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Weekend Preview: The five storylines you need to track


1. Missouri Valley Conference tournament: Without question, this is the mid-major tournament that has the most on the line. Everyone probably knows the details by now: Wichita State and Illinois State, two teams with a combined nine losses between them, are sitting squarely on the bubble. Neither of them can afford a loss to anyone other than each other in this event and still have a real shot at getting themselves into the NCAA tournament.

And even if they both make it to the finals of the event, there is going to be a sweat on Selection Sunday as they wait to hear from the Selection Committee on whether or not they made the cut. The Shockers are probably in a better spot because of their lack of bad losses, but no matter who ends up missing out on the automatic bid, it’s going to be a long, long, LONG week of waiting, watching the bubble teams in the power conferences start stacking up wins.

By Sunday afternoon at 4 pm ET, we’ll know which of those two teams is going to be stressing.

2. The MVC is one of four tickets that will be punched this weekend: On Saturday night, the Ohio Valley Conference, home of the heavily-favored Belmont Bruins, will play their conference tournament and give us our first automatic bid to the NCAA tournament. Sunday features three league tournament title games: The Missouri Valley (2 p.m., CBS), the Big South (1 p.m., ESPN) and the Atlantic Sun, which is already set (North Florida vs. Florida-Gulf Coast, 3 p.m., ESPN).

3. Last gasp bubble games: This is the final weekend of the regular season for the teams at the top of the sport, meaning that this will be the final chance for those bubble teams to be able to land a win that could keep them from having to make a run in their league tournament in order to secure a bid. Perhaps the most notable game this weekend for a bubble team will be Seton Hall, who right now appears to be right on the cut line. They play at No. 13 Butler on Saturday, a win that would almost assuredly get the Pirates back to the NCAA tournament. Vanderbilt missed out on their big win on Tuesday night, blowing a 19-point lead at Kentucky, but they turn around this weekend and host Florida. That win won’t carry quite as much weight, but it will put them in a much better position than they are in right now.

Georgia will have a chance to get on the right side of the bubble with a win at Arkansas, who still probably needs to win one more game to really feel safe about their chances. Cal cannot afford to lose at Colorado, not after getting worked over by Utah on Thursday night. Xavier has lost six straight games and is somehow on the bubble on March 3rd after being ranked midway through February. Losing at DePaul would likely put them out of the tournament. And then there is Georgia Tech at Syracuse, a game that both programs really cannot afford to lose.

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4. The ACC showdowns: There are three really awesome games at the top of the ACC this weekend. No. 25 Miami heads out on the road to take on in-state rival No. 15 Florida State and No. 19 Notre Dame looks to keep their place all alone in second place in the ACC by winning at No. 8 Louisville, but easily the most exciting game of the weekend is the best rivalry in the sport: No. 17 Duke at No. 5 North Carolina. We take a good, long look at this game right here.

5. This weekend is when the coaching carousel really gets started: This is the week when seasons start coming to an end, which means this is the week when programs that have coaches sitting on the hot seat will start to make changes. At the upper levels of the sport, there is the chance that this could end up being a pretty wild carousel. With the potential for quality jobs opening up and the chance that those jobs could be filled by some big names, reporters are buckling in for what should be a wild ride.

But there will also be changes made at the lower levels of the sport, and those are just as wild to try and track. Over the course of the next two weeks, don’t be surprised to hear about roughly 40 head coaches losing their jobs, and have fun tracking the movement that creates amongst the coaching ranks.

Lonzo Ball says “I’m better than” Markelle Fultz

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Usually, it’s LaVar Ball that makes news for what he says.

His eldest son is now getting in on the business of generating headlines with something other than his play.

The UCLA star, who said he’ll enter the draft after just one season with the Bruins, claimed he’s the better prospect than Washington freshman Markelle Fultz, who many have pegged as the No. 1 pick in June’s draft.

“Markelle’s a great player,” Ball said, according to ESPN, “but I feel I’m better than him,” “I think I can lead a team better than him. Obviously he’s a great scorer — he’s a great player, so I’m not taking that away from him.”

Not exactly inflammatory stuff – like saying you could have beaten Michael Jordan, that you want a $1 billion apparel deal or a number of things his father has said – bu Ball is certainly projecting confidence. And there’s absolutely nothing wrong with that. There’s quite a bit of money – and pride – at stake with the draft, and Ball put up a season worthy of comparison to Fultz, who had great numbers but played for an abysmal Washington team. Ball, on the other had, had strong numbers while leading UCLA to the Sweet 16.

Both are going to go at the top of a draft that’s stocked full of promising point guards. Which player goes before the other remains to be seen, but it’s likely public pronouncements aren’t going to affect the draft order.


UMass hires McCall away from Chattanooga

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UMass has found, once more, the man to take over its basketball program.

The Minutemen have reached an agreement with Chattanooga coach Matt McCall, the school announce Wednesday

“The tradition and resources that are in place not only make this one of the best basketball jobs in the Atlantic 10 Conference,” McCall said in a statement released by the school, “but one of the best jobs in the country. We couldn’t be more excited about becoming part of the UMass family and look forward to building upon the rich tradition that has been established here in the past.”

In McCall’s two years at Chattanooga, the Mocs to the NCAA tournament in 2016 and a 19-12 record this year that featured five-straight losses to end the season.

The move will take McCall out of the southeast for the first time in his career as he previously served as at Florida and Florida Atlantic before getting his first head coaching job at Chattanooga.

McCall wasn’t the Minutemen’s first choice to replace Derek Kellogg after three-straight lackluster seasons. Winthrop coach Pat Kelsey had agreed to take the job before a last-minute about-face that saw him return to the Eagles program just before his introductory press conference was scheduled to begin.

“Matt is a rising star in college basketball coaching who has been a key piece of three successful programs in his career,” UMass athletic director Ryan Bamford said in a statement. “He has earned a reputation as a relentless worker, a great teammate and colleague and a confident leader of young men.

“Matt has worked with some of the most respected coaches and administrators in the country, who loudly sing his praises. Coach McCall’s appointment begins an exciting new chapter for our tradition-rich men’s basketball program at UMass.”

Despite being the second choice, McCall’s reputation in the coaching industry makes him a strong hire, having worked under Mike Jarvis and Billy Donovan. He took over at Chattanooga for Will Wade, and brought the Mocs to a 29-6 record and a  12-seed in the NCAA tournament in 2016.

UMass went to just one NCAA tournament under Kellogg (in 2014) during his nine seasons leading the Minutemen.

VIDEO: Frank Martin’s sideline demeanor as a high school coach

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South Carolina coach Frank Martin has the reputation of being rather, shall we say, intense on the sidelines during games.

The coach has a stare that seemingly could bore a hole through his players when they do something that doesn’t reach his level of expectation. Martin’s demeanor, though, didn’t just come into form once he hit the college ranks.

He was plenty intense on high school sidelines as well.

Martin won three titles while at Miami Senior in the mid-1990s, coaching the likes of future pros Steve Blake and Udonis Haslem. Now having reached his first career Final Four, that sideline persona has put him on the precipice of winning yet another championship, this time at the collegiate level.

South Carolina fans raise money to send “Gamecock Jesus” to Final Four

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South Carolina fans are sending one of their most recognizable compatriots to represent them this weekend.

Gamecock Jesus is heading to the Final Four.

South Carolina super fan Carlton Thompson is following the Gamecocks to Glendale as his fellow fans have raised over $7,500 to send the man known as “Gamecock Jesus” to Arizona for the team’s Final Four meeting with Gonzaga on Saturday night.

Thompson’s long hair, beard and presence at South Carolina games, even in lean times, earned him his nickname and apparently a following fervent enough to foot the bill for quite the trip.

“I’ve always dreamed it would be like this,” Thompson said last week about fan support at Gamecock games to the Post and Courier. “For years and years, it was so sparse with the crowds at the games. But once they started winning, the crowds started coming.”

Thompson is a 63-year-old VA hospital nurse, and has been attending South Carolina games for nearly 50 years.

Maryland’s Melo Trimble declares for the NBA Draft

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Melo Trimble’s career as a Maryland Terrapin is coming to an end. The junior guard is declaring for the NBA Draft and will sign with an agent.

“I am confident and excited to pursue an opportunity to play in the NBA,” Trimble said in a release. “I am proud of what my teammates and I were able to accomplish these past three seasons at Maryland. I developed many great relationships and friendships and together we able to create some very special moments for Maryland basketball. I want to thank Coach Turgeon for all of his support. He always believed in me. He challenged me and really helped in the development of my overall game. I am a more complete basketball player because of Coach Turgeon and the coaching staff. To stay at home and attend the University of Maryland is the best decision that I ever made and it was truly special to play in front of my family, friends and our amazing fans. Maryland will always be home.”

There was no better winner in college basketball the last three years than Melo. He changed the trajectory of Mark Turgeon’s program, winning 79 games in three years and ending his career 30-8 in games decided by six points or less. As a junior, Trimble and the Terps earned a No. 6 seed to the NCAA tournament, but they lost in the first round to Xavier. It was the only time in Trimble’s career that he didn’t reach the Sweet 16.

“Melo Trimble is a winner,” Mark Turgeon said on twitter. “Humble, hard-working, dedicated. Words can’t express what he’s done for our program. Always #StayMelo!”