Player of the Week: Marcus Smart, Oklahoma State
There wasn’t even any consideration that went into this decision. Smart was the easy choice after averaging 23.0 points, 7.5 boards, 5.0 assists and 4.5 steals as the Cowboys knocked off Iowa State at home and then went into Lawrence and beat the Jayhawks.
And it was more than the simple fact that Smart put up great numbers in two big wins for the Pokes. He made the plays down the stretch that won the games. Against Iowa State, Smart made the game-winning bucket with 2.9 seconds left on the clock. And in the win over Kansas, Smart took over down the stretch. The two most notable plays were the two buckets that he got off of offensive rebounds in the final four minutes, extending Oklahoma State’s lead to seven points with less than two minutes left. But he iced the win when he stripped Elijah Johnson up three on the game’s final possession.
The Pokes are now 15-5 overall and 5-3 in the Big 12.
The All-They-Were-Good-Too Team:
- G: Shane Larkin, Miami: Larkin went for 25 points on 9-14 shooting, three assists, three steals and two blocks on Wednesday as Miami notched a come-from-behind win at Virginia Tech. He followed that up with 13 points and five assists in the Hurricane’s win at NC State on Saturday. Miami is still undefeated in ACC play.
- G: Keith Appling, Michigan State: Michigan State came from 10 points down at halftime to beat Illinois on Thursday night, and Appling was the biggest reason why. He finished with 24 points, eight boards and seven assists, including a number of huge baskets down the stretch as the Spartans clung to a one-possession lead.
- G: RJ Hunter, Georgia State: Hunter is making a case for being the nation’s most under-appreciated freshman. He had 27 points and five assists as GSU handed Northeastern their first loss in CAA play on Wednesday, following that up with a 38-point performance in a win over Old Dominion on Saturday. Head coach Ron Hunter’s son was 15-26 from three on the week, including 10-15 on Saturday.
- F: Josh Huestis, Stanford: The Cardinal swept the Oregon schools at home this week, moving to 5-4 in Pac-12 play and keeping themselves within striking distance of first place in the conference. Huestis was the best player on the floor for Stanford, finishing with averages of 15.o points, 13.o boards and 2.5 blocks.
- C: Nerlens Noel, Kentucky: Noel had 19 points, 14 boards and a pair of blocks in Saturday’s 62-58 overtime win over Texas A&M. That followed up one of the most-dazzling defensive performances we’ve seen this season in Kentucky’s win at Ole Miss. Noel finished with 12 blocks in that game, including five game-changing blocks in the final minutes.
- Bench: Alex Abreu (Akron), Jack Cooley (Notre Dame), Hugh Greenwood (New Mexico), Jarrod Shaw (Utah State)
You can find Rob on twitter @RobDauster.
Malik Newman will withdraw his name from consideration and return to school for his sophomore season.
Newman was a top 10 recruit in the Class of 2015, a high-scoring combo-guard that opted to stay home and play for Mississippi State instead of enroll at one of the blue bloods that was recruiting him. He averaged 11.3 points as a freshman, but it was a largely disappointing season as he spent the year off of the national radar playing inefficient basketball.
Put another way, the fourth-leading scorer on a 14-17 SEC team isn’t exactly a lock for the lottery.
But here’s the catch: he may not be returning to Mississippi State, as Newman is considering a transfer, according to a report from ESPN. That report quotes a source close to the situation saying “unhappy with his role and how he was utilized.”
It will be interesting to see what happens from here. Newman would have to sit out a year if he transferred to another Division I program, and for a kid that thought he was destined to be a one-and-done star, locking himself into a three-year college career would be an odd move.
Seton Hall sophomore guard Isaiah Whitehead has signed with an agent and will remain in the NBA Draft, according to multiple reports.
Whitehead averaged 18.2 points, 5.1 assists and 3.6 rebounds per game last season for Seton Hall, which went 25-9 and reached the NCAA tournament. He likely projects as a second-round pick with a bit of a shaky shot, but a high usage and assist rates. His strong finish to the season likely lifted him on some draft boards, but his inefficiency will cap his ceiling in June’s draft.
The loss is significant for the Pirates as Whitehead was so much of their offense, but they’ll bring back Khadeen Carrington, Desi Rodriguez, Angel Delgado and Ismael Sanogo. It’s a group that will miss Whitehead’s playmaking, but is still a solid enough foundation that Seton Hall will still likely be competitive in the Big East and vying for another NCAA tournament berth.
Villanova’s title defense just got a whole lot stouter.
Josh Hart, the leading scorer of the Wildcats’ national championship team, will return for his senior season, he announced on Twitter.
The decision for Hart to return is a major boost for Villanova in its quest to become the first back-to-back champions since Florida in 2006 and 2007. Hart, a 6-foot-5 guard, averaged 15.5 points and 6.8 rebounds per game while shooting 51.3 percent from the floor and 35.7 percent from 3-point range.
Most draft pundits had him pegged as a potential end-of-the-first-round pick in next month’s draft though he could have certainly slid into the second should he had decided to forego his senior season. Instead, Hart will be a potential first-team All-American exhausting his eligibility in Philadelphia.
The 2016-17 season is taking shape nicely, and Hart returning to Villanova only increases the strength of the field at the top. Title game hero Kris Jenkins as well as Jalen Brunson, Phil Booth and Mikal Bridges are also back for the defending champs while the super recruiting classes of Duke, Kentucky and Michigan State, Kansas’ returning core along with Josh Jackson and a solid group of teams including North Carolina, Arizona, Louisville and Wisconsin make for an intriguing upper-tier of teams that could very well make for a top-heavy season following last year’s free for all.
College basketball isn’t the NFL. Parity doesn’t equal strength and quality, and when the sport has a handful high-quality teams, it is at its best. It’s looking like that is a possibility for the 2016-17 campaign.
Connecticut may have lost its 6-foot-7 wing scorer but it is keeping its defensive stalwart and leading scorer.
Center Amida Brimah and guard Rodney Purvis have withdrawn their names from NBA Draft consideration and will return to the Huskies for another year, the school announced Tuesday.
The decisions from Brimah, a 7-foot center, and Purvis, a 6-foot-4 shooting guard, help soften the blow dealt by Daniel Hamilton’s decision to sign with an agent and leave school despite having some shaky draft stock. The Huskies may not open the season as a top-25 team, but they won’t be far behind and will be one of the AAC’s favorites, along with Cincinnati.
Brimah averaged 6.5 points per game last year, but blocked 2.7 shots per game. He missed 11 games last season with a broken finger. Purvis registered 12.8 points per game while shooting 43.4 percent from the floor.
Neither Brimah or Purvis were among those invited to this month’s NBA Draft combine nor were either expected to be drafted should they have kept their names in the draft.
The man in the middle is returning to Gonzaga.
Przemek Karnowski will return to the Bulldogs for his final year after a medical redshirt waiver was granted allowing him a fifth season in Spokane, the school announced Tuesday.
“I’m excited to be coming back,” Karnowski said in a statement. “After talking with the coaches, my parents and the team, I decided this was the best decision for me. I still have a ways to go with my rehab, but I’m staying positive about the upcoming season.”
The 7-foot-1 Karnowski, a Poland native, would have, at minimum, had professional opportunities overseas, but instead will return to play for the Bulldogs once more after a back injury limited him to five games last season. He averaged 10.9 points and 5.8 rebounds per game as a junior in 2014-15.
With Karnowski returning along with Josh Perkins and Silas Melson, Gonzaga coach Mark Few will be having newcomers Nigel Williams-Goss, Zach Norvell, Johnathan Williams II and Zach Collins joining an experienced and talented group.
Gonzaga (shocker) will be the West Coast Conference favorite once more, but the Bulldogs will also be fielding a team that should open the season in most everyone’s top-15.