Pregame Shootaround 12.7.12: Light Friday as finals approach for many schools

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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:

Note: The weekend editions of Pregame Shootaround will be published half an hour prior to tip-off of the day’s first game.

Game of the Day: Harvard at Connecticut (7 PM) 

Tommy Amaker’s Crimson have made a habit out of beating Boston College on a consistent basis, but the same can’t be said of their recent history with UConn. The Huskies have won all three meetings during Amaker’s tenure and own a 15-2 edge in the series. The Crimson are young but talented, with sophomore forward Wesley Saunders and freshman point guard Siyani Chambers leading the way. With the loss of Brandyn Curry and Kyle Casey many ruled the Crimson out of the Ivy League race, but even with just two upperclassmen in the rotation (junior Laurent Rivard and senior Christian Webster) Harvard shouldn’t be overlooked.

And that goes for UConn tonight, as the Huskies have struggled in the paint this season. Enosch Wolf did score 12 points in their loss to NC State on Tuesday night, but Kevin Ollie’s team will only go as far as guards Ryan Boatright and Shabazz Napier take them. Harvard doesn’t have much in the way of size but they’ve been the better rebounding team of the two (Harvard grabs 69.8% of opponents’ missed shots while UConn corrals just 60.3%). If the Crimson can take advantage of UConn’s issues inside while keeping Napier and Boatright in check, they have a shot.

Who’s getting upset?: Manhattan vs. Marist (7 PM) 

The light schedule means that a team with two wins (Manhattan) is the pick to be upset by another team with just two wins. Steve Masiello’s Jaspers are one of the favorites to win the MAAC, but this week has already seen both Iona and Loyola (MD) go on the road and drop league games. Devin Price leads the way for the Marist team that’s averaging just 54.1 points per game, and to be frank the Red Foxes were beaten like they stole something the last time they took the court (91-57 loss to Army). The Jaspers haven’t been much better offensively (56.8 ppg; and missing George Beamon certainly doesn’t help matters), and if they continue to struggle Marist has a shot.

Mid-Major Matchup of the Day: VCU at Old Dominion (9 PM; NBC Sports Network) 

Don’t consider the Rams to be a mid-major personally (especially with the move to the Atlantic 10), but they are on the road playing what should be an emotional game against Old Dominion. The Monarchs have struggled mightily in their final season before leaving the CAA for Conference USA, so maybe the sight of an old rival can fire up Blaine Taylor’s group. ODU is averaging 15.1 turnovers per game, and with VCU forcing nearly 19 turnovers per contest things could get out of hand if the Monarchs don’t take better care of the basketball. But look for ODU to come out with a little more fire and make things tough on VCU in Norfolk.

Five Things to Watch For

1) Iowa State looks to make it four straight wins over Iowa, but the home team has won seven of the last eight meetings in the series (ISU’s win in 2010 being the exception). Forward Will Clyburn leads the Cyclones in both points and rebounds, and Fred Hoiberg’s team has been one of the nation’s best teams when it comes to hitting the boards. Iowa has to keep the Cyclones off the offensive glass if they’re to defend Carver-Hawkeye Arena.

2) South Carolina made just 35.9% of their shots in losses to St. John’s and Clemson. With Jacksonville in town the hope is that the Gamecocks can get going offensively, with Brenton Williams and Bruce Ellington leading the way.

3) Siena’s looking to snap a five-game losing streak as they host Rider in the MAAC opener for both. Mitch Buonaguro’s team has won eight of the last 11 meetings in the series, and Siena’s going to need players other than O.D. Anosike to step up if they’re to make it nine of 12. Guard Nurideen Lindsey  leads four Broncs in double figures with an average of 14.3 points per game.

4) Two slumping teams meet in Milwaukee as the Panthers host Northern Illinois. The Huskies are averaging just 54.3 points per game, which is only two touchdowns more than what their MAC champion football team has averaged (40.8 ppg).

5) Ed DeChellis’ Navy Midshipmen have won three of their last four entering tonight’s game at Mount St. Mary’s, and despite not having a player averaging double figures offense may not be an issue tonight. While Mount St. Mary’s is forcing an average of 19.0 turnovers per game what happens when foes take care of the ball hasn’t been good, as teams are shooting 57.2% from the field.

Other Notable Games 

Jacksonville at South Carolina (7 PM)

Canisius at Fairfield (7 PM)

Iowa State at Iowa (8 PM)

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

4-star center commits to Purdue

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With Vince Edwards and Isaac Haas entering their senior seasons, adding front court options in the 2018 class was something that Purdue needed to do. Purdue added its second front court commitment in the 2018 class Tuesday evening, as four-star center Emmanuel Dowuona reportedly made his pledge. News of Dowuona’s commitment was first reported by the Lafayette Journal & Courier.

Dowuona, a 6-foot-11 big man who attends Westwood Christian School in Miami, joins fellow four-star prospect Trevion Williams in Purdue’s 2018 class to date.

Dowuona’s commitment comes just days before he was reportedly to visit Tennessee. Among the other programs to have offered Duwuona were Clemson, Georgia Tech, Miami and UConn.

Dowuona played for the Team Breakdown program on the Under Armour Association circuit during the summer, averaging 7.9 points, 7.0 rebounds and 2.1 blocks per game while shooting 59.3 percent from the field. While still a bit raw offensively, the native of Ghana provides value as a defender and rebounder. Dowuona is joining a program that during Painter’s tenure as head coach has done a good job of developing big men.

Dowuona and the aforementioned Williams will look to compete for playing time in 2018-19 alongside current redshirt junior Jacquil Taylor and 7-foot-3 redshirt freshman center Matt Haarms.

Dayton freshman Toppin ineligible for 2017-18 season

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Dayton announced Tuesday afternoon that one of the program’s incoming freshmen will not be eligible to compete this season. 6-foot-8 forward Obadiah Toppin has been ruled by the NCAA to have not met initial eligibility requirements, and he will have to sit out the 2017-18 season as a result.

Toppin will be allowed to remain a member of the team and participate in practices, and he will have four seasons of eligibility remaining beginning with the 2018-19 season. While the NCAA’s decision leaves the Flyers short a front court option in head coach Anthony Grant’s first season at the helm, it did not come as a surprise.

“We knew this was a possible scenario for Obi early on in the recruiting process,” Grant said in the release. “And if it came to pass, we saw this as a chance for him to utilize this year acclimate as a student and enhance his strength and skill as an academic redshirt. This is a great opportunity for Obi to develop as a player and student over the next 12 months, and prepare himself for a very successful college career.”

Toppin, who averaged 17 points and eight rebounds per game at Mt. Zion Academy last season, is one of five freshmen who have joined the program. Matej Svoboda and Jordan Pierce will look to earn minutes alongside returnees Josh Cunningham and Xeyrius Williams, and the same can be said for redshirt freshman Kostas Antetokounmpo.

Toppin being declared ineligible is the third hit Dayton has taken to its front court this offseason. Ryan Mikesell, who played in 32 games last season, will redshirt after undergoing two hip surgeries. And Sam Miller, who was also part of the team’s front court rotation last season, was suspended from school for the fall semester after he was arrested during the summer.

Four-star forward commits to Ohio State

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Ohio State is on the board with regards to the 2018 recruiting class, as Chris Holtmann’s program received a much-needed verbal commitment from four-star forward Jaedon LeDee. The 6-foot-9 Houston native announced his decision via his Twitter account Tuesday afternoon.

In receiving a verbal commitment from LeDee, Ohio State beat out California, Houston, Iowa State, LSU, Oklahoma, Texas A&M and UCLA. The Buckeyes hosted LeDee for his official visit the weekend of September 9, which coincided with the football team’s matchup with Oklahoma. Originally scheduled to visit Cal this past weekend, LeDee instead visited Texas A&M.

With LeDee’s commitment to Ohio State, visits to LSU (September 30) and UCLA (October 6) are likely off the board.

Currently attending the Kincaid School, LeDee played for the Texas PRO grassroots program on the adidas Uprising circuit this summer. The four-star prospect will likely be a combo forward for Ohio State, playing either the three or the four depending on the matchup.

With Jae’Sean Tate beginning his senior season and Keita Bates-Diop being a redshirt junior, Ohio State had a need to address in the front court. In landing a verbal pledge from Jaedon LeDee, the Buckeyes have done just that.

Among the front court players who will have eligibility remaining beyond the 2017-18 season are Bates-Diop, current sophomores Micah Potter and Andre Wesson, and freshmen Kaleb Wesson and Kyle Young.

The Pac-12 is foolish for scheduling Arizona-UCLA once during the regular season

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Last month, I wrote about one of the more troubling trends in college basketball: Teams steering away from playing the games that fans are going to care about the most.

It was the result of Georgetown head coach Patrick Ewing stating publicly that he was “not thinking about Maryland” after the rivalry between the DMV’s two most well-known programs went by the wayside.

Ewing isn’t the only coach that is culpable here. Kansas and Missouri don’t play. Kansas and Wichita State don’t play, either. Duke and Maryland don’t play. Ohio State doesn’t play Cincinnati, Xavier or Dayton. It goes on and on.

But the blame can no longer only be given to the coaches that schedule to protect themselves and/or their program.

The conferences deserve some criticism as well. Take, for instance, the Pac-12, who released their schedule recently after deciding that Arizona, a contender for the preseason No. 1 team in the country, should only play UCLA and USC, the only two teams that have a realistic chance of upending the Wildcats for the Pac-12 crown, once apiece.

Not only that, but the games will be played in Tucson, an incredible advantage for Sean Miller’s club as they pursue the league’s regular season title.

Look, I get it. There are 12 teams in the league and there is an 18-game schedule. Each team in the league is going to play four of their 11 league foes just once. It’s simple math. But the answer should never, ever be to schedule the Arizona schools and the Southern California schools just once.

The reasoning is simple: Arizona and UCLA are the two biggest brands in the league. When they play it will draw more interest than when any other two teams in the conference play, and that’s something the conference should be trying to capitalize on. It takes a lot to convince anyone on the east coast to stay up to watch a Pac-12 basketball game. I cover this sport for a living and I have a hard time making it all the way through a 10 p.m. ET tip. When a two-year old is going to be screaming at me to make breakfast at 6:30 a.m., do I really want to stay up to watch Arizona blow out Washington or UCLA to beat up on Cal?

The Pac-12 should do everything they can to ensure that Arizona and UCLA play twice every season.

That is even more true this year. Arizona might be the best team in the country and they might have the No. 1 pick in the 2018 NBA Draft on their roster in Deandre Ayton. UCLA is a top 15 team that just so happens to have Liangelo Ball, the worst of the three Ball brothers and potentially the last one to matriculate through the college ranks. The seemingly inevitable LaVar Ball blow-up is something we all will be watching patiently to see.

Should I mention the simmering hatred between Sean Miller and Steve Alford as they continually compete for the best prospects on the west coast?

And that’s before you factor in that USC is the second-best team in the league, and anyone that UCLA plays twice, USC will also play twice.

I’ll be sure to watch a number of Oregon games this season, and I think that Stanford, Oregon State and Colorado all have the pieces to sneak up on some people this year. I’ll be sure to check in on them a couple times as well.

But the games that I’ll have circled on my calendar, the games I’ll be excited about watching, are between Arizona, UCLA and USC.

By scheduling the Arizona schools and the Southern California schools just once during the regular season, the Pac-12 cost themselves a third of that inventory.

That doesn’t seems like the smartest way to run a business conference.

But hey, if conference realignment and the development of conference-only networks taught us anything, it’s that major college athletics are all about competitive balance over those advertising dollars.

Vanderbilt lands commitment from Aaron Nesmith

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Vanderbilt landed their first commitment in the Class of 2018 with four-star wing Aaron Nesmith.

Nesmith is a native of South Carolina, and the Commodores beat out South Carolina for his services. At 6-foot-6, Nesmith is the kind of defensive presence and athlete that Vandy will need to replace Jeff Roberson, who will be graduating this season.

This is a critical class for Bryce Drew, who is squarely in the mix for five-star guards Darius Garland and Romeo Langford. Nesmith isn’t on that level, but he will be a nice piece for Vandy for four years.