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Texas Tech proving Big 12 is more than Kansas’ dominance

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MINNEAPOLIS — Time and again this week, Tom Izzo was asked to account for the Big Ten. It’s been 20 years since the conference’s last national championship, if you hadn’t heard. That drought has come to define the conference in the postseason regardless of whatever success it has prior to that season’s final Monday night.

It’s a streak that continued to gain stream and a narrative that stayed alive when the Spartans fell Saturday night. The question becomes more frequent, with its asking louder every year.

What’s wrong with the Big Ten?

The Pac-12 doesn’t get that question because we all know why it hasn’t produced a title since Arizona’s in 1997 – it’s a league that produces a whole lot of bad basketball. On the cheap, too. Look no further than UCLA’s coaching search to see that league’s issues on full display.

That doesn’t explain, though, why the Big 12 has escaped much of the same scrutiny as the Big Ten. Yes, the Big 12 has a more recent title winner thanks to Derrick Rose’s missed free throws and Mario Chalmers’ answered prayer, but it’s been more than a decade since Bill Self cut down the nets at the Alamodome.

Deeper than that, the league’s national success outside the Jayhawks is nearly nonexistent. Long and loudly has it been discussed about Kansas’ 14-year domination of the Big 12, but Monday night’s game between Texas Tech and Virginia will be the league’s first non-Kansas title game appearance ever.

“Many, many good teams have never won a championship,” Big 12 commissioner Bob Bowlsby told NBCSports.com. “It’s very hard to do, and what Kansas has done in our league, as good as our conference has been from top to bottom for a very long time, for them to win consecutive championships like they have is astonishingly difficult.

“Being able to claim a national championship is an important marker for the conference and a great thing for Texas Tech. It’s enormously difficult to do.”

The Big 12’s reliance on Kansas for national relevancy extends just beyond the conference’s 23 years of existence. The forebears of the Big 12 – the Big 8 and Southwest Conference – don’t have a national champion among them, either. Oklahoma State won titles for the Missouri Valley Conference in 1945 and 1946, but the NIT was still the preeminent tournament and Oklahoma State wasn’t even Oklahoma State – it was known as Oklahoma A&M.

The last time the conference or its previous incarnations had a team other than Kansas in the title game was Oklahoma in 1988.

The Sooners, fittingly, lost to Larry Brown’s Kansas team in that title game.

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This season, though, looks as perhaps teams are ready to step up and finally provide a counterweight to the Jayhawks.

Texas Tech and Kansas State shared the regular season title to end the Jayhawks’ vaunted streak, Iowa State won the Big 12 tournament for the fourth time in six years and the Red Raiders, of course, can win a national championship at U.S. Bank Stadium.

“Our expectations were to try to compete for championships and to have the resources and the mindset and the vision to do so,” third-year Red Raiders coach Chris Beard said. “Our goal has never been to make a tournament. It’s been to win the tournament. It’s easy to talk about, and really, really hard to do. But that’s where we started this whole thing, was just trying to have the expectations and the vision where we could be relative.”

Perhaps most maddening for the Big 12 has been this title drought amid being nearly universally praised as the best conference in basketball. It’s been the top-rated league by KenPom for six years running, and it’s double round-robin is recognized as the most difficult conference schedule in the country.

“I think the Big 12 has been competitive for years. Kansas has just had that magic,” Texas Tech assistant Glynn Cyprien, who previously spent four years at Oklahoma State, told NBCSports.com. “You look at it, there have been numerous teams that could have gotten to this point. They’ve been talented enough. They’ve played at high levels, but just haven’t made it for whatever reason.

“From top to bottom, the coaching is unbelievable. The best in the country. I think the game preparation among the coaches and staffs in this league is at another level. Overall, there are no easy teams, there are no easy wins in this league, unlike some leagues where you can steal some games at home or on the road. It’s hard to do in this league.”

That strength hasn’t translated into pinnacle postseason success for 11 years, though, and never for teams outside Lawrence.

“Oklahoma was a Final Four team a few years ago and didn’t make it to the final, but they were a team that had been highly ranked all year,” Bowlsby said. “We’ve been the highest-ranked in the RPI for five or six years in a row. If you get through our league and earn the championship, you’re a team that is almost certainly competitive at the national level.”

The title dearth since the George W. Bush administration and the failure of any program other than Kansas to make it to the season’s final day for more than 30 years makes the Big 12’s regular-season accolades ring a little hollow.

“If you’re going to try to call yourself the best,” Bowlsby said, “you have to win championships.”

Texas Tech, for the first time in school history, has a chance to do just that.

“I’ve been telling people my whole life, I think we can win championships and play on the last night of the season,” Beard said.

Beard’s proven his point correct. Now he can help the Big 12 win the argument that it truly is as good as it and everyone says.

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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.