Antonio Barton

The big question with Antonio Barton: can he play the point for Tennessee?

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One of the most controversial rules in the college game these days is the graduate transfer exception.

It works like this: if a player finishes his undergraduate degree with eligibility remaining, he is allowed to transfer to a different school without sitting out a season to enroll in a graduate program that’s not offered at his previous institution.

The thinking is that, since these kids are supposed to be STUDENT-athletes, if they have a chance to get a graduate degree in a field of their choosing, the NCAA shouldn’t stand in the way of that because it could cost the kid their final year of eligibility.

The problem is that the rule gets abused. Players that have redshirted a season use the rule not as a means of finding a better graduate program, but instead using it to try and find a better basketball program to spend a year at. Think Brandon Wood transferring to Michigan State from Valpo, or Julius Mays going from Wright State to Kentucky.

But the exception isn’t a bad thing, and this weekend we got a perfect example of that.

Antonio Barton followed his brother Will from Baltimore to Memphis to play his college ball, but where Will was a five-star recruit that every coach in the country wanted, Antonio was a three-star point guard that was in the same recruiting class as Joe Jackson. There wasn’t much expected of the smaller Barton, and most viewed his recruitment as a package deal. If you want Will, you have to take Antonio, too.

But as Jackson struggled through his freshman campaign, Barton emerged as a quality back court piece, averaging 8.2 points and 1.7 assists in his first season with the Tigers. His numbers have dropped since then, but that has everything to due with the development of Jackson and Chris Crawford and the addition of Geron Johnson. After struggling through an injury-plagued junior year, Barton made the decision to transfer out of Memphis once he realized he would be able to graduate.

He ended up committing to Tennessee on Sunday, and while the Vols are one of Memphis’ biggest rivals, it couldn’t possibly be a more perfect fit for Barton.

Tennessee has a ton of talent on their roster this season. Jarnell Stokes is one of the better big men in the SEC, and he may not even be the best big man on the roster when Jeronne Maymon is healthy. Throw in Jordan McRae, who had a breakout junior campaign, and talented incoming freshman Robert Hubbs on the wing, and the Vols had a ton of pieces for Cuonzo Martin to work with.

The problem? Trae Golden got the boot earlier this month, and he was the only point guard Tennessee had on their roster. Barton will slide in and take over that role.

Here’s the question: is Barton a point guard?

We know he can really shoot the ball, and we know that he is a defensive stopper. Both of those traits, particularly his defensive skills, will let him fit in well with Martin. But Tennessee also needs him to be a guy that can run offense, get the Vols into their sets and create off the bounce at the end of a clock.

Jackson, Crawford and Johnson played that role at Memphis while Barton was there. Does that mean that Barton just hasn’t shown what he can do, or is it a sign of what he can’t do?

Regardless, Barton’s presence turns Tennessee back a top 25 team.

And if he proves that he can truly be a point guard, the Vols might end up pushing Florida for that second spot in the SEC race.

You can find Rob on twitter @RobDauster.

Indiana lands four-star Class of 2017 wing Justin Smith

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Indiana landed an athletic wing commitment on Monday night as four-star small forward Justin Smith pledged to the Hoosiers on Twitter.

The 6-foot-6 Smith is a native of Lincolnshire, Illinois and comes from Stevenson High School as he’s regarded as the No. 105 overall prospect in the Rivals national Class of 2017 rankings.

A high-flying wing who is great in the open floor, Smith should fit the Hoosiers’ uptempo system perfectly and if he’s able to get a more consistent perimeter jumper then he has a chance to be a really nice piece for Indiana.

Smith joins three-star guard Al Durham in Indiana’s recruiting Class of 2017.

Michigan State addingTom Izzo Hall of History wing in remodeled Breslin Center

CHARLOTTE, NC - MARCH 22:  Head coach Tom Izzo of the Michigan State Spartans reacts against the Virginia Cavaliers during the third round of the 2015 NCAA Men's Basketball Tournament at Time Warner Cable Arena on March 22, 2015 in Charlotte, North Carolina.  (Photo by Grant Halverson/Getty Images)
(Photo by Grant Halverson/Getty Images)
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Michigan State head coach Tom Izzo has already been inducted into the Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame this fall and the longtime Spartans head coach is receiving another unique honor in the remodeled Breslin Center.

The school announced over the weekend that the Tom Izzo Hall of History will be added to the Breslin Center renovations as the building is supposed to be completed by the fall of 2017.

“The Tom Izzo Hall of History will become a great gathering place on our campus where together we can celebrate the excellence of Spartan Basketball and MSU Athletics,” athletic director Mark Hollis said in a release. “When this facility project is complete it will be the finest college basketball facility in the country, so it’s only fitting that Tom’s name will be a permanent part of it.”

Overall, this is a nice addition to the Breslin Center, especially since Izzo and Michigan State basketball will forever be associated with one another. It should be cool for fans to go through it and re-live great moments in Michigan State history and the wing is another nice recruiting tool that can help point out all of Izzo’s biggest accomplishments.

 

Puerto Rico Tip-Off Tournament moving to Orlando amid Zika concerns

Lon Kruger
(AP Photo/Brandon Dill)
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Amid concerns over the Zika virus, the annual Puerto Rico Tip-Off announced a change in venue on Monday. Rather than staying on the island, the tournament will move to Orlando and all games will be played at the ESPN Wide World of Sports Complex at Disney.

The dates and teams will remain the same for the event as it will be played Thursday, Nov. 17, Friday, Nov. 18 and Sunday, Nov. 20. The field for the event includes Arizona State, Clemson, Davidson, Missouri, Northern Iowa, Oklahoma, Tulane and Xavier.

“We enjoy the beauty and accommodations that are afforded in Puerto Rico and wanted to make every effort in playing the event in San Juan, but the concern for student-athlete and spectator welfare became the primary driver in the decision,” Pete Derzis, senior vice president of ESPN Events said in the official release.  “We intend to return to Puerto Rico in the future.”

Puerto Rico is currently under a Level 2 alert for Zika according to the CDC. Since there have been cases of Zika on the island with native mosquitoes, it’s probably a smart move to eliminate all concerns over the virus if they can easily move the tournament elsewhere. It probably isn’t ideal for fans who purchased travel packages to Puerto Rico to watch the event, but it’s a small price to pay for the safety of everyone involved.

The Puerto Rico Tourism Company is also upset with the decision as Executive Director Ingrid Rivera Rocafort released a statement on Monday night.

“We are disappointed about this decision that we believe has been based on fear not the facts about Puerto Rico,” the statement read.

“There is no public health reason to cancel the Puerto Rico Tip Off or any sporting event in Puerto Rico. There is no doubt that our strong fan base and local spectators would have turned out to support their teams. Less than one percent of Puerto Rico’s 3.5 million population has contracted Zika, a far cry from projections. The hype and misinformation is fostering irrational decisions.”

PHOTO: Purdue unveils statue of John Wooden outside Mackey Arena

John Wooden (Purdue Athletics)
Purdue Athletics
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John Wooden will forever be associated with the UCLA program for what he did while coaching there.

10 national titles in 12 years, including seven in a row. Not bad, right?

What some people may forget is that before he got into coaching, Wooden was one of the best basketball players in the world. He played his collegiate ball at Purdue, where he was a three-time all-american and the 1932 National Player of the Year.

To honor Wooden’s legacy as one of the greatest Boilermakers ever, Purdue built a statue of Wooden and unveiled it in front of Mackey Arena this weekend:

“Not many people think of Johnny Wooden as a Boilermaker, but when I got here in 1957, some of the old-timers still remembered him as a player,” Jim Hicks, the alumnus that donated the statue, said. “I’m so delighted that people will see this statue and read his Pyramid of Success because I think the pyramid was his most important contribution.”

One of the neat touches of the statue: Wooden’s Pyramid of Success is right there for all to see.

North Carolina lands third commitment in 2017 class

SAN ANTONIO, TX - MARCH 23: Head coach Roy Williams of the North Carolina Tar Heels looks on during the third round of the 2014 NCAA Men's Basketball Tournament against the Iowa State Cyclones at the AT&T Center on March 23, 2014 in San Antonio, Texas.  (Photo by Ronald Martinez/Getty Images)
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North Carolina picked up their third commitment in the Class of 2017 on Monday in big man Brandon Huffman.

A four-star prospect who will play his final season of high school ball at Word of God Academy in North Carolina, Huffman’s strength at this point in his development is as a defensive presence around the basket. He stands 6-foot-10 with a 7-foot-5 wingspan and should be able to help replace Kennedy Meeks, who graduates this spring.

Huffman’s development on the offensive end of the floor isn’t quite there yet. A native of Anchorage, Alaska, Huffman is still learning how to be more influential on that end.

Huffman joins Jalek Felton and Andrew Platek in UNC’s 2017 class.