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Previewing Tuesday’s three great games

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Last season, on the first day after the college football playoff ended, we got one of the best regular season college basketball games we’ve ever seen.

Buddy Hield scored 46 points as Oklahoma, who was No. 1 in the AP Poll, lost in triple-overtime at Kansas, who was No. 1 in the Coaches Poll. It was a perfect way to kick off the post-college football section of the college hoops season, and given the success that they had with it last year, it’s not hard to assume that schedule-makers tried to tap into the same success this year.

No. 3 Kansas will be paying a visit to Oklahoma tonight, the only problem being that the Sooners stink and will be playing without Jordan Woodard.

So that didn’t workout.

RELATED: Get caught up on college hoops

But we did happen to luck into three sensational basketball games thanks to Baylor becoming the No. 1 team in the country, Florida State turning into a top ten ball club and Grayson Allen and Coach K playing out the Duke as if it were a bingeable show on NetFlix.

Let’s take a look at Tuesday night’s awesome slate:

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No. 1 Baylor at No. 10 West Virginia, 7:00 p.m. ET (ESPN2)

For the first time in the history of the Baylor basketball program, the Bears will play a game as the No. 1 team in the country. The problem? The day after they finally received that ranking, undefeated Baylor looks to be a prime candidate to suffer their first loss of the regular season. Morgantown is not an easy place to win basketball games, not when the No. 1 team in the country comes to down and not with the way WVU’s press operates in front of 14,000 frenzied West Virginians that want nothing more than to belt out “Country Roads” after a win.

And that’s going to be the key for Baylor. How do they handle Press Virginia? This is a team that ranks 125th nationally in turnover percentage, a team that wants to play at a methodical, possession-by-possession pace. West Virginia is going to throw wave after wave of bodies at them to try and get them uncomfortable, force turnovers and turn the game into a ragged mess.

The key for Baylor, to me, isn’t just point guard Manu Lecomte, it’s Ishmail Wainwright, Al Freeman and Jake Lindsey. To break this press they need more than just one guy to show up, and those are the three that are the best ballhandlers. If you can break WVU’s press, their half court defense is beatable.

  • PREDICTION: I do think West Virginia probably wins this game, but I think it ends up being close down the stretch. Baylor (+6) covers.
VILLANOVA, PA - DECEMBER 31: Head coach Jay Wright of the Villanova Wildcats shakes hands with head coach Chris Mack of the Xavier Musketeers after a game at the Pavilion on the campus of Villanova University on December 31, 2015 in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania.(Photo by Hunter Martin/Getty Images)
Photo by Hunter Martin/Getty Images)

No. 15 Xavier at No. 3 Villanova, 7:00 p.m. ET (FS1)

The biggest talking point in this game is that the Musketeers finally get back Myles Davis, who missed the first 15 games of the season following a series of legal issues. Davis is important because A) he’s the best perimeter shooter on a team that has had some issues shooting the ball this season, and B) he’s a point guard that will allow Edmond Sumner a little more freedom to play off the ball.

He’s a piece this team has been lacking, which should tell you something about how good this team can be given that the Musketeers are still 13-2 overall and sitting at 3-0 atop the Big East.

Tonight’s test will not be easy, however. Villanova has lost seven Big East basketball games since Josh Hart and Kris Jenkins arrived on campus and 14 games total. Only two of those losses came at home. Last year, when Xavier made this trip, they were beaten by 31 points.

  • PREDICTION: Villanova is just not a good matchup for Xavier. Villanova (-8).

No. 7 Duke at No. 9 Florida State, 8:00 p.m. ET (ACC Network)

This is the most intriguing game of the night for a number of reasons.

  1. Coach K is not on the sideline, meaning that not only with Jeff Capel be taking this team on the road, he’ll be doing so against a top ten team that just beat the breaks off of Virginia Tech, who beat Duke by 14, and who won at Virginia.
  2. More concerning that the lack of Coach K, however, may actually be the lack of Amile Jefferson in the lineup. Jefferson has a bone bruise in his right foot, and as talented as Harry Giles III and Marques Bolden are, neither of them are anywhere near as sound defensively as Jefferson.
  3. At this point, we still don’t really know how good Florida State is. That win at Virginia looks great, but this isn’t the same Virginia team of the last three years. Beyond that, the Seminoles really haven’t done anything that would make you believe they are a legit ACC title contender. Beating Duke at home? That would be a pretty good sign.

These two teams actually matchup quite well, as both play lineups where potential top five picks with small forward skills – Jonathan Isaac and Jayson Tatum – play the four. There is talent up and down the back courts – Grayson Allen vs. Dwayne Bacon, Luke Kennard vs. Terrence Mann, Frank Jackson vs. Xavier Rathan-Mayes – and Florida State has enough size to at least contend with Duke’s bigs.

  • PREDICTION: The line keeps moving as money comes in on Florida State, but I’m still on the Noles if you can get them at (-2). Duke will have to win this game with defense, and I don’t think their defense is good enough to do that without Jefferson.

 

Report: Western Kentucky’s Lamonte Bearden staying in 2018 NBA Draft

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Western Kentucky guard Lamonte Bearden will stay in the 2018 NBA Draft after hiring an agent, according to a report from ESPN’s Jeff Goodman.

The 6-foot-3 Bearden just completed his redshirt junior season with the Hilltoppers as he averaged 11.8 points, 3.4 assists and 2.3 rebounds per game. A slippery guard with good size, Bearden shot 47 percent from the field and 82 percent from the charity stripe while also getting in the passing lanes for 1.7 steals per game.

Although Bearden has good size and athleticism at lead guard, his perimeter jumper has been inconsistent during his college career. He was 31 percent from three-point range (a career high) this past season. Starting his college career at Buffalo, Bearden helped lead the Bulls to the NCAA tournament before opting to play in Conference USA for Western Kentucky.

The Hilltoppers will certainly miss Bearden’s presence in their backcourt as the program has seven new players signed for next season.

USC makes a statement landing Class of 2019 four-star forward Isaiah Mobley

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USC ended a strong week of recruiting with another major statement on Friday afternoon as four-star Class of 2019 forward Isaiah Mobley pledged to the Trojans.

The second major Class of 2019 commitment for USC during the week, the 6-foot-9 power forward joins five-star big man Onyeka Okongwu. The Compton Magic teammates should be able to help replace the loss of Bennie Boatwright and Chimezie Metu, with Mobley playing the skilled, floor-spacing Boatwright’s role and Okongwu providing the interior energy of Metu.

Having two highly-touted big men commit in the same week is huge for USC. And it looks like the start of even bigger things in a continually-evolving SoCal recruiting war against Pac-12 rival UCLA.

Landing both Mobley and Okongwu is significant for the Trojans for a number of reasons. As previously mentioned, both come from the famous Compton Magic grassroots program that runs on the adidas Gauntlet. While landing AAU teammates from a regional program is common for high-major programs of USC’s stature, the commitments signify that the Trojans are the ones with the biggest pull with the Magic at the current moment.

And the Magic used to get raided by UCLA.

In the past few years, the Bruins signed T.J. Leaf, Ike Anigbogu, Jaylen Hands and Jalen Hill from the Compton Magic. Now, it’s USC who looks to be in the driver’s seat recruiting the program.

The Trojans aren’t done, either.

Newly-hired USC assistant coach Eric Mobley is the father Isaiah Mobley, as well as five-star Class of 2020 big man Evan Mobley. As Rivals national recruiting analyst Eric Bossi noted in his story about Isaiah, “Barring something strange happening, look for the younger Mobley to join his brother and father by committing to USC within the next two weeks.”

That would mean the Trojans would have landed three top-30 caliber big men in the span of a few weeks. That allows the USC coaching staff to recruit other positions extremely hard. Outside of Kentucky, USC has arguably the best future recruiting status of any program in the country.

The Trojans have taken full advantage of UCLA letting go popular assistant coach David Grace. The Bruins are still pulling in top-100 prospects, as evidenced by Grant Sherfield and Jaime Jaquez’s commitments in the Class of 2019, but losing two Magic kids in a week to a rival has to sting.

Considering where USC was last fall with the FBI investigation, who saw this type of recruiting swing coming? Other programs involved in the investigation like Arizona, Auburn and Oklahoma State have landed solid recruits. They also haven’t pulled in nearly the high-level talent that the Trojans currently have committed.

Even amidst the uncertainty surrounding the FBI investigation, USC is still pulling in elite talent while beating local rivals. It’ll be fascinating to see if the Trojans can continue to recruit at this level as they try to fill out the rest of an important recruiting class.

USF signs Oklahoma State transfer Zack Dawson

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USF landed a major addition on Friday as the school announced the signing of Oklahoma State transfer guard Zack Dawson.

The 6-foot-3 Dawson is a former consensus top-100 prospect coming out of high school as he’ll have to sit out the 2018-19 season due to NCAA transfer rules. A native of the region, Dawson will have three years of eligibility remaining once he’s able to play again.

Dismissed from Oklahoma State on Dec. 14 for violating team rules, Dawson averaged 4.4 points and1.6 assists per contest as he only suited up in five games for the Cowboys. Once Dawson is eligible to play for USF, he gives the Bulls a potentially dynamic backcourt along with rising sophomore guard David Collins.

“We are excited to welcome Zack back home to Florida as a member of the Bulls family,” USF head coach Brian Gregory said in a release. “He is a dynamic and versatile guard who can impact the game in a variety of ways. Zack comes from one of the best high school programs in the state, South Miami High School, so he immediately brings a championship attitude here to the University of South Florida.”

This is a really nice pickup for the Bulls, as they utilized a local transfer to help bolster the roster. Landing top-100 kids out of high school is going to be tough until USF boosts its basketball credibility. But getting a former top-100 player on the transfer market is a solid approach to building the Bulls into a respectable threat.

Michael Porter Jr.: ‘I’m the best player in this draft’

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The more I think about it, the more that Michael Porter Jr. is becoming the most interesting prospect at the top of the 2018 NBA Draft.

As a high school senior, he was considered by many to be the top player in the class, a 6-foot-10 combo-forward with a lethal three-point shot, NBA dunk contest athleticism and the versatility to, one day, be a multi-positional defender that would seamlessly fit into fit into the modern NBA.

But his one and only season at Missouri was derailed by back surgery, and that has allowed the rest of the class of 2017 to shine while we have focused on everything else that comes with drafting Porter. The reputation that he had for the majority of his high school career of being soft. The intel that was coming out of Missouri, that he was cocky and arrogant and something of a bad teammate. Questions about whether or not he is truly a wing or a four, more like a more athletic Lauri Markkanen.

When the only thing that we’ve had a chance to see this season is an out-of-shape Porter struggling in postseason games, it shouldn’t really be a surprise that his hype train has derailed.

“I know without a doubt that I’m the — I played against all these guys, they’re all great players — but I’m the best player in this draft,” Porter told ESPN. “And I just can’t wait to show what I’m capable of.”

And therein lies the conundrum for any team drafting him.

I have little doubt that Porter is going to be able to score and score a lot in the NBA. I think he and Bagley are the safest bets to average 20 points at the NBA level before their rookie contract runs out.

But putting up points and playing on winning basketball teams are not one and the same. For a ten-year stretch after his rookie season, Rudy Gay averaged at least 17.2 points while making the playoffs once during that stretch. Is that what Porter is going to turn into at the next level? Or will be find a way to become the kind of NBA defender his athleticism says he should be and, by the time he signs his first contract extension, end up the player that Paul George is?

The mitigating factor here is that Porter is going to do a fantastic job in every interview he has. He’s an intelligent, charismatic and articulate kid that is going to be able to sell himself. The red flags that he has aren’t going to show when he’s sitting down in front of NBA general managers.

They would have shown up — or been written off — if there was a season’s worth of game-tape available, but there isn’t. What that means is that scouts are going to have to decide whether or not Porter, who by all accounts had a very impressive senior season in high school, is that player or the one that had the reputation for being soft for years before that.

And all of that is going to come after the doctor’s have a chance to examine his back to see if the surgery he underwent fixed what was wrong, or if this is the kind of situation where a recurrence is likely.

The result is the widest range for any player at the top of the draft.

He could sell someone on taking him as a top four pick. He could also slide his way down to the Knicks at No. 9 or the 76ers at No. 10.

Which is what makes him the most interesting prospect at the top of this draft.

P.J. Washington ‘definitely going back to school’ without first round guarantee

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Kentucky forward P.J. Washington is one of the handful of players that currently finds themselves in the tenuous position of having their name in the NBA draft pool without having a clear picture of where, exactly, they are going to end up getting picked.

Will they be a late-first round pick? Will he be an early second round pick? Will he even be drafted at all?

Washington told reporters at the NBA combine this week that, if he’s a first round pick, he’ll be heading to the NBA. If he only gets a second round guarantee, he’ll be returning to school.

As we detailed last week, getting selected in the second round does not mean a player is destined to end up being broke his first year out of school. In the last six drafts, only one college player picked in the top ten picks of the second round (31-40) did not receive a guaranteed contract. In the 2017 NBA Draft, every college player selected in the top 50 received a guaranteed deal of at least one year, and Thomas Bryant was the only player whose one-year guaranteed deal was at the league minimum.

That doesn’t mean that Washington should leave Kentucky if he’s going to be a second round pick. If he returns to school, becomes a 42 percent three-point shooter (and can make free throws) and proves that he’s more versatile defensively than he was his year, then he could move up into the first round in a weaker 2019 draft.

It’s a risk for him, financially, to leave after this year if he doesn’t get that first round guarantee. It’s also a risk to return to school, where the best-case scenario isn’t always what happens.

I don’t envy the decision he has to make, but I am glad that Washington will have every chance in the world to be informed about the decision.