Front court contributions help California oust 5-seed UNLV

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UNLV entered Thursday’s East Region game against 12-seed California with more NBA-caliber talent in the front court, led by freshman Anthony Bennett, sophomore Khem Birch and junior Mike Moser.

But they were outplayed by Cal’s Robert Thurman and Richard Solomon, who combined for 23 points and ten rebounds to help lead the Golden Bears to the 64-61 victory in an East Region matchup. As a team Cal (21-11) outscored UNLV 34-18 in the paint, and their early second half move to a zone defense seemed to confuse the Runnin’ Rebels.

Bennett and Bryce Dejean-Jones scored 15 points apiece to lead UNLV (25-10), but Dave Rice’s team shot just 32.2% from the field and far too often failed to get the ball into the high post against Cal’s defense. Shooting 6-of-20 from beyond the arc was something UNLV could have survived had they shot better than 33.3% (13-of-39) from two.

Allen Crabbe (19 points, nine rebounds) and Justin Cobbs (13 points, six assists) are going to lead the way for the Golden Bears offensively, and that’s to be expected at this stage in the season. But Cal will also need performances from supporting cast members like the ones supplied by Solomon and Thurman on Thursday if they’re to remain in the NCAA tournament.

Thurman’s 12 points (all on dunks) are the most he’s scored in a game since posting 14 points in a win over UCSB back in mid-December. But while that’s evidence of his improved play it’s also a major indictment of UNLV’s interior defense.

Mountain West Defensive Player of the Year Khem Birch played just 15 minutes, and his absence played a role in UNLV’s struggles with interior defense. With the forms of resistance essentially being Bennett and Moser, Thurman was able to find openings at the rim for multiple dunks.

Next up for California will be either Syracuse or Montana, and while much was made of the Golden Bears’ supposed “home-court” advantage with their Berkeley campus being about 50 miles away that wasn’t the deciding factor.

The performances of Solomon and Thurman are what got the job done. And if those two can duplicate their performances (or come reasonably close to doing so) on Saturday, the Golden Bears can advance to the Sweet 16.

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

Louisville lands local four-star 2019 guard

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Louisville continued its hot stretch on the recruiting trail on Saturday as local four-star Class of 2019 guard David Johnson pledged to the Cardinals.

Johnson is the third top-100 prospect to commit to Louisville in the past two weeks as he joins a four-man 2019 recruiting class that should be among the best groups in the country. The 6-foot-4 Johnson is regarded as the No. 98 overall prospect in the Rivals Class of 2019 national rankings as he comes from nearby Trinity High School.

Previously committed to the old staff at Louisville, head coach Chris Mack and his staff were able to retain Johnson’s commitment, as he joins a potentially loaded recruiting class. With an ability to play both perimeter spots, Johnson should be able to get others involved when he’s playing on the ball while also being able to pick his own spots as a scorer.

Johnson joins four-star guard Josh Nickelberry, four-star wing Samuell Williamson and four-star forward Jae’lyn Withers in the Louisville Class of 2019 recruiting haul. With Mack and his staff getting three top-100 prospects in the past two weeks, Louisville is currently one of the hottest programs in the country when it comes to landing quality commitments.

And even though Louisville has been in the midst of recruiting scandals over the past few years, they still have all of the necessary check marks for a school to consistently recruit elite players. Now that Mack is providing stability at head coach, Louisville plays in an elite conference with elite facilities with one of the best fanbases in the country. We’re quickly finding out that recruits only care about what will help them over the next few years.

Virginia lands early 2021 commitment from prized perimeter recruit

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Virginia got its Class of 2021 recruiting efforts off to a positive start on Friday night as North Carolina native and guard Carson McCorkle pledged to the Cavaliers.

The 6-foot-3 McCorkle is a highly-regarded young perimeter prospect, as he’s been invited to USA Basketball events and recognized as a potential top-100 prospect. He’s also the first 2021 prospect that Virginia offered a scholarship.

That means Virginia is doing a great job of looking ahead on the recruiting board, as a Class of 2021 commitment gives them more time to close out 2019 and 2020. McCorkle visited Virginia for an unofficial visit in August and he evidently came away impressed enough to commit before his sophomore season. The early commitment from McCorkle could also give the young guard, and Virginia, time to potentially reclassify him up a grade if the Cavaliers wanted him a year early.

Of course, McCorkle (and Virginia) have plenty of time to change their minds over the next few years. But landing McCorkle early is also a positive sign for Virginia’s future recruiting as they’ve locked up a key target as an underclassman.

Miami dismisses guard from program

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Miami announced on Friday afternoon that Miles Wilson has been dismissed from the program for “not meeting team expectations.”

The school provided no other comment or explanation for the dismissal.

Wilson, a 6-foot-2 combo guard, averaged 11.8 points and 3.9 boards as a freshman at Mount St. Mary’s before opting to transfer out of the program. He sat out the 2017-18 season in Coral Gables as his mandatory redshirt season.

“Miles comes to the U after a very successful year at Mount St. Mary’s, where he helped them reach the NCAA tournament,” Jim Larrañaga said in a statement at the time Wilson committed to the Hurricanes. “Miles has the size, length and athletic ability to be an outstanding defender; in addition, he has the shooting and ball handling skills to be a real threat at the offensive end.”

VIDEO: Oklahoma State head coach Mike Boynton jumped out of a plane

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Don’t worry.

He was skydiving.

USC adds to top 2019 class with four-star recruit Kyle Sturdivant

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Andy Enfield’s 2019 recruiting haul already includes two five-star, top-20 recruits along with a pair of additional four-star prospects in the top-100. It’s good enough, right now, for USC to own the best class in the country.

And on Thursday, the Trojans added to it.

Kyle Sturdivant, a top-100 recruit out of Georgia, has committed to the Trojans.

The 6-foot-3 point guard previously committed to his home-state Bulldogs and new coach Tom Crean, but backed off that pledge last month. He also had offers from Cal, Clemson, Auburn and Florida, among others.

Sturdivant put up 16.2 points, 5 rebounds and 3.9 assists per game last season while playing alongside top-five recruit Vernon Carey on Team Takeover Florida.

His commitment gives Enfield a point guard in an already loaded class. The Trojans previously received commitments from five-stars Isaiah Mobley and Onyeka Okongwu and four-stars Max Agbonkpolo and Drake London, giving them the consensus top class in the country this fall.

The Trojans’ continued success keeps the trend alive of schools who were caught up in the FBI corruption investigation simply shaking it off and landing more top talent.

The kings stay the kings.