UC Irvine pastes Washington, but it’s the Huskies who will advance to NYC

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The semifinalists in the 2K Sports Classic have been known for months now, with UConn and Boston College meeting in one semifinal and Washington taking on Indiana in the other. But this is still a “tournament,” and on Thursday the UC Irvine Anteaters (and earlier Thursday the Toledo Rockets) displayed why that word should be used loosely when describing some events.

Will Davis II tallied 22 points and seven rebounds and 7-foot-6 center Mamadou Ndiaye added 18 points, nine blocks (a Big West single-game record) and eight rebounds as the Anteaters, the preseason favorites to win the Big West, soundly defeated Washington 86-72. But even with the Huskies’ depleted front court, UC Irvine took full control of the action in the second half. For the game Russell Turner’s team shot 59.6% from the field, winning by a comfortable margin despite shooting just 50% from the foul line (16-for-32).

C.J. Wilcox scored 22 points and freshman Nigel Williams-Goss added 13 to lead the way for Washington, but the bigger concern for the Huskies in the aftermath of Thursday’s defeat is their lack of options in the paint. Perris Blackwell made his return to the lineup after missing the opener with a concussion, scoring nine points and grabbing five rebounds, and Washington’s lack of interior depth means that more will be needed from Shawn Kemp Jr. and Gilles Dierickx. And on Thursday night they struggled mightily with the veteran Davis and his tall sidekick.

But despite those issues (and the loss) it’s Washington who is headed to New York City next week. Sure that was known well before this game was played, but is this really a “tournament” if the advancing teams are pre-determined? The reasons for such setups are well-known by now, with ticket sales and larger alumni bases being of high priority. But can anyone who watched UC Irvine take care of business say that they don’t deserve to advance?

With their fate already known, the more important thing for Irvine to do is look at the areas in which they need to improve with an eye towards earning the Big West’s automatic bid. The biggest issue: free throw shooting. In three games the Anteaters have shot 55-for-101 from the charity stripe, which works out to about 54.5%.

With their big men and guards such as Luke Nelson (11 points, six assists) and Alex Young (eight points, six assists) the Anteaters have more than enough talent to win the Big West, but the “little things” like foul shooting can prove costly especially in a one-and-done scenario. So regardless of where UC Irvine plays next week, that’s an issue that will need to be addressed.

It’s just too bad that they won’t be able to work on it at Madison Square Garden.

Arizona lands Pitt transfer forward Ryan Luther

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Arizona landed a key addition for its frontcourt on Wednesday as Pitt transfer forward Ryan Luther pledged to the Wildcats.

The 6-foot-9 Luther is expected to receive a hardship waiver that would give him immediate eligibility, a source confirmed to NBCSports.com, as Arizona gets some much-needed help up front.

Playing in 10 games last season before a stress reaction in his right foot ended the season, Luther averaged 12.7 points and 10.1 rebounds per game for the Panthers. In his final game of the season, Luther went for 13 points and 12 rebounds in a Pitt loss to West Virginia. Luther shot 45 percent from the field and is a noted perimeter threat as he was 38 percent from behind the three-point line.

Luther hasn’t logged heavy minutes as a contributor through a full season. Mostly a role player at Pitt until last season, Luther was the team’s most productive player when he was on the floor. But that production also didn’t come during ACC play and through the course of a full season.

Thankfully at a program like Arizona, Luther should have a bit more help around him. He could be a nice addition to the Wildcats, particularly if he rebounds and spaces the floor in the frontcourt as he did at Pitt. Arizona needed someone like Luther to provide more stability after losing players like Deandre Ayton and Dusan Ristic.

In the last few weeks, Arizona has rebounded nicely to land three commitments for next season — including freshmen Devonaire Doutrive and Omar Thielemans. The group isn’t as heralded as some past Arizona recruiting efforts. Given where the Wildcats were in recruiting a few weeks ago, however, this isn’t a bad turnaround.

TCU extends Jamie Dixon’s contract by two more years

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TCU has given head coach Jamie Dixon a two-year contract extension through the 2023-24 season, according to a release from the school.

Dixon took the Horned Frogs to the NCAA tournament for the first time in 20 years this season as he’s done a great job of turning around his alma mater. The release also notes that TCU had the highest average attendance in program history this season. Fans are also taking notice of a revitalized team.

With back-to-back 20-win seasons and postseason appearances, Dixon and TCU have a lot of positive momentum going on right now. The two-year extension for Dixon should help a bit in recruiting when it comes to overall stability, as well, as he’s been able to attract some quality talent so far.

Report: Kevin Ollie claims UConn violated rights with firing

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Fired former UConn head coach Kevin Ollie is claiming that the school violated his constitutional rights during his departure.

Ollie sent a letter to UConn school president Susan Herbst which was obtained by ESPN’s Myron Medcalf in a report released on Wednesday. Ollie’s lawyers are claiming the school proceeded with his firing before giving Ollie a proper chance to contest his termination — which was guaranteed in his contract and also the collective bargaining agreement with the University of Connecticut’s branch of the American Association of University Professors. Ollie was fired, with cause, in late March as the school mentioned an NCAA inquiry as the reason why. According to Medcalf’s report, the NCAA has not sent a notice of allegations to the school.

Ollie’s union membership includes thousands of faculty members around the country as the collective bargaining agreement demands a hearing process before any employee can be terminated for allegations of serious misconduct. Ollie claims he didn’t receive a letter he was supposed to get to begin the termination process.

“From our review of the facts and circumstances relating to Coach Ollie’s employment status, it is apparent that the University of Connecticut has already violated [Coach Ollie’s] rights under the Fourteenth Amendment to the United States Constitution by subverting Coach Ollie’s opportunity to respond to charges and evidence in a meaningful way in advance of the decision to terminate his employment,” said the letter dated April 3.

“The public record, action taken, and authorized communications by representatives of the University of Connecticut, demonstrate that the decision to terminate Coach Ollie has already been made and therefore the University of Connecticut has effectively negated Coach Ollie’s property right protected by the Fourteenth Amendment to the United States Constitution.”

This letter to UConn likely begins a long legal battle to try to get an eight-figure payout back as Ollie is going to do everything he can to clear his name.

South Carolina’s Brian Bowen, still ineligible, to declare for draft

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Former Louisville forward and current South Carolina Gamecock Brian Bowen will declare for the NBA draft without signing with an agent as a safety measure in case the NCAA does not clear him to play in the 2018-19 season.

Bowen is the former top 25 prospect that was forced to leave the Louisville program after the FBI’s investigation into corruption in college hoops turned up evidence that his family had accepted the first payment of what was supposed to be a $100,000 fee to get him to be a Cardinal.

That investigation was ultimately what got Rick Pitino fired.

“I just felt that it was the right decision,” Bowen told ESPN. “My goal is still to play college basketball, but I felt as though it makes sense to cover my bases.”

Bowen is in a tough spot right now.

On the one hand, he has already missed an entire season of college basketball and there is no guarantee that he will be cleared to play next season, if at all.

On the other hand, the fact that he has not played in a year and that he has not played against any collegiate level competition is one of the reasons that NBA front offices are going to be hesitant to draft him, and that’s not a good thing for a player that was considered a second round pick before he spent a year on the sidelines.

North Carolina’s Cam Johnson undergoes hip surgery

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For the second time in the last six months, North Carolina wing Cam Johnson has undergone the knife.

On Wednesday, North Carolina announced that Johnson underwent an arthroscopic procedure on his hip on Monday, and that he is expected to make a full recovery and return to school in time for the start of the 2018-19 season.

The 6-foot-9 Johnson was UNC’s third-leading scorer a season ago, averaging 12.4 points while shooting 34.1 percent from three. He only played 26 games, however, after missing time due to a surgery to fix a torn meniscus.