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No. 21 Memphis shows improved mental toughness in win over No. 5 Oklahoma State

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Less than two weeks ago America had its most recent opportunity to watch Josh Pastner’s Memphis Tigers in a “big” game, as they visited Stillwater to take on Oklahoma State. With the amount of talent on the roster, the Tigers were expected to put up a fight at Gallagher-Iba Arena. Instead Marcus Smart went off in the first half and Memphis didn’t respond when punched in the mouth, resulting in a 101-80 defeat that wasn’t as close as the final margin would indicate.

That was the backdrop for Sunday’s rematch in the title game of the Old Spice Classic, with many wondering if Memphis had what it took to win a high-profile contest such as this one. Could the Tigers respond with the mental toughness needed to win a game of this magnitude? Sure enough Memphis did, coming back from a ten-point halftime deficit to beat the Cowboys 73-68 to take home the Old Spice Classic crown.

Shaq Goodwin, named MVP of the event, led the way with 17 points and eight rebounds and his steal of a Marcus Smart pass in the game’s final seconds proved to be the difference. And the guards who didn’t show up in the first meeting did so in the rematch, with Chris Crawford (16 points) and Michael Dixon Jr. (12 points) both hitting key shots down the stretch and Joe Jackson and Geron Johnson also contributing. The most important feat for the Memphis perimeter: their work in defending Marcus Smart.

Smart scored 39 points in the first meeting, doing just about whatever he wanted on that night. In the rematch Smart shot 4-for-13 from the field, finishing with 12 points, eight rebounds, four assists and three turnovers. Memphis made Smart work for everything, especially in the second half, and if the national Player of the Year candidate got past the guards there was a big man (or two) waiting for him in the paint.

As a team the Cowboys shot 8-for-21 from the field in the second half and turned the ball over nine times (by comparison, Memphis committed just two in the half), and while their poor execution can be noted Memphis’ defensive effort should be mentioned as well. Memphis landed the first blow in the second half, immediately going on a 7-0 run to cut the deficit to just three points. Would that have happened in Stillwater just 12 days prior? Probably not.

The headlines will focus on Josh Pastner’s team getting a Top 25 victory, and given how the Tigers have struggled in such games since Pastner was hired that’s certainly fair. But there’s also value in the improved mental toughness displayed by Memphis, and that’s something that can benefit the Tigers as the season rolls on.

DePaul adds 2018 commit

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Wisconsin guard John Diener has committed to DePaul, his grassroots program announced Wednesday night.

The 6-foot-4 Class of 2018 guard ends his recruitment rather early with offers also from instate schools Green Bay and Milwaukee. He’s known as a shooter and becomes the first commit for Dave Leitao in the 2018 class.

Diener, who plays with the Wisconsin Playground Warriors in the spring and summer, commits to the Blue Demons with them coming off a disappointing campaign, Leitao’s first in Chicago. DePaul went 9-22 overall and 3-15 in the Big East, finishing only ahead of St. John’s.

DePaul has been recruiting the Midwest hard with incoming 2016 recruits from La Lumiere School in Indiana, Sagninow, Mich. and locally in Chicago.

Four-star guard Fisher commits to TCU

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Jamie Dixon’s presence is already being felt in the Big 12 and on the recruiting trail.

TCU received its first commitment of the Dixon era when four-star 2016 point guard Jaylen Fisher announced his decision to join the Horned Frogs on Wednesday.

“Due to how comfortable my family and I are with the coaching staff,” Fisher posted from his Twitter account, “and the emphasis the university has put on making basketball a priority, I’m committing to be a student-athlete at TCU.”

Getting a consensus top-75 prospect, who was once committed to UNLV, is a heck of a coup for being just a couple months on the job. It instantly shows the Frogs are going to be a player for some of the country’s top players, which is a necessity if you have designs on making a move up the ladder of arguably the country’s best league in the Big 12.

Maybe the most gratifying thing for TCU, though, is the reason Fisher publicly stated for making his decision, the school’s “making basketball a priority.” The hoops program has suffered immensely in the Big 12 (while the football program has flourished), winning a total of eight games in their four seasons (including a winless 2014), but the school sank $72 million into renovating its arena, made an aggressive move in firing Trent Johnson and then went out and got its dream candidate, Dixon, an alum. Fisher’s commitment is the first time those moves have shown that commitment to basketball paying off.

 

Report: Izundu’s San Diego State transfer ban rescinded

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Washington State transfer Valentine Izundu will be visiting San Diego State after all.

Coach Ernie Kent has rescinded his restriction on the 6-foot-10 graduate transfer from visiting the Aztecs, according to a report from the Spokesman-Review, citing an anonymous source. Izundu will also be reportedly visiting Fresno State and UNLV.

Izundu had previously been barred from considering the Aztecs by Kent because of suspcisions of tampering. Izundu vigorously denied that was the case as at the center of the dispute was a trip he made to San Diego for spring break. He publicly said he did not have any contact with the SDSU coaching staff , though he attended an Aztecs NIT game.

Kent, though, appears to have relented, as many coaches who have similarly faces public pressure in such situations before him have. In this era where so much attention is being paid to player rights and welfare, there only seems to be growing public sentiment against programs restricting transfers beyond the absolute bare minimum is rarely going to go over well. It may make things more difficult for coaches and programs, but it’s the deck is largely already stacked in their favor in most every other instance.

Ex-Michigan State player Keith Appling faces weapons charges

Keith Appling
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DEARBORN, Mich. (AP) Authorities say former Michigan State basketball player Keith Appling faces charges including carrying a concealed weapon after he was found in possession of guns and marijuana in suburban Detroit.

The Wayne County prosecutor’s office says 24-year-old Appling was arrested outside a Dearborn club on Sunday night. Club security called police after seeing a man pull a gun from the trunk of a car.

Prosecutors say Appling was in the driver’s seat of the car when police arrived. Officers found a handgun under the driver’s seat, a loaded weapon in the trunk and a small amount of suspected marijuana.

Weapons and marijuana possession charges were announced Wednesday.

The court says he doesn’t have a lawyer on record.

Appling played for the Spartans from 2010-2014 and plays for the NBA’s development league.

UNLV transfer to finish career at Michigan State

UNLV forward Ben Carter, right, celebrates after his team defeated Oregon in an NCAA college basketball game Friday, Dec. 4, 2015, in Las Vegas. UNLV won 80-69. (AP Photo/John Locher)
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Former UNLV center Ben Carter announced on Wednesday that he will be transferring to Michigan State to finish his collegiate career.

Carter, who began his career at Oregon, averaged 8.6 points and 6.0 boards in his one season with UNLV before tearing his ACL in late January. He spent two seasons with the Ducks before transferring to Vegas, which is why he’s eligible immediately for the Spartans.

And that’s the biggest reason that Tom Izzo and company targeted him.

The Spartans lost Deyonta Davis to the NBA Draft after one season, a fact that became an inevitability midway through the year but one that the Spartans didn’t necessarily plan for heading into last season. Carter isn’t going to be an instant impact kind of player, particularly not when he’s coming off of an ACL injury, but he is a big body and a veteran presence on a front line that wasn’t going have much of either.