Some ‘under the radar’ individual battles to keep tabs on tonight

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The season is finally here, and with that are some fun individual match-ups for college basketball fans to watch. One of the best duels will take place in Omaha as Creighton host North Texas.

A game featuring Doug McDermott and Tony Mitchell doesn’t qualify for “under the radar” status given how much we know about the two players. McDermott is one of the early favorites for National Player of the Year if you go off of the early straw polls, and Mitchell is considered by many to be a future lottery pick.

What makes this contest under the radar? The fact that there’s no television.

McDermott averaged 22.9 points and 8.2 rebounds per contest last season, winning the Larry Bird Award that goes to the Missouri Valley Conference’s best player. Mitchell had to wait a while for his college debut but the moment he stepped on the floor at North Texas his presence was felt, and he helped lead the Mean Green to the Sun Belt tournament final with averages of 14.7 points and 10.3 rebounds per game.

McDermott can score from anywhere on the floor, as evidenced by his 48.6% shooting from behind the arc last season, and while Mitchell may not shoot as often from the perimeter he’s no slouch himself. Both teams have plenty of talent, but it’s the two likely NBA Draft picks (whenever they decide to end their college careers) that will be the focus of the NBA scouts in attendance.

Here are a few other “under the radar” individual match-up to keep an eye on tonight:

Robert Covington (Tennessee State) vs. Brandon Davies (BYU)
Davies’ name has been well-known for quite some time, but it took an upset win at Murray State last year for Covington to receive some national pub. The thing is, that while Covington’s 17-point, eight-rebound outing in the Tigers’ 72-68 win was a solid showing he put together some masterpieces in other games (30 and 15 at Austin Peay being one example). Both are capable of posting double-doubles on a consistent basis, which should make for a fun battle in Provo.

Eric Ferguson (Georgia Southern) vs. Ryan Broekhoff (Valparaiso)
While Broekhoff (reigning Horizon League POY) had the better perimeter shooting and rebounding numbers of the two last season, Ferguson’s been hard at work to improve his ball-handling and perimeter skill set during the offseason. Valparaiso will once again be one of the favorites in the Horizon, but if Georgia Southern is to reach the point of contending with Davidson and Charleston it will be Ferguson who leads the way.

Frantz Massenat (Drexel) vs. Randal Holt (Kent State)
Both players averaged at least 30 minutes per game last season, with Massenat entering this season as the choice to win CAA Player of the Year. Massenat was the more productive of the two last season when factoring in assists (4.8 apg to 2.6 for Holt) and rebounds, but Holt has increased his number in each of his three seasons at Kent State.

Kareem Jamar (Montana) vs. Wes Eikmeier (Colorado State)
No Will Cherry (broken foot) for the Grizzlies, which means even more will be asked of Jamar given the youth of that lineup. Jamar, a first team All-Big Sky selection last season, averaged 13.6 points and 5.6 rebounds per game. One of the CSU guards he’ll encounter is Eikmeier, who averaged nearly 16 points per game for a team that reached the NCAA tournament as well.

Warren Niles (Oral Roberts) vs. Julian Washburn (UTEP)
Oral Roberts is in a new conference (Southland) but one reason why many have made them the favorite to win the league is the presence of Niles (12.1 ppg, 3.7 rpg), their leading returning scorer from last season. Washburn was one of Conference USA’s best freshmen last season, posting averages of 11.2 points and 3.5 rebounds per contest, and he should only get better as a sophomore.

Raphielle also writes for the NBE Basketball Report and can be followed on Twitter at @raphiellej. 

Report: Texas’ Jones to test NBA possibility

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Both of Texas’ McDonald’s All-Americans from its 2016 class will test the NBA waters.

Andrew Jones will declare for the draft, but will not hire an agent, according to ESPN’s Jeff Goodman.

The 6-foot-4 guard joins Jarrett Allen, the Longhorns’ star center, in utilizing the rule change that became available to players last year in which they can declare, workout for teams, attend the NBA combine and still return to school.

Jones averaged 11.4 points, 3.9 rebounds and 3.5 assists per game as a freshman. He shot 42.5 percent from the field overall and 32.8 percent from 3-point range.

Allen seems the likelier candidate to remain in the draft as a potential lottery pick, but Jones came to Austin with similar one-and-done possibilities given his status as one of the class’ top recruits.

Texas, of course, is hoping both return, not just because they’re both big talents, but because incoming and highly-touted recruit Matt Coleman fills the major hole in last year’s lineup – point guard. If the three of them can share the floor together, Year 3 of the Shaka Smart era will be much more interesting.

Morrow announces transfer from Nebraska

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Nebraska was once again hit with a surprising and damaging transfer.

Ed Morrow, Jr., who led the Huskers in rebounding last year, announced his intention to transfer, the school announced Wednesday.

“I support Ed in his decision to transfer schools and wish him well,” Nebraska coach Tim Miles said in a statement. “We appreciate his hard work over the last two years. Although I am disappointed, we will continue to recruit young men who are committed to our mission of building Nebraska Basketball with a culture of success in all areas…life, school and winning basketball at its highest level.”

The 6-foot-7 sophomore’s departure is a major hit to the Huskers, who are coming off a 12-19 year in which Miles’ job security was called into question. It almost assuredly will be again this year as Nebraska hasn’t been able to build on its 2014 NCAA tournament appearance, instead putting together three-straight losing seasons.

Morrow’s decision is surprising not only given he’d been a productive member of the team – averaging 9.4 points and 7.5 rebounds per game – but because he was born in Nebraska before attending high school in Chicago and both his parents were Nebraska student-athletes his father winning a national title on the football team in 1994 and his mother an all-Big Eight performer on the basketball team.

“I want to say thank you to my teammates, coaches, the fans and the University of Nebraska athletics department for giving me the opportunity to play Division I basketball,” Morrow said in a statement. “It is hard to leave home, and Nebraska is my home. I was born and raised here, it is my parents’ alma mater, and I have a lot of friends here. But sometimes you have to venture out to pursue dreams and aspirations in a career. This is a sacrifice I have to make to better myself.”

Morrow’s transfer comes a year after Andrew White surprised Nebraska with his decision to graduate and transfer to Syracuse, which no doubt impacted the Huskers’ poor 2016-17 record.

Miles was on the hot seat at the end of last season and will assuredly begin this season there as well. A roster hit like Morrow won’t do much to help him improve the situation. Nebraska does, however, have three starters returning while Georgetown transfer Isaac Copeland is eligible, as is Miami (Fla.) transfer James Palmer, Jr.

Lonzo Ball says “I’m better than” Markelle Fultz

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Usually, it’s LaVar Ball that makes news for what he says.

His eldest son is now getting in on the business of generating headlines with something other than his play.

The UCLA star, who said he’ll enter the draft after just one season with the Bruins, claimed he’s the better prospect than Washington freshman Markelle Fultz, who many have pegged as the No. 1 pick in June’s draft.

“Markelle’s a great player,” Ball said, according to ESPN, “but I feel I’m better than him,” “I think I can lead a team better than him. Obviously he’s a great scorer — he’s a great player, so I’m not taking that away from him.”

Not exactly inflammatory stuff – like saying you could have beaten Michael Jordan, that you want a $1 billion apparel deal or a number of things his father has said – bu Ball is certainly projecting confidence. And there’s absolutely nothing wrong with that. There’s quite a bit of money – and pride – at stake with the draft, and Ball put up a season worthy of comparison to Fultz, who had great numbers but played for an abysmal Washington team. Ball, on the other had, had strong numbers while leading UCLA to the Sweet 16.

Both are going to go at the top of a draft that’s stocked full of promising point guards. Which player goes before the other remains to be seen, but it’s likely public pronouncements aren’t going to affect the draft order.

 

UMass hires McCall away from Chattanooga

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UMass has found, once more, the man to take over its basketball program.

The Minutemen have reached an agreement with Chattanooga coach Matt McCall, the school announce Wednesday

“The tradition and resources that are in place not only make this one of the best basketball jobs in the Atlantic 10 Conference,” McCall said in a statement released by the school, “but one of the best jobs in the country. We couldn’t be more excited about becoming part of the UMass family and look forward to building upon the rich tradition that has been established here in the past.”

In McCall’s two years at Chattanooga, the Mocs to the NCAA tournament in 2016 and a 19-12 record this year that featured five-straight losses to end the season.

The move will take McCall out of the southeast for the first time in his career as he previously served as at Florida and Florida Atlantic before getting his first head coaching job at Chattanooga.

McCall wasn’t the Minutemen’s first choice to replace Derek Kellogg after three-straight lackluster seasons. Winthrop coach Pat Kelsey had agreed to take the job before a last-minute about-face that saw him return to the Eagles program just before his introductory press conference was scheduled to begin.

“Matt is a rising star in college basketball coaching who has been a key piece of three successful programs in his career,” UMass athletic director Ryan Bamford said in a statement. “He has earned a reputation as a relentless worker, a great teammate and colleague and a confident leader of young men.

“Matt has worked with some of the most respected coaches and administrators in the country, who loudly sing his praises. Coach McCall’s appointment begins an exciting new chapter for our tradition-rich men’s basketball program at UMass.”

Despite being the second choice, McCall’s reputation in the coaching industry makes him a strong hire, having worked under Mike Jarvis and Billy Donovan. He took over at Chattanooga for Will Wade, and brought the Mocs to a 29-6 record and a  12-seed in the NCAA tournament in 2016.

UMass went to just one NCAA tournament under Kellogg (in 2014) during his nine seasons leading the Minutemen.

VIDEO: Frank Martin’s sideline demeanor as a high school coach

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South Carolina coach Frank Martin has the reputation of being rather, shall we say, intense on the sidelines during games.

The coach has a stare that seemingly could bore a hole through his players when they do something that doesn’t reach his level of expectation. Martin’s demeanor, though, didn’t just come into form once he hit the college ranks.

He was plenty intense on high school sidelines as well.

Martin won three titles while at Miami Senior in the mid-1990s, coaching the likes of future pros Steve Blake and Udonis Haslem. Now having reached his first career Final Four, that sideline persona has put him on the precipice of winning yet another championship, this time at the collegiate level.