Weekend Preview: No. 21 UNLV on upset alert?

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Who’s Getting Upset?: No. 21 UNLV

The Rebels are not playing anywhere near their best basketball right now. They are still without Khem Birch, who still isn’t eligible after transferring in from Pitt, and they made the trip up to Portland on Tuesday without Mike Moser, who is dealing with a hip injury. But even if you threw those two guys into the mix, I’m not convinced that it would make that much of a difference for the Rebels right now; the issue isn’t who is in their front court, it’s who is playing in the back court.

I love Anthony Marshall’s game. I don’t love Anthony Marshall’s game at the point guard spot. Bryce Dejean-Jones and Katin Reinhardt love to shoot, and they aren’t necessarily great shooters, at least not right now. For a team that will have one of, if not the best front line in the country once they have all their pieces available, having a back court that struggles to get those guys the ball is a major problem.

Cal isn’t exactly a Pac-12 contender, but they are a potential tournament team with a similar roster makeup to the Oregon team that beat UNLV earlier this season. The Bears have a talented and potent perimeter attack in Justin Cobbs, Allen Crabbe and Brandon Smith. They don’t have great big men, but they have a couple of serviceable bodies up front. Marshall and Justin Hawkins are just about as good as it gets defensively, but Crabbe and Cobbs have had defenses keying in on them all season long. They’re still averaging 41.1 points combined.

Who else is on Upset Alert?

  • Fri. 7:00 pm: Harvard at UConn (ESPN3): The Crimson have had a bit of an up-and-down start to the season, but they have proven, with wins at BC and UMass, that they aren’t afraid of a road game against a bigger opponent. Point guard Siyani Chambers has proven to be more than capable at running the point in Brandyn Curry’s absence, and with a couple of big, athletic guys on the front line, expect Harvard to put up a fight against the Huskies. Remember, Harvard beat UConn last season.
  • Sat. 12:00 pm: Long Beach State at No. 7 Ohio State (Big Ten): The bad part about this matchup is that it’s happening before the 49ers have a chance to get the rest of their transfers eligible. With everyone in the mix, the 49ers would have enough talent to throw a scare into OSU. As it is, they are entering this game just two days removed from a 31 point beatdown at Syracuse. That said, James Ennis is a pro and Michael Caffey is one of the more talented point guards on the west coast.
  • Sat. 4:00 pm: Colorado State at Illinois-Chicago: Just how good is Illinois-Chicago? Are they truly a competitor for the Horizon League title? Hopefully we can get the answer on Saturday, as UIC hosts a very good Colorado State team. The Flames are 7-1 on the season with wins over Iona and at Northwestern and their only loss coming against New Mexico. Hopefully we’ll get a better feel for this group after they host the Rams.
  • Sat. 5:00 pm: Ole Miss at Middle Tennessee (ESPN3): The Rebels have been one of the more pleasant surprises in the SEC this year, as they’ve steamrolled the six opponents they’ve played this season. The problem, however, is that Rutgers is the only one of those opponents worth talking about, and Rutgers is Rutgers. MTSU, on the other hand, is one of the best teams in the Sun Belt and fresh off of a season where they came a couple of late season losses away from being an at-large team.
  • Sat. 8:00 pm: No. 8 Arizona at Clemson (ESPN2): Does it matter that Arizona’s point guard play is suspect this season? On the one hand, they had 27 turnovers against Southern Miss this week. But on the other hand, does it matter than Mark Lyons as a 0.78:1 assist-to-turnover ratio when he’s sharing the perimeter with playmakers like Kevin Parrom, Nick Johnson and Solomon Hill?

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

Texas Tech forward Zach Smith returns to school after withdrawing from NBA Draft

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Texas Tech forward Zach Smith will return for his senior season, the school confirmed on Monday.

The 6-foot-8 forward is one of the most intriguing athletes in college basketball as he’s been a double-figure scorer for the Red Raiders the past two seasons. As a junior, Smith put up 12.1 points, 7.2 rebounds and 1.4 blocks per game as he shot 50 percent from the field.

Three-point shooting was something that Smith improved dramatically last season as he increased it to 39 percent in a small sample size. If Smith can continue to show that he’s a perimeter shooting threat then he could be an ideal three-and-d candidate at the pro level.

By returning to Texas Tech, Smith gives head coach Chris Beard a potential all-league candidate who should be counted on to be a double-double threat next season.

 

Missouri lands five-star forward Jontay Porter

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Missouri has another member of the Porter family in the fold as forward Jontay Porter officially committed to the Tigers on Monday night.

Following in the footsteps of older brother Michael Porter Jr., and father Michael Porter Sr., Jontay is currently a member of the Class of 2018 who is rumored to be reclassifying to the Class of 2017.

A 6-foot-10 forward who was recently elevated to five-star status on Rivals.com, Porter is having a monster spring in the Nike EYBL with MoKan Elite. Porter has been one of the best players in the league, as he’s putting up 18.1 points and 12.7 rebounds per game while shooting 40 percent from three-point range.

If Jontay is able to join Missouri next season then he gives the Tigers another intriguing piece to play alongside his brother Michael, who is good enough to be a potential No. 1 pick in the 2018 NBA Draft.

Although Jontay isn’t the go-to player that his brother is, he could be a very effective SEC role player early in his career, as his ability to rebound and stretch the floor makes him an extremely intriguing piece on the floor.

Kevin Stallings is a tone-deaf clown

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Pitt guard Cameron Johnson is the most coveted transfer in college basketball this offseason.

The 6-foot-8 Johnson is coming off of a strong campaign with the Panthers in which he put up 11.9 points per game while shooting 42 percent from three-point range.

Not only is Johnson a proven double-figure scorer in a league like the ACC, but he’s eligible to play right away thanks to his graduation from Pitt. Johnson graduating from school in three years and missing one season due to injury also makes him the rare graduate transfer who has two seasons of eligibility remaining. So, not only can Johnson come in and make an immediate impact, but he’s also able to stay for another year after.

This sort of thing almost never happens, let alone with a 6-foot-8 shooter that could sway the national title race.

It’s why blueblood programs like Kentucky and UCLA are in hot pursuit of Johnson. It’s why another ACC school, reigning national champion North Carolina, is also intrigued by Johnson being on the market.

Except Johnson won’t be allowed to attend North Carolina, or any other school in the ACC, without first sitting out a season and losing one season of eligibility. At least that’s how things currently stand thanks to Pitt’s power over Johnson — despite Johnson graduating from the school and having no more formal educational ties to the school.

Here’s what Pitt said on the matter in a release to the News-Observer.

“Cameron Johnson and his father were informed of our policy as well as the appeals process when they elected to seek to transfer. They went through our transfer appeals process and were granted permission to contact ACC schools; however, the committee upheld the policy to limit immediate eligibility within the conference.

If Cameron were to transfer within the ACC, he would be eligible to receive financial aid immediately but would have to sit out a year of competition due to standard NCAA transfer regulations. Throughout this process, we have remained consistent to our department policy and we will continue to do so.”

Pitt head coach Kevin Stallings had a peculiar interview with the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette that was published about two weeks ago. During the interview, of which the full transcript was made public, Stallings went in-depth about Johnson’s transfer and the current state of college basketball. Stallings also made remarks about how the media holds programs accountable for trying to bully certain players.

Here’s a small sample of what Stallings had to say.

“But the unexpected departures are the things that are becoming more common than uncommon in college basketball. You have guys constantly trying to transfer up. You have guys going pro that have never played a minute of college basketball after they’ve sat out a year at a school. You have guys asking out of their letters of intent with frequency. We’re dealing in a landscape in college basketball right now that is as probably as difficult and peculiar as it’s ever been. It used to be if a kid signed his letter of intent and he wanted out of it, you had to play a year of junior-college ball to get out of it.

“The media didn’t basically force institutions to let people break a binding agreement. It’s kind of interesting now the media tries to put so much pressure on programs, whether it be athletic directors or coaches, saying ‘Well, the coaches can move.’ Well, hey, guess what? I’ve got a great big buyout in my deal that prevents me from moving. I’ve got something in my contract saying I can’t go to another league school. It’s not as easy for coaches to go. That’s everyone’s rationale — ‘Well, the coaches can leave.’ We’re dealing in an environment right now that is as fluid as it’s ever been. It’s just where we’re at in the whole thing with the unexpected departures.”

Stallings makes some sound points–particularly about coaches having buyouts and the general perception of coaching changes in basketball.

But Kevin Stallings mostly sounds like a tone-deaf clown here.

Nobody is going to feel sorry for a millionaire coach who willingly makes the decision to change jobs.

Nobody.

Especially if that same millionaire is comparing a choice to change jobs to the transfer decisions of unpaid student-athletes. It’s even more laughable now that Stallings is holding power over an unpaid student-athlete from going to play at another school because of purely basketball reasons.

Pitt and Stallings need to do the right thing and release Johnson to play at any school right away because Johnson has already done everything he needs to do to appease the program.

Things changed dramatically for Johnson during his three years at Pitt. He became one of the ACC’s better players and earned his degree. Johnson held up his end of the bargain when he signed his Letter of Intent.  Now Johnson just wants the chance improve his basketball future by playing with one of the nation’s elite programs.

Stallings can blame the current state of college basketball, the media, or whoever he wants for Johnson’s transfer from Pitt.

But Stallings also has to realize that he’s going to be the one who looks stupid if he continues to leave these restrictions in place for Johnson. Stallings already has a history of this sort of thing when he placed transfer restrictions on former player Sheldon Jeter. If Stallings continues to uphold transfer restrictions on Johnson, then he’s going to gain a permanent reputation in recruiting during a time when players continue to gain more freedom over their basketball futures.

If Johnson does happen to go to an ACC school like North Carolina, it’s not as if Pitt has any sort of competitive roster that is going to be fighting the Tar Heels for league supremacy during the next two seasons.

Stallings and Pitt need to just bite the bullet, let Johnson have his freedom, and hope it doesn’t come back to hurt them for one or two seasons in ACC play.

It surely beats the alternative of being labeled a head coach who limits player freedom after six players left Pitt during a single offseason. That type of burn lasts a lot longer than two years.

Presbyterian hires Wofford assistant Dustin Kerns as new head coach

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Presbyterian finally has its new head coach as the program is set to hire Wofford assistant coach Dustin Kerns, a source confirmed to NBCSports.com.

Kerns has been an assistant at Wofford for the past seven years during his second stint with the program. Also spending six seasons as an assistant coach at Santa Clara, the Tennessee native is getting his first shot at running his own program.

Finishing last in the Big South last season at 5-25 and 1-17 in conference play, Presbyterian is trying to rebuild after head coach Gregg Nibert resigned in April. Nibert was the head coach of the Blue Hens for 28 seasons, so Kerns is going to be a completely fresh start for the program.

Tennessee lands impact graduate transfer James Daniel

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Tennessee and head coach Rick Barnes earned a commitment from one of the top graduate transfers on the market on Monday when Howard guard James Daniel pledged to the Volunteers.

The 6-foot-0 Daniel was the nation’s leading scorer at 27.1 points per game his junior season in 2015-16. Daniel played in only two games last season as a left ankle injury caused him to have surgery.

With nearly 2,000 career points to his name, Daniel gives Tennessee an additional perimeter scorer who should come in and make an immediate impact right away. While Howard has low shooting percentages and a high usage rate during his time at Howard, it’ll be interesting to see how the year off and more talented teammates will alter his game.

If Howard can be a more efficient scorer in his final season, then he has a chance to be one of the better players for the Volunteers this season.