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Winter storm forces basketball teams to alter travel plans

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ALBANY, N.Y. (AP) Teams chasing a college basketball title are contending with an unexpected wrinkle that’s making last-minute travel plans difficult – a fierce storm bearing down on the Northeast that’s expected to dump up to two feet of snow in some places and create blizzard-like conditions.

Villanova, the top overall seed in the men’s NCAA Tournament, left Philadelphia Monday afternoon for Buffalo, New York, to get ahead of a storm that’s projected to last three days. The defending champion Wildcats, who play on Thursday, had an abbreviated press availability with coach Jay Wright, but no player interviews were granted as the team rushed to its flight.

“I’m not really looking forward to leaving right away. But it hits you with reality, you’re in it,” Wright said. “We’re going to be in Buffalo tonight and we’re playing and it’s on.”

On the women’s side, top team UConn was expected to find out Monday night which three teams would be expected to travel to Connecticut for tournament games later this week.

U.S. airlines had already begun canceling flights. Tracking service FlightAware.com said that more than 1,100 flights on Monday and more than 2,800 on Tuesday had been canceled.

Nobody was facing a more difficult week than Princeton, a school new to the scramble.

The Tigers beat Yale on Sunday for the title in the first Ivy League Tournament, where in previous years they would have clinched earlier by being unbeaten in the regular season.

The victory allowed for a brief celebration and not much more for Chris Mongilia, director of basketball operations for the Tigers.

“I kind of enjoyed it for a minute, and then my phone started ringing and emails started firing out, trying to figure out when we were going,” Mongilia said Monday. “We found out our flight time this morning. We’ve been booking buses and hotels. It’s been putting a lot of pressure on us to get everything done and organized. But yeah, it’s been crazy.”

Crazier still, the school is factoring in midterms for several players this week, squeezing them in before the team plays Notre Dame on Thursday in Buffalo. The team was scheduled to leave Tuesday.

“A lot of our guys are going to have to take exams proctored by a professor who is going to have to travel with us,” Mongilia said. “They are going to have to take them in a conference room up at the hotel in Buffalo. The storm has definitely put a few bumps in our travel plans.”

Providence was leaving Monday evening for Dayton, Ohio, for its Wednesday night matchup against Southern California in the First Four, and the Friars had no worries about cancellations because it takes charter flights for away games and can avoid the local airport, athletic director Bob Driscoll said.

“It’s good we’re getting out tonight because the snowstorm is coming tomorrow. It’ll be a different story,” Driscoll said. “People are excited to be in, so we’re locked and loaded and ready to leave. We’ve been working on it all night and all morning.”

The winter storm had already begun strafing the Midwest and was projected to begin sweeping through the New York region Monday night. Forecasters said it could dump up to two feet of snow across parts of New York and New Jersey. The National Weather Service issued blizzard watches for New York City and nearby areas, including Connecticut. The storm is expected to last into Wednesday in western New York with as much as 18 inches of snow.

For the NIT, Ole Miss was taking a charter flight on Monday for its Tuesday game at Monmouth in New Jersey. School officials said the storm pushed the travel timeline up a few hours.

West Virginia coach Bob Huggins was delayed getting on the Big 12 coaches weekly media call Monday because he was in a meeting with school officials to discuss the Mountaineers’ travel plans to Buffalo.

“Yeah, we are concerned,” Huggins said.

The school later announced it would take a bus more than 280 miles north to Buffalo on Monday night rather than leaving on Tuesday. West Virginia plays Thursday afternoon against Bucknell.

Virginia Tech also opted to leave after classes Monday, a day earlier than normal. The Hokies were to take a bus to Roanoke and fly to Buffalo before their game Thursday night against Wisconsin.

Airport officials in Buffalo said they would be able to handle the conditions.

“We’re always ready to do our best,” said Douglas Hartmayer, spokesman for the Niagara Frontier Transportation Authority, which oversees the Buffalo-Niagara Airport. “We have a history of being prepared and keeping those runways open and safe.”

Syracuse also is in the storm’s path, predicted to receive more than one foot of snow, but the Orange aren’t going anywhere. Syracuse hosts UNC-Greensboro in a first-round game in the NIT on Tuesday night. The visit from the Spartans comes after Orange coach Jim Boeheim said there was “no value” in the Atlantic Coast Conference holding its postseason tournament in Greensboro.

Report: Texas’ Jones to test NBA possibility

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Both of Texas’ McDonald’s All-Americans from its 2016 class will test the NBA waters.

Andrew Jones will declare for the draft, but will not hire an agent, according to ESPN’s Jeff Goodman.

The 6-foot-4 guard joins Jarrett Allen, the Longhorns’ star center, in utilizing the rule change that became available to players last year in which they can declare, workout for teams, attend the NBA combine and still return to school.

Jones averaged 11.4 points, 3.9 rebounds and 3.5 assists per game as a freshman. He shot 42.5 percent from the field overall and 32.8 percent from 3-point range.

Allen seems the likelier candidate to remain in the draft as a potential lottery pick, but Jones came to Austin with similar one-and-done possibilities given his status as one of the class’ top recruits.

Texas, of course, is hoping both return, not just because they’re both big talents, but because incoming and highly-touted recruit Matt Coleman fills the major hole in last year’s lineup – point guard. If the three of them can share the floor together, Year 3 of the Shaka Smart era will be much more interesting.

Morrow announces transfer from Nebraska

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Nebraska was once again hit with a surprising and damaging transfer.

Ed Morrow, Jr., who led the Huskers in rebounding last year, announced his intention to transfer, the school announced Wednesday.

“I support Ed in his decision to transfer schools and wish him well,” Nebraska coach Tim Miles said in a statement. “We appreciate his hard work over the last two years. Although I am disappointed, we will continue to recruit young men who are committed to our mission of building Nebraska Basketball with a culture of success in all areas…life, school and winning basketball at its highest level.”

The 6-foot-7 sophomore’s departure is a major hit to the Huskers, who are coming off a 12-19 year in which Miles’ job security was called into question. It almost assuredly will be again this year as Nebraska hasn’t been able to build on its 2014 NCAA tournament appearance, instead putting together three-straight losing seasons.

Morrow’s decision is surprising not only given he’d been a productive member of the team – averaging 9.4 points and 7.5 rebounds per game – but because he was born in Nebraska before attending high school in Chicago and both his parents were Nebraska student-athletes his father winning a national title on the football team in 1994 and his mother an all-Big Eight performer on the basketball team.

“I want to say thank you to my teammates, coaches, the fans and the University of Nebraska athletics department for giving me the opportunity to play Division I basketball,” Morrow said in a statement. “It is hard to leave home, and Nebraska is my home. I was born and raised here, it is my parents’ alma mater, and I have a lot of friends here. But sometimes you have to venture out to pursue dreams and aspirations in a career. This is a sacrifice I have to make to better myself.”

Morrow’s transfer comes a year after Andrew White surprised Nebraska with his decision to graduate and transfer to Syracuse, which no doubt impacted the Huskers’ poor 2016-17 record.

Miles was on the hot seat at the end of last season and will assuredly begin this season there as well. A roster hit like Morrow won’t do much to help him improve the situation. Nebraska does, however, have three starters returning while Georgetown transfer Isaac Copeland is eligible, as is Miami (Fla.) transfer James Palmer, Jr.

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.