Which college basketball teams need a The Last Dance documentary?

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The Last Dance has taken the sports world by storm.

In a time where we don’t actually have any access to live sports due to the coronavirus pandemic shutting down the entire world, airing 10 hours of archival, all-access, never-before-seen footage from the Chicago Bulls’ 1997-98 season — one that was complete with Scottie Pippen demanding a trade, Phil Jackson getting run out of town and Michael Jordan winning a title and retiring because Jerry Krause couldn’t play nice — has been, quite literally, the best thing that’s ever happened to me.

And it got me to thinking.

If I could pick any single college basketball season to discover hours and hours and hours of all-access footage from, what seasons would I pick?

These are my top 12.

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12. KENTUCKY, 2008-09

There are some absolutely insane stories floating around the college basketball world from Billy Gillespie’s time in Lexington. Some of them have been told. Many more have not. And all of them would make for absolutely phenomenal television, all the way up until the moment he, quite literally, ran away from reporters while pretending to be on the phone when he was fired.

I’m all in.

11. MEMPHIS, 2007-08

The best team that John Calipari ever had in Memphis.

The Tigers went 38-2 this season. They lost to then-No. 2 Tennessee as the No. 1 team in the country in late-February and they lost to Kansas, in overtime, in the national title game. That’s it. They won everything else, including the fights they got into with fans at UAB.

10. NORTH CAROLINA, 2004-05

This was arguably Roy Williams’ best team at North Carolina. It was his first team to win a national title. It featured a quartet of lottery picks — Marvin Williams, Rashad McCants, Ray Felton and Sean May.

And the fact that McCants is on this roster shouldn’t just be glossed over. He was a loose cannon, and allowing a camera crew to document his life in Chapel Hill — especially the time he went from nearly ineligible to getting straight-As — would be quite entertaining. Should I mention that this was right around the time that the Tar Heels really started funneling players into those so-called “paper-classes”?

Hmm.

That could be interesting, couldn’t it?

9. KENTUCKY, 1995-96

There are some people that will tell you that the 1996 Kentucky Wildcats — The Untouchables — were the single greatest college basketball team ever assembled. There were six first round picks on the roster (Ron Mercer, Walter McCarty, Antoine Walker, Tony Delk, Nazr Mohammed and Derek Anderson), a seventh second round pick (Mark Pope) and two more guys (Wayne Turner, Jeff Sheppard) that had cups of coffee in the NBA. They were coached by one of the greatest to ever do it in Rick Pitino. They went 34-2 on the season, losing to UMass — who was coached by John Calipari — in November before getting their revenge in the Final Four, and to Mississippi State — another Final Four team — in the SEC title game.

THE LAST DANCE RECAP

8. FLORIDA, 2006-07

Only one team since 1992 has won back-to-back national titles, and it was the Florida Gators in 2006 and 2007. I would love to have a camera crew along for the ride that season, starting from the moment when Joakim Noah, Corey Brewer, Al Horford and Taurean Green all decided to come back to school for another season all the way up to the point when they beat Greg Oden and Mike Conley’s Ohio State team for the national title.

And it doesn’t hurt that Noah would provide plenty of incredible content. There’s no doubt about that.

7. GONZAGA, 2005-06

Adam Morrison exploded onto the college basketball scene with a stirring performance in the 2005 Maui Invitational, becoming a sensation nationally as he competed — in a Player of the Year race as well as Call of Duty — with J.J. Redick of Duke.

Morrison was to the 2006 season what Zion Williamson was to 2019, what Trae Young was to 2018. When Gonzaga would play road games, it wasn’t “Gonzaga is coming to town,” the headlines were “Adam Morrison is playing in town tonight.” It was no different than when LeBron, or Steph Curry, or James Harden plays on the road. He was a sensation.

I wrote a long feature on that season for both of those guys a few years back, and some of the stories that Morrison told about that year were incredible. People were in the ceiling rafters for a game at San Francisco. He had pennies thrown at him at Loyola-Marymount. He had water bottles thrown at him at San Diego. That would be phenomenal television.

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6. INDIANA, 1992-93

There are plenty of options for the Bob Knight era, but I think the 1993 season might be the most interesting. It was Knight’s last Big Ten regular season title, and he had a loaded roster to do it with, including Player of the Year Calbert Cheaney.

But there are two other reasons I want this season over some others.

For starters, Knight really went off the rails in the mid-80s, and the 90s version of Knight would likely be the most entertaining version of Knight. We’re watching this to see the ridiculous outbursts, and they’re more likely late in his career.

But I’m also enthralled by this story: In February of 1993, Knight said on his radio show that Indiana had gotten a commitment from a player from Yugoslavia named Ivan Renko. Renko was completely made up, but he still popped up on recruiting services with scouting reports and all. The goal was, simply, to make that industry look foolish.

And he did.

5. DUKE, 1991-92

A year after Duke shocked UNLV in the Final four to win their first national title under Mike Krzyzewski, they returned Christian Laettner, Bobby Hurley and Grant Hill to a team that was the favorite to win the title again.

They would eventually win back-to-back titles with the backdrop of Laettner becoming the most hated player in the history of the sport while playing the greatest NCAA tournament game of all-time — an overtime win over Kentucky in the Elite Eight — in the process.

4. KENTUCKY, 2013-14

There are plenty of options for the John Calipari era in Lexington, but for me, 2014 takes the cake.

Not only was this team touted as the best recruiting class of all-time, but they were expected to go 40-0 and cruise to a national title. Instead, the likes of Julius Randle, Willie Cauley-Stein and the Harrison twins went 22-9 in the regular season, finished six full games out of first in the SEC and then made a run to the national title game.

Why couldn’t everyone get along?

What changed in March?

What did Cal have to do to get everyone on the same page?

I’m sure I’m not the only one that would love to see that in a The Last Dance documentary.

3. VIRGINIA, 2018-19

Maybe the great sports story of my lifetime.

Virginia went from being the first team to lose to a No. 16 seed as a No. 1 seed in 2018 to winning the program’s first national title in 2019. I’m sure that if Tony Bennett knew that was going to be how the story would turn out, he would have hired the documentary crew himself.

The only downside here is that this Virginia team doesn’t have the kind of characters that some of the others teams on this list have. Bennett himself is kind of bland, and his teams do take after their coach in a way.

That’s the only reason it’s No. 3 on this list and not the No. 1 potential The Last Dance documentary.

2. MICHIGAN, the Fab Five era

Who wouldn’t want to see an all-access show centered around the Fab Five and their time at Michigan?

There already has been one documentary done on them, and it was actually quite enjoyable, but I want more. I want behind-the-scenes footage of Steve Fisher trying to convince a freshman version of Juwan Howard to allow Jalen Rose and Chris Webber to shine. I want to see a reaction from inside the locker room of Webber’s teammates after he calls a timeout that Michigan didn’t have in the 1993 national title game. I want to see what was done to convince all five of these guys not only to make it to campus, but to stay there for a second season as well.

There is only one era of college basketball that could be more entertaining than this, and it’s obvious.

1. UNLV, 1990-1991

Led by famed head coach Jerry Tarkanian, the UNLV Runnin’ Rebels won the 1990 national title, putting up massive scoring totals with the likes of Larry Johnson, Stacey Augman and Greg Anthony on the roster. All of those guys were on the roster the following season, and they entered the NCAA tournament at 30-0. They were undefeated entering the Final Four, where they lost to a Duke team that they had A) beaten in the previous year’s Final Four, and B) would go on to win the next two national titles.

All of this was happening at a point in time where Tark was getting run out of Vegas. He had accepted a commitment from Lloyd Daniels, a New York City prep star, a few years earlier, but Daniels was arrested buying crack from an undercover cop. That eventually led to the NCAA opening an investigation into Daniels’, Tark and UNLV where it showed that Daniels had built a relationship with Richard Perry, a gambler who had been convicted of sports bribery. UNLV was initially banned from the 1991 NCAA Tournament, but they appealed the ruling and were eventually allowed to defend their title with the ban being deferred for a year. The 1992 season would eventually be the end of Tark’s tenure in Vegas after a picture surfaced showing Perry in a hot tub with three of Tark’s players.

Imagine that all of that in the background of a team trying to become the first (and only) program since Indiana in 1976 to go undefeated for an entire season.

Imagine an inside look at what a powerhouse in Las Vegas had going on outside of basketball.

That would almost be too good to be true.

The Last Dance: UNLV.

I can only imagine.

ACC coaches back idea of all D-I teams in 2021 NCAA tourney

Geoff Burke-USA TODAY Sports
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RALEIGH, N.C. — Atlantic Coast Conference men’s basketball coaches are pushing the idea of having next year’s NCAA Tournament include all eligible teams in Division I.

Numerous league schools and coaches released statements Wednesday after the coaches held their weekly call to discuss the proposal, which was first reported by Stadium. There are 357 Division I programs in the country, with NCAA spokeswoman Meghan Durham saying 346 of those are eligible to play in next year’s tournament.

Virginia coach Tony Bennett said the ACC coaches are “united in strongly pursuing this” in the wake of the coronavirus pandemic that led to the cancellation of last year’s NCAA Tournament days before the field of 68 was set to be revealed. Multiple coaches said creating an everybody-gets-in format would be an incentive for schools as they create the safest conditions possible for returning to play.

“This is not a regular season,” Duke coach Mike Krzyzewski said in a statement. “It is clearly an irregular season that will require something different. Our sport needs to be agile and creative. Most importantly, an all-inclusive postseason tournament will allow a unique and unprecedented opportunity for every team and every student-athlete to compete for a national championship.”

Durham declined comment specifically on the proposal in an email to The Associated Press on Wednesday. Last month, NCAA senior vice president of basketball Dan Gavitt said the Division I oversight committees for men’s and women’s basketball planned to announce by mid-September plans for whether the season and preseason practice would start on time or require a delay due to the pandemic.

Louisville coach Chris Mack said the proposal would provide flexibility during the season without mandating a number of nonconference or conference games to be played. And the league has already experienced that scheduling challenge with football and other fall sports.

The ACC announced in July that it would have each football team play 10 league games – including the addition of Notre Dame as a football member this year – and one nonconference game to be played in the home state of the member school. Those schedules were released in early August, slightly more than a month before Thursday’s UAB-Miami game kicks off the season.

“This is a time to think differently,” Clemson coach Brad Brownell said, adding: “After all these players have been through, what better way to reward them than the opportunity to compete in an unprecedented version of the most exciting event in sports.”

College basketball floats idea of bubbles for safe season

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The NBA bubble has held. So has the NHL’s double bubble. The WNBA and MLS, no leaks.

In this unprecedented landscape of sports in a pandemic world, one indisputable fact has emerged: bubbles work.

Thousands of tests, minimal to no positive COVID-19 test results.

So as the NCAA gets set announce its plans for the 2020-21 college basketball season, there are clear precedents and blueprints in place should it decide to go the bubble route.

“It’s certainly viable,” said Mark Starsiak, vice president of sports at Intersport, a Chicago-based sports marketing and media agency, “From a basketball standpoint, I think we can follow those models.”

The college football restart has been scattershot. The season has already started, yet 53 FBS schools have the pads and helmets hanging on hooks while waiting for better pandemic news.

A much more unified plan is in place for the college basketball season.

The NCAA is hoping to start the season in late November/early December, with a vote by the Division I council expected Sept. 16.

A partnership between the Pac-12 and Quidel Corp. to potentially do daily, rapid COVID-19 tests on athletes should help smooth a return to the court.

The question then becomes: What’s the best way to safely play basketball again?

Bubbles may be the answer.

While bubble football would be next to impossible logistically, basketball could fit nicely.

The travel parties are much smaller and college basketball already has plenty of multiple-team events, from holiday and conference tournaments to the NCAA Tournament. Add the effective safety measures of the pro leagues, find suitable sites and bubble basketball could work.

The NCAA is already looking at it, reportedly filing a trademark for the phrase “Battle in the Bubble.” Connecticut Gov. Ned Lamont also said there have been preliminary talks for bubble basketball at the Mohegan Sun resort.

“The idea of a bubble would be a really good idea, just to isolate all the teams who want to play against each other in that bubble and keep things safe, keep away from the public and keep us in our own area where we’re able to play the game the right way and safely,” Duke sophomore forward Wendell Moore, Jr. said.

A big key will be finding the right places to bubble.

The NBA has the ideal setup at Disney World, but college basketball might be better suited to follow the NHL’s lead.

Hockey’s two bubbles – Toronto and Edmonton, Alberta – cordoned off areas enclosing the arena and several nearby hotels. All personnel entering are tested and strict protocols are in place for vendors delivering food and packages into the bubbles.

Similar bubbles for college basketball could be set up at smaller resorts, cities with arenas and hotels nearby, or Division II or III schools with arenas not being used during the pandemic.

The NCAA could set up pods of multiple nonconference teams, conference tournaments could be held in similar fashion and so could the NCAA Tournament.

In other words, basketball bubbles could pop up all over the country.

“Maybe do it for maybe a week or two at a time, playing a certain amount of games and getting retested after you come back or something like that,” Memphis coach Penny Hardaway said. “It’s possible, but it’s not going to be easy.”

Pulling off a college basketball bubble, however, comes with a caveat.

NCAA players are considered students, so academics would have to be part of the equation.

Division I players are already accustomed to doing school work on the road and the majority take primarily online classes. To make the bubbles work, socially distant space would have to be carved out for the players to take their classes and study.

The programs may also have to rethink the size of their traveling parties.

“Discussions about the right amount of tutors or academic staff would need to take place,” said Starsiak, who has operated high-level sports and entertainment events for 15 years. ”

You have to look at, do we need three managers this time around? No, probably not. Do you take two and have a tutor or an academic come with us? Yeah, I think you could. I think there’s a way to kind of combine both things to have some live, in-person resources.”

The NCAA is going to do everything possible to have a basketball season.

The pandemic wiped out the NCAA Tournament last spring and the NCAA collected $270 million in cancellation insurance instead of the $1 billion TV payout it normally gets. A second straight year without March Madness could be devastating.

Bubbles may be the way to go.

‘Father of the Final Four’ Tom Jernestedt dies at 75

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INDIANAPOLIS — Tom Jernstedt, a member of the Naismith Hall of Fame for his contributions to college basketball and the NCAA Tournament, has died. He was 75.

The NCAA said Sunday Jernstedt died this weekend.

Nicknamed “Father of the Final Four,” Jernstedt has widely been credited with transforming the NCAA Tournament into the billion-dollar March Madness it has become today.

“A decade after his departure from the NCAA, Tom Jernstedt’s fingertips remain visible during March Madness and the Final Four,” NCAA senior vice president Dan Gavitt said in a statement. “His innovation and superb ability to develop relationships turned a basketball tournament into a three-week phenomenon that became a global event.”

A former back-up quarterback, Jernstedt worked his first Final Four in 1973 and helped push the growth of the NCAA Tournament from 25 teams to the 68, anything-can-happen bonanza held every spring.

Jernstedt helped the NCAA increase its television contract from just over $1 million to more than $10 billion when he left in 2011. He served as president of USA Basketball, was a member of the College Football Selection committee and was inducted into the Naismith Hall of Fame as a contributor in 2017.

“Tom Jernstedt was a humble and unsung steward of the game,” John L. Doleva, president and CEO of the Basketball Hall of Fame, said in a statement. “Under his direction, the NCAA Men’s Basketball Tournament grew into a phenomenon that brings college basketball fans together on a global scale. He will forever be remembered as the Father of the Final Four and one of the most respected leaders in basketball.”

Jernstedt established himself as a team leader despite being a backup quarterback at Oregon from 1964-66 and went on to serve as the Ducks’ events manager. He joined the NCAA in 1972 and spent 38 years with the organization.

“Tom served as a friend and mentor to countless people in and around collegiate athletics, and I’m proud to be among that vast group of people,” Gavitt said. “His legacy within the NCAA and its membership, and his impact on the sport of college basketball, is eternal. We extend our deepest condolences to Tom’s family.”

Aztecs extend Brian Dutcher’s contract 3 years through 2026

Orlando Ramirez-USA TODAY Sports
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SAN DIEGO — San Diego State basketball coach Brian Dutcher has signed a three-year contract extension through the 2025-26 season.

Dutcher signed the deal following one of the most successful seasons in school history. The Aztecs went 30-2, won the Mountain West regular-season title and were expected to be a No. 1 or 2 seed before the NCAA Tournament was canceled due to the coronavirus pandemic. They opened the season 26-0 and were the nation’s last undefeated team.

“Having spent more than 20 years at San Diego State University I understand what a special place this is,” Dutcher said in a statement Friday. “I am humbled and honored to continue to represent SDSU and Aztec Basketball as its head coach.”

Dutcher is 73-26 in three seasons, the most victories by an Aztecs coach in his first three seasons. He spent 18 seasons as Steve Fisher’s top assistant, including six as associate head coach/head coach in waiting. He took over as head coach after Fisher retired following the 2016-17 season. The Aztecs reached the NCAA Tournament in his first season.

Before that, he spent 10 seasons with Fisher at Michigan. In Dutcher’s first season with the Wolverines, Fisher was promoted to interim head coach on the eve of the NCAA Tournament and won the national championship.

Indiana halts all voluntary workouts

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Indiana has halted all voluntary workouts indefinitely for its men’s basketball, field hockey, men’s soccer and wrestling teams after 14 participants tested positive for the coronavirus this week.

The Hoosiers did not identify which teams recorded the positive tests. The football team, like other Big Ten programs, is not playing this fall. Indiana said 63 positives have been reported from more than 1,400 tests of athletes, coaches and staff since June 8.

“Our athletic program is following strict protocols during these unprecedented times and we strongly support our medical staff as we try and mitigate this issue,” men’s basketball coach Archie Miller said.