Shaka Smart

What happened to last year’s First Four winners?

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We all know the VCU story. They got into the 2011 NCAA Tournament when most didn’t think they belonged. And then they played their inspired brand of basketball and took a trip to the Final Four. Does that make their inclusion warranted? That was debated to no end last year, so no reason to dig that back up. And I’ll take that same way out with the First Four as a whole. Does the NCAA really need 68 teams as opposed to 64? Are Tuesday and Wednesday games really necessary? Again, I pass.

What matters now that the Tournament has started is that games are being played, and the winners advance.

To gauge what they might expect, lets take a look back at last year’s First Four event.

VCU beat Southern Cal and then went to the Final Four. Noted.

UTSA beat Alabama State in a 16-seed game. This bought them a couple days of life before they were they were fed to Ohio State.

UNC-Asheville played a thrilling game, and beat Arkansas Little Rock in overtime. Then they hung with Pittsburgh briefly before falling by 23.

The fourth winner was Clemson, who knocked off UAB in a 12-seed game. They had a tough travel schedule and had to play West Virginia. In that game they took the Mountaineers nearly to the wire before losing by eight.

What does that mean for this year’s winners? The 16-seed story is an obvious one. They’re going to lose.

But what about BYU/Iona, and Cal/USF? That answer we’ll have by Friday.

Syracuse receives mixed news on sanctions appeals

Jim Boeheim
Associated Press
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Wednesday the NCAA made its ruling on two¬†appeals of sanctions made by Syracuse University, with the news being mixed for the men’s basketball program.

On the positive side the NCAA ruled that Syracuse will be docked two scholarships per season for the next four years, as opposed to the original ruling of three. As a result Jim Boeheim’s program only has to account for the loss of eight total scholarships, meaning that they’ll have 11 to fill in each of the next four seasons as opposed to ten.

One scholarship may not seem like a big deal, but in a sport where you only get 13 (when not dealing with sanctions) getting that grant-in-aid back really helps from a recruiting standpoint.

As for the negatives, they both concern Boeheim. Not only has there yet to be a ruling on Boeheim’s appeal of his nine-game suspension that goes into effect when ACC play begins in January (that appeal is being heard separately), but the appeal to reinstate the wins that were vacated as part of the sanctions was denied. As a result Boeheim officially has 868 wins instead of 969 (not counting today’s game against Charlotte).

And with Mike Hopkins set to take over as head coach in 2018, the denial means that college basketball will have to wait quite some time before anyone threatens to join Duke’s Mike Krzyzewski in the 1,000 wins club.

While not having the wins officially reinstated does hurt, getting a scholarship back for each of the next four seasons is a bigger deal when it comes to the long-term health of the Syracuse program. Also of great importance will be the ruling regarding Boeheim’s suspension, as a suspended coach is not allowed to have any contact with his players or coaching staff while serving the penalty.

And with the original ruling due to take up half of Syracuse’s league slate, not having Boeheim (or the chance to speak with him) is a big deal when it comes to this current team.

St. John’s forward Kassoum Yakwe cleared by NCAA

Chris Mullin
AP Photo/Rick Bowmer
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St. John’s forward Kassoum Yakwe has been cleared by the NCAA to play this season and will be eligible immediately, the school announced on Wednesday.

Yakwe is a 6-foot-8 forward that reclassified and enrolled at St. John’s this fall. He attended the same high school as Kansas forward Cheick Diallo, who was also cleared by the NCAA to play today.

St. John’s played in the Maui Invitational this week, and Yakwe did not take part. His first game with the Johnnies will be on Dec. 2nd against Fordham if the program plans to play his this season.

The question that must be asked, however, is whether or not he will suit up or simply redshirt. The Johnnies are in the midst of a serious rebuild and will be without their other elite recruit this season, Marcus Lovett. Lovett was ruled a partial qualifier. Would it make sense to burn a year of eligibility on what make amount to a wasted season, or will head coach Chris Mullin opt to save that year for down the road?