Weekly Awards: Kevon Looney saves UCLA, Virginia’s ascent continues

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Kevon Looney (Getty Images)

PLAYER OF THE WEEK: Kevon Looney, UCLA

UCLA’s season was over. They had lost five straight games, had kicked off Pac-12 play by losing at Colorado and getting embarrassed at Utah, and had managed to make the term ‘Daddy Ball’ popular among the Bryce Alford haters. But that all changed this past week, as the Bruins beat both Stanford — in double-overtime — and Cal at Pauley Pavilion. And suddenly, things don’t look so bad. That five-game losing streak consisted of two top ten teams and three road games, and with games against USC, Oregon and Oregon State coming up, a 5-2 mark in league play heading into Super Bowl weekend is feasible.

The catalyst for that resurgence? Kevon Looney. The 6-foot-8 former McDonald’s All-American had 27 points and 19 boards against Stanford, following that up with 15 points and seven boards against Cal. He was 14-for-24 from the floor and has now hit four of his last six from three. UCLA may not be a different team than they were a week ago, but the doom and gloom surrounding the program has certainly changed. That’s a big step.

THE ‘ALL THEY WERE GOOD, TOO’ TEAM

  • Kris Dunn, Providence: Dunn led the Friars to wins over Providence and Georgetown, averaging 20.5 points, 7.5 assists and 5.5 boards to go along with three steals and three blocks.
  • Darrun Hilliard, Villanova: The Wildcats reaffirmed their place at the favorite in the Big East by winning at St. John’s and smacking around previously 3-0 DePaul. Hilliard averaged 21.0 points in the two wins.
  • George Fant, Western Kentucky: WKU moved to 3-0 in Conference USA with wins over Charlotte and No. 25 Old Dominion with Fant averaging 21.0 points and 12.0 boards.
  • Marcus Foster, Kansas State: Foster scored 23 points in a win at TCU on Wednesday and followed that up with 14 points, including the game-tying and game-winning shots, as the Wildcats won at Oklahoma. Foster was benched last week.
  • Bobby Portis, Arkansas: Portis went for 21 points as the Razorbacks kicked off SEC play with a win at Georgia, following that up by putting 32 points and 11 boards — nine offensive — on Vanderbilt star Damian Jones.
  • Notables: Ameen Tanksley (Hofstra), Raheem Appleby (Louisiana Tech)

TEAM OF THE WEEK: Virginia Cavaliers

source: AP
Malcolm Brogdon (AP Photo)

Kentucky will remain the No. 1 team in the country after this week despite the fact that they were twice taken to overtime by overmatched SEC opponents. Duke lost to an overmatched N.C. State team on the road. Wisconsin lost at Rutgers. Arizona was pushed to the brink at¬†Oregon State. Louisville lost at North Carolina. Texas lost twice. Elite teams have not handled the start of league play all that well, yet here we are, approaching the midway point of the season, and Virginia is not only undefeated, but they’ve now beaten three top 20 teams on the road.

The Cavs knocked off Maryland during the ACC/Big Ten Challenge and beat VCU in Richmond back in December. But their most impressive win came this week, as they went into South Bend and knocked off No. 13 Notre Dame three days after outlasting a hot-shooting N.C. State team in Charlottesville. I still have my doubts about Virginia, but the Cavs are every bit deserving of that No. 2 ranking they’ll have on Monday.

THEY WERE GOOD, TOO

  • Iowa State Cyclones: The Cyclones bounced back from a loss to South Carolina with a pair of impressive wins to kick off Big 12 play, knocking off Oklahoma State in Ames and West Virginia on the road.
  • Dayton: Playing with just six scholarship players, Dayton has now won six straight games and is now tied for first place in the Atlantic 10.
  • Michigan State: The Spartans won three games in Big Ten play this week after losing to Maryland in double-overtime to kick off the conference season.
  • UNC Wilmington: The Seahawks moved into first place in the CAA by picking up three league wins this week. Kevin Keatts has won eight games this season; UNCW won nine all of last year.
  • Wyoming: The Cowboys continue to look like the best team in the Mountain West, following up a win at Colorado State by smacking around Boise State. Larry Nance Jr. is the favorite for MWC Player of the Year at this point.
  • Notables: Vermont, Utah

SET YOUR DVR

  • No. 16 Oklahoma at No. 14 West Virginia, Tue. 7:00 p.m.
  • No. 2 Duke at No. 5 Louisville, Sat. 12:00 p.m.
  • No. 14 West Virginia at No. 10 Texas, Sat. 6:15 p.m.
  • No. 9 Utah at No. 7 Arizona, Sat. 7:00 p.m.
  • No. 12 Kansas at No. 17 Iowa State, Sat. 9:00 p.m.

Villanova lands four-star 2018 guard

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Villanova added its first recruit in the Class of 2018 on Wednesday night.

Jay Wright and his staff landed a verbal commitment from Paul VI Catholic High School’s Brandon Slater, a four-star guard by Rivals as the No. 42 overall prospect in the rising senior class.

The 6-foot-5 Slater announced his decision via Twitter.

Slater, according to Jeff Borzello of ESPN, picked the Wildcats over Maryland, Miami, South Carolina, and Virginia.

He is currently playing the Nike EYBL with Team Takeover, the same grassroots program that produced current Villanova guard Phil Booth.

Comic-Con forces Providence to play at Alumni Hall for home opener

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Providence will play its first game at Alumni Hall, the on-campus facility, for the first time in 35 years this fall.

The Friars unveiled their 2017-18 non-conference schedule on Thursday afternoon.¬†The team’s home opener will play either Houston Baptist or Belmont in Mullaney Gym inside Alumni Hall.

According to Kevin McNamara of the Providence Journal, the reason for that is a schedule conflict at Providence’s home arena, the Dunkin’ Donuts Center, in downtown Providence. A Comic-Con convention is scheduled Nov. 10-12. As McNamara notes, it’s a busy part of the season for The Dunk. The arena¬†also is home to the Providence Bruins, the American Hockey League affiliate of the Boston Bruins, and by mid-November, their¬†season is in full swing.

The Friars haven’t played at Alumni Hall since 1972, the same year the Dunkin’ Donuts Center was opened. In the three decades since Providence last played a regular season game there, the facility has gone under necessary renovations, as you could imagine. Even with added seats, Mullaney Gym can host a maximum of 1,549. That’s a fraction of what The Dunk’s capacity of 12,400.

Providence will return to its downtown home on Nov. 13, hosting Minnesota as part of the Gavitt Games. The Golden Gophers will likely be a top-20 team to open the season. The Friars, who bring back every notable player from last year’s NCAA Tournament team, is a fringe top-25 team.

Jalen Coleman-Lands to transfer out of Illinois

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The already-thin Illinois roster got thinner on Thursday afternoon.

Evan Daniels of Scout.com reported that sophomore guard Jalen Coleman-Lands has requested and received his release from the program. He will have to sit out next season but will have two years of eligibility remaining.

Coleman-Lands was a top-40 recruit in the Class of 2015, according to Rivals. He becomes the second player from that recruiting class this month to exit the school. Reserve guard D.J. Williams elected to transfer on May 8. With Jeremiah Tilmon and Javon Pickett, two incoming recruits, both previously reopened their recruitments following John Groce’s firing.

Even with the addition of Wright State graduate transfer Mark Alstork, who officially joined the Fighting Illini on Wednesday, Illinois is left with only nine scholarship players as of right now.

Coleman-Lands’ production dipped from his freshman campaign, ending the 2016-17 season averaging 8.0 points and 2.3 rebounds per game, shooting 38 percent from three.

One destination that will likely be rumored will be nearby DePaul. Coleman-Lands played for new DePaul assistant coach Shane Heirman at prep school powerhouse La Lumiere School. Heriman quickly tapped into that prep pipeline, helping secure a commitment from La Lumiere from five-star 2019 point guard Tyger Campbell earlier this month.

Coleman-Lands had taken official visits to Notre Dame and UNLV before committing to the Illini in September 2014.

North Carolina releases response to latest NCAA Notice of Allegations

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North Carolina is still trying to convince the NCAA that their investigation into the paper classes given by the university’s African-American Studies Department is not, in fact, an NCAA matter.

On Thursday afternoon, the University released their response to the NCAA’s third iteration of the Notice of Allegations, and the core argument in that response is that the school’s “inadequate academic oversight” does not fall under the jurisdiction of the NCAA’s bylaws. In other words, North Carolina is arguing that a rogue professor creating fake classes is not an NCAA issue. It’s a school issue.

What’s more, North Carolina is also arguing that athletes taking these classes should not be classified as an extra benefit because they were available to the entire student body.

“No special arrangements were made for student-athletes in violation of NCAA extra-benefit legislation,” the response reads. “Student-athletes were not treated differently than other students who took the Courses.”

“The public narrative for the last six years, popularized by media accounts, is that Department of Athletics at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill took advantage of ‘fake classes’ in the Department of African and African-American Studies to keep student-athletes eligible. That narrative is wrong and contradicted by the facts in the record.”

The NCAA’s allegations center around the idea that UNC’s athletes, most notably members of the football and men’s and women’s basketball teams, were guided to the fake classes within that department in order to keep their GPAs high enough to remain eligible. The classes in question had a disproportionate percentage of athletes.

A hearing in front of the Committee on Infractions is expected to take place at some point this summer.

No indictment for escort, staffer in Louisville sex scandal

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LOUISVILLE, Ky. (AP) ‚ÄĒ A grand jury declined to indict an escort and former Louisville men’s basketball staffer in a sex scandal that engulfed the program.

The Jefferson County grand jury decided Thursday there wasn’t enough evidence for charges of prostitution and unlawful transactions with a minor against Katina Powell and Andre McGee.

Powell wrote in a book published in 2015 that McGee hired her to provide dancers to perform sex acts for Cardinal recruits and players from 2010-2014.

The announcement by the Commonwealth’s Attorney’s Office comes as the school awaits discipline in early June by the NCAA after an investigation.

Louisville has imposed its own penalties, including a postseason ban in 2015-16 and reductions in scholarships and recruiting visits by coaches.