Sunday’s Pregame Shootaround: Louisville has first test of the season against North Carolina

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GAME OF THE DAY: No. 3 Louisville vs. No. 24 North Carolina, 1:00 p.m. (ESPN) 

North Carolina isn’t the team that many projected in the preseason thanks to the absence of P.J. Hairston and Leslie McDonald, but the Tar Heels still have enough firepower to challenge Louisville in the championship game of the Hall of Fame Tipoff at Mohegan Sun. Louisville defeated Fairfield 71-57, while North Carolina earned a solid win over Richmond, 82-72, the the semifinal games yesterday.

THE OTHER GAME OF THE DAY: Virginia Commonwealth vs. Georgetown, 2:00 p.m. (ESPNU)

Georgetown is feeling the ill effects of losing Otto Porter to the NBA and has struggled in the early going with losses to Oregon and Northeastern — the latter loss very disconcerting as the Hoyas were outscored 38-20 in the second half en route to a 63-56 loss. Things don’t get easier as they have to now cope with VCU’s havoc defense. Look for Georgetown to feature Josh Smith on the offensive end as he will have a distinct size advantage against VCU.

MID-MAJOR MATCHUP OF THE DAY: North Dakota vs. North Dakota State, 6:00 p.m.

If you like scoring and three-pointers, keep an eye on this game between these in-state rivals. North Dakota State has high aspirations this season as they return Taylor Braun, among others, but North Dakota is a solid team in their own right as they showed against Wisconsin last Tuesday. The Bagders are good this season, and North Dakota hung with them for much of the game, eventually succumbing 103-85.

FIVE THINGS TO WATCH: 

1) Will UMass continue their hot start and knock off another BCS opponent in Clemson? On the young season, UMass has already defeated Boston College, LSU, Youngstown State, Nebraska, and — most impressively — New Mexico. A win against the Tigers, and don’t be surprised to see the Minutemen in the Top 25 come Monday.

2) Another Massachusetts school, Harvard has their first true test of the season as they travel to Colorado. It’s been hard to gauge just how good the Crimson are, but we should learn much more about them against Colorado. The match-up between Harvard’s guards Siyani Chambers and Wesley Saunders vs. Colorado’s Spencer Dinwiddie and Askia Booker will be a good battle.

3) Providence has impressed thus far, compiling a 5-0 record with solid wins over Boston College and Vanderbilt. Against Vanderbilt, the Friars ended the game on a 27-4 run to win 67-60. They have another good test today against La Salle. Seniors Bryce Cotton and Kadeem Batts have been tremendous, and the Friars are looking like a team that has the potential to make the NCAA Tournament for the first time since 2004.

4) Maryland has gotten off to a slow start with losses to Connecticut and Oregon State, and their game against Northern Iowa at the Paradise Jam in St. Thomas figures to be a tough one. Nick Faust has to be better in order for the Terps to get on track — through four games he is shooting just 36% on two-pointers and 22% on three-pointers.

5) You should be paying close attention to Belmont this season; the Bruins are for real and very good. Fresh off of their win against North Carolina last weekend, they dismantled rival Lipscomb 94-64, and then had a solid victory against Holy Cross last night. Through six games, they have eclipsed the 80 point mark five times, and have one of the most efficient offenses in college basketball. Belmont doesn’t figure to be challenged much by Hofstra today.

THE REST OF THE TOP 25:

  • No. 6 Duke vs. Vermont, 6:30 p.m. (ESPNU)
  • No. 14 Michigan vs. Charlotte, 6:30 p.m. (ESPN2)
  • No. 17 Oregon vs. San Francisco, 8:00 p.m. (Pac-12 Network)
  • No. 19 New Mexico vs. Davidson, currently airing on ESPNU
  • No. 22 UCLA vs. Chattanooga, 10:00 p.m. (Pac-12 Network)

NOTABLES: 

  • UAB vs. Temple, 6:30 p.m. (ESPN3)
  • Florida State vs. Northeastern, 4:30 p.m. (ESPN2)
  • Richmond vs. Fairfield, 3:00 p.m. (ESPN3)

Lonzo Ball says “I’m better than” Markelle Fultz

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Usually, it’s LaVar Ball that makes news for what he says.

His eldest son is now getting in on the business of generating headlines with something other than his play.

The UCLA star, who said he’ll enter the draft after just one season with the Bruins, claimed he’s the better prospect than Washington freshman Markelle Fultz, who many have pegged as the No. 1 pick in June’s draft.

“Markelle’s a great player,” Ball said, according to ESPN, “but I feel I’m better than him,” “I think I can lead a team better than him. Obviously he’s a great scorer — he’s a great player, so I’m not taking that away from him.”

Not exactly inflammatory stuff – like saying you could have beaten Michael Jordan, that you want a $1 billion apparel deal or a number of things his father has said – bu Ball is certainly projecting confidence. And there’s absolutely nothing wrong with that. There’s quite a bit of money – and pride – at stake with the draft, and Ball put up a season worthy of comparison to Fultz, who had great numbers but played for an abysmal Washington team. Ball, on the other had, had strong numbers while leading UCLA to the Sweet 16.

Both are going to go at the top of a draft that’s stocked full of promising point guards. Which player goes before the other remains to be seen, but it’s likely public pronouncements aren’t going to affect the draft order.

 

UMass hires McCall away from Chattanooga

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UMass has found, once more, the man to take over its basketball program.

The Minutemen have reached an agreement with Chattanooga coach Matt McCall, the school announce Wednesday

“The tradition and resources that are in place not only make this one of the best basketball jobs in the Atlantic 10 Conference,” McCall said in a statement released by the school, “but one of the best jobs in the country. We couldn’t be more excited about becoming part of the UMass family and look forward to building upon the rich tradition that has been established here in the past.”

In McCall’s two years at Chattanooga, the Mocs to the NCAA tournament in 2016 and a 19-12 record this year that featured five-straight losses to end the season.

The move will take McCall out of the southeast for the first time in his career as he previously served as at Florida and Florida Atlantic before getting his first head coaching job at Chattanooga.

McCall wasn’t the Minutemen’s first choice to replace Derek Kellogg after three-straight lackluster seasons. Winthrop coach Pat Kelsey had agreed to take the job before a last-minute about-face that saw him return to the Eagles program just before his introductory press conference was scheduled to begin.

“Matt is a rising star in college basketball coaching who has been a key piece of three successful programs in his career,” UMass athletic director Ryan Bamford said in a statement. “He has earned a reputation as a relentless worker, a great teammate and colleague and a confident leader of young men.

“Matt has worked with some of the most respected coaches and administrators in the country, who loudly sing his praises. Coach McCall’s appointment begins an exciting new chapter for our tradition-rich men’s basketball program at UMass.”

Despite being the second choice, McCall’s reputation in the coaching industry makes him a strong hire, having worked under Mike Jarvis and Billy Donovan. He took over at Chattanooga for Will Wade, and brought the Mocs to a 29-6 record and a  12-seed in the NCAA tournament in 2016.

UMass went to just one NCAA tournament under Kellogg (in 2014) during his nine seasons leading the Minutemen.

VIDEO: Frank Martin’s sideline demeanor as a high school coach

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South Carolina coach Frank Martin has the reputation of being rather, shall we say, intense on the sidelines during games.

The coach has a stare that seemingly could bore a hole through his players when they do something that doesn’t reach his level of expectation. Martin’s demeanor, though, didn’t just come into form once he hit the college ranks.

He was plenty intense on high school sidelines as well.

Martin won three titles while at Miami Senior in the mid-1990s, coaching the likes of future pros Steve Blake and Udonis Haslem. Now having reached his first career Final Four, that sideline persona has put him on the precipice of winning yet another championship, this time at the collegiate level.

South Carolina fans raise money to send “Gamecock Jesus” to Final Four

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South Carolina fans are sending one of their most recognizable compatriots to represent them this weekend.

Gamecock Jesus is heading to the Final Four.

South Carolina super fan Carlton Thompson is following the Gamecocks to Glendale as his fellow fans have raised over $7,500 to send the man known as “Gamecock Jesus” to Arizona for the team’s Final Four meeting with Gonzaga on Saturday night.

Thompson’s long hair, beard and presence at South Carolina games, even in lean times, earned him his nickname and apparently a following fervent enough to foot the bill for quite the trip.

“I’ve always dreamed it would be like this,” Thompson said last week about fan support at Gamecock games to the Post and Courier. “For years and years, it was so sparse with the crowds at the games. But once they started winning, the crowds started coming.”

Thompson is a 63-year-old VA hospital nurse, and has been attending South Carolina games for nearly 50 years.

Maryland’s Melo Trimble declares for the NBA Draft

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Melo Trimble’s career as a Maryland Terrapin is coming to an end. The junior guard is declaring for the NBA Draft and will sign with an agent.

“I am confident and excited to pursue an opportunity to play in the NBA,” Trimble said in a release. “I am proud of what my teammates and I were able to accomplish these past three seasons at Maryland. I developed many great relationships and friendships and together we able to create some very special moments for Maryland basketball. I want to thank Coach Turgeon for all of his support. He always believed in me. He challenged me and really helped in the development of my overall game. I am a more complete basketball player because of Coach Turgeon and the coaching staff. To stay at home and attend the University of Maryland is the best decision that I ever made and it was truly special to play in front of my family, friends and our amazing fans. Maryland will always be home.”

There was no better winner in college basketball the last three years than Melo. He changed the trajectory of Mark Turgeon’s program, winning 79 games in three years and ending his career 30-8 in games decided by six points or less. As a junior, Trimble and the Terps earned a No. 6 seed to the NCAA tournament, but they lost in the first round to Xavier. It was the only time in Trimble’s career that he didn’t reach the Sweet 16.

“Melo Trimble is a winner,” Mark Turgeon said on twitter. “Humble, hard-working, dedicated. Words can’t express what he’s done for our program. Always #StayMelo!”