(Stephen F. Austin)

Stephen F. Austin could be a scary team to play in March

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As we get closer to March, Southland leader Stephen F. Austin might be one of the scarier teams a program could potentially face in the NCAA Tournament.

At 25-2 — and 14-0 in the Southland with a three-game lead — the Lumberjacks have won 22 consecutive games and are winning by an average of 13.8 points per game in conference play while playing with a balanced attack.

Stephen F. Austin has five players averaging at least 10 points a game and all five of them shoot at least 31 percent from the three-point line, while four of them are above 33 percent.

But the shocking part about their success? The Lumberjacks are playing under first-year coach Brad Underwood — a longtime assistant at Kansas State and a year at South Carolina under Frank Martin — and lost three seniors that were regular contributors last season.

Underwood credited the team’s unique bond and work ethic for the win streak.

“They’ve been very receptive to listening, very receptive to the work ethic we’ve required and when you have a senior leader who is also your hardest worker, that is a bonus from day one,” Underwood said to College Basketball Talk last week. “And that’s helped with the winning streak. We’ve developed a tough mentality. That’s one of the thing’s I’m most proud of is the road winning streak. These kids have been able to be resilient and tough-minded and this is an extremely hard-working group.”

The senior Underwood is referring to is Desmond Haymon, a 6-foot-3 guard that doubles as the team’s second-leading scorer at 13.9 points per game.

“Just an extremely high-character guy,” Underwood said. “There’s no question that no matter what Desmond does in life he’s going to be successful because he has great character and great passion. He’s not afraid to tell other guys to step up and tell the young guys and challenge them to work.”

Stephen F. Austin’s offensive balance has been great for a first-year coach like Underwood to work with.

“It’s probably helped us more than any one thing. We’re basically a position-less team,” Underwood said of the balance. “My power forward can play the point for us. My five man is our best three-pointer shooter, statistically. They can all pass it, they can all dribble it. It’s probably as good a passing team as I’ve been apart of.”

The defense for the Lumberjacks has also been surprisingly good despite their lack of size. Jacob Parker is the team’s tallest starter at 6-foot-6 and is also the team’s best three-point shooter, but Stephen F. Austin relies on getting heavy pressure on the perimeter.

“One thing I’ve learned from Hugs and learned from Frank (Martin) is on the defensive side of things,” Underwood said of his team’s pressure. “I can’t play backline defense with this team and expect to win. We don’t have the roaming presence in terms of tremendous size. We pressure and we get out and deny. Our point guard Trey Pickney is just as good an on-the-ball defender as I’ve been around and we try to take other team’s first options away.”

With the Lumberjacks on a 22-game winning streak, a potential NCAA Tournament bid has come into question. Stephen F. Austin lost to Texas and East Tennessee State on the season and don’t have any marquee wins over tournament competition. That makes their Southland Conference tournament win vital for a league that is definitely a one-bid league.

“You have to win your (conference) tournament,” Underwood said. “If that means that’s in the cards for us and we’re able to do that, I think we become a team that not a lot of people want to play in the first round of the NCAA Tournament. In the meantime, we’re not worried about that. This team deserves what we’re getting. All of our fans, and administration should be proud of this winning streak. Winning is hard. We’re a team that is very grounded in terms of our general approach.”

Roy Williams: ‘There’s no question’ more ACC games equal no Kentucky in non-conference

SAN ANTONIO, TX - MARCH 23: Head coach Roy Williams of the North Carolina Tar Heels looks on during the third round of the 2014 NCAA Men's Basketball Tournament against the Iowa State Cyclones at the AT&T Center on March 23, 2014 in San Antonio, Texas.  (Photo by Ronald Martinez/Getty Images)
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Back in June, when the ACC officially announced that they would be expanding the league schedule to 20 games in 2019, I tried to warn you that it was going to put a dent into the non-conference schedule and the amount of quality, on-campus games that we’ll get prior to January.

Roy Williams essentially confirmed this as fact this week.

The North Carolina head coach hopped on a podcast with ESPN and more or less said that the bigger league schedule is going to lead to an end of some of UNC’s marquee home-and-home series.

“My feeling right now, and it could change by ’19, heck I could be fired by ’19, but my feeling right now is to play our conference schedule, play one exempt event where you have really good teams, and other than that play home games to help out your revenue and help out your budget,” Williams said. “We have the ACC/Big Ten and that’s not going to go away. So it’s 21 games already scheduled.”

When asked specifically if this would put an end to UNC’s series with Kentucky, Williams said, “Oh yeah, there’s no question. Why would I need to do that?”

There’s two reasons this makes sense. On the one hand, North Carolina needs to fill their home arena a certain number of times to help with the bottom line of the athletic department. They make enough off of ticket sales, merchandise sales, parking fees and food and beverage that they can afford to pay out more than $50,000 to bring a smaller opponent into their arena. More than that, playing a series of weaklings early in the year allows players to gain confidence, it allows Williams to figure out what his rotation will be and who can handle playing at this level, and it gives newcomers a chance to assimilate into his team against players that just aren’t that good.

And when a larger ACC schedule severely limits the number of non-conference games that UNC will be able to play, what’s going to get cut are the contracts that require the Tar Heels to play on the road when they don’t have to.

So buh-bye, Kentucky, it is.

John Calipari helping to raise money for Louisiana flood victims

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It’s easy to be critical of John Calipari.

You don’t have to be a Louisville fan to know all the jokes by now. He cheated at UMass. He cheated at Memphis. He’s had two Final Fours vacated. Teflon John. Yada yada yada.

I get it. Negativity comes with success, particularly for someone who is as brash about his success as Coach Cal is.

But even Cal’s harshest critics cannot begrudge the work he does — can get his players to do — for charity and how well he can harness the power of Big Blue Nation to make a tangible difference. Remember the ‘Hoops for Haiti’ telethon that raised more than $1 million to help earthquake victims back in 2010? Or the hundreds of thousands of dollars he raised for Hurricane Sandy relief? Or when his fantasy camps generated more than $1 million in charitable donations?

And should I mention the amount of times that stories of Kentucky players befriending sick kids or visiting children’s hospitals?

The cynic in me could say that all of this is for branding, helping ensure his players are image-conscious and aware of the sponsorship opportunities that come with being a likable, relatable and humble athlete. There’s probably some truth to that.

But do you think the kids that get visits from their Big Blue heroes care? Do you think it matters to the charities that get seven-figure checks to help with disaster relief?

I say all that to say this: During a press conference on Thursday morning, Cal had this to say, via SEC Country:

Calipari said former UK star Anthony Davis (currently of the New Orleans Pelicans) told Calipari, “Coach, you gotta do something” for Baton Rouge flood victims. Davis is out of the country but will try to get back for Sunday’s softball game to help. His 2012 title teammates, Terrence Jones and Michael Kidd-Gilchrist, were not previously on the celeb list for Sunday but will be there.

Calipari has decided to donate all proceeds from Sunday’s alumni/celebrity softball game will go to the Baton Rouge flood-relief fund, through Red Cross. “So what I’m asking you to do is buy these tickets.” They’re $5 apiece. The previously raised funds will still go to the other designated charities, like each year.

For those so inclined, you can donate to the flooding fund by texting “GIVE” to 859-955-8173.

Vermont women cancels game in North Carolina over HB2

DURHAM, NC - MAY 10:  A unisex sign and the "We Are Not This" slogan are outside a bathroom at Bull McCabes Irish Pub on May 10, 2016 in Durham, North Carolina.  Debate over transgender bathroom access spreads nationwide as the U.S. Department of Justice countersues North Carolina Governor Pat McCrory from enforcing the provisions of House Bill 2 that dictate what bathrooms transgender individuals can use.  (Photo by Sara D. Davis/Getty Images)
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The University of Vermont is the latest in a ever-growing line of organizations canceling events in North Carolina due to the controversial HB2 law.

The Catamounts will not be traveling to play the Tar Heels on Dec. 28th as previously scheduled.

“We strive very hard to create an inclusive climate for our students and staff in which they all can feel safe, respected, and valued,” the school wrote in a statement. “It would be hard to fulfill these obligations while competing in a state with this law, which is contrary to our values as an athletic department and university.”

“This decision was made in consultation with our coaches, the women’s basketball team, and key university officials. We fully understand and sympathize with the impact that this decision may have on the North Carolina women’s basketball schedule. However, we believe this decision is consistent with our values and the conversations with our coaches and student team members. These were the most important considerations.”

Known as the “bathroom bill”, HB2 is the law that requires transgender people to use the bathroom of the sex that they were born not the sex they identify with.

Earlier this year, Albany was forced to cancel a trip to Duke due to legislation in New York regarding visits to North Carolina. The NBA has taken the 2017 All-Star game from Charlotte, and the NCAA is heavily considering pulling NCAA tournament games from the state.

Interestingly, ACC commissioner John Swofford was very non-committal on the subject when asked yesterday.

Derek Willis won’t be suspended for offseason citiation

Kentucky's Derek Willis (35) hits an uncontested three point shot during the second half of an NCAA college basketball game against Tennessee Thursday, Feb. 18, 2016, in Lexington, Ky. Kentucky won 80-70. (AP Photo/James Crisp)
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John Calipari gave a press conference on Thursday morning and, for the first time since his arrest in June, the Kentucky head coach spoke about Derek Willis.

Willis, if you’ve forgotten, was found passed out in the street outside the open driver’s side door of his car at 4:30 a.m. You can see video of the arrest here. Willis is very lucky he wasn’t killed, and that he didn’t kill anyone else trying to drive in that condition.

Cal said that Willis will not be suspended for any games, but “Derek knows he’s under a different eye now than he was.” He did not elaborate on what kind of punishment Willis will receive beyond that, saying that “I don’t throw people under the bus.”

To be honest, I’m a little surprised that Willis won’t be forced to miss any games, but if we’re being frank, sitting out an exhibition and Kentucky’s opener sounds much more appealing than the kind of, ahem, ‘conditioning drills’ that Willis has likely spent the summer doing.

PODCAST: Boeheim’s non-controversy and the coaches we don’t want to fight

Jim Boeheim
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In today’s podcast, I’m joined by Travis Hines to discuss stuff that has been in the news over the course of the last two weeks, specifically Jim Boeheim’s comments about Carmelo Anthony and why it is a total non-controversy.

We also dive into why Boeheim’s comments are forced to be taken out of context as well as Monte’ Morris, ‘Pancake’ Thomas and which college basketball coaches we would least like to fight.

As always, you can subscribe to the podcast on either iTunes or Stitcher, and there’s also a link to listen to this podcast below. Thanks for listening.