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Oregon-UCLA Preview: Bruins looking for validation, Ducks seeking case for No. 1

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On the other side of the country, one of the oldest and most storied college basketball rivalries will likely dominate the evening. When Duke and North Carolina get together, it grabs eyeballs and sucks a lot of oxygen out of the room.

Don’t forget about tonight’s nightcap, though.

UCLA and Oregon may not have the rivalry bonafides of their Tobacco Road counterparts, but they do lay claim to one of the best games of this season. The rematch tonight in Pauley Pavilion promises to be just as intriguing.

It wasn’t so long ago the Bruins were the darlings of college basketball, with Lonzo Ball’s play at point guard reinvigorating the program thanks to an offensive style that’s both beautiful and devastating as they won their first 13 games of the season.

That loss to the Ducks to end December didn’t do much to take the shine off, especially after UCLA ripped off six-straight wins after it, but back-to-back losses to Arizona and USC at the end of January pushed the Bruins’ fatal flaw to the forefront.

They can’t defend.

Oregon doesn’t bring an intimidating offense to the table, but with a defense that borders on elite, it’s an easier issue to hide. UCLA has to be brilliant on offense to beat good teams. The Ducks just have to do their thing on defense and keep things from breaking down on the other end.

The hardest cover for UCLA is, of course, Dillon Brooks. The junior had 23 points and four assists and a game-winning 3-pointer in the first matchup of the season, and, since an injury scare last month, has looked as solid as ever. He’s 16 of 24 combined in the last two games in which he’s averaged 22.5 points.

This is a game in which really UCLA has anything to prove.

Any doubts about the Ducks after they got pounded by Colorado went away when they thrashed Arizona last weekend. Oregon is exactly as good as we think they are, which is to say very, very good.

The Bruins, though? We know they can fill it up. We know Ball and T.J. Leath are dynamic freshmen and that the rest of the roster has a ton of talented offensive players. We don’t know how well the one-sided formula can work against top-tier teams, however.

UCLA has two options going forward. Either its offense has to operate at the extreme high level of its capability, with its output at capacity every night, or it has to find a way to defend a little. They don’t have to be great. Being average when your offense is awesome can be good enough.

Of course, the Pac-12 race is going to be greatly impacted by tonight’s result. If UCLA wants any chance of sticking in the thick of things, it’s a must-win. The Bruins are already two games back of the Ducks and Wildcats, and can’t fall another game back and expect to make it up before the Pac-12 tournament.

It’s paramount for Oregon, too, as it still has trips to USC and Cal on the docket while Arizona has a much more forgiving schedule. Its most difficult road game is at Arizona State to finish the regular season and the Wildcats get UCLA at home.

Gonzaga has the inside track to the No. 1 seed in the west, but Oregon could lay claim to No. 1 elsewhere if things break right throughout the rest of the country. To those ends, a win in Westwood would be a nice addition to the resume. For UCLA, though, a win over Oregon could be a signal that, despite their deficiencies, the game’s about getting buckets and there’s few who get them like the Bruins.

Prediction: Other than the blip in Boulder, Oregon has spent the last two-plus months playing really good basketball. The fact that they can do that on both ends of the floor means they’re the pick here (+4.5).

NCAA denies extra-year request by NC State guard Henderson

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RALEIGH, N.C. (AP) — The NCAA has denied North Carolina State guard Terry Henderson’s request for another year of eligibility.

Henderson announced the decision Friday in a statement issued by the school.

The Raleigh native played two seasons at West Virginia before transferring to N.C. State and redshirting in 2014-15. He played for only 7 minutes of the following season before suffering a season-ending ankle injury.

As a redshirt senior in 2016-17, he was the team’s second-leading scorer at 13.8 points per game and made a team-best 78 3-pointers.

Henderson called it “an honor and privilege” to play in his hometown.

SMU gets transfer in Georgetown’s Akoy Agau

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SMU pulled in a frontcourt player in Georgetown transfer Akoy Agau, a source confirmed to NBCSports.com. Agau is immediately eligible for next season as a graduate transfer.

The 6-foot-8 Agau started his career at Louisville before transferring to Georgetown after one season. Spending two seasons with the Hoyas, Agau was limited to 11 minutes in his first season due to injuries. He averaged 4.5 points and 4.3 rebounds per game last season.

Coming out of high school, Agau was a four-star prospect but he’s never lived up to that billing in-part because of injuries. Now, Agau gets one more chance to make a difference as he’s hoping to help replace some departed pieces like Ben Moore and Semi Ojeleye.

South Carolina loses big man Sedee Keita to transfer

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South Carolina big man Sedee Keita will transfer from the program, he announced on Friday.

The 6-foot-9 Keita was once regarded as a top-100 national prospect in the Class of 2016, but he never found consistent minutes with the Gamecocks for last season’s Final Four team.

Keita appeared in 29 games and averaged 1.1 points and 2.0 rebounds per game while shooting 27 percent from the field.

A native of Philadelphia, Keita will have to sit out next season before getting three more seasons of eligibility.

Although Keita failed to make an impact during his only season at South Carolina, he’ll be a coveted transfer thanks to his size and upside.

Mississippi State losing two to transfer

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Mississippi State will lose two players to transfer as freshmen Mario Kegler and Eli Wright are leaving the program.

Both Kegler and Wright were four-star prospects coming out of high school as they were apart of a six-man recruiting class that is supposed to be a major foundation for Ben Howland’s future with the Bulldogs.

The 6-foot-7 Kegler was Mississippi State’s third-leading scorer last season as he averaged 9.7 points and 5.5 rebounds per game. Kegler should command some quality schools on the transfer market, especially since he’ll still have three more years of eligibility after sitting out next season due to NCAA transfer regulations. Kegler’s loss is also notable for Mississippi State because it is the second consecutive offseason that Howland lost a top-100, in-state product to transfer after only one season after Malik Newman left for Kansas.

Wright, a 6-foot-4 guard, was never able to find consistent minutes as he was already behind underclass perimeter options like Quinndary Weatherspoon, Lamar Peters and Tyson Carter last season. With Nick Weatherspoon, Quinndary’s four-star brother, also joining the Bulldogs next season, the writing was likely on the wall that Wright wasn’t going to earn significant playing time.

 

N.C. State lands second transfer of day with Utah’s Devon Daniels

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A big recruiting day for N.C. State continued on Saturday afternoon as Utah transfer and guard Devon Daniels pledged to the Wolfpack.

Earlier in the day, N.C. State and new head coach Kevin Keatts landed another quality transfer in UNC Wilmington guard C.J. Bryce.

The 6-foot-5 Daniels just finished his freshman season with the Utes in which he put up 9.9 points 4.6 rebounds and 2.7 assists per game while shooting 57 percent from the field and 40 percent from three-point range. Just like Bryce, Daniels will have to sit out the 2017-18 season due to NCAA transfer regulations before he has three more seasons of eligibility.

N.C. State now has two potential starters on the perimeter for the 2018-19 season with the addition of Bryce and Daniels as it will be interesting to see what kind of talent the Wolfpack can get around them.