We aren’t going to go over what happened last weekend because frankly you probably were sitting on the couch watching the entire thing. So that brings us to the Regionals which have plenty of intriguing story lines. In the East, we have a ridiculously wide-open field where we wouldn’t be surprised to see any of the four teams advance to Indianapolis (ok, maybe North Carolina State would be surprising). In the South, it is pretty much all chalk except for UCLA and since they don’t have an overseeded team or a Cinderella next so we don’t expect they will be around much longer. The Midwest is basically Kentucky and a bunch of other teams that pretty much everybody expects to be pushovers although we think the Elite 8 game could be interesting. To us, the West is by far the most interesting region especially with a potential Wisconsin-Arizona match-up in the Elite 8, which could be a match-up of the second and third best teams in the country right now.
Mississippi State will introduce Ben Howland as its next coach at a press conference tomorrow. The timing of introducing Howland as its new coach so soon after Rick Ray was fired makes it seem like this was either in place or essentially a done deal before Ray was fired. Landing Howland is huge for a program that frankly is a mediocre Power 5 program and that might be generous. There will be plenty of questions as to why Howland took the position so early in the coaching carousel when he presumably could have gotten a better position, but we would guess that it was because he was left without a spot last off-season.
According to Gary Parrish, Alabama is set to offer Gregg Marshall over $3 million per year to try to lure him away from Wichita State. We are assuming that Alabama is at least waiting until after the Shockers are eliminated from the NCAA Tournament, but as we have seen in other cases that is not necessarily always true. Marshall was making $1.75 million a year at Wichita State according to the most recent reports we have heard so he would be making at least $1 million per year more not accounting for bonuses for performance and all the other ridiculous clauses they have in contracts to get more money (radio show, etc). With Bruce Pearl at Auburn, there is some pressure on the Alabama administration to improve their basketball program although we all know the fans of those programs judge success almost entirely by what their football team does. We will be interested to see if Marshall jumps at the chance to get more money and move to a Power 5 conference or if he stays at Wichita State with the possibility of even better positions (like Texas or Indiana) opening up in the coming weeks.
President Obama has been more involved in college basketball (and sports in general) than most previous Presidents, but he has been especially involved recently with his call for student-athletes to receive guaranteed scholarships, but not financial compensation in an interview with The Huffington Post. While none of this is new–the Power 5 conferences are moving towards guaranteed scholarships and there is no official compensation–it is unusual to see a President speak about these issues. And as for his famous annual bracket, teams have started using it as motivation including Cat Barber who called out the President for picking Villanova to beat North Carolina State. It won’t happen, but we wish we could see Barber get invited to the White House and try to explain that one.
We found one championship that Kentucky won’t win this year as the first men’s college basketball national championship of the year was awarded to Wisconsin-Stevens Point, which beat Augustana 70-54 on Saturday to win the Division III title. They won’t get much press for it, but it is the school’s fourth title in 12 years, which is impressive regardless of the level of competition you are playing against. We doubt that this will get more than a quick highlight over the Final Four weekend (unless Wisconsin ends up playing for the Division I title) as they typically broadcast the Division II championship game instead, but it is still worth noting.
Companies often try to hide negative announcements by issuing press releases on Friday afternoon before a long weekend and we guess that is what Syracuse was trying to do by announcing that firing athletic director Daryl Gross and announcing that Jim Boeheim will retire in three years. The former is not exactly shocking since Gross ran the program during much of the time that it committed the NCAA violations for which it was punished. The announcement for Boeheim is a little more surprising and seems to suggest a comprise at some level as it was not that long ago that Boeheim said he would not be retiring any time soon. It would seem that the administration wanted to get rid of Boeheim, but perhaps he was too powerful to have that happen so instead we will be treated to the world’s longest retirement tour. It also raises questions as to what the school’s plans will be to replace Boeheim since Mike Hopkins has been the coach-in-waiting for years, but that was under Gross and with Gross on his way out that decision will be made by his successor, who might opt to go in a completely different direction. It will be interesting to see what happens in the post-Boeheim era since without Boeheim and the basketball program’s reputation there is really nothing to draw a recruit there and the area is not exactly a hotbed for basketball talent.
In other news… the NCAA Tournament is finally here. For some the NCAA Tournament kicked off with the first of the First Four games, but for traditionalists like us the “real” Tournament does not start until the field is set at 64. If you haven’t already found resources to help you understand each region and/or match-up either for your curiosity or your bracket (still a few hours left to make final edits), we have plenty of resources available in our 2015 NCAA Tournament section. If you are just looking for breakdowns of each region, we have that for you for the East, Midwest, South, and West Regions. If you are looking for a completely different way of looking at the NCAA Tournament, we would suggest you check out the post by Draft Express breaking down the prospects for each of the opening games. It will also help you sound a little smarter when you are sitting around with our friends talking about every prospect on each team. Of course, since you are visiting this site, we doubt that you need any help being smart.
This year’s NCAA Tournament will produce many stars, but Chris Obekpa and Cliff Alexander are not likely to be among them barring any surprises. Obekpa, one of the top shot blockers in the country, was suspended for two weeks after testing positive for marijuana. While the decision to suspend Obekpa is not that surprising if that is the school’s policy, the decision to announce the suspension before the Selection Show was pretty gutsy since it could have been enough to move St. John’s down at least one seed line. As for Alexander, it appears increasingly likely that we have seen the last of him for at least this season as he did not make the trip with the team to Omaha for its opening game(s) while he waits to speak with NCAA investigators regarding alleged impermissible benefits he received (his mother receiving a loan). While we think Kansas can survive without Alexander, his absence limits their upside although a potential weekend match-up against Wichita State might have a bigger impact on that.
We suspect that the Equity in Athletics report claiming that many NCAA Tournament teams do not make a profit might involve some creative accounting methods, but it should serve as a reminder just how tenuous the financials can be for some schools and serve to highlight issues involved in paying student-athletes to pay college sports. While Louisville led the nation with its basketball program turning a $24.2 million profit in 2013-14, several notable programs like West Virginia, Notre Dame, Oklahoma State, and Davidson reported losses with the first two reporting $2.2 million and $2 million in losses respectively. Several other big-name programs reported breaking even and Duke, which apparently hired some accountants from Arthur Anderson, actually reported a $2 million loss for the 2008-9 season. Although we doubt the validity of some of the figures (particularly that Duke one), it does underscore the variable profitability within the sport.
After a junior season that saw him dip from a first-team all B1G performer to a third-team selection this season, Terran Petteway still has a decision to make about whether or not to declare for the NBA Draft after the season is over. Nebraska is on Spring Break March 22-30, and with him on pace to graduate in May, look for a decision after the break is over. An argument could be made that he probably should have left after last season when his stock was at its highest. But with what the Huskers were returning this season, one can’t blame the wing for wanting to come back and take Nebraska even further.
Illinois has a great deal to accomplish in the upcoming Big Ten Tournament, as they are essentially trying to play their way off of the bubble in trying to avoid a second consecutive season in the NIT. The Chicago Tribune’s Shannon Ryan took a look at five keys for the Illini in advance their opening game Thursday against Michigan, and to keep winning in the tournament at large. Some of the things listed included getting more out of sophomore guards Kendrick Nunn and Jaylon Tate, and simply making shots. The Illini have a tough road ahead of them, and may need to upset Wisconsin. A win over Michigan in the second round simple might not be enough.
Another looming NBA Draft decision could happen at Indiana, as junior first-team All Big Ten point guard Yogi Ferrell might have a decision to make as well. His father said that Yogi is leaning towards coming back, but some factors that could play a role in whether he does so include getting some size added to the roster in the offseason, and whether or not Tom Crean remains the coach. The Ferrell family remain some of Crean’s biggest supporters, so that’s an added variable to all the drama in Bloomington right now. Right now, the Hoosiers need to concentrate on taking care of Northwestern on Thursday, because losing that one will make their NCAA Tournament hopes faint.
It’s been a game of musical chairs at the backup point guard position for Purdue this season. PJ Thompson and Bryson Scott have seemingly fallen in and out of favor with Coach Matt Painter. It was Thompson’s turn on Saturday against Illinois, and the freshman didn’t disappoint. He sparked a rally at the end of the first half with a steal and a basket, and ended things with a crucial three-pointer near the end of the proceedings. Octeus will get most of the minutes from here on out this season, but whether it’s Thompson or Scott that emerges as a starter next season is going to be one of the biggest stories that plays itself out before 2015-16.
Minnesota has not had quite the season that it hoped for after finishing with a 6-12 record in conference play. Despite the fact that they’re 61st on KenPom- which is within striking distance of Big Ten bubble squads like Purdue (48), Illinois (53), and Indiana (55)- the Gophers would need a miracle finish to get into the NCAA Tournament. While bad luck played a role, the Gophers really didn’t get the production they needed from their senior class this season. Coming off of the momentum from winning the NIT last year, the senior class just simply didn’t perform many times as they lost multiple close games.
It’s awards season and that usually means there’s a snub to gripe about. But that’s hard to do with the SEC’s All-Conference teams since it seems half the league gets mentioned somewhere. Personally, I would have given the POY to Willie Cauley-Stein as a nod to his contributions outside the box score and general excellence of Kentucky. But you can’t argue with the conference’s choice of Bobby Portis, who was a truly irreplaceable part on a good Arkansas team. What’s most impressive is the consistency and efficiency Portis played with on offense all season. He reached double figure scoring in each SEC game (and all but one game overall) and notched the best effective field goal percentage (57.7%) in the league despite being the focal point of Mike Anderson’s offense.
Mark Fox is quietly building an impressive streak with Georgia’s second-straight top three regular season finish. Don’t look now, but if the Bulldogs get a bid (which seems likely), the league may have found a year-in, year-out tournament contender. It might not sound like much, but there hasn’t been a consistent program like that outside of Kentucky and Florida in some time. The top three finish also gives the Bulldogs a double-bye and lets Kenny Gaines and Juwan Parker get some extra rest. Gaines in particular drew praise from Kevin Stallings and Anthony Grant, who both called him an elite defender, and Fox clearly needs him on the court to push Georgia as far as it can go. Parker missed 12 of the last 14 games, and could probably also use the extra rest after logging 15 minutes against Auburn on Saturday.
Texas A&M is also fighting the injury bug, and could be in a much tighter spot. Danuel House injured his foot against Florida and didn’t play in the Aggies’ home loss to Alabama. According to Billy Kennedy, it’ll be a “stretch” for him to play in Nashville. It goes without saying that this puts the Aggies at a severe disadvantage without their leading scorer and guy that hit 37 percent of Texas A&M’s made three pointers this season. The Aggies should be able to survive their opener against either Auburn or Mississippi State, but will be hard-pressed to beat LSU for a third time without House stretching the Tigers’ quality defense.
The pre-SEC Tournament theme is unquestionably injuries to star players, with Jordan Mickey also dinged up with a shoulder injury. Johnny Jones said that Mickey should be able to go, and the Tigers don’t want to push their luck without him despite their win in Fayetteville. They also aren’t nearly safe “rest” him for the NCAA Tournament and risk taking a loss in their opener. If he can’t go, Jarell Martin has certainly done his part when his frontcourt running mate has been out this season. Against McNeese State in November he had 26 points and 10 rebounds, and Saturday at Arkansas he stepped up with 27 points and eight rebounds.
Another team that could use a win in Nashville is Ole Miss. To be sure, the Rebels are not in as dire a spot as Texas A&M, but are in somewhat of a no-win situation in their opener. They can gain nothing of substance with a win over South Carolina or Missouri, and a loss to either, especially the Tigers, could do enough damage to push them off the bubble. A match-up with the Gamecocks could hold a sneaky degree of intrigue. Despite its faults, Frank Martin still brings a great defense to Nashville (27th in KenPom adjusted defensive efficiency), and USC’s ability to disrupt and pressure the perimeter could be a fun match with the Rebels backcourt trio of Stefan Moody, Jarvis Summers and Snoop White. You also probably can’t take much from the Rebels’ 65-49 win in the teams’ one game this season since it happened all the way back on January 10. All that being said, the Gamecocks still need to get by Missouri to make the matchup happen.
Atlanta Journal Constitution: Whew… Mark Bradley is not impressed by Brian Gregory. Georgia Tech continued its floundering play in close conference games, losing to Boston College by one with an admittedly ugly last possession. Bradley pulls no punches here — my favorite jab was “I’m not sure Tech has designed plays.” I don’t think it’s totally Gregory’s fault that Georgia Tech went 0-11 in close ACC games this year, but I do think it’s time for change in Atlanta. It’s never a good sign when you hire a coach away from a mid-major and a majority of its fan base seems relieved or even jubilant. That said, if the Yellow Jackets can steal another coach away from Flyer Nation, Archie Miller would be a great hire.
Washington Post: Why did Buzz Williams leave Marquette? I mean, he was just one more underperforming Rick Barnes season away from being the media favorite for Texas! This is a terrific profile of Williams and all of his peculiarities. Williams is a character and a bit of a control freak (most elite coaches are), but he’s also got the motor and patience to build Virginia Tech into a much better program over time.
The ACC: Moving back to Georgia Tech, Max Skinner talked to Bobby Cremins, who will join the group of ACC Legends this year. It’s a fun conversation talking about everything from conference expansion to one-and-dones to his nickname (Cake, which apparently came from South Carolinians not being able to understand his New York City accent). Best line? “Anybody that thinks Virginia basketball is boring is either not a fan of Virginia or is an idiot.” Well said, sir.
Charlotte Observer and Raleigh News & Observer: Let’s start with the first article. North Carolina needs more from its bigs — Brice Johnson and Kennedy Meeks – especially when the going gets tough. Let’s move to the second article. Kennedy Meeks will likely miss the ACC Tournament due to an undiagnosed illness. That spells bad news for the Tar Heels, which already have an uphill battle to fight thanks to a Wednesday start (though Ken Pomeroy gave UNC the third-best odds to win the tournament). With Meeks out of the lineup that means a lot more Joel James, who probably deserved consideration for the Most Improved Player award, and a lot more scoring weight on Marcus Paige and Johnson’s collective shoulders.
Hampton Roads Daily Press: David Teel talked with John Swofford about a not-so-new idea to move college basketball forward to avoid so much of an overlap with college football. Swofford wasn’t terribly into the idea but said that he thought basketball should work harder to come out of the gates with some momentum. I disagree. College basketball should accept its place as a niche sport and work on more important problems. Pushing the season ahead would only make an athlete’s decision whether to declare for the NBA Draft more stressful. It also would mean more overlap with the NBA season, possibly including the playoffs. Leave things the way they are! Although I’m totally on board with the idea of moving the NCAA Tournament to ESPN.
EXTRA: Thank Martin Rickman for reminding me that this happened 20 years ago this week.
The automatic bids are starting to fill up. In the past two days, automatic bids have gone to Northeastern (Colonial), Manhattan (Metro Atlantic), Wofford (Southern), Valparaiso (Horizon), Robert Morris (Northeast), North Dakota State (Summit), and Gonzaga (West Coast). There are obviously some big story lines from Monday night that Tommy Lemoine covered in his Bracket Prep for Wofford, Northeastern, and Wofford. We will cover last night’s story lines a little more later today, but the things that jumped out at us were St Francis-Brooklyn remaining one of only five original Division I programs to never make the NCAA Tournament (Army, Citadel, Northwestern, and William & Mary are the others) and the questions surrounding whether or not BYU will receive an at-large bid.
The coaching carousel is starting to heat up as three new positions opened up with SIU-Edwardsvillefiring Lennox Forrester, Illinois-Chicagofiring Howard Moore, and Citadelfiring Chuck Driesell. Forrester had been the coach at SIU-Edwardsville for eight seasons going 83-149 with losing seasons in each of his final seven seasons after going 17-11 in his first season, which also happened to be the school’s last year in Division II. Moore went 49-111 in five seasons with his only winning season happening in 2012-13 when he went 18-16. Driesell, the son of the legendary Lefty Driesell, had his best season in the last of his five seasons. Unfortunately, that was only 11-19 and he finished 42-113. Like the other positions we mentioned before, none of these would be what we consider big-time jobs, but the Illinois-Chicago position offers the appeal of being in one of the best basketball areas in the country and a decent conference (Horizon) to play in, which could entice a high-major assistant who might feel that he has waited long enough.
The coaching carousel might generate most of the attention in terms of movement, but be sure to keep an eye for some potentially significant transfers now that many players are having their seasons end. One of the first big ones to hit the transfer market is Evan Payne, who announced on Instagram that he would be transferring from Loyola Marymount. Payne, who averaged 18 points and 2.8 rebounds per game this past season, will probably end up at a high-major school especially since he has two more years of eligibility remaining even if he has to sit out a year as we have not heard anything about him looking for a hardship waiver.
If you thought there were grey areas with social media, just wait until we get into the crowdfunding. According to a report from Darren Rovell, FanAngel is proposing to allow fans to contribute money towards an athlete who returns to school instead of leaving to play professionally. The company would take 9% off the top as its commission. Of the remaining 91%, when the athlete completes his or her eligibility, the athlete would get 80%, the athlete’s teammates would get 10%, and the remaining 10% would put into a scholarship fund. Although this has generated quite a bit of buzz based on it being featured on ESPN.com, we have a hard time believing this will ever be approved as even the company’s founder admits that the NCAA has not signed off on it and expressed reservations about it. There are also issues with how the money gets distributed to the athlete since neither the athlete nor anybody representing him or her is supposed to contact the company before the athlete’s eligibility is complete. Given all of these issues, we have a hard time seeing how this will hold up to NCAA scrutiny.
With the start of the NCAA Tournament a little over a week away (don’t get us started on the ridiculous event in Dayton) you are going to start seeing a lot of lists talking about the best games, players, shots, etc. We doubt that you are going to see many lists like Ken Pomeroy’s most tense NCAA Tournament games since 2010. Like many things that Pomeroy does, some of these are obvious and are easily remembered by even the most casual fan while others are things you would not have remembered without his work. Now, you can question his methodology here, which is admittedly not as rigorous as his usual statistical analysis, but it is a fun trip down memory lane.
uproxx: Martin Rickman writing about the ACC? Sign me up. Rickman, one of the best bloggers in its truest form, does a great job chronicling his recent trip to watch Duke beat North Carolina in Chapel Hill. He teleports you to the world as a normal person experiences it. Not a media member with a parking pass ready to complain about baseline seating, but a normal person milling around Franklin Street from pregame revelry to postgame letdown. It’s refreshing.
Syracuse Post-Standard: The Post-Standard’s coverage of the Syracuse scandal has been phenomenal. This article really stuck out, though, because it gets into the nitty gritty of the athletic department’s subversion of the rules. For the record, most NCAA rules are ridiculous, but requiring student-athletes to remain in good academic standing is generally pretty important if you’re selling the system on education. Syracuse went to great lengths to keep Fab Melo eligible. What’s got to be terrifying for the NCAA is there’s absolutely no way Syracuse’s situation is unique… and there’s still North Carolina’s academic scandal to deal with.
Pittsburgh Tribune Review: John Harris thinks Pittsburgh‘s recent swoon is because of fatigue and that’s a reason to not trust Duke going forward. The key difference is that Duke’s two players logging ridiculous minutes are guards who have a wealth of other options. Jamel Artis and Michael Young, on the other hand,have to carry a lot of the burden on their own. Part of the Panthers’ recent letdown may have also had to do with a growing realization that they were on the outside looking in for the NCAA Tournament. A team like Pittsburgh expects to get there just about every year, so when they don’t, it’s bound to be a letdown.
BC Interruption: How do the final conference standings look compared to the preseason media poll? Not all that similar, actually. Notre Dame, Miami, Clemson and Virginia all overachieved. Pittsburgh and North Carolina didn’t fare as well.
Atlanta Journal-Constitution: Marcus Georges-Hunt‘s season ended with a broken foot, but he’s not going to let it get him down. It may let head coach Brian Gregory down, though, as he likely needs a miraculous performance in the ACC Tournament to keep his job, and Georges-Hunt was the team’s most important offensive player.
Where else could we start this M5 besides the Bluegrass State, now that Kentucky has become the first major conference team to go undefeated in the regular season since Indiana in 1976? Now that John Calipari’s team has completed the task – something that was a mere formality after the Wildcats’ comeback win at Georgia on Tuesday – there is much reflection on what got them here. As Kentucky.com‘s John Clay opined the biggest aspect of the Wildcats’ run was the lack of selfishness among players. While that may be a bit of self-fulfilling prophecy – would it be discussed if the Wildcats had a blemish or two on their record? – there is no question that what Calipari did to get buy-in from the bevy of McDonald’s all-Americans that comprise his roster is impressive. Now, the obvious question is whether his team can finish the job and cut down the nets on April 6. If it can’t, that won’t make what it has accomplished thus far meaningless, but winning it all is necessary to make this run historical.
As evidence of the selflessness Kentucky displayed, that junior center Willie Cauley-Stein could be named a finalist for the Wooden Award is proof positive that statistics do not tell the story with this team. Cauley-Stein averages a mere 8.9 points and 6.4 rebounds while playing 25 minutes per contest, numbers that ordinarily would disqualify him from consideration for such a player-of-the-year award. But it’s nice to see someone who is such an important part of a great team get recognized, in a sport that often pays too much attention to stats. And it says a lot about Cauley-Stein that a player who ranks 44th in the SEC in scoring and eighth in rebounding could be included on this list, and that no one could reasonably argue against his inclusion.
Going into Saturday’s action, there was a lot to be decided as far as the SEC Tournament bracket was concerned, and there were a few surprises that changed things around. The bracket is now set, and Georgia and LSU received the final two double-byes, to go along with those held by Kentucky and Arkansas. The Tigers’ stunning win at Arkansas, coupled with Ole Miss’s and Texas A&M’s home losses to Vanderbilt and Alabama, respectively, will force those bubble teams to play Thursday. For the Aggies, the loss is doubly painful. A win not only would have gotten them the 3-seed and the double-bye, with the loss, they play Thursday, and are stuck on Kentucky’s side of the bracket.
Speaking of the Tigers, Aggies, and Rebels, they all now find themselves squarely on the bubble, according to, among others, ESPN’s Eamonn Brennan. In addition to Saturday’s loss to Alabama, the Aggies also lost at Florida last week. To say they could have ill-afforded either, given their position, is accurate. LSU has to feel much better about its position after the Arkansas game, as a win like that is a resume booster that will pay huge dividends with the selection committee. For Ole Miss, a win against a resurgent Vanderbilt team might have sealed the deal, but the Rebels will now have to get something done in Nashville to feel good about where they stand. At the end of the day, there do not appear to be enough wins available at the SEC Tournament to think that all three of these clubs will make the Big Dance, but there is little doubt that Texas A&M now has the most work to do, and likely will get a chance to beat LSU for a third time on Friday, in what could end up being a de facto play-in game.
LSU’s win at Arkansas, under any circumstance, would have been impressive. Given that the Tigers were coming off an inexplicable and embarrassing 15-point home loss to Tennessee on Wednesday, expecting a win certainly would have been foolish. But when you consider that they did it without likely all-conference forward Jordan Mickey, who Johnny Jones decided to rest after he injured his shoulder late in the Tennessee game, you likely are even more dumbfounded. In hindsight, Jones’s decision seems like a stroke of brilliance: give your ailing star rest before the SEC and (hopefully) NCAA Tournament runs, and play a game that the committee will not penalize you for losing. In this case, Jones got the bonus of a surprising win that may just be enough to get his up-and-down team into the Field of 68.
Posted by Brad Jenkins (@bradjenk) on March 9th, 2015
Syracuse.com: By now, most people know that Jim Boeheim skipped the postgame press conference after Syracuse wrapped up their 2014-15 season with a loss at North Carolina State on Saturday. Instead, the embattled coach sent out long time assistant Mike Hopkins to face the media rather than have to personally take questions in public for the first time since the NCAA announced their findings and punishments for the Syracuse program after a lengthy investigation. Most basketball media viewed Boeheim’s refusal to appear as cowardice, but this article claims that Syracuse’s administration told him not to attend. Perhaps they recognize that Boeheim has a tendency to be confrontational and defiant when faced with harsh questions about how his program is run, and sometimes says more than he should – like his initial reaction to the Bernie Fine situation.
Stateoftheu.com: If Miami can get past the winner of Wake Forest/Virginia Tech they would be a formidable match-up for third-seeded Notre Dame in the ACC Tournament quarterfinals. The Hurricanes and the Irish are similarly constructed as both are perimeter oriented offensively. So that game could come down to who makes the most 3-pointers, and don’t be surprised if that team is Miami, after they drilled 15-of-25 from deep against Virginia Tech in Saturday’s regular season finale. This article wonders if the Hurricanes are actually better off without injured point guard Angel Rodriguez, who has been in an icy shooting slump for quite a while. While it’s true that his replacement, Manu Lecomte is clearly the superior shooter, the Hurricanes probably still need Rodriguez’s defense and creativity to beat elite teams.
Fox Sports Carolinas: In this piece, Lauren Brownlow has a pretty good take on the current status of North Carolina State, as the Wolfpack head into Greensboro as a very dangerous 7-seed. As she points out, sophomore center BeeJay Anya is a big key to the Wolfpack’s success. When he is playing well – protecting the rim, grabbing offensive boards, and finishing alley-oops, N.C. State has shown they can compete with elite teams. When Anya is not as aggressive, or in foul trouble, the Wolfpack is more vulnerable in the paint to teams with good interior players. Another interesting factoid presented here is that Mark Gottfried and N.C. State have amassed an impressive 4-and-1 record this season in games against teams with active Hall-of-Fame coaches.
Louisville Courier-Journal: Probably the most surprising hero in college basketball this past weekend has to be Louisville‘s Mangok Mathiang, who knocked down the game-winning jumper to take out Virginia. Afterwards, Rick Pitino joked that “Mangok was the 64th option” on the play, but when the Cardinal’s Terry Rozier got trapped and passed him the ball, Mathiang calmly knocked in only his second field goal in the last month. Unlike the first meeting between the two teams – when Virginia only committed two turnovers – this time the Louisville pressure defense forced 13 Cavalier miscues. That defensive effort, and a big game from Montrezl Harrell were enough to send the Cardinals into postseason on a much higher note than seemed possible just two weeks ago, when Chris Jones was dismissed from the squad.
USA Today: It certainly has been the season of good will in what is widely acknowledged as the best rivalry in college basketball: Duke and North Carolina. First came the moving tribute to Dean Smith in the first match-up in Durham in mid-February, when the coaches/players locked arms and knelt together in a moment of silence. Then before Saturday’s rematch in Chapel Hill, Roy Williams and his team captains – Jackson Simmons and Marcus Paige – met Mike Krzyzewski at midcourt to honor him for becoming the first coach to reach 1000 career wins. In his postgame press conference, Krzyzewski discussed the uniqueness of the rivalry with the level of respect between the two programs. By comparison, think how laughable it is to imagine Nick Saban being honored by Auburn at Jordan-Hare Stadium, or Urban Meyer receiving a standing ovation at the Big House.
The first automatic bids to the NCAA Tournament were handed out over the weekend. The first school to earn an automatic bid was Belmont, which upset Murray State on Saturday night to receive the Ohio Valley automatic bid. Yesterday, they were joined by North Florida (Atlantic Sun), Coastal Carolina (Big South), and Northern Iowa (Missouri Valley). There will be three other automatic bids handed out later today with the Colonial, Mid-American, and Southern Conference all awarding their titles. If you are looking for a handy although not real-time infographic showing who is remaining in the field check out our Circle of March feature, which is updated daily.
On Friday, NCAA handed down its sanctions against Syracuse after looking into the school for eight years (full 98-page report here). The headline of the sanctions is that Jim Boeheim will have to sit out for half of next year’s ACC regular season (nine games) and have 108 wins vacated from his record (moving him from 2nd to 6th on the all-time Division I men’s wins list for the time being), but the other sanctions and the stain it will leave on the program and those around it will probably have a more significant long-term effect. The scholarship reductions and limitations on the number of assistants who can go on recruiting trips could significantly impact the program for years to come. On an individual level, this will also make it more difficult for Mike Hopkins (the long-time coach-in-waiting) to succeed Boeheim and will also make it more difficult for him to get hired. The level of penalties (and the decision by the NCAA to only prosecute violations starting a few weeks after Syracuse won its only national title–very convenient…) should also make other schools–like one in particular in North Carolina–nervous.
Speaking of NCAA violations, based on a report from Yahoo! Sports, Cliff Alexander is being investigated by the NCAA because his mother received a loan from a company that typically makes loans to professional athletes and agents. While it is not unusual for college athletes (or their families) to receive these type of loans it is usually after the athlete has finished competing in college as such a loan would be a NCAA violation. According to the report, both the NCAA and Kansas are trying to move the investigation along, but that Alexander’s legal counsel might be slowing it down. Given what we have read about the situation we doubt that we will see Alexander in a Kansas uniform again (at least until they need him for a promotional photo).
The coaching carousel is starting to heat up. As of Sunday night, the two newest positions to open up are at Holy Cross where Milan Brown was fired and Penn where Jerome Allen will step down (a nice way of saying he was fired). We doubt that either is big enough to attract a big name candidate both positions should attract attention from mid-major coaches although there is a possibility that someone who is out of coaching might use one of the positions as a stepping stone to get back in. During his five seasons at Holy Cross, Brown went 69-83 with only two winning seasons (15-14 in 2011-12 and 20-14 in 2013-14). Allen, a former star at Penn who was a 2nd round pick in the 1995 NBA Draft, is 66-103 in six seasons heading into his final game on Tuesday.
Senior nights are special in a lot of ways, but Georgetown’s senior night on Saturday stands out for the return of Tyler Adams, who has been sidelined since his freshman year due to an arrhythmia. While Senior Nights are typically reserved for individuals who remained on the team, John Thompson III, who has kept Adams on scholarship despite not playing for the team, decided to start Adams and ran the first play for Adams, which he dunked. Even though there were a lot of highlights from the weekend this moment will stick with us for the class that Thompson and Seton Hall showed giving Adams one last moment as a player as he enters the next phase of his life.
Late last night, Yahoo! Sports’ Pat Forde reported that the NCAA is investigating Kansas big man Cliff Alexander for ties to an agent and possible impermissible benefits received by his family. Alexander has sat out Kansas’ last two games in the interests of protecting his eligibility while the NCAA works with Alexander to resolve the matter. Aside from the nature of the possible benefits, the big question is how long Alexander will continue to be sidelined. According to Forde’s sources, the freshman has hired an attorney, a move which, while may be advisable for Alexander, is reportedly slowing the investigative process. As we’ve said ever since news of the investigation first broke last Saturday, Alexander’s availability is important if Kansas is to make a deep postseason run, but while the team would prefer to get a resolution soon, you just never know with the NCAA.
The legend of Baylor big man Rico Gathers continues to grow. Gathers is a focal point in two national stories that have dropped recently. The first is a terrific piece by CBSSports.com‘s Matt Norlander chronicling his experience (along with those of other players) balancing the grueling demands of NCAA competition with the challenges and blessings of fatherhood. The second is an in-depth look by Bleacher Report‘s Jason King that touches on Gathers’ fantastic season to this point, his outstanding athleticism and the attention he’s drawn as a potential NFL prospect. Both are well worth your time. While there has been no shortage of storylines in the Big 12 this season, Gathers’ emergence into the national spotlight has been one of the year’s highlights, with his play crucial in keeping the Bears relevant in the face of significant roster turnover. The odds are that Gathers will be around for another season, but the sooner you appreciate everything he brings to the table both on and off the court, the longer you’ll have to enjoy it.
Ames Tribune beat writer Travis Hines emptied out his Iowa State mailbag, providing some great insight into the state of the Cyclone program as the team gears up for the postseason. While some have been quick to label Iowa State as fraudulent due to their inability to pass Kansas in the Big 12 standings with a roster that had the chance to do it, fans (or rather, fans whose questions Hines took a crack at answering) seem pretty optimistic, with many of their inquiries focusing on the Cyclones’ tournament ceiling, their chances of landing big recruit Cheick Diallo and the makeup of next year’s team. The Iowa State faithful brought a huge contingency to Kansas City for the Big 12 Tournament last season, so with another strong team this March, you can expect a similar level of support next week.
Between widespread transfers and the appeal of the NBA, it’s become increasingly rare for a player to stay at one school for all four years, argues Ryan Aber of The Oklahoman. As such, Senior Day festivities don’t always carry the weight they once did, even in the case of Oklahoma, which has three players — James Fraschilla, D.J. Bennett and TaShawnThomas — set to play their final home game tomorrow against Kansas. Of the trio, only Fraschilla, a walk-on, played all four years in Norman, as Bennett was a juco transfer and Thomas only came aboard this fall after spending his first three years with Houston. Whatever the case may be, Fraschilla, Bennett and Thomas should be extremely proud of what they’ve accomplished.
While the Big 12 champion has been determined, a whopping seven of the other nine spots are still in question entering the final weekend. If you’re into seeding scenarios, Aber did the grunt work for all of us just prior to Wednesday’s Oklahoma State-TCU game. The Sooners and Cyclones could finish anywhere between second and fourth, Baylor can finish anywhere between second and fifth, West Virginia can finish in either fourth or fifth, Oklahoma State will finish either sixth or seventh, Kansas State can finish anywhere between sixth and eighth, and Texas will end the regular season in either seventh or eighth place. If you’ve watched even a half of Big 12 action, you know that predicting how everything will shake out is a fruitless exercise, so our advice is to just sit back and watch the madness unfold. We’re going to get four more weeks of it anyway.
Indiana’s Tuesday night loss to Iowa marks another defeat in the Hoosiers’ recent skid, where they’ve only won four times in their last eleven games. After the latest loss, fans could be heard heckling Tom Crean. This prompted Indiana athletic director, Fred Glass, to come out and give a statement of support, “He has my full support. I have a great deal of confidence in Tom’s body of work. This team overachieved early and then hit a tough patch”. Glass has a point. Crean is a victim of his early success this season, but the Hoosiers are still in a much better position than many thought they would be at the start of the season. This season — unlike other Crean campaigns in Bloomington — Indiana has overachieved.
Illinois eeked out a win in its final home game of the season against Nebraska on Wednesday. It was also senior night where both Rayvonte Rice and Nnanna Egwu were honored. Egwu was recruited by Bruce Weber to play for Illinois, but the head coach he thought he would be playing for was fired after his freshman year. But the native-born Nigerian quickly won over the new coaching staff with his work ethic and model behavior off the court. Egwu may have not have fully developed on offense like Illini fans had hoped, but he’s proven himself to be a well-rounded student-athlete — something fans should be proud of.
On Thursday, Wisconsin defeated Minnesota 76-63 in Minneapolis to claim its first Big Ten championship since 2008. Like seven years ago, it was an outright title and guarantees the Badgers the #1 seed in the Big Ten Tournament. The win caps off what’s been an amazing season that’s met the lofty expectations placed upon the Badgers in the preseason. With Frank Kaminsky as the slight favorite for National Player of the Year, this season is one for the ages for both Wisconsin and Bo Ryan . And it should be recognized as such no matter what happens in the NCAA Tournament.
The regular season is coming to an end, which means soon all the end-of-the-year accolades by different media sites will start being published. BTN kicked it off with a poll of Big Ten beat writers asking “Which teams were the most surprising and disappointing this season?”Purdue was the hands-down winner for most surprising team as they turned their season around after going 8-5 in the non-conference with two bad losses. Both Minnesota and Nebraska were chosen as the most disappointing teams. I described earlier this week what a disappointment the Cornhuskers have been, but the Gophers have also suffered a severe setback this season. After barely missing the NCAA Tournament and winning the NIT championship last season, Minnesota is now fighting just to stay out of the bottom four in the league.
With Selection Sunday only nine days away, the bracketologists have been out in full force with their predictions. And the most popular one, Joe Lundari, just put out his most recent projections. Wisconsin (#2 seed), Maryland (#3), Iowa (#7), Michigan State (#7), and Ohio State (#8) all seem to be safely in the field. Illinois, Indiana, and Purdue, however, are squarely on the bubble. The Boilermakers and Hoosiers are currently in the field, while the Illini have some work to do.