MAC tournament preview

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The MAC is a perfect example of why divisions within a conference in college basketball don’t always work.

The Eastern Division of the MAC is where all of the power resides. How unbalanced is it? The six teams in the east went 30-6 against the six teams in the west. 30-6! By comparison, the SEC East, which was considered the much weaker division in 2010-2011, went 24-12 against the SEC West.

There’s more.

Unlike the SEC last season, the MAC seeds their conference tournament by overall conference record, not by where they finish in their divisions. That’s why the top four seeds and five of the top six seeds in this year’s tournament are from the east. Those five teams went a combined 27-3 against the six teams in the west. Only one team — Kent State, the No. 4 seed — had more than one loss. Even Miami OH, the MAC’s No. 10 seed, went 3-3 against the west while winning just two of their ten intra-division games. Toledo and Eastern Michigan both went 2-4 against the east, which was the best record for a western division team.

Competitive balance. Its glorious.

The MAC also happens to have the strangest conference tournament bracket. The bottom eight teams whittle themselves down to two teams. The survivors advance to the quarterfinals where they take on the three and the four seeds, who got double-byes. The winners of those two games advance to play the one and the two seeds, who get triple-byes, in the semifinals.

The Bracket

Where: First round games are hosted by the higher seeds, before the final eight head to Cleveland, OH.

When: March 5th-March 9th

Final: March 9th, 9:00 p.m., ESPN2

Favorite: Akron

The Zips started the year off on a good note, winning their season-opener at Mississippi State, but proceeded to drop five of their next six games against (good-but-not-great) Division I competition. But once conference play started, Akron was able to turn things around. They started out the year 11-1 before hitting a hiccup in the season’s final stretch, losing three of their last five games and having to beat Kent State on the road just to hang on to the outright regular season title. The Zips don’t have a star, per se, but they are as balanced as any team in the country. Their rotation goes nine-deep, with all nine averaging at least 4.8 ppg and the top six scoring between 8.1 ppg and 10.3 ppg.

And if they lose?: Ohio

If you live and die by Kenpom’s numbers, than Ohio may actually be the favorite to win this tournament as they are the highest-rated team in the conference at 74th, four spots above Akron. The Bobcats are led by the talented back court of DJ Cooper (who, as a freshman, led OU to an upset of three-seed Georgetown in the NCAA Tournament) and Ohio State transfer Walter Offutt. The Bobcats have the best defense in the conference largely because they are so adept at forcing turnovers. They are second in the country in defensive turnover percentage and fourth in steal-rate.

Sleepers: Buffalo, who finished second in the conference, and Kent State, who was a preseason favorite that beat West Virginia in West Virginia, are less “sleepers” than they are other contenders. The problem? Its tough to find a reason that anyone else in the conference will be capable of winning five straight games — seriously, if you’re not in the top four, you need to pull a Kemba — and stealing the automatic bid.

Studs:

– DJ Cooper, Ohio: Cooper is one of the best kept secrets in the country if you aren’t a Georgetown fan. He averaged 14.1 ppg, 5.6 apg and 2.5 spg.

– Mitchell Watt, Buffalo: Javon McCrea is the player that got all of the publicity early in the season, but Watt is the guy that has been Buffalo’s star. He averaged 16.0 ppg, 7.4 rpg, 2.5 bpg and 2.3 apg. McCrea was good as well. His numbers: 15.4 ppg, 7.0 rpg and 1.7 bpg. That’s a good front line.

– Julian Mavunga, Miami OH: Mavunga doesn’t get much attention because the Redhawks are only so-so, but he had a great year, leading the conference in both scoring (16.6 ppg) and rebounding (9.1 rpg) while averaging 3.3 apg.

– Rian Pearson, Toledo: Pearson finished the year with averages of 16.4 ppg and 8.3 rpg while standing just 6’4″.

– Zeke Marshall, Akron: His 10.3 ppg and 5.4 rpg aren’t overly inspiring, but he anchors a good Akron defense as a seven-footer that blocks 2.9 shots per game.

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

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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