Since losing to Texas A&M in overtime on February 27, Tennessee hasn’t trailed at all in five consecutive games. The fifth game was played in the quarterfinals of the SEC tournament, with the Volunteers handling South Carolina 59-44 to set up a semifinal matchup with No. 1 Florida. Jarnell Stokes scored 22 points and grabbed 15 rebounds to lead the way, with guard Jordan McRae adding 14 points.
While the opposition during this five-game run should be noted, with Missouri being the best team the Volunteers played during this stretch, Tennessee’s improved effort and execution on the defensive end should not be ignored. Tennessee allowed its opponent to shoot better than 40% from the field in just one of those five games (Mississippi State shot 42.9%), with South Carolina making just 27.1% of its attempts Friday afternoon.
Tennessee has the length and athleticism to keep teams out of lane, and should the opposition get inside the Volunteers do a good job of challenging those looks. South Carolina finished the game with 18 points in the paint but they couldn’t keep up with Tennessee, which scored 32 points with Stokes doing most of the damage.
How much has Tennessee improved defensively? That question will be answered Saturday, with their game against No. 1 Florida representing both a tremendous challenge and a tremendous opportunity. SEC Player of the Year Scottie Wilbekin has run the show well for the Gators, who swept the regular season series. A key for Tennessee will be rebounding, as Florida grabbed nearly 44% of its missed shots in a 67-58 win on February 11 in Knoxville.
Tennessee has the look of an NCAA tournament team and they should hear their name called on Sunday, but there’s nothing wrong with making another statement (or two) along the way. After taking care of South Carolina, Cuonzo Martin’s team will have the opportunity to do so.
LAS VEGAS (AP) New UNLV men’s basketball coach Marvin Menzies has filled out his staff with three assistant coaches.
The school announced on Thursday the hiring of Andre LaFleur, Rob Jeter and Eric Brown.
Jeter was the head coach at Milwaukee for 11 seasons, winning 20 or more games five times. His record of 185-170 leaves him one short of the school record for most victories.
La Fleur spent the past five seasons as associate head coach at Providence under Ed Cooley after 10 years working for Jim Calhoun at Connecticut.
Brown has been an assistant coach at Long Beach State the last nine years.
Recruiting, and on-court results, have picked up at Virginia Tech since Buzz Williams took over as head coach. In his second year at the helm the Hokies won ten conference games, and in reaching the Postseason NIT made their first postseason appearance since 2011.
Thursday night Virginia Tech landed its first verbal commitment in the Class of 2017, as four-star shooting guard Nickeil Alexander-Walker made his pledge.
The 6-foot-5 Alexander-Walker, who’s ranked 91st in his class by Rivals.com, also took official visits to Maryland and USC before making his pledge to the ACC program. Alexander-Walker attends Hamilton Heights Christian Academy in Chattanooga, Tennessee, but as a native of Canada plays his grassroots basketball for the Canada Elite program on the Under Armour Association circuit.
Good with either hand, Alexander-Walker can play either on or off the basketball. And that versatility should serve him well in a system that places a high value on “switch-ables,” or players who can fill multiple roles.
The Canada connection paid off for Virginia Tech in the recruitment of Alexander-Walker, with assistant coach Jamie McNeilly being a native of the country himself and having a connection to the Walker family. The Hokies will lose two perimeter players at the end of the 2016-17 season in Devin Wilson and Seth Allen, which will give Alexander-Walker the opportunity to earn minutes as a freshman.
When point guard Stevie Clark began his career at Oklahoma State in 2013, the Top 100 prospect was expected by many to be an impact player for the Cowboys. Things didn’t go as planned however, as off-court issues ultimately led to Clark’s dismissal from the program before his sophomore season. Add in a lawsuit filed by Clark in which he alleged that he was forced by the school to take psychotropic drugs, and it’s safe to say that his time in Stillwater was anything but smooth.
Clark ultimately landed at Arkansas Baptist College, and on Thursday it was reported by the Detroit Free Press that he’s committed to Oakland University to play for head coach Greg Kampe. Clark joins a program with an immediate need at the point, with All-American Kahlil Felder having entered the NBA Draft and hired an agent as well.
The obvious question regarding Clark is whether or not he’s managed to take care of business off the court, and in an interview with Mark Snyder of the Free Press the Oklahoma native made note of the benefits of getting away from home for college.
Playing in Rochester, far from his home, will serve him well, he said.
“Anywhere away from home is the best thing,” Clark said. “It’s just hard balancing everything being close to home.”
Clark will be one of the options Kampe has to choose from at the point, with incoming freshmen Brailen Neely and Billy Thomas also among the new arrivals, and sophomore Jaevin Cumberland looking to earn more playing time than the 5.6 minutes per contest he averaged as a freshman.
Creighton’s chances of moving up the Big East standings and returning to the NCAA tournament for the first time since 2014 improved a great deal Thursday, as starting point guard Maurice Watson Jr. announced that he will be returning for his senior season. Watson, who began his college career at Boston University, entered his name into the NBA Draft pool without hiring an agent but decided that another year in Omaha would be best for him.
Watson was one of the most impactful transfers in the country last season, as his play at the point was a major factor in the Bluejays winning 20 games and going 9-9 in conference play after being picked to finish eighth in the Big East preseason poll. Watson averaged 14.1 points, 3.4 rebounds and 6.5 assists per game last season, earning second team All-Big East honors.
With Watson’s return the Bluejays will welcome back three of their top four scorers from last season, with center Geoffrey Groselle being the lone departure. Head coach Greg McDermott adds a talented shooting guard in Marcus Foster, who sat out last season after transferring in from Kansas State. With Watson and Foster working together, Creighton will have a formidable perimeter tandem leading the way in 2016-17 with the likes of forward Cole Huff and guard Isaiah Zierden also being key contributors.
In addition to what Watson can provide in games he’ll also serve as a good mentor for Kaleb Joseph, who will have to sit out next season after transferring in from Syracuse. Joseph, who will have two seasons of eligibility remaining, fell out of the rotation as a sophomore so the year in residency should benefit him as he works towards grabbing the reins in 2017-18.
Back in mid-January UConn made waves on the recruiting trail by securing a verbal commitment from 7-foot-1 center Zach Brown, a player seen by many as one of the top prospects in the Class of 2017. That partnership came to an end Thursday, as the two parties decided to part ways. News of the mutual decision was first reported by Scout.com.
The Miami native is currently ranked 28th in the Class of 2017 by Rivals.com, and Thursday’s news opens up a spot in the front court that UConn head coach Kevin Ollie and his staff will now have to fill. Amida Brimah, who’s currently going through the NBA pre-Draft process, will be a senior next season should he return to Storrs as will Kentan Facey.
Among the interior options who will have eligibility remaining beyond next season for the Huskies are sophomore Steven Enoch and incoming freshmen Mamadou Diarra and Juwan Durham.
UConn was in the running for 2016 power forward Taurean Thompson, but multiple outlets have the Brewster Academy product considering Michigan State (which added UNLV grad transfer Ben Carter Wednesday), Seton Hall and Syracuse at this point in his recruitment.