WCC Basketball Tournament - Quarterfinals - Pepperdine v Saint Mary's

Improved academics has Pepperdine in better position to achieve on-court success

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When Marty Wilson took over as the head coach at Pepperdine in 2011, it’s safe to say that there was a lot of work to be done. The program was coming off of a 12-21 season in 2010-11, and the Waves hadn’t finished above .500 since Paul Westphal led the 2004-05 edition to a 17-14 mark. But for as important as it was for Wilson and his staff to make strides on the court, improvements in the classroom were even more important.

James Barragan’s story in the Los Angeles Times discusses just how far the program has come during Wilson’s three seasons at the school off the court, a process that actually began when Tom Asbury returned as head coach in 2008. With academic issues attracting the attention of the NCAA the program mad significant changes, and with that process paying off in the classroom the Waves are also beginning to see better results on the court.

In those six years, 18 Pepperdine men’s basketball players have received the West Coast Conference Commissioner’s Honor Roll award — given to players who earn a 3.0 GPA or better — and nine have been selected to the conference’s All-Academic team.

“I think the biggest thing is recruiting guys who are self-motivated to succeed academically,” said sophomore forward Jett Raines, a double major in computer sciences and mathematics. “If the student doesn’t want to succeed or give it his best, then it’s not going to work out. On our team we have a lot of guys that care a lot about academics.”

While Pepperdine still has that streak of nine consecutive seasons under .500 to deal with, in each of Wilson’s three seasons the win total has improved. From ten wins in 2011-12, Pepperdine won 12 in 2012-13 and 15 last season. That may not seem like a big deal, but given where the program was when Asbury returned to campus in 2008 that’s progress.

Pepperdine will have to account for the loss of WCC Defensive Player of the Year Brendan Lane, who played one season after transferring in from UCLA. But with guards Malcolm Brooks and Jeremy Major and first team All-WCC forward Stacy Davis all returning, Pepperdine has some solid pieces to move forward with.

But the goals are to pair the on-court success with progress in the classroom. Having taken care of the academic issues that plagued the program in the years prior to Asbury’s arrival, Pepperdine can take another step in the right direction in 2014-15.

Jalen Coleman-Lands cleared to practice

INDIANAPOLIS, IN - MARCH 10: Jarrod Uthoff #20 of the Iowa Hawkeyes defends against Jalen Coleman-Lands #5 of the Illinois Fighting Illini in the second round of the Big Ten Basketball Tournament at Bankers Life Fieldhouse on March 10, 2016 in Indianapolis, Indiana. (Photo by Joe Robbins/Getty Images)
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When Illinois takes on Southeast Missouri State in the opener of the 2016-17 season, the Fighting Illini should have it’s starting backcourt out on the floor.

According to Jon Rothstein, Jalen Coleman-Lands has been cleared for all basketball activities. The sophomore two-guard has been recovering from a broken bone in his right hand.

The 6-foot-3 guard averaged 10.3 points per game, while shooting 42 percent from three, as a freshman. He, along with Malcolm Hill and Michael Thorne Jr., is one of three returning players who averaged double figures last season.

Coleman-Lands will team up with Tracy Abrams, a point guard who was granted a sixth year of eligibility after missing the past two seasons due to injuries.

This could prove to be a make-or-break year for John Groce, who enters his fifth season at the helm. He guided the Illini to an NCAA Tournament in his first season, but hasn’t been back since.

The key for the Illini is health. Abrams gives them experience and leadership, but it won’t be a surprise if there’s some rust in his game after spending the past two seasons on the sideline. Having a healthy Coleman-Lands will help stabilize the backcourt, while Hill, an all-conference caliber forward, and Thorne anchor the frontcourt.

NBC Sports projected Illinois to finish eighth in the Big Ten this season.

Curtis Jones jumps over Tom Crean

Tom Crean
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Indiana held its annual Hoosier Hysteria on Saturday night.

One of the highlights from the team’s dunk contest was when freshman guard Curtis Jones jumped over Indiana head coach Tom Crean.

This isn’t the first time we’ve seen a newcomer us his coach as a dunk contest prop. Last week, Rawle Alkins cleared Arizona head coach Sean Miller en route to a reverse jam.

Like Alkins, Jones was a sought-after scorer. The 6-foot-4 two-guard was rated No. 69 overall in the Class of 2016 by Rivals. He picked Indiana over offers from Cal, Cincinnati, Georgetown and more than a dozen other high-major programs.

WATCH: Edmond Sumner take off from the foul line

CINCINNATI, OH - FEBRUARY 03:  Edmond Sumner #4 of the Xavier Musketeers dunks the ball during the game against the St. John's Red Storm at Cintas Center on February 3, 2016 in Cincinnati, Ohio.  (Photo by Andy Lyons/Getty Images)
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Edmond Sumner is a big reason why Xavier is likely going to be a preseason top-10 team.

On Saturday night, during Musketeer Madness, Sumner won the team’s dunk contest when he took off from the foul line.

Sumner defeated freshmen Tyrique Jones and Quentin Goodin. J.P. Macura, the reigning Big East Sixth Man of the Year, took home the honors last year.

The 6-foot-6 redshirt sophomore is coming off a debut season in which he averaged 11.0 points, 3.4 rebounds and 3.6 assists per game.

WATCH: Duke goes crazy for Chase Jeter’s bottle flip

PROVIDENCE, RI - MARCH 17:  Chase Jeter #2 of the Duke Blue Devils looks on in the second half against the North Carolina-Wilmington Seahawks during the first round of the 2016 NCAA Men's Basketball Tournament at Dunkin' Donuts Center on March 17, 2016 in Providence, Rhode Island.  (Photo by Maddie Meyer/Getty Images)

The bottle flip has become an international sensation in recent months.

It’s as simple as it sounds: flipping a water bottle in the air, attempting to have it land upright.

Duke sophomore forward Chase Jeter, in front of 9,300-plus fans, successfully pulled off the bottle flip on Saturday night at Duke’s Craziness.

Jeter, the 6-foot-10, played in a reserve role as a freshman, averaging 1.9 points and 1.9 rebounds per game last season. He will be part of a loaded frontline that includes heralded freshmen Harry Giles and Marques Bolden, as well as redshirt senior Amile Jefferson, who returns to the lineup following a foot injury.

Auburn to honor Charles Barkley with a statue

HOUSTON, TEXAS - APRIL 04:  Former NBA player and commentator Charles Barkley looks on prior to the 2016 NCAA Men's Final Four National Championship game between the Villanova Wildcats and the North Carolina Tar Heels at NRG Stadium on April 4, 2016 in Houston, Texas.  (Photo by Scott Halleran/Getty Images)
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The greatest player in Auburn program history will honored with a statue outside of the team’s home arena.

The university announced that Charles Barkley, the Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Famer, will be the fourth athlete to be given a statue, joining Heisman Trophy winners Bo Jackson, Pat Sullivan and Cam Newton.

“It just means a great deal to me,” Barkley said in a statement. “Being a kid from Alabama, going to Auburn. I think everybody knows what Auburn means to me. It’s going to be pretty cool.”

Barkley, currently working as an analyst for TNT, was the SEC Player of the Year in 1984, as well as a second team All-American. He averaged 14.1 points and 9.6 rebounds per game in 84 appearances for the Tigers.

His number 34 is retired at Auburn.