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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.

Player of the Week: Justin Jackson and Joel Berry II, North Carolina

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At this point, it’s almost too difficult to separate the contributions being made by Joel Berry II and Justin Jackson.

Berry is the guy that makes everything easier for No. 11 North Carolina offensively. Jackson has turned into the sharpshooter and the closer that the Tar Heels have lacked the last two seasons. And the two of them have essentially taken turns making the big shots down the stretch for UNC this season.

On Wednesday, in a win at Wake Forest, it was Jackson burying a clutch three in a game where he led the Tar Heels with 19 points. On Saturday, it was Berry that had an answer for every Florida State run. He finished with 26 points against FSU. Jackson had 22, and he had a three in a late run that put the game away.

At this point, these two make up the best one-two punch in the ACC. They deserve to be in the same conversation with the likes of De’Aaron Fox-Malik Monk, Josh Hart-Jalen Brunson and Frank Mason III-Josh Jackson when it comes to the best one-two punches in the sport. Both have earned at least consideration for all-american teams.

They are the reason that UNC is very much a contender to get back to the Final Four and win that elusive national title.

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THEY WERE GOOD, TOO

  • Nigel Williams-Goss, Gonzaga: Williams-Goss was the best player on the floor for the Zags on Saturday night as they handed Saint Mary’s their worst loss of the season, 79-56. It was quite the statement for Gonzaga, as Saint Mary’s was considered by many to be a real contender for the WCC title. Is it too early to start talking about Gonzaga’s undefeated season?
  • Bryce Alford, UCLA: Alford put together one of the best shooting performances we’ve seen this season, hitting 9-for-14 from three in a 37-point outburst at Colorado. Alford also hit a huge three late in the second half of the Bruins’ win at Utah, only the fourth time in six years that a Pac-12 team has swept the Mountain schools on the road.
  • London Perrantes, Virginia: Virginia bounced back from a rough start to ACC play with a pair of wins this week, including a win at Clemson. Perrantes was fantastic in the two wins, averaging 24.5 points and hitting a number of critical shots late in the win at Clemson. He’s turning into the go-to guy that the Cavaliers lost in Malcolm Brogdon.
  • Lauri Markkanen, Arizona: Beating an in-state rival like Arizona State is always awesome. Scoring 30 points in a game is always awesome. Scoring 30 points in a blowout win over your in-state rival? Priceless. Or something like that, right? Regardless, Markkanen has more than lived up to the hype he had entering the season.
  • Vlad Brodziansky, TCU: The Horned Frogs moved to 3-2 in the Big 12 this season with wins at Texas and over Iowa State at home, and Brodziansky was the biggest reason why. The 6-foot-11 Slovakian averaged 22 points, 10 boards and three blocks while shooting better than 70 percent form the floor.

College Basketball Talk Top 25: Just how far will Duke fall?

PITTSBURGH, PA - FEBRUARY 28:  Luke Kennard #5 of the Duke Blue Devils reacts after losing 76-62 to the Pittsburgh Panthers during the game at Petersen Events Center on February 28, 2016 in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania.  (Photo by Justin K. Aller/Getty Images)
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There was a lot of movement in this week’s top 25, mainly a result of Baylor and Duke taking the losses that they took.

Baylor, on Tuesday, took a 21-point beating at the hands of West Virginia, a loss on the road in which they committed 29 turnovers. While the final score was worrisome, the actual result really should not have been overly surprising. West Virginia is a pressing team that plays their best at home when the crowd is rocking, and Baylor is a team that entered the season with question marks at the point guard spot.

As bad as the result looked, it was pretty predictable, particularly when you factor in that Baylor maybe wasn’t actually the best team in the country.

Duke was much more difficult to rank. This team is still the co-favorite in Vegas to win the national title, meaning their ceiling is still just as high as anyone’s, but at this moment, Duke is a total mess. Without getting too much into their specific issues – I wrote 1,000 words on that very topic on Saturday – it’s getting harder and harder to justify keeping them in the top 25.

As of today, I think it’s too early to drop them out when teams like Maryland and Minnesota are in and around the top 25.

But if you don’t want to rank the Blue Devils, I’m not going to be the one to tell you you’re wrong.

On to the rankings:

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1. Villanova (17-1, Last Week No. 1)
2. Kentucky (15-2, 2)
3. UCLA (18-1, 3)
4. Kansas (16-1, 4)
5. Gonzaga (17-0, 6)
6. North Carolina (16-3, 10)
7. Baylor (16-1, 5)
8. Florida State (16-2, 8)
9. Oregon (16-2, 9)
10. West Virginia (15-2, 11)
11. Louisville (15-3, 12)
12. Creighton (17-1, 13)
13. Wisconsin (14-3, 15)
14. Butler (16-2, 16)
15. Purdue (14-4, 14)
16. Arizona (17-2, 19)
17. Notre Dame (16-2, 20)
18. Cincinnati (16-2, 21)
19. Duke (14-4, 7)
20. Saint Mary’s (15-2, 18)
21. Xavier (14-3, 17)
22. Virginia (14-3, 22)
23. Florida (14-3, 23)
24. South Carolina (14-3, 25)
25. Maryland (16-2, NR)

DROPPED OUT: No. 24 Minnesota
NEW ADDITIONS: No. 25 Maryland

PHOTO: Drake wears jersey of Zion Williamson, 2018 recruit

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Drake, who is famous for jumping on bandwagons and Canada’s most well-known Kentucky basketball fan, was spotted in an Instagram post wearing the jersey of Zion Williamson, one of the best players in the Class of 2018:

@mikewillmadeit @troubledte6

A photo posted by champagnepapi (@champagnepapi) on

This Williamson kid is good, too.

Well, he’s great for the mixtapes.

Because he does stuff like this:

2017 McDonald’s All-Americans announced

Atlanta, GA - MAY 27: Nike EYBL. Session 4. Michael Porter, Jr. #1 of KD Mokan Elite dribbles. (Photo by Jon Lopez)
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Rosters for the 2017 McDonald’s All-American game were announced on Sunday night as the game is headlined by Kentucky (four) having the most committed prospects in the game for the second consecutive season. Duke and UCLA also have two All-Americans each while seven players remain uncommitted.

Alabama, Arizona, Kansas, Miami, Michigan State, Oregon, USC, Washington and Western Kentucky all have one McDonald’s All-American each.

The 40th McDonald’s All-American game is scheduled for March 29 at the United Center in Chicago.

Here are the rosters for the East and West:

EAST

Mohamed Bamba, 6-foot-11, Westtown School (West Chester, PA) — undecided
Wendell Carter, 6-foot-9, Pace Academy (Atlanta, GA) — committed to Duke
Trevon Duval, 6-foot-3, IMG Academy (Bradenton, FL) — undecided
Quade Green, 6-foot-1, Neumann Goretti High School (Philadelphia, PA) — committed to Kentucky
Kevin Knox, 6-foot-8, Tampa Catholic High School (Tampa, FL) — undecided
Nick Richards, 6-foot-11, The Patrick School (Hillside, NJ) — committed to Kentucky
Mitchell Robinson, 6-foot-11, Chalmette High School (Chalmette, LA) — committed to Western Kentucky
Collin Sexton, 6-foot-3, Pebblebrook High School (Mableton, GA) — committed to Alabama
Lonnie Walker, 6-foot-4, Reading High School (Reading, PA) — committed to Miami
P.J. Washington, 6-foot-8, Findlay Prep (Henderson, NV) — committed to Kentucky
Kris Wilkes, 6-foot-7, North Central High School (Indianapolis, IN) — committed to UCLA
Jarred Vanderbilt, 6-foot-8, Victory Prep Academy (Houston, TX) — committed to Kentucky

WEST

DeAndre Ayton, 7-foot-0, Hillcrest Prep (Phoenix, AZ) — committed to Arizona
Brian Bowen, 6-foot-7, La Lumiere School (LaPorte, IN) — undecided
Troy Brown Jr., 6-foot-7, Centennial High School (Las Vegas, NV) — committed to Oregon
Jaylen Hands, 6-foot-3, Foothills Christian High School (El Cajon, CA) — committed to UCLA
Jaren Jackson, 6-foot-11, La Lumiere School (LaPorte, IN) — committed to Michigan State
Brandon McCoy, 6-foot-11, Cathedral Catholic High School (San Diego, CA) — undecided
Charles O’Bannon Jr., 6-foot-6, Bishop Gorman High School (Las Vegas, NV) — committed to USC
Michael Porter Jr., 6-foot-10, Nathan Hale High School (Seattle, WA) — committed to Washington
Billy Preston, 6-foot-10, Oak Hill Academy (Mount of Wilson, VA) — committed to Kansas
Gary Trent Jr., 6-foot-5, Prolific Prep (Napa, CA) — committed to Duke
M.J. Walker, 6-foot-5, Jonesboro High School (Jonesboro, GA) — undecided
Trae Young, 6-foot-2, Norman North High School (Norman, OK) — undecided

Conference breakdown of McDonald’s All-Americans

Pac-12: 6
SEC: 5
ACC: 3
Big 12: 1
Big Ten: 1
Conference USA: 1
Undecided: 7

VIDEO: Tom Crean loses his mind at garbage time alley-oop

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Indiana landed a 76-57 win over Rutgers on Sunday, a win that the Hoosiers badly needed; well, maybe the better way to phrase it is that Indiana couldn’t afford to lose this game.

Whatever the case is, the bottom-line is this: Indiana got a win in impressive enough fashion that they could clear the bench at the end of the game.

That resulted in Devonte Green attempting to throw an alley-oop to Freddie McSwain at the buzzer.

While up 19.

And that, in turn, cause Tom Crean to lose his mind: