A viewer’s guide to the 24-hour hoops marathon

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Here’s to hoping that all of you college hoopheads out there were able to get a good night’s sleep on Sunday, because Monday night brings with it the now-annual College Hoops Tip-Off Marathon.

What that means is that for a full 24 hours — actually, its closer to 30 if you’re like me and willing to start the “marathon” with Monday’s 7:00 pm tips — starting when the calendar changes from Monday until Tuesday, there will be a college basketball game on TV. For me, this is the precipice of heaven. I’ll be up all night watching, pounding Monster’s (Red Bull is just too weak these days) and, in all likelihood, putting down an extra large pizza by myself.

Sounds glorious, doesn’t it?

For the majority of the sane world, however, I realize that life does not revolve around college basketball and the chance to stay up all night, drinking caffeine and eating pizza (all of a sudden, this sounds like a sixth grade slumber party). So I decided to break down the marathon for you. Hopefully, this helps you select which games to watch, which games to ignore and when to fire up the TiVO:

Only miss these games to see the birth of your FIRST child:

1. 8:00 pm: Florida @ Ohio State: You remember what happened last year, right? The Gators hung with Ohio State for the first 25 minutes or so before Jared Sullinger took over and carried the Buckeyes to a resounding, 93-75 win. And that happened when the Gators had a big front line. This season, all of the weight of battling in the paint will fall on the shoulders of Patric Young. Part of what makes that matchup in the post so intriguing is that Young and Sullinger are both potential lottery picks, but they are nearly polar opposites in terms of ability. Sullinger is a big, physical, fairly-unathletic kid with a variety of post moves and an innate understanding of positioning and how to use his hindquarters. Young, on the other hand, still has a way to go in terms of learning how to play the game and developing his post arsenal, but he’s a freak athlete.

The matchup in the back court carries some intrigue as well. Florida’s potent back court has been well-publicized. Erving Walker, Kenny Boynton, Bradley Beal and Mike Rosario are as talented as any perimeter attack in the country. But the Buckeyes have a couple of all-league caliber guards on their roster as well. Aaron Craft will lock down whoever Thad Matta decides to put him on while William Buford will be a difficult matchup for any of the Billy Donovan’s defenders. The x-factor may be Lenzelle Smith. The sophomore looked like a promising defensive player in Ohio State’s first game of the year vs. Wright State. Now is a chance to prove it.

2. 7:00 pm: Duke vs. Michigan State (Madison Square Garden): First and foremost, the interest in this game has less to do in the action on the court than what the result of a Duke win means off the court. You couldn’t have written the story any better. Coach K is in line to win his 903rd game at the Garden on national television in an event called the Champion’s Classic. What is the significance of the number 903? Its one more than the number of wins current record-holder Bobby Knight had in his career. There is no doubt that Duke fans will be scrounging for these ticket stubs should the Blue Devils pull out the win.

There is no guarantee that Duke wins this game, however. The Blue Devils resemble North Carolina to me in a few ways. They have a point guard that can’t defend his own shadow and tall, athletic posts that can be pushed around by more physical defenders. In the Carrier Classic last Friday, the Spartans abused Carolina on the offensive glass. They forced their fair share of turnovers as well. If Michigan State hadn’t shot an abysmal 30.6% from the floor, they would have had a chance to win that game. If Draymond Green, Derrick Nix and Branden Dawson were able to push around John Henson and Tyler Zeller, what happens when they go up against the Plumlees.

3. 12:00 pm: Belmont @ Memphis: This is the most intriguing game of the entire marathon for me. This is the Tiger’s first real game of the season, and while we are all expecting Josh Pastner’s terrific sophomore class to show a marked improvement, there is no guarantee that will happen. Belmont is not an easy team to play in the first game of the season. Just ask Duke, who needed a late three from Andre Dawkins to finally take control against the Bruins.

Belmont is deep, they are experienced and they love to press and are excellent at forcing turnovers. The Memphis back court of Joe Jackson, Charles Carmouche and Antonio Barton is not going to have an easy task trying to protect the ball. The other thing Belmont does well is shoot the ball. They have a tendency to live and die by the three, but they get hot as a team; when a couple go down, the Bruins are capable of catching fire and hitting five or six in a row. But what makes Belmont an ideal upset candidate is that they have a couple big bodies inside in Mick Hedgepeth and Scott Saunders. Folks in Memphis have been raving about Tarik Black, the Tiger’s sophomore center, and having two capable post players to throw at him is important.

You can miss these for a hot date, but they have to be at least a nine and NOT already your significant other:

4. 9:30 pm: Kentucky vs. Kansas (Madison Square Garden): I have to be honest — I don’t think Kansas is going to be able to hang with the Wildcats. I love Thomas Robinson as much as anyone in the country this side of Jeff Goodman and I think that Bill Self is a terrific coach, but the Jayhawks are not deep and they are not overly experienced, meaning that most of their players are taking on (much) more expanded roles this year. I’m not convinced that Elijah Johnson and Tyshawn Taylor are the answer at the point, either. As for Kentucky, the Wildcats are once again incorporating a loaded recruiting class, but this year they add that crop of youngsters to a couple of talented sophomores in Terrence Jones and Doron Lamb. I have a bad feeling this game could end up looking something like the Carrier Classic.

5. 2:00 am: Northern Iowa @ St. Mary’s: Northern Iowa was supposed to be going through a bit of a rebuilding season this year, as they deal with replacing Lucas O’Rear and Kwadzo Ahelegbe. I, personally, had them in the bottom half of the Missouri Valley. (Well, sixth, but six out of ten in the bottom half.) That’s why I was the first to get in line congratulating the Panthers for their 17 points road win against an Old Dominion team that had Kent Bazemore in the lineup. This will be a real test for UNI, however. St. Mary’s may have lost Mickey McConnell, but they brought back Matthew Dellavedova to anchor a back court with a couple of talented sophomores. The Gaels also return their entire front line, meaning that Jake Koch is going to have his hands full. This would be a big win for both teams and both leagues. The MVC has had a good early showing (Missouri State won at Nevada) while Loyola Marymount’s win over UCLA was negated by their loss to Middle Tennessee State and San Francisco’s loss to North Dakota State.

6. 12:00 am: Washington State @ Gonzaga: Elias Harris looks like he is all-but back to his freshman year form, as he soared for a couple of big throwdowns in the Zags opening day win against Eastern Washington. Harris finished with 16 points and eight boards, but he wasn’t even the best big man on the team, as Robert Sacre went for 22 points and 10 boards. But Gonzaga’s back court struggled on both ends of the floor, allowing EWU to shoot 13-29 from three. The Cougars have a couple of talented guards in Reggie Moore and Faisal Aden. Will the Bulldogs be able to stop them?

You can play bridge with your Grandmother, just make sure you have the game on in the back ground:

7. 2:00 pm: San Diego State @ Baylor: San Diego State will be playing their fourth game in five days on Tuesday (by the end of the week, it will be six games in nine days), with their tip in Waco coming barely 40 hours after the final whistle of the Aztec’s 89-74 win over UC-Davis. SDSU is 3-0 heading into the game, getting some terrific play out of their back court of Chase Tapley, Jamaal Franklin and Xavier Thames. The issue, however, is that Baylor’s front line is loaded even with Perry Jones sitting out, while SDSU relies on a guy that struggled to get minutes on LSU last season. Its too bad this game couldn’t have been played with last year’s SDSU team.

8. 4:00 pm: Rhode Island @ Texas: For the first time in what feels like forever, the Longhorns are going to be rebuilding this season. They have a couple of pieces in their back court — Myck Kabongo has been compared to Chris Paul too many times to court, while J’Covan Brown had 28 points and eight assists in his first game — but Rhody is no pushover. They got 38 points from Jamil Wilson as they took George Mason to overtime at the Patriot Center on Friday. Can they give Texas a similar run?

9. 10:00 am: Kent State @ West Virginia: Kent State might as well be the same team as Oral Roberts. Both are veteran-laden teams with a history of success in the program and a potential conference Player of the Year at the forward spot. Oral Roberts lost to WVU 78-71 on Friday night, and the Golden Eagles shot themselves in the foot down the stretch, making a couple of mental mistakes and missing two wide-open threes. Justin Greene is the guy to keep an eye on for Kent State. But if that’s not enough, you should watch to get a glimpse of Deniz Kilicli, who is doing his best to try and look like the Mountaineer mascot.

10. 10:00 pm: Austin Peay @ California: The Governors have a star in Tyshawn Edmundson, a St. John’s transfer that can put up points in a hurry. That said, Cal has been one of the most impressive teams in the country early in the season (and the only impressive team in the Pac-12). It will be worth it to watch Jorge Gutierrez try and slow down Edmundson.

11. 6:00 am: Drexel @ Rider: I know this game looks boring on paper, but there is some intrigue here. Drexel is a favorite to win the CAA this season. Bruiser Flint’s team is, essentially, a mid-major model of Pitt. They preach defensive discipline and attack the glass with reckless abandon. This Rider team just lost to Pitt by a score of 86-78 on Sunday, and the game was much closer than the final. It took an Ashton Gibbs three with a minute left to finally open up a six point cushion. What else are you going to watch, anyway? Good Morning America?

You know what? Go ahead. Get some sleep. I won’t even be mad:

12. 8:00 am: Morehead State @ College of Charleston: It will be fun to see two mid-major superstars go head-to-head in Kenneth Faried and Andrew Goudelock. Wait, what? They graduated? Oh. Well, then.

13. South Alabama @ Hawaii: If you stay up through this game, you’ve reached true junkie status by allowing your addiction to affect your work. There is no way you’ll be able to function normally the rest of the week. I can tell you this, though: Troy will be up for this game. He loves the Rainbows.

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

Report: Western Kentucky’s Lamonte Bearden staying in 2018 NBA Draft

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Western Kentucky guard Lamonte Bearden will stay in the 2018 NBA Draft after hiring an agent, according to a report from ESPN’s Jeff Goodman.

The 6-foot-3 Bearden just completed his redshirt junior season with the Hilltoppers as he averaged 11.8 points, 3.4 assists and 2.3 rebounds per game. A slippery guard with good size, Bearden shot 47 percent from the field and 82 percent from the charity stripe while also getting in the passing lanes for 1.7 steals per game.

Although Bearden has good size and athleticism at lead guard, his perimeter jumper has been inconsistent during his college career. He was 31 percent from three-point range (a career high) this past season. Starting his college career at Buffalo, Bearden helped lead the Bulls to the NCAA tournament before opting to play in Conference USA for Western Kentucky.

The Hilltoppers will certainly miss Bearden’s presence in their backcourt as the program has seven new players signed for next season.

USC makes a statement landing Class of 2019 four-star forward Isaiah Mobley

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USC ended a strong week of recruiting with another major statement on Friday afternoon as four-star Class of 2019 forward Isaiah Mobley pledged to the Trojans.

The second major Class of 2019 commitment for USC during the week, the 6-foot-9 power forward joins five-star big man Onyeka Okongwu. The Compton Magic teammates should be able to help replace the loss of Bennie Boatwright and Chimezie Metu, with Mobley playing the skilled, floor-spacing Boatwright’s role and Okongwu providing the interior energy of Metu.

Having two highly-touted big men commit in the same week is huge for USC. And it looks like the start of even bigger things in a continually-evolving SoCal recruiting war against Pac-12 rival UCLA.

Landing both Mobley and Okongwu is significant for the Trojans for a number of reasons. As previously mentioned, both come from the famous Compton Magic grassroots program that runs on the adidas Gauntlet. While landing AAU teammates from a regional program is common for high-major programs of USC’s stature, the commitments signify that the Trojans are the ones with the biggest pull with the Magic at the current moment.

And the Magic used to get raided by UCLA.

In the past few years, the Bruins signed T.J. Leaf, Ike Anigbogu, Jaylen Hands and Jalen Hill from the Compton Magic. Now, it’s USC who looks to be in the driver’s seat recruiting the program.

The Trojans aren’t done, either.

Newly-hired USC assistant coach Eric Mobley is the father Isaiah Mobley, as well as five-star Class of 2020 big man Evan Mobley. As Rivals national recruiting analyst Eric Bossi noted in his story about Isaiah, “Barring something strange happening, look for the younger Mobley to join his brother and father by committing to USC within the next two weeks.”

That would mean the Trojans would have landed three top-30 caliber big men in the span of a few weeks. That allows the USC coaching staff to recruit other positions extremely hard. Outside of Kentucky, USC has arguably the best future recruiting status of any program in the country.

The Trojans have taken full advantage of UCLA letting go popular assistant coach David Grace. The Bruins are still pulling in top-100 prospects, as evidenced by Grant Sherfield and Jaime Jaquez’s commitments in the Class of 2019, but losing two Magic kids in a week to a rival has to sting.

Considering where USC was last fall with the FBI investigation, who saw this type of recruiting swing coming? Other programs involved in the investigation like Arizona, Auburn and Oklahoma State have landed solid recruits. They also haven’t pulled in nearly the high-level talent that the Trojans currently have committed.

Even amidst the uncertainty surrounding the FBI investigation, USC is still pulling in elite talent while beating local rivals. It’ll be fascinating to see if the Trojans can continue to recruit at this level as they try to fill out the rest of an important recruiting class.

USF signs Oklahoma State transfer Zack Dawson

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USF landed a major addition on Friday as the school announced the signing of Oklahoma State transfer guard Zack Dawson.

The 6-foot-3 Dawson is a former consensus top-100 prospect coming out of high school as he’ll have to sit out the 2018-19 season due to NCAA transfer rules. A native of the region, Dawson will have three years of eligibility remaining once he’s able to play again.

Dismissed from Oklahoma State on Dec. 14 for violating team rules, Dawson averaged 4.4 points and1.6 assists per contest as he only suited up in five games for the Cowboys. Once Dawson is eligible to play for USF, he gives the Bulls a potentially dynamic backcourt along with rising sophomore guard David Collins.

“We are excited to welcome Zack back home to Florida as a member of the Bulls family,” USF head coach Brian Gregory said in a release. “He is a dynamic and versatile guard who can impact the game in a variety of ways. Zack comes from one of the best high school programs in the state, South Miami High School, so he immediately brings a championship attitude here to the University of South Florida.”

This is a really nice pickup for the Bulls, as they utilized a local transfer to help bolster the roster. Landing top-100 kids out of high school is going to be tough until USF boosts its basketball credibility. But getting a former top-100 player on the transfer market is a solid approach to building the Bulls into a respectable threat.

Michael Porter Jr.: ‘I’m the best player in this draft’

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The more I think about it, the more that Michael Porter Jr. is becoming the most interesting prospect at the top of the 2018 NBA Draft.

As a high school senior, he was considered by many to be the top player in the class, a 6-foot-10 combo-forward with a lethal three-point shot, NBA dunk contest athleticism and the versatility to, one day, be a multi-positional defender that would seamlessly fit into fit into the modern NBA.

But his one and only season at Missouri was derailed by back surgery, and that has allowed the rest of the class of 2017 to shine while we have focused on everything else that comes with drafting Porter. The reputation that he had for the majority of his high school career of being soft. The intel that was coming out of Missouri, that he was cocky and arrogant and something of a bad teammate. Questions about whether or not he is truly a wing or a four, more like a more athletic Lauri Markkanen.

When the only thing that we’ve had a chance to see this season is an out-of-shape Porter struggling in postseason games, it shouldn’t really be a surprise that his hype train has derailed.

“I know without a doubt that I’m the — I played against all these guys, they’re all great players — but I’m the best player in this draft,” Porter told ESPN. “And I just can’t wait to show what I’m capable of.”

And therein lies the conundrum for any team drafting him.

I have little doubt that Porter is going to be able to score and score a lot in the NBA. I think he and Bagley are the safest bets to average 20 points at the NBA level before their rookie contract runs out.

But putting up points and playing on winning basketball teams are not one and the same. For a ten-year stretch after his rookie season, Rudy Gay averaged at least 17.2 points while making the playoffs once during that stretch. Is that what Porter is going to turn into at the next level? Or will be find a way to become the kind of NBA defender his athleticism says he should be and, by the time he signs his first contract extension, end up the player that Paul George is?

The mitigating factor here is that Porter is going to do a fantastic job in every interview he has. He’s an intelligent, charismatic and articulate kid that is going to be able to sell himself. The red flags that he has aren’t going to show when he’s sitting down in front of NBA general managers.

They would have shown up — or been written off — if there was a season’s worth of game-tape available, but there isn’t. What that means is that scouts are going to have to decide whether or not Porter, who by all accounts had a very impressive senior season in high school, is that player or the one that had the reputation for being soft for years before that.

And all of that is going to come after the doctor’s have a chance to examine his back to see if the surgery he underwent fixed what was wrong, or if this is the kind of situation where a recurrence is likely.

The result is the widest range for any player at the top of the draft.

He could sell someone on taking him as a top four pick. He could also slide his way down to the Knicks at No. 9 or the 76ers at No. 10.

Which is what makes him the most interesting prospect at the top of this draft.

P.J. Washington ‘definitely going back to school’ without first round guarantee

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Kentucky forward P.J. Washington is one of the handful of players that currently finds themselves in the tenuous position of having their name in the NBA draft pool without having a clear picture of where, exactly, they are going to end up getting picked.

Will they be a late-first round pick? Will he be an early second round pick? Will he even be drafted at all?

Washington told reporters at the NBA combine this week that, if he’s a first round pick, he’ll be heading to the NBA. If he only gets a second round guarantee, he’ll be returning to school.

As we detailed last week, getting selected in the second round does not mean a player is destined to end up being broke his first year out of school. In the last six drafts, only one college player picked in the top ten picks of the second round (31-40) did not receive a guaranteed contract. In the 2017 NBA Draft, every college player selected in the top 50 received a guaranteed deal of at least one year, and Thomas Bryant was the only player whose one-year guaranteed deal was at the league minimum.

That doesn’t mean that Washington should leave Kentucky if he’s going to be a second round pick. If he returns to school, becomes a 42 percent three-point shooter (and can make free throws) and proves that he’s more versatile defensively than he was his year, then he could move up into the first round in a weaker 2019 draft.

It’s a risk for him, financially, to leave after this year if he doesn’t get that first round guarantee. It’s also a risk to return to school, where the best-case scenario isn’t always what happens.

I don’t envy the decision he has to make, but I am glad that Washington will have every chance in the world to be informed about the decision.