Previewing College Hoops Weekend

2 Comments

With the conference tournaments starting this week and the regular season winding down on Sunday, this will be the last installment of our weekend previews. We won’t be addressing the conference tournaments in this post (all of that can be found here and here).

UPSET ALERT

Sat. 8:00 pm: No. 5 Duke @ No. 13 North Carolina: First things first: yes, I know, North Carolina beating Duke at home is probably not an upset. But look at the numbers to the left of their names. Technically, I can call this an upset. And I am going to, because it is the most important game of the weekend and deserves the most words written about it.

Calling this the most important game of the weekend might even be an understatement. This is one of the most important regular season games of the season. Thanks to the Blue Devils loss to Virginia Tech last Saturday, the ACC’s two premier programs will square off in the final game of ACC play with the conference title on the line. Back in December, how many people thought that was even possible?

There’s more.

Duke still has a very good shot at earning a No. 1 seed come Selection Sunday. But can you give one of the top four seeds to a team that didn’t win its conference’s regular season title? And all of this is on the line in our sport’s greatest rivalry.

The first game between this two teams was interesting. UNC asserted their will on the Blue Devils in the first half, opening up a lead as big as 16 points thanks to excellent defense and transition offense. But Duke responded in the second half, as Nolan Smith and Seth Curry took the game over.

I think the two most important aspects of this game are how UNC handles Smith and what Duke does against the Tar Heel’s front line. Smith, is this man’s opinion, is the player of the year in college basketball, and never was that more evident than in his second half performance against the Heels. Stopping Smith is a pipe dream, but to slow him down you need to make sure he cannot get penetration off of high ball screens situations. On the other hand, the part of UNC;s resurgence that does not get talked about nearly enough is the emergence of John Henson and Tyler Zeller on the inside. They both may be a bit weak, but they can rebound the ball, they can score the ball, and they can blocks shots. UNC’s defense, not their offense, has been the biggest catalyst in their return to the top of the ACC. And Henson and Zeller are the root cause.

UPSET SPECIAL

Sat. 12:00 pm: No. 11 Louisville @ West Virginia: There are two things that West Virginia does very, very well. The first is rebounding the ball on the offensive end of the floor. They have aggressive, athletic forwards in John Flowers and Kevin Jones, a bruiser in Deniz Kilicli, and some tough guards that aren’t afraid to mix it up with the big boys. Louisville, on the other hand, is not a great defensive rebounding team. They force the offense to take bad shots and they force turnovers, which is why they are the sixth best defensive team in the country despite struggling to finish a possession. West Virginia is also very good at defending the three, which is something that the Cardinals rely on heavily.

Sat. 9:00 pm: No. 8 Texas @ Baylor: Texas has lost their last two games on the road and three of their last four overall. Jordan Hamilton is struggling mightily on both ends of the floor, playing lackadaisical defense and falling back into his role as a gunner instead of a scorer. Baylor has some athletes inside. They have a big-time scorer in LaceDarius Dunn on the perimeter. And they will be playing with a possible NCAA Tournament on the line. At home. On Gameday. Expect the Bears to be fired up.

BEST MATCHUPS

Sat. 12:00 pm: No. 2 Kansas @ No. 24 Missouri: The last time these two teams met up, the Jayhawks pounded the Tigers, who were completely incapable of stopping Kansas. This time, however, the game will be in Columbia instead of Lawrence, where Mizzou is a different team. The Tigers struggle against teams that can break their press and run half court offense, and with the number of experienced players and capable ball handlers that Kansas puts on the court at one time, I have trouble seeing the Tigers capable of making this a full court game.

Sat. 12:00 pm: Virginia Tech @ Clemson: For all intents and purposes, this is an elimination game from the at-large field. Both teams are right on the edge of the cut line, and neither can afford the loss to like their chances heading into the ACC Tournament.

Sat. 1:30 pm: Georgia @ Alabama: This is a huge game for Alabama. Enormous. For starters, they still have to play their way into the NCAA Tournament. The pretty SEC record that the Crimson Tide have posted? Its largely come against bottom feeders. Its also not enough to make the committee forget about the brutal non-conference portion of the schedule. Secondly, with a win, the Tide earns a share of the SEC regular season title. If ‘Bama wins and Florida loses at Vanderbilt? The Tide are your SEC champs. Could a major conference’s outright winner really get left home?

Sat. 2:00 pm: No. 7 Notre Dame @ No. 16 UConn: This is a good test for the Irish heading into the postseason. The Irish, frankly, are not a very good road team. UConn is reeling a bit down the stretch of Big East play, but they will be celebrating Kemba Walker’s senior night and have proven capable of beating good teams regardless of location. The Irish are playing their best basketball of the season right now. Will it travel with them?

Sat. 2:00 pm: Michigan State @ Michigan: Another rivalry game with major postseason implications. Michigan State is inching ever closer to being considered safe, while the Wolverines simply need to win a couple of games before they can get out of the area around the cut list. The matchup in this game that will be interesting is between Kalin Lucas and Darius Morris. Both are quality point guards, both are asked to do quite a bit for their team.

Sat. 4:00 pm: No. 19 Villanova @ No. 5 Pitt: This one could get ugly. Whatever is going on with Villanova of late is far from good. They aren’t playing hard, they aren’t shooting the ball well, and they aren’t defending the three. About the only thing Villanova is doing is right now is that they are getting off to slow starts. Pitt is coming off of a loss to Louisville on the road, a team that is not exactly known for their ability to box out. Keep an eye on that. Will Pitt be able to dominate the offensive glass like we’ve become accustomed to

Sat. 6:00 pm: No. 14 Florida @ No. 20 Vanderbilt: With a win, the Gators will earn, at the very least, a share of the SEC regular season title. What’s more important, however, is how everything shakes out in the middle of the SEC East. If Florida wins, Tennessee beats Kentucky, and Alabama beats Georgia, there will be four teams tied at 9-7 and tied for second place in the eastern division. No one is in danger of missing the NCAA Tournament, but earning the bye in the SEC Tournament could help seeding immensely.

Sat. 7:00 pm: Princeton @ Harvard: The Ivy is the only league in the country that not only plays their games on a Friday night/Saturday afternoon schedule, they are also the only league that still has the regular season champ get the automatic bid. The game should determine who that autobid is.

Sun. 12:00 pm: No. 23 Kentucky @ Tennessee: Like I mentioned earlier, seeding in the postseason tournaments is the only real outcome of this game. But what I think we all want to see is whether or not Kentucky can find a solution for their road woes. Tennessee is inconsistent at home, but this will be senior night (and possibly the last time Bruce Pearl coaches at Thompson-Boling), so you have to think the Vols will be ready to play

Sun. 4:00 pm: No. 10 Wisconsin @ No. 1 Ohio State: Unfortunately, this game won’t directly be for the Big Ten regular season title (wouldn’t that have been awesome). That said, Ohio State wins it outright with a victory, or shall I say revenge, over Wisconsin. The Badgers are coming off of a win at Indiana where Jordan Taylor scored 39 points on 55 possessions. Based on how entertaining the last game between these two teams was, there is no for you not to tune in.

BEST STORYLINES

Saturday

  • 12:00 pm: Duquesne @ Richmond: The Spiders can probably lock up an NCAA Tournament bid with a win against the Dukes and in the first round of the A-10 Tournament.
  • 12:00 pm: Indiana @ Illinois: Most folks have the Illini safely in the NCAA Tournament right now. Does that change if they lose to the Hoosiers and finish below .500 in the Big Ten?
  • 1:30 pm: Iowa State @ Kansas State: Iowa State has beaten both Nebraska and Colorado after they knocked off Texas. Can they do the same to the Wildcats?
  • 2:00 pm: No. 17 Georgetown @ Cincinnati: The last time the Hoyas played the Bearcats, Cincy complete shut Georgetown down in the second half after Chris Wright broke his hand. Will the rematch be any different?
  • 2:00 pm: Oregon @ No. 18 Arizona: The Wildcats will clinch the Pac-10 regular season title with a win.
  • 2:00 pm: Xavier @ St. Louis: The Musketeers can lock up the Atlantic 10 regular season title with a win.
  • 4:00 pm: Wyoming @ No. 3 BYU: Can the Cougars recover from the loss of Brandon Davies? It didn’t look that way on Wednesday night.
  • 4:00 pm: No. 6 Purdue @ Iowa: The Boilermakers still have an outside chance of being able to play their way into a No. 1 seed come Selection Sunday.
  • 4:00 pm: DePaul @ No. 12 Syracuse: With a win, Syracuse will clinch the fourth spot in the Big East standings and a double bye in the Big East Tournament.
  • 5:30 pm: UCLA @ Washington State: This game would have held a lot more intrigue if Washington had lost to UCLA Thursday night. Wazzu still has an outside chance at getting in off the bubble.
  • 6:00 pm: Marquette @ Seton Hall: Marquette needs this win if they want to make the tournament.
  • 7:00 pm: No. 21 Utah State @ Louisiana Tech: The Aggies long ago locked up the WAC regular season title, but they still have some work to do to assure themselves on an NCAA Tournament trip.
  • 8:00 pm: South Florida @ No. 15 St. John’s: The Johnnies can only earn themselves a double bye with a win and a Syracuse loss.
  • 8:00 pm: East Carolina @ UAB: The Blazers are still in the tournament picture, believe it or not, but without a quality win on their resume, a loss to ECU would be devastating.
  • 9:00 pm: Nebraska @ Colorado: The Buffaloes are one of the handful of teams trying to play their way into one of the last few spots in the NCAA Tournament.
  • 10:00 pm: Colorado State @ No. 9 San Diego State: Want an idea of how bad the bubble is? If the Rams win this game, they will likely be dancing.
  • 10:30 pm: USC @ Washington: The Trojans and the Huskies probably locked in their NCAA Tournament fates on Thursday. USC looks to be done. Washington should be in.

Rob Dauster is the editor of the college basketball website Ballin’ is a Habit. You can find him on twitter @ballinisahabit.

ACC coaches back idea of all D-I teams in 2021 NCAA tourney

Geoff Burke-USA TODAY Sports
2 Comments

RALEIGH, N.C. — Atlantic Coast Conference men’s basketball coaches are pushing the idea of having next year’s NCAA Tournament include all eligible teams in Division I.

Numerous league schools and coaches released statements Wednesday after the coaches held their weekly call to discuss the proposal, which was first reported by Stadium. There are 357 Division I programs in the country, with NCAA spokeswoman Meghan Durham saying 346 of those are eligible to play in next year’s tournament.

Virginia coach Tony Bennett said the ACC coaches are “united in strongly pursuing this” in the wake of the coronavirus pandemic that led to the cancellation of last year’s NCAA Tournament days before the field of 68 was set to be revealed. Multiple coaches said creating an everybody-gets-in format would be an incentive for schools as they create the safest conditions possible for returning to play.

“This is not a regular season,” Duke coach Mike Krzyzewski said in a statement. “It is clearly an irregular season that will require something different. Our sport needs to be agile and creative. Most importantly, an all-inclusive postseason tournament will allow a unique and unprecedented opportunity for every team and every student-athlete to compete for a national championship.”

Durham declined comment specifically on the proposal in an email to The Associated Press on Wednesday. Last month, NCAA senior vice president of basketball Dan Gavitt said the Division I oversight committees for men’s and women’s basketball planned to announce by mid-September plans for whether the season and preseason practice would start on time or require a delay due to the pandemic.

Louisville coach Chris Mack said the proposal would provide flexibility during the season without mandating a number of nonconference or conference games to be played. And the league has already experienced that scheduling challenge with football and other fall sports.

The ACC announced in July that it would have each football team play 10 league games – including the addition of Notre Dame as a football member this year – and one nonconference game to be played in the home state of the member school. Those schedules were released in early August, slightly more than a month before Thursday’s UAB-Miami game kicks off the season.

“This is a time to think differently,” Clemson coach Brad Brownell said, adding: “After all these players have been through, what better way to reward them than the opportunity to compete in an unprecedented version of the most exciting event in sports.”

College basketball floats idea of bubbles for safe season

Getty Images
1 Comment

The NBA bubble has held. So has the NHL’s double bubble. The WNBA and MLS, no leaks.

In this unprecedented landscape of sports in a pandemic world, one indisputable fact has emerged: bubbles work.

Thousands of tests, minimal to no positive COVID-19 test results.

So as the NCAA gets set announce its plans for the 2020-21 college basketball season, there are clear precedents and blueprints in place should it decide to go the bubble route.

“It’s certainly viable,” said Mark Starsiak, vice president of sports at Intersport, a Chicago-based sports marketing and media agency, “From a basketball standpoint, I think we can follow those models.”

The college football restart has been scattershot. The season has already started, yet 53 FBS schools have the pads and helmets hanging on hooks while waiting for better pandemic news.

A much more unified plan is in place for the college basketball season.

The NCAA is hoping to start the season in late November/early December, with a vote by the Division I council expected Sept. 16.

A partnership between the Pac-12 and Quidel Corp. to potentially do daily, rapid COVID-19 tests on athletes should help smooth a return to the court.

The question then becomes: What’s the best way to safely play basketball again?

Bubbles may be the answer.

While bubble football would be next to impossible logistically, basketball could fit nicely.

The travel parties are much smaller and college basketball already has plenty of multiple-team events, from holiday and conference tournaments to the NCAA Tournament. Add the effective safety measures of the pro leagues, find suitable sites and bubble basketball could work.

The NCAA is already looking at it, reportedly filing a trademark for the phrase “Battle in the Bubble.” Connecticut Gov. Ned Lamont also said there have been preliminary talks for bubble basketball at the Mohegan Sun resort.

“The idea of a bubble would be a really good idea, just to isolate all the teams who want to play against each other in that bubble and keep things safe, keep away from the public and keep us in our own area where we’re able to play the game the right way and safely,” Duke sophomore forward Wendell Moore, Jr. said.

A big key will be finding the right places to bubble.

The NBA has the ideal setup at Disney World, but college basketball might be better suited to follow the NHL’s lead.

Hockey’s two bubbles – Toronto and Edmonton, Alberta – cordoned off areas enclosing the arena and several nearby hotels. All personnel entering are tested and strict protocols are in place for vendors delivering food and packages into the bubbles.

Similar bubbles for college basketball could be set up at smaller resorts, cities with arenas and hotels nearby, or Division II or III schools with arenas not being used during the pandemic.

The NCAA could set up pods of multiple nonconference teams, conference tournaments could be held in similar fashion and so could the NCAA Tournament.

In other words, basketball bubbles could pop up all over the country.

“Maybe do it for maybe a week or two at a time, playing a certain amount of games and getting retested after you come back or something like that,” Memphis coach Penny Hardaway said. “It’s possible, but it’s not going to be easy.”

Pulling off a college basketball bubble, however, comes with a caveat.

NCAA players are considered students, so academics would have to be part of the equation.

Division I players are already accustomed to doing school work on the road and the majority take primarily online classes. To make the bubbles work, socially distant space would have to be carved out for the players to take their classes and study.

The programs may also have to rethink the size of their traveling parties.

“Discussions about the right amount of tutors or academic staff would need to take place,” said Starsiak, who has operated high-level sports and entertainment events for 15 years. ”

You have to look at, do we need three managers this time around? No, probably not. Do you take two and have a tutor or an academic come with us? Yeah, I think you could. I think there’s a way to kind of combine both things to have some live, in-person resources.”

The NCAA is going to do everything possible to have a basketball season.

The pandemic wiped out the NCAA Tournament last spring and the NCAA collected $270 million in cancellation insurance instead of the $1 billion TV payout it normally gets. A second straight year without March Madness could be devastating.

Bubbles may be the way to go.

‘Father of the Final Four’ Tom Jernestedt dies at 75

Getty Images
5 Comments

INDIANAPOLIS — Tom Jernstedt, a member of the Naismith Hall of Fame for his contributions to college basketball and the NCAA Tournament, has died. He was 75.

The NCAA said Sunday Jernstedt died this weekend.

Nicknamed “Father of the Final Four,” Jernstedt has widely been credited with transforming the NCAA Tournament into the billion-dollar March Madness it has become today.

“A decade after his departure from the NCAA, Tom Jernstedt’s fingertips remain visible during March Madness and the Final Four,” NCAA senior vice president Dan Gavitt said in a statement. “His innovation and superb ability to develop relationships turned a basketball tournament into a three-week phenomenon that became a global event.”

A former back-up quarterback, Jernstedt worked his first Final Four in 1973 and helped push the growth of the NCAA Tournament from 25 teams to the 68, anything-can-happen bonanza held every spring.

Jernstedt helped the NCAA increase its television contract from just over $1 million to more than $10 billion when he left in 2011. He served as president of USA Basketball, was a member of the College Football Selection committee and was inducted into the Naismith Hall of Fame as a contributor in 2017.

“Tom Jernstedt was a humble and unsung steward of the game,” John L. Doleva, president and CEO of the Basketball Hall of Fame, said in a statement. “Under his direction, the NCAA Men’s Basketball Tournament grew into a phenomenon that brings college basketball fans together on a global scale. He will forever be remembered as the Father of the Final Four and one of the most respected leaders in basketball.”

Jernstedt established himself as a team leader despite being a backup quarterback at Oregon from 1964-66 and went on to serve as the Ducks’ events manager. He joined the NCAA in 1972 and spent 38 years with the organization.

“Tom served as a friend and mentor to countless people in and around collegiate athletics, and I’m proud to be among that vast group of people,” Gavitt said. “His legacy within the NCAA and its membership, and his impact on the sport of college basketball, is eternal. We extend our deepest condolences to Tom’s family.”

Aztecs extend Brian Dutcher’s contract 3 years through 2026

Orlando Ramirez-USA TODAY Sports
4 Comments

SAN DIEGO — San Diego State basketball coach Brian Dutcher has signed a three-year contract extension through the 2025-26 season.

Dutcher signed the deal following one of the most successful seasons in school history. The Aztecs went 30-2, won the Mountain West regular-season title and were expected to be a No. 1 or 2 seed before the NCAA Tournament was canceled due to the coronavirus pandemic. They opened the season 26-0 and were the nation’s last undefeated team.

“Having spent more than 20 years at San Diego State University I understand what a special place this is,” Dutcher said in a statement Friday. “I am humbled and honored to continue to represent SDSU and Aztec Basketball as its head coach.”

Dutcher is 73-26 in three seasons, the most victories by an Aztecs coach in his first three seasons. He spent 18 seasons as Steve Fisher’s top assistant, including six as associate head coach/head coach in waiting. He took over as head coach after Fisher retired following the 2016-17 season. The Aztecs reached the NCAA Tournament in his first season.

Before that, he spent 10 seasons with Fisher at Michigan. In Dutcher’s first season with the Wolverines, Fisher was promoted to interim head coach on the eve of the NCAA Tournament and won the national championship.

Indiana halts all voluntary workouts

Michelle Pemberton/IndyStar
4 Comments

Indiana has halted all voluntary workouts indefinitely for its men’s basketball, field hockey, men’s soccer and wrestling teams after 14 participants tested positive for the coronavirus this week.

The Hoosiers did not identify which teams recorded the positive tests. The football team, like other Big Ten programs, is not playing this fall. Indiana said 63 positives have been reported from more than 1,400 tests of athletes, coaches and staff since June 8.

“Our athletic program is following strict protocols during these unprecedented times and we strongly support our medical staff as we try and mitigate this issue,” men’s basketball coach Archie Miller said.