Tony Mitchell, George Fant

Some ‘under the radar’ individual battles to keep tabs on tonight

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The season is finally here, and with that are some fun individual match-ups for college basketball fans to watch. One of the best duels will take place in Omaha as Creighton host North Texas.

A game featuring Doug McDermott and Tony Mitchell doesn’t qualify for “under the radar” status given how much we know about the two players. McDermott is one of the early favorites for National Player of the Year if you go off of the early straw polls, and Mitchell is considered by many to be a future lottery pick.

What makes this contest under the radar? The fact that there’s no television.

McDermott averaged 22.9 points and 8.2 rebounds per contest last season, winning the Larry Bird Award that goes to the Missouri Valley Conference’s best player. Mitchell had to wait a while for his college debut but the moment he stepped on the floor at North Texas his presence was felt, and he helped lead the Mean Green to the Sun Belt tournament final with averages of 14.7 points and 10.3 rebounds per game.

McDermott can score from anywhere on the floor, as evidenced by his 48.6% shooting from behind the arc last season, and while Mitchell may not shoot as often from the perimeter he’s no slouch himself. Both teams have plenty of talent, but it’s the two likely NBA Draft picks (whenever they decide to end their college careers) that will be the focus of the NBA scouts in attendance.

Here are a few other “under the radar” individual match-up to keep an eye on tonight:

Robert Covington (Tennessee State) vs. Brandon Davies (BYU)
Davies’ name has been well-known for quite some time, but it took an upset win at Murray State last year for Covington to receive some national pub. The thing is, that while Covington’s 17-point, eight-rebound outing in the Tigers’ 72-68 win was a solid showing he put together some masterpieces in other games (30 and 15 at Austin Peay being one example). Both are capable of posting double-doubles on a consistent basis, which should make for a fun battle in Provo.

Eric Ferguson (Georgia Southern) vs. Ryan Broekhoff (Valparaiso)
While Broekhoff (reigning Horizon League POY) had the better perimeter shooting and rebounding numbers of the two last season, Ferguson’s been hard at work to improve his ball-handling and perimeter skill set during the offseason. Valparaiso will once again be one of the favorites in the Horizon, but if Georgia Southern is to reach the point of contending with Davidson and Charleston it will be Ferguson who leads the way.

Frantz Massenat (Drexel) vs. Randal Holt (Kent State)
Both players averaged at least 30 minutes per game last season, with Massenat entering this season as the choice to win CAA Player of the Year. Massenat was the more productive of the two last season when factoring in assists (4.8 apg to 2.6 for Holt) and rebounds, but Holt has increased his number in each of his three seasons at Kent State.

Kareem Jamar (Montana) vs. Wes Eikmeier (Colorado State)
No Will Cherry (broken foot) for the Grizzlies, which means even more will be asked of Jamar given the youth of that lineup. Jamar, a first team All-Big Sky selection last season, averaged 13.6 points and 5.6 rebounds per game. One of the CSU guards he’ll encounter is Eikmeier, who averaged nearly 16 points per game for a team that reached the NCAA tournament as well.

Warren Niles (Oral Roberts) vs. Julian Washburn (UTEP)
Oral Roberts is in a new conference (Southland) but one reason why many have made them the favorite to win the league is the presence of Niles (12.1 ppg, 3.7 rpg), their leading returning scorer from last season. Washburn was one of Conference USA’s best freshmen last season, posting averages of 11.2 points and 3.5 rebounds per contest, and he should only get better as a sophomore.

Raphielle also writes for the NBE Basketball Report and can be followed on Twitter at @raphiellej. 

Federico Mussini goes coast-to-coast, beats buzzer with and-1

CINCINNATI, OH - FEBRUARY 03:  Chris Mullin the head coach of the St. John's Red Storm gives instructions to Federico Mussini #4 during the game against the  Xavier Musketeersat Cintas Center on February 3, 2016 in Cincinnati, Ohio.  (Photo by Andy Lyons/Getty Images)
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St. John’s capped the first half with a 6-0 run.

Sophomore guard Federico Mussini went coast-to-coast to beat the buzzer, and draw the foul, as the Johnnies went into the break up 42-33 on city rival Fordham.

The 6-foot-4 guard had gone cold during a five-game stretch, but since Thanksgiving he’s scored in double figures in four consecutive games, including on Thursday night.

Washington State coach begins game on opponent’s bench

Ernie Kent
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In September, during the Coaches vs. Cancer Gala in Spokane, Washington, there was a live auction, which included the chance to be Idaho’s honorary coach for a regular season during the 2016-17 season.

Washington State head coach Ernie Kent’s $2,000 bid more than tripled the next highest bid, according to the Spokesman Review.

On Wednesday night, during Washington State’s game against the Vandals, Kent sat next to his counterpart on the Idaho bench.

Kent returned to his side of the court following the game’s first possession.

Behind 16 points from Ike Iiroegbu, the Cougars defeated the Vandals, 61-48.

 

Given Washington’s struggles, just how hot is Lorenzo Romar’s seat?

Lorenzo Romar
AP Photo/Stephen Brashear
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We tried to warn you what was coming on Wednesday night.

We tried to tell you just how bad things were for Washington right now, that, according to a coach that had faced the Huskies this season, “they were so ******* bad defensively” that “they looked like they hadn’t been coached.”

That’s not a good look for anyone, let alone a head coach that has missed the NCAA tournament the last five seasons despite having five first round picks come through his program during that time.

Which is why you shouldn’t have been surprised that the Huskies were gutted by No. 8 Gonzaga, losing 98-71 in a game that was never competitive at any point. And, given that Markelle Fultz, the potential No. 1 pick in the 2017 NBA Draft, is on the Washington roster, it’s the nightmare scenario.

So.

We need to start talking about the elephant in the room, because there’s a lot to unpack here:

Just how hot is Lorenzo Romar’s seat?

RELATED: What has gone wrong with Washington this season?

The simple answer? Scalding. Romar is one of just three Power 5 head coaches that have missed the NCAA tournament for five straight seasons without having to find new employment. You don’t get six tournament-less years and survive, not at this level.

But there’s more to the conversation that simply relaying the number of first round picks he’s failed to get to the Big Dance.

Four of those five first round picks played in two different seasons, meaning that in the other three seasons, Washington was led by C.J. Wilcox, the No. 28 pick in 2014, and Nigel Williams-Goss. In 2011-12, Washington had Terrence Ross, then a sophomore, and freshman Tony Wroten on the roster. They started slowly out of the gate, going 7-6 in non-conference play, before winning the Pac-12 regular season title outright. They missed out on the NCAA tournament in large part due to the fact that the conference as a whole went 1-29 against the RPI top 50; only two Pac-12 teams earned bids that season. Ross and Wroten both left after the season.

The other year that Washington had two first round picks was in 2015-16, which both Marquese Chriss and Dejounte Murray shocked everyone by becoming one-and-done talents. Both were drafted almost entirely on potential; Chriss was clueless defensively, fouling out of 15 of the 34 games he played, while Murray’s jumper left him a long way away from impacting an NBA game. The conversation about this Washington team would be totally different right now if Fultz had those two on the floor with him.

Part of the reason those two were able to leave early was because of Romar’s coaching style – he lets his most talented players play regardless of whether or not they’re making mistakes – and in part because the 2016 draft was bad.

Romar is, in part, a victim of circumstance, even if he dug himself into this whole in the first place.

RELATED: For Michael Porter Jr., Washington was all about family first

Washington is still paying Romar a relatively small amount. After the 2010 season, when he led the Huskies to his third Sweet 16, Romar got a 10-year contract extension worth $1.7 million annually. It runs three more years after this season and comes with a $3.2 million buyout, which isn’t massive but is expensive for an athletic department that projected to operate at a $15 million deficit in 2016. Then you have to consider what it would cost to hire an upgrade on Romar.

For comparison’s sake, Tubby Smith made $1.8 million in 2015-16 at Texas Tech and got a raise to more than $3 million-a-year for the next five years at Memphis despite the fact that he wasn’t the guy the school initially targeted. But Brad Underwood will make $1.2 million a year for five years at Oklahoma State, which makes him the lowest-paid coach in the conference.

If new Washington AD Jennifer Cohen wants to hire a new coach, she’d certainly be able to afford a replacement that we be, at the least, a respectable name, but there’s no guarantee that a replacement is going to have any kind of success there. Romar is far and away the most successful coach Washington has ever had. He’s been to six NCAA tournament and three Sweet 16s in his 15 seasons. The Huskies reached the Final Four in 1953, and in the nearly 50 years between that day and the day that Romar was hired, Washington reached just six NCAA tournaments and two Sweet 16s.

Romar is not having the same level of success that he had when guys like Brandon Roy and Isaiah Thomas were on his roster, but Washington is still somewhat relevant due to the pros that are coming through Seattle. There’s no guarantee that any replacement will make Washington more likely to get to the NCAA tournament, but at least Husky fans get Markelle Fultz this season and Michael Porter Jr., a top five prospect and the son of current U-Dub assistant coach Michael Porter Sr., next season.

That’s certainly more enjoyable than rooting for, say, Washington State.

And it’s certainly a factor that Cohen has to consider. Porter clearly picked Washington because Romar, his godfather, is part of the family.

“As we continue to look where we’re going and where we think we can go and what our plan is, then I’ll have more information about it,” Cohen said at her introductory press conference. “But absolutely, I’m 100 percent behind him right now.”

And if Washington can’t get back to the Big Dance?

“We haven’t gotten to that point yet,” she said. “So we’ll cross that bridge when we get there.”

CBT Podcast: ESPN’s Dana O’Neil discusses her book about Villanova

Villanova head coach Jay Wright celebrates as he cuts down the net after the NCAA Final Four tournament college basketball championship game against North Carolina, Monday, April 4, 2016, in Houston. Villanova won 77-74. (AP Photo/Charlie Neibergall)
AP Photo/Charlie Neibergall
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On today’s podcast, I was joined by ESPN’s Dana O’Neil, one of my personal favorite writers who has penned a book chronicling how Jay Wright was able to build the Villanova program into a national title winner.

Dana spent seven years as a beat-writer for the Wildcats before making the move to ESPN, and she has some great stories about how the book came together and, frankly, how that Villanova team came together.

It’s a little “Inside Baseball”, but it was a fun conversation about a book that you know is going to be really good.

You can subscribe to the podcast on iTunes, Stitcher and Audioboom

VIDEO: World War II Veteran play anthem on harmonica before Pearl Harbor Invitational

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Peter DuPre’, a veteran of World War II, opened last night’s Pearl Harbor Invitational between Seton Hall and California with a moving rendition of the National Anthem, which he played on his harmonica.