What happens to college hoops if power conferences form new division?

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The NCAA tournament is what makes college basketball great.

For diehards like me, there’s so much more to it: the student sections, the underdogs, the glory that comes with pulling off a major upset, the euphoria of a cinderella conference tournament champion, a band that rocks.

But if it weren’t for the NCAA tournament, if it wasn’t for the entire month that college hoops dominates the attention of our nation’s sports fans, college basketball would be even more of a niche sport.

And the beauty of the NCAA tournament lies in the underdogs. It lies in the stories that emerge when a team like Florida-Gulf Coast makes a run to the Sweet 16 or when teams like VCU, Butler and George Mason make a run to the Final Four. It lies in the hope that Gonzaga can one day break through and make a Final Four or the possibility of another Stephen Curry coming along and forcing his way into the Elite 8. It lies in the seconds that a No. 13 seed’s potential game-winner spends floating through the air.

That’s why the next step in conference realignment is so scary.

When Pete Thamel of SI.com originally wrote his story on the possibility of the Power 5 conferences — Big Ten, SEC, Big 12, Pac-12, and ACC — forming their own division in college athletics, he made it clear that, as of now, the NCAA tournament is safe.

But ‘as of now’ doesn’t mean ‘forever’, because if those schools realize that they can make more money for themselves by forming their own division and keeping low- and mid-major programs from the Big Dance, than they will. And, as former NCAA executive vice president Greg Shaheen told Gary Parrish of CBSSports.com, that’s very much a possibility.

If there’s one thing that we’ve learned about college sports in the last few years, it’s that teams are always going to chase more money. From Parrish:

money is the one thing the power conferences value over all other things. For proof, consider that every significant change in college athletics over the past two decades has been rooted in an ability to make more money. It’s why the BCS was scrapped in favor of a four-team playoff the powerbrokers insisted would never happen. They didn’t change their position because they finally realized it’s absurd to let a computer award championships. They changed their position because they finally realized they can make more money with a four-team playoff than they could with the BCS, and it’s why you would be wise to roll your eyes when these same power brokers now insist they’ll never move to an eight-team playoff.

Because an eight-team playoff is worth more money than a four-team playoff.

So that’s coming, too.

That’s not the only concern for the non-power conference programs, either.  Let’s say that the five conferences listed above form their own NCAA division, but instead of breaking away they simply follow their own rules.

Mike DeCourcy of the Sporting News asks the question: what about the proposed stipend?

You know, the $2,000 full cost-of-attendance stipend that the smaller NCAA members shot down but that the richer programs supported.

Would that mean that programs like Big East members Villanova and Georgetown and American members Cincinnati and UConn would be facing a disadvantage? When picking between, say, Memphis and Florida, would the extra $2,000 that an athlete could get from the Gators play a role in an elite recruit’s decision?

There’s a difference between the haves and the have-nots in college sports, but in college hoops, that line gets blurred.

And if you listen to two of the strongest voices that cover the sport, there’s reason to be concerned that our little game could end up changing for the worse — again — in the future.

Archie Miller received advice from John Calipari before taking Indiana job

(Photo by Joe Robbins/Getty Images)
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Indiana hiring former Dayton head coach Archie Miller to the same position over the weekend was major news and the move seemed to come so quickly.

While many believed that either Steve Alford or Chris Mack would be the frontrunner for the job, Miller was announced to a seven-year deal on Saturday morning.

The news was so surprising that Miller’s own father, John, wasn’t looped into the decision until Thursday night after Arizona and Archie’s brother, head coach Sean Miller, lost in the NCAA tournament to Xavier.

In a story from Tom Archdeacon of the Dayton Daily News, he breaks down how John Miller found out about the Indiana job from Archie in a San Jose hotel room. There were also some other people Archie spoke to before making the decision. Archie’s brother, Sean, the head coach at Arizona had some input along with Kentucky head coach John Calipari.

From Archdeacon’s story:

“When we lost to Xavier, we got back to the hotel and I was sort of in shock,” John said. “And all of a sudden Arch goes, ‘Guess what, Dad? I got a shot here (at the Indiana job). Whaddya think?’

“He listened to Sean and Cal – John Calipari is real close to us family-wise – and I spoke up a bit, too.

“I’ll tell you I was almost in tears, just like when my other guy left (Sean from Xavier to Arizona). Oh man I hated that. I loved Xavier. And now here it is eight years later and I’m in the same exact boat.

“I know in his heart Arch hates to get out of (Dayton), but that’s how it was with Sean leavin’ Xavier too. He turned Arizona down the first time, and I remember Calipari calling him up and saying, ‘Are you outta your mind? You gotta take that Arizona job!’”

The story from Archdeacon also has some interesting bits from John Miller about how he knew Archie wouldn’t take the N.C. State job while he also told some of his Dayton friends that Archie was staying put before he found out about the Indiana job in San Jose.

If Miller and Calipari are on good terms then it will be interesting to see if Indiana and Kentucky can work out a proper agreement so they are playing each other at least once a year. Clearly there is a respect between the Millers and Calipari and that will be an intriguing subplot to watch during Archie’s tenure at Indiana.

Roy Williams ‘scared to death’ over Joel Berry II’s Final Four status after ankle injuries

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North Carolina is going to be extra cautious with junior point guard Joel Berry II during this week after he went to the locker room during part of the first half in Sunday’s win over Kentucky.

Consistently bothered by a sprained ankle during the NCAA tournament, Berry will rest a lot this week, according to North Carolina head coach Roy Williams as he is going to make sure his floor leader is as healthy as possible heading into Glendale.

“Right now I’m scared to death because I just don’t know,” Williams said to reporters about Berry’s Final Four status.

Without Berry in the lineup for part of the first half, North Carolina was able to sustain its lead on Kentucky as veteran backups like Nate Britt and Stillman White provided valuable minutes. Williams said in yesterday’s postgame that Berry actually sprained his right ankle during Saturday’s practice and hurt his left ankle during Sunday’s game against Kentucky.

Berry returned in the second half and finished with 11 points for the game as his health will be a major focal point for North Carolina’s title hopes this weekend.

2017 NCAA Tournament Superlatives: Best Players, Unforgettable Moments, Biggest Disappointments

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With the first 60 games of the NCAA tournament now in our review, it is the perfect time to look back at what, exactly, happened over the course of the first two weekends of the greatest show in sports.

Who was the best player? The most unforgettable moment? The biggest disappointment?

We’ll break all of that down for you here:

NCAA TOURNAMENT MOP: Sindarius Thornwell, South Carolina

While there were a number of names that were more than qualified for this award, to me, Thornwell is the obvious choice. He’s the leading scorer in the tournament, averaging 25.7 points, and one of the biggest reasons that the offensively-challenged Gamecocks have been anything-but through the first four games of the event. But what sets him apart from some of the other big scorers left in the tournament is that he also happens to be an elite defender, typically tasked with slowing down whoever the best perimeter scorer is on their opponent’s roster.

ALL-TOURNAMENT TEAM

  • Tyler Dorsey, Oregon: Dorsey has deservedly been dubbed Mr. March after his performances the last three weeks for the Ducks. He’s scored at least 20 points in all seven of Oregon’s Pac-12 tournament and NCAA tournament games, made the game-winner to beat Rhode Island in the second round and hit dagger after dagger in the upset win over North Carolina in the Elite 8.
  • Jordan Bell, Oregon: There has not been a better all-around defender in this tournament than Bell, who had three double-doubles in four games, including a dominating performance against No. 1 seed Kansas in the Elite 8: 11 points, 13 boards, eight blocks and four assists.
  • Trevon Bluiett, Xavier: Bluiett was instrumental in getting No. 11 seed Xavier all the way to the Elite 8. He averaged 25 points in the three wins the Musketeers notched during the Big Dance, including 25 points in an upset of No. 2 Arizona and 29 points in the blowout win over No. 3 Florida State.
  • Luke Maye, North Carolina: As weird as it may sound, in North Carolina’s loaded front court, Maye was the best of the bunch the last two weeks. He had 16 points and 12 boards in the Sweet 16 win over Butler and followed that up with 17 points — including the regional-winning jumper with 0.3 seconds left — as the Tar Heels knocked off Kentucky.

BEST GAME: No. 4 Florida 84, No. 8 Wisconsin 83 OT

The Badgers were down big at the end of regulation and rallied to tie the game on an off-balance three from Zak Showalter with 2.5 seconds left. In overtime, the Badgers missed free throws to keep Florida close, Canyon Berry had an epic chase-down block to keep the deficit at two points and the comeback was capped with a buzzer-beating, three-point floater from Chris Chiozza:

BEST PLAY: Luke Maye’s game-winner

The ending of this game was nuts. Kentucky took a 64-59 lead with four minutes left. North Carolina responded with a 12-0 run to go up 71-64 with less than a minute left. A trio of Kentucky three combined with a missed front-end and a head-scratching five-second call allowed the Wildcats to tie the game with 7.2 seconds left on the clock, but Maye, who arrived at UNC as a preferred walk-on, had an answer. Ironically enough, I would argue the best play here wasn’t Maye hitting an open jumper, it was Theo Pinson taking the in-bounds pass and leading UNC quickly down the floor:

MOST MEMORABLE MOMENT: The non-goaltend goaltend

The two shots you see above were the two most memorable moments of this event, but since I already mentioned them, let’s go with the game-changing goaltend that wasn’t whistled against Zach Collins. If you’ve forgotten, Collins, a freshman center for Gonzaga, blocked a shot by putting his hand through the rim — illegal! — on a shot that would’ve cut a 20-point Gonzaga lead all the way down to three.

Chris Collins reacted by getting a technical foul, and instead of being within three with all the momentum, Northwestern was down by seven points again as Gonzaga regained their confidence and kept the Wildcats from ever threatening again.

MOST FORGETTABLE MOMENT: Matthew Fisher-Davis’ poorly timed foul

Fisher-Davis committed an intentional foul with 14 seconds left against Northwestern in the first round of the tournament, thinking that No. 9 seed Vanderbilt was down a point. Whoops! Vandy was winning, and the foul allowed Northwestern to take the lead in a game the Commodores would eventually go on to lose. Not his best moment, to say the least.

BIGGEST SURPRISE: South Carolina’s run to the Final Four

When Frank Martin took over at South Carolina, it was a program that hadn’t been to the NCAA tournament in 13 years, had reached the Big Dance just four times in the previous 43 years and who had never won back-to-back games in the NCAA tournament before. They had lost six of their last nine games before the tournament began and had spent the entirety of the season struggling to score … until they turned into the Showtime Lakers during the NCAA tournament. It’s a terrific run that puts the feather in the cap of an unlikely career for Frank Martin.

BIGGEST DISAPPOINTMENT: Duke and the ACC

For a conference that was as good and as dominant as the ACC was all season long, it was something of a shock that the conference only got one team into the Sweet 16 this season. Some of that was mitigated by North Carolina getting to the Final Four — if the ACC has more Final Four teams than the Big 12, the Big Ten and the Big East combined, doesn’t that make them elite?!? — but it doesn’t quite erase the shadow that was created by some individual failures in the tournament. No. 2 seed Louisville lost in the second round. No. 3 seed Florida State was blown out in the second round. No. 5 seed Virginia was embarrassed in the second round.

But the biggest disappointment of all was Duke, who had finally looked like they turned a corner during the ACC tournament, putting a tumultuous season behind them as they were primed for a run in March.

And then they lost to South Carolina in a game where they couldn’t get stops and couldn’t get the big, crunch-time buckets they needed. It was a fitting end to a year where Duke just wasn’t as good as anyone thought they had a chance to be.

Kentucky’s legacy remains complicated after heartbreaking loss to North Carolina

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Just like everything during John Calipari’s tenure at Kentucky, the legacy of the 2016-17 Wildcats is going to be complicated to figure out.

After Kentucky dropped a thrilling 75-73 game against No. 1 seed North Carolina in the South Regional final on Sunday, the college careers of freshmen Bam Adebayo, De’Aaron Fox and Malik Monk are likely finished. All three freshmen are perhaps destined to be first-round NBA Draft picks in June. The trio also helped form one of the most important groups of freshmen to ever play for Calipari at Kentucky.

The Kentucky national-title winning group in 2012 is obviously No. 1 on that list and the 2014-15 team that started 38-0 comes in close second place. You could also make a solid case for the 2013-14 Kentucky team that rallied together and made the national championship game as a No. 8 seed or the John Wall/DeMarcus Cousins led-team that also made an Elite Eight. But the 2014 team was also dysfunctional enough that they lost to South Carolina in the regular season before the Gamecocks became nationally-relevant. Cousins remains a polarizing figure who wasn’t particularly popular outside of Big Blue Nation.

This 2016-17 Kentucky team was special because their freshmen somehow lived up to the immense hype while also being incredibly fun to watch. Winning the SEC regular season, conference tournament title and making an Elite Eight are great memories for Wildcat fans to have. Basketball fans in general get the individual memories of Monk’s white-hot scoring runs, Fox’s dazzling two-way play and Adebayo’s raw power around the rim.

Monk’s 47 points against North Carolina in the regular season and 30 points in the second half a home win over Florida are two of the most memorable individual scoring performances in college basketball over the last five years. Fox will be remembered for many things as well, but destroying Lonzo Ball and UCLA for 39 points to shatter the freshman NCAA Tournament single-game scoring record is about as special as it gets.

Adebayo doesn’t have the signature individual performance to match his fellow freshmen, but with over 100 dunks on the season, there were many times that he made his presence felt in the Kentucky lineup.

Replacing those three players is going to be tough but that is what Calipari is accustomed to doing. The McDonald’s All-American game tips this week and four more future Wildcats will take the floor. Five-star shooting guard Hamidou Diallo has already been practicing with Kentucky during the second semester while redshirting for next season.

Replacing the future NBA players is actually going to be the easy part for Kentucky.

Finding senior leadership like Dominique Hawkins and Derek Willis is going be the difficult thing to replace. Those two in-state seniors provided the valuable experience of playing with so many gifted freshmen over the last four years while being selfless teammates who got better over time.

Both Hawkins and Willis have replaceable games and skill levels. But it seemed like Hawkins came off the bench countless times during his Kentucky career to give the perimeter a spark off the bench. After a slow start to his career, Willis developed into a capable rebounder and floor spacer at forward who knocked in a lot of big shots during the last two years.

Seeing a role player like Isaac Humphries step up in the Elite Eight is a positive sign for next season but Kentucky is going to miss the veteran presence of Hawkins and Willis more than they know.

While most Kentucky teams under Calipari have had a few veteran holdovers each year, the 2017-18 team might be seriously lacking in that department outside of Humphries.

If Isaiah Briscoe leaves to go pro as many assume, Wenyen Gabriel, Sacha Killeya-Jones and Tai Wynyard will all be back but they’ve barely played any meaningful minutes and none of them are guards.

Unless Calipari opts to bring in a graduate transfer — which he’s done in the past with Julius Mays — Kentucky is basically going to have to start from scratch with another ridiculous freshman core. Expectations will mean that Kentucky should be a top-15 team with a chance at an SEC title. The glaring lack of experience also means that Calipari will have to get a very young team to come together immediately.

This is the status quo for John Calipari’s tenure at Kentucky. And while they’ve had disappointing results in individual seasons while falling short of the Final Four again this season, it’s hard to say the model is anything other than wildly successful.

VIDEO: Frank Martin’s touching tribute to his mother will melt your heart

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Frank Martin advanced to the Final Four for the first time in his career on Sunday afternoon, and the South Carolina head coach — who has blazed an unlikely trail to the pinnacle of the college basketball world — thanked the most important person to his success in the most beautiful way imaginable afterwards.