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

Report: Chris Collins to receive lengthy contract extension

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Chris Collins and Northwestern have reportedly agreed to a lengthy contract extension on Monday morning.

According to Teddy Greenstein of the Chicago Tribune, Collins, 43, and the university have come to terms on a deal that will run through the 2024-25 season.

The news shouldn’t come as a surprise. Collins, in his fourth year in Evanston, took Northwestern to the first NCAA Tournament in school history. The Wildcats defeated Vanderbilt in the first round and had eventual national finalist Gonzaga on the ropes in the second round before a controversial call swung all the momentum they had.

In four seasons, Collins has a 73-60 (30-42 Big Ten) record, with back-to-back 20-win seasons.

Northwestern football coach Pat Fitzgerald is also reportedly in line for an extension, according to the Tribune.

Sacred Heart’s Quincy McKnight to transfer

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Quincy McKnight, a first-team all-Northeast Conference selection this past season, will transfer from Sacred Heart.

He announced his news via his Instagram page on Monday afternoon, according to Kels Dayton of WTDH, an ABC news affiliate located in New Haven, Connecticut.

McKnight, a 6-foot-3 guard, averaged 18.9 points, 4.9 rebounds and 3.0 assists per game as a sophomore for the Pioneers. He will have to sit out the upcoming season due to NCAA transfer rules but will have two years of eligibility remaining.

This is an all-too-familiar feeling for Sacred Heart head coach Anthony Latina. One year ago, Cane Broome, the NEC Player of the Year, informed him of his desire to transfer. This fall, he expects to make an immediate impact on Cincinnati, a program to reach its eighth consecutive NCAA Tournament.

It’s a tough pill to swallow for any mid-major coach, especially for it to occur for the second season in the row. But you can’t blame McKnight — a two-star recruit coming out of prep school — for wanting a chance to play at the highest level possible, just as you can’t blame low and mid-major coaches from accepting better jobs at bigger schools. This isn’t an isolated situation either. With the rise of graduate transfers in recent years and the extended NBA Draft deadline, many programs currently face uncertainty at this point in time.

As we enter the second live recruiting period of April, Latina and his staff can sell recruits on their ability to identify and develop talent by using Broome and McKnight as examples. That recruiting strategy might best be described as cutting your nose off to spite your face but given the current landscape for mid-major programs, isn’t that pitch a silver-lining in what can otherwise be considered another frustrating spring?

Five Takeaways from the adidas Gauntlet Dallas

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FORT WORTH, Tx. — The April Live Evaluation period had its first of two weekends as events took place all over the country. Many of the nation’s top college coaches were stationed at shoe-company events held by adidas, Nike and Under Armour.

I spent the weekend watching a lot of the top Class of 2018, 2019 and even some 2020 prospects at the adidas Gauntlet in Fort Worth.

Here are some takeaways from the event, including some thoughts on Zion Williamson, Romeo Langford and more.

1. Zion Williamson draws a huge crowd but still has some work on his game

Although he only played a game and a half due to a lingering knee injury that ended his weekend early, the national hype machine for YouTube sensation and Class of 2018 star Zion Williamson is very real. Not many players draw large crowds of outsiders during grassroots events but players from other events and local fans turned out en masse to try and see some of the highlights that Williamson has put together these past few months.

He wasn’t quite 100 percent because of the knee, but the South Carolina native still showed the type of rare burst off the floor that allows the 6-foot-6 Williamson to snare rebounds and score over bigger players. People who hadn’t seen Williamson live before were also stunned at how big and strong he actually appears in person compared to the average high school basketball prospect.

Even though Williamson still has to polish his overall skill level and jumper, there are just times that he looks like a man among boys out on the floor.

Williamson will likely be a destructive force at the college level because of his ability to operate around the rim and in transition but he’s also going to have to make sure he tries to develop some range to keep defenders honest. Still shooting a pretty hard ball on jumpers, Williamson has to work on 3-pointers and free throws during these next few months.

2. Romeo Langford is still working on consistency

Consensus top-five Class of 2018 prospect Romeo Langford is an elite shooting guard prospect thanks to his overall package of athleticism and skills and he’s mostly focused on making sure that he brings his best effort every game.

In the past, Langford was the type of player who could go for 40 in one game and then play sluggish in the next as he needed to make sure that he was dialed in during each contest. Although he led the adidas Gauntlet in scoring playing in three games this weekend, it came with more of the same results as we’ve seen in the past.

In two games, scoring came easy for Langford as he was able to do a lot of damage off of isolations while drawing a lot of fouls. Langford shot 24-for-27 over three games at the free-throw line so that type of scoring ability should translate well at all levels.

When Langford starts to get double-teamed and teams play against him in a physical manner, that is when things start to get difficult for him. Langford can get frustrated with contact at times and he’s also prone to some lapses in intensity.

It’s also fair to say that Langford is very talented and that he’ll also adjust as he adds more strength over time. In a class that doesn’t have many top-flight guards, Langford stands out from the rest because his ceiling is just higher.

3. Immanuel Quickley’s improved perimeter shooting puts him in top 2018 lead guard conversation

One of the biggest revelations from an individual player standpoint came from Baltimore native and lead guard Immanuel Quickley. Already considered a five-star prospect in the Class of 2018, the big knock on the 6-foot-4 Quickley was his lack of a perimeter jumper.

While Quickley’s great size and feel for the game enabled him to dominate at times when he could get in the paint and make plays, opposing defenses found they could sag on him and force him to shoot perimeter jumpers because he was inconsistent.

Quickley appears to have shored up his big weakness. Shooting 48 percent from three-point range (14-for-29) this weekend, Quickley really shoot the ball well as he had confidence off the catch and off the dribble. Since Quickley is already a pick-and-roll maestro who can thread tight passes to teammates, this ability to hit deep jumpers opens up so much more to his game.

Quickley isn’t an elite above-the-rim athlete but he has a ton of things to really like about his game and he’s going to be in the mix among the top lead guards in the Class of 2018. Quickley is down to a final seven of Duke, Kansas, Kentucky, Maryland, Miami, Providence and Virginia.

This was the type of weekend that should give Quickley a lot of confidence going forward. Quickley got the better of five-star guards Quentin Grimes and Romeo Langford in back-to-back matchups (going head-to-head with those players on some possessions) so he’s been ready to take on all challengers so far this spring.

It should also be noted that Quickley’s teammates, Class of 2018 guard Montez Mathis, also had an outstanding weekend scoring the ball as he has immediately vaulted himself into a larger high-major discussion.

4. College coaches are still starving for perimeter shooters

As the 3-point revolution continues to sweep across many levels of basketball, college coaches are looking for any kind of shooters out on the circuit this spring. The adidas Gauntlet didn’t yield as many perimeter options as some college coaches would have liked.

As Hoop Seen’s Justin Young pointed out, only a handful of players at adidas made 10 or more three-pointers this weekend and most players played in three or four games.

It’ll be interesting to see if any more shooters emerge the second weekend of the April period because there doesn’t seem to be a lot of floor spacing out there right now.

5. Keep an eye on late 2017 signees like McKinley Wright

One of the interesting things about the April period being back is that it gives unsigned Class of 2017 players a chance to compete in front of college coaches. College coaches started to call Minnesota native McKinley Wright when he decommitted from Dayton after Archie Miller took the Indiana job.

So Wright now gets to play high-level competition in front of a number of college coaches who need an available point guard to come in and potentially play next season.

Since opening things up from Dayton and decommitting, Baylor, Butler, Clemson, Colorado, Illinois, Kansas State, Minnesota, Santa Clara and Utah are the primary schools involved. Wright still has three official visits left as he’s o

“I’ve been talking to a couple of schools about maybe setting up a visit but I haven’t really scheduled one yet. But I’m planning on using at least two.”

Wright is hoping to find a situation where he can play right away. He looked good at adidas, but you also have to keep in mind that he’s one class older than most of his competition. Still, with a lot of colleges looking for anyone who can handle the ball and potentially knock down shots, Wright is an intriguing spring recruit that could be a rotation player next season.

Zylan Cheatham transfers to Arizona State

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Zylan Cheatham will continue his college collegiate in his home state.

According to Jeff Goodman, the San Diego State transfer will enroll at Arizona State. He will sit out next season and have two years of eligibility remaining.

“It had a little bit to do with going back home,” Cheatham told Goodman. “But it was more about the basketball situation and that Coach [Bobby] Hurley and I had the same vision for me and for the program.”

The 6-foot-9 forward averaged 9.1 points and 6.3 rebounds per game last season for the Aztecs.

 

Jevon Carter enters NBA Draft, won’t hire agent

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West Virginia guard Jevon Carter has submitted his name as an early entry into the 2017 NBA Draft. He will not hire an agent, leaving him the option to return to Morgantown for his senior season.

“Jevon will go through the process in a systematic and professional manner by exploring the situation and leaving open his option to come back for his senior season,” West Virginia head coach Bob Huggins said in a statement issued by the university on Monday afternoon.

Carter, one of the nation’s elite defenders, averaged 13.0 points, 5.0 rebounds, 3.7 assists and 2.5 steals per game for the Mountaineers this past season.

If this decision is simply exploratory, like many assume it is, Carter has until May 24 to withdraw his name from the draft.

With the 6-foot-2 Carter back in the lineup, West Virginia is projected to be a top-15 team entering the 2017-18 season, according to NBC Sports.