Once again whole, Delaware looks to complete run to CAA title

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For many teams the loss of two starters during conference play would be a critical blow, one that would prove to be incredibly difficult to overcome. But for others such an issue doesn’t prove to be as problematic, with the Delaware Blue Hens being a prime example. In late-January point guard Jarvis Threat and forward Marvin King-Davis were lost for a month due to suspensions for separate violations of athletic department policy, and given the talent possessed by preseason favorite Towson the Blue Hens’ CAA title hopes could have taken a serious hit.

But that wasn’t the case for Monte Ross’ club, which went 6-2 in the eight games that followed the suspension and currently hold a one-game lead in the CAA entering the final week of regular season play. While King-Davis is one of many contributors in the front court the same can’t be said of Threatt, who was averaging 17.9 points, 5.8 rebounds and 5.4 assists per game at the time of his suspension.

Threatt may be just one player in Delaware’s talented backcourt but he’s an important piece, and the loss of their point guard robbed the Blue Hens of the depth they enjoyed at the position.

“I thought we were talented enough to overcome it,” Ross told NBC Sports. “We had a suspension earlier in the year with Devon Saddler and we were able to overcome that, and I thought we would be able to do the same thing with these guys being out and we have.

“My biggest concern was the fact that our depth at point guard was null and void. It was just Devon, but thankfully he didn’t get hurt or get in foul trouble. I thought with Marvin in the front court we had some depth, but Jarvis in terms of being a point guard the only other option we had was Devon Saddler.”

Without Threatt more would be asked of Saddler in regards to the point guard role, and throughout the eight-game stretch he answered the call. In those games Saddler, currently averaging 3.5 assists per game, dished out 5.8 helpers per contest while boasting an assist-to-turnover ratio of 2.1. But for as good as Saddler’s been when it comes to both scoring, as he’s averaging 20.4 points per game, and distributing his biggest assist to the Delaware program this season may have come off the court.

Senior guard Davon Usher was in need of a new home after making the decision to leave Mississippi Valley State with the Delta Devils ineligible for postseason play. Saddler was able to get his childhood friend to make the move to Delaware, and all parties have benefitted from the partnership. Usher’s scoring an average of 19.8 points per game, putting up 26.5 points per game in the Blue Hens’ last eight contests. And if there’s one area in which Usher’s improved throughout the course of his one season in Newark, it’s been in regards to the quality of his shot attempts

“I think his comfort level has risen. He realizes he’s going to get the ball, he’s taking good shots and he’s not settling,” noted Ross. “I thought early in the year he was settling for jump shots because he is a good shooter, but he also has a really good ability to get into the lane and finish. I thought he got away from that a little bit. But now he’s really making himself a threat where teams have to guard the drive and the jump shot.”

Counting Threatt, who along with King-Davis will return on Wednesday night when Delaware visits UNCW, the Blue Hens have five players scoring in double figures with sharpshooter Kyle Anderson and forward Carl Baptiste being the others. And in regards to Baptiste, he’s taken advantage of the extra opportunities that have come as a result of the graduation of Jamelle Hagins.

To use the word “replace” in regards to Hagins would be a bit unfair, as he left the school as the program’s all-time leader in both rebounds and blocked shots. Losing a player of his caliber makes it difficult to simply say “next man up” and expect similar production.

But even with this being the case Delaware needed Baptiste, who began his college career at Saint Joseph’s, to prove himself capable of leading the way inside. And to this point in the season the senior’s done so, averaging 10.6 points and 8.1 rebounds per game. And before falling one point short in a 69-65 loss to Drexel on Sunday afternoon Baptiste had posted three consecutive double doubles, and for the season he’s had seven such outings.

“Carl has always been a very skilled big man for us. What I tell people all the time is that he just didn’t get the opportunity because we had Jamelle,” Ross said. “He didn’t get as much of an opportunity as he’s getting now. And when we [increased] his minutes he’s really performed admirably.”

On the season Delaware’s averaging just over 79 points per game, and with the return on Threatt offensive production shouldn’t be a concern for a group that’s failed to score at least 70 points in three of its 14 conference games. But in order for the Blue Hens to earn the program’s first NCAA tournament berth since 1999, not only will they need to successfully reincorporate King-Davis and Threatt into the rotation but they’ll need to shore things up on the boards as well.

In conference play Delaware, while a good defensive team in regards to shooting percentages, ranks seventh in the CAA in opponents’ offensive rebound percentage with teams grabbing 32.7% of their missed shots against the Blue Hens. Games tend to slow down and get tighter in tournament play, and the failure to close out a solid defensive sequence by grabbing the ensuing rebounds could make all the difference between cutting down the nets and heading home early without the ultimate prize.

“We want to make sure that we’re sharp defensively, because I think that always gives you a chance,” said Ross. “When you get into tournament play the game slows down and there’s a lot less transition, so it’s about being able to execute in the half-court. I want to make sure that we’re able to execute, that we’re able to guard and make sure the “apple cart” won’t be upset with [Jarvis and Marvin] coming back.”

If Delaware can accomplish those tasks, both the CAA title and the program’s first trip to the NCAA tournament in 15 years are well within their reach.

Loyola-Chicago’s Sister Jean gets her piece of the net

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Loyola-Chicago’s hero — their 98-year old chaplain, Sister Jean — got her reward for being the good-luck charm that got the Ramblers to the Final Four.

Think about this:

  • The Ramblers beat Miami on a game-winning three with 0.3 seconds left
  • They beat Tennessee on a jumper with 3.6 seconds left that bounced off the rim, the backboard and the rim again before going in.
  • They needed a three with 7.6 seconds left to help them hold off Nevada in the Sweet 16.
  • A senior that never averaged more than 8.3 points and that had a season-high of 14 points against something called Eureka this season went for a career-high 23 points to get the Ramblers to the Final Four.

She earned this piece of the net.

The Atlanta Falcons are trying to recruit Sister Jean from Loyola

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The Atlanta Falcons are American sports’ most cursed franchise now that the Chicago Cubs have won a World Series.

Hell, Atlanta sports in general are a minefield of terrible losses, blown seasons and heartbreak.

Which is why the Falcons, who may or may not have blown a 28-3 lead in the Super Bowl to Tom Brady and the New England Patriots, are trying to get Sister Jean on their payroll:

Stay away, Falcons.

Sister Jean is ours.

Sincerely, College Basketball

No. 11-seed Loyola-Chicago advances past Kansas State, to Final Four

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Sister Jean strikes again!

Ben Richardson, a senior guard who’s never averaged more than 8.3 points in a season, broke double-figures just four times during his senior year and had a season-high of 14 points that came in a game against something called Eureka, scored went 6-for-7 from three and scored a career-high 23 points for No. 11-seed Loyola-Chicago as college basketball’s latest Cinderella finished off their run to the Final Four with a 78-62 win over No. 9-seed Kansas State.

A No. 11-seed is the lowest-seeded team to ever reach a Final Four, and Loyola is just the fourth No. 11-seed to get to the Final Four. LSU did it in 1986, George Mason made it in 2006 and VCU reached the Final Four out of a play-in game in 2011.

Perhaps the most impressive part of this win was that it was never really in doubt. Kansas State led 3-2 for 17 seconds in the first half … and that’s it. The Ramblers opened the game on a 15-5 run, took a 36-24 lead into the break and led by as many as 23 points in the second half.

Perhaps this is what says it all — The Ramblers emptied their bench to let the walk-ons get some run.

In the Elite Eight.

Their bench players dribbled out the clock to send them to the Final Four.

For a team that needed game-winning jumpers in the final 10 seconds in the first three rounds of the tournament, Kansas State was the lowest seeded team that the Ramblers played in the tournament. I guess it’s fitting that they were the game they finally won comfortably.

And to be frank, this is the postseason run that we all needed this year.

Let’s start with the basics: Nobody wants to see Kansas State in the Final Four. I’m sorry Kansas State fans, but that’s the truth. This run has been fun, it might have saved Bruce Weber’s job and I’ve gained a whole new level of respect for the fight and the grit that guys like Barry Brown Jr., Cartier Diarra and Xavier Sneed play with.

But if you are going to give me the choice between seeing a miracle mid-major run to the final weekend of the college basketball season or a middling power conference program that happened to get hot against a lucky draw in the NCAA tournament, I’m taking the mid-major.

Every. Single. Time.

And I guarantee that I’m not the only one.

If we’re not going to get a blueblood, give me the little guy.

Especially when they are being led to glory by a 98-year old nun named Sister Jean.

That is the other part of this: Everything about this Loyola-Chicago team is good. They are what makes college basketball so special. They are why this event is the best sporting event in America. And they are making this run in the tournament in a year where the sport has been marred by scandal after scandal.

There was the FBI’s investigation into corruption in college basketball that resulted in assistant coaches at four programs getting arrested. There was the arrest of the three UCLA players that turned into an international incident covered by TMZ, CNN and FOX News when LaVar Ball stood up for his son and got into a war of words with Donald Trump. There were the accusations that were levied at Michigan State head coach Tom Izzo that he covered up sexual assaults committed by players within his program. There were the reports that leaked before the start of the NCAA tournament that tied players at myriad programs with taking impermissible from a disgraced NCAA agent, and then the controversy surrounding a report that Sean Miller was caught on a wiretap discussing a payment of $100,000 for Deandre Ayton.

Anyone paying attention to college basketball from afar would think that the sport is an absolute cesspool, and whether the fact that it is may or may not be true depending the way that you view amateurism and the ability of college athletes to earn money off of their likeness, the bottom-line is this: College basketball’s public image has never been worse.

Until now.

Now we have a team from the Missouri Valley — a league that Wichita State and Creighton left because it wasn’t good enough — heading to the Final Four. We have a mid-major program whose most famous member is their 98-year old chaplain. We have a program with a head coach that is so far from the glitz and glamour of $3,000 suits that he wears outfits that look like this.

This is why college basketball is the best.

Because things like this can happen.

Tonight, we are all Ramblers.

Report: Gonzaga will decide on conference future in next few weeks

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Now that Gonzaga has been eliminated from the 2018 NCAA tournament, the school has some important decisions to make regarding its basketball future.

A report at the end of February from Mark Zeigler of the San Diego Union-Tribune said that the Bulldogs were among two teams targeted by the Mountain West Conference for future expansion. The Mountain West talks are becoming more of a reality since the Zags were ousted by Florida State in the Sweet 16 on Thursday night.

Dennis Dodd of CBSSports.com is reporting that Gonzaga will make a conference decision in the next few weeks as the school is exploring the possibility of leaving the West Coast Conference.

Gonzaga athletic director Mike Roth confirmed to Dodd that the Mountain West and Gonzaga are talking while also noting that rumors of BYU and Gonzaga being a package deal are false. Since the window is quickly closing to try to get new teams into leagues for the 2018-19 season the Gonzaga/Mountain West talks should be figured out within the next few weeks.

“I think we’re into that crunch period for sure if we’re going to try to get it done for the fall of 2018. At the same time, we’re not going to rush the decision because of timing,” Roth said to Dodd.

“In a perfect world, we’re going to be making a decision in the next couple of weeks here. But there is no such thing as perfect worlds in the crazy world of college athletics.”

While Gonzaga has dominated the WCC over the last 20 years, the conference hasn’t provided enough quality competition for the perennial top-25 program. That’s why the jump to the Mountain West would be intriguing. The Bulldogs would get a better yearly strength of schedule to help its tournament profile. The Mountain West would add a stable NCAA tournament contender that would also boost the national profile of the league.

“Our conference doesn’t get the national respect, and the Mountain West has better respect,” Roth said to Dodd. “Whether it’s significant enough for us to make that move, we’re trying to figure [that] out.”

As Dodd noted in his report, this move would have little to do with revenue for Gonzaga. This move would be made strictly for competitive purposes:

Such a move would seemingly have little to do with revenue, at least for Gonzaga. The Mountain West TV contract is worth approximately $18 million (about $1.5 million per school). Gonzaga’s current league, the West Coast Conference, gets a tiny fraction compared to that amount.

Based on an industry standard that basketball is worth only 25 percent of any media rights contract, jumping to the MWC would net Gonzaga only $375,000 per season.

Based on Roth’s quotes about the WCC and the level of national respect, it will be fascinating to see if this move happens in the next few weeks. It makes sense for both Gonzaga and the Mountain West to make this move. But a lot of other things also have to be figured out for such a move to take place. Once the college basketball season is over, this will be one of the biggest storylines to follow heading into next season.

PHOTO: Loyola-Chicago’s Sister Jean has her signature Nikes on

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Not only does Sister Jean have her own bobblehead, she has her own pair of signature Nikes as well: