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Pregame shootaround: Monster doubleheader dominates Saturday’s action

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GAME OF THE DAY: No. 8 Villanova at No. 2 Syracuse (2 p.m., CBS)

I mean no disrespect to one of the greatest rivalries in all of sports, but when you have a matchup of two unbeaten, top-10 teams on December 28th, it takes precedence. It should be a good one as No. 8 Villanova (11-0) travels to the Carrier Dome to face No. 2 Syracuse (11-0) in a matchup of old Big East foes. This is a big non-conference tilt that will test each team before conference season and Syracuse is in for its biggest game of the season — so far — after winning the Maui Invitational while Villanova won the Battle 4 Atlantis earlier this season. How will Syracuse’s young backcourt of freshman Tyler Ennis and Trevor Cooney handle a big game and a big test against Villanova?

THE OTHER GAME OF THE DAY: No. 6 Louisville at No. 18 Kentucky (4 p.m., CBS)

If you’re up for more college hoops after the matchup of unbeatens — and of course you are — then you’ll want to stick around for one of the best rivalries in sports. Although No. 6 Louisville (11-1) and No. 18 Kentucky (9-3) aren’t both in the top ten, they’re still the last two national champions and this is a rivalry game unlike many others. Can Kentucky finally get over the hump and earn a marquee victory heading into SEC play? The young Wildcats have fallen in their previous tests against Michigan State, Baylor and North Carolina, but this time, they’ll have Rupp Arena and Big Blue Nation behind them. And how will Louisville handle its most talented opponent so far this season in a big rivalry game on the road? Louisville’s only test this season was against North Carolina, and, like Kentucky, they fell to the Tar Heels as well.

WHO’S GETTING UPSET? No. 25 Missouri at North Carolina State (8 p.m., ESPN2)

North Carolina State (9-2) is playing very well after a bit of a rocky start and sophomore T.J. Warren is playing at an All-American level for the Wolfpack. Today the Wolfpack will host No. 25 Missouri (10-1) after the Tigers are fresh off their loss in the Braggin’ Rights game against Illinois and Missouri could be in for a letdown. Warren is averaging a team-leading 23.9 points and 7.3 rebounds — on 55 percent shooting — and poses a major challenge for Missouri’s defense. The Wolfpack have won seven straight games since the return of 7-foot-1 center Jordan Vandenburg and freshman point guard Anthony “Cat” Barber has also played better much better since the 2-2 start, as he’s registered at least four assists in all seven of those wins. One thing to monitor in this one: How will Missouri handle its first true road game of the season?

MID-MAJOR GAME OF THE DAY: Belmont at Indiana State, (1:05 p.m., ESPN3)

This is an interesting match-up between Ohio Valley contender Belmont (8-5) and Missouri Valley contender Indiana State (8-3), in-part because they already played earlier this season and Belmont won 96-95 at home on November 14th. Since then, Belmont has won at North Carolina, but has lost four of five games and they’ll look to right the ship against a good Indiana State team. The Sycamores have won five of six games entering this rematch and are trending in the opposite direction.

FIVE THINGS TO KNOW

1) How about the matchup between senior guards Chaz Williams and Bryce Cotton in the matchup between No. 23 UMass and Providence? That should be a fun one as Providence (10-2) will look to hand UMass (10-1) its second loss of the season.

2) Duke (9-2) will be in for an interesting non-conference matchup at Cameron Indoor Stadium with 7-3 Eastern Michigan. The Eagles have already traveled to Rupp Arena and faced No. 21 UMass this season and own sold mid-major wins over Green Bay and Cleveland State and won’t be scared to face No. 9 Duke.

3) Wake Forest is off to a solid 10-2 start, but how will they react to their first true road game of the season at Xavier? The Demon Deacons went 1-2 at the Battle 4 Atlantis and would love to pick up a quality road win before ACC play. Xavier, meanwhile, has rebounded nicely with four straight wins after an 0-3 trip to the Battle 4 Atlantis. Although both teams played in the Battle 4 Atlantis, they have yet to play each other.

4) An interesting doubleheader at the Brooklyn Winter Hoops Festival kicks off today as Tulane (7-6) faces Kansas State (8-3) and Boston College (4-8) takes on VCU (10-3). Tulane has lost six of seven and will look for an upset against red-hot Kansas State and their six straight wins, while Boston College hasn’t beaten a Division I opponent in the month of December and will look to rebound against the Rams.

5) Although Michigan lost Mitch McGary indefinitely due to back surgery, they can’t hang their head for too long, as they’ll face Holy Cross and senior center Dave Dudzinski. Dudzinski is one of the top mid-major big men in the country so far this season as he’s averaging 17.1 points and 7.6 rebounds per game on 50 percent shooting from the field and 45 percent shooting from three-point range.

THE REST OF THE TOP 25:

  • Prairie View A&M at No. 4 Wisconsin, 2:00 p.m., ESPNU
  • New Orleans at No. 5 Michigan State, 4:15 p.m., BTN
  • Eastern Washington at No. 15 UConn, 1:00 p.m., ESPN3
  • Jackson State at No. 17 Memphis, 12:00 p.m., ESPNU
  • Georgia at No. 21 Colorado, 10:00 p.m., Pac 12
  • Santa Clara at No. 24 Gonzaga, 8:00 p.m., ESPNU

NOTABLES:

  • Nebraska at Cincinnati, 12:00 p.m., ESPN2
  • Florida International at Georgetown, 12:00 p.m., Fox Sports 1
  • UIC vs Illinois, 2:00 p.m., BTN
  • Samford at Marquette, 2:00 p.m., Fox Sports Net
  • Columbia at St. John’s, 2:30 p.m.
  • Harvard at Fordham, 4:00 p.m.
  • Akron at South Carolina, 4:00 p.m., ESPNU
  • BYU at Loyola Marymount, 4:00 p.m.
  • Old Dominion at Richmond, 6:30 p.m., NBCSN
  • Alabama at UCLA, 10:00 p.m., ESPN2

Former Southern Miss forward Jonathan Mills shot and killed

Southern Mississippi forward Jonathan Mills (24) reacts at the buzzer in Memphis' 60-58 win in an NCAA college basketball game Wednesday, Jan. 11, 2012, in Memphis, Tenn. (AP Photo/Lance Murphey)
AP Photo/Lance Murphey
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In two seasons as a member of the Southern Miss basketball program from 2011-13, forward Jonathan Mills made an impression based on how hard he played the game. Monday afternoon it was reported that Mills was shot and killed in Chicago, not too far away from his alma mater of North Lawndale High School.

Before attending Eastern Utah CC and Southern Miss, Mills plied his trade at North Lawndale where he helped the school win a state title in 2008 and the Chicago Public League title as a senior in 2009. North Lawndale HS coach Lewis Thorpe told the Chicago Tribune that he and Mills had plans to work out at the school Monday afternoon, only for Thorpe to receive a phone call from his nephew informing him of Mills’ death.

Mills was going through workouts with his high school coach in preparation for a move overseas to play professionally.

The coach said he heard from witnesses at the scene that Mills had gone to a corner store with some friends and, when they came out, a car drove up and someone inside shot him.

“I’m so messed up. I am so shocked,” he said. “When I say he was well liked…everybody loved him.’’

Thorpe said Mills called him “Pops” when he coached him in high school.

After word of Mills’ death made the rounds many paid tribute to him via social media including Donnie Tyndall, who coached Mills at Southern Miss.

Richmond announces change to European trip itinerary

Chris Mooney - UR
AP Photo/Skip Rowland
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With the NCAA allowing college basketball programs to take one trip outside of the country every four years, some coaches look at it as an opportunity to get a head start on preparations for the upcoming season. Chris Mooney’s Richmond Spiders are one team taking a trip this summer, as they’re due to leave the United States for Europe on August 8 with three exhibitions scheduled for their 12-day tour.

The trip was originally scheduled to begin in France, with the Spiders spending their first week there before making stops in the Netherlands and Germany. Monday afternoon the program announced a change to the itinerary, with the Spiders now spending their first week in Ireland and not France.

“We continue to be excited about the opportunity to travel abroad this summer,” Mooney said in the release. “We were able to make some changes to our travel itinerary, and we believe that this new itinerary will give our team a great opportunity to grow together and see other parts of the world.”

It isn’t stated as the reason for the change in the release but this news comes just over a week after a man drove a truck into a crowd of people celebrating Bastille Day in Nice, claiming the lives of 84 people and leaving more than 200 others injured.

Richmond, which returns two of its top three scorers from a season ago in forward T.J. Cline and guard ShawnDre’ Jones, is schedule to return to the United States August 20. Per NCAA rules they’re also afforded the opportunity to practice for two weeks leading up to the trip, and heading to Europe can help the team build stronger connections in unfamiliar surroundings.

July Live Period Superlatives: Who impressed during the most important recruiting months?

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For much of the last three weeks, the nation’s best high school players have been jet-setting across the country — and the world — as they showcased what they can do in front of college coaches everywhere from North Augusta, S.C., to Las Vegas.

Here are the players that stood out the most:

MOST OUTSTANDING PLAYER: Michael Porter Jr.

In a close call, I’m going with the future Washington Husky, Michael Porter Jr.

After an unstoppable Peach Jam in which he helped MoKan Elite win the event by completely dominating, Porter was one of the key players in helping the USA U18 team win the FIBA Americas as the team’s leading scorer.

RELATED: How the Michael Porter Package Deal came to fruition

Some have questioned Porter’s toughness, but he’s been a tenacious rebounder from the wing all spring and summer and he’s nearly impossible to contain off the bounce. When his perimeter jumper is going, Porter is an advanced three-level scorer who can make getting buckets look easy on some very difficult moves. In three bracket games at Peach Jam, Porter averaged 29.7 points, 11.0 rebounds and 3.0 assists per game while shooting insane splits (68% FG, 93% FT, 56% 3PT).

BEST GUARD: Trae Young

Part of the reason that Porter was so good during Peach Jam is that he had Trae Young beside him on MoKan. A 6-foot-1 guard with deep shooting range on pull-ups, Young is underrated as a setup guy as his aggressive scoring capabilities open up a lot of offense for his teammates. Also a member of the USA U18 team that won gold with Porter, if Young shoots it that efficiently from three-point range in the future, he’ll be in the discussion among the best guards in the class.

They were good, too

  • Trevon Duval: The point guard with the most potential in 2017, Duval had a tough time finishing at the rim but still showed incredible athleticism and a warrior’s mentality.
  • Collin Sexton: After winning MVP of the FIBA U17 World Championships and a gold medal with USA Basketball, Sexton tore up the circuit and showed incredible intensity and scoring capabilities.

BEST WING: Gary Trent, Jr.

When Gary Trent Jr. takes the court, he wants to completely destroy you. No five-star player went as consistently hard as Trent did during the month of July and that is coming after Trent spent a month away from home winning gold with USA Basketball in Spain at the FIBA U17 World Championships. There were times in Vegas that opposing coaches and teams knew what moves were coming and Trent would still score on them. He’s a cold-blooded scorer who always brings intensity.

They were good, too

  • Hamidou Diallo: The high-flying guard can get a lot done on both ends of the floor and his upside might be among highest in the class.
  • Brian Bowen: Scoring the ball well and rebounding from the wing was the 6-foot-7 wing from Michigan, who looked unstoppable at times during July.

BEST BIG: DeAndre Ayton

If anyone beats Porter as the best player of July it is Ayton. The 7-footer was incredible during certain moments of Peach Jam in helping lead California Supreme to the final four as he beat Marvin Bagley, Wendell Carter and Mitchell Robinson in consecutive games.

With soft touch, a workable jumper and the kind of quick hops that get rim easy dunks and rebounds, Ayton is the best long-term prospect in this class because of how well he moves for his size while also owning a good skill level. Ayton has a desire to play in college and hopefully he’ll get the chance because he has a shot to be one of the best big men college basketball has seen in the last decade.

They were good, too

  • Wendell Carter: The 6-foot-10 center was good at Peach Jam and closed out strong by helping Team CP3 win The Eight in Las Vegas.
  • Mitchell Robinson: This 7-footer changes directions and runs like a guard and is the best shot blocker in the country. I haven’t seen one guy block this many three-pointers since Anthony Davis.
Deandre Ayton, Jon Lopez/Nike
Deandre Ayton, Jon Lopez/Nike

BIGGEST STOCK RISER: Malik Williams

Indiana native Malik Williams is an interesting story because he was the only top 40 Class of 2017 player who didn’t play in a shoe-company league this spring. After a July in which the 6-foot-11 Williams made perimeter moves, blocked shots and rebounded his entire area, he looked like a five-star lock who should be in serious consideration for the All-American games. Williams is undoubtedly talented enough for those distinctions, but he also needs to prove himself more against the elite big men of the Class of 2017 before we know how good he can really be.

Some of the best college basketball programs in the country like Indiana, Louisville, Michigan State and Purdue — among many others — are making Williams a priority recruit.

They impressed, too

  • Chuma Okeke: Auburn just snagged this top-60 wing forward on Monday and he’s coming off a monster July. A versatile wing who can handle and score, Okeke can also rebound well from the wing.
  • Nick Weatherspoon: The younger brother of Mississippi State freshman Quinndary Weatherspoon is making a name for himself as a 6-foot-1 playmaking guard who can really score.

FOUR NON-ELITE NAMES WITH NBA POTENTIAL

  • Derek Culver: The 6-foot-10 native of Ohio is an intriguing talent because of his size, athleticism and passing ability.
  • Brandon Randolph: A smooth scorer with good size at 6-foot-6, Randolph hit 40 percent of his threes at Peach Jam and can fill it up from deep.
  • Chaundee Brown: One of the most efficient scorers at Peach Jam, the 6-foot-5 guard can also pull down rebounds with the best of them.
  • Jordan Goodwin: Undoubtedly one of the toughest dudes in the country, this Marcus Smart-type guard is improving his jumper but he’s a warrior with everything else.
Trae Young, Jon Lopez/Nike
Trae Young, Jon Lopez/Nike

Cody Riley cuts list to five schools

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Cody Riley has cut his list to five schools, according to Scout.com.

A four-star four man, Riley is now considering just UConn, Kansas, Oklahoma, UCLA and USC.

Ranked the No. 29 player in the Class of 2017 by Rivals, Riley is an undersized-but-powerful forward. His bread and butter is on the block, where his strength and low center of gravity make him a nightmare to deal with, but he’s also skilled enough to do damage as a face-up four.

Riley is from California and will be playing his senior season alongside Marvin Bagley III, the No. 1 player in the Class of 2018, at Sierra Canyon.

Auburn continues to stockpile talent, adds top 50 prospect in 2017

Bruce Pearl
AP Photo/Mark Humphrey
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Auburn’s hire of Bruce Pearl was almost universally lauded as the first step towards the return of relevance for the Tiger basketball program.

And while the results have yet to shine through on the floor, Pearl is unequivocally stockpiling the kind of talent that will allow him to push for trips to the NCAA tournament and maybe one day contend for a league crown with Kentucky.

The latest step came on Sunday, when Pearl landed a commitment from Chuma Okeke, a top 50 wing prospect out of Georgia.

“He is a versatile wing who can handle and score,” said NBCSports.com recruiting analyst Scott Phillips. “Coming off of a big July, Okeke could move up the national rankings and Auburn pounced on him right away.”

Okeke joins big man Austin Wiley, a top ten player in the class, and Davion Mitchell, who is likely one of the five best point guards in the country, in what is currently the nation’s best recruiting class in 2017. That’s before you consider that Pearl already has Mustapha Heron, a top 25 prospect, joining the mix this season.

“This group has the makings of a monster recruiting class for Auburn,” Phillips said.

Okeke picked the Tigers over Florida State, Georgia and a number of other programs across the southeast.