The rejuvenation of UNLV’s rebounding machine, Roscoe Smith

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In two seasons at UConn, forward Roscoe Smith was a contributor on two NCAA tournament teams, with his freshman season featuring improbable runs to the Big East and NCAA tournament titles with guard Kemba Walker leading the way. After averaging 6.3 points and 5.2 rebounds per game as a freshman and tallying 4.4 points and 3.4 rebounds per contest as a sophomore, Smith made the decision to transfer with the hope of enjoying a greater role on the floor.

Smith would wind up at UNLV, and after sitting out last season few people expected him to be as productive as he’s been through 11 games. The Baltimore native’s averaging 12.8 points and 13.2 rebounds per game, with the latter also being the nation’s best by nearly a full rebound per game. While the greater number of opportunities that have come in Dave Rice’s system can be cited as a reason for the jump, there’s also the fact that Smith made good use of his season away from game action.

And while there were physical strides to be made, Smith used the time in which he could only practice with his teammates to become a better player mentally as well.

“In my year off I really just focused on my game mentally,” Smith told NBC Sports following the Runnin’ Rebels’ 82-50 win over Sacred Heart on Friday night. “Nothing too specific physically, I just really worked from a mental standpoint because sitting out is extremely hard.

“Playing college basketball nonstop for two years at UConn and then sitting out,” continued Smith. “It was definitely hard, so I really had to come in and be mentally strong and be a leader for the young guys who were on the team as well.”

Last season Smith had the chance to compete against players such as Anthony Bennett, Mike Moser and Khem Birch, testing them as a member of the scout team while also honing his craft with an eye towards the 2013-14 campaign. And the results have been remarkable, as a player who tallied just one double-double and three double-digit rebounding performances in his entire UConn career has seven double-doubles this season. He’s been aggressive on both ends of the floor, especially when it comes to attacking the boards.

“I think that his experience is huge for us,” Rice said of Smith following Friday’s win. “He thinks that every loose ball is his, and it just seems as if he gets a double-double every night. To have a guy like that is big.”

One question that was asked when Smith made the decision to leave UConn was what position does he play. Was he best utilized as a three or a four? At which position did he hope to be utilized? At UNLV it can be argued that he’s played the four primarily, forming a talented and productive partnership with another Big East (at the time) transfer in Khem Birch. But Smith doesn’t exactly subscribe to the rigid positions that many have grown accustomed to in basketball.

“I’m a basketball player,” Smith said with a smile when asked about his position. “I do anything the team needs in order to win. Whatever coach needs me to do I’ll do. I don’t go home every day wondering what position I am because that doesn’t define me. I’m just trying to do whatever it takes to win basketball games.”

Now 7-4 on the season entering Monday night’s game against Mississippi State, the majority of UNLV’s issues have been on the offensive end of the floor. And given the number of newcomers looking to establish their roles that’s to be expected, even with the amount of talent that the Runnin’ Rebels possess. Defense hasn’t been an issue however, and UNLV has its two transfers to thank for this. UNLV currently ranks sixth nationally in effective defensive field goal percentage, and they’re tops in defensive free throw rate.

They may not turn teams over, but with Smith and Birch leading the way the Runnin’ Rebels have made life difficult for teams in the half court. And those two have a competition of sorts when it comes to rebounding, and it’s one that has benefitted both players to this point in the season.

“It’s always a good thing when you have a guy who wants to out-rebound you every night,” Birch said of Smith. “Usually guys don’t want to go after every rebound, but playing with Roscoe is a blessing because he wants to get every rebound.”

UNLV didn’t get off to the start that many expected when the season began, but the way in which they’ve overwhelmed opponents they should beat convincingly is a positive sign for this group moving forward. And for that they’ve got Smith to thank, as he’s been a valuable commodity for UNLV both physically and mentally. With the start of Mountain West play right around the corner, his championship experience will be something the team can draw from as it looks to make a run at a conference title especially when it comes to the development of a young player like Christian Wood.

“I just tell Christian that it’s a process,” said Smith. “You have to take things one day at a time. I know he wants to run before he walks, so I just tell him to slow down a little bit and let the game come to him.”

With the improved production and leadership abilities Smith has found a concrete role in the desert, even if we can’t affix a specific label to him in regards to the position he plays. And whether he’s a three or a four, Roscoe Smith’s been an integral player for UNLV and that will continue to be the case as the season wears on.

Two workouts this week could alter Caleb Swanigan’s NBA Draft decision

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Purdue big man Caleb Swanigan has the most important decision among any college basketball player who could return next season from the 2017 NBA Draft process. If Swanigan comes back for his junior season, he’s the frontrunner for National Player of the Year. More importantly, Purdue would have a serious chance to repeat as Big Ten regular season champions, especially if Vince Edwards also returns from the same draft process.

Wednesday night is the decision deadline for players to return to college basketball for next season and Swanigan will use two more workouts scheduled for Tuesday and Wednesday to help decide his future. According to multiple reports, Swanigan will workout for the Orlando Magic on Tuesday and the New York Knicks on Wednesday.

Tuesday’s workout with the Magic will also reportedly involve Cal big man Ivan Rabb — an important workout for Swanigan since Rabb is listed ahead of Swanigan on a lot of popular mock drafts. The Magic own three picks between No. 25 and No. 35 — which is listed slightly above the No. 40 slot that Draft Express has Swanigan listed. So if Swanigan has a good workout against Rabb for the Magic, then he could get himself some sort of guarantee from a Magic team that desperately needs talent and has a lot of picks in that range.

The Knicks also have Swanigan scheduled for a Wednesday workout as they own the No. 44 overall pick in the second round. Again, the Knicks are a team in win-now mode with current stars like Carmelo Anthony and Kristaps Porzingis openly feuding with the team’s front-office, so it wouldn’t be out of the question for Swanigan to land some sort of guarantee from New York in the second round.

Of course, guarantees for draft night are nice to have, but things can change quickly on draft night. Swanigan has to consider all of the information he is receiving before he makes his decision on Wednesday. But if Swanigan has two strong workouts and gets the information that he’s looking for this week, then he could easily bolt for a potential guaranteed contract.

Angel Delgado’s return to Seton Hall makes Pirates Big East contender

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Seton Hall got huge news on Monday when Angel Delgado announced that he would be returning to school for his senior season.

“I am coming back to school for my senior year,” Delgado said in a statement on Monday. “It’s very important to my family and me that I finish what I started. This was a difficult decision that took time and patience. Coming back feels just right.”

Delgado, a 6-foot-10 forward from the Dominican Republic, averaged 15.1 points and 13.2 boards last season for the Pirates. He was one of the best big men in the country over the last six weeks of the season.

And his return should bring about one of the best years that Seton Hall basketball has had in a long time.

The Pirates are loaded with talent, tough and, most importantly, old players, from Delgado to Khadeen Carrington to Ishmael Sanogo to Desi Rodriguez. They are going to be a nightmare to run offense against, and they may just be the best team in the Big East not named Villanova. Delgado should end up being a preseason all-american.

Seton Hall is currently ranked No. 17 in the NBC Sports Preseason Top 25.

Texas to return Andrew Jones for sophomore season

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Texas got another boost on Monday as former five-star recruit Andrew Jones announced that he will be returning to school for his sophomore season.

“I’ve matured and learned a lot through this process,” Jones said in a statement released on twitter. “I enjoyed the experience and opportunity that I had to be able to participate in the combine and team workouts.

“Time to go work out with my teammates. Hungry and Humble.”

This comes on the heels of Texas landing a commitment from a top five prospect in Mo Bamba. With all those pieces in the fold, including a recruiting class that features four more top 100 prospects, the Longhorns look like they are on track to be a borderline preseason top 25 team and heading back to the NCAA tournament.

This could end up being a narrative-changing year for Texas.

West Virginia returns potential Big 12 Player of the Year in Jevon Carter

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West Virginia got some great news on Monday as Jevon Carter announced that he will be returning to the Mountaineers for his senior year.

“I’m excited about coming back to West Virginia and playing with my teammates for my senior season,” he said. “The entire NBA process was a great experience for me and to gain valuable feedback that I can use to prepare for the future.”

This is massive for the Mountaineers. Not only is Carter the team’s leading scorer at 13.5 points, but he is a three-time all-Big 12 Defensive Team member and led West Virginia in minutes played last season. He’ll be a favorite to win Big 12 Player of the Year, with Devonte’ Graham of Kansas.

Arizona adds five-star Emmanuel Akot to Class of 2017

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Emmanuel Akot, a five-star wing that has been committed to Arizona for months, announced on Monday that he will be reclassifying to the Class of 2017 and enrolling at Arizona this offseason.

“My family and I have decided to join the 2017 class and become a member of the Arizona Basketball family,” Akot said.

Akot was considered a top 15 prospect in the Class of 2018, a class that many believe to be significantly weaker than the Class of 2017. At 6-foot-7, he’s a versatile defender with quite a bit of potential that can step out and knock down threes, but he’s also far from a finish product and will likely need time to acclimate to the college level.

That said, he should be able to fill a role on the wing nicely, providing a nice bit of defensive reliance alongside more offensive-minded weapons like Allonzo Trier and Rawle Alkins.

Akot joins a five-man recruiting class headlined by top four prospect Deandre Ayton and four-star recruits Brandon Randolph and Ira Lee.