Noel Stein UK

Nerlens Noel and Willie Cauley-Stein won’t keep Dakari Johnson from Kentucky

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Montverde Academy (Fla.) 2013 center, Dakari Johnson is one of the best remaining seniors out there entering the New Year. The nation’s top center is following in the footsteps of last year’s highly-touted big man, Kentucky’s Nerlens Noel.

Towards the end of December, days before Christmas, Johnson – like Noel had done the previous year – had cut his list to three schools: Kentucky, Syracuse, and Georgetown. The 6-foot-10 Johnson could follow Noel to Lexington, picking the Wildcats over the Orange and Hoyas.

The question of whether Noel and Cauley-Stein will both be in Big Blue Nation is up for debate, with both centers likely to be one-and-done candidates. However, if they do return for a sophomore season, Johnson wouldn’t mind suiting up alongside.

“I talked to Coach Cal and it wouldn’t matter to me, even if they [Noel and Cauley-Stein] stayed,”  Johnson told Seve Cousins of ZagsBlog.com earlier this week. “They would push me harder in practice and I would just be better developed going against those guys every day.”

However, Johnson isn’t a sure thing for Kentucky just yet. The Montverde big man is intrigued with Georgetown and it’s storied tradition of talented centers.

“Roy Hibbert, Greg Monroe, all of them their just so great, so developed and very skilled, “Johnson told Cousins.

Syracuse will likely hit the scholarship limit, even if sophomore point guard Michael Carter-Williams declares for the NBA Draft following the season. The Orange are still in contention for the nation’s top prospect, Andrew Wiggins of Huntington Prep (W.Va.) and power forward, Jermaine Lawrence of Pope John XXIII High (N.Y.)

If Johnson pledges to John Calipari and Kentucky, he’ll join a star-studded freshman class, featuring the Harrison twins – Aaron and Andrew – along with James Young. Kentucky is also a possible destination for Wiggins, as well as top-10 power forwards, Julius Randle and Aaron Gordon.

Noel is a consensus top-5 pick in the 2013 NBA Draft, while some mock drafts have Cauley-Stein as a first rounder.

Terrence is also the lead writer at NEHoopNews.com and can be followed on Twitter: @terrence_payne

UNLV’s Stephen Zimmerman out with a knee injury

UNLV forward Stephen Zimmerman Jr. shoots against San Diego State during an NCAA college basketball game Saturday, Jan. 30, 2016, in Las Vegas. (L.E. Baskow/Las Vegas Sun via AP)
(L.E. Baskow/Las Vegas Sun via AP)
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The injury Stephen Zimmerman suffered on Saturday will keep the star UNLV freshman out for at least a week, a source told NBC Sports.

The injury is not thought to be serious, however. Zimmerman may be kept out for longer as a precaution, but that’s a result of the Runnin’ Rebels being in a situation where the rest of their regular season is relatively meaningless.

They’re not getting an at-large bid to the NCAA tournament regardless of how they finish out league play. With back-up center Ben Carter out with a torn ACL, it’s more important to make sure that Zimmerman, who is averaging 10.6 points and 9.1 boards this season, is totally healthy for the Mountain West tournament.

That tournament, mind you, will be played at UNLV’s Thomas & Mack Center.

So the Runnin’ Rebels, regardless of how poor they’ve played this season, will always have a chance to land an automatic bid.

Anyway, the more interesting aspect of this story is how Zimmerman injured the knee. It was a completely avoidable play that came after the whistle, but I’m not sure it was what you would call a “dirty play”. You tell me:

VIDEO: Buddy Hield is ‘all money’ on game-winning three vs. No. 24 Texas

Oklahoma guard Buddy Hield (24) takes a shot over Oklahoma State forward Chris Oliver during the second half of an NCAA college basketball game in Stillwater, Okla., Wednesday, Jan. 13, 2016. (AP Photo/Brody Schmidt)
(AP Photo/Brody Schmidt)
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With a little more than three minutes left on Monday night, No. 24 Texas held a 57-51 lead on No. 3 Oklahoma in Norman as Jordan Woodard struggled again and Buddy Hield failed to find the rhythm that he had throughout the first three months of the season.

At that point in the game, Hield was 4-for-14 from the floor with 15 points and four turnovers. He had just missed a pair of wide-open threes

“I couldn’t make a shot,” Hield said after the game. But that changed down the stretch. First, Hield finally got a three to drop. On the next possession, he got all the way to the rim and scored. On the following two possessions, he was fouled on a drive to the rim and hit four free throws. And after missing a pull-up jumper, Hield did this:

“I told coach I wanted the ball,” Hield said, “I saw Lammert coming to bite, so I pulled up.”

“It’s all money.”

Hield is already the favorite to win National Player of the Year, and this performance is only going to help his cause further. Think about it like this: Buddy was not good on Monday night, at least according to his (admittedly lofty) standards. But he still finished with 27 points and shook off a cold shooting night just in time to take over down the stretch.

Now think about this: Hield’s head coach has enough confidence in him to hand him the keys in the final minutes despite the fact that he’s struggling and on a team that has two other players that Lon Kruger trusts on game-winning possessions. Think about it. When Oklahoma beat West Virginia at the buzzer, it was Jordan Woodard that the play was drawn up for. When they beat LSU, it was Isaiah Cousins that got the rock on the final possession while Hield was used as a decoy. .

Want to talk about coaching luxuries?

Kruger has three guards that can shoot, penetrate and score, and penetrate and kick, and one of them is the National Player of the Year that doesn’t mind being used as a decoy.