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Hate LaVar Ball if you like, but don’t project that hate on LaMelo

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I don’t really like LaVar Ball. I also don’t know LaVar Ball, but I’ve been witness – and co-conspirator – to the way he’s carved out a sizable portion of the discussion of sports and the culture of sports for himself, his sons and, most brazenly, his brand. That’s more my issue than LaVar Ball, the man, someone I’ve never met and assume is probably a fine dude and an attentive dad.

LaVar Ball, the public figure, though, represents an exhausting strain of persona that’s finely-tuned to be entertaining on television and discussion-driving on the Internet, which is to say he’s loud, brash, arrogant, uncouth and nakedly ambitious.

To be fair, and honest, it’s not easy to gain a foothold in media, or America, without most – if not all – of those traits. If Ball utilized those characteristics with a little subtlety or cleverness, I’d probably find him a lot more fun. Instead, we’re getting apparel looking to cash in on – or more likely, keep the news cycle spinning – a misogynist scolding of a female broadcaster. You can laugh at or with the other out-sized things Ball has said over the last year, but I can’t do anything but shudder with the ‘Stay In Yo Lane’ business.

Which is all to say, LaVar Ball has earned much of whatever distaste, dislike and dissatisfaction there is with him and his actions. He probably knows that, and he almost certainly doesn’t care.

His 15-year old son, though?

Nah, that kid doesn’t deserve the public’s scorn.

He especially doesn’t deserve a public-shaming in the form of the two-plus minute lowlight tape that found its way to the Internet this weekend. It is unequivocally cruel to do that to a kid not old enough to drive himself to his AAU games. It’s hard to fathom the jealousy, contempt and smallness it takes from a person to displace their dislike of an adult to his teenage son.

Laughing at LaMelo Ball’s now-infamous “mixtape” also missed the forest for the trees.

When it comes to basketball and his kids, LaVar Ball has been explicitly clear that he’s uninterested in raising or coaching traditional basketball players, and guess what, we’re out of a traditional age of basketball. Watching Lonzo Ball at UCLA this past season or LaMelo pull up from half-court, it’s obvious this family cares not for basketball norms, which are bending in their direction anyway. The 3-point line is further becoming a starting point rather than a threshold for range. Letting loose as many 3s as possible is a strategy that is becoming more mainstream. Playing with a certain flair, well that’s always been cool as hell.

Squeezing off 3-pointers at a rapid rate isn’t easy, either. You’ve got to do it from deep and off the dribble, two moves that are difficult for pros to get a handle on. A 15-year-old? If he’s trying to do it, he’s going to look silly sometimes. He’s going to have airballs and outtakes, bricks and bloopers. Steph Curry can do what he does because he’s mastered the fundamental steps that build his wild capabilities. LaMelo, obviously by a basketball philosophy extension of LaVar, looks to be pushing the boundaries of a style that no teenager could utilized in any sort of refined manner. That’s exactly what he’s been building toward his whole life, though.

“[LaMelo] never played against kids his own age,” LaVar told The Ringer last year. “That’s why it’s so easy for him in high school. He’s been playing 17U since he was 11 years old. I had him playing against eighth-graders when he was 6 and 7. It’s nothing new to him. He’s always seen people’s stomachs. He ain’t never been face-to-face with nobody.”

LaMelo’s game is being built to push limits – his own, the sport’s, convention. Those are lofty goals for any player, especially a 15-year old. Maybe it will work out, maybe it won’t. Whatever pause LaVar Ball gives you, it’s hard to argue his vision for his sons hasn’t paid dividends. One is on his way to being a top-three pick in the NBA draft, a second is on scholarship at UCLA and the third is a top-15 recruit in his class. By whatever curved system you want to grade those accomplishments, they are astounding for a single family.

LaVar Ball has invited – and welcomed – ridicule. He’s a grown man who knows what he’s doing. He deserves credit for raising sons who have achieved on the floor and been solid kids off it. It’s also fair to be less-than-amused with some of his words and actions, and to be wary of a style of game he’s preaching that looks to eschew the team aspects of a decidedly team game.

Even more fair is to be uncomfortable with the way he’s seeming to be leveraging his children’s achievements to create a brand and business that appears to be less centered on his sons’ talents than on himself.

Who knows how LaMelo Ball’s future plays out, but it’s unfair and wrong for the public to hold a 15-year old high school sophomore that still sports a wispy, mid-puberty mustache and braces accountable for their feelings toward his father, even if LaVar is determined to test that resolve.

Andy Kennedy resigns from Ole Miss effective immediately

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Andy Kennedy announced that, effective immediately, he will be stepping down as the head coach at Ole Miss. Tony Madlock will serve as the interim head coach for the remainder of the season.

The reason is simple: Kennedy wanted to “relieve any external pressure being felt by our current players” and he did not believe that last week’s announcement that this would be his final season in Oxford accomplished that.

“It has become readily apparent to me that my continued presence as the head coach is proving detrimental to these players finishing the season in a fashion that is representative of The Standard for this program that has been clearly established and maintained for over a decade,” Kennedy said in a statement. “Yherefore, I believe that it is in everyone’s best interest that I exit my role as head coach effective immediately. We all know that “clean breaks” are always best, and I should have realized this last Monday. My apologies.”

On Saturday, Ole Miss lost by 17 points at Mississippi State. That came two days after Kennedy went viral for a brutally honest criticism of what his team was going through.

“I can’t get to them,” he said. “I can’t reach them.”

It’s sad that this is the way that it had to end for the best basketball coach that Ole Miss has ever had. But it had to be done.

No. 12 Duke beats No. 11 Clemson as defensive resurgence continues

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Grayson Allen finished with 19 points, four assists and four steals, scoring 17 of his points in the first half, and Wendell Carter added 15 points, 10 boards and three blocks as No. 12 Duke won their fourth straight game without Marvin Bagley III, 66-57.

No. 11 Clemson was short-handed as well, and that’s something that needs to be noted. Not only are they playing without Donte Grantham, who tore his ACL earlier this year, but Shelton Mitchell was not in the lineup after suffering a nasty concussion at Florida State on Wednesday.

The Tigers were a No. 3 seed when the bracket reveal occurred last Sunday, but like Ohio State and Oklahoma, they have now lost back-to-back games; 11 of the top 16 teams have lost a game in the last week.

But the story here more than anything is Duke.

Yes, Allen finished with 19 points and continues to play well without Bagley on the floor. Getting him into a rhythm is critically important for this team. He was averaging 14.7 points in 24 games with Bagley. He is averaging 22.3 points in the last three games that Bagley has missed, and that does not include the 37-point outburst he had when Bagley went down with an injury against Michigan State.

Coach K also has had a chance to develop some confidence in his bench. Javin DeLaurier had 10 boards on Sunday. Marques Bolden didn’t play a done of minutes, but he still finished with five points, three boards and a pair of blocks. He was, generally speaking, a positive influence on the game.

But here is the most important and perplexing nugget: Duke, for the third straight game, was excellent defensively. They’ve now allowed fewer than 1.0 points-per-possession in each of the last three games. They are clearly not the same time offensively without Bagley’s presence on the floor, but it is impossible to ignore what they have been defensively in the last 10 days without him.

The question we need to ask is whether or not that will continue once Bagley makes his return.

Because the only thing standing between Duke and a Final Four is their inability to defend.

No. 8 Ohio State falls at No. 22 Michigan, Michigan State moves into first in Big Ten

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After all of the drama and the speculation about whether or not Ohio State or Purdue was the best team in the Big Ten, water has seemingly found its level.

On Sunday afternoon in Ann Arbor, No. 8 Ohio State lost their second straight game, falling 74-62 at No. 22 Michigan and allowing No. 2 Michigan State — who had one of college basketball’s greatest comebacks on Saturday at Northwestern — to slide into sole possession of first place in the Big Ten with just one week left of the regular season.

Muhammad-Ali Abdur-Rahkman led the way with 17 points while Jordan Poole added 15 off the bench in the win.

The Wolverines did a good job of slowing down Ohio State’s all-american forward, Keita Bates-Diop. KBD finished with 17 points and seven boards, but he shot just 5-for-17 from the floor. Jae-Sean Tate led the way with 20 points and 15 boards for the Buckeyes.

There was a special moment before this game even started as Austin Hatch, a two-time survivor of plane crashes that killed his entire immediate family, took part in the team’s Senior Day.

VIDEO: Michigan celebrates plane crash survivor Austin Hatch’s Senior Day

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If you don’t know the story of Michigan senior Austin Hatch, you should.

He’s survived two plane crashes in his life. The first, in 2003, robbed him of his mother, 11-year old sister and five-year old brother. In 2011, to celebrate his commitment to the Wolverines, Hatch’s father flew them up to the family’s vacation home, but the plane crashed into a garage killing Hatch’s dad and his stepmom and leaving Austin critically injured.

He had a severe brain trauma, a punctured lung, broken ribs and a broken collarbone, and in order to manage the swelling in his brain, he was put into a medically-induced coma for eight months.

He managed to return and even played for the Wolverines during the 2014-15 season, but he eventually made the decision to retire from basketball at the end of the year. He did, however, remain a part of the program and on Sunday, during Michigan’s Senior Day, he warmed up with the team and was introduced to the crowd as a starter and no, I’m not crying, YOU’RE crying:

Bubble Banter: All of Sunday’s bubble action in one place

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As we will do every day throughout the rest of the season, here is a look at how college basketball’s bubble teams fared on Sunday.

It’s worth reminding you here that the way winning are labeled have changed this season. Instead of looking at all top 50 wins equally, the selection committee will be using criteria that breaks wins down into four quadrants, using the RPI:

  • Quadrant 1: Home vs. 1-30, Neutral vs. 1-50, Road vs. 1-75
  • Quadrant 2: Home vs. 31-75, Neutral vs. 51-100, Road vs. 76-135
  • Quadrant 3: Home vs. 76-160, Neutral vs. 101-200, Road vs. 136-240
  • Quadrant 4: Home vs. 161 plus, Neutral vs. 201 plus, Road vs. 240 plus

The latest NBC Sports Bracketology can be found here.

YET TO PLAY

SETON HALL
NEBRASKA
HOUSTON
TEMPLE
PENN STATE