Shabazz Napier had 17 points and 10 assists and Deandre Daniels chipped in with 23 points and 11 boards as UConn went into the FedEx Forum and knocked off the No. 17 Memphis Tigers, 83-73.
It was an enormous win for the Huskies, who were coming off of losses to Stanford, SMU and Houston in the last month. There were doubts about whether or not this was a team that could compete with the other top dogs in the American, but those were put to rest on Thursday night.
What’s more is that this is a solid resume win for the Huskies, who weren’t necessarily in danger of missing out on an at-large bid just yet. That home win over Florida and the neutral court win over Indiana are only going to look better and better as the year goes on. Having said that, their recent losses were certainly concerning enough to make some question whether or not the Huskies are actually as good as their resume appears.
And frankly, there are nights where they aren’t all that good.
When it comes down to it, there are two things that the Huskies are going to need to do to win:
- Their bigs have to show up and compete in the paint, and they did that on Thursday. Daniels was terrific and while Amida Brimah didn’t have his best game, he played well enough — as did Tyler Olander and Phil Nolan — that the Huskies basically controlled the interior for the first 32 minutes of the game. UConn’s front court is never going to be a strength, but they have to play well enough that they are not a liability.
- UConn needs scoring from someone other than Napier. It doesn’t matter who it is. Daniels had 23 on Thursday while Lasan Kromah chipped in with 11. Brimah had 20 in a win over Central Florida. Ryan Boatright can pop off for 20 on any given night. Niels Giffey is capable of hitting three or four threes. Napier is as good of a closer as their is in college basketball, but he can lead and he can facilitate. He wants to get his teammates involved. They have to reward his efforts.
If that happens, Napier is good enough that he can lead the Huskies to wins over just about anyone. On Thursday, you saw proof of that.
As an aside, the American is shaping up to be one of the weirdest conference races in the country. UConn got swept on their trip to Texas but won at Memphis, which Cincinnati did as well. Memphis, in turn, went into Louisville and knocked off a Cardinal team that has looked like they’ve hit their stride in the last couple of weeks. When it comes to conference races, weird almost always equates to fun. So buckle up.
Dillon Brooks will be returning to Oregon for his junior season.
Brooks, a 6-foot-6 forward that averaged 16.7 points, 5.4 boards and 3.1 assists as a sophomore, went through the NBA Draft process without hiring an agent. He did not receive an invitation to the NBA Draft combine, however, and that is as good of a sign as any that he was not likely to get drafted.
According to a report from ESPN, he has heeded the advice he received and will be returning to Eugene.
Brooks is a versatile player whose role for the Ducks is similar to what Draymond Green plays for the Warriors, but he’s not the athlete that Green is. Returning to school, tightening up his shooting stroke and getting into better shape could help him play his way into a spot where he can get a guaranteed contract after next season.
The Ducks are still awaiting word on whether or not rising sophomore Tyler Dorsey will return to school as well. With both players back in the fold, Oregon is a potential top five team next season.
Malik Newman will withdraw his name from consideration and return to school for his sophomore season.
Newman was a top 10 recruit in the Class of 2015, a high-scoring combo-guard that opted to stay home and play for Mississippi State instead of enroll at one of the blue bloods that was recruiting him. He averaged 11.3 points as a freshman, but it was a largely disappointing season as he spent the year off of the national radar playing inefficient basketball.
Put another way, the fourth-leading scorer on a 14-17 SEC team isn’t exactly a lock for the lottery.
But here’s the catch: he may not be returning to Mississippi State, as Newman is considering a transfer, according to a report from ESPN. That report quotes a source close to the situation saying “unhappy with his role and how he was utilized.”
It will be interesting to see what happens from here. Newman would have to sit out a year if he transferred to another Division I program, and for a kid that thought he was destined to be a one-and-done star, locking himself into a three-year college career would be an odd move.
Seton Hall sophomore guard Isaiah Whitehead has signed with an agent and will remain in the NBA Draft.
Whitehead announced his intention to stay in the draft last night on his Twitter account.
Whitehead averaged 18.2 points, 5.1 assists and 3.6 rebounds per game last season for Seton Hall, which went 25-9 and reached the NCAA tournament. He likely projects as a second-round pick with a bit of a shaky shot, but a high usage and assist rates. His strong finish to the season likely lifted him on some draft boards, but his inefficiency will cap his ceiling in June’s draft.
The loss is significant for the Pirates as Whitehead was so much of their offense, but they’ll bring back Khadeen Carrington, Desi Rodriguez, Angel Delgado and Ismael Sanogo. It’s a group that will miss Whitehead’s playmaking, but is still a solid enough foundation that Seton Hall will still likely be competitive in the Big East and vying for another NCAA tournament berth.
Villanova’s title defense just got a whole lot stouter.
Josh Hart, the leading scorer of the Wildcats’ national championship team, will return for his senior season, he announced on Twitter.
The decision for Hart to return is a major boost for Villanova in its quest to become the first back-to-back champions since Florida in 2006 and 2007. Hart, a 6-foot-5 guard, averaged 15.5 points and 6.8 rebounds per game while shooting 51.3 percent from the floor and 35.7 percent from 3-point range.
Most draft pundits had him pegged as a potential end-of-the-first-round pick in next month’s draft though he could have certainly slid into the second should he had decided to forego his senior season. Instead, Hart will be a potential first-team All-American exhausting his eligibility in Philadelphia.
The 2016-17 season is taking shape nicely, and Hart returning to Villanova only increases the strength of the field at the top. Title game hero Kris Jenkins as well as Jalen Brunson, Phil Booth and Mikal Bridges are also back for the defending champs while the super recruiting classes of Duke, Kentucky and Michigan State, Kansas’ returning core along with Josh Jackson and a solid group of teams including North Carolina, Arizona, Louisville and Wisconsin make for an intriguing upper-tier of teams that could very well make for a top-heavy season following last year’s free for all.
College basketball isn’t the NFL. Parity doesn’t equal strength and quality, and when the sport has a handful high-quality teams, it is at its best. It’s looking like that is a possibility for the 2016-17 campaign.
Connecticut may have lost its 6-foot-7 wing scorer but it is keeping its defensive stalwart and leading scorer.
Center Amida Brimah and guard Rodney Purvis have withdrawn their names from NBA Draft consideration and will return to the Huskies for another year, the school announced Tuesday.
The decisions from Brimah, a 7-foot center, and Purvis, a 6-foot-4 shooting guard, help soften the blow dealt by Daniel Hamilton’s decision to sign with an agent and leave school despite having some shaky draft stock. The Huskies may not open the season as a top-25 team, but they won’t be far behind and will be one of the AAC’s favorites, along with Cincinnati.
Brimah averaged 6.5 points per game last year, but blocked 2.7 shots per game. He missed 11 games last season with a broken finger. Purvis registered 12.8 points per game while shooting 43.4 percent from the floor.
Neither Brimah or Purvis were among those invited to this month’s NBA Draft combine nor were either expected to be drafted should they have kept their names in the draft.