Despite losing Peyton Siva and Gorgui Dieng, two key pieces from last year’s championship team, Louisville returns a slew of talented players that will have Rick Pitino and Co. challenging for a national championship once again. Player of the Year candidate Russ Smith is back for his senior season, as are Chane Behanan and Luke Hancock among others.
Three key pieces that weren’t on the floor last year will be relied upon to help fill the void that Siva has left, namely junior college transfer Chris Jones. Rob Dauster called Jones one of the top “X-factors” for the coming season, and posited that many may be overlooking just how important Siva was to last year’s squad. Siva was often the one ensuring Russ Smith played within himself — at least, he tried to — and the onus this season may fall on Jones to accomplish that.
It is more than just Jones, however. Freshmen Terry Rozier and Anton Gill will be relied on, as well.
After an intrasquad scrimmage this past weekend, Rick Pitino told The Courier Journal:
“Rozier is as cool a customer as you’ll see. I don’t think Chris played particularly well tonight, but I’ve watched him in practice do some things that are just outstanding. I think Anton is a smooth basketball player…With all three of them, they don’t rattle. They know how to play the game.”
Anyone who watched Louisville play last year knew they hung their hat on the defensive end. For all the attention Smith receives on the offensive end with his explosive first step and propensity to get to the basket, he’s also one of the best perimeter defenders out there.
Pitino’s defense isn’t easy to grasp, but Smith is pleased with what he has seen of the newcomers thus far: “No new guy knows our defensive intensity, and that’s no disrespect to them. We play a certain way that guys have to pick up on. But they’re coming along. I think they’re the best class to come in and pick stuff up that I’ve seen.”
Highlights from the Red vs. White scrimmage are found below:
After receiving commitments from former Purdue/Houston guard Ronnie Johnson and former Presbyterian forward DeSean Murray, Auburn head coach Bruce Pearl continued to load up on the transfer market Monday. Forward LaRon Smith, who was named MEAC Defensive Player of the Year at Bethune-Cookman last season, announced that he will use his final season of eligibility at the SEC program.
Like Smith, Johnson will also be eligible to compete immediately for the Tigers while Murray will have to sit out next season before having two years of eligibility remaining.
The 6-foot-8 Smith played two seasons at Georgia State before transferring to Bethune-Cookman, where he averaged 7.1 points, 6.9 rebounds and 3.0 blocks per contest in 2015-16. Smith played just over 25 minutes per game for the Wildcats, shooting 58.5 percent from the field.
Smith reached double figures in scoring in four of the Wildcats’ final seven games, including a 20-point, 11-rebound, three-block outing in an overtime win over North Carolina A&T. He joins a front court in need of depth following the departures of the likes of Cinmeon Bowers and Tyler Harris, with Horace Spencer, Trayvon Reed and incoming freshman Anfernee McLemore also competing for minutes in 2016-17.
With a five-member recruiting class set to arrive on campus this summer, SMU added a talented transfer Monday afternoon. Jimmy Whitt, who played his freshman season at Arkansas, committed to join Larry Brown’s program. Whitt, a 6-foot-4 guard from Columbia, Missouri, will have three seasons of eligibility remaining after sitting out the 2016-17 campaign.
As a freshman at Arkansas, Whitt averaged 6.1 points and 1.7 rebounds in just over 17 minutes of action per game. He reached double figures in scoring nine time, with the high being a 15-point outing in a blowout win over Missouri in mid-January. Whitt produced a stretch of four consecutive games in double figures during non-conference play, but he struggled to maintain that consistency against SEC competition.
At SMU he’ll join a perimeter rotation that will lose rising senior Sterling Brown following the 2016-17 season. Among those who will have eligibility remaining when Whitt becomes eligible are Ben Emelogu, Shake Milton, Jarrey Foster and incoming freshmen Tom Wilson and Dashawn McDowell.
GREELEY, Colo. (AP) Jeff Linder is the new basketball coach at Northern Colorado. He spent the last six seasons at Boise State, where he was associate head coach for the Broncos since 2013-14.
Linder replaces B.J. Hill, who was fired last month amid an NCAA investigation into allegations of violations in the program.
University President Kay Norton and Athletic Director Darren Dunn announced Linder’s hiring Sunday.
Linder played high school ball in Lafayette, Colorado, and college ball at Mesa State and Western Colorado State. He began his coaching career under Colorado head coach Ricardo Patton.
In a statement, Linder said, “I look forward to returning home to the state of Colorado and continuing to build this program into something everyone can be proud of.”
Hill was 86-98 in six seasons at UNC.
STORRS, Conn. (AP) Azura Stevens, the leading scorer and rebounder for Duke, has decided to transfer to UConn.
The 6-foot-6 sophomore center from Raleigh, North Carolina will sit out next season and will have two years of eligibility remaining when the 2017-18 season begins the school announced Saturday.
Stevens averaged 18.9 points and 9.6 rebounds a game and was named to the ACC’s all-conference first team.
She was second in the league both scoring and rebounding.
UConn coach Geno Auriemma said Saturday that he normally doesn’t get involved in transfer situations, but Stevens convinced him that Storrs would be the right place for her going forward.
SOUTH BEND, Ind. (AP) Forward V.J. Beachem has withdrawn his name from the NBA draft and will return to Notre Dame for his senior season.
Beachem made the announcement Sunday night on Twitter, writing that he was thankful for the opportunity to experience the NBA draft process and invitations to work out for teams, “but now I’m ready to lead [Notre Dame]. #IMBACK.”
The 6-foot-8, 200-pound forward finished third on the team in scoring, averaging 12.0 points and 3.9 rebounds as the Irish finished 24-12. He was at his best in the NCAA Tournament, when he averaged 17.5 points as the Irish advanced to the Elite Eight for a second straight year.
Coach Mike Brey sent a Tweet saying he was thrilled Beachem will return.