Previewing the First Four

1 Comment

While the greatest day in the history of sports — the first Thursday of the NCAA tournament — is still two days away, the Big Dance actually kicks off tonight with the first two games of the First Four.

Here is a quick look at the four games that will be played in Dayton over the course of the next two days:

MORERead through all of our bracket analysis here

Tue. 6:40 p.m.: No. 16 Albany vs. No. 16 Mount St. Mary’s:

Playing for the right to face Florida on Thursday, two of the NCAA tournament’s most unexpected participants will square off the the first of 67 glorious games.

Albany was the No. 4 seed in the America East tournament, upsetting league champ Vermont in the semifinals on their home court before heading to Long Island to beat Stony Brook on the road. The Great Danes are led by Peter Hooley and Sam Rowley. Hooley has been playing great of late, as he scored 71 points in the three America East tournament games.

Mount St. Mary’s is led by a member of Shaka Smart’s coaching tree. Jamion Christian runs a similar system to what Shaka Smart does at VCU, only his is called Mayhem instead of Havoc. They press, they try to force turnovers and they shoot a lot of threes. The name to know on the Mountaineers is Julian Norfleet.

Tue. 9:10 p.m.: No. 12 N.C. State vs. No. 12 Xavier

N.C. State was the surprise of Selection Sunday, as they snuck into the dance over SMU, who had spent much of the final month of the regular season in the top 25. Xavier had a bit more room to spare, as most experts considered them as close to a lock as a bubble team can get, but they still found themselves on the wrong end of a play-in game.

This has the potential to be quite an entertaining game. N.C. State is led by T.J. Warren, who is one of the nation’s most talented scorers. He went for more than 40 points in back-to-back games at the end of the regular season and beat out Jabari Parker for ACC Player of the Year.

Xavier has a talented scorer in their own right in Semaj Christon, a 6-foot-3 sophomore point guard that has had the offense built around him this season. The good news for Xavier is that they also have Matt Stainbrook back from a knee injury that cost him a game at the end of the regular season.

MORE8 teams that can win it all  |  8 clutch players  |  Guide to perfect bracket pool

Wed. 6:40 p.m.: No. 16 Cal Poly vs. No. 16 Texas Southern

Cal Poly is the lowest seeded team in this field after losing nine of their last 11 games and sneaking into the dance with a regular season record of just 12-19. Poly is led by Chris Eversley and Dave Nwaba, their two leading scorers and rebounders, but it was a three from Ridge Shipley, a freshman point guard that comes off the bench, that gave them the win over Cal St. Northridge.

Texas Southern is loaded with guys that you’ve heard of before. Their coach is Mike Davis, who once led Indiana to a Final Four. Their best player is Aaric Murray, a former top 100 recruit that played at La Salle and West Virginia. Former Marshall scorer D.D. Scarver is their second-leading scorer while Oklahoma State transfer Ray Penn comes off the bench.

Wed. 9:10 p.m.: No. 11 Tennessee vs. No. 11 Iowa

This will be one of the most interesting matchups of the first week of the tournament. Tennessee is a team with a great computer profile, a dominating win over Virginia in December and a talented roster playing their best basketball down the stretch of the season. The problem? The Vols lost too many head-scratchers and got a pair of bad breaks on game-winning threes from Texas A&M’s Antwan Space in their two losses to the Aggies this season.

Iowa is similar in that their computer numbers look really good, but their overall profile is suspect. They blew too many close games early in the season and they have completely lost the ability to play defense over the course of the last month.

The matchup that will be interesting will be between Jordan McRae and Roy Devyn Marble, two of the nation’s most underrated stars, but the x-factor is going to be Iowa head coach Fran McCaffery. His son is having surgery to remove a tumor from his thyroid on the day of the game, and McCaffery will fly into Dayton before tip-off after being by his son’s side during the procedure. Will Iowa rally around their head coach and his family.

Creighton’s Khyri Thomas dunks on 2 Butler defenders

William Mancebo/Getty Images
Leave a comment

Creighton did not get off to the best of starts Tuesday night, trailing by as many as 20 points with Butler making eight of its first 12 three-pointers.

Junior guard Khyri Thomas did his best to provide a spark, driving the lane and then dunking on two Butler defenders.

Thomas’ dunk sparked a 12-4 run to end the half, trimming the Bluejays’ deficit to a slightly more manageable 12 points.

Rival fans fired up over placement of UNC national title signs

Tom Pennington/Getty Images
2 Comments

When sports teams win championships, one of the benefits received is usually the placement of signs along major highways that honors said achievement. This is what the North Carolina Department of Transportation did in honor of North Carolina winning the national title. But according to the News & Observer some rival fans are none too pleased with the placement of two of these signs.

The two signs in question were placed on Interstate 40 in Raleigh, with one (which is visible to those driving east) being just three miles away from NC State’s home arena. For those driving westbound on I-40, there’s a visible sign at the Wake-Durham county line.

According to the News & Observer, the signs were placed at those spots in order to grab the attention of passengers deplaning at nearby Raleigh-Durham International Airport. But even with that being the case, someone had to know that the placement of the signs would not go over well with the fan base that calls Raleigh home.

In November, North Carolina’s request for eight signs to be erected across the state in acknowledgement of the men’s basketball team’s achievement was approved by the North Carolina Board of Transportation. A sign placed along I-85 also drew criticism, as some believed it to be too close to the Charlotte (formerly UNC Charlotte) campus. That sign would ultimately be moved to a spot close to the South Carolina state line.

And given the reactions to the signs along I-40, one has to wonder if the locations of those two signs will change as well.

The differences between the NCAA’s Louisville and North Carolina rulings

Kevin C. Cox/Getty Images
5 Comments

One of the questions that I have been asked the most since news broke that the NCAA had upheld a ruling that Louisville would have to vacate four seasons worth of wins, including a trip to the Final Four and a National Title, was why what Louisville did was significantly worse than the two decades of academic fraud that had occurred at North Carolina.

UNC, if you’ve forgotten, was not punished at all by the NCAA for the scandal involving paper classes that helped keep football and basketball players eligible.

And the reason for that is really quite simple: The NCAA made an active decision that they would not be in the business of determining what does and what does not constitute academic fraud. In April of 2014, the Division I Legislative Council clarified academic misconduct rules, saying “academic standards and policies governing misconduct are the responsibility of individual schools and their accreditation body,” and that “the membership’s position that it is a school’s responsibility to decide whether or not misconduct involving current or future student-athletes or school staff has occurred.”

The thinking here makes sense.

The NCAA is not an organization that is designed to determine whether or classwork is legitimate. That responsibility falls on the shoulders of accrediting agencies. Those rules are bigger than the NCAA. What they couldn’t have predicted, however, was that a university as prominent and as well-respected as the University of North Carolina would a hit to their academic respectability to protect their athletic department. UNC said that the fraudulent classes weren’t, you know, fraudulent. That’s why the NCAA tried North Carolina as an extra benefits case.

Put another way, the Committee on Infractions for the UNC case could not determine that the “courses were solely created, offered and maintained as an orchestrated effort to benefit student-athletes,” because they weren’t. They were created by a rogue professor. The athletic department found out those classes existed. Student-athletes took advantage of a fake class the way the rest of the student body at-large did. The fake classes were not created specifically for those student-athletes.

That distinction is critical, because it represents the difference between the scandal falling under NCAA jurisdiction and the jurisdiction of the agency tasked with accrediting the University of North Carolina as something other than a diploma mill.

With Louisville, there really was no debate about whether or not this was an NCAA issue. A member of a college basketball team’s coaching staff was providing student-athletes and prospective recruits, some of whom were under the age of 18, with lap dances and sexual favors that he paid for. That is the definition of extra benefits in the NCAA rulebook, and the egregiousness of what occurred — strippers, hookers, underage recruits, etc. — is why Louisville was hit so hard.

The NCAA is stupid and illogical and I hate so much about it, but I find it hard to fault them for the way either of these cases played out.

Penny Hardaway acknowledges links to college programs

Ronald Martinez/Getty Images
Leave a comment

One of the most fascinating subplots to this year’s college coaching carousel is what will happen with Penny Hardaway.

A Memphis basketball legend, Penny is currently the head coach of the powerhouse Memphis East high school while running a Nike-affiliated AAU program aptly named Team Penny. Combined, those rosters include an absolutely ridiculous amount of talent. James Wiseman, who may just be the best player in the Class of 2019, plays for both East and Team Penny. Another five-star prospect in the Class of 2019, D.J. Jeffries, also plays for Team Penny while his cousins — Jonathan and Chandler Lawson, the younger brothers of former Memphis and current Kansas players Dedric and K.J. — play for East.

There’s a real debate about whether or not those teams would be able to beat the Memphis Tigers basketball team.

As in the University of Memphis.

That’s where things are in that city.

Which is why Penny Hardaway has been linked to a job that isn’t even open yet. It’s why his name is mentioned when discussing whether or not Ole Miss should hire him to replace Andy Kennedy. We’re talking about a guy with more than a decade of experience in the NBA that can, in theory, bring with him the kind of talent that you would expect to see on a roster like Kentucky or Duke. It would only make sense for the likes of Memphis and Ole Miss to kick the tires.

What if he says yes?

And, according to an interview he gave to SEC Country, it sounds like Penny would, at the very least, listen.

“It’s a huge compliment for any college to even think about wanting me to come in. I feel like I bring a lot to the table even though I haven’t coached college,” he told the site on Monday. “I feel like my NBA experience and the coaches I’ve had over the years, I’ve learned enough to be a head coach in college. But I’m really enjoying this right now and coaching these guys.”

If Louisville vacates the 2013 national title, does Michigan win the national title?

3 Comments

Louisville lost their appeal, meaning that for the first time in college basketball history, a Division I program is going to have to take down a national title banner.

The details are pretty straight-forward: If one of the three enrolled student-athletes or 15 recruits that the were determined by the NCAA to have received “adult entertainment and/or sex acts” from strippers and sex workers played in any game from Dec. 2010 through July 2014, when Louisville staffer Andre McGee was paying for girls to come around Louisville’s Billy Minardi Hall, then that game is to be vacated from the Louisville record books.

That includes 123 regular season games and 15 NCAA tournament wins.

That also includes the 2012 Final Four and the 2013 National Title.

What does that mean? How does a program vacate records and titles?

Well, they can no longer do anything to officially reference winning that title. Banners come down. Record books must be changed. For all intents and purposes, Louisville must never again acknowledge that their run to the national title — which included Kevin Ware breaking his leg in the Elite 8 against Duke, a marvelous comeback in the Final Four against Wichita State and one of the most exciting halves of basketball in NCAA tournament history as Luke Hancock and Spike Albrecht went shot-for-shot — took place.

It doesn’t, however, mean that Michigan, whom Louisville beat in the national title game, won the 2013 National Championship.

This not like the Olympics. A silver medal does not turn to gold when the official winner is ruled a cheat. Michigan still lost that game in the eyes of the NCAA. Louisville did not forfeit the win. They just … also lost.

There is no winner.

Officially speaking, as of today, no one won the 2013 national title.