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Rebounding proves critical in Southern Miss’ win over Louisiana Tech

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Thanks to conference realignment Conference USA has undergone a shift in identity on the basketball court. Gone are the days of Memphis dominating the league, and they’ve been replaced by a number of teams fighting to establish themselves as the “top dog” in the reconfigured Conference USA. Two of those teams, Louisiana Tech and Southern Miss, met in Hattiesburg on Sunday afternoon with the Bulldogs aiming to remain undefeated in conference play.

Michael White’s Bulldogs were playing their third game without the services of leading scorer Raheem Appleby, who’s expected to miss anywhere from six to eight weeks after suffering ligament damage in his left ankle. After picking up convincing wins over FIU and Tulane, Southern Miss represented Louisiana’s stiffest test to date in conference play.

And thanks in large part to the efforts of Michael Craig and Daveon Boardingham, Donnie Tyndall’s Golden Eagles were able to hand Louisiana Tech it’s first conference loss despite shooting 2-for-18 from beyond the arc as a team and Jerrold Brooks shooting 2-for-15 from the field..

Craig and Boardingham combined for 37 points (Boardingham- 20) and 18 rebounds (Craig- 12) to lead Southern Miss to the 80-71 victory, with the Golden Eagles’ work on the offensive glass and at the foul line making the difference. Southern Miss, who entered the game ranked 12th nationally in offensive rebounding percentage, managed to rebound 47.5% of its misses and convert those opportunities into 22 second-chance points.

Louisiana Tech was unable to keep Southern Miss off of the glass, with Boardingham (six offensive rebounds), Craig (four) and Aaron Brown (three) combining for 13 of the Golden Eagles’ 19 offensive rebounds.

Also of note was Southern Miss’ ability to get to the foul line, as they outscored Louisiana Tech by 14 points (28-14) in this area. Boardingham and Neil Watson made eight free throws apiece, and with the Golden Eagles scoring nearly 29% of their points from the foul line per kenpom.com (sixth nationally) it comes as no surprise that they were able to take advantage of that aspect of the game.

Louisiana Tech didn’t execute as well as they would have liked offensively, but this balanced group finished the game with four scorers in double figures (Alex Hamilton led the way with 19) and shot 45% from the field without their best scorer. The Bulldogs’ problem on Sunday afternoon was their inability to keep Boardingham and Craig off the glass, and those extra opportunities proved to be the deciding factor.

Sunday’s outcome was simply the latest example of the fact that there isn’t much separating the top teams in Conference USA, with one undefeated team (3-0 Old Dominion) followed by six teams with one loss apiece. And in this new era of Conference USA basketball that lack of separation will likely become the norm, with the “little things” ultimately determining the champion.

Top-100 guard commits to Xavier

Chris Mack has Xavier back in the Sweet 16 (AP Photo)
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Xavier has added a top-100 prospect into its 2017 recruiting class Wednesday.

Elias Harden, a shooting guard from Georgia, pledged to the Musketeers via social media to become the second member of Chris Mack’s next class.

“The recruiting process was not EASY AT ALL,” Harden wrote on Twitter. “I wanna thank all the coaches that took time to recruit me.

“WIth that being said I will continue my academic and athletic career at Xavier University.”

The 6-foot-6 guard is ranked 92nd overall by 247Sports and had offers from Auburn, Maryland, Texas Tech and Ole Miss. He joins Jared Ridder, a Missouri guard, as part of the 2017 Xavier class.

The Musketeers return the bulk of last year’s 28-6 team that narrowly missed out on the Sweet 16.

Clemson recruit to enroll early

Brad Brownell
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Clemson will get a four-star recruit on campus a year earlier than it expected, though his on-court debut for the Tigers will remain on schedule.

A.J. Oliver, a guard from South Carolina, will enroll early at Clemson and redshirt this upcoming season, he announced via social media Wednesday.

“I woke up this morning and realized that the greatest opportunity for me is to enroll early into Clemson,” he wrote on Twitter. “I will redshirt a year & start my college career early.”

Oliver, whose mother is the head women’s basketball coach at Clemson, was a consensus top-100 player in the class of 2017 who committed to the Tigers last December. Texas Tech and the College of Charleston were involved before his commitment.

A three-star shooting guard, Scott Spencer of Virginia, was previously the only member coach Brad Brownell’s 2016 class. While Oliver’s decision to redshirt will keep him off the court for the 2016-17 season, he’ll have spent a full season in the Tiger program before making his debut in 2017

The cupboard isn’t bare in 2017 for the Tigers due to Oliver’s reclassification because Clemson received a commitment from power forward Malik Williams, a consensus top-150 player, earlier Wednesday.

Kentucky used Calipari-Chaney fight in media training

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Kentucky held some media training sessions yesterday, and one of the topics that head coach John Calipari used to make a point was … his blow-up with John Chaney. The moment was captured on SnapChat by a trio of Kentucky newcomers.

You remember that incident. Chaney, then the head coach at Temple, and Cal, who was coaching Atlantic 10 rival UMass at the time, nearly came to blows over the way that Cal handled officials during the game. Before the video below picks up, the two shared this exchange:

“Could I say this to you, please?” Chaney said, before the video above picks up. “You’ve got a good ball club. But what you did with the officials out there is wrong, and I don’t want to be a party to that. You understand?”

Cal responded: “You weren’t out there, Coach. You don’t have any idea.”

Chaney fired back: “You got a game given to you by officials right here with G.W. on three bad calls, O.K.? Then you send your kids out there pushing and shoving. You had the best officiating you could ever get here. And for you to ride them, I don’t want to be a party to that.”

And that led to “I’ll kill you”:

(h/t KSR)

VIDEO: Shaq’s son, Shareef O’Neal, with monster dunk in Vegas

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Shareef O’Neal is a top 50 prospect in the Class of 2018. In Vegas this past weekend, he threw down a monster put-back dunk.

South Dakota State gets two commits

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Tuesday was a busy and productive one for South Dakota State on the recruiting trail.

The Jackrabbits secured two 2017 commitments from the state of Wisconsin in Ryan Krueger and Alex Arians, a source tells NBCSports.com.

Krueger is a 6-foot-5 wing player from New London, Wisc. while Arians is a 6-foot-4 guard from Madison, Wisc., who also held an offer from Wright State, which is coached by former SDSU coach Scott Nagy. Both players spend their summers playing for the Wisconsin Swing grassroots program.

The pair make it a trio of commits for the Jackrabbits in 2017 with another Wisconsinite, Alou Dillon, pledging to first-year Jackrabbits coach T.J. Otzelberger, himself a Wisconsin native, earlier this summer.

South Dakota State went 26-8 last year and the bulk of the team that made the NCAA tournament last year, including sophomore Mike Daum, who led the team in scoring and rebounding as a freshman.