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Indiana’s Juwan Morgan to return for senior season

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While the commitment of elite in-state prospect Romeo Langford was a major development for Archie Miller as he works to return the Indiana basketball program to prominence, the status of forward Juwan Morgan was another key as the team looks ahead to 2018-19.

Morgan, a second team All-Big Ten selection after averaging 16.5 points and 7.4 rebounds per game last season, entered his name into the 2018 NBA Draft without hiring an agent. Tuesday evening, shortly after it was reported by multiple outlets that he would return to Indiana for his senior season, Morgan made the news official via his Instagram account.

The combination of the 2018 recruiting class, which in addition to Langford includes a grad transfer in former Saint Mary’s forward Evan Fitzner, and the return of Morgan likely ramps things up when it comes to the expectations for the “rebuild” in Bloomington.

Three of Indiana’s top four scorers from last season will be back, with Morgan being joined by De’Ron Davis (9.3 ppg, 4.8 rpg in 15 games) and Devonte Green (7.6 ppg), but keep in mind that Davis is coming off of a year that came to an end due to a ruptured Achilles tendon in his right leg. How much time it takes for Davis to get back to full strength remains to be seen, but the additions of Fitzner and three four-star recruits (Jerome Hunter, Damezi Anderson and Jake Forrester) will help the Hoosiers from a numbers standpoint.

That all being said Morgan’s decision to return to Indiana gives the team a proven leading offensive option, ensuring that the Hoosiers can return to the NCAA tournament after missing out in each of the last two seasons.

New Albany to name court in honor of Indiana commit Romeo Langford

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Five-star prospect Romeo Langford’s decision to commit to Indiana last week was a major development for Archie Miller’s program for multiple reasons. Of course there’s Langford’s talent, but the New Albany, Indiana product is also the first elite, in-state recruit of the Miller era in Bloomington.

Langford’s been a big deal in New Albany for quite some time now, and before he makes the move to Bloomington his hometown will honor him. According to Justin Sayers of the Louisville Courier-Journal, the city of New Albany is naming a soon-to-be constructed basketball court at Kevin Hammermsith Memorial Park in Langford’s honor.

Groundbreaking is scheduled to take place at 6:00 PM local time Friday, with the project expected to be completed by July 14.

In the eyes of some this honor may appear to be a bit too much for a person of Langford’s age. But given everything he accomplished at New Albany High School, finishing his career ranked fourth all-time in Indiana high school history with 3,002 points and leading his alma mater to an Indiana 4A state title in 2016, it makes sense. And that’s just touching on what Langford has achieved on the court.

By many accounts Langford has been a positive influence in the New Albany community, and given the turnout for his announcement that he would attend Indiana it’s clear that he means a great deal to the people who have watched him grow up. Given his status a lot will be expected of Langford upon his arrival at IU, but this is something he dealt with throughout much of his high school career.

Dedicating a court to Langford will be quite the sendoff for the locals to give their native son, and he’ll look to have a similar impact upon his arrival in Bloomington.

Five-star 2017 forward Porter Jr. releases top five schools

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As one of the top players in the Class of 2017, 6-foot-8 small forward Michael Porter Jr. has been on the receiving end of attention from many high-major programs. Monday night Porter, a native of Columbia, Missouri who’s ranked second in the class by Rivals.com, revealed his top five schools at this point in time.

The five schools that made the cut (in alphabetical order): Indiana, Missouri, Oklahoma, Virginia and Washington.

Of the five schools on Porter’s list Missouri and Washington may be the most interesting given the family connections. Not only is Missouri the hometown school, but Porter’s older sisters Bri and Cierra are members of the women’s basketball team.

And one of the assistants on that coaching staff was Porter’s father, who earlier this spring joined Lorenzo Romar’s staff at Washington. The elder Porter isn’t the only Washington connection either, with Michael’s younger brother Jontay being a commit in the Class of 2018.

Indiana guard Blackmon Jr. enters NBA Draft, won’t hire an agent

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With Troy Williams already going through the NBA Draft process without an agent, another Indiana player announced Monday that he’ll do the same.

Guard James Blackmon Jr., who played in just 13 games last season due to a knee injury, will go through the pre-draft process without hiring an agent in order to preserve his college eligibility. Blackmon Jr. averaged 15.8 points and 4.2 rebounds per game last season for the Hoosiers, shooting 48.0 percent from the field and 46.3 percent from beyond the arc.

DraftExpress.com currently ranks Blackmon Jr. 30th amongst college sophomores and does not project him to be selected in this year’s draft. But going through the process will allow Blackmon Jr. to receive feedback from NBA scouts and executives, at the very least to have a better idea of what he’ll need to improve upon in order to not only reach the next level but stick around once there.

Freshman OG Anunoby briefly considered going through the draft process before deciding not to do so. The Hoosiers have some key personnel losses to address this offseason, most notably that of point guard and team leader Yogi Ferrell. With Ferrell moving on Blackmon Jr. will be a key figure for the Hoosiers as they look to build on their Sweet 16 appearance and Big Ten regular season title.

LATE NIGHT SNACKS: Three more NCAA tournament tickets punched

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GAME OF THE DAY: Northern Iowa 56, Evansville 54

Wes Washpun’s jumper as time expired gave the Panthers the win in the Missouri Valley title game and an automatic bid to the NCAA tournament. Ben Jacobson’s team, which despite big wins over the likes of North Carolina and Iowa State began Valley play 2-6, enters the tournament having won 12 of their last 13 games. And with experienced options such as Washpun, Matt Bohannon and Jeremy Morgan, this isn’t a team to be taken lightly when the 68-team field is revealed.

IMPORTANT OUTCOMES

No. 12 Indiana 80, No. 14 Maryland 62: Tom Crean’s Hoosiers finished the regular season in style, as they ran away from the Terrapins in the second half in Bloomington. Yogi Ferrell was once again the leader, but it was Troy Williams who led the Hoosiers with 23 points. If Williams can carry his play in the last five games into postseason play, Indiana’s going to be a tough out in the Big Ten and NCAA tournaments.

No. 4 UNC Asheville 77, No. 2 Winthrop 68: The four-seed in the Big South tournament completed its run to the title, with Dwayne Sutton leading the way with 25 points and 18 rebounds. Three other Bulldogs scored in double figures in the win, and Winthrop went just 5-for-33 from beyond the arc. Jimmy Gavin led the way for the Eagles with a game-high 31 points. UNC Asheville has five players averaging double figures, and their “small ball” nature can make them a tough matchup in the NCAA tournament.

No. 4 FGCU 80, No. 7 Stetson 78 (OT): The Eagles are back in the NCAA tournament for the first time since 2013, as they beat the Hatters by two in the Atlantic Sun title game. Zach Johnson’s blocked shot in the final seconds of overtime preserved the win for FGCU, and he finished the game with 19 points. Antravious Simmons produced a double-double, scoring 21 points and grabbing 12 rebounds, to lead the way statistically for the Eagles. There will be mentions of “Dunk City” over the next week, but Joe Dooley’s team is different from the one that captured the imagination of America three years ago.

STARRED

Dwayne Sutton, UNC Asheville: 25 points and 18 rebounds in the Bulldogs’ Big South title game win over Winthrop.

Antravious Simmons, FGCU: 21 points and 12 rebounds as FGCU beat Stetson in overtime to win the Atlantic Sun tournament.

Troy Williams, Indiana: 23 points and five rebounds in the Hoosiers’ win over No. 14 Maryland. Over his last five games Williams is averaging 16.4 points and 4.6 rebounds per game.

Malcolm Hill, Illinois: His team didn’t win, losing 86-79 at Penn State in double overtime, but Hill finished with 39 points and 13 rebounds.

STRUGGLED

Winthrop: The Eagles shot just 5-for-33 from three in their 77-68 loss to UNC Asheville in the Big South title game.

Tanner Plomb, Army West Point: Plomb finished the Black Knights’ loss to Holy Cross with 11 points and nine rebounds, but he scored those points on 3-for-15 shooting.

Jordan Pickett and Marcellus Barksdale, IUPUI: Pickett and Barksdale combined to score ten points on 2-for-15 shooting in the Jaguars’ 60-45 loss to North Dakota State.

THE REST OF THE TOP 25

  • No. 15 Purdue closed out its regular season schedule with a 91-80 win over Wisconsin in West Lafayette. Caleb Swanigan scored 27 points and grabbed eight rebounds, and P.J. Thompson added a career-high 22 points as the Boilermakers grabbed the four-seed in the Big Ten tournament. Wisconsin will be the six-seed in Indianapolis.
  • Cincinnati added a much-needed quality win to its résumé, beating SMU 61-54 in the Mustangs’ final game of the season. Mick Cronin’s Bearcats will be the four-seed at the American Athletic Conference tournament, where they’ll play five-seed UConn in the quarterfinals.

CONFERENCE TOURNAMENTS

  • The top two seeds advanced to the CAA title game, with No. 1 Hofstra edging out No. 5 William & Mary 70-67 and No. 2 UNCW holding off No. 6 Northeastern 73-70. Both winners avenged losses in last year’s semifinal round, and Monday’s title game can be seen on NBCSN at 7:00 p.m. The road team won both regular season meetings.
  • The Horizon League tournament has been all chalk, and Sunday the three and four seeds advanced to the semifinal round. No. 3 Wright State took care of No. 6 Detroit 82-72, and they’ll take on No. 2 Oakland on Monday. In the other semifinal No. 1 Valparaiso will play No. 4 Green Bay, which beat No. 5 Milwaukee 70-61.
  • The MAAC title game Monday night will match the conference’s top two teams, as No. 1 Monmouth and No. 2 Iona took care of business in Sunday’s semifinals. The Hawks beat No. 5 Fairfield 76-63, and the Gaels took care of No. 3 Siena (the tournament hosts) 81-70. Monmouth and Iona split their two meetings, with the road team winning both.
  • No. 2 Lehigh will host the Patriot League title game, as they beat No. 6 American 78-62. The Mountain Hawks’ opponent will be No. 9 Holy Cross which won its third straight road game, 60-38 at Army West Point.
  • SoCon top seed Chattanooga advanced to Monday’s title game, surviving an upset bid from No. 5 Western Carolina by the final score of 73-69. Also advancing was No. 2 ETSU, which beat No. 3 Furman 84-76 in the other semifinal.
  • After the top two seeds won their quarterfinal match-ups at the Summit League tournament Saturday, the three and four seeds weren’t as fortunate Sunday. No. 3 Omaha lost to No. 6 Denver 78-70, and No. 4 IUPUI was eliminated by North Dakota State, 60-45. Monday’s semifinals will match No. 1 IPFW and NDSU, and No. 2 South Dakota State and Denver.

OTHER NOTABLE OUTCOMES

  • Temple wrapped up the outright American Athletic Conference regular season title with a 64-56 win at Tulane. Fran Dunphy’s Owls had already locked up the top seed in the conference tournament, with SMU ineligible for postseason play.
  • Also in the American, UConn avoided a bad loss by taking care of UCF 67-46 in Storrs. As mentioned above, the Huskies will take on Cincinnati in the quarterfinals.
  • Brandon Taylor scored 21 points and grabbed 11 boards as Penn State beat Illinois 86-79 in overtime. The Nittany Lions will be the ten-seed in the Big Ten tournament, drawing No. 7 Ohio State in the second round. Illinois, the 12-seed, will play No. 13 Minnesota in the first round Wednesday night.
  • Northwestern beat Nebraska 64-55, dropping the Huskers into the 11-seed in the Big Ten tournament. Nebraska will open play No. 14 Rutgers in the first round, while No. 9 Northwestern gets No. 8 Michigan in Thursday’s second round.

No. 12 Indiana finishes regular season with a flourish

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Having already clinched the outright Big Ten regular season title, the question for No. 12 Indiana was whether or not they’d win it by multiple games. No. 14 Maryland represented a worthy challenge, but after getting off to a slow start the Hoosiers found their rhythm as the first half progressed. And in the second half Tom Crean’s team grabbed the game by its throat, going on to win by the final score of 80-62 to win the Big Ten title by two games.

It’s been said before but it bears repeating: the turnaround made by Tom Crean’s team since non-conference play has been highly impressive, regardless of what some say about the strength of Indiana’s conference schedule (KenPom rates Michigan State’s league slate as being slightly weaker, in fact).

The Hoosiers limited Maryland to 41.4 percent shooting from the field and 8-for-24 from three on the day, and they also converted 14 Terrapin turnovers into 20 points. Indiana’s improved effort on the defensive end has been a key in their transformation from struggling team with an embattled head coach during non-conference play to the Big Ten regular season champion. If there was one play in Sunday’s win that can be used as a good example of this, it would be Yogi Ferrell’s diving for a Maryland attempt to roll the ball inbounds late in the second half to save time.

Ferrell could have easily allowed Maryland to pull this off, or even fake an attempt to go after the ball so Maryland would pick up the ball prematurely. Instead he sold out, and that kind of effort has been present throughout Big Ten play. The senior point guard has been the leader for Indiana, but Ferrell’s had plenty of help in pushing the Hoosiers to the top of the Big Ten. Ferrell finished Sunday’s game with 17 points and four assists, and wing Troy Williams led the way with a game-high 23 points to go along with five boards.

Ferrell is undoubtedly Indiana’s most important player. But if the Hoosiers are to make a deep run in the NCAA tournament, they’re also going to need an engaged Williams. He was that kind of player against Maryland, playing with an energy that makes him a very difficult matchup for many opponents. This comes on the heels of a solid 15-point, seven-rebound outing in the win at Iowa Tuesday night, and over Indiana’s final five regular season games the junior averaged 16.4 points and 4.6 rebounds per contest.

If Williams can continue on this path in the Big Ten and NCAA tournaments, Indiana will be a tough out. They’ve received contributions across the board, from stars and role players alike, resulting in the program’s second Big Ten title in four years. And as they showed for most of Sunday’s regular season finale, Indiana has the tools needed to accomplish even more over the next month.