Pregame Shootaround 1.10.2013: Gonzaga and St. Mary’s square off

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Game of the Day: 11:00 p.m.: St. Mary’s at No. 10 Gonzaga (ESPN2)

The WCC will consistently be one of the nation’s best mid-major conferences, and it’s not just because Mark Few has turned Gonzaga into a national power. While the addition of BYU made this perennially a three-bid league, it’s the growth of the St. Mary’s program that has really turned the WCC into a two-horse race.

This season, unfortunately, that doesn’t look to be the case, as Gonzaga is slowly but surely making the statement that this is the best team Spokane has seen since — Adam Morrison? Matt Santangelo? John Stockton? Tighten up their defense, get those threes to start falling, and teach Kelly Olynyk how not to turn the ball over in the post, and we’re looking at a legitimate Final Four contender. The Gaels? As good as Matthew Dellavedova is, they simply do not have enough offensive firepower around him this year.

But with Stephen Holt healthy? In a rivalry game on national TV? Don’t count anyone out.

Who’s Getting Upset?: 7:00 p.m.: No. 4 Arizona at Oregon (ESPN2)

Arizona is one of three remaining unbeaten teams, but they’ve been a long way from dominating in those performances. And they have yet to truly be tested on the road, which should happen against an underrated Oregon team. Winning close games is a skill; Arizona isn’t simply lucky.* They’ll need that skill to be on display in Eugee tonight to beat an Oregon team that matches up with them fairly well.

* – Yes, the win over Colorado was lucky. Mark Lyons hitting his last 23 free throws in crunch time is skill.

Mid-Major Matchup of the Day: 9:00 p.m.: Weber State at Southern Utah

Southern Utah is 3-1 in the Big Sky right now. Weber State and Montana are both undefeated in league play. Will SUU truly be a contender this season, or is their record simply a by-product of the schedule they’ve played? If it’s the former, they need to beat the Wildcats at home.

Five Things to Watch For

1) No. 22 Michigan State heads to Iowa to take on the 0-2 Hawkeyes, who had the misfortune of playing Michigan and Indiana in their first two league games. Iowa has some talent on their roster. Can they pull an upset at home? (7:00 p.m., ESPN2)

2) North Carolina is coming off of a loss at Virginia, who went out last night and lost at Wake Forest. The Heels really need to get a win to get their season back on the right track. They host Miami, who is without Reggie Johnson, tonight. (7:00 p.m., ESPN)

3) The Atlantic 10 is going to be one of those leagues that provides us with action every night, and Thursday is no different. Temple takes a trip to Cincinnati to play Xavier (7:00 p.m.) while UMass and St. Louis do battle later on (9:00 p.m., CBS Sports Net). The Billikens haven’t lost since Rick Majerus passed away, but they’ll have their hands full with Chaz Williams and company.

4) Northwestern State and Oral Roberts are two of the three undefeated teams left in the Southland. They’ll face off at 8:30 p.m. tonight.

5) The best thing about Thursday nights? Late-night Pac-12 and WCC games. Beyond what’s listed above: UCLA heads to an improved Utah team. Arizona State tests their 2-0 Pac-12 mark on the road against Oregon State. USC-Colorado. Pepperdine-BYU. Santa Clara-Anthony Ireland, I mean Loyola Marymount. I’m ready.

Other Notable Games

9:00 p.m.: Kentucky at Vanderbilt (ESPN)

You can find Rob on twitter @RobDauster.

N.C. State adds grad transfer Sam Hunt

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N.C. State added its fourth transfer this offseason. Like ex-Baylor guard Al Freeman, the latest one is eligible to play next season.

Sam Hunt, a double-digit scorer the past two seasons at North Carolina A&T, officially enrolled at North Carolina State on Monday morning.

“Sam is a great young man and will bring much needed depth to our backcourt,” N.C. State head coach Kevin Keatts said in a statement. “I want guys who are excited about being a part of our program and Sam really wants to be here.

“Sam is a combo guard that can space the floor with his ability to shoot the basketball. He is a good fit for the system and will bring a wealth of experience to our roster.”

Hunt, the 6-foot-2 guard, averaged 12.7 points per game last season, a dip from the 15.4 points per game he posted for the Aggies as a redshirt sophomore.

Hunt joins a roster that lost its three leading scorers from a season ago, one that ended 15-17 (4-14 ACC). Dennis Smith Jr. is a member of the Dallas Mavericks. Maverick Rowan also pursued a professional career and Terry Henderson was denied an additional year from the NCAA.

The Wolf Pack bring back forwards Abdul-Malik Abu and Omer Yurtseven as well as Torin Dorn.

Keatts, who took over the program after leading UNC Wilmington to back-to-back NCAA Tournaments, has already built for the future. UNC Wilmington transfer C.J. Bryce, 17.4 points, 5.4 rebounds and 3.0 assists per game for the Seahawks, has followed him to Raleigh. Utah transfer Devon Daniels committed to the Wolf Pack the same day as Bryce. Both will have to sit out next season due to NCAA transfer rules. Bryce will have two years of eligibility while Daniels will have three.

LaVar Ball stars in an uncomfortably entertaining segment on WWE’s Raw

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LaVar Ball’s statements and antics over this past year always seemed better suited a professional wrestling ring.

It was only natural that the patriarch of the Ball family — and the head of the Big Baller Brand — made an appearance on WWE’s Monday Night Raw at the Staples Center for an awkwardly entertaining segment with WWE Intercontinental Champion The Miz.

With sons, Lonzo — in his first appearance in the Staples Center as a member of the Los Angeles Lakers — and LaMelo looking on, LaVar was the center of attention. When The Miz mentioned something about a partnership between the two, the scripted interview went south. It resulted in LaVar saying nonsensical things like, “There’s only two dudes better than me, and I’m both of ’em!” before later taking off his shirt. When Dean Ambrose, a WWE superstar feuding with The Miz came out on to the ramp, LaVar didn’t quite grasp the concept that that was his cue to stop talking.

This segment was somehow entertaining and cringeworthy at the same time.

Now that Lonzo is beginning his NBA career, maybe it’s time LaVar try something different. A manager in the WWE may just be his true calling. He’s certainly had plenty of practice.

Maryland lands commitment from five-star 2018 forward

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Maryland added to its 2018 recruiting class with its second commit, the newest addition being a five-star in-state product.

Jalen Smith, a 6-foot-9 forward from Baltimore powerhouse Mount St. Joseph, committed to the Terrapins, making the announcement on Twitter.

“I believe that I can academically and athletically achieve my goals at home through my commitment to the University of Maryland … Go Terps,” he tweeted as part of a long passage.

Smith is listed as the No. 13 overall recruit in the Class of 2013 by Rivals. He joins four-star swingman Aaron Wiggins in Mark Turgeon’s current recruiting class.

Playing for Team Takeover on the Nike EYBL circuit, Smith is averaging 10.9 points, 5.6 rebounds, and 1.0 blocks per game.

Recent grad’s joyride reportedly did $100,000 of damages to Mizzou Arena

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A recent graduate and temporary employee of the University of Missouri took an early morning joy ride that reportedly could rack up around $100,000 to Mizzou Arena.

According to Dave Mater of the St. Louis Post-Dispatch, Nathaniel J. Contant, 23, who graduated from the school in December 2016, drove his Volkswagen Passat through a gate and eventually on to the floor of the 15,000-seat on-campus arena.

At 7:15 a.m. Sunday, MU police were dispatched to Mizzou Arena for a report of property damage. Officers determined that around 4 a.m., the suspect drove his vehicle through a closed gate on the south side of the arena. He ran through a garage door and drove into a dock area where he damaged several golf carts that were stored in the area. He also drove his car onto the basketball court. The man couldn’t leave through the area he used to enter the building, so he drove through the arena’s press gate.

Contant, unsurprisingly, is no longer an employee of the university. He’s being charged with second-degree burglary and first-degree property damage, both of which are felonies. He was released on a $4,500 bond.

The motive for this early-morning joyride remains unclear.

Despite the hype surrounding the upcoming Mizzou season — one that includes the debut of new head coach Cuonzo Martin and the projected No. 1 overall pick in the 2018 NBA Draft Michael Porter, Jr. — Twitter users couldn’t help but poke fun at the dismal recent history the Tigers have had.

(h/t Kansas City Star)

Vance Jackson transfers to New Mexico

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With more than a handful of departures this offseason, New Mexico is set to have a new-look roster for the 2017-18 season. On Monday, Paul Weir, now at the helm of the program, landed a player who should make an impact in the three remaining seasons of eligibility he has left.

Vance Jackson, who spent this past season at UConn, decided to make the move from Storrs to Albuquerque, picking the Lobos over Rutgers, San Diego State, TCU, and Washington.

The 6-foot-8 rising sophomore will have to sit out next year due to NCAA transfer rules before resuming his collegiate career in the fall of 2018.

“The coaches — they trust in me,” Jackson told Geoff Grammer of the Albuquerque Journal last month during his official campus visit. “We’re on the same page. They see a vision.”

Weir, who led New Mexico State this past season to a NCAA Tournament appearance in his one and only season as head coach, succeeded Craig Neal in April.

This offseason has been headlined by transfers, though, those mostly were about players leaving the program. Jackson is the second transfer to land at UNM with Akron’s Antino Jackson electing to use his final season of eligibility with the Lobos. Antino Jackson is a graduate transfer, allowing him to play immediately next season.

Vance Jackson, who was rated as the No. 80 overall player in the Class of 2016 by Rivals, averaged 8.1 points, 3.8 rebounds, and 1.4 assists per game while shooting just under 40 percent from three for the Huskies as a freshman.