Four leagues that must make a statement in the NCAA tournament

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Everyone wants it, but not everybody has it.

Earning respect in college basketball, in all of sports, really, is one of the most difficult things to do.

Overcoming pre-conceived notions or shedding those negative connotations can be hard to do, but the best time to sway the perceptions is in the post-season.

Whether it be making up for less than impressive tournaments in recent years, or simply taking advantage of the limelight, here are four conferences that stick out as leagues that could really benefit from an overall strong showing.

Because they need to earn some respect

Big East

Remember last season when the Big East became the Big Bust? The Big Least? A record 11-teams from the conference were awarded NCAA Tournament berths, only to have nine of them eliminated in the first weekend. The two that advanced to the Sweet 16? UConn and Marquette, who both beat a Big East club to advance.

With nine teams particiaping this season, hostile fans of otehr conferences won’t take it any easier on the league, and now that Fab Melo is donzeo there’s arguably no real Final Four threats.

If the Big East screws this up again, expect plenty of voracious criticism.

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Big Ten

A conference like this can’t possibly be the best in college basketball, right? Well, maybe, but for a league with five of their six participants seeded six or higher, this league is either ripe to stay releveant well into the tournament, or fail dismally and face the wrath of public opinion.

Beware, however, as teams like Wisconsin (offensive woes), Michigan (frontcourt woes)  and Indiana (road woes) all have obvious flaws that make them suspectible to an early round exit, and No. 1 seed Michigan State faces a dangerous road to New Orleans.

But with the aforementioned departure of Fab Melo, the East Region has opened right up, and it could be an ideal situation for Ohio State to march right back into the Final Four.

The league needs to be successful this season to validate the regular season praise they received.

Because they deserve some respect

Mountain West Conference

If there can be something trendy in college basketball, it’s the MWC. Better than the ACC and Pac-12, RPI wise, the past two seasons, this is a league that could be represented by two teams in the regional final (if you’re brave), and possibly three teams in the Sweet 16 (if you’re brave and intelligent). It’s a stretch even offering that possibility up, sure, but both UNLV and New Mexico have the personnel and the pod(s) get win some games here.

The Rebels have the athleticism to match Baylor, and enough skill to get past the fairly underwhelming Duke Blue Devils. And we didn’t even mention San Diego State, the MWC conference tournament runner-up, who boasts the league’s player of the year Jamaal Franklin.

There’s the potential for a real memorable close to this league’s season, which would give it some must-deserved respect.

ACC

We’re on to this conference. A league once holding the discintion as the best in college basketball, that’s simply not the case anymore. But hold your horses.

North Carolina has the easiest road to the Final Four, and Florida State is a real dangerous three-seed in the East, proving that sound defense can really go a long way in the NCAA Tournament.

It’s not out of the realm of possibility that the Heels and Seminoles match-up for the third time this season, and it would not be a complete fluke. You’d have to be impressed by the feat.

Virginia, matched-up against an inconsistent Florida team that has not been playing well lately, could serve as a nice statement victory for the league over an SEC foe.

Follow Nick Fasulo on Twitter @billyedelinSBN

Report: Texas’ Jones to test NBA possibility

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Both of Texas’ McDonald’s All-Americans from its 2016 class will test the NBA waters.

Andrew Jones will declare for the draft, but will not hire an agent, according to ESPN’s Jeff Goodman.

The 6-foot-4 guard joins Jarrett Allen, the Longhorns’ star center, in utilizing the rule change that became available to players last year in which they can declare, workout for teams, attend the NBA combine and still return to school.

Jones averaged 11.4 points, 3.9 rebounds and 3.5 assists per game as a freshman. He shot 42.5 percent from the field overall and 32.8 percent from 3-point range.

Allen seems the likelier candidate to remain in the draft as a potential lottery pick, but Jones came to Austin with similar one-and-done possibilities given his status as one of the class’ top recruits.

Texas, of course, is hoping both return, not just because they’re both big talents, but because incoming and highly-touted recruit Matt Coleman fills the major hole in last year’s lineup – point guard. If the three of them can share the floor together, Year 3 of the Shaka Smart era will be much more interesting.

Morrow announces transfer from Nebraska

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Nebraska was once again hit with a surprising and damaging transfer.

Ed Morrow, Jr., who led the Huskers in rebounding last year, announced his intention to transfer, the school announced Wednesday.

“I support Ed in his decision to transfer schools and wish him well,” Nebraska coach Tim Miles said in a statement. “We appreciate his hard work over the last two years. Although I am disappointed, we will continue to recruit young men who are committed to our mission of building Nebraska Basketball with a culture of success in all areas…life, school and winning basketball at its highest level.”

The 6-foot-7 sophomore’s departure is a major hit to the Huskers, who are coming off a 12-19 year in which Miles’ job security was called into question. It almost assuredly will be again this year as Nebraska hasn’t been able to build on its 2014 NCAA tournament appearance, instead putting together three-straight losing seasons.

Morrow’s decision is surprising not only given he’d been a productive member of the team – averaging 9.4 points and 7.5 rebounds per game – but because he was born in Nebraska before attending high school in Chicago and both his parents were Nebraska student-athletes his father winning a national title on the football team in 1994 and his mother an all-Big Eight performer on the basketball team.

“I want to say thank you to my teammates, coaches, the fans and the University of Nebraska athletics department for giving me the opportunity to play Division I basketball,” Morrow said in a statement. “It is hard to leave home, and Nebraska is my home. I was born and raised here, it is my parents’ alma mater, and I have a lot of friends here. But sometimes you have to venture out to pursue dreams and aspirations in a career. This is a sacrifice I have to make to better myself.”

Morrow’s transfer comes a year after Andrew White surprised Nebraska with his decision to graduate and transfer to Syracuse, which no doubt impacted the Huskers’ poor 2016-17 record.

Miles was on the hot seat at the end of last season and will assuredly begin this season there as well. A roster hit like Morrow won’t do much to help him improve the situation. Nebraska does, however, have three starters returning while Georgetown transfer Isaac Copeland is eligible, as is Miami (Fla.) transfer James Palmer, Jr.

Lonzo Ball says “I’m better than” Markelle Fultz

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Usually, it’s LaVar Ball that makes news for what he says.

His eldest son is now getting in on the business of generating headlines with something other than his play.

The UCLA star, who said he’ll enter the draft after just one season with the Bruins, claimed he’s the better prospect than Washington freshman Markelle Fultz, who many have pegged as the No. 1 pick in June’s draft.

“Markelle’s a great player,” Ball said, according to ESPN, “but I feel I’m better than him,” “I think I can lead a team better than him. Obviously he’s a great scorer — he’s a great player, so I’m not taking that away from him.”

Not exactly inflammatory stuff – like saying you could have beaten Michael Jordan, that you want a $1 billion apparel deal or a number of things his father has said – bu Ball is certainly projecting confidence. And there’s absolutely nothing wrong with that. There’s quite a bit of money – and pride – at stake with the draft, and Ball put up a season worthy of comparison to Fultz, who had great numbers but played for an abysmal Washington team. Ball, on the other had, had strong numbers while leading UCLA to the Sweet 16.

Both are going to go at the top of a draft that’s stocked full of promising point guards. Which player goes before the other remains to be seen, but it’s likely public pronouncements aren’t going to affect the draft order.

 

UMass hires McCall away from Chattanooga

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UMass has found, once more, the man to take over its basketball program.

The Minutemen have reached an agreement with Chattanooga coach Matt McCall, the school announce Wednesday

“The tradition and resources that are in place not only make this one of the best basketball jobs in the Atlantic 10 Conference,” McCall said in a statement released by the school, “but one of the best jobs in the country. We couldn’t be more excited about becoming part of the UMass family and look forward to building upon the rich tradition that has been established here in the past.”

In McCall’s two years at Chattanooga, the Mocs to the NCAA tournament in 2016 and a 19-12 record this year that featured five-straight losses to end the season.

The move will take McCall out of the southeast for the first time in his career as he previously served as at Florida and Florida Atlantic before getting his first head coaching job at Chattanooga.

McCall wasn’t the Minutemen’s first choice to replace Derek Kellogg after three-straight lackluster seasons. Winthrop coach Pat Kelsey had agreed to take the job before a last-minute about-face that saw him return to the Eagles program just before his introductory press conference was scheduled to begin.

“Matt is a rising star in college basketball coaching who has been a key piece of three successful programs in his career,” UMass athletic director Ryan Bamford said in a statement. “He has earned a reputation as a relentless worker, a great teammate and colleague and a confident leader of young men.

“Matt has worked with some of the most respected coaches and administrators in the country, who loudly sing his praises. Coach McCall’s appointment begins an exciting new chapter for our tradition-rich men’s basketball program at UMass.”

Despite being the second choice, McCall’s reputation in the coaching industry makes him a strong hire, having worked under Mike Jarvis and Billy Donovan. He took over at Chattanooga for Will Wade, and brought the Mocs to a 29-6 record and a  12-seed in the NCAA tournament in 2016.

UMass went to just one NCAA tournament under Kellogg (in 2014) during his nine seasons leading the Minutemen.

VIDEO: Frank Martin’s sideline demeanor as a high school coach

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South Carolina coach Frank Martin has the reputation of being rather, shall we say, intense on the sidelines during games.

The coach has a stare that seemingly could bore a hole through his players when they do something that doesn’t reach his level of expectation. Martin’s demeanor, though, didn’t just come into form once he hit the college ranks.

He was plenty intense on high school sidelines as well.

Martin won three titles while at Miami Senior in the mid-1990s, coaching the likes of future pros Steve Blake and Udonis Haslem. Now having reached his first career Final Four, that sideline persona has put him on the precipice of winning yet another championship, this time at the collegiate level.