Back-up plan: NCAA tourney standbys not expecting a call

Kirby Lee-USA TODAY Sports

LOUISVILLE, Ky. — Louisville Cardinals coach Chris Mack isn’t holding his breath waiting for the call for his team to replace another unable to play in the NCAA Tournament because of COVID issues.

Mindful that a school simply needs five healthy players to remain eligible for the 68-team field, the third-year coach didn’t see one having a worst-case scenario and pulling out suddenly by the Tuesday night deadline. Although the Cardinals (13-7) are the first alternate to fill an open spot and undergoing testing protocols, Mack and his program are resigned to being on the outside looking in on March Madness and the NIT – which Louisville declined to participate in.

“I mean, we’ll be ready,” Mack said Monday during a virtual news conference call. “The prerequisite is that you have all those negative tests in a row, so we’ll be ready. I don’t see that happening by (Tuesday) night. There has to be a team that doesn’t have five players able to play, so I just I don’t see that happening.”

Meanwhile, fellow potential replacement squads Colorado State, Saint Louis and Mississippi are preparing to play in the 16-team NIT that begins Wednesday in the Dallas-Fort Worth area. Like Louisville, CSU has no real thoughts toward claiming a last-minute NCAA berth and just wants to move forward from the sting of being among among the so-called “First Four Out.”

“I don’t know that there’s a manual to doing that,” said coach Niko Medved, whose Rams (18-6) will remain in Las Vegas following the Mountain West Tournament until Wednesday before leaving for Texas. “You just try to be real with them about where you’re at and what’s in front of you.

“Again, as the time keeps going by and you keep starting to look at not what didn’t happen, but start to really focus on the opportunity you have in front of you and how lucky you really are to do that, I think you’ll go and attack it.”

Mack said he and Louisville athletic director Vince Tyra had discussed appearing in the NIT, which the Cardinals last participated just before Mack’s hiring in March 2018. When talking about the decision of passing on the NIT, among the factors Mack mentioned included potential health risks for a program that endured two lengthy COVID-related pauses this season, including a 19-day stretch last month during which he tested positive with mild symptoms.

Though if the Cardinals had received an at-large bid to the NCAA Tournament, or receive a last-minute invite to the Big Dance, they’ll be heading to Indiana.

Louisville’s second interruption wiped out four late Atlantic Coast Conference contests and left little room for error upon returning. The Cardinals dropped three of their final five games including a second-round ACC Tournament loss to Duke, which ended its season the following day following a positive test within the Blue Devils’ program.

The disappointing defeat effectively quashed Louisville’s hopes for the NCAA appearance it desperately sought just up I-65 in Indianapolis, as opposed to traveling to north Texas, a state where many COVID restrictions have been lifted.

“The health of our team this year just wasn’t very good, even down the stretch,” added Mack, whose players are working out individually in the interim. “We had days where we were practicing with seven and eight players. And when you go on two COVID pauses, lose your captain (Malik Williams to a foot injury), you have guys that are injured, it wasn’t the right decision for this team to play in the end.

“It’s been a long and challenging season for a lot of reasons.”

Louisville likely would have been a No. 1 seed in the NIT along with CSU, Saint Louis and Ole Miss, whose consolation for missing the NCAA are being the teams to beat in the lower-profile yet still prestigious tournament.

Ole Miss (16-11) went 3-0 against Top-25 teams this season, joining top-ranked and NCAA overall No. 1 seed Gonzaga and No. 13 Florida State to have at least three ranked wins without a loss. The Southeastern Conference school heads into its second postseason in three years under Kermit Davis having won eight of 13 games.

Saint Louis (14-6) had won three in a row before losing to eventual Atlantic 10 Conference champion St. Bonaventure. The Billikens will make their 19th NIT appearance, the Rams their 10th and first since 2017.

Granted, these schools will play on a much smaller stage compared to the Big Dance they dreamed of. But they’re still playing in a season that was no lock to start with.

CSU forward Adam Thistlewood believes his team will be able to turn the NCAA snub into extra motivation and added that they’re “super excited to get back out there and prove to a lot of people that we deserve to play not only in the NIT, but that we should’ve been in the tournament.”

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

kansas mccullar
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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.

George Washington adopts new name ‘Revolutionaries’ to replace ‘Colonials’

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WASHINGTON — George Washington University’s sports teams will now be known as the Revolutionaries, the school announced.

Revolutionaries replaces Colonials, which had been GW’s name since 1926. Officials made the decision last year to drop the old name after determining it no longer unified the community.

GW said 8,000 different names were suggested and 47,000 points of feedback made during the 12-month process. Revolutionaries won out over the other final choices of Ambassadors, Blue Fog and Sentinels.

“I am very grateful for the active engagement of our community throughout the development of the new moniker,” president Mark S. Wrighton said. “This process was truly driven by our students, faculty, staff and alumni, and the result is a moniker that broadly reflects our community – and our distinguished and distinguishable GW spirit.”

George the mascot will stay and a new logo developed soon for the Revolutionaries name that takes effect for the 2023-24 school year. The university is part of the Atlantic 10 Conference.