Do inter-league challenges mean anything?

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I’m not going to play coy and ask why we have these inter-league challenge series. It’s about money and television rights like everything else we have in college sports these days. For me, that ship of disillusionment sailed years ago.

But we, as consumers, have bought into the spectacle, providing the impetus for the TV and the money.

Do we honestly still care? Does an inter-league challenge mean anything any more?

There was a lot of cachet to the ACC/Big Ten challenge and the SEC/Big East invitational when they first started to appear on the schedule a few years back. These were long-established leagues with regional character. The basketball played by a conference like the Big Ten could be said to have a certain flavor, as could that played by the ACC. That began to erode even when the ACC brought in teams like Miami and Virginia Tech from one of the old-school Big East raids, but it will make even less sense when Maryland jumps to the Big Ten and the ACC brings in Syracuse, Pitt and Louisville. Quite aside from the fact that the Big East won’t be an appealing dance partner for the SEC any more, there’s hardly any bragging rights at stake with such a motley assemblage of league-hoppers in a new, passionless marriage.

At least the Big 12 and (then) Pac-10 canceled their series in 2011, sparing us the cognitive dissonance of watching a West Virginia/Colorado pairing this season.

These new leagues will be like seasons of The Real World or Big Brother. A bunch of cocky strangers chosen by a committee and thrown into a fancy house, with cameras trained on them in hopes they’ll do something interesting.

Athletic leagues are now little more than well-marketed corporations. Yamaha makes snowmobiles, semiconductors, stereo receivers, grand pianos and archery equipment. None of those things have anything to do with one another in the real world, other than the fact that the same company puts them in boxes, stamps a logo on them, and trades them for consumer dollars. There’s no meaning to their association beyond that. Sound familiar?

Will Maryland play Pitt in an upcoming ACC/Big Ten challenge? That would be like me asking neighbors from down the street to play flag football in my yard, and then declaring my family the winner because it was played on my grass.

I’d wager I love college basketball more than the next 1,000 people I’ll speak to (fellow CBT writers excluded), but conference pride is starting to feel hollow, meaningless and self-deluding. SEC fans crowed about the possibility of an all-SEC national title game in football this year (before that possibility faded), but would they have been so happy if it had been Mizzou vs. Texas A&M? or was the notion enticing because it was “old school” SEC teams in contention?  

I’ll continue to root for my favorite laundry (as Jerry Seinfeld pointedly tagged sports fandom) but I can’t bring myself to care much which stainless steel industrial washing machine it ends up in.

Eric Angevine is the editor of Storming the Floor. He tweets @stfhoops.

Auburn’s Danjel Purifoy regains eligibility for next season

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Despite having two expected key contributors in forward Danjel Purifoy and center Austin Wiley ruled ineligible for competition in the aftermath of the still-ongoing FBI investigation into corruption and bribes in basketball, Auburn managed to win 26 games and a share of the SEC regular season title.

Tuesday night it was announced that Purifoy has regained his eligibility for the 2018-19 season, with the NCAA ruling that he will have to sit out the first 30 percent of the team’s schedule before returning to action. Wiley will also be eligible to return next season.

“We worked diligently with the NCAA on behalf of both our student-athletes who were ineligible this season,” Auburn president Steven Leath said in a statement. “The process was arduous, but it was important that we do everything we could to put Danjel Purifoy and Austin Wiley in the best position to resume their Auburn basketball careers. We’re happy for them and their teammates and coaches.”

Last season the 6-foot-7 Purifoy started 25 of the 29 games he played in, averaging 11.5 points and 4.7 rebounds in 28.7 minutes per game. Purifoy, one of Auburn’s top perimeter shooters on a team that finished 18-14, shot nearly 37 percent from three on the season.

Southwest Airlines provided fan with live updates of Xavier loss

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For many who have taken a flight, the experience of using in-flight wi-fi can be a maddening one. While the internet connection works well for some, for others it can be equal to flushing one’s $8-$10 down the toilet. And that’s for simple tasks such as checking in on social media or checking email. Streaming video? Forget about it.

One Xavier fan ran into this issue while on a Southwest Airlines flight Sunday night, when all she wanted to do was watch her Musketeers take on Florida State with a spot in the Sweet 16 on the line.

Renée Stoeckel was sure to tag the official Twitter account for Southwest in discussing her situation, and luckily for her the person manning the account came through with the score update.

Mike would continue to provide periodic score updates during the second half, which ended with the Musketeers suffering a crushing loss to the Seminoles.

You the real MVP, Mike.

h/t A.V. Club, Awful Announcing

Top 16 Players of the Sweet 16

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After the mayhem of the opening weekend, the NCAA tournament is down to a sweet 16. We’ve already ranked the remaining teams, and in this space we’re going to rank some of the top players based upon who we’d want on our team.

1. Marvin Bagley III, Duke

Bagley’s in the running for being the top overall pick in this summer’s NBA Draft (should he decide to enter, of course), but there’s still business to attend to in the NCAA tournament. Averaging 21.2 points and 11.3 rebounds per game on the season, Bagley shot 75.0 percent from the field and accounted for 22.0 points and 8.0 rebounds in wins over Iona and Rhode Island. With his size and athleticism Bagley’s a tough matchup for opposing defenses, and Syracuse will certainly account for his presence when the two teams meet Friday night.

2. Jalen Brunson, Villanova

Brunson’s opening weekend was a bit of a mixed bag, as foul trouble placed the national player of the year candidate on the bench for a significant portion of the first half in Villanova’s win over Alabama. Donte DiVincenzo and Mikal Bridges picked up the slack in that one, but there’s no denying the importance of Brunson. From his skill set, which affords Villanova the ability to play though its point guard in the post, to his intangibles there aren’t many players more valuable than Brunson.

3. Devonte’ Graham, Kansas

The Big 12 Player of the Year didn’t shoot the ball particularly well this past weekend, shooting 32.3 percent from the field and 7-for-19 from three. But Graham still managed to average 7.5 assists and 2.0 steals per game in wins over Penn and Seton Hall. Kansas will need Graham to shoot the ball better this week in Omaha, and he’s more than capable of rebounding in that regard while continuing to put his teammates in spots where they can be most successful.

4. Wendell Carter Jr., Duke

The 6-foot-10 freshman offers up a quality counter to Bagley in the Duke front court, as his presence in the post affords Bagley the freedom to play both inside and out. Last weekend Cater averaged 11.0 points, 7.0 rebounds and 2.5 assists per game, making ten of his 15 shots from the field. If there’s one thing Carter will need to change this week it would be getting to the foul line, as he attempted two total in the wins over Iona and Rhode Island.

5. Keenan Evans, Texas Tech

Remember when former North Carolina guard Marcus Paige received the nickname “Second Half Marcus” for his work in the game’s final 20 minutes? For as good as Evans has been throughout the season, his play in the second half of wins over Stephen F. Austin and Florida is a big reason why the Red Raiders are in the Sweet 16. After going off for 19 second-half points in Texas Tech’s win over SFA, Evans followed that up with 14 second-half points against Florida.

6. Mikal Bridges, Villanova

Throughout the course of the season Bridges has shown that he has the potential to be more than the “three and D” guy he’s been projected as at the next level. After putting up a respectable 13 points and six rebounds in the win over Radford, Bridges was even better against Alabama. The 6-foot-7 wing tallied 23 points on Saturday, with the majority of those coming during an early second half run that essentially served as the game’s “knockout blow.”

7. Shai Gilgeous-Alexander, Kentucky

After beginning the season as a reserve, Gilgeous-Alexander has developed into being Kentucky’s most indispensable player. The 6-foot-6 freshman was outstanding in wins over Davidson and Buffalo, averaging 23.0 points, 7.0 rebounds, 6.5 assists and 3.5 steals per game. Gilgeous-Alexander shot 60.0 percent from the field in those games, making the sound decisions with the basketball that Kentucky needs if they’re to continue to advance.

8. Carsen Edwards, Purdue

Admittedly Edwards did not have his best weekend in Detroit, shooting a combined 8-for-29 from the field and 4-for-15 in wins over Cal-State Fullerton and Butler. But if Purdue is to reach the Final Four for the first time since 1980 Edwards will be key, especially with Isaac Haas dealing with a fractured right elbow. It can be argued that Edwards is Purdue’s most dynamic offensive talent, which will be key in the Boilermakers’ matchup with Texas Tech.

9. Jevon Carter, West Virginia

By now Carter’s defensive reputation is well-known, but don’t sleep on his offensive abilities either. In wins over Murray State and Marshall, the senior point guard shot 14-for-27 from the field and averaged 24.5 points, 6.5 assists, 5.0 steals and 4.5 rebounds per game.

10. Gabe DeVoe, Clemson

DeVoe is one of the big reasons why Brad Brownell’s team has managed to not only withstand the season-ending injury suffered by Donte Grantham but reach the Sweet 16. DeVoe scored 22 points in both of the Tigers’ wins in San Diego (shooting 18-for-28 from the field), and in the blowout of 4-seed Auburn he also had five rebounds and five assists.

11. Tyler Davis, Texas A&M

Robert Williams may be the Aggies’ most-discussed player from an NBA Draft standpoint, but Davis is the team’s best front court offensive weapon. The 6-foot-10 junior followed up his 14-point, 15-rebound performance against Providence with 18 points, nine rebounds and three blocks in the win over North Carolina.

12. Caleb Martin, Nevada

Both Martin twins made big plays to ensure the Wolf Pack passage into the Sweet 16, but it’s Caleb who was named the Mountain West’s top newcomer and player of the year. Caleb Martin’s averaging 18.8 points, 5.4 rebounds and 2.6 assists per game on the season, shooting 45.3 percent from the field and 40.1 percent from three.

13. Kevin Knox, Kentucky

The 6-foot-9 freshman certainly has his moments when instead of using his tools to make things happen offensively he settles, firing up tough shots. But there’s no denying the fact that Knox can put up points, as he did in scoring 25 points in Kentucky’s win over Davidson. With Kansas State’s perimeter attack able to get after opponents defensively, Kentucky will need a big game from Knox Thursday night.

14. Sagaba Konate, West Virginia

Why’s West Virginia able to get after opponents defensively in the open floor? A big reason for that is the presence of Konate, who’s done an exceptional job of protecting the rim. At 6-foot-8 Konate may not have the height that some would expect from an elite shot blocker, but he’s got the strength, timing and instincts to cover for his teammates when they’re beaten on the perimeter.

15. Zach Norvell Jr., Gonzaga

While some inexperienced players can shrink from the spotlight in high-pressure situations, others rise to the occasion. That’s exactly what Norvell did in wins over UNCG and Ohio State, with his three giving the Bulldogs the lead for good against the Spartans in the first round. Two days later Norvell found his groove shooting-wise, making six three pointers and scoring 28 points to go along with 12 rebounds and four assists.

16. Barry Brown, Kansas State

With first team All-Big 12 forward Dean Wade out due to a foot injury, Brown stepped up as Kansas State picked up wins over Creighton and UMBC. Brown scored 18 points in both of those games, and while the field goal percentage (37.0 percent) wasn’t great he did manage to go 15-for-18 from the foul line.

One player from each team not mentioned above: Terence Mann, Florida State; Clayton Custer, Loyola-Chicago; Muhammad-Ali Abdur-Rahkman, Michigan; Tyus Battle, Syracuse.

Texas freshman Mo Bamba declares for NBA draft

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Texas freshman Mo Bamba announced on Tuesday that he will be declaring for the NBA Draft, which comes as no major surprise to anyone that has been paying attention.

“After an incredibly rewarding year at The University of Texas, I will not be returning to school as I will be entering the NBA Draft,” Bamba said in a statement released by the program.

Bamba is a projected top ten pick in this year’s NBA Draft that has a chance to go in the top five. He was always going to be a one-and-done player. A 6-foot-11 center with a 7-foot-9 wingspan, he averaged 12.9 points, 10.5 rebounds and 3.7 blocks per game during his one season with the Longhorns.

New Ole Miss coach Kermit Davis: My team will ‘respect the flag and the National Anthem’

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New Ole Miss head coach Kermit Davis didn’t exactly get his tenure off on the right foot on Monday evening.

At his introductory press conference, Davis had this to say about the way that he’s going to run his program: “What is Ole Miss Basketball going to look like? It’s going to be relentless, athletic, explosive, a team that’s going to have to play on and on and on to beat. It’s going to be a team that’s going to be unselfish. We’re going to play fast and smart in transition. We’re going to try to get easy baskets. We’re going to try to play with great body language. We’re going to be a respectful team that respects the flag and the National Anthem. All those things from culture is what we’re about. It’s who we’re going to be.”

At Ole Miss, Davis is going to be recruiting young men that, for the most part, are African-American, which is precisely the demographic that has dealt with the institutionalized racism and police brutality that sparked the Black Lives Matter movement and spawned Colin Kaepernick’s initial protest.

When you’re already at a recruiting disadvantage because you’re Ole Miss, giving every other coach in the conference ammo to use against you on the recruiting trail — Do I need to spell that one out for you? — is probably not the best idea.

But that’s neither here nor there.

Because we’re talking about how he’s building a program that respects the flag and the National Anthem, right?

The mascot for the school that he’s now coaching is, quite literally, named after confederate soldiers. If he’s such a proud American that he cannot tolerate black men protesting against institutionalized racism within our borders, how can he coach a team named after the soldiers that tried to tear this country apart 150 years ago just because they wanted to be able to own those black men?

If that’s not hypocrisy at its finest, I don’t know what is.