Pregame Shootaround 12.31.12: Loaded slate for New Year’s Eve

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Game of the Day: 2:00 p.m.: No. 19 Michigan State at No. 11 Minnesota (ESPN2)

How good are the Gophers this year? Well, they’re ranked in the top 15. And they’re 12-1 on the season. And they’ve beaten … Memphis? Stanford? Florida State? South Dakota State without Nate Wolters? You can only play who is on the schedule, and the Gophers have beaten everyone they’ve lined up against with the exception of the No. 1 team in the country, but that doesn’t change the fact that the Gophers’ ranking is a bit inflated due to the struggles of some of their opponents.

Michigan State is legit. They are big, they have athletic, they have a veteran ball-club and they’re coached by Tom Izzo. Keeping in mind that this game is played in Minneapolis, this may be our best chance to truly gauge how good Minnesota is this season.

Who’s Getting Upset?: 4:00 p.m.: No. 5 Indiana at Iowa (ESPN2)

You want to know how to make some money in Vegas? Bet on ranked teams playing solid unranked teams on the road. Especially in league play. Iowa is better than you think this season, and while they are a young team that is still getting better, I think they have the pieces to give Indiana some trouble. Roy Devyn Marble has been on fire of late, and Hawkeye fans will be hoping that a nine day layoff won’t change that.

Mid-Major Matchup of the Day: 8:00 p.m.: Harvard at St. Mary’s (ESPN2)

Harvard is coming off of a win at Cal in which their star point guard, freshman Siyani Chambers, struggled. St. Mary’s is better than Cal, but Chambers should put on a better performance than he did on Saturday night. Seeing the freshman go up against Matthew Dellavedova should be great entertainment for all those watching.

Five Things to Watch

1. 12:00 p.m.: No. 8 Cincinnati at No. 24 Pitt (ESPN2): Outside of a game against Michigan in the semifinals of the Preseason NIT, Pitt has been wholly untested in the non-conference portion of their schedule. They’ll be hosting a Cincinnati team that is coming off of their first loss of the season, which came at home against New Mexico. Are the Panthers for real? (And don’t call it an upset if they win.)

2. 6:00 p.m.: No. 13 Gonzaga at No. 22 Oklahoma State (ESPN2): Hard to believe that this could end up being the fourth-best game of the day, but that’s the truth. This should be a terrific gauge for both the Zags and the Pokes. Gonzaga finally has a tough road test while Oklahoma State will be playing their best opponent of the season.

3. 7:30 p.m.: New Mexico at St. Louis (CBS Sports Net): We know how good New Mexico is, but St. Louis is still a question mark. A lot of people picked them to win the A-10 this season, but they just got their star point guard Kwamaine Mitchell over the weekend. He had four points, five assists, three turnovers and shot 2-7 from the field in 19 minutes in his season-debut.

4. 4:00 p.m.: St. Joseph’s at Drexel: An intra-city battle between two schools from Philly that both need to prove themselves. Drexel has been a massive disappointment this season, while the Hawks have been far too inconsistent to be considered a threat for an at-large bid.

5. 2:00 p.m.: Bowling Green at Temple: The last time Temple played, they beat Syracuse at Madison Square Garden. The last time Temple played at home, they lost to Canisius. Which team shows up against Bowling Green?

The Rest of the Top 25

  • 2:00 p.m.: South Dakota at No. 25 Kansas State
  • 3:00 p.m.: Central Connecticut State at No. 9 Syracuse (ESPNU)
  • 5:00 p.m.: UNC Greensboro at No. 23 NC State (ESPNU)

Other Notable Games

  • 5:00 p.m.: Utah State at Texas State
  • 7:00 p.m.: Nevada at Oregon (Pac-12)
  • 8:00 p.m.: North Texas at Middle Tennessee State (ESPNU)

You can find Rob on twitter @RobDauster.

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.

Four-star wing Romeo Weems commits to DePaul

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DePaul landed its first verbal commitment in the Class of 2019 Tuesday afternoon, as four-star small forward Romeo Weems announced that he will be a Blue Demon. Weems, who attends New Haven HS in New Haven, Michigan, picked DePaul over Michigan, Michigan State, Ohio State and Oregon and is considered by most major scouting services to be a Top 50 prospect in the 2019 graduating class.

The 6-foot-6 Weems plays his grassroots basketball for The Family on the Nike EYBL circuit, averaging 15.0 points and 7.5 rebounds per game this spring. Weems also has experience playing for USA Basketball, as he was part of the Under-16 team that won the FIBA Americas U16 title last year. Weems will also be part of the training camp from which the Under-17 team will be selected next month in preparation for this summer’s FIBA Under-17 World Championships.

DePaul managing to land a commitment from a prospect of Weems’ caliber, a versatile wing who can defend multiple positions while also being productive offensively, could be the shot in the arm that Dave Leitao’s program so desperately needs if they’re to improve their standing within the Big East.

Since making the move from Conference USA in 2005, DePaul has finished above .500 in a season just once (20-14 in 2006-07) with that also being the only time in which the Blue Demons finished above .500 in Big East play (9-7). Since Leitao, who led DePaul to its most recent NCAA tournament in 2005, returned for his second stint at the school the Blue Demons have gone 29-65.

Getting out of Allstate Arena and moving to the new Wintrust Arena ahead of last season was an important move for the DePaul program, but it’s been clear that the rebuild won’t be a “quick fix.” Bringing in a talent of Weems’ caliber should help DePaul moving forward, with the key now being to recruit well enough to ensure that the talented wing has ample help when he arrives on campus next year.

Among the players currently on the roster who will have eligibility remaining in 2019 are guards Devin Gage and Justin Roberts and wing Darious Hall, who will sit out the 2018-19 season after transferring to DePaul from Arkansas. Hall appeared in 35 games for the Razorbacks this past season, averaging 5.1 points and 3.1 rebounds in just under 15 minutes per game.