Big Sky conference tournament preview

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Entering the season Montana and Weber State were expected to be the class of the Big Sky and that’s how the race played out, with Weber State’s loss at Montana State proving to be the difference in the race for the regular season crown. As a result it’s Montana who hosts the tournament and receives a bye to the semifinals, but with leading scorer Mathias Ward (foot) done for the year and Will Cherry banged up as well the Grizzlies have health issues to contend with. Weber State is the Big Sky’s deepest team and that could serve them well this weekend. Will the two Big Sky titans once again meet with a trip to the NCAA tournament on the line? That certainly seems to be the case.

(CLICK HERE to browse through all of our conference tournament previews)

The Bracket

Where: Missoula, Montana (Dahlberg Arena)

When: March 14th – March 16th

Final: March 16th, 9 p.m. (ESPNU)

Favorite: Weber State 

Even though Randy Rahe’s team won’t have home-court advantage they’re the favorite here due to their depth. Seven players play between 22 and 32 minutes per game with guards Davion Berry and Scott Bamforth leading the way, and the Wildcats have quality options inside such as veterans Kyle Tresnak and Frank Otis and freshman Joel Bolomboy.

Bolomboy and guard Gelaun Wheelwright are two of the best reserves in the Big Sky, and Weber State led the conference in many of the major statistical categories both offensively and defensively. A road game in the final against Montana will be difficult but they lost by just two points back on January 26 (76-74). Weber State’s more than capable of turning that result around, especially with Ward injured.

And if they lose?: Montana 

What needs to be pointed out about Wayne Tinkle’s team is that even with the injuries the Grizzlies still won the regular season title outright. A big reason why: junior wing Kareem Jamar, who was named Big Sky MVP. Jamar’s versatility makes him a matchup problem for just about any opponent they face, and if Cherry’s at full strength those two will be a handful on the perimeter.

But without Mathias Ward the interior depth, something that was an issue when Ward was healthy, becomes even more of a concern. Spencer Coleman and Eric Hutchison are two of the players Montana needs to step up if they’re to repeat as Big Sky tournament champions.

Sleepers: How about North Dakota? In their first season in the Big Sky North Dakota won 12 league games, and in guard Troy Huff they’ve got a player capable of carrying them to three straight wins. Montana State (who beat Weber State on January 24) and Northern Colorado (three straight wins) may be able to pull off an upset as well.

Studs: 

– G/F Kareem Jamar (Montana): The league MVP averages 14.2 points per game and ranks in the top ten in the Big Sky in assists (third) and assist-to-turnover ratio (seventh) as well.

– G/F Davion Berry (Weber State): The Cal-State Monterrey Bay transfer hit the ground running in his first season of Division I basketball, averaging 15.1 points and 3.6 assists per game.

– G/F Troy Huff (North Dakota): Huff is averaging 19.2 points, 7.1 rebounds and 2.3 steals per game for Brian Jones’ team.

Prediction: The two favorites will once again meet in the title game, but unlike last season look for Weber State to pick up the win on the road. 

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.