Stony Brook seeking to get over the hump, earn NCAA Tournament bid

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If one is to strictly judge a program’s success by berths to the NCAA Tournament, Albany and Vermont have been the top programs in the America East conference for the past 11 seasons as they have been there a combined eight times.

Will Brown has had sustained success at Albany, while Vermont’s success has been passed from Tom Brennan to Mike Lonergan and now to John Becker.

Many close followers of the America East would tell you that the top team may actually not be one of the aforementioned programs, but rather a school that has never even been to the NCAA Tournament: Stony Brook.

The Seawolves have accomplished a whole lot in a short time as a full-fledged Division 1 program: three regular season titles, three appearances in the NIT, and three 20+ win seasons in the past four years. Yet, no NCAA Tournament.

Stony Brook head coach Steve Pikiell understands getting to the NCAA Tournament needs to happen to help legitimize the program even further, but he isn’t about to discount the strides that have already been taken.

“I’m proud of the three league championships; we never had one,” Pikiell told NBC Sports after Stony Brook’s 68-63 loss at Columbia. “I’m proud of the guys in the program; they work hard and are great kids. Is there pressure? Yeah. I’d like to get there for Stony Brook University.”

The pressure Pikiell speaks of is a good pressure. The pressure signifies how far Stony Brook has come to the point of winning the America East is the expectation, and not just a lofty goal. However, real pressure — the kind that keeps a coach in his office late at night — is something he experienced in his first year at Stony Brook in 2005-06.

“My first year we started out 0-9. That’s pressure. Fighting for your life.”

Times have changed.

“We are going to compete for a league title this year. We have to hit three home runs. Our non-conference just ended, you want to have a winning record in the non-conference; we have that. Now we’re going into league play; we’ve won one game already. You have to hit another home run during the regular season. Then you’ve got to do it all over again in the conference tournament.”

It’s the usual suspects at the top of the nine team league as Albany and Vermont figure to be Stony Brook’s primary challengers.

“Vermont has I think like eight seniors; these guys have won a lot of games. And Albany, he does a great job – Will Brown up there. Last year, [the America East] had five teams in the postseason. You play tough non-conference games, so the record doesn’t indicate how good some of these teams are.”

When Stony Brook won 25 games last season — their most since they became a Division 1 program — the recipe for success was on the defensive end as they surrendered just 57.5 points per game. While the defense isn’t as strong this season with graduating claiming Tommy Brenton and Marcus Rouse, Pikiell believes his team can win in multiple ways.

“We’re a little bit young. We lost a lot of seniors last year, so we were kind of figuring ourselves out. I like our team. I think we can win in two ways this year, whereas last year it was defense, defense, defense.”

The Seawolves are already 1-0 in the America East having beaten New Hampshire earlier this season, but league play truly starts up this weekend on the road at Hartford — a team who handed them one of just two league losses a season ago.

Miller Time: Indiana coach cashes in with $24 million deal

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INDIANAPOLIS (AP) — New Indiana coach Archie Miller will make $24 million under his seven-year deal — and potentially even more in bonuses.

Miller accepted the job in March, but the athletic department didn’t announce details of the contract until Tuesday.

He will receive a base salary of $550,000 per year and $1 million in deferred income each season. Miller also will receive an additional $1.85 million in outside marketing and promotional income — and will get a $50,000 per year raise each year through March 2024.

Miller can earn a $250,000 bonus for winning a national championship. He can earn an additional $125,000 for a Big Ten regular-season title, reaching the Final Four and producing multiyear Academic Progress Rate scores over 950.

Utah, BYU rivalry back on after one-year hiatus

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The BYU-Utah annual rivalry series will be back on this season after taking a one-year hiatus last year.

For just the second time since 1909, the Utes and the Cougars did not play in 2016-17 after Utah head coach Larry Kyrstkowiak asked for a one-year cooling off period stemming from an intense and emotional game against BYU in 2015-16. In that game, then-freshman Nick Emery was ejected as a result of this punch that he threw:

The last time those two teams did not play was due to World War II.

The game will be played at BYU on Dec. 16th.

Utah will also play Utah State this season, the first time that they have played the Aggies since 2011.

 

California bans state-funded travel to eight states; does it affect college hoops?

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A new California law could end up causing a headache for the sports teams for public universities in the state.

Because of recently-added laws that are perceived as discriminatory against the LGBT community, California has now banned travel to eight states: Texas, Alabama, Kentucky and South Dakota join a list that already includes Kansas, Mississippi, North Carolina and Tennessee.

The law states that contracts that were signed before Jan. 1st, 2017, are exempted and can be fulfilled, but there’s not guarantee that will be the case in the future.

“Moving forward, the athletic department will not schedule future games in states that fail to meet the standards established by the new law,” a UCLA spokesman told the Sacramento Bee. That said, the university does not use state funding for travel sports teams as it currently stands, and the goal of the law to avoid “spending taxpayer dollars in states that discriminate,” according to California’s Attorney General.

On the college basketball side of things, the biggest question mark here is whether or not this law will prevent teams from playing in the NCAA tournament if they are sent to a site in one of those eight states. Next season alone, there are first weekend sites in Kansas, Texas, North Carolina and Tennessee, not to mention the Final Four taking place in San Antonio. The location for many of those events were determined prior to January 1st.

“We are generally not going to deny student-athletes the opportunity to compete in the postseason,” a UCLA spokesman told NBC Sports.

The next question then becomes whether or not regular season travel will be allowed. Earlier this year, Cal dropped out of talks with Kansas about a potential home-and-home series due to this law, and if regular season travel is not allowed, it would mean that Duke, North Carolina, Kentucky, Louisville and Wichita State, along with Kansas, are not allowed to be visited by California public schools that need state funding to travel. A request for a clarification on the legality of college sports teams traveling to those states has been filed with the Attorney General by Fresno State, whose football team is headed to Alabama for a game this year.

Travel for recruiting is also a question that needs to be answered, but at the highest level of the sport, that is typically funded by boosters.

N.C. State adds grad transfer Sam Hunt

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N.C. State added its fourth transfer this offseason. Like ex-Baylor guard Al Freeman, the latest one is eligible to play next season.

Sam Hunt, a double-digit scorer the past two seasons at North Carolina A&T, officially enrolled at North Carolina State on Monday morning.

“Sam is a great young man and will bring much needed depth to our backcourt,” N.C. State head coach Kevin Keatts said in a statement. “I want guys who are excited about being a part of our program and Sam really wants to be here.

“Sam is a combo guard that can space the floor with his ability to shoot the basketball. He is a good fit for the system and will bring a wealth of experience to our roster.”

Hunt, the 6-foot-2 guard, averaged 12.7 points per game last season, a dip from the 15.4 points per game he posted for the Aggies as a redshirt sophomore.

Hunt joins a roster that lost its three leading scorers from a season ago, one that ended 15-17 (4-14 ACC). Dennis Smith Jr. is a member of the Dallas Mavericks. Maverick Rowan also pursued a professional career and Terry Henderson was denied an additional year from the NCAA.

The Wolf Pack bring back forwards Abdul-Malik Abu and Omer Yurtseven as well as Torin Dorn.

Keatts, who took over the program after leading UNC Wilmington to back-to-back NCAA Tournaments, has already built for the future. UNC Wilmington transfer C.J. Bryce, 17.4 points, 5.4 rebounds and 3.0 assists per game for the Seahawks, has followed him to Raleigh. Utah transfer Devon Daniels committed to the Wolf Pack the same day as Bryce. Both will have to sit out next season due to NCAA transfer rules. Bryce will have two years of eligibility while Daniels will have three.

LaVar Ball stars in an uncomfortably entertaining segment on WWE’s Raw

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LaVar Ball’s statements and antics over this past year always seemed better suited a professional wrestling ring.

It was only natural that the patriarch of the Ball family — and the head of the Big Baller Brand — made an appearance on WWE’s Monday Night Raw at the Staples Center for an awkwardly entertaining segment with WWE Intercontinental Champion The Miz.

With sons, Lonzo — in his first appearance in the Staples Center as a member of the Los Angeles Lakers — and LaMelo looking on, LaVar was the center of attention. When The Miz mentioned something about a partnership between the two, the scripted interview went south. It resulted in LaVar saying nonsensical things like, “There’s only two dudes better than me, and I’m both of ’em!” before later taking off his shirt. When Dean Ambrose, a WWE superstar feuding with The Miz came out on to the ramp, LaVar didn’t quite grasp the concept that that was his cue to stop talking.

This segment was somehow entertaining and cringeworthy at the same time.

Now that Lonzo is beginning his NBA career, maybe it’s time LaVar try something different. A manager in the WWE may just be his true calling. He’s certainly had plenty of practice.