Eight midseason additions who’ll impact college hoops

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Jon Kreft committed to Florida State in August of 2004.

That’s all of six years and four months ago. Kreft was preparing for his junior year in high school at the time, which would put him in the class of 2006. That’s the same class as guys like Kevin Durant, Greg Oden, and Ty Lawson. Every member of that class that graduated or left school within four years has become a professional, be it to the NBA, overseas, or, like those NCAA commercials love to tell us, in something other than basketball.

While the rest of his high school class is cashing paychecks, Kreft was finally granted eligibility at Florida State today. Tonight against Stetson, Kreft will suit up as a Division I basketball player for the first time in his life.

As you might imagine, it has been a long road for Kreft.

In May of 2006, he was arrested with a friend in a car with 15 grams of weed and a digital scale. He also admitted to hiding 1.7 grams of cocaine in his buttocks. He served almost a year in jail, but by the time he got out, Kreft’s scholarship offer from Florida State was gone. He found himself at Chipola College, spending the 2007-2008 and 2008-2009 seasons there. He had hoped to enroll at FSU for the 2009-2010 season, but he still needed to finish some course work.

So after clearing all of those hurdles, Kreft, now 24 years old but a junior in terms of his eligibility, will finally have the chance to play for the Seminoles.

It may be difficult for him to earn minutes initially. Florida State already has a deep and talented front line.

But that isn’t the story here.

The story is that Kreft turned around his life. And now he’ll have a chance to get an education. That is, after all, the purpose of collegiate athletics.

Kreft is far from the only player joining his team midway through the season. Here is a list of eight players that have yet to play a game, but could end up having a huge impact on the outcome of the season.

Josh Selby, Kansas, Fr.

We all know the story of Josh Selby by now. A Baltimore native, Selby had a relationship with Bay Frazier, Carmelo Anthony’s business manager, that the NCAA determined was based on his athletics abilities. He was suspended by the NCAA for nine games, and will become eligible to play on Saturday against USC.

What Selby’s impact will be is unclear. Most expect him to become a starter before long, but Bill Self is playing the part of the politician perfectly, requiring Selby to earn his spot in the starting lineup. He was considered just as good, if not better, than Brandon Knight and Kyrie Irving coming out of high school, so it shouldn’t be an issue of if he will have an impact, but rather what that impact will be. He has needed the ball in his hands throughout his high school career, but Kansas runs a system that thrives on ball movement and runs through the Morrii, twin big men Marcus and Markieff. That said, a back court featuring Selby and Tyshawn Taylor will be talented, dynamic, and incredibly entertaining to watch.

If Selby can accept the fact that he will play a role, albeit an important one, for the Jayhawks, it shouldn’t be long before Kansas rivals Duke as the best team in the country.

Drew Gordon, New Mexico, Jr.

Gordon was arguably UCLA’s best player in the season and a half he spent in Westwood. But the talented power forward was never quite able to accept his role for Ben Howland, or the system that the Bruins ran, and left the school after six games last season.

With all due respect to the front line of San Diego State, Gordon could step in and immediately become the best big man in the Mountain West Conference. He’s big, hes athletic, and he is versatile. He can score with his bask to the basket, he can get out and run the floor in transition, and he can rebound the basketball. New Mexico already has a solid front line, but freshman Alex Kirk is more of a pick-and-pop player while AJ Hardemann and Emmanuel Negedu and big and physical, but more athlete than basketball player at this point. Gordon is on another level talent-wise.

It will be interesting to see what the Lobos look like with Gordon in the fold. Right now, they are probably the fourth best MWC team behind SDSU, BYU, and UNLV, who are all top 25 teams. The MWC will be that much better with a dangerous Lobo team. His first game will be Sunday against the Citadel.

Renardo Sidney, So., and Dee Bost, Sr., Mississippi State

Both of these kids had to wait for NCAA clearance to return to the Bulldogs, but for very different reasons. Sidney enrolled at Mississippi State prior to last season, but as a result of improper benefits he received and the NCAA’s belief that his family profited off of his athletic ability while he was in high school, Sidney was declared ineligible for last season and 30% of this season. He’ll play his first game on Saturday against Virginia Tech.

Bost, on the other hand, entered the NBA Draft back in April and took too long to withdraw his name. In a bit of an unexpected move, the NCAA cleared Bost while suspending him nine games. Since he was academically ineligible after last year, Bost’s suspension won’t kick in until the first semester is over.

Thanks to some tricky scheduling by Rick Stansbury, both Bost and Sidney will be available for the entirety of SEC play. And, there seems no doubt, these two will make the Bulldogs much better. They should immediately become the favorites in the dismal SEC West, but with losses to Florida Atlantic and East Tennessee State already on their resume, will the Bulldogs be able to do enough to earn an NCAA bid this season?

Jio Fontan, USC, Jr.

Fontan is a talent. As a freshman at Fordham, he averaged 15.1 ppg and 4.7 apg. But the Rams were terrible, and the St. Anthony’s product wanted out. He left the school five games into his sophomore season after a long battle with the athletic department, finally settling on USC has his destination.

Last year, USC’s season turned when they added redshirt senior Mike Gerrity to the mix. Can Fontan have that same impact this year? Kevin O’Neil has said that Fontan is their best player right now, and that carries some weight, considering Nikola Vucevic is playing great and freshman point guard Maurice Jones has impressed early in the season playing a whopping 38.4 mpg.

The Trojans already have losses to Rider, TCU, and Bradley, but if Fontan can change the course of the season, the NCAA Tournament committee may look past those losses. Fontan will make his Trojan debut opposite Josh Selby on Saturday.

Mike Holmes, Coastal Carolina, Sr.

Coastal Carolina was one of the best mid-major programs in the country last season, winning 28 games. This season has been a bit of the same, as they are currently 8-2 on the year with their lone losses coming to Georgetown and the College of Charleston in the Charleston Classic.

Holmes gives them an entirely new dimension. He’s a legitimate, high-major big man. He averaged 10.4 ppg and 7.7 rpg as a sophomore at South Carolina, but was dismissed midway through his junior season due to repeated violations of team rules. Holmes will have a shot at redemption this season, and he is already making good on that opportunity. He had 14 points and 10 boards off the bench in the Chanticleer’s 78-69 overtime win at LSU on Monday.

Roberto Nelson, Oregon State, Fr.

Its been a long wait for Nelson, the best recruit to head to Corvallis since Gary Payton, as he’s had to deal with a year and a half of NCAA scrutiny of his academic eligibility. But the time is finally here, as Nelson had four points in 15 minutes off the bench for the Beavers in a win on Sunday over Texas Pan-American.

Craig Robinson has made it clear that he wants to bring Nelson along slowly, but he may not have the choice. Oregon State is not Kansas. They do not have a roster full of high school all-americans. They are one of the worst high-major teams in the country, and any kind of infusion of talent at this point in the season is incredibly important if this team wants to be competitive in a weak Pac-10 this season.

Gregory Echinique, Creighton, Jr.

Echinique may have played for Rutgers, but that doesn’t change the fact that the kid was a hell of a player in the Big East. As a freshman, he averaged 8.4 ppg and 8.4 rpg. Before transferring out of the New Jersey school as a sophomore, he was averaging 12.6 ppg and 7.7 rpg.

And now he is headed to the Valley, which may as well be known as Death Valley this season. For a league that is generally considered one of the best mid-majors in the country year in and year out, this is certainly a down season. Creighton hasn’t been great either, losing to both Nebraska and Iowa State already this season.

But with Echinique joining forces with the Blue Jay’s talented big man Kenny Lawson, Creighton all of a sudden has a front line that can compete with the high-majors. We’ll get out first look at the Venezuelan on Saturday against Iowa State.

Flagler, No. 6 Baylor rally late, top No. 14 Gonzaga 64-63

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USA Today
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SIOUX FALLS, S.D. — In a rematch of the 2021 national championship game, Adam Flagler hit a pair of 3s as No. 6 Baylor scored the final eight points to rally past No. 14 Gonzaga 64-63 Friday night.

Gonzaga’s Rasir Bolton missed a wild, driving layup try at the buzzer.

Two seasons ago, Baylor beat the then-undefeated Zags 86-70 to win its first title. This time, the Bears didn’t take the lead for good until Jalen Bridges made two free throws with 16 seconds left.

“Adam is a great leader, but no one knew he wasn’t feeling well today,” Baylor head coach Scott Drew said. “To be honest, some players wouldn’t have played. He played through the pain and left it all out on the court. As a coach, I appreciate that.”

The Bears (6-2) trailed 63-56 before Flagler hit a 3-pointer with 1:33 left. Flagler’s 3 with just over a minute to play cut Baylor’s deficit to 63-62.

After a Gonzaga shot clock violation, Flagler’s 3-point attempt for the lead was off the mark, but Bridges was fouled by Drew Timme on the rebound attempt. Bridges hit two foul shots to put Baylor ahead.

The Zags (5-3) had a final chance when Bolton caught an inbounds pass near his own foul line with 4.6 seconds remaining. He drove the lane, but his off-balance shot went high off the glass and missed as the buzzer sounded.

“We took two balls down hill and tried to make plays at the rim. At that point in the game, those are tough,” Gonzaga head coach Mark Few said. “It’s very disappointing. They made plays, man.”

Freshman Keyonte George had 18 points and seven rebounds for Baylor. Flagler had 11 points and Langston Love added 10.

“I trust my work. I was able to knock them down,” George said. “My teammates believe in me each and every day. They give me that confidence in a big game to make big shots like that.”

Malchi Smith scored 16 points for Gonzaga. Anton Watson added a double-double with 13 points and 13 rebounds. Timme had nine points.

Baylor led by as many as 12 in the first half before Gonzaga closed to five at the break.

Watson’s basket put Gonzaga ahead 41-40. From there, the teams swapped leads over the next 13 minutes as the second half featured two ties and 14 lead changes.

A thunderous dunk from Smith gave Gonzaga its seven-point lead with under two minutes to go.

BIG PICTURE

Baylor: The win was a big rebound for Baylor after its 26-point loss to Marquette earlier in the week. The loss was the Bears’ most lopsided since they fell to Kansas 82-56 in 2007

Gonzaga: After opening the season ranked No. 2 in the AP preseason poll, the Zags have now lost two of three.

STAR WATCH

Timme began the night leading the Bulldogs in scoring at 20 points per game. He was hampered by foul trouble against Baylor and got his first field goal with six minutes remaining. He fouled out with 16 seconds to play.

REMATCH PLAYERS

Four players on the floor Friday night had significant minutes in the championship game two years ago including Flagler, Timme and Watson, along with Baylor’s Flo Thamba.

UP NEXT

Baylor: The Bears return home to host Tarleton on Tuesday before playing Washington State on Sunday in Dallas for the Pac 12 Coast-to-Coast Challenge.

Gonzaga: The Bulldogs return to Spokane for three straight beginning Monday when they face Kent State for the first time in school history.

Carr scores 19, No. 2 Texas beats No. 7 Creighton 72-67

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AUSTIN, Texas – Texas had pressured Creighton’s shooters into a miserable night, only to watch a late flurry of 3-pointers start swishing.

An 11-point Longhorns lead was down to three.

That hardly rattled Marcus Carr and the second-ranked Longhorns, who stepped up with big late shots of their own and steady free-throw shooting to secure another impressive early-season victory, 72-67 over the seventh-ranked Bluejays on Thursday night.

Carr scored 19 points and made two free throws with 10 seconds left as Texas held off Creighton’s furious late-game rally.

Creighton struggled through a wretched 3-point shooting night, but pulled within 62-59 thanks in part to five points in a row by Baylor Scheierman. Carr’s baseline jumper and an easy layup by Tyrese Hunter when Creighton lost him on an inbound pass with 46 seconds left stretched the Longhorns’ lead again.

That didn’t quite close the door on Creighton, which got two more 3-pointers from Scheierman, who had missed his first nine attempts. That forced Texas to finish it from the free-throw line behind Carr and Brock Cunningham. Cunningham’s two free throws with 4 seconds left were his only points of the game.

“There’s going to be a bunch of times one of us has to go down there and knock down a bunch of free throws,” Carr said. “We talk about it all the time.”

The matchup was part of the Big 12-Big East Battle and Texas earned its second win over a top-10 opponent in its new arena. The Longhorns (6-0) beat then-No. 2 Gonzaga on Nov. 16 and have their highest ranking since they were No. 1 during the 2009-2010 season.

“I don’t think we’ve proven anything,” Texas coach Chris Beard said. “We’re just a team that’s trying to get better.”

Hunter scored 15 points for Texas.

Ryan Kalkbrenner had 20 points and 13 rebounds for Creighton (6-2), and Ryan Nembhard scored 17 points. The Bluejays were 4 of 27 on 3-pointers.

Scheierman, a 44% shooter from beyond the arc this season, made three 3s in a row late. His off-balance shot from the right corner over a defender pulled the Bluejays within 68-65 with 11.4 seconds left.

Scheierman finished with 13 points and 11 rebounds.

“The reality is you are gonna have nights,” Creighton coach Greg McDermott said. “It just happens. We don’t ever want him to stop shooting.”

BIG PICTURE

Creighton: Kalkbrenner was all but unstoppable on a 9-of-10 shooting night for the Bluejays, who kept launching from long range instead of looking for their 7-foot-1 center.

Texas: The Longhorns couldn’t force their usual numbers of turnovers and fast-break points, but were exceptionally clean with the ball on offense. Texas had just three turnovers that Creighton turned into three points.

FORMER TEAMMATES

Texas senior forward Christian Bishop played three seasons at Creighton before transferring prior to last season. He finished with six points and four rebounds in 16 minutes.

“We understood what this game was, not just for our team but for Christian,” Carr said.

TIRED TEAM

McDermott suggested his team maybe just wore out. The Bluejays went 2-1 in the Maui Invitational last week and then played their first game of the season on an opponent’s home court.

“Three games in three days against ranked teams (in Hawaii) and then to come in here,” McDermott said. “That’s a lot to ask of my team.”

UP NEXT

Creighton hosts in-state rival Nebraska on Sunday.

Texas plays No. 16 Illinois in New York City on Dec. 6 in the Jimmy V Classic.

No. 20 Maryland upsets No. 7 Notre Dame at the buzzer, 74-72

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Matt Cashore/USA TODAY Sports
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SOUTH BEND, Ind. — Diamond Miller scored 31 points, including the game-winner at the buzzer, to lead No. 20 Maryland to a 74-72 victory over seventh-ranked Notre Dame on Thursday night in the ACC/Big Ten Challenge.

Irish guard Sonia Cintron’s layup had tied the game with 15 seconds left off before Maryland held for the last shot. Miller hit a contested mid-range jumper just before time expired to give the Terrapins a victory over a top-10 opponent. It was the 15th lead change of the game.

Miller also grabbed a game-high 12 rebounds to go along with five assists. Shyanne Sellers added 17 points.

Maryland (7-2) picked up its first win over Notre Dame (6-1) since 2007.

Cintron’s double-double led the Irish with 24 points and 10 rebounds.

Notre Dame’s leading scorer Olivia Miles got off to a slow start on Thursday due to foul trouble. She scored 12 of her 14 points in the final 15 minutes of the game to go along with seven assists and two steals.

BIG PICTURE

Maryland: The Terrapins picked up their second top-20 win of the season ahead of the upcoming Big Ten opener.

Notre Dame: The Irish have had issues with foul trouble this season, a problem that persisted on Thursday. Miles played just 25 minutes, including the majority of the fourth quarter, due to picking up her fourth foul late in the third quarter.

UP NEXT

Maryland: Returns to College Park for the program’s Big Ten opener Sunday against Nebraska.

Notre Dame: Stays home to host No. 3 UConn Sunday.

Virginia’s depth helping its rapid climb in the AP Top 25

Rick Osentoski-USA TODAY Sports
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The starting five is the same, but that is where comparisons between the Virginia team that has climbed to No. 3 in the AP Top 25 and last year’s NIT quarterfinalists ends.

Yes, one more year together and a trip to Italy has made the first five significantly better, but part of the credit for that surely goes to another group: the reinforcements. They’ve helped the Cavaliers (6-0) already knock off No. 6 Baylor, No. 16 Illinois and Michigan.

Virginia has scored 70 points or more in its first six game for the first time since the 2003-04 season, and coach Tony Bennett said it was the offense – and not UVA’s signature relentless defense – that saved them in a 70-68 victory this week at Michigan in the ACC/Bg Ten Challenge.

“Our offense kind of kept us in it in the first half,” Bennett said, before the team put it all together, erasing an 11-point halftime deficit to disappoint a raucous Wolverines crowd.

Reece Beekman was the offensive catalyst, scoring 15 of his 18 points before halftime, but four others joined him in double figures, including Jayden Gardner. His foul-line jumper with 39.9 seconds left provided the last of his 11 points, and the winning margin.

Gardner, who led Virginia in scoring last season (15.3 ppg), is averaging 11.5 this year.

“We’ve got a lot of capable scorers and we’re just gonna keep playing together. And we’re playing very unselfish basketball right now,” Gardner said after scoring 24 against Maryland Eastern Shore. He went into the game with 31 points through four games.

“He’s not the most jumping type of guy, but he’s got so much power,” Hawks coach Jason Crafton said of Gardner, an East Carolina transfer with 2,068 career points. “That low center of gravity and the flexibility that he has to be able to get under people and hold his position is elite. When he wants the ball at a certain spot, he can get it there.”

The leader remains guard Kihei Clark, who already has a place in Virginia history, having retrieved a loose ball and fed Mamadi Diakite for a jumper that sent the Cavs’ Elite Eight game against Purdue into overtime on the way to winning the 2019 national championship.

Newcomers Ben Vander Plas, a transfer from Ohio, and freshman Isaac McKneely have given Bennett more options, and more scoring power than a year ago.

As a junior, Vander Plas had 17 points for No. 13 seed Ohio when the Bobcats upset Virginia 62-58 in the first round of the 2021 NCAA Tournament.

He scored seven straight in the second half against the Wolverines, twice scoring inside and then swishing a 3-pointer while trying to slow down bruising big man Hunter Dickinson.

“Ben, yeah. Just his poise and composure in the post, took advantage of some mismatches and he really gave us a great lift,” Bennett said. Vander Plas is the son of a teammate of Bennett’s at Green Bay, and his first name is a tribute to Bennett’s father, Dick.

McKneely scored 15 and made 4 of 6 3-point tries in an 89-42 victory against Monmouth

“He was standing in front of our bench. I’m like, `Listen, we’re not helping off him,”‘ Monmouth coach King Rice said he told his team, pointing at McKneely, a two-time player of the year in West Virginia. “And he kind of looked at me and I said, `Yeah, you, because you make all of them,’ and he started laughing.”

Ryan Dunn also made quite the impression on Rice in his first collegiate appearance, scoring 13 points with six rebounds and three blocks in almost 27 minutes.

“I was in the building when De’Andre Hunter came off the bench and had a breakout game,” Rice said of Hunter, now with the NBA’s Atlanta Hawks. “Dunn reminds me a lot of Hunter, and you can tell he’s young. But when he grows into that body with that skill set, he’ll be giving people problems for a long, long time.”

The Cavaliers open Atlantic Coast Conference play against Florida State, then host top-ranked Houston, which beat them 67-47 last season, a week later.

“A good schedule for sure and it tests you, it kind of shows you, win or lose, you see where you’ve got some holes,” Bennett said.

So far, the Cavaliers have been able to fill them all.

No. 4 Arizona turning heads early in the season

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David Cruz/USA TODAY Sports
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TUCSON, Ariz. — Arizona coach Tommy Lloyd knew there was talent on his roster. He wasn’t exactly sure how good the team would be.

The former longtime Gonzaga assistant had a similar view of last year’s team and that one turned out to be pretty good, running all the way to the NCAA Tournament Sweet 16.

This year’s team could end up being even better.

Buoyed by transfers and improved returning players, Arizona has rolled through the early part of its schedule, climbing to No. 4 in this week’s AP Top 25 after winning the Maui Invitational.

“I learned that we’re good,” Lloyd said. “We’re tough. We’re gritty. I think there’s going to be some great things for us to really double down on and some things to show our guys where we went the wrong way.”

Lloyd had a superb first season in the desert, earning coach of the year honors last season with a team that lost three players to the NBA.

The Wildcats (6-0) had to replace three NBA players again this season. Again, they made a seamless transition.

Improvement on the part of the returning players has been a big part of it.

Oumar Ballo, considered a project as a freshman at Gonzaga, has transformed into one of the nation’s best big men. The 7-foot, 260-pound center from Mali has vastly improved his footwork and developed patience in the post, setting himself up for good shots instead of trying to bull his way to the basket.

Ballo is averaging 19 points and 10 rebounds while shooting 76.7% from the field, fourth-best nationally. He was named Maui Invitational MVP after finishing with 30 points and 13 rebounds against No. 7 Creighton in the title game.

Not bad for a player who averaged 2.5 points and 6.3 minutes per game two years ago at Gonzaga.

“When he struggled, I still believed in him,” Lloyd said. “I didn’t need for him to be instantly successful for me to reaffirm my belief in him. When he struggled, we continued to love him and work with him and then he continued to hang in there and I think it is a great story.”

Fellow big man Azuolas Tubelis has made a few strides of his own, adding strength and toughness to his athletic, fluid game. The 6-10 forward leads Arizona with 19.3 points per game while grabbing 8.0 rebounds.

Fiery point guard Kerr Kriisa has rounded into a reliable floor leader, averaging 15.3 points and 7.5 assists while shooting 51% from the 3-point arc.

“I don’t pay attention to the antics because they don’t mean anything to me,” Lloyd said. “I know maybe that draws attention to him from other people but when it comes to just pure basketball, I mean he is doing a good job and I think he is really showing something.”

So is Courtney Ramey.

The Texas transfer has given the Wildcats a huge boost in his first season in Tucson, providing hounding defense, leadership and another scoring option. He’s averaging 16 points per game and has hit 10 of 16 from 3-point range so far this season.

Campbell transfer Cedric Henderson Jr. has provided an athletic lift off the bench and 7-foot Estonian Henri Veesaar has given Arizona solid minutes.

The mix of new and old has helped Arizona lead the nation with 97.5 points a game and rank second with 21.8 assists per game. The Wildcats climbed 10 spots in this week’s poll after wins over Cincinnati, No. 24 San Diego State and Creighton.

Arizona opens Pac-12 play Thursday at Utah.

“It was good to get the recognition, but we’re not satisfied,” Ramey said. “Our ultimate goal is to be No. 1 at the end of the season and be the final two teams playing, so I think the regular season matters but it’s not the ultimate goal for us.”

The Wildcats are certainly off to a good start.