Pregame Shootaround 12.28.12: UCLA has a point to prove as No. 7 Missouri visits

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Each day, CollegeBasketballTalk brings you the “Pregame Shootaround,” which will 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: No. 7 Missouri at UCLA (10 PM)

The Bruins have won four straight games since losing to San Diego State on December 1, with three of those wins being by double digits. But there are still questions as to whether or not Ben Howland’s team can be the national contender many expected them to be during the offseason. UCLA has an opportunity to change some minds tonight, as they host No. 7 Missouri at Pauley Pavilion. The key for UCLA: keeping the Tigers off the offensive glass, as Missouri is rebounding 44.4% of its misses according to statsheet.com. In their 82-73 win over Illinois on Saturday Missouri tallied 22 offensive rebounds, with Laurence Bowers and Alex Oriakhi accounting for 12 of those boards.

There’s also the matter of defending Missouri point guard Phil Pressey, who is one of the nation’s best at the position. Don’t worry about his field goal percentage, because its the way in which he runs the team that makes Missouri a title contender. The Bruins will need freshmen Jordan Adams and Shabazz Muhammad to be at their best tonight, and Muhammad scored an average of 24.3 points over the last three games. UCLA may be 9-3 but their resume lacks a “marquee” victory. Tonight is their chance.

Who’s Getting Upset?: Seton Hall (vs. Stony Brook; 7 PM) 

The Pirates, whose front court rotation has taken a major hit due to injuries to three players (Patrik Auda, Aaron Geramipoor and Kevin Johnson), should be on upset alert against a solid Stony Brook team. On the season Steve Pikiell’s team is averaging 13.1 offensive rebounds per game, and with Seton Hall’s lack of front court depth that could become an issue if Gene Teague and/or Brandon Mobley get into early foul trouble. Who will make things difficult on Stony Brook: Fuquan Edwin, who has quietly evolved into one of the Big East’s most versatile players. Seven of Stony Brook’s eight wins have come over teams ranked 201 or worse in the RPI (Canisius being the exception), but Anthony Jackson and company are capable of pulling off the upset tonight.

Mid-Major Matchup of the Day: Bucknell at Loyola (MD) (7:30 PM) 

Next season this will be a conference game as the Greyhounds will join the Patriot League. This season it’s a matchup of two programs expected to contend for their respective league titles, meaning that a win for either team would look nice on their resume should they grab an automatic bid to the NCAA tournament. Both teams have been very good defensively this season, with the Bison limiting opponents to 37.1% shooting from the field and Loyola not too far off at 38.8% (field goal percentage defense). The individual battle between Bucknell’s Mike Muscala (18.6 ppg, 10.8 rpg) and Loyola’s Erik Etherly (15.7, 7.4) will be worth the price of admission, and with guards Bryson Johnson (Bucknell) and Dylon Cormier (Loyola) also on display this game will not disappoint.

Five Things to Watch 

1) Baylor visits No. 13 Gonzaga, and if the Bears are to win they’ll need to get it done on the defensive end. The Bulldogs are shooting 52% from the field this season, and their offensive work is aided by the fact that they’re grabbing nearly 39% of their own misses. If Pierre Jackson and company can force the Gonzaga guards to have to make plays off the dribble, Baylor can win.

2) Just one afternoon game on the slate, as Rider makes the short drive from Lawrenceville to play Rutgers. David Cox will coach his second game in place of the suspended Mike Rice, and it helps matters that Myles Mack has been on fire of late. Mack has failed to shoot 50% or better from the field in just one game: Rutgers’ season opening loss to Saint Peter’s. Over the last four games the 5-9 guard is shooting 24-of-37 from the field.

3) Another team that needs to wary of a post-Christmas hangover is Memphis, who hosts an Oral Roberts team that’s better than its 5-6 record would indicate. Warren Niles (21.3 ppg) leads the way for Scott Sutton’s Golden Eagles, who have four players averaging at least ten points per game. Memphis can sleepwalk through games on occasion, and that can be a risky proposition.

4) Saint Louis point guard Kwamain Mitchell will play for the first time this season as the Billikens host SIU-Edwardsville. How much Mitchell plays remains to be seen, due to both stamina and the fact that SLU hosts New Mexico on New Year’s Eve.

5) Will he play or won’t he? That’s the question Providence fans have in regards to senior point guard Vincent Council, who hasn’t played since injuring his hamstring against NJIT in the season opener. The Friars will visit Brown (7 PM, NBC Sports Network) for the first time since the 1982 season.

Top  25 Games

Jacksonville at No. 5 Indiana (8 PM)

No. 7 Missouri at UCLA (10 PM)

Baylor at No. 13 Gonzaga (8 PM)

Other Notable Games 

Rider at Rutgers (3 PM)

Providence at Brown (7 PM; NBC Sports Network)

Iona at Saint Joseph’s (7 PM)

Southern Miss at Morehead State (7:30 PM)

Oral Roberts at Memphis (8 PM)

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

Washington’s Thybulle returning for senior season

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Matisse Thybulle will return to Washington for his senior season after contemplating declaring for the NBA draft following a junior campaign in which he was named the Pac-12 defensive player of the year.

“The NBA is really enticing and it was definitely something that I seriously considered when the season was over,” Thybulle told the Seattle Times. “I talked it over with my family and we came to the conclusion that it would be in my best interest to stay and get my degree (in communications) and grow as a basketball player and take this last year to mature and fine tune everything so I can be fully prepared to take that next step when it’s time.”

The 6-foot-5 guard averaged 11.2 points, 2.9 rebounds, 2.0 assists and 3.0 steals per game last season. He shot 44.5 percent from the field and 36.5 percent from 3-point range.

“I talked to coach (Mike Hopkins) and he gave me some good advice that was honestly something that helped in the grand scheme of things,” Thybulle said. “He told me that if I do it (enter the draft), then I should be all in because that’s what I’m going to be up against is a whole bunch of guys fighting for their lives. He thought it would be a better idea for me to stay in school until I’m at that point.”

Washington is awaiting the decision of Noah Dickerson, who declared for the draft but has not hired an agent. The 6-foot-8 averaged 15.5 points and 8.4 rebounds last season.

Koby McEwen transferring to Marquette

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Steve Wojciechowski added a significant piece to his 2019-20 team over the weekend.

Koby McEwen announced his intention to transfer to Marquette from Utah State late Sunday evening.

“I would like to thank God, my family, inner circle and all the schools/coaches that recruited me during this process!” McEwen tweeted. “With that being said, I’m proud to announce that I’ll be furthering my college career at Marquette University.”

McEwen picked the Golden Eagles over fellow finalists Creighton and Grand Canyon after he decided to transfer when the Aggies announced South Dakota coach Craig Smith was taking over the program last month. The 6-foot-4 guard averaged 15.6 points, 5.4 rebounds and 3.2 assists per game while shooting 40 percent from the field and 30 percent from 3-point range as a sophomore.

After sitting out the upcoming season, McEwen will have to years of eligibility remaining. Marquette went 21-14 last season, but missed the NCAA tournament for the third time in Wojciechowski’s four years in Milwaukee.

Minnesota adds Vanderbilt transfer Payton Willis

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Minnesota has added some depth for the future.

The Golden Gophers received a pledge from Vanderbilt transfer Payton Willis over the weekend, giving him a guard with two seasons of eligibility remaining starting in 2019-20.

Willis will sit out the upcoming season under NCAA transfer rules.

The 6-foot-4 guard played a limited role in two seasons in Nashville, never averaging more than 18. 5 minutes or 5.2 points per game. He scored in double figures in three games as a sophomore.

Willis was a top-150 prospect in the Class of 2016 coming out of Fayetteville, Ark. with offers from the likes of Tulsa, Rice and Dayton. Vandy and Minnesota were his two high-major offers.

After being ranked in the top-15, Minnesota was beset by injury and suspensions last season as they limped to the finish line in a 15-17 season that featured losses in 12 of its last 13 games.

Richard Pitino still has two available scholarships for the 2018-19 campaign.

Report: Quade Green returning to Kentucky

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John Calipari just landed a critical recruit for 2018-19, and he was already on the roster.

Quade Green, who averaged 25 minutes per game last season, is returning to Kentucky for his sophomore season, his mother told the Lexington Herald-Leader on Monday.

Given that six Wildcat players have entered the draft (Kevin Knox, Shai Gilgeous-Alexander and Hami Diallo are signing with agents), getting the 6-foot point guard back for a second season is a massive deal for Calipari and Co. The Wildcats have always been at their best under Calipari with returning players as the cornerstones of the roster with talented one-and-dones providing the extra boost. Getting one such returner at the point guard position is even more critical.

Green, who came to Kentucky as a five-star recruit last year, averaged 9.3 points and 2.7 assists per game while shooting 45.1 percent from the field and a respectable 37.1 percent from 3-point range, an area where Kentucky continually needs help.

With Green back in the fold, Kentucky will now await the decisions of PJ Washington, Wenyen Gabriel and Jarred Vanderbilt, who are all going through the pre-draft process without hiring agents, which will potentially allow them to return to school and bolster a Kentucky roster has the look of a top-five team.

CBT Podcast: NBA Draft Early Entry Deadline: Winners, losers and who has the most on the line?

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The NBA Draft Early Entry Deadline came and went on Sunday night, meaning there are now roughly 60 college players that have signed with an agent and another 100 or so that have declared for the draft while retaining their college eligibility. Who were the winners? Who were the losers? Who has the most on the line? Sam Vecenie of the Game Theory podcast joined Rob Dauster to talk through all of it. The rundown:

OPEN: What do NBA teams value in players these days?

10:00: Villanova has more on the line during this testing the water process than anyone

19:00: Just how important was De’Andre Hunter’s decision to return to Virginia

25:25: Gonzaga getting Rui and Killian Tillie back makes them a title favorite

32:10: Nevada has a top ten season on the line with the Martin twins and Jordan Caroline

36:15: #RANTALERT – The decision to turn pro is so much more complicated than “is he a first round pick”

48:30: Rapid fire: Maryland, Kansas, Syracuse, Nebraska, Purdue and Michigan. What do they have on the line?