Rich Barnes/Getty Images

Saturday’s Things To Know: R.J. Barrett’s big day, LSU’s win, Texas Tech stays hot

1 Comment

PLAYER OF THE DAY: R.J. Barrett, Duke

Barrett, on Saturday, reminded everyone on the planet that Duke is the No. 1 team in the country because they have more than just Zion Williamson on the roster.

The 6-foot-6 freshman returned to his native Canada* to put up 30 points and seven assists on 14-for-20 shooting while hitting 2-of-5 threes in a 75-65 win at Syracuse. He opened up the game by carrying Duke by running the high-post in their zone offense and closed the game as the guy creating looks for his teammates as the Dukies put up 48 second half points against one of the nation’s better defensive teams.

With the win, Duke keeps pace with No. 3 Virginia and No. 8 North Carolina in the ACC regular season title race.

This win mattered for the Blue Devils for more reasons that just the simple fact that Barrett went nuts. For starters, the Blue Devils may have found the guy that is going to be their floor-spacer moving forward. With Jack White officially benched now that he has gone a full six weeks without making a three, Alex O’Connell stepped into the starting lineup on Saturday and performed. He scored 17 of his career-high 20 points and hit four of his five threes during that second half run. He was the zone-buster that helped the Blue Devils break down Jim Boeheim’s vaunted 2-3.

But he also wouldn’t have mattered is Barrett hadn’t dragged Duke through the first half.

This was Barrett’s time to shine, and he sure did that.

*(ZINGGGG!!!)

TEAM OF THE DAY: LSU Tigers

It is hard to overstate just how impressive it is that No. 13 LSU was able to find a way to beat No. 5 Tennessee in overtime on Saturday, 82-80.

Let’s start with this: The Tigers were playing without Tremont Waters, their star point guard, who was sick. Then there’s this: Naz Reid, the second-most talented player on this roster, finished with just one point on 0-for-9 shooting from the floor. They trailed by nine points with six minutes left in the game. Tennessee had the ball with a chance to win at the end of regulation and the end of overtime.

But LSU got it in behind 29 points, five boards and five assists from Javonte Smart and 23 points from Skylar Mays.

And with that win and Kentucky turning Auburn into that piece of chicken you put on the grill on forgot about, the Tigers are now sitting tied for first in the SEC title race.

Not a bad day down in Baton Rouge.

ONIONS OF THE DAY: Bryce Aiken, Harvard

Bryce Aiken scored 28 points, including a three at the buzzer, as Harvard went into New Haven and knocked off first place year, 88-86, in a clash of Ivy League heavyweights. Yale now holds just a one-game led on Harvard and Princeton in league standings.

SATURDAY’S WINNERS

NASSIR LITTLE: No. 8 North Carolina landed a massive win on Saturday, avoiding an obvious letdown spot after knocking off Duke on Wednesday and smacking around No. 16 Florida State, 77-59. After playing just 24 minutes in the last three games combined, Little went for 18 points and eight boards in the win over the Seminoles. He also did this:

KENTUCKY: The Wildcats put together arguably their most impressive performance of the season, as they absolutely obliterated Auburn, winning 80-53 in a game where the Wildcats never looked like they were in danger of getting upset. P.J. Washington was once again the star for Kentucky, and now the question needs to be asked: Is this team better without Reid Travis on the floor?

PURDUE: The Boilermakers managed to hold off Nebraska on Saturday afternoon, and what that means is that Purdue will end up in a tie for first place in the Big Ten with just one other team come Monday morning. As it stands, there are three teams tied for first place in the Big Ten standings: Purdue, Michigan and Michigan State. Michigan and Michigan State play twice before the season comes to an end — including on Sunday — and that puts the Boilermakers in a great spot to win the outright regular season Big Ten title if they can find a way to win out this season.

KANSAS STATE: Not only did Kansas State put up 85 points in a blowout win over Oklahoma State on Saturday, they did so while Kansas went into Lubbock and got absolutely drubbed by Texas Tech and Iowa State found a way to lose at TCU. Do the math, and the Wildcats will head into Phog Allen Fieldhouse on Monday night in sole possession of first place in the league with a two game lead on the Jayhawks. That will be a massive, massive game.

WOFFORD: The Terriers have just about sewn up an at-large bid to the NCAA tournament thanks to a conference that has provided them with three Q1 road wins. Saturday was the latest example, as Wofford went into Furman and beat the Palladins. They’ve run roughshod over a conference that, according to the NET, is better at the top than the Pac-12. That’s impressive.

ROSS BJORK AND KERMIT DAVIS: The players on the Ole Miss basketball team that took a knee during the anthem as a form of counter-protesting the confederacy rally that was happening in Oxford on Saturday were the brave ones. But credit also has to be given to Bjork, the Old Miss athletic director, and Davis, the head coach, for unequivocally backing the players. It’s not going to be easy for those players to deal with what’s coming at a school whose nickname is the Rebels, but knowing their coach and their coach’s boss have their back will certainly help mitigate that.

MIKE DAUM: South Dakota State’s Daum became the tenth player in college basketball history — and the second player this season — to score his 3,000th career point. Daum scored 25 points in a win over South Dakota, and is now just 68 points behind Chris Clemons on the career scoring list. Clemons scored 41 on Saturday and is now sixth on the career scoring list, just 76 points behind Doug McDermott.

SATURDAY’S LOSERS

SECOND HALF LOUISVILLE: The Cardinals just cannot hold onto a lead. They blew a 10 point second half lead in an overtime loss at Florida State two weeks ago. Last Tuesday, they blew a 23 point second half lead at home against Duke. Last Saturday, they blew an eight point lead against Clemson and needed a miracle block from Jordan Nwora at the end of the game to save them. And today, the Cardinals hit 10 first half threes and led No. 3 Virginia 37-27 going into the break before scoring just 15 second half points in a 64-52 loss.

PEOPLE PLAYING TEXAS TECH: I’m not sure there is a hotter team in the country right now than Texas Tech. The Red Raiders are already the best defensive team in college basketball, and on Saturday, in a 91-62 win over Kansas, they shot 16-for-26 from three. This came on the heels of back-to-back games where they hit 12 three-pointers. They’ve reached double-figures for threes in each of the last four games, and during that stretch, they are shooting 50-for-102 from three. In their recent five-game winning streak, they’re shooting 46 percent from three.

Look out.

Kansas transfer Grimes receives waiver, eligible immediately at Houston

Patrick Smith/Getty Images
Leave a comment

Maybe we now know why Houston was picked to win the AAC over Memphis.

On Tuesday, news broke that Quentin Grimes had won his appeal and received a waiver to gain immediate eligibility this season. Grimes was a top ten prospect in the Class of 2018, but after going for 21 points in the season opening Champions Classic, he struggled. In 36 games, Grimes averaged just 8.4 points and 2.0 assists while failing to prove himself a lead guard and struggling with consistency as a shooter.

Part of the reason why Grimes eventually was ruled eligible for this season was that Kansas did not have a scholarship available for him. The Jayhawks supported his eligibility throughout the process.

Grimes will get a chance at starting over with Houston, where Kelvin Sampson has proven to be exceptional at getting the most out of his backcourt. He’ll join DeJon Jarreau, one of this year’s breakout stars, and Nate Hinton in Houston’s perimeter.

With Grimes in the mix, Houston has the making of a top 20 team.

Grimes released the following statement on twitter:

Michigan State’s Langford out until January with ankle injury

Rey Del Rio/Getty Images
Leave a comment

The joy of being named the No. 1 team in the AP preseason poll lasted for a matter of hours for Michigan State.

Because that’s when the Spartans found out that Joshua Langford, who missed the second half of last season, would be out for another three months after suffering a setback in his attempt to return from that ankle injury.

“It breaks my heart,” Michigan State coach Tom Izzo told reporters on Tuesday. “I love Josh Langford. He’s given me everything on the court, off the court, in the classroom.”

Langford started the first 13 games last season before the ankle injury kept him out, but he was cleared to practice in full in September. But Izzo said on Tuesday that Langford’s ankle had limited him of late and that he did not play when the Spartans scrimmaged Gonzaga in Denver on Saturday.

College Basketball’s Breakout Stars: Who will be this year’s most improved players?

Rich Graessle/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images
Leave a comment

One of my favorite things to do heading into a season is to put together a list of the season’s Breakout Stars. 

Sometimes, the picks are just too obvious – think De’Andre Hunter, or P.J. Washington, or Nickeil Alexander-Walker. 

Sometimes, those obvious picks just don’t pan out – like Herb Jones, or M.J. Walker, or Cane Broome.

Sometimes, a guy needs to be on the list for a couple years before he actually reaches said breakout – hi Jermaine Samuels!

Some people have strictly-defined parameters for putting together a list like this. I do not, beyond the basic principle that the player will be going from playing a role to being a star, whether that means he was a starter that will become an all-american or a bit-player slated to be a key cog on a potential Final Four team matters not.

Anyway, here are the 17 players that will be household names by the end of the year:



JERMAINE SAMUELS, Villanova

There’s an argument to make that Samuels’ breakout already happened.

It happened on February 28th of last season. Samuels popped off for a career-high 29 points, hitting five threes, as Villanova snapped a three-game losing streak by knocking off Marquette at home. During that three-game losing streak, Samuels had gone scoreless while attempting just two shots. Over the final seven games of the season, he averaged 11.0 points, cracked double-figures five times and helped lead the Wildcats to their fifth Big East regular season title and fourth Big East tournament title in the last six years.

And now the Wildcats are entering a season without Phil Booth and Eric Paschall to carry the offense while Bryan Antoine, their five-star freshman guard, is out with a shoulder injury. Someone needs to provide Villanova with some scoring. Samuels is a former top 40 recruit that picked Villanova over Duke and Kansas, that has proven the ability to put up big numbers and is a perfect fit for what Villanova’s offense has been over the course of the last half-decade. He’s a junior now. This is the year that players make the leap on the Main Line, and I’ll be ready for it.

ANDREW NEMBHARD, Florida

Everyone wants to talk about Kerry Blackshear and what his arrival will mean for Florida. What people seem to be forgetting is that Andrew Nembhard is a former five-star recruits that averaged 8.0 points and 5.4 assists as a freshman for the Gators and will be helping to fill the “role” vacated by uber-inefficient gunners Jalen Hudson and Kevaughn Allen. I think Blackshear ends up being the best player on the Gators this season, but Nembhard may end up being their MVP and their leader. On a team that projects to finish in the top ten and contend for SEC titles and the Final Four, that’s going to put him in the All-American conversation. That, to me, counts as a breakout star.

TRE JONES, Duke

This all hinges on what Jones becomes as a shooter this season. We’ve talked about this ad nauseum. I put together an entire video about it. Jones may just be the most influential player in all of college basketball this season.

TYRESE HALIBURTON, Iowa State

I’m torn about having Haliburton on this list because I’m not exactly sure how much better he can play than he did over the first three months of last season. That said, Iowa State is going to be one of the better teams in the Big 12 this season, and after a terrific performance playing for Team USA in the U-19 World Cup, Haliburton returns to Ames to play for an Iowa State team that lost pretty much everyone in front of him in the offensive pecking order.

The thing to note here is that I am not expecting Haliburton to suddenly become a guy that averages 18 points. That’s not who he is or how he plays. But I do think that there is a chance that he puts up a stat line that is somewhere around 12 points, six boards, six assists and two steals while shooting better than 40 percent from three. Put another way, we’re going to know that he is a star without having to look at the counting numbers to confirm it.

JAY HUFF, Virginia

We have talked plenty about Jay Huff and Virginia’s big guys in this space, but I think that he is in line for a massive jump this season. On the one hand, he’s actually going to be playing. Huff was in the same recruiting class as Ty Jerome and Kyle Guy. He redshirted his first year in Charlottesville, he played just twelve games as a freshman and managed to see the floor for roughly 10 minutes a night last year. With so much of Virginia’s frontcourt depth gone, he is going to be getting 30-35 minutes a night this year.

But as we talked about in the video below, it’s not just the added minutes that changes things. It’s how good Huff is as the big guy in ball-screen actions and the fact that Virginia ran a more ball-screen heavy offense last season. Huff is a 7-foot-1 rim-running, lob-catching, shot-blocking menace that also shoots threes at a 45 percent clip while being able to put the ball on the floor. He’s going to have a massive year.

ISAIAH LIVERS, Michigan

With Iggy Brazdeikis gone after his one-and-done season, Livers is going to be the guy that steps up for the Wolverines. A hyper-athletic, 6-foot-7 combo-forward, Livers is a good, versatile defensive weapon that shot 42.6 percent from three last year. Someone is going to have to step up and fill the scoring void that has been vacated by the departures, and Livers seems to be the obvious fit. I would not be shocked to see Livers showing up in NBA mock drafts at some point during this season.

DEJON JARREAU, Houston

This one is simple, really. Jarreau played just 18 minutes per game last season and still managed to put up 8.7 points and 3.3 assists despite sharing the backcourt with the likes of Corey Davis, Armoni Brooks and Galen Robinson. This year, those three are gone, which means that Jarreau is going to be the guy that the offense runs through. I think that he is up for the task, and considering Kelvin Sampson’s track record of finding a way to figure things out with his lead guards, all the dots connect.

NOJEL EASTERN, Purdue

Matt Painter has been as good as anyone in the country at finding ways to get his best players into positions where they can succeed, and I think that this year is the year that he figures out how to take advantage of the things that Eastern does well. He’s a skilled passer that has terrific size at the point and has proven the ability to take smaller guards into the post. I think that Aaron Wheeler and Trevion Williams are candidates for this list as well, but I tend to lean towards the veterans when it comes to Painter working his magic.

OCHAI AGBAJI, Kansas

This pick is not actually as easy as it may seem, and that’s because Agbaji’s emergence last season came after Udoka Azubuike went down with his wrist injury. So while Kansas is losing Dedric Lawson, among other, Azubuike is coming back and is going to demand a very large market share of the Jayhawks offense. Throw in Devon Dotson’s continued development, and the added opportunities for Agbaji may not be there. That said, I think that he is clearly the most talented perimeter player on the Jayhawks roster this season, and given his size, athleticism and ability from the perimeter, I think there is a real chance that he ends up playing major minutes as the four in this Kansas system.

Put another way, he’s definitely going to be better than he was when his redshirt was pulled midway through his first season in Lawrence, and he is definitely going to be a useful weapon for Bill Self, I just don’t see him emerging as a guy that scores 15 points per game.

COREY KISPERT and FILIP PETRUSEV, Gonzaga

These decisions somewhat hinge on whether or not Killian Tillie is back and fully healthy this season. If he is, then I think that Kispert is the guy that takes the biggest step forward for the Zags. He’s an underrated talent that has been hidden by the likes of Zach Norvell and Rui Hachimura, but he’s a guy that has the potential to be an all-WCC performer if given the opportunity. If Tillie ends up being banged up all season long, than Petrusev is the obvious pick. He’s a really talented big that will carry even more of the load without Tillie’s presence.

REGGIE PERRY, Mississippi State

After getting off to a relatively slow start to his freshman season, Perry was absolutely dominant for long stretches of SEC play. He averaged 11.2 points and 8.2 boards during conference play, posting eight double-doubles. After an offseason to develop, he should end up being the focal point of Ben Howland’s offense as a sophomore.

KIRA LEWIS, Alabama

The way that Nate Oats played at Buffalo, he gave his lead guards quite a bit of responsibility. Lewis is going to be his lead guard this season. As a 17-year old in the SEC, he averaged 13.5 points and 2.9 assists. He’s heading into his sophomore season at the same age as the kids in the Class of 2019 heading into their freshmen year.

JOE WIESKAMP, Iowa

As a freshman, Wieskamp was one of the best shooters in the Big Ten, averaging 11.1 points and shooting 42.4 percent from three. Then Iowa lost Tyler Cook to the draft and lost Isaiah Moss to transfer and look like they may have lost Jordan Bohannon for the season. Someone is going to have to score, and Wieskamp is certainly capable of that.

OSUN OSUNNIYI, St. Bonaventure

Osunniyi was one of the best defensive players in all of college basketball last season, averaging 2.7 blocks to go along with his 7.5 points and 7.6 boards. With three of the Bonnies’ top four scorers graduating, he is going to be asked to play a much bigger role this season.

NATE REUVERS, Wisconsin

There is always someone waiting in the wings in Wisconsin’s frontcourt, and this year it is Nate Reuvers. As a sophomore, playing on a team that ran their offense through Ethan Happ, Reuvers averaged 7.9 points, 3.9 boards and 1.8 blocks while shooting 38.1 percent from three. If the Badgers are going to get back to the NCAA tournament, they are going to need Reuvers to have a monster junior season.

JALEN HILL, UCLA

Hill is a bit of a reach, but someone is going to have to step up and be Mick Cronin’s frontcourt anchor, and Hill makes sense. He’s long and athletic, he can rebound and he can block shots, he can do all of the things that Cronin got out of his big men for the last 13 years in Cincinnati. There is more talent in Westwood than people realize. Hill is the perfect example of that.

Michigan’s Franz Wagner out 4-6 weeks with fractured wrist

Michael Reaves/Getty Images
Leave a comment

ANN ARBOR, Mich. — Michigan freshman Franz Wagner is expected to miss four to six weeks with a fractured right wrist.

The school said Monday a full recovery is anticipated. The 6-foot-8 Wagner is the younger brother of former Michigan standout Moe Wagner. He’s expected to be a key newcomer in the basketball team’s first season under new coach Juwan Howard.

The Wolverines open Nov. 5 against Appalachian State. They face Creighton on Nov. 12 and Louisville on Dec. 3, and play in a tournament in the Bahamas in late November. Those are all games Wagner could conceivably miss if he ends up on the long end of his recovery timeline.

Michigan opens Big Ten play Dec. 6 against Iowa.

Kansas-Missouri hoops series to resume next season in KC

Ed Zurga/Getty Images
Leave a comment

LAWRENCE, Kan. — The Border War is returning to college basketball.

The acrimonious rivalry between Kansas and Missouri, once the longest continually played series west of the Mississippi River, will resume next season in Kansas City. The schools have agreed to play six times, with four of those matchups taking place on their respective campuses.

“Having coached a lot of games versus Missouri in my time in Kansas, I could not be more excited to start this series up again,” Jayhawks coach Bill Self, who had been among the biggest reasons the teams never played, said in a statement announcing the series Monday night.

The series began in 1907 with a pair of wins by Missouri in Lawrence. The schools went on to play 269 times over 105 years. The last meeting was on Feb. 25, 2012, when the No. 4 Jayhawks rallied from a 19-point second-half deficit to beat the No. 3 Tigers in overtime at Allen Fieldhouse.

The reason the series ended can be traced to Missouri’s decision to depart its longtime home in the Big 12 for the Southeastern Conference. During a period of chaotic conference realignment, the Tigers moved to what they considered a more lucrative league — even though it made far less geographic sense — and in doing so left the Big 12 scrambling for its very survival.

Many coaches and administrators at Kansas not only took umbrage with their decision but held a grudge for years. Among them was Self, who was asked periodically over the years if he could envision playing the Tigers again, and was usually steadfast in his refusal to schedule them.

Tensions finally cooled enough that on Oct. 22, 2017, the schools agreed to play an exhibition game in Kansas City dubbed “The Showdown for Relief” to raise money for hurricane relief efforts.

Kansas won 93-87 in their first meeting in five years.

The thousands of fans who turned up for the game, coupled with the buzz it generated on both sides of the Kansas-Missouri border, piqued the interest of new Kansas athletic director Jeff Long. He was not part of the conference realignment mess and harbored no ill will toward Missouri, making him the ideal figure to help patch up relationships and ultimately resume the rivalry.

“One of the best aspects of college athletics is rivalries,” Long said. “We have quietly sought input from fans and supporters on the renewal of this series and we believe the overriding sentiments are that this historic rivalry should resume.”

After the initial game scheduled for Dec. 12, 2020, at the Sprint Center in downtown Kansas City, the schools will alternate between Allen Fieldhouse and Mizzou Arena for the next four games. The final scheduled matchup will return to Sprint Center, though it’s possible the series continues.

It’s also possible that the basketball matchups are just the beginning.

“Hopefully, this renewal on the hardwood will lead to more opportunities down the road in other sports,” Tigers athletic director Jim Sterk said. “Rivalries make college sports great, and there is no question that when Missouri and Kansas face off in any sport, it’s important to a lot of people.”