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Bracket Breakdown: Gonzaga headlines a loaded West Region

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Gonzaga found themselves sitting pretty as the No. 1 seed out west despite the fact that managed to find a way to get a draw where seemingly every matchup is a bad one.

In the second round, a Gonzaga team that struggles to shoot the ball from the perimeter is looking at the winner of two teams that play zone. In the Sweet 16, they’re string down another date with Florida State, who is as athletic up and down their lineup as anyone in the country and, if you remember, sent Gonzaga home last season in the Sweet 16. In the Elite 8, a matchup with either Michigan or Texas Tech could lead to Josh Perkins going face to face with one of the best on-ball defenders in college basketball in Zavier Simpson or Matt Mooney.

The luck of the draw was not ideal for the region where the mid-majors will flourish.

Think about it: Not only did the committee slot Buffalo, Murray State and Vermont out west, they put them in a region where Gonzaga is the No. 1 seed and Nevada is the No. 7 seed. These may not be the biggest draws for TV, but there sure are going to be some fun matchups.

Let’s dive into the West Region.

THREE STORYLINES

  1. CAN MARK FEW FINALLY WIN A NATIONAL TITLE? CAN JOHN BEILEIN?: The job that Mark Few has done building Gonzaga into one of the biggest national brands is all of college basketball is nothing short of spectacular. In 2017, he finally legitimized the success to the final few stragglers by taking the Zags to the national title game. This group, with Killian Tillie back and contributing, is probably his best team to date. Is this the year that he finally breaks through? What about John Beilein? He has his own fascinating story of reaching the highest of heights in the college coaching profession. He started as a Division III coach in upstate New York and just kept climbing the ladder. Now he has Michigan as nationally relevant as they have ever been. The only thing either of these men are missing is to cut down the nets on the last night of the season. Is this year the year?
  2. WILL UCLA BE COURTING CHRIS BEARD WHILE HE’S OUT WEST?: Beard has become one of the biggest names in all of college coaching by building Texas Tech into a national power that helped to end the run of 14 straight regular season titles by the Kansas Jayhawks. He is a superstar coach in the making, one that is going to be in high demand from bigger programs, and UCLA — who fired Steve Alford in December — certainly qualifies as that. He’ll be coaching out in Anaheim during the regionals. Bruin fans will get an up close and personal look at one of the potential UCLA targets to fill their opening.
  3. CAN JA MORANT LAST MORE THAN ONE DAY?: Morant is not Zion Williamson, but he is still a tremendously talented and athletic player. Murray State drew Marquette in the first round, setting up a game that could turn into a scoring battle between Morant and Markus Howard. Morant is so much fun to watch. The fact that we are going to lose him or Howard in the first round is a bummer.

THE ELITE 8 MATCHUP IS … No. 4 Florida State vs. No. 3 Texas Tech

I think that Florida State picks off Gonzaga again this season. The Seminoles are so much bigger and more athletic that Gonzaga is, especially on the perimeter, and I think that will become a problem, especially when Leonard Hamilton opts to throw on their press. Josh Perkins has his issues as a ball-handler against pressure and as a player in big games, and that matchup would qualify as both. The return of Tillie should help, but this is just a brutal matchup for the Zags with a team that, over the course of the last two months, has played like a top ten teams.

As far as Texas Tech is concerned, I just think they are better than Michigan. Both teams are built a similar way, with their defense being their calling card and their offense coming and going. The Red Raiders have been awesome of late, closing out the regular season strong before a loss to West Virginia in the quarterfinals of the Big 12 tournament, while Michigan has been terrific when they haven’t been forced to play Michigan State. Texas Tech will have the best player in Jarrett Culver. They shoot it better. They have more perimeter playmakers. It’s not ideal for the Aggies.

(John Weast/Getty Images)

THE FINAL FOUR SLEEPER IS … No. 7 Nevada

Since Florida State has already been mentioned, I’ll go with Nevada here. The Wolf Pack have a roster full of seniors and redshirt seniors, and this is what they have been waiting for. I’m not convinced that some of their struggles this season were an issue of motivation, and with everything to play for, Caleb and Cody Martin and Jordan Caroline are going to prove something to NBA scouts in attendance. We already saw them get to one Sweet 16 with a win over Michigan.

HERE ARE YOUR UPSETS

No. 4 FLORIDA STATE over No. 1 GONZAGA: I discussed this earlier, but I don’t trust Josh Perkins against teams like Florida State, and I think that is going to prove to be the right take.

BUT DON’T PICK THIS UPSET

No. 12 MURRAY STATE over No. 5 MARQUETTE: I know everyone is going to want to fall in love with Ja Morant and take him to carry the Racers to the Sweet 16, but I just don’t see it. For starters, Marquette has a defender at the rim in Theo John that is going to make it very difficult for Morant to start dunking on everyone. I also think that the lack of talent around Morant means that Marquette can hide Howard defensively, and the lack of height and size is going to allow the Hausers to create mismatchs all over the floor. Marquette is the pick here.

THE STUDS

  • JARRETT CULVER, Texas Tech: Culver is the life-blood of this Texas Tech team. So much of what they do offensively ends with Culver in some kind of an action, trying to make a play. For my money he is clearly a first-team all-american.
  • JA MORANT, Murray State: Morant is a monster. We all know this by now.
  • MARKUS HOWARD, Marquette: The single-most dangerous scorer left in the tournament. He may end up being a first-team all-american, and he has popped off for at least 45 points three times this season.
  • RUI HACHIMURA and BRANDON CLARKE, Gonzaga: It’s difficult to pick who was actually the best out of these two big men. Clarke is the better defender and finisher offensively. Hachimura is a better shooter and the more likely to be able to create for himself. Both are top 20 picks.

THE STARS OF MARCH

  • ANTHONY LAMB, Vermont: Lamb is Georges Niang. He’s an undersized four that has three-point range on his stroke and a crafty low post game. He’s a bucket.
  • C.J. MASSINBURG, Buffalo: We all know how good Massinburg can be when he gets it going. The Bulls got 43 points out of him in a win in Morgantown earlier this year.

ONE GAME TO WATCH

No. 6 BUFFALO vs. No. 11 ARIZONA STATE/ST. JOHN’S: The Bulls will take on the winner of Arizona State-St. John’s, who face off in the First Four. Every potential game in this section of the bracket promises to be up and down affair.

ONE GAME THAT NEEDS TO HAPPEN

I would 100 percent be here for Texas Tech and Michigan squaring up in the Sweet 16. Two of the toughest teams that you are going to find playing for the right to get to the Elite 8 in a game that may not crack the 50s? I love it.

AND THE WINNER IS …

I have Texas Tech knocking off Florida State and getting to the Final Four.

Ivy League calls off fall sports due to outbreak

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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

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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.”

CBT Podcast: Pat Chambers, moving the season up, Running Back Buddy Hield’s 46 points at Kansas

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In the latest edition of the Run It Back podcast, Rob Dauster and Bobby Reagan recap Buddy Hield’s memorable 46-point outburst in a three-overtime loss to Kansas in Phog Allen Fieldhouse in a battle of No. 1 vs. No. 1 back in 2016. The game was unbelievable. Before they dive into the game itself, the boys talk through Pat Chambers’ noose comments to Rasir Bolton and the potential for the college basketball season to get moved up.

Michael Jordan, Roy Williams among UNC greats to condemn systemic racism

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Roy Williams and Michael Jordan joined numerous North Carolina luminaries in condemning systemic racism and voicing support for the Black Lives Matter movement in a video that was released by the school on Monday.

“Systematic racism has to stop now,” Jordan said in the video. “We must take the time to listen and educate our family, our friends, our children on social injustice and racial inequality. Black Lives Matter more now than ever before. We have to get this right, so please take time to educate yourself and improve the lives of many people, many Black people. Thank you.”

James Worthy, Sam Perkins, Tyler Hansbrough, Luke Maye and Sean May were among the former players that appeared in the video.

Williams led by discussing Charlie Scott, who was the first Black scholarship athlete in UNC’s history.

“Some of the greatest to play our game have been Black players, but here we are more than 50 years later and our country is still fighting systemic racism and police brutality against Black men and women,” Williams said. “The North Carolina basketball program, our family, our current and former players believe Black lives matter, and it’s critically important that we don’t just believe it. We must stand together and loudly and clearly demand that we as a country and the world embrace the fundamental human right that Black lives matter.”

Former Penn State guard Rasir Bolton left program after coach Pat Chambers made noose comment

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Former Penn State point guard Rasir Bolton has accused of Pat Chambers of making racially insensitive remarks, including a reference to a noose.

According to Bolton, who tweeted about the incident on Monday morning, midway through his freshman season in 2018-19 with the Nittany Lions, Chambers made a reference to a “noose” about Bolton’s neck.  Bolton described the encounter in an interview with the Undefeated, and said that the phrase was a result of Chambers talking about easing the pressure on his freshman’s shoulders. “I want to loosen the noose that’s around your neck,” Bolton recalled.

Bolton also alleged that after his parents went to the Athletic Director with their concerns about this statement, Chambers told him during an exit interview that he was impressed by how “well-spoken” and “organized” his parents are. Remarks like this are considered racially-insensitive because they are based on the underlying assumption that Black people are not expected to be either organized or articulate.

Chambers, to his credit, admitted his wrong in making the noose comment.

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“I’ve realized the pain my words and ignorance caused Rasir Bolton and his family and I apologize to Rasir and the Bolton family for what I said,” Chambers’ statement read. “I failed to comprehend the experiences of others, and the reference I make was hurtful, insensitive and unacceptable I cannot apologize enough for what I said, and I will carry that forever.”

Bolton left Penn State after his freshman season and transferred to Iowa State. He was given immediately eligibility with the Cyclones after mentioning the noose comment when applying for a waiver. He averaged 14.7 points this past season with Iowa State. He also alleged that after he came to the Penn State athletic department with this claim, they offered him a meeting with a sports psychologist who told him how to “deal with Coach Chambers’ personality type.”