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.

Jim Larranaga believes he’s ‘Coach-3’ in FBI investigation

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Despite losing key contributors Davon Reed and Kamari Murphy from last season’s NCAA tournament team, the Miami Hurricanes are expected to be a player both within the ACC and nationally this season. But instead of having the focus solely on the likes of JaQuan Newton, Bruce Brown and Lonnie Walker, Jim Larrañaga’s program is also having to deal with the impact of the ongoing FBI investigation into corruption and fraud in college basketball.

While no one connected to the Miami men’s basketball program was arrested last month, the program is referenced in the FBI report. On Monday, Larrañaga stated during a press conference that he believes that he is “Coach-3” in the FBI report. Larrañaga also maintained his innocence, saying that he had done nothing wrong while also being thankful that none of his assistant coaches were involved.

“It’s been a strain, physically, emotionally, mentally and spiritually,” Larrañaga said according to the Palm Beach Post. “It’s something that’s there. I have to deal with it. I have the support of my wife and a wonderful family. I have the support of the university, my staff and players.”

According to the FBI report, “Coach-3” requested that payments totaling $150,000 be funneled to “Player-12” in order to ensure his commitment to their university. It has been reported that “Player-12” was 2018 five-star prospect Nassir Little, who has also stated that he had done nothing wrong. Two of the schools recruiting Little at the time, Arizona and Miami, have been entangled in the FBI investigation to varying degrees.

While Miami has not had anyone connected to its program arrested, Arizona assistant coach Emmanuel “Book” Richardson was one of the four Division I coaches were were indicted. As a result Little removed both Arizona and Miami from consideration before ultimately committing to North Carolina earlier this month.

There’s no telling what the FBI investigation will ultimately uncover, which for the schools involved could take a heavy toll not only for the 2017-18 season but for future years as well. The FBI case has been comparatively quiet since the first set of indictments, with future moves likely to be influenced by what authorities learn from the ten individuals named in the first announcement.

Miles Bridges discusses being offered money during recruiting process

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With the FBI launching an investigation into corruption and fraud in college basketball last month, the entire sport has found itself under the microscope. Ten people, including four Division I assistant coaches, were arrested and there’s no telling just how long the FBI’s investigation will last or what information it will produce.

Michigan State forward Miles Bridges is considered by many to be the leading candidate for national Player of the Yeah honors, and he had the opportunity to turn pro after a good freshman season. But Bridges made the decision to return to East Lansing, and with that comes questions as to why he would do that as opposed to cashing in on his NBA potential as soon as possible.

In an interview with Brendan Quinn of The Athletic (subscription required) Bridges discussed a host of issues, including being offered money by people while going through the recruiting process.

“I mean, if you get caught, that might be the end of your career. I wanted to play in college really bad,” Bridges told Quinn. “I don’t know — materialistic things, they don’t really get to me. So when people were offering me money, I would say no right away, because I wanted to be able to live out my college experience. But really, I don’t know, it is hard, especially because I was so young at the time — 17.”

Given the ongoing investigation, high-profile players and teams will be on the receiving end of increased scrutiny even if they aren’t part of the FBI probe. It’s an unfair situation for a player like Bridges to deal with, as even in the actual cases of alleged wrongdoing the players themselves are essentially commodities whose services are being auctioned as opposed to the main characters looking to cash in.

Unfortunately, due to recent events a decision like the one made by Bridges will result in some questioning whether or not the player received something from the school or another entity/individual. And that’s a tough — and unfair — thing for a young player to have to deal with.

Broken hand sidelines North Carolina PG Joel Berry II

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North Carolina’s defense of its national title will likely begin without its most important player, as it was announced on Monday that senior point guard Joel Berry II will miss approximately four weeks due to a broken bone in his right hand.

Berry started at the point each of the last two seasons, earning Most Outstanding Player honors in April as the Tar Heels defeated Gonzaga to win the national title. As a junior, Berry averaged 14.7 points, 3.6 assists and 3.1 rebounds per game and started 37 of the 38 games in which he played. Berry shot 42.6 percent from the field and 38.3 percent from three, with the latter percentage being the best on team amongst players who attempted at least two three-pointers per game.

Berry was named an NBC Sports Preseason Third-Team All-American in late September.

With Berry out of the lineup, North Carolina loses its floor general as well as one of their top perimeter shooters. Sophomore Seventh Woods and freshman Jalek Felton become more important options at the point as a result of Berry’s injury, and the team doesn’t lack for perimeter shooters either with Cameron Johnson, Brandon Robinson, Kenny Williams and freshman Andrew Platek all being capable of helping to pick up the slack.

North Carolina opens its regular season on November 10 against Northern Iowa.

Bill Self’s stance on Kansas/Missouri series remains unchanged

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Sunday afternoon in Kansas City, bitter rivals Kansas and Missouri got together on the basketball court for the first time since 2012, with the Showdown for Relief raising $1.75 million for recent hurricane victims. In what was an entertaining game, the Jayhawks won by the final score of 93-87 with point guard Devonté Graham leading the way for the winners with 25 points and ten rebounds.

Kansas finished the game with five players in double figures, including Mississippi State transfer Malik Newman (17 points) and center Udoka Azubuike (16). On the other side freshman Michael Porter Jr. paced four Tigers in double figures with 21 points while younger brother Jontay grabbed a game-high 12 rebounds off the bench.

However despite the excitement for the two rivals being on the same court in any capacity, Sunday’s meeting was different given the circumstances. Following the game Kansas head coach Bill Self was asked about the possibility of the two teams meeting in a regular season game, and he maintained the stance he’s held since Missouri left the Big 12 for the SEC.

“I’m not going to say never, but I don’t think there’s been any change in our position as far as the university goes,” Self said following Sunday’s exhibition. “I’m the spokesman, I guess, on this but trust me, I’m not the only one that feels that way.”

While it would certainly benefit college basketball if Kansas and Missouri were to renew acquaintances down the line, it is understandable that Self — and maybe some others on the Kansas side of things — would have reservations. The programs, even with the arrival of Cuonzo Martin in Columbia and the freshman class led by the aforementioned Michael Porter Jr., are in different places right now.

The Jayhawks have their sights set on a 14th consecutive Big 12 title and a run at their first national title since 2008, Missouri is looking to fast-track a rebuilding process after struggling mightily under former head coach Kim Anderson. Yet with that being said, the state of the two athletic departments during realignment likely has more to do with the teams not playing each other.

Missouri was a school with options earlier this decade before joining the SEC, but that was not the case for Kansas. Had the Big 12 broken up as some believed would be the case, where would the Jayhawks have landed? Fortunately for the school the Big 12 survived the realignment craze, losing four schools (Missouri and Texas A&M to the SEC, Colorado to the Pac-12 and Nebraska to the Big Ten) and adding TCU and West Virginia to get their membership number to ten.

Given that, the best bet for college basketball fans who want to see this rivalry played during the regular season may be to hope for the programs wind up in the same in-season tournament. Even better, how about the same NCAA tournament region?

Top 100 Players Countdown

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Starting on Monday morning and continuing throughout the week, we will be counting down the top 100 players in college basketball on the College Basketball Talk twitter account.

Check back to this page – or to the CBT twitter account – throughout the week to get caught up on the rankings.

MOREThe Enigma of Miles Bridges | NBC Sports Preseason All-American Team
CONTENDER SERIES: Kentucky | Kansas | Arizona | Michigan State | Duke
Big Ten Preview | ACC Preview | Big 12 Preview | Pac 12 Preview