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No. 18 UConn knocks off Boston College, Eagles losing margin for error for at-large

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From Nov. 20th thru Dec. 1st, I’ll be on the road, hitting 21 games in 11 days. To follow along and read my stories from the road, click here.

NEW YORK — Deandre Daniels finished with 23 points and Shabazz Napier added 19, 11 of which came in the second half, as No 18 UConn survived upset-minded Boston College 72-70 in the opening round of the 2K Sports Classic at Madison Square Garden on Thursday night.

Daniels scored 15 of his 23 points in the first half to help the Huskies build a lead that reached 11 on a number of occasions, but BC’s stars Olivier Hanlan and Ryan Anderson brought the Eagles back down the stretch. Napier missed a free throw with less than a minute left that gave the Eagles life, but Hanlan missed at the rim on the ensuing possession and Boatright was fouled during the scrum for the rebound. His two free throws put the Huskies up four.

The knock on BC coming into this game was their ability to defend on the perimeter. They had been torched by the likes of UMass, Toledo and Providence, all of whom have quality guards. That also happens to be UConn’s strength with the likes of Napier, Ryan Boatright and Omar Calhoun. But BC actually held their own. Napier had 20, but it was a quiet 20; he made some big shots down the stretch, but he certainly didn’t dominate the game and he struggled getting to the rim at times. Boatright had just nine points on the night, and combined the duo shot 8-for-26 from the floor.

“They were doubling on the pick and rolls,” Napier said, “and when we penetrated the paint they played great help defense, we weren’t knocking down our shots. ”

The issue for Steve Donahue’s club on this night was on the offensive end of the floor. No one on the UConn can guard Anderson, yet the Eagles couldn’t — or wouldn’t — get him enough touches on the block in the second half. There were multiple possessions where he had Phil Nolan or Amida Brimah sealed and the BC guards simply didn’t give him the ball. He still finished with 22 points, on just eight shots, while going to the line 11 times. That would have been less of an issue if Hanlan went off for 38 points again, but he didn’t. He struggled for most of the first 35 minutes of the game.

“It was not only me and Ryan, the whole team, we had all five guys looking at him,” Napier said of Hanlan.

Hanlan’s a talent, however, and he was at his best in the final minutes. But at this point, BC is really just a two-man show. Anderson and Hanlan combined for 39 of their 68 points, and when going up against a team that is as talented as the Huskies are, that’s not going to cut it, even when they have an off-night.

UConn moves to 5-0 on the season, while BC drops to 1-4.

I can safely say they are the best 1-4 team in the country, and while I still think this group is good enough to win a game or two in the tournament, the hole that they have dug themselves may be too much to work their way out of. The only two relevant games left on their non-conference are VCU on the road and Harvard. Then it’s the ACC schedule, which certainly won’t be easy.

BC will have plenty of chances to build a resume that is strong enough to earn an at-large bid, but November’s not yet over and they are already to a point where their margin of error is very slim.

“All these failures are going to make us tougher, stronger,” said Donahue. “We have to stay the course. I think we’re going to be a good basketball team.”

If the Eagles want to avoid being forced into having to win the ACC’s automatic bid, they’re going to have to turn their season around in a hurry.

White decides to return to Nebraska

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Nebraska’s second-leading scorer from last season will return for his senior season as Andrew White III announced Wednesday he will withdraw his name from the NBA Draft.

“I felt good about the pre-draft process, White said in a statement released by Nebraska. “It was encouraging, and I gained as much ground as anyone throughout the process. I wanted one more year to fine tune my game and put myself in better position for the NBA next summer.  

“I want to thank the teams who invited me their in-house workouts, and Nebraska for supporting me during this process.  It has been very helpful in gathering information in preparation for my future Thank you to everyone who has been following my progress throughout the spring and being understanding and supportive, as I evaluated whether to turn pro or return for my senior year.”

White, a Kansas transfer, tallied 16.6 points per game last season while shooting 48.1 percent from the floor and 41.2 percent from 3-point range. He also pulled down 5.9 rebounds per game.

“We are excited to have Andrew remain with our program,” coach Tim Miles said. “This has been a valuable time for him, as he has tested his skills against some of the best competition and received very important insight from key NBA personnel.  

“We look forward to continuing to help Andrew’s development to improve his NBA profile even more than he already has done through this process.  I believe next year could be our most complete team with a great opportunity for success in the Big Ten and NCAA tournament, I’m happy Andrew will be with us to go out and prove it.”

The news is certainly welcome for the Cornhuskers and Miles, who will be under pressure to show improvement after back-to-back disappointing seasons following an NCAA tournament appearance in 2014. Shavon Shields, last year’s leading scorer, has exhausted his eligibility and the Huskers will need White to help fill the void.

Trimble coming back to Terps

Maryland guard Melo Trimble (AP Photo/Matt Hazlett)
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Melo Trimble is returning to Maryland.

The Terrapin guard will be back to for his junior season in College Park, according to multiple reports.

Trimble went from freshman first-rounder to question mark after a rough end to his sophomore season for Maryland in which his points per game, shooting percentage (both overall and from 3-point range) and rebounding dipped from his first season. Only his assists per game showed any sort of improvement. He waited until the last possible day to announce his intentions to return to school, but really his options were limited after seeing his production drop.

His decision to come back to school gives him a shot to restore his draft stock while Maryland gets its floor general back to help ease the transition from last year’s Sweet 16 squad that lost Diamond Stone, Rasheed Sulaimon and Jake Layman. The Terps might not be a sure-fire top-25 team with Trimble back, but their NCAA tournament chances are now significantly higher.

Nevada lands Martin twins

Caleb Martin, Jordan Roper
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Eric Musselman keeps adding reinforcements to his roster. For the 2017-18 season.

Musselman and Nevada received commitments from N.C. State transfers and twin brothers Caleb and Cody Martin, according to multiple reports.

That brings Nevada’s sit-out transfer count for this upcoming season to four with Hallice Cooke (Iowa State) and Kendall Stephens (Purdue) already in the fold. Under NCAA transfer rules, the quartet will have to sit out the upcoming season before being eligible in 2017-18.

Caleb averaged 11.5 points, 4.7 rebounds and 1.4 assists while shooting 36 percent from deep while Cody put up 6.0 points, 4.4 rebounds and 2.3 assists, shooting 43 percent from beyond the arc.

The timing of having four sit-out transfers works well for the Wolf Pack given that two of the team’s three leading scorers from last year, D.J. Fenner (a senior) and Cameron Oliver (a sophomore), return while senior transfers Marcus Marshall (Missouri State) becomes eligible. Having those four experienced transfers begin playing in 2017-18 while all but two players from this upcoming team slated to return makes Nevada an interesting team, a year from now.

Louisville big man heading to NBA Draft

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After a day of mixed messages, Louisville’s Chinanu Onuaku finally made it official.

He’s staying in the NBA Draft.

“After talking to my family and going through the NBA process,” Onuaku wrote in an Instagram post, “me and my family have decided that it would be best for me to keep my name in the draft.”

The day started out with Cardinals coach Rick Pitino telling multiple media outlets that the 6-foot-10 sophomore would remain in the draft after he declared last month without an agent and attended the draft combine. Onuaku, though, appeared to at least mildly refute that with an Instagram post that said his decision wouldn’t come until later Wednesday evening. Which it did, confirming Pitino’s words.

The confusion may have been frustrating for observers, but Onuaku’s social media presence no doubt has benefited from the bizarre day.

Onuaku averaged 9.9 points, 8.5 rebounds, 2.0 blocks and 1.6 assists in 24.6 minutes per game last season, making his per-40 numbers, a metric NBA teams like to take into consideration, nothing short of fantastic. He also shot a not-so-shabby 62.0 percent from the floor. His size, athleticism and ability to score around the basket (he’s taken one 3-pointer in two seasons) make him a potential first-round selection in next month’s draft.

The 19-year-old Onuaku underwent a procedure on his heart last week due to Wolff-Parkinson-White syndrome. It has been described as a minor procedure that will not affect his ability to play long-term or work out with teams leading up to the draft.

The Cardinals, meanwhile, should be able to absorb Onuaku’s loss seemlessly as they return the bulk of last year’s team that went 23-8 and was ranked 10th in KenPom, but was banned from the postseason as a result of the Katina Powell bombshell. Newcomers Tony Hicks (Penn transfer) and V.J. King (consensus top-30 recruit) will also make for solid additions.

Swanigan staying for sophomore season

Purdue's Vince Edwards (12), Purdue's Caleb Swanigan (50) and Purdue's A.J. Hammons (20) celebrate during the second half of an NCAA college basketball game against the Illinois in the quarterfinals at the Big Ten Conference tournament, Friday, March 11, 2016, in Indianapolis. Purdue won 89-58. (AP Photo/Michael Conroy)
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Purdue will once again be rolling out a formidable frontcourt in the 2016-17 season.

Boilermaker big man Caleb Swanigan is withdrawing from the NBA Draft to return to West Lafayette for his sophomore season, the school announced Wednesday.

The NBA is right there and always will be,” Swanigan said in the school’s press release, “but you always have to have patience and do what’s best for you.”

Purdue is losing 7-foot senior A.J. Hammons, but will be once again teaming Swanigan with Isaac Haas (7-2) and Vince Edwards (6-8) that will allow them to roll out a supersized lineup that is sure to be a difficult one to face off against.

The 6-foot-9, 250-pound Swanigan, who likely would have landed as a second-round pick, averaged 10.2 points, 8.3 rebounds and 1.2 assists and was a finalist for the Wayman Tisdale Award for the country’s top freshman.

“We are excited that (Swanigan) has withdrawn from the NBA Draft and will return to Purdue,” head coach said Matt Painter in a statement released by the school. “He has the potential to make a huge jump from his freshman season and will be a big part of what we do next year. He received great experience going through this process and will use the feedback he received to make him a more diverse player.”

Purdue is probably a rung down from Michigan State and Wisconsin at the top of the league, but the return of Swanigan pulls them closer to competing at the top of the league next season.