Late Night Snacks: Saint Louis clamps down on No. 9 Butler

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Game of the Night: Niagara 93, Iona 90 (OT) 

The thriller between the Purple Eagles and Gaels featured an amazing finish to regulation, with Niagara missing three attempts to tie the game before Juan’ya Green hit a three-pointer with 4.5 seconds remaining to send the game into overtime. Green would be the hero in overtime as well, knocking down the game-winning three with five tenths of a second remaining.

Green (26 points) and Antoine Mason (30) led the way for Niagara, who now leads Iona by two games in the MAAC standings. And with Canisius and Loyola (MD) three games back at 7-4, it’s safe to say that Joe Mihalich’s team is in firm control of the conference race.

Important Outcomes

1. Saint Louis 75, No. 9 Butler 58

Jim Crews’ Billikens clamped down defensively, forcing 23 turnovers in an emphatic victory at Chaifetz Arena. With Butler’s loss there are now seven teams in the Atlantic 10 with two conference losses, with VCU and Xavier currently sitting atop the standings at 5-2. “Figuring out” the conference when it comes to how to rank the teams is nearly impossible at this point, but there are a number of opportunities for teams to pick up resume-building wins in February. Hopefully the Atlantic 10 doesn’t get punished for beating up on each other when Selection Sunday rolls around.

2. Middle Tennessee 66, Florida International 64

Last season the Blue Raiders won 25 regular season games and won the Sun Belt regular season title by two games (they won their division by six games), only to wind up in the NIT after losing to Arkansas State in the quarterfinals of the Sun Belt tournament. With a strength of schedule of 103 according to warrennolan.com Kermit Davis’ team can ill-afford to lose games like Thursday’s against FIU if they want to entertain any thoughts of an at-large bid.  That’s what made Shawn Nolan’s tip-in of a lob as time expired so important. Now 19-4 overall (10-1 Sun Belt), Middle Tennessee continues on their quest to reach the NCAA tournament.

3. No. 13 Michigan State 80, Illinois 75 

While there is the need to focus on the play of Michigan State guard Keith Appling (24 points, seven assists) down the stretch of this contest, there’s also the need to take a look at the Fighting Illini. Illinois got off to a good start offensively and led 37-27 at the half, but they didn’t bring the same effort defensively in the second half.

Michigan State shot 87.5% from the field and 23-of-32 from the foul line in the second half, and it’s tough to win anywhere (much less at Breslin) when allowing a team to shoot that well. While it’s important that Illinois hit their perimeter shots, if they don’t toughen up defensively the Fighting Illini will have a tough time reaching the NCAA tournament.

4. Arizona State 63, Washington 59 

Jahii Carson scored a game-high 25 points on 10-of-19 shooting, making a pair of key baskets down the stretch to lead the Sun Devils past the Cougars in Pullman. Evan Gordon added 13 points and Carrick Felix posted his fourth double-double in Pac-12 play while also defending Washington State’s Brock Motum (3-of-13 FG, 11 points and 11 rebounds) for much of the night. Now 6-2 in conference play (17-4 overall, best record since the 1980-81 season), Herb Sendek’s team has to be considered a factor in the Pac-12 race. And that’s something few people expected back in November.

Starred

1. F Roosevelt Johnson (Southeast Louisiana) 

Johnson scored 28 points (10-of-18 FG), grabbed 14 rebounds and dished out five assists in the Lions’ 70-69 win at Central Arkansas. Johnson scored on a lob with seven tenths of a second remaining to give the Lions the victory.

2. G Juan’ya Green and G Antoine Mason (Niagara) 

In a matchup of two of the MAAC’s best backcourts this tandem combined to score 56 points in the Purple Eagles’ 93-90 overtime win over Iona. Mason scored a game-high 30 points while Green added 26 and eight assists, not to mention those two key shots mentioned above.

3. C Jarred Shaw (Utah State)

Shaw was a big reason why the Aggies (who have been without Preston Medlin and Kyisean Reed) were able to end their four-game losing streak, scoring 27 points on 12-of-15 shooting and grabbing nine rebounds in Utah State’s 77-67 win at Idaho.

Struggled

1. Loyola Marymount

Yes, No. 7 Gonzaga is one of the best teams in the country. But the Lions were overwhelmed from the start in the 88-43 beating, shooting 6-of-25 from the field and scoring 18 points in the first half. For the game Max Good’s team shot 25%.

2. North Texas

Remember when the Mean Green had the look of a team that could win the Sun Belt? That was back in November, and at this point in the season North Texas looks like a team counting down days until the end of the season. The Mean Green lost 105-74 at Louisiana-Lafayette, giving up 60 points in the second half.

3.  UMKC

The Kangaroos scored just 12 points in the first half and finished with more turnovers (18) than field goals (11) in their 71-34 loss at North Dakota State.

Three Facts 

1. Thanks to a Matt Carlino three-pointer in the final minute of play BYU was able to hold on to beat Pepperdine 63-61 in Malibu. And with a resume that lack a marquee victory this was a contest that would have done major damage to the Cougars’ at-large hopes had it gone the other way.

2. Connecticut picked up their first win at Providence since 2006, hanging on to beat the Friars 82-79 in overtime. And the Huskies won despite being out-rebounded 55-24, a margin that ties a Big East record originally set in 1997 (St. John’s vs. Seton Hall).

3. While Butler and VCU have received a lot of publicity for their adjusting to a new conference, Belmont and Oral Roberts have both adjusted well to new leagues. Rick Byrd’s Bruins moved to 9-0 in the OVC with a 93-74 win over Morehead State, and ORU is 9-1 in the Southland after beating Nicholls State 90-78.

Top 25 Scores

No. 7 Gonzaga 88, Loyola Marymount 43

No. 8 Arizona 57, Washington 53

Saint Louis 75, No. 9 Butler 58

No. 13 Michigan State 80, Illinois 75

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

North Carolina gets commitment from four-star 2020 forward

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North Carolina has its first piece in its 2020 recruiting class.

Day’Ron Sharpe, a 6-foot-9 forward, committed to the Tar Heels on Sunday, according to multiple reports.

The Winterville, N.C. native picked Roy Williams’ in-state program over offers from Florida, Georgetown and Virginia, among others, after a second visit to Chapel Hill recently.

“We weren’t expecting it, and it kind of came out of the blue,” his father, Derrick Sharpe, told 247 Sports about the commitment. “He told coach Williams and coach was just really excited about it.”

Sharpe averaged 14.3 points and 9.3 rebounds per game during his sophomore season.

“He’s a very multi-talented player,” Dwayne West, executive director of the Garner Road Bulldogs told the Raleigh News & Observer. “He does several things very well at a high rate. He can obviously score the ball around the basket, has a solid shot and is actually a very good playmaker. Handles the ball very well.”

Sharpe is a four-star, consensus top-75 player in the 2020 class. Williams also has one commit in the 2019 class, top-50 point guard Jeremiah Francis, who, like Sharpe, committed to the Tar Heels the summer before his junior season.

Former Western Michigan basketball player cleared of murder

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KALAMAZOO, Mich. (AP) — A jury has acquitted a former Western Michigan basketball player of murder in the shooting death of a fellow student but convicted him of armed robbery and a weapons charge.

The Kalamazoo County jury deliberated two days before returning the verdict for Joeviair Kennedy. He faces a possible life sentence when he’s sentenced July 16.

Nineteen-year-old Jacob Jones was killed near the campus on Dec. 8, 2016.

Co-defendant Jordan Waire of Muskegon was convicted last month of felony murder, armed robbery and weapons charges.

Prosecutors said it was Waire who shot Jones. Kennedy has said they took marijuana and about $25.

Kennedy’s attorney, Eusebio Solis, said his client agreed to the robbery but not the killing.

Kennedy was arrested in 2016 at the start of his second basketball season.

Kansas, Missouri to play alumni game for charity

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Kansas and Missouri are putting their differences aside for charity.

Kareem Rush, a former Missouri Tiger and the brother of Brandon Rush, a former Kansas Jayhawk, is organizing a game called “Rivarly Renewed“, which will pit alumni from Missouri against alumni from KU.

On July 28th, the two teams will face-off in a game where the proceeds will go towards benefitting the Boys and Girls Club as well as Kareem Rush’s “Rush Forward Foundation”.

It’s also a chance for the Tigers and the Jayhawks to reignite a rivalry that has been dormant since Missouri left the Big 12 for the SEC, although they did play a scrimmage prior to the start of last season. There is no lack of hatred between those two fan bases and any chance they get to square off is a good thing.

There should also be some big names involved. According to the Kansas City Star, Mario Chalmers, Cole Aldrich, Drew Gooden, Kim English, Ricky Paulding and Marcus Denmon are among the players that will be participating.

I love it.

Can we make sure that Bill Self is invited so that he can get convinced to play the Tigers in a non-conference game?

Doppelgangers Grayson Allen, Ted Cruz finally meet

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Ever since Grayson Allen burst onto the national scene during the 2015 Final Four, the former Duke star has been called a Ted Cruz lookalike.

That, frankly, is not exactly a compliment, and it is a comparison that Allen initially bristled at, but now that his college career, Allen seems to be embracing the long-running joke.

We know that because Allen met Cruz this weekend as he helped the senator from Texas beat Jimmy Kimmel in a game of one-on-one:

The actually game won’t be broadcast until Monday night so we won’t know exactly how Cruz won or what Allen did to help, but Cruz did beat Kimmel 11-9.

We will get getting our answers this evening.

2018 NBA Draft: What top ten picks are the most likely to be busts?

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The 2018 NBA Draft is loaded with top-end talent and potential future all-stars.

The fascinating thing about this group in the top ten is that you can make a solid case that most of these guys could become stars.

On the flipside, all of them also have some kind of glaring weakness.

Deandre Ayton is likely going No. 1 overall and there is a healthy contingent of draft analysts and skeptics who point to his lack of defensive presence as a 7-footer.

Some of these same detractors also believe the NBA is continually going smaller — meaning giants like Ayton will get played off the floor by certain small-ball lineups like the Golden State Warriors just did to some teams during another title run.

That’s just one example.

Going down the list of top-ten prospects and you can point to a lot of potential flaws that could lead to downfalls. But here are two top-ten prospects who could wind up being busts.

MICHAEL PORTER JR.

Before his freshman season at Missouri, I thought Michael Porter Jr. was going to put up monster numbers and be a Player of the Year candidate. His top-five status in the 2018 NBA Draft appeared to be safe. After a decorated high school career in which he destroyed most challengers and played well on the international stage with USA Basketball, Porter looked like he could be a jumbo scoring wing at the game’s highest level.

Then the back and hip issues began.

Porter only played in three games during his lone season with the Tigers — including two uninspiring postseason efforts in which he couldn’t get his shot to fall while trying to prove that he was healthy. And now it feels like there are a million questions about MPJ and his health.

During the NBA Draft process, Porter has cancelled and rescheduled pro days, kept medical records private for long lengths of time and given plenty of teams pause as to whether or not he is truly healthy. If Porter’s back and hip stay as a lingering issue then it changes who he is as a basketball player. Already a bit rigid, with hips that aren’t particularly fluid, Porter could have trouble moving laterally in an increasingly quick and nimble league that is only getting smaller.

Porter’s jumper also uses his whole body to elevate. It didn’t look nearly the same during those March games where he tried to gut it out. And Porter has been such a gifted scorer during his high school career that he’s never had to worry about passing or making others around him better.

Some have also questioned Porter’s ego and his ability to be a willing teammate — which are legitimate questions in a league that often sees its stars feud with others and move on to new teams.

Again, if Porter is fully healthy and ready to go, he could be a double-double threat on the wing and a 20-point per game scorer. But if Porter isn’t healthy? Some team is taking a big risk on not only taking an injured player but passing on a talented healthy player who could morph into an all-star.

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TRAE YOUNG

Perhaps the most fascinating prospect in the draft because of his insane range and overall offensive ability, Young is going to be one of the names to watch on draft night.

Some mock drafts feel he’s a top-three talent, or even the best prospect overall because of his new-age ability to pull-up and hit threes from 30 feet away. Others feel like he’s a potential defensive liability who doesn’t necessarily play winning basketball all the time because of his shot selection and high number of turnovers.

While Young could be a monster steal for some team hoping to get the next Steph Curry, those comparisons are also going to be dangerous, while likely following Young the rest of this career.

For Young, it could be all about fit and who winds up taking him.

When Young was in high school, he was at his best when he had elite talent around him. Michael Porter Jr. was the go-to scorer on a MoKan team that won the Nike Peach Jam. Young also looked solid during stretches with USA Basketball when he had tons of weapons around him.

Once teams in the Big 12 figured out his individual offensive tendencies after a hot start last season, they forced him into being a playmaker and the Sooners struggled to win games. Of course, the lack of talent around him doesn’t fall on Young, who didn’t recruit his teammates at Oklahoma. But what happens if Young falls to a dysfunctional franchise like the Orlando Magic? He’ll be expected to be a savior right away with minimal help — while also having to overcome glaring deficiencies like perimeter defense and a high number of turnovers.

And how do you think NBA players are going to react to the task of guarding Young? There’s an old Dream Team story about Michael Jordan and Scottie Pippen practically fighting so they could defend future Chicago Bulls teammate Toni Kukoc one-on-one during the ’92 Olympics. They had heard about the hype surrounding Kukoc, even though he had never played in an NBA game.

After being a national media darling much of last season, Young is going to get a lot of strong one-on-one defenders who are hungry to slow him down. Game plans will revolve around limiting Young’s touches and ability to launch shots. Teams and veteran players are going to do everything they can to frustrate Young and make life tough.

Young is talented and skilled enough to make all of these questions go away. He’s a unique talent who could very well end up being worthy of all of the hype. But he’s going to need some help reaching his full potential, and some of those things are out of his control.