Friday’s Pregame Shootaround: Friars look to improve NCAA tournament prospects

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GAME OF THE NIGHT: Iona at Manhattan, 7:00 p.m. (ESPN2)

The Gaels have already clinched the MAAC regular season title, but that won’t diminish the importance of this matchup of rivals separated by just ten miles. For the Jaspers there’s a lot riding on this weekend, as landing either the second or third seed in the conference tournament would mean matching up with a team that played the day prior (that wouldn’t be the case as the four-seed). And if Manhattan is to defend Draddy Gymnasium they’ll need to do a better job of defending Iona’s David Laury III, who tallied 21 points, eight rebounds and three assists in the first meeting. An important note regarding Iona: since head coach Tim Cluess moved Laury into a reserve role on January 19 the Gaels have won 11 straight.

THIS ONE’S BIG TOO: Providence at Seton Hall, 7:00 p.m. (CBS Sports Network)

Bryce Cotton and the Friars are moving closer to the program’s first NCAA tournament berth since 2004, and while a win in Newark wouldn’t be a major resume-building result it would keep them on the right track. Seton Hall won the first meeting between the two teams, an 81-80 double-overtime thriller on New Year’s Eve. With games against Marquette and Creighton to end the regular season, this is a game the Friars need to get. As for Seton Hall Kevin Willard’s building with an eye towards next season (hence some of the disciplinary measures taken recently), and Friday’s task becomes more difficult with Fuquan Edwin having to sit due to a sprained thumb.

FIVE THINGS TO WATCH FOR: 

1) With Siena upsetting Quinnpiac on Thursday night, Rider needs a win over Canisius to keep pace in the race for the fifth seed in next weekend’s MAAC tournament. Teams seeded six through 11 would need to win four games in four days to earn the automatic bid.

2) Brown looks to move to 7-4 in Ivy League play with a win at Penn, and the game begins at 7:30 p.m. on NBC Sports Network. Brown’s Darien Nelson-Henry scored 20 points in the first meeting, a 62-55 Brown victory 13 days ago.

3) High Point, winners of five straight, can clinch the Big South North Division title with a win over Campbell. A loss would open the door for VMI to grab a share of the division crown.

4) Yale looks to remain a game behind Harvard in the Ivy League standings with a win at Princeton. Tyler Bray scored 20 points and grabbed seven rebounds in the first meeting, a 66-65 Bulldogs overtime win on February 15.

5) Washington’s one of four Pac-12 teams with 7-8 record entering the weekend, and a win over rival Washington State would help in regards to seeding for the conference tournament. The Cougars, 2-13 in Pac-12 play, beat the Huskies 72-67 on February 1.

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.