10 tidbits to know: Bearcats boarding, Baron scoring and more

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Vin Parise is a former assistant college coach and the college basketball insider for NBC Sports. Look for his Top 10 Tidbits every week.

1. No. 3 Arizona improves to 11-0 — its best start in 25 years. Sean Miller’s team beat No. 17 San Diego State 68-67 to win the Diamond Head Classic. As beautiful as Honolulu is, I hope tournaments like this don’t start becoming the norm for the holidays. As it stands right now, most college basketball players and coaches miss Thanksgiving with their family because tournaments the last weekend of November are customary. Hopefully playing games on Christmas night does not move in that direction. Let’s leave that tradition for the National Basketball Association.

2. In typical Tom Izzo fashion, his Spartans are one of the best at keeping you to one shot. Michigan State being 3rd in the nation in defensive rebounding is a stat that should surprise no one.

3. Speaking of crashing the boards; offensive rebounding is a great way to manufacture points when the perimeter shooting gets cold. Nobody is doing that better than Cincinnati. The Bearcats lead the NCAA in offensive boards.

4. Still trying to figure out how 9-3 Virginia lost to Old Dominion right before the holidays. The win was literally ODU’s second highlight of the season. The Monarchs’ other win was against Morgan State on Nov. 10. Old Dominion is 2-10 overall and host Fairfield this Saturday.

5. Billy Baron playing in the MAAC has proved to be a nice fit. The Canisius guard, who followed father Jim to Buffalo, is averaging nearly 18 ppg. Baron averaged 13 ppg previously at Rhode Island. Jim Baron’s Canisius team is the surprise of the MAAC so far. The Golden Griffins are 8-3 and have beaten St. Bonaventure and Temple.

6. Speaking of the MAAC — teams need to stay away from fouling Iona this year. The Gaels are shooting 79.3 percent as a team from the free-throw line — good for 3rd in the country. When teams play Siena it’s the opposite. The Saints are shooting 57.9 percent from the line — 343rd nationally.

7. Rutgers (8-2) is 2-0 under associate head coach David Cox. Cox is filling in for Mike Rice, who was suspended without pay for 3 games due to violation of athletic department policy. Cox coaches this Friday against Rider — Rice is due back for the Big East opener next Wednesday vs Syracuse.

8. It’s not the passes that make Michael Carter-Williams from Syracuse the nation’s assist leader by far … it’s the timing of his passes. The delivery is often right on the time and his teammates are rarely taken out of rhythm.

9. How about those 49ers? Charlotte is 11-2 overall, with its two  losses being Miami and Florida State. This is Charlotte’s last season in the A-10 before they head for Conference USA.

10. We lost a great one in 2012 with the passing of Rick Majerus. Here’s one of his quotes to make us smile….Happy New Year!

On being courted by the University of Texas …

“This (Texas) is a great job and I think DeLoss would be a great guy to work for. But I’m real happy. I like my AD. I like my players. I like Utah. It’s like being a married guy, but Cindy Crawford comes over and asks you if you want to dance. It’s kind of enticing to grab on for a dance. Then after the dance is over, you go back to your wife.” [Austin American-Statesman, 12/12/1998]

Vin Parise is the College Basketball Insider for NBC Sports. You can catch him on NBC Sports Network’s SportsTalk – Mon-Fri. 6 p.m. ETFollow him on Twitter @VinParise.

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.