2016 NCAA TOURNAMENT PREVIEW: The unsung heroes for national title contenders


By this point in the season you know the stars in college basketball, be it Oklahoma’s Buddy Hield, Michigan State’s Denzel Valentine or another marquee player who’s been in the highlights on a nightly basis. But even with stars doing the heavy lifting, there will be games in which the contributions of a non-star are needed to ensure victory.

Below are ten players capable of stepping forward and being “unsung heroes” for their teams during the NCAA tournament.

Derek Willis, Kentucky: Willis is fifth on the team in scoring, as he’s averaging 8.0 points per game. But his improved play is one of the reasons for the Wildcats’ late-season resurgence that resulted in a share of the SEC regular season title and an SEC tournament crown. At 6-foot-9 he’s capable of stepping out beyond the three-point line, giving the Wildcats valuable spacing on the offensive end of the floor. That will be key as they look to get to Houston.

Kris Jenkins, Villanova: During last season it was Josh Hart who stepped out of the shadows for the Wildcats. This season Jenkins has been that guy, as he’s now second on the team in scoring with an average of 13.3 points per contest. Like Willis, Jenkins can hit shots from beyond the arc and that opens up driving lanes for one of the best two-point shooting teams in the country. Jenkins’ scoring ability is key, but when he rebounds at a solid clip the Wildcats get even better defensively.

[   BRACKET BREAKDOWNS: East | South | Midwest | West   ]

Eron Harris, Michigan State: The West Virginia transfer was pegged as an impact addition before the season began, but while he’s certainly contributed to one of the best teams in America he has the skill to do more than he has. With Denzel Valentine’s versatility and Bryn Forbes’ shooting ability, those two will draw a lot of attention from opponents. That could open some things up for Harris, who’s averaging 9.3 points per game and shooting 42.7 percent from the field and from three.

Landen Lucas, Kansas: Lucas isn’t much of scorer, and he doesn’t have to be given the options at Bill Self’s disposal. But his abilities as a rebounder and defender are what allowed Kansas to take off once he was placed in the starting lineup for good. Kansas has won 14 of its last 15 games and are a favorite to cut down the nets in Houston. And if Lucas can continue to contribute as he has, the Jayhawks have a good shot of reaching those expectations.

Mike Tobey, Virginia: Tobey’s an interesting cog for the Cavaliers. He struggled early in the season on both ends of the floor, with the graduation of Darion Atkins proving to have a greater impact on Tony Bennett’s team than some may have expected. The senior big man has been inconsistent, but he’s capable of having an impact as evidenced by his 15-point, 20 rebound performance in Virginia’s win over Louisville in the regular season finale. At some point Malcolm Brogdon, Anthony Gill and London Perrantes will need someone else to step forward. Can Tobey be that guy?

Jabari Bird, California: The former McDonald’s All-American didn’t really get going this season until he returned to the starting lineup with Jordan Mathews moving into the sixth man role. At 10.4 points per game he’s Cal’s fifth-leading scorer, and with shooting percentages of 46.1 percent from the field and 40.9 percent from three, Bird is definitely capable of making shots. He’s the kind of scorer who can get hot and left his team to a win, something Cal may need as the look to navigate the top half of the South bracket.

[ CBT Podcast | Expert Brackets | Guide a bracket pool  ]

O.G. Anunoby, Indiana: Yogi Ferrell is Indiana’s most valuable player and Troy Williams may be their most important option, as the Hoosiers are at their best when he’s fully engaged. And as the season’s worn on Anunoby, a freshman who didn’t play all that much during non-conference play, has developed into an important piece for Tom Crean’s team. They don’t need him to score much, but Anunoby’s activity and willingness to defend has helped make Indiana a better team.

J.P. Macura, Xavier: The Big East Sixth Man of the Year combines with James Farr to lead one of the better benches in the country. Macura can score both inside and outside of the arc, and defensively he’s a pest. When the Musketeers go to their 1-3-1 zone Macura’s usually at the top of it, and while the zone hasn’t been as good as it was last season it’s an alignment that can still cause some trouble. As for Macura, his ability to be a spark off the bench will be big for Xavier in the tournament.

Dwayne Benjamin, Oregon: Benjamin is one of many Ducks who can fill multiple roles, thus making a seven-man rotation just a little deeper that one would anticipate. Averaging eight points per game off the bench, Benjamin’s capable of contributing double figures on any given night. They didn’t need him in their Pac-12 tournament final whipping of Utah, but Benjamin came up big with 12 points and nine boards in the Ducks’ overtime win over Arizona in the semis.

Khadeem Lattin, Oklahoma: Ryan Spangler has once again been the stalwart in the front court for the Sooners, who have rated amongst the best teams in the country all season long. But if Oklahoma is to get to the Final Four they’ll need consistent contributions from Lattin, who’s a Houston native. With Buddy Hield, Isaiah Cousins, Jordan Woodard and Spangler handling the scoring Lon Kruger won’t need much in that area from Lattin. What he will need is Lattin reaching the 5.5 rebounds and 2.2 blocks he’s averaging on the season consistently.

Arizona State extends Bobby Hurley through 2025-26 season

Getty Images

TEMPE, Ariz. — Arizona State agreed to a contract extension with head coach Bobby Hurley that runs through the 2025-26 season.

The deal announced on Tuesday is subject to approval by the Arizona Board of Regents. Hurley’s previous contract was set to expire after next season.

“Coach Hurley has made our program relevant nationally with many significant wins and an exciting style, along with a firm commitment to the academic success of our student-athletes,” Arizona State athletic director Ray Anderson said in a statement. “He has made it clear to us that he wants to be here and we have done likewise with him. We share a strong confidence in the present and future state of Sun Devil men’s basketball.”

Hurley led the Sun Devils to 23 wins this season and their third trip to the NCAA Tournament the last five times it has been played. Arizona State beat Nevada in the First Four before losing to Texas Christian on a last-second shot last Friday.

The Sun Devils have won at least 20 games four of the past six seasons. They are 141-113 in eight seasons under Hurley.

Mark Campbell new TCU women’s coach after taking Sacramento State to NCAA

Robert Hanashiro-USA TODAY Sports

FORT WORTH, Texas – Mark Campbell was hired as TCU’s women’s basketball coach after the former Oregon assistant took Sacramento State to its first NCAA Tournament in an impressive and quick turnaround.

Sacramento State was coming off a 3-22 season when Campbell was hired two years ago. The Hornets won 14 games in Campbell’s first season, and then made another 11-win improvement this season while finishing 25-8 with Big Sky regular-season and tournament championships.

During his seven seasons on Oregon’s staff before that, the Ducks had some of the nation’s top recruiting classes. That included Campbell recruiting Sabrina Ionescu, who became the AP player of the year in 2020 before she was the first overall pick in the WNBA draft.

Campbell replaces Raegan Pebley, who stepped down after nine seasons as TCU’s coach with a 141-138 record. The Horned Frogs were 8-23 this season, including 1-17 in Big 12 play during the regular season.

TCU athletic director Jeremiah Donati described Campbell as an elite recruiter and program builder.

“Similar to his success at Sacramento State, he was instrumental in Oregon quickly becoming one of the nation’s most successful programs, reaching their first NCAA Elite Eight and then Final Four,” Donati said.

The Frogs haven’t been to the NCAA Tournament since 2010. That was their ninth NCAA appearance, all coming in a 10-season span without making it past the second round.

Boston College extends Earl Grant through 2028-29 season

Orlando Ramirez-USA TODAY Sports

BOSTON – Boston College coach Earl Grant has agreed to a two-year extension that will keep him under contract through the 2028-29 season.

Grant took over as Eagles coach prior to the 2021-22 season and finished 13-20. Boston College went 16-17 this past season, but it had three wins over nationally ranked teams for the first time in 14 years.

“My family and I have enjoyed being a part of this amazing community,” Grant said in a statement. “Boston is a great city and we are glad to call it our home. I am thankful for the efforts of my staff to help move the program forward.”

The Eagles finished 9-11 in Atlantic Coast Conference play, their most wins in the league play since 2010-11. Quinten Post also became the first Boston College player to be named Most Improved Player.

In announcing the extension, athletic director Blake James expressed optimism about the direction of the program.

“Earl has done an outstanding job leading our men’s basketball program over the last two seasons and we are looking forward to him doing so for many years to come,” James said.

Rick Pitino returns to big stage at St. John’s: ‘I’ve earned it’

Wendell Cruz-USA TODAY Sports

NEW YORK – The video banner above the entrance to Madison Square Garden on Tuesday read: “Welcome Rick Pitino.”

More like welcome back for the new St. John’s coach.

Back to The Garden, where he once coached the Knicks.

Back to the Big East, the conference that launched his stardom and where he won his last NCAA championship.

Back to big-time college basketball after a series of scandals made it seem as if that part of his career was over.

“So, when I went to Iona, I said that Iona was going to be my last job,” Pitino said at his introductory news conference at MSG. “And the reason I said that is who’s going to hire a 70-year-old ? No matter how much I think I’m Peter Pan, who’s going hire a 70-year-old?”

St. John’s gave the Hall of Famer a six-year contract to turn back the clock on a program that once stole New York City tabloid headlines away from the Knicks in the 1980s under coach Lou Carnesecca but has been mired in mediocrity for more than two decades.

The Red Storm once played most of their biggest home games at The Garden. Pitino said the goal is to have all their Big East games played there going forward.

“Lou built a legendary program. Legendary,” Pitino said. “I’m all in with everything that St. John stands for. I’m excited about it. I can’t wait to get started.

“And it’s going to start with a culture of work.”

Pitino, who was born in New York City and grew up on Long Island, has won 832 games in 34 full seasons as a college head coach, including NCAA championships at Kentucky in 1996 and Louisville in 2013.

The title at Louisville was vacated for NCAA violations, and another NCAA case related to the FBI’s investigation into corruption in college basketball recruiting led to Pitino being fired by Louisville in 2017.

The final ruling from the NCAA’s outside enforcement arm on the FBI case came down in November and exonerated Pitino.

There was also a criminal extortion case in which Pitino was the victim during his time at Louisville that revealed personal indiscretions.

“Well, it doesn’t matter what you believe, what you don’t believe,” Pitino said. “The one thing all my players have said, because they all wrote letters for me: I’ve never cheated the game. I never gave a player anything that he didn’t deserve in life.”

St. John’s president, the Rev. Brian Shanley, said the decision to hire Pitino was his call.

“Yeah, sure, there’s some reputational risk because of things that have happened before, but I think Rick is at a point in his life where he’s learned from things that have happened in the past,” Shanley told The Associated Press. “I think he’d be the first one to tell you he’s done things that he regrets. Who doesn’t when you get to be that age? I know I have. I’m a believer in forgiveness and new beginnings as a priest, and I think Rick’s going to do a great job for St. John’s.”

Carnesecca, 98 and getting around with the help of a walker these days, sat in the front row of Pitino’s news conference.

“I think it’s a home run with the bases loaded,” Carnesecca said.

Carnesecca was one of the Big East’s brightest coaching stars, along with Georgetown’s John Thompson and Villanova’s Rollie Massimino, when Pitino became Providence head coach in 1985 at the age of 32.

Thirty-eight years later, Pitino’s Providence ties helped him land at St. John’s after three seasons at Iona, a small Catholic school in New Rochelle, just north of New York City.

Shanley previously was the president of Providence. He helped turn around a lagging men’s basketball program by hiring coach Ed Cooley and investing in facilities upgrades.

“If I wasn’t a Providence Friar, he would have never even considered it,” Pitino said.

Shanley attempted to lure Pitino away from Louisville and back to Providence years ago, but he didn’t know much about the coach personally back then. He said he talked to a lot of people about Pitino this time around.

“I’d say my behind-the-scenes wisdom person was Mike Tranghese, the former commissioner of the Big East,” Shanley said. “He got me Ed Cooley last time, and I think we came out pretty well this time, too.”

Cooley was hired by Georgetown on Monday.

Pitino said he’s bringing his entire staff with him from Iona, which announced the hiring of Fairleigh Dickinson coach Tobin Anderson to replace Pitino earlier in the day.

Pitino will try to become the first coach to take six different schools to the NCAA Tournament as he gets one more shot on the big stage.

“I deserve it,” he said, “because I’ve earned it.”

Tobin Anderson leaving FDU to replace Rick Pitino at Iona

Joseph Maiorana-USA TODAY Sports
1 Comment

NEW ROCHELLE, N.Y. — Tobin Anderson is leaving NCAA Cinderella Fairleigh Dickinson after one fairy-tale season and replacing Rick Pitino at Iona.

Iona athletic director Matt Glovaski announced the hiring a day after Pitino left to take the job at St. John’s of the Big East Conference.

Anderson led the No. 16 seed Knights to a win over No. 1 Purdue in the opening round of the NCAA Tournament last week, only the second time a No. 16 seed has knocked off a top-seeded team. UMBC beat No. 1 Virginia in 2018.

“Iona University represents everything my family and I were looking for in a school, a basketball program and a campus atmosphere,” Anderson said in a statement. “Our goal is to build upon the tremendous tradition of Iona basketball and elevate the program to greater heights.”

Iona of the Metro Atlantic Athletic Conference was knocked out of this year’s tournament by UConn on Friday.

“We have long known him to be a fantastic coach and an even better person,” Glovaski said. “Now, with his team’s impressive run in the NCAA Tournament, everyone paying attention to March Madness also knows this. We’re delighted that he will be at the helm of our men’s basketball program.”

Anderson led FDU to a 21-16 overall record and 10-6 in Northeast Conference play. The Knights lost to Merrimack in the conference title game but got the NCAA berth because Merrimack was ineligible to compete as a transitioning school from Division II.

FDU, one of the shorter teams in the 68-team field, beat Texas Southern in a First Four game and followed that with the upset over Purdue. Florida Atlantic knocked the Knights out of the tournament on Sunday.

FDU had a 4-22 record in 2021-22. Anderson was hired after running the program at St. Thomas Aquinas, located less than 25 miles (40 km) from Iona’s campus. In nine seasons, he turned the team into a perennial Top 25 program in Division II after inheriting a team that won just five games prior to his hire.

Anderson got his first taste of Division I coaching, serving as an assistant at Siena for two seasons from 2011–2013. Before his time at Siena, Anderson was a head coach at the Division III level at Hamilton College and Clarkson University in upstate New York. He worked as an assistant at Clarkson and Le Moyne College.

Anderson graduated from Wesleyan University in 1995.