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Thursday’s Things to Know: Arizona can’t finish at Oregon, Wichita State takes early American lead and Michigan wins in 2OT

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Thursday night start with significant news that Washington point guard Quade Green will be academically ineligible for at least the next two months, and then things really got interesting.  Here’s what you need to know from a night of overtimes and early jockeying for conference positioning.

1. Arizona misses huge chance in Eugene

Arizona blew a massive opportunity Thursday night.

The Wildcats had a chance to firmly establish themselves as the Pac-12’s premier team, put themselves in the league’s driver’s seat and land a major NCAA tournament resume win when they led No. 9 Oregon by six with less than 2 minutes left in the game at Knight Arena. For a team whose best win was at home against Illinois in the season’s first week, that’s an opportunity you can’t miss.

Which is exactly what Arizona did.

Oregon scored six-straight points over the final 1:38 of regulation, including a game-tying jumper by Payton Pritchard with 28 seconds remaining, and the Wildcats missed two shots and then turned it over in the final possession of overtime to fall to the Ducks, 74-73, in frustrating fashion.

Arizona got a tough whistle down the stretch Zeke Nnaji maybe getting fouled on a potential game-winner with 5 seconds left without drawing a call, and then when officials blowing a play dead when it appeared Pritchard threw the ball back toward an unguarded basket before landing out of bounds. That makes it tough, but it’s a conference road game against a top-10 opponent. It’s gonna be tough.

The loss is obviously not something that’s going to hurt Arizona – a lot of teams are going to lose in Eugene over the next two months – but a win could have been monumentally helpful. Before we get into the nuts and bolts, let’s just examine it from a public perception angle. The Wildcats were ranked 24th, and, given how AP voters typically behave, will probably fall outside the top-25, even if that’s silly considering they lost on the road to a top-10 team. Arizona may have showed itself to be the best team in the Pac-12 by taking Oregon to OT and nearly winning in Eugene, but there’s a pretty good chance Arizona is playing without a number next to its name next week.

To the things that really matter. Arizona has two “good” losses – at Baylor, vs. Gonzaga – and one whatever loss, St. John’s on a neutral, and that’s why the computers like them, but their resume is pretty thin with something pretty important: Good wins. It’s been two months since they beat a perfectly fine but not particularly remarkable Illini team in Tucson, and their best win since then depends on how you feel about New Mexico State, Arizona State and Wake Forest. And no one feels that great about that trio of teams.

A win at Oregon would have not only been a statement, but a serious NCAA tournament resume builder, something that isn’t exactly in strong supply across the Pac-12.  The league once again isn’t great, and that means needle-moving wins aren’t a plentiful resource. To outplay Oregon for most of the night Thursday on the Ducks’ floor only to return home with an L is a pretty tough pill to swallow if you’re Sean Miller or his players.

Arizona’s performance made me pretty confident that they’re the best team in the Pac-12, but my opinion is worth less than the Wildcats’ Nov. 24 win against Long Beach State (KenPom No. 305).

2. Shockers knock off Memphis

Even without James Wiseman, Memphis has a roster that can compete for an AAC championship. The Tigers ripped off a series of wins without the potential No. 1 NBA draft pick, both before and after he decided to hang up his sneakers for the season. Wins against N.C. State and Tennessee are enough to believe in Penny Hardaway’s team even without the stellar freshman. These Tigers still have a chance.

But they’re not the frontrunners.

Wichita State looks to have staked a claim to that status with their 76-67 win over the Tigers on Thursday night at Koch Arena.

The Shockers led by as many as 19 points despite shooting just 32.8 percent from the floor and 36.4 percent from the 3-point line. They did it thanks to 35 trips to the free-throw line and a defense that produced 18 turnovers and held the Tigers to 35.7 percent from the floor while going a ghastly 4 of 21 from 3-point range. Gregg Marshall’s team had six players score at least eight points while Jamarius Burton led the way with 16.

Wichita State is now 2-0 in the American with the best league win across the conference to date. They’re just a little more than a week away from butting heads with another – probably their chief – AAC  contender, Houston, in Wichita.

3. Michigan survives 2OT to beat Purdue

I don’t know if anyone was actually worried about Michigan after Cassius Winston and Michigan State pretty well thumped them Sunday, but getting big performances from Zavier Simpson, Franz Wagner and Jon Teske to overcome 36 points and 20 rebounds from Trevion Williams and beat Purdue 84-78 in double-overtime might help calm some nerves.

Simpson had 22 and nine assists,  Teske had 18 points and nine rebounds and Wagner had 15 points and five boards to help power the Wolverines, who are still without second-leading scorer and 50-percent 3-point shooter Isaiah Livers. The junior wing has now missed three-straight games since suffering a groin injury in the early minutes of Michigan’s win against Presbyterian on Dec. 21.

Livers is a huge piece of the Wolverines’ puzzle, and without him their offense shrinks considering the importance of his 3-point shooting.

That doesn’t, however, explain how badly Michigan has gotten beaten inside throughout Big Ten play, with Williams’ huge night the latest in a line of big nights, as noted by The Athletic’s Brendan Quinn:

Michigan might not be the slumbering giant they appeared to be after winning the Battle 4 Atlantis (both Iowa State and North Carolina – Michigan’s first two wins in the Bahamas – are in free fall), but if they can get Livers back soon and figure out a way to contain opposing big men, they’ve got a chance to hang around in a Big Ten race that Michigan State is currently in solid control of.

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.