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College Basketball Bid Thieves: What teams could steal a spot in the tournament from the bubble?

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What defines a bid thief?

It’s pretty simple, really: A team that has no chance at earning an at-large bid winning an automatic bid to the NCAA tournament in a conference where there is an at-large team. If, say, neither Gonzaga nor Saint Mary’s wins the WCC tournament’s automatic bid, then that means that the WCC will receive three bids, or two at-large bids and one automatic bid.

That means there is one less spot in the at-large pool for the teams in the middle of the SEC, the Big 12 and the ACC.

Hence the term big thief.

Where are this year’s potential bid thieves coming from? Who should the teams on the bubble be wary of?

PAC-12

The Pac-12 is weird this year. Not only are there only two teams that can be considered a lock for the NCAA tournament at this point in the season, both of those teams — who were, at one point, ranked in the top five nationally this year — have fallen off a cliff. Arizona lost Allonzo Trier to a failed PED test and they may have lost their head coach in Sean Miller. Arizona State, on the other hand, has just lost. They’re 7-9 in Pac-12 play and seem to be headed for the 8-9 game in the Pac-12 tournament. That would mean that they would face-off with Arizona in the quarterfinals, assuming that Arizona can get a split at home against Stanford and Cal this weekend.

Put another way, it’s going to be much easier for a sleeper to make a run in the Pac-12 tournament than it will be in any other major conference tournament.

So who are the potential bid thieves here?

At this point, I think USC is going to be on the right side of the bubble. UCLA and Washington might be able to play their way into a bid without having to win the automatic bid. Leaving them out, I think OREGON and UTAH have both played well of late, while STANFORD has proven they have the ability to get hot and reel off four wins in a row. Frankly, I think you pencil the Pac-12 in for five bids and figure out who those five bids are on Selection Sunday.

AMERICAN

The American has three teams at the top of the league — Cincinnati, Wichita State and Houston — that are locks for the Dance. They also don’t really have much in the way of a bubble team, unless you Temple is going to be able to make a run to the tournament.

What they do have, however, is SMU. Prior to Shake Milton suffering a broken hand and Jarrey Foster tearing his ACL, the Mustangs looked like a team that might be able to earn a tournament bid. Two weeks before Milton’s injury, he had 34 points in a win at Wichita State. They have not been the same team since, but Milton is the type of talent that could spark a run in a conference tournament. It’s also probably worth mentioning that TULSA, who looks like they will finish fourth in the league, had won six in a row prior to Sunday’s loss at Cincinnati. They haven’t lost a game that wasn’t a roadie against Wichita State or Cincinnati since Jan. 17th.

ATLANTIC 10

The Atlantic 10 may have just opened up that much more. Rhode Island, who looked like far and away the best team in the league, went out and lost by 30 points to St. Joe’s on Tuesday night at home.

Spoiler alert: St. Joe’s is not all that good this season.

At this point, I really only think that one of three teams can win the Atlantic 10 tournament this season — URI, St. Bonaventure and Davidson have been far and away the best teams in the conference during league play — but both URI and the Bonnies seem like they should be in come Selection Sunday.

That leaves DAVIDSON, who shook off a slow start to the season to really play some good basketball for the last month. The Wildcats have won seven of their last nine games, and those two losses came at URI and at St. Bonaventure in triple-overtime on Tuesday night. They are, as usual, an offensive juggernaut with talents like Peyton Aldridge and Kellan Grady on the roster, but what’s promising is that, in A10 play, they’ve been the league’s fourth-best defensive team; they were the second-best defensive team in league play prior to giving up 117 points to the Bonnies last night.

Bob McKillop’s club could end up making the Atlantic 10 a three-bid conference.

WCC

We know who the two best teams in the WCC are: Saint Mary’s and Gonzaga. That isn’t much of a secret at this point. And barring some kind of disastrous loss for the Gaels, both of them are locks for the NCAA tournament. They will also be on opposite sides of the bracket, meaning that there will be some opportunities for opponents to pick them off before the final.

The team to watch out for here is BYU. San Diego would have been a threat before their coach was arrested for domestic violence and San Francisco does have a win over the Gaels, but BYU is the only team in the league that is close to par with the Zags and the Gaels from a talent perspective.

MOUNTAIN WEST

As of now, the only team in the Mountain West that has any chance at an at-large bid is Nevada. BOISE STATE is on the fringes, but they missed their chance to add an elite win when they lost at home to the Wolf Pack, and since they are locked into theNo. 2 seed, they only way they’ll be able to do that in the MWC tournament is in the beat Nevada in the title game … and earn the automatic bid.

And that probably makes the Broncos the ultimate big thief. They’re a borderline top 50 team on KenPom with the best player in the conference — sorry Caleb Martin — on their roster in Chandler Hutchison.

But if you wanted to bet on where the bubble is going to lose a bid, the Mountain West is probably the safest best. The league doesn’t have the profile to actually carry more than one at-large team, but they do have some talent in the conference and teams that are unquestionably good enough to pick on Eric Musselman’s club. Let’s start with UNLV, who has quite a bit of talent — including future first round pick Brandon McCoy — and will be playing home games throughout the league tournament. They also won at Nevada (albeit while Nevada was injured) this month. WYOMING has one of the best one-two punches in the conference with Justin James and Hayden Dalton and they beat a full-strength Nevada team in Laramie earlier this year.

FRESNO STATE has some talent on their roster this year. SAN DIEGO STATE got Malik Pope back after he sat out for one game and they seem to have figured out that Jalen McDaniels might actually be their best player. Even NEW MEXICO has won some games this year.

The MWC tournament is going to be wild this year.

Chandler Hutchison (Ethan Miller/Getty Images)

CONFERENCE USA

The big question here is whether or not you believe that Middle Tennessee State is actually an NCAA tournament team. They are 26th in the RPI, they have three Quadrant 1 wins this season while playing in a league that isn’t exactly loaded with talent and their one “bad” loss this season came at home against Belmont, who is 77th in the RPI; the cutoff for that being a Quadrant 2 loss is 75th in the RPI.

So let’s assume that the Blue Raiders are going to be dancing as long as they don’t lose to one of the dumpster fires that currently exist in CUSA. That leaves two legitimate bid thief candidates: OLD DOMINION and WESTERN KENTUCKY. WKU is loaded with high-major cast-offs like Darius Thompson (Virginia), Lamonte Bearden (Buffalo), Moustapha Diagne (Syracuse) and Dwight Coleby (Kansas and Ole Miss), while ODU is more balanced and better defensively. The Monarchs, however, have lost all three games they’ve played against WKU and MTSU this season.

MISSOURI VALLEY

Is Loyola-Chicago is deserving of an at-large bid? According to Bracket Matrix, they are the second highest-rated mid-major program. They also have a win at Florida and a top 35 RPI. But a 3-3 mark against the top two Quadrants and a pair of losses to teams outside the top two Quadrants is not ideal, particularly when you consider that they could end up taking another one if they don’t lose to either ILLINOIS STATE or BRADLEY.

Notre Dame coach Mike Brey: Transferring players need ‘deterrent’

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WASHINGTON (AP) — The NCAA is granting too many waivers allowing players who transfer to compete immediately, Notre Dame coach Mike Brey said Wednesday, calling the requirement that players sit out a year a useful “deterrent” to players switching schools.

Brey made his comments at a meeting of the Knight Commission, a nonprofit that pushes for reform in college sports. While the commission has not taken a position on transfer waivers, it often advocates for players being given more freedom to pursue their professional ambitions.

“As coaches we’re concerned about the number of waivers, to the point where the NCAA has given too much of a blueprint on how to get a waiver,” Brey said. “Kids feel they can go and, you know, bring up enough of a case to get eligible right away. So they’re more apt to want to go.”

In April 2018, the NCAA relaxed its waiver requirements, allowing a transferring player to suit up immediately if there are “documented mitigating circumstances that are outside the student-athlete’s control and directly impact the health, safety and well-being of the student-athlete.”

During the 2018-19 academic year, 79 men’s basketball players requested waivers and 44 were granted, a 56% success rate, according to NCAA data. Men’s basketball accounted for 33% of all waiver requests, the NCAA said.

Commission co-chairman Arne Duncan, the former U.S. Secretary of Education, declined to comment on waivers but lauded the “transparency” of the NCAA’s transfer portal, in which players submit their names if they want to switch schools.

Brey said he believes players should be free to transfer and that it’s up to coaches to make their players want to stay, but he said sitting out a year can be beneficial and prevents players from transferring for immature or capricious reasons.

“It’s a bit of a deterrent for a kid. The year in residency saves kids from themselves sometimes,” Brey said. “I’ve seen some kids then come back, stick it out, and now they’re in the lineup and they come back five years later and go, ‘I was an idiot.’ Because every kid thinks about (transferring) when he’s not playing.”

ROADBLOCKS TO REFORM

Brey’s comments were one of a few examples from Wednesday’s meeting of the basketball establishment pushing back against reforms that would give players more autonomy or promote transparency about the way schools profit from college athletics.

The Knight Commission is pushing the NCAA to release to the public the financial details of contracts between athletic departments and shoe and apparel companies, a proposal that has not gained much traction. In the past, the commission has persuaded the NCAA to release graduation rates and other financial data, including compensation for coaches.

“The shoe companies, there has to be agreement across the board, that there has to be willingness and openness to share all those records. Candidly, I think more work needs to be done,” said Kevin Lennon, the NCAA’s vice president for Division I governance. “We don’t control all the third parties and their ability to cooperate with us. More conversation needs to continue to occur within the NCAA and between the NCAA and the third parties if we want to move the ball.”

Two NBA executives told the commission the league is in talks with the players’ union about lowering the NBA’s minimum age to 18, prompted largely by a recommendation by the Commission on College Basketball to rid the sport of the “one-and-done rule.”

But even that proposal is meeting some resistance in the NBA. David Krichavsky, the league’s senior vice president and head of youth basketball development, said some in the league would rather raise the age limit than lower it.

“Many teams and general managers would still be in favor of going to 20, given the additional scouting information you receive on players, seeing them compete at the NCAA level for two years after high school,” Krichavsky said, “but at the same time we recognize that the world has changed and will continue to change.”

COACHES BEHAVING BADLY

Brey, the president of the board of directors of the National Association of Basketball Coaches, said he’d like to see coaches reach a consensus about how to police their own behavior.

An ongoing federal investigation into illicit payments made to players during the recruiting process led Louisville to fire longtime coach Rick Pitino, but some other coaches implicated in the probe have held onto their jobs. Brey said schools ought to move more aggressively to fire coaches for cause when they violate NCAA rules.

“We all have clauses in our contracts about NCAA rules and behavior, all of us. If those are violated, doesn’t that start on the campuses?” Brey said. “And no question the NABC could make a stronger stand. We have not maybe been as vocal about some of the things that have gone on.”

Report: NCAA will give more notices of allegations soon

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Now that the FBI’s college basketball corruption cases are complete, the NCAA will likely move forward with more notices of allegations.

Speaking to ESPN’s Heather Dinich on Wednesday at the Knight Commission on Intercollegiate Athletics, NCAA vice president of Division I Governance Kevin Lennon said that more investigations could come “in due time and I think  very quickly.”

The NCAA needed to wait for the FBI’s trials to finish up before launching its own investigations on schools mentioned over the past 18 months. We could see a high number of big-name programs get investigated during the NCAA’s process.

“You don’t get in the way of a federal investigation,” Lennon said Wednesday. “Activity was going on during that span that was within our purview, but now that the court cases are done, now we’re in a position where you’re likely to see notices of allegations going to institutions that have violated NCAA rules, etc. I think you can anticipate notices of allegations will be coming.”

Following the completion of the first FBI trial in October 2018, the NCAA already reportedly sent notice of allegations to Arizona, Kansas, NC State and Louisville. Other prominent programs, including but not limited to, Auburn, LSU, Oklahoma State and USC have also been mentioned during recent college basketball corruption trials.

While the NCAA will seek all documents that schools turned over to the federal government during legal procedures, the real difficulty in the NCAA’s investigations will be getting third-party participants to speak — or even cooperate in the first place. Those not tied to the NCAA through member schools have no legal obligation to help the NCAA during their investigation process.

Wednesday’s Knight Commission meeting also went over processes discussed or implemented because of the Rice Commission’s April 2018 report. Notre Dame head coach Mike Brey, president of the board of directors for the NABC, made waves by questioning where accountability comes from when it comes to coaching penalties.

Asking why “there’s been no hammer from the top of campus,” Brey asked why schools haven’t been accountable with coaches who break the rules.

“Why hasn’t an athletic director or a president acted in some of these current cases?” Brey said.

“I think a lot of our coaches want to know why hasn’t the hammer come down? I’m a little naïve to it. Is it legal stuff? A lot of lawyers? I think our profession would love to see the hammer be dropped on some of these situations. We need an explosion back.”

Brey has every right to question where penalties are coming from since only Louisville head coach Rick Pitino has lost his job among head coaches during this scandal. There seems to be a lot of confusion on where some things stand with the NCAA, and its rules, but maybe we’ll get more clarification now that the FBI trials are done.

Juwan Howard will be the next Michigan head coach

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Juwan Howard is heading back to school.

The former Fab Five member has accepted an offer to replace John Beilein as Michigan’s next head coach, according to multiple reports. He has spent the last six seasons as an assistant coach with the Miami Heat, where he played his final three seasons as a pro. The Wolverines ultimately picked Howard over Providence head coach Ed Cooley and Luke Yaklich, who was an assistant on Michigan’s staff the last two years.

Stadium is reporting that Howard has agreed to a five-year deal.

This will be the first time in 25 years that Howard has been back in the mix on a college campus, since he left Ann Arbor to become the No. 5 pick in the 2014 NBA Draft, and that is what makes this decision a risk for the Wolverines.

Howard has never been an assistant coach at the college level. He hasn’t worked at the high school level. He hasn’t coached in the AAU ranks. There is not a strong track record for this kind of a hire. Of all the former NBA player that have ended up coaching a college team, Fred Hoiberg is really the only one that has had unquestionable and continued success. Kevin Ollie won a national title with UConn, but he not only was an assistant coach on Jim Calhoun’s staff for two years before getting the job, his title-winning team was a No. 7-seed that rode Shabazz Napier’s coattails to the title and he eventually got fired after driving UConn straight into the ground. Chris Mullin was a bust at St. John’s. The jury is still out on Patrick Ewing at Georgetown, but two years in he’s sitting with a 34-29 record and a 14-22 mark in the Big East.

Avery Johnson. Isiah Thomas. Clyde Drexler. Mike Dunleavy. Mark Price. Danny Manning. The list of NBA guys that have gone back to school and fizzled out is long.

Penny Hardaway — and, to a point, Jerry Stackhouse — are different. Penny worked his way up from the bottom. He started as a middle school coach and spent about a decade coaching in the high school and AAU ranks in Memphis before taking over the Tigers. Stackhouse coached an AAU program before taking over at Vanderbilt as well. They know the ins and outs of building relationships at that level. They had a keen understanding of what it means to be a head coach at the college level when they got hired, even if that understanding came from dealing with coaches recruiting their players.

Howard doesn’t have that.

And it doesn’t mean that he is going to be a flop.

When you have LeBron James and Dwyane Wade campaigning for you, the kids you will be recruiting will take notice. When your candidacy brings Jalen Rose and Chris Webber together, there are going to be people in Ann Arbor that want to make this work. He spent two decades playing in the NBA. He was an assistant on Erik Spoelstra’s staff, a staff that has turned the Heat into one of the better defensive teams in the NBA ever since LeBron left. That same staff has also proven themselves capable of establishing a culture of hard work, toughness and player development.

Howard may not have a ton of experience on a college bench — or doing the things required to run a college program — but the coaching chops are there.

But there is no question that this is a major risk.

And while Warde Manuel’s decision to hire Ollie when he had the same job in Storrs did result in UConn winning their fourth national title, he also ended up bringing in the guy that had to be fired just four years after cutting down those nets.

Clemson forward Baehre tears knee ligament

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CLEMSON, S.C. (AP) — Clemson forward Jonathan Baehre is out indefinitely after tearing a knee ligament.

The school says the injury occurred during practice Monday. There is no timetable for his return.

Baehre is a 6-foot-10 junior transfer from UNC Asheville who sat out last season. With four senior starters gone off this year’s team, Baehre was expected to play a major role for the Tigers.

Coach Brad Brownell says it’s an unfortunate injury for Baehre and the team. Brownell says Baehre had worked hard since joining the Tigers and he had no doubt Baehre would approach rehab strongly “and have a very productive career at Clemson.”

Baehre, from Germany, started 21 games for UNC Asheville in 2017-18 and averaged 7.4 points and 4.6 rebounds a game.

Sam Mitchell leaves Memphis coach Penny Hardaway’s staff

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MEMPHIS, Tenn. (AP) — Memphis coach Penny Hardaway says former NBA coach of the year Sam Mitchell is no longer part of his staff.

Mitchell worked as an assistant coach for Memphis in 2018-19 during Hardaway’s debut season. Hardaway said Tuesday at a news conference that Mitchell has “decided to go in another direction.”

Hardaway added that “we definitely appreciate Sam so much and support him.” Hardaway said Mitchell will always be like an “older brother” to him.

Mitchell was an NBA head coach with the Toronto Raptors from 2004-09 and with the Minnesota Timberwolves in 2015-16. He was named the NBA Coach of the Year in 2007.