‘The wrong side of history’: On the day the NCAA tournament died

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For the last five months, we have talked about how weird, how unprecedented and how unpredictable the 2020 college basketball season has been.

So it’s only fitting that it came to an end like this: With the NCAA self-imposing a tournament ban due to the spread of a global pandemic.


On Wednesday afternoon at precisely 4:16 p.m. ET, the NCAA sent out a press release announcing that all winter and spring championships would be cancelled. That included the 2020 men’s and women’s NCAA tournaments and came on the heels of every single conference tournament that had not been completed being cancelled, including the Big East tournament, which was ended after Creighton and St. John’s had played one half of basketball.

And in the end, it was the only choice that the organization had.

Postponing the event would have been, logistically, a near-impossibility. We have no idea what a timetable is for when it will be safe to play games again. What do you do with the students who get sent home because their campuses are going to online-only classes? Will they be in shape after spending a month or more away from their team, their practice facility and their coaches? Will they still be academically eligible?

More importantly, how will you keep the best players in the sport from beginning to focus on their professional careers and preparing for the draft? If May Madness were to happen, how would the NCAA balance that with the combine, or with next year’s freshman class arriving to campus?

Who are the automatic bids? Teams play an entire season with the idea in mind that they are going to get a shot at winning an automatic bid in their league tournament. Can you just change the rules like that?

And how, logistically, would you put together a 68-team, 13-city event in the span of, what, a week? Two weeks? Finding gyms, finding transportation for the teams, carving out time for those games to be broadcast.

That would be a nightmare.

In theory, it’s probably possible. In practice, however, I do not see how that gets done.

But playing the event next week was simply not an option, either. The coronavirus has a two-week incubation period. People are carrying the virus right now, as we speak, and have no idea that they are. Case in point: The CAA announced that an official that worked a game on the first day of the event tested positive for coronavirus. He did not show symptoms until 72 hours after the game that he was officiating had ended.

It seems virtually inevitable that there is going to be at least one Division I basketball player that tests positive for the virus. Imagine a scenario where the NCAA tournament was set to be played on time, like nothing was amiss, and after Creighton’s first round win St. John’s announces that one of its players has tested positive. Anyone that has had any recent, direct contact with a person that has tested positive is supposed to self-quarantine for 14 days.

Creighton would be scheduled to play their second round game the next day.

What would the NCAA do in that situation?

Without an adequate protocol for that precise scenario, there is simply no way that the NCAA tournament — any tournament, for that matter — could proceed.

It’s that simple.

I was getting my makeup finished when the news broke.

The American was first, announcing at 11:44 a.m. ET — just 16 minutes before today’s conference tournament action was set to begin — that they would be cancelling their event in Fort Worth. The Big Ten’s announcement came through seconds later. It was followed by the SEC, and the ACC, and the Pac-12.

I was on set at NBCSN. I was prepping to do studio analysis of VCU-UMass, the first of four games to be played in the Atlantic 10 tournament on the network. The news came through at 11:56 a.m. Our control room was alerted before anyone else. The event was being cancelled. The game that was supposed to tip in four minutes, where the teams had already gone through their entire warmup, would no longer be played. We had three minutes to shift gears, and spent the next 90 minutes live on national television trying to process the news along with everyone else.

I bring this up because of the immediacy of it all. One high-ranking source in a top-eight conference told me that he had spent the morning texting with administrators in every other power conference, working through their thought process and letting them know that “we’re inching closer to cancelling this thing.” Another source in a different high-major league said that they were on a call with their board of advisors that morning and that the shift was quick and immediate once the dominoes started to fall.

As one power conference associate commissioner told me, “I’m extremely concerned about being on the wrong side of history.”

If anyone was, it was the Big East, who opted to allow Creighton and St. John’s to play a half of basketball. Commissioner Val Ackerman sharply criticized the NCAA when asked about the decision to allow their Thursday tournament action to start.

“We had NCAA staff, who we’ve been looking to for guidance on a video conference with our presidents a few hours ago, and they did not let on that even they knew that some of these moves were being made by these other conferences,” Ackerman said at a news conference. “So that’s kind of how the last 24 hours have gone.”

As the images of teams getting pulled off of the court, packed into busses and sent back to their hotels started spreading, one thing became evident: It was only a matter of time before the NCAA tournament was toast.

And I’m sad.

I’m sad because March Madness is what I structure my entire life around. My family understands this. They allow me to do it. My parents and grandparents keep schedules clear in case they need to help out with the kids. My wife sacrifices nights and weekends to allow me to be able to work and travel. It’s the annual crescendo, from the February bubble watches to the conference tournaments to the insanity that is the first weekend until, finally, the Final Four.

My favorite week of the year.

So yes, I’m crushed.

This sucks.

But I’m just a guy that loves the sport and is lucky enough to talk about it and write about it.

The guys that are hurting more are the seniors that are not going to get a chance to play in the tournament. Hofstra hasn’t been to the NCAA tournament in 19 years. Their two-best players are seniors. It’s not going to happen for them even though they earned it, and I can’t imagine what they’re going through.

Or what about the kids at Dayton, or San Diego State, or Baylor. Those programs had a chance to do something that they have never done before and may never be in a position to do again. We’re talking about No. 1 seeds. Final Four contenders. Teams that could have won the national title.

What about seniors like Cassius Winston or Udoka Azubuike? Or the fans that had invested hundreds if not thousands of their own dollars to attend these events?

It sucks.

But it’s what had to be done.

So forgive me if I spend the next six hours drinking beer and watching videos of Gus Johnson losing his mind on YouTube.

North Carolina transfer Caleb Love commits to Arizona

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Caleb Love is now headed to Arizona.

The North Carolina transfer tweeted, less than a month after decommitting from Michigan, that he will play next season with the Wildcats.

“Caleb is a tremendously talented guard who has significant experience playing college basketball at a high level,” Arizona coach Tommy Lloyd said in a statement. “We look forward to helping Caleb grow his game at Arizona. And as we near the completion of the roster for the upcoming season, we feel great about how everything has come together. Now it’s time for the real work to start.”

A 6-foot-4 guard, Love averaged 14.6 points and 3.3 assists in three seasons at North Carolina. He averaged 17.6 points in seven NCAA Tournament games, helping lead the Tar Heels to the 2022 national championship game.

Love entered the transfer portal after leading North Carolina with 73 3-pointers as a junior and initially committed to Michigan. He decommitted from the Wolverines earlier this month, reportedly due to an admissions issue involving academic credits.

Love narrowed his transfer targets to three schools before choosing to play at Arizona over Gonzaga and Texas.

Love will likely start on a team that will have dynamic perimeter players, including Pelle Larsson, Kylan Boswell and Alabama transfer Jaden Bradley.

Biden celebrates LSU women’s and UConn men’s basketball teams at separate White House events


WASHINGTON – All of the past drama and sore feelings associated with Louisiana State’s invitation to the White House were seemingly forgotten or set aside Friday as President Joe Biden and first lady Jill Biden welcomed the championship women’s basketball team to the mansion with smiles, hugs and lavish praise all around.

The visit had once appeared in jeopardy after Jill Biden suggested that the losing Iowa team be invited, too. But none of that was mentioned as both Bidens heralded the players for their performance and the way they have helped advance women’s sports.

“Folks, we witnessed history,” the president said. “In this team, we saw hope, we saw pride and we saw purpose. It matters.”

The ceremony was halted for about 10 minutes after forward Sa’Myah Smith appeared to collapse as she and her teammates stood behind Biden. A wheelchair was brought in and coach Kim Mulkey assured the audience that Smith was fine.

LSU said in a statement that Smith felt overheated, nauseous and thought she might faint. She was evaluated by LSU and White House medical staff and was later able to rejoin the team. “She is feeling well, in good spirits, and will undergo further evaluation once back in Baton Rouge,” the LSU statement said.

Since the passage of Title IX in 1972, Biden said, more than half of all college students are women, and there are now 10 times more female athletes in college and high school. He said most sports stories are still about men, and that that needs to change.

Title IX prohibits discrimination based on sex in federally funded education programs and activities.

“Folks, we need to support women sports, not just during the championship run but during the entire year,” President Biden said.

After the Tigers beat Iowa for the NCAA title in April in a game the first lady attended, she caused an uproar by suggesting that the Hawkeyes also come to the White House.

LSU star Angel Reese called the idea “A JOKE” and said she would prefer to visit with former President Barack Obama and his wife, Michelle, instead. The LSU team largely is Black, while Iowa’s top player, Caitlin Clark, is white, as are most of her teammates.

Nothing came of Jill Biden’s idea and the White House only invited the Tigers. Reese ultimately said she would not skip the White House visit. She and co-captain Emily Ward presented team jerseys bearing the number “46” to Biden and the first lady. Hugs were exchanged.

Jill Biden also lavished praise on the team, saying the players showed “what it means to be a champion.”

“In this room, I see the absolute best of the best,” she said, adding that watching them play was “pure magic.”

“Every basket was pure joy and I kept thinking about how far women’s sports have come,” the first lady added, noting that she grew up before Title IX was passed. “We’ve made so much progress and we still have so much more work to do.”

The president added that “the way in which women’s sports has come along is just incredible. It’s really neat to see, since I’ve got four granddaughters.”

After Smith was helped to a wheelchair, Mulkey told the audience the player was OK.

“As you can see, we leave our mark where we go,” Mulkey joked. “Sa’Myah is fine. She’s kind of, right now, embarrassed.”

A few members of Congress and Biden aides past and present with Louisiana roots dropped what they were doing to attend the East Room event, including White House budget director Shalanda Young. Young is in the thick of negotiations with House Republicans to reach a deal by the middle of next week to stave off what would be a globally calamitous U.S. financial default if the U.S. can no longer borrow the money it needs to pay its bills.

The president, who wore a necktie in the shade of LSU’s purple, said Young, who grew up in Baton Rouge, told him, “I’m leaving the talks to be here.” Rep. Garret Graves, one of the House GOP negotiators, also attended.

Biden closed sports Friday by changing to a blue tie and welcoming the UConn’s men’s championship team for its own celebration. The Huskies won their fifth national title by defeating San Diego State, 76-59, in April.

“Congratulations to the whole UConn nation,” he said.

Marquette’s Prosper says he will stay in draft rather than returning to school

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MILWAUKEE — Olivier-Maxence Prosper announced he is keeping his name under NBA draft consideration rather than returning to Marquette.

The 6-foot-8 forward announced his decision.

“Thank you Marquette nation, my coaches, my teammates and support staff for embracing me from day one,” Prosper said in an Instagram post. “My time at Marquette has been incredible. With that being said, I will remain in the 2023 NBA Draft. I’m excited for what comes next. On to the next chapter…”

Prosper had announced last month he was entering the draft. He still could have returned to school and maintained his college eligibility by withdrawing from the draft by May 31. Prosper’s announcement indicates he instead is going ahead with his plans to turn pro.

Prosper averaged 12.5 points and 4.7 rebounds last season while helping Marquette go 29-7 and win the Big East’s regular-season and tournament titles. Marquette’s season ended with a 69-60 loss to Michigan State in the NCAA Tournament’s round of 32.

He played two seasons at Marquette after transferring from Clemson, where he spent one season.

Kansas’ Kevin McCullar Jr. returning for last season of eligibility

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Kevin McCullar Jr. said that he will return to Kansas for his final year of eligibility, likely rounding out a roster that could make the Jayhawks the preseason No. 1 next season.

McCullar transferred from Texas Tech to Kansas for last season, when he started 33 of 34 games and averaged 10.7 points and 7.0 rebounds. He was also among the nation’s leaders in steals, and along with being selected to the Big 12’s all-defensive team, the 6-foot-6 forward was a semifinalist for the Naismith Defensive Player of the Year award.

“To be able to play in front of the best fans in the country; to play for the best coach in the nation, I truly believe we have the pieces to hang another banner in the Phog,” McCullar said in announcing his return.

Along with McCullar, the Jayhawks return starters Dajuan Harris Jr. and K.J. Adams from a team that went 28–8, won the Big 12 regular-season title and was a No. 1 seed in the NCAA Tournament, where it lost to Arkansas in the second round.

Perhaps more importantly, the Jayhawks landed Michigan transfer Hunter Dickinson, widely considered the best player in the portal, to anchor a lineup that was missing a true big man. They also grabbed former five-star prospect Arterio Morris, who left Texas, and Towson’s Nick Timberlake, who emerged last season as one of the best 3-point shooters in the country.

The Jayhawks also have an elite recruiting class arriving that is headlined by five-star recruit Elmarko Jackson.

McCullar declared for the draft but, after getting feedback from scouts, decided to return. He was a redshirt senior last season, but he has another year of eligibility because part of his career was played during the COVID-19 pandemic.

“This is a big day for Kansas basketball,” Jayhawks coach Bill Self said. “Kevin is not only a terrific player but a terrific teammate. He fit in so well in year one and we’re excited about what he’ll do with our program from a leadership standpoint.”

Clemson leading scorer Hall withdraws from NBA draft, returns to Tigers

clemson pj hall
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CLEMSON, S.C. — Clemson leading scorer PJ Hall is returning to college after withdrawing from the NBA draft on Thursday.

The 6-foot-10 forward took part in the NBA combine and posted his decision to put off the pros on social media.

Hall led the Tigers with 15.3 points per game this past season. He also led the Tigers with 37 blocks, along with 5.7 rebounds. Hall helped Clemson finish third in the Atlantic Coast Conference while posting a program-record 14 league wins.

Clemson coach Brad Brownell said Hall gained experience from going through the NBA’s combine that will help the team next season. “I’m counting on him and others to help lead a very talented group,” he said.

Hall was named to the all-ACC third team last season as the Tigers went 23-10.