Pregame Shootaround 12.29.12: Intrastate rivalry in Bluegrass State highlights Saturday’s action

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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. 4 Louisville vs. Kentucky

The biggest boost for Louisville Saturday is the news that center Gorgui Dieng will play against Kentucky. He won’t necessarily be 100 percent and back to his full playing capacity, but he’ll be an important frontcourt presence against the athletic Wildcats.

The other major matchup to watch is in the backcourt. Ryan Harrow had his best game of the season in his last game against Marshall, going for 23 points on 10-of-17 shooting. Can he replicate that against Louisville, or will the scoring duties fall back on the shoulders of freshman Archie Goodwin? Goodwin shot poorly from the field against Marshall (4-of-17) but was able to get to the line to boost his output (10-of-11 from the free throw line).

Russ Smith has shown a good deal of growth and maturation this season, leading to his 19.7 points per game, but Peyton Siva and his 6.3 assists per game are the engines for the Cardinals. Siva can’t have another six-turnover game like he did in a loss to Duke because turnovers will spur Kentucky’s transition game, where it is most dangerous.

Who’s Getting Upset?: Central Florida against Belmont

It might not be a massive upset, but this future Big East team is matching up Saturday with perhaps the toughest mid-major backcourt combo in the country. Ian Clark and Kerron Johnson together average over 30 points per game and will put stress on the Knights’ backcourt to give an answer.

Expect Belmont to shoot well from the field as they typically do, which should help to minimize the impact of a possible rebounding deficit.

Mid-Major Matchup of the Day: Valparaiso vs. Murray State

Valpo-MSU is a matchup between two mid-major stars: Isaiah Canaan and Ryan Broekhoff. Canaan is having the All-American season that was expected of him, averaging 20.9 points and 3.9 assists per game, while Broekhoff is one of the more unheralded impact forwards in the country with his 16.6 points and 7.8 rebounds per game.

Murray State will be pushing the tempo, but both teams shoot well from the floor. Keep an eye on who contains Ed Daniel in the paint for Valpo. If no one does, rebounding could be the deciding factor Saturday.

Five Things to Watch 

1. Having center Gorgui Dieng back from injury will help Louisville to contain the young and athletic Kentucky frontcourt combo of Nerlens Noel and Willie Cauley-Stein. Dieng has been out since he fractured his wrist against Missouri during the Battle 4 Atlantis, and now returns just in time to combat the 18+ points and 14+ rebounds per game of the Noel/Cauley-Stein duo.

2. North Carolina was dismantled by a Myck Kabongo-less Texas team on Dec. 19 and now they face an 11-1 UNLV team that has won nine in a row. The Rebels will once again be without forward Mike Moser, but Pitt transfer Khem Birch has proven to be a capable fill-in since becoming eligible.

3. Florida lost its footing at home against then-unranked Kansas State last Saturday, but now has a chance to redeem itself against Air Force. The Gators are heavily favored, but they’ll need to keep an eye on Air Force guard Michael Lyons, who is averaging 20.5 points per game.

4. C.J. Leslie had a career-high 33 points in his last time out against St. Bonaventure. Saturday against Western Michigan, he’ll run into some solid size in 6-10 center Shayne Whittington and 6-8 forward Darius Paul, the team’s top two leading rebounders.

5. Tennessee has been prone to abysmal offensive outputs this season (37 points in loss to Georgetown, 38 in loss to Virginia). If they have that kind of output against Xavier on Saturday, freshman guard Semaj Christon had the ability to carry the Musketeers to a win.

Top  25 Games

No. 1 Duke vs. Santa Clara (12:00 p.m. ET, ESPN2)

No. 2 Michigan vs. Central Michigan (7 p.m., Big Ten Network)

No. 4 Louisville vs. Kentucky (4 p.m. ET, CBS)

No. 6 Kansas vs. American (8 p.m. ET, ESPN3)

No. 9 Syracuse vs. Alcorn State (7 p.m. ET, ESPN3)

No. 10 Ohio State vs. Chicago State (4:30 p.m. ET, Big Ten Network)

No. 12 Illinois vs. Auburn (2:15 p.m. ET, Big Ten Network)

No. 14 Florida vs. Air Force (4:30 p.m. ET, Fox Sports Net National)

No. 16 Creighton vs. Evansville (8:05 p.m. ET, ESPN3)

No. 18 Butler vs. Vanderbilt (8 p.m. ET, ESPNU)

No. 20 UNLV vs. North Carolina (2 p.m. ET, ESPN2)

No. 23 North Carolina State vs. Western Michigan (12 p.m. ET, ESPNU)

No. 25 Kansas State vs. UMKC (7 p.m. ET)

Other Notable Games 

Delaware State vs. Maryland (12:30 p.m. ET, ESPN3)

Virginia Tech vs. BYU (2:00 p.m. ET, ESPNU)

Xavier vs. Tennessee (6:00 p.m. ET, ESPN3)

Washington vs. Connecticut (7:30 p.m. ET, ESPN2)

Harvard vs. California (8:00 p.m. ET, Pac-12 Networks)

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

Lonzo Ball says “I’m better than” Markelle Fultz

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Usually, it’s LaVar Ball that makes news for what he says.

His eldest son is now getting in on the business of generating headlines with something other than his play.

The UCLA star, who said he’ll enter the draft after just one season with the Bruins, claimed he’s the better prospect than Washington freshman Markelle Fultz, who many have pegged as the No. 1 pick in June’s draft.

“Markelle’s a great player,” Ball said, according to ESPN, “but I feel I’m better than him,” “I think I can lead a team better than him. Obviously he’s a great scorer — he’s a great player, so I’m not taking that away from him.”

Not exactly inflammatory stuff – like saying you could have beaten Michael Jordan, that you want a $1 billion apparel deal or a number of things his father has said – bu Ball is certainly projecting confidence. And there’s absolutely nothing wrong with that. There’s quite a bit of money – and pride – at stake with the draft, and Ball put up a season worthy of comparison to Fultz, who had great numbers but played for an abysmal Washington team. Ball, on the other had, had strong numbers while leading UCLA to the Sweet 16.

Both are going to go at the top of a draft that’s stocked full of promising point guards. Which player goes before the other remains to be seen, but it’s likely public pronouncements aren’t going to affect the draft order.

 

UMass hires McCall away from Chattanooga

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UMass has found, once more, the man to take over its basketball program.

The Minutemen have reached an agreement with Chattanooga coach Matt McCall, the school announce Wednesday

“The tradition and resources that are in place not only make this one of the best basketball jobs in the Atlantic 10 Conference,” McCall said in a statement released by the school, “but one of the best jobs in the country. We couldn’t be more excited about becoming part of the UMass family and look forward to building upon the rich tradition that has been established here in the past.”

In McCall’s two years at Chattanooga, the Mocs to the NCAA tournament in 2016 and a 19-12 record this year that featured five-straight losses to end the season.

The move will take McCall out of the southeast for the first time in his career as he previously served as at Florida and Florida Atlantic before getting his first head coaching job at Chattanooga.

McCall wasn’t the Minutemen’s first choice to replace Derek Kellogg after three-straight lackluster seasons. Winthrop coach Pat Kelsey had agreed to take the job before a last-minute about-face that saw him return to the Eagles program just before his introductory press conference was scheduled to begin.

“Matt is a rising star in college basketball coaching who has been a key piece of three successful programs in his career,” UMass athletic director Ryan Bamford said in a statement. “He has earned a reputation as a relentless worker, a great teammate and colleague and a confident leader of young men.

“Matt has worked with some of the most respected coaches and administrators in the country, who loudly sing his praises. Coach McCall’s appointment begins an exciting new chapter for our tradition-rich men’s basketball program at UMass.”

Despite being the second choice, McCall’s reputation in the coaching industry makes him a strong hire, having worked under Mike Jarvis and Billy Donovan. He took over at Chattanooga for Will Wade, and brought the Mocs to a 29-6 record and a  12-seed in the NCAA tournament in 2016.

UMass went to just one NCAA tournament under Kellogg (in 2014) during his nine seasons leading the Minutemen.

VIDEO: Frank Martin’s sideline demeanor as a high school coach

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South Carolina coach Frank Martin has the reputation of being rather, shall we say, intense on the sidelines during games.

The coach has a stare that seemingly could bore a hole through his players when they do something that doesn’t reach his level of expectation. Martin’s demeanor, though, didn’t just come into form once he hit the college ranks.

He was plenty intense on high school sidelines as well.

Martin won three titles while at Miami Senior in the mid-1990s, coaching the likes of future pros Steve Blake and Udonis Haslem. Now having reached his first career Final Four, that sideline persona has put him on the precipice of winning yet another championship, this time at the collegiate level.

South Carolina fans raise money to send “Gamecock Jesus” to Final Four

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South Carolina fans are sending one of their most recognizable compatriots to represent them this weekend.

Gamecock Jesus is heading to the Final Four.

South Carolina super fan Carlton Thompson is following the Gamecocks to Glendale as his fellow fans have raised over $7,500 to send the man known as “Gamecock Jesus” to Arizona for the team’s Final Four meeting with Gonzaga on Saturday night.

Thompson’s long hair, beard and presence at South Carolina games, even in lean times, earned him his nickname and apparently a following fervent enough to foot the bill for quite the trip.

“I’ve always dreamed it would be like this,” Thompson said last week about fan support at Gamecock games to the Post and Courier. “For years and years, it was so sparse with the crowds at the games. But once they started winning, the crowds started coming.”

Thompson is a 63-year-old VA hospital nurse, and has been attending South Carolina games for nearly 50 years.

Maryland’s Melo Trimble declares for the NBA Draft

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Melo Trimble’s career as a Maryland Terrapin is coming to an end. The junior guard is declaring for the NBA Draft and will sign with an agent.

“I am confident and excited to pursue an opportunity to play in the NBA,” Trimble said in a release. “I am proud of what my teammates and I were able to accomplish these past three seasons at Maryland. I developed many great relationships and friendships and together we able to create some very special moments for Maryland basketball. I want to thank Coach Turgeon for all of his support. He always believed in me. He challenged me and really helped in the development of my overall game. I am a more complete basketball player because of Coach Turgeon and the coaching staff. To stay at home and attend the University of Maryland is the best decision that I ever made and it was truly special to play in front of my family, friends and our amazing fans. Maryland will always be home.”

There was no better winner in college basketball the last three years than Melo. He changed the trajectory of Mark Turgeon’s program, winning 79 games in three years and ending his career 30-8 in games decided by six points or less. As a junior, Trimble and the Terps earned a No. 6 seed to the NCAA tournament, but they lost in the first round to Xavier. It was the only time in Trimble’s career that he didn’t reach the Sweet 16.

“Melo Trimble is a winner,” Mark Turgeon said on twitter. “Humble, hard-working, dedicated. Words can’t express what he’s done for our program. Always #StayMelo!”