The Secondary Break: Tuesday’s Links

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J.J. Mann’s journey from scholarship bubble to buzzer beater (Sports Illustrated)
Belmont’s J.J. Mann made national headlines on Sunday afternoon, as his three-pointer with 13.1 seconds remaining gave the Bruins a lead they would not relinquish at then-No. 12 North Carolina. So how did Mann wind up at Belmont? A prep year spent at Hargrave Military Academy proved to be the stop he needed in order to earn a scholarship offer, and in the end both Mann and Belmont have reaped the benefits.

Virginia’s Joe Harris has big dreams (ESPN)
Virginia senior guard Joe Harris is one of the nation’s best perimeter players, and in his final season in Charlottesville Harris aims to lead the Cavaliers back to the NCAA tournament. And, like many athletes, Harris has an affinity for inspirational quotes.

Wichita State looks to turn Final Four into a springboard (USA Today)
Like George Mason, Butler and VCU before them, Wichita State is hoping to use its appearance in the Final Four as a springboard to bigger and better things under Gregg Marshall. With Cleanthony Early leading the way, the Shockers are ranked 14th nationally and the preseason favorites to win the Missouri Valley Conference.

Fillyaw’s aggressiveness a surprise to Salukis (Carbondale Southern)
In Southern Illinois’ first three games of the season, sophomore guard Marcus Fillyaw attempted a total of nine shots from the field. In his fourth game as a Saluki, Fillyaw surprised his teammates to the tune of 17 points in a home loss to Saint Louis. And for SIU to improve its standing within the Missouri Valley, they’re going to need more aggressive offensive play from players such as Fillyaw.

Monmouth enters first season in the MAAC with one motto: “we’re no one’s day off” (Newark Star-Ledger)
King Rice’s Hawks fell at Seton Hall on Monday night, with Pirate Patrik Auda accounting for 27 points and ten rebounds. And the outcome isn’t a surprise, with little being expected of Rice’s team as they play their first season in the MAAC. Picked to finish last in the conference, Monmouth’s most basic goal is a simple one: to not be any opponent’s “day off.”

Ball State coach has high expectations for young leader (Fort Wayne News-Sentinel)
First-year Ball State head coach James Whitford will rely on a freshman to lead his team, handing the keys to the offense to rookie point guard Zavier Turner. And with that being the case there are a number of responsibilities on Turner’s plate, but the feeling is that the freshman’s capable of handling them.

Noah Vonleh quietly emerging onto the national scene (Inside the Hall)
A highly regarded freshman entering the season, Indiana forward Noah Vonleh’s flown under the radar somewhat due in large part to the Hoosiers not playing a marquee non-conference game to this point in the season. But Vonleh’s been highly productive for Indiana, posting double-doubles in each of Indiana’s first four games. And with two games in New York City later this week (including a possible matchup with UConn), Vonleh should receive some more attention nationally.

Offering equal pay to college athletes won’t work (CNN Money)
With the Ed O’Bannon lawsuit hovering over collegiate athletics, many have taken the time to ponder how the current model would change if the NCAA were to lose the case. Of course, for many this means discussing whether or not (and how) to pay college athletes, but the plan the plaintiffs have in mind may not be an effective one.

Top AAU basketball coach’s arrest shakes up New England Basketball (GoLocalProv.com)
The New England basketball community was hit hard by the arrest of Rhode Island Hawks coach Jay Elliott on child pornography charges. During his time with the Hawks Elliott has coached numerous players who have played at the Division I level, and the program is one of the region’s best grassroots programs.

Siena relying on Poole as a go-to guy (Troy Record)
After three down seasons the Siena basketball program went through a change in leadership in the spring, with Jimmy Patsos being hired to replace Mitch Buonaguro. And in Patsos’ first season at the helm junior Rob Poole is the team’s go-to scorer and he’s performed well in the role, as he ranks in the Top 10 in the MAAC in scoring.

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.

Four-star wing Romeo Weems commits to DePaul

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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.