Allowing the Crosstown Shootout to continue is the right decision

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It looks like we’ll be saving at least one of college basketball’s best rivalries.

Missouri is leaving the Big 12 on less than ideal terms, meaning that their Border War with Kansas looks to be coming to an end, at least in the near future. Syracuse and Pitt are abandoning the Big East for the ACC, which means that Georgetown and West Virginia, respectively, will not be playing their biggest rivals in league play in the future.

The Crosstown Shootout, however, appears likely to survive.

“Every indication is that we are going to play next year,” University of Cincinnati president Greg Williams told Bill Koch of the Cincinnati Enquirer Monday. “We’re looking at it. (Xavier University president) Father Graham and I have talked about it a number of times.”

“I haven’t changed my thoughts, nor do I believe Xavier has changed our thoughts at all,” Xavier AD Mike Bobinski said. “Absolutely, we would like to see the game continue.”

A final decision has not yet been made — and it likely won’t for at least a month — but if all sides agree that the rivalry should continue, I’m not sure I see how it won’t.

And this, frankly, is a very good thing for both Xavier and Cincinnati, the city itself and college basketball as a whole.

The Crosstown Shootout is one of the best rivalries in all of college basketball. The teams and the fans genuinely dislike each other, which means that every game played between the two schools is is must-see TV. I, for one, circle the date of their annual battle on my calender the minute that the schedules are released. With both programs priding themselves on toughness and physicality, its no wonder that this matchup is always one of the most intense games of the season. Its a guarantee that every single article ever written about the game mentions, in some form, one of those three key words — intensity, physicality and toughness.

That’s why we tune in. That’s what we want to watch. Two teams competing that hard and wanting to win that badly is a rarity in college hoops in December.

And it was only a matter of time until that intensity boiled over. That happened on December 10th, when, with nine seconds left in the game, the jawing between Tu Holloway and Ge’Lawn Guyn erupted into a full-scale, bench-clearing brawl, complete with dozens of haymakers being thrown, a bevy of suspensions and one black and bloody eye, courtesy of a Yancy Gates sucker-punch landed on Kenny Frease.

Every year, at some point during the game, there would be a point in the game where there was some pushing and shoving. Technicals usually come early and often, and trash talk lasts the entire game. That’s what we want to watch. That’s why national writers descend on the city of Cincinnati every time the game is played.

And when you’re dealing with testosterone filled college kids that have their adrenaline pumping and their pride on the line on national television, it was only a matter of time until a fight broke out.

In no way am I trying to justify what happened on that day at the Cintas Center. It was an embarrassment to the sport and a black mark that each of the young men involved will carry with them for a long time. It was unacceptable. But the players aren’t the only ones to blame. The people that let the game and the rivalry get to that point — the referees that called the game too loose, the administrators and the coaches that let their players believe it was acceptable behavior in previous games, the media (myself included) that hyped the game because of its intensity — are also at fault.

In other words, we all want to see battles like that on the basketball court, and we all should have known the risks involved and what would happen if the game ever crossed that metaphorical tipping point.

And after what happened, I think it will be a long time before anyone lets it get to that point again.

So instead of getting rid of what could very well be the highlight of every season for the Xavier and Cincinnati programs and fanbases, the better option is to simply get back on the horse.

But do it right this time.

Call the technical fouls when players stat jawing. Use the bench to reinforce that pushing and shoving in unacceptable. Reinforce to everyone involved that what happened this year is unacceptable and simply cannot happen ever again.

We all make mistakes. We’ve all gotten in fights. Emotions are fickle, and there are times where they get the best of us. All of us.

Its what you learn and how you change afterwards that matters. And the best way to learn is to get right back on that horse.

Rob Dauster is the editor of the college basketball website Ballin’ is a Habit. You can find him on twitter @ballinisahabit.

Texas Tech forward Zach Smith returns to school after withdrawing from NBA Draft

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Texas Tech forward Zach Smith will return for his senior season, the school confirmed on Monday.

The 6-foot-8 forward is one of the most intriguing athletes in college basketball as he’s been a double-figure scorer for the Red Raiders the past two seasons. As a junior, Smith put up 12.1 points, 7.2 rebounds and 1.4 blocks per game as he shot 50 percent from the field.

Three-point shooting was something that Smith improved dramatically last season as he increased it to 39 percent in a small sample size. If Smith can continue to show that he’s a perimeter shooting threat then he could be an ideal three-and-d candidate at the pro level.

By returning to Texas Tech, Smith gives head coach Chris Beard a potential all-league candidate who should be counted on to be a double-double threat next season.

 

Missouri lands five-star forward Jontay Porter

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Missouri has another member of the Porter family in the fold as forward Jontay Porter officially committed to the Tigers on Monday night.

Following in the footsteps of older brother Michael Porter Jr., and father Michael Porter Sr., Jontay is currently a member of the Class of 2018 who is rumored to be reclassifying to the Class of 2017.

A 6-foot-10 forward who was recently elevated to five-star status on Rivals.com, Porter is having a monster spring in the Nike EYBL with MoKan Elite. Porter has been one of the best players in the league, as he’s putting up 18.1 points and 12.7 rebounds per game while shooting 40 percent from three-point range.

If Jontay is able to join Missouri next season then he gives the Tigers another intriguing piece to play alongside his brother Michael, who is good enough to be a potential No. 1 pick in the 2018 NBA Draft.

Although Jontay isn’t the go-to player that his brother is, he could be a very effective SEC role player early in his career, as his ability to rebound and stretch the floor makes him an extremely intriguing piece on the floor.

Kevin Stallings is a tone-deaf clown

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Pitt guard Cameron Johnson is the most coveted transfer in college basketball this offseason.

The 6-foot-8 Johnson is coming off of a strong campaign with the Panthers in which he put up 11.9 points per game while shooting 42 percent from three-point range.

Not only is Johnson a proven double-figure scorer in a league like the ACC, but he’s eligible to play right away thanks to his graduation from Pitt. Johnson graduating from school in three years and missing one season due to injury also makes him the rare graduate transfer who has two seasons of eligibility remaining. So, not only can Johnson come in and make an immediate impact, but he’s also able to stay for another year after.

This sort of thing almost never happens, let alone with a 6-foot-8 shooter that could sway the national title race.

It’s why blueblood programs like Kentucky and UCLA are in hot pursuit of Johnson. It’s why another ACC school, reigning national champion North Carolina, is also intrigued by Johnson being on the market.

Except Johnson won’t be allowed to attend North Carolina, or any other school in the ACC, without first sitting out a season and losing one season of eligibility. At least that’s how things currently stand thanks to Pitt’s power over Johnson — despite Johnson graduating from the school and having no more formal educational ties to the school.

Here’s what Pitt said on the matter in a release to the News-Observer.

“Cameron Johnson and his father were informed of our policy as well as the appeals process when they elected to seek to transfer. They went through our transfer appeals process and were granted permission to contact ACC schools; however, the committee upheld the policy to limit immediate eligibility within the conference.

If Cameron were to transfer within the ACC, he would be eligible to receive financial aid immediately but would have to sit out a year of competition due to standard NCAA transfer regulations. Throughout this process, we have remained consistent to our department policy and we will continue to do so.”

Pitt head coach Kevin Stallings had a peculiar interview with the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette that was published about two weeks ago. During the interview, of which the full transcript was made public, Stallings went in-depth about Johnson’s transfer and the current state of college basketball. Stallings also made remarks about how the media holds programs accountable for trying to bully certain players.

Here’s a small sample of what Stallings had to say.

“But the unexpected departures are the things that are becoming more common than uncommon in college basketball. You have guys constantly trying to transfer up. You have guys going pro that have never played a minute of college basketball after they’ve sat out a year at a school. You have guys asking out of their letters of intent with frequency. We’re dealing in a landscape in college basketball right now that is as probably as difficult and peculiar as it’s ever been. It used to be if a kid signed his letter of intent and he wanted out of it, you had to play a year of junior-college ball to get out of it.

“The media didn’t basically force institutions to let people break a binding agreement. It’s kind of interesting now the media tries to put so much pressure on programs, whether it be athletic directors or coaches, saying ‘Well, the coaches can move.’ Well, hey, guess what? I’ve got a great big buyout in my deal that prevents me from moving. I’ve got something in my contract saying I can’t go to another league school. It’s not as easy for coaches to go. That’s everyone’s rationale — ‘Well, the coaches can leave.’ We’re dealing in an environment right now that is as fluid as it’s ever been. It’s just where we’re at in the whole thing with the unexpected departures.”

Stallings makes some sound points–particularly about coaches having buyouts and the general perception of coaching changes in basketball.

But Kevin Stallings mostly sounds like a tone-deaf clown here.

Nobody is going to feel sorry for a millionaire coach who willingly makes the decision to change jobs.

Nobody.

Especially if that same millionaire is comparing a choice to change jobs to the transfer decisions of unpaid student-athletes. It’s even more laughable now that Stallings is holding power over an unpaid student-athlete from going to play at another school because of purely basketball reasons.

Pitt and Stallings need to do the right thing and release Johnson to play at any school right away because Johnson has already done everything he needs to do to appease the program.

Things changed dramatically for Johnson during his three years at Pitt. He became one of the ACC’s better players and earned his degree. Johnson held up his end of the bargain when he signed his Letter of Intent.  Now Johnson just wants the chance improve his basketball future by playing with one of the nation’s elite programs.

Stallings can blame the current state of college basketball, the media, or whoever he wants for Johnson’s transfer from Pitt.

But Stallings also has to realize that he’s going to be the one who looks stupid if he continues to leave these restrictions in place for Johnson. Stallings already has a history of this sort of thing when he placed transfer restrictions on former player Sheldon Jeter. If Stallings continues to uphold transfer restrictions on Johnson, then he’s going to gain a permanent reputation in recruiting during a time when players continue to gain more freedom over their basketball futures.

If Johnson does happen to go to an ACC school like North Carolina, it’s not as if Pitt has any sort of competitive roster that is going to be fighting the Tar Heels for league supremacy during the next two seasons.

Stallings and Pitt need to just bite the bullet, let Johnson have his freedom, and hope it doesn’t come back to hurt them for one or two seasons in ACC play.

It surely beats the alternative of being labeled a head coach who limits player freedom after six players left Pitt during a single offseason. That type of burn lasts a lot longer than two years.

Presbyterian hires Wofford assistant Dustin Kerns as new head coach

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Presbyterian finally has its new head coach as the program is set to hire Wofford assistant coach Dustin Kerns, a source confirmed to NBCSports.com.

Kerns has been an assistant at Wofford for the past seven years during his second stint with the program. Also spending six seasons as an assistant coach at Santa Clara, the Tennessee native is getting his first shot at running his own program.

Finishing last in the Big South last season at 5-25 and 1-17 in conference play, Presbyterian is trying to rebuild after head coach Gregg Nibert resigned in April. Nibert was the head coach of the Blue Hens for 28 seasons, so Kerns is going to be a completely fresh start for the program.

Tennessee lands impact graduate transfer James Daniel

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Tennessee and head coach Rick Barnes earned a commitment from one of the top graduate transfers on the market on Monday when Howard guard James Daniel pledged to the Volunteers.

The 6-foot-0 Daniel was the nation’s leading scorer at 27.1 points per game his junior season in 2015-16. Daniel played in only two games last season as a left ankle injury caused him to have surgery.

With nearly 2,000 career points to his name, Daniel gives Tennessee an additional perimeter scorer who should come in and make an immediate impact right away. While Howard has low shooting percentages and a high usage rate during his time at Howard, it’ll be interesting to see how the year off and more talented teammates will alter his game.

If Howard can be a more efficient scorer in his final season, then he has a chance to be one of the better players for the Volunteers this season.