SEC Vanderbilt Mississippi Basketball

Vanderbilt forward Sheldon Jeter elects to transfer

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Last May 6-7 forward Sheldon Jeter chose to attend Vanderbilt, picking the Commodores over Penn State and Wisconsin and South Carolina with Pittsburgh showing some interest late but never offering the Beaver Falls, Pa. native.

Jeter played 17.5 minutes per game as a freshman, averaging 5.5 points and 3.4 rebounds per game. And after one season in Nashville Jeter has decided to transfer, as announced by the school Friday afternoon.

“Sheldon has indicated that he’d like to play closer to home, and we wish him the best,” Vanderbilt head coach Kevin Stallings said in the release.

Even with Jeter’s decision to transfer the Commodores don’t lack for depth in the front court. Rod Odom (10.4 ppg, 4.5 rpg) and Josh Henderson (21 starts in 2012-13) both played prominent roles in the rotation last season and will return, as do Shelby Moats and James Siakam.

Vanderbilt also signed two solid forwards from Texas in the 2013 class, Damian Jones and Luke Kornet. With all of those players on board, it may have been tough for Jeter to see a significant bump in minutes had he not wanted to play closer to home.

As noted above Jeter received a scholarship offer from Penn State when going through the recruiting process, and it remains to be seen if head coach Patrick Chambers looks to make another run at Jeter.

In addition to rising sophomores Brandon Taylor and Donovon Jack the Nittany Lions will have freshmen Payton Banks and Julian Moore fighting for minutes this season.

As for Pittsburgh, the Panthers have five players capable of playing small forward but just three at the power forward and center positions. Senior Talib Zanna is the most experienced of the three, with junior college transfer Joseph Ochebo and freshman Mike Young being the others.

Obviously with no announced list from Jeter it’s anyone’s guess as to which schools he would be interested in. But with both major conference schools in the area likely having room for another front court player, he won’t lack for quality options.

Raphielle can be followed on Twitter at @raphiellej.

Battle 4 Atlantis title proves Syracuse will be relevant this season

rad Horrigan/The Courant via AP
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Michael Gbinije scored 20 points and Trevor Cooney added 15 points and five assists as Syracuse left the Bahamas with a title, beating No. 25 Texas A&M 74-67 in the finals of the Battle 4 Atlantis.

I guess it’s time to start taking the Orange seriously.

There’s a lot to like about this group. Gbinije and Cooney are both fifth-year seniors that not only understand how to operate at the top of the 2-3 zone that Jim Boeheim runs, but they both have developed into versatile offensive weapons. Cooney was known as nothing more than a jump-shooter when he arrived up north, but he’s now averaging 3.5 assists on the season.

And Gbinije?

He has been one of the best players in the country through the first two weeks of the season. Through six games, he’s averaged 19.7 points, 4.2 assists, 3.0 boards and 2.8 steals while shooting 51.3 percent from beyond the arc.

Freshman Malachi Richardson, who had 16 points in the win over A&M, has scored double-figures in all six games this season while another freshman, Tyler Lydon, was against terrific on Friday, finishing with 13 points and eight boards. He’s now shooting 58.8 percent from beyond the arc this season.

And that’s where this team is going to do the majority of their damage this season.

Through six games, they’re shooting 41.1 percent from beyond the arc. In the three wins in the Bahamas, the Orange knocked were 34-for-73 from beyond the arc, a 46.5 percent clip. The question isn’t whether or not that rate can continue — four of the six players that saw action on Friday are dangerous three-point shooters while the other two, Tyler Roberson  and DaJuan Coleman, aren’t going to be shooting threes — but what happens on the nights where the threes aren’t going down.

There are going to be nights where they shoot 5-for-25 instead of 11-for-25. Will they have enough firepower then? Will their defense be good enough? Will guys like Roberson and Coleman be able to supply a scoring punch? Will Cooney, Gbinije and Richardson attack the paint instead of settling for jumpers?

Because at the very least, these three games in the Bahamas have proven that the Orange are going to be relevant this season, even in the loaded ACC. Whether that means they’re going to push for a top four finish or simply end the year as a tournament team remains to be seen, but this much is clear: Jim Boeheim has himself a squad Upstate.

No. 10 Gonzaga outlasts No. 18 UConn despite late offensive struggles

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No. 10 Gonzaga survived a furious rally from No. 18 UConn to win the third place game in the Battle 4 Atlantis, 73-70.

The Zags were up by as much as 21 points early in the second half, leading 48-27, but UConn slowly chipped away at the lead. Kyle Wiltjer led four players in double-figures with 17 points while Eric McClellan added 15 points, making a number of key plays in the second half when it looked like the Zags were in danger of giving away the lead.

As good as Gonzaga looked in the first 22 minutes of this game — and they looked really, really good — the second half exposed the concerns that many had with this group entering the season. Kevin Pangos and Gary Bell Jr., who both shot around 40 percent from beyond the arc and started for four years, graduated, meaning that Gonzaga’s point guard situation is, more or less, Josh Perkins.

Perkins was terrific in the second half of a loss to Texas A&M on Thursday. He played 17 foul-plagued minutes against UConn. When UConn’s defense ratcheted up during the second half, Gonzaga struggled finding a way to consistently get good shots on the offensive end. Part of that was due to ineffective point guard play and part of it was a result of not really having anyone on the offensive end that can create a look on their own. As skilled as Wiltjer is, his impact can be limited when pick-and-pop actions aren’t working and he’s getting doubled in the post.

Perkins is talented, but this is essentially his first season of college basketball; he was a medical redshirt last season after breaking his jaw last November. There are going to be ups-and-downs, and that’s problematic on a team where he is essentially the only point guard on the roster.

The good news?

Gonzaga beat a good UConn team on a day when their best players struggled in crunch-time. It was McClellan and Kyle Dranginis that made the big plays down the stretch, not the big names on the Gonzaga roster.