Recruiting rundown, including the new studs for Duke, UNC

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Editor’s note: This marks the debut of Kellon Hassenstab to the blog. Kellon runs a recruiting web site, Hoopniks.com, and will be writing a weekly column focusing on the big news and trends.

Sin City’s top-10 tandem remains unsigned
College basketball programs in need of an elite incoming freshman for next year need to look no further than Las Vegas for next year, as two high school seniors in Las Vegas are the only two top-10 prospects remaining unsigned for next year.

The early signing period for current high school seniors and junior college prospects concluded Nov. 16, and when the dust settled, only 15 prospects, give or take depending on the rankings source, of the top-100 are still considering with college they’d like to play at next year.

The epicenter of the holdouts, which probably doesn’t pain the coaching staffs still pursuing the two players, in the desert playground of Las Vegas, which holds the nation’s top prospect in 6-6 wing Shabazz Muhammad of Bishop Gorman (Nev.), and Anthony Bennett, a 6-8 power forward from Findlay Prep (Nev.), located in the suburb of Henderson.

The programs in the mix for Muhammad and Bennett appear to be in the recruiting race for the long haul, as neither player seems particularly interested in making a decision at any point in the near future. Kentucky and UNLV are on the respective lists for both players, with Muhammad also considering UCLA, Duke, Texas A&M, Kansas, and USC. Muhammad plays for UNLV head coach Dave Rice’s brother, Grant Rice, at Bishop Gorman.

Bennett has not made any official trips to college campuses, while Muhammad has used two of his five trips, as he was at Kentucky’s Big Blue Madness, and previously visited Texas A&M. Bennett is of particular interest, as the native of Brampton, Ontario, has given no indications of a leader, with UConn, Florida, Ohio State, Oregon, Pittsburgh, Washington and West Virginia also on his list.

There’s really not enough information to even speculate on where Bennett ends up at this point, but the almost opposite is true for Muhammad. UCLA was considered the clubhouse leader for him, and the stumble out of the gate by the Bruins program has either hurt or helped the Bruins’ cause, depending on whom you believe. Now, rumblings indicate Kentucky or Duke may be scrapping for top billing.

Both players’ recruitments seem far from over, and are quite important to the success of the teams pursuing them for next year, in some cases. The tenacious, relentless slashing style of Muhammad, and the brawny, bullying interior play of Bennett would be welcomed on any roster, and could make a major difference where they end up next season.

For now, expect to see plenty of head and assistant coaches trip to the desert for major face time with Muhammad and Bennett until the commencement of the regular signing period, which is set for mid-April.

Wildcats and Hoosiers are great out of the gate
The early signing period isn’t the end all, be all for recruiting for next year, with the aforementioned fair helping of prospects still on the board. Still, a pair of Wildcats (Arizona and Kentucky), and the Indiana Hoosiers snared the top-3 recruiting classes of the early signing period, with North Carolina State, Michigan and Providence signing the next tier of classes.

Observers that have seen Arizona’s triumvirate of incoming frontcourt stars, 7-0 center Kaleb Tarczewski, and 6-8 forwards Brandon Ashley and Grant Jerrett aren’t surprised at the way coach Sean Miller is appearing to wave good bye to current freshman Sidiki Johnson. It’s that type of rich talent coming in that buoyed Arizona to be the universal top recruiting class in the country, to date. That’s not even mentioning bouncy combo guard Gabe York, who could’ve made the year at some of the other schools he was considering.

A five member class locked up at Indiana was mostly assembled last year throughout the season, which  allowed many hardcore Indiana fans to get through last year’s flop. A dynamo point guard, homegrown talent Kevin “Yogi” Ferrell and freak athlete power forward Hanner Perea have fans salivating. Kentucky fans aren’t quite at the same excitement level, but it’s most likely that they’re used to unbelievable crops of talent, having landed the top class in the land, the last three seasons coming into this year. A “ho-hum” class with three top-50 talents, led by shooting guard Archie Goodwin has cast their lot with the Big Blue Nation.

The second-best player in the land, power forward Mitch McGary, an Indiana-native prepping at Brewster Academy (NH) could put the exclamation mark on coach John Beilein’s rebuilding process at Michigan, and North Carolina State landed three in-state players ranked in the national top-100, in coach Mark Gottfried’s first recruiting class for the Wolfpack. Providence also appears to be trending upward on a rapid trajectory, with perhaps the best signed backcourt duo in the country in point guard Kris Dunn and shooting guard Ricardo Ledo.

Tobacco Road takes two 2013 stars
Some schools can now focus on the 2013 class, current high school juniors, with their incoming recruiting classes for next year already locked up. North Carolina and Duke are doing just that, as they secured verbal commitments from a pair of top-25 players in the high school junior class early this week.

Five-star point guard Nate Britt, a 6-0 superb talent from Gonzaga Prep (D.C.) pledged to North Carolina, while fellow top talent Matt Jones, a 6-4 shooting guard from DeSoto (Texas) made his intentions known for Duke.

Britt is considered the no. 2 point guard in the country in the 2013 class, just behind 6-5 Andrew Harrison of Fort Bend Travis (Texas). He made his pledge to North Carolina over ACC Rivals Maryland and Virginia, as well as Georgetown and Arizona.

Jones is a close friend of Duke’s sole signee in the 2012 class, Strake Jesuit (Texas) guard Rasheed Sulaimon. He’s considered to be one of a handful of elite level shooters in the junior class.

The addition of Britt and Jones is what appears to be a case of the rich getting richer, as both project to be potential all-ACC players down the road.

Kellon Hassenstab runs Hoopniks.com. Follow him on Twitter @hoopniks.

No. 13 Iowa State rolls past eighth-ranked Kansas 68-53

Reese Strickland-USA TODAY Sports
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AMES, Iowa – Jaren Holmes scored all 15 of his points in the second half as No. 13 Iowa State rolled past No. 8 Kansas 68-53 on Saturday.

Osun Osunniyi added 13 for the Cyclones (16-6, 7-3 Big 12), who stayed within at least a game of front-running Texas in the conference standings. Tamin Lipsey added eight rebounds and 10 assists.

“Today, we came out and played desperate,” Holmes said.

Jalen Wilson led the Jayhawks (18-5, 6-4) with 26 points for his sixth straight game with at least 20. No other Kansas player had more than 8 points.

“It’s not a formula for success for us,” Jayhawks coach Bill Self said. “We need balance from our starting five. If one guy feels like he’s got to go do it all on his own, it crashes the offense.”

The Cyclones led for all but 1:14 of the game, building a 34-16 scoring edge in the paint. Kansas struggled early, making just two of their first 10 shots and committing 11 turnovers in the first 20 minutes.

Iowa State shot 46% for the game.

“From the beginning, we gave them some easy buckets,” Wilson said. “That’s something we’ve struggled with (defensively) … the easiest way to get comfortable is easy buckets, layups, stuff like that.”

Iowa State was up 33-21 at the break.

Holmes missed all four shots in the first half, but after getting sick at halftime, he helped the Cyclones stretched the lead to 42-31 early in the second half with a 3-pointer and layup.

“I felt a little nauseous the whole day,” he said. “I’ve been dealing with some sickness over the past week and a half.”

BIG PICTURE

Kansas: The Jayhawks dropped to 3-4 during a stretch in which six of its seven opponents were ranked. The lone unranked foe was Kentucky. … Kansas committed a season-high 20 turnovers Saturday. … The loss to Iowa State was Self’s first in five meetings with second-year Iowa State coach T.J. Otzelberger.

Iowa State: Improved to 12-0 at home this season and 5-0 in the Big 12. It was also the Cyclones’ fifth win over a top-10 opponent in the past two seasons.

UP NEXT

Kansas: Hosts No. 10 Texas on Monday.

Iowa State: Travels to West Virginia on Wednesday.

Bishop helps No. 10 Texas rally past No. 7 K-State, 69-66

Scott Sewell-USA TODAY Sports
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MANHATTAN, Kan. – Christian Bishop was as frustrated as anyone in a Texas jersey in the first half Saturday. He’d been held without a point by Kansas State and, not surprisingly, the No. 10 Longhorns were facing a double-digit deficit on the road.

Maybe that’s why he punctuated every bucket in the second half with a fist pump.

Bishop poured in 14 points after the break to lead the Longhorns’ comeback, including the go-ahead lay-in with 37 seconds to go, and the new Big 12 leaders held on for a 69-66 victory over the No. 7 Wildcats on Saturday.

“Christian’s been working really hard over the last couple of games to get him back to the level he was playing four or five games ago,” interim Texas coach Rodney Terry said. “He really came out and rebounded and gave our team an incredible lift the way he played the second half.”

Red-hot guard Sir’Jabari Rice also had 14 points and 10 rebounds for the Longhorns, and it was his two free throws with nine seconds left that forced the Wildcats into needing a 3-pointer to send the game to overtime.

After a quick timeout, the Wildcats’ Ismael Massoud got an open look from the wing but came up well short of the basket, allowing the Longhorns to hold on for their fifth win over a Top 25 team this season.

Tyrese Hunter and Marcus Carr added 10 points apiece for Texas (19-4, 8-2), which took over sole possession of first place in the rough-and-tumble Big 12 by avenging its overtime loss to the Wildcats (18-5, 6-4) early last month.

“Our league, we don’t have any bad teams,” Terry said. “To come in on a home court against a top-10 team and have this kind of performance, I’ll stack it up with one of the best wins I’ve been part of in 30 years of coaching.”

Keyontae Johnson struggled through foul trouble but still had 16 points to lead the Wildcats, who have lost back-to-back games for the first time this season. Desi Sills scored 11 points and Markquis Nowell had 10, but he also had six turnovers, including one with less than a minute to go and Kansas State down by one.

“I don’t want to wash this one. I want to live with this one for 36 hours,” Wildcats coach Jerome Tang said. “Everybody in our arena did our job except the coaches and players on the floor.”

Kansas State and Texas played one of the most entertaining games of the season in Austin, when they went bucket-for-bucket through regulation and into overtime. The Wildcats eventually escaped with a 116-103 victory.

Early on Saturday, Texas looked as if it would struggle to score half as much.

With the Wildcats clamping down on the perimeter, the Longhorns kept throwing the ball away, and at one point had seven turnovers against just five made shots. They also went a stretch of more than 7 minutes with just one field goal.

Kansas State took advantage of their offensive malaise.

Despite the sure-handed Nowell’s turnover trouble, and leading scorer Johnson picking up his third foul with 5 1/2 minutes left in the half, the Wildcats steadily built a lead. It reached as many as 14 before Texas made three free throws in the final second to get within 36-25 heading to the locker room.

It was the spark the Longhorns needed: They made their first six shots of the second half, and their run spanning the break eventually reached 17-4 while getting them within 40-39 with 15 minutes left in the game.

“There were points in the second half we did get rushed,” Nowell said, “and it led to turnovers and fast-break points.”

Rice’s 3-pointer a few minutes later gave Texas its first lead since the opening minutes. And when the Wildcats went on a nearly 5-minute scoring drought, Bishop began to assert control, the Creighton transfer scoring 11 points over a 6-minute stretch and punctuating each of them with a roar and a fist pump.

Just like their first meeting Jan. 3, though, the rematch Saturday was destined to go down to the wire.

“There’s no blowouts in our league,” Tang said.

BIG PICTURE

Texas could do nothing right in the first half and nothing wrong in the second, shooting 57% from the floor over the final 20 minutes. Most of the success came in the paint; the Longhorns were just 4 of 16 from the 3-point arc.

Kansas State couldn’t overcome 19 turnovers, including six by Nowell, who had 36 points, nine assists and eight rebounds when the teams met in Austin. He had just six rebounds and three assists on Saturday.

UP NEXT

Texas heads down Interstate 70 to face eighth-ranked Kansas on Monday night.

Kansas State wraps its homestand against No. 15 TCU on Tuesday night.

James leads No. 2 Tennessee over No. 25 Auburn, 46-43

Caitie McMekin/News Sentinel / USA TODAY NETWORK
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KNOXVILLE, Tenn. – Josiah-Jordan James scored 15 points and 14 rebounds to lead No. 2 Tennessee to a 46-43 victory over No. 25 Auburn on Saturday in a game in which every point was difficult and nothing flowed.

“Both teams played as hard as they could,” said Tennessee coach Rick Barnes. “Every possession was a grind.”

The Volunteers (19-4, 8-2 Southeastern Conference) shot just 27% from the field and 9.5% from the 3-point line. They were recovering from a Wednesday loss to Florida in which they shot 28%.

Tennessee had a 47-42 edge on the boards and 15-8 on the offensive glass.

“A game like this shows a lot of character,” said James. “I knew coming in (rebounding) was what I’d be called to do. I had to use the body God’s given me.”

“Both teams did a fantastic job,” said Auburn coach Bruce Pearl. “To hold Tennessee to 27% … It doesn’t get any better than that.”

“I don’t think there’s a more physical league in the country,” said Barnes.

The Tigers (17-6, 7-3) were led by Johni Broome with 11 points and nine rebounds and K.D. Johnson off the bench with 10 points. Auburn managed only 24% from the field and 11% from the 3-point line.

Jaylin Williams made two free throws with 2:47 to play cut Tennessee’s lead to 40-38. Santiago Vescovi hit his first 3-pointer of the game and got a four-point play out of it for a 44-38 lead. A 3-pointer by Wendell Green Jr. cut the advantage to 44-41 with 30 seconds left.

A turnover on the inbounds play gave Auburn the ball with 23 seconds to play. Broome got a tip-in to make it a one-point game, and Zakai Zeigler made two free throws.

Green’s last-second 3-point to tie clanked out.

“At the end, Wendell Green got the shot off and got fouled,” said Pearl. “Nothing got called.”

Auburn scored eight straight points to start the game. Tennessee followed with a six-point run and an eight-point spurt early in the second half. Those were the longest runs of the game.

POLL IMPLICATIONS

Tennessee was in the No. 2 spot in the poll for two days before falling at Florida. Under Barnes, the Vols now have 25 wins over teams ranked in the Top 25. . Auburn had been clinging to the elite at No. 25 this week. The Tigers have been ranked as high as No. 11, coming in the fifth week of the season.

STAT SNACKS

Since statistics started being kept in 1999-2000, Tennessee is on pace to be the all-time leader in field-goal percentage defense (.348; Stanford, 1999-2000, is second .352) and 3-point defense (.225; Norfolk State, 2004-05, is second .253). . Through 22 games, the similarities between last year’s Vols point guard Kennedy Chandler (now with the Memphis Grizzlies) and this year’s Ziegler are striking (points per game: Chandler 13.5, Ziegler 11.4; rebounds: 3.0, 3.0; assists: 4.95, 5.05).

UP NEXT

Auburn: The Tigers will host Texas A&M on Tuesday night.

Tennessee: The Vols will tackle in-state rival Vanderbilt in Nashville on Wednesday.

Pedulla’s 22 points lift Virginia Tech past No. 6 Virginia

Lee Luther Jr.-USA TODAY Sports
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BLACKSBURG, Va. – Sean Pedulla scored 22 points and Virginia Tech beat No. 6 Virginia 74-68 on Saturday, snapping the Cavaliers’ seven-game winning streak.

Pedulla made 6 of 13 from the floor as the Hokies (14-10, 4-8 Atlantic Coast Conference) posted their biggest win of the season. He added 8 of 9 from the free-throw line. Justin Mutts added 17 points.

Virginia Tech never trailed and shot 50% from the floor for the fourth straight game.

“There was no pouting (after the Miami loss). Just back to practice the next day,” Virginia Tech coach Mike Young said of his team, which lost 92-83 to No. 23 Miami on Tuesday. “Yeah, we’ve got Virginia coming in. Yes, in-state and all of that stuff. We’ve got another opportunity to play another really good opponent. We’ve got a chance to play Virginia Tech basketball and fight and compete and adhere to the things that are important to us – and we did that by and large on both ends of the floor.”

Jayden Gardner’s 20 points led Virginia (17-4, 9-3), which saw its usually stingy defense struggle. Kihei Clark finished with 17 points for the Cavaliers, while Reece Beekman had 15. Armaan Franklin, who had scored in double figures in 10 straight games, had six.

The Cavaliers tied the game at 38 on Gardner’s basket with 15:09 remaining, but the Hokies outscored Virginia 17-7 over the next seven minutes and never looked back.

Mutts hit 7 of 11 from the floor and added eight assists and four rebounds. Grant Basile had 14 points and Hunter Cattoor scored all 10 of his points in the second half for the Hokies.

“The heart was there, but to win in this setting against a team that’s playing good basketball, and Tech is, and they’ve got the players, you’ve got to be hard and smart,” Virginia coach Tony Bennett said. “You can’t just be all hard. We were (hard and smart) for stretches, and they made us make some adjustments that helped a little bit, but they made the big shots.”

TIP-INS

Virginia: The Cavaliers suffered a rare poor outing on the defensive end, and it cost them. They led the ACC in scoring defense (60.2 ppg) going in, but allowed the Hokies to score 74 points and shoot 50.9% (27 of 53) from the floor. The Hokies became just the third team this season to shoot better than 50% against Virginia and scored 40 points in the paint.

“They run a lot of action, whether it’s dribble handoffs, fakes, they keep you on your toes, and it takes an incredible, and I think disciplined (effort) to keep them in front and keep them out of the paint,” Bennett said.

Virginia Tech: After losing eight of their previous 10 games, the Hokies needed a big win to help their thin NCAA Tournament resume. Registering 19 assists and turning the ball over just eight times were keys.

“Obviously, we keep up with stuff throughout the year, like `Oh, this would be a huge win on our resume,”‘ Pedulla said. “We do think about (the NCAA Tournament), and we obviously want to get there again. We know our team’s capable of it. We’re focused on it and we’re just trying to stack those wins on top of each other. I think this win definitely helps us.”

POLL IMPLICATIONS

The Cavaliers were one-point underdogs going into the game, so they shouldn’t drop more than a few spots in Monday’s poll.

UP NEXT

Virginia: Hosts N.C. State on Tuesday.

Virginia Tech: Takes on Boston College in Blacksburg on Wednesday.

Pack’s 20 lead No. 23 Miami to 78-74 win over No. 20 Clemson

Ken Ruinard-USA TODAY Sports
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CLEMSON, S.C. – Miami coach Jim Larranaga has a message he routinely tells his players.

“Coach L always says, `Calm, cool, collected will win you games,”‘ Hurricanes reserve Bensley Joseph said with a smile.

No. 23 Miami needed every bit of that mantra to hold off No. 20 Clemson, 78-74, on Saturday. Nijel Pack scored 20 points, Isaiah Wong 15 and the Hurricanes held on after opening a 12-point lead in the second half.

“We were able to do that in the last five minutes,” Joseph said.

Wong and Pack each hit 3-pointers right after halftime for the Hurricanes (18-5, 9-4 Atlantic Coast Conference), who used a 21-9 run to open a 56-44 lead with 11:10 to play.

The Tigers sliced the deficit to 76-74 on Alex Hemenway’s 3-pointer with 0.9 seconds to play. Pack was fouled on the inbounds and calmly – there’s that word, again – made two foul shots to finish off the victory.

Clemson (18-6, 10-3) lost its second straight game after opening ACC play 10-1.

The Hurricanes stepped up their offense after halftime. Pack had 14 of his points in the final half while Wong had 11 points over the final 20 minutes. Miami hit six of its nine 3-pointers in that period.

Larranaga felt the excitement of the sold-out Clemson crowd at Littlejohn Coliseum. The poise the Hurricanes showed was essential in the victory.

“To come out in the second half and be able take the lead under these circumstances says a lot about our team,” Larranaga said. “That we were very competitive, and didn’t let the crowd take us out of our gameplan.”

Wooga Poplar added 14 points for Miami while Jordan Miller had 12.

PJ Hall had 17 of his team-high 19 points in the second half for the Tigers. Hunter Tyson added 13 points and 10 rebounds, his ninth double-double in Clemson’s 13 league games.

Tyson thought his team’s defense needed to be tougher. “We couldn’t get the stops when we needed to,” he said. “They scored 78 in our gym. That should never happen.”

Miami came in with the ACC’s third highest scoring offense while Clemson was third in the league in defense.

The Hurricanes used a 16-8 run closed on Miller’s tip-in of his own miss to lead 30-25 with five minutes left in the half.

But Tyson hit a pair of threes, had a step back basket and took a charge on the other end as Clemson answered with a 10-1 burst to move in front 35-31.

Miami, though, answered last as Harlond Beverly’s jam in the final minute tied things at 35-all heading to the break.

The Hurricanes did a strong job early on Clemson’s main force down low in Hall, holding the 14-point a game scorer to 1-of-5 shooting and just one rebound the first 20 minutes.

Clemson did a similar job on Miami’s driving force, Wong, who also made one of his five first-half attempts.

BIG PICTURE

Miami: The Hurricanes showed the scoring punch and defense that’s kept them among the Top 25 this season. They were six of 12 on 3-pointers in the second half and hit 13 of 15 foul shots to thwart a Clemson comeback.

Clemson: The Tigers have had a difficult week, the first-place ACC team losing at Boston College 62-54 before get run over early in the second half against Miami. The 0-2 stretch will likely mean Clemson will drop from the poll, although they’ll still be on top in the ACC standings.

BREAK TIME

Clemson doesn’t play until next Saturday. Tigers coach Brad Brownell said it’s probably a good time for time off. There’s been a mix of fatigue and handling player absences due to injury that have taken a toll on the Tigers, he said. “The good news is we’re whole,” with injured players Chase Hunter, Hemenway and Brevin Galloway back in the lineup. “Having said that, we need a break.”

UP NEXT

Miami goes home to play Duke on Monday night.

Clemson heads to North Carolina on Feb. 11.