Niagara’s win vs. rival Canisius latest turn in tight MAAC race

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Expected to be a highly competitive race before the season began, the Metro Atlantic Athletic Conference has not disappointed its followers to this point in the season.

And on Sunday the tips of Canisius guard Billy Baron’s fingers proved to be the difference between Niagara remaining alone in first place and dropping into a tie with Iona.

Baron’s shot as time expired was originally thought to be good, giving the Golden Griffins a 67-66 win and moving them to within a game of the Purple Eagles and Gaels. But after reviewing the shot (the picture of which can be seen below, thanks to @ryanrestivo) the officials determined that Baron did not get the shot off in time.

The end result: a 66-65 Niagara victory with Marvin Jordan, whose three-pointer with four seconds remaining gave the Purple Eagles the lead, playing the role of hero.

For Jordan this would be an appropriate ending as he scored 23 points off the bench on an afternoon that saw point guard and second-leading scorer Juan’ya Green score eight points (he did finish with eight assists) and third-leading scorer Ameen Tanksley shoot 1-of-9 from the field.

Baron would finish with nine points on 4-of-14 shooting but the play of Chris Manhertz (17 points, 15 rebounds) and Isaac Sosa (14 points) allowed the Golden Griffins to hold the lead for much of the day despite the Rhode Island transfer’s shooting struggles.

The wild finish in Buffalo capped a day that began with five teams separated by two games in the loss column at the top of the MAAC standings and finished with three: Niagara (9-1), Iona (8-2) and Loyola (MD) (7-3).

Iona, who has won eight of its last nine games, beat Loyola 79-71 in Baltimore with Lamont Jones leading the way offensively (24 points) and forward David Laury posting his third straight double-double (ten points, 14 rebounds) and fifth of the season.

Dylon Cormier (18 points, seven rebounds) and Robert Olson (14 points) led the way for the Greyhounds but Erik Etherly (3-of-12 FG) struggled and as a team Jimmy Patsos’ team shot 8-of-18 from the foul line. Iona, by comparison, hit 20 of their 25 free throws.

Canisius and Rider, both 6-4 in MAAC play, aren’t out of the race with eight games remaining but climbing to the top of the standings will be difficult. With Iona having beat Niagara 83-72 way back on November 28, the rematch this Thursday at Niagara takes on added importance.

If Baron’s disallowed shot is a harbinger of things to come, look for the MAAC race to go right down to the wire.

Photo credit: Niagara University (Marvin Jordan); video from maacsports.com

Raphielle also writes for the NBE Basketball Report and can be followed on Twitter at @raphiellej.

Koby McEwen transferring to Marquette

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Steve Wojciechowski added a significant piece to his 2019-20 team over the weekend.

Koby McEwen announced his intention to transfer to Marquette from Utah State late Sunday evening.

“I would like to thank God, my family, inner circle and all the schools/coaches that recruited me during this process!” McEwen tweeted. “With that being said, I’m proud to announce that I’ll be furthering my college career at Marquette University.”

McEwen picked the Golden Eagles over fellow finalists Creighton and Grand Canyon after he decided to transfer when the Aggies announced South Dakota coach Craig Smith was taking over the program last month. The 6-foot-4 guard averaged 15.6 points, 5.4 rebounds and 3.2 assists per game while shooting 40 percent from the field and 30 percent from 3-point range as a sophomore.

After sitting out the upcoming season, McEwen will have to years of eligibility remaining. Marquette went 21-14 last season, but missed the NCAA tournament for the third time in Wojciechowski’s four years in Milwaukee.

Minnesota adds Vanderbilt transfer Payton Willis

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Minnesota has added some depth for the future.

The Golden Gophers received a pledge from Vanderbilt transfer Payton Willis over the weekend, giving him a guard with two seasons of eligibility remaining starting in 2019-20.

Willis will sit out the upcoming season under NCAA transfer rules.

The 6-foot-4 guard played a limited role in two seasons in Nashville, never averaging more than 18. 5 minutes or 5.2 points per game. He scored in double figures in three games as a sophomore.

Willis was a top-150 prospect in the Class of 2016 coming out of Fayetteville, Ark. with offers from the likes of Tulsa, Rice and Dayton. Vandy and Minnesota were his two high-major offers.

After being ranked in the top-15, Minnesota was beset by injury and suspensions last season as they limped to the finish line in a 15-17 season that featured losses in 12 of its last 13 games.

Richard Pitino still has two available scholarships for the 2018-19 campaign.

Report: Quade Green returning to Kentucky

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John Calipari just landed a critical recruit for 2018-19, and he was already on the roster.

Quade Green, who averaged 25 minutes per game last season, is returning to Kentucky for his sophomore season, his mother told the Lexington Herald-Leader on Monday.

Given that six Wildcat players have entered the draft (Kevin Knox, Shai Gilgeous-Alexander and Hami Diallo are signing with agents), getting the 6-foot point guard back for a second season is a massive deal for Calipari and Co. The Wildcats have always been at their best under Calipari with returning players as the cornerstones of the roster with talented one-and-dones providing the extra boost. Getting one such returner at the point guard position is even more critical.

Green, who came to Kentucky as a five-star recruit last year, averaged 9.3 points and 2.7 assists per game while shooting 45.1 percent from the field and a respectable 37.1 percent from 3-point range, an area where Kentucky continually needs help.

With Green back in the fold, Kentucky will now await the decisions of PJ Washington, Wenyen Gabriel and Jarred Vanderbilt, who are all going through the pre-draft process without hiring agents, which will potentially allow them to return to school and bolster a Kentucky roster has the look of a top-five team.

CBT Podcast: NBA Draft Early Entry Deadline: Winners, losers and who has the most on the line?

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The NBA Draft Early Entry Deadline came and went on Sunday night, meaning there are now roughly 60 college players that have signed with an agent and another 100 or so that have declared for the draft while retaining their college eligibility. Who were the winners? Who were the losers? Who has the most on the line? Sam Vecenie of the Game Theory podcast joined Rob Dauster to talk through all of it. The rundown:

OPEN: What do NBA teams value in players these days?

10:00: Villanova has more on the line during this testing the water process than anyone

19:00: Just how important was De’Andre Hunter’s decision to return to Virginia

25:25: Gonzaga getting Rui and Killian Tillie back makes them a title favorite

32:10: Nevada has a top ten season on the line with the Martin twins and Jordan Caroline

36:15: #RANTALERT – The decision to turn pro is so much more complicated than “is he a first round pick”

48:30: Rapid fire: Maryland, Kansas, Syracuse, Nebraska, Purdue and Michigan. What do they have on the line?

North Carolina’s Luke Maye declaring for NBA draft without hiring agent

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CHAPEL HILL, N.C. (AP) — North Carolina junior Luke Maye has declared for the NBA draft but isn’t hiring an agent.

The 6-foot-8 forward was a third-team Associated Press All-American after averaging 16.9 points and 10.1 rebounds. He was named the Atlantic Coast Conference’s most improved player after increasing his scoring average by 11.4 points from his sophomore to junior seasons.

Coach Roy Williams says in a statement that it’s ”a great opportunity” for Maye to work out for NBA teams and get feedback on what to improve in his game.

The deadline for college players to declare early for the draft was Sunday night. Players who don’t hire an agent can maintain their college eligibility as long as they withdraw by May 30, which is 10 days after the NBA draft combine.