Victor Oladipo’s poetic milestone gives Indiana the Big Ten lead

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First, it was Duke’s rise to No. 1 after their terrific run through the non-conference schedule.

Then, it was the cavalcade of suitors for the top spot — Louisville, Duke again, Kansas, even Florida tossed themselves in the mix — that took turns using a few first-place votes as motivation for a losing streak.

Next came Michigan, as their ascendence to the top of the Big Ten standings, mowing through the weaker part of their Big Ten schedule, was halted when the Wolverines were knocked off in Bloomington.

And finally, it was Michigan State, who one writer (ahem, me) called the best team in the Big Ten after their deconstruction of Michigan last Tuesday night.

Through it all, Indiana has been there, winning games, producing two players worthy of all-american consideration and, after a thrilling, 72-68 win over No. 4 Michigan State in East Lansing, proving themselves quite worthy of their current No. 1 ranking while taking over sole possession of first-place in the Big Ten.

It hasn’t quite happened how we all predicted it would.

Cody Zeller, the consensus Preseason Player of the Year, has been excellent. But he’s also been overshadowed by Victor Oladipo, Indiana’s hyper-active defensive stopper who just so happens to show out in the biggest games of the season. On Tuesday night, Oladipo finished with 19 points, nine boards and five steals while playing a major role in Keith Appling’s devolvement into ‘overwhelmed freshmen’ mode and scoring the game-winning bucket — his 1,000th point as an Indiana Hoosier — on a tip-in with less than a minute left that gave the Hoosiers a 68-67 lead.

It’s fitting, really.

Poetic, even.

Oladipo was never supposed to be this good. He’d spent the last two seasons making a name for himself as a good defender that threw down some great dunks and couldn’t be trusted to shoot outside four feet. This season, he’s not only become Indiana’s best player and one of the team’s emotional leaders, but he’s developed a knack for making big plays in big moments and playing his best basketball in the games with the most on the line.

So of course, the guy that turned himself from a 20.8% three-point shooter into a 52.4% three-point shooter — a player who should have been complimented if he was even considered an NBA Draft afterthought that is now a virtual lock for the lottery — reached a scoring milestone on a hustle play that gave Indiana the lead for good in a game that puts them on the inside track for a Big Ten title.

And that’s precisely where Indiana sits right now.

They have a one-game lead over Michigan State in the Big Ten standings that, essentially, doubles as a two-game lead when it comes to seeding. The Hoosiers swept the Spartans meaning they have the tie-breaker for the No. 1 seed in the Big Ten tournament. And if things go as expected, it would mean that Indiana would avoid having to play Michigan or Michigan State until the Big Ten title game.

But that’s getting ahead of ourselves.

What matters right now is that Indiana went on the road and beat the latest Flavor of the Week.

Any doubt about the Hoosiers that had crept into your mind after the Illinois, or after the Wisconsin loss, or the Butler loss, or at any point during the season can be put to rest.

It may not be how they drew it up, but who are we to argue with the results?

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.