Lance Williams

College basketball doesn’t need four games at once

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I love when Michigan State athletic director Mark Hollis starts coming up with ideas, especially when it comes to college hoops.

Generally speaking, the sport is better off when he gets to brainstorming.

He got the Spartans out to Germany to take on UConn this season. He’s the brainchild behind the 16 team supertournament being discussed for the 2017 season. He came up with the idea of playing a basketball game on an aircraft carrier, and while that looked pretty dumb in hindsight this year with all three games being cancelled or postponed, last year’s inaugural game would have been legendary and memorable had we let it be.

His newest idea, as illustrated by Raphielle Johnson here, is a bit too much. Hollis wants to play four games, simultaneously, inside the Jerry Dome in Dallas. Seriously. He wants to set up four courts, bring in eight teams, and have them tip off every 15 minutes.

It’s an AAU tournament.

Nevermind the fact that whistles on court one will make players stop on court two. Forget that a substitution buzzer on court three could confuse a player on court four who thought he still had five seconds left on the shot clock. Let’s ignore the fact that we’re turning a major college basketball event into the setting of an AAU tournament at the same time that the media establishment complains about AAU basketball having too much influence on today’s game.

The most important thing to note, however, is that college basketball’s season-opening is as good as any sport this side of the NFL. Look at what we had this year: Kentucky and Maryland opening up the Barclays Center in Brooklyn in front of Jay-Z a couple of hours after Michigan State and UConn tipped off on a military base in Germany. At the same time, there would have been three marquee matchups on national television between tournament teams had we realized earlier that playing basketball games outside in November was not a good idea.

That was just the start. Three days later, Marathon Madness went into full effect, with 24 straight hours of hoops being capped off with the Champions Classic, which featured Duke, Kentucky, Kansas and Michigan State all squaring off. When that ended, we had a day to catch our breath before the preseason tournament swung into full gear. For the next ten days, you were able to find meaningful college basketball games on national networks from noon until well past midnight.

You want to argue that the Maui Invitational was watered down this year and I won’t argue with you, but you can’t tell me that this shot didn’t get you excited for the season to come. The DirecTV Classic might have been a bust this year, but I think that the Legends Classic — complete with UCLA’s collapse and the overtime thriller between Indiana and Georgetown — made up for it. You might not have paid attention to the Old Spice Classic, but I guarantee you knew all about the loaded Battle 4 Atlantis.

And don’t forget about the ACC/Big Ten Challenge.

If Hollis wants to pack four games into one day in one stadium, I’m all for it. If he wants to set up courts at either end of the Jerry Dome so that the instant we get back from the commercial break after the final buzzer sounds in one game we can tip off the next, I’m down for that as well.

The more attention that can be driven to college hoops in November, the better. But we don’t need to dilute the product on the floor just to get some publicity when there is already plenty of attention being paid to the good, quality basketball being played at the beginning of the year.

What’s killing college basketball’s regular season isn’t necessarily a lack of good games or marquee matchups or passionate fans.

It’s that the talent continually flees to the NBA leaving a mediocre product on the floor. This issue was helped when coaches were allowed contact with their teams in the summer, meaning that early season games weren’t as sloppy as in year’s past.

But if Mark Hollis truly wants to make the game better and more popular, he’ll figure out a way for us to avoid nationally televised games that end 37-36 or 46-38 instead of worrying about how we can further make college hoops strictly a source of entertainment rather than a sporting event.

Self pays freshman Jackson a major compliment

Josh Jackson, from Napa, Calif.,, dunks over Nancy Mulkey, from Cypress, Texas, as he competes in the slam dunk contest during the McDonald's All-American Jam Fest, Monday, March 28, 2016, in Chicago. (AP Photo/Matt Marton)
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Freshman phenom production under Bill Self has been something of a contentious topic. Many fault the coach, who has won one national title and 12-straight Big 12 championships, for not developing one-and-done talent to their fullest potential during their single-season stays in Lawrence. Cliff Alexander and Cheick Diallo are Exhibit 1-A and 1-B for this argument in recent years.

Whatever outside criticism there is (Andrew Wiggins did go No. 1 overall just 2 years ago, after all), Self isn’t shying away from hyping the latest freshman with big expectations to come to KU. When asked who the greatest athlete of all-time is at the school’s annual Tradition Night last week, Self had a simple, if tongue-and-cheek, response.

“I’ll say Josh Jackson,” Self said of the the 6-foot-8 shooting guard ranked No. 1 in his class, according to Lawrence Journal-World.

With others answering with the likes of Michael Jordan and Muhammed Ali, it’s pretty fair to say Self was playing to the crowd with the answer, but it’s still telling that he was willing to deliver such a sound bite, even if it was before a welcoming audience. Self didn’t try to seriously depress expectations for Wiggins, a player Jackson is often compared to, and it looks like he won’t for Jackson as well.

Jackson, though, won’t have the burden Wiggins had as there’s one of the country’s best backcourts in Frank Mason II and Devonte Graham to help shoulder the workload for the Jayhawks.

 

ACC non-commital on HB2 stance

John Swofford
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With North Carolina unwilling to rescind their controversial so-called bathroom bill, the NBA has withdrawn its All-Star Game from the state this year and numerous high-profile music acts have canceled performances as a result.

The ACC is declining to join them with a hard-line, or really any, position.

“We don’t want to damage our league with any premature decisions,” commissioner John Swofford said on The David Glenn Show. “We’ll just see how it plays out.”

The ACC, of course, has quite the presence in the state with North Carolina, N.C. State, Duke and Wake Forest all in the Tar Heel State. Swofford’s comments are sure to draw the interest of the LGBT community, which has roundly been critical of the bill, which requires people to use the bathroom which corresponds to the gender on their birth certificate, and has recently been active in college athletics, opposing the Big 12’s potential inclusion of BYU in its expansion plans over concerns of the Church of Latter Day Saints school’s honor code.

North Carolina’s bill has also drawn the eye of the NCAA, which is requiring potential championship sights to provide information on local anti-discrimination laws.

One of the loudest voices in the ACC, Duke coach Mike Krzyzewski, has come out against the law.

“It’s an embarrassing bill,” Coach K said last month.

The Champions Classic renewed through 2019

LAWRENCE, KS - FEBRUARY 27: Bill Self head coach of the Kansas Jayhawks claps for his team as they celebrate winning the Big 12 Conference Championship after they defeated Texas Tech Red Raiders 67-58 at Allen Fieldhouse on February 27, 2016 in Lawrence, Kansas. With the win, Kansas clinched its 12th straight conference championship. (Photo by Ed Zurga/Getty Images)
Ed Zurga/Getty Images
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The Champions Classic is back, baby!!!

On Wednesday, the four schools that participate in the event — Kentucky, Duke, Kansas and Michigan State — announced that they have signed deals to extend the life of the doubleheader for another three years.

This is terrific news. The Champions Classic is always the best early-season event of the season, an annual double-header that always ends up putting together two of the best non-conference games in packed NBA arenas. This year, it features Duke, the consensus preseason No. 1 team in the country, squaring off with Kansas, who is a consensus top three team with the No. 1 freshman in the class, Josh Jackson, on their roster, in one game.

The other game? Kentucky, the third consensus top three team nationally, going up against Tom Izzo and Michigan State, who will be, at worst, a top 15 team in the preseason polls.

So yeah, we’re going to get a pair of sensational basketball games in Madison Square Garden on Nov. 15th. MSG also just so happens to be the best arena to watch a great neutral site basketball game.

It’s going to be awesome.

There’s only one possible way to make it better: turn it into a two-day event, with the winners squaring off for the Champions Classic title the following night.

Make it happen.

Anyway, here’s the schedule:

Nov. 14, 2017 (United Center, Chicago)
Kansas vs. Kentucky
Duke vs. Michigan State

Nov. 13, 2018 (Bankers Life Fieldhouse, Indianapolis)
Michigan State vs. Kansas
Duke vs. Kentucky

Nov. 12, 2019 (Madison Square Garden, New York)
Kansas vs. Duke
Michigan State vs. Kentucky

Hartford makes smart decision to allow ‘Pancake’ Thomas transfer

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Hartford coach John Gallagher, AP Photo
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Another talented graduate transfer has hit the market.

Cleveland ‘Pancake’ Thomas — that’s a helluva name, isn’t it? — has been granted a release by Hartford and will be allowed to transfer to another program for his fifth season.

“Our biggest priority for Cleveland was that he graduate from the University of Hartford with a valuable degree,” Hartford head coach John Gallagher said in a statement released to ESPN after some speculation that Thomas wasn’t going to be given a release. “That happened. Beyond wishing him the very best, we don’t comment on other program’s players. We are very excited about our group and the upcoming season.”

The term “release” is needed here because Thomas, a 6-foot-3 guard who averaged 18.9 points and shot 42.6 percent from three this past season, spent his first two years of eligibility at New Mexico. A graduate transfer exception is granted to any player making their first transfer after receiving an undergraduate degree. But since Pancake had already transferred once, he was only eligible to apply for a graduate transfer waiver, which the school he is leaving must support.

Remember the saga of Todd O’Brien? He tried to leave St. Joseph’s to spend his fifth-year at UAB but made headlines everywhere when Phil Martelli wouldn’t let it happen? That’s because O’Brien had started his career at Bucknell and needed Martelli to support the waiver.

Gallagher could have done the same to Pancake.

He made the right decision not to — Martelli has enough coaching cache to withstand the onslaught on criticism he received, I’m not sure that is true for Gallagher — even if it will result in Thomas playing elsewhere, hence the cold-hearted nature of that statement.

Anyway, Thomas never averaged more than 3.9 points at New Mexico, so while he’s a tantalizing prospect for programs that are dying for perimeter depth and shooting, this isn’t exactly a kid that’s going to launch himself into the NBA Draft’s first round by jumping up to a higher level.

Shawn Forrest named assistant coach for Jankovich at SMU

LAS VEGAS, NV - DECEMBER 22:  Head coach Larry Brown (L) and associate head coach Tim Jankovich of the Southern Methodist Mustangs look on during the team's game against the Kent State Golden Flashes during the 2015 Continental Tire Las Vegas Classic basketball tournament at the Orleans Arena on December 22, 2015 in Las Vegas, Nevada. Southern Methodist won 90-74. The game marks Brown's return from a nine-game suspension.  (Photo by Ethan Miller/Getty Images)
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DALLAS (AP) Shawn Forrest has been named an assistant basketball coach at SMU, his third school since the end of last season.

Mustangs coach Tim Jankovich announced Forrest’s hiring Tuesday.

Forrest spent the past three seasons as an assistant at Western Kentucky before head coach Ray Harper resigned. Forrest was named a UTSA assistant in May, but two weeks later left for Louisiana Tech before the unexpected opening at SMU.

Jankovich was SMU’s associate head coach before the abrupt resignation last month of Hall of Fame coach Larry Brown. Forrest fills the open assistant spot created on the staff when Jankovich was promoted to head coach.

Before Western Kentucky, Forrest was an assistant coach at Louisiana-Lafayette, North Texas, Arkansas State and Florida A&M.