Tuesday’s Shootaround: Syracuse and Kansas win, Iona blows another lead

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No. 4 Syracuse 60, Cincinnati 53: Coming off of an embarrassing, 76-67 loss to Notre Dame — a loss that was no where near as close as the final score indicates — Syracuse was looking to make a statement on Monday night. People have begun to speculate that the Bearcats may actually be the second best team in the Big East, and while that may end up proving to be true in the long run, the Orange made a statement on Monday night as they went into Fifth Third Arena and left with a win.

There were a few things to take note of in this game. For starters, it was nice to see Kris Joseph go into take over mode for a while. I’m not one of those people that harps on the fact that they don’t have a go-to player (I think they do, but that’s another post for another time), but I do believe that if they are going to make a run to the Final Four, they need Joseph to be more assertive offensively. His combination of size, athleticism and slashing ability makes him a difficult cover for anyone, and he showed that tonight as he finished with 17 points on 8-11 shooting from the floor. Scoop Jardine also deserves credit as he finished with 13 points and six assists without turning the ball over.

The other good sign was the play of Rakeem Christmas. After a pitiful showing against Notre Dame, he finished with nine boards (four offensive), three blocks and simply was a presence in the paint. True, Yancy Gates finishes with 16 points and 10 boards, but they didn’t come easy and, frankly, Gates should be putting up double-doubles against a freshman.

With or without Melo, Syracuse is head and shoulders above the rest of the teams in this conference, regardless of what happened in South Bend.

No. 5 Kansas 64, Texas A&M 54: I’ll have a lot more coming from this game, but there are a couple of things that are worth mentioning that I probably won’t get to in the writeups.

For starters, has there been a more surprising performance from anyone in the country this season than the play of Jeff Withey? He went from a question mark heading into the season to a defensive centerpiece. He’s arguably the best shot blocker in the country, and that includes that lanky freshman from Lexington. Perhaps his most valuable attribute is that Bill Self can use him to defend an opposing team’s best low-post scorer, which allows Thomas Robinson to save his legs for the glass and the offensive end of the floor.

I was also impressed with Dash Harris. I’ve been as critical of Harris as anyone in the country, and based on what this Texas A&M team has on their roster right now, I think it’s a fair assessment. Look, Harris can wreak havoc defensively. He can break down a defense off the dribble and create for his teammates. He does some good things on a basketball court. The problem is that, with the team that Billy Kennedy currently fields, he just doesn’t fit. There are not enough offensive weapons on the floor, particularly with Kourtney Roberson and Khris Middleton injured. The Aggies need a guy that can score when the offense breaks down. That ain’t Dash.

Siena 65, Iona 62: For the second time in the span of 11 days, the Gaels blew a big lead and ended up losing to a league foe. In this game, Iona jumped out to a 20-2 lead just four minutes into the game, but the Saints locked down defensively. The high-powered Gael offense managed just 42 points the rest of the way. With nine minutes left, they still held on to a 57-46 lead, but Kyle Downey capped a 12-0 with a three at the fine minute mark to give Siena their first lead. After trading baskets for four minutes, Downey hit another jumper with 51 seconds left to give the Saints their final lead.

Iona is now in a three-way tie for first in the MAAC with Manhattan and Loyola (MD). If they could hold on to double-digit leads, however, they would own a two-game lead. Of note: Scott Machado had as many turnovers (three) as he did assists.

Of more note: Siena’s OD Anosike has a double-double in 15 straight games. He’s had one game this season where he didn’t get double figure rebounds, and that was when he went for 13 points and nine boards in the fourth game of the year. What makes this stretch all the more remarkable is that in the first three games of the season, he scored a total of nine points. That’s just … wow.

Loyola Marymount 74, Santa Clara 62: The Lions kept themselves relevant in the WCC by going into Santa Clara and beating the Broncs. At 5-2 in the league with a win over BYU and no bad losses, this is a group to keep an eye on since they are finally healthy. They host St. Mary’s on Thursday in a game that will allow us to gauge just how much of a menace this team can be.

The CAA: There was quite a bit of notable action in the CAA last night. Ryan Pearson went for 20 points and 12 boards as George Mason survived an ugly start to improve to 8-1 in the league with a 67-61 win over UNC-Wilmington. The Patriots now own a one game lead over VCU, who beat Hofstra 61-49, and Drexel, who won 64-48 against William & Mary. Georgia State is two games back, bouncing back from consecutive losses to knock off James Madison.

The Atlantic Sun: There is still a tie atop the conference as Belmont beat East Tennessee State handily and Mercer knocked off Jacksonville.

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
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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.