Report: Friend of Noel, Ledo questioned by the NCAA

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Last week, Big Blue Nation got whipped up into a frenzy when Pete Thamel of reported on the latest in the NCAA’s investigation into Nerlens Noel.

On Monday, it was Kevin McNamara of the Providence Journal who provided another glimpse into the background checks being done on Kentucky’s latest star center.

According to McNamara, the NCAA was looking into the relationship between a 21 year old named Ryan Sweeney. Sweeney is a high school graduate and a student at Florida Atlantic that still lives with his parents, but he happens to be friends with a number of the best players to come out of the New England area in recent years, including Noel.

From McNamara:

Two weeks ago, representatives from the NCAA and the University of Kentucky visited Sweeney’s home to discuss his relationship with Noel, a 6-foot-10 center who enrolled last week as a freshman at UK. The officials met with Ryan Sweeney for nearly an hour, according to his father, Providence attorney Michael Sweeney. He would not comment when asked what was discussed but, the website for Sports Illustrated, reported earlier this last week that the NCAA also stopped at the Tilton (N.H.) School to further investigate potential eligibility issues regarding Noel.

“Nerlens has been at our house many times. He is Ryan’s friend,” said Michael Sweeney. “I’m not sure why the NCAA wanted to speak with Ryan but we cooperated, and I got the sense that everything was fine when the meeting was over.”

Asked if he’s ever provided money to Noel, Sweeney said: “Nerlens came to Florida with us once on vacation and he visited Ryan once at college (Florida Atlantic University) and we paid for his ticket. I will say we are not boosters of Kentucky.”

It doesn’t sound like there’s all that much there to implicate Noel.

But what about Ledo? The NCAA is currently looking into him as well, although his issues appear to be more of the academic variety than the amateur variety. Ryan has had a longstanding friendship with Ledo, who will play for Providence whenever he is cleared.

And while Michael Sweeney isn’t a booster for Kentucky, he is a booster for Providence. The NCAA has a rule in place that allows for “pre-existing relationships”, focusing on whether there was a change in “benefits” once the kid became a star athlete.

That will be the more intriguing storyline to follow over the coming weeks.

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

Syracuse upsets No. 18 UConn as Tyler Lydon stars again

St Bonaventure Syracuse Basketball
AP Photo/Heather Ainsworth
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Michael Gbinije and Trevor Cooney combined for 34 points as Syracuse overcame an early 10-point deficit to knock off No. 18 UConn in the semifinals of the Battle 4 Atlantis, 79-76.

The talking point at the end of this game is probably going to end up being UConn’s decision not to foul Syracuse with 36 seconds left on the clock. Trevor Cooney dribbled out the clock and, with six seconds left, missed a 35-foot prayer, the offensive rebound getting corralled by Tyler Roberson, sealing the win.

But that’s not the real story here.

That would be Tyler Lydon, who suddenly looks like he may end up being the difference maker for this Syracuse team.

If you don’t know the name, I don’t blame you. Lydon was a low-end top 100 recruit that had been committed to the Orange for a long time. He’s not exactly a game-changing prospect, but he’s a perfect fit for Syracuse. At 6-foot-9, Lydon has the length to be a shot-blocker in the middle of the 2-3 zone — he entered Thursday averaging 3.3 blocks — but his biggest skill is his ability to shoot the ball from beyond the arc. When he plays the middle of that zone, when he is essentially the five for the Orange, they become incredibly difficult to matchup with defensively.

The question is whether or not he can consistently be that guy on the defensive end of the floor. Against UConn, Lydon had 16 points and 12 boards. Against Charlotte, he finished with 18 points, eight boards and six blocks. But neither the Huskies nor the 49ers have a big front line that crashes the offensive glass.

Lydon is great at using his length to make shots in the lane difficult, but at (a generous) 205 pounds, he may run into trouble against bigger, stronger front court players.

The perfect test?

Texas A&M, who the Orange will play in the title game on Friday.

USC holds on to beat No. 20 Wichita State

Andy Enfield
Associated Press
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With guards Fred VanVleet and Landry Shamet both sidelined due to injury, No. 20 Wichita State arrived at the Advocare Invitational shorthanded. But even with that being the case the highly successful Shockers represented quite the opportunity for USC, and Thursday afternoon the Trojans took advantage.

Despite turning the ball over 23 times Andy Enfield’s team found a way to win, hanging on to beat the Shockers by the final score of 72-69. Freshman forward Bennie Boatwright, a tough matchup for most teams as a 6-foot-10 stretch forward who can score from the perimeter, shot 5-for-9 from three and scored a team-high (and career-high) 22 points.

The tandem of he and junior Nikola Jovanovic, who added 14 points and 11 rebounds, outplayed the Wichita State front court on a day in which the Shockers needed greater contributions from those players. Add in 15 points and four assists from Jordan McLaughlin, ten points off the bench from Katin Reinhardt and a 12-for-23 afternoon from three, and the Trojans were able to do enough to make up for their high turnover count and Wichita State’s 24 points off of turnovers.

Given the absence of VanVleet and Shamet there’s no reason to panic regarding Wichita State. Ron Baker, who was exhausted by the end of the game due to the heavy load he was asked to shoulder, scored a game-high 25 points and the play of freshman Markis McDuffie was a positive to build on.

McDuffie, who entered Thursday’s game without a made field goal in his first two appearances as a Shocker, shot 5-for-9 from the field and contributed 14 points and three rebounds off the bench. With their current perimeter rotation being what it is McDuffie will have opportunities to contribute, and the Shockers will need him to take advantage as they await the returns of VanVleet and Shamet (and the addition of Conner Frankamp).

Doing so will not only help Wichita State in the short term but in the long-term as well, thus giving Gregg Marshall another option to call upon on his bench.

Thursday’s outcome, even with the desire to see more from Anton Grady (eight points, seven rebounds), says more about USC at this point in time than Wichita State. Enfield’s first two seasons at the helm were about amassing the talent needed to compete in the Pac-12 while also gaining valuable (and at times painful) experience. In year three the Trojans hope to take a step forward within the conference, and wins like this one provide evidence of the program’s growth.