Creighton/Saint Mary’s headlines Ramada Bracketbusters event

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The Ramada Bracketbusters event is one that’s had its fair share of detractors in recent years, and this will be the final season of the event. While the event did help mid-major programs from a scheduling standpoint there was also the feeling that Bracketbusters became a bit too bloated, and the games tended to serve more as an elimination game than anything.

But regardless of how fans may feel about the event there are some very important games on the slate. Here are the five most important games on the Ramada Bracketbusters schedule.

1) Creighton at Saint Mary’s (Saturday, 6:00 p.m. on ESPN) 

Without a doubt this is the marquee game of the event, with both teams in position to greatly benefit from a victory. Creighton is probably a safe bet to get to the NCAA tournament as an at-large barring collapse, but one can never be too sure. Doug McDermott gets the national attention but the Bluejays don’t lack for weapons on the offensive end of the floor.

As for Saint Mary’s, with their best non-conference victory coming at the expense of Harvard the Gaels need this one. Matthew Dellavedova and company may get a third shot at Gonzaga in the WCC tournament title game, and between now and that possible March 11 date this is the best opportunity for Saint Mary’s to improve their resume.

2) North Dakota State at Akron (Friday, 7:00 p.m. on ESPN2) 

North Dakota State isn’t in the running for an at-large berth, ans with Taylor Braun out with a broken foot the goal for the Bison is to have him back in time for the Summit League tournament. As for Akron, Keith Dambrot’s team has won 17 straight games and they’ve got realistic hopes of receiving an at-large bid should they not win the MAC tournament.

Zeke Marshall is one of the best front court players in the event, and overall the Zips have the depth and experience needed to make waves in the NCAA tournament. This is a big five-day stretch for Akron, who visits Ohio on Wednesday night in a critical MAC battle, and they can help themselves from a seeding standpoint with two wins.

3) Detroit at Wichita State (Saturday, 4:00 p.m. on ESPN2) 

Currently leading the Missouri Valley race Wichita State is in good position to grab an at-large bid to the NCAA tournament should they need one. Detroit on the other hand will need to win the Horizon League’s automatic bid, as they did last season, if they’re to reach the Big Dance. Ray McCallum Jr. leads the way for a Detroit attack that’s both experienced and explosive, with multiple players capable of going off for 30+ points on any given night. Gregg Marshall’s Shockers will need to defend at the level that they have for much of the season, and they don’t lack for experience either. It will be interesting to see how Detroit deals with one of the loudest environments in college basketball.

4) Ohio at Belmont (Saturday, 10:00 p.m. on ESPN2) 

The best point guard matchup in Bracketbusters may be the one between South Dakota State’s Nate Wolters and Murray State’s Isaiah Canaan, but this one isn’t too shabby either. Ohio’s D.J. Cooper takes on Belmont’s Kerron Johnson, with both players being just as good when it comes to scoring as they are setting up their teammates.

Both the Bobcats and Bruins have multiple offensive weapons, and both have been very good defensively when it comes to forcing turnovers. A win for either team would be a valuable Top 100 victory, which can only help from a seeding standpoint should either (or both) reach the NCAA tournament.

5) Stephen F. Austin at Long Beach State (Friday, 9:00 p.m. on ESPNU)  

While the Southland-leading Lumberjacks do have an impressive 22-3 record it’s important to note two things: four of those wins came over non-Division I opponents (which makes them 18-3 for selection committee evaluation purposes) and they have an overall strength of schedule that ranks 313th according to warrennolan.com. With that in mind, Danny Kaspar’s team can definitely use a win at Long Beach State to help their seeding prospects.

The 49ers played a brutal non-conference schedule without key transfers Tony Freeland and Keala King, and the combination of those two with Mike Caffey and James Ennis will make things difficult for a Stephen F. Austin team allowing just 49.7 points per game.

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

Brad Underwood pokes fun at his version of ‘Take Me Out to the Ball Game’

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On Thursday afternoon, Brad Underwood, the new head coach of Illinois, was invited to Wrigley Field to throw out the first pitch and sing ‘Take Me Out To The Ball Game’ during the seventh inning stretch.

While the ceremonial first pitch went well, his rendition of the ballpark classic did not go as smoothly.

Underwood was at least able to poke fun at his vocals following his performance.

“I’d rather coach naked than sing in front of 40,000,” Underwood said afterward. “There’s a reason my wife won’t let me sing in church.”

Underwood took over Illinois in mid-March following a one-year stint at Oklahoma State. He had previously led Stephen F. Austin to three NCAA Tournament appearances in as many seasons.

 

AAC plan men’s basketball tourney at new Texas arena in ’20

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FORT WORTH, Texas (AP) — The American Athletic Conference will hold its men’s basketball tournament in a new arena in North Texas in 2020.

AAC Commissioner Mike Aresco announced Wednesday that Dickies Arena in Fort Worth has been selected to host the tournament for three years, starting in March 2020. That is only four months after the facility is scheduled to open.

On the same day of a groundbreaking ceremony for the 14,000-seat arena last April, the NCAA announced that first- and second-round games of the 2022 NCAA men’s basketball tournament would be held there. The NCAA women’s gymnastics championships are scheduled there from 2020-22.

The closest AAC school to the new arena is SMU, with its campus in Dallas about 40 miles away.

Orlando will host the 2018 AAC tournament, which moves to Memphis in 2019.

After hearing, UNC now awaits NCAA ruling in academic case

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North Carolina has wrapped up a two-day hearing with an NCAA infractions committee panel that will decide whether the school faces penalties tied to its multi-year academic scandal.

Now the case goes into yet another holding pattern.

School officials spent much of Wednesday in a closed-door meeting with committee members in Nashville, Tennessee. They returned Thursday morning for a second session lasting about 4½ hours with the panel that will determine whether UNC faces penalties such as fines, probation or vacated wins and championships.

NCAA spokeswoman Stacey Osburn confirmed the hearing was complete but both sides were mum afterward.

Osburn didn’t comment further because the panel must deliberate before issuing a ruling, which typically comes weeks to months after a hearing. UNC athletics spokesman Steve Kirschner said the school wouldn’t have any comments about the hearing either.

Getting through the hearing process was a major step toward resolution in a delay-filled case tied to irregular courses, though there’s still the potential for the case to linger beyond a ruling if UNC decides to appeal or pursue legal action. The school faces five top-level charges, including lack of institutional control.

The focus is independent study-style courses in the formerly named African and Afro-American Studies (AFAM) department. The courses were misidentified as lecture classes that didn’t meet and required a research paper or two for typically high grades.

In a 2014 investigation, former U.S. Justice Department official Kenneth Wainstein estimated more than 3,100 students were affected between 1993 and 2011, with athletes making up roughly half the enrollments.

The NCAA has said UNC used those courses to help keep athletes eligible.

The case grew as an offshoot of a 2010 probe of the football program that resulted in sanctions in March 2012. The NCAA reopened an investigation in summer 2014, filed charges in a May 2015, revised them in April 2016 and then again in December.

Most notably, the NCAA originally treated some of the academic issues as improper benefits by saying athletes received access to the courses and other assistance generally unavailable to non-athletes. The NCAA removed that charge in the second Notice of Allegations (NOA), then revamped and re-inserted it into the third NOA.

UNC has challenged the NCAA’s jurisdiction, saying its accreditation agency — which sanctioned the school with a year of probation — was the proper authority and that the NCAA was overreaching in what should be an academic matter .

The NCAA enforcement staff countered in a July filing: “The issues at the heart of this case are clearly the NCAA’s business.”

UNC has argued non-athletes had access to the courses and athletes didn’t receive special treatment. It has also challenged Wainstein’s estimate of athlete enrollments, saying Wainstein counted athletes who were no longer team members and putting the figure at less than 30 percent.

UNC chancellor Carol Folt, athletic director Bubba Cunningham, men’s basketball coach Roy Williams and women’s basketball coach Sylvia Hatchell attended both hearing days. Football coach Larry Fedora, who wasn’t at UNC at the time in question, attended Wednesday’s session.

None of the coaches are charged with a violation. But football and men’s basketball are referenced in the broad-based improper benefits charge tied to athlete access to the irregular courses, while women’s basketball is tied to a charge focused on a former professor and academic counselor Jan Boxill providing improper assistance on assignments.

Boxill and Deborah Crowder, who is also charged individually in the case, attended Wednesday with their attorneys but didn’t return Thursday. Crowder is a former AFAM office administrator who enrolled students, distributed assignments and graded many of the papers in irregular courses.

The infractions panel is chaired by Southeastern Conference Commissioner Greg Sankey and includes former U.S. Attorney General Alberto Gonzales.

Kansas’ forward Dedric Lawson accused of walking out on $88 bar tab

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Dedric Lawson has been accused of walking out on an $88 bar tab, according to a police report obtained by the Memphis Commercial-Appeal.

Here’s what allegedly happened: He was at a bar in Overton Square in Memphis at 1:30 a.m. when he was handed a bill for more than $88 by a waitress. That waitress, who said she went to high school with Lawson, told police that he walked out of the bar and got into a Nissan Maxima and left without paying the bill.

Dedric has denied the allegation. Appearing on 92.9 FM, an ESPN radio station in Memphis, he said that he ordered two drinks worth a total of $10.50 and gave the waitress $12, but she wanted him to pay for drinks that were ordered by other people for other people. He did not order or drink those drinks, Lawson said, so he did not want to pay for them.

Lawson transferred from Memphis to Kansas this offseason. He was suspended by the Jayhawks for an altercation in practice last month and left home from the team’s trip to Italy earlier this month. He averaged 19.9 points and 9.2 boards for the Tigers last season, and will be sitting out this year as a transfer at Kansas.

Late on Wednesday, another former Tiger, Joe Jackson, was arrested on felony drug and gun charges.

College programs in Barcelona safe after terror attack

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August is the time that college basketball programs take their overseas trips, and one of the most popular destinations for that travel is Barcelona.

On Thursday evening, tragedy struck in one of the city’s most popular tourist locations, as a van driven down Las Ramblas struck pedestrians. Local authorities have confirmed there are fatalities and are terming the incident a “terror attack”.

RELATED: NBC News has the latest on the incident

At least five programs are currently in Barcelona: Clemson, Arizona, Oregon State, Grand Canyon and Tulane. All five programs have released statements confirming that all members of the traveling parties are safe and accounted for.

The attack occurred right outside Clemson’s hotel. The team is currently on lockdown.

According to Oregon State head coach Wayne Tinkle, the attack “happened directly in front of our hotel while we were having a team meal in the restaurant.”