Is the end of Championship Week the new First Weekend of the NCAA Tournament?

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It’s becoming a valid question to ask. Fifteen+ tournaments that crown a champion, many in what is usually in dramatic fashion, highlighted by 11 on Saturday, including the ever vaunted Big East Tournament. Is this better than the first weekend of what has been defined as March Madness?  In short, yes. Frankly, we’re already immersed in March Madness, and what we’re living in right now might be the most excitement that college basketball can offer for us.

Given that we all get all romantic with the first few round of the tournament, this sounds crazy right? I offer a few examples to justify my school of thought, proof that this may be the apex of the college basketball season. Here’s the best way to justify it:

  • Kemba Walker BLEW up yesterday.
  • There were 50+ important matchups beginning early this afternoon and lasting well into the evening. Almost all mattered and were worth blowing off work for, exemplifying wild emotions among bubble teams and squads that had firmly secured automatic bids alike.
  • Down 11 with 2:17 remaining, Miami outscored Virginia  30-12 in the final 2:17 plus a five minute overtime to continue any Houdini-like hope that they had of playing for the NCAA Tournament.
  • Kemba Walker BLEW up yesterday.

I’m fully aware that the new CBS-Turner TV agreement will force us to channel surf our way through the first few rounds of the tournament as though we are direct descendants of Laird Hamilton, but with a nice handful of networks and cable outlets carrying the bevy of conference tournaments that will wrap up here in the next few days, we’re currently living in an ADD sufferers paradise. A place where multiple game on multiple channels matter, and the chips and dip can’t be replenished at a higher rate.

I remember when my family finally sacked up and threw down for cable. It was 1994. I was still a young-adolescent, fully aware of the NCAA Tournament, but nearly clueless to the pageantry and excitement that was Championship Week. I fell in love with Providence’s Austin Croshere and, shortly thereafter, Wake Forest’s Randolph Childress. I was enthralled by the above-average non-All Americans few were familiar with, but were teeming with talent. This enamoration furthered my understanding of the college game at the time, and really helped equip me with the idea that there was more to this beautiful sport than the Dukes, Kentuckys and UCLAs of the world.

Today, my perspective of the final few days of Championship Week has not changed for me. As we move through somewhat mundane opening round and quarterfinal match-ups, we eagerly await the finality of the BCS conference championships, where that now 68-team tournament has its seedings determined and dreams are dashed as fast as you can say, “onions!”

Yes, we seem to overlook Championship Week, but if you really affix your eyes to what’s taking place, it’s probably the most fascinating aspect of March Madness. A bevy of colorful courts, teams frantically hoping to secure an opportunity to play further into the month, and the opportunity for the little guy to truly feel like the king of the castle. It’s about as beautiful as the game can get.

Don’t look now, but Championship Week is the new March Madness!

Nick Fasulo is the manager of Searching for Billy Edelin. Follow him on Twitter @billyedelin.

It took four years, but Sindarius Thornwell has finally put South Carolina on the basketball map

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NEW YORK — If the NCAA tournament ended today, South Carolina guard Sindarius Thornwell would be named the event’s Most Outstanding Player.

Through two games, he’s averaging 27.5 points and 3.5 assists while shooting 48.5 percent from the floor and 6-for-12 from three. He’s been the catalyst of an offensive explosion fro the Gamecocks that no one — not Thornwell, not Frank Martin, not anyone — could have seen coming.

South Carolina, a team that ranked in the 130s in offensive efficiency nationally and in the 300s in effective field goal percentage prior to the start of the NCAA tournament, put up 93 points on Marquette and 88 points on Duke. They scored more second half points in their upset win over the Blue Devils — 65! — than they did in ten games this season, five of which they won.

So it may not come as a surprise to you that No. 7 seed South Carolina’s opponent in the East Regional semifinals, No. 3 seed Baylor, have zeroed in on Thornwell as the man they need to slow down on Friday night.

“Coach has broke down every made shot that he’s had and we have all watched at least about three hours of film on just Sindarius,” Baylor senior Ishmael Wainwright said. “He’s just a great player. The whole team, it’s not just me, it’s not just me, but the whole team, we’ll be trying to stop him.”

It’s fitting that Thornwell is the cornerstone of South Carolina’s arrival on the national scene, as the Lancaster native was the most important commitment of Frank Martin’s tenure with the Gamecocks. A blue-chip prospect that ranked in the top 40 of every recruiting service, Thornwell was an in-state kid that was recruited by the likes of Louisville, Indiana and Syracuse. South Carolina, at the time that Thornwell committed, had a new head coach that took over a program that hadn’t been to the NCAA tournament in eight years and had the prestige of making four trips to the Big Dance in the previous 38 seasons.

More to the point, it wasn’t clear whether that new head coach, Frank Martin, was there because he wanted to be there or because he simply didn’t want to be at Kansas State anymore, a program where his relationship with his Athletic Director had deteriorated.

Thornwell, who at that point had left Lancaster High School for the more prestigious Oak Hill Academy, had every reason in the world not to go to South Carolina.

But he did.

He wanted to play for his state, for his family. He is loyal, and that loyalty almost kept him from leaving Lancaster for Oak Hill in the first place.

“They had to force him to go, because he did not want to leave his state, did not want to leave his high school team, did not want to leave his high school coach, did not want to leave his family,” Martin said. “His uncle, ‘Big Country’, Dajuan Thornwell, may he rest in peace, who was his father figure basically put him in a car and drove him and said, ‘You’re going to school here. This is for your own good.'”

“And it’s who he has become. The day I got the phone call from him telling me, ‘I want to do this with you,’ when he could have gone to some of the blue bloods. He wanted to help us build. He wanted to surround his heart with the state name that means so much to him and his family’s name on the back of his jersey. And that’s powerful.”

(Photo by Kevin C. Cox/Getty Images)

Thornwell was the SEC Player of the Year in 2017. He was in the mix for a spot on the NBC Sports All-American teams before South Carolina’s late-season swoon. He’s had a sensational senior season individually, but more importantly, he got South Carolina back to the NCAA tournament for the first time since 2004. He led them to the Sweet 16 for the first time since the tournament expanded to 64 teams in 1985. South Carolina had never won back-to-back in the NCAA Tournament before.

As in ever.

Thornwell did that for his state, and he wasn’t alone. Fellow senior Justin McKie and sophomore P.J. Dozier are both from Columbia, and the Gamecocks have quite a bit of young talent on their roster, as well as a five-man recruiting class headlined by four-star prospect David Beatty and former Delaware guard Kory Holden, who sat out this past season as a transfer.

The South Carolina program is as healthy as it’s been in decades, and Thornwell has as much to do with that fact as anyone.

“I have been born and raised in South Carolina,” Thornwell said, saying that all of the South Carolina natives play “for the same reasons, for our family, for our state. We all grew up in South Carolina. We all have been through the struggles and with the program.”

“For us all to be in the spotlight is just tremendous because we don’t feel like we get the recognition that we deserve.”

The Gamecocks certainly got plenty of recognition last weekend, becoing the focal point of the nation’s glare as they played a the biggest role in putting an end to the soap opera that was Duke’s season.

And Thornwell is going to find himself getting plenty of recognition on Friday night, as the Bears will focus plenty of their attention on slowing down the Gamecock star.

After all, three hours of film on one player is a lot of film.

“They exaggerate so much,” Baylor head coach Scott Drew said. “It was only two and a half.”

Rice promotes Scott Pera to head coach

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Rice didn’t have to look far for its new head coach.

The university announced on Thursday afternoon that associate coach Scott Pera will take over the program. He replaces Mike Rhoades who returned to VCU to fill its vacancy on Tuesday.

Pera had been with the program for three seasons following stints at Penn and Arizona State. Based on the reaction from the players, they approve of the hire.

Pera was also the high school coach of James Harden.

The Owls, coming off a 23-12 season, are expected to bring back three double-digit scorers for next season: Marcus Evans, Egor Koulechov and Marcus Jackson.

Report: NCAA affirms its Louisville allegations

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The NCAA continues to hold the position that Louisville coach Rick Pitino failed to properly monitor the program amid the scandal surrounding a former staffer and illicit parties, according to documents obtained by ESPN.

Louisville received the notice of allegations from the NCAA in January, and In its response, Louisville did not deny the NCAA’s findings, but argued that Pitino should not have been seen as failing to monitor Andre McGee, who is alleged to have organized the gatherings at Minardi Hall on the Louisville campus.

McGee is alleged to have paid for women to dance for and perform sex acts on Cardinals recruits.

The NCAA stated that Pitino “did not uphold his duties as head coach and in doing so, failed to discover” McGee’s actions and that if he “saw no red flags in connection with McGee’s interactions with then prospective student-athletes, it was because he was not looking for them,” according to ESPN’s report.

The original allegations were made by Katina Powell in a book that was published in 2015.

Louisville self-imposed a 2016 postseason ban and scholarship reductions as part of the scandal, but was looking to avoid further punishment on Pitino, who could be subject to suspension.

 

Pat Kelsey will not take the UMass job

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Moments before Pat Kelsey was set to be formally introduced as the new head coach at the University of Massachusetts, the school canceled the press conference citing, “unforeseen circumstances.”

According to Jeff Goodman of ESPN, the former Winthrop coach has decided not to accept the job after all. Kelsey, 41, had agreed to terms with UMass on Tuesday. Pete Thamel of Sports Illustrated reports that Kelsey is heading back to Winthrop.

In five seasons at Winthrop, Kelsey compiled a 102–59 (56–30 Big South) record, leading the Eagles to the 2017 NCAA Tournament.

Kelsey was expected to replace Derek Kellogg, who was relieved of his duties after nine years at his alma mater. Kelsey was a smart hire. He had ties to the Atlantic 10, both as a player and an assistant coach at Xavier. His freshman recruiting class included a player out of the NEPSAC, showing that Kelsey was also familiar with the New England prep school recruiting landscape.

This has gone from a hire that was seen as a good one by many, to a nightmare scenario for UMass athletic director Ryan Bamford, who was making his first major decision in Amherst.

Other names linked to the vacancy were Vermont’s John Becker, Miami associate head coach Chris Caputo and Boston Celtics assistant coach, and former Butler and Purdue assistant, Micah Shrewsberry.

Virginia’s Thompson to transfer

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Virginia lost another member of its team Thursday.

The Cavaliers announced Darius Thompson will transfer out of the program, a day after the news of Marial Shayok and Jarred Reuter’s departures.

“Darius Thompson informed me he has decided to play his final season at another school following his graduation from Virginia,” Virginia coach Tony Bennett said in a statement released by the school. “Although you never want to see young men transfer, I understand this is part of coaching. Darius, Marial, and Jarred feel it’s in their best interests to pursue other options for the remainder of their college careers.

“I will always appreciate the contributions they made to our program.”

Thompson, who would be immediately eligible as a graduate transfer, began his career at Tennessee before transferring to Charlottesville, where he averaged 5.2 points and 1.8 assists over two seasons. The 6-foot-4 guard shot 44.8 percent from the field and 35.1 percent from 3-point range last season.

Despite the three defections, Virginia returns a number of pieces that contributed to their 23-11 season.

As we look forward, we have a strong nucleus of players returning,” Bennett said, “and I’m excited for their continued development. As a staff, we are focused on finding student-athletes who want to be a part of this program and all the University of Virginia has to offer.”