Pregame Shootaround 1.9.2013: Minnesota-Illinois, UNM-UNLV, loaded A-10 slate

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Game of the Day: 9:00 p.m.: No. 8 Minnesota at No. 12 Illinois (Big Ten)

Minnesota is embarking on as difficult of a three-game stretch as you are going to find this season. They’re at Illinois tonight, they head to Indiana on Saturday and they host Michigan next week. Brutal. But the good news? We’ll at least get a pretty thorough feel for just how good the Gophers are. At the end of the day, the team that wins the Big Ten is going to be the team that wins on the road.

I actually think that Minnesota matches up really well with the Illini. Rodney Williams is mobile enough to guard on the perimeter and negate some of Illinois’ four-out, one-in advantage, while Trevor Mbakwe is enough of a hoss around the rim that he’ll give any and all of John Groce’s big men trouble. Also worth nothing: Brandon Paul vs. Andre Hollins will be fun.

The Other Game of the Day: 10:00 p.m.: No. 24 UNLV at No. 25 New Mexico (CBS Sports Net)

Like the Big Ten, the Mountain West is going to end up being a bloodbath as league play rolls on. Kicking things off? The Rebels head down to Albuquerque to take on a New Mexico team that had a surprising loss at St. Louis last week. UNM is more disciplined that UNLV, who should have Mike Moser back. But who is going to guard Anthony Bennett?

Who’s Getting Upset?: 7:00 p.m.: No. 14 Butler at St. Joseph’s

Road games in league play. They’ll getcha eventually. And I actually think the Hawks matchup pretty well with Butler. Both teams play three forwards with a slow-footed playmaker at the three — Roosevelt Jones and Halil Kanacevic. And both teams have a pair of high-scoring guards. If Rotnei Clarke and Kellen Dunham are hitting from the perimeter, there aren’t many teams that are going to have a chance against Butler this year. The key will be whether or not St. Joe’s can get into their offensive sets against Butler’s frustrating defense.

Mid-Major Matchup of the Day: 7:00 p.m.: Dayton at VCU

I don’t think either of these team are technically “mid-majors”, but I did want to riff a little about this game. This will be a good gauge game for both clubs. Dayton has had some nice wins this season, but they have also lost to Weber State, Illinois State and USC. The Rams are one of the more underrated teams in the country in my opinion, but they also barely hung on against a Lehigh team missing CJ McCollum. If the Flyers are truly going to compete in the A-10, they are going to have to knock off someone at the top of the conference at some point.

Five Things to Watch For

1) Russ Smith and No. 3 Louisville head to New Jersey to take on Seton Hall at 7:00 p.m. (ESPN2). The reason Smith, a potential all-american, is at Louisville? The father of Kevin Willard, Seton Hall’s head coach.

2) Maryland will host Florida State is a battle for relevance in the ACC. Maryland has yet to notch a quality win, while Florida State is desperately looking to turn around the course of their season. The game tips at 8:00 p.m.

3) Valparaiso and Illinois-Chicago are two of the best teams in the Horizon League, but one of them will be 1-2 in the league after the square off tonight.

4) As always, there is some good stuff happening in the Missouri Valley tonight. Northern Iowa looks to get back to .500 in league play, while Indiana State and Bradley — two teams sitting at 2-1 in the league — play in Terre Haute.

5) The Mountain West is going to be a fun league to follow mainly because a matchup like Boise State at Wyoming is very relevant and, in all likelihood, is happening in the bottom half of the conference. Due tune in.

Other Top 25 Games

  • 7:00 p.m. Nebraska at No. 2 Michigan (Big Ten)
  • 7:00 p.m. Iowa State at No. 6 Kansas (ESPNU)
  • 7:00 p.m. No. 7 Syracuse at Providence (ESPN3)
  • 7:00 p.m. Georgia at No. 11 Florida (ESPN3)
  • 8:00 p.m. Georgia Tech at No. 20 NC State (ESPN3)
  • 8:00 p.m. Southern Illinois at No. 23 Wichita State (ESPN3)
  • 11:30 p.m. No. 16 San Diego State at Fresno State

Other Notable Games

  • 7:30 p.m. La Salle at Charlotte
  • 8:00 p.m. Villanova at South Florida
  • 8:00 p.m. East Carolina at Memphis
  • 8:00 p.m. Eastern Kentucky at Murray State
  • 8:00 p.m. Ole Miss at Tennessee (ESPN3)
  • 9:00 p.m. Virginia at Wake Forest
  • 11:00 p.m. Washington at Cal (ESPN2)

You can find Rob on twitter @RobDauster.

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!”