Chaz Williams (AP photo)

UMass begins its season with wins over ACC and SEC programs

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AMHERST, Mass. – The UMass Minutemen have now kicked off its 2013-2014 season with a win over an ACC program and an SEC program.

The latest win came in the home opener in an exciting Tuesday morning game, as UMass survived LSU with a 92-90 win as part of the Tip-Off Marathon.

Cady Lalanne, who had 27 points and 12 rebounds in Sunday’s win over Boston College, came up big in the second half with 16 points and six rebounds, all in the second half. Lalanne only logged four minutes in the first half after being hit with two of the first half’s 34 fouls.

“I just told him to keep his head,” UMass senior forward Raphiael Putney said. “Kept telling him, ‘You’re one of the best big men in the Atlantic 10,’ he just came out with a vengeance. He came out and did what he had to do.”

In the second half, Lalanne had twice gave UMass a boost during a run. He had the final two buckets in a 13-2 UMass run that gave the Minutemen a 60-47 lead to start the second half. He then had two more buckets, after Johnny O’Bryant picked up his fourth foul with 13 minutes to play, that extended the lead to double digits once again.

“The first minutes of the second half he was tremendous, so we needed him to come back and battle with O’Bryant,” Putney said. “That’s what he did and he did a good job of it.”

Lalanne fouled out with 2:15 to play, and LSU made a run at a late-game comeback, cutting the lead to 88-85 with under 30 to play. However, UMass made the free throws down the stretch to secure the win.

LSU had struggles of its own on the frontline. O’Bryant landed his third foul late in the first half, and his fourth with 13 minutes to play before returning to the game eight minutes later. What was the more glaring issue occurred moments after the tip. Martin went to the bench with an ankle injury after a minute of action, having his only shot blocked by Raphiael Putney to begin the game.

Through two games, Chaz Williams is averaging 22.0 points and 6.0 assists per game. His play is expected given that he enters his senior season with big expectations, as not only one of the best players in the Atlantic 10, but one of the best point guards in the country.

The rest of UMass looks sharp. Sampson Carter looks a lot more comfortable this season, as opposed to last season when he was coming back from a hip injury. Tyler Bergantino and Maxie Esho have excelled in their roles off the bench while Derrick Gordon is still getting back into game form after sitting out last season due to transfer.

But Lalanne’s play to begin the season has been a huge bonus for the Minutemen becasue it gives UMass a strong inside presence to along with its talented back court. Yes, Lalanne put up big numbers against a smaller BC frontline and yes Martin played less than a minute for LSU on Tuesday, but these aren’t fluke games, according to his teammates.

“That’s Cady Lalanne being Cady Lalanne,” Williams said. “We practice with him, and all them days that’s Cady being Cady and the world hasn’t seen that. You know, us teammates, we tell him, ‘Go out and dominate every game and make the world realize that you are potentially one of the best big men in the country.’ And that’s what he’s trying to do.”

UMass has a tough non-conference schedule with games against Providence, and BYU still remaining. Starting off the season with two quality out-of-conference wins in a 48 hour span is a great start for sixth year head coach Derek Kellogg, who has a favorable conference schedule with home games against VCU, Saint Louis and La Salle.

Kentucky-Kansas headlines the 2017 SEC/Big 12 Challenge

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The Big 12 and the SEC announced the matchups for the 2017 SEC/Big 12 Challenge on Tuesday, and the highlight is, of course, Kansas and Kentucky.

The two schools, who played an instant classic in Phog Allen Fieldhouse last season, will square off in Lexington this season. If that wasn’t enough, Kentucky and Kansas are currently sitting second and third, respectively, in the NBCSports.com Preseason Top 25.

So that should be fun.

The game will be played on January 28th along with the rest of the matchups in the series. Those matchups are:

Texas at Georgia
Texas A&M at West Virginia
Florida at Oklahoma
Baylor at Ole Miss
Iowa State at Vanderbilt
Kansas State at Tennessee
Arkansas at Oklahoma State
Auburn at TCU
LSU at Texas Tech

To be frank, the rest of that schedule is not all that enticing. West Virginia should be a top 25 team, and they host a Texas A&M team that is talented but young. Florida and Georgia are arguably the two best non-Kentucky teams in the league, but they face off with a rebuilding Oklahoma and a young Texas squad, neither of whom are guaranteed to make the tournament.

The problem here?

Both the SEC and the Big 12 are likely going to be down this season, which puts a damper on just how excited we can get about this challenge.

Purdue forward to return to school, withdraw from NBA Draft

Purdue center A.J. Hammons (20) celebrates with forward Vince Edwards (12) in the second half of an NCAA college basketball game against Michigan State in West Lafayette, Ind., Tuesday, Feb. 9, 2016. Purdue defeated Michigan State 82-81 in overtime. (AP Photo/Michael Conroy)
(AP Photo/Michael Conroy)
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Purdue announced on Tuesday that forward Vince Edwards will be returning to school for his junior season.

Edwards declared for the NBA Draft without signing with an agent and went through the process to gauge his value at the next level.

“After getting the NBA experience and going through the evaluation process, I have talked with my family and Coach Painter and decided it is best for me to return for my junior year,” Edwards said in a statement. “Although the NBA is still a dream for me one day, I am coming back to Purdue to make next year a special one. Thank you to all the organizations who gave me the chance to not only showcase my talents, but also the chance to know me as a young man and not just an athlete.”

Edwards averaged 11.3 points and 5.4 boards last season.

Purdue now has to wait to hear from Caleb Swanigan, a rising sophomore that was a top 20 recruit in the Class of 2015. The deadline to withdraw from the draft is Wednesday.

Five-star 2017 forward Porter Jr. releases top five schools

Father Tolton Catholic's Michael Porter, Jr. (1) celebrates after sinking a basket and drawing a foul during the first half of the Missouri Class 3 boys high school championship basketball game against the Barstow Saturday, March 12, 2016, in Columbia, Mo. (AP Photo/Jeff Roberson)
AP Photo/Jeff Roberson
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As one of the top players in the Class of 2017, 6-foot-8 small forward Michael Porter Jr. has been on the receiving end of attention from many high-major programs. Monday night Porter, a native of Columbia, Missouri who’s ranked second in the class by Rivals.com, revealed his top five schools at this point in time.

The five schools that made the cut (in alphabetical order): Indiana, Missouri, Oklahoma, Virginia and Washington.

"Top 5 Top 5 Top 5" 🙏🏽 #Blessed

A photo posted by Michael Porter Jr. (@m1chael_porter) on

Of the five schools on Porter’s list Missouri and Washington may be the most interesting given the family connections. Not only is Missouri the hometown school, but Porter’s older sisters Bri and Cierra are members of the women’s basketball team.

And one of the assistants on that coaching staff was Porter’s father, who earlier this spring joined Lorenzo Romar’s staff at Washington. The elder Porter isn’t the only Washington connection either, with Michael’s younger brother Jontay being a commit in the Class of 2018.

Texas A&M lands Spanish forward Eric Vila

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With the loss of all-conference forward Jalen Jones, Texas A&M was in a position where they could afford to add another front court body alongside the likes of Tyler Davis and Tonny Trocha-Morelos. Thursday afternoon head coach Billy Kennedy and his staff managed to do just that, as 6-foot-9 forward Eric Martinez Vila made his pledge to the SEC program.

News of Vila’s commitment was first reported by TexAgs.com, and the FC Barcelona Lassa (that’s the club’s basketball program) product took visits to Texas A&M, Missouri and Wake Forest earlier this spring. Vila’s viewed as more of a combo forward, with the ability to step away from the basket and hit perimeter shots, giving the Aggies some added versatility in the front court.

Vila has plenty of experience playing for both FC Barcelona’s B team (however he did appear with the A-team during the 2014-15 season), and he represented Spain in the 2014 FIBA U16 EuroBasket and 2015 FIBA U18 EuroBasket events. Vila is the fifth member of Texas A&M’s 2016 class, joining guards J.J. Caldwell and J.C. Hampton, wing DeShawn Corprew and forward Robert Williams.

Nevada forward Cameron Oliver to return for sophomore season

LAS VEGAS, NV - MARCH 11: Angelo Chol #3 of the San Diego State Aztecs drives to the hoop against Cameron Oliver #0 of the Nevada Wolf Pack during a semifinal game of the Mountain West Conference basketball tournament at the Thomas & Mack Center on March 11, 2016 in Las Vegas, Nevada. (Photo by Jeff Bottari/Getty Images)
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With the deadline for early entrants to withdraw from the NBA Draft set for Wednesday, some college basketball teams will receive important news as it pertains to the 2016-17 campaign. One of those teams was Nevada, which surprised many last season by winning 24 games in Eric Musselman’s first season at the helm. And with one of the key contributors from that team deciding to withdraw from the NBA Draft, the Wolf Pack will be well positioned to be even better in 2016-17.

Forward Cameron Oliver, who was one of the Mountain West’s best freshmen this past season, will return to Reno for his sophomore season with Musselman making the news official Monday afternoon.

The 6-foot-8 Oliver averaged 13.4 points, 9.1 rebounds and 2.6 blocks per game for Nevada, shooting 50.8 percent from the field in his debut season. Oliver was named third team All-Mountain West while also earning conference All-Defensive team honors.

Oliver and wing D.J. Fenner (13.7 ppg) are the team’s top two returning scorers, with guard Marqueze Coleman (15.1 ppg) out of eligibility, and they’ll lead the way for a team that can contend in the Mountain West next season.

In addition to Oliver and Fenner, Nevada adds two talented transfers in Leland King and Marcus Marshall, with the latter averaging 19.5 points per game at Missouri State in 2014-15.