Recruiting rundown: Kansas got depth, Arizona got bigs

0 Comments

College coaches are undoubtedly spending more time working on their current teams, as opposed to grinding on the recruiting trail, which generally is shown by a lack of verbal commitments in December. After all, there’s still over four months until the signing period starts for unsigned prospects.

Still, Kansas, Vanderbilt and Tennessee all landed pledges from high school players in recent days, with the Jayhawks landing a wing that could help next season.

Kansas snags second top-100 prospect
Lost in the celebration of the unprecedented dominance of Big 12 regular season and tournament championships by Kansas under coach Bill Self, is the fact that last two years of recruiting classes have largely fizzled out, at least by Kansas’ lofty standards.

The duo that the Jayhawks signed in 2010 has already departed from the program, with Josh Selby’s jump to the NBA, and Royce Woolridge moving on to presumably more playing time at Washington State. Academic casualties greatly diminished the impact of the 2011 class, with three incoming freshmen this year being denied initial eligibility, including touted guard Ben McLemore, and forwards Jamari Traylor and Braeden Anderson.

Anderson has since departed for Fresno State, and Kansas is anticipating the loss of both Tyshawn Taylorand forward Thomas Robinson to the NBA.

All that is to say that Kansas needs an infusion of both bodies and talent for next year to have a chance at continuing their Big 12 roll, and the verbal commitment last week of 6-6 forward Andrew White of The Miller School, Va.,gives them a second top-100 prospect to do so.

White is an important scorer for the Jayhawks, as the all-around wing forward provides a second player likely to contribute as a freshman next year, along with touted in-state star Perry Ellis, a 6-8 power forward from Wichita Heights, Kan. Ellis has three state championships under his belt, and both he and White figure to play steady minutes as rookies next year, based on both talent and need.

Kansas beat out NC State and a host of others for White. He’s a post-graduate player, with an extra year of maturity. Kansas also locked up 6-9 center Landen Lucas and 6-8 forward Zach Peters in the early signing period, and holds a verbal commitment from 6-3 guard Anrio Adams, a well-traveled prospect that’s at Rainier Beach, Wash., for his senior year of high school. Assuming Adams qualifies, he’ll help at both guard slots.

Though it’s not a top-10 recruiting class, it’s probably in the top-20, depending on things shake out during the regular signing period. For Kansas, quantity was needed as well as quality, and if White and Ellis pan out, they’ll have two players capable of starting early on in Lawrence, with the three other players in the class providing depth.

If McLemore and Traylor regain eligibility at the start of next season, Kansas could have seven players without college game experience on the roster next year, and the youth and inexperience will require perhaps coach Self’s most difficult roster construction job yet.

No Johnson, no problem for Arizona
Normally, when a college basketball team loses a freshman that was ranked as a top-100 prospect in their class, especially a live body that’s 6-9, it’s cause for concern. That’s not exactly the case for Arizona, which parted ways with newcomer Sidki Johnson after only three games.

The transfer of Johnson isn’t entirely unexpected for those who knew his track record. He started at national high school hoops powerhouse Oak Hill Academy, Va., last year, but transferred to Wadeigh, N.Y., to finish out high school due to troubles at Oak Hill. Prior to that, Johnson also spent time at St. Raymond, N.Y., and St. Benedict’s Prep, NJ, as a high school student.

The Arizona frontcourt isn’t deep this year, and Johnson could have earned more minutes as a reserve center as the season went on, but the Wildcats in reality only have to hold themselves over until next year. Two top-10 talents have already signed to join the program in 7-0 Kaleb Tarczewski of St. Marks, Mass., and 6-8 Brandon Ashley of Findlay Prep, Nev. Both will be ready to assert themselves when they hit campus next year, on sheer talent alone. Additionally, 6’-9” forward Grant Jerrett of La Verne Lutheran, Calif., continues to improve, and presents an outside shooting dimension to the frontcourt. West Coast scouts are extremely high on Jerrett’s development, and some believe he’s a McDonald’s All American game candidate.

When the trio of Tarczewski, Ashley and Jerrett arrived at Arizona next year, there was the possibility that Johnson would have been the odd man out, regardless of what he did this year. With that said, the situation is curious, especially given the fact that Johnson was committed to Arizona for several years, and did cite his close relationship with assistant coach Emmanuel “Book” Richardson on several occasions.

Arizona’s loss could be the gain for another school though, as the early buzz indicates Johnson could return closer to his home in the Big Apple. Assuming he takes care of business in the classroom, as he finishes out the term at Arizona, he could be an attractive and sought-after transfer for numerous schools. Prior to committing to Arizona, Johnson had heavy Big East interest, which included St. John’s, Providence and others. An especially thin front line, like that at St. John’s, could certainly benefit from his presence.

SEC snags a Volunteer and more
Two SEC programs based in the Volunteer state snared verbal pledges recently with Vanderbilt securing the services of 6-10 center Arnold Okechukwu, and Tennessee landing an early commitment from 6-1 point guard Travon Landry.

The Commodores can point to recent successes with Festus Ezeli and Steve Tchiengang, but Okechukwu, a native of Nigeria, is probably more raw that Ezeli and Tchiengang were when they hit campus. Okechukwu comes in at approximately 220 pounds, and has more of an impact on the defensive end right now. He’ll be brought along slowly, but he is improving in a post-graduate year at Queen City Prep, N.C., this year, after finishing high school at West Oaks Academy, Fla.

Tennessee didn’t have much time to fill out this season’s roster when coach Cuonzo Martin took over after last season. Upon taking the helm, Martin scrambled to add a handful of mostly unheralded recruits to fill out the roster. Now, he’s utilizing his chance to put his own stamp on the program, and the Volunteers have their first 2013 recruit, lead guard Travon Landry of Bob Jones, Ala. He’s not nationally ranked by any source, but did reportedly have some interest from other SEC schools. Former coach Bruce Pearl set a high recruiting standard for the Vols, and it remains to be seen if the new staff can meet expectations.

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

Houston reaches No. 1 in AP poll for first time since 1983

Thomas Shea-USA TODAY Sports
0 Comments

Make some room, Phi Slama Jama. Another Houston team has reached the top of men’s college basketball.

Nearly four decades after Clyde Drexler and Akeem Olajuwon took the Cougars to No. 1, the latest bunch led by Marcus Sasser and star freshman Jarace Walker took over the top spot in the AP Top 25. They received 45 of 63 first-place votes from the national media panel, easily outdistancing second-place Texas and third-place Virginia.

“It’s not like we went online and applied for it and waited for a response back. We’ve been working for this,” said Houston coach Kelvin Sampson, whose team is coming off a Final Four and Elite Eight trip the past two seasons. “But remember, it’s a rental. You don’t own it. You’re just renting it because someday somebody else is going to be No. 1.”

North Carolina had been No. 1 all season, but the Tar Heels lost to Iowa State and in a four-overtime thriller to Alabama at the Phil Knight Invitational to cede the top spot to Houston, which beat Kent State in its only game last week.

The last time the Cougars ascended to No. 1 was the final poll of the 1982-83 season, when “The Glide” and “The Dream” along with coach Guy Lewis were the favorites to win it all. They rolled through the NCAA Tournament before falling to Jim Valvano and North Carolina State in an iconic championship game in Albuquerque, New Mexico.

“I’ve never been ranked No. 1,” said Sampson, now in his 34th season as a college basketball coach. “We were ranked all 12 years at Oklahoma. I’m sure we were ranked at Indiana. Then we’ve been ranked five or six straight years. We’re used to having a high level of success.”

Texas received eight first-place votes and Virginia received two. Arizona climbed from 14th to fourth after emerging from a stacked field to win the Maui Invitational. Purdue jumped from 24th all the way to fifth and scooped up eight first-place votes after beating West Virginia, Gonzaga and Duke at the Phil Knight Legacy tourney.

“Our guys are competitive. They’re fun to coach. They get along. They’re out there playing with purpose and that’s what you have to have,” said Boilermakers coach Matt Painter, whose team was briefly No. 1 about this time last season.

“Early in the season, very few teams play with the purpose collectively,” he said. “I thought our guys played with a purpose.”

Baylor was sixth, Creighton seventh and U Conn climbed from 20th to eighth after beating Oregon, Alabama and Iowa State to win the Phil Knight Invitational. Kansas fell from third to ninth after losing to Tennessee in the championship game of the Battle 4 Atlantis, while Indiana rounded out the top 10.

There was a tie for 11th between SEC rivals Alabama and Arkansas with the Volunteers, another conference foe, right behind them. Gonzaga dropped from sixth to 14th, its first time outside the top 10 since Feb. 5, 2018, and Auburn was 15th.

Illinois was next followed by Duke and North Carolina in a tough week for Tobacco Road. The Blue Devils fell from eighth after their 75-56 loss to the Boilermakers.

Kentucky and Michigan State joined UCLA, Maryland, Iowa State, San Diego State and Ohio State in rounding out the poll.

RISING AND FALLING

Purdue made a rare 19-spot jump as the poll underwent a massive shakeup. UConn climbed 12 spots, Arizona moved up 10, Tennessee climbed nine and Alabama seven. On the flip side, the Tar Heels tumbled 17 spots, Duke dropped nine, Gonzaga fell eight and San Diego State fell seven.

IN AND OUT

Despite all the movement, Iowa State was the only newcomer this week, checking in at No. 23 after beating Villanova and North Carolina before falling to UConn. The Cyclones replaced Iowa, which dropped out after a one-week stay following its loss to TCU in the title game of the Emerald Coast Classic.

CONFERENCE WATCH

There are six difference conferences represented in the first seven teams in the poll. The Big Ten leads the way with six in the Top 25 while the SEC has five and the Big 12 has four, though three of them are in the top 10.

South Carolina tops women’s AP Top 25; Stanford, UConn next

Darren Yamashita-USA TODAY Sports
1 Comment

South Carolina remained the unanimous No. 1 choice in The Associated Press women’s poll, as the Gamecocks keep close watch on the foot injury of reigning Player of the Year Aliyah Boston.

The Gamecocks received all 29 first-place votes in the poll, a day after Boston left a game with her injury. Coach Dawn Staley said Boston was “questionable” going forward but added that the “team doctor wasn’t too, too concerned.”

South Carolina’s next game is at home against No. 15 UCLA.

Stanford remained No. 2 after cruising through a tournament in Hawaii. It’s the 618th appearance for Cardinal coach Tara VanDerveer, tying the late Pat Summitt for most all-time. Summitt’s teams only missed being in the poll 14 times during her Hall of Fame career at Tennessee.

UConn, Ohio State and Indiana rounded out the top five.

The Huskies are one of four Big East teams to be ranked this week as Marquette entered the poll at No. 24. It’s the first time the Big East has four ranked teams since the conference realigned in 2014. The league is 56-14 so far this season, including going 8-2 against ranked teams.

“We’ve been trying to earn a little more respect,” Marquette coach Megan Duffy said of the Big East. “Tried to schedule tougher non-conference (games). ‘Nova’s playing people. Us going to the Bahamas was great. Creighton’s doing what they’ve been doing since last season. Getting some of those quality wins is everything.”

North Carolina moved up two spots to No. 6 after rallying to beat then-No. 5 Iowa State in the Phil Knight tournament. The Cyclones fell to eighth.

The Tar Heels visit the Hoosiers on Tuesday in the ACC-Big Ten Challenge. Indiana returns home after winning two games in Las Vegas at a subpar venue that lacked basic necessities.

Notre Dame remained No. 7 while Virginia Tech and Iowa finished off the top 10. At No. 9, Virginia Tech has matched its best ranking ever and is in the top 10 for the first time since 1999.

Tennessee fell out of the poll this week marking the 56th time in the 827-week history of the poll that the Lady Vols weren’t ranked. Kansas State also fell out with Gonzaga moving in at No. 23.

FALLING CARDINALS

Louisville dropped to 18th in the poll this week after falling to South Dakota State in the fifth place game at the Battle 4 Atlantis last week. It’s the Cardinals lowest ranking since Jan. 11, 2016.

Louisville entered the top 10 in the preseason poll in 2017 and hadn’t been out since, a span of 98 consecutive weeks. It was the longest active streak.

“It’s a compliment to the consistency that we built here,” Louisville coach Jeff Walz said of being ranked in the top 10 for so long. “Obviously are goal would have been to stay in the top 10, but it’s a new team and growing.”

Edey scores 21 as No. 24 Purdue beats No. 8 Duke 75-56

Troy Wayrynen-USA TODAY Sports
2 Comments

PORTLAND, Ore. – Zach Edey and No. 24 Purdue shook off a slow start. When No. 8 Duke tried to rally in the second half, the Boilermakers finished strong.

Edey had 21 points and 12 rebounds, and Purdue beat Duke 75-56 on Sunday in the championship game of the Phil Knight Legacy men’s tournament.

Fletcher Loyer scored 18 points for Purdue (6-0), and reserve Caleb Furst finished with 11 points and 10 rebounds.

“I feel like we weren’t getting the looks we wanted early. As we settled into the game, we kept our poise and kept getting the shots that we wanted,” Edey said. “They were making some tough twos at the beginning of the game, shots we’re OK with all season.”

The 7-foot-4 Edey was 7 for 13 from the field and 7 for 8 at the line. He was named tournament MVP.

“They have the most unique player in the country,” Duke coach Jon Scheyer said of Edey. “He’s a hard guy to prepare for because there’s nobody else like him.”

Duke (6-2) shot 36.2% (21 for 58) from the field. Tyres Proctor scored 16 points for the Blue Devils. Kyle Filipowski and Jeremy Roach each had 14.

Ethan Morton had a steal and a dunk to help Purdue open a 58-41 lead with 15:37 left in the second half.

Duke countered with an 8-0 run, capped by two foul shots by Dariq Whitehead. But Furst made a layup and a jumper to help hold off the Blue Devils.

A hook by Edey and a 3-pointer by Loyer made it 68-56 with 5:03 remaining.

Duke got off to a 14-7 start before Purdue worked its way back into the game.

“I don’t feel like we came out bad today, but they matched our energy,” Edey said.

A 3-pointer by Brandon Newman pushed the Purdue lead to 46-28. A late run by Duke cut the Boilermakers’ lead to 46-35 at halftime.

BIG PICTURE

Duke: It looked as if Roach had an issue with his left foot at one point, but he went back into the game. Scheyer said Roach had hurt his toe.

Purdue: Although neither team had great offensive games, Purdue was the better team from range. Purdue made seven 3-pointers to just two for Duke.

UP NEXT

Duke: Hosts Ohio State on Wednesday.

Purdue: Visits Florida State on Wednesday.

No. 18 Alabama beats No. 1 North Carolina 103-101 in 4 OTs

Troy Wayrynen-USA TODAY Sports
0 Comments

PORTLAND, Ore. – Mark Sears had 24 points, five rebounds and five assists, and No. 18 Alabama sent top-ranked North Carolina to a second straight loss with a 103-101 victory in a quadruple-overtime thriller on Sunday in the third-place game of the Phil Knight Invitational tournament.

Jahvon Quinerly added 21 points off the bench for the Crimson Tide (6-1), who knocked off the top-ranked team for the first time since upsetting Stanford in the 2004 NCAA Tournament.

“I was losing track of how many overtimes we were in there at the end,” Crimson Tide coach Nate Oats said. “A lot of credit to our guys. I thought they showed a lot of character when we could have folded.”

Charles Bediako had 14 points, 16 rebounds and three blocks, while Brandon Miller also scored 14 points.

Caleb Love led the Tar Heels (5-2) with 34 points, nine rebounds, four assists and three steals. Armando Bacot contributed 20 points and 10 rebounds, and R.J. Davis had 19 points and nine rebounds in the second four-overtime game in North Carolina history. The other was a victory over Tulane in 1976.

“At the end of the day, Alabama made one more play than we did,” North Carolina coach Hubert Davis said. “I walked in the locker room and a number of the guys had their head down and I told them to pick their head up. I’m just as disappointed (as the players) in terms of the final outcome, but I couldn’t be any more proud about the way they competed.”

Bediako gave the Crimson Tide the lead for good on a layup with 26 seconds remaining in the fourth overtime.

The Tar Heels, who lost to Iowa State in the semifinals, led by as much as eight in the second half before Alabama came back to tie it. The Crimson Tide retook the lead on a pair of free throws from Gurley with 2 minutes remaining, and later tied with another free throw from Sears with 51 seconds remaining in regulation.

Alabama starting forward Noah Clowney took a hard fall on a dunk attempt four minutes into the first half and had to be helped off the court. He did not return.

The Crimson Tide were 16 for 38 (42.1%) from 3-point range, with Sears making seven.

BIG PICTURE

North Carolina: The Tar Heels figure to take a deep drop in the Top 25 poll.

Alabama: The Crimson Tide bounced back nicely following their loss to No. 20 UConn in the semifinals, beating a top-ranked team in the regular season for the first time since a 66-64 victory over eventual national champion Arkansas on Jan. 8, 1994.

UP NEXT:

North Carolina: The Tar Heels travel to Bloomington to face No. 11 Indiana on Wednesday.

Alabama: The Crimson Tide return home to face South Dakota State on Saturday.

Clingan lifts UConn past Iowa State for Phil Knight title

Troy Wayrynen-USA TODAY Sports
0 Comments

PORTLAND, Ore. – Donovan Clingan had 15 points and 10 rebounds to power No. 20 UConn to a 71-53 win over Iowa State in the championship game of the Phil Knight Invitational on Sunday night.

Tristen Newton scored 13 points for the Huskies (8-0), who went 20 for 25 at the free-throw line. Alex Karaban and Andre Jackson, Jr. each had 10 points.

Osun Osunniyi led Iowa State (5-1) with 14 points. Tamin Lipsey had 12 points and Jaren Holmes finished with 11.

“They were the more aggressive team,” Iowa State coach T.J. Otzelberger said. “We wanted a physical game. We didn’t want a physical game with them getting the rebounds and then also us putting them on the foul line. Lesson that we’ve got to learn is we need to embrace being the aggressor at both ends of the floor at all times.”

The Huskies had more offensive rebounds (20) than the Cyclones had total rebounds (19), and capitalized on that disparity with 20 second-chance points.

“Those guys are tough,” UConn coach Dan Hurley said. “T.J.`s an excellent coach. They grind people up. To outrebound them, it just speaks to how tough we were.”

Clingan, who was named tournament MVP, scored eight points to help UConn to a 38-28 lead at the break.

Iowa State closed to 53-48 on Holmes’ 3-pointer midway through the second half. But Karaban made a 3 and a dunk, and Newton’s jumper made it 60-48 with 7:13 remaining.

BIG PICTURE

UConn: The Huskies couldn’t have asked for a better showing in Portland, winning all three of their games.

Iowa State: The Cyclones picked up nice wins over Villanova and top-ranked North Carolina in the earlier rounds but ended with their first loss of the season.

UP NEXT

UConn: The Huskies return home to face Oklahoma State on Thursday.

Iowa State: The Cyclones return home to face North Dakota on Tuesday.