Pregame Shootaround 2.1.13: The return of Ivy League Friday nights

Leave a comment

Game of the Night: Rider at Fairfield (7:00 p.m.)

With the bottom four teams in the MAAC standings at season’s end having to play in the first round of the conference tournament, tonight’s home game is very important for the 4-6 Stags. The host a Rider squad that had won five straight league games before losing to both Canisius and Manhattan last weekend, averaging just 50.5 points per game in the defeats. For Kevin Baggett’s team last week’s offensive struggled were a flashback to December, when Rider lost five straight with one of the defeats being a 65-52 home loss to Fairfield (December 9).

And frankly that was one of the ugliest games of the entire season as the two teams combined for a staggering 53 turnovers, with Rider accounting for 30. Hopefully the guard matchup between Rider’s Nurideen Lindsey and Fairfield’s Derek Needham results in a lower number of turnovers, but look for the rematch to be another affair in which points come at a premium. Also of importance for Fairfield is the need to keep Rider’s Daniel Stewart (10.2 ppg, 6.2 rpg) under wraps, as the junior struggled in both games last week (5.0 ppg, 4.5 rpg).

Who’s Getting Upset? Detroit (vs. Youngstown State, 9:00 p.m. on ESPNU) 

Youngstown State head coach Jerry Slocum shouldn’t have to say much to motivate his Penguins in advance of this game. Just hand out a box score of the first meeting this season, a 101-60 Detroit victory in Youngstown. Slocum wasn’t too thrilled with the way Ray McCallum Sr.’s Titans handled the final five minutes of the game (that question gets asked at the 0:52 mark of this video), one in which Detroit hit 11-of-20 from beyond the arc.

Ray McCallum Jr., Jason Calliste and Nick Minnerath can give opposing teams fits, and YSU will need to be at their best defensively in order to combat that firepower. The Penguins hold opponents to 37% shooting from the field and in veterans Kendrick Perry and Damian Eargle they’ve got two players capable of causing problems on the other end. Youngstown State has won four straight, and the motivation of that first meeting could be enough to push them past Detroit.

Ivy League Matchup of the Night: Columbia at Pennsylvania (7:00 p.m.)

Since all of the games on tonight’s schedule involve mid-majors switching things up a bit in honor of the first Ivy League Friday night of the season. The game to keep an eye on involves the Lions, a team that has the talent needed to hang with preseason favorites Princeton and Harvard, and a young Penn squad that has struggled this season. Leading scorer Fran Dougherty has missed the last eight games due to mononucleosis, but he’s expected to return this weekend and would provide a welcome boost to the lineup. Columbia will counter with guards Brian Barbour and Grant Mullins, who combine to average 24.7 points per game.

Five Things to Watch For 

1) Both Manhattan and Siena (7:00 p.m., ESPNU) have struggled this season with injuries being a major reason why. Keep an eye on Manhattan’s Rhamel Brown and Siena’s O.D. Anosike, two of the MAAC’s best front court players. Anosike posted the fourth 20 point/20 rebound game of the college basketball season on Sunday (20 points, 21 rebounds in a win at Marist).

2) Mercer looks to extend its home win streak to 11 games tonight when they host Kennesaw State (7:00 p.m., ESPN3). While a win would move the Bears into a tie for first place that’s no gimme, as KSU beat Mercer 83-75 on earlier this season.

3) Harvard looks to move to 3-0 in Ivy League play tonight when they host rival Yale in Cambridge. The Crimson have won six of the last seven meetings in the series, and the tandem of freshman point guard Siyani Chambers and sophomore forward Wesley Saunders have led the way for Tommy Amaker’s team.

4) Valparaiso hosts struggling Milwaukee, and a win would keep the Crusaders alone in first place in the Horizon League. Ryan Broekhoff accounted for 26 points, ten rebounds and four assists in the first meeting this season, a 76-52 Valparaiso victory.

5) Princeton has won 16 straight Ivy League home games and they’ll put that streak on the line tonight against Cornell. The streak is the program’s longest since winning 26 Ivy League home games in a row from 1996-99.

Other Notable Games

Yale at Harvard, 7:00 p.m.

Cornell at Princeton, 7:00 p.m.

Manhattan at Siena, 7:00 p.m. (ESPNU)

No Top 25 games scheduled 

Photo credit: Fairfield Athletics (Derek Needham)

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

VIDEO: Mixtape for North Carolina-bound Nassir Little

Leave a comment

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

Allen Dean Steele /Allsport
Leave a comment

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

Andy Lyons/Getty Images
Leave a comment

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

Andy Lyons/Getty Images
Leave a comment

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

Getty Images
Leave a comment

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.