Four ‘Big Monday’ appearances apiece for Kansas, Oklahoma State

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Another piece of the puzzle that is the 2013-14 college basketball schedule was added to the board Wednesday, as ESPN announced its lineup of games for “Big Monday,” which begins on January 13.

The schedule will require some adjusting from college basketball fans, with many of us used to seeing the Big East occupying the 7:00 p.m. EST time slot. The conference still exists of course, but with their television deal being with Fox the days of seeing Georgetown and Villanova (just to name two programs) in that slot are done for the time being.

Into the Big East’s spot slides the ACC, which added Notre Dame, Pittsburgh and Syracuse on July 1 (and will add Louisville next July 1). We’ll get one “throwback” matchup on the schedule, as Syracuse hosts Notre Dame on February 3. The Big 12 remains in the later time slot, with Kansas and Oklahoma State making four appearances apiece this coming winter.

The full schedule can be seen at the link provided above; here are five contests on the slate that you should not miss:

1. Baylor at Kansas (January 20)

This will be a revealing road test for Baylor, which has the talent needed to contend for the Big 12 crown. The question for Scott Drew’s Bears: how will they go about accounting for the graduation of Pierre Jackson? JUCO transfer Kenny Chery is the player many have pegged as the replacement, but moving forward post-Jackson will require contributions from Brady Heslip and Gary Franklin Jr. (just to name two) as well. As for Kansas, their young big men will be tested by Baylor’s Isaiah Austin and Cory Jefferson, with sophomore Perry Ellis expected to be a leader in the paint for the Jayhawks.

2. Duke at Pittsburgh (January 27) 

Granted Pittsburgh lost a lot of production from last year’s NCAA tournament squad. But the chance to watch one of the early favorites to win the ACC playing in front of the “Oakland Zoo” won’t lack for entertainment. With Seth Curry, Ryan Kelly and Mason Plumlee all having graduated Duke will have questions to answer from a leadership standpoint, but if point guard Quinn Cook is ready to take the reins the Blue Devils will be a national title contender.

3. Kansas at Iowa State (January 13) 

The nightcap of the opening Monday of this schedule matches teams who played two classics last season. The meeting in Lawrence featured a Ben McLemore three to force overtime, with Elijah Johnson’s heroics (and, in the eyes of Cyclone fans, sketchy officiating) being the difference in the rematch in Ames. Both teams have added quality talent (this will be Andrew Wiggins’ “Big Monday” debut), and given what happened last season look for Hilton Coliseum to be buzzing.

4. Oklahoma State at Baylor (February 17) 

Who’s the biggest threat to dethrone Kansas? The second meeting of the season between the Cowboys and Bears will most likely provide the answer to that question. Marcus Smart enters the season as the nation’s best point guard, and by mid-February he could very well be looking to polish up a resume for both Big 12 and national Player of the Year honors. Baylor won last season’s meeting in Waco by ten, but lost the other two contest by a combined four points.

5. Syracuse at Maryland (February 24) 

The Orange have arrived and the Terrapins are on their way out, as they move to the Big Ten in 2014. The biggest keys for Mark Turgeon’s team this season are the point guard position and how they go about accounting for the departure of Alex Len. If Seth Allen and Roddy Peters are up to the task at the point, this will be an opportunity for the Terps to improve their NCAA tournament seeding. If not, this may be the kind of home game a bubble team needs in order to simply get into the Big Dance. Syracuse returns multiple contributors from last year’s Final Four team, but like Maryland they’ll be counting on a youngster (Tyler Ennis) to run the show.

What jumps out when looking at the “Big Monday” schedule? Besides Kansas and Oklahoma State making four appearances each, there’s the fact that Virginia (like North Carolina) will make three appearances. Tony Bennett’s Cavaliers will be good, and frankly it’ll be good for more people to become familiar with All-ACC wing Joe Harris.

And there’s also two league match-ups that did not make the schedule: Kansas/Oklahoma State (neither meeting) and Duke/Syracuse (which they’re considering reconfiguring the Carrier Dome for). I wonder if those two high-quality games are being held back for something else.

It took four years, but Sindarius Thornwell has finally put South Carolina on the basketball map

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NEW YORK — If the NCAA tournament ended today, South Carolina guard Sindarius Thornwell would be named the event’s Most Outstanding Player.

Through two games, he’s averaging 27.5 points and 3.5 assists while shooting 48.5 percent from the floor and 6-for-12 from three. He’s been the catalyst of an offensive explosion fro the Gamecocks that no one — not Thornwell, not Frank Martin, not anyone — could have seen coming.

South Carolina, a team that ranked in the 130s in offensive efficiency nationally and in the 300s in effective field goal percentage prior to the start of the NCAA tournament, put up 93 points on Marquette and 88 points on Duke. They scored more second half points in their upset win over the Blue Devils — 65! — than they did in ten games this season, five of which they won.

So it may not come as a surprise to you that No. 7 seed South Carolina’s opponent in the East Regional semifinals, No. 3 seed Baylor, have zeroed in on Thornwell as the man they need to slow down on Friday night.

“Coach has broke down every made shot that he’s had and we have all watched at least about three hours of film on just Sindarius,” Baylor senior Ishmael Wainwright said. “He’s just a great player. The whole team, it’s not just me, it’s not just me, but the whole team, we’ll be trying to stop him.”

It’s fitting that Thornwell is the cornerstone of South Carolina’s arrival on the national scene, as the Lancaster native was the most important commitment of Frank Martin’s tenure with the Gamecocks. A blue-chip prospect that ranked in the top 40 of every recruiting service, Thornwell was an in-state kid that was recruited by the likes of Louisville, Indiana and Syracuse. South Carolina, at the time that Thornwell committed, had a new head coach that took over a program that hadn’t been to the NCAA tournament in eight years and had the prestige of making four trips to the Big Dance in the previous 38 seasons.

More to the point, it wasn’t clear whether that new head coach, Frank Martin, was there because he wanted to be there or because he simply didn’t want to be at Kansas State anymore, a program where his relationship with his Athletic Director had deteriorated.

Thornwell, who at that point had left Lancaster High School for the more prestigious Oak Hill Academy, had every reason in the world not to go to South Carolina.

But he did.

He wanted to play for his state, for his family. He is loyal, and that loyalty almost kept him from leaving Lancaster for Oak Hill in the first place.

“They had to force him to go, because he did not want to leave his state, did not want to leave his high school team, did not want to leave his high school coach, did not want to leave his family,” Martin said. “His uncle, ‘Big Country’, Dajuan Thornwell, may he rest in peace, who was his father figure basically put him in a car and drove him and said, ‘You’re going to school here. This is for your own good.'”

“And it’s who he has become. The day I got the phone call from him telling me, ‘I want to do this with you,’ when he could have gone to some of the blue bloods. He wanted to help us build. He wanted to surround his heart with the state name that means so much to him and his family’s name on the back of his jersey. And that’s powerful.”

(Photo by Kevin C. Cox/Getty Images)

Thornwell was the SEC Player of the Year in 2017. He was in the mix for a spot on the NBC Sports All-American teams before South Carolina’s late-season swoon. He’s had a sensational senior season individually, but more importantly, he got South Carolina back to the NCAA tournament for the first time since 2004. He led them to the Sweet 16 for the first time since the tournament expanded to 64 teams in 1985. South Carolina had never won back-to-back in the NCAA Tournament before.

As in ever.

Thornwell did that for his state, and he wasn’t alone. Fellow senior Justin McKie and sophomore P.J. Dozier are both from Columbia, and the Gamecocks have quite a bit of young talent on their roster, as well as a five-man recruiting class headlined by four-star prospect David Beatty and former Delaware guard Kory Holden, who sat out this past season as a transfer.

The South Carolina program is as healthy as it’s been in decades, and Thornwell has as much to do with that fact as anyone.

“I have been born and raised in South Carolina,” Thornwell said, saying that all of the South Carolina natives play “for the same reasons, for our family, for our state. We all grew up in South Carolina. We all have been through the struggles and with the program.”

“For us all to be in the spotlight is just tremendous because we don’t feel like we get the recognition that we deserve.”

The Gamecocks certainly got plenty of recognition last weekend, becoing the focal point of the nation’s glare as they played a the biggest role in putting an end to the soap opera that was Duke’s season.

And Thornwell is going to find himself getting plenty of recognition on Friday night, as the Bears will focus plenty of their attention on slowing down the Gamecock star.

After all, three hours of film on one player is a lot of film.

“They exaggerate so much,” Baylor head coach Scott Drew said. “It was only two and a half.”

Rice promotes Scott Pera to head coach

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Rice didn’t have to look far for its new head coach.

The university announced on Thursday afternoon that associate coach Scott Pera will take over the program. He replaces Mike Rhoades who returned to VCU to fill its vacancy on Tuesday.

Pera had been with the program for three seasons following stints at Penn and Arizona State. Based on the reaction from the players, they approve of the hire.

Pera was also the high school coach of James Harden.

The Owls, coming off a 23-12 season, are expected to bring back three double-digit scorers for next season: Marcus Evans, Egor Koulechov and Marcus Jackson.

Report: NCAA affirms its Louisville allegations

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The NCAA continues to hold the position that Louisville coach Rick Pitino failed to properly monitor the program amid the scandal surrounding a former staffer and illicit parties, according to documents obtained by ESPN.

Louisville received the notice of allegations from the NCAA in January, and In its response, Louisville did not deny the NCAA’s findings, but argued that Pitino should not have been seen as failing to monitor Andre McGee, who is alleged to have organized the gatherings at Minardi Hall on the Louisville campus.

McGee is alleged to have paid for women to dance for and perform sex acts on Cardinals recruits.

The NCAA stated that Pitino “did not uphold his duties as head coach and in doing so, failed to discover” McGee’s actions and that if he “saw no red flags in connection with McGee’s interactions with then prospective student-athletes, it was because he was not looking for them,” according to ESPN’s report.

The original allegations were made by Katina Powell in a book that was published in 2015.

Louisville self-imposed a 2016 postseason ban and scholarship reductions as part of the scandal, but was looking to avoid further punishment on Pitino, who could be subject to suspension.

 

Report: Pat Kelsey will not take the UMass job

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Moments before Pat Kelsey was set to be formally introduced as the new head coach at the University of Massachusetts, the school canceled the press conference citing, “unforeseen circumstances.”

According to Jeff Goodman of ESPN, the former Winthrop coach has decided not to accept the job after all. Kelsey, 41, had agreed to terms with UMass on Tuesday. Pete Thamel of Sports Illustrated reports that Kelsey is heading back to Winthrop.

In five seasons at Winthrop, Kelsey compiled a 102–59 (56–30 Big South) record, leading the Eagles to the 2017 NCAA Tournament.

Kelsey was expected to replace Derek Kellogg, who was relieved of his duties after nine years at his alma mater. Kelsey was a smart hire. He had ties to the Atlantic 10, both as a player and an assistant coach at Xavier. His freshman recruiting class included a player out of the NEPSAC, showing that Kelsey was also familiar with the New England prep school recruiting landscape.

This has gone from a hire that was seen as a good one by many, to a nightmare scenario for UMass athletic director Ryan Bamford, who was making his first major decision in Amherst.

Other names linked to the vacancy were Vermont’s John Becker, Miami associate head coach Chris Caputo and Boston Celtics assistant coach, and former Butler and Purdue assistant, Micah Shrewsberry.

Virginia’s Thompson to transfer

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Virginia lost another member of its team Thursday.

The Cavaliers announced Darius Thompson will transfer out of the program, a day after the news of Marial Shayok and Jarred Reuter’s departures.

“Darius Thompson informed me he has decided to play his final season at another school following his graduation from Virginia,” Virginia coach Tony Bennett said in a statement released by the school. “Although you never want to see young men transfer, I understand this is part of coaching. Darius, Marial, and Jarred feel it’s in their best interests to pursue other options for the remainder of their college careers.

“I will always appreciate the contributions they made to our program.”

Thompson, who would be immediately eligible as a graduate transfer, began his career at Tennessee before transferring to Charlottesville, where he averaged 5.2 points and 1.8 assists over two seasons. The 6-foot-4 guard shot 44.8 percent from the field and 35.1 percent from 3-point range last season.

Despite the three defections, Virginia returns a number of pieces that contributed to their 23-11 season.

As we look forward, we have a strong nucleus of players returning,” Bennett said, “and I’m excited for their continued development. As a staff, we are focused on finding student-athletes who want to be a part of this program and all the University of Virginia has to offer.”