Late Night Snacks: Bucknell lone team to punch NCAA tournament ticket Wednesday

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Game of the Day: Bucknell 64, Lafayette 56

There was only one automatic berth to be earned Wednesday and it was Bucknell’s after winning the Patriot League championship. As expected, center Mike Muscala was the centerpiece for the Bison with another double-double, his 22nd of the year. Bucknell will now wait until Selection Sunday to see who it draws in the NCAA tournament, but you can be assured that no high-major team is hoping to have to face them in the Round of 64.

Bucknell already went to Purdue to start the season and got a five-point win in West Lafayette, then followed that up with a solid wins over George Mason and La Salle. The Bison also played Missouri down to the wire, losing 66-64 on the road Jan. 5.

Important Outcomes

1. No. 19 Syracuse 75, Seton Hall 63

Syracuse needed to break out of its offensive slump and it did Wednesday night. The key to it was James Southerland, who stretched out the Pirate defense by hitting 6-of-9 from three-point range. With Southerland spacing the floor and Michael Carter-Williams dishing out 14 assists, Brandon Triche was able to get back in a groove with 17 points on 6-of-9 shooting. The task will be more difficult Thursday against Pittsburgh in the quarterfinal, though, a team that features one of the nation’s toughest defenses.

2. Villanova 66, St. John’s 53

Villanova’s win Wednesday made Selection Sunday a lot more comfortable, regardless of what happens from here on out in the Big East tournament. Had the Wildcats lost to St. John’s, their resume would likely still have been strong enough to make the tournament, but they would have had to sweat it out a bit. Now coach Jay Wright & Co. can relax and see where they end up.

3. Bethune-Cookman 70, Norfolk State 68

Norfolk State was the talk of college basketball last season when it entered the NCAA tournament as a 15-seed and knocked off No. 2 Missouri. It carried that momentum into this season, even without star Kyle O’Quinn, and ran the table for a perfect 16-0 record in the MEAC. But in the MEAC tournament, the Spartans were plagued by poor shooting and lost to No. 8 seed Bethune-Cookman, effectively ending their quest for another NCAA tournament berth.

Starred

1. Jahii Carson, Arizona State (34 points, 4 assists, 3 rebounds)

Arizona State needed a win to keep its NCAA tournament hopes alive and the man who has been the motor behind the Sun Devils’ resurgence was at it again against Stanford. Carson’s 34 points helped ASU outlast the Cardinal in overtime.

2. Anthony Bennett, UNLV (23 points, 10-of-14 FG, 7 rebounds)

Bennett was too much for an Air Force interior attack that couldn’t contain the National Freshman of the Year candidate. Bennett was getting to the rim and dunking with power, but was perhaps most impressive on the defensive end. He is often criticized for his play on that end of the floor, but he played with energy around the rim and stepping out toward the perimeter Wednesday.

3. Mike Muscala, Bucknell (20 points, 11 rebounds)

Muscala is a pro prospect because he can put up a double-double every night. He had another Wednesday to help his team clinch an automatic berth into the NCAA tournament.

Struggled

1. Grambling State (32 percent FG, Finish season 0-28)

The Tigers looked like they had a chance to get their first win of the season and advance in the SWAC tournament, but were unable to come together late to pull out a win against Alabama A&M. Despite the loss, there is one bright spot, if you’d like to call it that. Wednesday’s loss was the first by single digits this season.

2. Jack Cooley, Notre Dame (2 points, 1-of-6 FG)

He still managed to grab nine rebounds, but Cooley was limited on the offensive end Wednesday night. Tom Knight produced to fill in the gaps with 18 points, but the Irish will need Cooley to get back on track if they want to advance in the Big East tournament.

3. Jamal Branch, St. John’s (2 points, 0-of-3 FG, 1 assists, 5 TOs)

Branch has steadily gotten more minutes at the point guard spot since becoming eligible after transferring from Texas A&M. Wednesday night, though, he was not at his best. The normally crafty guard with a high basketball IQ turned the ball over five times with just one assist.

Daniel Martin is a writer and editor at JohnnyJungle.com, covering St. John’s. You can find him on Twitter:@DanielJMartin_

4-star center commits to Purdue

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With Vince Edwards and Isaac Haas entering their senior seasons, adding front court options in the 2018 class was something that Purdue needed to do. Purdue added its second front court commitment in the 2018 class Tuesday evening, as four-star center Emmanuel Dowuona reportedly made his pledge. News of Dowuona’s commitment was first reported by the Lafayette Journal & Courier.

Dowuona, a 6-foot-11 big man who attends Westwood Christian School in Miami, joins fellow four-star prospect Trevion Williams in Purdue’s 2018 class to date.

Dowuona’s commitment comes just days before he was reportedly to visit Tennessee. Among the other programs to have offered Duwuona were Clemson, Georgia Tech, Miami and UConn.

Dowuona played for the Team Breakdown program on the Under Armour Association circuit during the summer, averaging 7.9 points, 7.0 rebounds and 2.1 blocks per game while shooting 59.3 percent from the field. While still a bit raw offensively, the native of Ghana provides value as a defender and rebounder. Dowuona is joining a program that during Painter’s tenure as head coach has done a good job of developing big men.

Dowuona and the aforementioned Williams will look to compete for playing time in 2018-19 alongside current redshirt junior Jacquil Taylor and 7-foot-3 redshirt freshman center Matt Haarms.

Dayton freshman Toppin ineligible for 2017-18 season

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Dayton announced Tuesday afternoon that one of the program’s incoming freshmen will not be eligible to compete this season. 6-foot-8 forward Obadiah Toppin has been ruled by the NCAA to have not met initial eligibility requirements, and he will have to sit out the 2017-18 season as a result.

Toppin will be allowed to remain a member of the team and participate in practices, and he will have four seasons of eligibility remaining beginning with the 2018-19 season. While the NCAA’s decision leaves the Flyers short a front court option in head coach Anthony Grant’s first season at the helm, it did not come as a surprise.

“We knew this was a possible scenario for Obi early on in the recruiting process,” Grant said in the release. “And if it came to pass, we saw this as a chance for him to utilize this year acclimate as a student and enhance his strength and skill as an academic redshirt. This is a great opportunity for Obi to develop as a player and student over the next 12 months, and prepare himself for a very successful college career.”

Toppin, who averaged 17 points and eight rebounds per game at Mt. Zion Academy last season, is one of five freshmen who have joined the program. Matej Svoboda and Jordan Pierce will look to earn minutes alongside returnees Josh Cunningham and Xeyrius Williams, and the same can be said for redshirt freshman Kostas Antetokounmpo.

Toppin being declared ineligible is the third hit Dayton has taken to its front court this offseason. Ryan Mikesell, who played in 32 games last season, will redshirt after undergoing two hip surgeries. And Sam Miller, who was also part of the team’s front court rotation last season, was suspended from school for the fall semester after he was arrested during the summer.

Four-star forward commits to Ohio State

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Ohio State is on the board with regards to the 2018 recruiting class, as Chris Holtmann’s program received a much-needed verbal commitment from four-star forward Jaedon LeDee. The 6-foot-9 Houston native announced his decision via his Twitter account Tuesday afternoon.

In receiving a verbal commitment from LeDee, Ohio State beat out California, Houston, Iowa State, LSU, Oklahoma, Texas A&M and UCLA. The Buckeyes hosted LeDee for his official visit the weekend of September 9, which coincided with the football team’s matchup with Oklahoma. Originally scheduled to visit Cal this past weekend, LeDee instead visited Texas A&M.

With LeDee’s commitment to Ohio State, visits to LSU (September 30) and UCLA (October 6) are likely off the board.

Currently attending the Kincaid School, LeDee played for the Texas PRO grassroots program on the adidas Uprising circuit this summer. The four-star prospect will likely be a combo forward for Ohio State, playing either the three or the four depending on the matchup.

With Jae’Sean Tate beginning his senior season and Keita Bates-Diop being a redshirt junior, Ohio State had a need to address in the front court. In landing a verbal pledge from Jaedon LeDee, the Buckeyes have done just that.

Among the front court players who will have eligibility remaining beyond the 2017-18 season are Bates-Diop, current sophomores Micah Potter and Andre Wesson, and freshmen Kaleb Wesson and Kyle Young.

The Pac-12 is foolish for scheduling Arizona-UCLA once during the regular season

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Last month, I wrote about one of the more troubling trends in college basketball: Teams steering away from playing the games that fans are going to care about the most.

It was the result of Georgetown head coach Patrick Ewing stating publicly that he was “not thinking about Maryland” after the rivalry between the DMV’s two most well-known programs went by the wayside.

Ewing isn’t the only coach that is culpable here. Kansas and Missouri don’t play. Kansas and Wichita State don’t play, either. Duke and Maryland don’t play. Ohio State doesn’t play Cincinnati, Xavier or Dayton. It goes on and on.

But the blame can no longer only be given to the coaches that schedule to protect themselves and/or their program.

The conferences deserve some criticism as well. Take, for instance, the Pac-12, who released their schedule recently after deciding that Arizona, a contender for the preseason No. 1 team in the country, should only play UCLA and USC, the only two teams that have a realistic chance of upending the Wildcats for the Pac-12 crown, once apiece.

Not only that, but the games will be played in Tucson, an incredible advantage for Sean Miller’s club as they pursue the league’s regular season title.

Look, I get it. There are 12 teams in the league and there is an 18-game schedule. Each team in the league is going to play four of their 11 league foes just once. It’s simple math. But the answer should never, ever be to schedule the Arizona schools and the Southern California schools just once.

The reasoning is simple: Arizona and UCLA are the two biggest brands in the league. When they play it will draw more interest than when any other two teams in the conference play, and that’s something the conference should be trying to capitalize on. It takes a lot to convince anyone on the east coast to stay up to watch a Pac-12 basketball game. I cover this sport for a living and I have a hard time making it all the way through a 10 p.m. ET tip. When a two-year old is going to be screaming at me to make breakfast at 6:30 a.m., do I really want to stay up to watch Arizona blow out Washington or UCLA to beat up on Cal?

The Pac-12 should do everything they can to ensure that Arizona and UCLA play twice every season.

That is even more true this year. Arizona might be the best team in the country and they might have the No. 1 pick in the 2018 NBA Draft on their roster in Deandre Ayton. UCLA is a top 15 team that just so happens to have Liangelo Ball, the worst of the three Ball brothers and potentially the last one to matriculate through the college ranks. The seemingly inevitable LaVar Ball blow-up is something we all will be watching patiently to see.

Should I mention the simmering hatred between Sean Miller and Steve Alford as they continually compete for the best prospects on the west coast?

And that’s before you factor in that USC is the second-best team in the league, and anyone that UCLA plays twice, USC will also play twice.

I’ll be sure to watch a number of Oregon games this season, and I think that Stanford, Oregon State and Colorado all have the pieces to sneak up on some people this year. I’ll be sure to check in on them a couple times as well.

But the games that I’ll have circled on my calendar, the games I’ll be excited about watching, are between Arizona, UCLA and USC.

By scheduling the Arizona schools and the Southern California schools just once during the regular season, the Pac-12 cost themselves a third of that inventory.

That doesn’t seems like the smartest way to run a business conference.

But hey, if conference realignment and the development of conference-only networks taught us anything, it’s that major college athletics are all about competitive balance over those advertising dollars.

Vanderbilt lands commitment from Aaron Nesmith

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Vanderbilt landed their first commitment in the Class of 2018 with four-star wing Aaron Nesmith.

Nesmith is a native of South Carolina, and the Commodores beat out South Carolina for his services. At 6-foot-6, Nesmith is the kind of defensive presence and athlete that Vandy will need to replace Jeff Roberson, who will be graduating this season.

This is a critical class for Bryce Drew, who is squarely in the mix for five-star guards Darius Garland and Romeo Langford. Nesmith isn’t on that level, but he will be a nice piece for Vandy for four years.