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Ivy League Preview: Can Yale outlast Harvard and Princeton?

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Beginning in September and running up through November 10th, the first day of the regular season, College Basketball Talk will be unveiling the 2017-2018 NBCSports.com college hoops preview package.

Today, we are previewing the Ivy League.

It should come as no surprise to anyone that has paid any attention to the Ivy League over the course of the last half-decade that the top three teams in the league this season look to be Harvard, Princeton and Yale.

Princeton is coming off of a dominant 2016-17 season that wasn’t really expected. The Tigers rolled through conference play with a 14-0 record, earning the league’s first Ivy League tournament title, on the shoulders of Spencer Weisz and Steven Cook, both of whom were seniors; Weisz was the league’s Player of the Year. Those losses, as well as the loss of Henry Caruso and Hans Brase, both of whom suffered season-ending injuries, are even bigger than they seem, as Weisz and Cook allowed Mitch Henderson to switch everything defensively.

The Tigers will still have a chance. The combination of Devin Cannady, Myles Stephens and Amir Bell is as good of a top three as you’ll find in the Ivy. The question Princeton will has to answer is depth. There are a lot of unproven guys returning, and while there are some talented freshmen joining the program – Sebastian Much and Jerome Desrosiers – Henderson is going to have his work cut out for him developing a rotation.

Which is why Yale appears to be the favorite to win the league this year.

Well, maybe that’s the wrong way to phrase it, because the Elis have a shot to be special this season. It starts with Makai Mason, who was the star of Yale’s upset win over Baylor in the 2016 NCAA tournament, who returns to the floor this season after missing all of last year with a foot injury. Due to an Ivy League rule that forbids redshirts, Mason has already committed to Baylor to play as a grad transfer next season.

A dynamic lead guard that hung 31 on the Bears 18 months ago, Mason will be joined in the back court by Miye Oni, a 6-foot-6 sophomore that is starting to generate some NBA attention. That back court is as good as any in the Ivy and better than many high major back courts. Throw in Jordan Bruner, a former top 150 prospect that picked the Elis over Clemson and spent his freshman season battling a knee injury, and James Jones has the pieces to make another run at winning a game in the NCAA tournament.

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Harvard is a little more difficult to figure out. Losing Siyani Chambers and Zena Edosomwan is going to hurt, but there certainly are pieces at Tommy Amaker’s disposal. Sophomores Bryce Aiken and Seth Towns look like future all-Ivy first team players, while sophomore Chris Lewis and senior Chris Egi are more than talented enough to make up for the enigmatic Edosomwan.

With Justin Bassey and Robert Baker getting another year of seasoning under their belt, the Crimson have the pieces to make some noise.

If there is a team that can crack the top three this year, it’s Penn. A.J. Brodeur is a stud and the Quakers return just about everyone from a team that won six of their last eight games a season ago and came within a missed front-end of beating Princeton in the Ivy League tournament. Columbia lost two starters, but they bring back a talented back court headline by sophomore Mike Smith.

Both Cornell and Dartmouth struggled last season, but both also happen to have a first-team all-Ivy caliber star in Matt Morgan and Evan Boudreaux. Morgan averaged better than 18 points in each of his first two seasons while Boudreaux, whose mother was a three-time Ivy Player of the Year, an all-american in basketball and a four-time league champion in the shot put for Dartmouth, has averaged better than 17 points and nine boards the last two years.

Brown is something of an unknown. They lost their top two scorers from last season, including Steven Speith, Jordan’s brother, but return some promising youngsters and add a Junior College transfer in Zach Hunsaker that could end up being an all-league player.

MORE: 2017-18 Season Preview Coverage | Conference Previews | Preview Schedule

PRESEASON IVY LEAGUE PLAYER OF THE YEAR: Makai Mason, Yale

The key for Mason this season is going to be his health. After a dominating NCAA tournament performance and receiving this award last season, Mason suffered a foot injury that forced him out for the entire season. As a sophomore, he averaged 16.0 points and 3.8 assists for the Bulldogs.

THE REST OF THE PRESEASON ALL-IVY FIRST TEAM

  • Bryce Aiken, Harvard: The big question with Aiken is going to be the position he plays. He’s a natural scorer, but with Chambers gone, will he slide over and handle lead guard duties?
  • Miye Oni, Yale: Oni has a shot to be one of the best players to ever come through the Yale program. His length, physical tools and shooting ability has him on the radar of NBA teams already.
  • A.J. Brodeur, Penn: If anyone is going to be able to carry the Quakers into the top three of the league this year, it’s Brodeur, who averaged 14 points as a freshman last season.
  • Myles Stephens, Princeton: Cannady will end up being the guy that makes most of these lists, but Stephens should capably fill the role vacated by the likes of Weisz and Cook.

PREDICTED FINISH

1. Yale
2. Harvard
3. Princeton
4. Penn
5. Columbia
6. Cornell
7. Brown
8. Dartmouth

Judge dismisses Rick Pitino’s lawsuit against Adidas

INDIANAPOLIS, IN - MARCH 19: Head coach Rick Pitino of the Louisville Cardinals looks on in the first half against the Michigan Wolverines during the second round of the 2017 NCAA Men's Basketball Tournament at the Bankers Life Fieldhouse on March 19, 2017 in Indianapolis, Indiana. (Photo by Joe Robbins/Getty Images)
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LOUISVILLE, Ky. (AP) — A federal judge has dismissed former Louisville coach Rick Pitino’s lawsuit against Adidas, agreeing with the sportswear maker that his claim requires arbitration and should be heard out of court.

Pitino sued Adidas last October in U.S. District Court for breach of contract, alleging that the Oregon-based company deliberately ruined his reputation. Adidas had terminated its personal services contract with Pitino hours after Louisville’s Athletic Association fired him for cause following the school’s acknowledgement of its involvement in a federal bribery investigation of college basketball. Pitino was not named in the federal complaint.

His lawsuit said Adidas “outrageously conspired” to funnel money to the family of a Louisville recruit without his knowledge and made it appear he was aware of its practices.

Judge David J. Hale wrote Tuesday that while the court agreed with Adidas’ argument that Pitino had already begun his claim, it should be dismissed for improper venue and brought to arbitration in Oregon if it can’t be mediated.

Wake AD sits ‘tight’ as coach goes through legal process

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WINSTON-SALEM, N.C. (AP) — Wake Forest athletic director Ron Wellman says the school is “sitting tight” while the legal process continues for an assistant basketball coach who police say punched a New York City tourist who later died.

Wellman spoke to The Associated Press on Tuesday, four days after the school placed assistant coach Jamill Jones on leave, and says there have been no further updates.

Police say Jones attacked digital marketing guru Sandor Szabo early on Aug. 5, causing him to fall and smash his head on a Queens sidewalk.

Jones has pleaded not guilty a charge of misdemeanor assault and has an Oct. 2 court date. Wellman said “what transpires between now and then, we have no idea. We’re not in control of that, so we’re just sitting tight at this point.”

Wellman declined to discuss the situation further.

In the less serious realm on the basketball court, the AD has some other issues to sort out that aren’t nearly as grave.

The program took a step back in Danny Manning’s fourth season, finishing 11-20 a year after making the NCAA Tournament for the first time since 2010 and then losing two key players early. But the roster turnover continued this year, with the top three scorers from last year’s team all leaving early — Bryant Crawford and Doral Moore turned pro, while Keyshawn Woods transferred to Ohio State.

Wellman isn’t concerned about the roster churn, called the season “a disappointment on the surface” but expressed confidence in Manning and his assistants, pointing to an incoming recruiting class ranked in the top 25 nationally by Scout.com.

“This staff can recruit. This staff can coach,” Wellman said. “This staff can do all of the things that need to be done to build a championship-caliber program.”

But it’s obvious the progress in basketball has lagged behind the school’s other high-profile sport, with Dave Clawson leading the football team to consecutive bowl victories after going 3-9 in each of his first two seasons.

“He’s building a program with depth,” Wellman said of Clawson. “He has all of the right approaches for a Wake Forest, the type of people he’s recruiting, recognizing that we are something of a developmental program where guys come in and are going to develop, and he has the right coaches to develop those players. And I think you’re seeing the results on the field.”

Overall, the recently completed academic year was a success at Wake Forest, which finished 48th in the standings for the Director’s Cup, which is awarded to the top overall athletic department. The unquestioned highlight of the year was the team national championship the Demon Deacons claimed in men’s tennis as well as the individual crown won by Petros Chrysochos, who beat teammate Borna Gojo in the final.

Wellman is hoping for even more improvement in all of the school’s sports in 2018-19, and is eager to open some new facilities in the coming year. Set to open in January are a pair of buildings that together cost $50 million — an all-sports facility for strength, conditioning and coaches’ office space, as well as a basketball player development center to include a practice gym and strength and conditioning space for both basketball teams. That comes after the school opened its indoor practice facility for football a year ago.

“What we want is for facilities to be an asset,” Wellman said. “They were a liability in the recruitment game and they were a liability once our players got here, in training our players the way you want to be able to train them. With the facilities that are coming on line now, we will be in as good a position as anyone in the country.”

Follow Joedy McCreary on Twitter @JoedyAP

Evansville lands former Kansas guard Sam Cunliffe

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Tuesday afternoon guard Sam Cunliffe announced that he will be transferring from Kansas to Evansville, where he’ll play for first-year head coach Walter McCarty.

Cunliffe, a Top 100 recruit who began his collegiate career at Arizona State, appeared in 15 games last season for Kansas and averaged 1.9 points in just under five minutes per game. Playing time was tough to come by for Cunliffe once he became eligible to compete at Kansas, and that was likely to be the case again in 2018-19 given how loaded the Jayhawks are on the perimeter.

Three of Kansas’ four incoming freshmen are perimeter players, and Memphis transfers Dedric and K.J. Lawson can play on the wing as well. Add in senior LaGerald Vick, who originally had no plans of returning to school after entering his name into the 2018 NBA Draft, and guards Marcus Garrett and Charlie Moore (a transfer from Cal), and Bill Self will have a lot of options from which to choose this season.

Cunliffe joins an Evansville program that will have to account for the loss of its top three scorers from a season ago, including a guard in Ryan Taylor who averaged 21.3 points per game. Cunliffe won’t be able to help the Purple Aces in game action this season, but he’s a talented option McCarty can use as a feature option as he looks to build a program that can consistently contend in the Missouri Valley.

UConn, Tennessee women to renew long-lost rivalry

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The best rivalry in women’s basketball will be back after a 13-year hiatus.

UConn and Tennessee announced on Tuesday that, in 2020 and 2021, they will be renewing a rivalry that has laid dormant for far too long. The last time the two programs played was back in 2007. both the Huskies and the Lady Vols were at the peak of their powers, and the antimosity between Geno Auriemma and Pat Summitt was too much to overcome.

The first game will be played on Jan. 23rd, 2020, in Connecticut. The return game will be played the following season. The programs will both donate proceeds to Summitt’s Alzheimer’s Foundation, which has turned into a unifying force for the two rivals.

Much has changed since Summitt lost her battle with early onset dementia in 2016. The Tennessee program shifted leadership in 2012, with Holly Warlick taking over. Tennessee is no longer the team that they were back then, as South Carolina and Mississippi State have retained the title of the best in the SEC while Notre Dame has replaced the Lady Vols as UConn’s most hated opponent; the two programs have locked horns in the Final Four six times since the last time UConn scheduled Tennessee.

The last time the two programs played came on Jan. 6, 2007. Summitt ended the series because she did not like Auriemma, and Tennessee did not believe they were beaten in the recruitment of Maya Moore legally. (UConn was handed a secondary violation for bringing Moore to ESPN studios.) Tennessee and UConn looked like they were heading for a showdown in the national title game in 2008 — Moore’s freshman season — with the Lady Vols defending their title, but UConn lost in the Final Four.

Tennessee would win their second straight title that season, but UConn has gone on to become the most powerful dynasty in American sports since then. They have now reached 11 consecutive Final Fours. They won the title in six of those seasons, going undefeated in four of the six years they won the title. They have twice set an NCAA record for winning streaks (111 games and 90 games, respectively) and have amassed a 406-16 record in those 11 years.

Perhaps even more impressive is that each of their three tournament losses in the last seven years came in overtime in the Final Four, and two of them came on buzzer-beaters, including this shot from last season:

Tennessee hasn’t exactly fallen off the map — they’ve made five of the last eight Elite Eights — but they haven’t reached a Final Four since that 2008 title and they’ve been knocked out the first weekend in each of the last two years.

Regardless of where the two programs are, however, the return of this rivalry is a good thing, not just for the sport or women’s college basketball, but for the simple fact that the two fan bases still despise each other and the game will be played to generate money for a good cause.

This will be fun.

Robert Morris University player Chelby Frazier dies following pickup game

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Sunday afternoon Chelby Frazier, a member of the Robert Morris University (Illinois) basketball program, collapsed following a pickup game and would ultimately be pronounced dead. Frazier, who would have been a senior this upcoming season, was just 21 years old.

Frazier, who attended Thornwood High School and was an all-area player as a high school senior, spent two years at Parkwood Community College before transferring to Robert Morris University ahead of his junior year.

“We could always count on each other,” childhood friend D’Qwan Applewhite, who will be a senior at SIU-Edwardsville told the Chicago Tribune of Frazier. “We were yin and yang. He always wanted to have fun. I was more cautious. I would stay at his house and he would stay at mine. He was so genuine. He was my brother.”

Funeral arrangements for Frazier have yet to be announced.