Once the disappointment wears off, Butler will be proud of what they accomplished

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HOUSTON – The ending was far from story book.

If life were a movie, if the 2011 Final Four were to have happened in a Hollywood screenplay, the ending would have been quite different. Just one year removed from nearly taking down college basketball’s villainous empire and playing without quite possibly the only lottery pick that Brad Stevens will ever suit up in a Butler jersey in Hinkle Fieldhouse, the Bulldogs would have taken down the UConn Huskies and their superstar point guard and their sanction-riddled head coach.

It was perfect.

After nearly pulling off one of the greatest postseason runs in the history of the sport, Butler struggled through much of the season before hitting their stride in February, winning nail-biter after nail-biter in March, and cutting down the nets in April.

But Hollywood just wasn’t in the cards.

For the second straight year, Butler’s season came to a disappointing conclusion as the Bulldogs were once again the national runner-up, falling to UConn 53-41.

The disappointment in the Butler locker room was palpable. It was full of hung heads and reddened, swollen eyes that had recently been wiped clean of tears. Last year, the Bulldogs were disappointed, but they were playing with house money. They were the loveable underdog, a team from the Horizon League leaving a trail of destruction through the big boys en route to the national title game.

This season?

Butler truly believed they belonged. This was no longer a mid-major with a feel-good story. This was a powerhouse program that plays the game the right way while being led by one of the country’s best coaches, regardless of age. This was a team with a different swagger. In their eyes, they were a national championship program. Its why last season’s disappointment became this season’s devastation. Butler was, legitimately, crushed.

“We’re just coming out of a locker room that’s hurting, a locker room that’s got a lot of pride because of the way our kids carried us this year and the way our five seniors have acted their entire career, what they’ve done for Butler,” Butler head coach Brad Stevens said after the game. “It’s hard to talk about the game and really care about the intricacies of the game when you’re talking about the personal relationships and the things that you develop as a team over time.”

The Bulldogs have every right to be disappointed. They should be devastated. You aren’t a true competitor if you can lose a national title two years in a row and not be upset. Hell, I was hurting just being in that locker room.

But the Bulldogs have no reason to be ashamed. Once the hurt wears off, once the pain of the loss begins to subside, one can only hope that the Bulldogs can look back and understand what they accomplished. They played for a national title two seasons in a row. That’s an impressive accomplishment for anyone. For a team from the Horizon League, where getting into the tournament is usually considered a great season, its a truly remarkable and legendary feat.

“Its been really fun to be a part of these last two teams,” Butler’s junior leader Ronald Nored said after the game. “To be a part of a program that doesn’t even necessarily care about the result of a game but more about each other? We can talk about what happened in the basketball game, but the thing in this locker room is all about the seniors. We’re just upset that they have to go.”

This was a team that accomplished something that no one thought possible. This was a team that showed that you don’t need the budget of a power conference school to compete. This is a program that proved its not necessary to have a roster full of McDonald’s all-americans to play for a national title. More than anything Butler showed the college basketball world that deep tournament runs are possible for teams that do things the right way.

The Butler way.

“Being such a competitor, [this loss] hurts a lot,” Shelvin Mack said, just minutes after going 4-15 from the floor against a smothering UConn defense. “You work so hard to get to this stage and you’re not able to get over the hump, its a very humbling experience.”

“It’s really hard to put that into words right now because, you know, we wanted a little bit more,” Matt Howard said.

“Maybe at some point I can look back and be proud of what this group has accomplished.”

There should be no maybe in that sentence.

It may take a day. It may take a month. It may take a year. But eventually, every single member of this Butler program should hold their head high.

Because the Bulldogs’ two year run is one of the most incredible feats in college basketball history.

South Carolina coach suspends G Rakym Felder indefinitely

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COLUMBIA, S.C. (AP) — South Carolina guard Rakym Felder has been suspended indefinitely and won’t attend classes this fall, another blow to a thinning Gamecock backcourt that reached the Final Four this past April.

Felder’s status was announced by coach Frank Martin on Wednesday.

Felder had been suspended since June 30 for his involvement in a fight outside a bar. He was arrested July 13 and charged with assault and battery.

“Due to some unfortunate decisions by Rakym, he has been suspended indefinitely from our program,” Martin said in a statement.

Felder’s loss further weakens a South Carolina team that was already short in the backcourt after last season’s NCAA Tournament run. Three starting guards from last year, including leading scorer Sindarius Thornwell, along with rising sophomore P.J. Dozier, are no longer with the team. Dozier entered the NBA draft and, after not getting selected, signed this month with the Dallas Mavericks.

Thornwell signed with the Los Angeles Clippers, who picked him in the second round.

Felder, from Brooklyn, New York, was supposed to slide into one of the openings created by the departing guards. He played in 36 games last season, averaging 14.6 minutes off the bench.

Like the rest of the team, Felder stepped things up in the NCAAs. He scored 15 points, including going 7-of-8 at the foul line in the final five minutes to hold off No. 2 seed Duke, 88-81, in the second round.

Felder had nine points and three assists in South Carolina’s Sweet 16 win, a 70-50 victory over No. 3 seed Baylor.

Minus Felder, the Gamecocks only guard from South Carolina’s regular rotation with experience at South Carolina is junior Hassani Gravett.

Felder took full responsibility for his actions and apologized to the school, the team and Gamecock fans in a statement through his attorney, Neal Lourie.

“I know I have let you down and I will have to work hard to regain your trust,” Felder said.

Lourie said Felder has personal issues that “he cannot fix alone and requires professional help.” Lourie did not elaborate on those problems.

This is the second time Felder has been arrested since enrolling. Last October, he was tasered by police stemming from a bar fight and charged with six counts, including assault and battery and resisting arrest.

Felder entered a pre-trial intervention program and played after missing only one game. “‘He’s a beautiful kid, not a good kid, a beautiful kid,” Martin said on Nov. 13 in defense of playing Felder against Holy Cross.

Lourie requested a jury trial on Felder’s latest charge. A trial date has not been set.

Martin said he’ll stand by Felder this time, too, and continue to “help Rakym grown as a young man even though basketball is not part of our relationship right now.”

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Top 2018 recruit R.J. Barrett names final five schools

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A top player in 2018 is down to five schools.

R.J. Barrett, a 6-foot-6 guard out of Monteverde Academy in Florida, announced Wednesday he’ll consider Arizona, Duke, Michigan, Oregon and Kentucky as his college destination.

Barrett is among those in the mix for the top spot in his class now with Marvin Bagley III reclassifying to 2017 this week and committing to Duke. He starred in Canada’s run to a gold medal at the FIBA U19 World Championships this summer, dropping 38 points on Team USA in a shocking semifinals win for the Canadians, who went on to defeat Italy in the finals. He averaged 21.6 points, 8.3 rebounds and 4.6 rebounds per game during the event.

The schools to make the cut for certainly are of little surprise. They’re among the biggest brands in basketball and have been among the recruiting elites for years.

Barrett was originally part of the 2019 class, but decided to reclassify earlier this summer.”Really, it’s been a thought of mine for the last year,” Barrett wrote for USA TODAY, “but I wanted to wait and see how the season would go and how school would go and when everything went well it became more and more real so I made the decision to go ahead and do it.

“I’m right on track to graduate in 2018 and academically everything is great.”

 

Big Ten reveals conference schedule with early-December games

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We knew it was coming, but seeing it in black-and-white is still plenty jarring.
The Big Ten is going to play conference games in early December.

The league announced its full conference schedule Wednesday, unveiling 14 first-week-of-December games ahead of nearly a month-long hiatus before Big Ten play picks up again in January.

It’s a move that was forced after the Big Ten decided it needed to expand its east coast presence after its expansion to Rutgers and Maryland, and will be playing its conference tournament on the eastern seaboard for the second-consecutive year, this time at New York’s Madison Square Garden.

The problem with MSG is that the Big East hosts its annual conference tournament there, meaning the B1G will have to play its tournament a week early, March 1-4. That means a week less of January, February and March for the conference to play its 18 league games. Thus the early December start. NBC Sports’ Rob Dauster broke down the situation in even more detail – and bite – last spring here.

Every team in the league will play both a home and a road game during that league’s first week, a soft opening if you will. Whether teams like the change or not will likely come down to circumstance  – what players they have injured or suspended, what players their opponents have injured or suspended and any other host of issues, but it’s hard to believe with all things being equal, Big Ten coaches will like this move. They’re playing extremely meaningful league games less than three weeks into the season with other conferences getting nearly 2 months of preparation before facing their toughest slate of games.

The B1G, though, will have more favorable and interesting games – even if they’re programmed against college football championship games (including their own) – that week than any other conference can boast, which likely means some nice TV ratings. Given why this change is being made, that’s probably the priority anyway.

South Carolina adds Maine grad-transfer Myers

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South Carolina is adding some immediate help in its follow-up season to a Final Four run.

Wesley Myers, a graduate transfer from Maine, is joining the Gamecocks’ program, according to FanRag Sports’ Jon Rothstein.

The 6-foot-2 guard gives Frank Martin’s team an instant infusion of scoring as they look to replace SEC player of the year Sindarius Thornwell and PJ Dozier. Myers 16.9 points per game last year on 43.7 percent shooting, including a 34.3 percent mark from 3-point range.

He’s the second grad-transfer Martin has picked up this offseason, joining Florida Atlantic’s Frank Booker. The pair should help ease the transition from last year’s success to a much less experienced team that returns just a pair of starters.

Myers, though, doesn’t arrive in Columbia without some notable history.

Last year, after transferring to Maine from Niagara, was suspended after an altercation with a teammate, according to reports. He and teammate Marko Pirovic argued over locker room music, and the alleged ensuing altercation left Pirovic with a broken jaw, according to reports. Three other Maine players were suspended after telling a team athletic trainer that Pirovic had injured himself in a fall in the shower. Pirovic declined to press charges.

Virginia head coach Tony Bennett: ‘We believe in diversity and unity to its fullest extent’

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Virginia’s Tony Bennett finally spoke out on last weekend’s clash between white supremacists protesting the removal of a statue of Robert E. Lee and counter-protesters that resulted in the deaths of a 32-year old woman named Heather Heyer and two police officers involved in a helicopter crash:

Bennett does not exactly take a hard-line stance — the message is more about healing within the community and how much he loves his current hometown than it is about condemning what happened — but he does say “we believe in diversity and unity to its fullest extent.”

Kyle Guy, a sophomore on the Virginia roster, had this to say on Sunday: