The Little Dances: Championship Week Day 10 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.

Today is the first real day of all-day hoops. Every major BCS-conference holds a full slate of games today, providing us with an excellent opportunity to prepare for the all-day grind of March Madness.

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

Here’s what to watch for on Thursday.

Game of the Night: Big East Quarterfinals
Seriously, every single quarterfinal game provides at least one intriguing story line. Oh and did we mention this is the last time all these teams are going to meet under the same roof? Georgetown and Cincinnati face-off in a rematch of last year’s double-overtime semifinal game. Syracuse and Pittsburgh meet in a future-ACC quarterfinal game, Louisville has a chance to exact revenge on Villanova, who handed the then-No.5 Cardinals their first back-to-back loss of the season. And in the nightcap Notre Dame squares off against Marquette. Buzz Williams and nightcap. Need I say more?

– Watch this too: Colorado vs. Arizona
The Buffs and Wildcats hook up for a third time following two entertaining regular season battles. Arizona stole the first game from Buffalo on the controversial waiving off of Sabatino Chen’s buzzer-beating 3-pointer. Colorado got payback in the “Revenge of Chen” game, rolling then-No. 9 Arizona by 13. Both teams desperately need to win the rubber match. For Colorado, a win will provide a boost to their at-large resume and for Arizona, a win will provide confidence for a once dominant team now struggling;.

– Watch this too: Saint Joseph’s vs. Xavier
Last season’s regular season winners square off against the preseason favorites to win the conference. It’s scary to think that these two schools meet in the 7/10 game considering how good the A-10 is and how stable these two programs are. Both these teams have the talent and depth to make a run at the A-10 tournament title, but have lacked the consistency in order to be considered favorites to do so.

Player to Watch: Erick Green, Virginia Tech
Today is more than likely to be the final time Erick Green puts on a Virginia Tech uniform. The ACC Player of the Year is the only thing going for the 13-18 Hokies, scoring at will on a nightly basis. The nation’s leading scorer has failed to score 20 points just three times this season, and scored 29 points in his only meeting with the Wolfpack this season.

He’s good too: Pierre Jackson, Baylor
Sure Baylor has lost five of their last seven, but one of those wins was a 23-point shellacking of Kansas in which Pierre Jackson dropped 28 points and dished 10 assists. The Bears need an impressive showing in Kansas City in order to sneak in through the NCAA tournament’s back door, and they will need the diminutive point guard to carry them there. It all starts with a match-up against No. 14 Oklahoma State.

He’s good too: Carrick Felix, Arizona State
Jahii Carson is the Sun Devil’s go-to scorer, and last night showed, scoring 34 points against Stanford in the first round of the Pac-12 tournament. But forward Carrick Felix, named as the conference’s Defensive Player of the Year, must have an excellent performance against the UCLA bigs if Arizona State wants to prolong their postseason life.

Miscellaneous Madness:
Want to know just how crazy this season has been? Look at the Big Ten tournament. Michigan, a former-No. 1 team in the country finished in fifth place in the conference, and two former top-15 teams (Illinois and Minnesota) play in the 8/9 game. Plus there’s also the rematch of the most stunning upset of the Big Ten regular season between Penn State and Michigan.

Thursday’s Schedule:

Atlantic Coast Conference First Round
Noon – Georgia Tech (9) vs. Boston College (8)
2 p.m. – Virginia Tech (12) vs. North Carolina State (5)
7 p.m. – Clemson (11) vs. Florida State (6)
9 p.m. – Wake Forest (10) vs. Maryland (7)

Atlantic 10 Conference Quarterfinals
Noon – Charlotte (9) vs. Richmond (8)
2:30 p.m. – Dayton (12) vs. Butler (5)
6:30 p.m. – George Washington (11) vs. Massachusetts (6)
9 p.m. – Saint Joseph’s (10) vs. Xavier (7)

Big 12 Conference Quarterfinals
12:30 p.m. – Iowa State (5) vs. Oklahoma (4)
3 p.m. – Texas Tech (9) vs. Kansas (1)
7 p.m. – Texas (7) vs. Kansas State (2)
9:30 p.m. – Baylor (6) vs. Oklahoma State (3)

Big East Conference Quarterfinals
Noon – Cincinnati (9) vs. Georgetown (1)
2 p.m. – Syracuse (5) vs. Pittsburgh (4)
7 p.m. – Villanova (7) vs. Louisville (2)
9 p.m. – Notre Dame (6) vs. Marquette (3)

Big Sky Conference Quarterfinals
5 p.m. – Northern Arizona (7) vs. Weber State (2)
7:30 p.m. – Southern Utah (6) vs. North Dakota (3)
10 p.m. – Northern Colorado (5) vs. Montana State (4)

Big Ten Conference First Round
Noon – Minnesota (9) vs. Illinois (8)
2:30 p.m. – Penn State (12) vs. Michigan (5)
6:30 p.m. – Nebraska (10) vs. Purdue (7)
9 p.m. – Northwestern (11) vs. Iowa (6)

Big West Conference Quarterfinals
3 p.m. – UC-Santa Barbara (7) vs. Pacific (2)
5:30 p.m. – UC-Davis (6) vs. Cal Poly (3)
9 p.m. – Cal State Fullerton (8) vs. Long Beach State (1)
11:30 p.m. – Hawaii (5) vs. UC-Irvine (4)

Conference-USA Quarterfinals
1 p.m. – UAB (7) vs. Southern Miss (2)
3:30 p.m. – Houston (6) vs. UTEP (3)
7 p.m. – Tulane (8) vs. Memphis (1)
9:30 p.m. – Tulsa (5) vs. Eastern Carolina (4)

Great West Conference Quarterfinals
6 p.m. – Utah Valley (5) vs. Houston Baptist (4)

Mid-American Conference Quartefinals
6:30 p.m. – Buffalo (8) vs. Kent State (4)
9 p.m. – Eastern Michigan (7) vs. Western Michigan (3)

Mid-Eastern Athletic Conference Quarterfinals
6 p.m. – Delaware State (6) vs. Hampton (3)
8 p.m. – Morgan State (5) vs. Savannah State (4)

Mountain West Conference Quarterfinals
Noon – Boise State (5) vs. San Diego State (4)

Pac-12 Conference Quarterfinals
12 p.m. – Arizona State (9) vs. UCLA (1)
5:30 p.m. – Colorado (5) vs. Arizona (4)
9 p.m. – Utah (10) vs. California (2)
11:30 p.m. – Washington (6) vs. Oregon (3)

Southeastern Conference Second Round
1 p.m. – LSU (9) vs. Georgia (8)
3:30 p.m. – Mississippi State (13) vs. Tennessee (5)
7:30 p.m. – Vanderbilt (10) vs. Arkansas (7)
10 p.m. – Texas A&M (11) vs. Missouri (6)

Southland Conference Quarterfinals
6 p.m. – McNeese State (8) vs. Southeast Louisiana (4)
8:30 p.m. – Sam Houston State (6) vs. Oral Roberts (3)

Southwestern Athletic Conference Quarterfinals
1:30 p.m. – Alabama State (5) vs. Jackson State (2)
9 p.m. – Prairie View A&M (4) vs. Alcorn State (3)

Western Athletic Conference Quarterfinals
3 p.m. – Idaho (6) vs. New Mexico State (3)
5:30 p.m. – Texas State (7) vs. Denver (2)
9 p.m. – UT-San Antonio (9) vs. Louisiana Tech (1)
11:30 p.m. – Utah State (5) vs. UT-Arlington (4)

You can find Troy Machir on Twitter at @TroyMachir

Top 2018 recruit R.J. Barrett names final five schools

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A top player in 2018 is down to five schools.

R.J. Barrett, a 6-foot-6 guard out of Monteverde Academy in Florida, announced Wednesday he’ll consider Arizona, Duke, Michigan, Oregon and Kentucky as his college destination.

Barrett is among those in the mix for the top spot in his class now with Marvin Bagley III reclassifying to 2017 this week and committing to Duke. He starred in Canada’s run to a gold medal at the FIBA U19 World Championships this summer, dropping 38 points on Team USA in a shocking semifinals win for the Canadians, who went on to defeat Italy in the finals. He averaged 21.6 points, 8.3 rebounds and 4.6 rebounds per game during the event.

The schools to make the cut for certainly are of little surprise. They’re among the biggest brands in basketball and have been among the recruiting elites for years.

Barrett was originally part of the 2019 class, but decided to reclassify earlier this summer.”Really, it’s been a thought of mine for the last year,” Barrett wrote for USA TODAY, “but I wanted to wait and see how the season would go and how school would go and when everything went well it became more and more real so I made the decision to go ahead and do it.

“I’m right on track to graduate in 2018 and academically everything is great.”

 

Big Ten reveals conference schedule with early-December games

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We knew it was coming, but seeing it in black-and-white is still plenty jarring.
The Big Ten is going to play conference games in early December.

The league announced its full conference schedule Wednesday, unveiling 14 first-week-of-December games ahead of nearly a month-long hiatus before Big Ten play picks up again in January.

It’s a move that was forced after the Big Ten decided it needed to expand its east coast presence after its expansion to Rutgers and Maryland, and will be playing its conference tournament on the eastern seaboard for the second-consecutive year, this time at New York’s Madison Square Garden.

The problem with MSG is that the Big East hosts its annual conference tournament there, meaning the B1G will have to play its tournament a week early, March 1-4. That means a week less of January, February and March for the conference to play its 18 league games. Thus the early December start. NBC Sports’ Rob Dauster broke down the situation in even more detail – and bite – last spring here.

Every team in the league will play both a home and a road game during that league’s first week, a soft opening if you will. Whether teams like the change or not will likely come down to circumstance  – what players they have injured or suspended, what players their opponents have injured or suspended and any other host of issues, but it’s hard to believe with all things being equal, Big Ten coaches will like this move. They’re playing extremely meaningful league games less than three weeks into the season with other conferences getting nearly 2 months of preparation before facing their toughest slate of games.

The B1G, though, will have more favorable and interesting games – even if they’re programmed against college football championship games (including their own) – that week than any other conference can boast, which likely means some nice TV ratings. Given why this change is being made, that’s probably the priority anyway.

South Carolina adds Maine grad-transfer Myers

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South Carolina is adding some immediate help in its follow-up season to a Final Four run.

Wesley Myers, a graduate transfer from Maine, is joining the Gamecocks’ program, according to FanRag Sports’ Jon Rothstein.

The 6-foot-2 guard gives Frank Martin’s team an instant infusion of scoring as they look to replace SEC player of the year Sindarius Thornwell and PJ Dozier. Myers 16.9 points per game last year on 43.7 percent shooting, including a 34.3 percent mark from 3-point range.

He’s the second grad-transfer Martin has picked up this offseason, joining Florida Atlantic’s Frank Booker. The pair should help ease the transition from last year’s success to a much less experienced team that returns just a pair of starters.

Myers, though, doesn’t arrive in Columbia without some notable history.

Last year, after transferring to Maine from Niagara, was suspended after an altercation with a teammate, according to reports. He and teammate Marko Pirovic argued over locker room music, and the alleged ensuing altercation left Pirovic with a broken jaw, according to reports. Three other Maine players were suspended after telling a team athletic trainer that Pirovic had injured himself in a fall in the shower. Pirovic declined to press charges.

Virginia head coach Tony Bennett: ‘We believe in diversity and unity to its fullest extent’

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Virginia’s Tony Bennett finally spoke out on last weekend’s clash between white supremacists protesting the removal of a statue of Robert E. Lee and counter-protesters that resulted in the deaths of a 32-year old woman named Heather Heyer and two police officers involved in a helicopter crash:

Bennett does not exactly take a hard-line stance — the message is more about healing within the community and how much he loves his current hometown than it is about condemning what happened — but he does say “we believe in diversity and unity to its fullest extent.”

Kyle Guy, a sophomore on the Virginia roster, had this to say on Sunday:

UNC academic case finally reaches NCAA infractions hearing

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RALEIGH, N.C. (AP) — It has taken more than two years for North Carolina to appear before an NCAA infractions committee panel since initially being charged with five top-level violations amid its long-running academic scandal.

The two-day hearing begins Wednesday in Nashville, Tennessee. The panel will ultimately determine whether the school faces penalties that could include fines, probation or vacated wins and championships, making this a major step toward resolution in an oft-delayed case filled with starts, stops and twice-rewritten charges.

“The hearing stage, no matter what size of a case, it’s a big deal to any university,” said Michael L. Buckner, a Florida-based attorney who has worked on infractions cases. “I’ve been a part of what you’d consider small cases, I’ve been a part of one of the largest cases. And trust me: The client feels the same anxiousness and apprehension no matter what size of a case it is.

“But I can definitely imagine with North Carolina, this is definitely a momentous occasion.”

The charges include lack of institutional control in a case tied to irregular courses in the formerly named African and Afro-American Studies (AFAM) department. The case is an offshoot of a 2010 football probe, with the NCAA reopening an investigation in summer 2014, filing charges in May 2015, revising them in April 2016 and then again in December.

The panel, which would typically issue a ruling weeks to months later, is chaired by Southeastern Conference Commissioner Greg Sankey and includes former U.S. Attorney General Alberto Gonzales.

UNC’s representatives were seen arriving for the closed-door hearing at a Nashville hotel Wednesday morning. The contingent included athletic director Bubba Cunningham, men’s basketball coach Roy Williams, football coach Larry Fedora and women’s basketball coach Sylvia Hatchell. Jan Boxill and Deborah Crowder, two former UNC employees charged individually in the case, were also seen with their attorneys.

None of the coaches are charged with a violation. But football and men’s basketball are referenced in a 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 providing improper assistance on assignments.

Fedora wasn’t working at UNC during the time in question.

“There’s nothing that I can add to what happened before I ever got here,” Fedora said last week. “But I’m there for support. I think me being there is important — not only for the NCAA but the university — that it shows compliance is important to me and our program.”

The focus is independent study-style courses 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 Keorneth 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.

UNC has challenged the NCAA’s jurisdiction, saying its accreditation agency — which sanctioned the school with a year of probation — was the proper authority. In a May filing , the school stated it “fundamentally believes that the matters at issue here were of an academic nature” and don’t involve NCAA bylaws.

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.

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