Championship Week: Day 6’s best game, top player

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Over the next 13 days, the brackets will start to take shape. Teams with no at-large aspirations will make one final push at the post-season. Teams on the bubble will look to assert themselves as worthy members of “The Big Dance”, and contenders will start priming their engines for a national Championship run. While “March Madness” officially begins following Selection Sunday, the real madness starts now.

Until Sunday, March 11,  this will be your home for Championship Week recaps and previews. The players and teams are starting to prepare for March Madness, so you should too.

Game of the Night: Murray State 54, Tennessee State 52
Tennessee State was just a Robert Covington 3-pointer away from handing Murray State their second loss of the season. Unfortunately for the Tigers, the shot caromed off the rim, and the Racers were able to hold on. Jewaun Long hit a tough baseline lay-up with 4.4 seconds left to give Murray State the lead and the Tigers could not answer at the other end. Tennessee State led by as many as seven in the second half, but Covington, the team’s leading scorer, sat for a long period of time due to foul trouble, and Murray State mounted their comeback. The game featured ten ties and eleven lead changes.

– They Were Good Too: George Mason 61, Georgia State 59
A Bryon Allen lay-up with 3.4 seconds remaining broke a 59-5 tie and won the game for the George Mason Patriots in Richmond last night. Georgia State led by as many as 11 points, but the experienced Patriots rallied behind Mike Morrison and Sherrod Wright, who scored all 11 of his points during a four-minute stretch in the second half. The victory of the Panthers sets up a classic rubber-match against VCU.

Player of the Night: Ryan Broekoff, Valparaiso
The Horizon League Player of the Year scored 19 points and grabbed 16 rebounds in the Crusaders 65-46 victory over Butler in the Horizon League semifinals. The last time these two teams met, a week ago Friday, Broekoff scored just six points and shot 22 percent (2-of-9) from the field and was 0-of-4 from the foul line. But on Saturday, he shot 67 percent (6-of-9) from the field and 83 percent (5-of-6) from the foul line. The Butler Bulldogs will not be making a third consecutive trip to the National Championship game, and Broekoff is one of the reasons why.

– He Was Good Too: Michael Glover, Iona
The senior forward scored 29 points, and provided seven rebounds, three assists, and two steals in the Gael’s 87-63 win over Marist in the MAAC semifinals. Glover was 11-of-18 from the field and 7-of-10 from the charity stripe. This was the eleventh game of the season in which he has scored 20 or more points.

Team of the Night: Hartford Hawks
The No.6-seed Hawks provided the upset of the night, defeating the No.3-seed Boston Terriers 53-49 in the America East quarterfinals. The Hawks snapped a two-game losing streak, which included a 64-55 loss in the season finale to the Terriers. Nate Sikma scored 16 points, Andres Torres chipped in with 12 points and Mark Nwakamma provided 13 points and 16 rebounds. Despite being the lower-seed, the Hawks benefited from being the host team, and after the victory, received a court-storming from the fans.

– They Were Good Too: Illinois State Redbirds
The No.4-seed Redbirds trailed for much of the game, and were down by eight at the half, but put together a furious second half comeback in order to knock off No.1-seed Wichita State in the MVC semifinals. Tyler Brown led all scorers with 25 points and Jackie Carmichael chipped in with 12 points and 11 rebounds. During the final six minutes of play, Illinois State held Wichita State to just four points. The Redbirds will meet the Bluejays of Creighton in the finals of “Arch Madness”.

Saturday Results:

America East Quarterfinals
#6 Hartford 53, #3 Boston 49
#4 Albany 63, #5 New Hampshire 45
#2 Vermont 50, #7 Maine 40
#1 Stony Brook 78, #9 Binghamton 69

Atlantic Sun Finals
#1 Belmont 83, #6 Florida Gulf Coast 69

Big Sky Quarterfinals
#4 Eastern Washington 81, #5 Idaho State 75
#3 Portland State 75, #6 Montana State 53

Big South Finals
#1 UNC-Asheville 80, #7 VMI 64

Colonial Athletic Association Quarterfinals
#4 Old Dominion 88, #5 Delaware 74
#3 George Mason 61, #6 Georgia State 59
#2 Virginia Commonwealth 75, #7 Northeastern 65
#1 Drexel 59, #9 UNC-Wilmington 47

Horizon League Semifinals
#3 Detroit 63, #2 Cleveland State 58
#1 Valparaiso 65, #5 Butler 46

Metro Atlantic Athletic Conference Quarterfinals
#6 Siena 84, #3 Manhattan 82
#4 Fairfield 65, #5 Rider 63
#2 Loyola (Md.) 86, #7 Niagara 73
#1 Iona 87, #8 Marist 63

Missouri Valley Conference Semifinals
#4 Illinois State 65, #1 Wichita State 64
#2 Creighton 99, #3 Evansville 71

Ohio Valley Conference Finals
#1 Murray State 54, #2 Tennessee State 52

Patriot League Semifinals
#2 Lehigh 85, #3 American 66
#1 Bucknell 79, #5 Lafayette 52

Southern Conference Quarterfinals
#3N Western Carolina 82, #2S Wofford 59
#2N Elon 65, #3S Georgia Southern 58
#1N UNC-Greensboro 65, #5N Appalachian State 55
#1S Davidson 73, #5S Furman 54

Summit League Quarterfinals
#2 South Dakota State 77, #7 IUPUI 56
#1 Oral Roberts 71, #8 IPFW 67

Sun Belt Conference First Round
#9 Arkansas State 70, #8 Florida Atlantic 55
#7 Western Kentucky 67, #10 Florida International 63
#6 South Alabama 87, #11 Troy 81

West Coast Conference Semifinals
#1 Saint Mary’s 83, #5 San Francisco 78
#2 Gonzaga 77, #3 BYU 58

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:

UNC academic case finally reaches NCAA infractions hearing

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RALEIGH, N.C. (AP) — It has taken more than two years for North Carolina to appear before an NCAA infractions committee panel since initially being charged with five top-level violations amid its long-running academic scandal.

The two-day hearing begins Wednesday in Nashville, Tennessee. The panel will ultimately determine whether the school faces penalties that could include fines, probation or vacated wins and championships, making this a major step toward resolution in an oft-delayed case filled with starts, stops and twice-rewritten charges.

“The hearing stage, no matter what size of a case, it’s a big deal to any university,” said Michael L. Buckner, a Florida-based attorney who has worked on infractions cases. “I’ve been a part of what you’d consider small cases, I’ve been a part of one of the largest cases. And trust me: The client feels the same anxiousness and apprehension no matter what size of a case it is.

“But I can definitely imagine with North Carolina, this is definitely a momentous occasion.”

The charges include lack of institutional control in a case tied to irregular courses in the formerly named African and Afro-American Studies (AFAM) department. The case is an offshoot of a 2010 football probe, with the NCAA reopening an investigation in summer 2014, filing charges in May 2015, revising them in April 2016 and then again in December.

The panel, which would typically issue a ruling weeks to months later, is chaired by Southeastern Conference Commissioner Greg Sankey and includes former U.S. Attorney General Alberto Gonzales.

UNC’s representatives were seen arriving for the closed-door hearing at a Nashville hotel Wednesday morning. The contingent included athletic director Bubba Cunningham, men’s basketball coach Roy Williams, football coach Larry Fedora and women’s basketball coach Sylvia Hatchell. Jan Boxill and Deborah Crowder, two former UNC employees charged individually in the case, were also seen with their attorneys.

None of the coaches are charged with a violation. But football and men’s basketball are referenced in a broad-based improper benefits charge tied to athlete access to the irregular courses, while women’s basketball is tied to a charge focused on a former professor and academic counselor providing improper assistance on assignments.

Fedora wasn’t working at UNC during the time in question.

“There’s nothing that I can add to what happened before I ever got here,” Fedora said last week. “But I’m there for support. I think me being there is important — not only for the NCAA but the university — that it shows compliance is important to me and our program.”

The focus is independent study-style courses misidentified as lecture classes that didn’t meet and required a research paper or two for typically high grades. In a 2014 investigation, former U.S. Justice Department official Keorneth Wainstein estimated more than 3,100 students were affected between 1993 and 2011, with athletes making up roughly half the enrollments.

The NCAA has said UNC used those courses to help keep athletes eligible.

UNC has challenged the NCAA’s jurisdiction, saying its accreditation agency — which sanctioned the school with a year of probation — was the proper authority. In a May filing , the school stated it “fundamentally believes that the matters at issue here were of an academic nature” and don’t involve NCAA bylaws.

The NCAA enforcement staff countered in a July filing: “The issues at the heart of this case are clearly the NCAA’s business.”

UNC has argued non-athletes had access to the courses and athletes didn’t receive special treatment. It has also challenged Wainstein’s estimate of athlete enrollments, saying Wainstein counted athletes who were no longer team members and putting the figure at less than 30 percent.

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