NCAA

Bracket Breakdown: Virginia, Tennessee to vie for South Region supremacy

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If you’re a program that is built on identifying under the radar prospects, developing those prospects over four years and then taking a dozen of them and turning them into a team capable of winning titles, the South is for you.

That’s where Virginia resides as the No. 1 seed.

That’s where Tennessee takes up residence as the No. 2 seed.

Purdue is the No. 3 seed, and they’ll likely get No. 6 seed Villanova in the second round. Wisconsin is in this region. I don’t know if Cincinnati and Kansas State truly belong in this conversation, but they are in the South as well.

The South is where you go to get old, it seems.

Let’s dive into the breakdown.

THREE STORYLINES

  1. VIRGINIA IS A NO. 1 SEED AGAIN … : It was a year ago that Virginia humiliated themselves and became the first No. 1 seed to lose to a No. 16 seed in the NCAA tournament. The Wahoos are not the No. 1 overall seed this season, but they are a No. 1 seed again. I do not see Gardner-Webb getting it done this year, but I do wonder just how much this is going to play into the heads of this Wahoo team. Can they avoid the distractions that are going to come with the indignity they suffered last season? Because with De’Andre Hunter, Ty Jerome and Kyle Guy on the roster, this is the best team that Tony Bennett has ever had.
  2. THIS IS THE LOWEST SEED VILLANOVA HAS GOTTEN SINCE THE BIG EAST SPLIT: Since 2014, when Villanova returned to relevance and the first year that the old Big East turned into the new Big East, Villanova has been a No. 1 seed three times and a No. 2 seed twice. They’ve won two national titles in that time frame, and they’ve won nine of the 12 Big East titles in the last six years. This year, Villanova is younger and, frankly, not as good. That’s why they are the No. 6 seed despite winning the Big East regular season title and the Big East tournament title.
  3. CAN RICK BARNES WIN IN MARCH?: The former Texas coach is no stranger to having teams with some regular season success. But he has not been to the Final Four since T.J. Ford was on his roster in Austin. This will be his best shot. The Vols are absolutely loaded with under-recruited veterans that have a point to prove and an NBA future in front of them. There is no fight that they won’t win on a basketball court.

THE ELITE 8 MATCHUP IS … No. 1 Virginia vs. No. 2 Tennessee

Everyone is going to want to pick this Virginia team to get upset at some point before the Final Four because that is just what the Cavaliers do, and I get it to a point. The style that Virginia plays — limiting possessions as much as possible — makes it so that more things have to go right in order for them to win games against good teams. It makes sense. But it also makes sense that there just aren’t teams in the top half of their bracket that are going to be good enough to beat them.

That said, Tennessee definitely is good enough. I also don’t see them having too much of an issue getting to the Elite 8. Cincinnati is not a good matchup for a Tennessee team that no one is going to out-physical or push around, and Villanova — who I think gets past Purdue — relies on creating mismatches that they will not be able to create against Tennessee. Tennessee vs. UVA with a Final Four berth on the line would be a lot of fun.

THE FINAL FOUR SLEEPER IS … No. 6 seed Villanova

I honestly don’t think there is one in this bracket, at least not one that I love. Oregon has been playing really, really well lately, but they did it by beating up on bad Pac-12 teams. I don’t trust a Wisconsin team whose best player, Ethan Happ, can’t make free throws. Kansas State may or may not have Dean Wade, and even if they have him, I just cannot imagine the Wildcats trying to make shots against UVA. Carsen Edwards is good, but with the way he has been shooting of late, he is hurting Purdue more than he is helping them at times.

(Mitchell Leff/Getty Images)

HERE ARE YOUR UPSETS

No. 6 VILLANOVA vs. No. 3 PURDUE: Here’s my logic on this game: Purdue gets a ton of their shots directly out of the offense that they run. It’s heavy in ball-screens, has a lot of dribble-handoffs and even more movement and screening. Villanova is going to switch all of that, and Purdue doesn’t have the dudes to be able to create.

No. 12 OREGON over No. 5 WISCONSIN: The Ducks are just loaded with talent and athleticism all over their roster, which is something that Wisconsin lacks a lot of. As good as Ethan Happ has been, I think that Kenny Wooten can take him away. Oregon’s big, athletic wings will be all over Wisconsin’s perimeter players. I have a feeling Oregon will be favored by the time this tips off.

No. 13 UC IRVINE over No. 4 KANSAS STATE: This is contingent upon the status of Dean Wade. If he’s out, keep an eye on Irvine, who is a really good mid-major program.

BUT DON’T PICK THIS UPSET

No. 11 SAINT MARY’S over No. 6 VILLANOVA: I am on the side of trusting Villanova in March, but even when I don’t trust Villanova in March, I do like them against teams that can be taken out of what they do offensively by switching.

THE STUDS

  • DE’ANDRE HUNTER, Virginia: For my money, he is the second-best player in college basketball considering the way and who he can guard. And he also happens to be a 6-foot-7 wing that shoots 47 percent from three and can do things like score 26 points on 9-for-11 shooting.
  • GRANT WILLIAMS, Tennessee: He is just a monster that sets the tone for everything that Tennessee does on both ends of the floor. He’s one of the best post scorers in college hoops and a guy with real three-point range these days, too.
  • ETHAN HAPP, Wisconsin: On the one hand, Happ is a college basketball legend in the state of Wisconsin. On the other, he is susceptible to the Hack-a-Happ strategy. That’s a real problem.
  • CARSEN EDWARDS, Purdue: High-volume gunner that can pop off for 40 but has spent the last month playing wildly inefficient basketball.

THE STARS OF MARCH

  • JORDAN FORD, Saint Mary’s: The Gaels point guard is the second coming of Patty Mills. Maybe faster.
  • MAX HAZZARD, UC Irvine: Hazzard is the best player on the Anteaters, but he’ll have his hands full with a first round date with Barry Brown.

ONE GAME TO WATCH: No. 6 Villanova vs. No. 11 Saint Mary’s

Two well-coached teams that are really good in their league. Two teams that will play a slower brand of basketball but that also will take and can make a lot of threes. Should I remind everyone of Omar Samhan and what he did to Villanova in 2010, too?

ONE GAME THAT NEEDS TO HAPPEN: No. 1 Virginia vs. No. 2 Tennessee

The Hoos and the Vols are both top five teams. They are both veteran and all-american laden. This is the game we need.

AND THE WINNER IS …

Virginia. They finally get the job done and get to the Final Four.

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.