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2019 NCAA tournament: Did the committee pick the right bubble teams?

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It’s an argument that takes place every Selection Sunday: did the selection committee pick the right bubble teams? Every year it’s stated that the bubble is the worst that it’s ever been, and figuring out which teams should be in the field and which should be relegated to the NIT is an exhausting task.

The last four teams into the 2019 NCAA tournament field were (in order of their place on the seed list) Belmont, Temple, Arizona State and St. John’s. All four programs are headed to Dayton, with the Bruins facing the Owls in one First Four matchup and the Sun Devils and Red Storm playing in the other.

Belmont went 25-5 against Division I opponents, and Rick Byrd’s team finished with a NET (NCAA Evaluation Tool) ranking of 47 and a Ken Pomeroy ranking of 54. In Quadrant 1/2 games Belmont posted a record of 5-3, with their best wins being road wins over Murray State, UCLA and Austin Peay, and two wins over Lipscomb.

For programs in lower-profile conferences scheduling enough quality non-conference games can be difficult, especially when the competition for at-large bids hail from power conferences. In the case of Belmont the selection committee splitting the difference; not enough high-level wins to justify placing them directly into the main bracket, but understanding the difficulty that a program like Belmont can have in finding those non-conference games.

Temple, 43rd on the seed list, broke even in Quadrant 1/2 games (8-8) with six of the wins being of the Quadrant 2 variety. Home wins over Houston and UCF were the highlights for Fran Dunphy’s team, which was also a combined 15-1 (Penn being the loss) against Quadrant 3/4 opponents. Temple’s non-conference strength of schedule ranking of 223 wasn’t great, but its overall strength of schedule (84th) and strength of record (47th) numbers were helped by the strength at the top of the American.

Arizona State can claim three Quadrant 1 wins (11-6 vs. Quadrant 1/2) over non-conference opponents that are in the NCAA tournament field, as the Sun Devils picked up neutral site wins over Mississippi State and Utah State and beat Kansas at home. The issue for Arizona State was the perceived weakness of the Pac-12, which to the surprise of some ended up with three teams in the field.

Bobby Hurley’s team was a combined 2-1 against Washington and Oregon, with the loss coming at the hands of the Ducks in the semifinals of the Pac-12 tournament. The Sun Devils also had a total of four losses in Quadrant 3/4 games, including home losses to Princeton and Washington State.

While Arizona State can claim a couple high-profile non-conference wins, the same cannot be said for St. John’s. The Red Storm, who did pick up home wins over Villanova, Marquette (who they also beat in Milwaukee) and Seton Hall, had just one Quadrant 1 non-conference victory (VCU). St. John’s was a combined 10-10 in Quadrant 1/2 games, with eight of the wins being picked up in Big East play. The Red Storm’s non-conference slate wasn’t particularly impressive, but it was ranked higher than Temple’s (219).

So which of the first four teams left out, UNCG, Alabama, TCU and Indiana, has the best argument for inclusion into the field? UNCG, ranked 60th in the NET, was 26-6 against Division I opponents but won just two of its eight Quadrant 1 games. Add in Quadrant 2 results and the Spartans were 4-6 in those games with the best wins coming at the expense of Furman and ETSU (two apiece).

UNCG’s non-conference schedule was ranked (127th) significantly higher than those of Temple and St. John’s with regards to strength, so Wes Miller’s program can’t be blamed for feeling hard done by. Could the lack of “variety” in those quality wins be what kept UNCG out of the field? It’s certainly worth considering.

TCU also had a good argument for inclusion, but the lack of variety may have been an issue for Jamie Dixon’s team as well. All 12 of the Horned Frogs’ Quadrant 1 games were played in conference, with its Quadrant 2 win over Florida being the best non-conference result. TCU didn’t have any “bad” losses, going 11-0 in Quadrant 3/4 games, and the non-conference slate was ranked 117th with regards to strength.

Indiana, which at one point this season lost 12 of 13 games, had some really good wins on its profile including a sweep of Big Ten champion Michigan State. The Hoosiers were 8-15 against Quadrant 1/2 opponents, but the combination of that mid-season slump and a non-conference slate that was ranked 209th may have been too much to overcome despite it including wins over Louisville and Marquette.

Alabama was a combined 10-13 in Quadrant 1/2 games, with its best non-conference wins coming against Murray State, Penn State and Liberty. Avery Johnson’s Crimson Tide had a non-conference strength of schedule ranking of 40, which in most cases would be enough to get a team into the field. But it wasn’t meant to be for Alabama, which will now be a one-seed in the Postseason NIT.

And if Alabama couldn’t get into the field with its non-conference strength of schedule, NC State may have been a non-starter (352nd NCSOS) despite having other numbers in its favor. The Wolfpack had an overall strength of schedule of 49 and the 31st-ranked strength of record, and going 9-9 in a conference that produced three one-seeds is nothing to scoff at either. But the non-conference numbers, despite having beaten Auburn, were too much to overcome.

UNC women’s coach Hatchell resigns after findings from program review

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RALEIGH, N.C. (AP) — North Carolina women’s basketball coach Sylvia Hatchell had built a Hall of Fame career over more than three decades with the Tar Heels, including a national championship and becoming the Atlantic Coast Conference’s all-time winningest coach.

That tenure ended with her resignation after a program review found concerns over “racially insensitive” comments and pressuring players to compete through medical issues.

The school announced the 67-year-old Hatchell’s resignation late Thursday, along with findings from that external review conducted this month by a Charlotte-based law firm. Among the issues: a “breakdown of connectivity” between Hatchell and the players after 28 interviews of current players and program personnel.

The was enough to end Hatchell’s time in Chapel Hill, which began in 1986.

“The university commissioned a review of our women’s basketball program, which found issues that led us to conclude that the program needed to be taken in a new direction,” athletics director Bubba Cunningham said in a statement. “It is in the best interests of our university and student-athletes for us to do so. Coach Hatchell agrees, and she offered her resignation today. I accepted it.”

Hatchell — who has 1,023 victories, with 751 coming in 33 seasons at UNC along with the 1994 NCAA title — and her coaching staff had been on paid administrative leave since April 1. At the time, UNC announced the review amid player concerns to “assess the culture” of the program.

“The university will always hold a special place in my heart,” Hatchell said in a statement. “The game of basketball has given me so much, but now it is time for me to step away.”

In its release, UNC said the review found “widespread support” among three areas of concern, including the Hatchell-players connection.

The first centered on the racially insensitive comments, compounded by her failure to respond “in a timely or appropriate manner” when confronted by players or staff.

“The review concluded that Hatchell is not viewed as a racist,” the school said, “but her comments and subsequent response caused many in the program to believe she lacked awareness and appreciation for the effect her remarks had on those who heard them.”

Regarding injury concerns, the review reported frustration from players and medical staff with Hatchell’s “perceived and undue influence,” though medical staffers “did not surrender to pressure to clear players” before they were ready.

Wade Smith, Hatchell’s attorney, had defended her earlier this month by saying players had misconstrued comments she made as racist and that she wouldn’t try to force someone to play without medical clearance. That came after The Washington Post, citing unnamed parents of players, said complaints had been made about inappropriate racial comments and players being pushed to play while injured.

In a statement to The Associated Press at the time, Smith said Hatchell “does not have a racist bone in her body” and “cares deeply about (players’) health and well-being.”

Hatchell, who reached 1,000 wins in 2017, trailed only Tennessee’s Pat Summitt, Stanford’s Tara VanDerveer and Connecticut’s Geno Auriemma in women’s Division I career victories. But there had been difficulties in recent years.

She missed the 2013-14 season while battling leukemia and undergoing chemotherapy. The program also spent several seasons under the shadow of the school’s multi-year NCAA academic case dealing with irregular courses featuring significant athlete enrollments across numerous sports, a case that reached a no-penalty conclusion in October 2017.

UNC returned to the NCAA Tournament this year for the first time since 2015 after upsets of top-ranked Notre Dame and No. 7 North Carolina State on the road, though her contract was set to expire after next season.

Hatchell said she will still support the school, including raising money for UNC’s Lineberger Comprehensive Cancer Center and advocating for gender equity issues.

“While this is a bittersweet day, my faith remains strong,” Hatchell said. “After the fight of my life with leukemia, I count every day as a blessing.”

St. John’s expected to hire Mike Anderson

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The coaching search St. John’s started earlier this month is coming to an end, and its finality looks to be as bizarre as the process.

The Red Storm are expected to hire former Arkansas coach Mike Anderson, a source confirmed to NBC Sports. Roger Rubin of Newsday was first to report the development.

Anderson has a perfectly respectable resume after eight years with the Razorbacks and five at Missouri over the last decade-plus, but his history doesn’t suggest why he’s a great fit at St. John’s, a smaller private school in New York City rather than two large public institutions in college towns. New York City is also considerably more northeast than both Fayetteville and Columbia.

St. John’s swung big in a way that made sense when it hired Chris Mullin four years ago. There were question marks given his lack of college experience, but given his status as a Red Storm legend and NBA pedigree – both as a player and executive – you could connect the dots to success, even if Mullin ultimately couldn’t do it himself.

This hire, however, doesn’t make much sense. Anderson just got fired for not progressing enough with Arkansas, a place he spent 17 years at under Nolan Richardson prior to becoming a head coach himself. He had serious legacy there, but it wasn’t enough to overcome just three NCAA tournament appearances and no Sweet 16s in eight years.

That’s the guy that is now, with no clear ties to either the Big East or St. John’s, going to reinvigorate the Red Storm program? Anderson might do it, I guess, but his selection only highlights what a botched search this has been. Bobby Hurley, Porter Moser, Ryan Odom and Tim Cluess all reportedly spurned interest, and it’s about as inarguable as inarguable gets that St. John’s should be a slam-dunk better job than Loyola Chicago, UMBC and Iona, while Hurley is the type of guy an athletic department goes out and gets done if it wants to show it really means business.

Instead, St. John’s search falls to Anderson, who probably won’t win the press conference and didn’t win enough at Arkansas.

Ayo Dosunmu returning to Illinois for sophomore season

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Wins have been few and far between in two seasons for Brad Underwood at Illinois, which makes Thursday’s victory all the more important.

The Illini got a major April boost with Ayo Dosunmu announcing he would return to Champaign for his senior season rather than heading to the professional ranks.

“I stayed home to help coach Underwood turn the Illinois program around,” Dosunmu said in a video released on social media. “We tasted some success, but we didn’t dance. And Illinois has to dance.

“We are building. We will be better. I will be better, and that starts now.”

Dosunmu averaged 13.8 points, 4 rebounds and 3.3 assists during his freshman campaign, which led to speculation he might be off to the pros, leaving Illinois without its most dynamic scorer and playmaker heading into a critical third season for Underwood, who is 26-39 overall and 11-27 in the Big Ten the last two years. Instead, he’ll be returning giving Illinois a second season with an intriguing young core that will likely be a trendy pick to make a significant jump up the B1G standings next winter.

Oklahoma State lands commitment from top-150 guard Chris Harris Jr.

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Oklahoma State is adding another top-150 piece to its 2019 recruiting class as Chris Harris Jr., a guard from Texas, pledged to the Cowboys on Thursday

“I will be committing to Oklahoma State University,” Harris announced via a video on social media.

The consensus three-star recruit picks Mike Boynton’s program over offers from the likes of Texas A&M, Baylor, Kansas State and Georgia Tech. The 6-foot-3 guard visited Stillwater officially late last month. He previously was headed to the Aggies, but was released from his National Letter of Intent after Billy Kennedy was fired in College Station.

His commitment gives Oklahoma State what is increasingly looking like a major recruiting class for Boynton, who has largely exceeded expectations during his short tenure with the Cowboys. Boynton has already secured commitments from top-75 wing Marcus Watson of Georgia and top-125 guard Avery Anderson III as well as three-stars Kalib Boone and Keylan Boone.

 

Texas Tech’s Jarrett Culver declaring for draft

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Jarrett Culver made a reality Thursday what appeared inevitable. The Texas Tech sophomore is heading to the NBA.

The projected top-10 pick declared his intentions to enter the drat at a press conference in his native Lubbock just over a week after leading the Red Raiders to the national championship game.

“I will be declaring for the 2019 NBA draft,” Culver said to applause in a standing-room only crowd full of supporters.

It’s little surprise to see Culver become the second early-entry player under third-year coach Chris Beard after Zhaire Smith went one-and-done to the first-round last year. The 6-foot-5 Culver averaged 18.5 points, 6.4 rebounds and 3.7 assists per game last year while being named the Big 12 player of the year as Texas Tech split the regular-season conference title with Kansas State to put a stop to Kansas’ 14-year reign atop the league.

He could be picked in the top-three of the draft while the top-10 seems assured. He’s a proven scorer and two-way player, though NBA teams will have questions about his athleticism and 3-point shot.

His departure also means a huge reload is in order for Beard and Co., but that was the case coming off an Elite Eight trip in 2017, which Texas Tech followed up with a near-national championship earlier this month.