Five Thoughts: James Southerland, Louisville’s struggles, Vegas in March?

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James Southerland’s impact: One of the reasons that the Syracuse offense bogged down while James Southerland was dealing with clearing up his academic issues was that they suddenly lacked perimeter shooting. The Orange don’t have much in the way of an interior presence offensively, which puts an emphasis on penetration for them, especially with a player like Michael Carter-Williams. Having a sharp-shooter on the perimeter only helps to create space. You want proof? Southerland is by far the favorite target of MCW.

But what makes Southerland so important — and why he changes Syracuse so much as a team — is that he’s not just a jump shooter. He also happens to be a rangy, 6-foot-9 athlete that has just about the same affect in Jim Boeheim’s 2-3 zone as a guy like CJ Fair or Jerami Grant. He’s the perfect player to put on the wing. With Southerland out, Syracuse was forced to use Trevor Cooney if they wanted to upgrade their shooting, and that meant that either Brandon Triche or MCW would have to slide to the back-line of their zone. For a defense predicated on length and athleticism, that’s a massive blow.

With Louisville struggling, Syracuse with Southerland back in the mix looks like the favorite to win the Big East.

Speaking of Louisville: The loss to Notre Dame was just a microcosm of an issue that has been plaguing the Cardinals this season: they simply cannot execute down the stretch, and it’s largely the result of an inability to play in the half court. Everyone of their losses can be attributed to awful offense in end-game situations. There were the two turnovers in the final 30 seconds against Syracuse. There were the passes that went through Chane Behanan’s hands in the loss at Villanova. Louisville played horribly offensively all game long in their loss to Georgetown, but they had two chances at the end of the game to tie it and on both possessions, ended up with long, contested pull-up two-pointers. And that’s not even counting the ugly possessions that Louisville had late in some of the games that they actually won.

Against Notre Dame, Louisville seemingly had a chance to win at the end of each period and blew it. If Louisville can’t turn you over, they can’t score. It’s a serious issue for Rick Pitino’s team.

Indiana’s most impressive performance of the season: The Hoosiers looked as good as they have looked all season long in Sunday’s win at Ohio State. Victor Oladipo had a career-high. Cody Zeller played as aggressive as he has since Big Ten play started. The threes fell, the defense was tenacious and the Hoosiers won a grinder convincingly.

The last six words in that paragraph — “the Hoosiers won a grinder convincingly” — are the most important. The Hoosiers have built a rep for jumping out to big leads and spending the rest of the game trying to protect those leads. They haven’t been the kind of ‘closer’ that you want to see out of a national title contender. But the win over Ohio State had nothing to do with big runs or quick starters. The Hoosiers simply executed on every possession at both ends of the floor slowly but surely pushing their lead out to as much as 16 points.

Alex Oriakhi’s, instigator: I can’t condone the way that Oriakhi behaved this past week. In Tuesday’s loss to Texas A&M, there was one possession where he got tangled up with Fabyon Harris on a rebound and tossed him to the ground. In the win over Ole Miss on Saturday, he nearly started a full-on brawl when he intentionally tripped Reginald Buckner and then squared up to box Murphy Holloway.

You simply cannot do those things.

Missouri needs leadership. They need someone to light a fire under them emotionally. They need someone to carry them in road games. While I realize that Oriakhi may be trying to play that role — and is probably frustrated by the way that his team has performed this season — he’s going to need to find a different way to channel that intensity.

Vegas for Championship Week. Who’s down?: Over the course of an 11 day stretch in March, the Mountain West, the Pac-12, the WCC and the WAC will be hosting their conference tournaments in the City of Sin. I’ve already pitched my bosses, but I’m not sure that I would survive those 11 days.

You can find Rob on twitter @RobDauster.

N.C. State adds grad transfer Sam Hunt

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N.C. State added its fourth transfer this offseason. Like ex-Baylor guard Al Freeman, the latest one is eligible to play next season.

Sam Hunt, a double-digit scorer the past two seasons at North Carolina A&T, officially enrolled at North Carolina State on Monday morning.

“Sam is a great young man and will bring much needed depth to our backcourt,” N.C. State head coach Kevin Keatts said in a statement. “I want guys who are excited about being a part of our program and Sam really wants to be here.

“Sam is a combo guard that can space the floor with his ability to shoot the basketball. He is a good fit for the system and will bring a wealth of experience to our roster.”

Hunt, the 6-foot-2 guard, averaged 12.7 points per game last season, a dip from the 15.4 points per game he posted for the Aggies as a redshirt sophomore.

Hunt joins a roster that lost its three leading scorers from a season ago, one that ended 15-17 (4-14 ACC). Dennis Smith Jr. is a member of the Dallas Mavericks. Maverick Rowan also pursued a professional career and Terry Henderson was denied an additional year from the NCAA.

The Wolf Pack bring back forwards Abdul-Malik Abu and Omer Yurtseven as well as Torin Dorn.

Keatts, who took over the program after leading UNC Wilmington to back-to-back NCAA Tournaments, has already built for the future. UNC Wilmington transfer C.J. Bryce, 17.4 points, 5.4 rebounds and 3.0 assists per game for the Seahawks, has followed him to Raleigh. Utah transfer Devon Daniels committed to the Wolf Pack the same day as Bryce. Both will have to sit out next season due to NCAA transfer rules. Bryce will have two years of eligibility while Daniels will have three.

LaVar Ball stars in an uncomfortably entertaining segment on WWE’s Raw

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LaVar Ball’s statements and antics over this past year always seemed better suited a professional wrestling ring.

It was only natural that the patriarch of the Ball family — and the head of the Big Baller Brand — made an appearance on WWE’s Monday Night Raw at the Staples Center for an awkwardly entertaining segment with WWE Intercontinental Champion The Miz.

With sons, Lonzo — in his first appearance in the Staples Center as a member of the Los Angeles Lakers — and LaMelo looking on, LaVar was the center of attention. When The Miz mentioned something about a partnership between the two, the scripted interview went south. It resulted in LaVar saying nonsensical things like, “There’s only two dudes better than me, and I’m both of ’em!” before later taking off his shirt. When Dean Ambrose, a WWE superstar feuding with The Miz came out on to the ramp, LaVar didn’t quite grasp the concept that that was his cue to stop talking.

This segment was somehow entertaining and cringeworthy at the same time.

Now that Lonzo is beginning his NBA career, maybe it’s time LaVar try something different. A manager in the WWE may just be his true calling. He’s certainly had plenty of practice.

Maryland lands commitment from five-star 2018 forward

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Maryland added to its 2018 recruiting class with its second commit, the newest addition being a five-star in-state product.

Jalen Smith, a 6-foot-9 forward from Baltimore powerhouse Mount St. Joseph, committed to the Terrapins, making the announcement on Twitter.

“I believe that I can academically and athletically achieve my goals at home through my commitment to the University of Maryland … Go Terps,” he tweeted as part of a long passage.

Smith is listed as the No. 13 overall recruit in the Class of 2013 by Rivals. He joins four-star swingman Aaron Wiggins in Mark Turgeon’s current recruiting class.

Playing for Team Takeover on the Nike EYBL circuit, Smith is averaging 10.9 points, 5.6 rebounds, and 1.0 blocks per game.

Recent grad’s joyride reportedly did $100,000 of damages to Mizzou Arena

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A recent graduate and temporary employee of the University of Missouri took an early morning joy ride that reportedly could rack up around $100,000 to Mizzou Arena.

According to Dave Mater of the St. Louis Post-Dispatch, Nathaniel J. Contant, 23, who graduated from the school in December 2016, drove his Volkswagen Passat through a gate and eventually on to the floor of the 15,000-seat on-campus arena.

At 7:15 a.m. Sunday, MU police were dispatched to Mizzou Arena for a report of property damage. Officers determined that around 4 a.m., the suspect drove his vehicle through a closed gate on the south side of the arena. He ran through a garage door and drove into a dock area where he damaged several golf carts that were stored in the area. He also drove his car onto the basketball court. The man couldn’t leave through the area he used to enter the building, so he drove through the arena’s press gate.

Contant, unsurprisingly, is no longer an employee of the university. He’s being charged with second-degree burglary and first-degree property damage, both of which are felonies. He was released on a $4,500 bond.

The motive for this early-morning joyride remains unclear.

Despite the hype surrounding the upcoming Mizzou season — one that includes the debut of new head coach Cuonzo Martin and the projected No. 1 overall pick in the 2018 NBA Draft Michael Porter, Jr. — Twitter users couldn’t help but poke fun at the dismal recent history the Tigers have had.

(h/t Kansas City Star)

Vance Jackson transfers to New Mexico

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With more than a handful of departures this offseason, New Mexico is set to have a new-look roster for the 2017-18 season. On Monday, Paul Weir, now at the helm of the program, landed a player who should make an impact in the three remaining seasons of eligibility he has left.

Vance Jackson, who spent this past season at UConn, decided to make the move from Storrs to Albuquerque, picking the Lobos over Rutgers, San Diego State, TCU, and Washington.

The 6-foot-8 rising sophomore will have to sit out next year due to NCAA transfer rules before resuming his collegiate career in the fall of 2018.

“The coaches — they trust in me,” Jackson told Geoff Grammer of the Albuquerque Journal last month during his official campus visit. “We’re on the same page. They see a vision.”

Weir, who led New Mexico State this past season to a NCAA Tournament appearance in his one and only season as head coach, succeeded Craig Neal in April.

This offseason has been headlined by transfers, though, those mostly were about players leaving the program. Jackson is the second transfer to land at UNM with Akron’s Antino Jackson electing to use his final season of eligibility with the Lobos. Antino Jackson is a graduate transfer, allowing him to play immediately next season.

Vance Jackson, who was rated as the No. 80 overall player in the Class of 2016 by Rivals, averaged 8.1 points, 3.8 rebounds, and 1.4 assists per game while shooting just under 40 percent from three for the Huskies as a freshman.