Billikens’ journey to the Final Four begins with 17-point victory over Charlotte

1 Comment

NEW YORK – March is the month where the elite teams identify themselves.

The top spot in the Atlantic-10 Conference changed hands numerous times this season, with VCU, Butler and even Charlotte atop the conference standings at one point.

But nobody remembers who No. 1 was in December. A team is judged based on what they do late in the season, when the games matter most.

But for the Saint Louis Billikens, all they have done since the games started to matter is win 14 of the past 17, with two losses coming in overtime.. The Billikens continued their winning ways on Friday, defeating Charlotte 72-55 in the Atlantic-10 Quarterfinals at The Barclays Center in Brooklyn, N.Y.

Saint Louis not only looked like the most complete team in the Atlantic-10, but also like a team that can compete for a spot in the Final Four.

That’s right. I said it.

This team has experience, cohesion, confidence and talent.

Saint Louis’ greatest strength is roster depth.. The late Rick Majerus did a masterful job putting together a dynamic team with players who each bring a unique skill set to table. Enter Dwayne Evans, the Billikens’ multi-purpose who led the way with 25 points and 9 rebounds on Thursday afternoon in win over the 49ers.

Evans has been the team’s steadiest hand since the beginning of February, scoring in double figures in each of the last 14 games.

But Saint Louis isn’t a one man show. In fact, the Billikens’s top five scorers are separated by just 3.1ppg, six Billikens average 7.4ppg or more, and four Billikens average at least 10ppg. Saint Louis has sure-handed guards, efficient shooters, versatile big-men, and a strong supporting cast.

“We’ve got a bunch of guys who are really good three‑point shooters,” said Evans following the quarterfinal win.

“You have to cover them and leave the inside open. So we kind of played in and out.”

On Friday against Charlotte, Saint Louis got a total team effort. Senior forward Cody Ellis scored 13 points to go along with Evans’ standout performance. They got steady play from forward Rob Loe, who finished with seven points, four rebounds, four assists and one block. Senior guard Kwamain Mitchell also added seven points, three rebounds, four assists and four steals. Both Loe and Mitchell had spot performances on Friday, but either one of them could easily take the lead next game. Coach Jim Crews echoed these sentiments following the win.

“I think we got the win kind of like we usually do. It comes from all kinds of different‑‑ I mean, we get a little from the defense, a little inside. We don’t shoot the ball that well from three. It seemed like we get threes at the right time, get to the line‑‑ I mean, we have a lot of different ways. I don’t know if we’re really, really good at any of them, but we’re good at a lot of them. The same thing with the players. They just‑‑ this guy, this game or next game or these three guys or those four guys. That’s kind of the beauty of our team.

That’s the beauty of this team. The Billikins don’t have to rely on one player. That stems from the team’s strong chemistry and experience. The Billikens embody the same characteristic that many of Rick Majerus’ famous Utah teams
from the mid-90s carried: integrity and a high level of character. The Billikens don’t get rattled easily.

“Teams are going to make runs on us all the time”, said guard Mike McCall Jr., who finished with nine points and four assists.

“We just need to go on to the next play and try to make a run ourselves.”

They are a top-50 team in both offensive and defensive turnover percentage. All eight of the Billikens’ primary players are upperclassmen. This is not a team filled with players that need the ball. This is not a team with fiery personalities, and Jim Crews likes that.

“I think we’ve got a bunch of guys that are leaders, but we don’t have one or two guys that kind of stand on top of the mountain top and say whatever needs to be said. We don’t have those type of personalities. So everything has kind of peaked with us. They don’t get real excited. They don’t get real down. They just kind of keep plugging away. That’s a great trait that they have.”

Are there more talented teams in the country than Saint Louis? Yes, there certainly are. But many of those “elite” teams don’t have the intangibles necessary to survive the long postseason trek.

Saint Louis does.

They have the proper personnel and all the tools necessary to make the steep climb to the top of the college hoops mountain.

You can contact Troy Machir on Twitter at @TroyMachir

North Carolina releases response to latest NCAA Notice of Allegations

Leave a comment

North Carolina is still trying to convince the NCAA that their investigation into the paper classes given by the university’s African-American Studies Department is not, in fact, an NCAA matter.

On Thursday afternoon, the University released their response to the NCAA’s third iteration of the Notice of Allegations, and the core argument in that response is that the school’s “inadequate academic oversight” does not fall under the jurisdiction of the NCAA’s bylaws. In other words, North Carolina is arguing that a rogue professor creating fake classes is not an NCAA issue. It’s a school issue.

What’s more, North Carolina is also arguing that athletes taking these classes should not be classified as an extra benefit because they were available to the entire student body.

“No special arrangements were made for student-athletes in violation of NCAA extra-benefit legislation,” the response reads. “Student-athletes were not treated differently than other students who took the Courses.”

“The public narrative for the last six years, popularized by media accounts, is that Department of Athletics at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill took advantage of ‘fake classes’ in the Department of African and African-American Studies to keep student-athletes eligible. That narrative is wrong and contradicted by the facts in the record.”

The NCAA’s allegations center around the idea that UNC’s athletes, most notably members of the football and men’s and women’s basketball teams, were guided to the fake classes within that department in order to keep their GPAs high enough to remain eligible. The classes in question had a disproportionate percentage of athletes.

A hearing in front of the Committee on Infractions is expected to take place at some point this summer.

No indictment for escort, staffer in Louisville sex scandal

Andy Lyons/Getty Images
Leave a comment

LOUISVILLE, Ky. (AP) — A grand jury declined to indict an escort and former Louisville men’s basketball staffer in a sex scandal that engulfed the program.

The Jefferson County grand jury decided Thursday there wasn’t enough evidence for charges of prostitution and unlawful transactions with a minor against Katina Powell and Andre McGee.

Powell wrote in a book published in 2015 that McGee hired her to provide dancers to perform sex acts for Cardinal recruits and players from 2010-2014.

The announcement by the Commonwealth’s Attorney’s Office comes as the school awaits discipline in early June by the NCAA after an investigation.

Louisville has imposed its own penalties, including a postseason ban in 2015-16 and reductions in scholarships and recruiting visits by coaches.

2017 NBA Mock Draft: Post Early Entry Withdrawal Deadline

Christian Petersen/Getty Images
3 Comments

Last week, the fearless leaders of Pro Basketball Talk and College Basketball Talk joined forces to put together a comprehensive mock of the first round of the NBA Draft.

That podcast was recorded prior to the NBA Draft Lottery, which took place last week, and the NCAA’s deadline for underclassmen to return to school, which was Wednesday night at midnight. At a later date, we’ll roll through the updated draft order more in depth, but for now, here is a new mock draft based on the order the teams will actually be picking in.

At the bottom of this post you can find the original podcast, with all of our prospect analysis and thought processes for each team’s draft needs:

1. BOSTON (via Brooklyn) – Markelle Fultz, PG, Washington
2. LAKERS – Lonzo Ball, PG, UCLA
3. PHILADELPHIA – Josh Jackson, SF, Kansas
4. PHOENIX – De’Aaron Fox, PG, Kentucky
5. SACRAMENTO – Jayson Tatum, SF, Duke
6. ORLANDO – Malik Monk, SG, Kentucky
7. MINNESOTA – Lauri Markkanen, PF, Arizona
8. NEW YORK – Frank Ntilikina, PG, France
9. DALLAS – Jonathan Isaac, PF, Florida State
10. SACRAMENTO (via New Orleans) – Dennis Smith Jr., PG, N.C. State
11. CHARLOTTE – Zach Collins, C, Gonzaga
12. DETROIT –  Donovan Mitchell, CG, Louisville
13. DENVER – O.G. Anunoby, SF, Indiana
14. MIAMI – Justin Jackson, SG, North Carolina
15. PORTLAND – Jarrett Allen, C, Texas
16. CHICAGO – Luke Kennard, SG, Duke
17. MILWAUKEE – Justin Patton, C, Creighton
18. INDIANA – John Collins, C, Wake Forest
19. ATLANTA – Terrence Ferguson, SG, Austrailia
20. PORTLAND (via Memphis) – Ike Anigbogu, C, UCLA
21. OKLAHOMA CITY – Semi Ojeleye, PF, SMU
22. BROOKLYN (via Washington) – Isaiah Hartenstein, C, Lithuania
23. TORONTO (via Clippers) – Harry Giles III, C, Duke
24. UTAH – T.J. Leaf, PF, UCLA
25. ORLANDO (via Toronto) – Tyler Lydon, PF, Syracuse
26. PORTLAND (via Cleveland) – Ivan Rabb, PF, Cal
27. BROOKLYN (via Boston) – Bam Adebayo, PF, Kentucky
28. LAKERS (via Houston) – Rodions Kurucs, SF, Barcelona
29. SAN ANTONIO – Jonathan Jeanne, C, France
30. UTAH (via Golden State) – D.J. Wilson, PF, Michigan

 

AP: University of New Mexico spending under review

Christian Petersen/Getty Images
Leave a comment

ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. (AP) — The state Auditor’s Office is reviewing the spending of public money by the University of New Mexico’s athletic department on a 2015 golf trip to Scotland that included the athletic director, other employees and boosters, the agency confirmed Wednesday.

The review comes as the state’s universities and colleges are being forced to consider tuition increases and other cuts as New Mexico grapples with a budget crisis.

Athletic director Paul Krebs is drawing criticism as more details about the international junket emerge following a series of public records requests filed by journalists, some of which netted documents with large swaths of information that had been blacked out.

Krebs has said the $65,000 trip was meant to strengthen relationships with donors, but critics argue that it should have been paid for by the university’s independent fundraising arm, not with athletic department money.

Albuquerque television station KRQE reported this week that Krebs revealed to the university’s acting president that public money was used to pay for the trips of at least three boosters.

The university told the Albuquerque Journal () that possible discipline against Krebs was being considered.

President Chaouki Abdallah said Wednesday he’s looking forward to a timely process and that UNM will cooperate fully with the auditor’s review.

Athletics spokesman Frank Mercogliano said the department and Krebs, who was out of town and unavailable for comment Wednesday, would cooperate with the review.

University officials were focused Wednesday on a budget summit as the Legislature began a special session aimed at restoring funding for all higher education in the state.

The spending on the golf trip by UNM has raised questions about possible violations of the state Constitution’s anti-donation clause, which prohibits state entities from making gifts to private citizens.

Justine Freeman, a spokeswoman with Auditor Tim Keller’s office, said the findings of the review will be made public once the investigators’ work is complete.

It was not immediately clear how long the review will take. The auditor’s office has been looking into the matter for at least three weeks.

Records show the golf trip cost about $39,000 for Krebs, former men’s basketball coach Craig Neal and Lobo Club executive director Kole McKamey, but the university did not reveal what it paid for the private donors to attend the trip and initially recorded the trip as a basketball tournament in Ireland.

Abdallah told the television station that Krebs came to him and acknowledged that UNM picked up the tab for the boosters. He described it as a serious omission.

“This is not where university funds should be spent,” he said. “I want the public to know that in the future we will not be using university funds for such activities.”

Krebs said in a statement that UNM had not planned to pay for the donors’ trips in 2015 and that the situation “has to be corrected.” He acknowledged that the original plan was to be reimbursed for the travel costs but that a review of documents showed that never happened.

“The public and our fans put their trust in us, and the only way to keep that trust is to admit when an error is made, to rectify it, and to make sure that it doesn’t happen again,” he said.

No Kentucky vs. Kansas as SEC/Big 12 Challenge matchups released

Justin Berl/Getty Images
1 Comment

The matchups for the SEC/Big 12 Challenge were released on Thursday morning. All the games will be played on Saturday, January 27th, and there are some pretty enticing matchups involved here.

It’s worth noting: Kentucky and Kansas will not be playing each other in the Challenge this year. That’s because they are playing in the Champions Classic this season, which means that we’ll get Kentucky and John Calipari making the trip up to Morgantown to take on Bob Huggins and the Mountaineers, a game that will have an overabundance of defense, physicality, athleticism, turnovers and missed shots.

It will be ugly, but it will be fun.

Kansas will host former Big 12 member Texas A&M, a team that is going to sneak up on some people with Robert Williams back in the fold and, finally, with a point guard on the roster.

Other notables:

– Florida is a top ten team in the NBC Sports Preseason Top 25 while Baylor sits at No. 25.

– Alabama is a preseason top 25 team while Oklahoma, who struggled last season to replace Buddy Hield, will show off why Lon Kruger is one of the most underrated coaches in the business.

– Missouri was not selected. They finished at the bottom of the SEC last season but they added Michael Porter Jr., a preseason first team NBC Sports all-american.

Here are all the matchups:

  • Baylor at Florida
  • Tennessee at Iowa State
  • Texas A&M at Kansas
  • Georgia at Kansas State
  • Oklahoma at Alabama
  • Oklahoma State at Arkansas
  • TCU at Vanderbilt
  • Mississippi at Texas
  • Texas Tech at South Carolina
  • Kentucky at West Virginia