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Top recruit Karl Towns commits to Kentucky, reclassifies to 2014

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New Jersey native Karl Towns, one of the brightest young talents in the country, has committed to Kentucky and reclassified to the Class of 2014, he announced Tuesday.

Towns’ commitment to Kentucky comes as little surprise, as he had developed a strong relationship with coach John Calipari and even played for Calipari this past summer on the Dominican Republic’s National Olympic Team in London.

“Kentucky is such a great school,” Towns told MSG Varsity after his decision. “I felt like Kentucky was just the right school at the end of the day.”

At 6-11, 235 pounds, Towns can extend out to the perimeter on the offensive end and pull defenses away from the basket. He also considered Duke and Florida heavily, along with Michigan State, North Carolina, Seton Hall, and Rutgers.

He attends St. Joseph High School (N.J.), the same school that Philadelphia 76ers center Andrew Bynum attended for much of his prep career. Because of their size and position similarities, as well as ties to the state of New Jersey, the two have often been mentioned together.

Towns becomes the first commit for Calipari in the Class of 2014, after what is expected to be a monstrous 2013 class for Kentucky.

In 2013, Calipari has already secured signatures from three Top-10 players (Andrew and Aaron Harrison, James Young), plus Top-30 prospect Marcus Lee and forward Derek Willis.

With the reclassification of Andrew Wiggins, perhaps the best prospect in the country and a Kentucky target, and the possibility of nabbing Julius Randle, another Top-5 player, the Wildcats’ 2013 recruiting class could end up being historically talented.

Daniel Martin is a writer and editor at JohnnyJungle.com, covering St. John’s. You can find him on Twitter:@DanielJMartin_

Mississippi State proves it has a long way to go in UNC loss

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It’s not like no one could see it coming. Mississippi State’s roster was blatantly lacking talent.

If you had North Carolina minus-45 tonight, please collect your winnings, the Tar Heels demolished the Bulldogs 95-49. And frankly, it wasn’t even that close.

It’s going to be a long season for first year head coach Rick Ray. The biggest problem that Mississippi State in the aftermath of Rick Stansbury “retiring” (I’ll continue to use the quotes until someone admits he was forced out) is that they didn’t realize how much his players loved him. Arnett Moultrie was on the fence about leaving until Ol’ Stans got fired. Renardo Sidney, as much of a raging pain in the [neck] as he was, loved Stansbury. He had to, the guy basically sacrificed his career for him.

Guys like Rodney Hood and Deville Smith were Stansbury guys. This was evident. They were all gone before Rick Ray could even get to know them.

With that, Ray inherited a roster that had one impact player left on it from last season in Jalen Steele. Now Steele is out six weeks with a wrist injury.

Now it’s almost a crap shoot as to who is going to be able to give quality minutes to the Bulldogs on a nightly basis.

It wasn’t just the score that said so much about Mississippi State’s incredibly quick fall, it was the way it happened. North Carolina, while a legitimate threat to crash a Final Four, was getting easy looks down low as guys like James Michael McAdoo (10 points on 4-for-8 shooting) and Desmond Hubert (3-for-3) dominated. The perimeter shots came even easier with North Carolina hitting 15-of-32 three’s.

Granted, UNC has the talent this season to do great things. This performance was in part a show of how good they are and how possibly some underrated them and undervalued Roy Williams as a coach.

The effort for Mississippi State, it was definitely there. Roquez Johnson (12) and Wendell Lewis (10) finished in double figures. They were only out-rebounded 45-38. They got to the foul line 19 times, making 13. The want-to is definitely there. Trouble is, the talent is not.

Things will get better for Mississippi State. Ray already has a great recruiting class coming in for 2013. He’s got the roots and the track record of winning. The hope may be that he gets enough time to work out of this. If he’s given it, Ray will.

You just have to feel for Mississippi State. It’s going to be a tough season, by no fault of anyone currently on the team.

Villanova freshman Ryan Arcidiacono comes up big in overtime win over Purdue

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Just looking at Villanova freshman Ryan Arcidiacono, he looks like the kid who’s always picked first in your Saturday rec league.

He’s young, still with that youthful freshman face that stands out amongst his older teammates, packed with raw talent, a dash of flash, and a confidence beyond his years.

As a true freshman, Arcidiacono has more or less been handed the reins of the program on the court, the starting point guard for a team that is trying to compensate for the early departure of last year’s leading scorer at that position, Maalik Wayns.

“It’s fun coaching him. Ryan is another really high IQ guy. It’s really fun,” said coach Jay Wright. “When you know a guy who knows the game and studies the game, that’s great.”

But not only is Arcidiacono walking into the starting job with a Big East program, he didn’t play his senior season at Neshaminy (Pa.) because of a back injury.

“We went out and took two transfers because I wasn’t really sure he could play,” said Wright. “I’m amazed at what he’s doing. Not basketball wise, but physically. His timing is there.”

In just his second collegiate game, Arcidiacono went for 25 points and six assists in a win over Marshall. He started out hot against Purdue with 10 points in the first half, but then cooled off in the second half. He then picked up later in the second half and overtime, finishing with 18 points and six assists. He did, though, turn the ball over seven times.

This is the up-and-down that Wright and the Wildcats are working through as Arcidiacono settles into his role. At times, glimpses of a player who could flourish in the program, at others hitting some freshman bumps in the road.

“There are some bad spots,” said Wright. “Real good experienced teams play real good forty minutes. We’re not there yet, but they’re going to be a lot better at the end of the year.”

Daniel Martin is a writer and editor at JohnnyJungle.com, covering St. John’s. You can find him on Twitter:@DanielJMartin_

Villanova sophomore Ty Johnson to transfer

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Villanova sophomore Ty Johnson will transfer from the program and look to continue his career at another institution, the school announced Wednesday.

Johnson averaged 3.3 points in just under 18 minutes per game last season and plans to continue working out with the coaching staff as he finishes his fall semester at Villanova.

“We’re going to miss Ty,” Villanova head coach Jay Wright said in a statement. “He has handled this with class. We all respect his work ethic, athletic ability and commitment to this program. We want what’s best for Ty.”

Johnson is a native of Plainfield, N.J. and was a top-75 recruit in the Class of 2011 and chose to attend Villanova out of high school over St. John’s, Georgetown, Virginia Tech, and Rutgers.

Villanova’s backcourt says goodbye to Johnson following the departure of two key players after the 2011-12 season when Maalik Wayns and Dominic Cheek both decided to turn pro. To fill the void, Wright has brought in Wake Forest transfer Tony Chennault, who is eligible to play immediately, and freshman Ryan Arcidiacono.

The Wildcats open their season on Friday against District of Columbia.

Daniel Martin is a writer and editor at JohnnyJungle.com, covering St. John’s. You can find him on Twitter:@DanielJMartin_

Mississippi State’s Andre Applewhite out for season with knee injury

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Mississippi State freshman wing Andre Applewhite will undergo season-ending knee surgery after tearing the ACL and meniscus in his left knee, the school announced Tuesday.

Applewhite, a 6-5 native of Memphis, Tenn., suffered the injuries in practice Friday and becomes the second Mississippi State player to tear his ACL in three months after fellow Jacoby Davis suffered the same injury in July.

New head coach Rick Ray is now left with eight scholarship players for the Bulldogs’ season opener against Troy on Friday.

Ray welcomes a seven-man recruiting class to Starkville after a mass exodus of players followed former coach Rick Stansbury out the door after the 2011-12 season. Among the key departures are forward Arnett Moultrie, now with the Philadelphia 76ers, guard Dee Bost, and center Renardo Sidney.

The Bulldogs were chosen to finish last in the SEC coaches poll for the 2012-13 season.

Daniel Martin is a writer and editor at JohnnyJungle.com, covering St. John’s. You can find him on Twitter:@DanielJMartin_

Howland clarifies UCLA point guard picture

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The UCLA Bruins have had many problems over the past couple-three years, many of them materializing off-court. One problem that has persisted on-court is the lack of a strong point guard presence. Not since the days of Russell Westbrook and Darren Collison has the ball really seemed to be in good hands the majority of the time.

You’ll forgive us if we still consider that to be a major problem for this year’s highly-touted version of the Bruins. UNC refugee Larry Drew II gets the nominal job of primary ballhandler this season, after going down in flames in that role in Chapel Hill. Ben Howland has already acknowledged that Drew is not his one and only as lead guard, however, now that freshman Kyle Anderson has been cleared to play by the NCAA. If anything, Howland looks forward to putting both players on the floor at the same time, according to the Charlotte Observer.

One is a freshman, the other a fifth-year senior. One hails from the East (New Jersey), the other the West (Los Angeles). One stands 6-foot-9, the other is 6-2.

But both are point guards, and coach Ben Howland said Thursday they’ll often be in the same lineup.

“I’ve always loved having two point guards on the floor,” Howland said at the Pac-12 Conference’s men’s basketball media day.

Howland noted that he employed that tactic when Jordan Farmar, Darren Collison, Jrue Holiday and Russell Westbrook wore Bruins blue.

Playing Anderson and Drew in tandem – for stretches at least – helps solve the riddle of which maestro will conduct UCLA’s potentially potent offense. They both will.

The distinction matters primarily when the team is on offense – either player may bring the ball up the floor, a tactic that was employed to great effect during the Bruins’ tour of China this summer. Defensively, Anderson is expected to guard opposing small forwards, a task to which his lanky frame is more naturally suited. Point guards will be assigned to Drew and his true backup at the point, 6’3″ Norman Powell.

There’s little doubt that this UCLA team is intriguing. It could be a good sort of intrigue if all of these diverse parts coalesce into a team. It could be a bad connotation of the word if cameraderie once again eludes a Howland-coached squad of Bruins.