Peyton Siva

Conference Catch-ups: Despite realignment, Big East will be competitive

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Conference play is right around the corner, so to help you get out of that post-holiday haze, we’ll be catching you up on all the happenings in the country’s top 12 conferences. Here’s our Missouri Valley Conference Catchup:

Favorite: No. 3 Louisville

Russ Smith has matured his game and is turning into a go-to scorer. Yes, he still takes a lot of shots and it wouldn’t hurt to shoot better than 43 percent from the field, but he is beginning to take better shots and, along with Peyton Siva, makes up one of the nation’s toughest backcourts.

Contenders:

Syracuse

The Orange suffered their first loss of the season to Temple, due in large part to the Owls’ ability to force Michael Carter-Williams away from distributing and into scoring the ball. Once he gets back to facilitating the offense, Syracuse will keep running like a well-oiled machine.

Cincinnati

They climbed as high as 8th in the national polls before a loss to New Mexico. That will likely be as high as they get all season, but that doesn’t mean they’re not a legitimate Sweet 16 contender. Sean Kilpatrick and Cashmere Wright are dangerous.

Pittsburgh

The backcourt duo of James Robinson and Tray Woodall is proving to be a good one. Talib Zanna’s development has helped to solidify the Panthers’ inside presence. They don’t turn the ball over much, which will help in Big East play.

Notre Dame

Jack Cooley picked up where he left off last season and is averaging a double-double of 15.2 points and 11.3 rebounds per game. Combine that with consistent guard play from Jerian Grant and Eric Atkins and the Irish are in business.

Georgetown

Yes, we saw an abysmal offensive performance in the Hoyas’ ugly win over Tennessee early in the year, but we should see the Georgetown team we saw in Brooklyn as the year progresses. Otto Porter continues to be the do-everything guy who makes it all work.

Biggest Surprise: Connecticut

A mass exodus of talent from Storrs, a new coach, and a postseason ban should have been enough to sink the Huskies, but Kevin Ollie has gotten his team on the same page and off to a 10-2 start. Ollie was rewarded with a five-year deal worth close to $7 million, which can only help his comfort within the program, giving him some job security.

Shabazz Napier and Ryan Boatright have proven to be a formidable combo in the backcourt, averaging 16.8 and 16.1 points per game, respectively. DeAndre Daniels has doubled his minutes this season and responded with production, putting up 10.4 points, 4.3 rebounds, and 1.4 blocks per game.

The true test of Connecticut’s resolve might come as early as mid-January, when the Huskies face No. 21 Notre Dame, then No. 4 Louisville, then No. 24 Pittsburgh in the span of a week.

Biggest Disappointment: Providence

Let me say first that it’s not Providence’s fault. They lost Ricky Ledo to an NCAA ruling at the beginning of the season. Kris Dunn and Vincent Council just recently got into the rotation after working through injury. They’re still 8-4, despite those road blocks, in a conference that has done well overall in the non-conference. Ed Cooley is building a contender at Providence, though. With his presence on the recruiting trail and what he has been able to do with the assets he already has, the Friars are on the upswing in the long-term.

Player of the Year: Jack Cooley, Notre Dame

Cooley is averaging a double-double of 15.2 points and 11.3 rebounds. He’s been comparable to Mason Plumlee of Duke so far, which is saying something. If Notre Dame wants to make a run in March, he’s going to be the guy who gets them there.

Also of Note: Michael Carter-Williams (Syracuse), Russ Smith (Louisville), Sean Kilpatrick (Cincinnati), Otto Porter (Georgetown)

Best Freshman: Chris Obekpa, St. John’s

Obekpa leads not only freshman but the entire nation in blocks with 5.3 per game. He has changed the complexion of Steve Lavin’s defense, allowing the Red Storm to take more chances on the perimeter because Obekpa is around the rim to block shots. He adds a solid 4.3 points and 5.3 rebounds, as well.

Also of note: James Robinson (Pittsburgh), Omar Calhoun (Connecticut), Ryan Arcidiacono (Villanova)

Three Predictions:

1. Notre Dame will end up as the conference’s fourth best team. Cincinnati and Georgetown are ahead of the Irish right now, but Cooley, Grant, and Atkins shouldn’t be discounted.

2. Connecticut will finish as an NCAA tournament-worthy team, though they can’t qualify. Ryan Boatright and Shabazz Napier make up one of the strongest backcourts in the conference and Omar Calhoun is emerging as a legitimate option in only his freshman season.

3. Otto Porter will make himself a lottery pick by the end of the year. The same Michael Kidd-Gilchrist worked his way to the top of the draft by being a lot of different things well, Porter will do the same to a lesser extent.

Power Rankings (* = tourney team):

1. No. 4 Louisville *
2. No. 7 Syracuse *
3. No. 8 Cincinnati *
4. No. 21 Notre Dame *
5. No. 18 Georgetown *
6. No. 24 Pittsburgh *
7. Connecticut
8. Marquette *
9. South Florida
10. Villanova
11. Seton Hall
12. Rutgers
13. St. John’s
14. DePaul
15. Providence

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

Video: Wildcats make it the “Blue And White House”

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Villanova’s title last month gave the Wildcats the opportunity to visit with the President of the United States on Tuesday in Washington, D.C.

“It is the Blue and White House today,” President Barack Obama said, “because we’re giving it up for the 2016 NCAA champion Villanova Wildcats.”

The Wildcats were customarily honored by the President on Tuesday for their 77-74 title game win over North Carolina that featured Kris Jenkins’ now-legendary 3-pointer at the buzzer.

“It might be maybe the best title game of all-time,” Obama said. “Just the last few seconds could be a documentary.”

The President mentioned Marcus Paige’s circus shot that tied the game shot seconds before Jenkins’ game-winner.

“A lot of teams would have had their spirit broken,” Obama said. “The wildcats, they took control. They responded.”

That response was Jenkins’ 3 as time expired to place himself in the game’s lore with perhaps the best finish ever for an NCAA championship game.

“That was a good shot,” Obama deadpanned. “It was like a Christian Laettner shot, it was like a Jimmy V(alvano) running up and down the court shot. Charles Barkley apparently jumped out of his seat, which he doesn’t do very often these days.”

Villanova also presented the 44th President with a No. 44 jersey that the team used on Dec. 7, 2015, at Pearl Harbor against Oklahoma.

“This is a great day for Villanova University,” coach Jay Wright said.

Wright didn’t get out of the day without a goodnatured needling from the President.

“Best-dressed man in college basketball,” Obama said. “The George Clooney of coaches.”

The President also noted that Vice President Joe Biden picked ‘Nova to win it all before the tournament.

“This team possessed something that the coaches preached since day one,” Obama said, “and that’s attitude.”

 

TCU’s leading scorer leaving school

Jamie Dixon
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TCU’s leading scorer is leaving the school and college basketball behind.

Chauncey Collins, who had two years of eligibility remaining, will pursue a start to his professional career, the school announced Tuesday night. The Horned Frogs also announced the departure of little-used freshman guard Lyrik Shreiner.

“We would like to thank Chauncey and Lyrik for their contributions to TCU,” coach Jamie Dixon said in the school’s press release.  “We wish Chauncey the best as he looks to begin his professional career to provide for his family and will support Lyrik as he continues his college career at another university.”

Collins started 24 games and averaged 12.3 points on 38.7 percent shooting while dishing out 2.0 assists and grabbing 3.0 rebounds in 31.0 minutes per game. His professional career would presumably begin overseas or in the D-League.

His departure paves the way for incoming recruit Jaylen Fisher to take the reigns at point guard immediately in Dixon’s first year coaching at his alma mater. Fisher is a consensus top-50 recruit who pledged to TCU following decommitting from UNLV.

Shreiner appeared in 22 games last year, averaging 5.4 minutes per appearance.

Cal’s Mathews to transfer

Reed McConnell, Jordan Mathews
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The graduate transfer pool just got a considerable addition.

Cal guard Jordan Mathews intends to graduate this summer and transfer to another school, where he would be immediately eligible, he announced Tuesday evening.

“This decision was not easy, but I am incredibly thankful for this experience,” Mathews wrote on social media. “The relationships I have developed will last a lifetime.

“I will always be a CAl Bear and I will forever cherish my time in Berkeley.”

Mathews’ decision now puts three years’ experience plus last year’s stats of 13.5 points on 42.2 percent shooting, 3.4 rebounds and 1.3 assists on the market just hours before the calendar flips to April. He will certainly not lack for suitors, and it would appear Gonzaga has already emerged as the favorite, per multiple reports. Also of note is his brother, four-star guard Jonah, will be a freshman at USC.

The loss is a significant one for the Golden Bears as the 6-foot-3 Mathews was set to help anchor the perimeter for another season along with Jabari Bird. Coach Cuonzo Martin, though, does have incoming point guard commit Charlie Moore plus getting Ivan Rabb back makes for a solid enough core, especially if Kentucky transfer Marcus Lee, who is visiting this week, decides to pledge. Even if things do break its way there, losing Mathews heading into his senior season is a setback Cal would have otherwise like to have avoided.

Forward Charles Buggs to leave Minnesota program

INDIANAPOLIS, IN - MARCH 9: Charles Buggs #23 of the Minnesota Golden Gophers drives against Alex Austin #44 of the Illinois Fighting Illini in the first round of the Big Ten Basketball Tournament at Bankers Life Fieldhouse on March 9, 2016 in Indianapolis, Indiana. Illinois defeated Minnesota 85-52. (Photo by Joe Robbins/Getty Images)
Joe Robbins/Getty Images
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Tuesday afternoon the Minnesota basketball program announced that forward Charles Buggs would be leaving the program, making him the second player to depart since the end of the season. The 6-foot-9 Buggs, the last remaining link to Tubby Smith’s tenure at Minnesota, has graduated and will be eligible immediately at another Division I school as a result.

Buggs started 21 of the 28 games he played in last season, averaging 5.9 points and 2.9 rebounds in 24 minutes of action per contest. He joins guard Kevin Dorsey as players who have left Richard Pitino’s program this offseason.

After redshirting as a freshman in 2012-13, Buggs played in 16 games as a redshirt freshman in 2013-14 and for his career averaged 4.1 points and 2.1 rebounds per contest. With size being at a premium on the transfer market at this point in the spring, it will be interesting to see which schools reach out to Buggs with an eye towards adding another front court option to their rotation for the 2016-17 season.

Pac-12 all-star team to tour Australia in July

Oregon State's Stephen Thompson Jr., center, celebrates with fans after he made free throws with no time left on the clock to give Oregon State a 71-69 win over Utah in an NCAA college basketball game in Corvallis, Ore., on Thursday, Feb. 4, 2016. (AP Photo/Timothy J. Gonzalez)
AP Photo/Timothy J. Gonzalez
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While the majority of summer tours in college basketball consist of teams making the trek overseas (or to Canada) together, there are all all-star teams put together to represent a conference or some other entity. The Pac-12 has put together an all-star team of sorts in recent years, and on Tuesday they announced the 12-member squad that will visit Australia to play three games in early July.

Two of those games will be played against the Australian men’s national team, which will be preparing for the Summer Olympics to be played in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil in August.

The coaching staff will be led by Mike Montgomery, who led the programs at both Stanford and California before retiring in 2014, with former Stanford head coach Trent Johnson and former Stanford players Casey Jacobsen and Brevin Knight serving as his assistants. Ten of the conference’s 12 teams will be represented on the roster, with Oregon (which has some players hoping to reach the Olympics for other countries) and UCLA being the teams without a player making the trip.

Also of note for Oregon is the fact that they’ll be taking a summer trip to Spain in August, so their players are already set up for a busy summer.

Arizona and Oregon State will each have two players on the roster, with Kadeem Allen and Chance Comanche making the trip representing Sean Miller’s program and Drew Eubanks and Stephen Thompson Jr. doing so for Wayne Tinkle’s program. Of the 12 players two earned honorable mention all-conference honors (USC’s Jordan McLaughlin and Washington State’s Josh Hawkinson), and Colorado’s Wesley Gordon was a Pac-12 All-Defensive Team selection.

Below is the full roster, and the team is scheduled to depart for Australia from Los Angeles July 7.

G Kadeem Allen (Arizona)
C Chance Comanche (Arizona)
G Tra Holder (Arizona State)
G Stephen Domingo (California)
F Wesley Gordon (Colorado)
F Drew Eubanks (Oregon State)
F Stephen Thompson Jr. (Oregon State)
G/F Dorian Pickens (Stanford)
G Jordan McLaughlin (USC)
G Lorenzo Bonam (Utah)
F Matisse Thybulle (Washington)
F Josh Hawkinson (Washington State)