College Hoops Week in Review: And we’re off!

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Games of the Week: George Mason 92, Rhode Island 90 OT

It was a wild one in at the Patroit Center on Friday night. With both Jamil Wilson of Rhode Island (38 points) and Ryan Pearson from George Mason (28 points, 12 boards) were in a groove offensively, the two teams saw the lead change hands 22 times — with 17 ties thrown in for good measure — in an exciting, back-and-forth game. Mason erased a 10 point first half deficit to tie the game at the half. After opening up a five point lead early in the second half, GMU saw Rhode Island go on a 12-2 run to go ahead by five. The Patriot responded with a 9-1 spurt of their own.

George Mason eventually took an 80-77 lead with 39 seconds left when sophomore Sherrod Wright cleaned up a miss by Vertrail Vaughns. But at the other end, Jonathon Holton — who was 0-5 from long range at that point in the game — buried a three to force the extra period. In overtime, GMU scored six of the first seven points, taking an 86-81 lead, but Wilson responded with a 7-1 run of his own. Pearson game GMU the lead back and after trading baskets, he hit a free throw with 11 seconds left to take a 92-90 lead. URI used their hot hand Wilson as a decoy, but Orion Outerbridge missed a would-be buzzer-beating three.
Evansville 80, Butler 77 OT: Butler somehow always seems to be involved in games with weird endings. Everyone will remember the strange finish to Butler’s upset of Pitt in last year’s NCAA Tournament, but do you remember when Butler beat Xavier when the clock stopped for 1.2 seconds? Believe it or not, Butler may have topped that with the way they lost to Evansville on Saturday evening. After blowing a 12 point second half lead, Butler fouled Colt Ryan with 0.9 seconds left and a one point lead. But Ryan missed the first before making the second shot, tying the game.

On the ensuing inbounds, Butler threw the ball the length of the court to Andrew Smith who made the catch and laid the ball in at the buzzer. The only problem? The refs said the lay-in came after the buzzer, but that he was fouled with 0.2 seconds left on the clock. Smith would proceed to miss both free throws and Evansville won the game in overtime when Chrishawn Hopkins failed to get a shot off to try and tie the game. For a more in-depth look at the controversy involved in the finish, we wrote about it here.

Player of the Week: Nurideen Lindsay, St. John’s

St. John’s may not have played a murder’s row schedule in the first week of the season, but the youthful Johnnies were tested. They dug themselves a big hole against William & Mary and a bigger hole against Lehigh before coming back and winning both of those games. Lindsay played a huge role in both of those comebacks, getting 15 of his 19 points in the second half against W&M and finishing with 15 points against Lehigh. Lindsay’s best game of the week came against UMBC. He finished one assist shy of a triple-double with 15 points, 10 boards and nine assists.

For the week, Lindsay finished with averages of 16.3 ppg, 4.7 apg and 4.7 rpg. He also added 3.3 spg while shooting a crisp 50% from the field. Lindsay is a slippery penetrator. He’s got a crafty handle and while he doesn’t have blazing speed, he’s quick and understands how to change speeds. He’s a good finisher when he gets into the paint and, at least against some mid-major competition, was able to avoid getting his shot blocked while drawing fouls. He still has plenty of room to improve — Lindsay turned the ball over 10 times in the three games while shooting 0-7 from three and just 15-27 (55.6%) from the line — but what makes him so important to the Steve Lavin’s team is he is one of the only guys that is capable of getting his own shot.
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G: Tray Woodall, Pitt: The talk of the Panthers coming into the season was their front line and Ashton Gibbs, but Woodall was the star of the first two games. He averaged 21.0 ppg, 10.0 apg and 6.5 rpg while committing just six turnovers and hitting 9-17 from beyond the arc.

G: Allen Crabbe, Cal: Most outlets had Allen Crabbe pegged as an up-and-coming star, and he did nothing to dispute that notion through two games. Crabbe averaged 22.5 ppg in two blowout wins, hitting 9-17 from beyond the arc.

F: Dominic Cheek, Villanova: Cheek is an important piece for the Wildcats if he can become a consistent scorer on the wing. We know about his defensive acumen (he had three steals), but his 27 points and 5-8 shooting from beyond the arc was a pleasant surprise for Nova fans.

F: Ryan Pearson, George Mason: The Patriots big man went for 28 points and 12 boards in an overtime win over Rhode Island on Friday night.

C: John Henson, North Carolina: In a 2-0 week for the Heels, Henson finished with averages of 16.0 ppg, 9.5 rpg and 5.5 bpg while shooting 66.7% from the floor. He even showed off a turnaround jumper in the win over UNC-Asheville.

Bench: Nathaniel Lester, Hofstra (33 points in a win over Long Island; Jamil Wilson, Rhode Island (38 points in a loss to George Mason); Trae Golden, Tennessee (29 points, 9 assists in a win over UNC Greensboro); Robbie Hummel, Purdue (21 points in his return to the court); Eric Atkins, Notre Dame (27 points, 6 assists, 6-7 FGs, 12-12 FTs in a win over MVSU); Dorian Finney-Smith, Virginia Tech (10 points, 16 boards, 5 assists, 5 blocks in Tech debut); CJ Wilcox, Washington (20.5 ppg in a 2-0 start); Arnett Moultrie, Mississippi State (16.3 ppg, 12.7 rpg in three games this week); J’Covan Brown, Texas (28 points, 8 assists, 1 turnover in a win over Boston U.); Kendall Marshall, North Carolina (15 assists, 1 turnover against UNC-Asheville)

Team of the Week: Cleveland State

The Vikings were a bit of an afterthought heading into this season. That’s generally what happens when you are a mid-major program and you lose a player as talented and important to your team as Norris Cole. But Gary Waters’ team did a fine job introducing themselves to the country on Sunday afternoon, as they went into Memorial Coliseum and bullied Vanderbilt into a 71-58 victory. D’Aundray Brown led the way for the Vikings, finishing with 18 points and 8 boards, but he got plenty of help, as five of his teammates scored between seven and 11 points.

But the offensive end of the floor isn’t what won this game for Cleveland State. It was their defensive pressure. Vanderbilt, a top 10 team known for having a powerful offensive attack, had more possessions end in a turnover (20) than in a made field goal (18). John Jenkins, the Commodores all-american, was hounded the entire game, shooting 5-14 from the floor (2-8 from three). Jeff Taylor had just nine points, shooting 3-8 from the field and turning the ball over six times. All in all, it was an impressive performance from the Vikings, one that will likely get them into the conversation — along with Butler and Detroit — for the favorite in the Horizon.
Teams deserving a shoutout:

Akron: Akron made a statement on Wednesday night, as they went into Starkville and handled Mississippi State fairly easily. Quincy Diggs led the way with 19 points, but it was an all-around team effort that got the job done. Much like Cleveland State’s win over Vanderbilt, it was work on the defensive end that got the job done.

Cal: The Bears looked quite impressive in their two games this week. After running through UC-Irvine with a dominating first-half performance, Cal used a 21-0 run to close out the first half against George Washington on Sunday night. Jorge Gutierrez and Allen Crabbe have been as good as advertised, but it was the play of Justin Cobbs (16 points, five assists on Sunday) and Brandon Smith (seven points, six assists on Friday) that was promising.

St. John’s: The Johnnies went 3-0 this week, and while all three games were against overmatched opponents, there is reason to be excited about this team. They are young and, obviously, will go through some growing pains, but the fact that they were able to come back from halftime deficits twice was promising. God’sgift Achiuwa and Moe Harkless have been promising up front and when the Johnnies press is clicking, they are a dangerous team.

Five Thoughts:

The SEC stinks again?: Vanderbilt was supposed to be a Final Four contender this year, but they were manhandled by Cleveland State at home on Sunday. Mississippi State was a team that everyone thought could finally turn the corner this year, but with Renardo Sidney still out of shape — and now injured, apparently — that looks like wishful thinking. The loss to Akron on Wednesday confirms that. Now to be fair, those are the only two league teams that lost this week and Cleveland State and Akron are both legitimate contenders to make a run at an NCAA Tournament bid this year. But to get an idea of the significance of two of the league’s top five teams having a mark in the loss column right now, only three other high-major teams do as well — Michigan State (who lost to North Carolina), Oregon (who lost to Vanderbilt) and UCLA (who lost to Loyola Marymount).

Good start for the MVC: Missouri State is in full-on rebuilding mode this year. That’s what happens when you lose six of your seven rotation players and overhaul the coaching staff. But that doesn’t mean the Bears won’t be competitive in the Missouri Valley this year. On the one hand, they bring back Kyle Weems, the reigning MVC player of the year. On the other hand, they opened the season with a 22 point win at Nevada. Making the win even more impressive? Weems had four points on 2-12 shooting. Northern Iowa was impressive as well. Old Dominion is in a bit of a rebuilding year as well, but the Panthers went into Richmond and beat the Monarchs by 17 despite the semi-surprising return of Kent Bazemore. Now if we could only forget about the loss Southern Illinois suffered against (wait for it) Ohio Dominican. Yeah, they’re D-II.

UConn’s strength is their back court?: That’s at least the way that it looks after UConn’s first game against Columbia. Jeremy Lamb lived up to the all-american hype, putting up 30 points on 11-17 shooting, while Shabazz Napier was just as good, finishing with 21 points, eight assists and six boards. The two combined for six steals. Alex Oriakhi and Andre Drummond, on the other hand, combined for just two points and nine rebounds. Drummond attempted a single shot in 12 minutes. As good as Napier and Lamb looked, they played a 36 and 38 minutes, respectively, against Columbia. The Huskies are going to need more balance — and depth — this season.

Duke and Belmont: Duke has some major issues they need to address this season. Austin Rivers is ridiculously talented but will make plenty of freshman mistakes this year. Seth Curry is a knockdown shooter, as if Andre Dawkins, but the best point guard — and perimeter defender — on the roster is Tyler Thornton. How does Coach K get him into the lineup? Duke’s big men have put up some solid numbers early, but are we ready to assume that the Plumlees are more than just the Plumlees and Ryan Kelly is better than a sixth or seventh man? But more than anything, what you should have taken out of Belmont’s one-point loss to Duke at Cameron Indoor is that the Bruins are going to be a team to reckon with in March. In other words, Belmont is legit. Memphis, you have been warned.

Who is the best team in the Pac-12?: It certainly doesn’t look like UCLA at this point. The Bruins looked awful in a loss to Loyola Marymount, as Josh Smith is clearly not in shape and their guards look better suited to playing at Cal. State Northridge. Arizona is dealing with their fair share of issues as well. They struggled against Valparaiso and Duquense before having to come back from a double digit deficit against Ball State. The Wildcats lack an interior presence and are trying to identify their go-to scorer and starting point guard; Josiah Turner lost his starting job after missing a shootaround and didn’t play on Sunday against Ball State. Oregon’s loss at Vanderbilt looks worse after Vandy lost to Cleveland State, and Washington has struggled against two inferior opponents. That leaves Cal. So are the Bears really the favorite in the Pac-12?

Matchups of the Week (all times eastern):

– 11/14 7:00 pm: UCF @ Florida State
– 11/14 8:00 pm: Oakland @ Alabama
– 11/14 9:00 pm: Detroit @ Notre Dame
– 11/14 10:00 pm: Nevada @ UNLV
– 11/15 12:00 am: Washington State @ Gonzaga
– 11/15 12:00 pm: Belmont @ Memphis
– 11/15 2:00 pm: SDSU @ Baylor
– 11/15 7:00 pm: Champions Classic — Duke vs. Michigan State and Kansas vs. Kentucky
– 11/15 8:00 pm: Florida @ Ohio State
– 11/15 8:00 pm: Bucknell @ Vanderbilt
– 11/16 9:00 pm: Long Beach State @ Pitt
– 11/17 1:00 pm: Purdue vs. Iona
– 11/17 7:00 pm: Texas A&M vs. Mississippi State
– 11/19 2:00 pm: Louisville @ Butler
– 11/19 6:30 pm: Vanderbilt vs. NC State

Rob Dauster is the editor of the college basketball website Ballin’ is a Habit. You can find him on twitter @ballinisahabit.

John Petty Jr. returns to Alabama for senior season

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TUSCALOOSA, Ala. — Alabama guard John Petty Jr. is staying in school instead of entering the NBA draft.

The Crimson Tide junior announced his decision to return for his senior season Monday on Twitter, proclaiming: “I’m back.”

Petty, the Tide’s top 3-point shooter, averaged 14.5 points and a team-high 6.6 rebounds rebounds last season. He was second on the team in assists.

Petty made 85 3-pointers in 29 games, shooting at a 44% clip.

Alabama coach Nate Oats called him “one of the best, if not the best, shooters in the country.”

“He’s made it clear that it’s his goal to become a first round pick in the 2021 NBA Draft and we’re going to work with him to make sure he’s in the best position to reach that goal,” Oats said.

Fellow Tide guard Kira Lewis Jr. is regarded as a likely first-round draft pick.

McKinley Wright IV returns to Colorado

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McKinley Wright IV will be back for season No. 4 with the Colorado Buffaloes.

The point guard tested the NBA draft process before announcing a return for his senior year. It’s a big boost for a Buffaloes team that’s coming off a 21-11 mark in 2019-20 and was potentially looking at an NCAA Tournament bid before the season was halted due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

Wright was an All-Pac-12 first team selection a season ago, along with an all-defensive team pick. He and athletic forward Tyler Bey declared for the draft in late March. Bey remains in the draft.

“We’ve got unfinished business,” said Wright, who averaged 14.4 points and 5.0 assists per game last season.

Midway through the season, the Buffaloes were looking like a lock for their first NCAA Tournament appearance since ’15-16. Then, the team hit a five-game skid, including a loss to Washington State in the Pac-12 tournament. Simply put, they hit a defensive rut they just couldn’t shake out of, Wright said. It drove him to work that much harder in the offseason.

“This is my last go-around and I’ve got big dreams,” the 6-footer from Minnesota said. “I want to take CU to a place they haven’t been in a while. We want to go back to the tournament and win high-level games.”

The feedback from NBA scouts was reaffirming for Wright. He said they appreciated his transition game, movement away from the ball and his defensive intangibles. They also gave Wright areas he needed to shore up such as assist-to-turnover ratio and shooting the 3-pointer with more consistency.

He took it to heart while training in Arizona during the pandemic. He recently returned to Boulder, Colorado, where he’s going through quarantine before joining his teammates for workouts.

“The work I put in and the time I spent in the gym compared to all my other offseasons, it’s a big gap,” Wright said. “Last offseason, I thought I worked hard. But it was nothing compared to the time and different type of mindset I put myself in this year.”

Another motivating factor for his return was this: a chance to be the first in his family to earn his college degree. He’s majoring in ethnic studies with a minor in communications.

“My grandparents are excited about that. My parents are excited about that,” Wright said. “I’m excited about that as well.”

Wright also has an opportunity to take over the top spot on the school’s all-time assists list. His 501 career assists trail only Jay Humphries, who had 562 from 1980-84. Wright also ranks 13th all-time with 1,370 career points.

NOTES: Colorado announced the death of 95-year-old fan Betty Hoover, who along with her twin sister, Peggy Coppom, became fixtures at Buffs sporting events and were season ticket holders since 1958. Wright used to run into them not only on the court, but at the local bank. “I’ve never met anyone as loving and supporting and caring as those two,” Wright said. “They hold a special place in my heart. It sucks that Betty won’t be at any games this year. Maybe we can do something, put her name on our jersey. They’re two of the biggest fans in CU history.”

Jared Butler returns to Baylor

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Baylor got some huge news on Monday as potential All-American Jared Butler announced that he will be returning to school for his junior season, joining MaCio Teague is pulling his name out of the 2020 NBA Draft to get the band back together.

Butler was Baylor’s leading scorer a season ago, averaging 16.0 points and 3.1 assists for a team that went 26-4, spent a portion of the season as the No. 1 team in the country and was in line to receive a 1-seed had the 2020 NCAA Tournament taken place.

With Butler and Teague coming back to school, the Bears will return four starters from last season’s squad. Starting center Freddie Gillespie is gone, as is backup guard Devonte Bandoo, but those are holes that can be filled. Tristan Clark, who was Baylor’s best player during the 2018-19 season before suffering a knee injury that lingered through last year, will be back, and there is more than enough talent in the program to replace the scoring pop of Bandoo. Matthew Mayer will be in line for more minutes, while transfer Adam Flagler will be eligible this season.

Baylor will enter this season as a consensus top three team in the country. They will receive plenty of votes as the No. 1 team in the sport, making them not only a very real contender for the Big 12 regular season crown but one of the favorites to win the national title.

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As MaCio Teague returns, Baylor now awaits Jared Butler’s NBA draft decision

Butler is the key.

Baylor was one of college basketball’s best defensive teams last year. They finished fourth nationally in KenPom’s defensive efficiency metric, a ranking that dropped after they Bears lost two of their last three games to TCU and West Virginia. Where they struggled was on the offensive end of the floor. The Bears would go through droughts were points were at a premium and their best offense was a missed shot. Butler’s intrigue for NBA teams was his ability to shoot and to create space in isolation. He’s the one guy on the roster that can create something out of nothing for himself.

And now he is back to try and lead Baylor to a Final Four.

Arizona State’s Martin to return for senior season

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TEMPE, Ariz. (–Arizona State guard Remy Martin is withdrawing from the NBA draft and will return for his senior season in the desert.

“I’m blessed to have the opportunity to coach Remy Martin for one more season,” Sun Devils coach Bobby Hurley said in a statement Sunday. “Remy will be one of the best players in college basketball this year and will be on a mission to lead Arizona State basketball in its pursuit of championships.”

A 6-foot guard, Martin is the Pac-12’s leading returning scorer after averaging 19.1 points in 2019-20. He also averaged 4.1 assists per game and helped put the Sun Devils in position to reach the NCAA Tournament for the third straight year before the season was cancelled due to the coronavirus pandemic.

Martin’s return should put Arizona State among the favorites to win the Pac-12 next season.

Martin joins fellow guard Alonzo Verge Jr. in returning to the Sun Devils after testing the NBA waters. Big man Romello White declared for the draft and later entered the transfer portal.

Hurley has signed one of the program’s best recruiting classes for next season, headed by five-star guard Josh Christopher.

Michigan State forward Xavier Tillman will remain in the 2020 NBA Draft

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In the end, Xavier Tillman Sr.’s decision whether or not to return to remain in the 2020 NBA Draft for his senior season came down to security.

A 6-foot-8 forward that averaged 13.7 points, 10.3 boards, 3.0 assists and 2.1 blocks this past season, Tillman was an NBC Sports third-team All-American a season ago. He’s projected as the No. 23 pick in the latest NBC Sports mock draft. He was the best NBA prospect that had yet to make a decision on his future until Sunday.

That’s when Tillman announced that he will be foregoing his final season of college eligibility to head to the NBA.

In the end, it’s probably the right decision, but it’s not one that the big fella made easily.

Tillman is unlike most college basketball players forced to make a decision on their basketball future. He is married. He has two kids, a three-year old daughter and a six-month old son. This is not a situation where he can bet on himself, head to the pro ranks and figure it out later on.

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He needs something stable, particularly given the fact that we are living in the midst of a pandemic that has put the future of sports in doubt, at least for the short term.

He needs security.

He needed to know that there would be a job for him in the NBA. Not a two-way contract. Not a spot on a camp roster or a chance to develop in the G League. Hell, there might not even be a G League next season. That was an option at Michigan State. He was living in an apartment with his family that was covered by his scholarship and stipend. He had meals paid for. He was able to take food from the training room home and have dinner with his family. He was able to get to class, to the gym, to practice and back home in time to do the dishes at night. He told NBC Sports in March that the school was able to provide him with $1,200-a-month to help pay for things like diapers high chairs. That was all going to be there if he returned to school. It was a great situation, one that lacked the uncertainty that comes with the professional level.

Because as much as I love Tillman as a role player at the next level, NBA teams do not all feel the same. The tricky thing about the draft is that it makes sense to swing for the fences on the guys that can be locked into salaries for the first four years of a contract. The Toronto Raptors took Pascal Siakam with the 27th pick and have paid less than $7 million in total salary in his first four years for a player that made an all-star team. Kyle Kuzma is averaging 16.0 points through three seasons and is on the books for $3.5 million in year four.

Tillman’s ability to defend, his basketball IQ, his play-making and his professional demeanor means that he can step into the modern NBA and do a job as a rotation player for just about any team in the league. But he doesn’t have the upside that other bigs in the same projected range have — Jalen Smith, Daniel Oturu, Jaden McDaniels, Zeke Nnaji — so there are teams that are scared off.

I don’t get it.

But Tillman’s decision to head to the professional ranks indicates that he does, indeed, feel confident in the fact that he will have gainful and steady employment next season. Since he would have walked at Michigan State’s graduation in May had it been held, that doesn’t leave much to return to school for.

The Spartans will now be left in a tough spot. There are quite a few pieces to like on this roster. Rocket Watts had promising moments as a freshman, as did Malik Hall. Gabe Brown and Marcus Bingham are both talented players. Joey Hauser had a good season at Marquette, and the early returns on freshman Mady Sissoko are promising. But this is going to be a young and unproven group.

Izzo has had less at his disposal before, but this is certainly not an ideal situation for Michigan State.