No. 1 Michigan State’s loss to North Carolina: Injuries, or sign of a bigger issue?

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No. 1 Michigan State’s inconsistency final came back to bite them.

The Spartans shot 35.9% from the field and 7-for-24 from three as they got dropped by North Carolina, 79-65, at the Breslin Center on Wednesday night. Michigan State had erased an 18-4 deficit, tying things up at the half, but the Tar Heels used a 16-3 run to take a 65-52 lead on yet another Kennedy Meeks bucket in front of the rim.

Meeks finished with 15 points and seven boards. Brice Johnson added 14 points and six boards. Throw in J.P. Tokoto’s 12 points and 10 boards — five of which were on the offensive end — and you get a pretty good sense of how North Carolina knocked off the Spartans. They beat them up inside, they got to every loose ball and, frankly, they showed up ready to play. Think about it like this: Michigan State just got worked over in the Breslin Center by the schizophrenic Tar Heels on a night where James Michael McAdoo and Marcus Paige combined to shoot 7-for-25 from the floor.

Crazy, right?

North Carolina was terrific. They jumped all over the Spartans from the tip. They deserved to win this game.

But there is no way that you can sit here and tell me that the Spartans were anywhere near 100% for this one. Gary Harris was clearly struggling with the ankle that held him out of the lineup against Mount St. Mary’s, and he rolled it again in the first half. Keith Appling took a nasty spill in the first half as well, landing on his hip and getting forced back to the locker room for a couple of minutes. Adreian Payne was battling cramps in his legs that clearly impeded his ability to get up and down the floor.

Those are Michigan State’s three best players.

The Spartans don’t have a chance if those three are all as limited as they were Wednesday night.

Now, here’s the clarification: those injuries didn’t have anything to do with Michigan State’s horrendous start to the night. They weren’t the reason that everyone on State’s roster — with the exception of Matt Costello — seemed listless. They might explain why the big three were settling for threes instead of getting to the rim, but it’s not an excuse for allowing North Carolina to dominate them on the offensive glass. It’s not the reason that help-side defense was too slow to rotate or that Meeks and Johnson were routinely able to establish position in the post.

The Spartans entered this game undefeated, but they haven’t exactly been the most consistently dominant team in the country. They barely beat Columbia. They struggled against Portland and nearly blew a massive lead against Oklahoma.

Michigan State needs to get healthy.

But is there more going on here than just the injury bug biting them at the wrong time?

Washington’s Thybulle returning for senior season

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Matisse Thybulle will return to Washington for his senior season after contemplating declaring for the NBA draft following a junior campaign in which he was named the Pac-12 defensive player of the year.

“The NBA is really enticing and it was definitely something that I seriously considered when the season was over,” Thybulle told the Seattle Times. “I talked it over with my family and we came to the conclusion that it would be in my best interest to stay and get my degree (in communications) and grow as a basketball player and take this last year to mature and fine tune everything so I can be fully prepared to take that next step when it’s time.”

The 6-foot-5 guard averaged 11.2 points, 2.9 rebounds, 2.0 assists and 3.0 steals per game last season. He shot 44.5 percent from the field and 36.5 percent from 3-point range.

“I talked to coach (Mike Hopkins) and he gave me some good advice that was honestly something that helped in the grand scheme of things,” Thybulle said. “He told me that if I do it (enter the draft), then I should be all in because that’s what I’m going to be up against is a whole bunch of guys fighting for their lives. He thought it would be a better idea for me to stay in school until I’m at that point.”

Washington is awaiting the decision of Noah Dickerson, who declared for the draft but has not hired an agent. The 6-foot-8 averaged 15.5 points and 8.4 rebounds last season.

Koby McEwen transferring to Marquette

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Steve Wojciechowski added a significant piece to his 2019-20 team over the weekend.

Koby McEwen announced his intention to transfer to Marquette from Utah State late Sunday evening.

“I would like to thank God, my family, inner circle and all the schools/coaches that recruited me during this process!” McEwen tweeted. “With that being said, I’m proud to announce that I’ll be furthering my college career at Marquette University.”

McEwen picked the Golden Eagles over fellow finalists Creighton and Grand Canyon after he decided to transfer when the Aggies announced South Dakota coach Craig Smith was taking over the program last month. The 6-foot-4 guard averaged 15.6 points, 5.4 rebounds and 3.2 assists per game while shooting 40 percent from the field and 30 percent from 3-point range as a sophomore.

After sitting out the upcoming season, McEwen will have to years of eligibility remaining. Marquette went 21-14 last season, but missed the NCAA tournament for the third time in Wojciechowski’s four years in Milwaukee.

Minnesota adds Vanderbilt transfer Payton Willis

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Minnesota has added some depth for the future.

The Golden Gophers received a pledge from Vanderbilt transfer Payton Willis over the weekend, giving him a guard with two seasons of eligibility remaining starting in 2019-20.

Willis will sit out the upcoming season under NCAA transfer rules.

The 6-foot-4 guard played a limited role in two seasons in Nashville, never averaging more than 18. 5 minutes or 5.2 points per game. He scored in double figures in three games as a sophomore.

Willis was a top-150 prospect in the Class of 2016 coming out of Fayetteville, Ark. with offers from the likes of Tulsa, Rice and Dayton. Vandy and Minnesota were his two high-major offers.

After being ranked in the top-15, Minnesota was beset by injury and suspensions last season as they limped to the finish line in a 15-17 season that featured losses in 12 of its last 13 games.

Richard Pitino still has two available scholarships for the 2018-19 campaign.

Report: Quade Green returning to Kentucky

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John Calipari just landed a critical recruit for 2018-19, and he was already on the roster.

Quade Green, who averaged 25 minutes per game last season, is returning to Kentucky for his sophomore season, his mother told the Lexington Herald-Leader on Monday.

Given that six Wildcat players have entered the draft (Kevin Knox, Shai Gilgeous-Alexander and Hami Diallo are signing with agents), getting the 6-foot point guard back for a second season is a massive deal for Calipari and Co. The Wildcats have always been at their best under Calipari with returning players as the cornerstones of the roster with talented one-and-dones providing the extra boost. Getting one such returner at the point guard position is even more critical.

Green, who came to Kentucky as a five-star recruit last year, averaged 9.3 points and 2.7 assists per game while shooting 45.1 percent from the field and a respectable 37.1 percent from 3-point range, an area where Kentucky continually needs help.

With Green back in the fold, Kentucky will now await the decisions of PJ Washington, Wenyen Gabriel and Jarred Vanderbilt, who are all going through the pre-draft process without hiring agents, which will potentially allow them to return to school and bolster a Kentucky roster has the look of a top-five team.

CBT Podcast: NBA Draft Early Entry Deadline: Winners, losers and who has the most on the line?

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The NBA Draft Early Entry Deadline came and went on Sunday night, meaning there are now roughly 60 college players that have signed with an agent and another 100 or so that have declared for the draft while retaining their college eligibility. Who were the winners? Who were the losers? Who has the most on the line? Sam Vecenie of the Game Theory podcast joined Rob Dauster to talk through all of it. The rundown:

OPEN: What do NBA teams value in players these days?

10:00: Villanova has more on the line during this testing the water process than anyone

19:00: Just how important was De’Andre Hunter’s decision to return to Virginia

25:25: Gonzaga getting Rui and Killian Tillie back makes them a title favorite

32:10: Nevada has a top ten season on the line with the Martin twins and Jordan Caroline

36:15: #RANTALERT – The decision to turn pro is so much more complicated than “is he a first round pick”

48:30: Rapid fire: Maryland, Kansas, Syracuse, Nebraska, Purdue and Michigan. What do they have on the line?