Marcus Smart, Angel Rodriguez, Nino Williams, Le'Bryan Nash

Who should be the Preseason Player of the Year: Marcus Smart or Andrew Wiggins?

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Earlier today, we released the NBCSports.com All-American teams, which also included our pick for Preseason National Player of the Year: Marcus Smart.

We gave Smart the nod after a long argument because Raphielle Johnson and myself, and I figured that the back-and-forth was worth posting here. It’s been cleaned up a bit to make it suitable for posting:

Dauster: The way the season breaks down it seems that there are really only two logical choices for Preseason National Player of the Year: Oklahoma State sophmore point guard Marcus Smart and Kansas freshman Andrew Wiggins, a battle made all-the-more juicy by the fact that they represent the two favorites in the Big 12 race.

When it comes down to it, I always err on the side of talent, and with all due respect to Marcus Smart, Wiggins is the most talented player in the country. At his size with his athleticism and his mobility, there really isn’t anything that he can’t do. Throw in the fact that he’s playing on a team that actually will provide him with a supporting cast, and there’s a chance that, come March, the Jayhawks are the best team in the country. Hard to bet against the best player on the best team.

Johnson: While I certainly respect the talent Wiggins possesses, I don’t even know if he’s the most important player on his own team. I’d argue that Naadir Tharpe, the starter at a position (point guard) where the Jayhawks really don’t have a concrete answer behind him, is that guy for Kansas. While skill level and production obviously need to be accounted for when discussing Player of the Year possibilities, I think a player’s importance to his team needs to be factored in as well. That’s why I take Smart, who will once again be asked to set up guys like Le’Bryan Nash and Markel Brown while also scoring himself. With his skills, leadership ability and competitiveness, I think Smart’s the best choice.

Dauster: If Naadir Tharpe is the most important player for Kansas, than wouldn’t Michael Cobbins be the most important player for Oklahoma State? Decent talent looking to prove himself at a position without much depth on an otherwise loaded team?

And if we’re talking about how valuable a player is, let’s think about this: Wiggins may not actively set players up the way Smart does, but the attention that he will garner on the offensive end of the floor will make things that much easier for Wayne Selden and Perry Ellis. I’m not sure either of those guys are quite good enough yet to be the No. 1 and 2 options on a Big 12 contender. But when defenses are keyed in on stopping Wiggins, Selden and Ellis should be able to take advantage.

That said, the key word in your last email was competitiveness. Can Wiggins consistently bring the effort to dominate like he’s capable of?

Johnson: Attempting to apply my Tharpe thinking to Cobbins is apples to oranges and you know it.

As for attention, Smart won’t garner enough to take the pressure off of his teammates? I certainly believe he will, because while guys like Brown and Nash ultimately are talented enough to make things happen in their own the Cowboys have other pieces that need Smart’s presence in order to be at their best. And I think he’s going to be an improved perimeter shooter this season after making just 29% of his shots from beyond the arc in 2012-13, which will make Smart even more dangerous. I’m a big fan of Wiggins but we aren’t talking about the top pick in next summer’s NBA Draft. We’re talking about the best player in college basketball, and right now I’m taking the guy who last season led his team to their first win at Allen Fieldhouse since 1989.

Dauster: I don’t disagree with anything you just said about Smart — although there’s no questioning the validity of my Tharpe/Cobbins comparison! — but it belies a bigger point: the only thing keeping Andrew Wiggins from winning National Player of the Year is Andrew Wiggins.

We’ve all seen the early season reports, that he’s not yet competing on every possession in practice and that it’s been guys like Selden and Ellis and Joel Embiid that have drawn the rave reviews from reporters that have made the trip to Lawrence this month. We also know Wiggins reputation as a guy that coasts at times when he’s not being challenged on the court.

But there are two things to remember here: the last two times that Wiggins was really presented with some adversity, he went out and dominated Julius Randel at the Peach Jam in 2012, and he dropped 57 points for Huntington Prep on a day he was ticked off about an article that was written up on SI.com. If Wiggins decides that he wants to dominate for 40 minutes every night, I think he can dominate for 40 minutes every night. Even if Smart can now shoot like Doug McDermott, Wiggins will still be bringing home the Naismith trophy.

Johnson: But therein lies the problem with making Wiggins POY: he’s still not to the point where he’s competing on every possession in practice. That isn’t an issue with Smart currently and it wasn’t last season either. He performed well enough with the US U-19 team to be one of two college players to receive an invite to their senior team training camp this summer, and that competitiveness/leadership was a big reason why that happened. I’m a huge fan of Wiggins and expect him to have an excellent career. But I can’t label a guy as being the best player in America when we’re still talking about him “choosing” when to dominate. Give me the guy who goes at his opponent’s throat consistently.

Dauster: Fine. Well roll with Smart. But don’t think for a second I’ll let you forget about this when Wiggins goes all Kevin Durant on the Big-12.

UNLV’s Menzies fills out staff with 3 hires

New UNLV men's basketball coach Marvin Menzies smiles during a news conference after the UNLV board of regents  approved his contract, Friday, April 22, 2016  in Las Vegas. The boards voted 12-1 on Friday to approve a five-year, $3.75 million deal for Menzies.  (L.E. Baskow/Las Vegas Sun via AP) LAS VEGAS REVIEW-JOURNAL OUT; MANDATORY CREDIT
(L.E. Baskow/Las Vegas Sun via AP)
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LAS VEGAS (AP) New UNLV men’s basketball coach Marvin Menzies has filled out his staff with three assistant coaches.

The school announced on Thursday the hiring of Andre LaFleur, Rob Jeter and Eric Brown.

Jeter was the head coach at Milwaukee for 11 seasons, winning 20 or more games five times. His record of 185-170 leaves him one short of the school record for most victories.

La Fleur spent the past five seasons as associate head coach at Providence under Ed Cooley after 10 years working for Jim Calhoun at Connecticut.

Brown has been an assistant coach at Long Beach State the last nine years.

Four-star 2017 shooting guard commits to Virginia Tech

Virginia Tech head coach Buzz Williams celebrates a play in the first half of an NCAA college basketball game against Virginia, Monday, Jan. 4, 2016, in Blacksburg, Va. (Matt Gentry/The Roanoke Times via AP) LOCAL STATIONS OUT; LOCAL INTERNET OUT; LOCAL PRINT OUT (SALEM TIMES REGISTER; FINCASTLE HERALD; CHRISTIANSBURG NEWS MESSENGER; RADFORD NEWS JOURNAL; ROANOKE STAR SENTINEL; MANDATORY CREDIT
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Recruiting, and on-court results, have picked up at Virginia Tech since Buzz Williams took over as head coach. In his second year at the helm the Hokies won ten conference games, and in reaching the Postseason NIT made their first postseason appearance since 2011.

Thursday night Virginia Tech landed its first verbal commitment in the Class of 2017, as four-star shooting guard Nickeil Alexander-Walker made his pledge.

The 6-foot-5 Alexander-Walker, who’s ranked 91st in his class by Rivals.com, also took official visits to Maryland and USC before making his pledge to the ACC program. Alexander-Walker attends Hamilton Heights Christian Academy in Chattanooga, Tennessee, but as a native of Canada plays his grassroots basketball for the Canada Elite program on the Under Armour Association circuit.

Good with either hand, Alexander-Walker can play either on or off the basketball. And that versatility should serve him well in a system that places a high value on “switch-ables,” or players who can fill multiple roles.

The Canada connection paid off for Virginia Tech in the recruitment of Alexander-Walker, with assistant coach Jamie McNeilly being a native of the country himself and having a connection to the Walker family. The Hokies will lose two perimeter players at the end of the 2016-17 season in Devin Wilson and Seth Allen, which will give Alexander-Walker the opportunity to earn minutes as a freshman.

Oakland lands former Oklahoma State guard Clark

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When point guard Stevie Clark began his career at Oklahoma State in 2013, the Top 100 prospect was expected by many to be an impact player for the Cowboys. Things didn’t go as planned however, as off-court issues ultimately led to Clark’s dismissal from the program before his sophomore season. Add in a lawsuit filed by Clark in which he alleged that he was forced by the school to take psychotropic drugs, and it’s safe to say that his time in Stillwater was anything but smooth.

Clark ultimately landed at Arkansas Baptist College, and on Thursday it was reported by the Detroit Free Press that he’s committed to Oakland University to play for head coach Greg Kampe. Clark joins a program with an immediate need at the point, with All-American Kahlil Felder having entered the NBA Draft and hired an agent as well.

The obvious question regarding Clark is whether or not he’s managed to take care of business off the court, and in an interview with Mark Snyder of the Free Press the Oklahoma native made note of the benefits of getting away from home for college.

Playing in Rochester, far from his home, will serve him well, he said.

“Anywhere away from home is the best thing,” Clark said. “It’s just hard balancing everything being close to home.”

Clark will be one of the options Kampe has to choose from at the point, with incoming freshmen Brailen Neely and Billy Thomas also among the new arrivals, and sophomore Jaevin Cumberland looking to earn more playing time than the 5.6 minutes per contest he averaged as a freshman.

Creighton point guard Watson Jr. to return for senior season

Creighton's Maurice Watson Jr. (10) reacts after scoring during the second half of an NCAA college basketball game against Xavier in Omaha, Neb., Tuesday, Feb. 9, 2016. Creighton won 70-56. (AP Photo/Nati Harnik)
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Creighton’s chances of moving up the Big East standings and returning to the NCAA tournament for the first time since 2014 improved a great deal Thursday, as starting point guard Maurice Watson Jr. announced that he will be returning for his senior season. Watson, who began his college career at Boston University, entered his name into the NBA Draft pool without hiring an agent but decided that another year in Omaha would be best for him.

Watson was one of the most impactful transfers in the country last season, as his play at the point was a major factor in the Bluejays winning 20 games and going 9-9 in conference play after being picked to finish eighth in the Big East preseason poll. Watson averaged 14.1 points, 3.4 rebounds and 6.5 assists per game last season, earning second team All-Big East honors.

With Watson’s return the Bluejays will welcome back three of their top four scorers from last season, with center Geoffrey Groselle being the lone departure. Head coach Greg McDermott adds a talented shooting guard in Marcus Foster, who sat out last season after transferring in from Kansas State. With Watson and Foster working together, Creighton will have a formidable perimeter tandem leading the way in 2016-17 with the likes of forward Cole Huff and guard Isaiah Zierden also being key contributors.

In addition to what Watson can provide in games he’ll also serve as a good mentor for Kaleb Joseph, who will have to sit out next season after transferring in from Syracuse. Joseph, who will have two seasons of eligibility remaining, fell out of the rotation as a sophomore so the year in residency should benefit him as he works towards grabbing the reins in 2017-18.

h/t ESPN.com

UConn, four-star 2017 big man Brown part ways

Brown, Zach
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Back in mid-January UConn made waves on the recruiting trail by securing a verbal commitment from 7-foot-1 center Zach Brown, a player seen by many as one of the top prospects in the Class of 2017. That partnership came to an end Thursday, as the two parties decided to part ways. News of the mutual decision was first reported by Scout.com.

The Miami native is currently ranked 28th in the Class of 2017 by Rivals.com, and Thursday’s news opens up a spot in the front court that UConn head coach Kevin Ollie and his staff will now have to fill. Amida Brimah, who’s currently going through the NBA pre-Draft process, will be a senior next season should he return to Storrs as will Kentan Facey.

Among the interior options who will have eligibility remaining beyond next season for the Huskies are sophomore Steven Enoch and incoming freshmen Mamadou Diarra and Juwan Durham.

UConn was in the running for 2016 power forward Taurean Thompson, but multiple outlets have the Brewster Academy product considering Michigan State (which added UNLV grad transfer Ben Carter Wednesday), Seton Hall and Syracuse at this point in his recruitment.