(courtesy Kyan Brown)

Through The Fire: North Dakota State advances to NCAA tournament after coach loses house to fire

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Suzanne Brown has a back-up plan.

She knows that there is a window in her bedroom, one right above the crate where the family’s french bulldog Penny had been sleeping. She’s on the first floor of the rambler the Browns bought six months ago. If she can’t army crawl her way under the thick, black smoke that has taken up residence in her home, or if the fire that she hears burning away in the kitchen grows too big, she has an escape route. She’s wearing boots; it is, after all, a cold February night in North Dakota. If it comes to it, she’ll just kick out the window.

Because her two daughters are standing in the driveway.

She’s not going to let this be the last time they see their mom.

But she knows what the fire is going to do. She knew it as soon as she unloaded a fire extinguisher on the flames, watching a spot next to the stove go out as the flames kept climbing. Up past the backsplash, through the cabinets, to the ceiling. This will change everything. Even if the firefighters make it in time to save the house, everything in it is a lost cause. Their clothes, their beds, their blankets, the flat-screen TVs they had just hung in their newly-finished basement.

All ruined.

Suzanne Brown knows this is going to turn her family’s life upside-down, and she’ll be damned if she is going to let that happen while her kids mourn Penny.

So off she goes, into her burning home, under the smoke and past the burning insulation falling from the ceiling, to get to that crate and free that yappy little pup from her tomb.


Khloe Brown with pup Penny (courtesy Kyan Brown)

No one is quite sure how the fire started.

What they do know is that it began in the kitchen; at the stove, to be exact. At around 6:30 p.m. on Thursday, February 21st, Suzanne was cooking dinner for the family when the power in the neighborhood went out. Kyan Brown, Suzanne’s husband and an assistant coach on the North Dakota State men’s basketball team, had just arrived back in Fargo after two days on the road recruiting. He went straight to his practice, which ended at 6 p.m., and then was en route to watch his 12-year old son Caleb’s practice. Suzanne met him there after they lost power, and she stayed until she got the call that the power was back on in the neighborhood.

So she headed home with their daughters, Khloe and Sophie.

Not 15 minutes later, Kyan got the call.

“She was hysterical,” he said. “I couldn’t make out if she was laughing or crying. I couldn’t hear words.” It reminded him, he said, of the scene from Anchorman when Ron Burgundy was in the phone booth, trapped in a glass case of emotion. He left the gym, where he heard the words that changed everything: “The house is burning to the ground.”

Kyan lined up a ride home for his son and sped home, passing people on two-lane roads, hoping that he’d pull into his driveway and find out Suzanne was exaggerating.

“I got eight or nine blocks away and I could smell the smoke,” he said. “Holy sh-t, that’s not good.”

Their street was completely blocked by fire engines. Kyan stopped, left his car in the middle of the road and took off running. What he found when he got to his driveway was that the fire department had done their job. They put the fire out before it spread beyond the kitchen. They put it out before it compromised the integrity of the structure.

(courtesy Kyan Brown)

The house will survive.

But nothing inside the house did. None of their furniture. None of the drywall. They will hopefully be able to salvage some of the windows and some of their clothes, but not much more than that. The morning after the fire, when the family walked into the house with their insurance agent to assess the damage, the first thing she said was, “Your wife really ran back in here?” Soot stained the top three feet of sheetrock for the entirety of the main floor of the house. The insulation covering kitchen and living room made it look like the house had received a dusting of snow overnight.

Smokey (courtesy Kyan Brown)

The repairs — which, thankfully, will be covered by insurance — are not going to be cheap, they’re not going to be quick and they’re not going to be easy.

The working theory is that the fire started with the stove, that it either malfunctioned when the power came back on or that it was not properly turned off when the house lost power, but the truth is that doesn’t really matter to the Brown family.

What matters is no one got hurt.

What matters is that all seven members of the family made it out OK.

When Suzanne first arrived at the house that night, she opened the door and the family’s massive and aptly-named mastiff Smokey came sprinting out of the house, but unbeknownst to her, when she went in to save Penny, Smokey, ever the protector, followed her in. He eventually made his way into the basement, where he was taken out in his crate by the firefighters.

It wasn’t until that moment that Suzanne knew her family was intact, that whatever hardships they had in front of them they would endure together.

“We’re OK,” Khloe, who is wise beyond her 14 years, said, consoling her mom. “We’re all going to be OK. We have everything we need right here.”


(courtesy Kyan Brown)

This isn’t a story about a team rallying around a member of the program. It’s not a story about someone overcoming adversity to achieve their dreams.

This is about a community coming together to take care of one of their own. It is a story about a family trying to find a way back to normalcy when their existence is anything but.

The life of a college basketball coach is never going to be simple. For six months out of the year, they see their co-workers more than their families, a dynamic that is exacerbated once February and March come around. There are games to scout, players to recruit, practices to plan, flights to catch.

Put another way, scrambling to keep a household with three kids that have jam-packed schedules running smoothly is the norm for Suzanne.

“The hardest part,” she said, “was feeling displaced. At the end of all the crazy, we always have home. That’s our safe place. The hardest part is knowing that at the end of the day, you’re not going home. You’re going to sit in a hotel.”

It’s more than just the comfort of your own couch or the privacy of your own living room.

It’s impossible to fathom just how much stuff you need to keep life running smoothly on a day-to-day basis, and Suzanne was facing the impossible task of trying to replace all of that without a home. She didn’t want her kids to fall behind in class so they were back in school the Monday after the fire, but they needed clothes — shirts, pants, underwear, socks — to wear.

Take Khloe, for example. Her safe space is on the volleyball court. That’s where things are familiar. That’s where she can find normalcy, by going to practice during the week and traveling to games on the weekend. She wasn’t going to stop playing volleyball, but her gym bag with all of her volleyball gear — from a ball and shoes and a jersey to things as simple athletic socks, spandex and sports bras — was sitting on the kitchen table just feet from the fire. Hell, she needed a new gym bag to keep it all in.

Even Kyan needed help. The Bison played that Saturday, and he needed a suit. At 6-foot-8, 260 pounds, he can’t exactly buy off the rack.

“You don’t think about all the things you need,” Suzanne said, “until you don’t have them.”

Head coach Dave Richman helped him out with that. He made a call to Halberstadt’s in Fargo and got Kyan lined up for a suit the next day. The NDSU women’s volleyball program hooked Khloe up with the gear she needed. Caleb’s teammates made sure he had what he needed and always had a ride to and from games. A GoFundMe for the family has raised nearly $10,000 to date. When Suzanne was moving into the house this week, Richman’s wife loaded up their minivan with two loads of stuff — all the things that you need to make a house a home. Cleaning supplies, toilet paper, all the way down to the simplest things in life, like a bottle of ketchup for the fridge.

“My wife, the coaches’ wives, they’ve been doing laundry and soaking clothes, going over and over and over again, to try and get the smoke out of them,” Richman said.

Even the players did their part to help out. Junior forward Deng Geu asked Kyan what his favorite restaurant is to take someone on a date, and then he and junior guard Chris Quayle surprised Kyan and Suzanne with a gift card for dinner, a night out on the guys.

For Kyan, the impact and amount of what they lost didn’t hit him until someone offered to help him move.

“There’s nothing to move,” he said.

There were some things that the family was able to salvage. Sophie’s old stuffed animals aren’t exactly in mint condition, but Suzanne was able to keep them. A blanket she had made out of all of Caleb’s old t-shirts survived, although it may not be clean enough to be anything other than a memento that’s kept out of sight. Kyan’s father passed away six years ago and the dresser he passed down survived, although it’s no longer functional.

The saying goes ‘things can be replaced, people can’t.’

But that’s not entirely accurate.

A hard drive can be replaced.

The thousands of pictures on that hard drive that documented college sweethearts becoming parents three times over?

Those can’t.


(Loren Townsley/Argus Leader via AP)

March Madness has come to take on an entirely new meaning for the Brown family this year.

They spent nearly three weeks living out of a hotel room. Mom, dad, three kids and two dogs tasked with navigating the unrelenting schedule of a sports family without any semblance of personal space.

But that, mercifully, came to an end this week, as the Browns were finally able to move into their rental home on Tuesday. They will be there for the foreseeable future, and while it isn’t their home, it is a home.

That’s a start.

Suzanne did most of the heavy-lifting herself; Tuesday night just so happened to be the night of the Summit League tournament title game. NDSU, the No. 4 seed, knocked off Omaha to earn the program’s second trip to the NCAA tournament under Richman.

It was the first time in 20 years in college basketball as a player and a coach that Kyan earned a trip to the NCAA tournament.

“I had been in this game once as a player and three times before as a coach,” he said. “Never broken through. She’s been with me the whole time.”

She was not with him on Tuesday night, and it wasn’t just because of the move. “I had already taken some days off work,” Suzanne said. “I wanted to save the rest of my days off for the NCAA tournament. I just had a feeling we were going to win this.”

When the final buzzer sounded, as everyone’s family started making their way down to the court, deputy athletic director Todd Phelps noticed that Kyan was the only guy that wasn’t hugging his wife, or his kids, or his mom.

So Phelps did the only thing he could do.

He FaceTimed Suzanne.

“She was crying,” Kyan said. “I was crying.”

“It’s something I’ll never forget.”

No. 13-seed UC Irvine pulls off upset of No. 4-seed Kansas State

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And the Anteaters go marching on.

Max Hazzard hit five threes, including a critical three with less than two minutes left on the clock to give UC Irvine a five-point lead, and scored 19 points to lead the No. 13-seed to the first real upset of the NCAA tournament.

Evan Leonard added 19 points, six boards, four assists and four steals, making four free throws to ice the game in the final 20 seconds, as No. 4-seed Kansas State went down, 70-64.

Jarrett Culver’s big game leads No. 3 Texas Tech past No. 14 Northern Kentucky

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All-American Jarrett Culver had a monster outing as No. 3 seed Texas Tech cruised to a 72-57 win over No. 14 seed Northern Kentucky during a Friday afternoon NCAA tournament first-round game in the West Region.

Finishing with 29 points, eight rebounds and seven assists, Culver was efficient and dominant for the Red Raiders as they opened up the game in the second half. Only a 30-26 lead for Texas Tech at the break, the Red Raiders clamped down and used the offense of Culver and it’s No. 1 overall defense to break the game open.

The Big 12 Player of the Year had one of the best individual games of any player in the first round as he was 10-for-17 from the floor and 3-for-5 from three-point range. Big man Tariq Owens also finished in double-figures for Texas Tech with 12 points while Davide Moretti added 10 points.

Northern Kentucky (26-9) stayed in the game for a half thanks to the hot shooting of junior guard Tyler Sharpe as he finished with 23 points on 8-for-13 shooting. The Norse couldn’t generate much consistent offense outside of Sharpe, however, as Northern Kentucky shot 5-for-21 from the three-point line. Horizon League Player of the Year Drew McDonald was held to only five points on 2-for-12 shooting as he struggled to get going. Dantez Wilson (11 points) was the only other double-figure scorer for the Norse.

The Red Raiders advance to face either No. 6 seed Buffalo or No. 11 seed Arizona State in Tulsa on Sunday.

Oklahoma advances past Ole Miss in rout

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Rashard Odomes and Christian James both popped off for 20 points and Kristian Doolittle added 19 points, 14 boards and five assists as No. 9-seed Oklahoma blew out No. 8-seed Ole Miss, 95-72, in the first round of the NCAA tournament.

The Sooners, with the win, will advance to face No. 1-seed Virginia as long as Virginia can get past Gardner-Webb in the first round.

This was something of a cathartic win for an Oklahoma team that was among the handful of at-large invites that had thoroughly mediocre performances in league play. The Sooners opened the Big 12 season with eight losses in their first 11 games and finished with a 7-11 record in the conference.

One game samples really should not determine whether or not a body of work merited inclusion in an event like that, but it’s hard to see the performance that this team — and the Big 12 as a whole — put together thus far in the event and think the committee was wrong to add a sub-.500 team from the Big 12 to the field.

It’s also a sign for what this Oklahoma program is and can be under Lon Kruger.

It’s difficult to compare things like this year over year, but it is certainly interesting to note than not only did Oklahoma get a better seed this year than they did last year, with Trae Young on the roster, but they advanced to the second round of the NCAA tournament, which is something they did not do with Trae.

That’s not to say that the team is better without him — frankly, I think that’s a silly argument to make. Guys are a year older and a year better, which matters, and I think that the 7-11 mark in Big 12 play says more than the result of a one-game knockout tournament.

It is, however, important to note that Kruger has this thing to the point that they can lose a guy that is now averaging 18.5 points and 7.8 assists in the NBA and still be good enough to get a bid and win a game.

No. 10 Iowa rallies past No. 7 Cincinnati

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Iowa rallied from a slow start to get past No. 7 seed Cincinnati with a 79-72 win on Friday in a South Region NCAA tournament game in Columbus.

Cincinnati generated an early 18-5 lead in the first half as they fed off of the Bearcat-friendly Columbus crowd only to see the No. 10-seed Hawkeyes get hot in the second half.

Things turned in Iowa’s favor about midway through the first half when the Hawkeyes started working the ball more inside. Behind sophomore big man Luka Garza (20 points, 8-for-11 shooting), the Hawkeyes were able to establish an inside presence while opening up the team’s perimeter-shooting options.

In the second half, freshman Joe Wieskamp (19 points) and the Hawkeyes started to make an abundance of threes as they finished 11-for-22 (50 percent) from the perimeter — including a blistering 7-for-10 mark in the second half. Junior guard Jordan Bohannon also tallied 13 points while Nicholas Baer added 10 points as Iowa outscored Cincinnati 48-36 in the second half.

Using the hot shooting of senior point guard Justin Jenifer (19 points), Cincinnati appeared to be completely in the driver’s seat in the first half. But once Iowa started responding with a flurry of second-half threes, the Bearcats struggled to play from behind in the final minutes. Jarron Cumberland (18 points) didn’t get rolling as a scorer until the second half while big man Nysier Brooks (11 points) fouled out with a few minutes left. Tre Scott also finished with 10 points on the afternoon for the Bearcats. Cincinnati struggled to match Iowa’s hot perimeter shooting as they were 6-for-27 from three-point range (24 percent) on the day.

This is a great comeback win for Iowa, as they overcame the bad start by working to take better shots. Forcing a lot of early looks, once the Hawkeyes started getting Garza comfortable on the block, it opened up looks for their shooters. It’s also notable that junior forward Tyler Cook, one of Iowa’s best players, was limited to only five points on 1-for-9 shooting.

Iowa was playing sluggish basketball the final three weeks of the regular season. Friday’s second half was a reminder of how dangerous the Hawkeyes can be if they are hitting shots. And for Iowa to rally when Cook was playing this poorly is yet another positive sign that the Hawkeyes are not to be taken lightly going forward.

With Iowa’s win, the Big Ten now moves to 6-0 in the 2019 NCAA tournament after a 5-0 start on Thursday. Iowa advances to face the winner of No. 2 seed Tennessee and No. 15 seed Colgate on Sunday in Columbus.

Best Bets: The Bettor’s Guide to Saturday’s NCAA tournament games

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12:10 p.m.: No. 3 LSU vs. No. 6 Maryland, CBS

  • LINE: LSU (-2)
  • TOTAL: 147
  • IMPLIED SCORE: LSU 74.5, Maryland 72.5
  • KENPOM: LSU 74, Maryland 73

If you love watching soon-to-be NBA big men do battle in the paint, this is the matchup for you. Naz Reid, Kavell Bigby-Williams and Emmitt Williams facing off with Bruno Fernando, Jalen Smith and Ricky Lindo. Buckle up!

I think I lean towards the Maryland side here. The Terps have the size and athleticism on the wings to be able to handle Skylar Mays and Javonte Smart, their big men should be able to keep LSU’s frontcourt in check and Tremont Waters is a pest, I do think Anthony Cowan will be able to avoid the live-ball turnovers that are killers.

PICK: This is a toss-up and a fascinating matchup between two teams with very similar roster constructions. That said, my money here will be on Mark Turgeon, who isn’t exactly the best coach in the world but who should be able to find a way to get it done against Tony Benford, LSU’s interim head coach. This is where it’s worth nothing that LSU blew a big lead in the second half against Florida in the SEC tournament quarterfinals before nearly blowing a bigger lead to Yale in the first round. Thats the difference-maker for me.

2:40 p.m.: No. 2 Kentucky vs. No. 7 Wofford, CBS

  • LINE: Kentucky (-5.5)
  • TOTAL: 138.5
  • IMPLIED SCORE: Kentucky 72, Wofford 66.5
  • KENPOM: Kentucky 72, Wofford 68

P.J. Washington will not be playing in this one, which is a problem for the Wildcats if this is a longterm injury but not necessarily one that I think will cost them against Wofford. The key here is going to be Kentucky’s ability to chase Wofford’s shooters around screens and how well they deal with Cameron Jackson in the paint. I think that Tyler Herro, Ashton Hagans and Keldon Johnson will be able to keep Fletcher Magee, Storm Murphy and Nathan Hoover from going absolutely bonkers. Jackson is not all that dissimilar from Grant Williams in terms of the way he does his job, and Travis did a good job keeping Williams in check when they played.

PICK: I do like the Kentucky side here, although I don’t feel great about it. We’ll see if that line continues to climb, and maybe that would change things.

5:15 p.m.: No. 2 Michigan vs. No. 10 Florida, CBS

  • LINE: Michigan (-7)
  • TOTAL: 120
  • IMPLIED SCORE: Michigan 63.5, Florida 56.5
  • KENPOM: Michigan 63, Florida 56

I fully expect this to end up being one of the ugliest games of the tournament. Both teams have top 15 defenses, and Florida has guys that can guard the likes of Jordan Poole and Ignas Brazdeikis. I think this game plays out as a possession-by-possession battle played in the 50s that ends up being a one or two possession game in the final minute.

PICK: I don’t know if Florida will win this game, but seven points is a lot of points in a game that should be as slow and low-scoring as this game will be.

6:10 p.m.: No. 4 Florida State vs. No. 12 Murray State, TNT

  • LINE: Florida State (-5)
  • TOTAL: 143
  • IMPLIED SCORE: Florida State 74, Murray State 69
  • KENPOM: Florida State 74, Murray State 69

This is so tough. On the one hand, Florida State should have the bodies to be able to keep Ja Morant in check. They have a roster full of length and athleticism on the perimeter and they are a top 15 defense nationally. They are going to do a lot of switching, but that shouldn’t matter as Leonard Hamilton has built a team that is designed to defend like that. The matchup, to me, screams Florida State, especially at just (-5).

But my heart?

My heart says that Ja Morant is about to go on a Stephen Curry-esque run. He’s going to be an NBA superstar, and while we saw what he can do as a creator on Thursday, we have not yet seen just how dangerous he can be as a scorer. I want the Ja Morant ride to last.

PICK: My head says Florida State (-5). My heart says go along for the Racer ride. So I’ll probably just take the over.

7:10 p.m.: No. 1 Gonzaga vs. No. 9 Baylor, TBS

  • LINE: Gonzaga (-12.5)
  • TOTAL: 148
  • IMPLIED SCORE: Gonzaga 80.25, Baylor 67.75
  • KENPOM: Gonzaga 81, Baylor 69

I think Killian Tillie is the important piece in this matchup. He’s such a good shooter, an underrated passer and the piece that should allow Gonzaga’s offense to get unclogged against this Baylor zone. In three games back since returning from his second foot injury of the season, he’s averaging 10.3 points in just 15 minutes per game, shooting 6-for-7 from three and 80 percent from the floor.

PICK: The Bears getting 12.5 points is a lot of points for a team that is going to be able to get only the offensive glass. The biggest issue for Baylor this year is that they turn the ball over like crazy, and Gonzaga has not been all that good at forcing turnovers this season. I think I lean Gonzaga, but I won’t bet it myself unless the line moves towards the Zags.

7:45 p.m.: No. 2 Michigan State vs. No. 10 Minnesota, CBS

  • LINE: Michigan State (-10)
  • TOTAL: 141.5
  • IMPLIED SCORE: Michigan State 75.75, Minnesota 65.75
  • KENPOM: Michigan State 77, Minnesota 67

Minnesota was not great this season. They are playing a wing at the point guard spot because Isaiah Washington has been a mess. They only go five deep at this point, and they were able to run over Louisville because the one guy that can make threes on their roster made a bunch of threes.

Michigan State beat Minnesota by 24 points the one time that they played this season, but they are a team that relies almost entirely on Cassius Winston running ball-screens, and Minnesota has been pretty good defending ball-screens this season.

PICK: With the spread at (-10), I think I would lean towards taking Minnesota. That’s a lot of points. But I think my favorite bet in this game is actually the under. Michigan State looked gassed in the first round after playing three games in three days during their run to the Big Ten tournament title. Minnesota is basically running out a five-man rotation these days. Legs will catch up with them eventually.

8:40 p.m.: No. 3 Purdue vs. No. 6 Villanova, TNT

  • LINE: Purdue (-3.5)
  • TOTAL: 137
  • IMPLIED SCORE: Purdue 70.25, Villanova 66.75
  • KENPOM: Purdue 72, Villanova 67

This is my favorite bet of the Saturday slate. The defense that Villanova runs is pretty simple: They switch everything, 1-through-5, because it forces you out of the offense that you want to run. They dare teams to beat them 1-on-1, betting that their players are good enough to defend a cross-match regardless of opponent.

The problem for Purdue here is that, like Saint Mary’s, so much of what they get offensively comes out of the sets and actions they run. Put another way, Matt Painter doesn’t have all that many guys on his roster that can efficiently create for themselves in isolation. That includes Carsen Edwards, who is a tough-shot taker but, in the last month, has not exactly been a tough-shot maker.

The other part of this that makes me lean towards Villanova is that Villanova shoots more than 53 percent of their field goal attempts from three, and Purdue has not made running teams off the three-point line a priority this year.

PICK: If you are going to give me the defending national champs plus the points, I’ll take it. Villanova, if you’re tracking at home, has won 24 straight neutral court games. They win in knockout settings.

9:40 p.m.: No. 4 Kansas vs. No. 5 Auburn, TBS

  • LINE: PK
  • TOTAL: 147.5
  • IMPLIED SCORE: Kansas 73.75, Auburn 73.75
  • KENPOM: Auburn 75, Kansas 74

This is tough because Auburn is just so up-and-down while Kansas has looked downright bad for the last month until they faced Northeastern and suddenly turned into Kansas again.

What Auburn wants to do is to is to turn defense into offense. They are going to gamble — for steals, for blocks, for leak-outs — and look to get quick threes in transition once they get possession. For 33 minutes, it worked against New Mexico State. Twice in the last two weeks it worked for 40 minutes against Tennessee. Kansas has been turnover prone this season, particularly their ball-handlers, but they have cleaned that up in recent weeks. Devon Dotson, for example, had a turnover rate higher than 20 percent entering the Big 12 tournament and has committed just three turnovers in the last four games.

PICK: The matchup is going to get won based on how well Kansas protects the ball and how well they defend in transition — they finished the year in the 51st percentile nationally. It’s worth nothing that the Jayhawks struggled with West Virginia once this season but handled them easily on two different occasions in the last three weeks.

I think I will probably stay away, personally, but when it comes down to it, I think Auburn is the better team with the better players.