A disappointing championship season? That’s what Pittsburgh is looking to rebound from.

Leave a comment

When is a championship season a disappointing one? When the title you win is the CBI (no disrespect to the good folks who run that tournament), thoughts of the last season have more to do with missing the NCAA tournament.

That’s the situation the Pittsburgh Panthers found themselves in last season, as inexperience and the health of point guard Tray Woodall resulted in a season that didn’t pan out as many expected.

But with Woodall back, the youngsters thrust into key roles last season a year older and some talented newcomers, Pittsburgh is looking to end their stay in the Big East on a high note.

“That’s what our goal always is,” Woodall, who is 100%, said at the team’s media day in regards to winning the Big East.

“I think we’ve got the depth this year where we think we can do it.”

Depth, something the Panthers sorely lacked last season, is something they have despite of the graduation of Ashton Gibbs and Nasir Robinson.

Obviously Woodall is the key, as he missed 11 of the Panthers’ 39 games with a groin strain and an abdominal tear and was a shell of himself when on the floor.

He’ll have a new partner in the back court in Central Michigan transfer Trey Zeigler, who averaged 15.8 points and 6.7 rebounds per game last season.

While Zeigler isn’t the three-point shooter that Gibbs was his ability to create off the dribble gives Pitt a dimension at the two they lacked last season, and that was most obvious when Woodall wasn’t on the floor.

Cameron Wright and John Johnson, both of whom were called upon to contribute as freshmen (Wright a redshirt) last season, will factor into the rotation as well.

Jamie Dixon’s squad returns two other starters from last year’s team in Lamar Patterson and Dante Taylor, but the one front court player most want to talk about is freshman Steven Adams.

The New Zealand native cuts a physically imposing figure, standing at 7-0, 250 pounds, and while young he’ll be needed to help improve a team defense that wasn’t near the standard the Panthers had established over the decade prior.

Opponents shot 44.1% from the field last season, a mark that ranked 14th in the Big East. Defending at that level won’t get the job done in 2012-13 and the Panthers know that.

“We’ve got good size,” Dixon noted during media day. “And we’re going to have the versatility to play a couple different ways defensively and do some things that we have in the past.

“We’ve got to be the best defensive team in the conference. That’s what we’ve done when we’ve won conference championships.”

Pitt also returns contributors J.J. Moore and Talib Zanna, while sophomore Malcolm Gilbert will look to work his way into the rotation after playing just 19 games as a freshman.

And if the Panthers need a reminder of what happened last season, there is one:

The Panthers had only a CBI Tournament title to show for last season. A photo of the nearly empty Petersen Events Center at the first-round game against Wofford was hung in the locker room last March with a message to the players, reading, in effect: “This is what happens when you miss the NCAA Tournament.”

With health and depth Pittsburgh can make sure they don’t repeat what happened last season.

Raphielle is also the assistant editor at CollegeHoops.net and can be followed on Twitter at @raphiellej.

N.C. State adds grad transfer Sam Hunt

Leave a comment

N.C. State added its fourth transfer this offseason. Like ex-Baylor guard Al Freeman, the latest one is eligible to play next season.

Sam Hunt, a double-digit scorer the past two seasons at North Carolina A&T, officially enrolled at North Carolina State on Monday morning.

“Sam is a great young man and will bring much needed depth to our backcourt,” N.C. State head coach Kevin Keatts said in a statement. “I want guys who are excited about being a part of our program and Sam really wants to be here.

“Sam is a combo guard that can space the floor with his ability to shoot the basketball. He is a good fit for the system and will bring a wealth of experience to our roster.”

Hunt, the 6-foot-2 guard, averaged 12.7 points per game last season, a dip from the 15.4 points per game he posted for the Aggies as a redshirt sophomore.

Hunt joins a roster that lost its three leading scorers from a season ago, one that ended 15-17 (4-14 ACC). Dennis Smith Jr. is a member of the Dallas Mavericks. Maverick Rowan also pursued a professional career and Terry Henderson was denied an additional year from the NCAA.

The Wolf Pack bring back forwards Abdul-Malik Abu and Omer Yurtseven as well as Torin Dorn.

Keatts, who took over the program after leading UNC Wilmington to back-to-back NCAA Tournaments, has already built for the future. UNC Wilmington transfer C.J. Bryce, 17.4 points, 5.4 rebounds and 3.0 assists per game for the Seahawks, has followed him to Raleigh. Utah transfer Devon Daniels committed to the Wolf Pack the same day as Bryce. Both will have to sit out next season due to NCAA transfer rules. Bryce will have two years of eligibility while Daniels will have three.

LaVar Ball stars in an uncomfortably entertaining segment on WWE’s Raw

1 Comment

LaVar Ball’s statements and antics over this past year always seemed better suited a professional wrestling ring.

It was only natural that the patriarch of the Ball family — and the head of the Big Baller Brand — made an appearance on WWE’s Monday Night Raw at the Staples Center for an awkwardly entertaining segment with WWE Intercontinental Champion The Miz.

With sons, Lonzo — in his first appearance in the Staples Center as a member of the Los Angeles Lakers — and LaMelo looking on, LaVar was the center of attention. When The Miz mentioned something about a partnership between the two, the scripted interview went south. It resulted in LaVar saying nonsensical things like, “There’s only two dudes better than me, and I’m both of ’em!” before later taking off his shirt. When Dean Ambrose, a WWE superstar feuding with The Miz came out on to the ramp, LaVar didn’t quite grasp the concept that that was his cue to stop talking.

This segment was somehow entertaining and cringeworthy at the same time.

Now that Lonzo is beginning his NBA career, maybe it’s time LaVar try something different. A manager in the WWE may just be his true calling. He’s certainly had plenty of practice.

Maryland lands commitment from five-star 2018 forward

Leave a comment

Maryland added to its 2018 recruiting class with its second commit, the newest addition being a five-star in-state product.

Jalen Smith, a 6-foot-9 forward from Baltimore powerhouse Mount St. Joseph, committed to the Terrapins, making the announcement on Twitter.

“I believe that I can academically and athletically achieve my goals at home through my commitment to the University of Maryland … Go Terps,” he tweeted as part of a long passage.

Smith is listed as the No. 13 overall recruit in the Class of 2013 by Rivals. He joins four-star swingman Aaron Wiggins in Mark Turgeon’s current recruiting class.

Playing for Team Takeover on the Nike EYBL circuit, Smith is averaging 10.9 points, 5.6 rebounds, and 1.0 blocks per game.

Recent grad’s joyride reportedly did $100,000 of damages to Mizzou Arena

Leave a comment

A recent graduate and temporary employee of the University of Missouri took an early morning joy ride that reportedly could rack up around $100,000 to Mizzou Arena.

According to Dave Mater of the St. Louis Post-Dispatch, Nathaniel J. Contant, 23, who graduated from the school in December 2016, drove his Volkswagen Passat through a gate and eventually on to the floor of the 15,000-seat on-campus arena.

At 7:15 a.m. Sunday, MU police were dispatched to Mizzou Arena for a report of property damage. Officers determined that around 4 a.m., the suspect drove his vehicle through a closed gate on the south side of the arena. He ran through a garage door and drove into a dock area where he damaged several golf carts that were stored in the area. He also drove his car onto the basketball court. The man couldn’t leave through the area he used to enter the building, so he drove through the arena’s press gate.

Contant, unsurprisingly, is no longer an employee of the university. He’s being charged with second-degree burglary and first-degree property damage, both of which are felonies. He was released on a $4,500 bond.

The motive for this early-morning joyride remains unclear.

Despite the hype surrounding the upcoming Mizzou season — one that includes the debut of new head coach Cuonzo Martin and the projected No. 1 overall pick in the 2018 NBA Draft Michael Porter, Jr. — Twitter users couldn’t help but poke fun at the dismal recent history the Tigers have had.

(h/t Kansas City Star)

Vance Jackson transfers to New Mexico

Leave a comment

With more than a handful of departures this offseason, New Mexico is set to have a new-look roster for the 2017-18 season. On Monday, Paul Weir, now at the helm of the program, landed a player who should make an impact in the three remaining seasons of eligibility he has left.

Vance Jackson, who spent this past season at UConn, decided to make the move from Storrs to Albuquerque, picking the Lobos over Rutgers, San Diego State, TCU, and Washington.

The 6-foot-8 rising sophomore will have to sit out next year due to NCAA transfer rules before resuming his collegiate career in the fall of 2018.

“The coaches — they trust in me,” Jackson told Geoff Grammer of the Albuquerque Journal last month during his official campus visit. “We’re on the same page. They see a vision.”

Weir, who led New Mexico State this past season to a NCAA Tournament appearance in his one and only season as head coach, succeeded Craig Neal in April.

This offseason has been headlined by transfers, though, those mostly were about players leaving the program. Jackson is the second transfer to land at UNM with Akron’s Antino Jackson electing to use his final season of eligibility with the Lobos. Antino Jackson is a graduate transfer, allowing him to play immediately next season.

Vance Jackson, who was rated as the No. 80 overall player in the Class of 2016 by Rivals, averaged 8.1 points, 3.8 rebounds, and 1.4 assists per game while shooting just under 40 percent from three for the Huskies as a freshman.