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Women’s Wednesday: Elissa Cunane’s breakout season for No. 8 Wolfpack

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Elissa Cunane notched just 11 starts in 34 games her freshman year, as N.C. State lost to Louisville in the ACC Semifinals and eventually fell to Iowa in the Sweet Sixteen. She was averaging 13.9 points and 6.4 rebounds per game.

However, just one year later, a lot has changed for one of the best center’s in the league. 

Cunane is now the leading scorer and rebounder for a 23-4 breakout Wolfpack team that is not only ranked eighth in the AP Poll, but will likely be a fierce contender in this year’s NCAA Tournament. 

“I think I had to have a little bit more leadership and impact being a year older and with some great seniors leaving last year,” Cunane explained. “They left us to pick up where they left off… I had bigger shoes to fill so I’ve stepped up my game.”

The 6-foot-5 center has certainly stepped up her game, averaging 16.9 ppg and 10.1 rpg, as well as shooting almost 40 percent on 33 attempts from beyond the arch. Cunane also leads the team with 32 blocks, and has 13 double-doubles on the season. 

The sophomore has started all 27 of the Wolfpack’s games so far, and finds herself a leader on a team that has plenty of veteran players. Of the starting five, three are older than Cunane, and half of the team is comprised of upperclassmen.

“I’ve definitely gotten everything from them, they’ve really laid the foundation for what a leader on this team needs to be and what it looks like,” Cunane said of her older teammates. “We’ve put away our differences of age and grade, because anyone can be a leader to anyone.”

N.C. State lost two top talents—Kiara Leslie and DD Rogers—to graduation, and while they were left with the majority of their team, the loss was felt. Leslie led with 15.9 points per game and put the team on her back in the tournament, while Rogers averaged 7.9 rebounds per game, grabbing a career-high 20 rebounds her senior season.

Despite this loss, the Wolfpack have bounced back with numbers they didn’t have last year.

“I think one thing is just that it’s a new year,” Cunane explained, when asked why this season was different. “After a season ends, you’re never going to be able to play with that same group again. We have three girls back from injury that we didn’t have last year, so we’re not shorthanded. We have subs that can come in, whereas last year we weren’t as deep.”

The team has shown incredible determination, rallying to a 50-48 comeback win over Miami last week after trailing through three quarters and notching their first win in Coral Gables since 2007. 

“We’re still staying humble,” Cunane emphasized. “This whole year has been very special for us. Everyone on the team really enjoys each other’s presence. When we’re hit with high highs or low lows, we’ve been really able to stick with each other.”

The Wolfpack had one of those “low lows” moments following their exciting win over Miami, with a tough loss to ACC foe and in-state rival Duke on Monday. A 22-point fourth quarter rally couldn’t save them this time as they fell to the unranked Blue Devils.

However, N.C. State has a chance to retain their No. 2 ranking in the ACC going into the conference tournament, as its two final regular season games are against struggling Virginia and Syracuse. With two more wins, the Wolfpack could stay ahead of Duke in the rankings by one win. 

And they have a great chance of doing just that.

Moving forward and not dwelling in the past is exactly what head coach Wes Moore has stressed to his his players, as he’s kept them “grounded through everything.”

“Something Moore always talks about is that we stay humble and that we’re always focused on our next game, not two games ahead or the one we just played,” Cunane said. “To enjoy the success but tomorrow it’s, ‘get back to work’, because we have everything to fight for.”

WEDNESDAY’S NEWS AND NOTES

– Sabrina Ionescu recorded her 25th career triple-double in a 93-61 victory over California and her 26th in Oregon’s 74-66 win over Stanford—the Ducks’ 14th consecutive win.

With her 1,000th rebound in the third quarter against the Cardinal, Ionescu became the first player (male or female) in Division I history to ever reach 2,000 career points, 1,000 rebounds and 1,000 assists.

No. 3 Oregon’s massive win over No. 4 Stanford brings them just one game away from clinching a third straight Pac-12 outright title. 

– UConn’s No. 6 ranking in the AP Poll last week marked the first time that the Huskies weren’t in the top 5 since Feb. 5, 2007, ending a 253 week streak. 

– The top seven teams in the AP Poll remain the same, as N.C. State is the big jump from tenth to eighth. This week’s Poll can be found here.

– This weekend saw a flurry of upsets, with DePaul, Arizona, Mississippi State, UCLA and Florida State all falling to unranked opponents. They all dropped in the rankings, while Northwestern, Gonzaga and Texas A&M gained momentum.

– The Gamecocks captured the SEC regular-season title on Sunday with a 67-58 win over Kentucky in head coach Dawn Staley’s 300th win.

– Baylor head coach Kim Mulkey becomes the fastest male or female Division I coach to get to 600 wins in the Lady Bears’ 77-62 victory over Texas Tech. Baylor then crushed Oklahoma 101-69 in its following game, with all 11 scoring on the night. 

– Arizona’s Sam Thomas scored a career-high 31 points in Aari McDonald’s absence as the No. 11 Wildcats dominated Utah 85-69. 

While it may not be during the game, this deserves a shoutout. This week’s Play of the Week goes to the five consecutive half-court shots made by South Dakota State:

A case can be made for Sabrina Ionescu to win player of the week almost every week. However, she deserves this week’s Player of the Week after reaching multiple stunning milestones on Monday. 

Mike Tirico to host NBC Sports’ new daily sports talk show ‘Lunch Talk Live’

We’re excited to bring viewers fresh programming every day with unique, topical conversations from prominent individuals in all corners of sports. This will be a daily lunch date to share sports and stories we miss during these unique times.
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A new daily sports talk shot called Lunch Talk Live will debut on NBCSN at noon ET on Monday, April 6th.

The show will feature Mike Tirico joined like by special guests every single day, including a lineup of NBC Sports’ on-air personalities, current and former athletes and prominent people in sports media.

The show will focus on how the sports world is navigating the coronavirus pandemic, providing a platform for intelligent discussion on the state of sports and how we, as a society, are adapting to living in this challenging time. the goal is to detail personal stories of how different people from across the sports industry are functioning in the day-to-day.

“In these challenging times, we are all missing sports and the people who make sports memories,” said Tirico. “Hopefully, we can bring a midday connection with some of them to help fill the void.”

“We’re excited to bring viewers fresh programming every day with unique, topical conversations from prominent individuals in all corners of sports,” said Sam Flood, the Executive Producer & President of Production for NBC Sports. “This will be a daily lunch date to share sports and stories we miss during these unique times.”

The show will be an hour long. It will air on weekdays at Noon ET on NBCSN and will be streaming on NBCSports.com and the NBC Sports app. Additionally, content will also be provided on the NBC Sports’ YouTube channel as well as other social media platforms.

All episodes of the show will be hosted remotely.

Michigan State AD defends Tom Izzo after witness report

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EAST LANSING, Mich. — Michigan State athletic director Bill Beekman defended basketball coach Tom Izzo on Thursday after Izzo was accused in

of contacting a witness who was part of a 2017 criminal sexual conduct investigation involving one of his players.

According to a police report obtained by ESPN, Michigan State student Brayden Smith was with basketball player Brock Washington on the night a female student said Washington forcibly groped her. When police interviewed Smith, he said he had already been contacted by Izzo and assistant coaches Dwayne Stephens and Mike Garland. They “asked (Smith) if he was OK and if there was anything that he had seen during the evening,” according to the report.

Beekman responded in a lengthy statement Thursday.

“Tom Izzo has been a beacon of integrity in his profession for nearly four decades, including a quarter century as head coach. Michigan State’s Office of Institutional Equity has gone on record to say that no policies were violated in regards to any actions taken by the men’s basketball staff during a Title IX investigation into a student,” Beekman said. “There’s nothing to support any claims that any member of the men’s basketball staff conducted their own investigation, or interfered with any ongoing investigation. Any insinuation to the contrary is nothing more than an attempt to smear a coach, a program, and an entire university.”

Smith, the son of former Michigan State player Steve Smith, has not played basketball for the Spartans. According to a Title IX report obtained by ESPN, Brayden Smith told investigators he considers the coaches his “godfathers” who check in on him occasionally.

According to ESPN, police said in their report that Brayden Smith’s perception of his conversation with the coaches about the night in question “was not to get information out of him, but rather to ensure that he was OK and remind him to be responsible.”

The school’s Title IX investigation determined that Washington was not responsible for having violated the university’s sexual misconduct policy, according to ESPN. The network

that in early 2018, Washington pleaded guilty to misdemeanor assault under a provision allowing offenders to plead guilty without a court entering a judgment of conviction.

Earlier this week, ESPN reported that campus police told prosecutors they had probable cause that Brock Washington raped a woman Jan. 19 while she was too intoxicated to consent County prosecutors

because they didn’t feel they could prove their case to a jury.

Washington played a total of 19 minutes this season before he was suspended in late January.

NC State’s NCAA case recommended for independent process

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RALEIGH, N.C. — North Carolina State’s NCAA case involving recruiting violations tied to former Wolfpack one-and-done star Dennis Smith Jr. has been recommended to go through an independent investigation process created for complex cases.

In a statement Friday, athletics spokesman Fred Demarest said the school must respond by April 14 to the recommendation. Demarest said officials are “reviewing and evaluating our options.”

The NCAA created the Independent Accountability Resolution Process (IARP) last year, a product of proposals from the commission led by former U.S. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice in 2018 to reform college basketball amid a federal corruption investigation into the sport. The process includes independent investigators and decision-makers with no direct ties to NCAA member schools, and rulings cannot be appealed.

The NCAA announced last month that Memphis’ case involving star freshman basketball player James Wiseman would go that route, becoming the first to enter the process.

IARP spokeswoman Whitney Ertel declined to comment on the N.C. State case, but said involved parties have the chance to respond to any recommendation before a determination is made.

“A case can either be accepted into the independent process or it can be denied,” Ertel said. “If any case is going to be accepted, then we will make an announcement.”

N.C. State was charged last summer with four violations, including former head coach Mark Gottfried being charged individually under the provision of head-coach responsibility for violations within his program.

Specifically, the NCAA has alleged ex-assistant Orlando Early provided Smith and his associates approximately $46,700 in impermissible benefits – including $40,000 that a government witness testified he delivered to Early intended for Smith’s family in 2015.

N.C. State has argued the NCAA had not proven money was actually provided to Smith or his family, noting Smith – picked ninth in the 2017 NBA draft after one year in Raleigh – denied receiving money in a school interview in 2019.

Attorneys for Gottfried, now coach at Cal State Northridge, have questioned the fairness of the process and argued Gottfried fulfilled obligations to monitor the program.

The NCAA enforcement staff’s response in February held firm that violations had occurred.

2020 NBA Draft Early Entry Tracker

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Here is CBT’s full 2020 NBA Draft early entry tracker. You’ll find a full breakdown of what players are deciding. We’ll track signing with agents, testing the waters and returning to school here. 

Underclassmen have until Sunday, April 26th at 11:59 p.m. EST to declare for the 2020 NBA Draft.

A deadline of Monday, June 15th at 5 p.m. EST is set for underclassmen to withdraw and retain college eligibility.

Of course, these dates are subject to change given the fluidity of the COVID-19 situation.

Here is the full list of the underclassmen who have declared for the 2020 NBA Draft. You can also find a list of the biggest names we’re waiting on.

NBA DRAFT EARLY ENTRY

Preseason Top 25 | Mock Draft | Early Entry Tracker

NBA DRAFT TESTING THE WATERS

  • PAUL ATKINSON, Yale
  • SADDIQ BEY, Villanova
  • TYLER BEY, Colorado
  • JERMAINE BISHOP, Norfolk State
  • JOMARU BROWN, Eastern Kentucky
  • JORDAN BRUNER, Yale
  • JORDAN BURNS, Colgate
  • MARCUS CARR, Minnesota
  • TAMENANG CHOH, Brown
  • DAVID COLLINS, South Florida
  • JALEN CRUTCHER, Dayton
  • RYAN DALY, St. Joseph’s
  • DEVON DANIELS, N.C. State
  • KENDRIC DAVIS, SMU
  • DEXTER DENNIS, Wichita State
  • MASON FAULKNER, Western Carolina
  • L.J. FIGUEROA, St. John’s
  • D.J. FUNDERBURK, N.C. State
  • ALONZO GAFFNEY, Ohio State
  • JIMMA GATWECH, Huntington Prep (WV)
  • JORDAN GOODWIN, Saint Louis
  • JAYVON GRAVES, Buffalo
  • RAYSHAUN HAMMONDS, Georgia
  • ELIJAH HUGHES, Syracuse
  • FERON HUNT, SMU
  • HERB JONES, Alabama
  • MASON JONES, Arkansas
  • KAMERON LANGLEY, North Carolina A&T
  • SABEN LEE, Vanderbilt
  • KIRA LEWIS, Alabama
  • ISAIAH LIVERS, Michigan
  • SANDRO MAMUKELASHVILI, Seton Hall
  • NICO MANNION, Arizona
  • NAJI MARSHALL, Xavier
  • KENYON MARTIN JR., IMG Academy (FL)
  • REMY MARTIN, Arizona State
  • MAC MCCLUNG, Georgetown
  • ISAIAH MILLER, UNCG
  • ELIJAH OLANIYI, Stony Brook
  • JOHN PETTY JR., Alabama
  • NATE PIERRE-LOUIS, Temple
  • XAVIER PINSON, Missouri
  • JEREMIAH ROBINSON-EARL, Villanova
  • MARCUS SANTOS-SILVA, VCU
  • JAY SCRUBB, John A. Logan College (Louisville commit)
  • MITCHELL SMITH, Missouri
  • STEF SMITH, Vermont
  • PARKER STEWART, UT Martin
  • MACIO TEAGUE, Baylor
  • XAVIER TILLMAN, Michigan State
  • JEREMIAH TILMON, Missouri
  • JORDAN TUCKER, Butler
  • KALEB WESSON, Ohio State
  • KEITH WILLIAMS, Cincinnati
  • MCKINLEY WRIGHT, Colorado

NOTABLES RETURNING TO SCHOOL

  • DEREK CULVER, West Virginia
  • OSCAR TSHIEBWE, West Virginia

NOTABLES YET TO ANNOUNCE

PRECIOUS ACHIUWA, Memphis
DERRICK ALSTON, Boise State
COLE ANTHONY, North Carolina
BRYAN ANTOINE, Villanova
JOEL AYAYI, Gonzaga
JARED BUTLER, Baylor
VERNON CAREY, Duke
AYO DOSUNMU, Illinois
DEVON DOTSON, Kansas
MALACHI FLYNN, San Diego State
LUKA GARZA, Iowa
JOSH GREEN, Arizona
ASHTON HAGANS, Kentucky
AARON HENRY, Michigan State
MATTHEW HURT, Duke
TRAYCE JACKSON-DAVIS, Indiana
ISAIAH JOE, Arkansas
DAVID JOHNSON, Louisville
A.J. LAWSON, South Carolina
SCOTTIE LEWIS, Florida
TYRESE MAXEY, Kentucky
JADEN MCDANIELS, Washington
WENDELL MOORE, Duke
JORDAN NWORA, Louisville
FILIP PETRUSEV, Gonzaga
YVES PONS, Tennessee
NEEMIAS QUETA, Utah State
IMMANUEL QUICKLEY, Kentucky
JAHMI’US RAMSEY, Texas Tech
NICK RICHARDS, Kentucky
JALEN SMITH, Maryland
CASSIUS STANLEY, Duke
TYRELL TERRY, Stanford
TRENDON WATFORD, LSU
ROMEO WEEMS, DePaul
KAHLIL WHITNEY, Kentucky
ROBERT WOODWARD, Mississippi State

Preseason Top 25 | Coaching Carousel | NBA Draft Early Entry (link)

WHEN IS THE 2020 NBA DRAFT?

The 2020 NBA Draft is currently scheduled to take place on June 25th, 2020, but that date is up in the air due to the spread of COVID-19. At the very least, the league is preparing as if the pre-draft process is going to be drastically different than it has been in past seasons.

WHEN IS THE DEADLINE FOR AN EARLY ENTRY TO DECLARE FOR THE 2020 NBA DRAFT?

Underclassmen have under April 26th to declare for the draft. Those that don’t sign with an agent have until June 15th to pull their name out of the draft and return to school.

WHERE CAN I FIND A 2020 MOCK DRAFT?

Right here, thanks for asking.

Dr. Anthony Fauci to Coach K: ‘We’re not even at halftime’ in fight against COVID-19

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Dr. Anthony Fauci appeared on the radio show of Duke head coach Mike Krzyzewski — Basketball and Beyond with Coach K — on Thursday to discuss our nation’s battle with coronavirus and COVID-19. Fauci is an immunologist that has served as the director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases (NIAID) since 1984.

In an interview with Coach K that was overrun with basketball analogies, Fauci stressed the same talking points that he has stressed in every appearance that he has made over the course of the last month: The coronavirus pandemic is incredibly serious, we have not yet come close to winning the fight against it and the only way to save lives, slow this thing down and get back to normal is social distancing.

In simple terms, Fauci, again, told Krzyzewski we need to stay at home if they want COVID-19 to be a thing of the past.

“The [battle with coronavirus] is going to go on for several weeks, Coach K,” Fauci said. “The issue is that we have a large country and we have different metropolitan areas.”

Preseason Top 25 | Mock Draft | Early Entry Tracker

“If you want to do the basketball analogy, that right now we have a team that’s a very powerful team, and that’s the virus, and what we need to do is that we’ve got to play a full-court press. We can’t let them get the ball on the ground to dribble. We’ve just got to be all over them,” he added. “I mean, that’s what we’ve really got to do, because that’s the only tool we have right now.”

Fauci also told Krzyzewski that we are “not even at halftime,” and that the only way to truly combat the coronavirus is to do everything we can as a nation to avoid contact with other human beings.

“We are not yet at the point where we’re turning the corner and we’re coming around the bend and coming down as a country,” Fauci said later, a reference to flattening the curve. “There are some cities that have not yet even begun to spike and it’s our absolute responsibility to make sure that in those cities that people understand what they need to do to prevent that explosive spike that New York City has seen, that New Orleans has seen, that parts of New Jersey have seen, Detroit and on and on.”

These talking points are not new.

It’s what we’ve been hearing for months on end. It’s the reason sports in our country have been postponed for the foreseeable future, to avoid a situation like the one stemming from a Champions League soccer match in Italy.

Fauci has been steadfast in his efforts to get this message out. In addition to Coach K’s radio show, he appeared on an Instagram live with Stephen Curry and did an interview with Pardon My Take. It’s clear what he is trying to do, reaching the largest cross section of sports fans that he can. Put another way, I’d imagine the venn diagram of people that listen to Coach K’s radio show and Pardon My Take is basically two circles.

Hopefully people are listening.