PLAYER OF THE WEEK: Eric Atkins, Notre Dame
For Notre Dame, the last week as been about as rough as a week can be on a college basketball team. Let’s start with the obvious: leading scorer Jerian Grant, a redshirt senior that had been in the program for four years, left school for the second semester after dealing with an academic issue. That came a day after the Irish collapsed against No. 3 Ohio State, blowing an eight point lead in 51 seconds and missing out on a chance to land a marquee victory that would have helped nullify home losses to Indiana State and North Dakota State.
In their first game since their season changed, the Irish came out flat, missing 12 of their first 14 shots and digging themselves a big first half hole against a better-than-you-think Canisius team looking to land a big road win of their own. That’s when Eric Atkins took over, popping off for a career-high 30 points and leading the Irish to an overtime win that they simply had to get for their confidence and to protect a chance at earning themselves an at-large bid. I don’t think that it’s a stretch to say that a loss would have been a crushing blow for the Irish. But a win, especially a win where their senior point guard went into takeover mode, is a step in the right direction.
They were good, too:
- Tyler Ennis, Syracuse: Ennis finished with 20 points, a pair of assists and, once again, without a turnover as the Orange overcame a 25-7 deficit in a 16 point win against then-undefeated Villanova.
- Deandre Kane, Iowa State: Kane averaged 17.0 points, 7.7 boards and 5.0 assists in their Diamond Head Classic title. More importantly, Kane, who entered the title game against Boise State 5-for-20 from three on the season, went 4-for-6 from beyond the arc.
- Antoine Mason, Niagara: The nation’s leading scorer had a season-high 39 points in a 68-65 win over Brown.
- Matt Stainbrook, Xavier: Stainbrook had 21 points and 10 boards in a win over Wake Forest in the Skip Prosser Classic. That came after going for 17 points and six boards in a win at Alabama.
TEAM OF THE WEEK: Kentucky Wildcats
What is there to say about this Kentucky team that hasn’t already been said in the two days since they knocked off then-No. 6 Louisville in Rupp Arena, 73-66? Julius Randle was as dominant as could be in the first half, but when he went out with cramps in the second half, the Wildcats continued to control the game. The Harrison twins — specifically Andrew, the point guard — were terrific down the stretch. Alex Poythress made some of the hustle plays that Big Blue Nation has been waiting for him to make for a season and a half. And, most importantly, the Wildcats put together arguably the best 40 minutes of defense that they have put together this season.
Kentucky needed this. I don’t subscribe to the idea that there is no such thing as a must-win game in December, because this was a must-win game for the Wildcats. It has nothing to do with their resume or their NCAA tournament chances, rather they had to get this game because the pressure and scrutiny that they would have faced otherwise would have been overpowering. They needed tangible evidence that this wasn’t going to be a repeat of 2012-2013. They needed proof that they are getting better, getting closer to the national title contender that we all believed they wold be back in October. They got it.
They were good, too:
- Iowa State: The Cyclones continue to roll along without a blemish on their record. This week, they went out to Hawaii and won the Diamond Head Classic.
- Missouri: The Tiger’s big three of Jordan Clarkson, Jabari Brown and Earnest Ross will be tough for opponents to matchup with all season long. On Saturday, they went into Raleigh and knocked off N.C. State in come-from-behind victory.
- South Carolina: Frank Martin’s group got off to an ugly start this season, but a 3-1 week that included two wins over Akron and a win over St. Mary’s is a step in the right direction.
- Syracuse: The Orange came from 18 point down to beat then-undefeated Villanova by 16. That’s quite a turnaround.
Frank Jackson will declare for the draft but will not be signing with an agent, according to the Salt Lake Tribune.
Previous reports had indicated that Jackson “planned” to return to school, and that still may end up proving true. But the combination of Trevon Duval potentially enrolling at Duke combined with the fact that there is zero downside to going through the draft process, it makes sense for Jackson to declare.
Jackson averaged 10.9 points and shot 39.5 percent from three. He’s projected as a mid-first round pick in 2018 by Draft Express, but at 6-foot-3, he’s too small to play the two in the NBA and has yet to prove he can be a point guard.
Jackson is the fourth Duke player to declare, following Jayson Tatum, Harry Giles III and Luke Kennard. All three signed with an agent. Grayson Allen and Marques Bolden are both returning to school.
This weekend is the first live evaluation period of the spring recruiting calendar as college coaches from all over the country are scouting (and babysitting) the top recruits in the Class of 2018 and 2019.
Friday night the adidas Gauntlet in Dallas opened with a marquee matchup of two star players as five-star forward Zion Williamson and five-star guard Romeo Langford went head-to-head in what should be one of the best games of the spring.
Most scouting services have Williamson and Langford as the No. 2 and No. 3 overall prospects in the Class of 2018 as the duo didn’t disappoint in front of the huge crowd in Fort Worth.
Williamson helped his team to a win with 26 points and seven rebounds while Langford had 28 points, four rebounds and four assists. You’ll be hearing plenty about both of these guys over the next few months as both are still wide open in the recruting process.
(H/t: Ball is Life)
Coppin State has hired former Maryland star guard Juan Dixon to be its next head coach, according to a report from Don Markus of the Baltimore Sun.
The 38-year-old Dixon is best known for leading Maryland to the 2002 national championship as he was the Most Outstanding Player at the Final Four that year. Now Dixon will have a chance to lead a Division I program for the first time.
Dixon spent seven years in the NBA and also played professionally in Europe before joining the Maryland coaching staff in 2013 as a special assistant to head coach Mark Turgeon. Not retained by Maryland after the 2015-16 season, Dixon took the head coaching job for the women’s team at the University of the District of Columbia last season as the Division II program finished only 3-25.
Coppin State finished last season with an 8-24 record after losing its first 12 games of the season. While Dixon will generate some positive local buzz given his background, he’s going to have an uphill battle trying to rebuild that program.
Nebraska landed an important commitment from the Class of 2017 on Friday as four-star guard Thomas Allen is heading to Lincoln next season.
The 6-foot-1 guard is considered the No. 99 overall prospect by Rivals in the national Class of 2017 rankings as Allen was previously committed to N.C. State before head coach Mark Gottfried was fired.
A scorer with a good amount of skill, Allen has a chance to come in and make an immediate impact at Nebraska as he can play a bit on or off the ball. Allen should help offset the loss of senior Tai Webster in the Husker backcourt.
Allen joins wing Nana Akenten in Nebraska’s Class of 2017 recruiting efforts.
North Carolina pulled in a late Class of 2017 commitment to begin the weekend as the Tar Heels secured a pledge from four-star Class of 2017 big man Garrison Brooks.
The 6-foot-9, 225-pound Brooks was previously committed to Mississippi State, but he was granted his release this spring to explore other opportunities.
The Tar Heels pounced as they’re getting a low-post threat who could develop into a potential double-double threat. A solid rebounder who isn’t afraid to play with physicality, Brooks has a chance to earn some immediate rotation minutes with seniors like Isaiah Hicks and Kennedy Meeks exhausting their eligibility.
Brooks is regarded as the No. 120 overall prospect in the Class of 2017, according to Rivals, as he is a four-star prospect. The native of Auburn, Alabama joins a North Carolina recruiting class that includes point guard Jalek Felton, shooting guard Andrew Platek and big men Brandon Huffman and Sterling Manley.