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Georgia Tech knocks off No. 15 Miami

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The start of ACC play appeared to be a manageable one for No. 15 Miami, as the Hurricanes opened with games at Pittsburgh and Georgia Tech. However, after handling the Panthers on Saturday the Hurricanes ran into trouble in Atlanta. The combination of Josh Okogie and the Yellow Jackets throwing out multiple looks defensively proved to be too much for Miami, which fell by the final score of 64-54.

Here are some thoughts on Georgia Tech’s surprising win over Miami, and what it potentially means for both teams moving forward.

1. Improved health makes big difference for Georgia Tech.

There’s no sugar-coating it: the Yellow Jackets did not play well for much of non-conference play. And while there’s no excuse for some of the losses Josh Pastner’s team took, this is a group that also had to navigate suspensions and injuries. Two of the team’s key players, Josh Okogie and Ben Lammers, struggled with injuries during non-conference play while Okogie also had to miss time due to an NCAA rules violation.

Both played pivotal roles in Wednesday’s win, with Okogie scoring a game-high 30 points while also grabbing nine rebounds and Lammers adding eight points, eight rebounds, three steals and two blocked shots. It wasn’t all smooth sailing, as Lammers was just 3-for-11 from the field and Okogie needed 23 shots to get his 30, but in a game that lacked rhythm (to Georgia Tech’s benefit) both were good enough.

Georgia Tech will have to “muddy” things up some to be successful in ACC play, especially given the fact that it’s operating with a six-man rotation right now. Wednesday night that approach worked.

2. Miami settled for jump shots far too often, struggling with Georgia Tech’s multiple defensive looks.

Despite the number of guards capable of making plays off the dribble on the roster, the Hurricanes haven’t been all too good at getting to the foul line this season. Miami entered Wednesday’s game with a free throw rate of 27.3, which ranked 304th nationally according to kenpom.com, and they were even worse in that regard against Georgia Tech. Miami posted a free throw rate of 19.6, attempting just 11 free throws on the night.

Far too often Miami settled for pull-up jumpers, being it from thee (4-for-19) or in the mid-range game. Bruce Brown finished the game 4-for-12, Chris Lykes 2-for-10, Ja’Quan Newton 3-for-7 and Lonnie Walker IV 3-for-8 as Miami struggled with Georgia Tech’s multiple defensive looks. The Yellow Jackets used man-to-man at some points, a 1-3-1 at others, which impacted the tempo at which the game was played.

3. Jose Alvarado will have better nights, but he did some good things as well.

For a point guard to have seven turnovers in a game, one would think that his team would wind up on the losing end. Luckily for Georgia Tech freshman Jose Alvarado, who turned the ball over seven times, he had help in the form of Okogie, Lammers and a team defensive effort that forced 18 Miami turnovers. The turnover count for the freshman wasn’t optimal, but he also accounted for 12 points, three steals and two blocked shots.

One of those blocks came on a Lykes three-point attempt with 1:46 remaining that could have trimmed the margin to five points. Instead, Alvarado’s subsequent layup extended the Georgia Tech lead to ten. Miami would get no closer than seven from that point forward. Alvarado, who continues to learn what it takes to play the point at a high level, has now reached double figures in scoring in four of the last five games. If he can keep the turnover count down (he had just one against Notre Dame) Alvarado should be able to have an even greater impact on a team that will need him to do so.

4. Miami now enters a difficult three-game stretch that will have a major impact on its ACC hopes.

Why was taking care of business against Pitt and Georgia Tech so important? Because Miami’s next three league games are against No. 24 Florida State, No. 25 Clemson and No. 2 Duke. The good news is that the Florida State and Duke games will be in Coral Gables, but none of those games will be gimmes by any stretch of the imagination. Florida State has the athleticism and balance to give Miami trouble on both ends of the floor, and thanks to its improvements across the board Clemson is more of a threat than anyone imagined them being before the season began. Lastly there’s Duke, one of the team on the shortlist of surefire national title contenders in the eyes of many.

Those games represent challenges for Miami, but they’re opportunities as well. And for the Hurricanes to take advantage, they’ll need to be far more efficient offensively than they were Wednesday night in Atlanta.

Washington’s Thybulle returning for senior season

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Matisse Thybulle will return to Washington for his senior season after contemplating declaring for the NBA draft following a junior campaign in which he was named the Pac-12 defensive player of the year.

“The NBA is really enticing and it was definitely something that I seriously considered when the season was over,” Thybulle told the Seattle Times. “I talked it over with my family and we came to the conclusion that it would be in my best interest to stay and get my degree (in communications) and grow as a basketball player and take this last year to mature and fine tune everything so I can be fully prepared to take that next step when it’s time.”

The 6-foot-5 guard averaged 11.2 points, 2.9 rebounds, 2.0 assists and 3.0 steals per game last season. He shot 44.5 percent from the field and 36.5 percent from 3-point range.

“I talked to coach (Mike Hopkins) and he gave me some good advice that was honestly something that helped in the grand scheme of things,” Thybulle said. “He told me that if I do it (enter the draft), then I should be all in because that’s what I’m going to be up against is a whole bunch of guys fighting for their lives. He thought it would be a better idea for me to stay in school until I’m at that point.”

Washington is awaiting the decision of Noah Dickerson, who declared for the draft but has not hired an agent. The 6-foot-8 averaged 15.5 points and 8.4 rebounds last season.

Koby McEwen transferring to Marquette

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Steve Wojciechowski added a significant piece to his 2019-20 team over the weekend.

Koby McEwen announced his intention to transfer to Marquette from Utah State late Sunday evening.

“I would like to thank God, my family, inner circle and all the schools/coaches that recruited me during this process!” McEwen tweeted. “With that being said, I’m proud to announce that I’ll be furthering my college career at Marquette University.”

McEwen picked the Golden Eagles over fellow finalists Creighton and Grand Canyon after he decided to transfer when the Aggies announced South Dakota coach Craig Smith was taking over the program last month. The 6-foot-4 guard averaged 15.6 points, 5.4 rebounds and 3.2 assists per game while shooting 40 percent from the field and 30 percent from 3-point range as a sophomore.

After sitting out the upcoming season, McEwen will have to years of eligibility remaining. Marquette went 21-14 last season, but missed the NCAA tournament for the third time in Wojciechowski’s four years in Milwaukee.

Minnesota adds Vanderbilt transfer Payton Willis

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Minnesota has added some depth for the future.

The Golden Gophers received a pledge from Vanderbilt transfer Payton Willis over the weekend, giving him a guard with two seasons of eligibility remaining starting in 2019-20.

Willis will sit out the upcoming season under NCAA transfer rules.

The 6-foot-4 guard played a limited role in two seasons in Nashville, never averaging more than 18. 5 minutes or 5.2 points per game. He scored in double figures in three games as a sophomore.

Willis was a top-150 prospect in the Class of 2016 coming out of Fayetteville, Ark. with offers from the likes of Tulsa, Rice and Dayton. Vandy and Minnesota were his two high-major offers.

After being ranked in the top-15, Minnesota was beset by injury and suspensions last season as they limped to the finish line in a 15-17 season that featured losses in 12 of its last 13 games.

Richard Pitino still has two available scholarships for the 2018-19 campaign.

Report: Quade Green returning to Kentucky

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John Calipari just landed a critical recruit for 2018-19, and he was already on the roster.

Quade Green, who averaged 25 minutes per game last season, is returning to Kentucky for his sophomore season, his mother told the Lexington Herald-Leader on Monday.

Given that six Wildcat players have entered the draft (Kevin Knox, Shai Gilgeous-Alexander and Hami Diallo are signing with agents), getting the 6-foot point guard back for a second season is a massive deal for Calipari and Co. The Wildcats have always been at their best under Calipari with returning players as the cornerstones of the roster with talented one-and-dones providing the extra boost. Getting one such returner at the point guard position is even more critical.

Green, who came to Kentucky as a five-star recruit last year, averaged 9.3 points and 2.7 assists per game while shooting 45.1 percent from the field and a respectable 37.1 percent from 3-point range, an area where Kentucky continually needs help.

With Green back in the fold, Kentucky will now await the decisions of PJ Washington, Wenyen Gabriel and Jarred Vanderbilt, who are all going through the pre-draft process without hiring agents, which will potentially allow them to return to school and bolster a Kentucky roster has the look of a top-five team.

CBT Podcast: NBA Draft Early Entry Deadline: Winners, losers and who has the most on the line?

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The NBA Draft Early Entry Deadline came and went on Sunday night, meaning there are now roughly 60 college players that have signed with an agent and another 100 or so that have declared for the draft while retaining their college eligibility. Who were the winners? Who were the losers? Who has the most on the line? Sam Vecenie of the Game Theory podcast joined Rob Dauster to talk through all of it. The rundown:

OPEN: What do NBA teams value in players these days?

10:00: Villanova has more on the line during this testing the water process than anyone

19:00: Just how important was De’Andre Hunter’s decision to return to Virginia

25:25: Gonzaga getting Rui and Killian Tillie back makes them a title favorite

32:10: Nevada has a top ten season on the line with the Martin twins and Jordan Caroline

36:15: #RANTALERT – The decision to turn pro is so much more complicated than “is he a first round pick”

48:30: Rapid fire: Maryland, Kansas, Syracuse, Nebraska, Purdue and Michigan. What do they have on the line?