vegas Sun via AP)
(L.E. Baskow/Las Vegas Sun via AP)
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The injury Stephen Zimmerman suffered on Saturday will keep the star UNLV freshman out for at least a week, a source told NBC Sports.

The injury is not thought to be serious, however. Zimmerman may be kept out for longer as a precaution, but that’s a result of the Runnin’ Rebels being in a situation where the rest of their regular season is relatively meaningless.

They’re not getting an at-large bid to the NCAA tournament regardless of how they finish out league play. With back-up center Ben Carter out with a torn ACL, it’s more important to make sure that Zimmerman, who is averaging 10.6 points and 9.1 boards this season, is totally healthy for the Mountain West tournament.

That tournament, mind you, will be played at UNLV’s Thomas & Mack Center.

So the Runnin’ Rebels, regardless of how poor they’ve played this season, will always have a chance to land an automatic bid.

Anyway, the more interesting aspect of this story is how Zimmerman injured the knee. It was a completely avoidable play that came after the whistle, but I’m not sure it was what you would call a “dirty play”. You tell me:

VIDEO: Buddy Hield is ‘all money’ on game-winning three vs. No. 24 Texas

Oklahoma guard Buddy Hield (24) takes a shot over Oklahoma State forward Chris Oliver during the second half of an NCAA college basketball game in Stillwater, Okla., Wednesday, Jan. 13, 2016. (AP Photo/Brody Schmidt)
(AP Photo/Brody Schmidt)
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With a little more than three minutes left on Monday night, No. 24 Texas held a 57-51 lead on No. 3 Oklahoma in Norman as Jordan Woodard struggled again and Buddy Hield failed to find the rhythm that he had throughout the first three months of the season.

At that point in the game, Hield was 4-for-14 from the floor with 15 points and four turnovers. He had just missed a pair of wide-open threes

“I couldn’t make a shot,” Hield said after the game. But that changed down the stretch. First, Hield finally got a three to drop. On the next possession, he got all the way to the rim and scored. On the following two possessions, he was fouled on a drive to the rim and hit four free throws. And after missing a pull-up jumper, Hield did this:

“I told coach I wanted the ball,” Hield said, “I saw Lammert coming to bite, so I pulled up.”

“It’s all money.”

Hield is already the favorite to win National Player of the Year, and this performance is only going to help his cause further. Think about it like this: Buddy was not good on Monday night, at least according to his (admittedly lofty) standards. But he still finished with 27 points and shook off a cold shooting night just in time to take over down the stretch.

Now think about this: Hield’s head coach has enough confidence in him to hand him the keys in the final minutes despite the fact that he’s struggling and on a team that has two other players that Lon Kruger trusts on game-winning possessions. Think about it. When Oklahoma beat West Virginia at the buzzer, it was Jordan Woodard that the play was drawn up for. When they beat LSU, it was Isaiah Cousins that got the rock on the final possession while Hield was used as a decoy. .

Want to talk about coaching luxuries?

Kruger has three guards that can shoot, penetrate and score, and penetrate and kick, and one of them is the National Player of the Year that doesn’t mind being used as a decoy.