Lance King/Getty Images

Monday Overreactions: Tennessee’s done, Michigan’s done, Texas Tech is back!

Leave a comment

PLAYER OF THE WEEK: R.J. Barrett, Duke

Barrett went out on Saturday evening and reminded everyone in the country that Duke is more than just Zion Williamson.

Playing on the road in front of a record crowd against a Syracuse team that had already beaten Duke once this season, Barrett popped off for 30 points and seven assists on 14-for-20 shooting from the floor and 2-for-5 shooting from three. He carried the Duke offense throughout the first half, as the team’s struggles from beyond the arc once again became the biggest talking point for a team that ranks near the bottom nationally in three-point percentage. Once Syracuse started to try and force the ball out of his hands, he became the facilitator, setting up the likes of Alex O’Connell — who scored 17 of his career-high 20 points in the second half — in a 75-65 win.

It was utterly dominant and a stark reminder that, yes, Zion Williamson is the best player in college basketball, but that R.J. kid is pretty damn good, too.

TEAM OF THE WEEK: Texas Tech Red Raiders

There is no team in the country that is currently hotter than Texas Tech is.

Three weeks ago, the Red Raiders went into Lawrence and got drubbed by Kansas, 79-63, in a game where they trailed by 25 points midway through the second half. They have won five games in a row since that loss by an average of 27 points, and in those five games, Texas Tech is shooting 58-for-124 (47%) from three. That run was capped by one of the most all-encompassing beatdowns that we have seen from anyone this season — a 91-62 evisceration of Kansas that put the Red Raiders a game up on the Jayhawks in the Big 12 standings and in sole possession of second place, one game behind Kansas State.

On January 31st, Texas Tech ranked 101st in KenPom’s adjusted offensive efficiency metric. After this run, the Red Raiders now rank 47th.

I do not expect Tech to be able to continue shooting at this clip the rest of the season, but I do think that this group, with the way that they are capable of defending, is good enough to get to a Final Four and win the national title if they can continue to shoot anywhere near this well.

MONDAY OVERREACTIONS

1. THERE ARE FIVE TEAMS IN THE TOP TIER

We reached an era where we love talking about tiers in college basketball, and I have to admit, I am one of those people that loves it the most.

So let’s do it.

As of today, there are five teams that are very clear sitting a cut above everyone else in the sport. There are five teams that we can call the favorites to win the national title. Let’s talk through them all:

1. DUKE: This is obvious. The Blue Devils are the most talented team in the country when they are at full strength, and based on what we know about Zion Williamson’s knee injury, there is no reason to think that he won’t return to the lineup at some point soon. When Duke is hitting their threes, they are borderline unbeatable, but there is hardly a guarantee, on a night-by-night basis, that they are going to be hitting said threes. That’s where this weekend’s win over Syracuse becomes interesting: Alex O’Connell, the real AOC, hit five threes and scored 20 points. Is he the key that unlocks Duke’s Death Lineup?

2. GONZAGA: There is only one team in college basketball that has beaten a full strength Duke this season, and it is the Zags. Their depth up front took a hit when Killian Tillie went down for the second time, and there are some valid concerns about Josh Perkins, their ability to defend and whether or not we can trust a team that will end the season on a two month run of not being tested, but there is no questioning the talent they have or just how good they can be offensively.

3. VIRGINIA: The Cavaliers have lost twice this season, and both of those losses came against Duke. This is probably the best Virginia team that we have seen in the Tony Bennett era, and I say that because De’Andre Hunter is an absolute monster that gives them the kind of lineup and matchup versatility the ‘Hoos have lacked in recent seasons. They are legit.

4. KENTUCKY: I’ve been on the ‘Kentucky is back’ bandwagon since they pummeled North Carolina two months ago. The rest of the world is catching up to me after the Wildcats pummeled Tennessee and Auburn on back-to-back Saturdays this month. With how good P.J. Washington has been for the last five weeks, the Wildcats are going to be a threat to beat anyone and everyone they see in March.

5. NORTH CAROLINA: If there is a questionable addition to this list, it’s probably the Tar Heels. I say that because we’ve seen North Carolina be somewhat inconsistent this year. But in the last week, UNC went into Cameron Indoor Stadium and pounded the same Duke team that won at Syracuse by 16 points. Then, on Saturday, they pounded a Florida State team that had won eight straight games. Luke Maye is starting to get it going. Nassir Little looks like he’s ready to turn a corner. This is a dangerous basketball team, one that looks like they are getting ready to peak at the right time.

(Gregory Shamus/Getty Images)

2. SUNDAY’S LOSS IS PROOF MICHIGAN CANNOT WIN A NATIONAL TITLE

Everything was lining up for Michigan to make a run at winning the outright Big Ten regular season title this year. The Wolverines had four games left on their Big Ten schedule, with two of those games coming against the Spartans. Not only that, but the first of the two — on Sunday — came in Ann Arbor in a game where Michigan State was playing without Josh Langford and Nick Ward, their second- and third-best scorers. That meant all of their offense would be running through Cassius Winston, who was going to spend the afternoon dealing with Zavier Simpson, who is a pest when playing anyone, let alone his team’s biggest rival in a game that had Big Ten title implications.

And what happened?

Winston went for 27 points and eight assists as Michigan State went into Crisler Arena and pushed around the Wolverines. They won 77-70. They got what they wanted on the offensive end of the floor, especially down the stretch. They also made the Wolverines look utterly inept on the offensive end of the floor, and in the end, that’s their Achilles’ heel. It doesn’t matter how good Michigan is defensively if good teams are going to be able to stifle them offensively.

3. SATURDAY’S LOSS IS PROOF TENNESSEE CANNOT WIN A NATIONAL TITLE

The Volunteers climbed all the way to No. 1 in the nation by steamrolling the dregs of the SEC. Now that they are starting to play the teams at the top of the conference, things are … well, they are not going as well as the Vols had hoped. One week after going into Lexington and getting absolutely mollywhopped by Kentucky, Tennessee went into Baton Rouge, took on an LSU team that did not have Tremont Waters available and got precisely nothing out of their star big man Naz Reid and still found a way to lose.

I love the idea of this Tennessee team. They are a group of unheralded kids that have taken the nation by storm, winning an SEC title last year and 23 of their first 24 games this year. But the more I watch the Vols, the more I think that there is a ceiling for this team that isn’t as high as some of the teams they are going to see in the Elite Eight and beyond. They aren’t guarding like they did a year ago, and while they have been uber-efficient on the offensive end of the floor this season, the things they do well can be taken away far too easily.

This is the first time all year I’m officially worried.

4. KANSAS STATE IS ONE WIN AWAY FROM WINNING THE BIG 12

Tonight’s game in Phog Allen Fieldhouse might just be the biggest game that Bruce Weber has coached since he took Bill Self’s Illinois team to the national title game in 2005. He’s going into Lawrence with a one-game lead on Texas Tech and a two-game lead on Kansas in the race to be the first team to win an outright Big 12 title since 2004, the first year that Self was at Kansas after leaving the Illini.

And the game couldn’t come at a better time.

Kansas is coming off of a 29 point loss at Texas Tech on Saturday. Kansas State is coming off of a 39 point win over Oklahoma State. They haven’t won in Lawrence since 2006. This is the game-changer.

5. JAY WRIGHT DOESN’T KNOW THAT YOU ARE ALLOWED TO SHOOT TWO-POINTERS

You live by the three, you die by the three, and over the course of the last three game, Jay Wright’s team has been murdered by the three-ball. They have now lost three games in a row — to St. John’s, Xavier and Georgetown — and four of their last five, falling two games off of the pace set by Marquette at the top of the Big East.

And while some will look at this and say that it is proof that Villanova’s start to conference play was inflated by who they were playing, I think the bigger issue is that teams have figured out what Villanova wants to do and Jay Wright hasn’t found an answer yet.

On the season, the Wildcats are shooting 53.2 percent of their field goal attempts from beyond the arc, the second-highest percentage in the country. But during this three-game losing streak, 109 of their 178 field goal attempts — a whopping 61.3 percent — have been three-balls. They have made just 30, or 27.5 percent, of those threes during the losing streak.

Villanova can’t find ways to score inside the arc, and because of that, they are being forced to shoot contested threes.

That’s a bad combination of things.

Kara Lawson hired as new Duke head coach

Getty Images
1 Comment

Duke announced on Saturday that Kara Lawson, a former Tennessee guard and ESPN commentator, has been hired as the new head coach of the school’s women’s basketball team.

Lawson, 39, had been an assistant coach with the Boston Celtics before accepting the job at Duke, where she will be replacing Joanne McCallie. McCallie announced earlier this month that she would not be returning to the program.

Lawson is the first Black head coach in the program’s history, the second Black head coach hired by an ACC school this offseason and the third Black woman coaching an ACC women’s team. In total, there are five Black head coaches in the league on the women’s side.

Zion’s attorneys: Court filing claiming $400K payment contains fraudulent information

zion williamson lawsuit
Getty Images
Leave a comment

Attorneys representing Zion Williamson in a lawsuit filed by former his marketing agent Gina Ford have claimed that the allegations set forth in her latest court filing are “fraudulent” and “a desperate and irresponsible attempt to smear Mr. Williamson.”

Ford claimed to have obtain “newly-discovered evidence” regarding her lawsuit against Zion, specifically that the player and his stepfather accepted $400,000 from a marketing agent named Slavko Duric in October of 2018. Zion signed a contract with Ford and her company, Prime Sports Marketing, on April 20, 2019, five days after he declared for the NBA draft. Less than two months later, he backed out of that deal to sign with CAA, the most powerful agency in the business that will also be representing his basketball interests. Ford is suing Williamson for breach of contract.

The outcome of the case hinges on a law in the state of North Carolina known as UAAA — the Uniform Athlete Agent Act — that requires a contract to make it clear to a student-athlete that by signing with an agent, they forfeit their remaining eligibility. This marketing contract did not have that language in it, and Williamson’s lawyers are arguing that this made the contract itself invalid. Ford’s attorneys, on the other hand, are attempting to prove that Zion was actually ineligible at the time, meaning that he was not protected by UAAA, and this evidence is their latest attempt to do it.

Except, according to the attorneys representing Zion Williamson’s family, all of the evidence in the latest filing in this lawsuit is fake.

Included in the exhibits attached to the motion filed by Ford’s lawyers is a statement from a man named Donald Kreiss, who claims that he invested in a company owned by Duric called Maximum Management Group. MMG purportedly had an exclusive marketing agreement with Williamson, the proof being an agreement that was allegedly signed by Williamson, a letter of declaration to repay the $400,000 that was paid in 2018 and a copy of Zion’s driver’s license.

“The alleged ‘agreements’ and driver’s license attached to these papers are fraudulent,” read a statement from Jeffery Klein, Zion’s attorney and obtained by Daniel Wallach of The Athletic. “Neither Mr. Williamson nor his family know these individuals nor had any dealing with them. We had previously alerted Ms. Ford’s lawyers to both this fact and that we had previously reported the documents to law enforcement as forgeries, but they chose to go ahead with another frivolous filing anyway.”

Here is a photo, courtesy of Wallach’s twitter feed, of Zion’s license.

Via @WALLACHLegal

Speaking as someone that bartended on a college campus for a decade, I would not accept this ID. The ‘E’ at the end of LICENSE is not in bold. The last three digits of his zip code are a different font than the first two. There is no shadow behind his ears in the picture, which is the first thing I was taught to look for on an ID I thought was fake. Most conspicuous? His weight is listed as a height and his height is listed as a weight.

Furthermore, Zion’s attorneys claim that Duric is the same man that tried to run a similar scam on Luka Doncic.

“A simple Google search reveals that Slavko Duric, whose ostensible sports marketing entity has no online presence, purportedly attempted to defraud Luka Doncic … using a scheme in which he forged Doncic’s and his mother’s signatures on a contract,” read a letter, obtained by Wallach. that Williamson’s attorney sent to Ford’s attorney before the motion was filed.

The intrigue into Zion Williamson’s lawsuit is about smearing Duke basketball’s image

zion williamson lawsuit
Getty Images
2 Comments

This column was originally published on May 11th of 2020.

The public intrigue into Zion Williamson’s current lawsuit and legal battle has nothing to do with Zion Williamson himself and everything to do with smearing the glossy veneer of the Duke basketball program.

That’s the truth.

The numbers involved in this litigation — reportedly up to $200 million is at stake — will certainly raise some eyebrows, but contract disputes are rarely interesting for anyone that isn’t in law school. That’s what this is. Zion signed a contract with Gina Ford and Prime Sports Marketing on April 20, 2019, five days after he declared for the NBA draft. Less than two months later, he backed out of that deal to sign with CAA, the most powerful agency in the business that will also be representing his basketball interests. Ford is suing Williamson for breach of contract.

The outcome of this civil case is going to hinge on a law in the state of North Carolina known as UAAA — the Uniform Athlete Agent Act — that requires a contract to make it clear to a student-athlete that by signing with an agent, they forfeit their remaining eligibility. This marketing contract did not have that language in it, and Williamson’s lawyers will argue that this made the contract itself invalid.

Preseason Top 25 | Mock Draft | Early Entry Tracker

(And no, I don’t, for a second, think that Zion was ever returning to Duke. Neither does Ford, or anyone with any common sense. It’s why I wrote this “column” last May, when the rumors of Zion returning to school started rolling through the basketball world. That said, if I was a cynic, I would take a close look at that timeline. Rumors of Zion returning to school just happened to start circulating right around the time that he was trying to find a way out of a marketing contract to sign with a bigger agency? Hmm. Interesting. But I’m not a cynic, so I certainly won’t suggest that it was nothing other than a well-orchestrated PR ploy knowing that this would inevitably end up in the court system one day. Wouldn’t dream of insinuating anything like it.)

Which brings us to Mother’s Day.

That’s when Daniel Wallach of The Athletic first published snippets of the latest Zion Williamson lawsuit that was filed by Ford and her attorneys. Among them were requests for admission that Zion and his family received all kinds of money, benefits and gifts to play at Duke and to induce him to wear Nike and Adidas at different points during his high school career. The legal ploy is simple, really: If Zion or his parents are forced, under oath, to admit that they accepted illegal benefits at any point during his recruitment or while on the roster at Duke, it would mean that he was retroactively ineligible. If he was actually ineligible during his one season in Durham, then the UAAA wouldn’t be relevant. The contract, which, according to Ford’s lawsuit, could only be terminated with cause, would stand and Zion would be on the hook for a lot of money.

At this point, it does not appear that there is much evidence proving that Zion accepted illegal benefits. When asked by Dana O’Neil of The Athletic if they have any proof of wrongdoing, Ford’s attorney said, “We have ideas, opinions and some leads of our own. We are looking for information to support our case. This is what we want to know.” Requests for admission are, essentially, fact-finding missions during discovery in civil cases. Put another way, at this point, these requests are nothing more than proof that Ford’s lawyers have heard the same rumors and read the same court docs that people in basketball circles and on college basketball message boards have.

But no one actually cares about the legalese here, because if they did, they’d realize that Zion is under no obligation to answer, and even if he is somehow forced to, nothing will come of this for a long, long time.

The people that care this case care about catching Coach K in a lie. They care about proving that the holier-than-thou way that Duke carries itself is fraudulent. They care about finding a way to get something — anything — to stick to the program that recruits better than anyone else in an era where recruiting is the Wild, Wild West.

Do you remember when Lance Thomas dropped $30,000 in cash as a down payment for $67,800 in jewelry a year before Thomas and Duke won the 2010 national title? Nothing came of it. Remember when Corey Maggette admitted to receiving payments from Myron Piggie before becoming a member of the team that made it to the 1999 national title game? Nothing came of that, either. Nothing happened when Wendell Carter’s name popped up on expense reports submitted by Christian Dawkins. Nothing happened when Michael Avenatti alleged that Nike paid Marvin Bagley’s family.

All told, there are 13 high-major programs that are dealing with the fallout from the FBI’s investigation into college basketball: Alabama, Arizona, Auburn, Creighton, Kansas, Louisville, LSU, Memphis, N.C. State, Oklahoma State, South Carolina, TCU and USC.

Duke, despite a cloud of smoke surrounding Zion that would make Seth Rogen envious, has been hit with … nada.

The public is looking for their pound of flesh, and nothing would satiate that bloodlust quite like an admission from Zion Williamson in this lawsuit that he was paid to go to Duke.

Ivy League calls off fall sports due to outbreak

Getty Images
3 Comments

The Ivy League on Wednesday became the first Division I conference to say it will not play sports this fall because of the coronavirus pandemic, a person with knowledge of the decision told The Associated Press. The league left open the possibility of moving some seasons to the spring if the outbreak is better controlled by then.

The decision was described to the AP by a person speaking on the condition of anonymity in advance of the official announcement.

Although the coalition of eight academically elite schools does not grant athletic scholarships or compete for an NCAA football championship, the move could have ripple effects throughout the big business of college sports. Football players in the Power Five conferences have already begun workouts for a season that starts on Aug. 29, even as their schools weigh whether to open their campuses to students or continue classes remotely.

The Ivy decision affects not just football but everything before Jan. 1, including soccer, field hockey, volleyball and cross country, as well as the nonconference portion of the basketball season.

Power Five conferences told The Associated Press on Wednesday that they were still considering their options. But it was the Ivy League’s March 10 decision to scuttle its postseason basketball tournament that preceded a cascade of cancellations that eventually enveloped all major college and professional sports.

“What’s happening in other conferences is clearly a reflection of what’s happening nationally and any decisions are made within that context,” said Dr. Chris Kratochvil, the chair of the Big Ten’s infectious disease task force, adding that there is no “hard deadline” for a decision.

“Clearly, regardless of what happens in the fall, sports are coming back eventually,” he said. “So we want to make sure that whenever that time (is) right to return to competition, that we have the infrastructure and the recommendations in place to be able to do so safely for the student-athletes, staff, coaches, fans, students.”

Ivy League schools are spread across seven Northeastern states that, as of mid-July, have seen some success at controlling the COVID-19 outbreak. But most of those states still ban large gatherings; under the Massachusetts reopening plan, Harvard would not be allowed to have fans in the stands until a vaccine is developed.

Harvard has already announced that all classes for both semesters will be held virtually; dorms will be open only to freshmen and seniors. Yale said it would limit its dorms to 60% capacity and said most classes would be conducted remotely. Princeton will also do most of its teaching online, with dorms at half capacity.

Coaches 4 Change: Siena’s Carmen Maciariello spearheads social justice initiative

Coaches 4 Change
Leave a comment

Carmen Maciariello found himself in the same place so many of us did in the days after George Floyd was murdered by police in Minneapolis.

Devastated by what he was seeing. Motivated to find a way to use his platform as the head coach at Siena College to enact change. Struggling with how, as he puts it, “a white head coach from privilege at a school in New York,” can have real, honest, open dialogue with his majority-Black roster.

So he picked up the phone. He called Louis Orr, his former college coach and now an assistant coach at Georgetown. He called his closest friends in the coaching business. He called his advisor, Brad Konerman, an entrepreneur who connected him with a couple of talented website designers. By early June, 25 like-minded people from all walks of life were on a zoom call.

“I’ve never been pulled over and feared for my life for not using my blinker,” Maciariello, who is white, told me. “We had those conversations. How are we talking to our teams about that? What are we doing with the police? How can we help our young people navigate through these tough times?”

That’s how Coaches 4 Change was born.

Maciariello has grand plans for the organization. On a zoom call with nearly all of the 43 coaches that have committed to the group to date, he said he wants “to try to change the world. Let’s not think small, we’ve gotta think big with this.” He is not lacking for ambition.

But Maciariello also understands that something like this has to start small and it has to start locally. It’s why he limited the first group of invitees to coaches that are “doing this for the right reasons.”

“I didn’t want to have a donate link and bring in coaches that felt like, ‘I donated money, I did my part supporting it,” he said. “It was about the time commitment and the vision. We have to focus on one thing first.”

That first thing?

Voting.

C4C developed a sleek, interactive website to help educate young people about social injustice and the Black Lives Matter movement, things as basic as the difference between systemic and systematic racism and Jackie Robinson’s impact on sports. But the site also provides users with all of the information necessary to vote in this year’s elections, information on what makes voting so important in a democracy and — most importantly — a tutorial for how a person in every state can register to vote, where their polling stations are and whether or not they are eligible for mail-in voting. Their website also has a ‘Keep Learning‘ page that links to all documentaries, podcasts, audiobooks and literary resources available on all streaming platforms, including content for children.

C4C has partnered with Vote.org with a goal of “100 percent voter registration for all college athletes” regardless of the sport they play, Maciariello said.

Currently, the only coaches involved with C4C are men’s college basketball coaches, but that will change. They are in the process of reaching out to counterparts on the women’s side, and will eventually invite staff members from other sports as well. One of the barriers to entry to become a member will be ensuring that every player on a coach’s team is registered to vote.

Eventually, Maciariello envisions C4C developing community outreach initiatives. He wants the members of C4C to connect with their campus communities and put together voter registration drives for students. He wants to eventually connect with lawmakers and work on changing legislation that helps systemic racism continue to exist.

No one ever said he wasn’t ambitious.

But he knows he has to start somewhere, and that somewhere is this platform.

“I want to engage people in issues,” he said. “Educate them, empower them to change, encourage them to grow and evolve.”