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Zion Williamson Commits to Duke

The 2018-19 college basketball season took a turn last night, when Zion Williamson announced his college commitment. Williamson, who plays high school ball in South Carolina, was deciding between local schools Clemson and South Carolina, as well as blue blood programs Kentucky, Duke, UNC and Kansas. Going into Saturday, 247Sports gave Clemson an 87% chance to land Williamson. Kentucky was the dark horse to make a last minute steal if Williamson choose to go out of state. In the end though, it was Duke who got the good news Saturday night.

Williamson is one of the country’s most talked about recruits, thanks to his freak athleticism and dunk show warm up routines. He’s a massive body and is able to bully his way to the basket in most situations at the high school level. Some scouts have described him as Charles Barkley-esque at times. It is uncertain if that will work at the college level, but with the athleticism that he possesses, he should be just fine.

In a season plagued by recruiting scandals, the surprising choice of Duke forces you to wonder just a bit. Not insinuating foul play, but it was a huge upset on Duke’s part to land Williamson. For Clemson, it would have been a monstrous commitment for Brad Brownell and his staff. The Tigers are enjoying one of their best seasons under Brownell, and are on track to reach the NCAA tournament for the first time since the 2010-11 season. Adding Williamson to a solid core of players returning would have given the Tigers a lot to look forward to.

“When I went on my official visit (to Duke), I already felt like I was a part of the family. It just gave a very positive family-type vibe,”

For Duke, it undoubtedly catapults them back to the nation’s top recruiting class. Williamson adds to an already loaded class. That’s something we are getting used to say about Duke. Last year it was the addition of Marvin Bagley. This year, it’s Williamson. He will join RJ Barrett, Cam Reddish and Tre Jones, all fellow ESPN Top 10 recruits, in Durham next year. It remains to be seen who will return for Duke next year, but they have a strong core coming in to replace some of their departed players.

With Trae Young choosing Oklahoma over Kansas last season, and proceeding to take the college basketball world by storm, many wanted to see the same story unfold with Zion. With the season Clemson is having, and who would be coming back, it could have been another great story. In the end though, the rich get richer. Coach K showed once again why it’s hard to beat him not just on the court, but in recruiting as well.

Billy Preston Signs Overseas, Won’t Play at Kansas

Photo via Arcamax

The Billy Preston saga at Kansas is over. News came this morning that Preston has signed with BC Ikogea, part of the Bosnian Professional League. With the signing, it officially means that Preston will never play a minute for the Jayhawks this season. Preston had been sidelined all year due to questions surrounding a car accident he was in back in the Fall. Bill Self continually said he expected the issue to be cleared, but now it appears it won’t even matter.

For Kansas, it is a bit of unfortunate news for a team that was expecting to get some added fire power to their front court. In Self’s eyes, it wasn’t a matter of if, but a matter of when he will play. Preston was expected to be a major piece to Bill Self’s concoction in Lawrence this year. Getting him back in the middle of the season could have given this team an added boost down the stretch. Instead it looks like the Jayhawks are moving on with the team they have.

While this news certainly doesn’t help the depth issue that Kansas has, it isn’t a crushing blow to their title hopes either. Preston was a McDonald’s All-American recruit noted for his offensive abilities. He was somewhat ball dominant however, and his defense would have been a work in progress, at least to reach Self’s standards. Instead Kansas will move forward with Udoka Azubuike, Mitch Lightfoot and Silvio De Sousa up front.

We know Billy is an NBA prospect so we will do our best to continue his development to help him excel for our club and fulfill his goal which is to be an NBA star in the near future.”

For Preston, the decision was made in an attempt to best ready himself for an NBA career. Being a highly touted high school prospect, he was expected to be a one-and-done at Kansas before declaring for the NBA Draft. Sitting on the bench at Kansas wasn’t helping his draft stock. Per the Kansas City Star, the BC Ikogea reached out to Preston after tracking his situation, and the team is committed to helping his development. NBADraft.net has Preston as the 59th best draft prospect in this Summer’s draft.

The news doesn’t make or break KU’s season, but you have to imagine Bill Self and his staff are not happy with how this played out. Being questioned constantly from the media about the issue, Self did believe a decision was coming soon. It is a bit surprising that the NCAA could not come up with a resolution to a case that seemed so small back in November when it occurred. Regardless, both Kansas and Preston have their priorities. One is looking to win the Big 12 and a National Championship, the other is looking to jump start his professional career.

7 Storylines in College Basketball This Weekend

Photo via SB Nation

It’s a big football weekend, with Conference Championship games being played on Sunday. Before you look forward to Sunday, here’s what you can look forward to this Saturday in college hoops.

Wichita State Tries to Avoid Back to Back Losses

Wichita State had the most embarrassing loss in program history under Greg Marshall on Wednesday, at home against SMU. As Rob Dauster pointed out on his College Basketball Talk Podcast, the Shockers gave up 1.38 points per possession, which is the worst by a Marshall coached team. The Shockers, while still one of the best teams in a weak AAC, need to up their defensive intensity if they want a long March run. On the flip side, Houston sits at 14-4 and 4-2 in the AAC. They hold above average wins against Arkansas and Providence. A win against the Shockers would really catapult them to a potential at-large bid come March.

Get Familiar with the Mountain West….Really

First place for the Mountain West Conference is at stake Saturday night, as Nevada hosts Boise State. If you haven’t paid attention, and I’m sure not many have, Nevada is a good basketball team. They are a Top 20 KenPom team, with a win against Rhode Island and close losses to Texas Tech and TCU. Nevada’s Caleb Martin is worth the watch, and is an under appreciated player in the country. The Wolf Pack sit at 6-0 in the Mountain West, hosting the 6-1 Boise State Broncos. Boise State is no slouch either, but needs a win to keep potential at-large or conference championship hopes alive. Senior guard has been the driving force between two close wins for Boise of late. He went for 44 a few games ago versus San Diego State. Offense is not an issue in this one. It will probably be the best late night game on Saturday night.

Can Notre Dame Finally Steal a Win

Notre Dame could use some comfort. The Fighting Irish lost a heartbreaker last Saturday, as a TJ Gibbs put back was halfway down before coming out. They followed up with a double overtime loss to Louisville earlier this week. Notre Dame no doubt got a boost with the return of Matt Farrell against the Cardinals, but they need to start winning some close games if they want to keep their tournament hopes alive. They won’t get punished for losses against good ACC teams without Bonzie Colson, but they need to steal some wins to keep their tournament dreams alive. For the Tigers, it could be a big weekend for them on and off the court, with Zion Williamson expected to make his college commitment.

Will Trae Young Bounce Back

Trae Young had his worst game of his brief college career this week against Kansas State. Major props to the Wildcats, who game planned and defended Young and the Sooners magnificently. Young finished with 20 points on 21 shots and a glaring 12 turnovers. It was a blip on the radar for Young. He and Oklahoma will look to rebound against Oklahoma State. The Sooners trounced OSU at home earlier in the year. Young finished with 27 points and 10 assists. On paper, this looks like a favorable way to bounce back.

The Only Ranked vs Ranked Match-Up of the Weekend

There is only one game on Saturday that features two nationally ranked teams and that is #11 Xavier travelling to Jersey to play #19 Seton Hall. This game has two storylines to it. For Seton Hall, they need a win to stay in the race in the Big East. They’ve lost two of their last three, and the two losses were blowouts. Xavier needs to win to keep pace with Villanova. A loss here wouldn’t doom the Musketeers, but it would basically ensure that Villanova gets at least a share of the Big East regular season championship. You also get two senior led teams in this game, and great individual match-ups. Desi Rodriguez versus Trevon Blueitt would probably the best match-up within the match-up

First Place Game in the Pac 12

After non-conference play, the Pac 12 seemed like a two team race between Arizona and Arizona State. Three weeks into conference play, Arizona sits atop the standings, but they don’t share it with the Sun Devils. Instead it is Stanford that is tied with the Wildcats at 5-1 in Pac 12 play. The Cardinals were 0-4 in non-conference play against KenPom Top 50 teams. They’ve been strong in conference however, with wins over UCLA, USC and Arizona State thus far. They have one of the best players in the conference in Reid Travis. He will have his hands full against probable conference POY, DeAndre Ayton. Winner has sole possession of first place in the Pac 12.

Kentucky NEEDS a Big Win

You never want to throw around the words “must win” this early into conference play, but this is close to a must win for Kentucky at home against Florida. The Wildcats are just a game behind the Gators in the SEC and could either end the weekend potentially tied for first or sitting 4-3 with a number of tough games looming. The Wildcats have games against Tennessee, who beat them, at Texas A&M, who should have beat them, at Auburn, at Arkansas and at Florida to end the season. Also jammed in there is a trip to West Virginia, though not a conference game. Kentucky still controls their fate, but with what we’ve seen of them so far, they cannot afford to dig themselves too deep a hole.

In addition to these storylines, you also have other ranked teams such as West Virginia, Gonzaga, Tennessee, Auburn and Arizona State looking to rebound after losses during the week. Honestly, there probably isn’t as much flareas prior weekends. With the way this season has gone though, expect nothing to go according to plan, and a lot to talk about on Monday.

NCAA Needs to Bite the Bullet and Change Transfer Rule

The word transfer is one of the most hot button topics in college basketball. Every Spring/Summer, many NCAA athletes announce they will transfer schools. It is a number that grows each and every year. An study showed that 689 student-athletes transferred to a different school in 2017. That number is enormous, and has been the butt of many jokes by those in the college basketball world. Despite this upward trend in transfers, the NCAA will (eventually) discuss removing their current rule in which a player must sit out a year before playing for their new team. Despite the criticism transferring gets from many, the NCAA needs to change this rule. That 689 number is made to look more extreme than it really is.

Not Everyone is Transferring to Another Division 1 Programs

First off, let’s cut that giant number in half. That same NCAA study showed that 48% of the 689 transfers were to another Division 1 school. A majority of the 48% was to a lower level program. The rest left for a Division 2, NAIA or two year college. A lot of transfer situations are made out to be players leaving a high profile school for another high profile school. And while there certainly are some instances of this (i.e. Malik Newman, Cam Johnson, Taurean Thompson), a majority of transfers are players moving to a more suitable playing level.  High school recruits strive to play basketball at the highest level possible. While many can be a part of a team on a certain level, it doesn’t mean they will have their best career at that level. Sometimes it takes getting to campus to realize that. These type of transfers get thrown into that giant number and everyone chalks it up to young players lacking loyalty or commitment. That is not always the case.

If Coaches are Able to Leave for Higher Level Jobs, Why Can’t Players

If head coaches are allowed to jump ship for better opportunities, why do players have to sit out a year? Kevin Keatts doesn’t sit out a year for leaving UNC Wilmington for NC State. But if a UNCW player decided to transfer to NC State, he gets one year of no play. I know, these players are amateur athletes. They aren’t signing contracts like the coaches are when they move schools. But at the end of the day, players and coaches are alike in that basketball is, was, and will be a huge part of their life. They all want to achieve their dream at the highest level possible. I know it hurts small programs when their star player decides to transfer to a high major school. But if that coach can reap the benefits of a few successful seasons, then the player should be able to as well, penalty free.

What Happens When Coaching Staffs Get Fired

I’ve said this earlier this year in the case with Braxton Beverly, when you commit to a school, the coaching staff is a huge reason why. It may not always be the head coach. A lot of recruits form bonds with assistants during the recruiting process. If your coach leaves, or gets fired, and the entire staff is let go, we shouldn’t punish players for seeking other opportunities. They didn’t commit to the new coach that the University brought in. If a University decides to move on from a coach, they should let grant their players and recruits freedom to explore other possibilities.

Would Eliminate Teams from the “Shady” Recruiting Process

This is a little risky, because it could undoubtedly lead to poaching, potentially. But right now, there are some coaches who thrive more in bringing in transfer players than 5 star recruits. Making transfers eligible immediately could potentially eliminate some of the shadiness that exists on college recruiting. There would have to be rules in place as to when a school can begin contact with a transferring player, of course, but it could change the recruiting game.

The transfer number is not going to drastically fall anytime soon. Clearly sitting out a year is not deterring any players from transferring. 330 players transferred from one Division 1 program to another; A majority of those transfers were to a lower level program. Truth is, not a lot of players are jumping around from one high major program to another. That is why I believe this trend is not going to change. I am not encouraging players to jump ship and transfer year after year. I’m not saying this rule should be completely thrown out either. I do think though, that there are many exceptions where players should be deemed eligible immediately. With the right revisions, I do believe this could help the game.

UPDATE:
I am not in favor of this. This would hurt college basketball. A player transferring twice and never needing to sit is not what I am advocating for. I just think there needs to be more lenient circumstances to the rule.

7 Teams That Have Surprised Us This College Basketball Season

By now it’s pretty widely agreed upon that this season has been crazy in college basketball. Upsets all over, blue chip programs struggling to put it together, and teams that were overlooked, turning heads. You often see teams start hot and fade away once conference play begins, but let’s look at seven teams who appear to be legitimate here in mid January.

Auburn

Take a second to realize just what Bruce Pearl has done this year at Auburn. His program was linked to the FBI report that was released in the Fall. He lost one of his assistant coaches just before the start of the season. And, his two best players are out for the entire season. Recipe for success? For sure not. However, the Tigers have a 16-1 record, and a perfect 4-0 record in SEC play this season. While they played a relatively soft non-conference schedule, Auburn has two strong SEC wins at Tennessee and against Arkansas. This team is playing with confidence and their head coach is coaching with a swagger. Auburn may be the most surprising team so far this season.

Ohio State

Speaking of non-ideal scenarios, take a look at what Chris Holtmann inherited at Ohio State. In June, he took over a team that won just six Big Ten games, and were losing their top four leading scorers. His only option would be to weather the storm and begin making serious changes after what was expected to be a rough first season, right? Wrong. Although they got off to a shaky start, failing to secure any signature non-conference wins, what Holtmann has done at Ohio State so far is fantastic. Behind the All-American play of Keita Bates-Diop, the Buckeyes already have six conference wins, and are tied with Purdue at the top of the standings. And while they may not have been able to secure any resume boosting non-conference wins, they announced themselves as contenders with an absolute drubbing of Michigan State a few weeks ago.

Clemson

The Clemson Tigers were supposed to make the NCAA tournament last season, at least that’s what their expectation was. Jaron Blossomgame was finally a senior and be was going to lead them to the Big Dance before he left. Unfortunately that story never panned out, but Clemson appears to be on their way this season. What losing Blossomgame did was turn them into one of the more balanced scoring teams in the country. They have five players who average 11 points a game or more. They hold wins over Ohio State, Florida, Louisville and Miami. Three of those four wins were at home, a place they defended pretty well this season.

Oklahoma

If you watch a lot of college basketball, you know the Oklahoma Sooners are a lot more than Trae Young. Sure, Young is a sensational player and well on his way to being named Player of the Year, but this team is blossoming after going through many growing pains last year. After being extremely young last season, Oklahoma is seeing a lot of players make big jumps in their game, year over year. Young might be a straw that stirs the drink, but his strong supporting cast is the reason the Sooners are a top 5 team in the country.

Arizona State

Arizona State has had a humbling start to Pac 12 play, but they are still light years ahead of where anyone thought they would be. They have a top 10 offense in the country, though that has slowed down some as well. Despite their conference struggles, the Sun Devils still have wins against Xavier and at Kansas to hang their hat on. They have a favorable stretch coming up that should (hopefully) be what this team needs to get back on track. Regardless, this team is 14-3 and a real threat to win the Pac 12. That is something not many people expected coming into the season.

Texas Tech

If you are unaware, the Big 12 Conference is really, really good. One reason why is the ridiculous play of Trae Young. Another reason is the emergence of Texas Tech and the tenacious defense Chris Beard has instilled in this team. While they don’t generate the turnovers that West Virginia does, the Red Raiders defense is Top 10 in the country in terms of points per game. A mix of strong senior leadership and tough defense can take a team far. This Texas Tech team is good enough to reach a Final Four, just ask Kansas, Baylor, Nevada and West Virginia.

Purdue

The Purdue Boilermakers are tied for first place in the Big Ten. They haven’t lost since the day after Thanksgiving. In that time they’ve beaten Arizona (albeit without Rawle Alkins), Louisville, Michigan and Butler. The Boilermakers made a statement in a 34 point slaughter of a Minnesota team that has some problems. With Purdue, you have another rare exception of a team losing an All-American (Caleb Swanigan) and seemingly being better without him. Despite the departure of Swanigan, Matt Painter still had the pieces to have a successful season. Right now he is getting the most out of all those pieces, with three upperclassmen averaging over 13 points a game, and a sophomore, Carson Edwards, leading them with 16 a game. The Big Ten was supposed to be a bad league dominated by Michigan State. Three weeks into conference play however, it is Purdue that looks dominant.

We’re still a long way from March. That is fortunate and unfortunate news for some teams. And as I mentioned before, there are plenty of teams who have played better than expected. Right now though, these seven teams and coaches deserve a lot of credit for the the job they’ve done in the first half of the season.