Seton Hall cannot rest on their win over UConn

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Andre Drummond didn’t know who Herb Pope was prior to No. 8 UConn’s trip to Seton Hall, but the name he most likely learned during the Pirate’s 75-63 win on Tuesday was that of Jordan Theodore.

The Pirate point guard was sensational as Seton Hall won their first game against UConn in 3,958 days, finishing with 19 points, 11 assists, three steals and a number of big buckets in the second half to prevent the Huskies from building any kind of momentum.

The statement “big buckets” in the second half is kind of ironic, I know, as the Pirates flat out drilled UConn on this night. Think about this: UConn was hot early, hitting three threes in the first four minutes of the game as they jumped out to a 11-2 lead. Over the next 16 minutes? Seton Hall outscored the Huskies 31-11, which included a 16-3 run to close the first half. UConn was able to trim a 35-22 halftime deficit to 10, but they never made things interesting after the break.

The one, very basic, question that we are now forced to ask: is this Seton Hall team is ‘for real’?

Personally, I hate asking whether a team is ‘for real’, if for no other reason that the term is incredibly vague and has different connotations for different teams. After Indiana knocked off Ohio State on New Year’s Eve, folks were asking whether or not Indiana was ‘for real’. Not even the most delusional Seton Hall fan would dare think that the Pirates are currently on the same level as the Hoosiers.

What we can say is this: Seton Hall has put themselves into incredible position to make a run at an at-large bid. Why? Because this win over the Huskies is far from the only impressive thing they have done this season. Just five days ago, the Pirates knocked off a better-than-we-thought West Virginia team by 19 points in the Prudential Center. They also own a win at Dayton, victories over Wake Forest and Auburn and knocked off both St. Joseph’s and VCU in Charleston.

On Tuesday afternoon, Andy Glockner’s bubble watch was released at SI.com, and he said that Seton Hall would “obviously would be in today” while emphasizing that we needed to have “some continued restraint given the lack of a true marquee win.” I think a dominating victory over a top ten team would qualify as a marquee victory.

Seton Hall’s next five games are fairly unimpressive as well, as they host DePaul and Notre Dame while traveling to Providence, South Florida and Villanova. Assuming they go 4-1 in that stretch, Seton Hall will head into the most important stretch of their season — home for Louisville, at Marquette, at UConn in the span of eight days — with a record of 17-3 overall and 6-2 in the Big East.

The Pirates are going to be garnering plenty of attention over the next month.

But is that attention warranted?

Is Seton Hall the team that has blown out West Virginia and UConn at home, or are they the group that was completely and thoroughly abused at Syracuse six days ago? Don’t forget about that performance, Seton Hall fans. You lost 75-49 to a team that didn’t get a single point out of their leading scorer.

The answer, frankly, lies somewhere in the middle — Kevin Willard’s team is not as bad as they played against Syracuse and they aren’t as good as they looked on Tuesday night against UConn. I know that’s a cop out, but its true. You cannot simply overlook a no-show performance and write it off as a “one of those nights”. What happens if Seton Hall has “one of those nights” against Providence on Saturday? Or in the first round of the Big East Tournament?

And, frankly, what’s to stop us from saying UConn lost tonight because they had “one of those nights”? Outside of Jeremy Lamb, only two players from UConn came to play Tuesday — Niels Giffey and Tyler Olander — and they aren’t exactly who we talk about when we say UConn has a roster stocked with potential NBA draft picks.

Jordan Theodore (who was once considered a better prospect than his AAU teammate Kemba Walker) and Herb Pope (who was once thought to be one of the best big man recruits in the country) are both showing why they had the hype they did at the amateur level. Fuquan Edwin is a much-improved offensive weapon and a playmaker on the defensive end. Patrick Auda and Aaron Cosby have been reliable role players. Brandon Mobley showed why had some hype when he joined the Seton Hall team five games ago.

No one is questioning whether or not the Pirates are a good basketball team this season.

But there is no need to place unwarranted expectations on this group. They are winning because they are playing every game like their season depends on it. Making this group think they are good enough to win just by showing up — kind of like what UConn did tonight — will result in more tallies showing up in the loss column.

If beating UConn at home ends up being the highlight of their season, than this won’t have been a very productive year for the Pirates.

What We Learned

Seton Hall:

– This isn’t exactly a secret, as he is currently leading the country in steals, but you cannot be lazy with the ball around Fuquan Edwin. He notched two more steals against the Huskies. That said, Edwin’s production was more than just his defense on this night. He finished with a double-double (12 points, 11 boards), scored in transition and flourished in the role of the glue-guy. Edwin is to Seton Hall as Pepco is to BIAH HQ: he’s the one that brings the energy, and tonight you saw why.

– Herb Pope is not the best big man in the Big East. He’s good — you have to be good when you are still averaging a double-double two months into the season — but his physical limitations get exposed when he plays against bigger, more athletic front lines. Pope is a combined 9-29 in the two games against UConn and Syracuse. That said, he’s a physical presence in the paint and a guy that can get rebounds and score on putbacks. Most importantly, however, Pope didn’t quit tonight despite a slow start to the game. We couldn’t say as much against Syracuse.

– Now do you see why Seton Hall fans were excited about Brandon Mobley? The freshman who is five games into his career after battling a shoulder injury had eight points and seven boards in the first half to help lead Seton Hall back.

– Who saw Peter Dill at the end of the Seton Hall bench?

UConn:

– UConn isn’t going to miss Kemba Walker’s ability as a basketball player nearly as much as they are going to miss his ability to be a leader. UConn has no emotional spark. They have no vocal presence on the floor. They have no one that is willing to say “enough of this BS, y’all gonna play tonight?” There isn’t a presence in their huddle holding them accountable for mistakes and lazy play. And there isn’t anyone with that killer instinct capable of hitting the step-on-your-throat shots down the stretch.

– That issue is only exacerbated without Jim Calhoun’s presence on the bench.

– UConn’s body language was horrible in this game. After Theodore hit a pair of threes midway through the second half to push the lead to 15, UConn looked like they had given up. That’s not something you want to see out of a team that is expected to compete for the Big East title and contend for a Final Four.

– I’ll make this prediction: this is the worst game that we will see UConn play all season long. Shabazz Napier was 2-12 from the field. Andre Drummond and Alex Oriakhi combined for six points and seven boards. You’d be quickly forgiven if you didn’t realize Deandre Daniels and Roscoe Smith played. Much of that can be credited to the play of Seton Hall, but that doesn’t change the fact that this was an all-around atrocious performance from the Huskies.

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

North Carolina transfer Caleb Love commits to Arizona

Bob Donnan-USA TODAY Sports
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Caleb Love is now headed to Arizona.

The North Carolina transfer tweeted, less than a month after decommitting from Michigan, that he will play next season with the Wildcats.

“Caleb is a tremendously talented guard who has significant experience playing college basketball at a high level,” Arizona coach Tommy Lloyd said in a statement. “We look forward to helping Caleb grow his game at Arizona. And as we near the completion of the roster for the upcoming season, we feel great about how everything has come together. Now it’s time for the real work to start.”

A 6-foot-4 guard, Love averaged 14.6 points and 3.3 assists in three seasons at North Carolina. He averaged 17.6 points in seven NCAA Tournament games, helping lead the Tar Heels to the 2022 national championship game.

Love entered the transfer portal after leading North Carolina with 73 3-pointers as a junior and initially committed to Michigan. He decommitted from the Wolverines earlier this month, reportedly due to an admissions issue involving academic credits.

Love narrowed his transfer targets to three schools before choosing to play at Arizona over Gonzaga and Texas.

Love will likely start on a team that will have dynamic perimeter players, including Pelle Larsson, Kylan Boswell and Alabama transfer Jaden Bradley.

Biden celebrates LSU women’s and UConn men’s basketball teams at separate White House events

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WASHINGTON – All of the past drama and sore feelings associated with Louisiana State’s invitation to the White House were seemingly forgotten or set aside Friday as President Joe Biden and first lady Jill Biden welcomed the championship women’s basketball team to the mansion with smiles, hugs and lavish praise all around.

The visit had once appeared in jeopardy after Jill Biden suggested that the losing Iowa team be invited, too. But none of that was mentioned as both Bidens heralded the players for their performance and the way they have helped advance women’s sports.

“Folks, we witnessed history,” the president said. “In this team, we saw hope, we saw pride and we saw purpose. It matters.”

The ceremony was halted for about 10 minutes after forward Sa’Myah Smith appeared to collapse as she and her teammates stood behind Biden. A wheelchair was brought in and coach Kim Mulkey assured the audience that Smith was fine.

LSU said in a statement that Smith felt overheated, nauseous and thought she might faint. She was evaluated by LSU and White House medical staff and was later able to rejoin the team. “She is feeling well, in good spirits, and will undergo further evaluation once back in Baton Rouge,” the LSU statement said.

Since the passage of Title IX in 1972, Biden said, more than half of all college students are women, and there are now 10 times more female athletes in college and high school. He said most sports stories are still about men, and that that needs to change.

Title IX prohibits discrimination based on sex in federally funded education programs and activities.

“Folks, we need to support women sports, not just during the championship run but during the entire year,” President Biden said.

After the Tigers beat Iowa for the NCAA title in April in a game the first lady attended, she caused an uproar by suggesting that the Hawkeyes also come to the White House.

LSU star Angel Reese called the idea “A JOKE” and said she would prefer to visit with former President Barack Obama and his wife, Michelle, instead. The LSU team largely is Black, while Iowa’s top player, Caitlin Clark, is white, as are most of her teammates.

Nothing came of Jill Biden’s idea and the White House only invited the Tigers. Reese ultimately said she would not skip the White House visit. She and co-captain Emily Ward presented team jerseys bearing the number “46” to Biden and the first lady. Hugs were exchanged.

Jill Biden also lavished praise on the team, saying the players showed “what it means to be a champion.”

“In this room, I see the absolute best of the best,” she said, adding that watching them play was “pure magic.”

“Every basket was pure joy and I kept thinking about how far women’s sports have come,” the first lady added, noting that she grew up before Title IX was passed. “We’ve made so much progress and we still have so much more work to do.”

The president added that “the way in which women’s sports has come along is just incredible. It’s really neat to see, since I’ve got four granddaughters.”

After Smith was helped to a wheelchair, Mulkey told the audience the player was OK.

“As you can see, we leave our mark where we go,” Mulkey joked. “Sa’Myah is fine. She’s kind of, right now, embarrassed.”

A few members of Congress and Biden aides past and present with Louisiana roots dropped what they were doing to attend the East Room event, including White House budget director Shalanda Young. Young is in the thick of negotiations with House Republicans to reach a deal by the middle of next week to stave off what would be a globally calamitous U.S. financial default if the U.S. can no longer borrow the money it needs to pay its bills.

The president, who wore a necktie in the shade of LSU’s purple, said Young, who grew up in Baton Rouge, told him, “I’m leaving the talks to be here.” Rep. Garret Graves, one of the House GOP negotiators, also attended.

Biden closed sports Friday by changing to a blue tie and welcoming the UConn’s men’s championship team for its own celebration. The Huskies won their fifth national title by defeating San Diego State, 76-59, in April.

“Congratulations to the whole UConn nation,” he said.

Marquette’s Prosper says he will stay in draft rather than returning to school

Rick Osentoski-USA TODAY Sports
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MILWAUKEE — Olivier-Maxence Prosper announced he is keeping his name under NBA draft consideration rather than returning to Marquette.

The 6-foot-8 forward announced his decision.

“Thank you Marquette nation, my coaches, my teammates and support staff for embracing me from day one,” Prosper said in an Instagram post. “My time at Marquette has been incredible. With that being said, I will remain in the 2023 NBA Draft. I’m excited for what comes next. On to the next chapter…”

Prosper had announced last month he was entering the draft. He still could have returned to school and maintained his college eligibility by withdrawing from the draft by May 31. Prosper’s announcement indicates he instead is going ahead with his plans to turn pro.

Prosper averaged 12.5 points and 4.7 rebounds last season while helping Marquette go 29-7 and win the Big East’s regular-season and tournament titles. Marquette’s season ended with a 69-60 loss to Michigan State in the NCAA Tournament’s round of 32.

He played two seasons at Marquette after transferring from Clemson, where he spent one season.

Kansas’ Kevin McCullar Jr. returning for last season of eligibility

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Kevin McCullar Jr. said that he will return to Kansas for his final year of eligibility, likely rounding out a roster that could make the Jayhawks the preseason No. 1 next season.

McCullar transferred from Texas Tech to Kansas for last season, when he started 33 of 34 games and averaged 10.7 points and 7.0 rebounds. He was also among the nation’s leaders in steals, and along with being selected to the Big 12’s all-defensive team, the 6-foot-6 forward was a semifinalist for the Naismith Defensive Player of the Year award.

“To be able to play in front of the best fans in the country; to play for the best coach in the nation, I truly believe we have the pieces to hang another banner in the Phog,” McCullar said in announcing his return.

Along with McCullar, the Jayhawks return starters Dajuan Harris Jr. and K.J. Adams from a team that went 28–8, won the Big 12 regular-season title and was a No. 1 seed in the NCAA Tournament, where it lost to Arkansas in the second round.

Perhaps more importantly, the Jayhawks landed Michigan transfer Hunter Dickinson, widely considered the best player in the portal, to anchor a lineup that was missing a true big man. They also grabbed former five-star prospect Arterio Morris, who left Texas, and Towson’s Nick Timberlake, who emerged last season as one of the best 3-point shooters in the country.

The Jayhawks also have an elite recruiting class arriving that is headlined by five-star recruit Elmarko Jackson.

McCullar declared for the draft but, after getting feedback from scouts, decided to return. He was a redshirt senior last season, but he has another year of eligibility because part of his career was played during the COVID-19 pandemic.

“This is a big day for Kansas basketball,” Jayhawks coach Bill Self said. “Kevin is not only a terrific player but a terrific teammate. He fit in so well in year one and we’re excited about what he’ll do with our program from a leadership standpoint.”

Clemson leading scorer Hall withdraws from NBA draft, returns to Tigers

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Bob Donnan/USA TODAY Sports
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CLEMSON, S.C. — Clemson leading scorer PJ Hall is returning to college after withdrawing from the NBA draft on Thursday.

The 6-foot-10 forward took part in the NBA combine and posted his decision to put off the pros on social media.

Hall led the Tigers with 15.3 points per game this past season. He also led the Tigers with 37 blocks, along with 5.7 rebounds. Hall helped Clemson finish third in the Atlantic Coast Conference while posting a program-record 14 league wins.

Clemson coach Brad Brownell said Hall gained experience from going through the NBA’s combine that will help the team next season. “I’m counting on him and others to help lead a very talented group,” he said.

Hall was named to the all-ACC third team last season as the Tigers went 23-10.