Weekend Preview: Top storylines to follow

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The Weekend’s Top Storyline: Who bounces back on Saturday, No. 8 Kentucky or Baylor?

If you were paying attention, Kentucky’s loss in South Bend to the Fighting Irish shouldn’t have come as a surprise to you. The Wildcats are the youngest team in the country and were playing their first game on the road this season, and it just so happened to be against a veteran, disciplined Irish team in front of one of the toughest home courts in the country that was already fired up because their football team is headed to the national title game and their Heisman candidate was front row in the student section.

For the cynics and Scott Drew haters, Baylor’s start to the season isn’t a surprise, either. With enough talent to be a top ten team and win the Big 12, Drew has once again watched as his program struggles to live up to the hype and expectation, losing to Charleston at home after struggling with Boston College despite having as many as four future draft picks on the roster.

So who bounces back on Saturday at 12:30 ET? Will Alex Poythress be motivated? Will Pierre Jackson be distributing? Which athletic front line earns control of the paint?

Five More Storylines to Track:

Battle of the unbeatens: Ok, so it’s not a huge surprise that Alabama and No. 17 Cincinnati (Saturday, 3:00 p.m.) are both undefeated at this point in the season. Cincy was woefully underrated heading into the year, and Alabama appeared to have some addition by subtraction going on with Tony Mitchell and JaMychal Green. (You like back court battles? Sean Kilpatrick and Cashmere Wright vs. Trevor Lacey and Trevor Relelford should make you salivate.) But get this: Oklahoma State and Virginia Tech (Saturday, 2:00 p.m.) are also both undefeated heading into December. How many people saw that coming?

Missouri without Mike Dixon: At 3:00 p.m. on Saturday, the Tigers will take on Appalachian State at home as they take the floor for the first time since Preseason All-Big 12 guard Michael Dixon left the program amid multiple sexual assault allegations. How will the Tigers respond without him? We may not know that answer until mid-December, when Jabari Brown gets eligible.

UCLA without Joshua Smith: It’s been a rough week to be a Bruin fan. They blew an 18 point lead to Cal Poly with 12 minutes left to lose at home on Sunday night, and then watched as two former starters — Tyler Lamb and Smith — transferred out of the program this week. The Bruins now have depth and roster make-up issues, but they bounced back nicely with a big win over Cal Cat.-Northridge on Wednesday. But what happens when they are forced to play a top 25 program like San Diego State, one that can matchup up with them wing for wing? Jamaal Franklin vs. Shabazz Muhammad will be fun.

Jerod Haase is back: Jerod Haase played for Roy Williams at Kansas. He was an assistant there from 1999-2003, when he followed Williams to North Carolina. He’s a lifer … well, was a lifer. This offseason, Haase accepted the head coaching position at UAB, and on Saturday, he’ll be taking his Blazer team into the Dean Dome for the first time.

Can Villanova or Vanderbilt turn their season around?: Neither one has been impressive this season, and while we knew that both the Wildcats and the Commodores would be rebuilding this season, how many people expected Jay Wright’s team to lose to Columbia and La Salle, or Kevin Stallings’ team to put up 33 points in a blowout loss to Marist? Both programs really needs a bounce back win.

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

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.

South Carolina fans raise money to send “Gamecock Jesus” to Final Four

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South Carolina fans are sending one of their most recognizable compatriots to represent them this weekend.

Gamecock Jesus is heading to the Final Four.

South Carolina super fan Carlton Thompson is following the Gamecocks to Glendale as his fellow fans have raised over $7,500 to send the man known as “Gamecock Jesus” to Arizona for the team’s Final Four meeting with Gonzaga on Saturday night.

Thompson’s long hair, beard and presence at South Carolina games, even in lean times, earned him his nickname and apparently a following fervent enough to foot the bill for quite the trip.

“I’ve always dreamed it would be like this,” Thompson said last week about fan support at Gamecock games to the Post and Courier. “For years and years, it was so sparse with the crowds at the games. But once they started winning, the crowds started coming.”

Thompson is a 63-year-old VA hospital nurse, and has been attending South Carolina games for nearly 50 years.

Maryland’s Melo Trimble declares for the NBA Draft

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Melo Trimble’s career as a Maryland Terrapin is coming to an end. The junior guard is declaring for the NBA Draft and will sign with an agent.

“I am confident and excited to pursue an opportunity to play in the NBA,” Trimble said in a release. “I am proud of what my teammates and I were able to accomplish these past three seasons at Maryland. I developed many great relationships and friendships and together we able to create some very special moments for Maryland basketball. I want to thank Coach Turgeon for all of his support. He always believed in me. He challenged me and really helped in the development of my overall game. I am a more complete basketball player because of Coach Turgeon and the coaching staff. To stay at home and attend the University of Maryland is the best decision that I ever made and it was truly special to play in front of my family, friends and our amazing fans. Maryland will always be home.”

There was no better winner in college basketball the last three years than Melo. He changed the trajectory of Mark Turgeon’s program, winning 79 games in three years and ending his career 30-8 in games decided by six points or less. As a junior, Trimble and the Terps earned a No. 6 seed to the NCAA tournament, but they lost in the first round to Xavier. It was the only time in Trimble’s career that he didn’t reach the Sweet 16.

“Melo Trimble is a winner,” Mark Turgeon said on twitter. “Humble, hard-working, dedicated. Words can’t express what he’s done for our program. Always #StayMelo!”