Late Night Snacks: Kansas fans go Wilde for Olivia’s hat

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Game of the Night

No. 4 Louisville 80, Kentucky 77: With realignment destroying old rivalries left and right, thank goodness for the river of localized vitriol that keeps this wonderful annual matchup alive. Last time, it was an unplanned Final Four meeting, won by Kentucky on the way to a national title. This time, it was just one non-conference win for the Cardinals, but that didn’t make the joy any less sweet for Louisville fans, nor the taste any less bitter for Wildcat partisans. Russ Smith went all Russdiculous with 21 points, 7 rebounds, 3 assists, 3 steals and 3 turnovers (natch) in the win.

Meaningful Results

Tennessee 51, Xavier 47: The Vols will grind it out and kill the tempo in every major matchup they have this season. So far, results have been mixed. Against Oklahoma State, Georgetown and Virginia, that approach ended in barely-watchable losses. Recently, the road grader strategy has been working, leading to a win over Wichita State two weeks ago, and tonight’s triumph over a game Xavier squad. Sophomore swingman Josh Richardson shot 5 of 6 from the floor to lead the Vols with 12 points.

No. 2 Michigan 88, Central Michigan 73: Trey Burke had 22 points and 11 assists to lead the Wolverines to 13-0 against a feisty Chippewas squad. Nick Stauskas kicked in 19 and Glenn Robinson III had 20, and Michigan has an unblemished non-conference record to celebrate. A Big Ten opener at Northwestern is next.

No. 14 Florida 78, Air Force 61: Forgive the Gators if they shudder a little bit at the name “M. Lyons” in the starting lineups. This time, fortunately for them, it was Michael Lyons of Air Force, not Mark Lyons of Arizona. Still, the Falcons gave Florida a game, going into the half down by just two points. This time, the Gators wisely spent more time feeding the post, leading to a 21 point game for Erik Murphy and a complementary 13 for Patric Young.

No. 18 Butler 68, Vanderbilt 49: Vandy ain’t what they used to be, but this is still a road win in the difficult environs of Memorial Gym, and it’s exactly the kind of game Butler must continue to win in order to get back to the Big Dance. It’s easy when Rotnei Clarke puts up 22 points, but you’d like to see a little more from his supporting cast.

Starred

Jerrelle Benimon, Towson: The former Georgetown Hoya single-handedly willed the Towson Tigers to an overtime road win over the Oregon State Beavers. His line speaks for itself: 20 points, 21 rebounds, 2 assists and one block. Benimon played all 45 minutes of the contest and logged only three personal fouls.

Kevin Ollie, UConn: It’s been a pretty decent week for Kevin Ollie, the former UConn player who took over for hoops icon Jim Calhoun on a seven-month contract in September of this year. Ollie and the Huskies visited Newtown in an emotional show of solidarity with the town’s shooting victims earlier this week. Then, as the East Coast Huskies prepared for a visit from the Washington Huskies, Connecticut announced a 5-year contract extension that should ease Ollie’s mind for a while. Then his team beat Washington 61-53 to run the team’s record to 10-2 just in time for Big East play to begin (the beginning of the end?) on New Year’s Day at Marquette.

KU’s power couple: Fans of other schools have long been secretly jealous of Kentucky’s ‘special relationship’ with Ashley Judd. One rival is starting to feel a little smug these days, as the brand new hotness is now housed in Lawrence:

Struggled

Syracuse: Sure, they won by 21 points, but this one begs for a closer examination. They scored 57 points against a 2-12 Alcorn State team that gift-wrapped 86 points in a loss to Fort Valley State earlier this year. The Braves fumbled away 25 turnovers, but also snatched 19 defensive rebounds against a team that towered over them at every position. Worst of all, the Orange shot just 37.5% from the floor and a miserable 20% from behind the arc. All this in the Carrier Dome after losing to Temple there last week. This team needs to clear out the cobwebs, and quickly.

Kentucky at the line: “Hack a Willie Cauley-Stein” doesn’t have the same ring as “Hack a Shaq”, but it’s a platinum-plated strategy for future Kentucky opponents. Louisville put Cauley-Stein on the line four times in the waning minutes of a tight game, and Cauley-Stein missed all four of his charities. He was hardly alone. The Wildcats as a team were just 47.8% from the line.

Mike Moser, UNLV: Moser’s return from injury was anything but glorious, as he played 12 minutes, picked up five quick fouls, and went back to the bench with just 3 points, one board and one turnover.

Texas A&M loses third underclassmen to pro ranks

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Texas A&M left us wanting more throughout the 2017-18 season, as a team with enough talent to win the SEC title lost 13 games and finished 9-9 in league play, somehow salvaging the memory of the year with a trip to the Sweet 16.

And after a third starter opted to sign with an agent this week, it appears as if the run the Aggies made will be the last, at least for the time being.

Tyler Davis, who led the Aggies in scoring (14.9 ppg) and was second in rebounding (8.9 rpg), will sign with an agent, he told The Undefeated. He’ll follow Robert Williams and D.J. Hogg as underclassmen leaving school, while seniors Duane Wilson and Tony Trocha-Morelos graduate. Williams is the only one of that group that is expected to be drafted on June 21st.

What that means is that Billy Kennedy’s window as an SEC contender has slammed shut.

Texas A&M only returns two of their top eight from what was quite possibly the most disappointing team in college basketball this side of Arizona. They currently have just nine scholarship players on the roster, including just three front court pieces. One, Josh Nebo, is a transfer from an NEC program, while the other two combined to play in 15 games last season.

This team is going to go as far as T.J. Starks, Admon Gilder and Savion Flagg carry them, and in an SEC that could quite possibly begin the year with five top 25 teams — four of which are in the NBC Sports top 15 — it’s hard to imagine that core doing much.

It’s unfortunate that the one team that Kennedy put together with a chance to make some noise never actually found a way to get going.

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.