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Kevin Ollie leads No. 7 UConn to Final Four despite transitional state of program

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NEW YORK — Kevin Ollie had some big shoes to fill when he took over the UConn program prior to the 2012 season.

He was replacing Jim Calhoun, a legend in Nutmeg State for turning Storrs, CT, into the home of one of college basketball’s elite programs. Calhoun won three national titles and made a fourth Final Four at a program that had a non-existent hoops identity before his arrival. He quite literally built the UConn program.

Ollie was Calhoun’s hand-picked successor.

And he was taking over the program at a time when UConn was hurting. They were coming off of a disappointing, opening round tournament exit after entering the year as the No. 1 team in the country in the preseason. They had just wrapped up their probationary period for the violations that were committed during the recruitment of Nate Miles and were heading into a season where they were banned from participating in the postseason thanks to low APR scores.

That postseason ban meant that UConn would be forced to miss out on the final installment of the Big East tournament as we know it, as their bid to move into the ACC was not accepted, forcing the Huskies into the American and creating rivalries against the likes of South Florida and Houston instead of Duke and North Carolina.

Andre Drummond and Jeremy Lamb went pro. Alex Oriakhi transferred out of the program.

That’s the hand that Ollie was dealt.

And in his second season as UConn head coach, in the first year he was eligible to lead a team into the postseason, the Huskies are headed to the Final Four after knocking off No. 4 Michigan State, 60-54.

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Boo Willingham saw this coming.

A seldom-used reserve that played for the Huskies from 1991-1995, Willingham knows Ollie as well as anyone this side of Ollie’s wife knows him. They were roommates for four years in Storrs. Willingham was the best man at Ollie’s wedding. “That’s my best friend,” Willingham said while celebrating in the UConn locker room after the game.

“I know the fabric of Kevin Ollie. I know what he’s made of,” Willingham said. “The first day he stepped on campus as a freshman, he came in and was competing against one of the best guards in the country in Chris Smith at the time. He was a little skinny from California that didn’t back down. He poked his chest out, he had a couple of fights in practice and he got into with a couple of guys.”

“He was a tough guy that loved to compete. And he loved to get other to compete with him.”

It was that competitiveness that kept this team and this program together last season. The Huskies had nothing to play for in 2012-2013, and yet they still managed to win 20 games in their final season as a part of the Big East conference.

“Everybody was saying we weren’t playing for nothing, and a lot of media outlets saying we weren’t playing for nothing, but we were playing for something,” Ollie said on Saturday. “We were playing for what’s on our jersey, and that means a lot. If you step on our campus and the pride we have for UConn, it means a lot to put on that jersey.”

He’s been tasked with trying to keep the Huskies, a school and a program that he loves, relevant as a top ten basketball program when it’s the limited value of the school’s football program to the companies that broadcast games that has put them in a position where their rivalry with SMU will be more important than their rivalry with Syracuse; where Sunday’s visit to Madison Square Garden will be their last postseason appearance in a building that Shabazz Napier refers to as UConn’s “third home” for the foreseeable future.

That won’t be easy to do, and reaching this Final Four doesn’t change that fact. Ollie will still be fighting an uphill battle, especially when you consider that the guy that carried the Huskies all season long, Shabazz Napier, won’t be in a UConn uniform next season.

But what this win does prove is that the Huskies picked the right guy for the job.

“He proved me and a hell of a lot of people right,” Calhoun said after the game. “He’s like a son to me. He’s got character, he’s got great knowledge of the game, he works exceptionally hard, he can relate to the kids. And he’s got all UConn guys around him. That fiber of UConn has not gone any place.”

All you had to do was look up into the crowd on Sunday afternoon to see that. Among the 19,000 fans that packed into the Garden were a myriad of UConn alumni. Khalid El-Amin, Rip Hamilton, Ben Gordon, Emeka Okafor, Taliek Brown, Cliff Robinson, Andre Drummond. Ricky Moore and Kevin Freeman are on the UConn coaching staff. Even Kemba Walker’s mom showed up.

The support system is there. The UConn program is very much the UConn family. There is more than enough history and fan support to sustain the program.

The future of the program is cloudy, but the Huskies aren’t worried about the future. At least not right now. They’re worried about the present. They’re worried about playing Florida in the Final Four.

That’s a Final Four, I might add, where they will not be joined by anyone from the ACC or the new Big East.

No. 9 North Carolina beats Syracuse for Roy Williams’ 800th win

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On Monday night, Roy Williams became the ninth men’s Division I college basketball coach to reach 800 wins.

The only man that has ever done it faster is Adolph Rupp, who needed all of 976 games to get to 800 wins.

Williams, after a 85-68 win over Syracuse in the Dean Dome on Monday, has a career record of 800-212, and only Mike Krzyzewski, Jim Boeheim, Bobby Knight, Dean Smith, Jim Calhoun, Rupp, Eddie Sutton and Bob Huggins have more.

So while the 20 points that Isaiah Hicks scored tonight matter, as does the 19 posted by Justin Jackson and the double-double from Kennedy Meeks, this night was about Williams and this milestone in his career.

“Eight hundred wins means I’ve had very good players,” Roy said at a ceremony after the game honoring him. “It’s the players, players that have made me every day.”

“It was never a dream of mine to win 800 games,” Roy added. “But it was a dream of mine to coach guys like this.”

Whenever he finally decides to retire, Ole Roy’s legacy will be an interesting one. For starters, the man has had two head coaching jobs in his life: Kansas and North Carolina. Spend enough time at those two programs and piling up the wins is almost inevitable, which is one of the reasons that Williams has developed a reputation for being a guy that brings in talent and just rolls the ball out there. Put another way, people talk about the other names on that 800-win list as some of the greatest coaches that have ever lived, but when was the last time you heard someone put Williams in that conversation?

And all that comes before you consider that Williams has been the face of the UNC program while they’ve spent the last five years dealing with an academic scandal surrounding the fake classes in the African-American studies department and the association it had with the basketball team and keeping players eligible.

Is that what Williams legacy will be? An overrated coach that needed to cheat to keep his kids academically eligible at UNC? Or will people realize that 800 wins and a pair of national titles aren’t a fluke or an accident?

Lobos assistant apologizes for altercation with Rams player

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COLORADO SPRINGS, Colo. (AP) New Mexico assistant coach Terrence Rencher has apologized for his role in a verbal confrontation with Colorado State forward Emmanuel Omogbo outside Moby Arena following Saturday’s game.

The Mountain West Conference admonished both schools on Monday, but took no action over the altercation. The league said the behavior after the Lobos’ 84-71 win was unacceptable and poor judgment was used by several individuals. It also said it was unclear how the incident began.

The confrontation between Rencher and Omogbo was caught on video by The Albuquerque Journal.

In the video posted on Twitter , Omogbo and Rencher scream insults at each other while standing between two Lobos assistant coaches. Colorado State coach Larry Eustachy is seen holding back Omogbo, who eventually leaves the parking lot.

The conference left any possible punishment up to the schools after its investigation failed to determine who was at fault, and New Mexico vice president of athletics Paul Krebs said Rencher would receive a letter of reprimand.

Rencher released a statement apologizing “to my family, UNM, CSU and everyone affected by the incident and I acknowledge my fault in the situation. I should have walked away. The situation could have been diffused and I am very regretful of that momentary lapse in judgment. I don’t know Emmanuel personally but he seems to be a good person and good teammate.”

Rencher added that he didn’t instigate the confrontation nor did he make light of Omogbo’s personal tragedy as some media outlets including ESPN have reported. Wednesday marks the anniversary of Omogbo losing his parents, a niece and a nephew in a house fire in Maryland.

Rencher, who had been ejected from the game, also said he didn’t “make racially derogatory remarks to him.”

Both men are black.

During the confrontation following the Lobos’ 84-71 win, Rencher tells Omogbo, “Learn how to lose, boy.”

Colorado State said Monday it would have no comment on the matter.

The incident was the latest embarrassment for the Mountain West Conference, which has seen a large number of technical fouls over taunting and trash talk in men’s games this season and three women’s players suspended for their roles in a brawl in a game between Utah State and UNLV .

During the confrontation between Rencher and Omogbo, Eustachy’s wife, Lana, suggests the three New Mexico assistants get on the Lobos charter bus to defuse the situation. Instead they stayed and watched as Larry Eustachy and guard J.D. Paige, among others, finally steer Omogbo toward the parking lot.

Lobos coach Craig Neal told ESPN hours after the confrontation that Rencher didn’t do anything wrong.

Rencher and fellow Lobos assistant Chris Harrima were ejected late in the game for leaving the bench when Lobos forward Joe Furstinger flexed after a hard screen and then made contact with Rams guard Anthony Bonner as he jogged back down the court. That flared tempers that were already on edge following pregame trash talk.

The Fort Collins Coloradoan reported that Rencher taunted the Rams during warmups at Moby Arena last year, according to former Rams forward Fred Richardson, and did so again Saturday.

Eustachy called Furstinger’s blind screen with 2:10 left a clean play but noted the bad blood began before the game.

Colorado State’s Prentiss Nixon and New Mexico’s Obij Aget were assessed technical fouls and Rencher and Harriman were ejected.

The league said it “examined all facets of the event, from pregame warmups through the postgame confrontation” and found “a number of conflicting perspectives … and, in some cases, there is no definitive proof as to the responsible party or parties.”

“What has been determined is the entire incident created an undesirable athletic competition environment and did not reflect favorably upon either basketball program, either member institution or the conference,” the league continued. “There were a number of errors in judgment throughout the course of the afternoon and poor decisions made by various individuals. Such conduct is unacceptable.”

The Mountain West added that the league’s board of directors and joint council “have been adamant in their emphasis on good sportsmanship and behavior. Those involved with this most recent incident will be under close scrutiny going forward – as will all Mountain West constituents.”

The Rams (11-7, 3-2) visit New Mexico (10-8, 3-3) on Feb. 21.

Injured hip sidelines Louisville guard Snider for 2-3 weeks

LOUISVILLE, KY - DECEMBER 10:  Quentin Snider #4 of the Louisville Cardinals dribbles the ball during the game against the Texas Southern Tigers at KFC YUM! Center on December 10, 2016 in Louisville, Kentucky.  (Photo by Andy Lyons/Getty Images)
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LOUISVILLE, Ky. (AP) Louisville guard Quentin Snider will miss 2-3 weeks with an injured hip, leaving the No. 12 Cardinals without their assists leader and No. 2 scorer.

The school said Snider won’t need surgery and should heal with rest.

Snider strained a hip flexor early in the second half Saturday in a win over Duke. The junior stayed in the game and finished with 13 points, six assists and five rebounds.

Snider is averaging 12.1 points and 4.0 assists per game.

The Cardinals (15-3, 3-2 Atlantic Coast Conference) host Clemson on Thursday night before visiting No. 10 Florida State on Saturday.

More AP College Basketball: collegebasketball.ap.org

Mountain West issues statement on Colorado State/New Mexico altercation

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The Mountain West issued a statement on Monday in response to the altercation that happened after New Mexico’s win at Colorado State on Saturday.
Following the Lobos’ 84-71 road victory, Geoff Grammer of the Albuquerque Journal captured an incident on video between Colorado State forward Emmanuel Omogbo and the New Mexico coaching staff.
Both sides claimed that the other was the instigator and the incident didn’t make anybody in the video look good.
For as bad as things might have looked, the Mountain West has decided not to hand down any sort of punishment. After an investigation, the conference could not truly determine the root cause of all the drama saying in the release, “A number of conflicting perspectives have emerged and, in some cases, there is no definitive proof as to the responsible party or parties.”
What has been determined is the entire incident created an undesirable athletic competition environment, and did not reflect favorably upon either basketball program, either member institution or the Conference. There were a number of errors in judgment throughout the course of the afternoon and poor decisions made by various individuals. Such conduct is unacceptable.
The Colorado State and New Mexico athletic departments have already initiated follow-up conversations with all appropriate parties to address the events of this past Saturday. Those will continue, with the institutions taking corrective measures they deem appropriate and advising the Conference office accordingly.
The Mountain West Board of Directors and Joint Council have been adamant in their emphasis on good sportsmanship and appropriate behavior. Those involved with this most recent incident will be under close scrutiny going forward – as will all Mountain West constituents.

Obviously there is a lot to sift through with this incident but hopefully these two teams don’t have any further incident when they play at New Mexico on Feb. 21st.

No. 22 Xavier’s slide continues with loss to short-handed No. 7 Creighton

CINCINNATI, OH - JANUARY 16:  Chris Mack the head coach of the Xavier Musketeers  gives instructions to his team against the Creighton Blue Jays during the game at Cintas Center on January 16, 2017 in Cincinnati, Ohio.  (Photo by Andy Lyons/Getty Images)
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It’s officially time to be concerned about No. 22 Xavier.

The Musketeers have now lost three straight games, all to the top three teams in the Big East, and currently sit at 13-5 on the year with just a single good win to their name: Clemson.

But prior to Monday’s loss to No. 7 Creighton, Xavier had lost all of their games on the road to teams that will either get a top five seed in the NCAA tournament (Villanova, Butler, Baylor) or play at altitude (Colorado). On Monday, the Musketeers not only lost 72-67 to Creighton, but they did so on a day where the Bluejays lost star point guard and all-american candidate Mo Watson to a knee injury midway through the first half and spent the majority of the game playing with star center Justin Patton saddled with fouls.

Should I mention that Creighton, who is third-nationally in three-point percentage, shot 5-for-19 from beyond the arc, or that their two best healthy guards – Marcus Foster and Khyri Thomas – shot a combined 10-for-31?

All of the stars were aligned. Coming how to an afternoon game against a top ten team on a holiday after losing back-to-back games on the road, and that top ten team lost their most important player early in the first half?

This should have been where Xavier landed that first elite win.

Instead, the Musketeers are left scratching their head again.

And it begs the question: If not now, when?

The Musketeers still play Villanova and Butler at home, visit Creighton and have the Crossroads Classic at Cincinnati. There are opportunities for them to get wins that they need.

But if they cannot get a win over a short-handed Creighton team at home, who are they actually going to be?