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Introducing Cinderella: Gardner-Webb earns the autobid in the Big South

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Gardner-Webb is heading to the NCAA tournament for the first time in school history as they went on the road and knocked off Radford for a 76-65 victory. The Bulldogs pulled off one of the toughest feats in college hoops by winning back-to-back road games as the underdog during the Big South conference tournament.

Knocking off the nation’s leading scorer in Chris Clemons and Campbell in the previous round on Friday night, Gardner-Webb followed that up with a convincing win over Radford on Sunday afternoon. DJ Laster got rolling early for the Bulldogs against the Highlanders as he scored 30 of the team’s first 44 points to finish with a career-high 32 points.

CONFERENCE: Big South

COACH: Tim Craft

RECORD: 23-11, 10-6 in the Big South

RATINGS:

  • KENPOM: 183
  • NET: 185

PROJECTED SEED: Gardner-Webb likely projects as a No. 16 seed.

NAMES YOU NEED TO KNOW: Senior guard David Efianayi is the team’s leading scorer as he’s putting up 18.5 points per game while shooting a blistering 41 percent from three-point range on the season. While Efianayi is the team’s leader, he has other weapons to turn to on offense. Freshman Jose Perez (15.1 ppg, 5.7 rpg, 3.0 apg) has emerged as a capable all-around player while senior forward DJ Laster (13.1 ppg, 5.5 rpg) showed how dangerous he can be in the Big South title game. Sophomore Nate Johnson (10.0 ppg) is the team’s fourth double-figure scorer. All four of those players also shoot at least 37 percent, or better, from three-point range.

BIG WINS, BAD LOSSES: Gardner-Webb knocked off two ACC opponents during the regular season with road wins at Georgia Tech and Wake Forest. The Bulldogs also had Q1 losses to Furman, VCU and Virginia Tech during the regular season. Losses to Eastern Illinois and Arkansas state represented the only two Q4 losses of the season for Gardner-Webb. A shaky

STATS YOU NEED TO KNOW: Three-point shooting could be the key for Gardner-Webb pulling off a UMBC-like upset of a major powerhouse. Shooting 37.9 percent from three-point range as a team on the season, the Bulldogs are 32nd in the country from distance. Gardner-Webb also has options from a shooting perspective with four players who canned at least 35 three-pointers on the season.

HOW DO I KNOW YOU?: Gardner-Webb doesn’t have a lot of relevant men’s basketball history but the school did help produce current Ohio State head coach Chris Holtmann. A former assistant (2002-2008) who later returned as head coach for three seasons (2010-11 through 2012-13), Holtmann left the program to become an assistant, and eventual head coach, at Butler.

FINAL THOUGHT: UMBC set the recipe for beating a No. 1 seed last season by making a lot of perimeter shots and blitzing an ice-cold Virginia team early. While Gardner-Webb is unlikely to win as a potential No. 15 or No. 16 seed, the potent perimeter shooting they bring to the table makes them an intriguing deep upset candidate — depending on opponent.

Four conferences sign on to basketball officiating alliance

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GREENSBORO, N.C. (AP) — Four more Division I conferences will join a men’s basketball officiating alliance formed last year by the Atlantic Coast Conference, the Big East, the Atlantic 10 and Colonial Athletic Association.

The Big South, the Ivy League, the Northeast and the Patriot League are joining ahead of the 2017-18 season, according to announcements from the leagues Thursday. The alliance launched last summer for conferences to work together on officiating matters and enhance training, development, recruitment, retention and feedback for officials.

John Cahill, the Big East’s supervisor of officials, and Bryan Kersey, the ACC’s coordinator of men’s basketball officiating, will continue to lead the alliance operations.

ACC commissioner John Swofford says the new additions to the alliance “provide an even greater opportunity to build chemistry and quality” across the officiating ranks.

Guard Cortez Mitchell holds firm with Charleston Southern commitment

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The recruitment process, while it can be fun for prospects, also requires that they do their due diligence before making a decision. Also key in the process is understanding one’s potential role at a new school, with some looking to make the player a focal point while others may simply be looking for a stopgap after falling short in their pursuit of other players.

For 6-foot-3 Pearl River CC guard Cortez Mitchell, the recruiting process meant weighing the school that had expressed major interest all along against some higher profile programs that made their pushes late. Ultimately Mitchell decided to stick with the program that was there from the start, as he signed with Charleston Southern Friday afternoon.

“When I went on my visit there it was like I was part of the family,” Mitchell told NBCSports.com.

Something else that stuck out to Mitchell was that he felt he was a priority for Charleston Southern from the start, and that had an impact on his decision to not only commit there but eschew any advances from high profile programs before making things official on Friday.

Among those who looked to work their way into the mix late were Missouri and Louisiana Tech.

As a freshman at Pearl River, Mitchell averaged 14.6 points, 4.2 rebounds and 2.6 assists per game. Mitchell, who attended Callaway HS in Jackson, Mississippi, can fill multiple roles on the perimeter due to his ability to both score and distribute the basketball. And given his production thus far, the expectation is that Mitchell will arrive on campus ready to help head coach Barclay Radebaugh keep the Buccaneers in the discussion amongst the top teams in the Big South.

Big South moving 2016 conference tournament

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The Big South is moving its 2016 men’s basketball tournament out of Coastal Carolina and a new site will be figured out by November. According to a release from the conference the Big South is using a league bylaw that stipulates that members leaving with less than two years of notice are not eligible to host championships. Coastal Carolina announced this summer that it would be leaving for the Sun Belt as of July 2016, so the Big South wants to find a new location that benefits teams staying in the league.

The Big South men’s and women’s conference tournaments are now also going to be split into two unique events, with the men’s championships being held Thursday-Sunday, March 3-6. The women’s event comes the next week from March 10-13. Bids for both events will come into the league and a new location will be selected in the next few months.

It will be interesting to see if the site of the conference tournament is moved to a campus site or placed at a neutral venue. That type of thing could alter how the NCAA tournament autobid gets played out. With Coastal Carolina coming off of back-to-back NCAA tournament appearances, this obviously changes their approach to the postseason now that they have to leave their city.

Campbell rewards walk-on guard Casey Perrin with scholarship (VIDEO)

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While walk-ons tend to do much of what scholarship players are asked to do, there’s the noticeable lack of assistance with their college tuition that can make the situation a difficult one for many who take that path. That’s why so many get the respect of their teammates and coaches for the hard work they put in, with few seeing much playing time either.

Campbell showed its appreciation for walk-on guard Casey Perrin during the team’s trip to Ireland, with head coach Kevin McGeehan informing Perrin prior to the team’s game that he would be on scholarship for his senior season. The reactions from both Perrin and his teammates, who are genuinely happy for him, are great.

h/t CBS Sports

Coastal Carolina to become first college basketball team to visit Cuba

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Per NCAA rules, college basketball programs are allowed to take an overseas trip once every four years. While there are the on-court benefits of playing exhibitions against teams from other parts of the world and having ten practices before departure, the trips can also serve as an educational experience for the coaches and players. Coastal Carolina will be taking a trip this summer, and they’re headed to a country that has never hosted a college basketball program.

Tuesday morning Coastal Carolina announced that it will take a trip to Cuba in early August, arriving August 6 and staying until the 14th. Cliff Ellis’ team will play three games against Cuba’s national team, which will be in the midst of preparations for the FIBA America/Olympic qualifying tournament that’s scheduled to be played in Mexico from August 31 to September 12.

Coastal Carolina, which has appeared in each of the last two NCAA tournaments, returns four starters from a team that won 24 games a season ago led by guards Elijah Wilson and Shivaughn Wiggins.

“This foreign tour to Cuba is a great honor for our program as the United States begins to open its relationship with Cuba,” Ellis said in the release. “For us to be the first team to travel to Cuba is a testament to our success over the past several years. We will rely on NCAA tournament experiences to play competitive basketball against the Cuban’s top-notch national team.

“It is not only an opportunity to get additional time together as a team prior to opening the season, but also an immense educational experience for our student-athletes.”

Strained relations between the United States and Cuba have improved some of late, with a bill being introduced to Congress in mid-February to lift the trade embargo that existed between the two countries for decades. That move came on the heels of legislation that sought to loosen travel restrictions between the United States and Cuba.

Earlier this month the New York Cosmos of the North American Soccer League (NASL) played an exhibition in Havana against Cuba’s national team, which is preparing for next month’s CONCACAF Gold Cup. The Cosmos were the first American professional sports team to play in Cuba since 1999, when the Baltimore Orioles played the first of two exhibitions against the Cuban national team (the second was played in Baltimore).