Pregame Shootaround 2.7.13: No. 1 Indiana’s visit a major opportunity for Illinois

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Game of the Night: No. 1 Indiana at Illinois (7:00 p.m.; ESPN) 

With a 2-7 conference record the days of John Groce’s Fighting Illini being a Big Ten title contender are long over, but this is a group in desperate need of a resume-building victory at this stage in the season. While much as been made of Illinois’ offensive struggles in conference play (40.5% FG and 25.4% 3PT in conference games) the fact of the matter is that they’ve struggled defensively as well. Illinois ranks dead last in the Big Ten in both field goal and three-point percentage defense (in conference games), and they cannot afford to defend at this level if they’re to beat Indiana.

Look for Victor Oladipo to get the assignment of guarding Illinois guard Brandon Paul, and with one of the nation’s best defenders on the floor points will be tough to come by for the home team. If Illinois can limit Cody Zeller’s quality touches (cannot allow him to have both feet in the paint when catching entry passes) they’ve got a shot. But that’s far easier said than done.

Who’s Getting Upset? No. 19 Oregon (vs. Colorado; 10:00 p.m. ESPNU) 

The Ducks’ chances of ending their current two-game losing streak hinge on the health of freshman point guard Dominic Artis. Without Artis (foot injury) last week, Oregon averaged 53.0 points and 21.0 turnovers per game in losses at Stanford and California. Tonight Oregon hosts a Colorado squad that needs all the quality wins it can get in the games leading up to March, and this is a group talented enough to make a run at their second consecutive NCAA tournament bid. But Andre Roberson, Askia Booker and Spencer Dinwiddie need to be consistent, and freshman center Josh Scott has to show up defensively against Oregon’s experienced front line. Look for Tad Boyle’s team to escape with a hard-fought victory.

Mid-Major Matchup of the Night: Belmont at Murray State (8:00 p.m.; ESPNU) 

This is a game many within the OVC were anxious to see when the Bruins officially became a member of the conference this summer. And it’s safe to say that Rick Byrd’s team has not disappointed, as they’re off to a 10-0 start in conference play with just two wins being by single digits. The backcourt tandem of Ian Clark and Kerron Johnson is one of the nation’s best despite the lack of national publicity thrown their way, and the individual battle between Johnson and Murray State’s Isaiah Canaan may be the best of the night in college basketball. The key for Canaan and company: taking care of the basketball. Belmont forces an average of 17.6 turnovers per game, and if Murray State doesn’t keep their turnover count down they’ll be in serious trouble.

Five Things to Watch

1) There’s a strong possibility that NC State will once again be without the services of starting point guard Lorenzo Brown tonight when they visit No. 4 Duke, as reported by Gary Parrish of CBSSports.com. If that’s the case the Wolfpack will once again lean on freshmen Rodney Purvis and Tyler Lewis, both of whom were solid in Saturday’s close loss to Miami. But playing at Cameron is an entirely different animal, especially for young players.

2) Virginia won’t make national waves with a win over Clemson in Charlottesville, but a loss to the Tigers would be yet another dent in what has to be the nation’s most confusing resume. While the Cavaliers have some very good wins to their credit there are also glaring defeats, one of which being a 59-44 loss at Clemson on January 12.

3) The question of which team has the best shot of challenging Stephen F. Austin in the Southland will be answered tonight as Oral Roberts (9-1 Southland) visits Northwestern State (8-2). Warren Niles and Damen Bell-Holter lead the way for Scott Sutton’s Golden Eagles, who with a win tonight could be playing for a share of first on Saturday when they visit Stephen F. Austin. Forwards DeQuan Hicks and James Hulbin lead the way for Northwestern State.

4) In addition to the Colorado/Oregon tilt mentioned above there are two other key match-ups in the Pac-12: California visiting Arizona State and Washington taking on UCLA in Los Angeles. This weekend could go a long way towards sorting out the conference race with just over a month remaining in the regular season.

5) BYU and Saint Mary’s, two WCC teams who need to avoid stubbing their respective toes as they push towards a ticket to the NCAA tournament, have tough games on the road. The Cougars visit San Diego, who nearly knocked off No. 6 Gonzaga on Saturday, while the Gaels will need to slow down a Santa Clara squad led by guard Kevin Foster.

The Top 25 

No. 1 Indiana at Illinois (7:00 p.m.; ESPN)

NC State at No. 4 Duke (9:00 p.m.; ACC Network)

Pepperdine at No. 6 Gonzaga (11:00 p.m.; ROOT Sports)

Colorado at No. 19 Oregon (10:00 p.m.; ESPNU)

No. 21 Missouri at Texas A&M (9:00 p.m.; ESPN2)

Other Notable Games 

Clemson at Virginia (7:00 p.m.; ESPN2)

Jacksonville at Mercer (7:00 p.m.)

Oral Roberts at Northwestern St. (8:30 p.m.)

Washington at UCLA (9:00 p.m.; ESPN)

California at Arizona St. (9:30 p.m.; Pac-12 Networks)

Long Beach St. at Hawaii (12:00 a.m.)

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

Angel Delgado’s return to Seton Hall makes Pirates Big East contender

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Seton Hall got huge news on Monday when Angel Delgado announced that he would be returning to school for his senior season.

“I am coming back to school for my senior year,” Delgado said in a statement on Monday. “It’s very important to my family and me that I finish what I started. This was a difficult decision that took time and patience. Coming back feels just right.”

Delgado, a 6-foot-10 forward from the Dominican Republic, averaged 15.1 points and 13.2 boards last season for the Pirates. He was one of the best big men in the country over the last six weeks of the season.

And his return should bring about one of the best years that Seton Hall basketball has had in a long time.

The Pirates are loaded with talent, tough and, most importantly, old players, from Delgado to Khadeen Carrington to Ishmael Sanogo to Desi Rodriguez. They are going to be a nightmare to run offense against, and they may just be the best team in the Big East not named Villanova. Delgado should end up being a preseason all-american.

Seton Hall is currently ranked No. 17 in the NBC Sports Preseason Top 25.

Texas to return Andrew Jones for sophomore season

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Texas got another boost on Monday as former five-star recruit Andrew Jones announced that he will be returning to school for his sophomore season.

“I’ve matured and learned a lot through this process,” Jones said in a statement released on twitter. “I enjoyed the experience and opportunity that I had to be able to participate in the combine and team workouts.

“Time to go work out with my teammates. Hungry and Humble.”

This comes on the heels of Texas landing a commitment from a top five prospect in Mo Bamba. With all those pieces in the fold, including a recruiting class that features four more top 100 prospects, the Longhorns look like they are on track to be a borderline preseason top 25 team and heading back to the NCAA tournament.

This could end up being a narrative-changing year for Texas.

West Virginia returns potential Big 12 Player of the Year in Jevon Carter

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West Virginia got some great news on Monday as Jevon Carter announced that he will be returning to the Mountaineers for his senior year.

“I’m excited about coming back to West Virginia and playing with my teammates for my senior season,” he said. “The entire NBA process was a great experience for me and to gain valuable feedback that I can use to prepare for the future.”

This is massive for the Mountaineers. Not only is Carter the team’s leading scorer at 13.5 points, but he is a three-time all-Big 12 Defensive Team member and led West Virginia in minutes played last season. He’ll be a favorite to win Big 12 Player of the Year, with Devonte’ Graham of Kansas.

Arizona adds five-star Emmanuel Akot to Class of 2017

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Emmanuel Akot, a five-star wing that has been committed to Arizona for months, announced on Monday that he will be reclassifying to the Class of 2017 and enrolling at Arizona this offseason.

“My family and I have decided to join the 2017 class and become a member of the Arizona Basketball family,” Akot said.

Akot was considered a top 15 prospect in the Class of 2018, a class that many believe to be significantly weaker than the Class of 2017. At 6-foot-7, he’s a versatile defender with quite a bit of potential that can step out and knock down threes, but he’s also far from a finish product and will likely need time to acclimate to the college level.

That said, he should be able to fill a role on the wing nicely, providing a nice bit of defensive reliance alongside more offensive-minded weapons like Allonzo Trier and Rawle Alkins.

Akot joins a five-man recruiting class headlined by top four prospect Deandre Ayton and four-star recruits Brandon Randolph and Ira Lee.

The eight most important NBA Draft Early Entry decisions remaining

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The deadline to withdraw from the NBA Draft is on Wednesday, May 24th, meaning that the players that have not signed with an agent have roughly 48 hours left to determine their basketball future.

Here are the ten most important decisions left to be made:

1. Caleb Swanigan, Purdue

  • Projected: Late first round or early second round
  • If he stays in: It will be a massive blow for Purdue, although one that the program should not be surprised about. Swanigan had an argument to be the National Player of the Year last season with the year that he had, and frankly, I’m not sure what else there is for him to prove at the college level. We know what he is offensively, and I don’t think that his flaws as a player are necessarily fixable. How much can he improve his body? How much different can he be as a defender? At this point he is what he is as a player.
  • If he returns: The Boilermakers will be returning a guy that will be a lock to be the Preseason National Player of the Year. Without him, Purdue still has a shot to be a top 25 team and a threat to finish near the top of the Big Ten. With him? Matt Painter will have a chance to repeat as the Big Ten regular season champ, even with Michigan State looking like the best team in college basketball.
  • CBT says: He should, and probably will, remain in the draft.

2. Tony Bradley, North Carolina

  • Projected: Early second-round
  • If he stays in: It would be a significant loss for the Tar Heels, but not a fatal one with Joel Berry set to return as a potential National Player of the Year candidate along with Theo Pinson, Luke Maye and Kenny Williams also in the starting lineup. What’s missing would be that experienced presence in the middle.
  • If he returns: North Carolina would be without a doubt one of the top national title contenders. With Bradley in the lineup, the Tar Heels simply won’t have a huge weakness in the lineup that teams can immediately exploit. It won’t make them the clear-cut title frontrunner, but it’ll put them in the top tier.
  • CBT says: With a first-round selection no guarantee, Bradley has a lot to gain returning to one of college basketball’s best teams.

3. Mo Wagner and D.J. Wilson, Michigan

  • Projected: Wilson is a potential first round pick, but Wagner may end up going undrafted
  • If they stay in: The biggest loss for Michigan is going to be point guard Derrick Walton, who was on another level at the end of last season. John Beilein’s teams are at their very best when they have a great ball-screen point guard, and their season is going to depend, in the end, on how Ohio transfer Jaaron Simmons adjusts to a higher level. But Beilein also runs an offense based on spacing the floor, and there’s no better way to space the floor than having a pair of big men that can step out on the perimeter and make threes.
  • If they return: Suddenly, Michigan goes from being a team that could end up making the NCAA tournament to one that has a ceiling of being a top 15 team. Wilson probably has the most to gain by coming back for another year. He’s dealt with injuries throughout his career, and his defensively versatility and perimeter skill make him him a more likely first round pick if he can prove he’s more than just a one year wonder. Wagner may actually have a higher ceiling, but he needs to get tougher and show he can defend and rebound.
  • CBT says: The safe bet is that Michigan loses Wilson and gets Wagner back, but I wouldn’t be shocked if both returned to school.

4. Justin Jackson, Maryland

  • Projected: Mid-second round with first round potential
  • If he stays in: It’s a massive blow for a Maryland team that will be looking to replace Melo Trimble, the man who is as responsible for turning around the Terp program as Mark Turgeon is. But Jackson has some NBA potential. He’s 6-foot-7 with a 7-foot-3 wingspan, he can defend multiple positions and he shot 44 percent from three. He’s built in the combo-forward mold that NBA teams love these days. There’s a real chance he leaves as a one-and-done player, and while the Terps have some other young, talented pieces, this loss could cost them the NCAA tournament.
  • If he returns: Maryland should once again be a fringe top 25 team. Jackson has the chance to develop into an all-Big Ten kind of player next season as he takes on a bigger role of the offense. The freshmen trio of Jackson, Anthony Cowan and Kevin Huerter should have Maryland fans excited.
  • CBT says: All it takes is for one team to fall in love with Jackson’s potential to get him picked in the back end of the first round. How he performs at the combine may determine that.

5. Hamidou Diallo, Kentucky

  • Projected: Late first round, early second round
  • If he stays in: Kentucky has a ridiculous amount of talent joining the program next season, enough that John Calipari will likely have the pieces to make another push for an SEC title and a trip to the Final Four without him. At this point, he is really the only five-star off-guard on the roster, and losing him means the Wildcats may take a hit on the defensive end, but that would also allow some better shooters to get on the floor, so it may end up being a wash.
  • If he returns: Kentucky suddenly looks like a team that is going to be as good as anyone on the defensive end. Between Diallo, Jarred Vanderbilt, Kevin Knox, Nick Richards and, potentially, Mo Bamba, there is as much length and athleticism on that roster as Coach Cal has ever had. Where their points come from will be the question, and this may be what gets Diallo to stay in the draft. He may be the most explosive athlete in the draft, but he’s also very raw. He’s not a shooter and he doesn’t have a great feel for the game. There’s a line of thinking that, if he returns to a team that doesn’t have myriad options offensively, he could end up being exposed on that end of the floor.
  • CBT says: I think it would be in Diallo’s best interest to return — remember, he redshirted the second semester of last season after enrolling in January — but I would not be shocked to see him remain in the draft.

6. Thomas Welsh, UCLA

  • Projected: Undrafted
  • If he stays in: The Bruins will still have quite a bit of talent and will be a preseason top-25 team, but losing a player like Welsh would seriously lower their ceiling. Take a big step back is certainly something Steve Alford will look to avoid after a breakthrough season last year that started with him under some pressure.
  • If he returns: The Bruins won’t be the toast of the Pac-12, that distinction will stay with Arizona, but UCLA asserts itself as a top-15(ish) team that has enough firepower, especially with a major 7-foot contributor, to at least push the Wildcats in the league.
  • CBT says: Welsh has a lot of tools, but probably even more questions that make his stock pretty low right now.

7. Trevon Bluiett, Xavier

  • Projected: Second round to undrafted
  • If he stays in: The Musketeers are suddenly one of the younger teams in the Big East with a roster that has just three players — J.P. Macura, Sean O’Mara and Kaiser Gates — that have spent more than one year on the Xavier campus. I still think Xavier would be able to get back into the NCAA tournament, as they will have some young talent on the roster and Chris Mack at the helm, but their upside will be significantly diminished.
  • If he returns: Xavier will have a preseason all-american on their roster, a potential Big East Player of the Year and a guy that could end up averaging 20 points as a senior. He, along with J.P. Macura, will anchor a Musketeer roster that, beyond them, will be very young but promisingly talented. They’re probably a tournament team either way, but with Bluiett in the fold, they might have a chance to get back to the Elite 8 again.
  • CBT says: Return to school

8. Deng Adel, Louisville

  • Projected: Second round to undrafted
  • If he stays in: Louisville will have lost their two most dangerous perimeter scoring options — Donovan Mitchell looks like he is going to sneak into the back-end of the lottery — from a team that really struggled to score from the perimeter. That would be a crushing blow for a Cardinal team that was the Preseason No. 1 team in the NBC Sports Top 25 when it looked like both would be returning to school.
  • If he returns: Louisville has their go-to scorer on the wing and Adel will have a chance to prove that he can play that role full-time. He really came on down the stretch of the 2016-17 season, and with an offense more or less built around him as the leading man, he’ll have every opportunity to prove himself an NBA-caliber wing scorer.
  • CBT says: He returns to school.