College Hoops Week in Review: Five Thoughts

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Ben McLemore is turning into the missing piece for Kansas: We all know what Kansas is missing this year: a go-to player. A star. A ‘give me the ball and get out of my way’ scorer that can be trusted with the ball in his hands in crunch time. Their best option? Freshman Ben McLemore, who is not only learning how to be a collegiate player right now, he’s learning how to be the focal point of an offensive attack; he played second-fiddle to Bradley Beal in AAU.

That aggressiveness was missing against Michigan State in the Champions Classic, and as a result, Kansas blew a five point lead with five minutes left as their offense bogged down. McLemore finished with 14 points on just seven shots against the Spartans. But two nights later, McLemore went for 25 as the Jayhawks erased an eight point halftime deficit against Chattanooga.

My point? He’s learning. He’s getting better. So watch out.

Has Murray State found their third option?: The key for the Racers heading into the season was to find out a way to take the pressure off of Isaiah Canaan and Ed Daniel. Who would play the role of Donte Poole this year? It certainly wasn’t going to be Zay Jackson, who got the boot after that ugly incident in the Walmart parking lot. Maybe Stacy Wilson is the answer. Through four games, the 6-foot-4 senior is averaging 17.5 points and 3.3 assists while shooting 46.4% from the beyond the arc.

What is going on with Larry Drew II?: Contrary to what all of the headlines will tell you this week, Shabazz Muhammad’s affect on this UCLA team is not going to be the biggest influence on the Bruins’ season. Drew will be. It’s a small sample size, I know, but Drew’s averaging 8.3 assists while committing a total of five turnovers over 108 minutes in three games. Will that last? Can he continue to be a playmaker and a facilitator for this team? Because if he can, with Muhammad, Kyle Anderson, Jordan Adams, the Wear twins and Tyler Lamb, there are no shortage of talents at Ben Howland’s disposal.

Memphis still has rebounding issues: After the Tigers struggled to knock off lowly Samford at home on Friday night, Memphis Commercial Appeal columnist Geoff Calkins had some very harsh words for Josh Pastner’s team. There are a host of issues plaguing Memphis right now, but none bigger than their board work. Calkins explains:

But in trots Samford — skinny, small and slow — and outplays Memphis for much of Saturday night. How does that happen? Or, better yet, how does this happen: How does Samford outrebound Memphis, 25-24?

How does Tarik Black get two rebounds in 25 minutes? How does Adonis Thomas get zero rebounds in 39?

“They shot 52 percent in the first half,” said Thomas. “There weren’t that many balls coming off the rim.”

Which is ridiculous, of course. There were plenty of balls coming off the rim. Samford missed 21 shots on the night. Memphis missed 24. So there were 45 balls coming off the rim.

Thomas didn’t get one of them. Even though he weighs 30 pounds more than any player from Samford. You’d think it would be humiliating at some point, wouldn’t you? You’d think Thomas would just say the heck with it, and focus on nothing else but getting a rebound, even if he had to tear one from a teammate’s hands.

If Glenn Robinson III plays the four, the concerns about Michigan go away: The Wolverines were vaulted up into the top five in the preseason polls this season, due in part to the return of Trey Burke. But a big factor in that bump was what the Wolverines were bringing in on the recruiting trail: namely, a lot more talent than we are accustomed to seeing John Beilein land. There were concerns that this could affect the way his system runs, and that was shown when the computer profiles showed that Michigan was overrated.

For me, the biggest question mark was at the four: were the Wolverines really going to try and play two of Mitch McGary, Jordan Morgan and Jon Horford?

Well, apparently they aren’t Robinson has been starting at the four. He’s averaging 15.0 points and 6.5 boards in two games against D-I competition, but more important is the fact that he’s shooting 3-6 from deep. Throw in Nik Stauskas and Tim Hardaway, and the only difference between the usual makeup of Beilein’s 2-3-4 and his current one is that the current one is longer, more athletic and more talented.

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

Bluiett back to Xavier for senior season

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Xavier lost one significant piece to the professional ranks this spring, but will return another.

Trevon Bluiett, the team’s leading scorer last year, announced via social media that he will be back to play his senior season with the Musketeers.

Chris Mack will return the bulk of a roster that struggled February only to make a run to the Elite Eight, but getting Bluiett for a final season makes the Musketeers especially dangerous. The 6-foot-6 Bluiett scored a team-high 18.5 points per game last year while also putting up 5.7 rebounds and 2.1 assists per night. He shot 37.1 percent from 3-point range, the second-best mark on the team. His return, even with point guard Edmond Sumner going pro amid his ACL tear recovery, makes Xavier one of the top teams in the Big East heading into the 2017-18 season.

Bluiett himself is enough to keep Xavier relevant in the league, but when he’s coupled with the likes of returners JP Macura, Sean O’Mara and Quentin Goodwin, plus a recruiting class featuring two four-star prospects, it’s not difficult to see a path for Mack’s group to a place where they can compete with the likes of Villanova and Seton Hall atop the league.

Welsh and Holiday returning to UCLA

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UCLA sustained some major, though expected, attrition from its roster this spring. On Tuesday, the Bruins announced a pair of significant contributors that will be back.

Thomas Welsh and Aaron Holiday will both return next season to the UCLA program, according to the school.

Welsh, a 7-foot center, averaged 10.8 points and 8.7 rebounds as a senior last year for the Bruins. He shot 58.5 percent from the floor and blocked 1.2 shots per game, and decided to declare for the NBA Draft without an agent before ultimately deciding to return to Westwood.

“Thomas has worked hard all spring,” UCLA coach Steve Alford said in a statement. “We supported him testing the NBA waters and are excited to have him returning for his senior year. He simply continues to develop each and every season.

“Thomas will be one of the top centers in college basketball next year and, undoubtedly, has a great chance to be a first-round pick in next season’s draft.”

The 6-foot-1 Holiday averaged 12.3 points and 4.4 assists last season while sharing a backcourt with Lonzo Ball, whose departure, along with those of TJ Leaf, Bryce Alford and Isaac Hamilton will leave UCLA with a very different look next season. The positive results, however, may not fluctuate too significantly with Welsh and Holiday coming back to play alongside two five-star recruits, Kris Wilkes and Jaylen Hands, as well as Lonzo’s younger brother LiAngelo.

West Virginia’s Macon forgoing final year

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West Virginia’s attempt to dethrone Kansas atop the Big 12 took a bit of a hit Tuesday.

Elijah Macon, a 6-foot-9 forward, announced his decision to forego a fifth year in Morgantown in order to pursue a professional career.

“First things first I would like to say thank you Bob Huggins and Erik Martin for believing in a young 15-year-old boy growing up from the Southside of Columbus, OH losing my mother and still having you guys push me to be the man I have become,” Macon said according to the school. “I can do nothing but thank you for all you and Mountaineer Nation (have) done for me. Unfortunately, I will not be returning for my senior season at WVU and instead sign with a(n) agent and play professional basketball. Thank you guys for all the love and support!”

Macon wasn’t a major contributor for the Mountaineers last season, averaging 6.3 points and 4.2 rebounds in 16 minutes per game, but he was an experienced and tough player who was well-versed in Huggins’ style and demands. Given the pace that the newly-fashioned Press Virginia plays at, depth is also paramount for them as a program.

Macon’s departure, though, may have been expected or at least partly anticipated by West Virginia. The Mountaineers signed five players in its most recent recruiting class, putting them one over their allotment of 13, so something had to give. West VIrginia will stay have interior depth, anchored by junior Esa Ahmad, so the loss of Macon is one they likely can weather, even if it may take some time to acclimate the newcomers.

“Elijah is in the process of completing classes during this summer school period that ends June 2 and will graduate with a bachelor’s degree in August,” Huggins said in a statement released by the school. “I respect his decision to become a professional basketball player and to go make money to support his family. He had a great four years with us, and we wish him nothing but the best.”

Key returning to Alabama for sophomore season

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Alabama’s top scorer is returning to school.

Braxton Key has withdrawn his name from the NBA draft and will be back with the Tide for his sophomore season, the school announced Tuesday.

“I spoke to coach Avery (Johnson) just over a week ago and informed him of my decision to withdraw my name from the NBA Draft and return to the University of Alabama for my sophomore season,” Key said in a statement. “I made that official when I sent my paperwork to the NBA league office Monday morning. I want to express my appreciation to my teammates, Coach Johnson and the entire coaching staff for giving me their full support while I went through this process.

“I am excited for the future of the Alabama basketball program and looking forward to getting to work as we prepare for next season. Roll Tide and Buckle Up!”

The 6-foot-8 forward averaged 12 points and 5.7 rebounds per game while shooting 43.3 percent from the field as a freshman. He gives Alabama four returning starts to pair with one of the country’s highest-regarded recruiting classes, headlined by five-star guard Collin Sexton. The Tide will also have an eligible Daniel Giddens, who previously transferred in from Ohio State.

Key didn’t seem likely to stay in the NBA draft, especially after he wasn’t invited to the combine, but his ultimate decision is a huge one for Avery Johnson as he looks to break through in his third season in Tuscaloosa with his first NCAA tournament appearance. 

Report: Justin Jackson to return to Maryland

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Maryland forward Justin Jackson is expected to return to school for his sophomore season, according to a report from FanRag Sports.

Jackson is an intriguing talent, a 6-foot-7 combo-forward with a 7-foot-3 wingspan that shoots 44 percent from three. But he’s also still developing his offensive game and consistency on the defensive end of the floor, which is why he was projected as a second round pick in this year’s draft.

With Jackson back in the fold, Maryland is a borderline top 25 team. They lost Melo Trimble to the professional ranks, but that’s something that Mark Turgeon has prepared for. With a sophomore class that also includes highly-regarded point guard Anthony Cowan and sharp-shooter Kevin Huerter, the Terps have a promising season ahead of them.