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

Arizona lands Pitt transfer forward Ryan Luther

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Arizona landed a key addition for its frontcourt on Wednesday as Pitt transfer forward Ryan Luther pledged to the Wildcats.

The 6-foot-9 Luther is expected to receive a hardship waiver that would give him immediate eligibility, a source confirmed to NBCSports.com, as Arizona gets some much-needed help up front.

Playing in 10 games last season before a stress reaction in his right foot ended the season, Luther averaged 12.7 points and 10.1 rebounds per game for the Panthers. In his final game of the season, Luther went for 13 points and 12 rebounds in a Pitt loss to West Virginia. Luther shot 45 percent from the field and is a noted perimeter threat as he was 38 percent from behind the three-point line.

Luther hasn’t logged heavy minutes as a contributor through a full season. Mostly a role player at Pitt until last season, Luther was the team’s most productive player when he was on the floor. But that production also didn’t come during ACC play and through the course of a full season.

Thankfully at a program like Arizona, Luther should have a bit more help around him. He could be a nice addition to the Wildcats, particularly if he rebounds and spaces the floor in the frontcourt as he did at Pitt. Arizona needed someone like Luther to provide more stability after losing players like Deandre Ayton and Dusan Ristic.

In the last few weeks, Arizona has rebounded nicely to land three commitments for next season — including freshmen Devonaire Doutrive and Omar Thielemans. The group isn’t as heralded as some past Arizona recruiting efforts. Given where the Wildcats were in recruiting a few weeks ago, however, this isn’t a bad turnaround.

TCU extends Jamie Dixon’s contract by two more years

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TCU has given head coach Jamie Dixon a two-year contract extension through the 2023-24 season, according to a release from the school.

Dixon took the Horned Frogs to the NCAA tournament for the first time in 20 years this season as he’s done a great job of turning around his alma mater. The release also notes that TCU had the highest average attendance in program history this season. Fans are also taking notice of a revitalized team.

With back-to-back 20-win seasons and postseason appearances, Dixon and TCU have a lot of positive momentum going on right now. The two-year extension for Dixon should help a bit in recruiting when it comes to overall stability, as well, as he’s been able to attract some quality talent so far.

Report: Kevin Ollie claims UConn violated rights with firing

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Fired former UConn head coach Kevin Ollie is claiming that the school violated his constitutional rights during his departure.

Ollie sent a letter to UConn school president Susan Herbst which was obtained by ESPN’s Myron Medcalf in a report released on Wednesday. Ollie’s lawyers are claiming the school proceeded with his firing before giving Ollie a proper chance to contest his termination — which was guaranteed in his contract and also the collective bargaining agreement with the University of Connecticut’s branch of the American Association of University Professors. Ollie was fired, with cause, in late March as the school mentioned an NCAA inquiry as the reason why. According to Medcalf’s report, the NCAA has not sent a notice of allegations to the school.

Ollie’s union membership includes thousands of faculty members around the country as the collective bargaining agreement demands a hearing process before any employee can be terminated for allegations of serious misconduct. Ollie claims he didn’t receive a letter he was supposed to get to begin the termination process.

“From our review of the facts and circumstances relating to Coach Ollie’s employment status, it is apparent that the University of Connecticut has already violated [Coach Ollie’s] rights under the Fourteenth Amendment to the United States Constitution by subverting Coach Ollie’s opportunity to respond to charges and evidence in a meaningful way in advance of the decision to terminate his employment,” said the letter dated April 3.

“The public record, action taken, and authorized communications by representatives of the University of Connecticut, demonstrate that the decision to terminate Coach Ollie has already been made and therefore the University of Connecticut has effectively negated Coach Ollie’s property right protected by the Fourteenth Amendment to the United States Constitution.”

This letter to UConn likely begins a long legal battle to try to get an eight-figure payout back as Ollie is going to do everything he can to clear his name.

South Carolina’s Brian Bowen, still ineligible, to declare for draft

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Former Louisville forward and current South Carolina Gamecock Brian Bowen will declare for the NBA draft without signing with an agent as a safety measure in case the NCAA does not clear him to play in the 2018-19 season.

Bowen is the former top 25 prospect that was forced to leave the Louisville program after the FBI’s investigation into corruption in college hoops turned up evidence that his family had accepted the first payment of what was supposed to be a $100,000 fee to get him to be a Cardinal.

That investigation was ultimately what got Rick Pitino fired.

“I just felt that it was the right decision,” Bowen told ESPN. “My goal is still to play college basketball, but I felt as though it makes sense to cover my bases.”

Bowen is in a tough spot right now.

On the one hand, he has already missed an entire season of college basketball and there is no guarantee that he will be cleared to play next season, if at all.

On the other hand, the fact that he has not played in a year and that he has not played against any collegiate level competition is one of the reasons that NBA front offices are going to be hesitant to draft him, and that’s not a good thing for a player that was considered a second round pick before he spent a year on the sidelines.

North Carolina’s Cam Johnson undergoes hip surgery

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For the second time in the last six months, North Carolina wing Cam Johnson has undergone the knife.

On Wednesday, North Carolina announced that Johnson underwent an arthroscopic procedure on his hip on Monday, and that he is expected to make a full recovery and return to school in time for the start of the 2018-19 season.

The 6-foot-9 Johnson was UNC’s third-leading scorer a season ago, averaging 12.4 points while shooting 34.1 percent from three. He only played 26 games, however, after missing time due to a surgery to fix a torn meniscus.