Miami may never be relevant as a basketball program

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Miami is still a football school.

A decade as the darling of the NIT, while the school’s football program continued its reign with national brand appeal, didn’t help to change the status quo.

In the last seven years under now-Missouri head coach Frank Haith, it seemed the Hurricanes were the perennial bubble team that ended up on the outside, looking in, only making the Big Dance once, to go along with four NIT appearances.

On Tuesday night, under new head coach Jim Larranaga, Miami appeared to be the same fringe-NCAA tournament, never-quite-makes-it, Ralph Nader, it’s-ok-because-we-know-you’re-a-football-school-anyway team in their 76-65 loss to Purdue.

Senior guard Malcolm Grant had 16 points for the Hurricanes (4-2), but Miami shot 39 percent from the field as a team, while allowing Purdue to shoot at a 55 percent clip. Robbie Hummel added 17 points for the Boilermakers (7-1).

Jim Larranaga replaced Haith in April, coming from a George Mason program that he headed for 14 seasons, including the magical 2005-2006 run to the Final Four.

As opposed to Haith’s experience as a high-major assistant, prior to his Miami, Larranga comes with proven head coaching success at mid-majors George Mason and Bowling Green.

But after his hiring, there was little in the way of good news.

In July, 6-10, 303-pound center and the team’s leading rebounder Reggie Johnson tore cartilage in his right knee during a pick-up basketball game. He underwent surgery and is continuing to recover, with hopes that he will return in January.

Then the bombshell.

An extensive report from Yahoo! Sports detailed the alleged actions of Miami booster and convicted Ponzi schemer Nevin Shapiro, who said he provided thousands of impermissible benefits to university athletes, including ties to the basketball program during the 2000s.

Here was a coach, Larranaga, who had spent those years building a Cinderella program at George Mason with a reputation cleaner than any in college basketball, finally getting his shot at a high-major job, and he walks into this.

“I would have loved for it to have been smoother, for the circumstances to have been a little more comfortable for me and my family,” Larranaga told the Washington Post in October. “It got more complicated than I would have liked.”

Larranaga was immediately confronted with a reality of college basketball’s upper tier. Up here, there’s more glamour and bigger paychecks, but a lot higher risk than in Fairfax County and the CAA.

“For the players, it’s business as usual,” Larranaga said of the NCAA situation, in that same interview. “For the coaching staff and I, it’s a little more complicated. I get questions all the time, and quite frankly, I just don’t have any answers now. It’s definitely impacted our recruiting. . . . Are some students eliminating us because of concerns? The answer to that is yes.”

But they are starting to move on.

In the early signing period, Larranaga signed the first two official recruits of his era, 6-11 center Tonye Jekiri and sharpshooting New York guard Melvin Johnson.

They also got a boost when the NCAA granted DePaul transfer Shane Larkin a waiver, allowing him to play in 2011 without having to sit out a season.

Larkin is a quick, 5-11 point guard who also happens to be the son of former Cincinnati Reds shortstop Barry Larkin.

The Hurricanes were picked to finish fifth in the ACC in this year’s preseason media poll, which will likely put them in a familiar situation, come tournament time.

Until Reggie Johnson returns, Miami is small, with only one true big man in their regular rotation. That means nearly half of the scoring has fallen to the backcourt, onto the shoulders of guards Malcolm Grant and Durand Scott.

And it doesn’t seem to be enough.

The Hurricanes average just over 67 points per game, putting them at 202nd in the nation in that category. Tuesday night’s performance saw a five-minute scoring drought in the first half, a time when Miami missed seven straight shots from the field.

Against higher-powered ACC opponents like North Carolina and Duke, and coming down the stretch in March, long periods with no offensive production could be the thing that sinks the ‘Canes.

In the long run, the pending NCAA investigation could scare away the blue-chip recruits that would push Miami over the top. If sanctions are handed down, the situation becomes even more difficult.

For as much as Jim Larranaga will fight to build this program, the odds may be stacked against him, especially with schools like NC State and Maryland making power moves on the recruiting trail in 2012 and beyond.

There may only be room enough for one prominent basketball team in South Beach.

Daniel Martin is a writer and editor at JohnnyJungle.com, covering St. John’s. You can find him on Twitter:@DanielJMartin_

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

Geoff Burke-USA TODAY Sports
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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

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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

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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
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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

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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.