Marcus Smart on Andrew Wiggins: ‘I am not saying he can’t do it. But he has not done it yet’

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January 18th and March 1st.

Go ahead and circle those dates on your calendars right now, and, if you cannot find a way to get into Phog Allen Fieldhouse or Gallagher-Iba Arena, start prepping the popcorn and the nachos right now.

Those dates are the two regular season games to be played between Kansas and Oklahoma State, two top ten teams and, by far, the two favorites to compete for the Big 12 title this season.

There is already plenty of hype surrounding the season-long battle that will take place between those two programs. Let’s ignore, for a second, the fact that these are two teams that will be in and around the top ten all season long, that they will be fighting for a conference title and will enter March with a shot to get to the Final Four. That, all by itself, is a reason to tune into the games.

Now toss in the fact that Oklahoma State was thought to be the favorite to end the Jayhawk’s run of nine straight league titles when Marcus Smart and Markel Brown decided to return to school, and the rivalry gets even more spicier. Why? Because Andrew Wiggins’ decision to attend Kansas means that a bunch of freshmen are all of a sudden sitting atop the Pokes in just about every preseason projection.

You better believe that ticked off a competitor like Marcus Smart, especially when one of those freshman enters the game with more hype than Smart got for returning after an all-american season and a chance to train with the U.S. Men’s Senior National Team during the summer. From USA Today’s Eric Prisbell:

“They are saying he is the best college player there is and he has not even played a game yet,” Smart told USA TODAY Sports. “Of course that hypes me up. It is all talk. He still has to put his shorts on one leg at a time like I do. It is all potential. I am not saying he can’t do it. But he has not done it yet.”

[…]

At 6-foot-4, Smart wants nothing more than an opportunity to guard the sinewy 6-8 Wiggins.

“Definitely,” Smart says. “I am not going to back down from any challenge. Like I said, you are going to have to prove to me. I am a fighter; I will keep fighting and will never give up.”

[…]

“I want to earn it, I don’t want anything given to me,” Smart says. “It has not been [given] at all. I want to work for what I have. If feel if you work for what you have instead of it being just given to you, people respect you a lot more because you understand what it takes, you’ve been there and done it. No one can just say it was easy because you took it. You didn’t just get it. You took it. So all the power and credit to him [Wiggins]. Congratulations for the Sports Illustrated, all the hype, congratulations to him. But that’s definitely a lot of pressure on him.”

Yeah, these quotes are going to be everywhere by the end of the day.

And it will only serve to ratchet up the intensity of what could end up being the two most anticipated conference games of the season.

But you know what? I don’t think Smart said anything wrong here. Of course he’s going to be ticked off that a freshman is coming in an stealing all the spotlight that he should be getting. Of course he’s going to think that he’s just as good, if not better than Wiggins. Of course he’s going to want the chance to get out on the court and prove it by beating the Jayhawks and by locking up Wiggins himself.

In fact, I’ll go as far as to say that I love that Smart came out and said this. He didn’t diss Wiggins, and was actually quite respectful of his talents. Smart’s smart. He knows how good Wiggins is. But he’s a competitor, one of the best in basketball at any level, and he’s not going to give some freshman an inch just because the kid could end up being a star one day down the road.

Seeing these two go head-to-head is one of the things that I am most excited about this season.

Anyone else hoping that they lock horns in the Big 12 tournament final?

Washington’s Thybulle returning for senior season

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Matisse Thybulle will return to Washington for his senior season after contemplating declaring for the NBA draft following a junior campaign in which he was named the Pac-12 defensive player of the year.

“The NBA is really enticing and it was definitely something that I seriously considered when the season was over,” Thybulle told the Seattle Times. “I talked it over with my family and we came to the conclusion that it would be in my best interest to stay and get my degree (in communications) and grow as a basketball player and take this last year to mature and fine tune everything so I can be fully prepared to take that next step when it’s time.”

The 6-foot-5 guard averaged 11.2 points, 2.9 rebounds, 2.0 assists and 3.0 steals per game last season. He shot 44.5 percent from the field and 36.5 percent from 3-point range.

“I talked to coach (Mike Hopkins) and he gave me some good advice that was honestly something that helped in the grand scheme of things,” Thybulle said. “He told me that if I do it (enter the draft), then I should be all in because that’s what I’m going to be up against is a whole bunch of guys fighting for their lives. He thought it would be a better idea for me to stay in school until I’m at that point.”

Washington is awaiting the decision of Noah Dickerson, who declared for the draft but has not hired an agent. The 6-foot-8 averaged 15.5 points and 8.4 rebounds last season.

Koby McEwen transferring to Marquette

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Steve Wojciechowski added a significant piece to his 2019-20 team over the weekend.

Koby McEwen announced his intention to transfer to Marquette from Utah State late Sunday evening.

“I would like to thank God, my family, inner circle and all the schools/coaches that recruited me during this process!” McEwen tweeted. “With that being said, I’m proud to announce that I’ll be furthering my college career at Marquette University.”

McEwen picked the Golden Eagles over fellow finalists Creighton and Grand Canyon after he decided to transfer when the Aggies announced South Dakota coach Craig Smith was taking over the program last month. The 6-foot-4 guard averaged 15.6 points, 5.4 rebounds and 3.2 assists per game while shooting 40 percent from the field and 30 percent from 3-point range as a sophomore.

After sitting out the upcoming season, McEwen will have to years of eligibility remaining. Marquette went 21-14 last season, but missed the NCAA tournament for the third time in Wojciechowski’s four years in Milwaukee.

Minnesota adds Vanderbilt transfer Payton Willis

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Minnesota has added some depth for the future.

The Golden Gophers received a pledge from Vanderbilt transfer Payton Willis over the weekend, giving him a guard with two seasons of eligibility remaining starting in 2019-20.

Willis will sit out the upcoming season under NCAA transfer rules.

The 6-foot-4 guard played a limited role in two seasons in Nashville, never averaging more than 18. 5 minutes or 5.2 points per game. He scored in double figures in three games as a sophomore.

Willis was a top-150 prospect in the Class of 2016 coming out of Fayetteville, Ark. with offers from the likes of Tulsa, Rice and Dayton. Vandy and Minnesota were his two high-major offers.

After being ranked in the top-15, Minnesota was beset by injury and suspensions last season as they limped to the finish line in a 15-17 season that featured losses in 12 of its last 13 games.

Richard Pitino still has two available scholarships for the 2018-19 campaign.

Report: Quade Green returning to Kentucky

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John Calipari just landed a critical recruit for 2018-19, and he was already on the roster.

Quade Green, who averaged 25 minutes per game last season, is returning to Kentucky for his sophomore season, his mother told the Lexington Herald-Leader on Monday.

Given that six Wildcat players have entered the draft (Kevin Knox, Shai Gilgeous-Alexander and Hami Diallo are signing with agents), getting the 6-foot point guard back for a second season is a massive deal for Calipari and Co. The Wildcats have always been at their best under Calipari with returning players as the cornerstones of the roster with talented one-and-dones providing the extra boost. Getting one such returner at the point guard position is even more critical.

Green, who came to Kentucky as a five-star recruit last year, averaged 9.3 points and 2.7 assists per game while shooting 45.1 percent from the field and a respectable 37.1 percent from 3-point range, an area where Kentucky continually needs help.

With Green back in the fold, Kentucky will now await the decisions of PJ Washington, Wenyen Gabriel and Jarred Vanderbilt, who are all going through the pre-draft process without hiring agents, which will potentially allow them to return to school and bolster a Kentucky roster has the look of a top-five team.

CBT Podcast: NBA Draft Early Entry Deadline: Winners, losers and who has the most on the line?

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The NBA Draft Early Entry Deadline came and went on Sunday night, meaning there are now roughly 60 college players that have signed with an agent and another 100 or so that have declared for the draft while retaining their college eligibility. Who were the winners? Who were the losers? Who has the most on the line? Sam Vecenie of the Game Theory podcast joined Rob Dauster to talk through all of it. The rundown:

OPEN: What do NBA teams value in players these days?

10:00: Villanova has more on the line during this testing the water process than anyone

19:00: Just how important was De’Andre Hunter’s decision to return to Virginia

25:25: Gonzaga getting Rui and Killian Tillie back makes them a title favorite

32:10: Nevada has a top ten season on the line with the Martin twins and Jordan Caroline

36:15: #RANTALERT – The decision to turn pro is so much more complicated than “is he a first round pick”

48:30: Rapid fire: Maryland, Kansas, Syracuse, Nebraska, Purdue and Michigan. What do they have on the line?