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Conference Catchups: Kansas doesn’t lack for challengers in Big 12

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College basketball is now almost two months old. League play will be kicking off in the next week. Let’s get you caught up on all you need to know with some of the country’s best conferences. 

To read through the rest of our Conference Catchups, click here.

Midseason Player of the Year: Marcus Smart (Oklahoma State)

The preseason pick to win Big 12 Player of the Year, Smart has done little to dispel that notion through 12 games. The sophomore’s raised his scoring average from a season ago to 18.0 points per game in 2013-14, and he’s shooting a higher percentage from the field (46.3%) as well. The three-point shooting (32.3%) could use a boost, but given all the other things that Smart does it’s difficult to argue against him at this point.

All-Big 12 First Team:

  • Marcus Smart, Oklahoma State
  • DeAndre Kane, Iowa State
  • Andrew Wiggins, Kansas
  • Cameron Clark, Oklahoma
  • Melvin Ejim, Iowa State

Midseason Coach of the Year: Fred Hoiberg (Iowa State)

Lon Kruger (Oklahoma) would have a good argument as well, but the pick is the head coach of the league’s lone remaining undefeated team. Thanks to Hoiberg transfers DeAndre Kane and Dustin Hogue have slid right into the Iowa State rotation, and the presence of veterans Melvin Ejim and Georges Niang has helped matters as well. Can Iowa State win the Big 12? Rebounding will have a lot to do with that, but don’t ever underestimate “The Mayor.”

Favorite: Kansas Jayhawks

A team that has three losses remains the favorite to win the league? Yes, and there are two reasons why. First, Bill Self’s young Jayhawks have been tested more than any team in the country to date, as according to the computers they’ve faced the toughest schedule in the country. Secondly, as this group dominated by freshmen and sophomores get more comfortable with each other and what Self wants done they’re only going to get better (especially Joel Embiid and Andrew Wiggins). Kansas’ hands will be full given how tough the Big 12 is, but how can you bet against the program that has won at least a share of the last nine regular season conference titles?

And three more contenders:

  • That Oklahoma State of Smart, Markel Brown and Le’Bryan Nash is darn good, and in Phil Forte III they’ve got a very good marksman coming off the bench. But keep an eye on forwards Michael Cobbins and Kamari Murphy. If Oklahoma State’s to make a run at the Big 12 title, those two will need to come up big against the league’s best interior presences.
  • Iowa State will be heard from as well, with a couple reasons why stated above. Also of importance for Iowa State will be their perimeter shooting, with underclassmen Naz Long and Matt Thomas being two keys in that regard. And if DeAndre Kane can knock down threes at a consistent rate, opponents won’t be so willing to give him five feet of space on the perimeter.
  • Baylor’s right there with Kansas when it comes to picking out who has the deepest/most talented front court in the Big 12, with Cory Jefferson and Isaiah Austin leading the way. And Kenny Chery’s done a good job at the point through 11 games. But in order for the Bears to win the Big 12, Austin has to look to dominate.

Most Surprising Team: Texas Longhorns

Let’s be honest: a lot of us had Rick Barnes on his way out before practices even began. Well his young Longhorns have proven to be far more formidable than most people expected, with Jonathan Holmes being a tough front court leader and Javan Felix, Demarcus Holland and Cameron Ridley all showing signs of improvement. Not sure how much of a factor Texas can be in the Big 12 title chase, but it’s clear that this group isn’t going to simply lie down.

Most Disappointing Team: Kansas Jayhawks

This one’s tough, especially when considering just how tough of a schedule the Jayhawks have played to this point. But there have been issues, most notably the question mark at point guard. It looks as if Naadir Tharpe’s taken the strides needed to lead the way for the Jayhawks in Big 12 play, and if that remains the case the Jayhawks will be better for it. Another key for Kansas moving forward: Tarik Black has to snap out of his three-plus year habit of landing in foul trouble. He avoided that against Georgetown, and his presence on the floor made a big difference.

Most Important Player (in league play): PG Naadir Tharpe (Kansas)

Oklahoma State has Marcus Smart, Iowa State had DeAndre Kane and Baylor has Kenny Chery. Those are three strong point guards to contend with when looking to win the Big 12, which means that Tharpe will need to continue to take steps in the right direction. Over his last three games the junior has 18 assists and eight turnovers, and if he can get that ratio closer to 3-to-1 Kansas will be better for it.

Who will slide?: Texas

The Longhorns are off to a surprising 10-2 start, but it’s difficult to see them continuing that pace when league play begins. Texas is shooting just 43.9% from the field this season, and their offensive rebounding (grabbing nearly 38% of their misses) has helped the Longhorns make up for that issue. But will they be able to do so against the bigger teams in the Big 12?

Who is the sleeper?: Oklahoma

The Sooners have been without the services of sophomore guard Je’lon Hornbeak, who’s expected back at some point in January after breaking a bone in his foot a couple weeks ago. His return will give Oklahoma another scoring option on the perimeter, and with Clark and Ryan Spangler in the front court they’ve got two players to rely on inside. If the bigs can hold up in league play, Oklahoma has the potential to be the sleeper team in the Big 12.

New Power Rankings

1. Kansas
2. Oklahoma State
3. Iowa State
4. Baylor
5. Oklahoma
6. Kansas State
7. Texas
8. West Virginia
9. Texas Tech
10. TCU

NC State waiting on NCAA answer on Yurtseven’s eligibility

TREVISO, ITALY - JUNE 07:  Omer Yurtseven in action during the adidas Eurocamp at La Ghirada sports center on June 7, 2015 in Treviso, Italy.  (Photo by Roberto Serra/Iguana Press/Getty Images)
Roberto Serra/Iguana Press/Getty Images
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RALEIGH, N.C. (AP) For now, all North Carolina State freshman Omer Yurtseven can do is work on his game and be patient.

With all the attention on possible one-and-done freshman Dennis Smith Jr., the Turkish 7-footer gives the Wolfpack a second five-star prospect on an overhauled and potential-filled roster. But he’s still waiting for the NCAA to clear him as eligible to play as an amateur.

Practice starts Friday and the opener is six weeks away.

“I can’t control it so I’m trying not to think about it,” Yurtseven said Thursday during the team’s preseason media day. “Just think about education and basketball, to control as I said what you can. Because that’s not in your hands, so if you think about it more, all It’s going to get you is frustration. And I don’t want that.”

Yurtseven, a native of Istanbul, had a professional contract offer with a European club team, but opted to play college basketball and committed to the Wolfpack in May. The 18-year-old also has international experience, is considered a potential one-and-done talent himself and even had a 91-point game in a Turkish Under-18 game this spring.

“He played overseas and he grew up playing the game the right way,” junior forward Abdul-Malik Abu said, “so he’s very skilled and has a super high IQ.”

Smith’s debut at the point guard after enrolling in January to rehab a serious knee injury has caused the biggest buzz for the Wolfpack. And sixth-year coach Mark Gottfried isn’t shying away from fueling the hype about Smith, calling him Thursday “the best guard in the country” even while saying he will have a learning curve as he transitions to the college level.

But Yurtseven’s commitment was a big deal, too, and a key reason why the Wolfpack ranks No. 6 nationally in Scout.com’s recruiting rankings.

Gottfried said Thursday that “nothing has happened in a negative way” during the NCAA’s review process of Yurtseven’s amateur status, saying there is plenty of discussion but no timetable for a decision.

“It’s not frustrating because quite honestly for us, there’s really not a whole lot we can do about that,” Gottfried said. “He’s participated in every workout. He’s integrating himself with our team in a really positive way.

“We’re approaching it with the hope he won’t have to miss any games and move right in and play. If he does (have to sit out games), we’ll deal with that, too.”

Yurtseven said he understands the evaluation process takes time.

“You’ve just got to hope for the best,” he said. “I think that they should let me get cleared because I don’t think I have done something wrong. But you know, they’re trying to do their part, so I can’t do nothing but respect them. So that’s what I’m trying to do.”

While N.C. State has plenty of backcourt options, the Wolfpack sure could use Yurtseven up front. Abu (12.9 points, 8.8 rebounds) and 6-9 senior BeeJay Anya are back after offseason flirtations with the NBA draft, but Gottfried is leaning toward redshirting 6-9 senior Lennard Freeman to let him fully heal after an injury-plagued season following surgery to repair a fracture in his lower right leg in summer 2015.

The opportunity is there, assuming Yurtseven suits up as planned.

“It’s a new experience and it’s fun,” he said. “I’m in a place that I’ve never been in, a situation that I don’t know if I’ll live (through) ever again, a different situation than this. I’m just trying to have fun, enjoy and hope for the best.”

Follow Aaron Beard on Twitter at http://www.twitter.com/aaronbeardap and the AP’s college basketball site at http://collegebasketball.ap.org

More than 35 A10 games to be aired on NBCSN

E.C. Matthews
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NBC Sports Networked announced on Thursday that the station will air more than 35 Atlantic 10 basketball games during the course of the 2016-17 season.

The slate includes 25 men’s basketball games and 10 women’s basketball games. In March, during the Atlantic 10 Tournament in Pittsburgh, NBC Sports Network will have exclusive coverage of the second round and quarterfinals.

All of these games will be streamed on NBCSports.com and the NBC Sports mobile app.

Rhode Island is expected to be the team to beat this season, with E.C. Matthews returning from injury, while Hassan Martin and Jared Terrell are also back in South Kingstown. The Rams, a team likely ranked in the top-25 to begin the season, will play four nationally-televised games on NBCSN.

Here is the full schedule:

Saturday, January 7

UMass at VCU

1 p.m.

Saturday, January 7

Saint Joseph’s at Fordham

3 p.m.

Saturday, January 7

George Mason at St. Bonaventure

5 p.m.

Sunday, January 8

Richmond at George Washington

Noon

Sunday, January 8

Davidson at Saint Louis

2 p.m.

Wednesday, January 11   

St. Bonaventure at Saint Louis (Women’s)

Noon

Saturday, January 14

Richmond at Saint Joseph’s

12:30 p.m.

Saturday, January 14

Saint Louis at George Mason

2:30 p.m.

Saturday, January 14*

Fordham at St. Bonaventure (Rochester Arena)

4:30 p.m.

Sunday, January 15

UMass at Rhode Island

2:30 p.m.

Sunday, January 15

George Washington at La Salle

4:30 p.m.

Saturday, January 21

Rhode Island at Duquesne

12:30 p.m.

Saturday, January 21

Fordham at UMass

2:30 p.m.

Sunday, January 22

La Salle at VCU

2 p.m.

Saturday, January 28

Davidson at Fordham

Noon

Saturday, January 28

St. Bonaventure at Rhode Island

2 p.m.

Wednesday, February 1

Fordham at George Washington (Women’s)

Noon

Saturday, February 4

Duquesne at Dayton

12:30 p.m.

Saturday, February 4

George Washington at Richmond

2:30 p.m.

Saturday, February 11

UMass at Saint Joseph’s

2:30 p.m.

Saturday, February 11

St. Bonaventure at George Washington

4:30 p.m.

Saturday, February 18

Davidson at UMass

Noon

Saturday, February 18

St. Bonaventure at Dayton

2 p.m.

Saturday, February 18

Rhode Island at George Mason

4 p.m.

Sunday, February 19

George Washington at Duquesne

Noon

Sunday, February 19

Dayton at Fordham (Women’s)

2 p.m.

Saturday, February 25

Richmond at Fordham

2:30 p.m.

Saturday, February 25

Saint Joseph’s at Saint Louis

4:30 p.m.

Thursday, March 9

Atlantic 10 Championship Second Round

Noon

Thursday, March 9

Atlantic 10 Championship Second Round

2:30 p.m.

Thursday, March 9

Atlantic 10 Championship Second Round

6 p.m.

Thursday, March 9

Atlantic 10 Championship Second Round

8:30 p.m.

Friday, March 10

Atlantic 10 Championship Quarterfinals

Noon

Friday, March 10

Atlantic 10 Championship Quarterfinals

2:30 p.m.

Friday, March 10

Atlantic 10 Championship Quarterfinals

6 p.m.

Friday, March 10

Atlantic 10 Championship Quarterfinals

8:30 p.m

The Atlantic 10 Conference schedule begins on December 30.

Hamidou Diallo says “as of now I want to go to college”

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Hamidou Diallo is arguably the most coveted shooting guard in the Class of 2017.

The Putnam Science Academy (Connecticut) product holds offers from the likes of Kentucky, Kansas, Duke, UConn, Arizona, and pretty much every other high-major program you can think of. Of course, the 6-foot-5 high-flyer is also on the radar of NBA franchises.

Diallo, a Queens native, reclassified to the Class of 2017 when he arrived on the prep school campus several years ago. He graduated this past spring and is currently in a postgraduate year at the same institution. This means he is one year removed from his graduating class, which means he could throw his name in to the 2017 NBA Draft.

However, according to Evan Daniels of Scout.com, Diallo’s current plan is to head to college, where he will likely be a one-and-done.

“It’s definitely something that I’m going to look into,” Diallo said when asked about the draft. “It’s my ultimate goal and I don’t feel like it would hurt me looking into. But as of now I want to go to college.”

Diallo’s possibility to go pro this spring have likely gained traction since this past June, when Thon Maker, another postgraduate prep prospect, was selected 10th overall by the Milwaukee Bucks. Skal Labissiere was rated as the No. 1 player in the Class of 2015 and pegged as the a potential top pick entering the 2015-16 season. His struggles to adjust to the college game were well-documented, and when draft night came, he fell 18 spots behind Maker.

There draft day tales will likely be intertwined for quite some time, as it ignited a discussion about whether prospects, like those in Diallo’s situation, are better suited to jump right to the NBA instead of avoiding of year of college and potentially failing to live up to the hype.

That’s not to say Diallo wouldn’t excel in what would perhaps be his lone college season. The events of last June’s draft shows that there can be a lucrative option by heading straight to the NBA. However, it could also be just a short-term gain. Thon Maker is repping the financial benefits of being a lottery pick, but let’s wait and see where he is if/when it’s time to re-up a new deal.

Diallo is rated as the 10th best player in the Class of 2017. He spent the spring and summer playing for the New York Rens in the Nike EYBL. He averaged 19.1 points and 5.8 rebounds per game in 20 appearances.

Pitt and West Virginia to reignite Backyard Brawl

West Virginia coach Bob Huggins gestures to his team during the first half of an NCAA college basketball game against Marshall in Charleston, W.Va., on Thursday, Dec. 17, 2015. (AP Photo/Tyler Evert)
AP Photo/Tyler Evert
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Good news on the college hoops rivalry front, as Pitt and West Virginia announced on Thursday that they will be renewing the Backyard Brawl.

One of the most intense rivalries in college sports, Pitt and West Virginia have not played in hoops since the 2011-12 season. Once Big East rivals, West Virginia left for the Big 12 as Pitt took off for the ACC.

It will be a four-game home-and-home series, with Pitt hosting in 2017 and 2019 and the Mountaineers getting the home games in 2018 and 2020.

I can’t stress this enough: this is great news. The Big East has seen a number of their best rivalries reignited in recent years, namely Syracuse taking on both Georgetown and UConn.

Will this inspire Kansas and Missouri to face off? Well, maybe not:

Anyway, here are the statements from the respective athletic directors.

“We are extremely excited to announce the renewal of this great rivalry,” Pitt athletic director Scott Barnes said in a statement. “Coach Stallings and his staff did an outstanding job working with their counterparts at West Virginia to help make this happen. The Pitt-West Virginia games will serve as marquee non-conference matchups that will garner heavy interest in the area and on the national stage.”

“One of my first goals as athletic director was to reach out to Scott Barnes about renewing the football and basketball series with Pitt because I knew it would be good for both schools,” West Virginia athletic director Shane Lyons said in a statement. “I want to thank Scott and coach Stallings as well as [West Virginia] coach [Bob] Huggins and his staff for their efforts in getting the basketball series renewed. The fans are the real winners because whether the game is in the WVU Coliseum or the Petersen Events Center, it will be great for college basketball.”

WCC Preview: ‘Zags favorites once more

Mark Few
AP Photo/Young Kwak
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Beginning in September and running up through November 11th, the first day of the regular season, College Basketball Talk will be unveiling the 2016-2017 NBCSports.com college hoops preview package.

Today, we are previewing the WCC.

Since BYU moved into the conference five years ago, just once has a team outside Gonzaga, St. Mary’s and the Cougars finished inside the league’s top three. This year probably won’t be much different with that trio set to be as strong as ever. There’s change elsewhere around the league that could change the landscape, but not likely for some time.

FIVE THINGS YOU NEED TO KNOW:

1. Gonzaga just reloads: The Bulldogs may have lost a lottery pick in Domantas Sabonis and first-team all-conference contributor in Kyle Wiltjer, but it’s not hard to envision Mark Few’s team being better this season. NBCSports.com preseason All-American Nigel Williams-Goss (Washington) and Johnathan Williams (Missouri) are eligible after transfers, as is Cal graduate transfer Jordan Mathews. The ‘Zags also add a McDonald’s All-American in freshman 7-footer Zach Collins and have Przmek Karnowski healthy after missing most of last season. This program is a well-oiled, winning machine. They’re talented enough that this could actually be the year they get to the Final Four.

2. Coaching turnover: Forty percent of the 10-team league has a new coach this season. Former NBA point guards Damon Stoudamire and Terry Porter took over at Pacific and Portland, respectively, while former Arizona State and N.C. State coach Herb Sendek replaced Kerry Keating at Santa Clara and Kyle Smith took over for Rex Walters at San Francisco.

That’s an astounding percentage, but in a league that’s being dominated by the same programs year-in and year-out, change is probably a good thing to shake up the status quo. The other problem? It’s virtually impossible to crack the top three in the WCC when it’s dominated by Gonzaga, Saint Mary’s and BYU, which means that the rest of the league has become filled with dead-end jobs. Can you name the last time a WCC coach left for a better job? Jan Van Breda Kolff left Pepperdine in 2001 for St. Bonaventure.

(AP)
Nigel Williams-Goss (AP Photo/John Froschauer)

3. NBA infusion: Half of those four hires come with incredibly strong NBA credentials. Damon Stoudamire spent time on benches in Memphis (both in the NBA and college) and Arizona following his 13-year NBA career and is now in charge of cleaning up and straightening out Pacific after an academic scandal. Terry Porter spent 17 years in the NBA as a player and had head coaching gigs with the Bucks and Suns, but now returns to the city, Portland, where his retired number hangs in the Moda Center.

4. Can St. Mary’s build its resume: The Gaels won 29 games and defeated Gonzaga twice last year, but a loss in the conference tournament kept them out of the NCAA tournament for the third-straight year due to a poor at-large resume. St. Mary’s returns literally almost every player from that team and has bolstered its non-conference slate with road trips to Dayton and Stanford, plus UAB on a neutral. If the Gaels can’t capture the WCC tournament title, will they have enough to still make the Big Dance? Because talent isn’t the issue with them. Spoiler alert: St. Mary’s will crack our preseason top 25 when it is released.

5. Replacing Collinsworth: Gone is Kyle Collinsworth after posting 12 career triple-doubles and BYU records for rebounds and assists. The Cougars still have plenty of firepower, though, namely Nick Emery, who averaged 16.3 points as a freshman. Back is big man Eric Mika after a two-year mission, and Houston transfer L.J. Rose joins the program as well. That’s a solid core before you factor in the loaded freshmen class of T.J. Haws, Yoeli Childs and Payton Dastrup.

MORE: 2016-17 Season Preview Coverage | Conference Previews | Preview Schedule

PRESEASON WCC PLAYER OF THE YEAR: Nigel Williams-Goss, Gonzaga

An NBCSports.com second-team preseason All-American, Williams-Goss sat out last season after transfering from Washington to Spokane, and we’re expecting him to hit the ground rounding after a year away from competition. The 6-foot-3 guard averaged 15.6 points, 5.9 assists and 4.7 rebounds his last season at Washington and will have a huge role in leading a Final Four contending ‘Zags team.

SPOKANE, WA - JANUARY 14:  Josh Perkins #13 of the Gonzaga Bulldogs drives against defender Nick Emery #4 of the BYU Cougars in the first half of the game at McCarthey Athletic Center on January 14, 2016 in Spokane, Washington.  (Photo by William Mancebo/Getty Images)
Josh Perkins drives against Nick Emery (William Mancebo/Getty Images)

THE REST OF THE WCC FIRST TEAM:

  • Przmek Karnowski, Gonzaga: If healthy, Karnowski is a devastating big man.
  • Jared Brownridge, Santa Clara: League’s top returning scorer after posting 20.6 ppg last year.
  • Nick Emery, BYU: Known for throwing a punch at a Utah player, but put up big numbers for the Cougars.
  • Emmett Naar, St. Mary’s:Scored 14 points and dished out over 6 assists per game for the 29-win Gaels.

FIVE MORE NAMES TO KNOW:

  • Joe Rahon, St. Mary’s
  • Eric Mika, BYU
  • Josh Perkins, Gonzaga
  • Dane Pineau, St. Mary’s
  • Alec Wintering, Portland

BREAKOUT STAR: Jared Brownridge is going to have the latitude to hoist a ton of shots and if he’s making 40 percent of his 3s, he’s got a chance to put up even bigger numbers than last year. A big year from him could help push Santa Clara into relevance under new coach Herb Sendek.

Saint Mary's coach Randy Bennett argues a call, during the first half of the team's NCAA college basketball game against Gonzaga in Moraga, Calif., on Thursday, Jan. 21, 2016. (AP Photo/Tony Avelar)
Saint Mary’s coach Randy Bennett (AP Photo/Tony Avelar)

COACH UNDER PRESSURE: Randy Bennett isn’t on the hot seat or anything, but his team is coming off a disappointing miss of the NCAA tournament last year (for the third-straight season) and has a massive amount of expectation for this year. And Gonzaga somehow looks stronger than ever. That’s pressure.

ON SELECTION SUNDAY WE’LL BE SAYING … : that the WCC is a two-bid league with Gonzaga and St. Mary’s.

I’M MOST EXCITED ABOUT : Watching the battle for the league championship between the ‘Zags and Gaels.

FIVE NON-CONFERENCE GAMES TO CIRCLE ON YOUR CALENDAR:

  • Dec. 7, Washington vs. Gonzaga
  • Dec. 3, Arizona vs. Gonzaga
  • Nov. 19, St. Mary’s vs. Dayton
  • Dec. 3, BYU vs. USC
  • Dec. 22, Valparaiso vs. Santa Clara

ONE TWITTER FEED TO FOLLOW: @slipperstillfit

PREDICTED FINISH

1. Gonzaga: The top-tier talent will be enough to stave off the challengers.
2. St. Mary’s: They won’t knock off Gonzaga, but the Gaels should still be dancing.
3. BYU: Dave Rose has a solid core that will grow into a contender with time. They’re probably a year away from truly contending.
4. Santa Clara: Predicting a big year for Jared Brownridge means Santa Clara will be the best of the rest in the WCC.
5. Pepperdine: A strong core of returnees plus stability on the bench will propel the Waves to the top half of the conference.
6. Portland: Terry Porter will be leaning heavily on senior Alec Wintering to produce in his first year.
7. Loyola Marymount: LMU lost Adom Jacko to the pros but welcomes Stefan Jovanovic (Hawaii) and Trevor Manuel (Oregon) as transfers
8. San Francisco: New coach Kyle Smith inherits a roster without much stability.
9. Pacific: Expect a bumpy ride for first-year head coach Damon Stoudamire.
10. San Diego: After finishing in the basement last year, the Toreros lost their leading scorer and best interior presence, so there’s not a lot of expectation.

LAS VEGAS, NV - MARCH 08:  Emmett Naar #3 of the Saint Mary's Gaels brings the ball up the court against the Gonzaga Bulldogs during the championship game of the West Coast Conference Basketball tournament at the Orleans Arena on March 8, 2016 in Las Vegas, Nevada. Gonzaga won 85-75.  (Photo by Ethan Miller/Getty Images)
Emmett Naar (Ethan Miller/Getty Images)