Four ‘Big Monday’ appearances apiece for Kansas, Oklahoma State

Leave a comment

Another piece of the puzzle that is the 2013-14 college basketball schedule was added to the board Wednesday, as ESPN announced its lineup of games for “Big Monday,” which begins on January 13.

The schedule will require some adjusting from college basketball fans, with many of us used to seeing the Big East occupying the 7:00 p.m. EST time slot. The conference still exists of course, but with their television deal being with Fox the days of seeing Georgetown and Villanova (just to name two programs) in that slot are done for the time being.

Into the Big East’s spot slides the ACC, which added Notre Dame, Pittsburgh and Syracuse on July 1 (and will add Louisville next July 1). We’ll get one “throwback” matchup on the schedule, as Syracuse hosts Notre Dame on February 3. The Big 12 remains in the later time slot, with Kansas and Oklahoma State making four appearances apiece this coming winter.

The full schedule can be seen at the link provided above; here are five contests on the slate that you should not miss:

1. Baylor at Kansas (January 20)

This will be a revealing road test for Baylor, which has the talent needed to contend for the Big 12 crown. The question for Scott Drew’s Bears: how will they go about accounting for the graduation of Pierre Jackson? JUCO transfer Kenny Chery is the player many have pegged as the replacement, but moving forward post-Jackson will require contributions from Brady Heslip and Gary Franklin Jr. (just to name two) as well. As for Kansas, their young big men will be tested by Baylor’s Isaiah Austin and Cory Jefferson, with sophomore Perry Ellis expected to be a leader in the paint for the Jayhawks.

2. Duke at Pittsburgh (January 27) 

Granted Pittsburgh lost a lot of production from last year’s NCAA tournament squad. But the chance to watch one of the early favorites to win the ACC playing in front of the “Oakland Zoo” won’t lack for entertainment. With Seth Curry, Ryan Kelly and Mason Plumlee all having graduated Duke will have questions to answer from a leadership standpoint, but if point guard Quinn Cook is ready to take the reins the Blue Devils will be a national title contender.

3. Kansas at Iowa State (January 13) 

The nightcap of the opening Monday of this schedule matches teams who played two classics last season. The meeting in Lawrence featured a Ben McLemore three to force overtime, with Elijah Johnson’s heroics (and, in the eyes of Cyclone fans, sketchy officiating) being the difference in the rematch in Ames. Both teams have added quality talent (this will be Andrew Wiggins’ “Big Monday” debut), and given what happened last season look for Hilton Coliseum to be buzzing.

4. Oklahoma State at Baylor (February 17) 

Who’s the biggest threat to dethrone Kansas? The second meeting of the season between the Cowboys and Bears will most likely provide the answer to that question. Marcus Smart enters the season as the nation’s best point guard, and by mid-February he could very well be looking to polish up a resume for both Big 12 and national Player of the Year honors. Baylor won last season’s meeting in Waco by ten, but lost the other two contest by a combined four points.

5. Syracuse at Maryland (February 24) 

The Orange have arrived and the Terrapins are on their way out, as they move to the Big Ten in 2014. The biggest keys for Mark Turgeon’s team this season are the point guard position and how they go about accounting for the departure of Alex Len. If Seth Allen and Roddy Peters are up to the task at the point, this will be an opportunity for the Terps to improve their NCAA tournament seeding. If not, this may be the kind of home game a bubble team needs in order to simply get into the Big Dance. Syracuse returns multiple contributors from last year’s Final Four team, but like Maryland they’ll be counting on a youngster (Tyler Ennis) to run the show.

What jumps out when looking at the “Big Monday” schedule? Besides Kansas and Oklahoma State making four appearances each, there’s the fact that Virginia (like North Carolina) will make three appearances. Tony Bennett’s Cavaliers will be good, and frankly it’ll be good for more people to become familiar with All-ACC wing Joe Harris.

And there’s also two league match-ups that did not make the schedule: Kansas/Oklahoma State (neither meeting) and Duke/Syracuse (which they’re considering reconfiguring the Carrier Dome for). I wonder if those two high-quality games are being held back for something else.

Bluiett back to Xavier for senior season

Photo by Rob Carr/Getty Images
2 Comments

Xavier lost one significant piece to the professional ranks this spring, but will return another.

Trevon Bluiett, the team’s leading scorer last year, announced via social media that he will be back to play his senior season with the Musketeers.

Chris Mack will return the bulk of a roster that struggled February only to make a run to the Elite Eight, but getting Bluiett for a final season makes the Musketeers especially dangerous. The 6-foot-6 Bluiett scored a team-high 18.5 points per game last year while also putting up 5.7 rebounds and 2.1 assists per night. He shot 37.1 percent from 3-point range, the second-best mark on the team. His return, even with point guard Edmond Sumner going pro amid his ACL tear recovery, makes Xavier one of the top teams in the Big East heading into the 2017-18 season.

Bluiett himself is enough to keep Xavier relevant in the league, but when he’s coupled with the likes of returners JP Macura, Sean O’Mara and Quentin Goodwin, plus a recruiting class featuring two four-star prospects, it’s not difficult to see a path for Mack’s group to a place where they can compete with the likes of Villanova and Seton Hall atop the league.

Welsh and Holiday returning to UCLA

Photo by Kevin C. Cox/Getty Images
Leave a comment

UCLA sustained some major, though expected, attrition from its roster this spring. On Tuesday, the Bruins announced a pair of significant contributors that will be back.

Thomas Welsh and Aaron Holiday will both return next season to the UCLA program, according to the school.

Welsh, a 7-foot center, averaged 10.8 points and 8.7 rebounds as a senior last year for the Bruins. He shot 58.5 percent from the floor and blocked 1.2 shots per game, and decided to declare for the NBA Draft without an agent before ultimately deciding to return to Westwood.

“Thomas has worked hard all spring,” UCLA coach Steve Alford said in a statement. “We supported him testing the NBA waters and are excited to have him returning for his senior year. He simply continues to develop each and every season.

“Thomas will be one of the top centers in college basketball next year and, undoubtedly, has a great chance to be a first-round pick in next season’s draft.”

The 6-foot-1 Holiday averaged 12.3 points and 4.4 assists last season while sharing a backcourt with Lonzo Ball, whose departure, along with those of TJ Leaf, Bryce Alford and Isaac Hamilton will leave UCLA with a very different look next season. The positive results, however, may not fluctuate too significantly with Welsh and Holiday coming back to play alongside two five-star recruits, Kris Wilkes and Jaylen Hands, as well as Lonzo’s younger brother LiAngelo.

West Virginia’s Macon forgoing final year

Photo by Sean M. Haffey/Getty Images
Leave a comment

West Virginia’s attempt to dethrone Kansas atop the Big 12 took a bit of a hit Tuesday.

Elijah Macon, a 6-foot-9 forward, announced his decision to forego a fifth year in Morgantown in order to pursue a professional career.

“First things first I would like to say thank you Bob Huggins and Erik Martin for believing in a young 15-year-old boy growing up from the Southside of Columbus, OH losing my mother and still having you guys push me to be the man I have become,” Macon said according to the school. “I can do nothing but thank you for all you and Mountaineer Nation (have) done for me. Unfortunately, I will not be returning for my senior season at WVU and instead sign with a(n) agent and play professional basketball. Thank you guys for all the love and support!”

Macon wasn’t a major contributor for the Mountaineers last season, averaging 6.3 points and 4.2 rebounds in 16 minutes per game, but he was an experienced and tough player who was well-versed in Huggins’ style and demands. Given the pace that the newly-fashioned Press Virginia plays at, depth is also paramount for them as a program.

Macon’s departure, though, may have been expected or at least partly anticipated by West Virginia. The Mountaineers signed five players in its most recent recruiting class, putting them one over their allotment of 13, so something had to give. West VIrginia will stay have interior depth, anchored by junior Esa Ahmad, so the loss of Macon is one they likely can weather, even if it may take some time to acclimate the newcomers.

“Elijah is in the process of completing classes during this summer school period that ends June 2 and will graduate with a bachelor’s degree in August,” Huggins said in a statement released by the school. “I respect his decision to become a professional basketball player and to go make money to support his family. He had a great four years with us, and we wish him nothing but the best.”

Key returning to Alabama for sophomore season

Photo by Steve Dykes/Getty Images
Leave a comment

Alabama’s top scorer is returning to school.

Braxton Key has withdrawn his name from the NBA draft and will be back with the Tide for his sophomore season, the school announced Tuesday.

“I spoke to coach Avery (Johnson) just over a week ago and informed him of my decision to withdraw my name from the NBA Draft and return to the University of Alabama for my sophomore season,” Key said in a statement. “I made that official when I sent my paperwork to the NBA league office Monday morning. I want to express my appreciation to my teammates, Coach Johnson and the entire coaching staff for giving me their full support while I went through this process.

“I am excited for the future of the Alabama basketball program and looking forward to getting to work as we prepare for next season. Roll Tide and Buckle Up!”

The 6-foot-8 forward averaged 12 points and 5.7 rebounds per game while shooting 43.3 percent from the field as a freshman. He gives Alabama four returning starts to pair with one of the country’s highest-regarded recruiting classes, headlined by five-star guard Collin Sexton. The Tide will also have an eligible Daniel Giddens, who previously transferred in from Ohio State.

Key didn’t seem likely to stay in the NBA draft, especially after he wasn’t invited to the combine, but his ultimate decision is a huge one for Avery Johnson as he looks to break through in his third season in Tuscaloosa with his first NCAA tournament appearance. 

Report: Justin Jackson to return to Maryland

Michael Reaves/Getty Images
Leave a comment

Maryland forward Justin Jackson is expected to return to school for his sophomore season, according to a report from FanRag Sports.

Jackson is an intriguing talent, a 6-foot-7 combo-forward with a 7-foot-3 wingspan that shoots 44 percent from three. But he’s also still developing his offensive game and consistency on the defensive end of the floor, which is why he was projected as a second round pick in this year’s draft.

With Jackson back in the fold, Maryland is a borderline top 25 team. They lost Melo Trimble to the professional ranks, but that’s something that Mark Turgeon has prepared for. With a sophomore class that also includes highly-regarded point guard Anthony Cowan and sharp-shooter Kevin Huerter, the Terps have a promising season ahead of them.