College Hoops Team of the Week: UCLA Bruins

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Team of the Week: UCLA

UCLA struggled through the early parts of the season. There was the loss to Cal Poly. There were the struggles in their marquee matchups. There was out of shape Shabazz Muhammad. There were the transfers and the freshmen wanting more playing. There were the massive question marks on the defensive end of the floor. There was the speculation that Ben Howland’s job could be on the line. But on Friday night, the Bruins eased the minds, for now, of the fans in Westwood as they knocked of then-No. 7 Missouri in overtime in Pauley Pavilion, 97-94.

It’s a win that has a chance to be season-changing for the Bruins. This is not the same kind of UCLA team that we are used to seeing under Howland. They are never going to be good defensively. They can, however, score points in bunches with a lethal transition attack. It’s nice to see Howland embracing their strengths. This doesn’t mean that UCLA is back amongst the elite — they are really, really bad defensively (especially against the pick-and-roll) and Missouri has some issues of their own — but this was a statement win for the Bruins. It’s too early to write this team off, not with the amount of talent that they have on the roster.

Seven more teams deserving of a shoutout:

Arizona: Is it time to start taking Arizona seriously as one of the nation’s elite teams? They are 12-0 for the first time since 1987-1988, currently own wins over Florida and San Diego State and are only going to get better as their trio of freshmen bigs continue to improve. I’m still concerned about Mark Lyons at the point, but guys like Solomon Hill, Kevin Parrom and Nick Johnson have stepped up as facilitators while Lyons has proven capable of taking, and making, big shots in big moments. And in the end, that’s why Sean Miller brought him in.

Harvard: The best news for Harvard wasn’t the fact that they went into Berkeley on Saturday evening and left with a win over Cal. That’s impressive, even if this Cal team isn’t necessarily one of the Pac-12’s elite. The Crimson weren’t supposed to be great this year, not with Kyle Casey and Brandyn Curry sitting the season. No, the best news wasn’t that an Ivy League team went into a Pac-12 team’s house and won, it’s that they were able to do so when their stud freshman, point guard Siyani Chambers, shot 2-15 from the floor.

Louisville: The Cardinals got the win that they desperately needed aginst Kentucky on Saturday. Big Blue has dominated that rivalry in recent years. They had won the four matchups since John Calipari arrived in Lexington, including last season in the Final Four, and are coming off of a national title. With Louisville looking like a national title favorite and the Wildcats struggling this year, a loss by Louisville could have been crushing for the fan base.

New Mexico: The Lobos bounced back from a tough home loss to South Dakota State by going into Cincinnati and knocking the Bearcats from the ranks of the unbeaten, earning themselves a marquee win to hang their hat on this season.

North Carolina: The Tar Heels picked up a much-needed victory on Saturday when they knocked off visiting UNLV 79-73. UNC has been underwhelming this season, and given the fact that they were missing their second-leading scorer in Reggie Bullock, few gave the Heels a chance in this one. But the Heels ended up dominating the Rebels in the first half, hanging on down the stretch when Dave Rice’s club made a run.

Valparaiso: The Crusaders went into Murray and knocked off Isaiah Canaan’s Racer squad. Ryan Broekhoff led the way with 18 points and eight boards.

Wichita State: The Shockers are crippled by injuries right now, which includes leading scorer and rebounder Carl Hall, but they still managed to smackdown league rival Northern Iowa on Sunday.

You can find Rob on twitter @RobDauster.

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?