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No. 2 Arizona poised to grab top spot after holding off UNLV

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With No. 1 Michigan State suffering a surprising home loss to North Carolina on Wednesday night, there were many Arizona fans who looked towards Saturday’s contest against UNLV with excitement. The renewal of a series that delivered some great moments during the time when Jerry Tarkanian and Lute Olson roamed the sidelines was something folks looked forward to. But the fact that a win would move the Wildcats to the top of the national polls for the first time in nearly a decade was what fired up the fan base.

Despite an off night from freshman Aaron Gordon (2-for-10, four points) four other Wildcats reached double figures and a fifth, freshman Rondae Hollis-Jefferson, flirted with a double-double as Arizona beat the Runnin’Rebels 63-58. Brandon Ashley and T.J. McConnell scored 13 points apiece to lead the way, with the point guard adding seven rebounds and six assists. However, even in victory there are concerns for a team that come Monday should see its name atop the major polls.

There were questions regarding who the shooters would be for Arizona, and Saturday’s game didn’t provide a positive answer. As a team the Wildcats shot 3-for-16 from beyond the arc, and one possible answer (Gabe York) saw just six minutes of action. In fact, head coach Sean Miller went with a six-man rotation for much of Saturday’s contest with Hollis-Jefferson (nine points, seven rebounds and six assists in 28 minutes) being the sixth man. Clearly that nucleus is talented enough to win a lot of games, but who within that group can consistently make perimeter shots?

Nick Johnson was responsible for nine of Arizona’s 16 three-point attempts but he made just two, and McConnell missed both of his shots. That puts the onus on a reserve like York to do what it takes to earn more playing time in games of this magnitude, with UNLV having the athletes needed to make things difficult for Arizona. Bryce Dejean-Jones led three Runnin’ Rebels in double figures with 16 points, and as a team UNLV shot 46% from the field. But Arizona’s rebounding (41-29 edge, and they rebounded 42.9% of their missed shots) and ability to score in the paint (44-22 margin) proved to be too much to overcome.

The question: will that six-man rotation be enough for Arizona as the season wears on, especially when facing some of the top teams in the Pac-12 (the NCAA tournament as well)? The Wildcats may have been able to do enough to hold off UNLV, but at some point down the line someone else’s name will be called. And how prepared that player is to contribute could make the difference between a good season and a special one.

Indiana roster dealing with handful of injuries as practice begins

BLOOMINGTON, IN - NOVEMBER 20:  A general view of  the SMU Mustangs game against the Indiana Hoosiers at Assembly Hall on November 20, 2014 in Bloomington, Indiana.  (Photo by Andy Lyons/Getty Images)
(Photo by Andy Lyons/Getty Images)
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Indiana has been hit with the injury buy a bit during the start of practice and it doesn’t only involved the recent announcement of knee surgery for senior Collin Hartman.

According to a report from the Indiana Daily Student the Hoosiers are also dealing with a knee injury for junior college transfer forward Freddie McSwain and sophomore Juwan Morgan hasn’t been cleared for practice yet after offseason shoulder surgery.

The 6-foot-6 McSwain had a knee injury flare up when he came to Indiana and had surgery to clean it up. Crean told the Indiana Daily Student that McSwain was still a few weeks from returning.

That means Indiana has to find early practice minutes to replace Hartman, Morgan and McSwain up front which gives more reps to players like O.G. Anunoby and freshman big man De’Ron Davis.

Since Anunoby and Davis both dealt with some offseason injuries and guard Robert Johnson was recently cleared to return, Hoosiers head coach Tom Crean is remaining cautious during the early part of practice this season. Crean also has to monitor the return of starting guard James Blackmon Jr. after he missed most of last season with a torn ACL.

“We would have already practiced this morning and they would be ready to go tonight, if this were a year ago,” Crean said in the report. “We have to tailor make this thing. We can’t be in too much of a rush with these guys.”

Obviously, the frontcourt injuries are something to keep an eye on for Indiana during the early part of the season. None of the three injuries seem severe, but Hartman’s timetable to return hasn’t been listed and McSwain and Morgan are missing valuable early time in practice.

It’ll be interesting to see if this helps younger players like Anunoby and Davis get more acquainted with the first team early on since both could have an impact this season.

Texas lands four-star Class of 2017 guard Jase Febres

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Texas and head coach Shaka Smart continue to recruit at a high level, especially in the state of Texas, as the Longhorns landed a commitment from Class of 2017 four-star guard Jase Febres on Friday night.

The 6-foot-5 Febres is considered the No. 63 overall prospect in the Rivals national Class of 2017 rankings as he burst on the national radar this summer with some strong shooting performances. Febres shot over 40 percent from three-point range during the month of July after battling through injury during the spring. Besides owning good size for a wing shooter, Febres also takes pride in defending and he can rebound a bit from the wing as well.

Febres is going to have to improve his overall offensive package if a defense plays him off the three-point line, but he has upside as a three-and-D guy with the Longhorns.

The Class of 2017 is starting to round into shape for Texas as Febres joins four-star power forward Jericho Sims and four-star forward Royce Hamm. Since taking over the Texas job, Smart has done a great job of keeping local talent home as he now has five four- and five-star prospects from the state in the last two classes.

 

VIDEO: Kentucky fans get married in the ticket line for Big Blue Madness

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Kentucky fans have unique ways of making their annual Big Blue Madness event the most chaotic tip-off event of the season. While Big Blue Nation is waiting in line for tickets to this year’s festivities in Tent City, one couple decided to go the extra mile.

After securing the first spot in line for tickets, Ray Branham and Vicki Harvey opted to get married. According to a post from Drew Franklin of Kentucky Sports Radio, the couple had already been talking about tying the knot, but decided to make the move once they had the top spot in line. As you can see by the wedding video, it was a very Kentucky-themed ceremony as the duo got married in front of friends and other Kentucky fans.

I can’t say I’m surprised two Kentucky fans decided to get married in line for something like Big Blue Madness and this (unplanned) wedding gives this year’s event something unique that we will always remember.

Penn State loses freshman on day practice starts

Patrick Chambers
AP Photo/Kiichiro Sato
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On the day that college basketball practice is to start, Penn State head coach Pat Chambers announced that his roster would be changing.

Joe Hampton, a 6-foot-8, 290 pound power forward from Maryland, will be leaving the program.

“Joe has made the decision to leave the program based on personal reasons,” Chambers said. “We wish him the best of luck with his future endeavors.”

Hampton was a three-star prospect that missed his senior season at Oak Hill Academy with torn ACL, but he reportedly enrolled at Penn State in May, before the rest of the Nittany Lion recruit class.

Michigan State lands second Class of 2017 commitment

CHARLOTTE, NC - MARCH 22:  Head coach Tom Izzo of the Michigan State Spartans reacts against the Virginia Cavaliers during the third round of the 2015 NCAA Men's Basketball Tournament at Time Warner Cable Arena on March 22, 2015 in Charlotte, North Carolina.  (Photo by Grant Halverson/Getty Images)
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Tom Izzo landed his second commitment in the Class of 2017 as big man Xavier Tillman announced that he will be attending Michigan State.

A 6-foot-7, 235 pound power forward, Tillman is a physical-if-undersized player that is rated as a three-star prospect. He’s not a one-and-done player, but he’s should be a good program guy for the Spartans.

“Tillman is another big and strong interior presence for Michigan State,” said NBCSports.com recruiting analyst Scott Phillips. “What separates Tillman from a lot of big men his size is his passing ability. Tillman is an intelligent player on the offensive end and he rebounds his area well.”

Tillman joins Jaren Jackson, his AAU teammate for Speice Indy Heat, in Michigan State’s recruiting class.

He picked Michigan State over Purdue and Marquette.