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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.

Four-star 2017 shooting guard commits to Virginia Tech

Virginia Tech head coach Buzz Williams celebrates a play in the first half of an NCAA college basketball game against Virginia, Monday, Jan. 4, 2016, in Blacksburg, Va. (Matt Gentry/The Roanoke Times via AP) LOCAL STATIONS OUT; LOCAL INTERNET OUT; LOCAL PRINT OUT (SALEM TIMES REGISTER; FINCASTLE HERALD; CHRISTIANSBURG NEWS MESSENGER; RADFORD NEWS JOURNAL; ROANOKE STAR SENTINEL; MANDATORY CREDIT
Matt Gentry/The Roanoke Times via AP
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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.

Oakland lands former Oklahoma State guard Clark

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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 point guard Watson Jr. to return for senior season

Creighton's Maurice Watson Jr. (10) reacts after scoring during the second half of an NCAA college basketball game against Xavier in Omaha, Neb., Tuesday, Feb. 9, 2016. Creighton won 70-56. (AP Photo/Nati Harnik)
AP Photo/Nati Harnik
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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.

h/t ESPN.com

UConn, four-star 2017 big man Brown part ways

Brown, Zach
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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.

UCF lands commitment from transfer Terrell Allen

New UCF men's NCAA college basketball coach Johnny Dawkins speaks at his introductory press conference Thursday, March 24, 2016 in Orlando, Fla. (Jacob Langston/Orlando Sentinel via AP) MAGS OUT; NO SALES; MANDATORY CREDIT
Jacob Langston/Orlando Sentinel via AP
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Having already landed one transfer in former Michigan guard Aubrey Dawkins (the new head coach’s son), UCF landed a second Thursday afternoon as former Drexel guard Terrell Allen announced that he’ll finish out his college career playing for Johnny Dawkins.

Allen, a CAA All-Rookie Team selection in his lone season at Drexel, announced the news by way of his Twitter account. After sitting out the 2016-17 season per NCAA transfer rules, Allen will have three seasons of eligibility remaining.

On a team that struggled throughout the 2015-16 season, winning just six games, Allen averaged 9.8 points, 3.0 rebounds and 3.5 assists in 32.5 minutes of action per game. The 6-foot-2 point guard finished the season ranked in the top ten in the CAA in both assists and assist-to-turnover ratio, with his assist tally ranking eighth and his A/T ratio of 1.9 placing him seventh.

With B.J. Taylor entering his junior season and Jeremy Carter-Sheppard joining the ranks this summer, the addition of Allen gives UCF another option at the point for the 2017-18 campaign.