Late Night Snacks: Recapping the tournament’s first REAL day

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PLAYER OF THE DAY: Andrew Smith, Butler

Smith finished with 14 points and 16 boards in the Bulldog’s win over No. 11 seed Bucknell. He also hit a three midway through the second half that not only was Butler’s first on the afternoon (they were 0-14 from distance up to that point) but also helped stem the tide of a Bucknell run that had erased Butler’s double-digit lead.

But that wasn’t Smith’s most important contribution. Mike Muscala, the 6-foot-11 center for the Bison who just so happens to be a potential first round draft pick, finished with just nine points and 10 boards on 4-17 shooting, stymied by the defense of Smith and the rest of the Butler front line. That’s why the Bulldogs were able to win a tournament game on an afternoon where they, frankly, shot the ball horrendously from the floor.

Who else was good?:

  • Derrick Nix, Michigan State: The biggest player on arguably the biggest team in the tournament played like it, going for 23 points and 15 boards in a win over No. 14 seed Valparaiso.
  • Malcolm Armstead, Wichita State: Armstead finished with 22 points and five assists and helped hold Tray Woodall to 1-12 shooting and five turnovers as the Shockers beat No. 8 seed Pitt 73-55.
  • Dwayne Evans, St. Louis: Evans led the way with 24 points and six boards as the Billikens beat No. 13 seed New Mexico State.
  • Dorian Green, Colorado State: Green scored 17 of his 26 points in the first half as the Rams ran past Missouri.
  • Glenn Robinson III and Tim Hardaway, Jr, Michigan: The Wolverines put No. 13 seed South Dakota State away easily on Thursday despite the fact that Trey Burke was 2-12 from the floor. GR3 and Hardaway finished with 42 points combined, shooting 16-21 from the field and 8-10 from three.

TEAM OF THE DAY: Harvard Crimson

You have got to feel good for the Crimson at this point. After losing their two best players in the preseason to an academic scandal, Harvard backed their way into the NCAA tournament when Princeton surprisingly lost a pair of games on the road on the final weekend of Ivy League play. But they managed to earn a 14 seed, and then pulled off a stunning upset of No. 3 seed New Mexico in the opening round of the tournament.

The Lobos were projected as a team that could make a run to the Final Four. They had the size to take advantage of Harvard’s smaller front line. They had the talent and the resume for most bracket analysts to simply look past that first round games. And Harvard still managed to beat Steve Alford’s team to pick up the first NCAA tournament win in the history of the program.

Who else was impressive?:

  • Oregon: I’m sorry I ever doubted you, Oregon. The No. 12 seed Ducks dominated a good Oklahoma State team from start to finish and made everyone realize just how silly their seeding truly was. The most important note? Dominic Artis finished with 13 points in 17 minutes, easily the best game he’s played since he returned from a foot injury. He had some explosive and confident moves in the mix.
  • Southern: I know they lost, but hats off to the Jaguars for giving No. 1 seed Gonzaga everything they could handle.

GAME OF THE DAY: Marquette 59, Davidson 58

This one  is going to sting for a while:

FIVE THOUGHTS:

1) So the Pac-12 is good again?: Two No. 12 seeds (Oregon and Cal) knocked off No. 5 seeds. No. 6 seed Arizona beat the trendy upset pick, No. 11 seed Belmont, in decisive fashion. That puts the Pac-12 at 3-0 in this year’s tournament with two very winnable games for No. 6 seed UCLA and No. 10 seed Colorado tomorrow. After being the laughing stock of college basketball for a couple of years, that has to feel good, especially when the Mountain West is now 1-3 in the tournament, with the two best teams heading how already.

2) Defining performance?: The defining moment of the first day of the NCAA tournament was probably Harvard’s win over New Mexico, but Davidson’s collapse and Marquette’s game-winner are definitely in the mix. But who had the defining performance? When the Player of the Day wins for the work he did on the defensive end, that should tell you something.

3) Sad to see seniors leave: What makes it worse is when they leave after a terrible performance. Matthew Dellavedova was not himself as Memphis stormed over St. Mary’s. Tray Woodall played one of the worst games of his career in Pitt’s loss to Wichita State. Both were in tears after the game.

4) Shaka’s ruthless: He was playing the team of the first guy to give him a DI job. Up 40 with eight minutes left, he was still pressing. Havoc never sleeps.

5) More excitement tomorrow?: Today turned out to be kind of a dud, but it seems like that happens with one day of the round of 64 every year. Where will the crazy come from on Friday?

You can find Rob on twitter @RobDauster.

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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