Weekend preview: Ohio State/Wisconsin highlight, Duke/Maryland is sneaky good

2 Comments

Game of the weekend: No. 13 Ohio State at No. 20 Wisconsin (Sun., 1:00 p.m. EST, CBS): Another weekend, another huge battle in the Big Ten battle. These things are starting to ease into the place of NFL Sundays real quick.

Wisconsin took a loss at Minnesota on Thursday night. That hurts, but a win at home over the Buckeyes, who beat Northwestern on Thursday night in a game that was closer than the score indicated, would help. Truth be told, this game will truly show what kind of team Ohio State is. Because what a lot of people haven’t looked at recently, is that they haven’t won a big game recently. Back-to-back losses at Michigan, then at home to Indiana — not exactly easy wins, in fairness. But looking back, they haven’t won any big road game all season, taking losses at Illinois and Kansas as well.

Well now they head to the Kohl Center, where they have a shot to disprove that road game theory. The Buckeyes do have the 1-0 edge this season over the Badgers, a 58-49 win at home on Jan. 29.

With all the heroics the Badgers have had recently (or maybe just Ben Brust) it’s a safe bet that this game will come down to a few possessions. There’s so much balance on Wisconsin’s team — Jared Breggren is the team’s leading scorer at 11.9 points per game, with five players between 6.2 and 11.2 ppg  and four averaging at least five rebounds per game — that, as comes per most Bo Ryan teams, they value those possessions more. So much of Ohio State’s offense  runs through Deshaun Thomas, but that’s offset by a stingy defensive scheme led by Aaron Craft and role players like Amir Williams (1.7 blocks per game in 17.1 minutes per game).

It’ll be a battle of wills. And a battle that Ohio State really needs to prove to the college basketball world that they can get a prized road win in conference.

Five more games you need to watch

No. 2 Duke at Maryland (Sat., 6 p.m. EST, ESPN): We need to value these games, because they’re now becoming less and less. There are so many great games in this rivalry and this could be another one. The Blue Devils have proven they’ve had trouble this season on the road in the ACC — both their losses were to ranked teams on the road in-conference — and Maryland has a home win over a ranked team in North Carolina State. Plus, the Terrapins need to prove they can hang in the conference before anyone truly gives them NCAA Tournament consideration. A win over Duke would do that.

No. 16 Pittsburgh at No. 18 Marquette (Sat., 1:00 p.m. EST, CBS): Surprisingly, this is the only other game between Top 25 teams on Saturday besides the aforementioned Wisconsin/Ohio State game. Pittsburgh is in the middle of possibly the toughest stretch of any team in a conference schedule this season. The Golden Eagles will be the Panthers’ fourth ranked opponent in the last five games and a fifth ranked opponent in Notre Dame awaits after this. Buzz Williams’ team needs to bounce back from a setback at Georgetown, and will need offensive production from someone besides Vander Blue.

San Diego State at UNLV (Sat. 9:00 p.m. EST, NBC Sports): This game was obviously getting more love when the teams were ranked. But don’t sleep on it. Both these teams are prime candidates for the Field of 68 and are having solid seasons, but a win for either team enhances their at-large bid hopes exponentially. The Aztecs are in the middle of the Mountain West Murderer’s Row part of their schedule — loss at Colorado State, playing UNLV, then finishing the season at Wyoming, with games against New Mexico, Air Force and Boise State — and UNLV needs to find another low post option behind Anthony Bennett as we get closer to the conference tournament.

Boise State at No. 19 New Mexico (Sat. 9:00 p.m., check listings): This game could realistically lock up the Broncos an at-large bid that no one saw coming. They haven’t won them all, but they have won the ones that mattered most of the time, with victories over UNLV, Air Force and Wyoming to this point. However, they need a banner conference win that catches the committee’s collective eye. This is in The Pit, and this would be it. The Lobos are just hoping for more production out of Alex Kirk, who had 17 points and 16 rebounds in a loss to UNLV two games ago. Anthony Drmic has been on a roll lately for Boise State, scoring 20-plus points in four of the last six games.

St. Joseph’s at La Salle (Sat., 1:00 p.m. EST, NBC Sports): This is a sneaky good Atlantic 10 game between two teams that still have conference championship hopes. The Hawks have won four of their last six in conference play, with games at St. Louis and Charlotte still to come. The Explorers have wins over Butler and VCU already this season and this stretch with St. Joe’s and then Temple could alter their situation going into the A-10 tournament. Plus, it’s a Big 5 game in The Palestra. Who could argue with that?

What about the mid-majors?

New Mexico State at Utah State (Sat. 11:00 p.m. EST)

Western Illinois at South Dakota State (Sat., 5:05 p.m. EST)

Bryant at Wagner (Sat., 4:00 p.m.)

Southern Miss at East Carolina (Sat., 5:00 p.m. EST)

Jacksonville State at Eastern Kentucky (Sat. 7:00 p.m. EST)

Follow David on Twitter at @David_Harten

Duke lands commitment from five-star forward Matthew Hurt

Grant Halverson/Getty Images
Leave a comment

For the fourth time in the last five years, Duke is tapping into that Minnesota pipeline to mine talent.

Following in the footsteps of Tyus Jones, Gary Trent Jr. and Tre Jones, Matthew Hurt, a 6-foot-9 forward and a top ten prospect in the Class of 2019, announced on Friday that he will be playing his college ball for the Blue Devils.

Hurt ultimately picked Duke over Kansas, but he was also pursued by the likes of Kentucky, North Carolina and Minnesota. He joins Vernon Carey, Wendell Moore and Boogie Ellis in Duke’s 2019 recruiting class.

Hurt is the perfect compliment to Carey, a powerhouse low-post force, and Moore, who is a talented wing. He has size and is extremely skilled, with the ability to stretch the floor out to 25 feet and the potential to be a dangerous face-up scorer, both in the mid-post and on the perimeter. He needs to get stronger and tougher, but that will come with time. As it stands, he’s the piece to the puzzle that Duke needed to add.

UNC women’s coach Hatchell resigns after findings from program review

Grant Halverson/Getty Images
Leave a comment

RALEIGH, N.C. (AP) — North Carolina women’s basketball coach Sylvia Hatchell had built a Hall of Fame career over more than three decades with the Tar Heels, including a national championship and becoming the Atlantic Coast Conference’s all-time winningest coach.

That tenure ended with her resignation after a program review found concerns over “racially insensitive” comments and pressuring players to compete through medical issues.

The school announced the 67-year-old Hatchell’s resignation late Thursday, along with findings from that external review conducted this month by a Charlotte-based law firm. Among the issues: a “breakdown of connectivity” between Hatchell and the players after 28 interviews of current players and program personnel.

The was enough to end Hatchell’s time in Chapel Hill, which began in 1986.

“The university commissioned a review of our women’s basketball program, which found issues that led us to conclude that the program needed to be taken in a new direction,” athletics director Bubba Cunningham said in a statement. “It is in the best interests of our university and student-athletes for us to do so. Coach Hatchell agrees, and she offered her resignation today. I accepted it.”

Hatchell — who has 1,023 victories, with 751 coming in 33 seasons at UNC along with the 1994 NCAA title — and her coaching staff had been on paid administrative leave since April 1. At the time, UNC announced the review amid player concerns to “assess the culture” of the program.

“The university will always hold a special place in my heart,” Hatchell said in a statement. “The game of basketball has given me so much, but now it is time for me to step away.”

In its release, UNC said the review found “widespread support” among three areas of concern, including the Hatchell-players connection.

The first centered on the racially insensitive comments, compounded by her failure to respond “in a timely or appropriate manner” when confronted by players or staff.

“The review concluded that Hatchell is not viewed as a racist,” the school said, “but her comments and subsequent response caused many in the program to believe she lacked awareness and appreciation for the effect her remarks had on those who heard them.”

Regarding injury concerns, the review reported frustration from players and medical staff with Hatchell’s “perceived and undue influence,” though medical staffers “did not surrender to pressure to clear players” before they were ready.

Wade Smith, Hatchell’s attorney, had defended her earlier this month by saying players had misconstrued comments she made as racist and that she wouldn’t try to force someone to play without medical clearance. That came after The Washington Post, citing unnamed parents of players, said complaints had been made about inappropriate racial comments and players being pushed to play while injured.

In a statement to The Associated Press at the time, Smith said Hatchell “does not have a racist bone in her body” and “cares deeply about (players’) health and well-being.”

Hatchell, who reached 1,000 wins in 2017, trailed only Tennessee’s Pat Summitt, Stanford’s Tara VanDerveer and Connecticut’s Geno Auriemma in women’s Division I career victories. But there had been difficulties in recent years.

She missed the 2013-14 season while battling leukemia and undergoing chemotherapy. The program also spent several seasons under the shadow of the school’s multi-year NCAA academic case dealing with irregular courses featuring significant athlete enrollments across numerous sports, a case that reached a no-penalty conclusion in October 2017.

UNC returned to the NCAA Tournament this year for the first time since 2015 after upsets of top-ranked Notre Dame and No. 7 North Carolina State on the road, though her contract was set to expire after next season.

Hatchell said she will still support the school, including raising money for UNC’s Lineberger Comprehensive Cancer Center and advocating for gender equity issues.

“While this is a bittersweet day, my faith remains strong,” Hatchell said. “After the fight of my life with leukemia, I count every day as a blessing.”

St. John’s expected to hire Mike Anderson

AP Photo/Gareth Patterson
2 Comments

The coaching search St. John’s started earlier this month is coming to an end, and its finality looks to be as bizarre as the process.

The Red Storm are expected to hire former Arkansas coach Mike Anderson, a source confirmed to NBC Sports. Roger Rubin of Newsday was first to report the development.

Anderson has a perfectly respectable resume after eight years with the Razorbacks and five at Missouri over the last decade-plus, but his history doesn’t suggest why he’s a great fit at St. John’s, a smaller private school in New York City rather than two large public institutions in college towns. New York City is also considerably more northeast than both Fayetteville and Columbia.

St. John’s swung big in a way that made sense when it hired Chris Mullin four years ago. There were question marks given his lack of college experience, but given his status as a Red Storm legend and NBA pedigree – both as a player and executive – you could connect the dots to success, even if Mullin ultimately couldn’t do it himself.

This hire, however, doesn’t make much sense. Anderson just got fired for not progressing enough with Arkansas, a place he spent 17 years at under Nolan Richardson prior to becoming a head coach himself. He had serious legacy there, but it wasn’t enough to overcome just three NCAA tournament appearances and no Sweet 16s in eight years.

That’s the guy that is now, with no clear ties to either the Big East or St. John’s, going to reinvigorate the Red Storm program? Anderson might do it, I guess, but his selection only highlights what a botched search this has been. Bobby Hurley, Porter Moser, Ryan Odom and Tim Cluess all reportedly spurned interest, and it’s about as inarguable as inarguable gets that St. John’s should be a slam-dunk better job than Loyola Chicago, UMBC and Iona, while Hurley is the type of guy an athletic department goes out and gets done if it wants to show it really means business.

Instead, St. John’s search falls to Anderson, who probably won’t win the press conference and didn’t win enough at Arkansas.

Ayo Dosunmu returning to Illinois for sophomore season

Photo by Darryl Oumi/Getty Images
Leave a comment

Wins have been few and far between in two seasons for Brad Underwood at Illinois, which makes Thursday’s victory all the more important.

The Illini got a major April boost with Ayo Dosunmu announcing he would return to Champaign for his senior season rather than heading to the professional ranks.

“I stayed home to help coach Underwood turn the Illinois program around,” Dosunmu said in a video released on social media. “We tasted some success, but we didn’t dance. And Illinois has to dance.

“We are building. We will be better. I will be better, and that starts now.”

Dosunmu averaged 13.8 points, 4 rebounds and 3.3 assists during his freshman campaign, which led to speculation he might be off to the pros, leaving Illinois without its most dynamic scorer and playmaker heading into a critical third season for Underwood, who is 26-39 overall and 11-27 in the Big Ten the last two years. Instead, he’ll be returning giving Illinois a second season with an intriguing young core that will likely be a trendy pick to make a significant jump up the B1G standings next winter.

Oklahoma State lands commitment from top-150 guard Chris Harris Jr.

AP Photo/Sue Ogrocki
Leave a comment

Oklahoma State is adding another top-150 piece to its 2019 recruiting class as Chris Harris Jr., a guard from Texas, pledged to the Cowboys on Thursday

“I will be committing to Oklahoma State University,” Harris announced via a video on social media.

The consensus three-star recruit picks Mike Boynton’s program over offers from the likes of Texas A&M, Baylor, Kansas State and Georgia Tech. The 6-foot-3 guard visited Stillwater officially late last month. He previously was headed to the Aggies, but was released from his National Letter of Intent after Billy Kennedy was fired in College Station.

His commitment gives Oklahoma State what is increasingly looking like a major recruiting class for Boynton, who has largely exceeded expectations during his short tenure with the Cowboys. Boynton has already secured commitments from top-75 wing Marcus Watson of Georgia and top-125 guard Avery Anderson III as well as three-stars Kalib Boone and Keylan Boone.