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The Secondary Break: Tuesday’s Links

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Milwaukee’s Aaron inspired by late mother (New York Post)
The NCAA tournament tends to offer up a number of highly compelling story lines, and one of those this season is that of Milwaukee guard Jordan Aaron. Aaron, whose mother passed away after a bout with cancer five years ago, was the inspiration as he helped lead the Panthers to the Horizon League’s automatic bid.

A lone voice takes a shot against March Madness (Miami Herald)
For college basketball fans this week marks the beginning of the best time of the season, with 68 teams competing to determine the national champion. But not everyone’s on board with the fact that the NCAA tournament is one of the best sporting events in sports.

Next step for NCAA-bound Buffs: Win in March (Colorado Springs Gazette)
The Colorado Buffaloes are headed to the NCAA tournament for the third consecutive season under head coach Tad Boyle, and their eight-seed is the highest in school history. But while this is certainly a noteworthy achievement for Colorado, the next step to be taken is to advance in the NCAA tournament with CU having a 1-2 record in their last two appearances.

Anatomy of an upset: Ingredients for unforgettable NCAA tournament games (USA Today)
Upsets are one of the most exciting aspects of the NCAA tournament, with schools many fans haven’t seen much of picking off a “brand name” school and capturing the nation’s imagination as a result. But what’s the recipe for pulling off an upset? There are some common bonds amongst schools that have pulled off the feat in the past, and those bonds are worth considering when filling out your bracket.

Dayton aims to keep “First Four” beyond 2015 (Cincinnati Enquirer)
The NCAA tournament begins Tuesday with two games in Dayton, with the city hosting two more First Four games on Wednesday night. Dayton’s embraced being the starting point of the NCAA tournament, which has been the case since the event expanded to include a 65th team in 2001. And although their current contract expires after next season’s tournament, Dayton is working hard to make sure the road to the Final Four continues to begin there.

St. Joe’s coach takes back seat to grandson (Associated Press)
Saint Joseph’s head coach Phil Martelli has his team back in the NCAA tournament, and he did so while dealing with a difficult year away from basketball. But one of the people who have helped he and his wife is their 4-year old grandson, who’s become a celebrity of sorts for his mimicking of his grandfather during Saint Joseph’s games. Look for Phillip to be in Buffalo this week when the Hawks take on seven-seed UConn.

Lobos approach NCAA tournament differently (Albuquerque Journal)
After winning the Mountain West’s regular season and tournament titles a season ago, New Mexico was a trendy pick to go deep into the NCAA tournament. But that outside noise may have been a distraction for the Lobos, who paid too much attention to the praise and ended up losing to Harvard. This season brings about a different approach, with Craig Neal and his team doing their best to avoid the outside chatter.

March Madness: Canadians set to play starring roles (Hamilton Spectator)
One of the more interesting aspects of college basketball in recent years has been the growing influence that Canada’s had on the sport. Once an afterthought with a few players making the move across the border, Canada has managed to produce some very talented players in recent years. And with stars such as Kansas’ Andrew Wiggins and Syracuse’s Tyler Ennis in this season’s field, this has the potential to be a big tournament for Canadian players.

Marshall should be pursuing D’Antoni (Charleston Daily Mail)
With Marshall relieving head coach Tom Herrion of his head coaching duties a few days ago, the program finds itself looking for a coach who can improve the Thundering Herd’s standing within Conference USA. And according to columnist Chuck Landon, one option the school needs to consider is current Los Angeles Lakers head coach and West Virginia native Mike D’Antoni.

Former Manhattan coach Gonzalez still teaching, scouting basketball (New York Post)
Ten years ago today the Manhattan Jaspers upset Florida in the first round of the NCAA tournament, something the current team hopes to duplicate in its opener against Louisville later this week. The head coach of that team was Bobby Gonzalez, who hasn’t run a program since his tumultuous four-year tenure at Seton Hall came to an end in 2010. And while there have been comments about why Gonzalez hasn’t taken another job, Gonzalez says that he’s happy with what he’s doing now.

N.C. State’s Dennis Smith Jr. fully recovered, ready to go

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RALEIGH, N.C. (AP) Dennis Smith Jr. sure looks ready.

North Carolina State’s prized freshman point guard is pushing through a workout in the practice gym on a hot July afternoon, and there’s no sign of the knee injury that defined his past year.

He’s sprinting along the baseline to bury a catch-and-shoot corner 3-pointer. He’s dribbling between chairs and stutter-stepping his way to a pull-up jumper. He’s launching himself at the rim for a dunk off the dribble.

“I don’t expect to be rusty at all,” Smith said in an interview with The Associated Press. “I was feeling kind of nervous at one point, but I went in and did a workout and then I was thinking, `I’m putting in all this work so all the nervousness should be out of my mind.’ I had no reason to be timid.

“I just have to go out there and perform, no excuses.”

A lot has happened for Smith in 12 months. The Fayetteville native suffered a torn left anterior cruciate ligament in a game during the Adidas Nations event featuring top prospects. He had surgery, picked N.C. State, graduated from high school early and enrolled in college in January to rehab and learn the Wolfpack’s system before his debut later this year.

Tuesday marks one year since the injury for the 6-foot-3 Smith, ranked by ESPN as the nation’s No. 1 point guard when he signed last fall.

“We’ve tried to be real conservative with him as far as not letting him do too much too fast,” coach Mark Gottfried said. “At his age, he can’t wait. He’s dying to play every day.”

Smith started earning his leadership role as soon as he arrived in Raleigh, pointing out instructions to teammates or calling them to the gym for extra work even though he couldn’t play. He figures that time observing from the sideline has prepared him to replace high-scoring floor leader Anthony “Cat” Barber.

“I feel like I’ve gotten smarter, definitely,” Smith said. “I see the game totally different now. I read pick-and-roll easier. I feel like I’ve gotten more sound on defense because I understand angles better.”

The physical work to get back has been tougher.

Roughly a year ago, Smith was lying in a bed after surgery trying to stay positive. He asked trainer Ja-Rell Bailey to bring him some free weights for upper-body exercises even if he couldn’t do much else, an example of why Bailey described Smith as “a man determined.”

Smith’s father said the rehab emphasized building leg strength to protect and stabilize the injured knee, something his son said he will keep doing in both legs for years to come. Smith’s work has helped him go from 180 pounds to a college-ready 192-pound frame.

“He’s got his bounce back, so he can dunk and everything,” Dennis Smith Sr. said. “But what Junior has got, God gave it to him. . A lot of times you run into kids who are built off of hype because they do a fancy move or have a good game. Junior ain’t hype. He’s the real deal.”

Regardless, Gottfried expects Smith to have “a learning curve.”

“For me,” he said, “I think what you see in November is going to be much different than what you see in January.”

The Wolfpack will look much different, too, after missing the NCAA Tournament for the first time in five seasons. N.C. State welcomes Scout.com’s No. 6-ranked recruiting class that includes five-star Turkish big man Omer Yurtseven. Senior guard Terry Henderson returns from an ankle injury that sidelined him 7 minutes into last season. Charlotte transfer and former Conference USA freshman of the year Torin Dorn Jr. will play after sitting out last year.

Still, Smith is the guy stirring the most buzz for Wolfpack fans – something he has no trouble embracing.

“I really don’t feel that pressure though,” Smith said. “I feel like if you come in and you expect to play well, then you should have those expectations of people talking. It’s just playing basketball to me. I’ve been doing it my whole life.”

Follow Aaron Beard on Twitter at http://www.twitter.com/aaronbeardap and the AP’s college basketball site at http://collegebasketball.ap.org

Washington lands commitment from Mamoudou Diarra

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For the second time this summer, Washington has landed a commitment from a forward in the Class of 2017.

On Friday, it was Mamoudou Diarra that pledged his future to Lorenzo Romar. Diarra is a 6-foot-8 combo-forward that is currently unranked by Rivals but was targeted by a number high major program.

Washington landed a commitment from Michael Porter Jr. earlier this summer, and given Porter’s standing as the potential No. 1 player in the class, the Huskies will be in the mix for the best crop of freshmen in the country in 2017-18. Romar has also landed commitments from four-star guard Jaylen Nowell and three-star guard Blake Harris.

RELATED: How the Michael Porter Package Deal came to fruition

Diarra played his high school basketball in St. Louis.

Xavier lands second top 100 commitment in 2017

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Xavier landed a key commitment on Friday morning in Naji Marshall, one of the Musketeers’ top targets in the Class of 2017.

Marshall is a la 6-foot-5 wing from Washington D.C. that is currently ranked 62nd in the 2017 class by Rivals. He’s a scorer that has shown off a versatile offensive game, averaging better than three assists on the Under Armour Association circuit.

This is the third commitment from head coach Chris Mack in the class and the second top 100 player to pledge to the Musketeers. Marshall picked Xavier over Pittsburgh, South Carolina, Rhode Island and Virginia Tech, among other.

Four-star 2018 guard Coby White commits to North Carolina

North Carolina coach Roy Williams, center, reacts with his team behind him after a play during the second half of an NCAA college basketball game in the Atlantic Coast Conference tournament against Pittsburgh, Thursday, March 10, 2016, in Washington. North Carolina won 88-71. (AP Photo/Alex Brandon)
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With guards Jalek Felton and Andrew Platek having committed in their 2017 recruiting class, North Carolina received a commitment from one of the better guards in the Class of 2018 Thursday night. Four-star guard Coby White, who’s ranked 61st in his class by Rivals.com, made his pledge to Roy Williams’ program. News of White’s commitment was first reported by Scout.com.

The 6-foot-4 White is a native of Wilson, North Carolina, where he attends Greenfield HS, and he played his grassroots basketball for the CP3 16U basketball program this summer. His commitment to UNC comes just a couple days after the ACC school offered him a scholarship.

White took an unofficial visit to UNC in June, and his play in July ultimately led to the program making the aforementioned scholarship offer. By the time White enrolls in Chapel Hill, current veterans such as Joel Berry II and Nate Britt will be out of eligibility. Among the perimeter would could potentially be on campus in 2018 are freshmen Seventh Woods and Brandon Robinson, and sophomore Kenny Williams.

White is the second commit in the 2018 class for the Tar Heels, with 6-foot-7 guard Rechon Black being the first.

Point guard Small to transfer from Oregon

SPOKANE, WA - MARCH 18:  Kendall Small #21 of the Oregon Ducks shoots over Derek Mountain #40 of the Holy Cross Crusaders in the second half during the first round of the 2016 NCAA Men's Basketball Tournament at Spokane Veterans Memorial Arena on March 18, 2016 in Spokane, Washington.  (Photo by Patrick Smith/Getty Images)
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After navigating a lack of depth at the point to win the Pac-12 regular season and tournament titles and earn the program’s first-ever one seed in the NCAA tournament, Oregon will have no such issues in 2016-17. Dylan Ennis, who missed most of last season with a foot injury, is back for another season as is returning starter Casey Benson. Add in freshman Payton Pritchard, whose shooting ability can help a team that struggled from three a season ago, and Dana Altman has multiple players to call upon at that spot.

That left Kendall Small, who played just under eight minutes per game as a freshman, in a spot where it would have been tough to earn more playing time as a sophomore. As a result he’s decided to transfer, with the news first being reported by Scout.com.

In addition to the three guards mentioned above, sophomore Tyler Dorsey also has the ability to make plays with the ball in his hands. Small will have three seasons of eligibility remaining at whichever school he chooses to transfer to, and he’ll have to sit out the 2016-17 season per NCAA transfer rules.

A 6-foot guard from Anaheim, Small’s best outing came in Oregon’s 77-59 win over Savannah State on November 23. In that game Small accounted for nine points, four assists and three rebounds in 23 minutes of action. But he played double-digit minutes in just four games after the Ducks began Pac-12 play in early January, the last of which being Oregon’s win over Holy Cross in the first round of the NCAA tournament.