Late Night Snacks: No. 2 Wichita State remains undefeated, Harvard punches its ticket

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GAME OF THE NIGHT: Eastern Kentucky 86, Murray State 83

Eastern Kentucky managed to hold on despite having to deal with second half foul trouble, beating the Racers by three in an OVC tournament semifinal. Corey Walden led five Colonels in double figures with 24 points, and as a team EKU shot 59.3% from the field. Cameron Payne led the Racers with 24 points, but they fell just short of setting up a title game rematch with Belmont. Instead it’s EKU who will play the Bruins, and the two teams split the regular season series.

IMPORTANT OUTCOMES

1) Harvard 70, Yale 58

Tommy Amaker’s Crimson become the first team to earn a spot in the NCAA tournament field, getting off to a 16-2 start to beat the Bulldogs in New Haven. Siyani Chambers led the way with 17 points and six assists, and Yale players other than Justin Sears (28 points, 13 rebounds) combined to shoot 7-for-34 from the field.

2) No. 2 Wichita State 80, Evansville 58

The Shockers moved to 32-0 with a comfortable win over Evansville in the Missouri Valley Conference quarterfinals. Ron Baker and Cleanthony Early scored 17 points apiece to lead the way, and outside of D.J. Balentine (31 points) Wichita State clamped down on the Purple Aces defensively. Next up for Wichita State is Missouri State, who held off Illinois State in a low-scoring affair (53-48).

3) Western Michigan 78, Central Michigan 64

With Toledo’s performance in non-conference play and the fact that the East Division has dominated the MAC in recent years, Steve Hawkins’ Western Michigan team hasn’t received as much attention as they deserve this season. On Friday night the Broncos clinched a share of the MAC regular season title and the top seed in next week’s conference tournament, with all five starters reaching double figures. David Brown led the way with 17 points.

STARRED

1) D.J. Cunningham (UNC Asheville) 

Cunningham scored 18 points (8-for-10 FG), grabbed 19 rebounds and blocked two shots in the Bulldogs’ 96-87 win over Radford to advance to the Big South semis.

2) Desmar Jackson (Southern Illinois) 

Scored 23 points (8-for-14 FG), grabbed 11 rebounds while also racking up six steals in the Salukis’ 63-58 win over Northern Iowa in a Missouri Valley Conference quarterfinal.

3) Justin Sears (Yale) 

Sears made 11 of his 16 shots from the field, finishing with 28 points and 13 rebounds in a 70-58 loss to Harvard.

STRUGGLED

1) Javier Duren (Yale)

Missed all eleven of his shots from the field in the Yale’s 70-58 loss to Harvard.

2) Duke Mondy (Oakland)

Shot 1-for-8 from the field, accounting for five points and three turnovers in the Golden Grizzlies’ 73-57 loss to Wright State in a Horizon League quarterfinal.

3) Illinois State’s starters

The Redbirds’ starters combined to shoot 6-for-29 in their 53-48 loss to Missouri State in a Missouri Valley Conference quarterfinal. Zach Lofton scored 25 points off the bench for Illinois State.

CONFERENCE TOURNAMENTS

  • Big South: Winthrop eliminates regular season champ High Point
    Andre Smith’s three-pointer with five tenths of a second remaining gave the Eagles the 62-60 win over the regular season champion Panthers. The result means that High Point will be headed to the Postseason NIT. The other winners on Friday were UNC Asheville, Coastal Carolina (in double overtime) and VMI.
  • CAA: Hofstra holds off UNCW
    Just one game in the CAA Friday night, with Hofstra beating UNCW 78-70. The Pride, who face regular season champion Delaware on Saturday, were led offensively by Zeke Upshaw. Upshaw was one of three starters to play all 40 minutes, finishing the game with 22 points and three assists.
  • Horizon League: Milwaukee knocks off Valparaiso
    Milwaukee took care of Valparaiso, 74-57, setting up a semifinal matchup with rival and Horizon League regular season champ Green Bay. Jordan Aaron scored 20 points and Matt Tiby added 18 for the Panthers, who finished the season 7-9 in conference play. Also advancing to the semis was Wright State, who will play Cleveland State after beating Oakland 73-57.
  • Missouri Valley: Desmar Jackson propels Southern Illinois past Northern Iowa
    Desmar Jackson scored 20 of his 23 points in the first half, pushing the Salukis out to a 36-18 halftime lead. UNI was able to fight their way back into the game due in part to the use of a triangle-and-2 defense, but SIU made the big plays late to hang on for the 63-58 win. They advance to play Indiana State in the semis, with the Sycamores beating Loyola (IL) 75-62.
  • OVC: Belmont coasts to title game
    Belmont advance to the OVC title game for the second consecutive season with an 86-63 win over Morehead State. OVC Player of the Year J.J. Mann scored 16 points to lead five Bruins in double figures.
  • SoCon: The Citadel upsets UNCG
    The Citadel won just two conference games this season, but that didn’t stop the Bulldogs from knocking off UNCG 86-76 to advance to the SoCon quarters.Ashton Moore scored 24 points and Matt Van Scyoc added 20 for The Citadel, who will play Wofford on Saturday. The other winners on Friday were Samford and Georgia Southern.

NOTABLES

  • Utah Valley won the WAC regular season title outright with a 64-55 win over Bakersfield. Dick Hunsaker’s team had already locked up the top seed in next week’s conference tournament, and at the very least they’ll be headed to the NIT after the conference tournament.
  • Akron won its 20th game of the season, holding off rival Kent State 58-54. Keith Dambrot’s Zips locked up the four-seed in next week’s conference tournament with the win.
  • Columbia handled Penn 74-55, winning their 19th game of the season.

4-star center commits to Purdue

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With Vince Edwards and Isaac Haas entering their senior seasons, adding front court options in the 2018 class was something that Purdue needed to do. Purdue added its second front court commitment in the 2018 class Tuesday evening, as four-star center Emmanuel Dowuona reportedly made his pledge. News of Dowuona’s commitment was first reported by the Lafayette Journal & Courier.

Dowuona, a 6-foot-11 big man who attends Westwood Christian School in Miami, joins fellow four-star prospect Trevion Williams in Purdue’s 2018 class to date.

Dowuona’s commitment comes just days before he was reportedly to visit Tennessee. Among the other programs to have offered Duwuona were Clemson, Georgia Tech, Miami and UConn.

Dowuona played for the Team Breakdown program on the Under Armour Association circuit during the summer, averaging 7.9 points, 7.0 rebounds and 2.1 blocks per game while shooting 59.3 percent from the field. While still a bit raw offensively, the native of Ghana provides value as a defender and rebounder. Dowuona is joining a program that during Painter’s tenure as head coach has done a good job of developing big men.

Dowuona and the aforementioned Williams will look to compete for playing time in 2018-19 alongside current redshirt junior Jacquil Taylor and 7-foot-3 redshirt freshman center Matt Haarms.

Dayton freshman Toppin ineligible for 2017-18 season

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Dayton announced Tuesday afternoon that one of the program’s incoming freshmen will not be eligible to compete this season. 6-foot-8 forward Obadiah Toppin has been ruled by the NCAA to have not met initial eligibility requirements, and he will have to sit out the 2017-18 season as a result.

Toppin will be allowed to remain a member of the team and participate in practices, and he will have four seasons of eligibility remaining beginning with the 2018-19 season. While the NCAA’s decision leaves the Flyers short a front court option in head coach Anthony Grant’s first season at the helm, it did not come as a surprise.

“We knew this was a possible scenario for Obi early on in the recruiting process,” Grant said in the release. “And if it came to pass, we saw this as a chance for him to utilize this year acclimate as a student and enhance his strength and skill as an academic redshirt. This is a great opportunity for Obi to develop as a player and student over the next 12 months, and prepare himself for a very successful college career.”

Toppin, who averaged 17 points and eight rebounds per game at Mt. Zion Academy last season, is one of five freshmen who have joined the program. Matej Svoboda and Jordan Pierce will look to earn minutes alongside returnees Josh Cunningham and Xeyrius Williams, and the same can be said for redshirt freshman Kostas Antetokounmpo.

Toppin being declared ineligible is the third hit Dayton has taken to its front court this offseason. Ryan Mikesell, who played in 32 games last season, will redshirt after undergoing two hip surgeries. And Sam Miller, who was also part of the team’s front court rotation last season, was suspended from school for the fall semester after he was arrested during the summer.

Four-star forward commits to Ohio State

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Ohio State is on the board with regards to the 2018 recruiting class, as Chris Holtmann’s program received a much-needed verbal commitment from four-star forward Jaedon LeDee. The 6-foot-9 Houston native announced his decision via his Twitter account Tuesday afternoon.

In receiving a verbal commitment from LeDee, Ohio State beat out California, Houston, Iowa State, LSU, Oklahoma, Texas A&M and UCLA. The Buckeyes hosted LeDee for his official visit the weekend of September 9, which coincided with the football team’s matchup with Oklahoma. Originally scheduled to visit Cal this past weekend, LeDee instead visited Texas A&M.

With LeDee’s commitment to Ohio State, visits to LSU (September 30) and UCLA (October 6) are likely off the board.

Currently attending the Kincaid School, LeDee played for the Texas PRO grassroots program on the adidas Uprising circuit this summer. The four-star prospect will likely be a combo forward for Ohio State, playing either the three or the four depending on the matchup.

With Jae’Sean Tate beginning his senior season and Keita Bates-Diop being a redshirt junior, Ohio State had a need to address in the front court. In landing a verbal pledge from Jaedon LeDee, the Buckeyes have done just that.

Among the front court players who will have eligibility remaining beyond the 2017-18 season are Bates-Diop, current sophomores Micah Potter and Andre Wesson, and freshmen Kaleb Wesson and Kyle Young.

The Pac-12 is foolish for scheduling Arizona-UCLA once during the regular season

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Last month, I wrote about one of the more troubling trends in college basketball: Teams steering away from playing the games that fans are going to care about the most.

It was the result of Georgetown head coach Patrick Ewing stating publicly that he was “not thinking about Maryland” after the rivalry between the DMV’s two most well-known programs went by the wayside.

Ewing isn’t the only coach that is culpable here. Kansas and Missouri don’t play. Kansas and Wichita State don’t play, either. Duke and Maryland don’t play. Ohio State doesn’t play Cincinnati, Xavier or Dayton. It goes on and on.

But the blame can no longer only be given to the coaches that schedule to protect themselves and/or their program.

The conferences deserve some criticism as well. Take, for instance, the Pac-12, who released their schedule recently after deciding that Arizona, a contender for the preseason No. 1 team in the country, should only play UCLA and USC, the only two teams that have a realistic chance of upending the Wildcats for the Pac-12 crown, once apiece.

Not only that, but the games will be played in Tucson, an incredible advantage for Sean Miller’s club as they pursue the league’s regular season title.

Look, I get it. There are 12 teams in the league and there is an 18-game schedule. Each team in the league is going to play four of their 11 league foes just once. It’s simple math. But the answer should never, ever be to schedule the Arizona schools and the Southern California schools just once.

The reasoning is simple: Arizona and UCLA are the two biggest brands in the league. When they play it will draw more interest than when any other two teams in the conference play, and that’s something the conference should be trying to capitalize on. It takes a lot to convince anyone on the east coast to stay up to watch a Pac-12 basketball game. I cover this sport for a living and I have a hard time making it all the way through a 10 p.m. ET tip. When a two-year old is going to be screaming at me to make breakfast at 6:30 a.m., do I really want to stay up to watch Arizona blow out Washington or UCLA to beat up on Cal?

The Pac-12 should do everything they can to ensure that Arizona and UCLA play twice every season.

That is even more true this year. Arizona might be the best team in the country and they might have the No. 1 pick in the 2018 NBA Draft on their roster in Deandre Ayton. UCLA is a top 15 team that just so happens to have Liangelo Ball, the worst of the three Ball brothers and potentially the last one to matriculate through the college ranks. The seemingly inevitable LaVar Ball blow-up is something we all will be watching patiently to see.

Should I mention the simmering hatred between Sean Miller and Steve Alford as they continually compete for the best prospects on the west coast?

And that’s before you factor in that USC is the second-best team in the league, and anyone that UCLA plays twice, USC will also play twice.

I’ll be sure to watch a number of Oregon games this season, and I think that Stanford, Oregon State and Colorado all have the pieces to sneak up on some people this year. I’ll be sure to check in on them a couple times as well.

But the games that I’ll have circled on my calendar, the games I’ll be excited about watching, are between Arizona, UCLA and USC.

By scheduling the Arizona schools and the Southern California schools just once during the regular season, the Pac-12 cost themselves a third of that inventory.

That doesn’t seems like the smartest way to run a business conference.

But hey, if conference realignment and the development of conference-only networks taught us anything, it’s that major college athletics are all about competitive balance over those advertising dollars.

Vanderbilt lands commitment from Aaron Nesmith

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Vanderbilt landed their first commitment in the Class of 2018 with four-star wing Aaron Nesmith.

Nesmith is a native of South Carolina, and the Commodores beat out South Carolina for his services. At 6-foot-6, Nesmith is the kind of defensive presence and athlete that Vandy will need to replace Jeff Roberson, who will be graduating this season.

This is a critical class for Bryce Drew, who is squarely in the mix for five-star guards Darius Garland and Romeo Langford. Nesmith isn’t on that level, but he will be a nice piece for Vandy for four years.