Once again whole, Delaware looks to complete run to CAA title

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For many teams the loss of two starters during conference play would be a critical blow, one that would prove to be incredibly difficult to overcome. But for others such an issue doesn’t prove to be as problematic, with the Delaware Blue Hens being a prime example. In late-January point guard Jarvis Threat and forward Marvin King-Davis were lost for a month due to suspensions for separate violations of athletic department policy, and given the talent possessed by preseason favorite Towson the Blue Hens’ CAA title hopes could have taken a serious hit.

But that wasn’t the case for Monte Ross’ club, which went 6-2 in the eight games that followed the suspension and currently hold a one-game lead in the CAA entering the final week of regular season play. While King-Davis is one of many contributors in the front court the same can’t be said of Threatt, who was averaging 17.9 points, 5.8 rebounds and 5.4 assists per game at the time of his suspension.

Threatt may be just one player in Delaware’s talented backcourt but he’s an important piece, and the loss of their point guard robbed the Blue Hens of the depth they enjoyed at the position.

“I thought we were talented enough to overcome it,” Ross told NBC Sports. “We had a suspension earlier in the year with Devon Saddler and we were able to overcome that, and I thought we would be able to do the same thing with these guys being out and we have.

“My biggest concern was the fact that our depth at point guard was null and void. It was just Devon, but thankfully he didn’t get hurt or get in foul trouble. I thought with Marvin in the front court we had some depth, but Jarvis in terms of being a point guard the only other option we had was Devon Saddler.”

Without Threatt more would be asked of Saddler in regards to the point guard role, and throughout the eight-game stretch he answered the call. In those games Saddler, currently averaging 3.5 assists per game, dished out 5.8 helpers per contest while boasting an assist-to-turnover ratio of 2.1. But for as good as Saddler’s been when it comes to both scoring, as he’s averaging 20.4 points per game, and distributing his biggest assist to the Delaware program this season may have come off the court.

Senior guard Davon Usher was in need of a new home after making the decision to leave Mississippi Valley State with the Delta Devils ineligible for postseason play. Saddler was able to get his childhood friend to make the move to Delaware, and all parties have benefitted from the partnership. Usher’s scoring an average of 19.8 points per game, putting up 26.5 points per game in the Blue Hens’ last eight contests. And if there’s one area in which Usher’s improved throughout the course of his one season in Newark, it’s been in regards to the quality of his shot attempts

“I think his comfort level has risen. He realizes he’s going to get the ball, he’s taking good shots and he’s not settling,” noted Ross. “I thought early in the year he was settling for jump shots because he is a good shooter, but he also has a really good ability to get into the lane and finish. I thought he got away from that a little bit. But now he’s really making himself a threat where teams have to guard the drive and the jump shot.”

Counting Threatt, who along with King-Davis will return on Wednesday night when Delaware visits UNCW, the Blue Hens have five players scoring in double figures with sharpshooter Kyle Anderson and forward Carl Baptiste being the others. And in regards to Baptiste, he’s taken advantage of the extra opportunities that have come as a result of the graduation of Jamelle Hagins.

To use the word “replace” in regards to Hagins would be a bit unfair, as he left the school as the program’s all-time leader in both rebounds and blocked shots. Losing a player of his caliber makes it difficult to simply say “next man up” and expect similar production.

But even with this being the case Delaware needed Baptiste, who began his college career at Saint Joseph’s, to prove himself capable of leading the way inside. And to this point in the season the senior’s done so, averaging 10.6 points and 8.1 rebounds per game. And before falling one point short in a 69-65 loss to Drexel on Sunday afternoon Baptiste had posted three consecutive double doubles, and for the season he’s had seven such outings.

“Carl has always been a very skilled big man for us. What I tell people all the time is that he just didn’t get the opportunity because we had Jamelle,” Ross said. “He didn’t get as much of an opportunity as he’s getting now. And when we [increased] his minutes he’s really performed admirably.”

On the season Delaware’s averaging just over 79 points per game, and with the return on Threatt offensive production shouldn’t be a concern for a group that’s failed to score at least 70 points in three of its 14 conference games. But in order for the Blue Hens to earn the program’s first NCAA tournament berth since 1999, not only will they need to successfully reincorporate King-Davis and Threatt into the rotation but they’ll need to shore things up on the boards as well.

In conference play Delaware, while a good defensive team in regards to shooting percentages, ranks seventh in the CAA in opponents’ offensive rebound percentage with teams grabbing 32.7% of their missed shots against the Blue Hens. Games tend to slow down and get tighter in tournament play, and the failure to close out a solid defensive sequence by grabbing the ensuing rebounds could make all the difference between cutting down the nets and heading home early without the ultimate prize.

“We want to make sure that we’re sharp defensively, because I think that always gives you a chance,” said Ross. “When you get into tournament play the game slows down and there’s a lot less transition, so it’s about being able to execute in the half-court. I want to make sure that we’re able to execute, that we’re able to guard and make sure the “apple cart” won’t be upset with [Jarvis and Marvin] coming back.”

If Delaware can accomplish those tasks, both the CAA title and the program’s first trip to the NCAA tournament in 15 years are well within their reach.

N.C. State adds grad transfer Sam Hunt

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N.C. State added its fourth transfer this offseason. Like ex-Baylor guard Al Freeman, the latest one is eligible to play next season.

Sam Hunt, a double-digit scorer the past two seasons at North Carolina A&T, officially enrolled at North Carolina State on Monday morning.

“Sam is a great young man and will bring much needed depth to our backcourt,” N.C. State head coach Kevin Keatts said in a statement. “I want guys who are excited about being a part of our program and Sam really wants to be here.

“Sam is a combo guard that can space the floor with his ability to shoot the basketball. He is a good fit for the system and will bring a wealth of experience to our roster.”

Hunt, the 6-foot-2 guard, averaged 12.7 points per game last season, a dip from the 15.4 points per game he posted for the Aggies as a redshirt sophomore.

Hunt joins a roster that lost its three leading scorers from a season ago, one that ended 15-17 (4-14 ACC). Dennis Smith Jr. is a member of the Dallas Mavericks. Maverick Rowan also pursued a professional career and Terry Henderson was denied an additional year from the NCAA.

The Wolf Pack bring back forwards Abdul-Malik Abu and Omer Yurtseven as well as Torin Dorn.

Keatts, who took over the program after leading UNC Wilmington to back-to-back NCAA Tournaments, has already built for the future. UNC Wilmington transfer C.J. Bryce, 17.4 points, 5.4 rebounds and 3.0 assists per game for the Seahawks, has followed him to Raleigh. Utah transfer Devon Daniels committed to the Wolf Pack the same day as Bryce. Both will have to sit out next season due to NCAA transfer rules. Bryce will have two years of eligibility while Daniels will have three.

LaVar Ball stars in an uncomfortably entertaining segment on WWE’s Raw

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LaVar Ball’s statements and antics over this past year always seemed better suited a professional wrestling ring.

It was only natural that the patriarch of the Ball family — and the head of the Big Baller Brand — made an appearance on WWE’s Monday Night Raw at the Staples Center for an awkwardly entertaining segment with WWE Intercontinental Champion The Miz.

With sons, Lonzo — in his first appearance in the Staples Center as a member of the Los Angeles Lakers — and LaMelo looking on, LaVar was the center of attention. When The Miz mentioned something about a partnership between the two, the scripted interview went south. It resulted in LaVar saying nonsensical things like, “There’s only two dudes better than me, and I’m both of ’em!” before later taking off his shirt. When Dean Ambrose, a WWE superstar feuding with The Miz came out on to the ramp, LaVar didn’t quite grasp the concept that that was his cue to stop talking.

This segment was somehow entertaining and cringeworthy at the same time.

Now that Lonzo is beginning his NBA career, maybe it’s time LaVar try something different. A manager in the WWE may just be his true calling. He’s certainly had plenty of practice.

Maryland lands commitment from five-star 2018 forward

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Maryland added to its 2018 recruiting class with its second commit, the newest addition being a five-star in-state product.

Jalen Smith, a 6-foot-9 forward from Baltimore powerhouse Mount St. Joseph, committed to the Terrapins, making the announcement on Twitter.

“I believe that I can academically and athletically achieve my goals at home through my commitment to the University of Maryland … Go Terps,” he tweeted as part of a long passage.

Smith is listed as the No. 13 overall recruit in the Class of 2013 by Rivals. He joins four-star swingman Aaron Wiggins in Mark Turgeon’s current recruiting class.

Playing for Team Takeover on the Nike EYBL circuit, Smith is averaging 10.9 points, 5.6 rebounds, and 1.0 blocks per game.

Recent grad’s joyride reportedly did $100,000 of damages to Mizzou Arena

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A recent graduate and temporary employee of the University of Missouri took an early morning joy ride that reportedly could rack up around $100,000 to Mizzou Arena.

According to Dave Mater of the St. Louis Post-Dispatch, Nathaniel J. Contant, 23, who graduated from the school in December 2016, drove his Volkswagen Passat through a gate and eventually on to the floor of the 15,000-seat on-campus arena.

At 7:15 a.m. Sunday, MU police were dispatched to Mizzou Arena for a report of property damage. Officers determined that around 4 a.m., the suspect drove his vehicle through a closed gate on the south side of the arena. He ran through a garage door and drove into a dock area where he damaged several golf carts that were stored in the area. He also drove his car onto the basketball court. The man couldn’t leave through the area he used to enter the building, so he drove through the arena’s press gate.

Contant, unsurprisingly, is no longer an employee of the university. He’s being charged with second-degree burglary and first-degree property damage, both of which are felonies. He was released on a $4,500 bond.

The motive for this early-morning joyride remains unclear.

Despite the hype surrounding the upcoming Mizzou season — one that includes the debut of new head coach Cuonzo Martin and the projected No. 1 overall pick in the 2018 NBA Draft Michael Porter, Jr. — Twitter users couldn’t help but poke fun at the dismal recent history the Tigers have had.

(h/t Kansas City Star)

Vance Jackson transfers to New Mexico

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With more than a handful of departures this offseason, New Mexico is set to have a new-look roster for the 2017-18 season. On Monday, Paul Weir, now at the helm of the program, landed a player who should make an impact in the three remaining seasons of eligibility he has left.

Vance Jackson, who spent this past season at UConn, decided to make the move from Storrs to Albuquerque, picking the Lobos over Rutgers, San Diego State, TCU, and Washington.

The 6-foot-8 rising sophomore will have to sit out next year due to NCAA transfer rules before resuming his collegiate career in the fall of 2018.

“The coaches — they trust in me,” Jackson told Geoff Grammer of the Albuquerque Journal last month during his official campus visit. “We’re on the same page. They see a vision.”

Weir, who led New Mexico State this past season to a NCAA Tournament appearance in his one and only season as head coach, succeeded Craig Neal in April.

This offseason has been headlined by transfers, though, those mostly were about players leaving the program. Jackson is the second transfer to land at UNM with Akron’s Antino Jackson electing to use his final season of eligibility with the Lobos. Antino Jackson is a graduate transfer, allowing him to play immediately next season.

Vance Jackson, who was rated as the No. 80 overall player in the Class of 2016 by Rivals, averaged 8.1 points, 3.8 rebounds, and 1.4 assists per game while shooting just under 40 percent from three for the Huskies as a freshman.