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 Gone are the days of Memphis dominating the league, and they’ve been replaced by a number of teams fighting to establish themselves as the “top dog” in the reconfigured Conference USA.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.

Skal Labissiere has not been cleared by the NCAA

Kelly Kline/Under Armour
Kelly Kline/Under Armor
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While the timeline surrounding Cheick Diallo’s eligibility has made headlines for months now, another elite recruit at a blue blood program is still awaiting word on whether or not he will be allowed to play college basketball this season.

Kentucky center Skal Labissiere, the No. 1 recruit in the Class of 2015 and a potential No. 1 pick in the 2016 NBA Draft, has not yet been cleared to play this season. His guard, Gerald Hamilton, confirmed as much to ESPN earlier today.

“Not yet,” Hamilton said. “We’re just trying to get everything squared away. They are asking a few questions.

“They haven’t cleared him, but we’re sticking with our faith. There’s no real concern about anything from the Kentucky compliance people.”

Labissiere has more red flags than you can count, almost all of them pertaining to Hamilton. It was the worst kept secret in high school basketball that Hamilton more or less had Labissiere for sale. It’s why he played three different AAU programs and two different high schools in four years. Hamilton runs a non-profit called Reach Your Dream and, after a transfer rendered him ineligible for his senior high school season, Labissiere played for a team called ‘Reach Your Dream Prep’, which Hamilton founded simply to ensure Labissiere had a place to play.

Here’s how CBSSports.com summarized things back in November:

Multiple coaches who have recruited Labissiere told CBSSports.com Hamilton either directly indicated or strongly suggested pursuing Labissiere would mostly be a waste of time if they couldn’t offer assistance in helping fund his foundation. One coach from a prominent staff said: “We couldn’t even get in the door.” Another added: “We recognized what it was about early on and decided not to get involved.”

In other words, no one is surprised that the NCAA is looking into Labissiere’s situation, and it’s not hard to look at Kentucky bringing in Isaac Humphries and Tai Wynyard as a sign that they’re not completely certain that Labissiere will make it through this. The surprise is in how quiet that investigation has been over the course of the last few months.

The shame in all of this is that Labissiere is a sweet kid with an incredible back-story. He survived the devastating earthquake in Haiti despite having a house collapse on him. If he can get through this investigation, he’ll easily be one of the biggest and most likeable stars in the sport this season.

Xavier commit to enroll early, redshirt

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Xavier landed a commitment on Wednesday from four-star big man Eddie Ekiyor, a source confirmed to NBCSports.com.

Ekiyor, who picked the Musketeers over Miami and Florida, is a borderline top 100 recruit. He’s an athletic, 6-foot-8 post that shouldn’t have an issue adjusting to the pace and physicality of the game, although he needs to continue to develop offensively to be more than a catch-and-dunk big man down the road.

In other words, on paper, Ekiyor isn’t much different from the majority of high major big men. But what’s different about this situation is that Ekiyor will be enrolling at Xavier for the start of the spring semester, technically making him a member of the Class of 2015. Xavier won’t be rushing him through the process — he’ll redshirt the second half of the 2015-16 season — but getting him on campus early will allow him an extra six months of learning the Xavier system, developing in collegiate practices and working out with the Xavier strength coaches.

That should help him limit the adjustment phase as he transitions from high school. That’s important for the Musketeers, because there’s a chance that they could lose their starting front line — James Farr (graduation) and Jalen Reynolds (early entry) — after this season.