The most undertold storyline of this season is the injury bug: there are so many team across the country that are sitting back and waiting to see if they will get key players back — and fully healthy — by the time the tournament rolls around.
Duke. Florida. Oregon. Notre Dame. Lehigh.
It’s an epidemic.
But there is no team in the country that has more on the lineup when it comes to the successful healing of a couple of important pieces that Montana. The Grizzlies entered the season as one of the most popular mid-majors, and while dealing with the loss of star point guard Will Cherry to a broken foot for the first two months of the season, still managed to find a way to take a 15-1 record in the Big Sky into the final weeks of February.
But here’s the problem: not only did Cherry reinjure the foot this weekend in the BracketBusters game at Davidson, leading scorer Mathias Ward has a foot injury that could keep him out until the conference tournament. Here’s the latest:
“I just came down on someone’s foot wrong, twisted it and felt something pop,” Ward said Tuesday.
Doctors have told Ward he could possibly recover in time to play in the Big Sky tournament, which begins March 14 in either Missoula or Ogden.
“I’m hoping to come back sooner than that,” Ward said.
X-rays on Sunday, though, did not show a break and a more detailed look with a CT scan on Monday confirmed the X-rays.
“They actually said it looked exactly the same as my last checkup. (Jan. 28),” Cherry said.
Cherry said there is no timetable yet for his return.
It goes without saying, as good as Kareem Jamar is, if Montana is without two of their three best players, they are a completely different basketball team. When healthy, however, they have a chance to pull off an upset and win a game or two if they can get to the NCAA tournament.
Villanova landed a commitment from top 50 prospect Jermaine Samuels on Saturday.
Samuels is a tough and athletic 6-foot-5 wing that will remind many Wildcat fans of Josh Hart. He’s got the same kind of versatility and nose for the ball that will let him guard perimeter players as well as work in as a small-ball four. Players like this are a specialty of Jay Wright.
Samuels picked up an offer from Duke recently and also had Indiana, Kansas and Georgetown in his top five. Beating out blue-bloods for a prospect like this is quite the statement for Villanova, one that should tell you the reigning national champs are here to stay as a national power.
I want to thank God, my family & Coach Todd of X for helping me get to where I'm at now. I'm officially a Wildcat🔵⚪️ pic.twitter.com/ddsxSfxUZS
Syracuse has found their replacement for Malachi Richardson.
On Sunday, Nebraska transfer Andrew White committed to the Orange, picking Syracuse, in the end, over VCU. White is a graduate transfer who spent last season with Nebraska, where he averaged 16.2 points while shooting 41.2 percent from three. A top 50 prospect out of Virginia back in the Class of 2012, White played a limited role for Kansas his first two seasons in college.
This is a significant pickup for the Orange, one that legitimately puts them into the conversation as a Final Four contender and a threat to finish at or near the top of the ACC. Jim Boeheim has put together a roster full of talented, long and athletic front court players, but after Richardson declared for the NBA Draft as a one-and-done freshman, he was left with just two back court players on his roster.
Earlier this offseason, Cuse landed Colorado State grad transfer John Gillon, a 6-foot-1 combo-guard, to reinforce their back court. The addition of White gives them a lights-out shooter and a big-time scorer on the wing, something that would have been a major void on their roster.
With Paschal Chukwu getting eligible at the center spot and Tyler Lydon likely landing on every breakout player list this preseason, the Orange should be a markedly better team than the one that made their way to the Final Four last season.
Arizona landed their first commitment in the Class of 2017 on Friday night as point guard Alex Barcello pledged to Sean Miller and the Wildcats.
Barcello is a 6-foot-2 point guard from Tempe who plays his high school ball for Corona del Sol. He committed to the Wildcats on an official visit to the Tucson campus.
Barcello is a borderline top 100 prospect who sits at No. 123 in the Rivals top 150. He’s known for his ability to shoot, and he’s more of a combo-guard — i.e. shoot-first — than a point guard at times, but he’s a nice pickup and projects as a solid four-year player for the Wildcats.
Virginia, Indiana, Stanford and Butler were the other four schools on Barcello’s list.
Alex O’Connell knew exactly where he wanted to play his college ball, which is why, just two days after picking up an offer from Coach K and the Blue Devils, he became Duke’s first recruit in the Class of 2017.
O’Connell announced the on twitter on Friday afternoon:
O’Connell is a four-star prospect from Georgia that had a terrific summer, going from being a borderline top 75 prospect to a player that caught the interest of Duke, who, along with Kentucky, sit atop the college recruiting hierarchy. He’s an explosively athletic and lanky 6-foot-6 wing with three-point range on his jumper. He needs to add some weight and some strength — he’s listed as a crisp 175 pounds — but he has the tools, and the swagger, to develop into a very effective player in the ACC.
Is he a one-and-done prospect?
Probably not. In fact, since 2010, Duke has landed just two players that were rated lower than O’Connell: Antonio Vrankovic and Jack White. If you know who both of them are, you’re probably either Jon Scheyer or lying.
But what O’Connell is is a kid who put in the work to get better this past year and who has the skill set, the physical tools and work ethic to continue to improve. He may not be on Grayson Allen’s trajectory, but O’Connell has the makings of being an impact player for the Blue Devils for three or four years.
Shaka Smart has already landed himself a contract extension at Texas.
The school, according to the Austin American-Statesman, has given Shaka a one-year extension — through the 2022-23 season — and bumped his salary up to a cool $3 million, a raise of $100,000 annually.
Smart’s Longhorns went 20-13 last season and lost on a half court buzzer beater from Northern Iowa’s Paul Jespersen. It will be tough for Smart to match the success that he had last season, specifically because he lost senior point guard Isaiah Taylor to the professional ranks.
That said, the former VCU head man has been reeling in quite a bit of talent from the state of Texas — namely, Andrew Jones and Jarrett Allen — and is not all that far from turning the Longhorns back into a relevant member of the Big 12 title race.