Player of the Week: Rodney McGruder, Kansas State
McGruder came into this season with the expectation of being one of the most dominant players in the Big 12, but it took a while for the Kansas State senior to really find his groove in Bruce Weber’s new system. In the Wildcat’s first Big 12 game of the season, McGruder showed why he came into the season with all of the hype: the Washington DC native scored 26 of his 28 points in the second half — hitting five threes in the second 20 minutes after entering the game with just 11 triples on the season — to lead K-State to a win over Oklahoma State.
“Rod got cooking and that was great for him,” Weber told reporters. “He got in one of those zones, and we needed it, and he rose up.”
The funniest part about McGruder’s Saturday had nothing to do with what happened on the court; it was what he did after he left the court. Following the game, McGruder did an interview with Kansas State radio and a spot on TV, took a shower … and left the arena without making his way to the press conference. It’s a good thing he lives close, because he had to turn around and make his way back to talk to local reporters.
The All-They-Were-Good-Too Team
- G: Joe Jackson, Memphis: Jackson had 20 points, seven assists, four steals and just two turnovers in the Tiger’s 85-80 win over Tennessee on Friday night. The uber-talented Jackson looks like he is finally starting to play up to his potential. Over the last four games, he’s averaging 17.5 points, 5.3 assists and has just five turnovers in 141 minutes while shooting 19-34 from the field. The Tigers won the last four games. The last time they lost? Five games ago, when Jackson went for 23 points and eight assists against Louisville. And based on the way he’s played the past three weeks, I think we can chalk up the eight turnovers he had to Louisville’s pressure.
- G: Preston Medlin, Utah State: After getting out to a slow start this season, Medlin is averaging 21.3 points and shooting 41.9% from three over his last four games. That’s includes a 3-0 stretch this week. In a 75-66 win over Seattle, Medlin had seven points and an assist in a game-changing 13-3 run late in the second half. And in the 82-75 OT win against Idaho, Medlin not only hit the game-tying three at the buzzer, but he took over in the extra period. The Aggies are now 4-0 in WAC play and 13-1 on the season.
- G: Troy Daniels, VCU: You already should know about how hot Troy Daniels was over the last few weeks, but it culminated on Wednesday when he hit 11 threes in a win over East Tennessee State. He didn’t put up those same numbers against Lehigh on Saturday, but he did finish with 11 points and hit arguably the most important shot of the game in the final minutes.
- F: Jerelle Benimon, Towson: Benimon has been one of the most improved players in the country this season, and he proved it again this week. The Georgetown transfer averaged 18.5 points, 12.0 boards, 4.5 assists and 4.0 blocks as the Tigers jumped out to a 2-0 start in CAA play. That includes a win at Drexel.
- C: Kelly Olynyk, Gonzaga: Olynyk may be the one player in the country that is actually more improved that Benimon. He had 21 points in the second half to lead the Zags to a win at Oklahoma State on New Year’s Eve and followed that up with 33 points and 10 boards — his first career double-double against a Division I opponent — in a win at Santa Clara.
You can find Rob on twitter @RobDauster.
After briefly taking part in the NBA Draft evaluation process, Villanova forward Kris Jenkins announced Monday night that he’s decided to withdraw and return to school for his senior year. Jenkins, whose three-pointer as time expired gave the Wildcats the win over North Carolina in the national title game, announced the news via Twitter.
2015-16 was a breakout season for Jenkins, who moved into the starting lineup and averaged 13.6 points, 3.9 rebounds and 2.2 assists per game. The 6-foot-6 forward shot 45.9 percent from the field and 38.6 percent from beyond the arc, and with starters Ryan Arcidiacono and Daniel Ochefu graduating he’ll have even more opportunities to produce next season.
Jenkins’ decision to return leaves wing Josh Hart as the lone Wildcats going through the early entry process at this time. Hart was a first team All-Big East selection as a junior, and his return would be the final piece to the puzzle for a team that many expect to be a national title contender in 2016-17.
Jenkins and Hart wouldn’t be the only returnees who had a part in the national title run, with guards Jalen Brunson and Phil Booth, wing Mikal Bridges and forward Darryl Reynolds back as well. To that group Villanova adds Fordham transfer Eric Paschall and a recruiting class anchored by Omari Spellman and Dylan Painter with Donte DiVincenzo and Tim Delaney available after being hampered by injuries last season.
Delaney missed all of last year after undergoing surgical procedures on his hips, and DiVincenzo played a total of 74 minutes over the first nine games before having to sit due to a broken foot.
With their top three scorers from last season all deciding to declare for the NBA Draft, Florida State was facing the possibility of having to rebuild their backcourt ahead of the 2016-17 season. However two of those three have decided to return to Tallahassee, with rising junior Xavier Rathan-Mayes announcing on Monday that he will be back in school.
Rathan-Mayes joins rising sophomore Dwayne Bacon in returning to play another season for head coach Leonard Hamilton, with Malik Beasley hiring representation and remaining in the draft.
Rathan-Mayes had more scoring help last season and as a result was able to concentrate more on the distribution aspects of the point guard position, as he averaged 11.8 points and 4.4 assists per contest. With the return of Rathan-Mayes and Bacon, Florida State will have two of its top three scorers from last season back on campus.
The Seminoles did lose some veteran players, most notably guard Devon Bookert and center Boris Bojanovsky, but the returnees and a recruiting class led by McDonald’s All-American forward Jonathan Isaac means that they won’t lack for options next season.
After receiving commitments from former Purdue/Houston guard Ronnie Johnson and former Presbyterian forward DeSean Murray, Auburn head coach Bruce Pearl continued to load up on the transfer market Monday. Forward LaRon Smith, who was named MEAC Defensive Player of the Year at Bethune-Cookman last season, announced that he will use his final season of eligibility at the SEC program.
Like Smith, Johnson will also be eligible to compete immediately for the Tigers while Murray will have to sit out next season before having two years of eligibility remaining.
The 6-foot-8 Smith played two seasons at Georgia State before transferring to Bethune-Cookman, where he averaged 7.1 points, 6.9 rebounds and 3.0 blocks per contest in 2015-16. Smith played just over 25 minutes per game for the Wildcats, shooting 58.5 percent from the field.
Smith reached double figures in scoring in four of the Wildcats’ final seven games, including a 20-point, 11-rebound, three-block outing in an overtime win over North Carolina A&T. He joins a front court in need of depth following the departures of the likes of Cinmeon Bowers and Tyler Harris, with Horace Spencer, Trayvon Reed and incoming freshman Anfernee McLemore also competing for minutes in 2016-17.
With a five-member recruiting class set to arrive on campus this summer, SMU added a talented transfer Monday afternoon. Jimmy Whitt, who played his freshman season at Arkansas, committed to join Larry Brown’s program. Whitt, a 6-foot-4 guard from Columbia, Missouri, will have three seasons of eligibility remaining after sitting out the 2016-17 campaign.
As a freshman at Arkansas, Whitt averaged 6.1 points and 1.7 rebounds in just over 17 minutes of action per game. He reached double figures in scoring nine time, with the high being a 15-point outing in a blowout win over Missouri in mid-January. Whitt produced a stretch of four consecutive games in double figures during non-conference play, but he struggled to maintain that consistency against SEC competition.
At SMU he’ll join a perimeter rotation that will lose rising senior Sterling Brown following the 2016-17 season. Among those who will have eligibility remaining when Whitt becomes eligible are Ben Emelogu, Shake Milton, Jarrey Foster and incoming freshmen Tom Wilson and Dashawn McDowell.
GREELEY, Colo. (AP) Jeff Linder is the new basketball coach at Northern Colorado. He spent the last six seasons at Boise State, where he was associate head coach for the Broncos since 2013-14.
Linder replaces B.J. Hill, who was fired last month amid an NCAA investigation into allegations of violations in the program.
University President Kay Norton and Athletic Director Darren Dunn announced Linder’s hiring Sunday.
Linder played high school ball in Lafayette, Colorado, and college ball at Mesa State and Western Colorado State. He began his coaching career under Colorado head coach Ricardo Patton.
In a statement, Linder said, “I look forward to returning home to the state of Colorado and continuing to build this program into something everyone can be proud of.”
Hill was 86-98 in six seasons at UNC.