Top of the O26 Class: Ivy, MAAC, America East, NEC & Patriot

Posted by Tommy Lemoine on October 22nd, 2014

Leading up to the season, this microsite will preview the best of the Other 26 conferences, region by region. In this installment, we examine the leagues that have a traditional footprint in the Northeastern U.S: the America East, Ivy League, Metro Atlantic, Northeast Conference and Patriot League.

Top Units

Harvard is the Ivy League favorite again in 2014-2015. (Photo by Steve Dykes/Getty Images)

Harvard is the Ivy League favorite again in 2014-15. (Photo by Steve Dykes/Getty Images)

Ivy League

  • Harvard – 2013-14 record: 27-5 (13-1). After failing to reach the NCAA Tournament for 66 straight years, Harvard suddenly finds itself in position to reach a fourth straight Big Dance. But just as times have changed, so have expectations — not only is Tommy Amaker’s club tabbed to win another Ivy League title, many expect it to do more damage in the postseason. Those lofty expectations can be largely attributed to the return of Siyani Chambers and Wesley Saunders, one of the top backcourt duos in the nation. Chambers is a precocious third-year point guard who has proven himself to be a gifted distributor and quality outside shooter (40.2% 3FG on his career), while Saunders is the team’s top scorer, best perimeter defender and reigning conference Player of the Year. And yet, despite those two, Harvard’s biggest strength might actually be in its frontcourt, which features a deep stable of athletic forwards who should wear down Ivy opponents in the paint. Best among them is Steve Moundou-Missi, a 6’7″ Cameroonian who logged a double-double against Michigan State in the Round of 32 last March. Jonah Travis, Evan Cummins, Kenyatta Smith, Zena Edosomwan — the list of expected contributors seems endless, and if the Crimson can avoid injury to its guards, a sustained presence in the Top 25 is a legitimate possibility.
  • Yale2013-14 record: 19-14 (9-5). Yale was the only Ivy League unit to knock off the Crimson last season, so with the majority of its starting five back, the Bulldogs should present the most serious threat to Harvard’s crown. Most crucial among the returnees is Justin Sears, a 6’8″ junior who was something of a statistical machine last season: The forward averaged nearly 17 points and seven rebounds per game, ranked in the top 100 nationally in block rate and drew over seven fouls per 40 minutes. With Javier Duren (13.6 PPG) pacing things in the backcourt and veteran guys like Armani Cotton and Matt Townsend shoring things up down low, Yale fans can expect another top-three Ivy League finish.

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Closing out the Ivy League: Harvard Victorious, But Didn’t Come Easy

Posted by Michael James (@mrjames2006) on March 12th, 2014

Michael James is the RTC correspondent for the Ivy League. You can also find his musings on Twitter at @mrjames2006 and @ivybball.

The end result was expected, but that’s about all that went as planned in the Ivies this season. Harvard claimed the league crown, a result that had been deemed inevitable by the national media since it was clear that Kyle Casey and Brandyn Curry were returning to campus as fifth-year seniors. Its four-game victory margin appears commanding but was hardly so, as it took until March to finish off both a Columbia team projected to finish last in the Ivy media poll and a Yale squad which began Ivy play outside Ken Pomeroy’s top 200. Meanwhile, Penn, the popular preseason pick to be the Crimson’s number one contender, beat three teams ranked in the Top 275 all season.

As expected, Kyle Casey and Harvard earned the Ivy League crown. (Boston.com)

As expected, Kyle Casey and Harvard earned the Ivy League crown. (Boston.com)

Princeton lost its best player since the turn of the century in Ian Hummer, but sprinted out to a 9-1 start that had Twitter abuzz with chatter about a #2BidIvy. Then, it proceeded not to win a Division I game for more than a month during an 0-4 start to the Ivy campaign, only to rebound and finish third with 20 victories for the fourth time in five years. Brown lost two entire backcourt spots off a team that finished 224th in Pomeroy last season but proceeded to get half of its total team minutes from freshmen and rose all the way to the fringe of the top 150. Dartmouth looked like a legitimate sleeper before losing All-Ivy center Gabas Maldunas for the season, but bookended a seven-game Ivy losing streak with shocking sweeps of Penn and Princeton and Brown and Yale.

So, yes, in the end the NCAA bid went to Harvard, but that simple narrative fails to do justice to what was an entertaining and surprising 2013-14 campaign.

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Circle of March, Vol. VI

Posted by rtmsf on March 8th, 2014

Friday was a fun day of eliminations, with several good games involving a couple of buzzer-beaters, one step closer for #cheerfortheears, and the NCAA Tournament’s first automatic bid (Harvard). All told, 16 teams lost games and were removed from the Circle of March, with two more tournaments on tap to begin today (America East and The Summit). That leaves us with 282 “eligible” teams, but keep in mind that in order to respect the integrity of the regular season, we will not remove teams until their schedules are finished regardless of their current status. This means that the five other already-eliminated Ivy League teams, each of which concludes their seasons tonight, will come off the CoM on Sunday (Penn and Princeton, the two other Ivies, will be removed after their Tuesday night finale).

circlemarch_3_7 Teams Eliminated From National Title Contention (03.07.14)

  • Murray State
  • Appalachian State
  • High Point
  • Evansville
  • Furman
  • Radford
  • Illinois State
  • UNC Greensboro
  • Charleston Southern
  • UNC Wilmington
  • Oakland
  • Loyola (Chicago)
  • Morehead State
  • Gardner-Webb
  • Valparaiso
  • Northern Iowa
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Bracket Prep: Harvard

Posted by Bennet Hayes on March 8th, 2014

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The first ticket to the NCAA Tournament was punched in New Haven on Friday night, and as each of the 31 automatic qualifiers plays their way into the Dance over the next week, we’ll take some time to give you an analytic snapshot of each team that you can refer back to when you’re picking your brackets next weekend.

Harvard

Tommy Amaker’s Team Is Back In The Big Dance, And The Crimson Aren’t Planning On Leaving The Party Early

  • Ivy Champion (25-4, 12-1)
  • RPI/Pomeroy/Sagarin = #52/#32/#37
  • Adjusted Scoring Margin = +11.4
  • Likely NCAA Seed: #10-#12

Three Bruce Pearls of Wisdom.

  1. Well, well, well – look who we have here. The Harvard Crimson, by virtue of their victory Friday night over Yale, clinched the Ivy League title and earned the 2014 NCAA Tournament’s first official bid. Harvard and NCAA Tournament in the same sentence may have been quite a story a few years ago, but after three straight Tournament appearances, the NBA’s brief bout of Linsanity in 2012, and last year’s opening round takedown of New Mexico, the Crimson have become a familiar March entity. This year’s team may be Tommy Amaker’s best since he arrived in Cambridge, but navigating its way to another Ivy title was not the walk in the park many expected, as Yale proved a worthy challenger right up until the end. Read the rest of this entry »
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O26 Game of the Week: Indiana State Looks to Ruin Perfection

Posted by Tommy Lemoine on February 5th, 2014

Each week the O26 microsite will run down the biggest upcoming game of the week as well as a handful of others to keep an eye on. 

Wichita State (23-0) at Indiana State (14-5) – 8:05 PM ET, Wednesday. This is probably the greatest remaining hurdle on Wichita State’s quest for an undefeated regular season. Now 23-0, the Shockers have just eight games left on their schedule, only three of which come against squads with a .500 or better record, and just one versus a team ranked within the KenPom top-100. That team is Indiana State, and that game is tonight at the Hulman Center.

Jake Odum and the Sycamores should give Wichita State a fight this time around. (Fernando Salazar/ The Wichita Eagle)

Jake Odum and the Sycamores should give Wichita State a fight this time around. (Fernando Salazar/ The Wichita Eagle)

Greg Lansing’s group should be dialed in after regaining some much-need momentum over the weekend at Northern Iowa, using a big second half rally to end the Panthers’ 11-game home winning streak and return to the win column. The Sycamores suffered a dreadful 19-point drubbing at Southern Illinois just three days earlier to all but end their at-large hopes, a sobering reality that perhaps bled into Saturday’s contest early. It took an angry locker room message from the head coach before the team finally woke up, ripping off 12 straight points in the first four minutes of the second half, tying the game before the first media timeout and maintaining firm control until the final whistle. It was an impressive comeback, the kind of focused, resilient effort they will need for a full 40 minutes in order to beat Wichita State.

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O26 Weekly Awards: American, Juvonte Reddic, Chris Mooney & FAU

Posted by Tommy Lemoine on January 30th, 2014

From half-court shots and buzzer-beaters to reverse alley-oops and posterizing dunks, it was one heck of a week in O26 basketball. And for several players, coaches and teams, it might have been a defining one. Let’s pass out some awards to those who stood out from the rest of the pack.

O26 Team of the Week

American has reason to be confident after last week. (American University Athletics)

American has reason to be confident after last week. (American University Athletics)

American University. No team in college hoops made a louder conference statement than American did last week, and perhaps no other program has exceeded expectations to the extent the Eagles have this season. With only two returning players who averaged more than seven points a game a year ago, just one returning senior, and a new coach to boot, D.C.’s other, other school (in terms of basketball notoriety, at least) was picked to finish ninth of 10 teams in the Patriot League and entered 2013-14 ranked 288th in the KenPom rankings. Merely finishing .500 or better in the conference would have probably been deemed a success, which is what makes American’s 9-0 start in Patriot League play such an unexpected and wholly remarkable feat. And after their three most recent resounding victories, it’s clearer than ever that the Eagles are no longer just a nice story in a revamped league — they are the team to beat.

First was the absolute shocker. On Wednesday night, American hosted preseason favorite Boston University in a contest that was supposed to be relative toss-up, the Eagles having the slight edge at home but most expecting the game to go either way. From about the five minute mark onward, however, it went only one way: Mike Brennan’s group absolutely eviscerated the Terriers, scoring 1.32 points per possession behind 11-of-14 three-point shooting and 71.4 percent shooting overall, recording assists on 22 of 30 made baskets and winning by a whopping 30 points. “Our chemistry is starting to grow,” guard Jesse Reed noted afterwards, in a massive understatement. The 86-56 final was BU’s worst loss since November 2012 and its first Patriot League defeat this season, giving American sole possession of first place near the halfway point. It was an impressive achievement, no matter how you slice it.

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O26 Game of the Week: MAC on the Line as Toledo Faces Ohio

Posted by Tommy Lemoine on January 29th, 2014

As conference hierarchies begin taking shape and teams gear up for the stretch run, this week offers a whole host of compelling O26 contests that are sure to impact the picture come March. Let’s take a look at the most intriguing match-ups on tap.

Game of the Week

Toledo (17-2) at Ohio (14-5) – 1:00 PM ET, ESPNU, Saturday.

The Bobcats host the 17-2 Rockets on Saturday in a huge MAC tilt. (John Kuntz / The Plain Dealer)

The Bobcats host the 17-2 Rockets on Saturday in a huge MAC tilt. (John Kuntz / The Plain Dealer)

Efficient offense meets stingy defense in what could very well be a preview of the MAC Championship game on March 15. After losing at home to a gritty, defensive-minded Bowling Green group last Wednesday night, Ohio again found itself in serious trouble at Eastern Michigan last Saturday, trailing by 13 points late and completely unable to generate baskets against the Eagles’ 2-3 zone. Then, seemingly out of nowhere, the Bobcats ripped off 20 points in the final eight minutes — including a 12-0 run to take their first and final lead — and stunned EMU to remain a game back of Akron for the MAC East’s top spot.  It was a big win for Jim Christian’s crew, but Saturday’s contest will be a different beast altogether.  For all of the conference’s tough defensive teams, Toledo is the stand-alone offensive power, ranking 11th nationally in offensive efficiency and featuring five starters each within the top 500 in offensive rating. That ability to score has helped the Rockets to a 5-1 conference record and a stellar 17-2 mark overall, among the best in the entire country.

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Harvard, Princeton and the Grind of a 14-Game Tournament

Posted by Tommy Lemoine on January 11th, 2014

On the road and without its best player, Harvard lost a close game to UConn on Wednesday night in what might be the death-knell for its at-large hopes; at best, Tommy Amaker’s team will be sweating it out on Selection Sunday if unable to clinch the Ivy League’s automatic bid. Which is a shame. By most measures (including the dubious ‘eye test’), the Crimson is an NCAA Tournament-caliber group this season, something it could have cemented with a win against the Huskies this week or over Colorado back in November. But neither of those outcomes occurred, so Harvard’s March hopes now likely hinge on its ability to hold off Princeton in conference play. With the Tigers playing well and the unique Ivy schedule sure to cause trouble, that task will be more difficult than first thought.

Princeton could give Harvard a run for its money in Ivy League play. (Tony Kurdzuk/The Star-Ledger)

Princeton could give Harvard a run for its money in Ivy League play. (Tony Kurdzuk/The Star-Ledger)

Ivy League teams play a 14-game, double round-robin schedule with the distinctive feature of squaring off on back-to-back nights — Fridays and Saturdays — for six straight weeks. Every weekend is either spent at home or on the road. In the latter case, it often means finishing a basketball game, taking a lengthy bus ride across the Tri-State Area and/or New England to another campus and suiting up again the very next night. It is a test of focus and conditioning that can make-or-break a team’s title chances. Take last year’s Princeton team as an example: After beating Harvard the prior weekend and carrying a half-game lead into the final back-to-backer (with the annual Princeton/Penn outlier game scheduled the following Tuesday), the Tigers went on the road and lost a tough game to Yale on Friday night, traveled to Providence the next day to take on Brown — a team it had beaten by 17 points a month before — and promptly lost by double figures; Harvard went on to win the conference and play in the NCAA Tournament. All totaled, not including their one-game playoff in 2011 (and including Harvard’s rare Sunday game at Columbia last season), exactly half of Harvard and Princeton’s combined Ivy League losses have come on the second game of road double-headers since 2010. Fatigue sets in and the schedule takes its toll.

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Otskey’s Observations: Episode V

Posted by Brian Otskey (@botskey) on December 11th, 2013

Baylor’s win over Kentucky late Friday night in Arlington was encouraging in many ways. The Bears picked up another quality win against what has been a fairly strong schedule (minus the two non-Division I opponents). Baylor scored 1.12 points per possession against a good Kentucky defense by utilizing classic pick-and-roll action all game long, much to the dismay of John Calipari. The Wildcats never got comfortable defending Baylor’s sets and went down in defeat as a result. Kentucky’s rotations and closeouts came very late and it seemed it was bothered by a team of comparable length. Perhaps the most important thing in this game was Baylor’s offensive rebounding. Overall, that was what won the game for Scott Drew’s team. I was particularly impressed with Isaiah Austin. Given the strength of the competition, the sophomore big man played his best game of the season. Austin put up an efficient 13 points, six rebounds and five blocks against the strong Wildcats’ frontcourt. Kentucky made some nice adjustments on him in the second half but overall it was great to see some aggressiveness from a player who can be really good if he remains assertive.

Isaiah Austin took a step forward in his development against Kentucky on Friday.

Isaiah Austin took a step forward in his development against Kentucky on Friday.

One team that is flying way under the radar has to be Missouri. This past week served as a reminder that the Tigers, holders of the nation’s longest home court winning streak (24 straight wins at Mizzou Arena), are still a team to be reckoned with. Mizzou dispatched West Virginia and UCLA in Columbia and looked impressive in doing so. In addition to the overall home court winning streak, Frank Haith’s team has now won 79 consecutive non-conference games at home. While I’d like to see this team go on the road and beat a quality opponent before I fully buy in, there are some encouraging signs that Mizzou may not be a fluke. The Tigers shoot the ball well overall and excel inside the arc where they’re shooting nearly 57 percent. Tulsa transfer Jordan Clarkson has taken his game to the next level but his play is bolstered by the balanced scoring of Jabari Brown and Earnest Ross. This three-headed monster accounts for two-thirds of Missouri’s scoring and they’re incredibly hard to match up with given their height. All three players are listed at 6’5” so most teams can’t guard the trio effectively at the same time. So far, Haith has done a nice job incorporating the newcomers with some returning players. We’ll see if it holds together but make sure you keep an eye on the Tigers. Two interesting tests await with the annual Braggin’ Rights game against Illinois and a road trip to NC State.

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Harvard Must Stay the Course After Winning Great Alaska Shootout

Posted by Tommy Lemoine on December 4th, 2013

High expectations can sometimes have an adverse effect on a basketball team, magnifying moments of failure and creating unnecessary pressure that otherwise would not exist. After pulling off an unexpected upset over #3-seed New Mexico in last year’s NCAA Tournament, Harvard entered this fall with entirely different expectations from a year ago. Whereas the 2012-13 Crimson squad was largely written off before the year began with star upperclassmen Brandyn Curry and Kyle Casey having withdrawn from school due to an academic scandal, this season’s club returned both of those All-Ivy players in addition to four starters and a strong recruiting class to boot. Needless to say, expectations were sky-high coming into this season. And for a program that only recently became a regular contender in the Ivy League, a presumed conference championship and possible single-digit seed in the Big Dance inevitably meant there was going to be a certain amount of pressure.

Tommy Amaker will look to keep his team focused heading into the New Year.(Getty)

Tommy Amaker will look to keep his team focused heading into the New Year.(Getty)

So it probably came as a relief for head coach Tommy Amaker that his team— after narrowly losing a winnable game at NCAA-caliber Colorado the Sunday prior—bounced back in resounding fashion over the holiday weekend by knocking off Denver, Green Bay and TCU on its way to capturing the Great Alaska Shootout. Despite playing without Curry and junior big man Kenyatta Smith, both of whom remain out with foot injuries, Harvard managed to win each game by a comfortable margin and was only really pushed in the second half by Green Bay. Guard Wesley Saunders, picked by many to win Ivy League Player of the Year, took home MVP honors by averaging 14 points, eight rebounds and nearly five assists a game, and sharpshooter Laurent Rivard—who struggled from behind the arc in the second half against Colorado—seemed to find his stroke in the final two games in Anchorage, shooting 10-of-24 from deep. Also notable was the Crimson’s dominance on the offensive glass throughout the tournament: The team gathered a combined 43 offensive boards to its opponents’ 23, leading to a bunch of second-chance points.

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Bucknell and Mike Muscala Are Not to Be Overlooked…

Posted by rtmsf on December 2nd, 2012

Michael James is the RTC correspondent for the Ivy League. He filed this report after Saturday’s game between Bucknell and Columbia.

They don’t yet make a stat for a Mike Muscala. Sure, 29 points and 18 rebounds hint at greatness, as does an offensive rating that continues to hover in the stratosphere. None of those can truly capture or quantify what Muscala did to Columbia last night. The Lions led by 17 points in the first half of a game that Bucknell would ultimate win by eight. While the points that the Bison’s 6’11″ senior scored played a huge role in avoiding the minor upset, it was the points that Columbia couldn’t score that mattered far more. Lions center Mark Cisco was dominant early, scoring all 10 of his points in the first half. Cisco’s failure to score after the intermission wasn’t necessarily the product of great defense from Muscala, but quite simply because it’s impossible to score points from the bench.

Mike Muscala is an Outstanding Patriot League Player But He and His Team is Overshadowed By Lehigh and CJ McCollum

That’s where the Bison big man sent Cisco with three fouls in the first half. Cisco’s backup Cory Osetkowski would join him in foul trouble early in the second. Then, undersized forward Zach En’Wezoh picked up three fouls in a five minute span while holding on to Muscala for dear life. Columbia guard Brian Barbour and forward Alex Rosenberg did their best to provide enough offense to stay in the game, but without the senior Cisco, the Lions were just weren’t the same squad. More than the points or the rebounds, it was that Muscala had made Columbia a completely different team that encapsulates the greatness of his impact. He is a match-up nightmare – too big for undersized fours and fives to guard and too quick for bigger, burlier post players. Inevitably, massive numbers of fouls follow, evidenced by Muscala ranking 17th nationally in fouls drawn last season according to Ken Pomeroy.

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Morning Five: 10.16.12 Edition

Posted by rtmsf on October 16th, 2012

  1. From the we’ll-believe-it-when-we-see-it department, ACC coaches on Monday squarely put NC State’s Mark Gottfried right into the conference crosshairs with their decision to pick his Wolfpack as the front-runner for the 2012-13 league championship. Whew. NC State received eight of the 12 first-place votes, with second-place Duke receiving three, and North Carolina receiving the other top vote. Nobody will deny that Gottfried returns the most talent in the ACC from a Sweet Sixteen team — and adds quite possibly the best freshman in the league to boot — but still, the Wolfpack were a 9-7 conference team last season and Gottfried has never been a coach who has consistently gotten it done in the regular season. His best two teams at Alabama went 12-4 in the SEC (2001-02 and 2004-05) and he wasn’t facing the likes of Mike Krzyzewski and Roy Williams when he was cementing those records. From our perspective, the league belongs to Duke and North Carolina until it’s taken from them (the last team to win the ACC outright other than Duke/UNC occurred a decade ago).
  2. While on the subject of Duke, the Blue Devil program made quite a bit of news on Monday. While spending the day 90 miles south of Durham at Fort Bragg, going through physical training drills and holding an inspired open practice in front of a number of US Army troops — apparently Duke players applauded the soldiers as they entered the gym — the school also announced some less inspiring news. Redshirt freshman forward Marshall Plumlee has developed a stress fracture in his left foot and will miss the next 6-8 weeks of practice, putting significantly more pressure on older brother Mason and senior Ryan Kelly to man the boards and shore up the low blocks defensively. This is especially true given that the Blue Devils will face an early-season murderer’s row of Kentucky in the Champions Classic on November 13, the Battle 4 Atlantis (including a loaded field of Minnesota, VCU, Memphis, Louisville, Missouri, and Stanford) soon thereafter, and Ohio State at in the ACC/Big Ten Challenge at the end of November.
  3. Coach K’s respect for the military of course comes from his time at West Point, where he played under a fiery disciplinarian named Bob Knight. The three-time national championship head coach, who has never struck us as much of a sentimentalist, is planning on auctioning his three Indiana championship rings, his Olympic gold medal (given to him by the LA Olympic Committee) as well as a sports coat and warmup jacket he received as the head coach for the 1984 US Men’s National Team (a squad that included Michael Jordan and Patrick Ewing). With his regular speaking engagements plus his lucrative ESPN commentator gig, it’s unlikely that Knight is hurting for money — but, sensing that he could pay for his grandchildren’s college educations with one fell swoop through this auction — this was probably an easy decision for the 71-year old. The “Bob Knight Collection” will be auctioned off through Steiner Sports, ending on December 5 — if you have some money burning a hole in your pocket, that 1976 championship ring from the last undefeated team in college basketball would make for a great conversation starter.
  4. Harvard appeared to be on the verge of an Ivy League dynasty prior to a recent academic cheating scandal that has enveloped over 100 undergraduates including two of the basketball team’s best players, Kyle Casey and Brandyn Curry. Still, there are hopes among Crimson faithful that Tommy Amaker’s team can bridge the gap this season while awaiting the return of its two stars in 2013-14 (both players withdrew from school this year, but plan on returning next season). Meanwhile, in coming off the school’s first NCAA Tournament appearance in over 65 years, the university is now backing a plan to build a brand-new basketball arena to replace its antiquated 1920s-era Lavietes Pavilion. The new arena will hold 2,700 people and be ready for the bouncing of balls some time between 2017-22. Whether Harvard will grow to become a regular NCAA Tournament participant by that date remains to be seen, but this next step in the progression of the program would not have been possible without the drive and vision for excellence that head coach Tommy Amaker had for Harvard basketball upon his arrival several years ago.
  5. Don’t expect any NCAA Tournament games in the great state of New Jersey anytime soon. The Meadowlands/Izod Center in East Rutherford has held multiple East Regionals (most recently in 2007), and the Prudential Center in Newark has taken that mantle more recently (hosting in 2011), but with the Monday’s publication of regulations licensing and outlining operating rules for Atlantic City casinos and racetracks so as to offer sports gambling, the NCAA’s long-running mandate of not offering its championships in states with such laws has gone into effect. Although there are currently no planned NCAA Tournament events scheduled in the Garden State, five other championships — including the Women’s NCAA Tournament East Regional in 2013 — have been pulled effective immediately. The natural outcome from this mandate is that the most prominent New York and Philadelphia arenas, including the Wells Fargo Center, the Barclays Arena, and Madison Square Garden, potentially stand to gain considerably in future bidding for NCAA Tournament sites. But hey, at least you can bet on the games in Jersey!
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