Saint Mary's College takes on Brigham Young University in Moraga

Creighton/Saint Mary’s headlines Ramada Bracketbusters event

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The Ramada Bracketbusters event is one that’s had its fair share of detractors in recent years, and this will be the final season of the event. While the event did help mid-major programs from a scheduling standpoint there was also the feeling that Bracketbusters became a bit too bloated, and the games tended to serve more as an elimination game than anything.

But regardless of how fans may feel about the event there are some very important games on the slate. Here are the five most important games on the Ramada Bracketbusters schedule.

1) Creighton at Saint Mary’s (Saturday, 6:00 p.m. on ESPN) 

Without a doubt this is the marquee game of the event, with both teams in position to greatly benefit from a victory. Creighton is probably a safe bet to get to the NCAA tournament as an at-large barring collapse, but one can never be too sure. Doug McDermott gets the national attention but the Bluejays don’t lack for weapons on the offensive end of the floor.

As for Saint Mary’s, with their best non-conference victory coming at the expense of Harvard the Gaels need this one. Matthew Dellavedova and company may get a third shot at Gonzaga in the WCC tournament title game, and between now and that possible March 11 date this is the best opportunity for Saint Mary’s to improve their resume.

2) North Dakota State at Akron (Friday, 7:00 p.m. on ESPN2) 

North Dakota State isn’t in the running for an at-large berth, ans with Taylor Braun out with a broken foot the goal for the Bison is to have him back in time for the Summit League tournament. As for Akron, Keith Dambrot’s team has won 17 straight games and they’ve got realistic hopes of receiving an at-large bid should they not win the MAC tournament.

Zeke Marshall is one of the best front court players in the event, and overall the Zips have the depth and experience needed to make waves in the NCAA tournament. This is a big five-day stretch for Akron, who visits Ohio on Wednesday night in a critical MAC battle, and they can help themselves from a seeding standpoint with two wins.

3) Detroit at Wichita State (Saturday, 4:00 p.m. on ESPN2) 

Currently leading the Missouri Valley race Wichita State is in good position to grab an at-large bid to the NCAA tournament should they need one. Detroit on the other hand will need to win the Horizon League’s automatic bid, as they did last season, if they’re to reach the Big Dance. Ray McCallum Jr. leads the way for a Detroit attack that’s both experienced and explosive, with multiple players capable of going off for 30+ points on any given night. Gregg Marshall’s Shockers will need to defend at the level that they have for much of the season, and they don’t lack for experience either. It will be interesting to see how Detroit deals with one of the loudest environments in college basketball.

4) Ohio at Belmont (Saturday, 10:00 p.m. on ESPN2) 

The best point guard matchup in Bracketbusters may be the one between South Dakota State’s Nate Wolters and Murray State’s Isaiah Canaan, but this one isn’t too shabby either. Ohio’s D.J. Cooper takes on Belmont’s Kerron Johnson, with both players being just as good when it comes to scoring as they are setting up their teammates.

Both the Bobcats and Bruins have multiple offensive weapons, and both have been very good defensively when it comes to forcing turnovers. A win for either team would be a valuable Top 100 victory, which can only help from a seeding standpoint should either (or both) reach the NCAA tournament.

5) Stephen F. Austin at Long Beach State (Friday, 9:00 p.m. on ESPNU)  

While the Southland-leading Lumberjacks do have an impressive 22-3 record it’s important to note two things: four of those wins came over non-Division I opponents (which makes them 18-3 for selection committee evaluation purposes) and they have an overall strength of schedule that ranks 313th according to warrennolan.com. With that in mind, Danny Kaspar’s team can definitely use a win at Long Beach State to help their seeding prospects.

The 49ers played a brutal non-conference schedule without key transfers Tony Freeland and Keala King, and the combination of those two with Mike Caffey and James Ennis will make things difficult for a Stephen F. Austin team allowing just 49.7 points per game.

Raphielle also writes for the NBE Basketball Report and can be followed on Twitter at @raphiellej.

Four-star 2017 shooting guard commits to Virginia Tech

Virginia Tech head coach Buzz Williams celebrates a play in the first half of an NCAA college basketball game against Virginia, Monday, Jan. 4, 2016, in Blacksburg, Va. (Matt Gentry/The Roanoke Times via AP) LOCAL STATIONS OUT; LOCAL INTERNET OUT; LOCAL PRINT OUT (SALEM TIMES REGISTER; FINCASTLE HERALD; CHRISTIANSBURG NEWS MESSENGER; RADFORD NEWS JOURNAL; ROANOKE STAR SENTINEL; MANDATORY CREDIT
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Recruiting, and on-court results, have picked up at Virginia Tech since Buzz Williams took over as head coach. In his second year at the helm the Hokies won ten conference games, and in reaching the Postseason NIT made their first postseason appearance since 2011.

Thursday night Virginia Tech landed its first verbal commitment in the Class of 2017, as four-star shooting guard Nickeil Alexander-Walker made his pledge.

The 6-foot-5 Alexander-Walker, who’s ranked 91st in his class by Rivals.com, also took official visits to Maryland and USC before making his pledge to the ACC program. Alexander-Walker attends Hamilton Heights Christian Academy in Chattanooga, Tennessee, but as a native of Canada plays his grassroots basketball for the Canada Elite program on the Under Armour Association circuit.

Good with either hand, Alexander-Walker can play either on or off the basketball. And that versatility should serve him well in a system that places a high value on “switch-ables,” or players who can fill multiple roles.

The Canada connection paid off for Virginia Tech in the recruitment of Alexander-Walker, with assistant coach Jamie McNeilly being a native of the country himself and having a connection to the Walker family. The Hokies will lose two perimeter players at the end of the 2016-17 season in Devin Wilson and Seth Allen, which will give Alexander-Walker the opportunity to earn minutes as a freshman.

Oakland lands former Oklahoma State guard Clark

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When point guard Stevie Clark began his career at Oklahoma State in 2013, the Top 100 prospect was expected by many to be an impact player for the Cowboys. Things didn’t go as planned however, as off-court issues ultimately led to Clark’s dismissal from the program before his sophomore season. Add in a lawsuit filed by Clark in which he alleged that he was forced by the school to take psychotropic drugs, and it’s safe to say that his time in Stillwater was anything but smooth.

Clark ultimately landed at Arkansas Baptist College, and on Thursday it was reported by the Detroit Free Press that he’s committed to Oakland University to play for head coach Greg Kampe. Clark joins a program with an immediate need at the point, with All-American Kahlil Felder having entered the NBA Draft and hired an agent as well.

The obvious question regarding Clark is whether or not he’s managed to take care of business off the court, and in an interview with Mark Snyder of the Free Press the Oklahoma native made note of the benefits of getting away from home for college.

Playing in Rochester, far from his home, will serve him well, he said.

“Anywhere away from home is the best thing,” Clark said. “It’s just hard balancing everything being close to home.”

Clark will be one of the options Kampe has to choose from at the point, with incoming freshmen Brailen Neely and Billy Thomas also among the new arrivals, and sophomore Jaevin Cumberland looking to earn more playing time than the 5.6 minutes per contest he averaged as a freshman.

Creighton point guard Watson Jr. to return for senior season

Creighton's Maurice Watson Jr. (10) reacts after scoring during the second half of an NCAA college basketball game against Xavier in Omaha, Neb., Tuesday, Feb. 9, 2016. Creighton won 70-56. (AP Photo/Nati Harnik)
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Creighton’s chances of moving up the Big East standings and returning to the NCAA tournament for the first time since 2014 improved a great deal Thursday, as starting point guard Maurice Watson Jr. announced that he will be returning for his senior season. Watson, who began his college career at Boston University, entered his name into the NBA Draft pool without hiring an agent but decided that another year in Omaha would be best for him.

Watson was one of the most impactful transfers in the country last season, as his play at the point was a major factor in the Bluejays winning 20 games and going 9-9 in conference play after being picked to finish eighth in the Big East preseason poll. Watson averaged 14.1 points, 3.4 rebounds and 6.5 assists per game last season, earning second team All-Big East honors.

With Watson’s return the Bluejays will welcome back three of their top four scorers from last season, with center Geoffrey Groselle being the lone departure. Head coach Greg McDermott adds a talented shooting guard in Marcus Foster, who sat out last season after transferring in from Kansas State. With Watson and Foster working together, Creighton will have a formidable perimeter tandem leading the way in 2016-17 with the likes of forward Cole Huff and guard Isaiah Zierden also being key contributors.

In addition to what Watson can provide in games he’ll also serve as a good mentor for Kaleb Joseph, who will have to sit out next season after transferring in from Syracuse. Joseph, who will have two seasons of eligibility remaining, fell out of the rotation as a sophomore so the year in residency should benefit him as he works towards grabbing the reins in 2017-18.

h/t ESPN.com

UConn, four-star 2017 big man Brown part ways

Brown, Zach
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Back in mid-January UConn made waves on the recruiting trail by securing a verbal commitment from 7-foot-1 center Zach Brown, a player seen by many as one of the top prospects in the Class of 2017. That partnership came to an end Thursday, as the two parties decided to part ways. News of the mutual decision was first reported by Scout.com.

The Miami native is currently ranked 28th in the Class of 2017 by Rivals.com, and Thursday’s news opens up a spot in the front court that UConn head coach Kevin Ollie and his staff will now have to fill. Amida Brimah, who’s currently going through the NBA pre-Draft process, will be a senior next season should he return to Storrs as will Kentan Facey.

Among the interior options who will have eligibility remaining beyond next season for the Huskies are sophomore Steven Enoch and incoming freshmen Mamadou Diarra and Juwan Durham.

UConn was in the running for 2016 power forward Taurean Thompson, but multiple outlets have the Brewster Academy product considering Michigan State (which added UNLV grad transfer Ben Carter Wednesday), Seton Hall and Syracuse at this point in his recruitment.

UCF lands commitment from transfer Terrell Allen

New UCF men's NCAA college basketball coach Johnny Dawkins speaks at his introductory press conference Thursday, March 24, 2016 in Orlando, Fla. (Jacob Langston/Orlando Sentinel via AP) MAGS OUT; NO SALES; MANDATORY CREDIT
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Having already landed one transfer in former Michigan guard Aubrey Dawkins (the new head coach’s son), UCF landed a second Thursday afternoon as former Drexel guard Terrell Allen announced that he’ll finish out his college career playing for Johnny Dawkins.

Allen, a CAA All-Rookie Team selection in his lone season at Drexel, announced the news by way of his Twitter account. After sitting out the 2016-17 season per NCAA transfer rules, Allen will have three seasons of eligibility remaining.

On a team that struggled throughout the 2015-16 season, winning just six games, Allen averaged 9.8 points, 3.0 rebounds and 3.5 assists in 32.5 minutes of action per game. The 6-foot-2 point guard finished the season ranked in the top ten in the CAA in both assists and assist-to-turnover ratio, with his assist tally ranking eighth and his A/T ratio of 1.9 placing him seventh.

With B.J. Taylor entering his junior season and Jeremy Carter-Sheppard joining the ranks this summer, the addition of Allen gives UCF another option at the point for the 2017-18 campaign.