The Bazz ‘n’ Boat Show gets the publicity, but Deandre Daniels is UConn’s difference-maker

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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 — Boston College has two of the best players in the ACC this season in Olivier Hanlan and Ryan Anderson, but they entered Thursday night’s opener in the 2K Sports Classic 1-3. One of the biggest reasons for their struggles? Perimeter defense. The Eagles were shredded by the likes of UMass, Toledo and Providence, so it only stood to reason that, going up against one of the best back courts in the country, the Eagles would spend most of the night trying to contain the likes of Shabazz Napier and Ryan Boatright.

And they did.

Well, too.

The Bazz and Boat Show combined to go 8-for-25 from the floor and 0-for-5 from three, so it shouldn’t surprise you that the Huskies, who entered the game 4-0 and ranked 18th in the country, had their worst offensive game of the young season.

Midway through the second half, as the Eagles were slowly but surely chipping away at what was once an 11 point UConn lead, Boatright had sprinted his way up the floor and was calling for the ball in the corner loud enough that everyone in a mostly-empty Madison Square Garden could hear him.

Napier’s response?

“CHILL!!!”

Napier is UConn’s unquestioned leader, which is a good thing coming from a talented point guard. He knows he needs to score for UConn to win games, but he also knows when he needs to get his teammates involved. There’s a maturity to his game that we haven’t seen in season’s past. He’s a better decision-maker. His shot selection has improved. There’s a reason that most pundits consider Napier in the same conversation with Marcus Smart and Jahii Carson when it comes to the best point guard in the country.

He’s their best player. He may be their most valuable player, the most irreplaceable.

But he’s not their most important player.

That designation falls squarely on the shoulders of Deandre Daniels, UConn’s 6-foot-9 junior forward. Daniels scored 12 points in a five minute stretch during the first half, finishing with 23 on 8-for-15 shooting. That came days after Daniels went for 24 points in a win over Boston University that was much closer than the 77-60 final indicated. UConn trailed at one point during the second half.

“I wanted to stay aggressive on offense,” Daniels said. “My teammates were looking for me, and I knocked down my shots tonight.” He hadn’t been hitting those shots early in the season, as he combined for just 19 points in his first three games, hitting just 8-for-24 from the floor and 1-for-7 from three.

“He just stayed in the gym. He could have made excuses,” Ollie said of what changed for Daniels. “We have a saying, ‘We don’t look out the window, we look in the mirror.’ We stayed focused. He had to be aggressive, stay in the gym, stay in the lab, and keep working on your game. I’m proud of him.”

What makes Daniels so dangerous is his versatility. He’s long and athletic, which allows him to finish around the rim, but he’s got a nice handle and a perimeter jumper. He plays the four for the Huskies — at times on Thursday, he played the five — which makes him a matchup nightmare. How many power forwards will UConn face that have the footspeed on the perimeter to stay with Daniels when he wants to penetrate?

The answer is simple: not many.

“The thing that makes him hard to guard is that he moves really well for a guy his size,” Boston College head coach Steve Donahue said. “With their guards being so good, he’s an after thought at times. If you do that, he’s an extremely talented one on one player.”

UConn is not a big basketball team. They have some height, but most of their big men are going to be spending a lot of time in the gym and in the cafeteria during their career in Storrs. The Huskies are so bad on the glass that Napier and Boatright are not only the team’s two leading scorers, but they entered Thursday night as the team’s two leading rebounders. Both of them are shorter than me.

When Daniels is playing like he has in the past two games, it forces UConn’s opponent to make a decision: bring in a smaller, quicker defender to slow down Daniels, or risk having a legitimate NBA prospect get hot against a guy that cannot defend him. More often than not, coaches will go small, which helps nullifies their advantage on the glass.

Daniels is the difference maker for UConn, as he not only takes the pressure of UConn’s back court, but he makes them that much more difficult to guard.

4-star center commits to Purdue

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With Vince Edwards and Isaac Haas entering their senior seasons, adding front court options in the 2018 class was something that Purdue needed to do. Purdue added its second front court commitment in the 2018 class Tuesday evening, as four-star center Emmanuel Dowuona reportedly made his pledge. News of Dowuona’s commitment was first reported by the Lafayette Journal & Courier.

Dowuona, a 6-foot-11 big man who attends Westwood Christian School in Miami, joins fellow four-star prospect Trevion Williams in Purdue’s 2018 class to date.

Dowuona’s commitment comes just days before he was reportedly to visit Tennessee. Among the other programs to have offered Duwuona were Clemson, Georgia Tech, Miami and UConn.

Dowuona played for the Team Breakdown program on the Under Armour Association circuit during the summer, averaging 7.9 points, 7.0 rebounds and 2.1 blocks per game while shooting 59.3 percent from the field. While still a bit raw offensively, the native of Ghana provides value as a defender and rebounder. Dowuona is joining a program that during Painter’s tenure as head coach has done a good job of developing big men.

Dowuona and the aforementioned Williams will look to compete for playing time in 2018-19 alongside current redshirt junior Jacquil Taylor and 7-foot-3 redshirt freshman center Matt Haarms.

Dayton freshman Toppin ineligible for 2017-18 season

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Dayton announced Tuesday afternoon that one of the program’s incoming freshmen will not be eligible to compete this season. 6-foot-8 forward Obadiah Toppin has been ruled by the NCAA to have not met initial eligibility requirements, and he will have to sit out the 2017-18 season as a result.

Toppin will be allowed to remain a member of the team and participate in practices, and he will have four seasons of eligibility remaining beginning with the 2018-19 season. While the NCAA’s decision leaves the Flyers short a front court option in head coach Anthony Grant’s first season at the helm, it did not come as a surprise.

“We knew this was a possible scenario for Obi early on in the recruiting process,” Grant said in the release. “And if it came to pass, we saw this as a chance for him to utilize this year acclimate as a student and enhance his strength and skill as an academic redshirt. This is a great opportunity for Obi to develop as a player and student over the next 12 months, and prepare himself for a very successful college career.”

Toppin, who averaged 17 points and eight rebounds per game at Mt. Zion Academy last season, is one of five freshmen who have joined the program. Matej Svoboda and Jordan Pierce will look to earn minutes alongside returnees Josh Cunningham and Xeyrius Williams, and the same can be said for redshirt freshman Kostas Antetokounmpo.

Toppin being declared ineligible is the third hit Dayton has taken to its front court this offseason. Ryan Mikesell, who played in 32 games last season, will redshirt after undergoing two hip surgeries. And Sam Miller, who was also part of the team’s front court rotation last season, was suspended from school for the fall semester after he was arrested during the summer.

Four-star forward commits to Ohio State

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Ohio State is on the board with regards to the 2018 recruiting class, as Chris Holtmann’s program received a much-needed verbal commitment from four-star forward Jaedon LeDee. The 6-foot-9 Houston native announced his decision via his Twitter account Tuesday afternoon.

In receiving a verbal commitment from LeDee, Ohio State beat out California, Houston, Iowa State, LSU, Oklahoma, Texas A&M and UCLA. The Buckeyes hosted LeDee for his official visit the weekend of September 9, which coincided with the football team’s matchup with Oklahoma. Originally scheduled to visit Cal this past weekend, LeDee instead visited Texas A&M.

With LeDee’s commitment to Ohio State, visits to LSU (September 30) and UCLA (October 6) are likely off the board.

Currently attending the Kincaid School, LeDee played for the Texas PRO grassroots program on the adidas Uprising circuit this summer. The four-star prospect will likely be a combo forward for Ohio State, playing either the three or the four depending on the matchup.

With Jae’Sean Tate beginning his senior season and Keita Bates-Diop being a redshirt junior, Ohio State had a need to address in the front court. In landing a verbal pledge from Jaedon LeDee, the Buckeyes have done just that.

Among the front court players who will have eligibility remaining beyond the 2017-18 season are Bates-Diop, current sophomores Micah Potter and Andre Wesson, and freshmen Kaleb Wesson and Kyle Young.

The Pac-12 is foolish for scheduling Arizona-UCLA once during the regular season

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Last month, I wrote about one of the more troubling trends in college basketball: Teams steering away from playing the games that fans are going to care about the most.

It was the result of Georgetown head coach Patrick Ewing stating publicly that he was “not thinking about Maryland” after the rivalry between the DMV’s two most well-known programs went by the wayside.

Ewing isn’t the only coach that is culpable here. Kansas and Missouri don’t play. Kansas and Wichita State don’t play, either. Duke and Maryland don’t play. Ohio State doesn’t play Cincinnati, Xavier or Dayton. It goes on and on.

But the blame can no longer only be given to the coaches that schedule to protect themselves and/or their program.

The conferences deserve some criticism as well. Take, for instance, the Pac-12, who released their schedule recently after deciding that Arizona, a contender for the preseason No. 1 team in the country, should only play UCLA and USC, the only two teams that have a realistic chance of upending the Wildcats for the Pac-12 crown, once apiece.

Not only that, but the games will be played in Tucson, an incredible advantage for Sean Miller’s club as they pursue the league’s regular season title.

Look, I get it. There are 12 teams in the league and there is an 18-game schedule. Each team in the league is going to play four of their 11 league foes just once. It’s simple math. But the answer should never, ever be to schedule the Arizona schools and the Southern California schools just once.

The reasoning is simple: Arizona and UCLA are the two biggest brands in the league. When they play it will draw more interest than when any other two teams in the conference play, and that’s something the conference should be trying to capitalize on. It takes a lot to convince anyone on the east coast to stay up to watch a Pac-12 basketball game. I cover this sport for a living and I have a hard time making it all the way through a 10 p.m. ET tip. When a two-year old is going to be screaming at me to make breakfast at 6:30 a.m., do I really want to stay up to watch Arizona blow out Washington or UCLA to beat up on Cal?

The Pac-12 should do everything they can to ensure that Arizona and UCLA play twice every season.

That is even more true this year. Arizona might be the best team in the country and they might have the No. 1 pick in the 2018 NBA Draft on their roster in Deandre Ayton. UCLA is a top 15 team that just so happens to have Liangelo Ball, the worst of the three Ball brothers and potentially the last one to matriculate through the college ranks. The seemingly inevitable LaVar Ball blow-up is something we all will be watching patiently to see.

Should I mention the simmering hatred between Sean Miller and Steve Alford as they continually compete for the best prospects on the west coast?

And that’s before you factor in that USC is the second-best team in the league, and anyone that UCLA plays twice, USC will also play twice.

I’ll be sure to watch a number of Oregon games this season, and I think that Stanford, Oregon State and Colorado all have the pieces to sneak up on some people this year. I’ll be sure to check in on them a couple times as well.

But the games that I’ll have circled on my calendar, the games I’ll be excited about watching, are between Arizona, UCLA and USC.

By scheduling the Arizona schools and the Southern California schools just once during the regular season, the Pac-12 cost themselves a third of that inventory.

That doesn’t seems like the smartest way to run a business conference.

But hey, if conference realignment and the development of conference-only networks taught us anything, it’s that major college athletics are all about competitive balance over those advertising dollars.

Vanderbilt lands commitment from Aaron Nesmith

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Vanderbilt landed their first commitment in the Class of 2018 with four-star wing Aaron Nesmith.

Nesmith is a native of South Carolina, and the Commodores beat out South Carolina for his services. At 6-foot-6, Nesmith is the kind of defensive presence and athlete that Vandy will need to replace Jeff Roberson, who will be graduating this season.

This is a critical class for Bryce Drew, who is squarely in the mix for five-star guards Darius Garland and Romeo Langford. Nesmith isn’t on that level, but he will be a nice piece for Vandy for four years.