If college hoops had the BCS, who would you want in the National Title game?

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Jameis Winston and Florida State beat Auburn for the BCS National Title on Monday night in one of the most thrilling football games that you’ll ever see.

Was it the best ever?

I’m probably the wrong person to ask, but I feel comfortable saying that there has never been a national title game that was markedly better than last night’s. It got me to thinking: if you could pick a matchup for the NCAA Tournament Title game right now, who would it be and why? Our panel answered. You can chime in in the comments:

Raphielle Johnson: Arizona vs. Syracuse.

This would be the ideal title game matchup right now if we were to go with a BCS-style game. Why? These are two of the most talented teams in the country, and they’ve backed it up with results as well.

While Arizona may not have the deepest rotation, head coach Sean Miller does have the pieces needed to attack just about any system they’ll encounter. And for as much as their need for a consistent perimeter shooter has been discussed, they’re still a Top 25 team in adjusted offensive efficiency per kenpom.com. Defensively their work has been excellent to this point in the season, and it helps to have athletes such as Nick Johnson, Rondae Hollis-Jefferson, and Brandon Ashley when it comes to defending. As for Syracuse Jim Boeheim’s team put forth an uncharacteristic performance against Miami on Saturday, which is a credit to the Hurricanes more than an indictment of the Orange. Tyler Ennis has been one of the nation’s best point guards, and forwards C.J. Fair and Jerami Grant have done what was expected of them when the season began. The combination of talent and depth makes Syracuse a logical selection for this game.

Scott Phillips: Kansas vs. Kentucky

I’ll preface this by saying that I want to see the two teams playing the best ball in the country facing each other for the NCAA title, I just hope that it happens to be Kansas and Kentucky because they’re the two most talented teams I’ve seen play this season. No disrespect to the other top contenders that are playing better ball than the Jayhawks and Wildcats, but they don’t boast the type of talent that these two teams possess. Can you imagine the intrigue around the storylines? Wiggins in the title game. Kentucky’s freshmen trying to prove everyone wrong. Embiid vs. Cauley-Stein in the post. Self vs. Calipari. Now wrap your mind around those four incredible storylines for a second and realize that none of the four even intertwined. This would be a matchup for the ages; two titans of college basketball colliding with the best talent in the country on the floor. Hardcore fans, casual fans; they’d all tune in for this one. And it would hopefully be a hell of a game.

Terrence Payne: Florida vs. Syracuse

Personally, after going through the preseason debate of Michigan State or Kentucky for the No. 1 spot, I’d like to see a national title between the Spartans and Wildcats, to have that initial argument come full circle. Even though they played a week into the season. I’m not sure will see a rematch. I’m going with Florida and Syracuse as my ideal national championship. The Gators look the part of the contender as they get players back in the lineup (still waiting on Chris Walker) and as they begin to mesh as a team. The Orange still have key pieces from last season’s Final Four team in addition to point guard Tyler Ennis, who’s playing as well as any freshman in the nation. Maybe I’m wrong, but the ACC-SEC battle seemed to work last night in the BCS Championship Game, right?

Rob Dauster: Arizona vs. Michigan State

There’s been a lot of talk here about so-and-so being the two best teams in the country, and it’s all been wrong.

Why?

Because Arizona and Michigan State are the two best teams in the country, at least right now. That could end up changing if some of these super-talented freshmen turn into super-human basketball players in the next three months, but as of today, the matchup this is the matchup that I would most look forward to.

Think about it: there may not be two better game-planners and in-game coaches that Sean Miller and Tom Izzo, which is saying a lot considering the quality of coaching at the top level of college basketball. Nick Johnson is one of the nation’s best defenders, and he’ll be locked-up with the now-healthy Gary Harris, creating a matchup almost as intriguing as watching two of the nation’s most physically-gifted players in Aaron Gordon and Branden Dawson square off. Brandon Ashley and Adreian Payne will spend 40 minutes trying to out-face-up-game each other, while the key to the game could end up being the play of the point guards (Keith Appling and T.J. McConnell).

You guys are crazy if you don’t want to see this game happen with everything on the line.

Kevin Doyle: Arizona vs. Florida

If Arizona has holes, they’ve masked them well to date. The Wildcats are one of the most sound defensive teams in the country, have a rock solid point guard in T.J. McConnell, a center in Kaleb Tarczewski who is leaps and bounds better than a season ago, and a dynamite wing in Nick Johnson. All of that, and I haven’t even mentioned Aaron Gordon. The X-factor on this team is Gabe York. He has one role: to shoot and hit threes. He has been sub-par in that regard thus far, but if Sean Miller can rely on him for a couple of threes per game, Arizona’s offense becomes that much better.

As for Florida, they may seem like a peculiar pick, but I don’t think we have seen this Gators team even close to their best this season. Remember, they were playing without Scottie Wilbekin and Dorian Finney-Smith to begin the season, and Kasey Hill has missed time due to injury. As good and talented as Kenny Boynton was during his career, Wilbekin is an upgrade, in my opinion. Plus, Casey Prather is better than anyone could have possibly projected this year. Florida hasn’t come close to peaking yet. If we have learned anything about Billy Donovan, it’s to not doubt him in March. Florida has been to the Elite Eight the past three seasons, and this season they make it to the championship.

Top 2018 recruit R.J. Barrett names final five schools

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The top player in 2018 is down to five schools.

R.J. Barrett, a 6-foot-6 guard out of Monteverde Academy in Florida, announced Wednesday he’ll consider Arizona, Duke, Michigan, Oregon and Kentucky as his college destination.

Barrett is certainly the unquestioned No. 1 player in his class now with Marvin Bagley III reclassifying to 2017 this week and committing to Duke. He starred in Canada’s run to a gold medal at the FIBA U19 World Championships this summer, dropping 38 points on Team USA in a shocking semifinals win for the Canadians, who went on to defeat Italy in the finals. He averaged 21.6 points, 8.3 rebounds and 4.6 rebounds per game during the event.

The schools to make the cut for certainly are of little surprise. They’re among the biggest brands in basketball and have been among the recruiting elites for years.

Barrett was originally part of the 2019 class, but decided to reclassify earlier this summer.”Really, it’s been a thought of mine for the last year,” Barrett wrote for USA TODAY, “but I wanted to wait and see how the season would go and how school would go and when everything went well it became more and more real so I made the decision to go ahead and do it.

“I’m right on track to graduate in 2018 and academically everything is great.”

 

Big Ten reveals conference schedule with early-December games

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We knew it was coming, but seeing it in black-and-white is still plenty jarring.
The Big Ten is going to play conference games in early December.

The league announced its full conference schedule Wednesday, unveiling 14 first-week-of-December games ahead of nearly a month-long hiatus before Big Ten play picks up again in January.

It’s a move that was forced after the Big Ten decided it needed to expand its east coast presence after its expansion to Rutgers and Maryland, and will be playing its conference tournament on the eastern seaboard for the second-consecutive year, this time at New York’s Madison Square Garden.

The problem with MSG is that the Big East hosts its annual conference tournament there, meaning the B1G will have to play its tournament a week early, March 1-4. That means a week less of January, February and March for the conference to play its 18 league games. Thus the early December start. NBC Sports’ Rob Dauster broke down the situation in even more detail – and bite – last spring here.

Every team in the league will play both a home and a road game during that league’s first week, a soft opening if you will. Whether teams like the change or not will likely come down to circumstance  – what players they have injured or suspended, what players their opponents have injured or suspended and any other host of issues, but it’s hard to believe with all things being equal, Big Ten coaches will like this move. They’re playing extremely meaningful league games less than three weeks into the season with other conferences getting nearly 2 months of preparation before facing their toughest slate of games.

The B1G, though, will have more favorable and interesting games – even if they’re programmed against college football championship games (including their own) – that week than any other conference can boast, which likely means some nice TV ratings. Given why this change is being made, that’s probably the priority anyway.

South Carolina adds Maine grad-transfer Myers

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South Carolina is adding some immediate help in its follow-up season to a Final Four run.

Wesley Myers, a graduate transfer from Maine, is joining the Gamecocks’ program, according to FanRag Sports’ Jon Rothstein.

The 6-foot-2 guard gives Frank Martin’s team an instant infusion of scoring as they look to replace SEC player of the year Sindarius Thornwell and PJ Dozier. Myers 16.9 points per game last year on 43.7 percent shooting, including a 34.3 percent mark from 3-point range.

He’s the second grad-transfer Martin has picked up this offseason, joining Florida Atlantic’s Frank Booker. The pair should help ease the transition from last year’s success to a much less experienced team that returns just a pair of starters.

Myers, though, doesn’t arrive in Columbia without some notable history.

Last year, after transferring to Maine from Niagara, was suspended after an altercation with a teammate, according to reports. He and teammate Marko Pirovic argued over locker room music, and the alleged ensuing altercation left Pirovic with a broken jaw, according to reports. Three other Maine players were suspended after telling a team athletic trainer that Pirovic had injured himself in a fall in the shower. Pirovic declined to press charges.

Virginia head coach Tony Bennett: ‘We believe in diversity and unity to its fullest extent’

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Virginia’s Tony Bennett finally spoke out on last weekend’s clash between white supremacists protesting the removal of a statue of Robert E. Lee and counter-protesters that resulted in the deaths of a 32-year old woman named Heather Heyer and two police officers involved in a helicopter crash:

Bennett does not exactly take a hard-line stance — the message is more about healing within the community and how much he loves his current hometown than it is about condemning what happened — but he does say “we believe in diversity and unity to its fullest extent.”

Kyle Guy, a sophomore on the Virginia roster, had this to say on Sunday:

UNC academic case finally reaches NCAA infractions hearing

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RALEIGH, N.C. (AP) — It has taken more than two years for North Carolina to appear before an NCAA infractions committee panel since initially being charged with five top-level violations amid its long-running academic scandal.

The two-day hearing begins Wednesday in Nashville, Tennessee. The panel will ultimately determine whether the school faces penalties that could include fines, probation or vacated wins and championships, making this a major step toward resolution in an oft-delayed case filled with starts, stops and twice-rewritten charges.

“The hearing stage, no matter what size of a case, it’s a big deal to any university,” said Michael L. Buckner, a Florida-based attorney who has worked on infractions cases. “I’ve been a part of what you’d consider small cases, I’ve been a part of one of the largest cases. And trust me: The client feels the same anxiousness and apprehension no matter what size of a case it is.

“But I can definitely imagine with North Carolina, this is definitely a momentous occasion.”

The charges include lack of institutional control in a case tied to irregular courses in the formerly named African and Afro-American Studies (AFAM) department. The case is an offshoot of a 2010 football probe, with the NCAA reopening an investigation in summer 2014, filing charges in May 2015, revising them in April 2016 and then again in December.

The panel, which would typically issue a ruling weeks to months later, is chaired by Southeastern Conference Commissioner Greg Sankey and includes former U.S. Attorney General Alberto Gonzales.

UNC’s representatives were seen arriving for the closed-door hearing at a Nashville hotel Wednesday morning. The contingent included athletic director Bubba Cunningham, men’s basketball coach Roy Williams, football coach Larry Fedora and women’s basketball coach Sylvia Hatchell. Jan Boxill and Deborah Crowder, two former UNC employees charged individually in the case, were also seen with their attorneys.

None of the coaches are charged with a violation. But football and men’s basketball are referenced in a broad-based improper benefits charge tied to athlete access to the irregular courses, while women’s basketball is tied to a charge focused on a former professor and academic counselor providing improper assistance on assignments.

Fedora wasn’t working at UNC during the time in question.

“There’s nothing that I can add to what happened before I ever got here,” Fedora said last week. “But I’m there for support. I think me being there is important — not only for the NCAA but the university — that it shows compliance is important to me and our program.”

The focus is independent study-style courses misidentified as lecture classes that didn’t meet and required a research paper or two for typically high grades. In a 2014 investigation, former U.S. Justice Department official Keorneth Wainstein estimated more than 3,100 students were affected between 1993 and 2011, with athletes making up roughly half the enrollments.

The NCAA has said UNC used those courses to help keep athletes eligible.

UNC has challenged the NCAA’s jurisdiction, saying its accreditation agency — which sanctioned the school with a year of probation — was the proper authority. In a May filing , the school stated it “fundamentally believes that the matters at issue here were of an academic nature” and don’t involve NCAA bylaws.

The NCAA enforcement staff countered in a July filing: “The issues at the heart of this case are clearly the NCAA’s business.”

UNC has argued non-athletes had access to the courses and athletes didn’t receive special treatment. It has also challenged Wainstein’s estimate of athlete enrollments, saying Wainstein counted athletes who were no longer team members and putting the figure at less than 30 percent.

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