Blogger Spotlight: The Big Lead on Kentucky, the Big East vs. the Big Ten and some Final Four picks

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The Big Lead covers everything sports, and then some. NFL, NBA, MLB, MMA, fantasy sports, sports gossip, babes, statistical analysis, you name it. It’s there.

With NFL season over, expect even more college hoops to surface on the site as it reflects the nation’s annual rising interest in the sport. But if it seems as though it has a few more college basketball stories than anything else, that’s probably because the site’s founder and editor-in-chief, Jason McIntyre, is a hoophead.

(This SI.com profile makes for good background reading if you don’t read the site, though this story’s a bit more recent.)

All of which makes him an ideal subject for the latest Blogger Spotlight. We covered hoops’ post-Super Bowl attention, if it needs a Jimmer, Kentucky’s insane fan base and even a little CAA hoops. Who does he think will be in the Final Four and who will probably make the Final Four? Read on.

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Q: Super Bowl’s over, which usually means college basketball gets a slight attention boost from casual fans (who weren’t watching before) and media outlets that couldn’t fit in games like St. Mary’s-Gonzaga for time/space limitations. Do you find this to be true? Does The Big Lead’s coverage change? Do you guys push college hoops more?

A: I’m a college hoops junkie, so I follow the sport from the Maui Classic through the title game. I thought Kentucky/UNC in December was better than 97 percent of worthless bowl games. It almost seems as if college hoops timed it perfectly this year – the Super Bowl, quickly followed by a slew of marvelous games this week.

I think you’re right – nationally, college hoops will be getting significantly more coverage now that football is over. Weekends won’t be consumed by football, but rather college basketball. On the site, yes, we’ll certainly be doing much more college hoops.

I’m just glad the Colts are going to cut Peyton Manning soon instead of waiting until March and infringing on March Madness, which is the greatest sports event every year (except when the World Cup happens every four years).

Q: Does college basketball need a Jimmer-type player every year to boost overall interest? Or is it better when Kentucky, Carolina, Duke and other marquee schools are dominating the game? Seems like the ideal for national attention is when Duke has a star like J.J. Redick and is great, but …

A: It’s funny – the NBA basically has two Jimmer-type players this year in Ricky Rubio and emerging Jeremy Lin and college hoops doesn’t have one. I think college basketball certainly misses Jimmer, but I don’t think the sport is hurting without him, not with a ridiculously loaded Kentucky team and at least 8-9 really, really good lottery picks dominating the sport.

College football is better when traditional powers like Notre Dame are very good; baseball generates better ratings when the Yankees are in the World Series. The NBA is star-driven. College basketball seems like a different animal. Duke and Butler in the National title game generated the best Championship rating in over a decade.

This year, we could be looking at a Final 4 better than 2008, when all the No. 1 seeds advanced. How much interest would there be in a Kentucky-Kansas-North Carolina-Syracuse Final Four? (Syracuse for the coveted “Northeast” market.) Or would fans tune in for an “underdog” like Missouri or Baylor? (I’m using underdog in the sense that neither school ever makes the Final 4.)

Q: Not that you’ve been ignoring college hoops. You love this stuff. Where does college hoops rank in your sports hierarchy? Prefer it over NBA?

A: Of the 17 NFL Sundays last season, i was able to sit at home for 16 of them watching Red Zone for hours on end. (Don’t ask how I pulled this off with a baby at home who is now 10 months old.) That being said, yes, my favorite sport is college basketball. In college, I joined a nerdy college hoops fantasy league and became obsessed with sport. I’d be willing to go up against anyone in college basketball Jeopardy from 1995-2002.

Gun-to-head, I’d rank em like this: College basketball, NFL, NBA, college football. In truth, it’s 1A, 1B, 2A, 2B.

Q: Do you get to many games in person? Or is that appeal even there? When I’m work, it’s far more useful to have TVs on and ESPN3 running so I can monitor several games. Going to games is fun, but it’s like everything else in sports right now – TV is often a superior viewing experience. (Not to mention the kid factor. Who has the time to work, go to a game and see their family?)

A: Haven’t been to a college basketball game in years. For site coverage purposes, it makes significantly more sense to be at home – the ability to pull video, for instance, and get it online 10 minutes later. The value in going to the game and getting quotes/talking to people/networking works for longer pieces and developing contacts, though. Then you’ve got to weigh the hassle of travel, and as you said, being away from your family constantly. I don’t know how the beat guys do it. I traveled plenty for work in my 20s, but it’s not nearly as appealing now.

As for March Madness, the best seat, without question, is a computer chair with two TVs going. (True story: Last year, during the 2nd day of the tournament, my wife was giving birth and I had the tournament on mute. Only for a bit though. Once labor began, I had to shut it down.) I actually feel that way about all sports. Give me Red Zone on NFL Sundays over going to a game. When you factor in all the TV timeouts, the prices for parking, food, dealing with drunk knuckleheads, etc … the game experience is vastly overrated, in my opinion.

Q: Earlier this season, you tapped the Big East as the best conference. Still feel that way? And where’s the ACC rank nowadays? I might take the Mountain West over it in an ACC/MWC Challenge.

source: APA: I’ve been trying to find a moment to sit down and really delve into the Big East vs. Big Ten. Perhaps this weekend. I’m aware that virtually all the numbers point to the Big Ten. Yes, the Big East is obviously down this year, but of course you’re going to go down after getting a record 11 teams into the tournament. Check out last year’s  all-Big East teams. Of the top 16 players, how many are playing right now? Three. Of course a drop-off was to be expected. That being said, let’s look at strength of schedule.

The Big East has three in the top six, and six in the top 18. The Big Ten has four in the Top 20. If you compare the top three teams in each league in SOS, it’s about even; the Big 10 (going by the current standings) has an edge in the next group of Michigan, Indiana, Illinois over Notre Dame, Louisville and Cincinnati. But then you’ve got the next trio where the Big East has an advantage because teams like West Virginia and UConn are down a bit.

For what it’s worth – last five years, five Big East squads have reached the Final Four (four different schools). Same time period: three Big Ten squads, (two different schools). I’m very curious to see how these conferences do in the NCAA tournament. Would you be surprised if each conference only had two schools in the Sweet 16 (Ohio State, Indiana; Syracuse, UConn)? I wouldn’t.

How wild has the ACC been? Florida State beating the hell out of UNC and winning at Duke? Virginia was on the uptick, but 18-4 good? I actually think UNC has underwhelmed a bit despite rolling through the ACC so far. I was expecting the loaded Tar Heels to pummel teams into submission, but that hasn’t totally happened. Problem is, after FSU, UVA, UNC and Duke, I’m not sold on Miami (which is better with Reggie Johnson) or NC State (which has a fat record by default because the dregs in the conference stink). I could see the same number of MWC teams reaching the Sweet 16 as the ACC.

Q: Most surprising aspect of the season thus far?

A: I knew the Pac-12 would be awful, but falling to a 1-bid league?

I think Dion Waiters of Syracuse went from reserve with potential to star in one off-season. I know a lot of folks like Kevin Jones as Big East player of the year, but Waiters is my pick.

Michael Kidd-Gilchrist was an elite high school player, but going to UK all anyone talked about was Anthony Davis and Terrence Jones. MKG has been phenomenal, and I think he’s become a Top 5 draft pick.

I’m shocked that Georgetown managed to improve (considerably) despite losing two all-conference stars in Wright and Freeman.

Gotta toss Missouri, Murray State and Michigan State into the “surprising” category as well.

Q: You tweeted some reservations about Kentucky as the game’s best/most dominant team despite a 20-point win against Florida. How much did BBN kill you for this? Few fan bases respond with more vigor and ferocity to perceived slights.

A: It’s undeniable: Kentucky is the best team in the country. Kentucky has the best talent in the country. Virtually all the stats point to Kentucky. My reservations are purely opinion-based: 1) Cal’s history of struggles in the NCAA tournament, 2) Freshman and sophomores choking in a big spot in a close game on the road, 3) Despite the growth of Marquis Teague, he’s still the weak link of that offense. That’s all I’ve got.

That being said, a No. 1 seed has won the title four of the last five years (UConn last year was a 3). I’ll probably fill out 10 pools again and have Kentucky winning in 6-7 of them.

Q: You’re a James Madison grad, right? As Shaka Smart says, great basketball in that state. But do you ever look at the rest of the Virginia-based CAA teams and think “Damn. Why can’t we break through just once?”

A: Can I play the, “we’re a football school?” card? They beat Penn and GW earlier this year and I thought maybe they could be dangerous in the CAA tournament. Now, they’ve lost six in a row. No shot. The last time they went dancing was in 1994, which was three years before I got there.

Q: We’re still a month away from Selection Sunday, but give me who you’d like to see in the Final Four and who you think will get there.  

source: APA: It’s all about the matchups. Take Syracuse. Like the Orange, root for the Orange, but what if they draw a strong 3-point shooting team in the 2nd round? I could easily see them getting bounced. Michigan and Virginia can be dangerous teams – if the matchups are right. That being said …

Who I’d like to see: Kentucky vs. Syracuse would be an exciting semifinal. Remember what Bob Huggins’ gimmick zone defense did to John Wall’s 2010 Kentucky team in the Final 4? UNC vs. Ohio State. I’d say those are probably the 4 best teams in the country. Craft vs. Marshall? Sullinger vs. Henson?

Who I think will get there: Kentucky and UNC seem to be the only sure bets (Duke finish notwithstanding), and two teams not currently in the top 15 (polls or Ken Pom), just for fun: Louisville, UNLV.

Q: Do you get much time for reflection for how The Big Lead’s grown? You’re obviously in this for the long haul, but how do you envision your role in a few years? Will you ever cede daily responsibilities to another editor and take a background role or even seek out another challenge and let the site evolve without you, kinda like what Will Leitch did?

A: I used to be the kind of guy who tried to map out my future long term, but then I started a website from scratch and that’s changed everything. No idea where I’ll be or what I’ll be doing in two years. But I enjoy running the site because it doesn’t have to be all sports, all the time. That’s why I left newspapers – it was basically sports 24/7 and that’s it. I much prefer the ability to drop in a movie/tv/culture post whenever, and having fun that way. I have started to slowly back away from the site for an hour here or an hour there because I need to for my sanity, but ultimately, I end up checking things out on my phone and talking with the writers that way.

There’s a weird parallel somewhere about the site being my little baby – awkward and fun and clumsy at first, and I had no clue what I was doing. As it has grown, the site has matured, and it’s constantly evolving and trying different things (such as the Colin Cowherd profile last month). Preliminary talks with the USA Today brass give me optimism for 2012 and beyond.

More of Jason’s writing can be found at The Big Lead. Follow him on Twitter @TheBigLead.

You also can follow me on Twitter @MikeMillerNBC.

Zion’s attorneys: Court filing claiming $400K payment contains fraudulent information

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Attorneys representing Zion Williamson in a lawsuit filed by former his marketing agent Gina Ford have claimed that the allegations set forth in her latest court filing are “fraudulent” and “a desperate and irresponsible attempt to smear Mr. Williamson.”

Ford claimed to have obtain “newly-discovered evidence” regarding her lawsuit against Zion, specifically that the player and his stepfather accepted $400,000 from a marketing agent named Slavko Duric in October of 2018. Zion signed a contract with Ford and her company, Prime Sports Marketing, on April 20, 2019, five days after he declared for the NBA draft. Less than two months later, he backed out of that deal to sign with CAA, the most powerful agency in the business that will also be representing his basketball interests. Ford is suing Williamson for breach of contract.

The outcome of the case hinges on a law in the state of North Carolina known as UAAA — the Uniform Athlete Agent Act — that requires a contract to make it clear to a student-athlete that by signing with an agent, they forfeit their remaining eligibility. This marketing contract did not have that language in it, and Williamson’s lawyers are arguing that this made the contract itself invalid. Ford’s attorneys, on the other hand, are attempting to prove that Zion was actually ineligible at the time, meaning that he was not protected by UAAA, and this evidence is their latest attempt to do it.

Except, according to the attorneys representing Zion Williamson’s family, all of the evidence in the latest filing in this lawsuit is fake.

Included in the exhibits attached to the motion filed by Ford’s lawyers is a statement from a man named Donald Kreiss, who claims that he invested in a company owned by Duric called Maximum Management Group. MMG purportedly had an exclusive marketing agreement with Williamson, the proof being an agreement that was allegedly signed by Williamson, a letter of declaration to repay the $400,000 that was paid in 2018 and a copy of Zion’s driver’s license.

“The alleged ‘agreements’ and driver’s license attached to these papers are fraudulent,” read a statement from Jeffery Klein, Zion’s attorney and obtained by Daniel Wallach of The Athletic. “Neither Mr. Williamson nor his family know these individuals nor had any dealing with them. We had previously alerted Ms. Ford’s lawyers to both this fact and that we had previously reported the documents to law enforcement as forgeries, but they chose to go ahead with another frivolous filing anyway.”

Here is a photo, courtesy of Wallach’s twitter feed, of Zion’s license.

Via @WALLACHLegal

Speaking as someone that bartended on a college campus for a decade, I would not accept this ID. The ‘E’ at the end of LICENSE is not in bold. The last three digits of his zip code are a different font than the first two. There is no shadow behind his ears in the picture, which is the first thing I was taught to look for on an ID I thought was fake. Most conspicuous? His weight is listed as a height and his height is listed as a weight.

Furthermore, Zion’s attorneys claim that Duric is the same man that tried to run a similar scam on Luka Doncic.

“A simple Google search reveals that Slavko Duric, whose ostensible sports marketing entity has no online presence, purportedly attempted to defraud Luka Doncic … using a scheme in which he forged Doncic’s and his mother’s signatures on a contract,” read a letter, obtained by Wallach. that Williamson’s attorney sent to Ford’s attorney before the motion was filed.

The intrigue into Zion Williamson’s lawsuit is about smearing Duke basketball’s image

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This column was originally published on May 11th of 2020.

The public intrigue into Zion Williamson’s current lawsuit and legal battle has nothing to do with Zion Williamson himself and everything to do with smearing the glossy veneer of the Duke basketball program.

That’s the truth.

The numbers involved in this litigation — reportedly up to $200 million is at stake — will certainly raise some eyebrows, but contract disputes are rarely interesting for anyone that isn’t in law school. That’s what this is. Zion signed a contract with Gina Ford and Prime Sports Marketing on April 20, 2019, five days after he declared for the NBA draft. Less than two months later, he backed out of that deal to sign with CAA, the most powerful agency in the business that will also be representing his basketball interests. Ford is suing Williamson for breach of contract.

The outcome of this civil case is going to hinge on a law in the state of North Carolina known as UAAA — the Uniform Athlete Agent Act — that requires a contract to make it clear to a student-athlete that by signing with an agent, they forfeit their remaining eligibility. This marketing contract did not have that language in it, and Williamson’s lawyers will argue that this made the contract itself invalid.

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(And no, I don’t, for a second, think that Zion was ever returning to Duke. Neither does Ford, or anyone with any common sense. It’s why I wrote this “column” last May, when the rumors of Zion returning to school started rolling through the basketball world. That said, if I was a cynic, I would take a close look at that timeline. Rumors of Zion returning to school just happened to start circulating right around the time that he was trying to find a way out of a marketing contract to sign with a bigger agency? Hmm. Interesting. But I’m not a cynic, so I certainly won’t suggest that it was nothing other than a well-orchestrated PR ploy knowing that this would inevitably end up in the court system one day. Wouldn’t dream of insinuating anything like it.)

Which brings us to Mother’s Day.

That’s when Daniel Wallach of The Athletic first published snippets of the latest Zion Williamson lawsuit that was filed by Ford and her attorneys. Among them were requests for admission that Zion and his family received all kinds of money, benefits and gifts to play at Duke and to induce him to wear Nike and Adidas at different points during his high school career. The legal ploy is simple, really: If Zion or his parents are forced, under oath, to admit that they accepted illegal benefits at any point during his recruitment or while on the roster at Duke, it would mean that he was retroactively ineligible. If he was actually ineligible during his one season in Durham, then the UAAA wouldn’t be relevant. The contract, which, according to Ford’s lawsuit, could only be terminated with cause, would stand and Zion would be on the hook for a lot of money.

At this point, it does not appear that there is much evidence proving that Zion accepted illegal benefits. When asked by Dana O’Neil of The Athletic if they have any proof of wrongdoing, Ford’s attorney said, “We have ideas, opinions and some leads of our own. We are looking for information to support our case. This is what we want to know.” Requests for admission are, essentially, fact-finding missions during discovery in civil cases. Put another way, at this point, these requests are nothing more than proof that Ford’s lawyers have heard the same rumors and read the same court docs that people in basketball circles and on college basketball message boards have.

But no one actually cares about the legalese here, because if they did, they’d realize that Zion is under no obligation to answer, and even if he is somehow forced to, nothing will come of this for a long, long time.

The people that care this case care about catching Coach K in a lie. They care about proving that the holier-than-thou way that Duke carries itself is fraudulent. They care about finding a way to get something — anything — to stick to the program that recruits better than anyone else in an era where recruiting is the Wild, Wild West.

Do you remember when Lance Thomas dropped $30,000 in cash as a down payment for $67,800 in jewelry a year before Thomas and Duke won the 2010 national title? Nothing came of it. Remember when Corey Maggette admitted to receiving payments from Myron Piggie before becoming a member of the team that made it to the 1999 national title game? Nothing came of that, either. Nothing happened when Wendell Carter’s name popped up on expense reports submitted by Christian Dawkins. Nothing happened when Michael Avenatti alleged that Nike paid Marvin Bagley’s family.

All told, there are 13 high-major programs that are dealing with the fallout from the FBI’s investigation into college basketball: Alabama, Arizona, Auburn, Creighton, Kansas, Louisville, LSU, Memphis, N.C. State, Oklahoma State, South Carolina, TCU and USC.

Duke, despite a cloud of smoke surrounding Zion that would make Seth Rogen envious, has been hit with … nada.

The public is looking for their pound of flesh, and nothing would satiate that bloodlust quite like an admission from Zion Williamson in this lawsuit that he was paid to go to Duke.

Ivy League calls off fall sports due to outbreak

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The Ivy League on Wednesday became the first Division I conference to say it will not play sports this fall because of the coronavirus pandemic, a person with knowledge of the decision told The Associated Press. The league left open the possibility of moving some seasons to the spring if the outbreak is better controlled by then.

The decision was described to the AP by a person speaking on the condition of anonymity in advance of the official announcement.

Although the coalition of eight academically elite schools does not grant athletic scholarships or compete for an NCAA football championship, the move could have ripple effects throughout the big business of college sports. Football players in the Power Five conferences have already begun workouts for a season that starts on Aug. 29, even as their schools weigh whether to open their campuses to students or continue classes remotely.

The Ivy decision affects not just football but everything before Jan. 1, including soccer, field hockey, volleyball and cross country, as well as the nonconference portion of the basketball season.

Power Five conferences told The Associated Press on Wednesday that they were still considering their options. But it was the Ivy League’s March 10 decision to scuttle its postseason basketball tournament that preceded a cascade of cancellations that eventually enveloped all major college and professional sports.

“What’s happening in other conferences is clearly a reflection of what’s happening nationally and any decisions are made within that context,” said Dr. Chris Kratochvil, the chair of the Big Ten’s infectious disease task force, adding that there is no “hard deadline” for a decision.

“Clearly, regardless of what happens in the fall, sports are coming back eventually,” he said. “So we want to make sure that whenever that time (is) right to return to competition, that we have the infrastructure and the recommendations in place to be able to do so safely for the student-athletes, staff, coaches, fans, students.”

Ivy League schools are spread across seven Northeastern states that, as of mid-July, have seen some success at controlling the COVID-19 outbreak. But most of those states still ban large gatherings; under the Massachusetts reopening plan, Harvard would not be allowed to have fans in the stands until a vaccine is developed.

Harvard has already announced that all classes for both semesters will be held virtually; dorms will be open only to freshmen and seniors. Yale said it would limit its dorms to 60% capacity and said most classes would be conducted remotely. Princeton will also do most of its teaching online, with dorms at half capacity.

Coaches 4 Change: Siena’s Carmen Maciariello spearheads social justice initiative

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Carmen Maciariello found himself in the same place so many of us did in the days after George Floyd was murdered by police in Minneapolis.

Devastated by what he was seeing. Motivated to find a way to use his platform as the head coach at Siena College to enact change. Struggling with how, as he puts it, “a white head coach from privilege at a school in New York,” can have real, honest, open dialogue with his majority-Black roster.

So he picked up the phone. He called Louis Orr, his former college coach and now an assistant coach at Georgetown. He called his closest friends in the coaching business. He called his advisor, Brad Konerman, an entrepreneur who connected him with a couple of talented website designers. By early June, 25 like-minded people from all walks of life were on a zoom call.

“I’ve never been pulled over and feared for my life for not using my blinker,” Maciariello, who is white, told me. “We had those conversations. How are we talking to our teams about that? What are we doing with the police? How can we help our young people navigate through these tough times?”

That’s how Coaches 4 Change was born.

Maciariello has grand plans for the organization. On a zoom call with nearly all of the 43 coaches that have committed to the group to date, he said he wants “to try to change the world. Let’s not think small, we’ve gotta think big with this.” He is not lacking for ambition.

But Maciariello also understands that something like this has to start small and it has to start locally. It’s why he limited the first group of invitees to coaches that are “doing this for the right reasons.”

“I didn’t want to have a donate link and bring in coaches that felt like, ‘I donated money, I did my part supporting it,” he said. “It was about the time commitment and the vision. We have to focus on one thing first.”

That first thing?

Voting.

C4C developed a sleek, interactive website to help educate young people about social injustice and the Black Lives Matter movement, things as basic as the difference between systemic and systematic racism and Jackie Robinson’s impact on sports. But the site also provides users with all of the information necessary to vote in this year’s elections, information on what makes voting so important in a democracy and — most importantly — a tutorial for how a person in every state can register to vote, where their polling stations are and whether or not they are eligible for mail-in voting. Their website also has a ‘Keep Learning‘ page that links to all documentaries, podcasts, audiobooks and literary resources available on all streaming platforms, including content for children.

C4C has partnered with Vote.org with a goal of “100 percent voter registration for all college athletes” regardless of the sport they play, Maciariello said.

Currently, the only coaches involved with C4C are men’s college basketball coaches, but that will change. They are in the process of reaching out to counterparts on the women’s side, and will eventually invite staff members from other sports as well. One of the barriers to entry to become a member will be ensuring that every player on a coach’s team is registered to vote.

Eventually, Maciariello envisions C4C developing community outreach initiatives. He wants the members of C4C to connect with their campus communities and put together voter registration drives for students. He wants to eventually connect with lawmakers and work on changing legislation that helps systemic racism continue to exist.

No one ever said he wasn’t ambitious.

But he knows he has to start somewhere, and that somewhere is this platform.

“I want to engage people in issues,” he said. “Educate them, empower them to change, encourage them to grow and evolve.”

CBT Podcast: Pat Chambers, moving the season up, Running Back Buddy Hield’s 46 points at Kansas

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In the latest edition of the Run It Back podcast, Rob Dauster and Bobby Reagan recap Buddy Hield’s memorable 46-point outburst in a three-overtime loss to Kansas in Phog Allen Fieldhouse in a battle of No. 1 vs. No. 1 back in 2016. The game was unbelievable. Before they dive into the game itself, the boys talk through Pat Chambers’ noose comments to Rasir Bolton and the potential for the college basketball season to get moved up.