Pregame Shootaround 1.4.13: Memphis visits Knoxville in a game both teams need

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Each day, CollegeBasketballTalk brings you the “Pregame Shootaround,” which will lay out a preview for the slate of games that night. We’ll take a look at some key match-ups and important games, as well as make some predictions and point out what you need to watch for. Take a look below at today’s edition:

Note: The weekend editions of Pregame Shootaround will be published half an hour prior to tip-off of the day’s first game.

Game of the Day: Memphis at Tennessee (8 PM) 
Remember a few years ago when these two teams met at FedEx Forum in a matchup of the top two teams in the country? Circumstances are far different this time around, as both the Tigers and Volunteers could use a solid non-conference win on their resume before beginning conference play. Looking at it from that perspective it can be argued that Memphis needs this game more, as they play in a Conference USA that’s looking like a one-bid league right now while Tennessee will have a shot at the likes of Florida, Kentucky and Missouri in the SEC.

The Tigers have been the better offensive team of the two this season, and how effective they are will hinge on the play of Joe Jackson. When he’s engaged Memphis is a tough team to beat, as they also boast players such as Adonis Thomas and Geron Johnson. Tennessee counters with Jarnell Stokes inside and Jordan McRae and Trae Golden on the perimeter but they’re shooting just 42% from the field on the season. This will be an emotional slugfest, and maybe by the end of it we’ll know once and for all the status of this series.

Who’s Getting Upset?: Georgia (vs. George Washington; 7 PM) 
Not sure if this would qualify as a true “upset” since the Colonials are 6-6 while Georgia enters the game with a 5-7 mark. But with this being their final game before the start of SEC play it would be in the Bulldogs’ best interest to defend Stegeman Coliseum. To do so they’ll need to keep Isaiah Armwood under wraps, as he’d reached double figures in five straight games before George Washington’s win over Sacred Heart on December 30. Kentavious Caldwell-Pope is averaging 17.5 points per game to lead Georgia, but who’s his sidekick? Mark Fox needs a player to step up tonight, especially when looking ahead to conference play. But since that has yet to happen, expect George Washington’s Lasan Kromah to be the difference.

Mid-Major Matchup of the Day: Cleveland State at Valparaiso (7 PM) 
The Horizon League race has the makings of being a really good one, with Valparaiso and Detroit leading the way. With that in mind this is a big game for the Crusaders, who enter tonight 0-1 in conference play. Cleveland State enters with an 8-6 record but Gary Waters’ team has struggled defensively, as opponents are averaging 70.1 points per game and shooting 46.3% from the field. Taking on Ryan Broekhoff and Kevin Van Wijk, the Vikings can’t afford to defend at that level tonight. Defensive issues are one reason why CSU is 1-5 on the road this season, and losing Anton Grady back in November (knee injury) certainly didn’t help matters.

Five Things 

1) “The record’s very misleading. There’s five or six of the games that (were) very winnable, so I really don’t think we can worry about our record right now.” Those were the words of Siena head coach Mitch Buonaguro earlier this week in regards to the Saints’ 2-11 record. His players have a chance to prove him right and end their six-game losing streak tonight as they host Iona (7 PM).

2) How many three-pointers will Ole Miss’ Marshall Henderson attempt tonight? The Rebels will look to run against a Fordham (9 PM) team that can be drawn into such contests, but the Rams do have some talented pieces (Branden Frazier and Chris Gaston leading the way). Fordham’s allowing opponents to shoot 33.3% from beyond the arc, which could mean more openings for Henderson.

3) Having already beaten Providence, Brown looks to pick up a win at Rhode Island (7 PM) to move to 2-1 against in-state opponents this season (they lost to Bryant). Matt Sullivan leads four Bears in double figures with an average of 14.4 points per game but it was Tucker Halpern who hit eight three-pointers last week. Dan Hurley’s young Rams will counter with guards Xavier Munford and Andre Malone.

4) Tulane looks to move to 12-3 on the season as they host a dangerous Wofford team in New Orleans (8 PM). One thing about the Green Wave: their strength of schedule ranks 338th nationally, so there are questions about the strength of their 11-3 mark. If the Terriers can turn this into a slugfest they can win.

5) The SWAC is the busiest conference tonight as there are four conference games on the slate. Texas Southern visits Alcorn State led by high-volume shooter Omar Strong, and these games will offer the answer to the question of which SWAC team has grown the most from the many guarantee-game beatings they took in non-conference play.

No Top 25 games scheduled

Other Notable Games 

Brown at Rhode Island (7 PM)

Rider at Loyola (MD) (7:30 PM)

Wofford at Tulane (8 PM)

Fordham at Ole Miss (9 PM)

Raphielle also writes for the NBE Basketball Report and can be followed on Twitter at @raphiellej.

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.