Monte Ross

Preseason NIT Preview: Underdog Delaware joins Kansas State, Pittsburgh, favorite Michigan at Madison Square Garden

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Among early season “Tournamentpalooza” is the Preseason NIT at Madison Square Garden, which begins Wednesday night. The championship and consolation games will be held the day after Thanksgiving, Friday.

Below is preview of each team that made it out of regional play and into the pool in New York City:

No. 4 Michigan

The Wolverines are the gem of this tournament, ranked in the Top 5 in the country and with expectations to match. Coach John Beilein was fortunate to see Trey Burke forego the chance to jump to the NBA and return for his sophomore season. Burke, in addition to a nationally relevant recruiting class, puts Michigan in the conversation to make a run in March.

Through three games, the Wolverines are in the Top 10 in the country in points per game, posting almost 90 per contest. Glenn Robinson III has been one of the nation’s best freshmen with 17.3 points and 7.7 rebounds per game.

Pittsburgh

Jamie Dixon’s Panthers needed overtime to beat Oakland on Saturday, but have a strong slate of players returning and now emerging as impact pieces. Talib Zanna is flourishing this season as the team’s leading scorer (14 ppg) and Tray Woodall has been one of the better guards in the country with 13.7 points and 7.3 assists per game.

Highly touted freshman Steven Adams has been solid so far, too, tallying 7.8 points and 5.5 rebounds per game.

Kansas State

Kansas State enters its first season under coach Bruce Weber and was chosen fifth in the Big 12 in the preseason media poll. Weber brings a different feel to the sideline than former coach Frank Martin, but the Wildcats have some strong pieces that Weber will inherit from Martin’s time with the team.

Backcourt trio Angel Rodriguez, Will Spradling, and Rodney McGruder combine to score a little more than 30 points per game, but the Kansas State attack has been very balanced in its first four games. Rebounding has also been central to the Wildcats’ success, ranking second in the country in that category.

Delaware

The Blue Hens are the underdog in this tournament, having defeated BCS opponent Virginia in the preliminary rounds to punch their ticket to MSG. Jarvis Threatt and Devon Saddler will get a chance to match up with the strong Kansas State backcourt, which should be interesting to watch Wednesday night.

Don’t forget about Jamelle Hagins (9.3 ppg, 12.3 rpg), a monster rebounder who will have his hands full against Kansas State, one of the best rebounding teams in the country.

Daniel Martin is a writer and editor at JohnnyJungle.com, covering St. John’s. You can find him on Twitter:@DanielJMartin_

Cody Riley cuts list to five schools

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Cody Riley has cut his list to five schools, according to Scout.com.

A four-star four man, Riley is now considering just UConn, Kansas, Oklahoma, UCLA and USC.

Ranked the No. 29 player in the Class of 2017 by Rivals, Riley is an undersized-but-powerful forward. His bread and butter is on the block, where his strength and low center of gravity make him a nightmare to deal with, but he’s also skilled enough to do damage as a face-up four.

Riley is from California and will be playing his senior season alongside Marvin Bagley III, the No. 1 player in the Class of 2018, at Sierra Canyon.

Auburn continues to stockpile talent, adds top 50 prospect in 2017

Bruce Pearl
AP Photo/Mark Humphrey
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Auburn’s hire of Bruce Pearl was almost universally lauded as the first step towards the return of relevance for the Tiger basketball program.

And while the results have yet to shine through on the floor, Pearl is unequivocally stockpiling the kind of talent that will allow him to push for trips to the NCAA tournament and maybe one day contend for a league crown with Kentucky.

The latest step came on Sunday, when Pearl landed a commitment from Chuma Okeke, a top 50 wing prospect out of Georgia.

“He is a versatile wing who can handle and score,” said NBCSports.com recruiting analyst Scott Phillips. “Coming off of a big July, Okeke could move up the national rankings and Auburn pounced on him right away.”

Okeke joins big man Austin Wiley, a top ten player in the class, and Davion Mitchell, who is likely one of the five best point guards in the country, in what is currently the nation’s best recruiting class in 2017. That’s before you consider that Pearl already has Mustapha Heron, a top 25 prospect, joining the mix this season.

“This group has the makings of a monster recruiting class for Auburn,” Phillips said.

Okeke picked the Tigers over Florida State, Georgia and a number of other programs across the southeast.

VIDEO: Watch Virginia freshman Jay Huff dunk from the free throw line

Tony Bennett
AP Photo/Nell Redmond
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Jay Huff is a member of Tony Bennett’s best recruiting class to date, a 6-foot-11 top 50 recruit from North Carolina.

He also happens to be pretty athletic.

Don’t believe me?

Check out this video that McDonald’s All-American Kyle Guy tweeted out on Sunday night:

Yup, that’s Huff taking off from the foul line to dunk.

Not bad, young fella.

Seton Hall’s Derrick Gordon won’t pursue pro basketball to become a firefighter

NEW YORK, NY - MARCH 12:  Derrick Gordon #32 of the Seton Hall Pirates celebrates after hitting a basket against the Villanova Wildcats during the Big East Basketball Tournament Championship at Madison Square Garden on March 12, 2016 in New York City. Seton Hall Pirates defeated Villanova Wildcats 69-67.  (Photo by Mike Stobe/Getty Images)
(Photo by Mike Stobe/Getty Images)
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After a successful career that included stops at Western Kentucky, UMass and Seton Hall, Derrick Gordon, Division I college basketball’s first openly gay player, will not pursue professional opportunities and will instead become a firefighter.

The 6-foot-3 Gordon averaged 8.0 points and 3.3 rebounds per game as a senior for the Pirates, helping the team reach the NCAA tournament during his graduate transfer year. By making the NCAA tournament with Seton Hall this past season, Gordon became the first college basketball player to reach the event with three different teams.

A tenacious perimeter defender who could have earned a pro contract if he stuck with basketball, Gordon will instead pursue a career as a firefighter in San Francisco.

“I’ve had an amazing basketball career and want to thank everybody who has always been there supporting me every step on the way,” Gordon said via his Instagram. “But I’m making a change in my career…I will now be working towards becoming a San Francisco Firefighter!! I’m excited about this and looking forward to having a long career!!”

While Gordon likely would have never made the NBA on talent alone, his defensive prowess would have likely given him a shot overseas or in the D League. It’s hard to say why Gordon is making this decision, but given what we saw with all of the attention surrounding Michael Sam when he tried to play in the NFL, Gordon was probably going to face a lot of scrutiny wherever he decided to play.

Hopefully Gordon finds his calling as a firefighter and brings the same energy and leadership that he brought on the floor to helping other people outside of basketball.

Washington guard Markelle Fultz pulls off sick spin and dunk at FIBA U18 Americas

Kelly Kline/Under Armour
Kelly Kline/Under Armour
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Washington incoming freshman guard Markelle Fultz is going to be one of the premier players in the country next season as his unique game is going to be fascinating to watch.

The 6-foot-5 Fultz is currently playing with the USA U18 team in Chile for the FIBA U18 Americas as he’s second on the team in scoring and first in assists as the Americans play Canada for the title on Saturday.

Against the host country, Fultz had an electric spin move in the paint and finished with an easy dunk. If you’re not willing to stay up late to watch this dude play this year, then set your DVRs, because Fultz is going to have some fun moments during the season.

(H/t: Jonathan Wasserman, Bleacher Report)