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The Little Dances: Championship Week Day 11 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.

If you thought yesterday was crazy, which it was, make sure you to strap your self in tight and hide all the sharp objects. This is one of those “Skip work and watch college basketball all day” types of occasion.

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

Here’s what to watch for on Friday.

Game of the Night: Big East Semifinals
Whatever your plans were for tonight, make sure to change them immediately. The stage has been set for a truly magical set of semifinals at the final Big East tournament before the realignment shift. One semifinal showcases a rematch of the longest game of the season, a five-overtime classic between Louisville and Notre Dame. the second semifinal pits the conference’s greatest rivals against each other for the final time. Bonus fact: three of the four semifinalists are soon-to-be-former-members, and the fourth is the keystone of the new basketball order. Friday night at The Garden. Ain’t nothing better than that.

– Watch this too: Iowa State vs. Kansas
The Jayhawks won both regular season match-ups but needed magic, luck and bad officiating to get the sweep. Iowa State had the first game won until Ben McLemore banked in a buzzer-beating 3-pointer to force overtime. Kansas squeaked by in the second match-up thanks to two horribly bad officiating blunders and Elijah Johnson’s 35-point masterpiece. A win over the Jayhawks would cement their place in the field of 68.

– Watch this too: Kent State vs. Akron
Once the hottest team in the country, the Akron Zips have lost two of their last three games, including a loss to the Golden Flashes in the regular season finale. These two bitter rivals have produced many memorable postseason clashes, including a brawl at the end of overtime in the 2011 MAC Championship game.

Player to Watch: Russ Smith, Louisville
Notre Dame has been kryptonite to Russ Smith this season, so it’s fitting that the Irish will be wearing their hideous neon green Adidas uniforms against the Cardinals today. Whether it was Smith’s 5-point performance in the regular season finale, or his numerous mental gaffes during the late stages of their fiver-overtime epic in South Bend, Smith has not had his best stuff against the Irish. Smith needs to follow up his 28-point performance against Villanova with a strong showing against Notre Dame.

He’s good too: Dez Wells, Maryland
The dynamic guard is the Terrapins most talented player, and he will need to have his best game of the season against Duke today if the Terrapins want to keep their postseason hopes alive. Wells is coming off a 21-point performance against Wake Forest in the first round of the ACC tournament and had two good showing against Duke during the regular season.

He’s good too: Cannon Burrage, UT-San Antonio
Awesome name, better game. The senior guard has fueled the Roadrunner’s surprise run out of the No. 9-seed in the WAC tournament with a 20-point performance against San Jose State and a 26-point, 13-rebound performance in their shocking upset over heavily favored Louisiana Tech.

Miscellaneous Madness:
Friday is day-2 of the March Madness dry-run. By the end of today, 95 elimination games will have been played since Thursday morning. That’s more games than the entire first weekend of the NCAA tournament. If you want to be ready for next week, I suggest you take the day off today and get acclimated to the madness.

Friday’s Schedule:

Atlantic Coast Conference Quarterfinals
Noon – Boston College (8) vs. Miami (1)
2 p.m. – North Carolina State (5) vs. Virginia (4)
7 p.m. – Maryland (7) vs. Duke (2)
9 p.m. – Florida State (6) vs. North Carolina (3)

Atlantic 10 Conference Quarterfinals
Noon – Charlotte (9) vs. Saint Louis (1)
2:30 p.m. – Butler (5) vs. La Salle (4)
6:30 p.m. – St. Joseph’s (10) vs. VCU (2)
9 p.m. – UMass (6) vs. Temple (3)

Big 12 Conference Semifinals
7:30 p.m. – Iowa State (5) vs. Kansas (1)
10 p.m. – Oklahoma State (3) vs. Kansas State (2)

Big East Conference Semifinals
7 p.m. – Syracuse (5) vs. Georgetown (1)
9:30 p.m. – Notre Dame (6) vs. Louisville (2)

Big Sky Conference Semifinals
7:30 p.m. – North Dakota (3) vs. Weber State (2)
10 p.m. – Northern Colorado (5) vs. Montana (1)

Big Ten Conference Quarterfinals
Noon – Illinois (8) vs. Indiana (1)
2:30 p.m. – Michigan (5) vs. Wisconsin (4)
6:30 p.m. – Nebraska (10) vs. Ohio State (2)
9 p.m. – Iowa (6) vs. Michigan State (3)

Big West Conference Semifinals
9:30 p.m. – Cal-Irvine (4) vs. Long Beach State (1)

Conference-USA Semifinals
4 p.m. – UTEP (3) vs. Southern Mississippi (2)
6:30 p.m. – Tulsa (5) vs. Memphis (1)

Great West Conference Semifinals
6 p.m. – Houston Baptist (4) vs. NJIT (1)
8:30 p.m. – Chicago State (3) vs. UT-Pan America (2)

Mid-American Conference Semifinals
6:30 p.m. – Kent State (4) vs. Akron (1)
9 p.m. – Western Michigan (3) vs. Ohio (2)

Mid-Eastern Athletic Conference Semifinals
6 p.m. – Bethune-Cookman (8) vs. Morgan State (5)
8 p.m. – North Carolina A&T (7) vs. Delaware State (6)

Mountain West Conference Semifinals
9 p.m. – South Dakota State (4) vs. New Mexico (1)
11:30 p.m. – UNLV (3) vs. Colorado State (2)

Pac-12 Conference Semifinals
9 p.m. – Arizona (4) vs. UCLA (1)
11:30 p.m. – Utah (10) vs. Oregon (3)

Southeastern Conference Quarterfinals
1 p.m. – LSU (9) vs. Florida (1)
3:30 p.m. – Tennessee (5) vs. Alabama (4)
7:30 p.m. – Vanderbilt (10) vs. Kentucky (2)
10 p.m. – Missouri (6) vs. Mississippi (3)

Southland Conference Semifinals
6 p.m. – Southeastern Louisiana (4) vs. Stephen F. Austin (1)
8:30 p.m. – Sam Houston State (6) vs. Northwestern State (2)

Southwestern Athletic Conference Semifinals
3:30 p.m. – Prairie View A&M (4) vs. Jackson State (2)
9 p.m. – Alabama A&M (6) vs. Southern (1)

Western Athletic Conference Semifinals
9 p.m. – Texas State (7) vs. New Mexico State (3)
11:30 p.m. – UT-San Antonio (9) vs. UT-Arlington (4)

You can find Troy Machir on Twitter at @TroyMachir

Roy Williams: ‘There’s no question’ more ACC games equal no Kentucky in non-conference

SAN ANTONIO, TX - MARCH 23: Head coach Roy Williams of the North Carolina Tar Heels looks on during the third round of the 2014 NCAA Men's Basketball Tournament against the Iowa State Cyclones at the AT&T Center on March 23, 2014 in San Antonio, Texas.  (Photo by Ronald Martinez/Getty Images)
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Back in June, when the ACC officially announced that they would be expanding the league schedule to 20 games in 2019, I tried to warn you that it was going to put a dent into the non-conference schedule and the amount of quality, on-campus games that we’ll get prior to January.

Roy Williams essentially confirmed this as fact this week.

The North Carolina head coach hopped on a podcast with ESPN and more or less said that the bigger league schedule is going to lead to an end of some of UNC’s marquee home-and-home series.

“My feeling right now, and it could change by ’19, heck I could be fired by ’19, but my feeling right now is to play our conference schedule, play one exempt event where you have really good teams, and other than that play home games to help out your revenue and help out your budget,” Williams said. “We have the ACC/Big Ten and that’s not going to go away. So it’s 21 games already scheduled.”

When asked specifically if this would put an end to UNC’s series with Kentucky, Williams said, “Oh yeah, there’s no question. Why would I need to do that?”

There’s two reasons this makes sense. On the one hand, North Carolina needs to fill their home arena a certain number of times to help with the bottom line of the athletic department. They make enough off of ticket sales, merchandise sales, parking fees and food and beverage that they can afford to pay out more than $50,000 to bring a smaller opponent into their arena. More than that, playing a series of weaklings early in the year allows players to gain confidence, it allows Williams to figure out what his rotation will be and who can handle playing at this level, and it gives newcomers a chance to assimilate into his team against players that just aren’t that good.

And when a larger ACC schedule severely limits the number of non-conference games that UNC will be able to play, what’s going to get cut are the contracts that require the Tar Heels to play on the road when they don’t have to.

So buh-bye, Kentucky, it is.

John Calipari helping to raise money for Louisiana flood victims

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It’s easy to be critical of John Calipari.

You don’t have to be a Louisville fan to know all the jokes by now. He cheated at UMass. He cheated at Memphis. He’s had two Final Fours vacated. Teflon John. Yada yada yada.

I get it. Negativity comes with success, particularly for someone who is as brash about his success as Coach Cal is.

But even Cal’s harshest critics cannot begrudge the work he does — can get his players to do — for charity and how well he can harness the power of Big Blue Nation to make a tangible difference. Remember the ‘Hoops for Haiti’ telethon that raised more than $1 million to help earthquake victims back in 2010? Or the hundreds of thousands of dollars he raised for Hurricane Sandy relief? Or when his fantasy camps generated more than $1 million in charitable donations?

And should I mention the amount of times that stories of Kentucky players befriending sick kids or visiting children’s hospitals?

The cynic in me could say that all of this is for branding, helping ensure his players are image-conscious and aware of the sponsorship opportunities that come with being a likable, relatable and humble athlete. There’s probably some truth to that.

But do you think the kids that get visits from their Big Blue heroes care? Do you think it matters to the charities that get seven-figure checks to help with disaster relief?

I say all that to say this: During a press conference on Thursday morning, Cal had this to say, via SEC Country:

Calipari said former UK star Anthony Davis (currently of the New Orleans Pelicans) told Calipari, “Coach, you gotta do something” for Baton Rouge flood victims. Davis is out of the country but will try to get back for Sunday’s softball game to help. His 2012 title teammates, Terrence Jones and Michael Kidd-Gilchrist, were not previously on the celeb list for Sunday but will be there.

Calipari has decided to donate all proceeds from Sunday’s alumni/celebrity softball game will go to the Baton Rouge flood-relief fund, through Red Cross. “So what I’m asking you to do is buy these tickets.” They’re $5 apiece. The previously raised funds will still go to the other designated charities, like each year.

For those so inclined, you can donate to the flooding fund by texting “GIVE” to 859-955-8173.

Vermont women cancels game in North Carolina over HB2

DURHAM, NC - MAY 10:  A unisex sign and the "We Are Not This" slogan are outside a bathroom at Bull McCabes Irish Pub on May 10, 2016 in Durham, North Carolina.  Debate over transgender bathroom access spreads nationwide as the U.S. Department of Justice countersues North Carolina Governor Pat McCrory from enforcing the provisions of House Bill 2 that dictate what bathrooms transgender individuals can use.  (Photo by Sara D. Davis/Getty Images)
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The University of Vermont is the latest in a ever-growing line of organizations canceling events in North Carolina due to the controversial HB2 law.

The Catamounts will not be traveling to play the Tar Heels on Dec. 28th as previously scheduled.

“We strive very hard to create an inclusive climate for our students and staff in which they all can feel safe, respected, and valued,” the school wrote in a statement. “It would be hard to fulfill these obligations while competing in a state with this law, which is contrary to our values as an athletic department and university.”

“This decision was made in consultation with our coaches, the women’s basketball team, and key university officials. We fully understand and sympathize with the impact that this decision may have on the North Carolina women’s basketball schedule. However, we believe this decision is consistent with our values and the conversations with our coaches and student team members. These were the most important considerations.”

Known as the “bathroom bill”, HB2 is the law that requires transgender people to use the bathroom of the sex that they were born not the sex they identify with.

Earlier this year, Albany was forced to cancel a trip to Duke due to legislation in New York regarding visits to North Carolina. The NBA has taken the 2017 All-Star game from Charlotte, and the NCAA is heavily considering pulling NCAA tournament games from the state.

Interestingly, ACC commissioner John Swofford was very non-committal on the subject when asked yesterday.

Derek Willis won’t be suspended for offseason citiation

Kentucky's Derek Willis (35) hits an uncontested three point shot during the second half of an NCAA college basketball game against Tennessee Thursday, Feb. 18, 2016, in Lexington, Ky. Kentucky won 80-70. (AP Photo/James Crisp)
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John Calipari gave a press conference on Thursday morning and, for the first time since his arrest in June, the Kentucky head coach spoke about Derek Willis.

Willis, if you’ve forgotten, was found passed out in the street outside the open driver’s side door of his car at 4:30 a.m. You can see video of the arrest here. Willis is very lucky he wasn’t killed, and that he didn’t kill anyone else trying to drive in that condition.

Cal said that Willis will not be suspended for any games, but “Derek knows he’s under a different eye now than he was.” He did not elaborate on what kind of punishment Willis will receive beyond that, saying that “I don’t throw people under the bus.”

To be honest, I’m a little surprised that Willis won’t be forced to miss any games, but if we’re being frank, sitting out an exhibition and Kentucky’s opener sounds much more appealing than the kind of, ahem, ‘conditioning drills’ that Willis has likely spent the summer doing.

PODCAST: Boeheim’s non-controversy and the coaches we don’t want to fight

Jim Boeheim
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In today’s podcast, I’m joined by Travis Hines to discuss stuff that has been in the news over the course of the last two weeks, specifically Jim Boeheim’s comments about Carmelo Anthony and why it is a total non-controversy.

We also dive into why Boeheim’s comments are forced to be taken out of context as well as Monte’ Morris, ‘Pancake’ Thomas and which college basketball coaches we would least like to fight.

As always, you can subscribe to the podcast on either iTunes or Stitcher, and there’s also a link to listen to this podcast below. Thanks for listening.