Cullen Neal snaps out of his slump as New Mexico beats Marquette

Leave a comment

LAS VEGAS, Nev. — On a night that saw leading scorers Alex Kirk and Kendall Williams held in check, New Mexico received valuable contributions from a freshman guard and a senior forward. And thanks to those two players the preseason favorite to win the Mountain West picked up a needed non-conference victory for its resume.

Cullen Neal pumped in a career-high 24 points, with 11 coming in the first half with the other key Lobos struggling to get going offensively, and Cameron Bairstow added 20 to go along with ten rebounds and five assists as the Lobos defeated Marquette 75-68. To say the least this is an important result for New Mexico as the Lobos were coming off of a disappointing home loss to rival New Mexico State, a game in which the Lobos failed to make a single three-pointer.

Neal knocked down six of his eight attempts against Marquette with Williams (12 points) making three, an important development for a team that entered the game shooting a Mountain West-worst 29.5% from deep. While the Lobos were still a top 50 team in regards to adjusted offensive efficiency in spite of their three-point woes, they have to hit those shots in order to keep defenses honest and open things up for their talented interior tandem.

“In the losses we’ve had when one of us [he, Kirk and Williams] doesn’t score well or two of us don’t score well that’s when we really struggle offensively,” noted Bairstow. “It was really reassuring tonight to see that guys were able to step up and make shots because me and Alex were double-teamed the whole game, and we really needed people to step up and make shots.”

The question moving forward is one that is asked of any freshman: can Neal get to the point where he’s knocking down those shots on a consistent basis? In the five games prior he shot a combined 5-for-24 from the field and scored 19 points. With Kirk limited to just three points by Marquette, New Mexico needed Neal’s scoring.

“Cullen was tremendous tonight,” New Mexico head coach Craig Neal said after the win. “He played exactly how I thought he could play, and I always thought he could do this. His teammates made a lot of great passes to him and he shot open shots and made good plays.”

Bairstow’s output is essentially a given at this point, and he’s one of the best front court players in the Mountain West. But if New Mexico is to win another Mountain West championship it will take contributions from players such as Neal and Deshawn Delaney (ten points, ten rebounds). Delaney, starting in place of the injured Hugh Greenwood, tallied a double-double in his first start at New Mexico and like Neal he’ll be an important piece moving forward.

“I think that he’s a guy we always expected to play like that,” the elder Neal said of Delaney. “I think we’ve been getting him into the flow of things, and trying to figure some things out in the offensive schemes and the defensive schemes.”

The senior trio of Williams, Kirk and Bairstow will be expected to lead the way for New Mexico, but it takes more than three players to win a championship. Without one of their starters New Mexico was able to pick up a needed resume-builder, and Cullen Neal snapping out of his shooting slump was a big reason why.

VIDEOS: Villanova team bus stuck on icy roads trying to leave campus

Getty Images
Leave a comment

Villanova’s road to the Sweet 16 hit its roughest patch yet on Wednesday as the team attempted to leave campus for the team’s flight to Boston.

Since the Philadelphia area has been slammed with a snowstorm, the Wildcat team bus had issues leaving to get to the team’s chartered flight.

A struggle between team bus and ice ensued. The bus was delayed by 30 minutes before finally being able to leave.

Villanova continues its NCAA tournament journey on Friday when the No. 1 seed Wildcats play No. 5 seed West Virginia in Boston.

Wake Forest guard Keyshawn Woods to transfer or go pro after graduation

Getty Images
Leave a comment

Wake Forest will be down a key player next season as the school announced that guard Keyshawn Woods will either transfer or go pro after graduation.

The 6-foot-3 Woods was the team’s second-leading scorer this season as he put up 11.9 points, 2.5 rebounds and 1.9 assists per game. Woods shot 43 percent from the floor and 37 percent from three-point range for the 2017-18 campaign.

Also a key member of last season’s NCAA tournament team for the Demon Deacons, Woods transferred to Wake Forest after spending his first season at Charlotte.

“I appreciate the opportunity that Coach Manning gave me to be a part of this program and to graduate from this great university,” said Woods in the release. “I am proud that I was able to help the coaches change the culture of the program and build a foundation for the future.”

The loss of Woods won’t be easy for Wake Forest, but the team is scheduled to return some talented guards like Bryant Crawford and Brandon Childress next season. Incoming freshmen like Jaime Lewis and Sharone Wright Jr. are also signed to add to the perimeter depth.

David Padgett not retained as Louisville coach

Ryan M. Kelly/Getty Images

Louisville announced on Wednesday afternoon that interim head coach David Padgett would not be retained.

Padgett, who is 32 years old, stepped in and took the program over in the wake of a scandal that cost Hall of Fame head coach Rick Pitino his job.

“We all owe a great debt of gratitude to David for his leadership and poise this season,” said U of L Interim Director of Athletics Vince Tyra. “He took over during incredible circumstances, has handled himself respectfully throughout the season and I believe he has a bright future in coaching. We expect to determine a new head coach in a short period to build upon the great basketball tradition of this university.”

Pitino was fired because an FBI complaint contained an allegation that he and his staff had arranged for a $100,000 payment to be funneled to Brian Bowen from Adidas.

In his one season with the Cardinals, Padgett went 22-14 and reached the quarterfinals of the NIT.

Louisville will now conduct a search for their next head coach, and current Xavier coach Chris Mack has long been considered the favorite to take that job.

Kansas State’s injured star hoping to play Thursday

David Becker/Getty Images
Leave a comment

One of the most surprising parts about Kansas State’s run to the Sweet 16 is that they have done it without the services of their leading scorer, Dean Wade.

Wade injured his foot prior to the Big 12 tournament loss to Kansas. He did not play in that game or in either of Kansas State’s first two tournament games, but it is looking more and more like he’ll be on the floor on Thursday night when they play Kentucky.

“I don’t play percentages very well, but I’m feeling good,” Wade said, via SEC Country. “I’m very positive about it. It’s getting better every day and today I felt great out there, doing a little more than usual. It felt good.”

Wade averaged 16.5 points per game, but the big question is going to be whether or not he is actually healthy when he takes the court. Just because he’s on the floor doesn’t mean he’s at 100 percent.

“Really just trying to get it out of my mind that it’s not hurt,” Wade said. “Just more of a mental thing, just getting out there and running around. I think I got moved past that and it’s feeling better.”

Arizona’s Sean Miller: ‘I am not a candidate’ at Pitt

Chris Coduto/Getty Images

With speculation mounting about who Pitt will hire to replace Kevin Stallings as their new head coach, current Arizona head coach Sean Miller released a statement saying that he is not in the running to fill the opening.

“I am not a candidate for the University of Pittsburgh men’s basketball head coaching vacancy. I wish them well in their search for a new coach,” the statement read.

Miller is a native of Pittsburgh and an alumni of the school — he’s the guy that had the assist on Jerome Lane’s famous dunk — and with the issues that are currently swirling around him and the Arizona program, there was speculation that he was looking for an escape plan.

Maybe he wasn’t.

Maybe he was and the Pitt administration decided they couldn’t risk hiring someone who had an assistant coach arrested in the FBI’s sweep of college basketball and who himself may be on wiretaps talking about who knows what. Releasing this statement would then be a way for him to save face and say he was never interested.

And then maybe there’s option No. 3: Pitt has won the Dan Hurley sweepstakes.

As it stands, both the Panthers and UConn are in the process of chasing after the Rhode Island head coach, and it’s not uncommon in coaching searches for a coach to announce that he is not a candidate for the job after the job decides they want someone else. Call it a professional courtesy.

But that’s neither here nor there.

What we do know now is that Sean Miller will not be the next head coach at Pitt.