11/09: No, Michigan's Fab Five wasn't definitely better—and certainly not more talented—than Duke's current freshman class

Gary Parrish and Matt Norlander address, for the first and likely only time this season, some of the absurd early talking points already bubbling up around Duke. They open with the reaction to the reaction of Duke’s debut, then get into some unexpected trivia about starting lineups on past Final Four teams. From there, they touch on the Justice Department giving the go-ahead to the NCAA to start investigating some schools brought up during the first federal trial, which ended in October. 

The podcast wraps with a preview of the games to watch this weekend. Washington at Auburn, two top 25 teams, highlights the slate. 

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11/11: A whiparound wrapup of college hoops' first weekend of 2018-19, with a debate over who has the best resume one week into the season

After a weekend with a few notable upsets, Gary Parrish and Matt Norlander open with West Virginia being the only ranked team to drop a game to an unranked team. Then it’s onto Auburn (8:20), which looked great Friday night in an 88-66 win over Washington. Oh, and Duke freshman Zion Williamson (13:01) got 27 points, 16 rebounds, six blocks and four assists in Sunday’s 94-72 win over Army. Just an absolute monster. Who should be ranked No. 1 right now — Duke or Kansas? (20:00), and what about North Carolina (23:12)? 2-0 with two road wins — one at Wofford, the other at Elon. Norlander said that amounts to the best resume in the nation right now. The pod wraps with a lookahead to the best games of Tuesday and Wednesday (31:48).

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11/14: Georgetown's Mac McClung is a dunking cult hero; the Big Ten's good start; Cuse-UConn preview

Georgetown went in and got a road win at Illinois on Tuesday night, doing so behind the entertaining play of freshmen duo James Akinjo and Mac McClung (:50). It’s been a long time since the pod talked about the Hoyas. Parrish and Norlander also get into the Big Ten’s quality start (16:30) before transitioning to Thursday night’s key game between Syracuse and UConn (21:48). Also at MSG on Thursday night: Oregon and freshman center Bol Bol (27:00). The pod wraps with some thoughts about Duke’s nonconference schedule and its contrast with UNC being willing to play opponents on the road in November and December (34:32). 

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11/16: Michigan's stunner at Nova; UConn's great start under Dan Hurley; Big Ten is the best league to start the season

Friday’s episode leads on arguably the most shocking result of the season so far: Michigan’s 73-46 win at Villanova on Wednesday night. From there, Parrish and Norlander touch how good Tennessee’s looked to star the year (16:30), get into Zion Williamson’s hilariously ridiculous statistical pace so far (17:45), and move on to Ohio State (24:40), which has the best two road wins of any team in college hoops at this point. The guys also highlight the Big Ten (31:15), which has the best record of any conference 10 days into the season. Of course, there’s also the matter of UConn upsetting Syracuse (38:06), which included a viral moment from Dan Hurley and an inexplicable jersey mishap regarding Buddy Boeheim. The guys wrap by discussing a 3-point oddity that happened on back-to-back nights earlier this week. 

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11/18: Villanova and Syracuse plummet; a full-blown preview of the stacked Maui Invitational

At the top, Norlander and Parrish open on Hawaii. Then it’s on to Villanova (12:42), which lost again on Saturday — to Furman. Also 2-2: Syracuse (20:49). The Orange lost to UConn and Oregon at Madison Square Garden. Which team is more disappointing at this stage? Speaking of disappointing losses, Indiana let one get away at Arkansas on Sunday (26:07). How about the 3-ball this season (31:18): teams continue to bomb away more than ever before. The episode closes with a wide-ranging preview and set of predictions on the Maui Invitational (36:05). 

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11/22: Gonzaga puts an end to all that premature Duke-undefeated talk; No. 1 prospect James Wiseman picks Memphis over Kentucky

The undefeated talk is over. Duke didn’t make it past Thanksgiving without a loss. No. 3 Gonzaga beat No. 1 Duke 89-87 in the championship game of the Maui Invitational. Gary Parrish and Matt Norlander lead this Thanksgiving podcast with that — and give their thanks to the listeners, of course. From there, the guys got into what worked for Gonzaga and evaluated Duke’s freshmen both on Wednesday and overall in Maui. Also, 
James Wiseman (23:30), the No. 1 prospect in the Class of 2019, is going to Memphis. How big is that for Penny Hardaway? How bad is that for John Calipari? And did you know that Friday will bring another top-five matchup? No. 2 Kansas vs. No. 5 Tennessee (38:07) is on tap. Predictions included. 

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Cam Newton: Thank you for everything, Rick Byrd

Your teams helped me fall in love with mid-major hoops.

For the past two years, I’ve written for this site, relishing every moment of it. In that time, I’ve covered everything from A-10 Tournaments to OVC basketball games, filling the rest of the passing moments with articles that allowed me to have a creative outlet that typically isn’t available to a college student.

When I first started writing here, I was — unlike many of my peers — a writer without any sort of connection to mid-major basketball. After all, I was a sophomore at the University of Kentucky, one of the sport’s biggest programs. At the time, I figured that my voice could be lent to this site and that I could take on this challenge of following literally hundreds of teams.

However, one team quickly stood out to me.


Being from Kentucky, I am quite familiar with the Ohio Valley Conference, as three of its members are from the Bluegrass State. So, I figured that’d be the conference I’d watch the most.

But after a season or so of viewing, I realized that the most fun teams to watch didn’t always come from my home state. Indeed, many of them were located in Nashville, run by a guy whose name evokes nothing but respect from his contemporaries.

I quickly grew to love watching Belmont Basketball, largely due to the offensive style that Rick Byrd’s teams ran. It’s one that’s full of backdoor cuts, transition buckets, innovative plays, and a myriad of threes. It’s exciting, and it is what has allowed the Belmont Bruins to find so much success for so long.

I began watching every Belmont game after that, and you know the rest:

I wrote “20 Photos of Rick Byrd” almost two years ago.

Then came “A Rick Byrd Star Wars” later in 2017.

Next, Coach Byrd sent me a birthday video last year after finding out that my birthday is the day before his.

And now there’s this piece that you’re currently digesting.

I was hoping I wouldn’t have to write about Rick Byrd retiring for a few more years, but I guessed that this was coming. After all, reports surfaced saying he was considering retiring after the historic season Belmont just had. I even joked on April 1 that since it was April Fool’s Day, that would be the only day that Belmont could announce that Byrd was retiring.

Of course, he did announce his retirement on April 1, doing so at a press conference so packed with emotion that it was clearly anything but a prank.

For 33 years, Rick Byrd has been the head man at Belmont, and there isn’t much that he hasn’t done. He shepherded them from the NAIA to Division I, took them to eight NCAA Tournaments, won 10 regular season conference titles, and racked up 805 career wins in the process.

All of that success throughout the years is admirable, but this season was something different. As a coach who has set the standard for what successful mid-major programs should look like, he managed to guide the Bruins to their first-ever NCAA Tournament at-large bid — something that hasn’t happened to the OVC since the late 1980s. From there, his team took down the Temple Owls in the First Four, giving him one of the final few things that wasn’t on his résumé before: an NCAA Tournament victory. Taken together, it’s understandable why Byrd would want to retire after this year.

Truth be told, I don’t know what I’m going to do now that Rick Byrd is retired. The man is a legend in every respect, and it will be weird watching college basketball without him roaming the sidelines in his signature sweater vests. More so, it will be weird writing about college basketball without his success being a topic of discussion. In a world where mid-major coaches are often lured to big-name jobs after a spell of success, there will never be another coach who possess his skill, his level of integrity, or his commitment to the school he coaches ever again.

Of all the people who have wished him happiness in retirement over the past few days — from former players, to coaches and staff members — my well wishes are probably of the least importance. Yet, I still want to say thanks:

Because of you, I was invested in a team that I had no connection to besides an ESPN+ subscription.

Because of you, I realized how much fun it can be to find my voice and write about basketball in a way that is unique to me.

Because of you, I became enthralled with mid-major basketball, falling in love with the sport in a way that casual fans of Power-5 conference schools will never understand.

Thank you for everything, Rick Byrd.

04/02: Kentucky gives John Calipari a lifetime contract; Tom Izzo says he needs to win another title; top Final Four storylines

Don’t worry, we’ve got some Final Four chatter for you on this pod, but the episode starts with the biggest college hoops news of the past 24 hours: Kentucky and John Calipari have agreed to a lifetime deal for the coach, meaning he’ll be there for essentially as long as he wants as coach — and then will be an advisor/emeritus whenever he decides to retire. This is all in the wake of UCLA pursuing/botching its courting of Cal to Westwood. Gary Parrish and Matt Norlander open with thoughts on that, thoughts on what UCLA was doing — or not — and recap Cal’s first decade with UK. From there, they talk Tom Izzo and Michigan State (23:00) and whether a second title is needed to validate his Hall of Fame career. The guys then run the gamut on Final Four storylines (30:00), including which is the best, and close with Norlander giving honor to the great Rick Byrd (36:00), who retired this week after winning more than 800 games.  

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Matt Mooney, Mike Daum took divergent paths in their final seasons

Mooney’s led him to the Final Four, but that doesn’t mean Daum chose poorly.

For two years, Matt Mooney was one of the best mid-major players in the country. As the focal point of a resurgent South Dakota program, he propelled the Coyotes to heights they hadn’t seen previously at the Division I level, including a regular season title and the doorstep of an NCAA Tournament bid.

But for two years, Mooney was overshadowed by one of the greatest scorers in NCAA history.

Sharing a conference and a state with South Dakota State’s Mike Daum, Mooney was squeezed out of the Summit League’s individual hardware and, likely more important to him, the NCAA Tournament. In both of his years in Vermillion, Mooney had his shot at the Big Dance extinguished by Daum and the Jackrabbits. The first time in heart-stopping fashion in the 2017 Summit semifinals, and the second as he scored 30 points in a 97-87 loss to SDSU in the 2018 Summit final.

One year later, the spotlight couldn’t burn any brighter on Mooney.

The former Summit League rivals took divergent paths after the end of last season. Mooney, who started his career at Air Force, began exploring transfer options after his head coach, Craig Smith, left for the same position at Utah State. He had no shortage of teams blowing up his phone looking to add the proven scorer, three-point shooter and wing defender. After whittling his list to Texas Tech, Creighton and Northwestern, it was Chris Beard that won him over.

“Honestly their head coach reminded me a lot of my previous head coach Craig Smith,” Mooney said. “In a lot of ways, they are different, but similar. He was able to get me to believe in him and what he has going on there. I feel like he believes in me and my game and I feel like they are building something special.”

Something special was indeed in the works, as the Red Raiders now prepare for their first Final Four in program history. Mooney has yet again been at the center of it, starting each game this year and finishing third on the team in scoring (11.0 PPG) and second in assists (3.3 APG). He’s also been the vital cog in a Red Raiders defense that crippled the opposition en route to Minneapolis.

In his Hoop Vision NCAA Tournament Bible, Jordan Sperber (@hoopvision68) wrote about the role Mooney plays in the country’s most efficient defense.

“[Tariq Owens] and [Jarrett Culver] — plus this scheme — make a Tech nightmare to score on, and allow a guy like Matt Mooney more freedom to use quick hands and anticipation skills to roam around for steals.”

The senior racked up five steals in Texas Tech’s first round win over Northern Kentucky, and three more as the Red Raiders locked down Gonzaga in the Elite Eight. Overall, he played the starring role (17 points, 6-12 FG, 5 assists) in last Saturday’s historic win over the WCC heavyweight.

It was the type of March run and moment that Daum never got to experience.

The idea of Daum — the scoring, floor-spacing, rebounding machine built for the modern game — entering the graduate transfer market was floated nationally as early as December 2017. Plenty of programs would’ve moved mountains to land him, but after exploring the NBA draft following the end of last season, Daum foreclosed wearing another college jersey.

“I really didn’t consider it,” said Daum, who enters his senior season second on SDSU’s all-time scoring list with 2,232 points. “The grad transfer thing was obviously something that was always there, but it was never really an option for me because of the relationships I’ve built at South Dakota State. It was an easy decision to come back.”

Alongside star sophomore guard David Jenkins Jr., returning made plenty of sense. The Jackrabbits figured to be the class of the Summit League, and were just that by winning a second consecutive regular season title. A fourth trip to the NCAA Tournament and fairy tale ending for Daum, however, were not in the cards as SDSU was stunned by last-seeded Western Illinois in their league tournament opener.

That leads to Minneapolis, where Mooney will suit up in front of millions of eyeballs, and Daum will not. But tempting and convenient a narrative as it may be, that doesn’t make Mooney right and Daum wrong. Both players looked at the graduate transfer route and made the decision that made the most individual sense.

At South Dakota, Mooney saw his head coach leaving and opted to survey the market himself, ultimately finding a power conference program that promised an opportunity for playing time. The magical March run wasn’t a guarantee. Even discounting the roll-the-dice nature of a single elimination tournament, the Red Raiders were losing a lot off an Elite Eight team; their ability to shrug that off and continue to contend has been well-chronicled.

At SDSU, Daum saw coaching continuity as the Jackrabbits fended off, for one offseason at least, outside interest in coach T.J. Otzelberger. He also saw a team capable of continuing to lord over the Summit League, with players like Jenkins, Skyler Flatten and others returning. And, most importantly, in his own words he spoke publicly about the value of not making the jump to another school, even if it may have meant a more navigable path to the March spotlight.

That didn’t mean he was wrong, nor does it mean Mooney was wrong for not finishing his career at South Dakota. Two great players, tied together for two years by state and conference, finished their careers on their own terms.

That can only be right.

Threes, luck, and volume in the NCAA tournament

Izzonew

March 1993: Jud Heathcote announces that Tom Izzo will be his successor as head coach at Michigan State. (Lansing State Journal)

Michigan State was the final team to reach the 2019 Final Four, thanks to a Kenny Goins three with 39 seconds remaining against Duke. By virtue not only of Goins’ heroics but also the fact that, on the same afternoon, Auburn beat Kentucky in overtime, we now know that using one-and-dones in college basketball doesn’t work.

With that question settled once and for all (I’m kidding; apparently that needs to be indicated), let us turn our attention to the gathering of old geezers in Minneapolis.

If we think of said geezers as four offenses and four defenses, one thing to be said about the collective is that, with the possible exception of the Texas Tech offense, all of these units are used to seeing three-point attempts — both for and against — flying every which way in the tournament. Indeed, Ken Pomeroy noted last week at The Athletic that the NCAA tournament has become strikingly perimeter-oriented these last few years.

From the First Four through the Elite Eight, fully 40.6 percent of the shot attempts in the 2019 NCAA tournament have, by my reckoning, been launched from beyond the arc. Perhaps it should come as no surprise, then, to find that every Final Four team that did not have to face Carsen Edwards has arrived in Minneapolis carrying a really gaudy number for three-point defense.

The NCAA tournament can be a three-point defense lottery
Tournament games only

                 Opp. 3FG%
Texas Tech         23.4
Auburn             26.9
Michigan State     28.2
Virginia           39.2            

Conversely, there are no great two-point tournament defenses in the Twin Cities. Texas Tech of course carries that reputation, but Red Raider opponents have in fact connected a very normal 48 percent of the time inside the arc during the tournament. Meanwhile, Virginia’s interior defense has been pretty good the last four games (45 percent), short-handed and somewhat diminutive but blazing fast Auburn’s been about as you’d expect (57) and Michigan State is somewhere in between.

As for the impossibly low number Chris Beard’s defense is carrying for opponent three-point accuracy in the tournament, the first thing to be said about it is that it’s really not impossibly low. Holding opponents to just 23 percent outside the arc over the course of a mere four games happens every day of the week during the season. Anyway, if you’re looking for ostentatiously great three-point defense over the course of a four-game run to a Final Four, any anguished Indiana fan will tell you that Syracuse 2013 is still the gold standard there: 15 percent.

Who knows, maybe all these great three-point tournament defenses will at last regress toward the mean at the Final Four. It happened to Michigan last year. The Wolverines arrived at their national semifinal having held tournament opponents to 26 percent shooting beyond the arc and kept the mojo going for a bonus 40 minutes against Loyola Chicago before, finally, Jay Wright’s eager charges rained on the parade with their normalcy (10-of-27).

That said, the next 40 to 80 minutes of action does not give regression much runway with which to work. Besides, aberrant outcomes like crazy-bad opponent perimeter shooting or even, say, a No. 16 seed beating a No. 1, are part of why we love the single-elimination format.

Could we revisit the question of that format if three-point attempt rates keep charting a steep increase? What happens when, after the line (one presumes) is moved back but then attempt rates eventually resume their upward climb toward the 50 percent inflection point, we have a tournament wherein the defense has relatively little control over the success or failure of better than half of opponents’ tries?

Hold that thought until 2029 or so; meantime, don’t fret. Even back in the old days, circa 2015, when there were way fewer three-point attempts in the tournament, we still had Final Fours made up mostly or even entirely of teams kissed by the hoops gods when it came to win-or-go-home perimeter D.

The NCAA tournament can be a three-point defense lottery (redux)
Average opponent three-point accuracies of Final Four teams
Pre-Final Four tournament games only

                 Opp. 3FG%
2015               28.8
2016               32.7
2017               30.1
2018               29.8
2019               29.7

Besides, Virginia’s still standing in 2019, somehow, even after greatest per-possession three-point shooting display by an opposing player in NCAA tournament history.

                            Game              Ind
                    3FGM    poss.    Min.     poss.     3FGM/poss.
J. Freyer, UNLV 
vs. Michigan, 1990   11      108      32       86         0.127

C. Edwards, Purdue
vs. Virginia, 2019   10       62      44       60         0.166

The Cavaliers, by a hair, haven’t shot as accurately as their tournament opponents, but what Tony Bennett’s guys do bring to this party is shot volume in big historic quantities. O, the irony.

After all, the Purdue staff is on the record as tracking this shot volume stuff, but in the Elite Eight the Boilermakers were hoisted by their own petard. The Hoos gave the ball away on just eight percent of their possessions while rebounding 43 percent of their misses. On an evening when Virginia’s shooting accuracy was nothing special (and Purdue’s was, obviously, outstanding), it was a remarkable display of frequent scoring attempts, as though 2015 Wisconsin and 2017 North Carolina had formed a supergroup.

Normally, Final Four teams aren’t distinguished by their tournament shot volumes and, in particular, last year’s group was emphatically lackluster on that front. This year, on the other hand, all four teams did get to where they are in part by creating more scoring chances than their opponents. Actually, in the Cavaliers’ case, make that way more.

The NCAA tournament can be a shot volume showcase
Shot volume index, tournament games only

                              Opp.
                      SVI     SVI     Margin
Virginia             102.6    91.2     +11.4
Texas Tech            93.9    89.7      +4.2
Auburn                98.8    94.9      +3.9     
Michigan State        99.1    96.0      +3.1           

Fluke or harbinger of a sea change as future tournament teams rapidly deploy to boost their shot volumes? Definitely a fluke, but an instructive one. Look at the Red Raiders, for example. Note the low shot volume, but also the ridiculously low volume for opponents.

Now, finally, I understand why the descriptions about less basketball in 40 minutes that are usually directed Virginia’s way always felt equally if not more apt for my experiences watching Tech games despite what on paper is a more “normal” pace. There’s just a really small number of shots for both teams in Red Raider games, regardless of the tempo.

So, yes, do remember the number 23 with Beard’s guys. Not only are tournament opponents hitting 23 percent of their threes, those same teams have also given the ball away on 23 percent of their possessions. To have a shot, Michigan State and, if it comes to that, Auburn or Virginia will want to come in higher and lower than 23 percent, respectively.

Speaking of the Hoos, I’ll be watching to see if they set a record for tapping the ball back for offensive boards the way Mamadi Diakite so famously did at the end of regulation against the Boilers. Diakite and Jack Salt were doing that on numerous occasions this season before The Rebound, and, if nothing else, it’s one way for teams to get second chances while still keeping their guards in proper Missouri-Valley-style-paranoid position for transition defense.

In fact, if Virginia wins it all, I suppose there’s a chance tapping the ball back will be the cool stylistic “it” thing for 2019, a la threes for Wright in 2016. Regardless, win or lose, rounding up torches and pitchforks to insist that a slow pace inevitably leads to March disasters now feels very 2018. That in itself is still another notable outcome produced by the 2019 NCAA tournament.

11/24: Kansas should be ranked ahead of Gonzaga at No. 1; tourney takes from throughout Thanksgiving week

Parrish and Norlander were all over the country this week, covering top-five matchups in person and reporting on them for CBS Sports. This special Saturday episode leads with Kansas beating Tennessee late Friday night at Barclays Center. From there, the guys get to Virginia’s 6-0 start (10:03) and what happened in Vegas with Michigan State, Texas, UNC and UCLA (13:06). On the other side of things, Florida’s off to a ragged 3-3 start (16:16). Arizona State (20:28) is doing well for itself again after last year’s good start. Bad news: Vanderbilt’s Darius Garland has a torn meniscus (23:00). A look ahead to Sunday’s big game between Villanova and Florida State (29:40).

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11/25: Villanova clicking again, but something's still amiss; Big Ten-ACC Challenge picks and preview

Villanova got its first quality win of the season by beating Florida State 66-60 on Sunday in the title game of the AdvoCare Invitational. Gary Parrish and Matt Norlander start this episode by discussing a lingering curiosity with Villanova, then get to Oklahoma State (10:02), which is off to a nice, under-the-radar start. From there, predictions and thoughts on the ACC-Big Ten Challenge (17:29), Duke thoughts (22:42) and a discussion on the best mid-major game of the week, Nevada vs. Loyola Chicago (30:14). and I opened this episode of the Eye On College Basketball by discussing the reigning national champs and Quinerly’s disappointing start.

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Q&A: New Troy coach Scott Cross

He says he’s not sleeping much.

The NCAA coaching carousel doesn’t wait for the postseason to end before hitting full gear. No one knows this better than current TCU assistant coach Scott Cross, who was also named head coach at Troy last week. Though the new leader of the Trojans has promised to stay on in Fort Worth until the Horned Frogs’ season ends, he’s already begun work trying to rebuild the Troy program.

Mid-Major Madness caught up with Cross, best known for his work as UT Arlington head coach from 2006-18, ahead of TCU’s NIT semifinal game against Texas in New York.


Mid-Major Madness: How did this opportunity come about for you at Troy?

Scott Cross: My agent gave me a call and asked if I had an interest whenever they parted ways with Coach Cunningham. I’ve been through there a couple different times when we played at my previous stop. I always thought it was a place that was a sleeping giant, like I said in my press conference. They have a beautiful facility, the town is really, really pretty, they’re super supportive of athletics. You just have a good feel, a good vibe when you’re there. I told them I was interested.

I had wanted to ask you about the sleeping giant comment. What are the things that have to happen for Troy to realize its potential?

First, we have to put a product on the floor that’s capable of winning. Once you can beat one of the big boys and kind of get the momentum going and get some excitement, I think that’s going to help drive attendance. If you can win more games, that’s going to drive attendance. And it’s kind of a snowball effect. That attendance helps you win games at home. That’s what we’re going to have to do. We’re going to have to create some excitement, get some people in the stands, get a buzz around campus and all of the sudden that becomes a great home court advantage, and if you win all your home games you have a great chance to win your league. We’re going to have to get out in the community, get around campus, and hopefully we can get the fraternities and sororities and students to the games. I think the community is so supportive already and you can see it with what football has done, and even baseball as well.

You’re in an interesting situation right now balancing two jobs. How’s that working for you, trying to bring TCU through the postseason?

Well, not much sleep for sure. I actually did get a halfway decent night’s sleep last night but before that I don’t think I slept more than a couple hours all week long. So it’s been super busy, making phone calls left and right. Of course you have a bunch of text messages and phone calls about potential hires and that’s very overwhelming. Then I have the Texas scout, so I’ve been busy preparing for that. And the most important priority is the current team, making sure the guys are good and want to stick around, then getting on the phone and calling potential recruits as well. It’s been nonstop for sure.

Have you had a chance to meet with the team yet? How have they responded to you?

They’ve been good. I did meet with them the day before the press conference for about 15 minutes, and they were good. I’ve been texting them, calling them since then to try and build a relationship and get to know them. And as soon as this is done, I’ll get up there and get to work with them.

When you’re putting the team together, stepping in right at the beginning of the offseason, what are you priorities for the summer?

We have to establish the culture that we want in the program. Getting our guys to understand that we’re going to be a “take the stairs” basketball team, no shortcuts, we’re going to do all the little things right. Being a selfless team, a tough team, a defensive team. So just trying to establish that mindset with them. We’ll be encouraging them to get in the gym on their own was much as possible. We’ll be working with them during practices on their skill level. But overall establishing the culture of the program is priority No. 1.

You’ve had a year now under Jamie Dixon as an assistant. What have you learned from him?

He’s a future Hall of Fame coach so that speaks for itself. Everywhere he goes, he wins. He’s won again this year. I think his preparation is second to none. The way he prepares for basketball games, he really doesn’t deviate from it. It’s very consistent and methodical, and it prepares the guys for each game. In practice, there’s a ton of repetition in what he does. Working on the fundamentals, the footwork, building out from the way the offense is and breaking it down with guards and bigs. That repetition, day to day to day, you turn on the video and you’re watching and it’s like “oh yeah we worked on that and they probably didn’t even know that’s what we were working on.”

The other thing he’s great at is when adversity strikes, it doesn’t phase him. He keeps going. He’s just super positive. He’s an eternal optimist, always believing we’re going to win. We have the best guys and the right team to be successful so just seeing how he speaks stuff into existence.

Is there anything that you’ve taken from this experience that maybe you didn’t have at Arlington?

Probably just some of the little things he does as part of the skill building, as part of the offense and how he builds it out. I think I’ll definitely try to incorporate that into the plan was quickly as possible.

You mentioned that you’re on the Texas scout for tomorrow. What’s been your primary role as an assistant this season?

Scouting has been number one. I was recruiting a ton of young guys. Trying to assist Ryan [Miller] and Corey [Santee] as much as possible with the current guys. Just laying the foundation for a lot of 2020 kids so if they want to take the ball and run with it, they can. There’s still a couple of 2019 guys that I was recruiting for the late period that they would have an opportunity if they wanted to go in that direction as well.

Regardless of what happens this week, the season is over Thursday at the latest. What happens right after that?

I’ll probably need to get to TCU and turn in my stuff, then I’ll pack up my stuff, drive down to Tory and I plan on probably meeting with the team Sunday evening and getting to work on Monday.

Do you know if the members of the team now are all planning on staying, or is that a conversation you’ll have to have in the next week or so?

Well there’s two of them that are in the transfer portal [Javan Johnson and KJ Simon] but I’ve been talking to them and I think they’re definitely open to staying. I think they both plan on coming to workouts and it’ll just be a deal where we have to see if we are a good fit for each other, and if it is, great, and if not, there will be no hard feelings either. We’re just going to get to work and build relationships as we go.

What do you envision the ceiling being for the Troy program?

I don’t think there’s any ceiling. I think if you look at it long, long term, I don’t see any reason why you can’t win it all. We gotta start with getting better today and tomorrow, that’s gotta be the focus every single day, but you see it all around the country. You’ve got to have a great facility, you’ve got to have a great home court advantage and once you start doing those things and you start winning, you get better players, and it becomes a snowball. I don’t want to put any ceiling on this program, but the focus is on just getting better today.

Three years after heartbreak, Georgetown College cruises to NAIA championship

It’s the Tigers third title, and second under coach Chris Briggs.

KANSAS CITY, Mo. — This time, Georgetown College (Ky.) left the drama out.

The No. 1-ranked Tigers cruised to the NAIA championship on Tuesday, beating Carroll College (Mont.) 68-48 in a game they controlled from the tip. It was the third NAIA title in GC history, and a stark contrast from the last time the Tigers played on this stage. In the 2016 final, Mid-American Christian’s Malcolm Mann sunk the top-seeded Tigers’ title hopes with an overtime game winner with under a second left.

Returning to the final three years later — again, as the tournament’s top seed — there would be no tense moments for GC at the end. The Tigers bolted out to a 35-15 halftime lead and didn’t look back. It left eighth-year head coach Chris Briggs in a much different mood than he was on the same floor three years prior.

“I’m smiling now, so that’s a whole lot better,” he said after the game. “Three years ago was a nightmare. I wouldn’t wish that last second shot on anybody in a national title game.”

The groundwork for that smile was laid early. GC spent the first half switching up its defense, frustrating Saints senior forward Match Burnham — who entered as the tournament’s leading scorer (25.0 PPG) — into four points on one-for-eight shooting. On the whole, an efficient Carroll offense missed a number of looks from deep.

“I thought we had a lot of great looks early, obviously we didn’t shoot a great percentage,” Saints head coach Kurt Paulson told the broadcast before the start of the second half. “I just told our guys to take a couple deep breaths and chip away at the lead.”

That’s just what happened out of the break, as Saints’ junior guard Dane Warp (11 points) started the half with back-to-back baskets. That cut the lead to 16, and while GC pushed the margin back out, Burnham began to heat up midway through the second half.

The senior star (17 points) hit a three with 10:58 to yet again bring the Saints within 16 points. But on the next possession, GC point guard Eljay Cowherd (15 points, 5 assists, 6 rebounds) connected on a drive through heavy traffic to snuff out the momentum. The junior was on the attack the entire night, and threw an alley-oop to junior forward Chris Coffey (10 points) with just over two minutes left that served as an exclamation point.


Referee Photo
Eljay Cowherd was on the attack throughout the final.

On the whole, a bigger Tigers team outrebounded the Saints 45-29, and had 26-point advantage in the paint. In holding Caroll to just 30.6 percent shooting — in no small part due to junior forward Brodricks Jones defensive work on a red-hot Burnham — the Tigers held the Saints to lowest point total in the final since runner-up Wisconsin-Stevens Point scored 46 in 1984.

The Tigers entered the season ranked No. 4 in the country, and ascended to the top of the poll on the final day of the regular season. That pegged them as favorites, and Briggs talked about dealing with that pressure as GC got to Kansas City.

“You can always tell there are a handful of teams that most likely can win it, and a handful of teams that are just happy to be here,” he said. “We never want to be one of those teams just happy to be here. We had a mature approach to it and it worked out well for us.”

GC beat Rocky Mountain College (Mont.) in its opener, and then survived a three-point game against LSU Shreveport (La.) and a two-point game against Arizona Christian to advance to the semifinals. They held off a hot William Carey (Miss.) team to reach their seventh title game in program history. The Tigers previous two championships came in 2013 (under Briggs), and 1998.

For Carroll’s part, it leaves Kansas City on a down note, but with an incredible season to its name nonetheless.

After head coach Dr. Carson Cunningham left for NCAA Division I Incarnate Word in the offseason, former Saint point guard and assistant Paulson stepped in and took the program to new heights. Carroll finished year ranked No. 11 in the country and reached its first championship game in program history.

The third-seeded Saints won a close game in their NAIA tournament opener against St. Thomas (Texas), getting a clutch late three from Ife Kalejaiye. They then stymied Oklahoma City University less than 19 hours later in the 9 a.m. second round slot, powered by a 34-point effort from Burnham. The Saints stifled an explosive Pikeville (Ky.) offense in the quarterfinals, setting up a seemingly fifth game with Lewis-Clark State College (Idaho) in the semifinals.

The Frontier Conference rivals had split the season’s previous four meetings, with the Warriors picking up a 16-point win in the most recent game in the league tournament championship. The script flipped in Kansas City, with Carroll jumping out to a 10-point halftime lead, and then held on for a historic 66-55 win behind a blistering display from Burnham at the free throw line (27 points, 20-22 FT).

03/31: That was probably the best Elite Eight in NCAA Tournament history, and it includes the end of Zion Williamson's Duke career

Here’s a Final Four almost no one had: Virginia, Michigan State, Auburn and Texas Tech. Gary Parrish and Matt Norlander open with their initial thoughts on the national semifinalists, then gush and give their reactions to arguably the best Elite Eight in history. They start with where Norlander was at — Louisville — with Virginia’s comeback/OT win over Purdue (10:00), then move on to Auburn beating Kentucky (28:00), Texas Tech beating Gonzaga (37:15) and Michigan State beating Duke (45:00) and ending the college careers of Zion Williamson, RJ Barrett, Cam Reddish and, almost certainly, Tre Jones.

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Mailbag! Which mid-major could make a deep tournament run next year?

Hint: Look at the picture

No one likes those days between the first and second weekends of the NCAA Tournament. They’re even longer and drearier when Cinderella seems to have been snubbed from the Sweet 16 entirely.

So let’s do a mailbag to pass the time. Here’s what’s on your mind as the season winds down and the offseason storylines begin to swirl:


We often get some variation of this question, but if you’re looking for the NEXT school to make a deep run, start by looking at who the contenders will be in 2019-20. Assuming there are no surprise departures, VCU is the team that looks poised to make a great run next March. The Rams were one of the best mid-majors in the country and won the Atlantic 10 regular season this year.. .and they return virtually everyone next year. Marcus Evans, Issac Vann, and De’Riante Jenkins will all be seniors, and Marcus Santos-Silva made a massive leap from his freshman to sophomore seasons. Aside from them, a few more candidates to watch are New Mexico State, Liberty and Dayton.

This is along the same lines as the question above, and lucky for you, we’ve written an entire article about this exact topic. As you’d expect, this is really tough to do, even if you have the right ingredients. You definitely need a certain amount of luck, but it starts with two things: an athletic department willing to invest in the program and a coach willing and able to maintain success rather than jump at the first high-major offer.

This should have happened a few years ago when, um, a certain Big East job opened and it instead chose to hire a prominent alum with no head coaching experience who has gone on to underachieve, even with perhaps the best roster in the conference. Anyway, Cluess is 60 now and has done pretty darn well for himself at Iona. Of course everyone has a price, but it’s not like he’s eager to get out of New Rochelle.

Have fans turned on Lottich that quickly? Give the guy a chance! He won 24 games in his first season, then was dealt an impossible hand by having to coach a team that was upgrading conferences while losing its best player from the previous year (Alec Peters). They had a young team this season that will be even better the next. Focus on that, not on bringing in a guy who just went winless in the SEC.

I think a step back is inevitable considering Saint Louis is losing two guys like Tramaine Isabell and Javon Bess. Throw in an Atlantic 10 that should be better as a whole, and the Billikens might fade even more. But Travis Ford has a good recruiting class coming in to go alongside a couple solid returners. I think long-term the program is in a much better spot than will be reflected on the court in 2019-20.

For the time being, I think so. The university is committed to keeping him, as demonstrated through some private fundraising to get him a few more bucks, and the team is set up to be really good for a while. Here’s the scary part: There are a ton of job openings west of the Mississippi and most of them can still offer more money. He’s succeeded everywhere he’s been and is going to be a candidate for some big-time jobs moving forward.

Nope.

He can’t leave! Not with so much more Rick Byrd fan fiction for Cam to write!

Five Straight: Looking back at Gonzaga’s run of consecutive Sweet Sixteen appearances

Gonzaga head coach Mark Few and point guard Josh Perkins (left) are in the Sweet Sixteen for the fifth straight season.

The Zags have done something few others have managed in a 64-team field

Gonzaga is playing in the Sweet Sixteen for the fifth straight season, which is something no other team can say right now. It’s also something very few have ever been able to say before.

Since the NCAA Tournament expanded to 64 teams in 1985, there have been only sixteen instances in which a team has advanced to the round of 16 in four or more consecutive seasons. Four straight seems to be the point at which teams drop off; it’s hard to sustain success at that level. Perhaps a magnificent class graduates and a rebuilding year follows. Or maybe the madness of March consumes a team earlier than it should. Regardless, over the years since the field expanded to 64 teams we have seen quality programs hit the four-straight mark but fail to advance past it over and over again.

Ten times, to be specific.


But a few programs have managed to break through the four-year ceiling and extend their runs to five or more. Until this year, only three had done it: Duke, North Carolina and Kansas.

Gonzaga is now among those elites.


So, how did the Zags get here? Let’s break it down year-by-year.

2015

Kevin Pangos and Gary Bell Jr. burst onto the scene as freshmen and developed over their four year careers into, without a doubt, the best Gonzaga backcourt duo of all time.

As freshmen they jumped into a Gonzaga machine that was well-oiled, but not yet performing at the level of the nation’s elites. Their sophomore season saw the Zags earn the first No. 1 ranking and No. 1 seed in program history, and then lose to Wichita State in the round of 32 — though Gary Bell Jr., the team’s lock-down perimeter defender, breaking his foot in that game might just have had something to do with the Shockers getting uncharacteristically hot from behind the arc in that one. Their junior year saw the Zags struggle to a 29-win record and get bounced in the second round by top-seeded Arizona.

But everything came together in their senior season.

Kyle Wiltjer joined the team, as did USC grad transfer Byron Wesley. Przemek Karnowski had developed into a well-polished center as a junior with future NBA lottery pick Domantas Sabonis as his back-up.

The Zags opened the season ranked No. 13 in the AP Poll and climbed as high as No. 2 by February. They lost just twice in the regular season, to Arizona and BYU, and earned a two seed in the NCAA Tournament.

During the first weekend the Zags dispatched North Dakota State and Iowa in Seattle before heading to Houston for the Sweet Sixteen. Gonzaga took down UCLA in Houston to advance to the Elite Eight for the first time in Mark Few’s career, and just the second time in program history, before falling to eventual national champion Duke, 66-52.

2016

This wasn’t supposed to be a rebuilding year, even though Pangos and Bell had been lost to graduation, but it sort of felt like one.

With Karnowski, Wiltjer and Sabonis, the Zags boasted the nation’s best frontcourt and entered the year ranked No. 9 in the AP Poll. But Karnowski suffered a season-ending back injury just five games into the year and Gonzaga struggled to recover.

Redshirt freshman Josh Perkins led a backcourt alongside seniors Eric McClellan and Kyle Dranginis that lacked the starpower Gonzaga fans had grown accustomed to — even though McClellan was named WCC Defensive Player of the Year. That group took a ton of flack as the Zags failed to put together a solid at-large resume.

But, as the season wore on the team figured itself out. Wiltjer and Sabonis may not have formed the nation’s best front court, but they combined to be as lethal of a down-low duo as there was in the country. The Zags split the regular-season WCC title with Saint Mary’s, but then beat both BYU and the Gaels in the WCC Tournament to clinch an 18th consecutive NCAA Tournament appearance.

From there, as an 11-seed, the Zags were sent to Denver.

They took down Seton Hall and Utah before falling victim to the Syracuse zone in a Sweet Sixteen matchup in Chicago.

2017

This is the season that shouldn’t need a recap.

Gonzaga opened the year ranked No. 14 in the AP Poll and did nothing but climb, and win, until the end of February. The Zags opened the season with 29-straight victories.

It was a magnificent coaching job that earned Mark Few National Coach of the Year honors. It was magnificent not just because of the win total, but because of the group he did it with.

In the rotation were veterans in fifth-year senior center Przemek Karnowski — who would become the NCAA’s all-time winningest player that season — along with guards Josh Perkins and Silas Melson.

Beyond those three, it was nothing but new faces.

Three starters were transfers who had never played at Gonzaga before: point guard Nigel Williams-Goss (from Washington), shooting guard Jordan Mathews (from Cal) and power forward Johnathan Williams (from Missouri). Aside from Melson, the reserves were all new, too.

Zach Collins and Killian Tillie were the freshmen who made the biggest splash. But freshman Rui Hachimura and Jeremy Jones, a transfer from Rice in his first eligible season in Spokane, saw minutes as well.

Gonzaga lost on senior night to BYU, which put an end to an otherwise-perfect regular season. But the Zags bounced back and dominated the WCC Tournament en route to landing a one-seed for the second time in program history.

In Denver, the Zags took care of business against South Dakota State and Northwestern, leaving a whining child in their wake.

A tough test against Bob Huggins’ Press Virginia team came next in the Sweet Sixteen and Jordan Mathews’ stank face saved the day.

From there the Zags demolished Xavier to make the first Final Four in program history. Once in Phoenix, the Zags took down a Cinderella South Carolina team to play for the national championship. North Carolina came out on top, but the Zags showed well and established themselves as a legitimate power in the sport.

2018

You’ve maybe noticed a trend here, that Gonzaga doesn’t have rebuilding years. But if ever there was to be one, the post-Final Four run season was it.

The Zags lost Karnowski and Mathews to graduation, Collins to the NBA Draft and Williams-Goss to an early exit. They’d have to rely on the returning players, all of whom were good, mind you, to step into bigger roles. But they’d also have to deal with higher expectations. This team had just made the National Championship, after all.

Gonzaga opened the season ranked No. 18 in the AP Poll, climbed as high as No. 12 and then dropped to No. 20 before climbing even higher to No. 8 entering the NCAA Tournament. The Zags earned a four-seed thanks to a 30-4 record and began the NCAA Tournament close to home in Boise, Idaho.

UNC-Greensboro, with former Zag Kyle Bankhead as an assistant, proved a tough out in the first round. But Zach Norvell’s late heroics pushed the Zags into the second round for the tenth straight season. Norvell stepped up again in the Round of 32, along with Rui Hachimura, as the Zags downed Ohio State to make it to the second weekend for the fourth straight season.

Luck would run out against Florida State though, as Killian Tillie would be a late scratch after suffering an injury in warmups.

2019

Speaking of Florida State, the Zags find themselves in a similar position this season.

Top-seeded Gonzaga faces a fourth-seeded Seminoles team in the Sweet Sixteen this time around. Florida State is as athletic as deep as before, but Gonzaga is even better. The Zags lost Silas Melson and Johnathan Williams from last year’s team, but added players who are just as good if not better in Geno Crandall and Brandon Clarke.

Plus, Tillie’s set to play in this one, knock on wood.

Regardless of what happens tonight in Anaheim, this program has done something very few have done before. And that’s something that can’t ever be taken away from the Gonzaga Bulldogs.

11/28: Louisville tops MSU, Duke throttles Indiana, Coach K throttles his jacket, and early thoughts on the NET

Chris Mack got his first signature win as Louisville’s coach Tuesday night when the Cardinals upset Michigan State in overtime. Gary Parrish and Matt Norlander open on that, then get to a lot going on with Duke and its win over Indiana (13:04), including Coach K’s jacket-throwing technique and why Duke team managers run like Usain Bolt at the end of each half. Elsewhere, Nevada had no issues with Loyola-Chicago (26:09). Unfortunately, Vanderbilt’s NCAA tourney chances could be doomed with Darius Garland likely out fot the year (33:33). The pod wraps with a lively discussion about the NCAA’s NET rankings making their debut this week (41:05). GP and Norlander closed on whether college basketball fans should really be concerned about the algorithm and what the NCAA should’ve done differently to avoid yet another public relations nightmare.

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Gonzaga defeats Florida State 72-58 in the Sweet 16

Rui Hachimura draws a foul on 7-foot-4 center Christ Koumadje.

Gonzaga’s March continues after a tough, physical battle with the 4 seed Seminoles in Anaheim.

It was a defense versus offense battle in the Sweet 16 and the offense came out on top… and looked like a solid defense, too.

Rui Hachimura led the way for Gonzaga with 17 points while Brandon Clarke added 15 points, 12 rebounds and five blocks. Florida State’s length frustrated the Zags, who scored well below their season average and managed just 0.986 points per possession.

But Gonzaga’s defense was even more stifling than the Seminoles’.

Florida State committed 14 turnovers on the night, nine of which came in the first half. The Seminoles shot 39.3 percent from the field and a measly 15 percent from three. Gonzaga, on the other hand, managed considerably better at 36.8 percent from long range.

The Seminoles’ athleticism and length frustrated Gonzaga, but it didn’t deter the Zags from doing what they always do. Despite looking undersized against the Seminoles, Gonzaga pounded the ball inside. The Zags actually relied on the three ball less in this game than they did over the course of the season.

Gonzaga caught a lucky break early on as 7-foot-4 center Christ Koumadje (8 points) picked up two quick fouls and went to the bench. The Seminoles have relied on their bench all season, but injuries and tragedy have shortened the rotation.

Without Koumadje’s rim protection for most of the first half, the Zags were able to get into the paint. Josh Perkins alone scored six of his 10 in the first in the lane.

Coming out of halftime, Koumadje quickly picked up two more fouls. But, unlike in the first half, Florida State didn’t wilt. The Seminoles pulled even closer. Gonzaga led by as many as 14 points and 11 at the break.

Trent Forrest (20 points) put Florida State on his back in the second half, when he scored 15 of his points, and the Seminoles repeatedly cut the Zags lead to three possessions. But it seemed they could never pull closer than seven points.

Then, Zach Norvell Jr. (14 points) picked up his fourth foul with 9:08 to play and the Zags began to look rattled. With 4:11 to play, the Seminoles really broke through as Forrest hit a free throw to pull his team within four. Gonzaga, on the other hand, was missing the front end of one-and-ones.

The Seminoles put together an 11-3 run to make it a game.

Just as Florida State looked ready to take hold of the momentum, the Seminoles went ice cold. The Zags answered Florida State’s run with a 12-2 run of their own to close the game.

Gonzaga showed composure and poise down the stretch like the veteran team it is. The Zags advance to the Elite Eight for the fourth time in program history and third time this decade, and will face the winner of No. 3 Texas Tech vs. No. 2 Michigan.

2019 NCAA Tournament Viewing Guide: Midwest and East Regional Finals; Sunday, March 31

Hopefully, these two games will meet or exceed the excitement of Saturday’s thrillers.

All times are Eastern. You can stream all games on the NCAA’s March Madness Live.

Normal service resumes today, as CBS airs both of Sunday’s regional semifinals.


Graphic by Chris Dobbertean using logos from SportsLogos.net.

Historical data from College Basketball Reference’s Matchup Finder.

2:20 p.m., Midwest Regional Final (Kansas City) on CBS

Announcers: Ian Eagle/Jim Spanarkel with Jamie Erdahl reporting

March Madness Live link

No. 5 Auburn Tigers (29-9, SEC automatic bid) vs.
No. 2 Kentucky Wildcats (30-6, SEC at-large)

KenPom predicted score: UK 73, AU 71

If Auburn is going to join Texas Tech in reaching a first-ever Final Four, the Tigers will need to avenge a season sweep at the hands of Kentucky, which is aiming to return for the first time since 2015. The Wildcats blasted Bruce Pearl’s club by 27 at Rupp Arena on February 23rd, a little more than a month after they escaped Auburn Arena with an 82-80 win. Auburn will likely play inspired basketball after Chuma Okeke left Friday’s regional semifinal with a devastating knee injury, which turned out to be an ACL tear. But you have to wonder how much the Tigers will miss such an efficient performer, particularly against a Wildcat squad that got PJ Washington back for Friday’s narrow win over Houston.

This afternoon’s winner will face South champion Virginia on Saturday.

5:05 p.m., East Regional Final (Washington, D.C.) on CBS

Announcers: Jim Nantz/Bill Raftery/Grant Hill with Tracy Wolfson reporting

March Madness Live link

No. 2 Michigan State Spartans (31-6, Big Ten automatic bid) vs.
No. 1 Duke Blue Devils (32-5, ACC automatic bid)

Tonight’s winner will end a four-year Final Four drought, as the Blue Devils defeated the Spartans by 20 in the national semifinals in 2015. The 2018-19 season is a rare one this decade that didn’t feature a Duke-Sparty matchup, thanks to the Champions Classic and ACC/Big Ten Challenge. However, it’s been 14 years and six days since Michigan State last defeated Duke, a 78-68 Sweet Sixteen victory that sent the Spartans to a classic regional final against Kentucky that they won, 94-88. The Blue Devils have won seven straight in the series since. Making matters worse for Tom Izzo, Mike Krzyzewski has really had his number. Michigan State is 1-12 against Duke since the 1993-94 season.

Given how the Spartans took LSU apart on Friday night and Duke struggled to survive Virginia Tech, MSU might not have a better chance to improve upon that record.

Texas Tech awaits the winner of this one.

KenPom predicted score: MSU 77, DU 76

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Tommy Amaker’s Harvard basketball team should be even better next year

Tommy Amaker watches his Harvard team battle North Carolina on Jan. 2, 2019 at the Dean Dome in Chapel Hill, N.C.

The Crimson shared the Ivy League regular season title this year, and did so without Seth Towns. Next year, Towns, Bryce Aiken and the rest of the gang are back.

RALEIGH, N.C. — Bryce Aiken was visibly disappointed. He stood at the top of the key, head hanging, with his hands on his knees.

With seven seconds left and his Harvard Crimson trailing N.C. State by two points, Aiken had the ball and then lost it. It was a costly turnover in the second round of the National Invitation Tournament.

As C.J. Bryce swished the first free throw for the Wolfpack, Aiken shook his head. When Bryce sank the second, a four-letter word left Aiken’s mouth.

Aiken’s Crimson teammate Rio Haskett would sink a three-pointer with two seconds left, but N.C. State inbounded the ball cleanly and eluded a Harvard foul. For Aiken, Haskett and Harvard — the last men’s college basketball team standing in the Ivy League — their season and NIT run came to a halt in the historic Reynolds Coliseum last Sunday night, losing by a single point.

“Tough loss for us,” Harvard head coach Tommy Amaker said. “I was proud of our kids for the effort that we put forth. We made it an interesting game going all the way down to the wire, but not enough to beat a good basketball team in this building, in this environment.”

The loss, of course, was an extremely disheartening way for Harvard’s season to end. In Amaker’s 12th year at the helm of the Crimson, they went 19-11 and captured a share of the regular season Ivy League title. They took a non-conference win over NCAA Tournament-bound Saint Mary’s, won two-of-three meetings with Yale, and beat Georgetown in their NIT opener.

And then the Crimson pushed N.C. State — a KenPom top 50 team with a win over Auburn and a 9-9 record in the ACC — to the brink.

Harvard was undone by 17 turnovers and a 26.3 percent three-point shooting performance. The Crimson also allowed the Wolfpack to grab 17 offensive boards. That didn’t help their chances of pulling off a postseason road upset over an ACC team either.

“In the second half, how much they got off the backboard made a huge difference,” Amaker said.

When seasons come to a close for college basketball teams, it’s difficult to immediately look ahead. For a lot of squads, it’s the last competitive game many players will play in. Seniors are moving on. Tears are rolling.

But with Harvard, it’s tough to not look forward.

And it’s hard to feel anything but optimistic about what’s next for the Crimson.


Mitchell Northam / Mid-Major Madness
Harvard’s Bryce Aiken prepares to inbound the ball against N.C. State in the second round of the NIT on March 24, 2019 in Raleigh, N.C.

Next year, Aiken and three other starters — Noah Kirkwood, Chris Lewis and Justin Bassey — are back. And so are the four bench players Amaker relied on the most: Haskett, Christian Juzang, Danilo Djuricic and Robert Baker, who each averaged between 14 and 30 minutes of playing time per game.

“Things always look a certain way on paper,” Amaker said. “We had the player of the year, Seth Towns, who didn’t play for us at all this year. So, we’re hopeful. These guys will have the energy and attitude throughout the offseason and fall that will allow us to try and get better and do the best we can.”

Indeed. Did we forget about Towns?

A 6-foot-7 forward from Columbus, Ohio, he was heralded as a three- and four-star prospect by many recruiting sites. According to 247sports, he held offers from Michigan, Ohio State, Butler, Iowa, Purdue, Virginia Tech and Xavier, among others. He chose Amaker and Harvard, and as a sophomore was named Ivy League Player of the Year and earned All-American Honorable Mention status while averaging about 16 points, six rebounds and two assists per game, and shooting 44 percent from three-point range. On Dec. 2, 2017, he dropped 25 points on then-ranked No. 7 Kentucky.

To start the 2018-19 season, he was on the watch list for the Lou Henson award. But Towns never saw game action for Harvard this season as he battled and recovered from an apparent knee injury.

In short: Towns is not the typical type of talent that lands in the Ivy League. But neither are many of the guys that make up this Harvard roster.

Aiken, a dynamic 6-foot guard, chose a Harvard education over joining the basketball squads at Miami, Seton Hall, Auburn, Buffalo, Florida State and Rhode Island. 247sports tabbed the Elizabeth, N.J. native as a four-star prospect. He battled a knee injury this year too, but returned just in time for Ivy League play and averaged 22.2 points, 2.9 rebounds and 2.6 assists per game.

He scored 19 points against N.C. State and gave Wolfpack defenders all they could handle.

“[Aiken] has a really good hesitation game,” N.C. State’s Devon Daniels said. “He’s very crafty with his off arm. He’s a great competitor. It was fun.”


Mitchell Northam / Mid-Major Madness
Harvard’s Chris Lewis releases a floater over an N.C. State defender in a second round NIT game in Raleigh, N.C. on March 24, 2019.

Chris Lewis, another four-star prospect that Amaker landed in that 2016 class, was also big in that game. The Alpharetta, Georgia native is the son of former NFL linebacker Mo Lewis — you may know him as the guy that sent Drew Bledsoe to the hospital with an Earth-shaking hit, which kickstarted Tom Brady’s career. Chris had offers from Georgia Tech, Memphis, Miami, Notre Dame, New Mexico and Texas A&M. He is the highest-rated recruit to choose Harvard under Amaker.

At Harvard, the tough 6-foot-9 forward has become the Crimson’s enforcer in the paint. He averaged 10.2 points and five rebounds per game this year while shooting nearly 60 percent from the floor. After putting up 16 points, four blocks and seven rebounds against the Wolfpack, N.C. State head coach Kevin Keatts called Lewis a “legitimate post threat.”

The absence of Towns this season allowed other Crimson players to step up, one of which was Noah Kirkwood. Pegged as a four-star combo guard from Northfield, Massachusetts by 247sports, Kirkwood held offers from Tulane, Pitt, George Washington, Texas, Vanderbilt, Virginia, Virginia Tech, St. Bonaventure and Wichita State. He opted for the Ivy League and lit it up as a freshman this past season, taking home the league’s Rookie of the Year award while averaging 11.1 points, 4.4 rebounds and 1.9 assists per game while shooting 39.8 percent from three-point range.

Kirkwood was leading the way for Harvard during stretches against N.C. State, showing off his ability to handle the ball, shoot and defend. He totaled 19 points, five assists and four rebounds, but fouled out with about six minutes to play. Harvard trailed by just a point by that moment. Had Kirkwood remained in the contest, Harvard might’ve survived.

“[Kirkwood is] such an integral part in everything we do,” Amaker said. “We need his ability to play-make. He’s a ball handler. With Aiken being that main guy for us, we need that second guy, and Kirkwood has been that for us all season. Not having him really hurt.”


Mitchell Northam / Mid-Major Madness
Harvard’s Noah Kirkwood drives to the basket against N.C. State on March 24, 2019 during a second round NIT game in Raleigh, N.C.

Amaker has turned Harvard into legitimate winners.

Since arriving on campus in 2007 after a six-year stint at Michigan, the former Duke guard has led the Crimson to seasons of 18-or-more wins nine times. They’ve been to the NCAA Tournament four times and the NIT three times. Amaker’s Harvard teams have a 69 percent winning percentage in Ivy League play and 230 overall wins. And when facing the conference he used to play in, the ACC, Amaker’s Crimson teams are 8-6.

Despite not having Towns all season, Aiken missing nearly half of it, falling in the Ivy League title game to Yale, and losing to N.C. State in the final moments of a second round NIT game, this season was a win for Harvard.

Still, hunger for more remains.

“I’m proud of what we accomplished,” Amaker said. “We didn’t do all that we wanted, but we were certainly able to accomplish a lot with what we went through with injuries. Winning the regular season in our conference was a significant achievement and losing the conference tournament championship was a big blow.

“We’ll get a chance to really reflect and digest it all, and I think we’ll feel like we accomplished a lot, but not as much as we want.”

That’s OK. Next season, Harvard will be even better.

2019 NCAA Tournament Viewing Guide: West and South Regional Finals; Saturday, March 30

Remember that both of today’s games are on TBS, not CBS. Three of the four teams involved in this doubleheader can end long Final Four droughts.

All times are Eastern. You can stream all games on the NCAA’s March Madness Live.

TBS will air both games.

If you turn to CBS at 6 p.m. Eastern expecting to see basketball, you’ll likely encounter your local news in the Eastern and Central time zones and filler programming out West. #youareinformed #youarewarned


Graphic by Chris Dobbertean using logos from SportsLogos.net.

Historical data from College Basketball Reference’s Matchup Finder.

6:09 p.m., West Regional Final (Anaheim) on TBS

Announcers: Kevin Harlan/Reggie Miller/Dan Bonner with Dana Jacobson reporting

March Madness Live link

No. 3 Texas Tech Red Raiders (29-6, Big 12 at-large) vs.
No. 1 Gonzaga Bulldogs (33-3, WCC at-large)

KenPom predicted score: GU 72, TTU 69

Of the four teams taking the floor tonight, Texas Tech is the only one aiming to reach its first Final Four. Gonzaga made its first just two years ago. The last time the Bulldogs and Red Raiders met, Tech came out on top, but that was in November of 2008. Bobby Knight was Texas Tech’s coach then, and a 73-63 victory put the Red Raiders in the Great Alaska Shootout final, lost to Butler. However, Gonzaga and Texas Tech do have an NCAA Tournament meeting in their history, as a sixth-seeded Tech team knocked off a third-seeded Zags squad in 2005’s second round in Tucson, 71-69.

Hopefully, tonight’s game will be just as thrilling as that one was.

8:49 p.m., South Regional Final (Louisville) on TBS

Announcers: Brian Anderson/Chris Webber with Allie LaForce reporting

March Madness Live link

No. 3 Purdue Boilermakers (26-9, Big Ten at-large) vs.
No. 1 Virginia Cavaliers (32-3, ACC at-large)

KenPom predicted score: UVa 67, PU 63

While both Virginia’s long Final Four drought, dating back to 1984, and Tony Bennett’s squads struggles in ending it are well known, Purdue has gone even longer without reaching the promised land — the Boilermakers’ 1980 appearance was only their second after a 1969 runner-up finish.

Both recent Virginia-Purdue matchups have come in Big Ten-ACC Challenges, and you can bet a rematch is probably on the cards for next December. In 2000, Virginia defeated Purdue in Charlottesville by the somewhat unbelievable score of 98-79, though Pete Gillen led the Cavaliers back then. The Boilermakers got a bit of revenge in a 2006 rematch, a 61-59 win in West Lafayette, though Dave Leitao was on the Virginia bench at that time.

This evening’s game will probably be closer in score to the most recent meeting, but Purdue will undoubtedly try to speed Virginia up just a bit.

Note that tonight’s winners will have to wait until tomorrow to learn their opponents for next Saturday, as the West winner meets the East champ in Minneapolis, while the Midwest and South are paired up.

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11/30: Michigan looks as good as any team in college hoops; Bob Knight documentary; weekend rundown

Michigan is 7-0 with blowout wins over the past two national champions. And the Wolverines are, once again, excellent defensively thanks to John Beilein’s hiring of Luke Yaklich. Matt Norlander and Gary Parrish open this episode by discussing what appears to be the Big Ten’s best team.

After that, the conversation went like this:

7:03: Roy Williams said North Carolina stinks. Is he right?

11:52: The Bob Knight 30 For 30 — “The Last Days of Knight” — made its television debut on Thursday. The guys spent a few minutes discussing the controversial coaching icon. There’s also a bacon story from Parrish.

24:50: Weekend preview, including Gonzaga-Creighton, Nevada-USC, Arizona-UConn and Oregon-Houston. 

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12/02: Lagerald Vick saves Kansas; Nevada exceeding the hype; comparing the CFP to the NCAA Tournament

There were no major upsets this weekend. But a handful of good teams — No. 1 Gonzaga, No. 2 Kansas, No. 20 Texas Tech, etc., — were pushed by unranked opponents. The pod opens on that, then gets to Lagerald Vick and Kansas (3:09) and Nevada’s 8-0 start (12:43). On Sunday, Arizona got to 6-2 (20:17). Is Sean Miller going to get the Wildcats back to the NCAA Tournament even though most predicted he wouldn’t? As for UConn (24:45), Akok Akok committed, which is big. Then the fun begins. Norlander has Parrish play “Guess the Celebrity” (28:31) and the guys wrap with a wide-ranging conversation on the College Football Playoff and how it compares to the NCAA Tournament process (37:10). 

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12/05: Oklahoma seems like it's better without Trae Young; Kansas' big injury; Fred Hoiberg's chances of returning to college

Matt Norlander was at Madison Square Garden on Tuesday night for a doubleheader featuring Oklahoma-Notre Dame and Florida-West Virginia. This episode opens on that, and specifically: Is Oklahoma better without Trae Young? Florida (6:17) beat West Virginia, but pro prospect Jalen Hudson is oddly a non-factor. It’s weird. In injury news, Kansas (10:30) big man Udoka Azubuike suffered a right ankle injury in Tuesday’s win over Wofford that’s expected to sideline him for a significant amount of time. The Miami Hurricanes (13:22) have lost four straight games for the first time under Jim Larranaga. How did the Hurricanes go from 5-0 to 5-4 with losses to Seton Hall, Rutgers, Yale and Penn? The pod closes with a discussion about the Chicago Bulls firing Fred Hoiberg (19:13). Is a return to college basketball inevitable? 

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Gonzaga falls short against Texas Tech, 75-69

The Red Raiders and their grinding defense just took the last bit of fun out of the basketball season.

A wild ending, a missed call, and an untimely mental breakdown combined to end Gonzaga’s season with a 75-69 loss to Texas Tech in the Elite Eight.

Sure, it was a close game with 11 ties and 12 lead changes. But it was also abhorrently ugly because of Texas Tech’s style of play. Neither team shot the ball well. There were multiple extended stretches where both teams went scoreless for minutes at a time.

The Zags turned the ball over on 16 occasions but it could well have been 20 or more. Texas Tech had countless deflections that led to loose ball scrambles, which quite often ended up as easy buckets for the Zags.

Complete and utter breakdowns that barely resembled basketball led to a good bit of the scoring in this one. Very cool.

This is, of course, Texas Tech’s calling card. The Red Raiders own the nation’s best defense, per KenPom. Gonzaga, for what it’s worth, was on a per-possession basis actually better than Texas Tech over the 25 games prior to this one. So, the fault for this being an ugly game isn’t all on Texas Tech.

Gonzaga found success inside early with Rui Hachimura (22 points) knocking down elbow jumpers and getting to the rim. Brandon Clarke (18 points, 12 rebounds) did his damage down low as well. As that was happening, Norense Odiase picked up two quick fouls. It looked like the Zags might make easy work of things.

But Texas Tech recovered and effectively kept the Zags away from the basket from that point forward. Only 26 of the Bulldogs’ 69 points came in the paint. When Gonzaga did manage to pass the ball into the teeth of the Red Raiders’ defense, it often resulted in a turnover. Clarke alone committed six, mostly while trying to make his signature spin move into the paint.

So, the Zags were forced to shoot over the Red Raiders. 26 of the team’s 59 shots came from behind the arc, which is uncommon for a team like Gonzaga that really does not rely on the three ball. Of those 26 shots, only seven went in. And of the ones that missed, three missed everything.

Neither team led by more than five at any point over the first 38-plus minutes of play. So it was an exciting and enthralling game. But even when teams were trading buckets and control of the lead, it never looked particularly pretty. Which, unfortunately for the basketball viewing public, is exactly what Texas Tech wanted.

Down the stretch, two bizarre plays spelled Gonzaga’s doom. First, with the Red Raiders up six, Tariq Owens blocked a Clarke three. Owens then attempted to save the ball but was clearly out of bounds. There was no whistle and eventually Texas Tech extended its lead to seven on a free throw.

Then, amid a furious Zags comeback, Zach Norvell made a layup to cut the deficit to two with 14 seconds left. Josh Perkins went to guard the inbounder but inadvertently reached over the baseline and committed a foul. The resulting call was a technical, which effectively ended the game.

The Red Raiders are off to the Final Four for the first time in program history and will face the winner of Michigan State and Duke.

5 questions as Eric Henderson takes the reins at South Dakota State

What the Jackrabbits have to do in the post-Otzelberger era

Everyone was on the way out the door in Brookings, South Dakota on Wednesday. T.J. Otzelberger departed to become UNLV’s next head coach, while his South Dakota State Jackrabbits were about to endure some heavy roster turnover — most notably the loss of the Summit League’s all-time leading scorer, Mike Daum.

But one man is staying at southeast South Dakota. His name is Eric Henderson.

Say hello the Jackrabbits’ new head coach.

Serving as associate head coach during Otzelberger’s three-year run, Henderson was elevated to lead the Jackrabbits on the same day it was announced that Otzelberger was leaving for the desert.

”Eric has been a big part of the success that we have had at South Dakota State,” athletic director Justin Sell said in a statement. “His energy and enthusiasm for the game, and for the student-athletes he coaches, are infectious. He is a tremendous teacher and no doubt is prepared to lead our men’s basketball program to continued success.”

Prior to joining the South Dakota State staff, Henderson, a graduate at Wayne State (Neb.), had never held an official title as a coach at a Division I school. He had previously served as an assistant at Wayne State, and he coached high school basketball at Burlington Catholic Central in Burlington, Wisconsin. There was also a stop at Wayne Community School, and stints at Iowa State as a graduate manager and learning specialist.

But his big break came when Otzelberger added him to the Jackrabbits’ staff. Now he’s the 22nd head coach in the program’s history, but only the third since Scott Nagy took over in 1995.

Here are a few question that loom for Henderson as he takes over:

1. What is he getting himself into?

A challenge, that’s for sure. A lot of familiar faces will depart, including Daum, Skyler Flatten, Tevin King and Brandon Key. North Dakota State and South Dakota State have traded Summit League championships this decade, and North Dakota State left Sioux Falls with the league tournament crown this year. So perhaps the pendulum is swinging back toward the Bison, and perhaps that swing will hasten with Otzelberger’s departure.

2. What happens with David Jenkins Jr.?

All the attention among Jackrabbit fans shifts to the team’s best player — a soon-to-be junior from Tacoma, Washington. There were whispers that Jenkins would follow Otzelberher wherever he landed, and a move out west would get Jenkins closer to home. Having already surpassed the 1,000-point mark with relative ease, retaining the scoring guard would be an absolute must if the Jackrabbits hope to enjoy success next season. So now it’s up to Jenkins to make a decision one way or another.

3. Was it a knee-jerk reaction to hire Henderson so quickly?

It seems like the Henderson hire was all about retaining someone who had a relationship with Jenkins. The hope would be to keep him for the next two seasons, and hopefully put enough talent around him to compete for a league championship.

4. What’s on the horizon for the Jackrabbits?

Perhaps some tough times; perhaps sustained success. It really could boil down to whatever Jenkins decides to do. There are eight other Summit League coaches hoping he leaves the league, that much is for sure. But even if he stays, he’ll have to immediately mesh with mostly soon-to-be sophomores, unless Henderson dips into the JUCO or grad-transfer ranks.

03/30: Duke's getting lucky, sure, but let's also get into how enjoyable that Sweet 16 was

To start, Parrish and Norlander open with Duke barely escaping — again — thanks to a bunny missed at the buzzer. Virginia Tech almost had it. But you know who’s to thank for Duke moving on? Tre Jones. From there, the guys preview Duke-Michigan State (8:45), then talk the West/Gonzaga vs. Texas Tech (13:20), the South/Virginia-Purdue (21:00) and the Midwest/Kentucky vs. Auburn (33:40).

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12/07: Gonzaga's Rui Hachimura might be the POY so far — and here comes a huge test vs. Tennessee this weekend

Gary Parrish and Matt Norlander look ahead to a stacked weekend of good college hoops, but start at the top with Duke landing Vernon Carey Jr., the No. 2 prospect in the class of 2019. From there, predictions and chatter on undefeated Nevada playing undefeated Arizona State late Friday night (6:49). And on Saturday, Kentucky-Seton Hall (15:20) leads off a loaded day slate. Also going down Louisville-Indiana and Wisconsin-Marquette’s big games (18:20) and the CBS noon tip on Saturday of Michigan State-Florida (20:20). And yes, Buffalo — unbeaten! — gets some shine (23:50). The big game on Sunday is Gonzaga-Tennessee (26:35), but there’s something the guys have to address with Texas (33:15), which has a big game vs. Purdue.

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Does getting a No. 1 seed matter?

Duke

(goduke.com)

On Selection Sunday morning, I wondered aloud why people still get so wrapped up in the question of who gets a No. 1 seed when it’s been six years now since Ken Pomeroy showed that it really doesn’t matter in basketball terms.

The first batch of answers to my query muddled the distinction between cause and effect. Yes, No. 1 seeds have a great track record of getting to the Sweet 16 and the Final Four and winning national titles. Top seeds also tend to be the best teams.

A far better response I received was that arguing about who should get a No. 1 seed is fun and, besides, receiving a top seed is a really cool honor. No disagreements there.

Perhaps we could talk about No. 1 seeds in that vein henceforth, more like an MVP award than as something dispositive to title hopes going forward. It’s a venerable honorific with some nice history behind it, and it provides its own ready-made zero-sum boxing ring for debate. That’s fine.

We can do all of the above while also understanding that getting a No. 1 seed makes, in effect, no discernible difference in tournament performance. For example, it is indeed a potentially weighty basketball matter that Duke and Michigan State are in the same region. It makes exactly zero difference, however, what number happens to be printed beside which team.

More specifically, getting a top seed has made no significant difference in a team’s chances to reach the Sweet 16 in the KenPom era versus what that same team would have experienced as a No. 2 seed. The data is persuasive, but, before we go there, do we even need the data? Spoiler alert, what about the No. 10 seeds that teams on the No. 2 line get to play on occasion?

If we truly think opponent seed is so crucial and that it really does benefit a team on the top line, then we should make a No. 1-seed-level big deal out of a No. 10 seed winning in the round of 64. It should be a big story because that event at one stroke nullifies the whole weak-opponent advantage that top seeds are supposed to receive.

The fact that we do no such thing, however, suggests that once games are actually happening we’ve jettisoned our attentive concern for the question of which teams get No. 1 seeds. That is likely a good thing.

Indeed, instead of discussing the No. 1 vs. 2 seed question in terms of tendencies and averages, a better way to think of it might be as more like a game show. For instance, a round of 32 opponent will tend to be, on average, very slightly weaker for a top seed than for a No. 2 seed.

Round of 32 opponent strength, 2002-19

                         KenPom AdjEM
No. 1 seed opponent         +16.38      
No. 2 seed opponent         +17.76                               

The key term there, however, is “on average.” It turns out the variance in round of 32 opponent strength for No. 2 seeds is six times as large as what No. 1 seeds see. For the most part, this variance represents the difference between Nos. 7 and 10 seeds.

In short, top seeds aren’t distinguished by the fact that they get weak round of 32 opponents as much as they are by the fact that their opponents in the second round are comparatively easy to forecast in terms of their level of strength. That is far less true with any other seed line, including the No. 2 seeds.

So, if you’re the contestant on the bracket game show, the question is this:

Do you want the piece of mind that comes from being a top seed and getting a pretty well defined level of opponent strength in the round of 32, or do you want to take a shot at getting a much weaker opponent, possibly even the weakest opponent ever faced by a No. 1 or 2 seed in the round of 32 in the KenPom era, No. 10 seed Alabama in 2006 (+11.05)? By saying yes to a No. 2 seed, you’re taking a one-in-three chance that your opponent in the round of 32 will actually be weaker than the average opponent for a No. 1 seed.

Moreover, the difference in opponent strength in the round of 32 for top seeds vs. No. 2 seeds shown above is, as you would expect, overwhelmed numerically by the gulf in the quality of the teams on the top two lines themselves.

Average team strength, 2002-19

                         KenPom AdjEM
No. 1 seeds                 +28.71      
No. 2 seeds                 +25.20                               

In basketball terms, what matters is how good you are and how good your opponent is. The question of whether the NCAA hands you a No. 1 or a No. 2 seed doesn’t change the first answer at all and has, as we’ve seen, a relationship to the second answer in the round of 32 that varies between weak and outright paradoxical.

What if we had eight regions instead of four? Would we ponder how the committee drew the line between the Nos. 8 and 9 teams? What if teams were numbered from 1 to 68? Same teams, same bracket, same rims, ball, court, etc. What would that seeding debate look like?

When I was being forced to learn about semiotics at length and repeatedly in grad school, I remember thinking it was rather a waste of time. The robust annual discussions of No. 1 seeds as something that really can make or break a team’s tournament chances, however, prove that I owe semiotics a big apology.

The signifier “1” next to a team’s name exerts a completely non-sports pull on the deepest and most fundamental portion of our brains that no amount of basketball information will ever dispel. So be it. MVP awards are a cool honor and fun to debate.