Colonial Athletic conference tournament preview

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Unless you have a dog in this fight, here is your homework: root for Drexel and VCU to make it to the CAA title game.

Root as hard as you can.

Because if you are one of those people — like me — that would rather see a quality mid-major basketball team that has put together a stirring run late in the season get a bid over a team like UConn or Mississippi State, a talented group that clearly is not enjoying the season and would get just as much out of a trip to the NIT as they would a spot in the Big Dance, than you need VCU and Drexel in the title game.

Because both of those teams have a very really shot at getting an at-large bid if that were to happen.

Look, the CAA did not do a lot of good things in the non-conference portion of their schedule. They don’t have many stirring non-conference wins. But this is also a league that, on the whole, is young this season. They’ve grown. They’ve gotten better. And now there are (at least) two teams that are deserving of a spot in the NCAA Tournament but, for what ever reason, just don’t have a powerful enough resume to command lock-status.

The Bracket

Where: Richmond, VA

When: March 2nd-March 5th

Final: March 5th, 7:00 p.m., ESPN2

Favorite: Drexel

Drexel started out the season 2-4, but that came as they were getting freshman Damion Lee adjusted to playing basketball at this level and while working Chris Fouch back from an offseason injury. Two of those losses came with Fouch in street clothes. Two more of them came in Fouch’s first two games back. Now he’s healthy and Lee is playing great, which is why Drexel has won 17 straight games and 23 of their last 24. They have one — just one — loss since Dec. 3rd.

And if they lose?: VCU

The Rams are on a similar run. They’ve won 14 of their last 15 games. The one loss? At George Mason, when Mason caught fire over the last minute. VCU went 5-6 from the free throw line and didn’t commit a turnover while blowing a five point lead in the final 50 seconds. Brad Burgess has not exactly had the season we all imagined he would have, but VCU has gotten some impressive play out of big man Juvonte Reddic and point guard Dareus Theus. This group still loves to press, they still force turnovers and they still shoot threes.

Sleepers: I don’t know if you can call George Mason a sleeper, but they ended up finishing the league in third place and have the best front line in the conference. Old Dominion has been rebuilding this year, but they still play as hard as anyone in the league and have a kid by the name of Kent Bazemore. He went for 37 in a loss to Drexel last week. Keep an eye on Georgia State as well, as they have put together a very nice season in Ron Hunter’s first year in Atlanta.

Studs:

Kent Bazemore, Old Dominion: Bazemore is a delight to watch play basketball. He’s 6’5″ and a terrific athlete. He defends as hard as anyone in the country and, this season, he’s scoring the ball very well.

Ryan Pearson, George Mason: Pearson is like the anti-Bazemore. He’s a slow-footed, bearded, 6’7″ power forward with “Old Man” game. But he’s a double-double waiting to happen and a threat to hit a three as well.

Mike Moore, Hofstra: He’s not Charles Jenkins and he hasn’t led Hofstra to 20 wins, but Moore is averaging 20.0 ppg on the season. He can light it up.

Devon Saddler, Delaware: Just a sophomore, Saddler has a chance to be a very good player by the time his career is done.

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

Old Dominion lands former four-star center

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Elbert Robinson came out of high school in 2014 as a borderline top-50 recruit with offers from the likes of Florida, Kansas and Louisville before he ultimately chose to attend LSU.

The 7-foot-1 center, though, never even averaged 10 minutes a game in Baton Rouge and now will be finishing his career as a graduate transfer at Old Dominion, according to multiple reports.

“Old Dominion was perfect for him,” Lawrence Johns, Robinson’s grassroots coach, told the Virginian-Pilot. “I know for a fact that nobody in (Conference USA) is over 7 feet.

“I told him to go there and show people why he was the No. 1 center the year he came out.”

Robinson, who sat out last year for medical reasons, could step right into a major role with the Monarchs, who lost their starting frontcourt this offseason. He averaged 2.1 points and 1.4 rebounds in 6.4 minutes per game last year for the Tigers.

VIDEO: Mixtape for North Carolina-bound Nassir Little

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Nassir Little is one of the most improved players in the high school basketball ranks, going from being a guy that was a borderline five-star prospect to being a potential No. 1 pick in the 2019 NBA Draft.

At 6-foot-7 with a 7-foot-1 wingspan and athleticism to burn, he has all the makings of being one of the switchable wing defenders that are en vogue in the modern era of the NBA.

Former UNC star Phil Ford has surgery for prostate cancer

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CHAPEL HILL, N.C. (AP) — North Carolina says former point guard Phil Ford has had surgery for prostate cancer.

Team spokesman Steve Kirschner said Wednesday that Ford underwent the procedure Tuesday after he was diagnosed during his annual physical. Dr. Eric Wallen, the UNC physician who is treating Ford, says the cancer was caught early because Ford “has been proactive regarding his health.”

Ford played for Dean Smith in the 1970s and scored 2,290 points, a mark that stood as the school record until Tyler Hansbrough broke it in 2008. Ford also spent 12 seasons as an assistant to Smith after a seven-year NBA career in which he was the rookie of the year in 1979.

Bruce Pearl: ‘Good chance’ Auburn returns four players testing the waters

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Bruce Pearl told reporters on Monday that there is a “good chance” that his Auburn program will return all four of the players that are currently testing the waters of the NBA draft.

“I think there’s a good chance they’re all going to consider coming back,” Pearl said. “There’s a chance they’re all going to come back, but that’s been the case since the beginning.”

“I just feel as we get closer to the deadline and they gather more and more information, I think that chance improves. It would not surprise me, still, to see a couple of them stay in.”

Those four players are Mustapha Heron, Austin Wiley, Bryce Brown and Jared Harper. Brown was the leading scorer for the Tigers last season, while Heron was arguably their best player and Harper a steady floor general that is the piece that holds everything together. Wiley did not play after he was ruled ineligible as a result of the FBI’s investigation into college basketball. If he returns he will be eligible to play the 2018-19 season.

Heron will be the most interesting decision of the four. A former McDonald’s All-American, when he declared for the draft last month, he announced that he intended to sign with an agent. But he has told reporters in the last week that he never actually signed and is still “50-50” on whether or not he will return. He was not invited to the NBA Draft Combine in Chicago last week. Wiley was, but he did not make enough of an impression to earn himself a first round guarantee. Brown and Harper are very unlikely to be drafted, but both juniors will get feedback from NBA teams on what they might need to do to play their way into the league.

Auburn is coming off of a year where they shared the SEC regular season title with Tennessee, but they struggled down the stretch of the season after Anfernee McLemore suffered a gruesome ankle injury. As it stands, under the assumption that Heron and Wiley are gone, we currently have the Tigers ranked as a top 15 team in the country in the NBC Sports Preseason Top 25.

With Heron and Wiley back, however, Auburn will have the pieces to make a case as one of college basketball’s five best teams next season.

Forward Lance Thomas transferring from Louisville

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With Anas Mahmoud out of eligibility and Ray Spalding having made the decision to enter the 2018 NBA Draft, new Louisville head coach Chris Mack had some holes to fill in the front court ahead of his first season at the helm. There’s now another departure to account for, as it was announced Tuesday afternoon that 6-foot-8 forward Lance Thomas has decided to transfer.

Thomas, who will have three seasons of eligibility remaining at his next school, appeared in 12 games for the Cardinals last season and averaged 2.2 points and 1.3 rebounds in 4.2 minutes per game.

Losing Thomas may not appear to be a big deal based upon his production as a freshman. But, given the combination of player departures and misses on the recruiting trail this spring it can also be argued that Louisville is not in a position where it can afford any more personnel losses.

Louisville is now down to four scholarship players in the front court, wings V.J. King and Jordan Nwora and forwards Malik Williams and Steven Enoch, with Enoch eligible after sitting out last season after transferring in from UConn.

Williams made 12 starts as a freshman, averaging 3.8 points and 2.4 rebounds in 10.6 minutes per game, with King averaging 8.6 points per game and Nwora 5.7 points per game. Enoch played in 29 games at UConn during the 2016-17 season, averaging 3.4 points and 2.3 rebounds in 12.1 minutes per appearance.