10 tidbits to know: Cuse FT struggles, Bama’s youth movement

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Vin Parise is a former assistant college coach and the college basketball insider for NBC Sports. Look for his Top 10 Tidbits every week.

1. As impressive as the Syracuse Orange are, free throw shooting is a major flaw with Jim Boeheim’s team.  At 64% they are one of the worst from the charity stripe in the Big East.  But that was not the case last night as they shot 17-18 from the line in the 72-66 win over Providence.  But I’m concerned that this weakness could bite them one game in March.  Remember their one loss this year vs Temple?  15 missed free throws.

2. How about the bounce back of Duke’s Quinn Cook this week.  A career high 27 points in the Blue Devils win over Clemson.  Cook went 0-11 from the field in the prior game against Wake Forest.

3. At only 8-6 right now it’s easy to not take notice of the Alabama Crimson Tide — but this team is going to scare some people by February.  They keep improving and Anthony Grant is in the middle of a serious youth movement.  Don’t schedule them next year.  Bama currently starts one junior, three sophomores and one freshman.

4. It was a tough 58-56 loss at Madison Square Garden for St. John’s last night by the hands of Rutgers.  But no time for the Red Storm to feel sorry for themselves.  They battle in less than 48 hours Saturday morning vs Georgetown at the Garden.  The Hoyas and St. John’s tip-off at 11:00 am.

5. If you Google efficient point guard, Pierre Jackson from Baylor should pop up — 19.8 ppg – 6.3 assists – 3.6 rebs – 44% from the field – 36% from 3 – 80% from FT Line.

6. Speaking of point guard play, Seton Hall is a team that has taken a lot of knocks this season for turning over the basketball so often. But Kevin Willard’s young guards can build off last night’s Louisville loss.  The Cardinals force turnovers better than any club in the nation.  Credit Pirates Tommy Maayan and Aaron Cosby for combining for only six turnovers in 54 combined minutes of play.

7. Did you realize that Steve Alford is only 47 years old and has 369 Division 1 wins already?  78 at Southwest Missouri, 152 at Iowa and 139 wins and counting at New Mexico.

8. Despite the disappointing 11 point home loss to Boston College, Virginia Tech’s Erick Green still leads the nation in scoring at 24.6 points per game.

9. Georgetown was not only ice cold offensively in their 73-45 home loss to Pitt, but they could not manufacture points either.  Two great ways to manufacture points are pounding the glass and causing turnovers.  The Hoyas only had 7 offensive rebounds and only 2 steals in the worst home loss of the John Thompson III era.

10. Here’s a great office pool for the rest of the season –  Who will lead the nation in blocked shots when it’s all over?  Jeff Withey from Kansas or Chris Obekpa from St. John’s?  They are both currently averaging 5.07 blocks per game.

Vin Parise is the College Basketball Insider for NBC Sports. You can catch him on NBC Sports Network’s SportsTalk – Mon-Fri. 6 p.m. ET. Follow him on Twitter @VinParise

Bluiett back to Xavier for senior season

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Xavier lost one significant piece to the professional ranks this spring, but will return another.

Trevon Bluiett, the team’s leading scorer last year, announced via social media that he will be back to play his senior season with the Musketeers.

Chris Mack will return the bulk of a roster that struggled February only to make a run to the Elite Eight, but getting Bluiett for a final season makes the Musketeers especially dangerous. The 6-foot-6 Bluiett scored a team-high 18.5 points per game last year while also putting up 5.7 rebounds and 2.1 assists per night. He shot 37.1 percent from 3-point range, the second-best mark on the team. His return, even with point guard Edmond Sumner going pro amid his ACL tear recovery, makes Xavier one of the top teams in the Big East heading into the 2017-18 season.

Bluiett himself is enough to keep Xavier relevant in the league, but when he’s coupled with the likes of returners JP Macura, Sean O’Mara and Quentin Goodwin, plus a recruiting class featuring two four-star prospects, it’s not difficult to see a path for Mack’s group to a place where they can compete with the likes of Villanova and Seton Hall atop the league.

Welsh and Holiday returning to UCLA

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UCLA sustained some major, though expected, attrition from its roster this spring. On Tuesday, the Bruins announced a pair of significant contributors that will be back.

Thomas Welsh and Aaron Holiday will both return next season to the UCLA program, according to the school.

Welsh, a 7-foot center, averaged 10.8 points and 8.7 rebounds as a senior last year for the Bruins. He shot 58.5 percent from the floor and blocked 1.2 shots per game, and decided to declare for the NBA Draft without an agent before ultimately deciding to return to Westwood.

“Thomas has worked hard all spring,” UCLA coach Steve Alford said in a statement. “We supported him testing the NBA waters and are excited to have him returning for his senior year. He simply continues to develop each and every season.

“Thomas will be one of the top centers in college basketball next year and, undoubtedly, has a great chance to be a first-round pick in next season’s draft.”

The 6-foot-1 Holiday averaged 12.3 points and 4.4 assists last season while sharing a backcourt with Lonzo Ball, whose departure, along with those of TJ Leaf, Bryce Alford and Isaac Hamilton will leave UCLA with a very different look next season. The positive results, however, may not fluctuate too significantly with Welsh and Holiday coming back to play alongside two five-star recruits, Kris Wilkes and Jaylen Hands, as well as Lonzo’s younger brother LiAngelo.

West Virginia’s Macon forgoing final year

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West Virginia’s attempt to dethrone Kansas atop the Big 12 took a bit of a hit Tuesday.

Elijah Macon, a 6-foot-9 forward, announced his decision to forego a fifth year in Morgantown in order to pursue a professional career.

“First things first I would like to say thank you Bob Huggins and Erik Martin for believing in a young 15-year-old boy growing up from the Southside of Columbus, OH losing my mother and still having you guys push me to be the man I have become,” Macon said according to the school. “I can do nothing but thank you for all you and Mountaineer Nation (have) done for me. Unfortunately, I will not be returning for my senior season at WVU and instead sign with a(n) agent and play professional basketball. Thank you guys for all the love and support!”

Macon wasn’t a major contributor for the Mountaineers last season, averaging 6.3 points and 4.2 rebounds in 16 minutes per game, but he was an experienced and tough player who was well-versed in Huggins’ style and demands. Given the pace that the newly-fashioned Press Virginia plays at, depth is also paramount for them as a program.

Macon’s departure, though, may have been expected or at least partly anticipated by West Virginia. The Mountaineers signed five players in its most recent recruiting class, putting them one over their allotment of 13, so something had to give. West VIrginia will stay have interior depth, anchored by junior Esa Ahmad, so the loss of Macon is one they likely can weather, even if it may take some time to acclimate the newcomers.

“Elijah is in the process of completing classes during this summer school period that ends June 2 and will graduate with a bachelor’s degree in August,” Huggins said in a statement released by the school. “I respect his decision to become a professional basketball player and to go make money to support his family. He had a great four years with us, and we wish him nothing but the best.”

Key returning to Alabama for sophomore season

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Alabama’s top scorer is returning to school.

Braxton Key has withdrawn his name from the NBA draft and will be back with the Tide for his sophomore season, the school announced Tuesday.

“I spoke to coach Avery (Johnson) just over a week ago and informed him of my decision to withdraw my name from the NBA Draft and return to the University of Alabama for my sophomore season,” Key said in a statement. “I made that official when I sent my paperwork to the NBA league office Monday morning. I want to express my appreciation to my teammates, Coach Johnson and the entire coaching staff for giving me their full support while I went through this process.

“I am excited for the future of the Alabama basketball program and looking forward to getting to work as we prepare for next season. Roll Tide and Buckle Up!”

The 6-foot-8 forward averaged 12 points and 5.7 rebounds per game while shooting 43.3 percent from the field as a freshman. He gives Alabama four returning starts to pair with one of the country’s highest-regarded recruiting classes, headlined by five-star guard Collin Sexton. The Tide will also have an eligible Daniel Giddens, who previously transferred in from Ohio State.

Key didn’t seem likely to stay in the NBA draft, especially after he wasn’t invited to the combine, but his ultimate decision is a huge one for Avery Johnson as he looks to break through in his third season in Tuscaloosa with his first NCAA tournament appearance. 

Report: Justin Jackson to return to Maryland

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Maryland forward Justin Jackson is expected to return to school for his sophomore season, according to a report from FanRag Sports.

Jackson is an intriguing talent, a 6-foot-7 combo-forward with a 7-foot-3 wingspan that shoots 44 percent from three. But he’s also still developing his offensive game and consistency on the defensive end of the floor, which is why he was projected as a second round pick in this year’s draft.

With Jackson back in the fold, Maryland is a borderline top 25 team. They lost Melo Trimble to the professional ranks, but that’s something that Mark Turgeon has prepared for. With a sophomore class that also includes highly-regarded point guard Anthony Cowan and sharp-shooter Kevin Huerter, the Terps have a promising season ahead of them.