Bryce Cotton

College Basketball Week in Review: Bryce Cotton’s a star, Texas and Michigan surge

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PLAYER OF THE WEEK: Bryce Cotton, Providence

Bryce Cotton has been a really good player for the Friars for a long time, but since Providence has spent the entirety of his tenure on campus mired in national irrelevance, he hasn’t gotten near the amount of attention that he deserves. This week that changed. Cotton averaged 21.5 points and 6.5 assists while playing all 80 minutes and committing no turnovers in wins over Xavier and Butler. Providence has now won five straight games, moving them into a tie for the second-best record in the Big East and right back into NCAA tournament contention.

But looking at Cotton’s season as a whole, it’s tough not to wonder whether he should be getting quite a bit more all-american hype. His numbers are impressive: 20.5 points, 5.9 assists, 2.0 turnovers and countless big shots in big moments. He’s doing all that despite playing a ridiculous number of minutes as the primary ball-handler in a season where he was expected to see more time off the ball. But with Kris Dunn out and Brandon Austin gone, this is what Cotton is forced to do:

  • In his last 12 games, he’s averaging 41.8 minutes.
  • On the season, he’s played 94.9% of the available minutes. In Big East play, the number jumps to 99.3%.
  • The only time he’s sat out in Big East play was the final two minutes of a 30 point blowout at Villanova. He’s played all 50 minutes in a pair of overtime games.
  • His efficiency numbers haven’t taken too big of a hit in the process, as his offensive rating is “down” to 119.3.

They were good, too:

  • Nik Stauskas, Michigan: Stauskas has been awesome all season long, but in the last nine games, he’s played his way into the National Player of the Year discussion. This week, he averaged 22.5 points, 5.0 boards and 4.5 assists in wins over Iowa and at Michigan State.
  • Ethan Wragge, Creighton: Wragge averaged 19.5 points this week in wins at Villanova and over Georgetown. 21 of those points came when he hit his first seven threes in six minutes against Villanova.
  • Alex Poythress, Kentucky: Poythress is finally starting to turn a corner, it seems. He averaged 13.5 points and 5.0 boards in a pair of wins this week.
  • Le’Bryan Nash, Oklahoma State: Nash kept Oklahoma State afloat on Marcus Smart’s off-night as he went for 29 points on 10-for-13 shooting and nine boards in a win over West Virginia on Saturday.
  • Billy Baron, Canisius: Baron might be the Mid-Major Player of the Year right now. He averaged 34.5 points in a pair of wins this week.

TEAM OF THE WEEK: Texas Longhorns

source:  Believe it or not, Texas is currently sitting tied with Oklahoma for second place in the Big 12. They’ve won five straight games, the last three of which came against ranked teams. This week, they beat Kansas State at home and knocked off Baylor in Waco. Safe to say, at this point in the season, there isn’t a more surprising team in the country than the Longhorns.

Is it sustainable?

Well, it appears to be. The Longhorns have a vastly underrated front court in Cameron Ridley, Jonathan Holmes and Prince Ibeh. Their back court is young, but there are enough pieces there that they have survived some youthful inconsistency. Isaiah Taylor had 27 points against Baylor, making up for Javan Felix’s off-night. Felix, on the other hand, had been terrific in Big 12 play prior to Saturday. Demarcus Holland has struggled of late, but he’s been known to pop off for 20 points and is one of the better back court rebounders in the country.

I still think Texas is closer to fourth or fifth in the Big 12 than they are second, but the fact that we’re having that conversation is a testament to how well Rick Barnes has done this year.

They were good, too:

  • Michigan: They beat Iowa and won at Michigan State. That about says it all.
  • UCLA: It is now UCLA’s turn to be considered the second-best team in the Pac-12 after they beat both Stanford and Cal at home this week.
  • VCU: The Rams bounced back from a loss at VCU by winning at Dayton and La Salle this week.
  • American: The Eagles blew out Boston University at home and then whipped up on Army on the road this week. Those teams are sitting in second and third behind American in the Patriot League.
  • Richmond: The Spiders closed out a key three-game homestand with wins over UMass and St. Joe’s this week.

N.C. State’s Dennis Smith Jr. fully recovered, ready to go

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Kelly Kline/adidas
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RALEIGH, N.C. (AP) Dennis Smith Jr. sure looks ready.

North Carolina State’s prized freshman point guard is pushing through a workout in the practice gym on a hot July afternoon, and there’s no sign of the knee injury that defined his past year.

He’s sprinting along the baseline to bury a catch-and-shoot corner 3-pointer. He’s dribbling between chairs and stutter-stepping his way to a pull-up jumper. He’s launching himself at the rim for a dunk off the dribble.

“I don’t expect to be rusty at all,” Smith said in an interview with The Associated Press. “I was feeling kind of nervous at one point, but I went in and did a workout and then I was thinking, `I’m putting in all this work so all the nervousness should be out of my mind.’ I had no reason to be timid.

“I just have to go out there and perform, no excuses.”

A lot has happened for Smith in 12 months. The Fayetteville native suffered a torn left anterior cruciate ligament in a game during the Adidas Nations event featuring top prospects. He had surgery, picked N.C. State, graduated from high school early and enrolled in college in January to rehab and learn the Wolfpack’s system before his debut later this year.

Tuesday marks one year since the injury for the 6-foot-3 Smith, ranked by ESPN as the nation’s No. 1 point guard when he signed last fall.

“We’ve tried to be real conservative with him as far as not letting him do too much too fast,” coach Mark Gottfried said. “At his age, he can’t wait. He’s dying to play every day.”

Smith started earning his leadership role as soon as he arrived in Raleigh, pointing out instructions to teammates or calling them to the gym for extra work even though he couldn’t play. He figures that time observing from the sideline has prepared him to replace high-scoring floor leader Anthony “Cat” Barber.

“I feel like I’ve gotten smarter, definitely,” Smith said. “I see the game totally different now. I read pick-and-roll easier. I feel like I’ve gotten more sound on defense because I understand angles better.”

The physical work to get back has been tougher.

Roughly a year ago, Smith was lying in a bed after surgery trying to stay positive. He asked trainer Ja-Rell Bailey to bring him some free weights for upper-body exercises even if he couldn’t do much else, an example of why Bailey described Smith as “a man determined.”

Smith’s father said the rehab emphasized building leg strength to protect and stabilize the injured knee, something his son said he will keep doing in both legs for years to come. Smith’s work has helped him go from 180 pounds to a college-ready 192-pound frame.

“He’s got his bounce back, so he can dunk and everything,” Dennis Smith Sr. said. “But what Junior has got, God gave it to him. . A lot of times you run into kids who are built off of hype because they do a fancy move or have a good game. Junior ain’t hype. He’s the real deal.”

Regardless, Gottfried expects Smith to have “a learning curve.”

“For me,” he said, “I think what you see in November is going to be much different than what you see in January.”

The Wolfpack will look much different, too, after missing the NCAA Tournament for the first time in five seasons. N.C. State welcomes Scout.com’s No. 6-ranked recruiting class that includes five-star Turkish big man Omer Yurtseven. Senior guard Terry Henderson returns from an ankle injury that sidelined him 7 minutes into last season. Charlotte transfer and former Conference USA freshman of the year Torin Dorn Jr. will play after sitting out last year.

Still, Smith is the guy stirring the most buzz for Wolfpack fans – something he has no trouble embracing.

“I really don’t feel that pressure though,” Smith said. “I feel like if you come in and you expect to play well, then you should have those expectations of people talking. It’s just playing basketball to me. I’ve been doing it my whole life.”

Follow Aaron Beard on Twitter at http://www.twitter.com/aaronbeardap and the AP’s college basketball site at http://collegebasketball.ap.org

Washington lands commitment from Mamoudou Diarra

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For the second time this summer, Washington has landed a commitment from a forward in the Class of 2017.

On Friday, it was Mamoudou Diarra that pledged his future to Lorenzo Romar. Diarra is a 6-foot-8 combo-forward that is currently unranked by Rivals but was targeted by a number high major program.

Washington landed a commitment from Michael Porter Jr. earlier this summer, and given Porter’s standing as the potential No. 1 player in the class, the Huskies will be in the mix for the best crop of freshmen in the country in 2017-18. Romar has also landed commitments from four-star guard Jaylen Nowell and three-star guard Blake Harris.

RELATED: How the Michael Porter Package Deal came to fruition

Diarra played his high school basketball in St. Louis.

Xavier lands second top 100 commitment in 2017

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Xavier landed a key commitment on Friday morning in Naji Marshall, one of the Musketeers’ top targets in the Class of 2017.

Marshall is a la 6-foot-5 wing from Washington D.C. that is currently ranked 62nd in the 2017 class by Rivals. He’s a scorer that has shown off a versatile offensive game, averaging better than three assists on the Under Armour Association circuit.

This is the third commitment from head coach Chris Mack in the class and the second top 100 player to pledge to the Musketeers. Marshall picked Xavier over Pittsburgh, South Carolina, Rhode Island and Virginia Tech, among other.

Four-star 2018 guard Coby White commits to North Carolina

North Carolina coach Roy Williams, center, reacts with his team behind him after a play during the second half of an NCAA college basketball game in the Atlantic Coast Conference tournament against Pittsburgh, Thursday, March 10, 2016, in Washington. North Carolina won 88-71. (AP Photo/Alex Brandon)
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With guards Jalek Felton and Andrew Platek having committed in their 2017 recruiting class, North Carolina received a commitment from one of the better guards in the Class of 2018 Thursday night. Four-star guard Coby White, who’s ranked 61st in his class by Rivals.com, made his pledge to Roy Williams’ program. News of White’s commitment was first reported by Scout.com.

The 6-foot-4 White is a native of Wilson, North Carolina, where he attends Greenfield HS, and he played his grassroots basketball for the CP3 16U basketball program this summer. His commitment to UNC comes just a couple days after the ACC school offered him a scholarship.

White took an unofficial visit to UNC in June, and his play in July ultimately led to the program making the aforementioned scholarship offer. By the time White enrolls in Chapel Hill, current veterans such as Joel Berry II and Nate Britt will be out of eligibility. Among the perimeter would could potentially be on campus in 2018 are freshmen Seventh Woods and Brandon Robinson, and sophomore Kenny Williams.

White is the second commit in the 2018 class for the Tar Heels, with 6-foot-7 guard Rechon Black being the first.

Point guard Small to transfer from Oregon

SPOKANE, WA - MARCH 18:  Kendall Small #21 of the Oregon Ducks shoots over Derek Mountain #40 of the Holy Cross Crusaders in the second half during the first round of the 2016 NCAA Men's Basketball Tournament at Spokane Veterans Memorial Arena on March 18, 2016 in Spokane, Washington.  (Photo by Patrick Smith/Getty Images)
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After navigating a lack of depth at the point to win the Pac-12 regular season and tournament titles and earn the program’s first-ever one seed in the NCAA tournament, Oregon will have no such issues in 2016-17. Dylan Ennis, who missed most of last season with a foot injury, is back for another season as is returning starter Casey Benson. Add in freshman Payton Pritchard, whose shooting ability can help a team that struggled from three a season ago, and Dana Altman has multiple players to call upon at that spot.

That left Kendall Small, who played just under eight minutes per game as a freshman, in a spot where it would have been tough to earn more playing time as a sophomore. As a result he’s decided to transfer, with the news first being reported by Scout.com.

In addition to the three guards mentioned above, sophomore Tyler Dorsey also has the ability to make plays with the ball in his hands. Small will have three seasons of eligibility remaining at whichever school he chooses to transfer to, and he’ll have to sit out the 2016-17 season per NCAA transfer rules.

A 6-foot guard from Anaheim, Small’s best outing came in Oregon’s 77-59 win over Savannah State on November 23. In that game Small accounted for nine points, four assists and three rebounds in 23 minutes of action. But he played double-digit minutes in just four games after the Ducks began Pac-12 play in early January, the last of which being Oregon’s win over Holy Cross in the first round of the NCAA tournament.