NCAA

Previewing the First Four

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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.

Ex-Michigan State player Keith Appling faces weapons charges

Keith Appling
(AP Photo/Darron Cummings)
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DEARBORN, Mich. (AP) Authorities say former Michigan State basketball player Keith Appling faces charges including carrying a concealed weapon after he was found in possession of guns and marijuana in suburban Detroit.

The Wayne County prosecutor’s office says 24-year-old Appling was arrested outside a Dearborn club on Sunday night. Club security called police after seeing a man pull a gun from the trunk of a car.

Prosecutors say Appling was in the driver’s seat of the car when police arrived. Officers found a handgun under the driver’s seat, a loaded weapon in the trunk and a small amount of suspected marijuana.

Weapons and marijuana possession charges were announced Wednesday.

The court says he doesn’t have a lawyer on record.

Appling played for the Spartans from 2010-2014 and plays for the NBA’s development league.

UNLV transfer to finish career at Michigan State

UNLV forward Ben Carter, right, celebrates after his team defeated Oregon in an NCAA college basketball game Friday, Dec. 4, 2015, in Las Vegas. UNLV won 80-69. (AP Photo/John Locher)
(AP Photo/John Locher)
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Former UNLV center Ben Carter announced on Wednesday that he will be transferring to Michigan State to finish his collegiate career.

Carter, who began his career at Oregon, averaged 8.6 points and 6.0 boards in his one season with UNLV before tearing his ACL in late January. He spent two seasons with the Ducks before transferring to Vegas, which is why he’s eligible immediately for the Spartans.

And that’s the biggest reason that Tom Izzo and company targeted him.

The Spartans lost Deyonta Davis to the NBA Draft after one season, a fact that became an inevitability midway through the year but one that the Spartans didn’t necessarily plan for heading into last season. Carter isn’t going to be an instant impact kind of player, particularly not when he’s coming off of an ACL injury, but he is a big body and a veteran presence on a front line that wasn’t going have much of either.

Looking Forward: Which programs are set to step backwards as we head into 2016-17?

FILE - In this Feb. 9, 2016, file photo, Wichita State head coach Gregg Marshall directs his team during the second half of an NCAA college basketball game against Drake, in Des Moines, Iowa. At this time of year college basketball coaches often sound like political candidates looking for votes as they tout their teams' NCAA tournament worthiness.  (AP Photo/Charlie Neibergall, File)
(AP Photo/Charlie Neibergall, File)
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The NBA Draft’s Early Entry Deadline has come and gone. Just about every elite recruit has decided where they will be playing their college ball next season. The coaching carousel, which ended up spinning a bit faster than initially expected, has come to a close for all of the major programs. 

In other words, by now, we have a pretty good feel for what college basketball is going to look like during the 2016-17 season. With that in mind, let’s take a look at some programs on the decline heading into next season.

Wichita State: It’s hard to see the Shockers take too much of a tumble given how good a coach Gregg Marshall is and their superiority to the rest of the Missouri Valley Conference, but the graduations of Fred VanVleet and Ron Baker mean the end of an era. Those two were the constants of a Final Four team, then a 35-0 squad, followed by a Sweet 16 and finishing last March in the second round. There’s still talent in Wichita and they are still going to be the heavyweights of the Valley, but the dominance and national prestige that came with VanVleet and Baker may have also left with them.

UNLV: Things haven’t exactly been at a highwater mark in Las Vegas in awhile, but the Running Rebels appear to continue to sink. First, they fired coach Dave Rice in the middle of the season, which is never received well in coaching circles, exactly the place you need to go to, you know, hire another coach. The Rick Pitino pipedream never materialized, and then Mick Cronin couldn’t pull the trigger despite giving life in the desert a serious look. That left UNLV with Little Rock’s first-year coach Chris Beard, until an ugly debate regent debate to approve his contract preempted an exit to Texas Tech just a week after taking the job. New head coach Marvin Menzies was hired with just two scholarship players left in the program. All of that messiness is a terrible sign for the current health of a once-mighty program.

Iowa State: The news for the Cyclones this spring has been almost universally positive, starting with point guard Monte’ Morris deciding to not even test the NBA draft process and return for a senior season in which he’ll be the Cyclones’ focal point. ISU also will be getting Naz Mitrou-Long back after the sharpshooter was granted a medical hardship waiver. But the reality remains that the Cyclones lost one of the best players in program history in Georges Niang and have been enjoying the most successful run in program history. Some sort of slide is likely — and has been expected — as a result. But coach Steve Prohm and ISU may have enough talent to return to the NCAA tournament for a school-record sixth time and forestall any setback.

RELATED: Eight programs that are on the rise as we head into next season

Steve Prohm and Monte Morris (AP Photo/Mark Wallheiser)
Steve Prohm and Monte Morris (AP Photo/Mark Wallheiser)

North Carolina State: It really looked like Mark Gottfried was going to get things rolling in a big way following the 2014-15 season in which the Wolfpack went 22-14, had a good core returning and recruiting booming. But Trevor Lacey turned pro (only to go undrafted), Kyle Washington transferred and NC State stumbled to a 16-17 record last season. Now, Cat Barber is leaving to go pro and Abdul-Malik Abu may do the same or follow the Martin twins into the transfer, and suddenly the forecast in Raleigh isn’t so sunny even with Dennis Smith Jr. in the fold.

Pittsburgh: The Panthers traded a coach who won two Big East titles, went to the Sweet 16 twice, the Elite Eight once and only missed the NCAA tournament twice in 13 years for a guy that Vanderbilt was pushing out the door. Not great. Even if things had gotten stale for Pitt fans with Jamie Dixon, the results he achieved are hard to argue. Few believe that Kevin Stallings is the answer to jumpstart the program back to where Dixon had it during the first years of his tenure, especially as the ACC continues to be a monster to navigate.

Kansas State: The Bruce Weber era in Manhattan started out with a bang, as he tied for a Big 12 title in his first year taking over for Frank Martin, but it’s been backsliding since, capped with a 17-16 (5-13 Big 12) campaign this past season. He couldn’t make it work with the most talented player (Marcus Foster) he’s had there, and there hasn’t exactly been a line of high-level recruits making their way to Manhattan. And if that wasn’t bad enough, KSU fans had to watch Oklahoma State hire former Wildcat assistant Brad Underwood while their administration gave Weber a stay of execution.

Ohio State: This is probably the trickiest inclusion, as Thad Matta’s track record would suggest that last year’s NIT appearance was merely a slip on the path to a return to the top of the Big Ten. The trouble, though, is that seeing four members of a heralded five-man 2015 recruiting class all decide to transfer is a major red flag. The Buckeyes do welcome another strong class to Columbus this fall, headlined by Derek Funderburk, but there are some visible cracks in the facade.

VIDEO: Randy Kennedy is now running for President

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You’ve surely seen the videos by now.

Ole Miss head coach Andy Kennedy has an alter-ego named Randy Kennedy. He’s hilarious. And he’s now running for President:

#VoteRandy2016

Kennedy Meeks to return to North Carolina

Kennedy Meeks
(AP Photo/Gerry Broome)
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North Carolina center Kennedy Meeks announced on Wednesday that he would be withdrawing his name from NBA Draft consideration.

“I’m thankful I had the chance to explore my draft options, but I’m excited about the opportunity to rejoin my teammates and work toward having another outstanding season at UNC,” says Meeks. “I appreciate the support my coaches and teammates gave me during this process as we gathered information about my professional opportunities at this time. The feedback on what I have to work on so that I can have a great senior year, help my team have a great season and be ready to take that next step is invaluable.”

Meeks did not get an invitation to the NBA Draft combine, which is a pretty clear indication that he did not have a real chance to get drafted this year. But the new rule allows him to gather feedback on what he needs to do to improve and get himself into a position where he can land a professional contract after he graduates next season.

As a junior, Meeks battled injury but still managed to average 9.2 points and 5.9 boards.