Marcus Smart makes a statement with 39 points in Oklahoma State’s win over Memphis

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Andrew Wiggins. Jabari Parker. Julius Randle (basically Kentucky’s entire incoming class). Those were the headlining freshmen entering the 2013-2014 season.

Through the first two weeks they haven’t disappointed. Last week, Wiggins led KU to a win over Parker and Duke in the Champions Classic in Chicago. Parker went over 20 for the fifth time this season on Tuesday night and Randle has posted double-doubles in his first five collegiate games.

Tuesday night, No. 7 Oklahoma State welcomed No. 11 Memphis to Stillwater, and Marcus Smart reminded the nation that he, a sophomore, should be receiving just as much attention as the heralded freshman, as the reigning Big 12 Player of the Year delivered a statement, 39-point performance in the Cowboys’ 101-80 thrashing of Memphis.

Twice during the first half, Smart scored 12 consecutive Oklahoma State points. The first bunch occurred in the opening minutes. When Memphis trimmed the lead to 17-16, Smart again went for a dozen straight Cowboy points, hitting three threes — the knock on him is that he can’t shoot, by the way — and the other trio coming from the foul line after being fouled behind the arc.

Oklahoma State held an 18-point lead heading into the break. It didn’t get much better for Memphis in the second half. The rout was on.

This was the No. 11 team in the nation, featuring arguably the best perimeter attack in the country with four experienced and talented guards. Joe Jackson, Michael Dixon, Geron Johnson and Chris Crawford combined for 21 points of 8-of-34 shooting. Smart had 26 of 8-of-16 shooting after 20 minutes.

He posted a career-high (previous was 28) without forcing it, and went to the line 16 times, where he sunk 12 of his attempts. He also lead the defense with five steals and two blocks and brought energy that livened the Gallagher-Iba Arena. He didn’t do it alone, Markel Brown was great with 20 of his own and Brian Williams added 15, while the rest of the Cowboys played an incredible team defense, challenging everything the Tigers put up. 

But it was clear, this was Smart’s game. His way to reassert himself among the best players in college basketball today.

Smart faced questions and criticism about returning to OK State for his sophomore campaign. He had unfinished business after an early exit to Oregon in the NCAA tournament and even more fuel was added to his fire with all the hype surround the freshmen, which led him to call out his top contender for the preseason Big 12 player of the year crown.

He was a Conference Player of the Year, an All-American, and an overlooked star heading into this season. On Tuesday night, he set the bar for Wiggins, Parker, Randle and any of the other player of the year candidates.

Villanova lands four-star 2018 guard

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Villanova added its first recruit in the Class of 2018 on Wednesday night.

Jay Wright and his staff landed a verbal commitment from Paul VI Catholic High School’s Brandon Slater, a four-star guard by Rivals as the No. 42 overall prospect in the rising senior class.

The 6-foot-5 Slater announced his decision via Twitter.

Slater, according to Jeff Borzello of ESPN, picked the Wildcats over Maryland, Miami, South Carolina, and Virginia.

He is currently playing the Nike EYBL with Team Takeover, the same grassroots program that produced current Villanova guard Phil Booth.

Comic-Con forces Providence to play at Alumni Hall for home opener

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Providence will play its first game at Alumni Hall, the on-campus facility, for the first time in 35 years this fall.

The Friars unveiled their 2017-18 non-conference schedule on Thursday afternoon. The team’s home opener will play either Houston Baptist or Belmont in Mullaney Gym inside Alumni Hall.

According to Kevin McNamara of the Providence Journal, the reason for that is a schedule conflict at Providence’s home arena, the Dunkin’ Donuts Center, in downtown Providence. A Comic-Con convention is scheduled Nov. 10-12. As McNamara notes, it’s a busy part of the season for The Dunk. The arena also is home to the Providence Bruins, the American Hockey League affiliate of the Boston Bruins, and by mid-November, their season is in full swing.

The Friars haven’t played at Alumni Hall since 1972, the same year the Dunkin’ Donuts Center was opened. In the three decades since Providence last played a regular season game there, the facility has gone under necessary renovations, as you could imagine. Even with added seats, Mullaney Gym can host a maximum of 1,549. That’s a fraction of what The Dunk’s capacity of 12,400.

Providence will return to its downtown home on Nov. 13, hosting Minnesota as part of the Gavitt Games. The Golden Gophers will likely be a top-20 team to open the season. The Friars, who bring back every notable player from last year’s NCAA Tournament team, is a fringe top-25 team.

Jalen Coleman-Lands to transfer out of Illinois

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The already-thin Illinois roster got thinner on Thursday afternoon.

Evan Daniels of Scout.com reported that sophomore guard Jalen Coleman-Lands has requested and received his release from the program. He will have to sit out next season but will have two years of eligibility remaining.

Coleman-Lands was a top-40 recruit in the Class of 2015, according to Rivals. He becomes the second player from that recruiting class this month to exit the school. Reserve guard D.J. Williams elected to transfer on May 8. With Jeremiah Tilmon and Javon Pickett, two incoming recruits, both previously reopened their recruitments following John Groce’s firing.

Even with the addition of Wright State graduate transfer Mark Alstork, who officially joined the Fighting Illini on Wednesday, Illinois is left with only nine scholarship players as of right now.

Coleman-Lands’ production dipped from his freshman campaign, ending the 2016-17 season averaging 8.0 points and 2.3 rebounds per game, shooting 38 percent from three.

One destination that will likely be rumored will be nearby DePaul. Coleman-Lands played for new DePaul assistant coach Shane Heirman at prep school powerhouse La Lumiere School. Heriman quickly tapped into that prep pipeline, helping secure a commitment from La Lumiere from five-star 2019 point guard Tyger Campbell earlier this month.

Coleman-Lands had taken official visits to Notre Dame and UNLV before committing to the Illini in September 2014.

North Carolina releases response to latest NCAA Notice of Allegations

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North Carolina is still trying to convince the NCAA that their investigation into the paper classes given by the university’s African-American Studies Department is not, in fact, an NCAA matter.

On Thursday afternoon, the University released their response to the NCAA’s third iteration of the Notice of Allegations, and the core argument in that response is that the school’s “inadequate academic oversight” does not fall under the jurisdiction of the NCAA’s bylaws. In other words, North Carolina is arguing that a rogue professor creating fake classes is not an NCAA issue. It’s a school issue.

What’s more, North Carolina is also arguing that athletes taking these classes should not be classified as an extra benefit because they were available to the entire student body.

“No special arrangements were made for student-athletes in violation of NCAA extra-benefit legislation,” the response reads. “Student-athletes were not treated differently than other students who took the Courses.”

“The public narrative for the last six years, popularized by media accounts, is that Department of Athletics at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill took advantage of ‘fake classes’ in the Department of African and African-American Studies to keep student-athletes eligible. That narrative is wrong and contradicted by the facts in the record.”

The NCAA’s allegations center around the idea that UNC’s athletes, most notably members of the football and men’s and women’s basketball teams, were guided to the fake classes within that department in order to keep their GPAs high enough to remain eligible. The classes in question had a disproportionate percentage of athletes.

A hearing in front of the Committee on Infractions is expected to take place at some point this summer.

No indictment for escort, staffer in Louisville sex scandal

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LOUISVILLE, Ky. (AP) — A grand jury declined to indict an escort and former Louisville men’s basketball staffer in a sex scandal that engulfed the program.

The Jefferson County grand jury decided Thursday there wasn’t enough evidence for charges of prostitution and unlawful transactions with a minor against Katina Powell and Andre McGee.

Powell wrote in a book published in 2015 that McGee hired her to provide dancers to perform sex acts for Cardinal recruits and players from 2010-2014.

The announcement by the Commonwealth’s Attorney’s Office comes as the school awaits discipline in early June by the NCAA after an investigation.

Louisville has imposed its own penalties, including a postseason ban in 2015-16 and reductions in scholarships and recruiting visits by coaches.