New Year’s Resolutions: UNLV Runnin’ Rebels

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Over the course of the holiday week, we at College Basketball Talk will be detailing what we believe will be the New Year’s Resolutions of some of the nation’s most talented, most disappointing, and thoroughly enigmatic teams. What can we say, we’re in a giving mood.

Who else made Resolutions? Click here to find out.

WHAT DOES UNLV PROMISE TO DO MORE OF?: Play efficiently on the offensive end.

    • Why it will happen:

Outside of their 19-turnover performance against Mississippi State, UNLV has done a good job of taking care of the basketball during their current five-game win streak. Dave Rice’s team has averaged at least 1.09 points/possession during the streak, and with four players averaging double figures (and a fifth, Jelan Kendrick, averaging 8.2 ppg) the Runnin’ Rebels have the talent to be a productive offensive team. Roscoe Smith, who’s also the nation’s leading rebounder, leads the way with an average of 12.8 points per game. Four players are currently averaging at least two assists per game, with Bryce Dejean-Jones leading the team with 3.2 apg.

    • Why it won’t happen:

Well in looking at that five-game streak you also have to address the level of competition, with Santa Clara and Mississippi State being the best teams UNLV has faced. In their losses UNLV averaged one point per possession just once, and that was their home loss to Arizona State. Against UCSB (0.97), Illinois (0.89) and Arizona (0.88) the Runnin’ Rebels scored less than one point per possession, although that close defeat at Arizona may have been a game in which the proverbial lightbulb went on for this group.

WHAT DOES UNLV SWEAR THEY WILL DO LESS OF?: Miss free throws.

    • Why it will happen:

Interestingly enough junior forward Khem Birch has been UNLV’s best foul shooter amongst the regulars, knocking down 77.9% of his attempts on the season. But overall UNLV ranks 316th nationally in free throw percentage, and in the close games they’re likely to play in the Mountain West that could be the difference between winning a conference title and merely contending. They’ve got players capable of shooting a solid percentage from the charity stripe, which should lead to improvement in this area as the season wears on.

    • Why it won’t happen:

The two perimeter players with the highest number of attempts, Dejean-Jones (34 attempts) and Kendrick (30), are shooting just 61.8% and 53.3% from the foul line respectively. And amongst the guards in Dave Rice’s rotation Kevin Olekaibe’s been the best foul shooter, and he’s shooting just 63.6% from the charity stripe. When your guards have issues at the foul line it’s tough to make the strides needed when it comes to the team’s percentage, especially when considering how much they’ll be asked to handle the ball in late-game situations.

Missouri lands No. 1 player in Class of 2017 as Michael Porter Jr. commits

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Missouri and new head coach Cuonzo Martin have landed the No. 1 player in the Class of 2017 a week after he took the job as forward Michael Porter Jr. committed to the Tigers on Friday.

Formerly a Washington commit under now-fired head coach Lorenzo Romar, the 6-foot-9 Porter was released from his Letter of Intent this week and many believed he’d end up back at Missouri.

The Porter family lived in Columbia for many years as two of Michael’s older sisters play for the Missouri women’s team while Michael Porter Sr. was an assistant coach for the women’s team.

When Porter Sr. was hired to Missouri to be an assistant coach on Martin’s staff this week — after losing his assistant coaching job at Washington when Romar was fired — it all but sealed the deal that the Porters would return to Missouri and Michael Jr. would play for the Tigers.

Missouri might not be an NCAA Tournament team next season after struggling to an 8-24 finish and 2-16 record in the SEC. But Porter might be the most productive freshman entering college basketball next season as he has a chance to be dominant in the SEC.

Oklahoma State promotes assistant coach Mike Boynton to head coach

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Oklahoma State has decided to promote assistant coach Mike Boynton to head coach, the school announced on Friday.

Boynton was an assistant with the Cowboys under former head coach Brad Underwood, who left Oklahoma State to take the Illinois job last weekend. Also an assistant coach at Stephen F. Austin, South Carolina, Wofford and Coastal Carolina, Boynton is a native of New York City who played his college ball for the Gamecocks.

The hire of Boynton is surprising since he doesn’t have any head-coaching experience as it follows in the footsteps of Cal promoting assistant coach Wyking Jones earlier in the day. Boynton also notably won the job over broadcaster and former Oklahoma State guard Doug Gottlieb as Gottlieb interviewed for the job but wasn’t selected.

 

Rhode Island junior E.C. Matthews will return to school

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Rhode Island junior guard E.C. Matthews will return to school for his redshirt senior season, the school announced on Friday.

The 6-foot-5 Matthews led the Rams in scoring at 14.9 points per game this past season as he returned from a torn ACL and helped Rhode Island reach the NCAA Tournament for the first time since 1999.

Besides for being a talented scorer, Matthews is a good overall playmaker for the Rams as he also put up 4.3 rebounds and 1.4 assists per game.

With Matthews returning, it gives head coach Dan Hurley a huge weapon for next season as Rhode Island returns everyone besides the senior front court of Hassan Martin and Kuran Iverson.

Cal promotes assistant Wyking Jones to head coach

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Cal will promote interim head coach and former assistant coach Wyking Jones to head coach, a source confirmed to NBCSports.com. The story was first reported by Jon Rothstein of FanRagSports.com

A native of Inglewood, California, Jones has been an assistant coach for the Golden Bears for the past two seasons as he replaces former head coach Cuonzo Martin, who departed to take the Missouri job. This promotion comes as a bit of a surprise for some since Jones has never been a head coach at the Division I level.

Jones has spent 15 years as an assistant coach at the Division I level at places like Cal, Louisville, New Mexico, Pepperdine and Loyola Marymount — where Jones spent his playing career.

Helping Louisville to the Final Four in 2013, Jones is a respected coach and recruiter who gets a great opportunity for his first head coaching job at the Division I level with Cal.

The Golden Bears made the NCAA tournament last year but finished 21-13 this season as they missed making the field of 68. Sophomore big man Ivan Rabb has already declared for the NBA Draft and it will be interesting to see what kind of roster Jones gets to work with right away.

One of the reasons Jones might have been retained is to help Cal keep its solid five-man recruiting class from bolting. While the Golden Bears don’t have any five-star talents coming in, it is a solid foundation for the program’s future led by a four-star guard in Jemarl Baker.

Florida State freshman forward Jonathan Isaac declares for 2017 NBA Draft

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Florida State freshman forward Jonathan Isaac has declared for the 2017 NBA Draft.

The 6-foot-10 Isaac was a five-star prospect out of high school as he averaged 12.0 points and 7.8 rebounds per game. One of the most versatile defenders in the country, Isaac could protect the rim (1.5 blocks per game) and also switch out to the perimeter and cover smaller wings as well (1.2 steals per game). Also showing a solid skill level, Isaac shot 50 percent from the field, 34 percent from three-point range and 78 percent from the free-throw line.

That kind of versatility is what Isaac is banking on in the NBA Draft as he’s expected to be a top-15 pick. If Isaac can prove that he’s a reliable perimeter shooter then teams could be intrigued by him as a matchup nightmare in the front court.