Pregame Shootaround 12.1.12: Getting you ready for Saturday’s lineup of games

Leave a comment

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:

Note: The weekend editions of Pregame Shootaround will be published at 12 p.m. ET.

Game of the Day: Baylor vs. No. 8 Kentucky (12:30 p.m. ET)

In his tenure at Kentucky, John Calipari had never lost two games in the month of November. That changed this season. The Wildcats come into their match-up with Baylor after a double-digit loss to Notre Dame on the road. They now return home to face another team that was upset in its last game, Baylor, who lost to College of Charleston last week.

This game will feature a full ensemble of talented freshman to keep an eye on. For Kentucky, Archie Goodwin needs to bounce back from a cold 1-of-7 shooting performance vs. the Fighting Irish and Alex Poythress needs more shots after just one in 23 minutes in his last outing. Baylor looks to Isaiah Austin, who has been one of the country’s best freshmen so far, averaging 14.2 points and 8.2 rebounds per game.

Who’s getting upset?: No. 11 Creighton against St. Joseph’s (3:00 p.m. ET)

Creighton was upset by Boise State on Wednesday and the road gets no easier for them against St. Joe’s. I picked Phil Martelli’s squad as a mid-major that could shake things up in March, and they feature one of the most underrated backcourts in the country. Carl Jones and Langston Galloway combine to average over 30 points per game and forward Ronald Roberts is averaging a double-double so far this season.

The biggest key for the Hawks, as it is with every team that faces Creighton, is to limit the impact of Doug McDermott. If St. Joe’s center C.J. Aiken is up for the task, we might have an upset brewing in Omaha Saturday afternoon.

Mid-Major Match-Up of the Day: Virginia Commonwealth vs. Belmont (7:00 p.m. ET)
Virginia Commonwealth showed in the Battle 4 Atlantis that Shaka Smart’s “Havoc” defense allows them to hang with anyone, but they’ll have their hands full Saturday night against a tough Belmont team. Belmont already has a win over a BCS-conference school, Stanford, and will look to the combination of Ian Clark and Kerron Johnson for scoring against the Rams.

If you haven’t already acquainted yourself with VCU forward Juvonte Reddic, perhaps a 16-point, 13-rebound stat line against Duke will force an introduction. He’s averaging 15.0 points and 8.6 rebounds per game. Don’t expect VCU to deviate from its typical gameplan: turn the opponent over and score points off their mistakes.

Five Things to Watch For:

1) Aaron Craft was just 3-of-15 from the floor in Ohio State’s loss to Duke on Wednesday. He’ll have an easier match-up Saturday against Northern Kentucky, so can he get back on track?

2) In the battle of high-level freshman between Baylor and Kentucky, who will win out? Archie Goodwin struggled against Notre Dame and how will Alex Poythress respond after getting just one shot in that game? Kentucky runs into a tough match-up with Isaiah Austin and Cory Jefferson in the frontcourt, plus Pierre Jackson running the show.

3) Freshman Marcus Smart has been the engine behind Oklahoma State’s early-season success. He’s averaging 13.4 points, 7.0 rebounds, and 5.8 assists per game for the Cowboys. They take on an undefeated Virginia Tech team Saturday.

4) Now that Michael Dixon’s career at Missouri is officially over, how will Frank Haith and the Tigers reshape their team? They’ve been able to play without him and get to 5-1 so far, but does knowing that he is definitively out actually end up bringing some stability to the rotation?

5) UCLA has been one of the most heavily criticized teams in the country so far this season. Center Josh Smith left the program this week and the team responded with a blowout win over Cal State Northridge. They face a stiffer challenge Saturday against No. 23 San Diego State.

The Rest of the Top 25:

No. 1 Indiana vs. Coppin State (7:30 p.m. ET)

No. 2 Duke vs. Delaware (2:00 p.m. ET)

No. 3 Michigan vs. Bradley (4:00 p.m. ET)

No. 4 Ohio State vs. Northern Kentucky (4:30 p.m. ET)

No. 5 Louisville vs. Illinois State (1:00 p.m. ET)

No. 8 Kentucky vs. Baylor (12:30 p.m. ET) (See Above)

No. 9 Arizona vs. Texas Tech (8:00 p.m. ET)

No. 11 Creighton vs. St. Joseph’s (3:00 p.m. ET) (See Above)

No. 12 Gonzaga vs. Pacific (8:00 p.m. ET)

No. 13 Michigan State vs. Nicholls State (12:00 p.m. ET)

No. 14 North Carolina vs. UAB (6:00 p.m. ET)

No. 15 Oklahoma State vs. Virginia Tech (2:00 p.m. ET)

No. 16 Missouri vs. Appalachian State (3:00 p.m. ET)

No. 17 Cincinnati vs. Alabama (3:00 p.m. ET)

No. 19 Colorado vs. Wyoming (10:00 p.m. ET)

No. 21 Minnesota vs. North Florida (2:00 p.m. ET)

No. 23 San Diego State vs. UCLA (10:00 p.m. ET)

No. 24 UNLV vs. Hawaii (7:00 p.m. ET)

No. 25 New Mexico vs. Indiana State (2:05 p.m. ET)

Other Notable Games:

Xavier vs. Purdue (2:15 p.m. ET)

Southern Methodist vs. Hofstra (4:00 p.m. ET)

Detroit vs. Pittsburgh (7:00 p.m. ET)

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

Bluiett back to Xavier for senior season

Photo by Rob Carr/Getty Images
1 Comment

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

Photo by Kevin C. Cox/Getty Images
Leave a comment

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

Photo by Sean M. Haffey/Getty Images
Leave a comment

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

Photo by Steve Dykes/Getty Images
Leave a comment

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

Michael Reaves/Getty Images
Leave a comment

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.