Wes Cole, John Gallagher

Hartford’s John Gallagher receives contract extension through 2018

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Despite an overall record of 17-14 (10-6 America East), the 2012-13 season was a historic one for the Hartford Hawks. Why? The program made its first-ever postseason appearance as a Division I member, earning a berth in the CollegeInsider.com Tournament. As a result head coach John Gallagher was rewarded with a contract extension through the 2017-18 season, with the school announcing the news on Wednesday.

“We are extremely confident in the direction of our men’s basketball program and we’re excited to see what Coach Gallagher and his staff can build in the future,” director of athletics Pat Meiser said in the release. “The success we had this season along with what we have returning next year is very encouraging. I am pleased with the level of competitiveness and am confident that that will only continue to rise.”

Those 17 wins matched the school record for wins in a season, with the 1989-90 squad (Vin Baker was a freshman on that team) being the last to win that many games. And with this year’s team returning more than 90 percent of its points and rebounds from last season, including first team All-America East selection Mark Nwakamma (14.7 ppg, 5.5 rpg), the Hawks could potentially establish a new school record for wins in a season.

And they’ll attempt to do so in a league that looks slightly different, as Boston University left America East to join the Patriot League with provisional Division I member UMass-Lowell taking their place as America East’s ninth member. However, even with that switch  Stony Brook and Vermont are still around, as is reigning America East tournament champion Albany. Hartford has the pieces needed to contend this season, and the administration believes it has the coach who can lead the program to heights it has yet to reach at the Division I level.

“I’d like to thank Walter Harrison for his faith in me,” Gallagher stated. “I would also like to thank Pat Meiser for the support she has provided to me and the program throughout the last three years.

“My family and I are grateful that we have an administration that is behind our growing program and has the same vision and the same mission as the staff here. I’m really exciting about the years to come.”

Duke knocks off No. 13 Louisville in first game of critical four-game stretch

Duke's Grayson Allen (3) and Marshall Plumlee (40) react during the second half of an NCAA college basketball game against Louisville in Durham, N.C., Monday, Feb. 8, 2016. Duke won 72-65. (AP Photo/Gerry Broome)
(AP Photo/Gerry Broome)
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Grayson Allen scored 16 of his 19 points in the first half and Brandon Ingram added 18 points, 10 boards and four assists as Duke picked up a critical win over No. 13 Louisville in Cameron Indoor Stadium on Monday night, 72-65.

A call this a critical win for the Blue Devils because it kicks off what may be the most important two-week stretch of Duke’s schedule This weekend, the Blue Devils square off with No. 9 Virginia. Next Wednesday, they’re at the Dean Dome to take on No. 7 North Carolina. Four days after that, they head to the Bluegrass State to pay a visit to Louisville.

 

With the way that Duke has been struggling on the defensive end of the floor without Amile Jefferson, that’s a stretch that could derail Duke’s season; entering Monday, all four of those games were losable. But a four-game winning streak — or even going 3-1 in that stretch — could completely change the tenor of what has been a fairly disappointing year for the defending champs, and that’s before they get Jefferson back to 100 percent.

And the difference was defensively, at least in the first half.

I’ve written in this space a number of times about how opponents know what they’re going to get from Duke defensively. Coach K, traditionally, plays half court man-to-man defense, switching every exchange — ball-screen, off-ball pick or simply when two players run by one another — that doesn’t involve the center. In recent years, he’s played some zone in situations where he defense has struggled or, like this season, when he doesn’t have the depth to risk foul trouble. We’ve even seen some 2-2-1 pressure from him of late.

But on Monday night, Duke played straight man-to-man for much of the game, and in the first half, it seemed to fluster the Cardinals. They scored just 24 points in the first 20 minutes, and while Louisville did find a way to break Duke down defensively in the second half — they shot better than 55 percent from the floor after the break — but part of the reason Duke was able to win this game was the lead they built. After a three from Allen opened scoring in the second half, the Blue Devils were up by 14, and while Louisville made a run down the stretch, they could never get control of the game.

Duke is becoming appointment viewing for basketball nerds like me that pay too much attention to X’s-and-O’s to see what kind of wrinkle Coach K is going to put in to try and compensate defensively, so I’m not sure that this performance sticks. But it is worth noting that this was the first time in eight games the Blue Devils gave up less than 1.0 PPP, and the first time since Dec. 19th they did so against an NCAA tournament-caliber team.

As far as Louisville is concerned, you have to tip your hat to those kids. They played their hearts out and fought back from a big deficit in one of the toughest places in the country to play. They did all that three days after their school ripped their hearts out with an NCAA tournament ban for this season.

So good for them. You never know how a team is going to react to something like that, but the Cardinal players showed that they have some serious fight in them.

Iowa State’s starting center Jameel McKay remains suspended

Iowa State forward Jameel McKay celebrates on the court at the end of an NCAA college basketball game against Oklahoma, Monday, Jan. 18, 2016, in Ames, Iowa. Iowa State won 82-77. (AP Photo/Charlie Neibergall)
(AP Photo/Charlie Neibergall)
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Steve Prohm announced on Monday that starting center Jameel McKay will not be in the lineup on Wednesday when the Cyclones take on Texas Tech.

“He’ll practice today because I want him in practice,” Prohm said, “but game-wise, he’s suspended.”

McKay did not make the trip to Stillwater with the team on Saturday, where Iowa State beat Oklahoma State, 64-59. Prohm has not gotten into specifics regarding the cause of McKay’s suspension, but it’s reportedly an issue with the way he has been practicing. McKay is dealing with a nagging knee injury, which may play a role in the situation as well.

“My hope is he’ll be with us on Saturday,” Prohm said.