Expansion: Women’s NCAA field features inaugural First Four

COLLEGE BASKETBALL: DEC 05 Women's - Charleston Southern at Florida State
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Florida State coach Sue Semrau has always been a fan of adding teams to the women’s NCAA Tournament. She is thrilled it happened this season, giving her late-developing Seminoles the opportunity to be a part of history.

Florida State (17-13) is one of the schools participating in the inaugural women’s First Four after the NCAA expanded the tournament field to 68 teams, one of the few tangible changes made to address inequities highlighted last year between the men’s and women’s tournaments.

The First Four has been a staple of the men’s NCAA tourney since 2011.

“Had it been 64, I would have been extremely nervous,” Semrau said of her program’s chances of reaching its ninth consecutive tournament.

Instead, she and the other three at-large First Four participants – Missouri State, DePaul and Dayton – and four automatic qualifiers in Longwood, Mount St. Mary’s, Howard and Incarnate Word will play Wednesday and Thursday to advance into the first round.

That hasn’t always been the case for the women.

Disparities between the men’s and women’s tournaments were highlighted last year during the pandemic-altered events, leading the NCAA to make several changes. The enhancements for the women included hotel rooms, dining, training equipment and expanding the tournament field.

Semrau has worked on issues of equality in the college game for years and is gratified to see change.

“Why not?” the coach asked rhetorically about the women’s expanded field.

Unlike the men, who play all their First Four games in Dayton, Ohio, the four women’s games will be held at region sites where the winner’s first-round opponent will play.

For Florida State, that means a trip to Baton Rouge, Louisiana, to take on Missouri State. Not that it mattered to the Seminoles, who seemed like a longshot to be even playing in the NCAAs when they 10-10 in early February. But they won seven of their last 10 to get in.

“Being one of those 68, it just means a lot to us and we know that we’re going to keep working,” Florida State guard Morgan Jones said.

It also means a lot to Longwood.

Even though the Lancers received an automatic bid after winning their first Big South Tournament, they are looking forward for the chance to make more history as one of the teams in the First Four field.

Longwood coach Rebecca Tillett said the town of Farmville, Virginia, gave the team a parade for winning the tournament.

“I can’t imagine what it would be” for an NCAA Tournament win, she chuckled during a phone interview.

Tillett has heard those who wonder if automatic qualifiers like Longwood should be part of the First Four.

“Those are good questions,” she said. “But we’re happy to be part of it against an evenly matched team.”

Incarnate Word coach Jeff Dow told his players after their First Four assignment came up on TV, “You realize we’re the first of the entire tournament?”

“They were excited about that,” Dow said.

A look at the First Four matchups:


Teams: Incarnate Word (13-16) vs. Howard (20-9).

Where: Columbia, South Carolina.

About Incarnate Word: After winning just five Southland Conference games in the regular season, Incarnate Word won four straight at the league tournament to win its first-ever title. Jaaucklyn Moore leads the team with 17.5 points a game and 42 steals.

About Howard : Howard won the Mid-Eastern Athletic Conference Tournament for the first time in 21 years. Sophomore Destiny Howell leads the Bison at 12.9 points a game. She had a career-best 25 points in the MEAC title game win.

Up Next: Winner will face overall No. 1 seed South Carolina (29-2) in the Greensboro Region

Teams: DePaul (22-10) vs. Dayton (25-5).

Where: Ames, Iowa

About DePaul: The Blue Demons finished fourth in the Big East. It’s streak of 18 straight NCAA berths ended last year and few thought the Blue Demons would get in. Now, fans can watch one of the country’s top freshmen in forward Aneesah Morrow, who leads the nation in double doubles and rebounds per game.

About Dayton: The Atlantic 10 regular-season champs have held opponents to 54.7 points a game this season and will their hands full with DePaul, whose scoring average of 88.3 points a game leads the country.

Up Next: The winner faces sixth seed Georgia (20-9) in the Greensboro Region.


Teams: Mount St. Mary’s (16-12) vs. Longwood (21-11)

Where: Raleigh, North Carolina

About Mount St. Mary’s: Won the Northeast Conference tournament crown for a second straight season. Mount St. Mary’s forward Kendall Bresee led the team in points, rebounds, assists, steals and blocks. She averaged 17.4 points a game this season.

About Longwood: Forward Akila Smith led the team in rebounds (7.8 per game) and blocks (93). She was also second on the Lancers with 16.8 points a game.

Up Next: Winner will face North Carolina State (29-3), the top seed of the Bridgeport Region.

Teams: Florida State (17-13) vs. Missouri State (24-7)

Where: Baton Rouge, Louisiana

About Florida State: The Seminoles strong finish included upsets over ranked opponents and NCAA teams in Notre Dame and Georgia Tech. Guard Morgan Jones leads Florida State with 14.1 points and 5.7 rebounds a game.

About Missouri State: Finished second in the Missouri Valley Conference. They are led by Abi Jackson, who tops the team with 13.2 points and 6.9 rebounds a game.

Up Next: Winner faces sixth seed Ohio State (23-6) in the Spokane Region

NCAA tweaks rules on block/charge calls in men’s basketball

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INDIANAPOLIS — The NCAA is tweaking how block/charge calls are made in men’s basketball.

The NCAA Playing Rules Oversight Panel approved rule changes on Thursday that require a defender to be in position to draw a charge at the time the offensive player plants a foot to go airborne for a shot. If the defender arrives after the player has planted a foot, officials have been instructed to call a block when there’s contact.

Defenders had to be in position to draw a charge before the offensive player went airborne under previous rules.

NCAA Men’s Basketball Rules Committee members made the proposal after NCAA members complained that too many charges were being called on those types of plays.

The panel also approved reviews of basket interference calls during the next media timeout – if the official called it on the floor – a shot clock reset to 20 seconds on an offensive rebound that hits the rim, and players being allowed to wear any number between 0 and 99.

A timeout also will be granted to an airborne player with possession of the ball, and non-student bench personnel will be allowed to serve as peacekeepers on the floor if an altercation occurs.

Charlotte head coach Ron Sanchez resigns after winning CBI title

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CHARLOTTE, N.C. — Ron Sanchez resigned as head coach of the Charlotte 49ers.

Sanchez took over the 49ers on March 19, 2018, inheriting a team coming off a 6-23 campaign. In five years Charlotte went 72-78 under Sanchez, highlighted by winning the College Basketball Invitational championship this past season, the Niners’ first post-season tournament title in school history.

The 22 wins this past season are the most for Charlotte since 2001.

“Ron took over a proud but struggling program and carefully rebuilt it into a 22-game winner. He has led with class, dignity and devotion to our young men,” Charlotte director of athletics Mike Hill said. “His decision to step down from Charlotte was a difficult one for him and everyone associated with our program. We wish him and his family every happiness.”

Hill said the team has already begun a national search for a replacement.

“This is a bittersweet day for me and my family as I step down to pursue other opportunities,” said Sanchez, who came the 49ers after working as an assistant coach at Virginia under Tony Bennett. “It has been a tremendous privilege to lead the 49ers basketball program over the past five years and I want to thank Niner Nation for its support. I will be forever grateful to my staff, players and the university.”

Marquette extends Shaka Smart’s contract through 2029-30 season

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MILWAUKEE — Marquette coach Shaka Smart has received a contract extension after leading the Golden Eagles to their first outright regular-season championship and tournament title in the Big East.

Smart’s contract now runs through the 2029-30 season. This is the first extension Smart has received since signing a six-year deal when he took over as Marquette’s coach in 2021.

Marquette didn’t release financial terms of Smart’s deal.

“In a very short period of time, Shaka and his staff have done a tremendous job of establishing a winning culture, both on and off the court,” athletic director Bill Scholl said in a statement. “Shaka’s vision for the program is focused on extended, sustainable success. The individuals who interact with the team on a daily basis are able to observe frequent examples of growth and the excitement around the program is contagious.”

Marquette has gone 48-20 in Smart’s two seasons and reached the NCAA Tournament each of those years.

The Golden Eagles went 29-7 and won the Big East’s regular-season and tournament championships last season after the league’s coaches had picked them to finish ninth out of 11 teams. Marquette’s season ended with a 69-60 loss to Michigan State in the NCAA Tournament’s round of 32.

Purdue’s Edey returning to school at NBA draft deadline; Kentucky’s Tshiebwe stays in

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Purdue’s Zach Edey decided it was the right call to go back to school instead of staying in the NBA draft. His predecessor as national player of the year, Kentucky’s Oscar Tshiebwe, is sticking with his pro pursuit.

And Connecticut’s reign as NCAA champion will begin with multiple starters having left for the NBA draft and one returning after flirting with doing the same.

The 7-foot-4 Edey and UConn guard Tristen Newton were among the notable names to announce that they were withdrawing from the draft, the NCAA’s deadline for players who declared as early entrants to pull out and retain their college eligibility.

Edey’s decision came in social media posts from both the center and the Boilermakers program that earned a No. 1 seed in the NCAA Tournament behind Edey, The Associated Press men’s national player of the year.

But Tshiebwe announced late in the afternoon that he would remain in the draft after a college career that included being named the AP national player of the year in 2022.

For the current champions, Newton (10.1 points, 4.7 assists, 4.5 rebounds) is returning after being one of four Huskies to declare for the draft after a run to UConn’s fifth national championship in early April. He scored a game-high 19 points to go with 10 rebounds in the victory over San Diego State in the title game.

The others were Final Four Most Outstanding Player Adama Sanogo, wing Jordan Hawkins and versatile guard Andre Jackson Jr. Sanogo (17.8 points) and Hawkins (16.3) have made it clear they have closed the door on their college careers, while team spokesman Phil Chardis said that Jackson (6.1 points, 5.8 rebounds, 4.6 assists) would remain in the draft.

The Huskies have 247sports’ No. 3-ranked recruiting class for next year to restock the roster, led by McDonald’s All-American point guard Stephon Castle.

The NBA’s withdrawal deadline is June 12, but is moot when it comes to college players returning to school due to the NCAA’s earlier timeline to retain playing eligibility.


TREY ALEXANDER: Creighton gets back a 6-4 guard who averaged 13.6 points and shot 41% from 3-point range in his first full season as a starter.

ADEM BONA: The 6-foot-10 forward and Pac-12 freshman of the year is returning to UCLA after starting 32 games as a rookie and averaging 7.7 points, 5.3 rebounds and 1.7 blocks – with coach Mick Cronin praising his toughness for “competing through multiple injuries for as long as he could” in a statement Wednesday.

EDEY: He averaged 22.3 points, 12.9 rebounds, 2.1 blocks and 1.5 assists while shooting 60.7% from the field. His presence alone helps Purdue be a factor in the Big Ten race.

JOSIAH-JORDAN JAMES: The 6-6 guard went through the NBA G League Combine and had workouts with multiple teams before opting to return to Tennessee for a fifth season alongside teammate Santiago Vescovi.

JUDAH MINTZ: The 6-3 freshman averaged 16.3 points and 4.6 assists for Syracuse, ranking third among Division I freshmen in scoring behind only Alabama’s Brandon Miller and Lamar’s Nate Calmese.

OWLS’ RETURNEES: Florida Atlantic got good news after its surprise Final Four run with the return leading scorers Johnell Davis (13.8) and Alijah Martin (13.4). ESPN first reported their decisions, while Martin later posted a social media statement.

TERRENCE SHANNON JR.: Illinois got a big boost with Shannon announcing his night in a social media post. The 6-6 guard is returning for a fifth college season after averaging 17.2 points.

SPARTANS’ RETURNEES: Michigan State announced that guards Jaden Akins and A.J. Hoggard have withdrawn from the NBA draft. Standout guard Tyson Walker had previously withdrawn in April, setting up Tom Izzo to have five of his top scorers back.


KOBE BROWN: Missouri’s 6-8 swingman opted against returning for a fifth college season after being an AP first-team all-Southeastern Conference pick averaging 15.8 points last season.

JAYLEN CLARK: The third-year UCLA guard averaged 13.0 points and 6.0 rebounds while leading the Pac-12 with 2.6 steals en route to being named Naismith national defensive player of the year. Cronin called him a winner with strong intangibles who made UCLA “a better program because he chose to be a Bruin.”

BRICE SENSABAUGH: The Ohio State freshman averaged 16.3 points and 5.4 rebounds in 31 games before missing his final two in the Big Ten Tournament due to a knee injury. He’s a potential first-round prospect.

TSHIEBWE: The 6-9, 260-pound forward is a tough interior presence who led the country in rebounds for two straight seasons (15.1 in 2022, 13.7 in 2023) while racking up 48 double-doubles. But he faces an uncertain next stop and is projected at best as a second-round prospect.

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.