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Despite recent hoops success, FGCU dealing with conference instability

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In the weeks following Florida Gulf Coast’s run to the Sweet 16, things were looking good for the Atlantic Sun Conference. Seemingly far away from the influence of big-time college football that’s changed the way in which college athletics is shaped, the league looked ready to take full advantage of its recent on-court success.

But realignment has a funny way of changing things when you least expect something to happen. At the end of May it was announced that ETSU and Mercer would be leaving the league to join the Southern Conference, a reaction to the SoCon losing both the College of Charleston and Davidson (VMI also joined, leaving the Big South to do so).

With both A-Sun members deciding to restart their respective football programs, making the move to a league that sponsors the sport (at the FCS level) made sense. But where does that leave FGCU, which doesn’t have a football program? That’s a tough question for the powers that be to answer despite FGCU’s recent success, due to the absence of the sport that has called the shots of late.

But according to Seth Soffian of the Fort Myers (Fla.) News-Press, the hope for FGCU has to be that their accomplishments (even without football) will lead to more attention. But most important is FGCU’s need to make sure their current home regains stability, even with the possibility of more options down the line.

As the A-Sun evaluates its future amid an ever-changing landscape, FGCU appears to have options, more than just helping keep its current league viable.

“Right now everybody’s hoping things start to settle,” said FGCU athletic director Ken Kavanagh. “It’s been very disconcerting across the country, all these changes. You just keep working forward and hoping we’ve got the numbers we need (in the A-Sun). The situation is out of our control right now.”

For much of the conference realignment era (going back to 2004 when the ACC added Miami and Virginia Tech, with Boston College moving a year later), football’s been the sport that’s called the shots. But it hasn’t been until recently that basketball’s been impacted in a major way.

So while there really isn’t a whole lot a school like FGCU can do, what a non-football school can control is its on-court performance. Because even if that doesn’t result in a move to a conference of higher regard, it will serve to strengthen the school’s athletic department as a whole.

UNLV’s Stephen Zimmerman out with a knee injury

UNLV forward Stephen Zimmerman Jr. shoots against San Diego State during an NCAA college basketball game Saturday, Jan. 30, 2016, in Las Vegas. (L.E. Baskow/Las Vegas Sun via AP)
(L.E. Baskow/Las Vegas Sun via AP)
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The injury Stephen Zimmerman suffered on Saturday will keep the star UNLV freshman out for at least a week, a source told NBC Sports.

The injury is not thought to be serious, however. Zimmerman may be kept out for longer as a precaution, but that’s a result of the Runnin’ Rebels being in a situation where the rest of their regular season is relatively meaningless.

They’re not getting an at-large bid to the NCAA tournament regardless of how they finish out league play. With back-up center Ben Carter out with a torn ACL, it’s more important to make sure that Zimmerman, who is averaging 10.6 points and 9.1 boards this season, is totally healthy for the Mountain West tournament.

That tournament, mind you, will be played at UNLV’s Thomas & Mack Center.

So the Runnin’ Rebels, regardless of how poor they’ve played this season, will always have a chance to land an automatic bid.

Anyway, the more interesting aspect of this story is how Zimmerman injured the knee. It was a completely avoidable play that came after the whistle, but I’m not sure it was what you would call a “dirty play”. You tell me:

VIDEO: Buddy Hield is ‘all money’ on game-winning three vs. No. 24 Texas

Oklahoma guard Buddy Hield (24) takes a shot over Oklahoma State forward Chris Oliver during the second half of an NCAA college basketball game in Stillwater, Okla., Wednesday, Jan. 13, 2016. (AP Photo/Brody Schmidt)
(AP Photo/Brody Schmidt)
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With a little more than three minutes left on Monday night, No. 24 Texas held a 57-51 lead on No. 3 Oklahoma in Norman as Jordan Woodard struggled again and Buddy Hield failed to find the rhythm that he had throughout the first three months of the season.

At that point in the game, Hield was 4-for-14 from the floor with 15 points and four turnovers. He had just missed a pair of wide-open threes

“I couldn’t make a shot,” Hield said after the game. But that changed down the stretch. First, Hield finally got a three to drop. On the next possession, he got all the way to the rim and scored. On the following two possessions, he was fouled on a drive to the rim and hit four free throws. And after missing a pull-up jumper, Hield did this:

“I told coach I wanted the ball,” Hield said, “I saw Lammert coming to bite, so I pulled up.”

“It’s all money.”

Hield is already the favorite to win National Player of the Year, and this performance is only going to help his cause further. Think about it like this: Buddy was not good on Monday night, at least according to his (admittedly lofty) standards. But he still finished with 27 points and shook off a cold shooting night just in time to take over down the stretch.

Now think about this: Hield’s head coach has enough confidence in him to hand him the keys in the final minutes despite the fact that he’s struggling and on a team that has two other players that Lon Kruger trusts on game-winning possessions. Think about it. When Oklahoma beat West Virginia at the buzzer, it was Jordan Woodard that the play was drawn up for. When they beat LSU, it was Isaiah Cousins that got the rock on the final possession while Hield was used as a decoy. .

Want to talk about coaching luxuries?

Kruger has three guards that can shoot, penetrate and score, and penetrate and kick, and one of them is the National Player of the Year that doesn’t mind being used as a decoy.