Friday’s Pregame Shootaround: Let the games begin!

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GAME OF THE NIGHT: No. 8 Louisville vs. Minnesota (7:30 p.m., ESPN)

The headliner on the first day of the college basketball season matches father and son, with Rick Pitino’s Cardinals facing Richard Pitino’s Golden Gophers in Puerto Rico. Louisville, in its first season as a member of the ACC, is led by guards Terry Rozier and Chris Jones and forward Montreal Harrell, with Harrell receiving a few All-America team nods during the preseason. Keeping him in check is something Minnesota has to do if they’re to pick up the victory, and starters Elliot Eliason and Joey King will need to perform well for a team coming off of a 25-win season and Postseason NIT title.

The guard play will be entertaining, with Minnesota countering the Rozier/Jones tandem with seniors Dre Mathieu and Andre Hollins. The area to watch: turnovers. Louisville forced a turnover on 25 percent of their opponents’ possessions last season, a stat that ranked second nationally. Obviously Minnesota will be familiar with the style of play, and if they’re to pick up the win the Golden Gophers have to at least break even in the turnover category.

NON-TOP 25 GAME OF THE NIGHT: Long Beach State at BYU (7:00 p.m. BYUTV)

BYU’s best playmaker, Kyle Collinsworth, saw his first action in the Cougars’ second exhibition game last week but his minutes will still be monitored as he continues to work his way back from a torn ACL suffered last March. The good thing for head coach Dave Rose is that he has a lot of depth on the perimeter, led by high-level scorer Tyler Haws and Wake Forest transfer Chase Fischer. Long Beach State boasts one of the better guards at the mid-major level in Mike Caffey who is expected to earn first team All-Big West honors for the third consecutive season. BYU should win, especially with the game being played in Provo, but the guard play makes this a game to check out.

Note: Long Beach State guard Tyler Lamb has been suspended for this game.

FIVE THINGS TO WATCH FOR: 

  • Navy will host the first annual Quicken Loans Veterans Classic, playing No. 18 Michigan State in the nightcap. The Spartans will be led by seniors Branden Dawson and Travis Trice and junior Denzel Valentine, with Valentine capable of putting together a breakout season with his expanded role. In the first game Donnie Tyndall will make his regular season debut at Tennessee, and he didn’t draw an easy opener with No. 15 VCU being the opposition. The Rams won’t have Briante Weber however, as he’s serving a one-game suspension.
  • The two teams at the top of most preseason polls, No. 1 Kentucky and No. 2 Arizona, are in action with season openers they’ll be expected to win. Kentucky hosts Grand Canyon, with this being the first opportunity to see how John Calipari’s platoon works against Division I opposition. As for Arizona, Sean Miller’s Wildcats host a Mount St. Mary’s team that relied on pressure defense and three-point shooting to earn a trip to the NCAA tournament last season.
  • Besides Arizona three other ranked teams host opponents that reached the NCAA tournament a season ago: No. 6 North Carolina (North Carolina Central), No. 10 Texas (North Dakota State) and No. 11 Wichita State (New Mexico State). All three ranked teams begin the season with high hopes, and the individual matchup of Wichita State’s Ron Baker and New Mexico State’s Daniel Mullings may be the best that any of those games has to offer.
  • After finishing third in the SEC last season, Mark Fox’s Georgia Bulldogs are looking to earn a trip to the NCAA tournament in 2014-15. First up on the schedule for them is rival Georgia Tech in Atlanta (7:00 p.m., ESPN3), and although Marcus Thornton and company will be expected to win you never know what will happen in rivalry games. Georgia Tech’s led by Marcus Georges-Hunt, and Maryland transfer Charles Mitchell will help them in the post.
  • A game to keep an eye on that doesn’t match ranked teams: Wofford at Stanford (12:00 a.m., Pac-12 Networks). The Cardinal, led by guards Chasson Randle and Anthony Brown, should be in the mix in the Pac-12 but they’ve got a tough matchup in the regular season opener. Mike Young’s Terriers reached the NCAA tournament last season, and with all five starters back led by guards Karl Cochran and Spencer Collins this is a group expected by many to be the class of the Southern Conference.

THE TOP 25:

  • Grand Canyon at No. 1 Kentucky, 8:00 p.m. (SEC Network)
  • Mount St. Mary’s at No. 2 Arizona, 8:00 p.m. (Pac-12 Networks)
  • Northern Kentucky at No. 3 Wisconsin, 9:00 p.m. (Big Ten Network)
  • Presbyterian at No. 4 Duke, 6:00 p.m. (ESPNU)
  • UCSB at No. 5 Kansas, 8:00 p.m. (ESPN3)
  • North Carolina Central at No. 6 North Carolina, 8:00 p.m. (ESPNU)
  • William & Mary at No. 7 Florida, 6:00 p.m. (SEC Network)
  • No. 8 Louisville vs. Minnesota, 7:30 p.m. (ESPN)
  • No. 9 Virginia at James Madison, 7:00 p.m.
  • North Dakota State at No. 10 Texas, 8:00 p.m. (Longhorn Network)
  • New Mexico State at No. 11 Wichita State, 9:00 p.m. (ESPN3)
  • Lehigh vs. No. 12 Villanova, 8:00 p.m. (Fox Sports 2)
  • Sacramento State at No. 13 Gonzaga, 9:00 p.m.
  • Oakland at. No. 14 Iowa State, 8:00 p.m.
  • Tennessee vs. No. 15 VCU, 6:30 p.m. (CBS Sports Network)
  • CSUN at No. 16 San Diego State, 10:00 p.m.
  • Bryant at No. 17 UConn, 7:00 p.m. (ESPN3)
  • No. 18 Michigan State at Navy, 9:00 p.m. (CBS Sports Network)
  • UMass-Lowell at No. 20 Ohio State, 7:00 p.m.
  • Lamar at No. 22 SMU, 9:30 p.m.
  • Kennesaw State at No. 23 Syracuse, 7:00 p.m.
  • MIT at No. 25 Harvard, 7:00 p.m.
  • Ball State at No. 25 Utah, 10:00 p.m. (Pac-12 Networks)

OTHER GAMES OF NOTE:

  • Texas Southern at Eastern Washington, 11:00 a.m.
  • Yale vs. Quinnipiac, 5:30 p.m.
  • Boise State vs. San Diego, 6:30 p.m.
  • Siena at UMass, 7:00 p.m.
  • Cleveland State at Iona, 7:00 p.m.
  • NJIT at St. John’s, 7:00 p.m. (Fox Sports Net)
  • Columbia at Stony Brook, 7:00 p.m.
  • Fresno State at Pepperdine, 10:00 p.m.

John Petty Jr. returns to Alabama for senior season

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TUSCALOOSA, Ala. — Alabama guard John Petty Jr. is staying in school instead of entering the NBA draft.

The Crimson Tide junior announced his decision to return for his senior season Monday on Twitter, proclaiming: “I’m back.”

Petty, the Tide’s top 3-point shooter, averaged 14.5 points and a team-high 6.6 rebounds rebounds last season. He was second on the team in assists.

Petty made 85 3-pointers in 29 games, shooting at a 44% clip.

Alabama coach Nate Oats called him “one of the best, if not the best, shooters in the country.”

“He’s made it clear that it’s his goal to become a first round pick in the 2021 NBA Draft and we’re going to work with him to make sure he’s in the best position to reach that goal,” Oats said.

Fellow Tide guard Kira Lewis Jr. is regarded as a likely first-round draft pick.

McKinley Wright IV returns to Colorado

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McKinley Wright IV will be back for season No. 4 with the Colorado Buffaloes.

The point guard tested the NBA draft process before announcing a return for his senior year. It’s a big boost for a Buffaloes team that’s coming off a 21-11 mark in 2019-20 and was potentially looking at an NCAA Tournament bid before the season was halted due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

Wright was an All-Pac-12 first team selection a season ago, along with an all-defensive team pick. He and athletic forward Tyler Bey declared for the draft in late March. Bey remains in the draft.

“We’ve got unfinished business,” said Wright, who averaged 14.4 points and 5.0 assists per game last season.

Midway through the season, the Buffaloes were looking like a lock for their first NCAA Tournament appearance since ’15-16. Then, the team hit a five-game skid, including a loss to Washington State in the Pac-12 tournament. Simply put, they hit a defensive rut they just couldn’t shake out of, Wright said. It drove him to work that much harder in the offseason.

“This is my last go-around and I’ve got big dreams,” the 6-footer from Minnesota said. “I want to take CU to a place they haven’t been in a while. We want to go back to the tournament and win high-level games.”

The feedback from NBA scouts was reaffirming for Wright. He said they appreciated his transition game, movement away from the ball and his defensive intangibles. They also gave Wright areas he needed to shore up such as assist-to-turnover ratio and shooting the 3-pointer with more consistency.

He took it to heart while training in Arizona during the pandemic. He recently returned to Boulder, Colorado, where he’s going through quarantine before joining his teammates for workouts.

“The work I put in and the time I spent in the gym compared to all my other offseasons, it’s a big gap,” Wright said. “Last offseason, I thought I worked hard. But it was nothing compared to the time and different type of mindset I put myself in this year.”

Another motivating factor for his return was this: a chance to be the first in his family to earn his college degree. He’s majoring in ethnic studies with a minor in communications.

“My grandparents are excited about that. My parents are excited about that,” Wright said. “I’m excited about that as well.”

Wright also has an opportunity to take over the top spot on the school’s all-time assists list. His 501 career assists trail only Jay Humphries, who had 562 from 1980-84. Wright also ranks 13th all-time with 1,370 career points.

NOTES: Colorado announced the death of 95-year-old fan Betty Hoover, who along with her twin sister, Peggy Coppom, became fixtures at Buffs sporting events and were season ticket holders since 1958. Wright used to run into them not only on the court, but at the local bank. “I’ve never met anyone as loving and supporting and caring as those two,” Wright said. “They hold a special place in my heart. It sucks that Betty won’t be at any games this year. Maybe we can do something, put her name on our jersey. They’re two of the biggest fans in CU history.”

Jared Butler returns to Baylor

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Baylor got some huge news on Monday as potential All-American Jared Butler announced that he will be returning to school for his junior season, joining MaCio Teague is pulling his name out of the 2020 NBA Draft to get the band back together.

Butler was Baylor’s leading scorer a season ago, averaging 16.0 points and 3.1 assists for a team that went 26-4, spent a portion of the season as the No. 1 team in the country and was in line to receive a 1-seed had the 2020 NCAA Tournament taken place.

With Butler and Teague coming back to school, the Bears will return four starters from last season’s squad. Starting center Freddie Gillespie is gone, as is backup guard Devonte Bandoo, but those are holes that can be filled. Tristan Clark, who was Baylor’s best player during the 2018-19 season before suffering a knee injury that lingered through last year, will be back, and there is more than enough talent in the program to replace the scoring pop of Bandoo. Matthew Mayer will be in line for more minutes, while transfer Adam Flagler will be eligible this season.

Baylor will enter this season as a consensus top three team in the country. They will receive plenty of votes as the No. 1 team in the sport, making them not only a very real contender for the Big 12 regular season crown but one of the favorites to win the national title.

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As MaCio Teague returns, Baylor now awaits Jared Butler’s NBA draft decision

Butler is the key.

Baylor was one of college basketball’s best defensive teams last year. They finished fourth nationally in KenPom’s defensive efficiency metric, a ranking that dropped after they Bears lost two of their last three games to TCU and West Virginia. Where they struggled was on the offensive end of the floor. The Bears would go through droughts were points were at a premium and their best offense was a missed shot. Butler’s intrigue for NBA teams was his ability to shoot and to create space in isolation. He’s the one guy on the roster that can create something out of nothing for himself.

And now he is back to try and lead Baylor to a Final Four.

Arizona State’s Martin to return for senior season

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TEMPE, Ariz. (–Arizona State guard Remy Martin is withdrawing from the NBA draft and will return for his senior season in the desert.

“I’m blessed to have the opportunity to coach Remy Martin for one more season,” Sun Devils coach Bobby Hurley said in a statement Sunday. “Remy will be one of the best players in college basketball this year and will be on a mission to lead Arizona State basketball in its pursuit of championships.”

A 6-foot guard, Martin is the Pac-12’s leading returning scorer after averaging 19.1 points in 2019-20. He also averaged 4.1 assists per game and helped put the Sun Devils in position to reach the NCAA Tournament for the third straight year before the season was cancelled due to the coronavirus pandemic.

Martin’s return should put Arizona State among the favorites to win the Pac-12 next season.

Martin joins fellow guard Alonzo Verge Jr. in returning to the Sun Devils after testing the NBA waters. Big man Romello White declared for the draft and later entered the transfer portal.

Hurley has signed one of the program’s best recruiting classes for next season, headed by five-star guard Josh Christopher.

Michigan State forward Xavier Tillman will remain in the 2020 NBA Draft

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In the end, Xavier Tillman Sr.’s decision whether or not to return to remain in the 2020 NBA Draft for his senior season came down to security.

A 6-foot-8 forward that averaged 13.7 points, 10.3 boards, 3.0 assists and 2.1 blocks this past season, Tillman was an NBC Sports third-team All-American a season ago. He’s projected as the No. 23 pick in the latest NBC Sports mock draft. He was the best NBA prospect that had yet to make a decision on his future until Sunday.

That’s when Tillman announced that he will be foregoing his final season of college eligibility to head to the NBA.

In the end, it’s probably the right decision, but it’s not one that the big fella made easily.

Tillman is unlike most college basketball players forced to make a decision on their basketball future. He is married. He has two kids, a three-year old daughter and a six-month old son. This is not a situation where he can bet on himself, head to the pro ranks and figure it out later on.

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He needs something stable, particularly given the fact that we are living in the midst of a pandemic that has put the future of sports in doubt, at least for the short term.

He needs security.

He needed to know that there would be a job for him in the NBA. Not a two-way contract. Not a spot on a camp roster or a chance to develop in the G League. Hell, there might not even be a G League next season. That was an option at Michigan State. He was living in an apartment with his family that was covered by his scholarship and stipend. He had meals paid for. He was able to take food from the training room home and have dinner with his family. He was able to get to class, to the gym, to practice and back home in time to do the dishes at night. He told NBC Sports in March that the school was able to provide him with $1,200-a-month to help pay for things like diapers high chairs. That was all going to be there if he returned to school. It was a great situation, one that lacked the uncertainty that comes with the professional level.

Because as much as I love Tillman as a role player at the next level, NBA teams do not all feel the same. The tricky thing about the draft is that it makes sense to swing for the fences on the guys that can be locked into salaries for the first four years of a contract. The Toronto Raptors took Pascal Siakam with the 27th pick and have paid less than $7 million in total salary in his first four years for a player that made an all-star team. Kyle Kuzma is averaging 16.0 points through three seasons and is on the books for $3.5 million in year four.

Tillman’s ability to defend, his basketball IQ, his play-making and his professional demeanor means that he can step into the modern NBA and do a job as a rotation player for just about any team in the league. But he doesn’t have the upside that other bigs in the same projected range have — Jalen Smith, Daniel Oturu, Jaden McDaniels, Zeke Nnaji — so there are teams that are scared off.

I don’t get it.

But Tillman’s decision to head to the professional ranks indicates that he does, indeed, feel confident in the fact that he will have gainful and steady employment next season. Since he would have walked at Michigan State’s graduation in May had it been held, that doesn’t leave much to return to school for.

The Spartans will now be left in a tough spot. There are quite a few pieces to like on this roster. Rocket Watts had promising moments as a freshman, as did Malik Hall. Gabe Brown and Marcus Bingham are both talented players. Joey Hauser had a good season at Marquette, and the early returns on freshman Mady Sissoko are promising. But this is going to be a young and unproven group.

Izzo has had less at his disposal before, but this is certainly not an ideal situation for Michigan State.