Arizona’s Aaron Gordon belongs in the conversation with the best freshmen despite what box score says

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From Nov. 20th thru Dec. 1st, I’ll be on the road, hitting 21 games in 11 days. To follow along and read my stories from the road, click here.

NEW YORK — The headlines this season have been dominated by talk of ‘The Big Three’.

Andrew Wiggins, Jabari Parker and Julius Randle. Which freshmen is the best player in the country? Who do you take No. 1 in the draft? Who will be the best player five years down the road? Is Wiggins T-Mac or Scottie Pippen? Is Parker Paul Pierce or Carmelo? Is Randle Chris Webber or Zach Randolph? Who wins a game of horse? If locked in a room for three hours with nothing but an X-Box 1 and FIFA 14, who leaves that room with the best record?

OK, those last two may not be real, but you get my point. The coverage that those three have received over the first three weeks of the season has been exhaustive, to the point that the average fan may not realize that those three are far from the only potentially great players in college basketball this season, let alone the only great freshmen.

On Friday night in Madison Square Garden, No. 4 Arizona’s freshman phenom got his first chance to showcase his ability on national television, as the Wildcats took on No. 6 Duke in the finals of the Preseason NIT on national television. Arizona won, 72-66, and a quick glance at the box score will make it seem as if Gordon blew his chance.

10 points on 4-for-6 shooting to go along with seven boards?

(MORE: Duke’s lack of size should not an excuse any longer)

That’s good. It’s certainly not head-turning. He may get his name put on Sportscenter’s graphic at the end of the highlights. He may not. “We as a group have to find ways to use his offensive talent even more,” head coach Sean Miller said.

But that stat-line doesn’t do his performance on Friday justice, because Gordon was arguably the most important player on the floor for Arizona.

Think about it like this: Jabari Parker has been the best scorer in the country this season. He entered the game averaging 23.6 points and shooting 60.9% from three in games. Those comparisons to Melo and Pierce? Well, they’re valid, at least in they’re ability to score the ball. He can overpower a smaller opponent in the post and make a bigger defender look silly on the perimeter. I’m not sure there is a better all-around offensive talent that’s not currently getting an NBA paycheck.

And Gordon locked him down. For the first time this season, Parker didn’t score 20 points. He did finish with 19, but he was 7-for-21 from the field and 0-for-5 from three. The most important stat? Gordon picked up his second foul with 6:58 left in the first half and didn’t get off the bench afterwards. In that time, Parker was 4-for-6 from the floor and scored of those 19 points. With Gordon on the floor, Parker was 3-for-15 from the field.

Gordon has the potential to be a game-changer on the defensive end of the floor because of his athleticism and versatility. There aren’t many players out there that he can’t guard.

But that’s not the only place he effects the game for the Wildcats.

“Aaron Gordon isn’t going to score 30,” Miller said. “He’s not a volume shooter. He’s a basketball player. He guarded Hood and Parker. He finished with seven boards. He made a couple of the best passes on offense. He made a big three point shot.”

Most importantly, Gordon in unselfish. He doesn’t care if he doesn’t score 30 points. He doesn’t force offense. It seems, at least from my view court side, that Gordon is solely concerned with one stat: the final score. “He’s a great teammate and everything flows better when he’s out there,” Miller said. It’s worth noting here that Gordon also added four assists and two blocks.

What become evident on Wednesday night was that Arizona is an elite defensive team. They have size inside, they have guards than can really hawk the ball on the perimeter and they have two of the most versatile players in the country in Gordon and Rondae Hollis-Jefferson. It’s incredible, when you think about it. The Wildcats were able to matchup with Duke when they played five perimeter players, but they can also matchup with Baylor’s biggest lineup.

There aren’t many teams in the country that are capable of doing that.

Arizona is, and Gordon is the biggest reason why.

So he may not put up the same numbers as the likes of Parker, Randle or Wiggins and his ability may not be readily apparent in a box score, but rest assured, his value to this Arizona team cannot be under-stated.

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.