UMass tops VCU in a thriller, avenging losses from previous season

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AMHERST, Mass. – Chaz Williams had had enough of Havoc. In two games against the vaunted VCU defense last season, Williams had compiled as many turnovers as assists, both losses for Minutemen.

The latter of those two defeats, ousted UMass from the Atlantic 10 semifinals. One day later it became easier for the NCAA tournament committee to leave the Minutemen on the cutting room floor while extending bids to five Atlantic 10 opponents.

Williams wasn’t going to let a third one get away, not in front of a sellout crowd at the Mullins Center, or ‘House of Pain’ as he refers to it as in the team’s pregame video; an acronym, which stands for pressure, agitate, interrupt, neutralize . In his 38th minute on the floor, he dug deep in a defensive stand, turning Briante Weber before picking his pocket. Williams would be fouled, and calmly sank two free throws, icing an 80-75 UMass win over VCU on Friday night.

“We bring pain,” Williams said. “We don’t bring no Havoc. That’s their slogan, that’s what they do. We all about pain over here.”

In a fast-paced 40 minutes, VCU and UMass swapped the leads a dozen times, the last of which occurred when Trey Davis, the reserve guard, who struggled as a freshman against VCU, sliced through the lane and pull-up for a mid-range jumper. He altered his body midair, but connected on the go-ahead bucket, giving UMass a 70-68 lead with 4:00 minutes to play.

“He’s a different player,” VCU head coach Shaka Smart said. “He’s not the same guy, who we played against last year. … He really gives them a different element when he comes in the game because he can handle the ball.”

After turning the ball over 47 times in two games last season the Minutemen committed 14 turnovers. UMass forced 17 VCU miscues.

“Yeah the turnover margin is plus-three for them,” Smart said. “There are very few teams we faced where we lost the turnover battle. I think some of it was sloppiness on our part. They have the ability and Chaz showed it on the last play. They have the ability to really ratchet up their defense.”

Despite struggling in conference play, where the Minutemen suffered back-to-back losses to St. Bonaventure and St. Joseph’s and a home loss to last-place George Mason, the last week has made it almost a certainty — avoiding a massive collapse — that UMass will in the program’s first NCAA tournament since 1998. The Minutemen gutted out a win in D.C. last Saturday against George Washington and added another good conference win over VCU on Friday night. The last tough draw for UMass will be Mar. 1 against first-place Saint Louis.

A loss last year inside the Barclays Center sent UMass to the NIT, bursting its bubble rather than strengthen its tournament resume. Williams and the Minutemen got redemption over Havoc on Friday night, though the Rams will look for the same thing in the coming weeks, in Brooklyn, in a potential rematch.

Reports: Duke’s Frank Jackson to declare for draft

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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.

VIDEO: Top 2018 recruits Zion Williamson and Romeo Langford go head-to-head at adidas

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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)

Report: Coppin State hires Juan Dixon as new head coach

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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 scores important Class of 2017 commitment from four-star guard Thomas Allen

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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 lands four-star Class of 2017 big man Garrison Brooks

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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.