Weekend preview: Who breaks loose in the Atlantic 10?

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Who proves themselves to be elite in the Atlantic 10 this weekend?

If there was a conference that had a collective of bigger games this weekend, I’ve yet to see it. Three games, six teams, with conference title hopes play on Saturday. St. Joseph’s (14-9, 5-5) at La Salle (17-6, 7-3), Temple (16-8, 5-5) at UMass (16-7, 6-4), and Charlotte (18-6, 6-4) at St. Louis (18-5, 7-2).

The 49ers/Billikens match-up is the biggest. St. Louis could further themselves in the league race with a win and create some space and get themselves locked with VCU at the top. It’s truly a testament to the late Rick Majerus with what this St. Louis team has done. They’re his recruits and coach Jim Crews has really been able to blend his own philosophy in with Majerus’ system. That game could definitely be a final possession game.

La Salle and UMass have the most to lose this weekend, obviously, with losses crippling their hopes at a regular season conference championship. This is an especially big game for Temple, who has been exposed recently for not having much offense outside of Khalif Wyatt.

How much does Pitt have left?

It’s not that this team doesn’t have the talent or the will, they’ve just played arguably the toughest six-game stretch of anyone since conference play started.

Starting two weeks ago, they lost 64-61 at Louisville, then beat Syracuse 65-55. The Panthers followed that by beating Cincinnati 62-52. Now Jamie Dixon’s gang is playing No. 16 Marquette on Saturday, with Notre Dame to follow. This stretch could decide their NCAA tournament fate in terms of seeding. I’d say they’re definitely in, so it’s all about not getting beaten down before the Big East Conference tournament starts

Because, if you were counting, Pitt is playing their fourth ranked team in five games and will have played five ranked teams in six games when this stretch is done.

There has to be a delicate balance for Dixon. Don’t allow Steven Adams to get too beat up. Let Tray Woodall get his reps but limit the contact. The younger players need their burn. But obviously, this is about wins. Get them, and I’m sure the college kids can get themselves pumped up for the postseason.

Virginia could sweep North Carolina for first time in over a decade on Saturday

This is more significant than you might think.

These two teams have played at least twice a season seven times in the last 11 years. In that time, the Cavaliers haven’t beaten them twice in a season since 2001-02, winning 71-67 in the Dean Dome and 75-63 at home.

The Cavaliers have one of the most polarizing resumes when it comes to The Bubble this season and North Carolina has dealt with injuries and youth in trying to get back to the NCAA Tournament.

If the Tar Heels do it, it may have to come from their already thin front court. James Michael McAdoo (14.6 points per game) and Reggie Bullock (14.1) have held this team together due to lackluster guard play all season and will need to continue to do so.

The thing about Virginia is, their six losses have really outweighed their 18 wins. L’s to Old Dominion, who have three wins on the season, as well as Delaware, George Mason and Wake Forest. The combined record of the six teams that have beat the Cavs is 69-78. That says something about them. Though they have wins against North Carolina State and Wisconsin, so who knows.

Can Miami keep it up?

Someone had to ask it, sorry.

The only reason we do is because the Hurricanes upcoming contest screams “trap game”.

After winning at Florida State, a tough place to win regardless of season, Miami now waits on a date with Virginia, an NCAA Tournament hopeful, at home. Before that, they go to Clemson, who at 13-11 and 5-7 in the ACC isn’t much to look at. But lest we all forget they pushed North Carolina State twice this season — 66-62 at NC State, 58-57 at home — and are 5-2 at home. The other home loss was just 71-66 to FSU.

So they know how to hold their on when in the friendly confines of Littlejohn Coliseum.

Devin Booker will have to lead as always, his 12.3 points and 7.9 rebounds pacing the Tigers, and Jordan Roper, Milton Jennings and K.J. Daniels all average at least a steal per game while Daniels, Jennings and Booker average over a block per game. The defense is there, it’s the offense that isn’t when they lose.

Follow David on Twitter at @David_Harten.

Texas Tech forward Zach Smith returns to school after withdrawing from NBA Draft

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Texas Tech forward Zach Smith will return for his senior season, the school confirmed on Monday.

The 6-foot-8 forward is one of the most intriguing athletes in college basketball as he’s been a double-figure scorer for the Red Raiders the past two seasons. As a junior, Smith put up 12.1 points, 7.2 rebounds and 1.4 blocks per game as he shot 50 percent from the field.

Three-point shooting was something that Smith improved dramatically last season as he increased it to 39 percent in a small sample size. If Smith can continue to show that he’s a perimeter shooting threat then he could be an ideal three-and-d candidate at the pro level.

By returning to Texas Tech, Smith gives head coach Chris Beard a potential all-league candidate who should be counted on to be a double-double threat next season.

 

Missouri lands five-star forward Jontay Porter

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Missouri has another member of the Porter family in the fold as forward Jontay Porter officially committed to the Tigers on Monday night.

Following in the footsteps of older brother Michael Porter Jr., and father Michael Porter Sr., Jontay is currently a member of the Class of 2018 who is rumored to be reclassifying to the Class of 2017.

A 6-foot-10 forward who was recently elevated to five-star status on Rivals.com, Porter is having a monster spring in the Nike EYBL with MoKan Elite. Porter has been one of the best players in the league, as he’s putting up 18.1 points and 12.7 rebounds per game while shooting 40 percent from three-point range.

If Jontay is able to join Missouri next season then he gives the Tigers another intriguing piece to play alongside his brother Michael, who is good enough to be a potential No. 1 pick in the 2018 NBA Draft.

Although Jontay isn’t the go-to player that his brother is, he could be a very effective SEC role player early in his career, as his ability to rebound and stretch the floor makes him an extremely intriguing piece on the floor.

Kevin Stallings is a tone-deaf clown

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Pitt guard Cameron Johnson is the most coveted transfer in college basketball this offseason.

The 6-foot-8 Johnson is coming off of a strong campaign with the Panthers in which he put up 11.9 points per game while shooting 42 percent from three-point range.

Not only is Johnson a proven double-figure scorer in a league like the ACC, but he’s eligible to play right away thanks to his graduation from Pitt. Johnson graduating from school in three years and missing one season due to injury also makes him the rare graduate transfer who has two seasons of eligibility remaining. So, not only can Johnson come in and make an immediate impact, but he’s also able to stay for another year after.

This sort of thing almost never happens, let alone with a 6-foot-8 shooter that could sway the national title race.

It’s why blueblood programs like Kentucky and UCLA are in hot pursuit of Johnson. It’s why another ACC school, reigning national champion North Carolina, is also intrigued by Johnson being on the market.

Except Johnson won’t be allowed to attend North Carolina, or any other school in the ACC, without first sitting out a season and losing one season of eligibility. At least that’s how things currently stand thanks to Pitt’s power over Johnson — despite Johnson graduating from the school and having no more formal educational ties to the school.

Here’s what Pitt said on the matter in a release to the News-Observer.

“Cameron Johnson and his father were informed of our policy as well as the appeals process when they elected to seek to transfer. They went through our transfer appeals process and were granted permission to contact ACC schools; however, the committee upheld the policy to limit immediate eligibility within the conference.

If Cameron were to transfer within the ACC, he would be eligible to receive financial aid immediately but would have to sit out a year of competition due to standard NCAA transfer regulations. Throughout this process, we have remained consistent to our department policy and we will continue to do so.”

Pitt head coach Kevin Stallings had a peculiar interview with the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette that was published about two weeks ago. During the interview, of which the full transcript was made public, Stallings went in-depth about Johnson’s transfer and the current state of college basketball. Stallings also made remarks about how the media holds programs accountable for trying to bully certain players.

Here’s a small sample of what Stallings had to say.

“But the unexpected departures are the things that are becoming more common than uncommon in college basketball. You have guys constantly trying to transfer up. You have guys going pro that have never played a minute of college basketball after they’ve sat out a year at a school. You have guys asking out of their letters of intent with frequency. We’re dealing in a landscape in college basketball right now that is as probably as difficult and peculiar as it’s ever been. It used to be if a kid signed his letter of intent and he wanted out of it, you had to play a year of junior-college ball to get out of it.

“The media didn’t basically force institutions to let people break a binding agreement. It’s kind of interesting now the media tries to put so much pressure on programs, whether it be athletic directors or coaches, saying ‘Well, the coaches can move.’ Well, hey, guess what? I’ve got a great big buyout in my deal that prevents me from moving. I’ve got something in my contract saying I can’t go to another league school. It’s not as easy for coaches to go. That’s everyone’s rationale — ‘Well, the coaches can leave.’ We’re dealing in an environment right now that is as fluid as it’s ever been. It’s just where we’re at in the whole thing with the unexpected departures.”

Stallings makes some sound points–particularly about coaches having buyouts and the general perception of coaching changes in basketball.

But Kevin Stallings mostly sounds like a tone-deaf clown here.

Nobody is going to feel sorry for a millionaire coach who willingly makes the decision to change jobs.

Nobody.

Especially if that same millionaire is comparing a choice to change jobs to the transfer decisions of unpaid student-athletes. It’s even more laughable now that Stallings is holding power over an unpaid student-athlete from going to play at another school because of purely basketball reasons.

Pitt and Stallings need to do the right thing and release Johnson to play at any school right away because Johnson has already done everything he needs to do to appease the program.

Things changed dramatically for Johnson during his three years at Pitt. He became one of the ACC’s better players and earned his degree. Johnson held up his end of the bargain when he signed his Letter of Intent.  Now Johnson just wants the chance improve his basketball future by playing with one of the nation’s elite programs.

Stallings can blame the current state of college basketball, the media, or whoever he wants for Johnson’s transfer from Pitt.

But Stallings also has to realize that he’s going to be the one who looks stupid if he continues to leave these restrictions in place for Johnson. Stallings already has a history of this sort of thing when he placed transfer restrictions on former player Sheldon Jeter. If Stallings continues to uphold transfer restrictions on Johnson, then he’s going to gain a permanent reputation in recruiting during a time when players continue to gain more freedom over their basketball futures.

If Johnson does happen to go to an ACC school like North Carolina, it’s not as if Pitt has any sort of competitive roster that is going to be fighting the Tar Heels for league supremacy during the next two seasons.

Stallings and Pitt need to just bite the bullet, let Johnson have his freedom, and hope it doesn’t come back to hurt them for one or two seasons in ACC play.

It surely beats the alternative of being labeled a head coach who limits player freedom after six players left Pitt during a single offseason. That type of burn lasts a lot longer than two years.

Presbyterian hires Wofford assistant Dustin Kerns as new head coach

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Presbyterian finally has its new head coach as the program is set to hire Wofford assistant coach Dustin Kerns, a source confirmed to NBCSports.com.

Kerns has been an assistant at Wofford for the past seven years during his second stint with the program. Also spending six seasons as an assistant coach at Santa Clara, the Tennessee native is getting his first shot at running his own program.

Finishing last in the Big South last season at 5-25 and 1-17 in conference play, Presbyterian is trying to rebuild after head coach Gregg Nibert resigned in April. Nibert was the head coach of the Blue Hens for 28 seasons, so Kerns is going to be a completely fresh start for the program.

Tennessee lands impact graduate transfer James Daniel

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Tennessee and head coach Rick Barnes earned a commitment from one of the top graduate transfers on the market on Monday when Howard guard James Daniel pledged to the Volunteers.

The 6-foot-0 Daniel was the nation’s leading scorer at 27.1 points per game his junior season in 2015-16. Daniel played in only two games last season as a left ankle injury caused him to have surgery.

With nearly 2,000 career points to his name, Daniel gives Tennessee an additional perimeter scorer who should come in and make an immediate impact right away. While Howard has low shooting percentages and a high usage rate during his time at Howard, it’ll be interesting to see how the year off and more talented teammates will alter his game.

If Howard can be a more efficient scorer in his final season, then he has a chance to be one of the better players for the Volunteers this season.