UNLV forward Anthony Bennett leads CBT’s Freshman of the Year rankings

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A hearty welcome to those of you just now joining the rest of us in following college basketball now that football season has ended. We’ll be running a series of posts to get all you football fans caught up on the season at-large. To read through them all, click here.

There have been a number of outstanding freshmen that have been cornerstones of their programs in 2012-13, but a select five stick out, along with some honorable mentions.

Honorable Mentions

Shabazz Muhammad, UCLA (18.4 points, 4.8 rebounds per game)

After the eligibility debacle with the NCAA that forced Muhammad out of the first three games of the season, it took time for the five-star freshman to get into the swing of things at UCLA. As he got more into game shape and became more comfortable in the UCLA offense, the Bruins began to win games and gain traction in the Pac-12.

Isaiah Austin, Baylor (14.5 points, 9.4 rebounds, 1.3 blocks per game)

The seven-footer Austin is solidifying himself as a Top 10 pick in the 2013 NBA Draft, not only because of his ability to score and rebound, but also his willingness to stretch the defense by consistently hitting jumpers on the perimeter. He’s shooting 35 percent from three-point range and, though it’s not stellar, is a major asset for a player his size.

Dominic Artis, Oregon (10.2 points, 3.8 assists per game)

Often the mark of how valuable a player is rests on how well his team plays when he is not in the lineup. In the case of Artis, Oregon has a 1-2 record while he currently sits out with injury, averaging nearly 22 turnovers per game. The Ducks have slipped into a tie for first place in the Pac-12 and will welcome Artis back to the lineup with open arms when he becomes available.

JaKarr Sampson, St. John’s (14.4 points, 6.6 rebounds, 1.2 blocks per game)

Sampson was originally a member of coach Steve Lavin’s big 2011 recruiting class, but did not qualify and headed back to Brewster Academy for a prep year. Much like his one-and-done former recruiting classmate Maurice Harkless, Sampson has been one of the most impressive freshmen in the Big East.

Siyani Chambers, Harvard (13.3 points, 6.1 assists per game)

Chambers leads all freshmen in assists per game and has the Crimson off to a 4-0 start in Ivy League play. He was perhaps biggest just this past Saturday, when his double-double of 17 points and 10 assists propelled Harvard to a double-overtime win over Brown.

The Countdown

5. Nerlens Noel, Kentucky (10.6 points, 9.5 rebounds, 4.6 blocks per game)

Since the day Noel stepped on campus, comparisons to Anthony Davis have been levied on him, fairly or unfairly. He may not have the offensive game that Davis had while with the Wildcats, but defensively he hasn’t missed a step. His 4.6 blocks per game have anchored the Kentucky defense, including a 12-block game against Ole Miss that sparked a Kentucky comeback victory.

4. Marcus Smart, Oklahoma State (14.2 points, 5.8 rebounds, 4.6 assists, 2.9 steals per game)

No one game perfectly exemplified how important Smart is to the Cowboys than his 25-point, 9-rebound, 5-steal outing at Allen Fieldhouse on Saturday to lift Oklahoma State to a win over Kansas. Smart does a little bit of everything and should be cashing in on draft day. First, though, he’ll likely be leading the Cowboys to the NCAA tournament.

3. Jahii Carson, Arizona State (18.3 points, 5.3 assists per game)

Carson is the biggest reason why Arizona State’s offense has been completely transformed this season and why the Sun Devils are competing in the Pac-12, en route to a likely NCAA tournament berth. The redshirt freshman is athletic and the offensive catalyst for Herb Sendek’s team. Even in a win over UCLA when he scored just 12 points, he controlled the pace of the game and was a key to Arizona State’s success.

2. Ben McLemore, Kansas (16.4 points, 5.4 rebounds per game)

After Tyshawn Taylor and Thomas Robinson left Kansas’ Final Four team last season, they needed a scoring star to go alongside returning center Jeff Withey. Redshirt freshman Ben McLemore has more than fit the bill. Not only can he dance, but he has been Kansas’ most productive offensive player and carried them in key spots. His bank three-pointer at home against Iowa State helped the Jayhawks to a win in dramatic fashion.

1. Anthony Bennett, UNLV (18.5 points, 8.5 rebounds per game)

In a tightly contested Mountain West race, the fact that Bennett has become such a dominant force only bodes well for the Rebels. Mike Moser’s production isn’t what it was last year, but Moser and Pitt transfer Khem Birch, in combination with Bennett, make for one of the most formidable front lines in the country.

Daniel Martin is a writer and editor at JohnnyJungle.com, covering St. John’s. You can find him on Twitter:@DanielJMartin_

Villanova lands four-star 2018 guard

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Villanova added its first recruit in the Class of 2018 on Wednesday night.

Jay Wright and his staff landed a verbal commitment from Paul VI Catholic High School’s Brandon Slater, a four-star guard by Rivals as the No. 42 overall prospect in the rising senior class.

The 6-foot-5 Slater announced his decision via Twitter.

Slater, according to Jeff Borzello of ESPN, picked the Wildcats over Maryland, Miami, South Carolina, and Virginia.

He is currently playing the Nike EYBL with Team Takeover, the same grassroots program that produced current Villanova guard Phil Booth.

Comic-Con forces Providence to play at Alumni Hall for home opener

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Providence will play its first game at Alumni Hall, the on-campus facility, for the first time in 35 years this fall.

The Friars unveiled their 2017-18 non-conference schedule on Thursday afternoon. The team’s home opener will play either Houston Baptist or Belmont in Mullaney Gym inside Alumni Hall.

According to Kevin McNamara of the Providence Journal, the reason for that is a schedule conflict at Providence’s home arena, the Dunkin’ Donuts Center, in downtown Providence. A Comic-Con convention is scheduled Nov. 10-12. As McNamara notes, it’s a busy part of the season for The Dunk. The arena also is home to the Providence Bruins, the American Hockey League affiliate of the Boston Bruins, and by mid-November, their season is in full swing.

The Friars haven’t played at Alumni Hall since 1972, the same year the Dunkin’ Donuts Center was opened. In the three decades since Providence last played a regular season game there, the facility has gone under necessary renovations, as you could imagine. Even with added seats, Mullaney Gym can host a maximum of 1,549. That’s a fraction of what The Dunk’s capacity of 12,400.

Providence will return to its downtown home on Nov. 13, hosting Minnesota as part of the Gavitt Games. The Golden Gophers will likely be a top-20 team to open the season. The Friars, who bring back every notable player from last year’s NCAA Tournament team, is a fringe top-25 team.

Jalen Coleman-Lands to transfer out of Illinois

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The already-thin Illinois roster got thinner on Thursday afternoon.

Evan Daniels of Scout.com reported that sophomore guard Jalen Coleman-Lands has requested and received his release from the program. He will have to sit out next season but will have two years of eligibility remaining.

Coleman-Lands was a top-40 recruit in the Class of 2015, according to Rivals. He becomes the second player from that recruiting class this month to exit the school. Reserve guard D.J. Williams elected to transfer on May 8. With Jeremiah Tilmon and Javon Pickett, two incoming recruits, both previously reopened their recruitments following John Groce’s firing.

Even with the addition of Wright State graduate transfer Mark Alstork, who officially joined the Fighting Illini on Wednesday, Illinois is left with only nine scholarship players as of right now.

Coleman-Lands’ production dipped from his freshman campaign, ending the 2016-17 season averaging 8.0 points and 2.3 rebounds per game, shooting 38 percent from three.

One destination that will likely be rumored will be nearby DePaul. Coleman-Lands played for new DePaul assistant coach Shane Heirman at prep school powerhouse La Lumiere School. Heriman quickly tapped into that prep pipeline, helping secure a commitment from La Lumiere from five-star 2019 point guard Tyger Campbell earlier this month.

Coleman-Lands had taken official visits to Notre Dame and UNLV before committing to the Illini in September 2014.

North Carolina releases response to latest NCAA Notice of Allegations

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North Carolina is still trying to convince the NCAA that their investigation into the paper classes given by the university’s African-American Studies Department is not, in fact, an NCAA matter.

On Thursday afternoon, the University released their response to the NCAA’s third iteration of the Notice of Allegations, and the core argument in that response is that the school’s “inadequate academic oversight” does not fall under the jurisdiction of the NCAA’s bylaws. In other words, North Carolina is arguing that a rogue professor creating fake classes is not an NCAA issue. It’s a school issue.

What’s more, North Carolina is also arguing that athletes taking these classes should not be classified as an extra benefit because they were available to the entire student body.

“No special arrangements were made for student-athletes in violation of NCAA extra-benefit legislation,” the response reads. “Student-athletes were not treated differently than other students who took the Courses.”

“The public narrative for the last six years, popularized by media accounts, is that Department of Athletics at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill took advantage of ‘fake classes’ in the Department of African and African-American Studies to keep student-athletes eligible. That narrative is wrong and contradicted by the facts in the record.”

The NCAA’s allegations center around the idea that UNC’s athletes, most notably members of the football and men’s and women’s basketball teams, were guided to the fake classes within that department in order to keep their GPAs high enough to remain eligible. The classes in question had a disproportionate percentage of athletes.

A hearing in front of the Committee on Infractions is expected to take place at some point this summer.

No indictment for escort, staffer in Louisville sex scandal

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LOUISVILLE, Ky. (AP) — A grand jury declined to indict an escort and former Louisville men’s basketball staffer in a sex scandal that engulfed the program.

The Jefferson County grand jury decided Thursday there wasn’t enough evidence for charges of prostitution and unlawful transactions with a minor against Katina Powell and Andre McGee.

Powell wrote in a book published in 2015 that McGee hired her to provide dancers to perform sex acts for Cardinal recruits and players from 2010-2014.

The announcement by the Commonwealth’s Attorney’s Office comes as the school awaits discipline in early June by the NCAA after an investigation.

Louisville has imposed its own penalties, including a postseason ban in 2015-16 and reductions in scholarships and recruiting visits by coaches.