NCAA Basketball Recruiting: 1 School Each Uncommitted 5-Star Player Should Avoid

With players at the level of 5-star prospects, NCAA basketball recruiting tends to feature the same traditional powers fighting over the same few high schoolers. One of the key factors in whittling down those lists is the fit between a player and a program, which can sometimes make even the most successful team the wrong one for a given recruit.

North Carolina, for example, is a perennial NBA factory and NCAA title contender, but Roy Williams’ light-speed fast break isn’t for everyone. Fast-rising big man Henry Ellenson is one high-profile youngster who would do well to avoid the Tar Heels as he considers his college options.

Read on for more on the mismatch between Ellenson and UNC, along with one program that each of Rivals.com’s 5-star recruits from the class of 2015 should turn down. All teams are chosen from the list of those schools actually recruiting a given player, per Rivals, ESPN and/or Scout.com.

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Wade’s late surge lifts Heat to avoid four-game slide

Miami’s Big 3 combined for 67 points as the Heat avoid their fourth straight loss

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Arizona vs. Oregon State: Score, Recap and Analysis as Wildcats Avoid Upset

Successful teams need to know how to win close games on the road in March, and No. 3 Arizona got some good practice on Wednesday night. 

Sean Miller’s squad was pushed to the edge against unranked Oregon State in Corvallis, but the Wildcats were able to lean on their stifling defense down to stretch to pull out a 74-69 victory. 

For a while, the combination of Roberto Nelson’s outside shooting and the Beavers’ big, physical frontcourt of Eric Moreland, Angus Brandt and Devon Collier was giving the Wildcats serious problems, and a free throw by Nelson with 6:08 remaining put OSU in front, 62-61. 

But then Arizona’s top-ranked adjusted defense in the country began to resemble itself again. 

The Beavers’ next eight possessions resulted in two points, as they went 1-of-5 from the field and committed three turnovers, allowing the Wildcats to go on a 10-2 run and build a seven-point lead with just under 30 seconds remaining. 

The Beavers shot themselves in the foot, hitting just 16 of 29 free throws (55.2 percent) and turning the ball over 17 times, but in the end, this was about Arizona being too talented and too stingy on the defensive side of the ball. 

Of course, the ‘Cats can score the ball a little bit, too. 

They once again struggled from the free-throw line (19-of-30 from the charity stripe), but Nick Johnson continued to build his Pac-12 Player of the Year campaign with 25 points and four assists, while Gabe York, whose inclusion into the starting lineup has helped the ‘Cats get over the loss of Brandon Ashley, knocked down four three-pointers on his way to 12 points. 

T.J. McConnell chipped in eight assists, and CBS Sports’ Jon Rothstein sung the praises of the point guard afterward: 

Freshman phenom Aaron Gordon struggled with just eight points and two rebounds as he dealt with foul trouble for much of the game, but Kaleb Tarczewski picked up the slack on the interior with 12 and nine. 

Overall, it wasn’t pretty for the Wildcats, who had won their previous three contests against potential NCAA tourney teams by a combined 68 points.

But in March, it can’t always be. 

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Duke Basketball: Teams That Blue Devils Want to Avoid in the NCAA Tournament

From the embarrassment of nearly tumbling from the Associated Press Top 25 for the first time in two decades, the Duke Blue Devils have rallied all the way back, insinuating themselves into the conversation for a No. 1 NCAA tournament seed.

There’s no one without warts in this college basketball season, though. Duke has its issues, and any team with issues can stumble across teams capable of exploiting it.

We’re going to break down four teams, plus a bonus dark horse candidate, with attributes making them candidates to knock Duke out of national championship contention.

And if you think any of these are absolutely impossible, ponder this one word: Lehigh. As we’ve all seen, anything can happen under the spotlights of March.

 

Statistics and rankings accurate through games of March 3. All KenPom.com links should be assumed to require subscription unless noted otherwise.

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UNC vs. NC State: Score, Recap and Analysis as Tar Heels Avoid Upset

Marcus Paige might not always get off to the best start, but the North Carolina guard is quickly cementing his reputation as one of the best closers in college basketball.

Paige scored 31 points after halftime, including a game-winning layup with 0.9 seconds remaining on the clock, as the No. 19 Tar Heels escaped Raleigh with a 86-85 overtime victory over rival North Carolina State on Wednesday.

The final play was a carbon copy of something Paige has done so many times this season. Dribbling the ball at the top of the key with time expiring, Paige pounded the ball to the floor with his left hand and rose up between two defenders to kiss a clutch layup off the glass and into the basket.

North Carolina (21-7, 11-4 ACC) has won 10 straight and is the hottest team other than Virginia in the ACC. The Tar Heels, one of the more unpredictable elite squads throughout this season, are currently tied with rival Duke in the loss column for third place in the conference standings. 

Paige, who had been entirely nondescript throughout the first half, finished with a team-high 35 points. He hit all seven of the Tar Heels’ three-pointers and matched the Wolfpack’s overall team total. N.C. State’s upset bid was led by forward T.J. Warren, whose game-high 36 points kept the Wolfpack in the game throughout and made for a scintillating battle—one that at times felt like a one-on-one matchup. 

For both players, the game was about opportunity—ones missed, ones made. And Warren especially will likely lie awake thinking about the one point he left on the rim. 

After drawing a foul on James Michael McAdoo with eight seconds remaining in overtime and the game tied at 83-83, Warren went to the free-throw line for two shots. He clanked the first. Even though he put the Wolfpack ahead one by knocking down the second, that first miss allowed North Carolina to complete its second torrid comeback of the evening.

The Tar Heels trailed by eight at halftime, as many as 11 in the game and six at different points in overtime. But every time N.C. State was on the precipice of putting it away, Roy Williams’ squad battled its way back. A Warren jumper made it 82-76 with 1:35 remaining in overtime, so Paige pulled up 10 seconds later from three and made it a one-possession game.

North Carolina never led in overtime until Paige’s layup and spent almost the entire night at PNC Arena trailing. Locking down on the defensive interior, N.C. State held the Heels to just 26 points in the first half. Though the Wolfpack’s offense was almost entirely carried by three players—Warren, Ralston Turner and Beejay Anya scored 62 of the team’s 84 points—strong efforts from Jordan Vandenberg and Co. in the middle made life difficult for UNC.

McAdoo was only 2-of-11 from the field and scored eight points. Kennedy Meeks fell two points shy of a double-double, but he was also 3-of-7 from the field and struggled to get his shot off. N.C. State blocked 10 shots, with Vandenberg and Kyle Washington leading the way with four apiece.

The only consistently effective big was J.P. Tokoto, who finished with 16 points, 10 rebounds and five assists. Tokoto also did an excellent job of defending Warren in the first half, holding him to 3-of-10 from the field. Warren and the Wolfpack offense got going when Tokoto had to leave the floor due to a hand injury in the second half. Though he returned, trainers worked with him throughout the overtime period with cramps as well.

That allowed Warren, who scores an ACC-best 23.3 points per game, to go off. He’s scored 30 points in back-to-back games for the second time this season, and has a streak of 11 straight games with at least 20 points.  

For the Wolfpack (17-11, 7-8 ACC), this loss is doubly frustrating. Not only did they allow an upset against a rival slip through their hands, but Tuesday night may have been their last best chance to improve their NCAA tournament resume before the conference tournament. N.C. State has home gimmes against Miami and Boston College sandwiched between a road trip to Pittsburgh, a victory that would have looked far better a couple weeks ago than now.

With an RPI of 54 and an 0-7 record against the 50 best teams, odds are against Mark Gottfried’s squad making its third straight Big Dance. If the Wolfpack ultimately wind up in the NIT, they’ll look back at games like this and wonder what could have been. As noted by Pack Pride, late losses aren’t exactly a new thing for this team:

North Carolina has to feel like it can chalk this one up to karma. The Heels have had their own string of bad luck this season, some of it self-created and some due to bad timing. Where other games have come down to blown free throws, UNC hit its final 10 in the second half and overtime to maximize its point total.

It wasn’t the best game. It wasn’t the least stressful. It rarely is with this team.

But with 10 straight victories and Paige’s heroics leading the way, the Tar Heels are finding themselves at the perfect time.  

 

What’s Next?

North Carolina stays on the road but shouldn’t have nearly as much trouble when it plays Virginia Tech on Saturday. N.C. State, meanwhile, has a flailing Miami (Fla.) squad on its schedule earlier that afternoon.

The Hurricanes and Hokies have a combined seven ACC victories this season.

 

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Lakers Rumors: L.A. plan to avoid Carmelo Anthony; will target Kevin Love in 2015 and Kevin Durant in 2016

So, where do we go from here?
That’s the question many fans of the Los Angeles Lakers are asking right now.
The team is currently sat at 19-36 and hasn’t seen Kobe Bryant wear their purple and gold jersey since December. Before the trade deadline, Lakers management couldn’t find a worthwhile deal for Pau Gasol, and so he’ll hang around for the remaining 27 games and will probably leave this summer for a fresh start elsewhere.
The Lakers do have a first-round draft pick, though, and the team are set to make their first lottery selection since 2005 when they drafted Andrew Bynum out of high school.
However, the Lakers’ biggest rebuilding tool is their cap space, and they’ll have their first chance in decades to spend big money this summer.
That doesn’t mean they’ll spend it all just yet, though.
According to Mike Bresnahan and Eric Pincus from the L.A. Times, the Lakers don’t plan to pursue Carmelo Anthony this offseason. They’ll put in a call to LeBron James if he opts-out of his dea…

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Auburn vs. Florida: Score, Recap and Analysis as Gators Avoid Upset

Hardly anybody saw this close of a game coming.

Entering play at 12-11, the Auburn Tigers were supposed to be a relatively easy win for the No. 2 Florida Gators. Chalk it up to a poor showing by Florida, or chalk it up to a great showing by Auburn, but the fact remains that this was entirely too close for comfort for Florida.

The 71-66 final was an even tighter affair than the five-point difference would suggest. The waning minutes were grueling for both teams, as repeated trips to the free-throw line by both sides kept the action slow.

Jon Rothstein of CBS Sports tweeted about how little disparity there is between teams at this point in the season:

Auburn was up, 38-30, at the end of the first half, but Florida took charge in the second half to shorten the deficit and make an attempt at avoiding the upset. The consistent attack of Auburn proved to be a worthy adversary.

The closing minute of the game was exhilarating. Michael Frazier II hit a deep three with just 42 seconds left to give the Gators a 66-65 lead. He finished with just nine points, below his season mark of 12.2 per night. Then, with five seconds separating the shot clock and the game clock, Auburn decided to play it safe and maintain possession until the clock ticked away.

At that point, the Tigers had just one field goal in their last seven possessions. The stars were aligning for Florida to complete the comeback.

A blocking foul with 21 seconds to play sent Chris Denson to the line. The SEC’s leading scorer at 20.9 points per game, Denson scored 15 points on 5-of-11 shooting. He was just 5-of-8 from the charity stripe.

Denson hit one free throw before missing the second. Patric Young of Florida snagged the board and was immediately fouled. The foul was not a smart one, and Young converted both attempts.

Young had a strong all-around game, scoring 17 points and grabbing seven boards. Even though he’s just a 57.1-percent free-throw shooter, Young converted on 7-of-9 attempts against the Tigers. Needless to say, that was huge for the Gators.

Following Denson’s missed second attempt, chaos ensued.

After a string of missed shots and timeouts, the Tigers had problems inbounding the ball for what would have been their final possession. Nobody got open to receive the offering from the baseline, resulting in an errant pass and a turnover.

Auburn was then forced to foul in order to get another scoring opportunity. Scottie Wilbekin made both free throws to put his team up by four, 70-66.

Wilbekin, the SEC’s Player of the Week, knew that Auburn wouldn’t be an easy team to overcome. He recalled aspects of their previous meeting on Jan. 18, via CBS Sports.

“I can’t remember how many points they had against us last time, but I knew they went off a little bit and they are capable of going off with big nights, both of them,” Wilbekin said. “So we got to do a better job this game of knowing their straight-line drives and just play better on-ball defense.”

In wins at Tennessee and No. 14 Kentucky, Wilbekin averaged 22 points, four assists, three rebounds and 2.5 steals per game to capture the SEC’s weekly honors. While he didn’t post those same marks against the Tigers, his 15 points and four assists were still higher than both of his per-game marks of 13.5 points and 3.7 assists.

After Wilbekin’s two free throws, Auburn missed a shot and fouled yet again. Young hit one more free throw with five seconds to go to seal the deal.

 

What’s Next?

Florida will look for a much easier go of things in the next game at Ole Miss on Feb. 22. At 16-10, Ole Miss has had varying levels of success this season.

Auburn will take on Vanderbilt at home on the same day. While the loss will be tough for them to stomach given how well they played in the first half, the Tigers will take solace is knowing they can run with some of the nation’s best teams.

In the end, that might just be the most important takeaway from Wednesday night’s action.

 

Follow me on Twitter: @kennydejohn

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Arizona vs. Utah: Score, Recap and Analysis as Wildcats Avoid Upset

The AP No. 4 Arizona Wildcats narrowly avoided an upset in Wednesday’s Pac-12 clash with Utah, escaping with a 67-63 overtime victory at Salt Lake City’s Jon M. Huntsman Center.

A balanced scoring effort allowed Arizona to persevere and ultimately pull through, led by guards Gabe York and Nick Johnson, who each scored a game-high 15 points. York had only averaged 6.6 points per contest coming in, so his stepping up was a big reason why the Wildcats escaped.

This win brings the Wildcats to 24-2 overall and 11-2 in the conference, while the Utes fall to 17-9 and 6-8 in the Pac-12.

Part of what pressed York to step up so much was the fact that freshman forward Aaron Gordon fouled out after scoring just three points. He consistently scores in double figures and was part of the reason the Wildcats’ nine-point lead at the half began to slip when he exited for good with roughly eight minutes left in regulation.

Tracy McDannald of GoAZCats.com felt the impact York made was significant in his unusually increased role:

On a day where the top-ranked team in the country in Syracuse lost in overtime and multiple other top-tier squads were tested down to the wire, CBSSports.com’s Jon Rothstein was excited to see another thriller:

Even though the Wildcats were able to emerge with the win, it was still a sign that they are missing the presence of versatile forward Brandon Ashley, which is something ESPN’s Jeff Goodman alluded to:

Offensive execution was at least a little better for Arizona, which was something coach Sean Miller indicated hurt his team late in games before Wednesday’s contest, per ESPN.com’s preview (via Stats LLC):

We’ve had so many games this year where we didn’t make our free throws, we didn’t shoot the ball well or sometimes didn’t have a lot of attempts from (3-point range). The combination of our defense and (rebounding) have allowed us to be 23-2, not 15-10. Nobody knows more than I that the ball going in the basket a little bit more will give us a lot more room for error down the stretch.

After building a 35-26 halftime lead, though, the Wildcats went into a lull and allowed the Utes to climb back into the game. Renowned stats guru Ken Pomeroy offered his take on what was happening:

Johnson had to assert his will, hitting the clutch buckets that Miller alluded to being so important. Two jumpers on consecutive possessions gave the Wildcats a late 56-55 lead. Tony Jones of the Salt Lake Tribune noticed Johnson’s clutch play and noted that it was an element Utah lacked:

The Wildcats standout also hit two key free throws in overtime to give his team a two-possession lead at 64-60 with 21.4 seconds left, which turned out to be too much for the hosting Utes to overcome. Utah bricked key shots from the charity stripe in the extra period, which ended up costing it a chance at pulling the upset while Johnson had ice in his veins.

It was rather surprising that the Utes were able to stay in this contest, considering typical star forward Jordan Loveridge made just one of his 12 shots from the field in a forgettable performance.

Center Dallin Bachynski came off the bench for 12 points and nine rebounds, while guard Brandon Taylor led the Utes with 13 points of his own. Deion Wright scored 12 for Utah but had six of its 16 turnovers—another big contributing factor to its blown chance at pulling off the win.

As for what this means moving forward, the Wildcats still have issues to address sans Ashley. The good news is that they were able to overcome adversity, improve to 3-2 without Ashley and pull off a win in a hostile environment. Miller will have to ready his players for a formidable test on Saturday at Colorado, though.

This is going to be viewed as a missed opportunity for the Utes, who had all the momentum in their favor at home in mounting a valiant comeback in the second half. Unfortunately, their top offensive threat in Loveridge didn’t come to play and sloppy play led to too many turnovers that cost them the game. Utah will attempt to recover from this difficult defeat at home versus Arizona State on Sunday.

 

 

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5 Potential 2014 NBA Trade Targets Every Team Must Avoid

The trade deadline offers contending teams one last chance to add an impact player for a playoff run. This year, there will be plenty of names available that could potentially help title contenders or teams just looking to sneak in. 

Making a big acquisition at the deadline can be a minefield, though. It’s often difficult for teams to jell in less than 30 games or so, and the forfeiture of future assets for short-term rentals can be incredibly damaging to a franchise. There’s a reason why the true contenders choose to stay put more often than not.

While there are some big names available at the deadline and plenty of prospective buyers, here are five players who every team would be wise to stay far away from. 

 

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San Diego State vs. Boise State: Score, Recap and Analysis as Aztecs Avoid Upset

The first time these teams played, Boise State was a missed Derrick Marks jump shot away from giving San Diego State its first conference loss. Given the chance to return home and try again, the Broncos nearly pulled it off—only for history to repeat itself.

Dwayne Polee II hit a three-point jumper with five seconds remaining and Marks missed a game-winning three-pointer as time expired, while the No. 5 Aztecs dug themselves out of a second-half hole to score a 67-65 victory over the upset-minded Broncos on Wednesday (Feb. 5) night. 

Polee, who had a relatively quiet six-point evening before hitting the biggest shot of his season, was able to propel his team to victory when the Broncos defense lost rotation while trying to contain Xavier Thames. 

Thames, who scored a game-high 23 points, had been the star of the show up until those waning seconds. He scored 15 of those points in the second half, putting the offense on his back and, at times, single-handedly carrying his team back from a halftime deficit that was in the double digits for a good portion of the second half. 

Down 59-46 with 11:48 remaining, Thames scored the final seven on a 15-0 run that lasted more than seven minutes and gave the Aztecs their first lead since the 18:13 mark of the first half. 

San Diego State shot 58.5 percent from the floor as a team but continually shot itself in the foot with turnovers. The Aztecs gave the ball up 16 times, giving Boise State a series of early buckets in the first half of a game where possessions were at a premium. Both sides typically like playing a slowed-down style, so the Broncos’ ability to get out and hit open shots had San Diego State playing catch up for most of the contest.

Boise State stretched a seven-point lead all the way to 54-41 with 15:07 remaining, thanks to three consecutive San Diego turnovers, and found consistent success in transition.

But once the Aztecs’ offense buckled down, the good offensive times suddenly ceased. The Broncos went without a field goal for more than nine minutes during San Diego State’s comeback run, coughing the ball up themselves and proving unable to hit a shot near the basket. While a Mikey Thompson layup and Marks jumper ended the drought and gave Boise State a 65-62 lead, they were unable to put it away when given the chance.

Boise State’s last three possessions ended with missed Marks jumpers, as he finished with 15 points on 7-of-18 shooting. Leading scorer Anthony Drmic also turned in a nondescript performance, hitting only 5 of 13 shots en route to a 13-point, five-rebound night.

Despite the struggles of their best players, the Broncos shot 51 percent from the field. Thomas Bropleh made all but one of his seven field goals and scored 15 points. Thompson scored a team-high 16. 

San Diego State was led by Thames and a series of supporting characters—and specifically by Thames’ ability to get to the free-throw line. The senior guard made 10 of 11 shots from the charity stripe, his third straight game with double-digit attempts. His only miss at the line was a key one, though, as it allowed the Broncos to pull ahead 63-62 following Thompson’s layup.

Josh Davis added 10 points. JJ O’Brien and Polee added nine apiece. Despite the scare, the Aztecs were able to keep their streak of more than 100 games without losing a game they’ve led in the final five minutes, per Sports Illustrated’s Pete Thamel. San Diego State (20-1, 9-0 Mountain West) has also won each of its first nine conference games and shouldn’t see any ill effect in the rankings. 

Boise State, coming off a frustrating loss to UNLV, has been defined this season by its inability to close out against tough teams. The Broncos lost by four to Iowa State and by a combined five points in their two games against San Diego State. Coupled with losses to Wyoming and Saint Mary’s, the only way this team makes the Big Dance at this point is winning the conference title.

But following another day where they fell just short, one couldn’t blame the Broncos for wondering “what if?”.

 

What’s Next?

San Diego State’s road through the Mountain West won’t get much easier. The Aztecs return home Saturday to play a Nevada team deceptively better than its 12-11 regular-season record. Boise State, meanwhile, shouldn’t have that much trouble running through a Utah State squad that has a 3-7 conference record. 

 

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