The Little Dances: Championship Week Day 5 Preview

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The NCAA Tournament doesn’t get going until March 19, but for the real college hoops fans, the days leading up to Selection Sunday is when the madness really begins. Over the next two weeks teams will fight for the postseason lives. Bubbles will burst and tickets will be punched, and Cinderellas will be born. This is the real March Madness.

(CLICK HERE to browse through all of our conference tournament previews)

Here’s what to watch for on Saturday.

Game of the Night: Belmont vs. Murray State
March 9th was circled on all the OVC calenders as soon as Belmont joined the league this past off-season. This game represents the two best teams in the league, the conference’s old guard versus the new elite, the league’s best player against the league’s best team. Belmont may have an outside shot at an at-large bid if they lose today. For Murray State it’s all or nothing. This could be the final time we see Isaiah Canaan compete at the collegiate level.

– Watch this too: MVC Semifinals
This is #ArchMadness at it’s finest. The four best teams in the league converge with some interesting at-large implications and one intriguing back story. Indiana State was once thought to be an at-large candidate, but for them it’s auto-bid or bust. In order to do so, they will have to go through All-American Doug McDermott and company. the other semifinal pits Illinois State against Wichita State in a rematch of the infamous “Jumpkick-gate” game, in which Jackie Carmichael kicked a WSU defender in the chest while going up for a rebound in the waning moments of the game.

Player to Watch: C.J. Garner, LIU-Brooklyn
Blackbirds forward Jamal Olasewere garners all the acclaim, but as NEC Player of the Year it’s deservedly so. However, the Blackbird’s senior guard has been on a tear as of late, scoring 30 points in back-to-back games, and is averaging 23.4ppg in his last five games. LIU-Brooklyn faces stiff opposition in Wagner, and if they want to advance to their third straight NEC championship game, C.J. Garner must have a big night.

Miscellaneous Madness:
Two 20+ loss teams remain alive in postseason play. The Liberty Flames (13-20) have a chance to advance to the Big South Finals with a win over Gardner-Webb today. Out west, Loyola Marymount (11-22) has a chance to shock the world, as they face No. 1 Gonzaga in the WCC semifinals. Before postseason play began, the Lions had not won a game in 55 days. They’ve now won three games in three days and have the opportunity to pull off possibly the biggest upset of the entire college basketball season.

Saturday Schedule:

America East Conference Quarterfinals
Noon – New Hampshire (7) vs. Vermont (2)
2 p.m. – UMBC (6) vs. Hartford (3)
6 p.m. – Binghamton (8) vs. Stony Brook (1)
8 p.m. – Maine (5) vs. Albany (4)

Atlantic Sun Conference Finals
Noon – Florida Gulf Coast (2) at Mercer (1)

Big South Conference Semifinals
Noon – VMI (2N) vs. Charleston Southern (1S)
2 p.m. – Liberty (5N) vs. Gardner-Webb (2S)

Colonial Athletic Association Quarterfinals
3:30 p.m. – Drexel (5) vs. George Mason (4)
6 p.m. – Hofstra (7) vs. Delaware (2)
8:30 p.m. – William & Mary (6) vs. James Madison (3)

Horizon League Semifinals
6 p.m. – Wright State (3) vs. Detroit (2)
8:30 p.m. – Green Bay (4) at Valparaiso (1)

Metro Atlantic Athletic Conference Quarterfinals
2:30 p.m. – Siena (9) vs. Niagara (1)
4:30 p.m. – Canisius (5) vs. Iona (4)
7:30 p.m. – Fairfield (7) vs. Rider (2)
9:30 p.m. – Manhattan (6) vs. Loyola-MD (3)

Missouri Valley Conference Semifinals
2:35 p.m. – Indiana State (5) vs. Creighton (1)
5:05 p.m. – Illinois State (6) vs. Wichita State (2)

Northeast Conference Semifinals
Noon – LIU-Brooklyn (3) at Wagner (2)
2:30 p.m. – Mount St. Mary’s (5) at Robert Morris (1)

Ohio Valley Conference Finals
6 p.m. – Murray State (2) vs. Belmont (1)

Patriot League Semifinals
2 p.m. – Lehigh (3) at Lafayette (2)
4:30 p.m. – Army (4) at Bucknell (1)

Southern Conference Quarterfinals
Noon – Georgia Southern (9) vs. Davidson (1)
2:30 p.m. – Furman (12) vs. Appalachian State (4)
6 p.m. – UNC-Greensboro (10) vs. Elon (2)
8:30 p.m. – Western Carolina (6) vs. Charleston (3)

Summit League Quarterfinals
7 p.m. – IUPUI (8) vs. South Dakota State (1)
9:30 p.m. – South Dakota (7) vs. Western Illinois (2)

Sun Belt Conference Quarterfinals
7 p.m. – Arkansas-Little Rock (5) vs. Florida International (4)
7:30 p.m. – Louisiana-Lafayette (8) vs. Middle Tennessee State (1)
9:30 p.m. – Western Kentucky (6) vs. South Alabama (3)
10 p.m. – Troy (10) vs. Arkansas State (2)

West Coast Conference Semifinals
9 p.m. – Loyola Marymount (9) vs. Gonzaga (1)
11:30 p.m. – San Diego (6) vs. Saint Mary’s (2)

You can find Troy Machir on Twitter at @TroyMachir

Preaching patience, new Pitt AD says hoops program “a complete rebuild”

AP Photo/Athens Banner-Herald, AJ Reynolds
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Things did not go particularly well for Kevin Stallings in his first year at Pitt. The program, which essentially pushed Jamie Dixon out the door for being consistently good but not often enough great, struggled, going 16-17 overall and 4-14 in the ACC, just two games out of the cellar.

On top of that, six players prematurely left the program this spring.

Not great, especially when you’ve got a new boss that didn’t hire you, as is the case for Stallings with new Pitt athletic director Heather Lyke, who came aboard in March. In her first meeting with Stallings, Lyke asked a rather blunt question.

“Do you want to be here?” according to the Beaver County Times.

Stallings answered that he did, and his new athletic director would appear to be willing to give her predecessor’s hire time to reclaim and rebuild the program.

“It’s a steep climb, if you will,” Lyke said. “It’s not something that’s going to come easy and it takes an incredible amount of work.”

Stallings’ personal reputation took a significant amount of damage this spring when he attempted to block Cameron Johnson from an intra-ACC transfer to North Carolina. NBC Sports’ Scott Phillips called him a “town-deaf clown” in his attempt to keep Johnson from being a Tar Heel, a position he later relinquished, allowing Johnson to head to Chapel Hill.

Losing Johnson certainly won’t help Stallings and the Panthers recover from the difficult first season. Pitt didn’t hit any grand-slams in recruiting but is adding four-star guard Marcus Carr in its 2017 class.

The immediate outlook doesn’t look particularly bright, but Pitt appears to be positioning itself to exhibit some patience.

“If you look at the team, it is a complete rebuild,” Lyke said. “So I do think that (Stallings) is going to need a little time to develop it.

“But, we’ve got to be headed in the right direction. There’s some things that have got to get better and noticeable improvements. I’ve already seen those things start to happen.”

 

Miller Time: Indiana coach cashes in with $24 million deal

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INDIANAPOLIS (AP) — New Indiana coach Archie Miller will make $24 million under his seven-year deal — and potentially even more in bonuses.

Miller accepted the job in March, but the athletic department didn’t announce details of the contract until Tuesday.

He will receive a base salary of $550,000 per year and $1 million in deferred income each season. Miller also will receive an additional $1.85 million in outside marketing and promotional income — and will get a $50,000 per year raise each year through March 2024.

Miller can earn a $250,000 bonus for winning a national championship. He can earn an additional $125,000 for a Big Ten regular-season title, reaching the Final Four and producing multiyear Academic Progress Rate scores over 950.

Utah, BYU rivalry back on after one-year hiatus

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The BYU-Utah annual rivalry series will be back on this season after taking a one-year hiatus last year.

For just the second time since 1909, the Utes and the Cougars did not play in 2016-17 after Utah head coach Larry Kyrstkowiak asked for a one-year cooling off period stemming from an intense and emotional game against BYU in 2015-16. In that game, then-freshman Nick Emery was ejected as a result of this punch that he threw:

The last time those two teams did not play was due to World War II.

The game will be played at BYU on Dec. 16th.

Utah will also play Utah State this season, the first time that they have played the Aggies since 2011.

 

California bans state-funded travel to eight states; does it affect college hoops?

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A new California law could end up causing a headache for the sports teams for public universities in the state.

Because of recently-added laws that are perceived as discriminatory against the LGBT community, California has now banned travel to eight states: Texas, Alabama, Kentucky and South Dakota join a list that already includes Kansas, Mississippi, North Carolina and Tennessee.

The law states that contracts that were signed before Jan. 1st, 2017, are exempted and can be fulfilled, but there’s not guarantee that will be the case in the future.

“Moving forward, the athletic department will not schedule future games in states that fail to meet the standards established by the new law,” a UCLA spokesman told the Sacramento Bee. That said, the university does not use state funding for travel sports teams as it currently stands, and the goal of the law to avoid “spending taxpayer dollars in states that discriminate,” according to California’s Attorney General.

On the college basketball side of things, the biggest question mark here is whether or not this law will prevent teams from playing in the NCAA tournament if they are sent to a site in one of those eight states. Next season alone, there are first weekend sites in Kansas, Texas, North Carolina and Tennessee, not to mention the Final Four taking place in San Antonio. The location for many of those events were determined prior to January 1st.

“We are generally not going to deny student-athletes the opportunity to compete in the postseason,” a UCLA spokesman told NBC Sports.

The next question then becomes whether or not regular season travel will be allowed. Earlier this year, Cal dropped out of talks with Kansas about a potential home-and-home series due to this law, and if regular season travel is not allowed, it would mean that Duke, North Carolina, Kentucky, Louisville and Wichita State, along with Kansas, are not allowed to be visited by California public schools that need state funding to travel. A request for a clarification on the legality of college sports teams traveling to those states has been filed with the Attorney General by Fresno State, whose football team is headed to Alabama for a game this year.

Travel for recruiting is also a question that needs to be answered, but at the highest level of the sport, that is typically funded by boosters.

N.C. State adds grad transfer Sam Hunt

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N.C. State added its fourth transfer this offseason. Like ex-Baylor guard Al Freeman, the latest one is eligible to play next season.

Sam Hunt, a double-digit scorer the past two seasons at North Carolina A&T, officially enrolled at North Carolina State on Monday morning.

“Sam is a great young man and will bring much needed depth to our backcourt,” N.C. State head coach Kevin Keatts said in a statement. “I want guys who are excited about being a part of our program and Sam really wants to be here.

“Sam is a combo guard that can space the floor with his ability to shoot the basketball. He is a good fit for the system and will bring a wealth of experience to our roster.”

Hunt, the 6-foot-2 guard, averaged 12.7 points per game last season, a dip from the 15.4 points per game he posted for the Aggies as a redshirt sophomore.

Hunt joins a roster that lost its three leading scorers from a season ago, one that ended 15-17 (4-14 ACC). Dennis Smith Jr. is a member of the Dallas Mavericks. Maverick Rowan also pursued a professional career and Terry Henderson was denied an additional year from the NCAA.

The Wolf Pack bring back forwards Abdul-Malik Abu and Omer Yurtseven as well as Torin Dorn.

Keatts, who took over the program after leading UNC Wilmington to back-to-back NCAA Tournaments, has already built for the future. UNC Wilmington transfer C.J. Bryce, 17.4 points, 5.4 rebounds and 3.0 assists per game for the Seahawks, has followed him to Raleigh. Utah transfer Devon Daniels committed to the Wolf Pack the same day as Bryce. Both will have to sit out next season due to NCAA transfer rules. Bryce will have two years of eligibility while Daniels will have three.