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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

Duke lands commitment from five-star forward Matthew Hurt

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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

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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

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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

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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.

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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.