Pregame Shootaround 11.29.12: A preview of Thursday’s action

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Each day, CollegeBasketballTalk brings you the “Pregame Shootaround,” which will be posted at 2 p.m. ET and lay out a preview for the slate of games that night. We’ll take a look at some key match-ups and important games, as well as make some predictions and point out what you need to watch for. Take a look below at today’s edition:

Game of the Night: No. 8 Kentucky at Notre Dame (7 PM) 
The young Wildcats will play a team from the state of Indiana this season, as they visit South Bend to take on the Fighting Irish. Ryan Harrow has returned to the program but it remains to be seen how much playing time he’ll get as John Calipari has hitched his wagon to Archie Goodwin at the point.

Notre Dame’s got a talented and experienced backcourt led by Eric Atkins and Jerian Grant with both posting double-doubles in a 92-65 win over Chicago State. The individual match-up most will be focused on: Kentucky’s Nerlens Noel and Notre Dame’s Jack Cooley. If one of these two ends up in early foul trouble that will shift momentum in the opposite direction.

Who’s getting upset? No. 7 Florida against Marquette (9 PM) 
Given the fact that there are only three games involving Top 25 teams (Lewis & Clark State visits No. 12 Gonzaga) this is the obvious selection. If the Golden Eagles are to win they’ll need big men Chris Otule and Davante Gardner to hold their own against Florida junior Patric Young. Jamil Wilson (Marquette) and Erik Murphy (Florida) should be a good individual battle, and it remains to be seen if Marquette guard Vander Blue (questionable due to a knee injury) is able to go. Both teams have perimeter depth, but is Buzz Williams’ team ready for the “Rowdy Reptiles?”

Mid-Major Match-Up of the Night: Long Beach State at Loyola Marymount (10 PM) 
The overall schedule is a bit light but two of the better guards out west will be on display in this one. Senior wing James Ennis is expected to lead the way for Long Beach State and point guard Mike Caffey isn’t too shabby himself. They visit LMU point guard Anthony Ireland, who may be the best point guard in the country that fans don’t get to see on television on a regular basis. The Beach has just nine available players (Tony Freeland, Edgar Garibay and Keala King become eligible at the end of the semester) so guys such as Ennis and Dan Jennings can’t afford to land in early foul trouble.

Five Things to Watch For:

1) Tarik Black out for Memphis. Black won’t play tonight against UT-Martin in a game the Tigers should win. The big questions for Memphis: will they be focused enough to take care of business immediately, and what happens with Black on Friday?

2) How good is LSU? Johnny Jones’ Tigers are 4-0 on the season but those wins have come at the expense of UCSB, McNeese State, Northwestern State and Mississippi Valley State. Junior wing Shavon Coleman (17.2 ppg, 8.0 rpg) has been highly productive thus far and Memphis transfer Charles Carmouche is averaging 10.0 ppg, but we’ll learn more about this team as they host Seton Hall.

3) Ramon Galloway and Tyreek Duren (La Salle) take on Nurideen Lindsey and Anthony Myles (Rider). Galloway and Duren are averaging a combined 30.8 ppg while Lindsey and Myles aren’t far behind with a combined average of 29.9 ppg.

4) Conference play begins in the Sun Belt. Last night the MAAC (Iona beat Niagara) played the first official conference game (Oklahoma/West Virginia doesn’t count in the Big 12 standings) of the season and the Sun Belt will follow suit with five league games tonight. That includes East Division favorite Middle Tennessee opening at Louisiana-Lafayette and reigning Sun Belt tourney champ Western Kentucky taking on Louisiana-Monroe.

5) The return of Bruce Ellington. South Carolina’s best guard will be with the team tonight as they take on St. John’s in the SEC/Big East Challenge. Ellington, also a productive member of Steve Spurrier’s football team, will be with Frank Martin’s squad until the football team begins preparation for its bowl game.

The Rest of the Top 25: 

Lewis & Clark State at No. 12 Gonzaga (9 PM)

Other Notable Games: 

La Salle at Rider (7 PM)

South Carolina at St. John’s (7:30 PM)

UT-Martin at Memphis (8 PM)

Seton Hall at LSU (9:30 PM)

UTSA at Oregon (10 PM)

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

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.