Upset Watch: Meet the little guys that could win in the Round of 64

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source: AP
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It’s always fun to root for the little guy.

Every year, people across the country always root for upsets in the NCAA Tournament because it brings a unique excitement to America’s most unpredictable sporting event. Whether you’re just purely into the “David topples Goliah” storyline, or you want to be that person that brags to their friends about knowing way too much about Ohio Valley Conference basketball, everyone seems to root for lower seeds to beat some of the most storied programs in America.

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Here are five potential upsets in the Round of 64 involved double-digit seeds.

No. 12 seed Stephen F. Austin over No. 5 seed VCU

Winners of 28 straight games, the Lumberjacks went through the Southland Conference unscathed as first-year head coach Brad Underwood has done a tremendous job this season getting this balanced group to bye in. With five starters averaging at least 9.6 points per game — and all five shoot at least 35 percent from the three-point line — Stephen F. Austin is incredibly dangerous on offense thanks to their balance and ability to stretch the floor at all five positions. If the Lumberjacks can handle VCU’s pressure, they could hit enough shots to get past Shaka Smart’s ballclub.

No. 12 seed North Dakota State over No. 5 seed Oklahoma

Senior-laden North Dakota State will be a tough out in the Round of 64 thanks to their tremendous shot selection and leadership. Summit League Player of the Year Taylor Braun is a do-it-all senior forward that shoots it well from everywhere on the floor and senior center Marshall Bjorkland has been in the top-ten in the country the last two seasons in field goal percentage, as he hovered in the mid-60s — percentage wise — both seasons. With the way Oklahoma can give up easy buckets, you have to like Bison’s chances if they can get stops on the other end.

MORE: 8 teams that can win it all | TV times | Bracket contest

No. 12 seed North Carolina State over No. 5 seed Saint Louis

If N.C. State can get past Xavier in Dayton — and they should — they pose a major threat for the rest of the field thanks in large part to sophomore scoring sensation T.J. Warren. The forward is the most ruthless and effeicient scorer in the country not named “Doug McDermott” and he’s a matchup nightmare for nearly every team in the field. Saint Louis is also struggling, having lost four of their last five games entering the tournament. If Warren gets hot enough, N.C. State is a very dangerous team in this field.

UPDATE: NC State beat Xavier, 74-59, on Monday.

No. 11 seed Tennessee over No. 6 UMass

If Tennessee gets past Iowa in Dayton, then they should be a potential upset to watch against No. 6 seed UMass. The Volunteers are playing much better basketball down the stretch and won five straight games before falling to No. 1 overall seed Florida in the SEC Tournament. Four of those wins came by double-digits and the inside-outside combination of Jordan McRae and Jarnell Stokes is tough to stop. The Minutemen also struggled entering the field as they’ve alternated wins and losses since March began and lost all three games that they played against NCAA Tournament teams during that stretch.

No. 11 Providence over No. 6 North Carolina

After winning the Big East Tournament in dramatic fashion at Madison Square Garden, the Friars are very confident heading into the tournament. Even though senior guard Bryce Cotton is an All-American performer, the Friars won two of the Big East Tournament games with Cotton playing well below his normal output. Providence only goes six deep, but all six players contributed heavily in the Big East Tournament and the Friars can get points and rebounds from nearly everyone on the floor. It’s not that North Carolina is susceptible to a loss as much as Providence is playing well and matches up well with the Tar Heels. This should be a good one.

Have any upset predictions of your own that we didn’t profile? Let us know your Round of 64 upsets — and why — in the comments section.

Preaching patience, new Pitt AD says hoops program “a complete rebuild”

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Things did not go particularly well for Kevin Stallings in his first year at Pitt. The program, which essentially pushed Jamie Dixon out the door for being consistently good but not often enough great, struggled, going 16-17 overall and 4-14 in the ACC, just two games out of the cellar.

On top of that, six players prematurely left the program this spring.

Not great, especially when you’ve got a new boss that didn’t hire you, as is the case for Stallings with new Pitt athletic director Heather Lyke, who came aboard in March. In her first meeting with Stallings, Lyke asked a rather blunt question.

“Do you want to be here?” according to the Beaver County Times.

Stallings answered that he did, and his new athletic director would appear to be willing to give her predecessor’s hire time to reclaim and rebuild the program.

“It’s a steep climb, if you will,” Lyke said. “It’s not something that’s going to come easy and it takes an incredible amount of work.”

Stallings’ personal reputation took a significant amount of damage this spring when he attempted to block Cameron Johnson from an intra-ACC transfer to North Carolina. NBC Sports’ Scott Phillips called him a “town-deaf clown” in his attempt to keep Johnson from being a Tar Heel, a position he later relinquished, allowing Johnson to head to Chapel Hill.

Losing Johnson certainly won’t help Stallings and the Panthers recover from the difficult first season. Pitt didn’t hit any grand-slams in recruiting but is adding four-star guard Marcus Carr in its 2017 class.

The immediate outlook doesn’t look particularly bright, but Pitt appears to be positioning itself to exhibit some patience.

“If you look at the team, it is a complete rebuild,” Lyke said. “So I do think that (Stallings) is going to need a little time to develop it.

“But, we’ve got to be headed in the right direction. There’s some things that have got to get better and noticeable improvements. I’ve already seen those things start to happen.”

 

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.