Missouri Valley showdown headlines biggest bubble games of weekend

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With the calendar flipping to March it’s crunch time for teams whose NCAA tournament prospects aren’t locked in stone. Here are the five games that fans of teams on the bubble need to keep track of this weekend.

1) Wichita State at Creighton (Saturday, 2:00 p.m. on ESPN2) 

There will be a lot on the line when the Bluejays host the Shockers in Omaha. The winner grabs the Missouri Valley regular season title and the top seed in next weekend’s conference tournament, and there’s also the matter of neither team in position to feel completely satisfied with their respective NCAA tournament resumes. The two teams are separated by six spots in the RPI (Wichita State ranked 47th and Creighton 41st according to warrennolan.com) with each team having three Top 50 wins this season.

Wichita State won the first meeting by three despite having twice as many turnovers (14) as Creighton, due in large part to Bluejays other than Doug McDermott and Grant Gibbs shooting a combined 8-of-27 from the field. Carl Hall scored 17 points and grabbed 13 rebounds to lead four Shockers in double figures, and they’ll need that kind of balance on Saturday if they’re to complete the sweep of the season series.

2) Iowa State at Oklahoma (Saturday, 1:30 p.m.)

Iowa State had a major resume-building victory in their grasp on Monday night, only to see Kansas leave Ames with a 108-96 overtime win. That makes their trip to Norman all the more important, and the Sooners did their part with a stunning collapse at Texas on Wednesday night. Oklahoma has the better RPI (25) and one more Top 100 victory (seven) than the Cyclones, and their computer numbers are due in part to smart scheduling (they’ve played just five games against teams ranked 201 or worse; Iowa State’s played ten such games).

Iowa State rolled in the first meeting (83-64), shooting 51% from the field and knocking down 11 three-pointers at Hilton Coliseum. Will Clyburn scored 19 points and in total ten Cyclones managed to score. Oklahoma has to keep ISU from running their sets if they’re to return the favor in Norman.

3) No. 22 Butler at VCU (Saturday, 12:00 p.m. on ESPN2)

Brad Stevens’ Bulldogs have done enough in both the non-conference and Atlantic 10 to feel good about their NCAA tournament prospects. This one’s all about the Rams, whose overall resume doesn’t exactly match their standing within the A-10. The Rams have wins over Memphis, Belmont and Alabama to their credit, but the resume lacks wins over teams considered to be “locks” to reach the Big Dance.

This is the only regular season meeting between the two A-10 newcomers, and the key for both teams will be turnovers. If VCU can harass Butler and force them to cough up the basketball the Rams will be in good shape. But if Butler can take care of the basketball and control tempo as Saint Louis did (the Billikens are a bad matchup for both teams), Rotnei Clarke and company may leave Richmond with a valuable result.

4) Alabama at No. 8 Florida (Saturday, 12:00 p.m. on CBS)

Speaking of teams lacking wins over NCAA tournament locks, Alabama visits Gainesville with hopes of picking up a much-needed victory. Anthony Grant’s team has won 11 SEC games, but a closer look at their schedule reveals the fact that they have just one Top 50 victory (Kentucky) and they also have losses to Dayton, Mercer, Tulane and Auburn on the resume.

Is Florida in the conversation for a one-seed? At this rate who really knows, but at the very least they’ll have Will Yeguete back in the rotation. The Gators will be fine regardless of the outcome, but Alabama has a lot of work to do (and that likely includes a run in the SEC tournament) if they’re to return to the NCAA tournament.

5) Villanova at No. 23 Pittsburgh (Sunday, 12:00 p.m.)

The Wildcats suffered a damaging road loss to Seton Hall on Monday night, dropping a game they led by four with 27 seconds remaining. But this week gives Jay Wright’s team a shot at two quality wins before the Big East Championship, beginning with a trip to Pittsburgh to take on the Panthers. Villanova gets No. 7 Georgetown at home on Wednesday night but a win of this caliber would look very good on a resume that currently has just one quality road victory (at Connecticut).

Pittsburgh limited Villanova to just 43 points in the first meeting (neither team shot well; Villanova simply shot worse), and the Panthers also attempted 12 more free throws. Ryan Arcidiacono will need to exercise smart shot selection while also slowing down Pitt senior guard Tray Woodall, who scored 25 points in a win at St. John’s on Sunday.

Other Games of Note

– Colorado State at Boise State (Saturday, 8:00 p.m.)

Boise State’s profile is better than many think, and with their schedule to end the season the Broncos will have opportunities to make their case for inclusion in the NCAA tournament.

– No. 19 Memphis at UCF (Saturday, 1:00 p.m. on FSN) 

The Tigers have an impressive record but their loss at Xavier may have put them in position to need an undefeated run through Conference USA to feel comfortable in regards to an at-large bid.

– Connecticut at Cincinnati (Saturday, 2:00 p.m.) 

The Bearcats are reeling and need to turn things around before they end up on the wrong side of the bubble.

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

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.