Ah, Big East, how we will miss ye.
The No. 23 Pitt Panthers reminded us again how great a league game can be, battling back and forth with No. 17 Cincinnati for 33 minutes before grabbing hold of the game with both hands down the stretch.
The Panthers are making a statement in a stacked conference race that currently features seven nationally-ranked teams. Jamie Dixon’s team is tough, disciplined, and opportunistic, qualities that will come in very handy as the Big East season grinds to a close. In today’s game, they kept the Bearcats from ruling the boards, and completely shut them down from the perimeter, harrassing their hosts into 30.8 percent shooting from the floor.
The most encouraging thing to come out of Pitt’s recent three-game win streak is a balanced scoring attack that leaves few gaps for opposing teams to exploit. Tray Woodall (14 points) has shown the ability to take over a game in crunch time, and he’s got the horses inside to make perimeter scoring easier. Talib Zanna (11 points, 9 rebounds) and seven-foot freshman Steven Adams (13 points, 4 blocks) have found their groove on the blocks, and that creates room for everyone.
Pitt is just one game back in the Big East right now, and will travel to face league leader N0. 24 Marquette next Saturday, and then host No. 25 Notre Dame two days later. After that, no ranked teams stand between them and a postseason bid. That doesn’t mean much in the Big East, but it beats the alternative. And, while all schedules are not equal, there is this:
Don’t be surprised if the Panthers keep fighting for a title in their final Big East season.
After receiving commitments from former Purdue/Houston guard Ronnie Johnson and former Presbyterian forward DeSean Murray, Auburn head coach Bruce Pearl continued to load up on the transfer market Monday. Forward LaRon Smith, who was named MEAC Defensive Player of the Year at Bethune-Cookman last season, announced that he will use his final season of eligibility at the SEC program.
Like Smith, Johnson will also be eligible to compete immediately for the Tigers while Murray will have to sit out next season before having two years of eligibility remaining.
The 6-foot-8 Smith played two seasons at Georgia State before transferring to Bethune-Cookman, where he averaged 7.1 points, 6.9 rebounds and 3.0 blocks per contest in 2015-16. Smith played just over 25 minutes per game for the Wildcats, shooting 58.5 percent from the field.
Smith reached double figures in scoring in four of the Wildcats’ final seven games, including a 20-point, 11-rebound, three-block outing in an overtime win over North Carolina A&T. He joins a front court in need of depth following the departures of the likes of Cinmeon Bowers and Tyler Harris, with Horace Spencer, Trayvon Reed and incoming freshman Anfernee McLemore also competing for minutes in 2016-17.
With a five-member recruiting class set to arrive on campus this summer, SMU added a talented transfer Monday afternoon. Jimmy Whitt, who played his freshman season at Arkansas, committed to join Larry Brown’s program. Whitt, a 6-foot-4 guard from Columbia, Missouri, will have three seasons of eligibility remaining after sitting out the 2016-17 campaign.
As a freshman at Arkansas, Whitt averaged 6.1 points and 1.7 rebounds in just over 17 minutes of action per game. He reached double figures in scoring nine time, with the high being a 15-point outing in a blowout win over Missouri in mid-January. Whitt produced a stretch of four consecutive games in double figures during non-conference play, but he struggled to maintain that consistency against SEC competition.
At SMU he’ll join a perimeter rotation that will lose rising senior Sterling Brown following the 2016-17 season. Among those who will have eligibility remaining when Whitt becomes eligible are Ben Emelogu, Shake Milton, Jarrey Foster and incoming freshmen Tom Wilson and Dashawn McDowell.
GREELEY, Colo. (AP) Jeff Linder is the new basketball coach at Northern Colorado. He spent the last six seasons at Boise State, where he was associate head coach for the Broncos since 2013-14.
Linder replaces B.J. Hill, who was fired last month amid an NCAA investigation into allegations of violations in the program.
University President Kay Norton and Athletic Director Darren Dunn announced Linder’s hiring Sunday.
Linder played high school ball in Lafayette, Colorado, and college ball at Mesa State and Western Colorado State. He began his coaching career under Colorado head coach Ricardo Patton.
In a statement, Linder said, “I look forward to returning home to the state of Colorado and continuing to build this program into something everyone can be proud of.”
Hill was 86-98 in six seasons at UNC.
STORRS, Conn. (AP) Azura Stevens, the leading scorer and rebounder for Duke, has decided to transfer to UConn.
The 6-foot-6 sophomore center from Raleigh, North Carolina will sit out next season and will have two years of eligibility remaining when the 2017-18 season begins the school announced Saturday.
Stevens averaged 18.9 points and 9.6 rebounds a game and was named to the ACC’s all-conference first team.
She was second in the league both scoring and rebounding.
UConn coach Geno Auriemma said Saturday that he normally doesn’t get involved in transfer situations, but Stevens convinced him that Storrs would be the right place for her going forward.
SOUTH BEND, Ind. (AP) Forward V.J. Beachem has withdrawn his name from the NBA draft and will return to Notre Dame for his senior season.
Beachem made the announcement Sunday night on Twitter, writing that he was thankful for the opportunity to experience the NBA draft process and invitations to work out for teams, “but now I’m ready to lead [Notre Dame]. #IMBACK.”
The 6-foot-8, 200-pound forward finished third on the team in scoring, averaging 12.0 points and 3.9 rebounds as the Irish finished 24-12. He was at his best in the NCAA Tournament, when he averaged 17.5 points as the Irish advanced to the Elite Eight for a second straight year.
Coach Mike Brey sent a Tweet saying he was thrilled Beachem will return.