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.

Washington’s Thybulle returning for senior season

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Matisse Thybulle will return to Washington for his senior season after contemplating declaring for the NBA draft following a junior campaign in which he was named the Pac-12 defensive player of the year.

“The NBA is really enticing and it was definitely something that I seriously considered when the season was over,” Thybulle told the Seattle Times. “I talked it over with my family and we came to the conclusion that it would be in my best interest to stay and get my degree (in communications) and grow as a basketball player and take this last year to mature and fine tune everything so I can be fully prepared to take that next step when it’s time.”

The 6-foot-5 guard averaged 11.2 points, 2.9 rebounds, 2.0 assists and 3.0 steals per game last season. He shot 44.5 percent from the field and 36.5 percent from 3-point range.

“I talked to coach (Mike Hopkins) and he gave me some good advice that was honestly something that helped in the grand scheme of things,” Thybulle said. “He told me that if I do it (enter the draft), then I should be all in because that’s what I’m going to be up against is a whole bunch of guys fighting for their lives. He thought it would be a better idea for me to stay in school until I’m at that point.”

Washington is awaiting the decision of Noah Dickerson, who declared for the draft but has not hired an agent. The 6-foot-8 averaged 15.5 points and 8.4 rebounds last season.

Koby McEwen transferring to Marquette

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Steve Wojciechowski added a significant piece to his 2019-20 team over the weekend.

Koby McEwen announced his intention to transfer to Marquette from Utah State late Sunday evening.

“I would like to thank God, my family, inner circle and all the schools/coaches that recruited me during this process!” McEwen tweeted. “With that being said, I’m proud to announce that I’ll be furthering my college career at Marquette University.”

McEwen picked the Golden Eagles over fellow finalists Creighton and Grand Canyon after he decided to transfer when the Aggies announced South Dakota coach Craig Smith was taking over the program last month. The 6-foot-4 guard averaged 15.6 points, 5.4 rebounds and 3.2 assists per game while shooting 40 percent from the field and 30 percent from 3-point range as a sophomore.

After sitting out the upcoming season, McEwen will have to years of eligibility remaining. Marquette went 21-14 last season, but missed the NCAA tournament for the third time in Wojciechowski’s four years in Milwaukee.

Minnesota adds Vanderbilt transfer Payton Willis

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Minnesota has added some depth for the future.

The Golden Gophers received a pledge from Vanderbilt transfer Payton Willis over the weekend, giving him a guard with two seasons of eligibility remaining starting in 2019-20.

Willis will sit out the upcoming season under NCAA transfer rules.

The 6-foot-4 guard played a limited role in two seasons in Nashville, never averaging more than 18. 5 minutes or 5.2 points per game. He scored in double figures in three games as a sophomore.

Willis was a top-150 prospect in the Class of 2016 coming out of Fayetteville, Ark. with offers from the likes of Tulsa, Rice and Dayton. Vandy and Minnesota were his two high-major offers.

After being ranked in the top-15, Minnesota was beset by injury and suspensions last season as they limped to the finish line in a 15-17 season that featured losses in 12 of its last 13 games.

Richard Pitino still has two available scholarships for the 2018-19 campaign.

Report: Quade Green returning to Kentucky

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John Calipari just landed a critical recruit for 2018-19, and he was already on the roster.

Quade Green, who averaged 25 minutes per game last season, is returning to Kentucky for his sophomore season, his mother told the Lexington Herald-Leader on Monday.

Given that six Wildcat players have entered the draft (Kevin Knox, Shai Gilgeous-Alexander and Hami Diallo are signing with agents), getting the 6-foot point guard back for a second season is a massive deal for Calipari and Co. The Wildcats have always been at their best under Calipari with returning players as the cornerstones of the roster with talented one-and-dones providing the extra boost. Getting one such returner at the point guard position is even more critical.

Green, who came to Kentucky as a five-star recruit last year, averaged 9.3 points and 2.7 assists per game while shooting 45.1 percent from the field and a respectable 37.1 percent from 3-point range, an area where Kentucky continually needs help.

With Green back in the fold, Kentucky will now await the decisions of PJ Washington, Wenyen Gabriel and Jarred Vanderbilt, who are all going through the pre-draft process without hiring agents, which will potentially allow them to return to school and bolster a Kentucky roster has the look of a top-five team.

CBT Podcast: NBA Draft Early Entry Deadline: Winners, losers and who has the most on the line?

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The NBA Draft Early Entry Deadline came and went on Sunday night, meaning there are now roughly 60 college players that have signed with an agent and another 100 or so that have declared for the draft while retaining their college eligibility. Who were the winners? Who were the losers? Who has the most on the line? Sam Vecenie of the Game Theory podcast joined Rob Dauster to talk through all of it. The rundown:

OPEN: What do NBA teams value in players these days?

10:00: Villanova has more on the line during this testing the water process than anyone

19:00: Just how important was De’Andre Hunter’s decision to return to Virginia

25:25: Gonzaga getting Rui and Killian Tillie back makes them a title favorite

32:10: Nevada has a top ten season on the line with the Martin twins and Jordan Caroline

36:15: #RANTALERT – The decision to turn pro is so much more complicated than “is he a first round pick”

48:30: Rapid fire: Maryland, Kansas, Syracuse, Nebraska, Purdue and Michigan. What do they have on the line?