Bubble Banter: Long wait for Saint Mary’s, Middle Tennessee

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It’s going to be a long wait for Saint Mary’s and Middle Tennessee.  The Gaels lost to Gonzaga for a third time Monday night, and the Blue Raiders fell in the semifinals of the Sun Belt.  Which leaves both in agonizing limbo until the NCAA Selection Show this Sunday.   An already tough job for members of the NCAA Selection Committee in Indianapolis just became that much tougher.

Overall, the bubble remains very fluid with only a few days to go.  At the very least we have five or six spots up for grabs.  Right now, it looks like as many as 11 spots have yet to be confirmed.  Some teams in those spots are better positioned than others.  Conference tournament results are going to matter, probably more than usual.

Pending results in the Pac-12 and Mountain West tournaments are particularly intriguing.  While California and Oregon remains as teams that “Should Be In” today, neither can be considered locks.  Colorado opens with Oregon State, a team that just beat the Buffaloes.  Another loss to the Beavers could make things a bit more interesting.  Not that Colorado won’t make it, but there would certainly be a few anxious moments ahead.  In the Mountain West, Boise State and San Diego State square off in the quarterfinals.  And while it’s probable that both make the Field of 68 regardless, the loser won’t be quite as certain – especially if we have an upset winner or two elsewhere.

By this weekend, the bubble picture will likely become a bit more clear.  Until then, enjoy the Madness.

Bubble Banter highlights the teams we believe are on the NCAA Bubble, teams that have locked up spot in the Field of 68, and teams that Should Be In but are not “locks” at the time of the update. RPI and SOS data is credited to InsideRPI at ESPN.

RPI data is for games played through Monday, March 11.

Total Spots (68): Number of teams in the Field.

Automatic Bids (31): Liberty (Big South), Harvard (Ivy), Creighton (MVC), Florida Gulf Coast (Atlantic Sun), Belmont (OVC), Davidson (Southern), Western Kentucky (Sun Belt), James Madison (Colonial), Gonzaga (West Coast), Iona (MAAC) …

  • Projected Locks (22): Teams who project to have secured a spot in the NCAA Tournament.
  • Should Be In (11): These teams are in solid position to receive an at-large bid.
  • Bubble: (28): Teams remaining who are projected to be under consideration for at-large selection.
  • Spots Available (13): Estimated number of openings after Automatic Bids, Locks, and Should Be Ins are considered.
  • RPI and SOS: RPI and SOS data are updated through games completed on Monday, March 11.
Atlantic 10
Locks: Butler, Saint Louis | Should Be In: VCU | Bubble: La Salle, Temple, Massachusetts, Xavier
  • La Salle (21-8 | 11-5) | RPI: 39 | SOS: 88 | – The Explorers avoided a miscue down the stretch but lost in somewhat ugly fashion at Saint Louis to close the season. Now they await the winner of Butler and Dayton to open the A10 tournament. Can they beat Butler on a neutral court? La Salle edged BU at home on a last-second layup in January. If it’s Dayton, the Explorers may have to take out top seeded Saint Louis to feel more secure. Besides Butler, La Salle has a victory at VCU and a home win over Villanova. The only blemish is an early loss to Central Connecticut State.
  • Massachusetts (19-10 | 9-7) | RPI: 57 | SOS: 83 | – A bubbly profile took a hit when the Minutemen lost at home to Butler earlier this month. While they have eight Top 100 wins, the only NCAA-level win against a potential at-large team is a victory at La Salle. First up at the A10 tourney is George Washington. Win that and UMass earns a date with Temple. A victory over the Owls would keep the Minutemen in the conversation.
  • Temple (23-8 | 11-5) | RPI: 36 | SOS: 59 | – The Owls took care of business by beating VCU last weekend and are likely a win over UMass or George Washington away ending any lingering doubts. Even with a loss, they appear to be in pretty good shape at this point. An early win over Syracuse continues to help, as do wins over Saint Louis and Villanova. While we can’t quite remove the Owls from the bubble, it would take a bad loss and some odd events for them to miss. The remaining doubts are the result of three bad home losses – most notably Duquesne.
  • Xavier (17-13 | 9-7) | RPI: 79 | SOS: 54 | – While it will take some recovery work in Brooklyn, the Musketeers have a solid top-end profile. Victories include Butler, Temple, Saint Louis and Memphis. The problem? Inconsistent play and five sub-100 RPI losses – the worst of which was Wofford at home. They open with Saint Joseph’s before a date with VCU. Win both of those and the Committee will have to take a closer look at how XU stacks up to other bubble contenders heading into the weekend.
ACC
Locks: Duke, Miami-FL | Should Be In: North Carolina, NC State | Bubble: Virginia, Maryland
  • Maryland (20-11 | 8-10) | RPI: 83 | SOS: 116 | – Following Sunday’s loss to Virginia, it looks like the Terrapins probably have to win the ACC tournament. Two solid wins can’t make up for a bad non-conference SOS, a 3-9 mark vs. Top 100 teams, and 16 (of 20) wins against teams below 150 in the RPI.
  • Virginia (21-10 | 11-7) | RPI: 66 | SOS: 132 | – The Cavaliers escaped Maryland and escaped even more trouble on the NCAA bubble. They get the winner of NC State and Virginia Tech in the ACC quarterfinals. After that, it figures to be a matchup with Miami. Opportunity awaits – which is what the Cavs need. Beyond the well-documented bad losses (7 to teams rated 100 or lower in the RPI), UVA also has a non-conference SOS ranked around No. 300.
BIG EAST
Locks: Syracuse, Louisville, Georgetown, Marquette, Pittsburgh | Should Be In: Notre Dame | Bubble: Cincinnati, Villanova
  • Cincinnati (21-10 | 9-9) | RPI: 46 | SOS: 26 | The Bearcats managed to avoid a bad loss (with bad timing) against South Florida. Next up is Providence in the early game Wednesday at Madison Square Garden. A loss could create some anxious moments, depending on what happens around them. The good news is that outside the conference, UC has noticeable wins over Iowa State, Alabama, and Oregon. It’s hard to see the Bearcats missing completely, but one more win would certainly make life easier down the stretch.
  • Villanova (18-12 | 10-8) | RPI: 51 | SOS: 18 | – Beating Georgetown may have sealed a bid for the Wildcats. Their list of wins also includes Louisville, Syracuse, and Marquette. If there’s an issue with the Wildcats’ resume it’s that they accomplished very little outside the conference. They also lost to Columbia. It’s hard to know for sure how much emphasis the Committee will place on the pre-conference slate. First up at the Big East tourney is St. John’s. It might be a good idea for ‘Nova to win that one. An 18-13 mark and mid-50’s RPI (with an SJU loss) would hardly qualify for lock status.
BIG 10
Locks: Indiana, Michigan, Michigan State, Ohio State, Wisconsin | Should Be In: Illinois, Minnesota | Bubble: Iowa
  • Iowa (20-11 | 9-9) | RPI: 76 | SOS: 127 | – The Hawkeyes held serve at home against Illinois and Nebraska. The real issues here are a 2-8 record in true road games and a non-conference SOS ranked at 300-plus. While victories over Wisconsin, Minnesota and Illinois at home are nice, they don’t hold the same weight as beating the league’s true heavyweights. In fairness, Iowa is probably better than its profile suggests. But it will likely take at least a couple of wins in Chicago to help the two match up. The Hawkeyes probably have to beat Northwestern and Michigan State. Accomplish that, and we’ll see how the landscape looks.
BIG 12
Locks: Kansas, Kansas State, Oklahoma State | Should Be In: None | Bubble: Baylor, Oklahoma, Iowa State
  • Baylor (17-13 | 9-9) | RPI: 62 | SOS: 21 | – The Bears’ profile would look a lot better had it not been for a couple of last-second losses to Kansas State and Oklahoma State. Ironically, they open Big 12 tournament play against the Cowboys. Win that, and a likely matchup with K-State awaits. Coming off a huge win over Kansas, can Baylor sustain some momentum? There’s no lack of talent on the roster. Inconsistent play has been the issue – as a 5-10 record vs. Top 100 teams suggests. While an early win at Kentucky helps, the rest of Baylor’s non-conference performance was less than ideal – including losses to Charleston and Northwestern at home. There’s also a mounting loss total. Could an 18-14 team earn an at-large bid?
  • Iowa State (21-10 | 11-7) | RPI: 47 | SOS: 64 | – The Cyclones closed out the regular season by beating Oklahoma State at home and avoiding a bad loss at West Virginia. The issues are a 3-7 mark vs. Top 50 teams and a non-conference performance that produced wins over BYU and Florida Gulf Coast. There was also the ugly loss at Texas Tech. A third matchup with Oklahoma awaits to open B12 tournament play. Each team won on its home court. Could the rubber match decide an NCAA berth? Maybe, maybe not. The hard-to-take loss against Kansas could turn out to be huge if the Cyclones exit the B12 tournament early.
  • Oklahoma (20-10 | 11-7) | RPI: 34 | SOS: 17 | – So the Sooners decided to make life more interesting by losing at TCU. Much like the other teams on the B12 bubble, Oklahoma didn’t accomplish a lot outside the conference. What OU does have are victories over Kansas and Oklahoma State – and a split with Iowa State. Despite some strong computer numbers, a sweep of Baylor, and some decent mid-range wins, the Sooners may not be in as good a shape as some might think. They open with the Cyclones at the B12 tourney. As noted above, the loser could have some anxious moments leading up to Selection Sunday.
CONFERENCE USA
Locks: None | Should Be In: Memphis | Bubble: Southern Miss
  • Southern Miss (21-8 | 12-4) | RPI: 37 | SOS: 79 | – Other than some decent computer numbers Southern Miss doesn’t have much too offer. They better plan on winning the C-USA tournament.
MISSOURI VALLEY
Locks: Creighton | Should Be In: None | Bubble: Wichita State
  • Wichita State (26-8 | 12-6) | RPI: 42 | SOS: 96 | – While the Shockers are not a lock, they should be in pretty good shape at this point. They reached the MVC title game and split the regular season with Creighton. They also won at VCU and Air Force and beat Iowa on a neutral court outside league play. With eight Top 100 wins, the odds are in their favor.
MOUNTAIN WEST
Locks: New Mexico, UNLV | Should Be In: Colorado State | Bubble: San Diego State, Boise State
  • Boise State (19-9 | 9-7) | RPI: 38 | SOS: 69 | – By winning two of its final three games, the Broncos have put themselves in good position. If you take away the losses to Utah and Nevada, BSU’s resume is very similar to that of San Diego State (but we can’t take those away). Which brings us to the MTW quarterfinals. The Broncos open with the Aztecs. The loser may still be fine, but the winner will certainly feel even more confident come Sunday evening.
  • San Diego State (19-9 | 9-7) | RPI: 31 | SOS: 33 | – The two edges SDSU has on Boise in terms of profile are a win over New Mexico and no sub-100 RPI losses. Of course, the Aztecs don’t have a signature road win (such as Boise’s at Creighton). Which, as noted above, makes the two team’s MWC matchup intriguing. Both will probably make it, but the loser might be a little nervous on Sunday if the bubble is squeezed.
PAC 12
Locks: Arizona, UCLA | Should Be In: Oregon, California | Bubble: Colorado, Stanford
  • Colorado (20-10 | 10-8) | RPI: 35 | SOS: 16 | – Just in time for the P12 tourney, the Buffaloes laid an egg at home against Oregon State. Interestingly enough, Colorado opens conference tourney play against OSU. A second-straight loss to the Beavers might leave an ugly impression, and would give CU three sub-150 RPI losses. Is that going to undo an overall resume that includes non-conference wins over Colorado State, Baylor, and Air Force? Probably not. But it would certainly leave the Buffaloes a bit less secure heading into the weekend.
  • Stanford (18-13 | 9-9) | RPI: 63 | SOS: 40 | – It’s a long shot for the Cardinal but they enter the P12 tourney with an outside chance, so here they are. Wins of note include California (twice), Oregon, and a road victory at Arizona State. Outside the league, there isn’t much – wins over Denver and Northern Iowa. It’ll probably take a run to the title game for any legitimate shot. Stanford opens with Arizona State.
SEC
Locks: Florida | Should Be In: Missouri | Bubble: Mississippi, Kentucky, Alabama, Arkansas, Tennessee
  • Tennessee (19-11 | 11-7) | RPI: 54 | SOS: 38 | – Depending on who you ask, the Volunteers are ahead or behind Kentucky in terms of the SEC power curve. While UT is far from secure, they have nine Top 100 wins (9-9 overall) – which includes victories over Florida and Missouri in SEC, and Wichita State, Massachusetts, and Xavier outside league play. Granted, losing two games to Georgia doesn’t help, but most other bubble teams have similar issues. There are also some road concerns, as most of their quality wins (other than UMass – neutral court) came in Knoxville. The Vols get the winner of South Carolina/Mississippi State to open the SEC tourney. After that, they would matchup with fellow bubble-dweller Alabama.
  • Alabama (19-11 | 12-6) | RPI: 60 | SOS: 91 | – Other than a pile of SEC wins, the Crimson Tide’s profile lacks much punch. They have a home wins over Kentucky and Tennessee, and a non-conference victory over Villanova. While solid, none of those wins is a headliner. They are also saddled with three suspect losses – Mercer and Tulane at home and Auburn on the road. Most likely, the Tide will face Tennessee in the SEC tourney opener. That’s a must win. Then, it should be Florida. Beating the Gators might be what ‘Bama needs.
  • Arkansas (19-12 | 10-8) | RPI: 78 | SOS: 82 | – There’s no real surprise here: the Razorbacks are pretty good at home and not very good elsewhere. We can’t just discount victories over Oklahoma, Florida, Missouri and Kentucky, but the 1-9 mark in road games is definitely an eyesore. The Razorbacks open with Vandy. A win puts them up against Kentucky. Win those two and we’ll see how the final field is unfolding.
  • Kentucky (21-10 | 12-6) | RPI: 50 | SOS: 65 | – The current Wildcat roster features wins over Missouri and Florida, and a drubbing at Tennessee. None of us know exactly how Selection Committee members will view the Cats’ profile. Which means their work isn’t finished. Normally, a 12-win SEC season would be enough, but this isn’t a normal year. UK gets the Arkansas-Vandy winner on Friday. That could be a must-win. Then, it would be Ole Miss or Missouri. In many ways, the bracket sets up well for the Wildcats. Reaching the SEC title game would probably lock it up.
  • Mississippi (23-8 | 12-6) | RPI: 56 | SOS: 153 | – No team suffered more damaging losses down the stretch than Ole Miss (South Carolina and Mississippi State). The Rebels re-grouped to beat Alabama and LSU, and a road win always helps. Ole Miss lacks swept Tennessee and beat Missouri at home. Neither of which qualifies as a signature win. Given a weak non-conference SOS (No. 290), it takes some extra work within the league. Ole Miss opens the SEC tourney Friday – most likely against Missouri. That figures to be a must-win. Then it would be Kentucky. Depending on how things break, that could be a decisive matchup for both schools.
WEST COAST
Locks: Gonzaga | Should Be In: None | Bubble: St. Mary’s
  • Saint Mary’s (26-6 | 14-2) | RPI: 33 | SOS: 104 | – Let’s just say its’ going to be a long, agonizing wait until the NCAA Selection Show. The Gaels lost for a third time to Gonzaga Monday night – and the game was never in doubt. Which basically leaves SMC with one win against an NCAA team – Creighton at home. Other than that, the Gaels’ only non-conference wins are Utah State and Harvard. Within the WCC, the Gaels swept BYU. Since this will be a topic of discussion for Middle Tennessee State, it’s worth noting 17 of SMC’s wins came against teams ranked 150 or lower in the RPI.
BEST OF THE REST
Locks: Belmont | Should Be In: None | Bubble: Middle Tennessee, Bucknell, Akron, Louisiana Tech
  • Akron (23-6 | 14-2) | RPI: 52 | SOS: 141 | – It’s been a bad two weeks for the Zips. They lost games to Ohio and Kent State and had a starter suspended due to off-the-court issues. So the Zips have to be re-evaluated. The result: it’s probably a MAC title or bust.
  • Bucknell (26-5 | 12-2) | RPI: 55 | SOS: 223 | – The Bison can win the Patriot League title tonight and end the debate. That’s probably a good idea. It’s hard to imagine them being ahead of Middle Tennessee or Saint Mary’s – should all three end up in the at-large pool. What the Bison do offer are wins over La Salle, New Mexico State, and Purdue.
  • Louisiana Tech (25-5 | 16-2) | RPI: 49 | SOS: 214 | – Nothing like closing the season with back-to-back (and largely non-competitive) losses at New Mexico State and Denver. You have to think an at-large bid at this point is remote. But we’ll see if they can reach the WAC title game.
  • Middle Tennessee (28-5 | 19-1) | RPI: 29 | SOS: 135 | – A solid RPI and strong non-conference SOS ranked No. 8 in the nation are the real highlights for the Blue Raiders. Credit MTSU for a good effort. But … in its “up” games, MTSU went 2-3 (and we’re considering Vanderbilt and “up” game). They beat Ole Miss, but lost handily to Florida and Belmont. The loss at Akron was close – no shame there. Can one notable win (Ole Miss) carry the Blue Raiders? They have looked the part. At the same time, 21 of their wins came against teams ranked 150 or lower in the RPI.

Osun Osunniyi picks St. Bonaventure over Syracuse, Georgetown

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St. Bonaventure has made something of a late splash on the recruiting trail.

Osun Osunniyi, a 6-foot-10 from Putnam (Conn.) Science Academy, signed with the Bonnies, the school announced Monday.

It’s a bit of a recruiting coup for coach Mark Schmidt, who won the services of Osunniyi over offers from Syracuse and Georgetown, both of whom hosted the prospect on official visits this spring.

“Osun oozes with potential. His ceiling is extremely high. He has so much God-given ability,” Schmidt said in a statement. “And, he’s a great kid, a character kid who is level-headed. He has a great wingspan, he runs well, he has a natural talent for blocking shots and is a very good rebounder. He can score around the basket.

“Osun wants to get better, like all of our players. We saw how he developed at Putnam, which is a credit to coach Espinosa and the staff there. He’s come a long way to become a kid who was highly recruited. We’re thrilled to have him come to St. Bonaventure.”

Osunniyi, who previously committed to La Salle before taking a prep year, becomes the fourth member of the Bonnies’ 2018 freshman class. He averaged 10 points, six rebounds and three blocked shots per game while Putnam won a national prep championship.

The Bonnies made the NCAA tournament as an 11 seed last year after going 26-8.

Christian Vital going back to UConn for junior season

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Dan Hurley is keeping his roster intact at the top.

Christian Vital, UConn’s second-leading scorer a season ago, is returning to school after declaring for the NBA draft without hiring an agent, he announced Monday via social media.

“Great Talk Today Coach! Appreciate The Wisdom You Have Let Me In On!” Vital wrote “I Think It’s Time To Get Back To Winning Ways In Storrs! I’m Going To Need That #1 Back ASAP! WE GOT (UNFINISHED) BUSINESS!”

The 6-foot-2 junior-to-be Vital joins Jalen Adams, who was the Huskies’ top-returning scorer, back in Storrs in Hurley’s first year. Vital averaged 14.9 points on 38.3 percent shooting. Adams previously announced he would return to school without declaring for the draft.

The return of UConn’s top two scorers underscores an even bigger trend under Hurley as the Huskies appear to have avoided any major defections from last year’s roster despite the coaching change.

UConn is coming off a 14-18 season that proved to be the last of coach Kevin Ollie’s six years with the Huskies that included a national championship but also back-to-back losing seasons.

Chris Silva returning to South Carolina for senior season

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South Carolina is getting an first-team all-SEC performer back.

Chris Silva, who led the Gamecocks in scoring and rebounding last season, is returning to school after declaring for the NBA draft without hiring an agent, the school announced Monday.

“I’m thankful for the experience of going through the draft process,” Silva said in a statement. “I want to thank all of the teams that gave me the opportunity to workout for their organization. I’m excited to announce that I’m returning to South Carolina for my senior season. I can’t wait to get back on the court with my brothers and continue to work on my game.”

The 6-foot-9 Silva, who did not get an NBA draft combine invite, averaged 14.3 points and 8 rebounds per game as a junior.  He shot 46.7 percent from the floor.

“Going through the evaluation process was an unbelievable experience for Chris and us,” South Carolina coach Frank Martin said in a statement. “He comes back to a place he loves with some knowledge on some of the things that we have to help him improve on in his efforts to one day fulfill his lifelong dream of playing in the NBA.”

In addition to being South Carolina’s leading scorer, he was the SEC co-defensive player of the year last season after averaging 1.4 blocks per game. His return to Columbia gives the Gamecocks a potential contender for SEC player of the year in 2018-19.

Kansas fires athletic director Sheahon Zenger

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Kansas has fired athletic director Sheahon Zenger, effective immediately, citing a lack of progress in key areas within the athletic department.

“Sheahon has been a loyal Jayhawk, and our athletics department has improved in many areas under his leadership,” Kansas Chancellor Doug Girod wrote in an email to KU faculty and staff. “But athletics continues to face a number of challenges, and progress in key areas has been elusive. To achieve the level of success we need and expect, I have determined a change in leadership is necessary.”

Zenger had been in the role of AD since 2011.

The issue, of course, is not the play of the Kansas basketball program. The Jayhawks have won every Big 12 regular season title since 2004, and head coach Bill Self has taken the program to two Final Fours since Zenger was hired.

The football team is still a disaster, but one can’t help but wonder whether or not the real issue at hand here is Kansas’ getting tied into the FBI’s investigation into college basketball.

The Jayhawks were not mentioned in the initial indictments that were handed down, but Kansas was a central figure in the superseding indictments that were dropped after the national title game. The mother of Billy Preston, who did not play for the Jayhawks this season, was alleged to have been funneled $90,000 by Adidas, while Silvio De Sousa’s status is currently in question after the FBI alleged his guardian was paid at least $20,000 to help offset money that the family had already accepted from a rival shoe company.

All of that came in the aftermath of dealing with Cheick Diallo and Cliff Alexander, both of whom had their one season in Lawrence reduced due to off the court issues.

“Since becoming chancellor, I have spent countless hours with higher education peers and Jayhawks to hear their perspective on KU,” Girod wrote. “A common thread in these conversations is that, as a major public university with national aspirations, we must continue to strive for excellence in all areas — including athletics. As I have said many times, a successful athletics department is inextricably linked to our broader mission as a flagship research university.”

Louisville, ex-AD Tom Jurich reach $4.5M settlement

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LOUISVILLE, Ky. — The University of Louisville has reached a $4.5 million settlement with former athletic director Tom Jurich, who was fired in the wake of a national federal corruption investigation of college basketball.

Jurich disputed his Oct. 18 firing for cause after nearly 20 years as AD and had considered suing the school. The University of Louisville Athletic Association and Board of Trustees on Friday approved the settlement. Jurich’s employment ended “without cause” as a result of his resignation, also described in the settlement as “retirement.”

He’ll also receive another $2.6 million in accrued employment benefits, along with home game tickets and parking for Louisville football and basketball for 20 years.

An audit of the University of Louisville Foundation released last June showed that Jurich averaged annual compensation of more than $2.76 million from 2010-16, including more than $5.35 million in 2016.

Then-interim president Greg Postel had placed Jurich on paid administrative leave in September after the school’s acknowledgement of its involvement in the investigation. Trustees voted 10-3 to fire Jurich, two days after the ULAA unanimously fired Hall of Fame men’s basketball coach Rick Pitino.

The former AD said in a joint statement that he “spent the better part of my career” working with dedicated athletes, coaches and staff to elevate Louisville. He added, “I am proud of what we accomplished, which is well documented.”

Jurich’s legal team had stressed that the ex-AD did nothing illegal and hadn’t violated NCAA rules.

Trustee chairman J. David Grissom said in the statement that “Everyone is pleased that this matter has been successfully resolved. All parties can move forward to begin the next chapter.”

Jurich played a major role in Louisville’s success on the field and how the school handled issues off it. He led the school’s 2014 entry into the Atlantic Coast Conference and oversaw numerous program and facility upgrades, including a $63 million expansion of the football stadium due for completion by fall.

He also hired several successful coaches including Pitino, who guided the Cardinals to the 2013 NCAA men’s basketball championship. Louisville ultimately vacated that title in February as part of NCAA penalties for a sex scandal after an escort’s book allegations that former basketball staffer Andre McGee hired her and other dancers to strip and have sex with players and recruits.

Pitino has filed a $38.7 million federal lawsuit against Louisville, alleging breach of contract.