Utah beats California in overtime, advances to Pac-12 semifinals

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The Utah Utes entered the Pac-12 tournament with a 13-17 overall record, and as the ten-seed Larry Krystkowiak’s team wasn’t expected by many who follow the league to hang around Las Vegas for too long.

But after wins over USC and California (beating the Golden Bears 79-69 in overtime), Utah is now in the Pac-12 tournament semifinals and finds itself 80 minutes away from an improbable NCAA tournament trip.

The NCAA tournament shouldn’t be the concern because there’s plenty of business to be taken care of, but these two wins represent tangible rewards for a program that’s shown itself to be far more competitive in its second season in the Pac-12.

Jarred DuBois’ three-pointer over the outstretched arm of Cal big man David Kravish with four seconds remaining in regulation tied Thursday’s quarterfinal matchup at 59 apiece, and in the extra session Utah outscored the Golden Bears 20-10.

DuBois, playing his lone season in Salt Lake City after transferring in from Loyola Marymount, finished with 21 points, freshman Jordan Loveridge added 20 and senior center Jason Washburn 18 to lead the way offensively. Utah’s balance proved to be the difference against the Golden Bears, who had no other double-digit scorers to supplement the points provided by Justin Cobbs (26 points) and Allen Crabbe (21).

Nearly a month ago the Utes dropped a 68-64 decision at home to then-No. 9 Arizona, and even in defeat the progress made under Krystkowiak has been evident to many. The conference win total isn’t impressive (5-13 Pac-12 record) but these Utes are light years better than the group that looked overmatched in their debut season in the conference.

DuBois and Washburn are both seniors, meaning that Krystkowiak and his staff have some holes to fill in the offseason. But in Loveridge and freshman guard Brandon Taylor the Utes have two young players they can build around in the near future.

“I trust that these guys aren’t going to get satisfied. They’re going to continue to improve. It’s really nice,” said Krystkowiak after the game.

“I think not just Jordan, but there were some moments at the game, actually in the middle of live action, that I looked out there and we had four freshmen on the court. So the kids are continuing to get better as this year’s gone along.”

If they’re to be successful against Oregon the Utes have to do a better job on the glass, as they were out-rebounded 40-30 by the Golden Bears with Cal grabbing 15 offensive rebounds. But the fact that Utah is playing on Friday night speaks to the fact that the small steps taken in the right direction are beginning to produce tangible results.

“At this point in the season, our guys have learned all the lessons that you can learn, and we’re putting some things together where we’re not overly deficient in any one area, and that’s given us a chance to compete,” noted Krystkowiak.

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

Nevada’s Jordan Caroline pulls out of 2018 NBA Draft

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Jordan Caroline has opted to pull his name out of the 2018 NBA Draft as he will return to Nevada for his senior season, he announced on Saturday.

The 6-foot-7 Caroline put together a strong season for the Wolf Pack as he averaged 17.7 points, 8.6 rebounds and 2.2 assists per game as Nevada made the Sweet 16 behind one of the most talented offenses in the country.

Caroline’s return is a huge boost for Nevada as they still await the NBA draft decisions of Caleb and Cody Martin.

Currently ranked No. 17 in the NBCSports.com Preseason Top 25 (without the Martin twins), the Wolf Pack will still have a ton of talent around Caroline next season. Five-star freshman center Jordan Brown recently committed to Nevada. The program also a number of talented transfers entering the mix, including Tre’Shawn Thomas, Nisre Zouzoua and Ehab Amin.

If the Martin twins return to school (and that is a big if) then Nevada could have a potentially elite offense next season. But even if the Martin twins go pro, Nevada should still be the favorite in the Mountain West and a threat to once again make the second weekend of the NCAA tournament.

Dewan Huell returning to Miami for junior season

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Miami received some positive news on Saturday afternoon as the school announced the return of forward Dewan Huell for his junior season.

After testing the NBA draft waters without an agent, the 6-foot-11 Huell will be back for the Hurricanes. Starting all 32 games for the program last season, Huell averaged 11.4 points and 6.6 rebounds per game while shooting 57 percent from the floor.

“After getting feedback from NBA teams and talking it over with my family and coaches, I would like to announce that I will be returning to Miami for my junior season,” Huell said in the release. “I’m really excited to get back to work with my brothers so we can accomplish more than ever during the 2018-19 season.”

A former McDonald’s All-American coming out of high school, Huell’s return gives the Hurricanes stability in the front court for next season as he’ll play with other returning players like Sam Waardenburg and Ebuka Izundu. With Miami losing both Lonnie Walker and Bruce Brown early to the 2018 NBA Draft, Huell could be expected to provide more offensive production as a junior.

Bruce Weber receives contract extension at Kansas State

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Kansas State and head coach Bruce Weber have agreed to a two-year contract extension, according to a release from the school.

After leading the Wildcats to a surprising Elite Eight appearance in March, Weber will be the head coach at Kansas State through the 2022-23 season, which gives him another five seasons to work with. Weber will be paid $2.5 million in 2018-19 and he’ll receive a $100,000 increase to his salary in each remaining contract year.

Weber had already signed a two-year extension in August 2017, but this move gives the veteran head coach more job security (and positive recruiting perception) for the next few seasons.

“We are very fortunate to have not only such an outstanding basketball coach but also a man in Coach Weber who conducts his program with integrity and class and is widely respected across the nation,” Kansas State Director of Athletics Gene Taylor said. “Certainly last season was one of the most memorable postseason runs in our program’s history, and we are excited for next season and the years ahead under Coach Weber’s leadership.”

With Kansas State returning most of its roster from last season, including the return of guard Barry Brown from the 2018 NBA Draft process, expectations are sky-high for Weber and the Wildcats this season. Currently ranked as the No. 8 team in the NBCSports.com Preseason Top 25, Kansas State’s veteran club could give Kansas a serious run for a Big 12 regular season title this season.

Northwestern loses incoming freshman point guard

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Northwestern and incoming freshman point guard Jordan Lathon are parting ways. The 6-foot-4 Lathon was viewed as a potential candidate to replace Bryant McIntosh at lead guard for the Wildcats this season, but Northwestern has reportedly revoked his offer of admission and basketball scholarship.

It is unclear why Lathon was unable to be admitted into Northwestern, but the school’s VP for University Relations, Alan Cubbage, gave a statement to Inside NU’s Davis Rich and Caleb Friedman.

“Northwestern University has revoked its offers of admission and an athletic scholarship for Jordan Lathon, a recruit for the Northwestern men’s basketball team,” the statement said. “Out of respect for the privacy of the student, the University will have no further public comment.”

Lathon later acknowledged the situation in a tweet explaining to fans that he will no longer be attending Northwestern.

While it is unclear why Lathon and Northwestern are parting ways, other high-major programs are already very interested in bringing in Lathon for next season. Oklahoma State immediately jumped in with a scholarship offer. There is also speculation that Lathon, a native of Grandview, Missouri, could also hear from the in-state Tigers as well.

It’ll be interesting to see where Lathon lands, and how this also affects Northwestern’s point guard situation. The loss of a four-year starter like McIntosh will be tough to fill, especially since Lathon was committed to Northwestern since last June. It wouldn’t be surprising to see the Wildcats and head coach Chris Collins seek out a veteran point guard graduate transfer to try and get some immediate help.

Nebraska’s James Palmer Jr. returning to school

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Nebraska received some important news on Friday night as senior guard James Palmer Jr. will be back for next season.

The 6-foot-6 Palmer had tested the NBA draft waters, but he decided to return to the Cornhuskers. After putting up 17.2 points, 4.4 rebounds and 3.0 assists per game last season, Palmer is expected to be an All-Big Ten candidate once again this season. Palmer shot 44 percent from the floor and 30 percent from three-point range last season.

After transferring in from Miami, Palmer became the Huskers’ go-to scorer last season in helping Nebraska to a 22-win season and NIT appearance.

With Palmer back, Nebraska will have some legitimate expectations for the upcoming season, especially if the team’s second-leading scorer, Isaac Copeland Jr., also returns from the NBA draft process.