Darryl Oumi/Getty Images

What You’ve Missed: Now that football is over, get caught up on college hoops

Leave a comment

Football is finally over.

It took two weeks for the Super Bowl to get here, and after a defensive snooze-fest that made UConn’s 53-41 title game win over Butler in 2011 seem like a thriller, it’s time for basketball to take centerstage.

In between the massive trade, petty squabbles and reality television drama that is the NBA these days, we have a college basketball season to play out and the Madness of March to look forward to. 

Here is everything you need to know about college basketball if today is the day that you are getting caught up on everything. 

1. DUKE IS LIVING UP TO THE HYPE

Prior to the season, all anyone could talk about was just how good Duke had a chance to be. They were bringing in three of the top five prospects in the class and, potentially, had the top three picks in the 2019 NBA Draft on their roster.

Of course we were going to go overboard with the hype train.

And you know what?

It’s worth it. Zion Williamson has proven to be an absolute revelation, becoming a lock to the the National Player of the Year and a near-lock as the first pick in June. R.J. Barrett has had his ups-and-downs, but at the end of the day he is a lethal scoring that leads the nation’s No. 2 team in scoring. Tre Jones has emerged as a star as a floor leader and a potential lottery pick himself, and all of this is happening as Cam Reddish is still fluctuating between a slump and trying to figure out how to thrive in his role.

Love them or hate them, the incessant hype that Duke is getting this year is, unlike years past, earned.

2. ZION IS NOT THE ONLY MUST-SEE ATHLETE

Zion is the headliner when it comes to highlights, and that’s because the things that he does on a nightly basis are just absurd.

But he’s not the only must-see athlete in college basketball this season.

Let’s start with Murray State’s point guard Ja Morant, a 6-foot-3 lead guard averaging 24.1 points, 10.3 assists and 5.6 boards. He could end up being the No. 2 pick in the draft, and not just because he can do this:

And then there is Gonzaga’s Brandon Clarke, who is responsible for the best block that I think I have ever seen:

SPEAKING OF BRANDON CLARKE, GONZAGA IS LEGIT

Here is the scary thing about the Zags: We learned how good they can be in November, when they beat Duke in the title game of the Maui Invitational. They’ve lost to North Carolina and Tennessee since then, but no one that watched that performance against the Blue Devils will forget it.

The reason that’s scary is because the Zags played the entirety of their non-conference schedule without Killian Tillie, who is such an important piece for them given his ability to pass the ball and the fact that he’s a 6-foot-10 shot-blocker than can make threes. He’ll bring a different dimension to this team, and while there will be tape of him playing available, only Mark Few is going to know how Tillie will be used against elite competition. Can you say x-factor?

SPEAKING OF JA MORANT, HE’S NOT THE ONLY SUPERSTAR MID-MAJOR PLAYER

There are always fun player in the mid-major ranks, but I think this year there is a particularly high number of stars at smaller schools. Campbell’s Chris Clemons is going to end up as one of college basketball’s all-time great scorers and is coming off a week where he went for 39 points twice. Detroit’s Antoine Davis is a freshman and averaging 27.1 points for Detroit. Hofstra’s Justin Wright-Foreman is the nation’s third-leading scorer and has led the Pride to a two-month winning streak. Wofford’s Fletcher Magee. Buffalo’s C.J. Massinburg. South Dakota State’s Mike Daum.

We need these guys in the NCAA tournament.

SPEAKING OF SUPERSTARS, MARQUETTE’S MARKUS HOWARD

Howard leads all of the high-major programs in the country in scoring, and it’s his ability to take over a game that has turned the Golden Eagles into a top ten basketball team. He had 53 points in a game earlier this year. He has gone for 45 points twice. The only player on the planet that is more dangerous as a step-back three-point shooter is James Harden. He’s lethal — and absolutely enthralling to watch — when he gets into a rhythm. It’s why the Golden Eagles have a very real shot to win the Big East.

SPEAKING OF THE BIG EAST, VILLANOVA’S BACK

If all you know about Villanova is that they were embarrassed by Michigan (and Furman, and Penn) early on this season, you haven’t been paying attention of late. As veterans Phil Booth and Eric Paschall have started playing like all-americans in recent weeks, the Wildcats have turned back into the favorite to win the league. They are undefeated in conference play through the first half of the season, and once against look like a threat to get to the Final Four.

3. THE BIG 12 TITLE IS TOTALLY UP FOR GRABS

Kansas has some real problems that they are working through that stem from the fact that seven-foot center Udoka Azubuike is injured and his backup, Silvio De Sousa, was ruled ineligible to play this season by the NCAA.

That’s created a situation where the Big 12 is the weirdest conference in college basketball. The two teams currently in first place in the league are Baylor and Kansas State, the former who lost to Texas Southern and Stephen F. Austin in November and the latter who spent the first two months of the season totally incapable of scoring. Kansas and Iowa State who might be the two best teams in the league, are both a game out of first place in the loss column. Texas Tech, who might be the third-best team in the league, is two games back in fifth place.

I have no idea.

But seeing this thing play out is going to be fun.

4. TENNESSEE IS THE SEC’S BEST

The Vols are the best team in the SEC. They might be the best team in college basketball — they are, after all, ranked No. 1 in the AP Poll. Grant Williams is a legit superstar at the college level, while Admiral Scholfield is one of a handful of Tennessee players that could end up having an NBA future.

Tennessee is one of college basketball’s elite offensive teams, and with the way that this group of tough, physical veterans can defend when they want to, the idea that this could be a national title-winning team is very real.

BUT KENTUCKY IS BACK AFTER BEING EMBARRASSED

The first time we saw Kentucky play this season, they lost by 34 points to Duke on a night where they gave up 118 points.

Since then, things have changed. Quade Green transferred out of the program, Ashton Hagans took over as the starting point guard, P.J. Washington has turned into a legitimate all-american candidate and Reid Travis seems to finally have a feel for what his job is on this team. They’ve turned into one of college basketball’s elite defensive teams, and with the way their bigs can overpower opposing frontlines, I feel very comfortable saying the Wildcats are back as one of the five-best teams in college basketball.

5. THE PAC-12 SUCKS

The Pac-12 sucks.

(AP Photo/Steve Helber)

6. VIRGINIA IS BETTER THAN THEY WERE LAST YEAR

As it stands, the Cavaliers are sitting in sole possession of first place in the ACC and are proud owners of the No. 1 ranking in KenPom’s adjusted efficiency margin, the NET and Torvik’s efficiency rankings.

But more importantly, I think the difference with the Wahoos this season is their versatility. They can play big. They can play small. They can play with three guards. They can play with two combo-forwards and a five-man that can switch onto anyone. They are as good defensively as they’ve always been, and this year they are shooting the cover off the ball.

They are better than they were last season, and this is going to be the year they finally get to the Final Four. Can you think of a better story than that?

BUT THE ACC IS LOADED

Duke is awesome.

We all know that.

But North Carolina, while having their moments of insanity, has turned out to be really, really good, especially on the nights when Coby White gets it going and despite the fact Roy Williams is still trying to find the best way to work in Nassir Little. Virginia Tech has been arguably the nation’s most dangerous three-point shooting team, and as long as Justin Robinson’s health isn’t a major concern, the Hokies have one of the best backcourts in the country. Syracuse is figuring out how to score. Louisville has been drastically better than anyone expected.

There are legitimately six Final Four contenders in the ACC.

That is tough.

7. THE BIG TEN MAKES NO SENSE, BUT IT SURE IS A ROLLER COASTER RIDE

The two favorites in the league are the Michigan schools, which is not exactly unexpected.

What we didn’t necessarily expect was Purdue developing into a team that, entering February, who be keeping pace with Michigan and Michigan State atop the league. We didn’t expect Iowa to be 17-5 and coming off of a 15 point beatdown of the Wolverines. And we certainly did not see Indiana taking a nosedive, losing seven straight games and then going into East Lansing without one of their best players and beating Michigan State.

And I haven’t even gotten to Wisconsin and Maryland playing well or Ohio State and Nebraska falling off cliffs.

What a wild league.

8. KEEP AN EYE ON HOUSTON

We all know about Nevada and how good they can be this year, but Houston is in the same boat. They were the first team to 20 wins this season, they have super-talented guards and a coach in Kelvin Sampson that has proven over and over again to be one of the best in college basketball. They are legit.

Duke lands commitment from five-star forward Matthew Hurt

Grant Halverson/Getty Images
Leave a comment

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

Grant Halverson/Getty Images
2 Comments

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

AP Photo/Gareth Patterson
2 Comments

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

Photo by Darryl Oumi/Getty Images
Leave a comment

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.

AP Photo/Sue Ogrocki
Leave a comment

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.