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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.

Self pays freshman Jackson a major compliment

Josh Jackson, from Napa, Calif.,, dunks over Nancy Mulkey, from Cypress, Texas, as he competes in the slam dunk contest during the McDonald's All-American Jam Fest, Monday, March 28, 2016, in Chicago. (AP Photo/Matt Marton)
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Freshman phenom production under Bill Self has been something of a contentious topic. Many fault the coach, who has won one national title and 12-straight Big 12 championships, for not developing one-and-done talent to their fullest potential during their single-season stays in Lawrence. Cliff Alexander and Cheick Diallo are Exhibit 1-A and 1-B for this argument in recent years.

Whatever outside criticism there is (Andrew Wiggins did go No. 1 overall just 2 years ago, after all), Self isn’t shying away from hyping the latest freshman with big expectations to come to KU. When asked who the greatest athlete of all-time is at the school’s annual Tradition Night last week, Self had a simple, if tongue-and-cheek, response.

“I’ll say Josh Jackson,” Self said of the the 6-foot-8 shooting guard ranked No. 1 in his class, according to Lawrence Journal-World.

With others answering with the likes of Michael Jordan and Muhammed Ali, it’s pretty fair to say Self was playing to the crowd with the answer, but it’s still telling that he was willing to deliver such a sound bite, even if it was before a welcoming audience. Self didn’t try to seriously depress expectations for Wiggins, a player Jackson is often compared to, and it looks like he won’t for Jackson as well.

Jackson, though, won’t have the burden Wiggins had as there’s one of the country’s best backcourts in Frank Mason II and Devonte Graham to help shoulder the workload for the Jayhawks.

 

ACC non-commital on HB2 stance

John Swofford
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With North Carolina unwilling to rescind their controversial so-called bathroom bill, the NBA has withdrawn its All-Star Game from the state this year and numerous high-profile music acts have canceled performances as a result.

The ACC is declining to join them with a hard-line, or really any, position.

“We don’t want to damage our league with any premature decisions,” commissioner John Swofford said on The David Glenn Show. “We’ll just see how it plays out.”

The ACC, of course, has quite the presence in the state with North Carolina, N.C. State, Duke and Wake Forest all in the Tar Heel State. Swofford’s comments are sure to draw the interest of the LGBT community, which has roundly been critical of the bill, which requires people to use the bathroom which corresponds to the gender on their birth certificate, and has recently been active in college athletics, opposing the Big 12’s potential inclusion of BYU in its expansion plans over concerns of the Church of Latter Day Saints school’s honor code.

North Carolina’s bill has also drawn the eye of the NCAA, which is requiring potential championship sights to provide information on local anti-discrimination laws.

One of the loudest voices in the ACC, Duke coach Mike Krzyzewski, has come out against the law.

“It’s an embarrassing bill,” Coach K said last month.

The Champions Classic renewed through 2019

LAWRENCE, KS - FEBRUARY 27: Bill Self head coach of the Kansas Jayhawks claps for his team as they celebrate winning the Big 12 Conference Championship after they defeated Texas Tech Red Raiders 67-58 at Allen Fieldhouse on February 27, 2016 in Lawrence, Kansas. With the win, Kansas clinched its 12th straight conference championship. (Photo by Ed Zurga/Getty Images)
Ed Zurga/Getty Images
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The Champions Classic is back, baby!!!

On Wednesday, the four schools that participate in the event — Kentucky, Duke, Kansas and Michigan State — announced that they have signed deals to extend the life of the doubleheader for another three years.

This is terrific news. The Champions Classic is always the best early-season event of the season, an annual double-header that always ends up putting together two of the best non-conference games in packed NBA arenas. This year, it features Duke, the consensus preseason No. 1 team in the country, squaring off with Kansas, who is a consensus top three team with the No. 1 freshman in the class, Josh Jackson, on their roster, in one game.

The other game? Kentucky, the third consensus top three team nationally, going up against Tom Izzo and Michigan State, who will be, at worst, a top 15 team in the preseason polls.

So yeah, we’re going to get a pair of sensational basketball games in Madison Square Garden on Nov. 15th. MSG also just so happens to be the best arena to watch a great neutral site basketball game.

It’s going to be awesome.

There’s only one possible way to make it better: turn it into a two-day event, with the winners squaring off for the Champions Classic title the following night.

Make it happen.

Anyway, here’s the schedule:

Nov. 14, 2017 (United Center, Chicago)
Kansas vs. Kentucky
Duke vs. Michigan State

Nov. 13, 2018 (Bankers Life Fieldhouse, Indianapolis)
Michigan State vs. Kansas
Duke vs. Kentucky

Nov. 12, 2019 (Madison Square Garden, New York)
Kansas vs. Duke
Michigan State vs. Kentucky

Hartford makes smart decision to allow ‘Pancake’ Thomas transfer

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Hartford coach John Gallagher, AP Photo
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Another talented graduate transfer has hit the market.

Cleveland ‘Pancake’ Thomas — that’s a helluva name, isn’t it? — has been granted a release by Hartford and will be allowed to transfer to another program for his fifth season.

“Our biggest priority for Cleveland was that he graduate from the University of Hartford with a valuable degree,” Hartford head coach John Gallagher said in a statement released to ESPN after some speculation that Thomas wasn’t going to be given a release. “That happened. Beyond wishing him the very best, we don’t comment on other program’s players. We are very excited about our group and the upcoming season.”

The term “release” is needed here because Thomas, a 6-foot-3 guard who averaged 18.9 points and shot 42.6 percent from three this past season, spent his first two years of eligibility at New Mexico. A graduate transfer exception is granted to any player making their first transfer after receiving an undergraduate degree. But since Pancake had already transferred once, he was only eligible to apply for a graduate transfer waiver, which the school he is leaving must support.

Remember the saga of Todd O’Brien? He tried to leave St. Joseph’s to spend his fifth-year at UAB but made headlines everywhere when Phil Martelli wouldn’t let it happen? That’s because O’Brien had started his career at Bucknell and needed Martelli to support the waiver.

Gallagher could have done the same to Pancake.

He made the right decision not to — Martelli has enough coaching cache to withstand the onslaught on criticism he received, I’m not sure that is true for Gallagher — even if it will result in Thomas playing elsewhere, hence the cold-hearted nature of that statement.

Anyway, Thomas never averaged more than 3.9 points at New Mexico, so while he’s a tantalizing prospect for programs that are dying for perimeter depth and shooting, this isn’t exactly a kid that’s going to launch himself into the NBA Draft’s first round by jumping up to a higher level.

Shawn Forrest named assistant coach for Jankovich at SMU

LAS VEGAS, NV - DECEMBER 22:  Head coach Larry Brown (L) and associate head coach Tim Jankovich of the Southern Methodist Mustangs look on during the team's game against the Kent State Golden Flashes during the 2015 Continental Tire Las Vegas Classic basketball tournament at the Orleans Arena on December 22, 2015 in Las Vegas, Nevada. Southern Methodist won 90-74. The game marks Brown's return from a nine-game suspension.  (Photo by Ethan Miller/Getty Images)
Ethan Miller/Getty Images
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DALLAS (AP) Shawn Forrest has been named an assistant basketball coach at SMU, his third school since the end of last season.

Mustangs coach Tim Jankovich announced Forrest’s hiring Tuesday.

Forrest spent the past three seasons as an assistant at Western Kentucky before head coach Ray Harper resigned. Forrest was named a UTSA assistant in May, but two weeks later left for Louisiana Tech before the unexpected opening at SMU.

Jankovich was SMU’s associate head coach before the abrupt resignation last month of Hall of Fame coach Larry Brown. Forrest fills the open assistant spot created on the staff when Jankovich was promoted to head coach.

Before Western Kentucky, Forrest was an assistant coach at Louisiana-Lafayette, North Texas, Arkansas State and Florida A&M.