If you don't already have the impression that Ole Miss coach Andy Kennedy is having more fun than any other college basketball coach in the nation, you probably will after watching his latest production.

Ole Miss released a video this week encouraging Rebels fans to get their season tickets for the upcoming season in the renovated $90 million Pavilion. In the ad, Kennedy plays his alter ego, coach Randy Kennedy, who whips and nae nae's to Silentó's song, "Watch Me."

We first met Randy Kennedy, who lives in his mother's basement, earlier this year in another season-ticket ad.

Andy Kennedy has built Ole Miss into a program annually expected to finish in the upper-tier of the SEC and that isn't expected to change this year. Kennedy also takes himself far less seriously than some of his peers and we can all appreciate that.

Looking forward to the next edition.

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[Kyle Ringo is the assistant editor of The Dagger on Yahoo Sports. Have a tip? Email him at kyle.ringo@yahoo.com or follow him on Twitter! Follow @KyleRingo

Author: Kyle Ringo
Posted: September 3, 2015, 12:04 am

The tight grip Harvard has maintained on first place in the Ivy League the past few seasons may be starting to loosen.

The Crimson announced Wednesday they won't have their most indispensable player this season.

Starting point guard Siyani Chambers tore his ACL during workouts and will miss the entire 2015-16 season. Chambers, who has averaged at least 34 minutes per game the past three seasons, will take a voluntary year-long absence from school to avoid Harvard's no-redshirt policy and will return for his senior season the following year.

The absence of Chambers leaves Harvard without its three leading scorers from last year's 22-win team that won the Ivy League and lost by two against North Carolina in the opening round of the NCAA tournament. Ivy League player of the year Wesley Saunders and starting big man Steve Moundou-Missi both graduated this past spring.

Without those three, Harvard's leading returning scorer is guard Corbin Miller, a 6-2 sharpshooter who averaged 8.2 points per game last season. Freshman Tommy McCarthy could be forced into starting as a freshman at point guard the same way Chambers was, while returners Zena Edosomwan and Evan Cummins are likely to anchor the frontcourt.

That young, inexperienced core has not proven enough to enter the season as the Ivy League favorite.

Columbia will likely inherit that role thanks to the return of standout guard Maodo Lo and all-league forward Alex Rosenberg, who missed all of last season with a foot injury. Yale and Princeton also both have enough returning talent to contend.

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Jeff Eisenberg is the editor of The Dagger on Yahoo Sports. Have a tip? Email him at daggerblog@yahoo.com or follow him on Twitter!

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Author: Jeff Eisenberg
Posted: September 2, 2015, 3:32 pm

There is a big decision looming around the Kansas basketball program and it could impact whether the Jayhawks have the kind of roster that could compete for a national title this season.

Kansas has already cleared five-star forward Cheick Diallo and allowed him to enroll in classes for the fall semester, but he hasn't been cleared by the NCAA Eligibility Center. Coach Bill Self told reporters at a local charity golf tournament this week that he believes Diallo will be cleared to play for the Jayhawks this season, but he also acknowledged there is uncertainty about what is holding up the process.

Diallo attended Our Savior New American in Centereach, New York, a school that has come under scrutiny. Alabama and Oklahoma State each had recruits from the school ruled ineligible, but other schools have successfully added players from the school.

“The thing about it is ... it’s been mis-reported a lot — that there’s been good news, bad news," Self told KUSports.com. "There hasn’t been any news because the NCAA hasn’t told us no on Cheick. They haven’t told us yes. But also we haven’t wanted them to tell us anything yet, either, because I think it’s nice to see how things play out with other kids who went to that school so we have a better angle of what we’re trying to address, than just going in there cold saying, ‘Here’s your stuff, make a determination.’’’

KUSports.com reported that Self believes the school will have some answers about Diallo soon and that Self feels 'confident' that he will ultimately be cleared to play for the Jayhawks. Of course, no one wants Diallo to be cleared more than Self, who has seen a potential star in the 6-foot-9 forward in early workouts. Diallo won the MVP award at the McDonald's All-American game in April.

Rivals.com rated Diallo the No. 5 overall recruit in the nation in the 2015 class.

“We’ve never had a big guy that could run like this,” Self told KUSports.com. “It’d be nice to have a mindset to play at a much faster tempo than we have in the past ... Cheick forces a pace that nobody has ever forced here. He can create pace better than any point guard we’ve ever had here. Just because the dude from rim to rim is as good as I’ve seen. I didn’t say the best offensive player, but running rim to rim I think he’ll drag everybody along with him. I also think it forces us to play at a faster pace when your big guys run like that.”

 

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[Kyle Ringo is the assistant editor of The Dagger on Yahoo Sports. Have a tip? Email him at kyle.ringo@yahoo.com or follow him on Twitter! Follow @KyleRingo

Author: Kyle Ringo
Posted: September 2, 2015, 12:42 am

Tom Izzo takes a turn on the accordion at MSU's farewell dinner in Venice. pic.twitter.com/yft5m7AjiW

— Spartan Basketball (@MSU_Basketball) August 31, 2015

Michigan State finished its four-game trip to Italy 1-3, but coach Tom Izzo still came away feeling positive about what he saw from the Spartans. In fact, he was happy enough to forget basketball for a few minutes and play the accordion during the team's farewell dinner.

“This trip was as good as anything I’ve done in my 20 years,” Izzo said of the team's trip in a story published on the Michigan State athletic department website.

The Spartans opened the trip with a win over Basket Fiorentina but then lost to the Russian, Italian and Georgian senior national teams in succession. The Spartans had a chance to beat the Georgian national team on a last second shot that hit the back of the iron and bounced away.

It wasn't the first time Izzo has played the accordion in public. He played 'Jingle Bells' during his radio show a few years ago with players singing along and he donned the instrument during Midnight Madness last season when he was dressed as a member of the rock band KISS.

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[Kyle Ringo is the assistant editor of The Dagger on Yahoo Sports. Have a tip? Email him at kyle.ringo@yahoo.com or follow him on Twitter! Follow @KyleRingo

Author: Kyle Ringo
Posted: September 1, 2015, 8:28 pm

When the Big Ten released its schedule for next season on Thursday evening, it proved once again that not all league slates are created equally. Here's a look at which contenders caught breaks with the teams they'll see twice and which contenders drew the short straw.

1. WHO DID BO RYAN MAKE MAD?: If Bo Ryan is going to extend his remarkable streak of finishing in the top four in the Big Ten every season he has been at Wisconsin, he might receive some national coach of the year consideration. Not only did the Badgers lose Frank Kaminsky, Sam Dekker and Josh Gasser from last year's national runner-ups, they also drew maybe the toughest conference schedule of any Big Ten team. The five Big Ten teams Wisconsin will face twice next season? Maryland, Michigan State, Indiana, Purdue and Illinois. That's the preseason league favorite, three other top contenders, a fifth NCAA tournament hopeful and none of the league's bottom-tier programs. Ouch. Other players will have to step up to support returning standouts Nigel Hayes and Bronson Koenig for the Badgers to survive that gauntlet. 

2. MARYLAND'S ROAD IS ROUGH TOO: Maryland enters the season as a leading contender nationally, but the Terps will be challenged plenty in league play. They drew a difficult Big Ten schedule in which some of their toughest games come on the road. The five teams they'll play twice are Michigan, Ohio State, Purdue, Wisconsin and Northwestern, the first four of which are projected to reach the NCAA tournament. And while Northwestern probably won't be one of the league's elite teams next season, the Wildcats do return their four leading scorers from last season. Of the Big Ten teams Maryland only plays once, the Terps will face the two toughest on the road. Maryland visits fellow league title contenders Michigan State on Jan. 23 and Indiana on either March 5 or 6. 

3. PROTECT THE RIVALRY GAMES: The biggest downside to the Big Ten's unbalanced league schedule is that many of the league's premier rivalry games only happen once a year now. In the first season in years that Purdue and Indiana are expected to both contend for the league crown, the Boilermakers' lone game against the Hoosiers will be Feb. 20 in Bloomington. Michigan State and Michigan will meet for the only time in Ann Arbor on Feb. 6. Illinois-Northwestern, Wisconsin-Minnesota and Ohio State-Michigan also will take place only once apiece next season. One way that the league could avoid this problem would be to protect its biggest rivalries by designating one opponent each team will play twice every year. That might be a disadvantage for programs whose rivals are strong every season, but it would be beneficial for fans.

4. INDIANA CATCHES A BREAK: Of the leading contenders for the Big Ten title, Indiana may have gotten the most favorable path. The Hoosiers only face one of the teams expected to finish in the upper half of the league twice, and that's a Wisconsin team that lost a lot of talent from last year. The other four teams Indiana will see twice are respectable Iowa and Illinois and rebuilding Minnesota and Nebraska. That's certainly not a cakewalk of a schedule by any means, but it's much more favorable than it could have been. And in a year when the league title chase should be more wide-open than it was last year when Wisconsin was dominant, that could be the break that Indiana needs.    

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Jeff Eisenberg is the editor of The Dagger on Yahoo Sports. Have a tip? Email him at daggerblog@yahoo.com or follow him on Twitter!

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Author: Jeff Eisenberg
Posted: August 28, 2015, 5:01 pm

Washington hasn't made the NCAA tournament in four years, dropped 10 of its last 12 games last season and returns only three scholarship players.

Sounds pretty bleak, right? Not so fast. 

While the returning trio of standout guard Andrew Andrews and role players Quevyn Winters and Donaven Dorsey won't scare anyone, the Huskies have a much-needed influx of talent set to arrive the next few years. Lorenzo Romar appears to have recaptured the recruiting magic he had during the Huskies' heyday, landing a heralded eight-man class that will debut this coming season and adding three more elite prospects the past few weeks.

On August 5, Class of 2018 power forward Jontay Porter made a surprise early commitment to Washington, a decision that could help the Huskies in two ways. Not only is Porter a potential impact player himself, he's also the younger brother of Class of 2017 five-star recruit Michael Porter

On Friday, five-star Class of 2016 combo guard Markelle Fultz chose Washington over higher-profile teams like Kentucky, Arizona, North Carolina and Louisville. Fultz is the No. 23 recruit in the Rivals 150 and ought to be an ideal fit in Washington's up-tempo system.

On Tuesday, Washington struck again when top 50 Class of 2017 recruit Daejon Davis committed to the Huskies. The point guard is a member of a highly touted group of Seattle-area 2017 prospects that also includes Jaylen Nowell and Corey Kispert.

The sudden recruiting surge comes at an ideal time for Romar, who faces pressure to get Washington back to the level it had reached from 2004-2011 when it qualified for six NCAA tournaments and reached three Sweet 16s. The Huskies' win total has declined from 24, to 18, to 17, to 16 each of the past four years, a dip that culminated this year with the dismissal of elite center Robert Upshaw and the transfer of several key players including leading scorer Nigel Williams-Goss.

Those setbacks might diminish Washington's potential next season, however, the recruiting success should also buy Romar some patience.

Even if a youthful roster can't get Washington back to the NCAA tournament next season, the foundation for a bright future appears to be in place.

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Jeff Eisenberg is the editor of The Dagger on Yahoo Sports. Have a tip? Email him at daggerblog@yahoo.com or follow him on Twitter!

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Author: Jeff Eisenberg
Posted: August 26, 2015, 7:42 pm

Either police in Bloomington are remarkably good at seeking out underage drinking, or Indiana basketball players are just incapable of being discreet.

Sophomore forward Emmitt Holt and promising incoming freshman Thomas Bryant became the latest Hoosiers to fail to avoid detection when the Indiana excise police cited them for underage possession of alcohol on Friday. The university released a statement that said it is still "gathering information" about the incident and has yet to determine whether either Holt or Bryant will be punished.

Underage drinking is too prevalent to be considered a serious offense elsewhere, but the pattern of drug and alcohol-related issues at Indiana cannot be ignored. Seven different players have run afoul in the past two years because of Marijuana or alcohol.

Indiana coach Tom Crean dismissed torward Devin Davis and center Hanner Mosquera-Perea in May after Davis was cited for illegal possession of marijuana in an on-campus dorm. Mosquera-Perea, who previously had been cited for OWI in Feb. 2014, was in the room at the time.

Holt was also behind the wheel on Halloween night last year when Davis unexpectedly entered the road and was struck by the vehicle, resulting in a serious head injury that prevented him from playing all of this past season. Holt had been drinking but was well under the legal limit had he been 21 or older. Crean suspended him for Indiana's exhibition games and its first two regular season games.

Before that, Indiana guards Yogi Ferrell and Stanford Robinson were arrested on charges of minor consumption and possession of false identification when they tried to enter a Bloomington nightclub underage. Troy Williams and Robinson also both missed four games apiece at the start of last season for failing drug tests over the previous summer.

Bryant probably won't receive a severe punishment for his citation since it's a first offense, but Holt could be in more jeopardy. Crean will have to determine whether he can afford to be lenient given Indiana's recent history or if he'll have to be take a harsher stance to send another message to his team. 

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Jeff Eisenberg is the editor of The Dagger on Yahoo Sports. Have a tip? Email him at daggerblog@yahoo.com or follow him on Twitter!

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Author: Jeff Eisenberg
Posted: August 24, 2015, 11:08 pm

Two national powers separated by a mere 100 miles will renew their regional rivalry next year. 

Indiana and Louisville jointly announced Friday that they've agreed to a three-year series that will begin with a neutral-court matchup on Dec. 31, 2016 at Banker's Life FIeldhouse in Indianapolis. The Cardinals and Hoosiers will also play on one-another's home floors the following two years, first on Dec. 9, 2017 in Louisville and then on Dec. 8, 2018 in Bloomington.

The two schools also announced they'll begin a similar three-year football series in 2023 with the lone neutral-field game Lucas Oil Stadium in Indianapolis. Indiana holds a 2-0 all-time lead in the football series and a 10-7 all-time edge in hoops.

The announcement from Indiana and Louisville comes about three years after the Hoosiers' annual series with Kentucky fell apart because neither side could agree on the proper venue. Indiana wanted to continue it as a home-and-home series, while Kentucky preferred to play it every year on a neutral court such as Lucas Oil Stadium in Indianapolis.

Credit Indiana and Louisville for finding a palatable solution the way the Hoosiers and the Wildcats could not.

Too many regional rivalries have disappeared from college basketball in recent years. It's nice to see this one resurfacing.

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Jeff Eisenberg is the editor of The Dagger on Yahoo Sports. Have a tip? Email him at daggerblog@yahoo.com or follow him on Twitter!

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Author: Jeff Eisenberg
Posted: August 21, 2015, 4:28 pm

Boise State announced Thursday afternoon that it had dismissed junior guard Dezmyn Trent as a result of an "incident in his hometown of Tacoma, Wash."

Turns out the use of the word incident was quite an understatement.

Trent was arrested and booked by the Lakewood, Wash. police early Thursday morning in relation to a felony drive-by shooting, according to the Pierce County Corrections website

A Lakewood spokesman told the Idaho Statesman that Trent was one of four men arrested after two shootings Wednesday night that police believe to be gang-related. A total of almost 30 shots were fired in the two alleged incidents, but nobody was injured.

Boise State coach Leon Rice did not immediately return a message seeking comment Friday morning. He released a statement Thursday explaining the decision to dismiss Trent.

“This program believes strongly in offering young men an opportunity to succeed,’’ Boise State coach Leon Rice said in the statement. “Unfortunately it appears as if Dezmyn still has some obstacles that he needs to overcome.”

Trent played in 31 games in two seasons at Boise State, averaging 2.9 points and 1.8 rebounds. He was suspended for three games to start last season as a result of a unspecified violation of team rules. 

Maybe the most memorable sequence of his career came during his freshman year when he attempted a 3-pointer with Boise State leading by 18 against hapless San Jose State and the rest of the players already exiting the floor. Trent made the shot but drew the ire of his coach and teammates.

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Jeff Eisenberg is the editor of The Dagger on Yahoo Sports. Have a tip? Email him at daggerblog@yahoo.com or follow him on Twitter!

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Author: Jeff Eisenberg
Posted: August 21, 2015, 3:14 pm

Throw a camera in front of someone's face at frenzied Los Angeles International Airport. Pepper him or her with random questions they're often ill-prepared to answer.

TMZ has a proven formula for coaxing headline-worthy soundbites out of unsuspecting celebrities, and Chris Webber became the latest victim Tuesday.

Asked about the National Labor Relations Board's ruling that the Northwestern football team did not have the right to unionize, Webber told TMZ he vehemently disagreed with the decision. While explaining himself, he also made a regrettable analogy, citing another player who compared the plight of modern-day college athletes to slavery.

"I definitely think student-athletes have the right to make sure they can take care of each other," Webber told TMZ. "Bill Russell told me any system that gets free labor is slavery, so I'm sure they have a right to unionize. I'm going to be interested in following college kids (and what they do after this decision).

"There's not just one answer for it, there's a lot of answers. Hopefully they work everything out, because college basketball could be great."

It's easy to understand the point Webber was trying to make, yet it's also worth noting how over-the-top the comparison is.

Elite basketball prospects have the option of choosing between a free college education or going overseas to play professionally and test their value on the open market. It's certainly a fair argument to suggest that schools are exploiting their most high-profile athletes or that athletes shouldn't have to choose between their education and their ability to earn what their worth, yet that's still a far cry from slavery.

How many slaves had the chance to take lavish all-expense-paid trips to Europe? Or lived in dorms with private chefs and sinks custom-made for people of their height? Or worked out in facilities as swanky and state-of-the-art as these? 

The other problem is that Webber is simply the wrong guy to be delivering this message.

While the former Michigan star did not receive any of the money the university made selling his jerseys, he also was a central figure in the Ed Martin scandal, which resulted in severe sanctions for the Wolverines basketball program. Webber initially denied getting any payments from Martin but later admitted in federal court that he received $38,200 from the Michigan booster.

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Jeff Eisenberg is the editor of The Dagger on Yahoo Sports. Have a tip? Email him at daggerblog@yahoo.com or follow him on Twitter!

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Author: Jeff Eisenberg
Posted: August 19, 2015, 4:09 pm

Instead of sprinkling the most intriguing games throughout its 24-hour Tip-Off Marathon, ESPN jammed the three best into the same four-hour window.

The primetime time slot of the marathon will feature three of the best non-conference matchups of the season: the revival of the Maryland-Georgetown rivalry and the Champions Classic pitting Duke against Kentucky and Kansas against Michigan State.

Those are by far the three most high-profile games of the Tip-Off Marathon, but there are a handful of other games worth watching. Here's a look at which games are worth chugging energy drinks or espressos to watch and which are nap-worthy:

1. Kentucky vs. Duke (Nov. 17, 7:30 p.m. EST): Duke and Kentucky lost a combined 10 underclassmen to the professional ranks, but both the Blue Devils and Wildcats figure to remain factors in this year's title chase. The reason is that right now these programs are recruiting at a level no other schools can match. Duke reloaded with a top-ranked class highlighted by forward Brandon Ingram and point guard Derryck Thornton. Kentucky will build around forward Skal Labissiere and a three point guard attack featuring Tyler Ulis, Isaiah Briscoe and Jamal Murray.  

2. Georgetown at Maryland (Nov. 17, 9 p.m. EST): It's a shame ESPN chose to schedule this game at the same time as the Champions Classic because it deserves its own platform for a national audience. In-state foes Maryland and Georgetown haven't scheduled one another in a regular season game since 1993, a 22-year hiatus caused by bickering over where the next game should be played. The timing of the revival of the rivalry is fortuitous, however, with the Terps a contender for preseason No. 1 and the Hoyas likely to begin the season in the Top 25.  

3. Kansas vs. Michigan State (Nov. 17, 10 p.m. EST): The Champions Classic undercard still pits two teams who could begin the season in the Top 10 in the polls. Eleven-time reigning Big 12 champion Kansas is loaded with veteran talent once again including point guard Frank Mason, wing Wayne Selden and and all-conference forward Perry Ellis. Michigan State has a chance to enjoy a better regular season than its surprise Final Four team did a year ago if West Virginia transfer Eron Harris and a loaded freshman class can help ease the loss of Travis Trice and Branden Dawson. 

4. Baylor at Oregon (Nov. 16, 11:30 p.m. EST): One of the nation's most underrated teams may be Oregon, which has the firepower to replace high-scoring Joseph Young if freshman Tyler Dorsey and returning star Dillon Brooks meet expectations. The perimeter-oriented Ducks are an intriguing matchup for a mammoth Baylor team with a frontcourt highlighted by rebounding machine Rico Gathers.

5. San Diego State at Utah (Nov. 16, 9:30 p.m. EST): One year after San Diego State edged visiting Utah in a hard-fought defensive struggle, the two teams will stage a rematch in Salt Lake City. The Utes appear capable of contending in the Pac-12 once again thanks to the return of potential lottery pick Jakob Poeltl and a host of promising perimeter players. Defensive-oriented San Diego State will be one of the favorites in the Mountain West if sophomore Malik Pope enjoys a breakout season and gives the Aztecs the scoring punch they lacked a year ago.

6. Oklahoma at Memphis (Nov. 17, 5 p.m. EST): This would be a far bigger test for Buddy Hield and Big 12 contender Oklahoma had Austin Nichols not transferred from Memphis earlier this summer. The Tigers add Alabama transfer Ricky Tarrant and incoming freshmen Dedrick and K.J. Lawson, yet it's unclear if there's enough talent to get them into NCAA tournament contention or to ease the pressure on embattled coach Josh Pastner.

7. Virginia at George Washington (Nov. 16, 7:30 p.m. EST): Two-time reigning ACC champion Virginia returns every key player besides high-scoring wing Justin Anderson and defensive ace Darion Atkins, but this road test will be more than just a speed bump for the Cavaliers. Veteran-laden George Washington has a chance to contend for an NCAA bid again next season thanks to the return of Kevin Larsen, Joe McDonald and Patrico Garino and the arrival of Wake Forest transfer Tyler Cavanaugh.

8. Valparaiso at Rhode Island (Nov. 17, 10 a.m. EST): The under-the-radar gem of this year's Tip-Off marathon pits one of the nation's premier mid-majors against an Atlantic 10 squad poised for a breakout season. Valparaiso returns every key player from a team that went 28-6 and pushed Maryland in the opening round of the NCAA tournament, but the Crusaders will be challenged on the road against a Rhode Island team led by Atlantic 10 player of the year candidate E.C. Matthews. 

9. Alabama at Dayton (Nov. 17, 1 p.m. EST): Avery Johnson will probably elevate the Alabama program before too long, but the youthful Crimson Tide aren't ready to make that leap next season. In fact, they will be hard-pressed to remain competitive on the road against a Dayton team that loses leading scorer Jordan Sibert yet will be bigger and deeper than it was last year when it won 27 games despite having only six scholarship players.

10. Stephen F. Austin at Northern Iowa (Nov. 17, 8 a.m. EST): Can Northern Iowa remain nationally relevant despite the graduation of star Seth Tuttle and several other key players from last year's dream season? This will be a good litmus test. The Panthers face a Stephen F. Austin team that won 32 games last year and has plenty of talent returning including standout Thomas Walkup and quality point guard Ty Charles.

11. BYU at Long Beach State (Nov. 17, 1:45 p.m. EST): Don't expect BYU to take a step backward despite the loss of all-time leading scorer Tyler Haws. Versatile Kyle Collinsworth is ready to be the Cougars' top scoring threat, Chase Fischer and freshman Nick Emery are elite shooters and some additions to the frontcourt ought to help solidify one of the nation's most porous defenses. Nonetheless, Long Beach State will pose a test on its own home floor. The 49ers lose five seniors from last year, but reload behind ex-Maryland wing Nick Faust and several other transfers.

12. Colorado at Auburn (Nov. 17, 3 p.m. EST): Auburn appears to be a year away from making an NCAA tournament push under Bruce Pearl. Colorado appeared headed for a middling season even before wing Xavier Johnson tore an Achilles tendon earlier this summer. This looks like a good opportunity to get some work done or grab a power nap unless you're an ardent Tigers or Buffs fan.

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Jeff Eisenberg is the editor of The Dagger on Yahoo Sports. Have a tip? Email him at daggerblog@yahoo.com or follow him on Twitter!

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Author: Jeff Eisenberg
Posted: August 18, 2015, 6:49 pm

Even though the rivalry between Auburn and Alabama will forever be associated with football, the annual hoops showdowns between the two programs may not be an afterthought much longer.

The Tigers and Crimson Tide both landed five-star recruits in the last 48 hours, further raising hopes that both may emerge as contenders in the SEC before too long.

On Sunday, Auburn received a commitment from Waterbury, Conn. resident Mustapha Heron, a big, strong, physical 6-foot-5 wing ranked Rivals.com's No. 19 prospect in the Class of 2016. On Monday, Alabama answered back with a pledge from Texas native Terrance Ferguson, an elite 6-foot-6 shooting guard rated Rivals.com's No. 11 prospect in the class of 2016.

The recruiting coups further validate the investments Auburn and Alabama made on splashy coaching hires the past two springs.

Auburn hired Bruce Pearl before his three-year NCAA penalty had even ended last year, gambling that he'd be able to inject life into a long-dormant basketball program the way he had at Tennessee a few years earlier. The Tigers haven't finished with a winning record since 2009, haven't made the NCAA tournament since 2003 and haven't produced an NBA draft pick since 2001, a pretty remarkable stretch of futility considering how mediocre the SEC has been recently.

By any measure, Pearl's first 18 months at Auburn have been a success.

He energized Auburn's fan base so quickly that the Tigers sold out every game of his debut season last year despite lacking the talent to finish higher than second-to-last in the SEC. He began to replenish Auburn's roster by landing a Top 25 2015 recruiting class highlighted by Rivals 150 prospects Danjel Purifoy and Horace Spencer. And he is well on his way to another strong class with Heron joining athletic forward Anfernee McLemore and small but promising point guard Jared Harper.

Alabama couldn't sit idly and watch Auburn's basketball program rise in stature, which is a big reason the Crimson Tide fired Anthony Grant after an 18-win season this spring and went hunting for a high-profile replacement. They swung and missed trying to lure Wichita State's Gregg Marshall with gobs of money, but they landed a heck of a "plan B" option in former Dallas Mavericks and New Jersey Nets coach Avery Johnson.

Though Johnson managed to retain Alabama Mr. Basketball Dazon Ingram and entice his son to transfer from Texas A&M, the 2016 recruiting class is probably the first real barometer for how he's faring in Tuscaloosa. Losing Heron to Auburn surely stung, but bouncing back by landing Ferguson 24 hours later no doubt eased that blow. Johnson used his Texas ties to gain Ferguson's trust and persuade him to take a chance on the Crimson Tide rather than going to a more established program like Kansas, Baylor, North Carolina or Louisville.

“When I went up there I felt like I was at home,” Ferguson told Rivals. "Everybody treats each other like family. I know coach Johnson is going to change that program around and I want to be a part of that change.

"I want to start my own legacy and I don’t want to follow in anybody else’s footsteps. For that, Alabama is the place to be."

It couldn't have been easy for Heron and Ferguson to choose to try to build at Auburn and Alabama rather than picking a perennial national title contender. Ferguson hinted at that in a Twitter exchange Sunday night with his mother.

You are a trailblazer make your own paths follow your heart & no matter what people may say U live life I ride with u @the2kferguson

— Rachelle Holdman (@C_Chellle) August 17, 2015

when u make your decision people who once support u may change know that I support your choice& anything u doing N life @the2kferguson

— Rachelle Holdman (@C_Chellle) August 17, 2015

@C_Chellle thanks mom. Love you!!! Really needed that at the moment

— T-FERG (@the2kferguson) August 17, 2015

Alabama needed Ferguson too, just like Auburn needed Heron. With those two huge commitments, two schools known for football are on their way to becoming relevant again in hoops too.

Video of Terrance Ferguson via Rivals.com:

Video of Mustapha Heron via Rivals.com:

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Jeff Eisenberg is the editor of The Dagger on Yahoo Sports. Have a tip? Email him at daggerblog@yahoo.com or follow him on Twitter!

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Author: Jeff Eisenberg
Posted: August 17, 2015, 5:10 pm

Only days before North Carolina had been slated to respond to the Notice of Allegations sent by the NCAA earlier this summer, the school revealed it has uncovered new evidence that threatens to substantially delay the process.

North Carolina announced on Friday it has notified the NCAA that it has found "additional examples of possible instances of improper academic assistance provided to a few former women’s basketball players." The Tar Heels also discovered "potential recruiting violations in the men’s soccer program that allegedly occurred over the past two years."

The new findings give North Carolina reason to delay submitting its response to the Notice of Allegations, which had been due by next Tuesday. It's unclear what the new timetable will be, but the statement North Carolina released indicated both school officials and the NCAA are confident the review of the new data can be concluded within 60 days.

While the new evidence further ensures that North Carolina's women's basketball program is likely to receive harsh penalties, the delay could have positive and negative impact for the Tar Heels men's basketball team.

On one hand, any potential delay means uncertainty surrounding the program's future will linger longer, making it increasingly difficult for Roy Williams and his staff to compete for the nation's top recruits. No top prospects in the Class of 2016 are going to sign with the Tar Heels when opposing staffs are constantly reminding them there's a possibility North Carolina will face a postseason ban during their freshman year.

On the other hand, a two-month delay would all but guarantee a potential postseason ban would not affect the 2015-16 season, a key development considering the Tar Heels could begin the campaign atop the polls. It's unlikely the NCAA would issue an in-season ban no matter what, however, this pushes back the timetable far enough that the Committee on Infractions might not even announce North Carolina's punishment until after the start of the 2016 NCAA tournament.

“I know today’s announcement will cause some to ask when all of this will end," North Carolina athletic director Bubba Cunningham said. “I want to assure everyone that Carolina is doing all it can to bring these matters to closure as quickly as possible while also strictly adhering to the NCAA’s infractions process. While we need to address these new developments, we have already completed the majority of the work necessary to respond to the NCAA’s notice. We fully believe that we will be able to bring the investigation to a conclusion in spring 2016, as previously anticipated."

The Notice of Allegations the Tar Heels received in May hit them with five potentially serious violations in the wake of the NCAA's lengthy investigation into the academic fraud that took place at the school.

The first two allegations state that North Carolina athletes received impermissible benefits unavailable to the rest of the student body when their academic counselors obtained special assistance and privileges for them. The next two allegations target African American Studies department officials Deborah Crowder and Dr. Julius Nyang’oro for their failure to cooperate in the NCAA's investigation.

The charge of lack of institutional control is the most serious one. It asserts that the athletic department failed to properly monitor the actions of members of its academic support staff and cast a blind eye to why so many athletes were enrolled in African American Studies courses.

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Author: Jeff Eisenberg
Posted: August 14, 2015, 5:34 pm

Not even six weeks after he announced he'd coach only one more college basketball season, Bo Ryan no longer sounds so certain.

The 67-year-old Wisconsin coach left open the possibility he could coach beyond next year Wednesday while speaking with the Appleton Post-Crescent at a charity golf tournament.

“Everybody kind of thinks they know when they’re ready to retire, or step aside; I’m not totally sure," Ryan said. "[Wisconsin athletic director Barry Alvarez] said I could change my mind at any time. I haven’t submitted any papers yet. I haven’t submitted anything. ... So I might stay for another four or five [years].

"I’m like a lot of other people who when they get to this stage in their career, who knows when the right time is? I was just trying to be up front and out in the open. But I wouldn’t be the first guy in the country that ever thought about retirement and then changed their mind. I’m not doing anything revolutionary here.”

Ryan's comments seem to contradict the statement he made June 29 amid speculation that he might retire after back-to-back Final Four appearances. He announced he had "decided to coach one more season" with the hope longtime assistant Greg Gard would "eventually" succeed him. That's a somewhat vague statement that leaves substantial wiggle room, yet Wisconsin has also gone six weeks without correcting numerous stories about Ryan's intent to retire next spring.

While the lingering uncertainty surrounding its head coaching situation will undoubtedly hamper Wisconsin's recruiting efforts, the Badgers would surely welcome Ryan back for as long as he wants to coach.

Ryan has never finished worse than fourth in the Big Ten in 14 seasons as Wisconsin's head coach and has won four regular season titles and three Big Ten tournaments. His last two teams compiled a 66-12 record and twice fell just short of capturing the national championship.

Wisconsin loses standouts Frank Kaminsky, Sam Dekker and Josh Gasser from those teams, but the Badgers won't be in total rebuild mode next season. They'll instead build around rising juniors Nigel Hayes and Bronson Koenig.

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Author: Jeff Eisenberg
Posted: August 13, 2015, 5:38 am

The biggest surprise from ESPN's release of its Big Monday schedule on Wednesday was one of the schools that did not make the cut.

(via the ACC)Notre Dame will not make a single appearance on Big Monday next season despite returning a handful of key players from a team that not only reached the Elite Eight but also fell just a basket shy of upsetting unbeaten Kentucky to advance to the Final Four.

The exclusion of the Irish probably reflects the strength of the ACC more than it does questions about Notre Dame's ability to replace stars Jerian Grant and Pat Connaughton. A core of guards Demetrius Jackson and Steve Vasturia and forward Zach Auguste should be enough to help the Irish begin the season in the AP Top 25 and end the season in the upper half of the ACC standings.

Notre Dame is the most high-profile of the eight ACC teams that won't appear on Big Monday next season, though Pittsburgh probably can't be thrilled being excluded either. Kansas State, Texas Tech and TCU are the only three Big 12 teams who won't make an appearance. 

(via the Big 12)Of the teams who will be part of Big Monday next season, Kansas will make the most appearances. The 11-time reigning Big 12 champs will play on Big Monday four times including home games against Oklahoma and Oklahoma State and visits to Iowa State and Texas.

The most enticing of the ACC games may be the ones pitting Louisville against Duke and North Carolina. None of the matchups between two-time reigning league champ Virginia and Duke or North Carolina made the cut, which may mean those are reserved for ESPN's College GameDay slate or primetime slots on other nights.

All in all, both the ACC and Big 12 slates look solid. The only folks with reason to complain reside in South Bend.

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Author: Jeff Eisenberg
Posted: August 12, 2015, 11:08 pm

Whereas other coaches tend to downplay expectations for promising newcomers in hopes of easing the pressure on them, Rick Pitino often does just the opposite.

The Louisville coach is infamous for his hyperbole when praising newcomers he enjoys coaching.

The latest example came Tuesday night after Drexel transfer Damion Lee erupted for 36 points on 11-for-18 shooting in an exhibition loss to the Puerto Rican national team. Pitino was so excited about Lee's big night that he compared the 6-foot-6 wing to a former SEC player of the year at Kentucky who was selected No. 6 overall in the 1997 NBA draft.

"You know, he's a little bit better version of Ron Mercer, because he can put it on the floor," Pitino told reporters in Puerto Rico. "Ron was terrific. He's such a quick slasher in and out. He can run pick and rolls better than Ron."

Lee certainly has the chance to be an impact transfer at Louisville after averaging 21.4 points and 6.1 boards at Drexel this past season, but the idea that he'll be "a better version of Ron Mercer" seems unfathomable.

Lest we forget, Mercer was a key member of Kentucky's juggernaut 1996 national title team and became a first-team All-American the following year when he averaged 18.1 points and 5.3 rebounds and led the Wildcats back to the national title game. Furthermore, Pitino's history of exaggeration calls his credibility into question. 

Pitino called Mike Marra the best high school shooter he's ever seen despite previously coaching marksmen like Billy Donovan, Tony Delk and Francisco Garcia. Marra never shot higher than 28 percent from behind the arc during an injury-plagued Louisville career.

Pitino described Samardo Samuels as "maybe the best freshman I've ever coached" early in the 2008-09 season. The burly big man produced two good but unremarkable seasons for the Cardinals before going unselected in the 2010 NBA Draft.

Pitino suggested that forwards Juan Palacios and Chane Behanan compared favorably to Jamal Mashburn during their freshman seasons. Palacios averaged 8.9 points and 5.7 rebounds in four years at Louisville, while Behanan became a key contributor to Louisville's 2013 national championship team but was dismissed the following year because of off-the-court issues. 

Will the Damion Lee-Ron Mercer comparison turn out to be as cringeworthy as some of those previous statements? Probably not, considering Lee's track record and Louisville's dire need for an impact player after losing 82 percent of its scoring from this past season's 27-win campaign. 

Nonetheless, Louisville fans might want to temper their expectations. History suggests that's wise when Pitino makes comparisons like this after one exhibition game.

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Author: Jeff Eisenberg
Posted: August 12, 2015, 3:23 pm

When Minnesota athletic director Norwood Teague resigned Friday amid allegations that he sexually harassed two women at a party, one of the obvious questions was whether this was an isolated incident or part of a larger pattern.

Thanks to the honesty and courage of Minneapolis Star-Tribune writer Amelia Rayno, it's now clear Teague's behavior was hardly the out-of-character drunken mistake he tried to portray it to be.

Rayno, who covers Minnesota basketball for the Star-Tribune, wrote a first-person article Sunday night that revealed she too had been a victim of Teague's sexual harassment. The unwanted advances began on Dec. 13, 2013 when Rayno agreed to get a drink with Teague as reporters often do as a means of cultivating sources and gaining insight into the teams they cover.

Teague asked me about my longtime boyfriend, as he often did. My mistake was acknowledging that we had just broken up. The switch flipped. Suddenly, in a public and crowded bar, Teague tried to throw his arm around me. He poked my side. He pinched my hip. He grabbed at me. Stunned and mortified, I swatted his advances and firmly told him to stop. He didn’t.

“Don’t deny,” he said, “our chemistry.”

I told him that he was drastically off base, that my only intention in being there was as a reporter – to which he replied: “You’re all strictly business? Nothing else?”

I walked out. He followed me. I hailed a cab. He followed me in, grabbing at my arm and scooting closer and closer in the dark back cabin until I was pressed against the door. I told him to stop. I told him it was not OK. He laughed. When I reached my apartment, I vomited.

Later that night he texted: “Night strictly bitness.’’

The ensuing text messages the Star-Tribune published reveals the pattern of abuse went on for months. Rayno stopped speaking to Teague whenever possible — a nightmare scenario for a beat writer — yet for the next eight months he continued to text her things like "R u pouting?,” "Ur no fun anymore" and "Ur giving me a complex."

What Rayno's account suggests is that it may not be long before more victims come forward and accuse Teague of harassment.

This is a man who was apparently brazen enough to send suggestive text messages to two female university employees and a reporter with no regard for the potential paper trail he was leaving behind. If that happened at least three times in Teague's three-plus years at Minnesota, it's a good bet that it also may have occurred during his tenure as athletic director at Virginia Commonwealth. 

The bigger question now is whether anyone in a position of power at Minnesota was aware of Teague's transgressions prior to the first two women coming forward. The university ought to launch an independent investigation into that matter.

If the answer is yes, Teague should never have been allowed to keep his job. If the answer is no, Minnesota should evaluate how Teague's behavior went undetected for so long.

Regardless, credit the two female university employees for having the courage to file a formal sexual harassment complaint against Teague. And credit Rayno for being willing to come forward and attach her name to a first-person piece that corroborates their story.

Rayno wrote that her only regret was not going public sooner with this story, but she cannot be blamed for staying silent at first.

In an era when female sports writers still face a much tougher fight for credibility than their male colleagues, it took great strength of character for Rayno to speak up at all.

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Author: Jeff Eisenberg
Posted: August 10, 2015, 2:44 pm

Minnesota athletic director Norwood Teague abruptly resigned Friday and said he would seek treatment for problems with alcohol.

Teague's resignation follows a pair of recent incidents of sexual harassment involving two non-student university employees, university president Eric Kaler said. 

“At a recent university event, I had entirely too much to drink," Teague told KARE-TV in Minneapolis in a prepared statement he read on camera. "I behaved badly towards nice people and sent truly inappropriate texts. I’m embarrassed and I apologize to everyone involved. This neither reflects my true character or the true character of this great, great university."

Teague's departure comes just three years after Minnesota hired him away from VCU. He will be replaced on an interim basis by Beth Goetz, a deputy athletic director.

Before coming to Minnesota, Teague had established himself as an up-and-coming athletic administrator because of his role in the success of the basketball program at VCU. He hired ultra-successful Shaka Smart and spearheaded fundraising efforts that helped the Rams not only reach the 2011 Final Four but also emerge as a national program with staying power in years to come.

In his three years in Minneapolis, Teague fired Tubby Smith, hired Richard Pitino and worked to rase money to help Minnesota build athletic facilities competitive with those at other Big Ten institutions. The school is still in the midst of raising $190 million for facilities that include a new basketball practice facility and football training facility.

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Author: Jeff Eisenberg
Posted: August 7, 2015, 4:20 pm

Whether it's adding Jelan Kendrick after he was dismissed from Memphis or Bryce Dejean-Jones after he encountered trouble at USC, UNLV coach Dave Rice has often shown the willingness to take a chance on a high-risk transfer.

Rice did it again Wednesday when he gambled on a talented shot blocker with a history of off-the-court problems. 

Ex-St. John's defensive standout Chris Obekpa, the nation's fifth-leading shot blocker last season, revealed he will transfer to UNLV. The 6-foot-10 center will have to sit out next season and will only have one year of eligibility remaining thereafter.

Obekpa averaged six points and seven rebounds last season and blocked at least 2.9 shots per game in each of his three seasons at St. John's, but he also earned a reputation for not being reliable.

He was suspended for an undisclosed violation of team rules prior to the Johnnies' opening-round NCAA tournament loss to San Diego State last March. He showed a lack of poise in getting ejected for flagrant fouls last season against Fordham and Butler. The previous spring, he announced his intent to transfer from St. John's only to change his mind two weeks later.

What Rice has to hope is that a change of scenery will help Obekpa — even one to a city as rife with distractions as Las Vegas. Obekpa will have to stay out of trouble for more than a full year before he'll even be able to contribute on the floor.

If Obekpa can achieve that, he can certainly be an asset for the Rebels. He'll join a frontcourt that could also include fellow shot blocker Goodluck Okonoboh, Oregon transfer Ben Carter and elite incoming freshman Stephen Zimmerman.

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Author: Jeff Eisenberg
Posted: August 5, 2015, 7:50 pm

Which college hoops program is the only one to already secure commitments from three top 75 prospects in the Class of 2016?

No, not Kentucky. No, not Duke.

It's actually Virginia, which is showing signs that it can sustain the remarkable success it has achieved the past couple seasons.

Virginia bolstered an already strong recruiting class on Tuesday when it landed Mamadi Diakite, an athletic 6-foot-9 forward Rivals.com rates its No. 30 prospect in the Class of 2016. Diakite joins a class that already includes sharpshooting guard Kyle Guy (No. 59), standout point guard Ty Jerome (No. 68) and three-star big man Jay Huff.

As if that weren't enough, Virginia also reeled in one of the most coveted transfers available this offseason. Ex-top 25 recruit Austin Nichols, an elite shot blocker who also averaged 13.3 points and 6.1 rebounds per game at Memphis last season, chose the Cavaliers last week and will be eligible to play for the 2016-17 season.

The challenge for that influx of talent will be to preserve the momentum Virginia has built during a golden era for its program. The Cavaliers have won back-to-back ACC regular season crowns the past two years and will almost certainly begin next season ranked in the top 10 despite the loss of defensive standout Darion Atkins and high-scoring wing Justin Anderson.

Before Virginia added Nichols and Diakite, the 2016-17 season appeared to be somewhat of a rebuilding year for the Cavaliers. They will graduate all-conference guard Malcolm Brogdon and key contributors Mike Tobey, Anthony Gill and Evan Nolte after next season.

But with Nichols and the other newcomers joining a group of returners that may include starting point guard London Perrantes and promising wings Marial Shayok and Darius Thompson, Virginia has a good chance to remain among the nation's elite. In fact, that could be the most talented roster Tony Bennett has had in his nine years as a head coach.

Bennett achieved unprecedented success in three years at Washington State, taking a group of unheralded prospects to back-to-back 26-win seasons and two NCAA tournaments. Klay Thompson was the only top 100 recruit Bennett landed during his tenure — and he only got to coach the future Golden State Warriors star for one season.

Virginia has risen from ACC bottom feeder to national contender in six years under Bennett despite not boasting the same bevy of McDonald's All-Americans Duke and North Carolina perennially attract. Bennett has previously lured five top 100 recruits to Virginia, though KT Harrell and B.J. Stith both transferred before they could make much impact with the Cavaliers.

Next year alone, Bennett will add at least three top 75 recruits in one class and an elite transfer to go with them.

That's an unprecedented haul for Bennett and it gives Virginia a chance to sustain the momentum it has built the past couple years.

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Author: Jeff Eisenberg
Posted: August 5, 2015, 3:45 pm

When Penn State officials hired coach Patrick Chambers from Boston University in June 2011, their hope was that he'd accomplish something few of his predecessors had managed to do.

They wanted Chambers to get top Philadelphia basketball prospects consider the Nittany Lions, a challenge he was uniquely qualified to tackle given the strong relationships he'd built with the city's high school and club coaches during his five years as a Villanova assistant.

The surest sign that Chambers is making progress arrived Monday afternoon when he secured the most significant recruit of his Penn State tenure. Chambers received a verbal commitment from point guard Tony Carr, the city of Philadelphia's top prospect in the class of 2016 and Rivals.com's No. 53 prospect nationally.

Outdueling the likes of Maryland, Georgetown, Illinois and Indiana for a borderline top 50 prospect is cause for celebration for a program as historically downtrodden as Penn State. Carr is the highest ranked player to choose the Nittany Lions since Rivals.com began ranking and evaluating high school prospects 13 years ago.

The 6-foot-4 Carr has the size and strength to defend multiple positions on the perimeter yet also boasts the court vision and ability to attack the rim necessary to become an elite point guard. Just as importantly, his early commitment makes a statement that Penn State should be considered a viable option for other top Philadelphia prospects in the classes of 2016 and 2017.

Chambers already has commitments from Rivals 150 forward Joe Hampton and three-star guard Nazeer Bostick, a high school and AAU teammate of Carr. Now he'll surely turn his full attention to another of Carr's AAU teammates, small forward Lamar Stevens, another Philadelphia kid and Rivals.com's No. 96 prospect.

Establishing a pipeline to Philadelphia has been hard for previous Penn State coaches for many reasons.

The Nittany Lions have only been to the NCAA tournament four times since 1965 and lack either the hoops pedigree or the budget of in-state foes Pittsburgh, Temple and Villanova. The Big Ten also historically hasn't resonated as much with Philadelphia kids who grew up watching Big East basketball. 

Chambers inherited a threadbare roster and has posted only a 16-56 Big Ten record in his first four seasons at Penn State, but his recent recruiting has offered a glimmer of hope. In addition his 2016 haul, Chambers also lured a strong 2015 class that included shooting guard Josh Reaves, Rivals.com's No. 143 prospect, and power forward Mike Watkins, Rivals.com's No. 126 prospect and another Philadelphia native.

How excited is Chambers about the commitment of Carr? He can't comment until Carr signs a letter of intent in November, but his Twitter account offered a strong hint. 

It's a GREAT day to be a #NittanyLion!!!! #weare 🔵⚪️🔵⚪️ pic.twitter.com/94jWe4brMc

— Patrick Chambers (@Coach_Chambers) August 3, 2015

Indeed it is. There haven't been many great days to be a Penn State basketball fan, but Monday was definitely one of them.

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Author: Jeff Eisenberg
Posted: August 3, 2015, 10:52 pm

The unexpected departure of standout shooting guard Trevor Lacey this past spring at least had one positive consequence for NC State. 

It made the Wolfpack a more attractive destination to another promising wing. 

Maverick Rowan, a consensus top 50 prospect, committed to NC State on Sunday and will reclassify from the class of 2016 to the class of 2015. The 6-foot-7 wing probably wouldn't have considered the Wolfpack if Lacey hadn't opted to turn pro because there wouldn't have been enough available playing time right away.

Lacey averaged 15.7 points, 4.6 rebounds and 3.5 assists last season, earned second-team all-ACC honors and had the ball in his hands down the stretch of virtually every big game NC State played. Rowan almost certainly won't come close to making that kind of impact, but his arrival alleviates any lingering concerns about the Wolfpack's perimeter depth and gives them another potential starter alongside point guard Anthony "Cat" Barber in the backcourt.

Rowan joins a group of wings that is promising but unproven. West Virginia transfer Terry Henderson, rising sophomores Caleb and Cody Martin and athletic incoming freshman Shaun Kirk will all compete with Rowan for playing time at both wing positions.

What Rowan will bring to NC State is excellent size and length and outstanding outside shooting. Rowan isn't as quick or athletic as some of the other top wings in the Class of 2015, but he is a skilled scorer who can knock down catch-and-shoot jumpers and create for himself off the dribble.

Rowan originally committed to Pittsburgh before moving from Ohio to Florida and reopening his recruitment. Interest surged after Rowan led Fort Lauderdale (Fla.) Cardinal Gibbons to a state title and revealed that he was considering entering college a year earlier than anticipated.

NC State outdueled a long list of suitors for Rowan including St. John's, Louisville, West Virginia and UCLA. Now the Wolfpack appear even better positioned to challenge for an upper-third finish in the ACC and return to the NCAA tournament.

Barber should be one of the ACC's better point guards if he can pick up where he left off late last season. Ever-improving Abdul-Malik Abu, defensive-minded Beeja Anya and elite rebounder Lennard Freeman form a solid frontcourt trio. And Rowan joins a group of unproven but promising wings who collectively should be able to diminish the impact of Lacey's departure. 

Rivals.com video of Maverick Rowan:

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Author: Jeff Eisenberg
Posted: August 3, 2015, 3:59 pm

Even though the on-again, off-again rivalry between North Carolina and Kentucky is on hiatus this coming college basketball season, fans will still have a chance to get a taste of the rivalry.

Alumni teams from both schools will square off in a charity game on Sept. 13 at Rupp Arena, Kentucky announced on Friday.

The game will feature current and former professional players from both North Carolina and Kentucky. It's unclear which players will participate at this point, but the two programs have put so many players into the NBA in recent years that organizers will have plenty of options from which to choose.

Seventeen North Carolina alums played in the NBA last season including Ty Lawson, Danny Green, Harrison Barnes and Vince Carter. Eighteen Kentucky alums played in the NBA last season including John Wall, Eric Bledsoe, Demarcus Cousins and Anthony Davis.

Among the players who should have the most motivation are members of the 2011-12 North Carolina team that lost 73-72 to the Wildcats during the regular season and then missed out on a potential rematch in the Final Four when point guard Kendall Marshall got injured in the NCAA tournament. Barnes, a sophomore on that team, made note of that game on Twitter on Friday.

Assembling a UNC team for a return trip to Rupp Arena on Sept 13 to take on the Cats! This time the result will be different! #AlumniGame

— Harrison Barnes (@hbarnes) July 31, 2015

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Author: Jeff Eisenberg
Posted: July 31, 2015, 6:03 pm
*

It's no mystery what potential title game Maui Invitational organizers wanted to create when they designed this year's bracket.

They were trying to set up a championship clash between Kansas and Indiana when they placed the two blue bloods on opposite sides of the draw.

The Maui Invitational bracket released Tuesday has the reigning Big 12 champion Jayhawks pitted against host Chaminade in the opening round of the tournament. Assuming Kansas avoids an upset of monumental proportions, it would meet the winner of UCLA-UNLV in the semifinals.

Indiana will open against Wake Forest on its side of the bracket. The winner of that game will likely meet a much-improved Vanderbilt team that finished last season on a hot streak unless the Commodores fail to get past rebuilding St. John's in the opening round.

A Kansas-Indiana matchup would be an appealing one given that both teams will likely begin next season ranked in the top 15 in the nation.

The Jayhawks have an excellent chance to win an 11th straight Big 12 title thanks to the return of steady point guard Frank Mason Jr.,  breakout candidate Wayne Selden and all-conference power forward Perry Ellis. Highly touted freshman big man Cheick Diallo should also make an instant impact because his ability to run the floor, alter shots in the paint and finish above the rim complements the more polished but less athletic Ellis perfectly.

Indiana slipped into the NCAA tournament last season despite a lack of any semblance of a true frontcourt presence, but the addition of five-star big man Thomas Bryant could go a long way toward shoring up those issues this year. Surrounding Bryant will be one of the nation's elite backcourts, a group highlighted by star point guard Yogi Ferrell, high-scoring wing James Blackmon and ultra-athletic combo forward Troy Williams.

The biggest threat to a potential Kansas-Indiana title game is probably Vanderbilt, which should contend in the SEC and return to the NCAA tournament next season if the duo of Damian Jones and Riley LaChance can build on their strong finish to last season. Neither UCLA nor UNLV can be counted out either, but the Bruins need other scorers to emerge around returning standout Bryce Alford and the Rebels must hope that their newcomers can offset the loss of Rashad Vaughn and Christian Wood.

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Author: Jeff Eisenberg
Posted: July 28, 2015, 5:43 pm

Six weeks after undergoing surgery to repair a stress fracture in his left tibia, Ole Miss guard Stefan Moody's offseason got even worse this past weekend.

The SEC's leading returning scorer was arrested early Saturday morning near campus for DUI. The Jackson Clarion-Ledger first reported the news on Monday. 

The news is far from ideal for an Ole Miss program that is counting on Moody to be its leader next season.

The 5-foot-10 senior guard started 33 of 34 games last season and averaged 16.6 points and 2.4 assists while leading the Rebels to a surprise NCAA tournament bid. He also led the SEC in free throw percentage and 3-point field goals made and finished third in steals. 

Moody is expected to recover from his injury in time for the start of the season. Ole Miss has yet to make an announcement regarding whether he'll face punishment for his DUI arrest.

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Author: Jeff Eisenberg
Posted: July 27, 2015, 5:34 pm

Virginia's chances of remaining an ACC title contender beyond next season improved significantly on Sunday when the Cavaliers landed a transfer many of the top programs in the nation coveted.

Austin Nichols, Memphis' leading scorer and shot blocker this past season, chose Virginia over a host of other suitors, a source confirmed Sunday afternoon to Yahoo Sports.The 6-foot-9 forward will have two years of eligibility left after he sits out next season. 

It's no surprise Virginia secured Nichols since Tony Bennett's team has been considered the favorite since earlier this month when Memphis lifted transfer restrictions that would have prevented the Cavaliers staff from speaking with the forward.

Virginia heavily recruited Nichols out of high school before the former top 50 prospect chose hometown Memphis instead. The Cavaliers also have a built-in advantage due to the connection between Nichols' ex-AAU coach Ernie Kuyper and the family of John Paul Jones, the man after whom Virginia's arena is named.

Nichols' ability to score in the paint, to rebound and to alter shots at the rim should be a huge help to a Virginia program that will graduate frontcourt standouts Mike Tobey and Anthony Gill after next season. Nichols averaged 13.3 points and 6.1 rebounds as a sophomore at Memphis and blocked 3.4 shots per game, third most in the nation behind only LSU's Jordan Mickey and UConn's Amida Brimah.

Virginia was one of the schools Memphis initially blocked Nichols from transferring to earlier this month because of the possibility the Tigers could play the Cavaliers at the 2016 Emerald Classic. Memphis backed off that hard-line stance when the Nichols family threatened a lawsuit, paving the way for him to commit to a Virginia program already on the rise. 

The Cavaliers have won back-to-back ACC regular season titles and could begin next year in the preseason top 10 despite the loss of versatile wing Justin Anderson and defensive standout Darion Atkins. They should be relevant again the following season with Nichols in the fold to bolster the frontcourt.

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Author: Jeff Eisenberg
Posted: July 26, 2015, 7:27 pm

When Southern Mississippi released the notice of allegations it received from the NCAA on Friday evening, the severity of the violations allegedly committed by former coach Donnie Tyndall proved two things.

Tennessee athletic director Dave Hart did not do a good enough job vetting Tyndall before hiring him almost 16 months ago, but Vols officials made the correct decision acknowledging that mistake and firing him after just one season this past spring.

The most severe allegation against Tyndall asserts that he arranged fraudulent academic credit for seven prospective student athletes during his two-year tenure at Southern Miss from 2012-2014. That allegedly includes one instance in which Tyndall paid for the online courses himself. 

Tyndall also allegedly provided thousands of dollars in cash and prepaid cards to help two players pay for their expenses associated with room and board. Lastly, the NCAA says Tyndall failed to cooperate with its investigation and went so far as to obstruct it by deleting pertinent emails and providing false or misleading information to enforcement staffers.

It won't be clear how severe a punishment Tyndall will receive until sometime next year because both he and Southern Mississippi must first respond to the Notice of Allegations and then appear in front of the NCAA's committee on infractions. Regardless, the looming threat of a lengthy suspension or worse would have made Tyndall susceptible to transfers and radioactive to recruits were he still the coach at Tennessee today.

Tyndall issued a statement to the Hattiesburg American on Friday evening in which he denied intentionally committing any violations but accepted responsibility for any that occurred under his watch.

“To the extent violations occurred, I wish I had prevented them, and I apologize to the Southern Miss community for any harm caused by violations that occurred," Tyndall said. “However, I did not knowingly violate NCAA rules, nor did I encourage or condone rules violations by anyone on the coaching staff. A fair review of the evidence will show that the allegations that I did so are simply wrong.”

It will be Tyndall's ability to refute the most severe of the allegations that will probably determine whether he will work again in college basketball anytime soon.

Todd Bozeman, Bruce Pearl and Kelvin Sampson are among the coaches who have bounced back from severe NCAA violations to eventually become head coaches again. Tyndall enjoyed enough success at Morehead State, Southern Mississippi and his lone year at Tennessee that another program may someday take a chance on him, but Morehead State also received probation and NCAA sanctions during his tenure.

That checkered history will not be easy to overcome.

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Author: Jeff Eisenberg
Posted: July 25, 2015, 2:16 pm

Arkansas was already poised for a fall next season after stars Bobby Portis and Michael Qualls both opted to enter the NBA draft.

What happened Wednesday won't help.

Arkansas has indefinitely suspended guard Anton Beard and forwards Jacorey Williams and Dustin Thomas after they were arrested on suspicion of first-degree forgery.

The Arkansas Democrat-Gazette reported that surveillance cameras caught all three players using counterfeit bills at three different locations last Friday and Saturday. First-degree forgery is a Class B felony in Arkansas that can carry a prison sentence of five to 20 years.

"We have become aware of a pending legal issue involving three men's basketball student-athletes," a statement from the Arkansas athletic department said. "The student-athletes have been suspended indefinitely from the men's basketball program. Our continued expectation is that our student-athletes conduct themselves in an appropriate manner at all times."

While Thomas is a Colorado transfer who will not be eligible to play until the 2016-17 season and Williams has been a reserve for his first three years in Fayetteville, Beard was supposed to be one of the Razorbacks' standouts during the 2015-16 campaign.

Beard averaged 5.7 points per game as a freshman last season and showed glimpses of potential. The point guard sparked Arkansas for a stretch during league play this past season but faded terribly late in the year and went scoreless in the NCAA tournament.

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Jeff Eisenberg is the editor of The Dagger on Yahoo Sports. Have a tip? Email him at daggerblog@yahoo.com or follow him on Twitter!

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Author: Jeff Eisenberg
Posted: July 23, 2015, 2:46 pm

The most memorable part of Drake's ill-fated appearance at last year's Big Blue Madness may no longer be him donning Kentucky warmups, participating in the pre-scrimmage layup line and missing a jump shot by an embarrassingly large margin.

That has been surpassed by something that happened a couple hours later.

A Freedom of Information Act request by SportingNews.com revealed Wednesday that Kentucky has self-reported a minor NCAA rules violation stemming from impermissible communication between Drake and three prospective recruits who attended Big Blue Madness. Kentucky actually went so far as to send a cease-and-decist letter to Drake after he posed for photos with guard Charles Matthews, forward Carlton Bragg and center Stephen Zimmerman. 

Me and Drake 😈😈 pic.twitter.com/f2gaOj8HVH

— Carlton Bragg (@carltonbragg31) October 17, 2014

Big Blue Madness was Crazy!!!' Loved It! pic.twitter.com/F65u44Pxo3

— Team Matthews (@nichole0335) October 18, 2014

In the letter obtained by SportingNews.com, Kentucky officials said they patrolled the halls at Rupp Arena and warned both Drake and the recruits in attendance they could not have contact. Those efforts were not successful as Drake crossed paths with Matthews, Bragg and Zimmerman while visiting with the team in the locker room after the event.

The level III violation Kentucky received is negligible and will not lead to further punishment, a fair outcome considering the encounter with Drake clearly had no impact on the recruitment of Matthews, Bragg and Zimmerman. Matthews had already committed to Kentucky before Big Blue Madness, while Bragg chose Kansas last year and Zimmerman picked hometown UNLV this past spring.

What will be interesting to see is if this impacts the relationship Kentucky coach John Calipari has cultivated with Drake the past few years.

Drake coached one of the intrasquad teams at Big Blue Madness in 2009. He sat behind the bench during the NCAA tournament in 2010.  He invited Calipari and the entire Wildcats team on stage with him during a concert in Lexington a few years ago. He credited Calipari with inspiring him to finish high school.  And he received a 2012 national championship ring with the name "Drizzy" engraved in it.

Having Drake attend Big Blue Madness every year is largely a coup for Kentucky because it makes the event an even greater selling point for recruits.

The Wildcats just would be better off if they can find a way to keep him and the high school prospects in attendance from crossing paths.

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Jeff Eisenberg is the editor of The Dagger on Yahoo Sports. Have a tip? Email him at daggerblog@yahoo.com or follow him on Twitter!

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Author: Jeff Eisenberg
Posted: July 22, 2015, 9:48 pm

Even though North Carolina likely won't respond to the NCAA's Notice of Allegations for another few weeks, one of the school's former women's basketball players fears she knows what's coming.

Meghan Austin expects the Tar Heels athletic department to sacrifice its tradition-rich women's basketball program in hopes of avoiding serious punishment for its two biggest revenue producers, football and men's basketball. 

Austin, a 2008 North Carolina graduate currently coaching at Montreat College, penned an editorial for the Raleigh News & Observer on Monday accusing the Tar Heels athletic department of already showing signs of making its women's basketball program "the scapegoat." Austin noted that men's coach Roy Williams got a contract extension earlier this summer but women's coach Sylvia Hatchell has thus far not received the same show of support.

"Our program was not the only team in the report, yet we are the ones being talked about the most. Roy Williams and his program were in the report, and he got a contract extension. The football program was in the report, and its coaching staff was confident enough to tell recruits that they will not receive any repercussions from the NCAA investigation.

"That leaves the female sport as the one program negatively affected by these allegations. It’s really hard to work for a boss who doesn’t support you and have your back, and that is what Hatchell and her staff are forced to do at this point. It is hard to believe that in the year 2015, we still have people of power who do not support female teams as well as they do their male counterparts.

"I am proud to be a member of the UNC women’s basketball program, but I cannot say I am proud to represented by an administration that will throw a legendary coach to the wolves to protect men’s athletic teams."

The Notice of Allegations hit the Tar Heels with five potentially serious violations in the wake of the NCAA's lengthy investigation into the academic fraud that took place at the school.

The first two allegations state that North Carolina athletes received impermissible benefits unavailable to the rest of the student body when their academic counselors obtained special assistance and privileges for them. The next two allegations target African American Studies department officials Deborah Crowder and Dr. Julius Nyang’oro for their failure to cooperate in the NCAA's investigation.

The charge of lack of institutional control is the most serious one. It asserts that the athletic department failed to properly monitor the actions of members of its academic support staff and cast a blind eye to why so many athletes were enrolled in African American Studies courses.

We'll have to wait until North Carolina responds to the Notice of Allegations to find out whether Austin is correct that the school's strategy is to sacrifice women's basketball, however, that is certainly a reasonable prediction. Women's basketball is the sport most frequently mentioned in the notice. That's because of allegations that counselor Jan Boxill committed major violations in the form of improper academic assistance and special arrangements to women’s basketball players.

Whether the NCAA's committee on infractions would accept such a strategy is another question. There is ample evidence in the Notice of Allegations that athletes from the football and men's basketball programs also benefited from taking paper classes.

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Author: Jeff Eisenberg
Posted: July 22, 2015, 3:35 pm
The Motor City Muslims pose for a team picture clad in warmups that read Brotherhood. (via Ali Altimimy)

Only a few weeks before their debut tournament this past spring, members of the nation's only known all-Muslim AAU basketball team were still grappling with an important decision.

Did they want to select a team name that would make it easier to blend in on the AAU circuit or one that would highlight the differences between themselves and their opponents?

The Motor City Muslims logo (via Ali Altimimy)A brainstorming session among the players produced some tolerable yet unimaginative possibilities, from the Ballers, to the Warriors, to the Mustangs. Coach Clarence Archibald offered a more daring alternative when he suggested the team show pride in its faith and culture by opting for a name featuring either the word "Muslim" or "Islam."

"Some of them were a little hesitant, but I pushed pretty hard," Archibald said. "We all know Islam often is unfortunately portrayed in a negative way in the media. I wanted to be sure we were easily identifiable as an all-Muslim team because it gave us an opportunity to change people's mindsets by showing them we're as American as home runs and apple pie."

In an era when young Muslim Americans sometimes try to avoid detection by removing any outward signs of Islam in public and by going by names like "Mo" instead of "Mohammed," Archibald's players boldy chose to wear their identities across their chests. They named their team the Motor City Muslims and emblazoned a custom-made logo on the front of their jerseys featuring a basketball player clad in a traditional Islamic robe and turban.

Such an unconventional choice made it difficult for the Motor City Muslims to keep a low profile at the tournaments they attended in Michigan this year.

Strangers often gawked or whispered when the team prayed together between games or broke its huddles by shouting in unison "bismillāh," the Arabic word for "in the name of God." Other teams also tended not to take the Motor City Muslims as seriously as they would have opponents of a different culture or skin tone.

"Some teams looked at us and thought, 'Oh this is an easy win. What are they even doing here?'" said starting point guard Zeeshan Tariq, a rising sophomore at Harrison High School. "When I'd turn around during warmups, they'd just be fooling around on the side like they didn't even need to warm up to beat us because it would be such an easy win."

Though the Motor City Muslims didn't have any surefire Division I college prospects or any players taller than 6-foot-3, opponents quickly learned to overlook them at their own risk. The team won a handful of games in the 16-and-under tournaments it entered the past few months before taking the July live period off while fasting during the Islamic holy month of Ramadan.

The formation of an all-Muslim 16-and-under AAU basketball team in the Detroit suburbs was the brainchild of a man not far removed from his own playing days. 

Ali Altimimy, the 26-year-old youth director at the Muslim Unity Center in Bloomfield Hills, Mich., is a former high school and community college basketball player whose love for hoops is only exceeded by his passion for his religion. He is skeptical that his own basketball career would have blossomed had he not challenged himself by playing AAU ball, so he wanted to give the same chance to some of the Unity Center's best young recreational players.

"I asked the guys, 'What if we start a team? Would you be down?'" Altimimy said. "They were all over the idea. They were like, 'Yeah, sounds amazing.'

"For me, that was exciting because basketball was my go-to thing when I was their age, along with my connection to God. If I wanted to get away from my parents bugging me or all the negativity and stigma surrounding Islam, basketball was my refuge."

Altimimy recruited 18 high school freshmen and sophomores to try out for the team, some from the mosque at which he works and others from neighboring towns. He didn't actively pursue boys of other faiths, but he says he'd have welcomed them had they heard about the tryout and asked to participate.

The next task for Altimimy was attempting to talk Archibald into getting involved, no easy task since the coach has a family, a full-time real estate job and another AAU coaching position running the more well-established Michigan Soldiers. Fortunately, Archibald was a fellow Muslim who had held clinics at the Unity Center before and believed in what Altimimy was trying to accomplish, so much so that he agreed to carve out time to lead practice twice a week and coach the team at tournaments.

"My wife wasn't happy, but such is life," Archibald said. "It was something I wanted to do. We've had some kids at the Unity Center who were talented enough to play basketball at the next level, but they didn't have anyone to push them. There are a couple who are in college now that said, 'I wish you had this for us when we were growing up.'"

Before Archibald and Altimimy could worry about molding the Motor City Muslim's best players into college prospects, they first had to focus on basics.

One priority was helping the players develop the fundamentals they would need to someday make the jump to the varsity team in high school, anything from ball handling, to boxing out, to maintaining a low defensive stance. Another priority was eliminating the cliques that had formed among players of Indian or Pakistani descent and those with Middle Eastern roots. Once that was done, there was still the vital task of preparing the team for the challenge of wearing "Muslims" on their chest at a time when that word still can inspire fear and distrust.

"What I told them was that they were representing Islam," Altimimy said. "If we can show people that we're ballers and we can hoop but that we're also regular young people, that would be big."

The importance of debunking the negative image of Islam isn't lost on the Motor City Muslims, but many of them were more eager to discredit another unflattering stereotype. They wanted to show that an all-Muslim team could be more formidable on the basketball floor than many opponents expected.

At their first tournament, the Muslims buried a trio of threes and ripped off a 9-0 lead against an opponent that had been giggling at them in warmups. Weeks later, they shocked a team with one of the better point guards in Michigan by coming within a basket or two of winning.

One of rising sophomore guard Omar Shalal's favorite memories came at a tournament in Brighton at which other teams were laughing at the Muslims after they played a poor opening game. The Muslims warmed up for their second contest determined to leave a better impression.

"The other team was making fun of us before the game and acting like we were a bunch of pushovers," Shalal said. "We played one of our best games that day and blew them out. All the other teams came on the court afterward, congratulated us and said, 'Wow, you guys are actually pretty good.' They went up to one of our top players and said, 'You can go somewhere with basketball if you keep working at it.'"

Successes like that explain why the Motor City Muslims are unlikely to be merely a one-year phenomenon.

Many of the current players enjoyed their experience enough that they expect to play again next year in the 17-and-under division. Altimimy and Archibald are also discussing expanding the program by launching a couple new teams for younger players in hopes they'll get used to the competition level early and grow together.

"There are a lot of good players in the gym at the mosque I go to, but they just want to play against each other," Tariq said. "They don't ever want to go out and expose themselves against better competition and show out at tournaments and tryouts. I feel like this team helped some of our guys overcome that fear. I feel like it helped us grow and gave us a chance to show what we can do."

Video highlights of the Motor City Muslims:

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Jeff Eisenberg is the editor of The Dagger on Yahoo Sports. Have a tip? Email him at daggerblog@yahoo.com or follow him on Twitter!

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Author: Jeff Eisenberg
Posted: July 22, 2015, 12:40 am

The NCAA announced a pair of subtle but smart tweaks to its selection and seeding process on Monday, one to prevent last March's biggest controversy from reoccurring and the other to avoid a potential issue that nearly arose at the top of the bracket.

The first change ensures that the last four at-large teams voted into the 68-team tournament field no longer automatically are sent to the First Four. Now the selection committee has the freedom to elevate one or more into the main draw if the ensuing seed scrubbing process reveals they a stronger resume than a team initially voted in ahead of them.  

This change should be known as the UCLA rule even though the NCAA's release makes no mention of the Bruins. It's a clear response to the uproar over UCLA receiving a spot in the NCAA tournament's main draw last March when many analysts were skeptical Steve Alford's team even had a resume worthy of the First Four. 

UCLA's inclusion in the main draw ahead of the four teams sent to the First Four and at-large snubs Temple and Colorado State was controversial because the Bruins were 4-12 away from home on the season and had only beaten four top 100 RPI opponents all season. The furor lingered even after UCLA proved itself by advancing to the Sweet 16, a run aided in part by a dubious goaltending call in the opening round against SMU and a cushy round of 32 draw against 14th-seeded UAB. 

“It’s a small, yet significant, alteration to the language outlining our seeding process,” said Joseph R. Castiglione, the vice president and director of athletics at the University of Oklahoma and the chair of the Division I Men’s Basketball Committee for the 2015-16 season.

“Making this change gives the committee the opportunity to properly seed every team, whereas previous procedures did not permit appropriate scrubbing of the last four at-large teams," said Oklahoma athletic director Joseph Castiglione, the selection committee chair.

“Selecting teams usually involves looking at teams in groups of eight. Scrubbing is comparing two teams against one another and sometimes there’s greater clarity during that process due to head-to-head competition, record versus common opponents or wins against tournament teams. This tweak provides us with the opportunity to scrub teams even more thoroughly.”

The other adjustment to the selection process gives the committee greater flexibility to balance the top two seed lines.

Bracketing principles previously dictated that the committee prioritize geographic proximity over competitive equity when assigning the No. 1 and 2 seeds to a particular region. Now the committee can consider moving the strongest No. 2 seed out of its natural geographic area to avoid placing it in the same region as the No. 1 overall seed in the tournament.

This change is a response to how close the committee came to having no choice but to send Wisconsin to the same region as then-undefeated Kentucky last March. Only the Badgers' late ascension to the last No. 1 seed enabled them to avoid joining the Wildcats in Cleveland, where two of the strongest teams in the entire field could have met in the Elite Eight. Wisconsin instead upset Kentucky a week later in the Final Four. 

“This change doesn’t mean we are going to a true S-Curve but if we can achieve it, or come closer to having more competitive balance on the top two lines without compromising our existing principles and without putting a team at a great disadvantage, we will consider it," Castiglione said.

While I still believe competitive balance should be prioritized over geographic proximity in all decisions pertaining to teams on the top four seed lines, this is at least a step in the right direction.

There's no way Wisconsin would rather have played Kentucky in Cleveland in the Elite Eight than a weaker opponent somewhere else. Thanks to this small but important rule change, teams in the future won't face that problem.  

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Jeff Eisenberg is the editor of The Dagger on Yahoo Sports. Have a tip? Email him at daggerblog@yahoo.com or follow him on Twitter!

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Author: Jeff Eisenberg
Posted: July 20, 2015, 5:13 pm

Many coaches whose jobs are in jeopardy assemble a cupcake-heavy schedule designed to make getting to 20 wins as attainable as possible.

Dave Rice certainly did not take such an easy way out.

The embattled UNLV coach has put together a schedule laden with challenging opponents entering what appears to be a sink-or-swim season for him and his staff. The Rebels haven't won an NCAA tournament game in Rice's first four seasons and they haven't reached the postseason at all the past two years.  

The first big challenge for UNLV will be the Maui Invitational, which includes national powers Kansas, Indiana and UCLA and improving Vanderbilt and Wake Forest. The Rebels would probably have to pull an upset to finish with a winning record in Lahaina. 

UNLV also has three matchups with Pac-12 competition, a road game at likely preseason top 15 Arizona, a home game against Arizona State and a neutral-court matchup in Las Vegas against a very strong Oregon team. The Rebels pulled off a memorable upset against the Wildcats last season in Las Vegas but lost to the Sun Devils in Tempe by 22 points.

As if those games weren't tough enough, the Mountain West decided to throw in another challenge by handing UNLV by far the toughest assignment in the league's head-to-head challenge with the Missouri Valley Conference. The Rebels will visit Wichita State, a likely preseason top 15 team with one of the best backcourts in the nation. 

UNLV has enough to talent to survive that gauntlet in spite of the early departures of first-round draft pick Rashad Vaughn and undrafted forward Christian Wood.

Anchoring UNLV's frontcourt will be elite incoming freshman Stephen Zimmerman, a skilled center who chose the Rebels over the likes of Kentucky, UCLA and others. He'll be joined by former Oregon transfer Ben Carter and ex-top 100 recruits Goodluck Okonoboh and Dwayne Morgan.

UNLV will have more outside shooting and scoring options in the backcourt than it had a year ago when Vaughn and Patrick McCaw were the two primary weapons. McCaw is the most proven perimeter weapon, but Rutgers transfer Jerome Seagears, sharpshooter Jordan Cornish and incoming freshmen Jaylen Posner and Derrick Jones should offer support.

Whereas many other Mountain West teams opt to schedule soft in November and December in hopes that piling up wins will impress the selection committee, UNLV has annually challenged itself in non-conference play. That has paid off with high-profile victories against North Carolina and Arizona, but it has also taken a toll in other years too.

UNLV will have to hope its newcomers mesh with its returners in time to enjoy some success in Maui and against some of the tough December opponents.

Rice and his staff need a bounce-back season, but they didn't make it easy on themselves. 

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Jeff Eisenberg is the editor of The Dagger on Yahoo Sports. Have a tip? Email him at daggerblog@yahoo.com or follow him on Twitter!

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Author: Jeff Eisenberg
Posted: July 16, 2015, 6:45 pm

A team consisting mostly of Kansas players won the U.S.'s first World University Games championship in 10 years on Monday. The U.S. overcame a late deficit to defeat Germany in double overtime in the gold-medal game.

For Kansas, the hope is that a high-level tournament like this will provide a nice springboard into the new season this fall. Here's a look at the three biggest things we learned about Kansas the past few weeks in Korea:

1. Wayne Selden may finally be ready for a breakout year

The Wayne Selden that Kansas fans had been hoping to see the past two seasons finally emerged the past few weeks in Korea. The rising junior wing averaged 19.3 points and 6.5 rebounds in Team USA's eight games, all while shooting a much higher percentage than he did during a topsy-turvy sophomore season in which he struggled to finish at the rim.

An exhausted Selden shot only 6-for-28 in Monday's double overtime title game against Germany, but even then he found a way to make an impact. He sank a go-ahead three that gave his team the lead for good in double overtime.

On a Kansas team that also returns standout point guard Frank Mason and all-conference forward Perry Ellis, Selden doesn't need to average 19.3 points per game next season. But if he can develop into a reliable wing scorer who can be counted on to consistently put up double figures, it would go a long way toward easing the pressure on Ellis and Mason and making Kansas a legit national title contender.

2. Frank Mason will have the ball in his hands late in games

Whereas Kansas entered last season with questions about who would fill its starting point guard job, there's no doubt who the Jayhawks will turn to this year. Frank Mason seized that job with a breakout sophomore season last year and showed signs in Korea that he might be ready for a starring role this fall.

Mason tallied 18 points, nine rebounds and six assists in the U.S.'s gold-medal victory against Germany, but it was his performance late in close games throughout the tournament that hinted that he might be Kansas' most important player next season. He showed poise and confidence with the ball in his hands, sometimes calling his own number and other times dishing to an open teammate. 

With Selden and Mason seemingly locks for starting jobs on the perimeter, that leaves one more spot in the Kansas lineup for Bill Self to fill. He could either go big with wing Svi Mykhailiuk, a Ukraine native who could not play in this tournament, or go smaller with combo guard Devonte' Graham or sharpshooter Brannen Green, both of whom were injured and also sat out in Korea. 

3. Hunter Mickelson has a chance to crack Kansas' frontcourt rotation

Buried on the bench throughout much of his junior season, Hunter Mickelson entered the World University Games eager to take advantage of a chance to prove himself. Cliff Alexander had moved on to the NBA and elite incoming freshman Cheick Diallo could not play for the U.S. team, opening up possible playing time for Mickelson.

The 6-foot-10 former Arkansas transfer certainly made a case for playing time in Korea, not only scoring in the paint but also doing a credible job rebounding and protecting the rim. At times, Mickelson was the U.S. team's most productive big man during the tournament. 

It's likely Diallo who will start alongside Perry Ellis at center next season for Kansas, but Mickelson made a case to be ahead of fellow returners Landen Lucas and Jamari Traylor in the rotation. Lucas and Traylor are both superior rebounders but are limited in their ability to score or alter shots at the rim.

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Jeff Eisenberg is the editor of The Dagger on Yahoo Sports. Have a tip? Email him at daggerblog@yahoo.com or follow him on Twitter!

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Author: Jeff Eisenberg
Posted: July 14, 2015, 5:37 pm

Xavier basketball coach Chris Mack is a fun follow on Twitter and generally seems to be a guy who doesn't take himself too seriously. 

But he might have gone a bit too far Monday night while tweeting during the Home Run Derby at Great American Ballpark in Cincinnati. Mack took a shot at Los Angeles Angels slugger Albert Pujols suggesting he would need steroids to win. He also misspelled Pujols with the insult. 

Pujhols needs an oxygen tank or 💉💉. I'm sorry, did I tweet that?

— Chris Mack (@CoachChrisMack) July 14, 2015

Mack was poking fun a sensitive subject in baseball, but it's just not the kind of comment you expect to see from a major college basketball coach during an event like this. 

Pujols, who made it to the semifinals but ultimately lost to rookie Los Angeles Dodgers centerfielder Joc Pederson, was the oldest competitor in the contest at 35. 

The new rules for the derby this year require players to try to hit as many home runs as they can in 4 minutes. If they hit certain numbers, they earn extra time. It made for a more entertaining night but tired guys out. That led Mack to suggest Pujols would need a little something extra. Mack tweeted earlier in the day that he was attending the Home Run Derby with his father. 

A few fans called Mack out for his poor choice of words and Mack responded. 

@CoachChrisMack Not much tact for a coach, eh?

— Alex Goldstein (@KosherNation) July 14, 2015

 

@KosherNation Cards fan ehhhh. Relax

— Chris Mack (@CoachChrisMack) July 14, 2015

@CoachChrisMack Didn't ask your editor about that one, did you?

— Kevin Goheen (@CincyGoGo) July 14, 2015

@CoachChrisMack come on Chris. You ought to be able to spell Pujols

— Martin Feeney (@evelynseal) July 14, 2015

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[Kyle Ringo is the assistant editor of The Dagger on Yahoo Sports. Have a tip? Email him at kyle.ringo@yahoo.com or follow him on Twitter! Follow @KyleRingo

Author: Kyle Ringo
Posted: July 14, 2015, 3:40 am

NORTH AUGUSTA, S.C. — The highlight of the first week of the July live period is the Nike EYBL finals at the Peach Jam, an event that annually lures some of the most well-known college coaches in the nation thanks to its star-studded field.

I spent this past Thursday, Friday and Saturday at the Peach Jam watching games and chatting with the coaches on hand. I've written extensively about Duke's recruiting successes already, but here are eight other takeaways from the event:

1. At a tournament featuring many of the most coveted prospects in the nation, the MVP was an unranked 5-foot-9 point guard without nearly as much hype. Auburn commit Jared Harper was outstanding at times during the tournament, tallying 24 points in the semifinals and 34 in the title game to lead a loaded Georgia Stars team to the championship. With Auburn coach Bruce Pearl watching courtside, Harper expertly controlled the pace of play and showed a knack for scoring and passing, sinking 21 threes in eight games and tallying more than twice as many assists than turnovers. Small sample size of games or not, it appears Auburn has found its point guard of the future.

2. Chris Paul doesn't merely attach his name to Team CP3. The Los Angels Clippers point guard takes pride in being extremely involved with his grassroots club. Paul was on the bench for each of Team CP3's games this past week in South Carolina, instructing players during timeouts, shouting encouragement between plays and generally living and dying with every basket. To sum up how competitive Paul is, consider what he did during Team CP3's final game of pool play. Paul led a fake 5-4-3-2-1 chant to try to convince an opposing player that the shot clock was about to expire.

3. If De'Aaron Fox wasn't already considered the Class of 2016's best point guard, he made a strong case for himself at Peach Jam. The Houston Hoops point guard showcased a lightning-quick first step to the rim, excellent court vision and an ability to finish in traffic in leading his team to the quarterfinals. About the only thing glaringly missing from his game at this point is a consistent jump shot. Coaches from Arizona, Kansas, Louisville and LSU were on hand for most of his games, but the program with the most at stake with his recruitment may be Texas. New coach Shaka Smart reportedly first called Fox on his second day on the job and has made him a top priority ever since.

4. California Supreme failed to reach the Peach Jam quarterfinals, but its most coveted prospect still asserted himself well. Rapidly improving 6-foot-11 Brandon McCoy solidified himself as one of the Class of 2017's top big men by blocking shots, rebounding in traffic and scoring either on short jump shots or with his back to the basket. He has excellent size, length and athleticism for a prospect his age and simply needs to continue to get stronger and develop his skill level. Arizona, Oregon, San Diego State were among the programs who sent their head coaches to scout McCoy. One high-major head coach whose team reached the NCAA tournament last year confided that he loved McCoy but wouldn't bother to recruit him because he didn't consider him a realistic target.  

5. Two of the most interesting recruiting battles to watch will be whether Kentucky can pry elite prospects Malik Monk and Miles Bridges away from programs in their home states. Monk, maybe the Class of 2016's top shooting guard, is a Fayetteville, Ark. native whose older brother Marcus starred for the Razorbacks. Arkansas coach Mike Anderson watched every one of Monk's games, as did either Kentucky coach John Calipari or his assistant Kenny Payne. Bridges is a fast-rising small forward from Flint, Michigan, a city that has produced a lot of Michigan State standouts over the years. He narrowed his list of schools to five finalists on Monday — Michigan, Michigan State, Kentucky, North Carolina and Indiana.

6. The most oft-discussed player on Team CP3 this past week may not have been Harry Giles or any of the other high-major prospects on the roster. Almost everyone who watched Team CP3 left buzzing about its tiny backup point guard. Darnell Rogers, the son of 5-foot-5 former George Washington star Shawnta Rogers, was listed at 5-foot-3 on a team roster but he might not even hit 5 foot without the poofy mohawk he sports. Nonetheless, Rogers is a legitimate Division I prospect drawing interest from his dad's alma mater and a handful of other mid-major programs. He showed a good enough floater and jump shot to be effective on offense, but where he makes the most impact is with his ball pressure defensively. His quick hands and feet make him a nuisance guarding opposing point guards from end line to end line.

7. Virginia coach Tony Bennett was scouting a young forward in a U-16 game on Saturday when an elderly spectator unknowingly wandered into a section of seats reserved for the coaches, plopped down beside him and struck up a conversation. It would have been easy for Bennett to have been terse or gruff, especially since the man had limited basketball knowledge and no idea he was speaking with the head coach of the two-time reigning ACC champions. Instead Bennett displayed patience and kindness, learning that the man was from Baton Rouge, informing him that was also his wife's hometown and quizzing him about his favorite restaurants in the city. To me, that conversation was as impressive as any of the high-flying dunks or no-look passes I saw on the court that day. The way Bennett treated the man says a lot about his character.

8. I asked a couple of coaches I chatted with for their all-Peach Jam team, and this was the consensus: PG De'Aaron Fox, SG Malik Monk, SF Jayson Tatum, PF Harry Giles, C Wendell Carter. I have no argument with that quintet, but Miles Bridges certainly was impressive too.

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Jeff Eisenberg is the editor of The Dagger on Yahoo Sports. Have a tip? Email him at daggerblog@yahoo.com or follow him on Twitter!

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Author: Jeff Eisenberg
Posted: July 13, 2015, 5:59 pm

The most exaggerated storyline from Duke's national title run this past spring was the notion that the Blue Devils' reliance on one-and-done freshmen represented some sort of seismic shift in recruiting philosophy.

In reality, Mike Krzyzewski has long pursued prospects of that caliber. The difference is Krzyzewski is now landing them in bunches.

A Duke program that once appeared to be falling behind both Kentucky and North Carolina in the hunt for elite talent suddenly is threatening to overtake both as college basketball's trendiest destination for top recruits.

In their past two recruiting classes, the Blue Devils have landed seven Rivals.com Top 25 prospects — Jahlil Okafor, Justise Winslow, Tyus Jones, Brandon Ingram, Chase Jeter, Derryck Thornton and Luke Kennard. Duke added to its haul Sunday when elite forward Jayson Tatum, Rivals.com's No. 3 prospect in the Class of 2016, chose the Blue Devils over fellow suitors North Carolina, Kentucky and Saint Louis.

The scary thing for Duke's opponents is how well the Blue Devils are positioned to extend that run for years to come. They are considered the favorite to land 6-foot-10 forward Harry Giles, a freakish athlete and close friend of Tatum's who is maybe the Class of 2016's premier prospect. They also are among the leading contenders to nab elite point guard Frank Jackson and a handful of coveted Class of 2017 prospects, most notably skilled 6-foot-10 big man Wendell Carter and AAU teammates Michael Porter and Trae Young.

The most talented player in the Class of 2018 is also already on Duke's radar. Krzyzewski and at least one Blue Devils assistant sat at mid-court this past week for many of forward Marvin Bagley's games at the Nike EYBL finals in North Augusta, S.C.

Duke's recent recruiting surge represents a clear upgrade over the period that preceded it.

While Krzyzewski won a national title with a collection of three- and four-year players in 2010 and seldom went a year without landing at least one McDonald's All-American, the Blue Devils' often were at a talent deficit when facing the country's best programs. Krzyzewski swung and missed on top targets uncharacteristically often, losing Greg Monroe to Georgetown in 2008, failing to pry John Wall away from John Calipari in 2009 and finishing second to North Carolina in a spirited battle for Harrison Barnes in 2010.

How did Duke reverse that trend and reclaim its status as college basketball's chic program? There are a handful of factors that have played a role

One is the way Krzyzewski has capitalized on his role with USA Basketball. The NBA's stars embracing and lauding Krzyzewski has only enhanced his image and made him more attractive to today's top prospects, as has the additional face time he has logged with high school players at the U-17, U-18 and U-19 levels.

Another factor is the academic fraud scandal that has ensnared North Carolina. The threat of looming NCAA sanctions and a potential postseason ban has crippled the Tar Heels' pursuit of Ingram, Tatum, Giles and other top prospects.

But maybe the biggest reason for Duke's success is Krzyzewski's 2011 hire of ex-Blue Devils guard Jeff Capel as associate head coach. The former Oklahoma and VCU coach has shown a remarkable knack for building relationships with prospective recruits, spearheading the Blue Devils' pursuit of Jabari Parker, Rodney Hood, Winslow, Okafor and Jones, among others.

The way in which Capel wooed Okafor and Jones was especially impressive because their pact to attend college together made for a very unusual recruitment. He communicated with them via conference calls and group texts and invited them to visit campus together yet he also made a point of pursuing them as individuals too.

With Jones, Capel pointed out Duke hadn't offered a scholarship to any other class of 2014 point guards and emphasized that he was a top priority whether Okafor came too or not. With Okafor, Capel was proactive in addressing Duke's reputation for running a guard-oriented offense that seldom prioritized playing through the low post.

"One of the scare tactics other programs use against us for bigs is they'll tell them, 'All you're going to do is screen and rebound,'" Capel told Yahoo Sports last March. "We knew Jah was hearing that, so we tried to combat it early. We told him, 'This is what you're going to hear. When we've had guys like you, we threw the ball to Mason Plumlee when he was a senior. When Elton Brand was here, he got the ball. The offense ran through him.' I think we got through to him and I also don't think it hurt us that we had Tyus helping us, talking in his ear."

The success of Okafor-Jones arrangement has given Duke a new angle to pitch to top recruits. Now the Blue Devils can encourage them to come to Durham with one or two other top prospects and chase a championship together the way Okafor and Jones did, a selling point that appeals to best friends Giles and Tatum as well as some of the Class of 2016 and 17's other elite players.

“You see something like that, two great players teaming up, it definitely influences you,” Tatum said Thursday. “They had one goal in mind, they accomplished it and they had a great time doing it. Who wouldn’t want to do that?”

The potential for Duke to finish with the nation's No. 1 recruiting class for a third straight year next spring certainly doesn't spell doom for any of college basketball's other top programs. Kentucky will continue to attract top players as long as John Calipari is its coach, Arizona and Kansas will keep landing McDonald's All-Americans year after year and North Carolina will be fine too once the extent of its NCAA sanctions become clear.

Nonetheless, none of those programs is signing virtually every elite player it targets. These days, the only program that can say that is Duke.

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Jeff Eisenberg is the editor of The Dagger on Yahoo Sports. Have a tip? Email him at daggerblog@yahoo.com or follow him on Twitter!

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Author: Jeff Eisenberg
Posted: July 12, 2015, 8:48 pm

NORTH AUGUSTA, S.C. — Two of the top recruits in the Class of 2016 couldn't help but notice last spring when longtime friends Tyus Jones and Jahlil Okafor achieved their goal of capturing the national championship together.

Forwards Harry Giles and Jayson Tatum have spoken about trying to do something similar in college, whether at Duke or one of the other top programs that would gladly make room for both of them.  

“You see something like that, two great players teaming up, it definitely influences you,” Tatum said. “They had one goal in mind, they accomplished it and they had a great time doing it. Who wouldn’t want to do that?”

The increasing possibility that Giles and Tatum could opt to play together in college could make Duke, Kentucky or North Carolina next year’s big winners in recruiting. The Blue Devils are regarded as the favorite to land Tatum, while the Wildcats and Tar Heels are the only other programs both players are still considering.

Whereas Jones and Okafor conducted weekly conference calls with one another’s family, went on visits together and ultimately committed during simultaneous press conferences, a potential Tatum-Giles package deal is not nearly as well organized. Tatum says he intends to commit “very soon” — definitely by the end of the summer. Giles still has a list of eight programs he is considering and intends to take his time.

“I’d love to play together, but we have to do what’s right for both of us,” Giles said. “[The Okafor-Jones package deal] was a little different because they committed at the same time. If we go to the same school we’re not going to commit at the same time.”

It’s easy to see why programs would be eager to take both Giles and Tatum after seeing the chemistry the two consensus top-three recruits have developed playing together for USA Basketball the past few years.

Giles, a lanky, athletic 6-foot-10 power forward, and Tatum, a smooth, skilled 6-foot-8 small forward, led the U.S. U-19 team to a gold medal in Greece last week even though both were two of the youngest players on the roster. They roomed together on that trip, further cementing their interest in playing together in the future.

Neither Giles nor Tatum had much time to rest or adjust to a time change before leaving for the Nike EYBL finals at the Peach Jam, but neither have allowed fatigue to diminish their impact.

Giles has led Team CP3 to a 3-1 record in pool play by averaging 18.3 points and 12 rebounds. A big reason the St. Louis Eagles are one of four remaining unbeaten teams in pool play is because Tatum is averaging 23.8 points, 8.5 rebounds and 3.5 assists.

“It’s tough,” Tatum said. “I definitely feel it in my body. The time change has me pretty tired right now, but you’ve got to get used to it and get over it.”

While Giles and Tatum could both envision themselves wearing the same uniform in college, both caution not to count out the other schools besides Duke, Kentucky and North Carolina on their respective lists.

Giles is also considering Kansas, Ohio State, Syracuse, Wake Forest and UNLV. Tatum insists he has genuine interest in hometown school Saint Louis even though the Billikens lack the historical pedigree of the other programs pursuing him.

“It’s definitely real,” Tatum said. “A lot of people don’t expect them to be on my list, but I love my hometown, I love the school, I love the players, the program, the people that work there, the atmosphere. I’ve visited the school numerous times and it’s still a strong possibility for me.”

Rivals.com video of Jayson Tatum:

Rivals.com video of Harry Giles:

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Jeff Eisenberg is the editor of The Dagger on Yahoo Sports. Have a tip? Email him at daggerblog@yahoo.com or follow him on Twitter!

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Author: Jeff Eisenberg
Posted: July 11, 2015, 12:19 pm

Syracuse is college basketball's attendance kings for the second straight year.

The Orange edged Kentucky and Louisville for the crown, drawing an average of 23,854 fans a game despite an uncharacteristically mediocre season and a self-imposed postseason ban. The Wildcats were second at 23,572 fans per game and the Cardinals were third at 21,386.

The NCAA released its entire attendance report from the 2014-15 college basketball season Monday. Here's a look at some of the stats that stand out:

• Highest attendance per game: 1. Syracuse (23,854), 2. Kentucky (23,572), 3. Louisville (21,386)

Comment: Syracuse's two-year run as average attendance leaders is notable because Kentucky had long been the kings in that category. Before the 2013-14 season, the Wildcats finished No. 1 in 17 of the previous 18 years.

• Lowest attendance per game: 1. Grambling (305), 2. St. Peter's (442), 3. Chicago State (477)

Comment: How did Grambling manage to draw smaller crowds than most high school teams last season? It had a lot to do with the product the Tigers put out on the floor. They went 2-27 with their lone two wins of the season coming against lower-division Lyon College and Selma University.

Highest per-game attendance among non-power five conference schools: 1. Creighton (17,048), 2. BYU (16,125), 3. New Mexico (14,571)

Comment: It's impressive that Creighton and Nebraska drew so well considering neither was remotely close to contending for an NCAA tournament bid last season. It's also telling that Memphis fell out of the top three. The Tigers' attendance declined from 16,121 in 2013-14 (No. 9) to 13,915 in 2014-15 (No. 22).

Lowest per-game attendance among power five conference schools: 1. Washington State (3,190), 2. USC (3,552), 3. TCU (4,123)

Comment: It has to be alarming for Washington State to be last for a second straight year despite making a coaching change in between. USC also can't be thrilled to be in the bottom five for a second straight year when coach Andy Enfield was hired in part to restore interest in basketball at the school. He'll need to make strides on the court and in the stands in the coming years.

Highest per-game attendance among non-Division I schools: 1. Northern State (3,402), 2. Augustana (2,697) 3. Fort Hayes State (2,656)

Comment: The only change from last year is Augustana replacing Dixie State in the top three.

Largest average attendance increase from last year: 1. NC State (+2,795), 2. Auburn (+2002), 3. Virginia (+1,978)

Comment: Virginia's second consecutive appearance in the top three in this category is a result of its rise in the ACC pecking order under Tony Bennett. Auburn's appearance is undoubtedly a product of the Bruce Pearl effect as the Tigers enjoyed an attendance surge in his first year on the job. 

Best average attendance per conference: 1. Big Ten (12,781), 2. ACC (11,368), 3. SEC (10,819)

Comment: The Big Ten topped this category for a fourth straight year despite the addition of basketball-bereft Rutgers, but the ACC closed the gap considerably. The Big 12 was fourth in this category, followed by the Big East and Pac-12.

Highest attendance in all games (home, road and neutral): 1. Kentucky (845,594), 2. Wisconsin (711,115), 3. Duke (664,146)

Comment: Duke's appearance speaks to how big a draw the Blue Devils are when they're away from home. Cameron Indoor Stadium seats less than 10,000 fans, so they're not getting the same bump from home games that some of the other top programs are.

Jeff Eisenberg is the editor of The Dagger on Yahoo Sports. Have a tip? Email him at daggerblog@yahoo.com or follow him on Twitter!

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Author: Jeff Eisenberg
Posted: July 6, 2015, 5:14 pm

The FIBA U-19 World Championships concluded Sunday with a dramatic title game rife with clutch shots, jaw-dropping highlights and end-to-end action.   

Croatia's Luka Bozic could have given his team the lead when he went to the free throw line trailing by one with four seconds left in regulation, but instead he offered the U.S. new life by sinking only one of two foul shots. The heavily favored Americans responded by seizing control in overtime and escaping with a well-earned 79-71 victory.

Give USA Basketball credit for winning gold at the past two U-19 World Championships because that age level has traditionally been the most difficult for the Americans to dominate. Before its victory in 2013, the U.S. had only held the U-19 world title once since 1995, a product of other nations sending more cohesive teams and top American prospects passing on the chance to play to focus on preparing for college or the NBA draft instead.

Besides delivering heartache for Croatia and a mixture of jubilation and relief for the U.S., this year's U-19 tournament also gave viewers a chance to see some of the world's most coveted prospects play against one another. Here's a look at what we learned with an emphasis on stuff that will impact college basketball in years to come:

1. The top of the Class of 2016 is incredible

The tournament confirmed the already popular opinion that the top players in the Class of 2016 have a chance to be special. Not only did guard Josh Jackson and forwards Harry Giles and Jayson Tatum each make the U.S. roster as high school seniors-to-be, the young American trio was the story of the tournament from start to finish. 

Giles dominated in the paint with his length and athleticism, averaging 14 points and 10.6 rebounds despite logging only 21.2 minutes per game. Tatum scored in double figures in all seven games and nearly took the head off a late-arriving Greek defender with a dunk in the semifinals. And Jackson showcased the versatility that is his trademark, sinking 50 percent of his threes, finishing at the rim and spearheading the U.S. full-court press with his defensive prowess.    

The success of Giles, Tatum and Jackson against older competition made up for the absence of many of the Class of 2015's top players. Rivals.com's highest-rated 2015 prospect on the team was Arizona-bound Allonzo Trier (No. 12), though Kentucky signee Isaiah Briscoe (No. 10) would have been a key player had he not gotten hurt just before the team left for Greece. 

2. Villanova's Jalen Brunson will be an impact freshman

Even though Villanova returns one of the nation's better point guards next season in Ryan Arcidiacono, there is no way the Wildcats will be able to keep incoming freshman Jalen Brunson off the floor. Rivals.com's No. 20 prospect emerged as the victorious U.S. team's most indispensable player by the end of the tournament, earning MVP honors after averaging 14.0 points and 5.6 assists. 

Brunson was at his best in the two closest games the U.S. played, a semifinal win over host Greece and the overtime title game victory against Croatia. He consistently displayed poise under pressure, erupting for 30 points against the Greeks and following that up with 14 points and 7 assists in a team-high 40 minutes against Croatia. 

How will Villanova integrate Brunson next season? The perimeter-oriented Wildcats will probably go with a two-point guard look as they have at times in the past under Jay Wright. While Arcidiacono's erratic outside shooting is a concern if he plays off ball, multi-point guard lineups have a good recent track record — the past two national champions both used them. 

3. Oregon has reason to be excited entering next season

The coach who emerged as the big winner from the U-19 tournament might be Oregon's Dana Altman after two of his players turned in brilliant performances. 

Six-foot-7 sophomore-to-be Dillon Brooks emerged as Canada's top player, leading his team to a fifth-place finish by averaging a team-high 18.8 points and 6.2 rebounds. Incoming freshman Tyler Dorsey showcased the scoring prowess that made him one of California's top high school players the past few years, leading Greece to a semifinal appearance by averaging 15.9 points, shooting 55 percent from the floor and burying 52 percent of his threes.

These developments bode well for a talented but undersized Oregon team that will have to absorb the loss of high-scoring lead guard Joseph Young next season. Expect Brooks to make a big leap next season after starting 33 of 36 games as a freshman and expect Dorsey to emerge as one of the Pac-12's highest scoring newcomers from the onset.   

4. Other international college prospects also showed promise

Oregon's staff probably wasn't the only one that came away from the U-19 tournament encouraged about next season's roster. Coaches at UNLV, St. John's, Nebraska and Wake Forest also surely were pleased with what their players accomplished.

UNLV-bound forward Justin Jackson and guard Jalen Poyser were two of the Canadian team's best players besides Brooks. The 6-foot-7 Jackson became a fixture in Canada's starting frontcourt by averaging 14.8 points and a team-best 8.0 rebounds, while the aggressive Poyser emerged as a high-scoring reserve by putting up 7.9 points per game despite only averaging 13.9 minutes off the bench. 

Six-foot-10 Spanish center Yankuba Sima showed why he could see immediate playing time for St. John's next season by posting 9.7 points, 7.3 rebounds and 2.0 blocks per game. Nebraska-bound Jack McVeigh had a nice tournament for Australia, averaging the second most points on his team. And Wake Forest rising sophomore Konstantinos Mitoglou was effective at power forward for Greece, turning in double-doubles in victories against Spain and the Dominican Republic.

Jeff Eisenberg is the editor of The Dagger on Yahoo Sports. Have a tip? Email him at daggerblog@yahoo.com or follow him on Twitter!

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Author: Jeff Eisenberg
Posted: July 6, 2015, 3:03 pm

Whether it's leading the nation in home attendance 10 straight years, camping out by the thousands for the right to attend a practice or helping John Calipari surpass 1.3 million Twitter followers, Kentucky supporters are a bit more obsessive than other fan bases.

Now comes further proof the citizens of Big Blue Nation are different: They have their own matchmaking service.

BBNMeetup.com launched on Thursday, billing itself as the dating site "with the goal of helping Kentucky fans find love with other Kentucky fans." Users will discover many familiar features other mainstream dating sites possess and one element unique to BBNMeetup: a metric that allows users to rate how passionate a Kentucky fan they are and seek out others who are equally fair weather or fanatical.

It's fair to wonder if a site devoted exclusively to one fan base can possibly provide a large enough dating pool to keep its clientele happy, but consider that Kentucky isn't like other states. A Mashable study from last year revealed that "basketball" was the most commonly used word on dating profiles among residents of Kentucky.

BBNMeetup has generated nationwide publicity in the lead-up to its launch, so much so that a torrent of visitors apparently even crashed the site this morning.

Congrats! Only the #BBN could crash a dating site before it launched! #BBNMeetUpDotCom #youpeoplearecrazy

— BBNmeetup.com (@BBNmeetup) July 2, 2015

So break out your selfie sticks and your finest throwback Jeff Sheppard jerseys, all you single Kentucky fans, because it's time to snap a flattering profile picture.

John Calipari's Wildcats fell two wins shy of winning a title this April. Thanks to BBNMeetup, perhaps some of their fans will get rings anyway.

Jeff Eisenberg is the editor of The Dagger on Yahoo Sports. Have a tip? Email him at daggerblog@yahoo.com or follow him on Twitter!

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Author: Jeff Eisenberg
Posted: July 2, 2015, 7:47 pm

Already well positioned next season with its top six scorers returning from a 23-win NCAA tournament team, Cincinnati took a big step Wednesday toward securing its long-term future too.

The Bearcats landed three commitments in less than 24 hours, a pair from promising recruits Nysier Brooks and Jarron Cumberland and the other from coveted transfer Kyle Washington.

The most impactful addition might be Cumberland, a muscular 6-foot-4 shooting guard from Wilmington, Ohio, who is Rivals.com's No. 65 prospect in the Class of 2016. Cumberland had interest from the likes of Indiana, Michigan, West Virginia, Xavier and Butler, but a blue-collar, hard-nosed program like Cincinnati ought to be a good fit.

A 6-foot-8 big man from New Jersey who thrives on doing the little things, Brooks is another good fit for the Bearcats even if he is less heralded than Cumberland. He seldom scores any other ways besides tip-ins and dump-off passes, but he is an effective interior defender and rebounder.

The last among the three additions is Washington, a 6-foot-9 forward who transferred from NC State after he averaged 6.8 points and 4.1 rebounds as a sophomore. Washington will have two years of eligibility remaining beginning in the 2016-17 season and will provide a potential replacement for top big man Octavius Ellis, who will play his final college season next year.

Next season's Cincinnati team has a chance to contend for the American Athletic Conference crown and advance deeper into the NCAA tournament if young stars Troy Caupain and Gary Clark can become more efficient scorers.

And with Brooks, Cumberland and Washington all set to debut the following season, there's good reason to believe the Bearcats can sustain their momentum.

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Jeff Eisenberg is the editor of The Dagger on Yahoo Sports. Have a tip? Email him at daggerblog@yahoo.com or follow him on Twitter!

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Author: Jeff Eisenberg
Posted: July 1, 2015, 5:48 pm

Most cold-shooting big men won't deign to dabble with attempting free throws underhand because they're fearful of being ridiculed for it.

Credit Louisville's Chinanu Onuaku for daring to be different.

Onuaku, a 46.7 percent free throw shooter this past season, is experimenting with the Rick Barry-esque granny stroke this summer at the suggestion of Louisville coach Rick Pitino. The 6-foot-10 sophomore showed off his new approach in the U-19 World Championships over the weekend, sinking 2 of 4 foul shots in the U.S. team's opening victory over Iran.

Onuaku logged 17.8 minutes per game for Louisville as a freshman, averaging 3.0 points and 4.6 rebounds and making an impact defensively with his ability to block shots. He is expected to play a greater role for the Cardinals next season with Montrezl Harrell off to the NBA.

In two games for the U.S. U-19 team, Onuaku has made a limited impact off the bench. He had four points and four rebounds against Croatia and two points and five rebounds against Iran.

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Jeff Eisenberg is the editor of The Dagger on Yahoo Sports. Have a tip? Email him at daggerblog@yahoo.com or follow him on Twitter!

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Author: Jeff Eisenberg
Posted: June 29, 2015, 4:05 pm

In the first 11 NBA drafts since Rivals.com began ranking high school basketball prospects, ex-Tennessee wing Scotty Hopson had been the only top-five recruit to go unselected.

Hopson finally has company on that not-so-illustrious list.

Sixty prospects heard their names called during Thursday night's NBA draft, however, former Kansas big man Cliff Alexander wasn't one of them. The consensus top-five recruit ranked ahead of Karl-Anthony Towns and D'Angelo Russell only a year ago will now have to try to latch on with an NBA franchise as an undrafted free agent and win a roster spot in training camp.

Alexander's draft night tumble comes on the heels of an underwhelming freshman season at Kansas.

Hailed as an elite power forward capable of overpowering defenders in the paint and dominating the glass, Alexander flashed only occasional glimpses of that potential. A foot injury last summer and a chest ailment during the season hampered Alexander, as did the playing time he lost with his inconsistent production and effort. 

Things only got worse for Alexander when his season ended amid an NCAA investigation after his mother, Latillia, accepted improper benefits from a third party. Alexander averaged a modest 7.1 points and 5.3 rebounds, yet he had little choice but to leave Kansas since he was unlikely to be eligible to play right away the following season.

Many mock drafts still projected Alexander as a late first-round pick when he entered in April, but some red flags began emerging. He measured at just over 6-foot-7 without shoes, he suffered a knee injury that hampered him during workouts and he failed to prove to skeptical scouts that he had good enough footwork, outside shooting or athleticism to make up for being undersized.

While that certainly explains why no NBA team used a first-round pick on Alexander, it's still shocking that none of them bothered to take a second-round flier on him. This is a kid that many compared favorably with Towns and Jahlil Okafor as recently as a year or two ago.

Give Alexander credit for his positive attitude after what had to be one of the most disappointing nights of his life.

Started from the bottom before #motivation

— Cliff Alexander (@CAlexander) June 26, 2015

Alexander has plenty of company on the bottom Thursday night as he is one of 18 underclassmen who entered the draft early but were not among the 60 players selected. Here's a look at the most high-profile early-entry candidates to go undrafted.

1. Cliff Alexander, F, Kansas

Comment: The culmination of a stunning fall for a top-five recruit frequently mentioned in the same breath as Jahlil Okafor and Karl-Anthony Towns as recently as a year ago.

2. Christian Wood, F, UNLV

Comment: The 6-foot-11 forward is a tantalizing combination of size and length, but his maturity and work ethic are both lacking.

3. Robert Upshaw, C, Washington

Comment: Even though Upshaw is the best shot blocker in this draft, concerns about his off-court issues and his heart problems kept him from being selected. 

4. Aaron Harrison, G, Kentucky

Comment: Had Harrison been selected on Thursday, Kentucky would have been the first school to have seven draft picks in one year.

5. Brandon Ashley, F, Arizona

Comment: The one-time highly touted recruit has a nice pick-and-pop jump shot but no other elite skills to set him apart from other prospects.

6. Trevor Lacey, G, N.C. State

Comment: Lacey's decision to leave school a year early made sense because of his age even though he was not selected. He'll make a lucrative salary overseas if he doesn't make an NBA roster.

7. Chris Walker, F, Florida

Comment: An NBA-caliber athlete who still looks like he doesn't know how to play basketball, Walker had no business leaving school early.

8. Michael Qualls, G, Arkansas

Comment: An ill-timed knee injury during workouts wrecked Qualls' hopes of being selected in the second round.

Related NBA draft video from Yahoo Sports:

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Jeff Eisenberg is the editor of The Dagger on Yahoo Sports. Have a tip? Email him at daggerblog@yahoo.com or follow him on Twitter!

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Author: Jeff Eisenberg
Posted: June 26, 2015, 6:18 am

Three months after Jim Boeheim revealed his intent to retire in three years, Syracuse also clarified its succession plan.

Chancellor Kent Syverud announced Thursday that assistant coach Mike Hopkins has been formally named Syracuse's head coach-designate and will replace Boeheim following the 2017-18 men's basketball season.

"For more than 25 years, Mike Hopkins has demonstrated the true meaning of Orange pride and loyalty," Syverud said in a statement. "He has contributed so much to the success of the Syracuse basketball program. I know Mike is ready to lead the program into the future and carry forward the success that has occurred under Coach Boeheim."

The timing of the decision is significant because Syracuse just introduced a new athletic director on Monday. Even though the announcement technically came from Svyerud, it's safe to assume Hopkins also has Mark Croyle's support as the right choice to oversee the transition into the post-Boeheim era. 

The revelation of Syracuse's succession plan provides some stability to a proud program rocked by NCAA sanctions earlier this year. In addition to last season's postseason ban, the NCAA vacated more than 100 of Boeheim's victories, suspended him for nine games next season and handed down crippling scholarship and recruiting restrictions.

Setting the succession plan in stone is a smart move by Syracuse because it eases uncertainty among both fans and prospective recruits. Hopkins had been unofficially acknowledged as Boeheim's eventual successor for years, but he also interviewed for the USC job and several others during that period, raising the question of whether he would remain long enough to inherit the job.

Now that there's a finite time table in place and he has the public support of his administration, Hopkins has less incentive to look elsewhere. That's crucial for a Syracuse program that would not be in an ideal position to hire from the outside while still dealing with scholarship restrictions in 2018.

A prominent candidate from outside the program might not want to step into that mess. Hopkins, however, apparently has no such fear.

"I'm honored, humbled and grateful for this special opportunity," Hopkins said in a statement. "Very few people are afforded the privilege to coach at their alma mater. I want to thank Chancellor Syverud, the Board of Trustees and Jim Boeheim for entrusting me with this great program."

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Jeff Eisenberg is the editor of The Dagger on Yahoo Sports. Have a tip? Email him at daggerblog@yahoo.com or follow him on Twitter!

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Author: Jeff Eisenberg
Posted: June 25, 2015, 7:48 pm

When Oregon forward Elgin Cook tweeted Jamal Murray last week congratulating him on his commitment and welcoming him to the Ducks, it raised an obvious question.

Did Cook have inside information that the last uncommitted five-star recruit in the class of 2015 was going to choose Oregon?

Turns out Cook's since-deleted tweet was erroneous since Murray did not choose the Ducks. The highly touted Canadian point guard instead announced Wednesday evening that he is headed to Kentucky, a huge coup for a program that must replace seven members of its rotation from this past season's 38-1 Final Four team.

Originally a member of the class of 2016, Murray began strongly considering reclassifying after earning MVP honors for his 30-point, five-assist masterpiece of a performance at April's Nike Hoop Summit. The 6-foot-5 Murray thrives with the ball in his hands but is big enough to guard opposing wings, which will be crucial for a Kentucky team that will also feature returning point guard Tyler Ulis and high-scoring incoming combo guard Isaiah Briscoe. 

Murray became a critical recruit for Kentucky when John Calipari uncharacteristically swung and missed in his pursuit of a handful of top recruits this spring. Jaylen Brown (Cal), Ivan Rabb (Cal), Malik Newman (Mississippi State), Stephen Zimmerman (UNLV), Brandon Ingram (Duke) and Cheick Diallo (Kansas) all spurned the Wildcats, leaving Calipari in jeopardy of taking thinner roster than usual into next season.

The addition of Murray alleviates much of that concern.

With him, Ulis, Briscoe in the backcourt, Calipari has a trio of guards who should thrive in a dribble-drive offense and potential capable backups in freshman Charles Matthews and veteran Dominique Hawkins. Highly touted freshman Skal Labissiere and returners Alex Poythress and Marcus Lee should serve as mainstays in the frontcourt.

It's foolish to ever count out Kentucky in a recruitment, but it's mildly surprising that Murray became the prospect who ended the Wildcats' string of spring misses. Oregon appeared to have the strongest connection between the presence of an assistant coach (Mike Mennenga) who was once co-director of Murray's grassroots program and the addition of Villanova transfer Dylan Ennis, Murray's former teammate on the AAU circuit.

Alas, it was not to be for Oregon, which knows the pain of finishing second in the pursuit of a five-star prospect all too well. The Ducks have been the runner-ups in the recruitment of Anthony Bennett, Brandon Ashley and Aaron Gordon, among others.

Elgin Cook's tweet gave Ducks fans hope this time might be different. Instead Murray altered next season's college basketball landscape by choosing Kentucky instead.

Rivals.com Video of Jamal Murray

 

For more Kentucky news, visit CatsIllustrated.com

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Jeff Eisenberg is the editor of The Dagger on Yahoo Sports. Have a tip? Email him at daggerblog@yahoo.com or follow him on Twitter!

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Author: Jeff Eisenberg
Posted: June 25, 2015, 12:05 am

A reserve guard on the Wofford basketball team drowned early Monday morning after apparently diving off a bridge into a South Carolina lake.

Nineteen-year-old Jeremiah Tate and a fellow counselor at Camp Thunderbird reportedly jumped off the Buster Boyd Bridge into Lake Wylie at around 2 a.m. The other counselor survived the 30-foot plunge. Tate did not resurface until divers pulled his body from the water about two hours later. 

Tate was a rising junior at Wofford who was majoring in accounting and was a member of the Fellowship of Christian Athletes and the Pre-Law Society. He played sparingly his first two seasons for Wofford, appearing in 10 games as a freshman and three as a sophomore and averaging less than a point per game.

"The entire Wofford College family is devastated and saddened today by the loss of Jeremiah Tate," Wofford athletic director Richard Johnson said in a statement from the school.

"Jeremiah was such a dedicated, loved and respected member of the men's basketball team. He had a wonderful personality and had many friends on campus extending outside of the athletic department. Our thoughts, prayers and deepest condolences are with his family. He will truly be missed."

Tate's Wofford teammates also reflected on his death via Twitter.

Still in shock that I lost a brother #RipTate

— Justin Gordon (@J_Gore24) June 22, 2015

It's an honor to have been able to call you my teammate, but more importantly a friend and a brother. Rest easy Tate. pic.twitter.com/RPeOLnvGQB

— Ryan Sawvell (@SAWDADDY_) June 22, 2015

I'm really going to miss the "old man" jokes coming from him #RIPJeremiah @Jay_Tate1 pic.twitter.com/SzUVsLyJdt

— Ryan Sawvell (@SAWDADDY_) June 22, 2015

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Jeff Eisenberg is the editor of The Dagger on Yahoo Sports. Have a tip? Email him at daggerblog@yahoo.com or follow him on Twitter!

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Author: Jeff Eisenberg
Posted: June 22, 2015, 5:33 pm

The last time Michigan State secured a commitment from an elite prospect, center Caleb Swanigan changed his mind soon afterward and eventually signed with Purdue.

The Spartans are hoping their latest commitment yields a better outcome. 

Josh Langford, a 6-foot-6 guard from Madison, Ala., committed to Michigan State on Monday after  taking an official visit to the school over the weekend. Langord, Rivals.com's No. 17 prospect in the class of 2016, chose the Spartans over the likes of Kentucky, Arizona and Duke, among others. 

The addition of Langford will help Michigan State replenish a perimeter corps that lost leading scorer Travis Trice this spring and will lose seniors-to-be Denzel Valentine and Bryn Forbes next year. Langford could play alongside promising West Virginia transfer Eron Harris, pass-first point guard LouRawls Nairn and deadly shooter Matt McQuaid if all three opt to remain in East Lansing beyond the 2015-16 season.

What Langford will bring to Michigan State is the versatility to score in multiple ways. He has the size, athleticism and skill to attack the rim off the dribble or score in the post and he has improved the range and consistency of his jump shot too in recent months.

Langford's decisiion is a punch to the gut for rival Michigan because the Wolverines had a realistic chance to land the wing before accepting a commitment from fellow five-star guard Tyus Battle earlier this year. Battle decommitted over the weekend, leaving the Wolverines no time to get back in the race for Langford. 

With Langford and fellow top 100 prospect Nick Ward both having committed already, Michigan State could be poised to assemble a special 2016 class. They're also in contention for a pair of top in-state prospects, point guard Cassius Winston and forward Miles Bridges.

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Author: Jeff Eisenberg
Posted: June 22, 2015, 4:06 pm

One of college basketball's most creative haircuts belongs to one of the sport's better point guards.

Bronson Koenig, a key player on the past two Wisconsin teams that have reached the Final Four, posted a photo of himself Tuesday night with a fresh haircut honoring his Native American heritage. The signature element of the haircut is a feather deftly carved into the side of his head.

The only instructions Koenig apparently gave his barber was to give him a haircut that would reflect his Native American pride. Koenig has spoken previously about his desire to learn more about his heritage and become a source of inspiration to young Native Americans.

"I'm always curious because I didn't know all that much, and in history classes we'd only talk about it a little bit," he told the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel in February. "But I would be really interested because that is my people and we don't learn much about them."

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Author: Jeff Eisenberg
Posted: June 17, 2015, 8:33 pm

The timing of Minnesota's decision not to medically clear incoming freshman Jarvis Johnson did not sit well with the point guard's family.

Curtis Johnson told the Minneapolis Star Tribune that his son felt blindsided when university officials shared the news earlier this month.

“We felt a little misguided in the way the recruitment went, and then the sudden decision last week," the elder Johnson said. “Under the circumstances, time didn’t allow us to make an educated decision even. We felt pressured by it.”

Jarvis Johnson had an internal defibrillator installed in eighth grade after his heart stopped during a practice and he was diagnosed with hydropathic cardiomyopathy. Doctors cleared him to play thereafter, enabling him to emerge as one of the state of Minnesota's top recruits and lead powerful DeLaSalle High School to four consecutive state championships.

It's totally understandable Minnesota would want to protect itself legally by having its own doctors decide whether to clear him to play, but it's a shame that there appears to have been a communication breakdown between the school and the family.

Johnson's family ought to have been aware this was a prerequisite for Jarvis to be able to play for the Gophers. Perhaps there also might have been a way to accelerate the process so that Jarvis might have time to find other options for the 2015-16 school year.

Ultimately, if Jarvis Johnson decides to leave Minnesota and seek another program willing to medically clear him to play, there is a precedent for such a move. 

Virginia Tech wouldn't clear forward Allan Chaney to play as a result of a heart condition, so he resurfaced at High Point in 2012 and played for parts of two seasons until another medical scare forced him to give up basketball in Dec. 2013. A similar second scare ended the career of former top 100 recruit Emmanuel Negedu soon after he transferred from Tennessee to New Mexico because the Lobos agreed to clear him to play. 

Other similar cases ended without incident. Pepperdine wouldn't clear Will Kimble to play after he collapsed in practice, so he transferred to UTEP, playing the 2004-05  and 05-06 seasons with a cardiac defibrillator implanted in his chest.

"Everyone in my circle was comfortable and we had no reservations about it at all," Kimble told Yahoo Sports in 2010. "I believe that this condition is something that can be monitored, and if you have a good crew of doctors looking after you, I believe it's something you can play with. My understanding was my defibrillator is going to protect me. More so, the risk was what is going to be the after effect of the defibrillator kicking in."

Author: Jeff Eisenberg
Posted: June 17, 2015, 4:52 pm

Meet Danielle Green, one of the most relentless women in sports. Green played for the Notre Dame basketball team from 1995-2000, and then joined the Army in Iraq, where she lost her left arm during an attack.

Green, a natural lefty, re-taught herself everyday tasks and simultaneously went back to earn her masters degree in counseling. After earning her degree, Green became a readjustment therapist at the South Bend Veterans Center in Indiana.

Green’s ability to give back to a community is the reason why she is the recipient of the Pat Tillman Award this year.

Congrats to our alum and @USArmy veteran Danielle Green, who'll receive @ESPYS Pat Tillman Award. http://t.co/UCzoKFupQG

— NOTRE DAME WBB (@ndwbb) June 16, 2015

Green will be recognized at the ESPY’s in July, marking her the second recipient of the award.

A @ndwbb alum, @USArmy vet, purple heart recipient & now an #ESPYS Pat Tillman award winner. Congrats, Danielle Green http://t.co/D1XmCuPCEZ

— ESPYS (@ESPYS) June 16, 2015

"She’s incredibly driven to make a difference for local veterans of all generations and genders," Pat Tillman Foundation spokeswoman Michelle McCarthy said in an email to Yahoo Sports. "She sees a real problem on the ground level, and she’s standing up to lead others in the effort to improve access to VA care and resources."

The Pat Tillman Foundation was founded in 2004 and gives scholarships to military veterans and their spouses. The foundation gives its Pat Tillman Award for Service, which honors “an individual with a strong connection to sports who has served others in a way that echoes Pat’s legacy.”

Tillman was a former Arizona Cardinal and Army Ranger who died in 2003 serving in Afghanistan.

“A decade after his death, this award is another incredible way to honor Pat’s spirit of service by empowering individuals like Danielle” McCarthy said.

 

Author: Celia Balf
Posted: June 17, 2015, 12:25 am

At a time when most Bay Area basketball fans were distraught over the Golden State Warriors' 2-1 deficit in the NBA Finals, dozens of patrons at one Walnut Creek bar couldn't stop smiling.

The Saint Mary's coaches, staff and alumni who filled this particular bar had just watched a beloved former Gaels star make a big splash on basketball's grandest stage for the second consecutive June.

Exactly 359 days after ex-Saint Mary's guard Patty Mills erupted for 17 points in 18 minutes off the bench in the decisive game of San Antonio's NBA Finals victory over Miami, it was fellow Aussie Matthew Dellavedova's turn to thrive in the spotlight. The former undrafted free agent again filled in admirably for injured point guard Kyrie Irving, hounding league MVP Stephen Curry into a poor shooting night, hurling his body across the floor to chase down numerous loose balls and even mixing in 20 points for a depleted Cleveland team in dire need of secondary scorers.

Dellavedova's spirited effort was one of the biggest reasons a Cavs team written off after Irving's season-ending knee injury now stands two victories from vanquishing the favored Warriors. While LeBron James has averaged 41 points so far in the series and continues to carry Cleveland on his back, it was Dellavedova who sank Tuesday night's biggest basket, a late off-balance bank shot with Curry draped all over him after Golden State had rallied to within one in the final three minutes.

"We had an alumni event for the game, and it was tremendous," Saint Mary's coach Randy Bennett. "There were a lot of Warriors fans there, there were a lot of Delly fans there and then there were some that were torn. There were people there who were Warriors fans for years and years, but they like Delly so much they couldn't help but be happy for him"

If Dellavedova's impact on this series has come as a shock to most viewers, Bennett is far less surprised by his former point guard's achievements. The longtime Saint Mary's coach learned never to underestimate Dellavedova after he earned all-league honors three straight seasons, reached the NCAA tournament three times and finished as the school's all-time leader in scoring, assists, free throw percentage and 3-point shots.

Even though Dellavedova went undrafted because he lacks the size and athleticism of a prototypical NBA guard, Bennett saw signs during the Aussie guard's Saint Mary's career that he could be a productive role player. Dellavedova worked as hard as any player Bennett has coached to improve his defense, transforming himself from a liability as a freshman to a pest who has held his own against the league's best shooter today.

Dellavedova also consistently coaxed the best out of his teammates with his mixture of relentless effort, contagious enthusiasm and leadership skills. Whether it was scouring autobiographies written by Phil Jackson, Andre Agassi or John Wooden or perusing books analyzing patterns to how greatness is achieved in any field, Dellavedova actually researched leadership during college and took tidbits from everything he read.

"Here at Saint Mary's, we kind of knew all this stuff about Matt being around him, but it's kind of fun to see everyone else in the country learn about him," Bennett said. "Everyone's seeing how hard he plays and how tough he is. We knew it, but now everyone else is recognizing it too."

Dellavedova and Mills are both part of an Australian pipeline to Saint Mary's that Bennett established almost by accident nearly 15 years ago.

Bennett inherited a two-win team lacking backcourt depth in 2001, so he made a late offer to Adam Caporn, a guard from the Australian Institute of Sport that he'd only seen in a few highlight reels. Caporn had a good enough experience at Saint Mary's that he recruited AIS teammate Daniel Kickert, a forward who went on to star for the Gaels and play professionally overseas afterward.

The success of Kickert convinced Bennett that recruiting Australia could be a way for Saint Mary's to attract elite talent without having to go head-to-head with higher-profile programs. Bennett has made sure his staff has at least one coach with Australian ties every year for the past decade, a decision that has helped him land about a dozen Aussie standouts including the highly regarded Mills and the less heralded Dellavedova.

"We can still get some of the best players over there, so it would be stupid for us not to recruit those kids," Bennett said. "There's a comfort level for those kids with us. And with Patty and Delly doing what they've been doing recently, it would be silly for us not to recruit Australia hard."

Saint Mary's hasn't made the NCAA tournament or posed as great a threat to league rival Gonzaga in the two years since Dellavedova graduated, but Bennett is hopeful that slight step backward is only temporary. He believes the success of Dellavedova and Mills in the NBA Finals can only help showcase Saint Mary's to recruits in Australia and the United States.

"What Delly and Patty have done the past two years, there's not much marketing-wise you can do better than that," Bennett said. "We're really proud of those guys and what they've done."

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Jeff Eisenberg is the editor of The Dagger on Yahoo Sports. Have a tip? Email him at daggerblog@yahoo.com or follow him on Twitter!

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Author: Jeff Eisenberg
Posted: June 10, 2015, 9:10 pm

Whether it's Mark Gottfried, Billy Kennedy or Steve Prohm, coaching at Murray State has proven to be an ideal springboard to a high-profile job.

Matt McMahon will be the next to attempt to have enough success to make a similar jump. 

One day after Prohm left to become the next coach at Iowa State, Murray State announced Tuesday that McMahon will be his successor. McMahon spent the previous four seasons at Murray State as an assistant to Prohm before leaving last month to join longtime friend Eric Konkol's staff at Louisiana Tech.

The immediacy of the McMahon hire suggests Murray State officials had a plan in place for a while in case Prohm departed. Prohm has been linked to a few jobs the past few years including his alma mater Alabama, which ultimately chose to hire Avery Johnson instead of him earlier this spring. 

The allure of McMahon for Murray State is surely that the first-time head coach played an integral role in the program's success the past four years.

The Racers amassed a sparkling 104-29 record during that span, taking an undefeated record into February in 2012 and reeling off 25 consecutive victories at one point this past season. They also won an NCAA tournament game in 2012, captured league titles in 2012 and 2015 and produced two NBA-caliber guards, Isaiah Canaan of the Philadelphia 76ers and likely 2015 first-round draft pick Cameron Payne.

McMahon will undoubtedly follow a similar blueprint to the one that proved successful for Prohm the past few years. The Racers will play at a fast pace just as they did last year when they were eighth nationally in points per game at 79.0.  

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Author: Jeff Eisenberg
Posted: June 9, 2015, 10:21 pm

The major rules changes designed to make college basketball less of a slog are now official.

The NCAA on Monday approved a series of recommendations made by college basketball's rule committee last month including shortening the shot clock, reducing the number of timeouts allotted to each team and increasing the freedom of movement for offensive players.

The most significant change is the implementation of a 30-second shot clock after two decades of offenses having 35 ticks to attempt a shot.

Proponents will note the shorter shot clock should lead to more possessions per game, which should result in more points. Opponents will question whether the change will achieve its goal of a more watchable sport since a shorter shot clock favors defenses and could result in a decrease in shooting percentages.

The other issue with a reduced shot clock is that it's a move toward homogeneity in a sport that is at its best when there's a contrast in styles among opponents.

Whereas most NBA teams rely on man-to-man defense and pick-and-roll offense, college teams play favor many different styles, from Virginia's pack-line man-to-man and patient motion offense, to VCU's fast-paced offense and frenetic full-court pressure defense, to everything in between. A 30-second shot clock wouldn't force every team to dramatically alter its style, but it represents an erosion in the level of contrast.

There's also a chance a shorter shot clock will damage one of the best postseasons in American sports. The popularity of the NCAA tournament is built on the possibility of a high seed falling in the early rounds, but more possessions per game increase the likelihood of the expected outcome because the lesser talented team will have to outperform its opponent more trips down the floor.

The other changes have been almost universally lauded — and with good reason. They address the trends that have inspired concern among high-ranking officials in the sport.

Each team will have four timeouts instead of five and will only be allowed to carry three into the second half. Team timeouts that come within 30 seconds prior of scheduled TV timeouts will become TV timeouts with the exception of the first team timeout of the second half.

Defensive rules will also be tweaked with a wider restricted area underneath the basket and greater freedom of movement for cutters and players driving with the ball. The rules prohibiting clutching, grabbing and arm bars on defense should go a long way toward increasing scoring and shooting percentages if referees actually enforce them.

The push to improve the sport coincides with concern over the decrease in scoring in college basketball.

Scoring in Division I plunging to 67.5 points per game for the 2012-13 season, the lowest in the 3-point era. An emphasis on freedom of movement during the 2013-14 season led to an uptick, but that evaporated quickly and scoring plunged back to 67.7 points per game this past season. 

The changes implemented represent the recognition that reform is needed despite an NCAA tournament that produced great games and high ratings.

College basketball's postseason is still as intriguing and action-packed as ever, but its flawed regular season is in need of improvement.

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Author: Jeff Eisenberg
Posted: June 8, 2015, 8:57 pm

Steve Prohm probably feels much better today that his alma mater Alabama hired Avery Johnson instead of him earlier this spring.

Being snubbed by the Crimson Tide two months ago enabled Prohm to land a better job Monday.

Instead of beginning a rebuilding job in Tuscaloosa, Prohm will inherit a top 10-caliber roster at Iowa State. The Cyclones have announced they've hired the highly successful former Murray State coach as the successor to Fred Hoiberg.

Prohm's challenge will be making sure that Iowa State's recent resurgence doesn't end with the departure of its beloved head coach. Hoiberg left for the Chicago Bulls last week after transforming the Cyclones into a perennial Big 12 contender during his five-year tenure, leading them to four NCAA tournament bids and back-to-back conference tournament titles.

What surely made Prohm attractive to Iowa State athletic director Jamie Pollard is the success he enjoyed in four seasons at Murray State.

He compiled an impressive 104-29 record, nearly leading the Racers to an unbeaten regular season in 2012 and developing NBA guards Isaiah Canaan and Cameron Payne during his tenure. He also favored a similar up-tempo, free-flowing yet efficient system to what Hoiberg has run at Iowa State the past few years. 

Enough talent returns from last season's 25-win team at Iowa State that Prohm should enjoy instant success if he can handle the pressure of following a revered coach and design a scheme to capitalize on what he has coming back. From there, the key will be whether he can find a way to recruit to a school that traditionally hasn't attracted elite prospects.

The state of Iowa is not an especially fertile recruiting ground, nor do its schools even typically land its best in-state prospects. The last two Iowa-born McDonald's All-Americans, Marcus Paige and Harrison Barnes, both went to North Carolina, while fellow Iowa products Kirk Hinrich, Nick Collison and Raef LaFrenz all starred at Kansas in the late 1990s and early 2000s.

The way in which Hoiberg circumvented that problem was by turning Iowa State into a popular destination for talented transfers in need of a second chance, from Chris Allen, to Royce White, to Will Clyburn, to DeAndre Kane, to Jameel McKay. More recently, Hoiberg also pursued impact recruits out of high school as well because the Cyclones had grown in stature enough to land some of them.

It will be interesting to see if Prohm can follow the same formula.

From Mick Cronin, to Billy Kennedy, to Mark Gottfried, Murray State has produced some highly successful coaches in recent years. Iowa State will have to hope that Prohm is the next. 

Author: Jeff Eisenberg
Posted: June 8, 2015, 4:53 pm

The rebuilding job Chris Mullin inherited at St. John's became a little bit more difficult Friday when one of his best players announced he will not return next season.

Rysheed Jordan, the Big East's ninth-leading scorer this past season, will forgo his remaining two years of college eligibility and pursue a professional career. The 6-foot-4 guard is ineligible for the NBA draft until 2016 because he missed last month's early-entry deadline, but he could play overseas next season or in the D-League.

"Playing professional basketball has always been a goal of mine. I believe I am ready to take the next step in my basketball career and plan to work hard to achieve my dream of playing in the NBA," Jordan said in a statement released by the school. "I am thankful for the opportunities and support St. John's University has provided to me. This decision was made with my family's best interests in mind."

The unusual timing of Jordan's announcement stems from the academic issues that he encountered during spring semester.

The New York Post reported that Jordan is academically ineligible to play for St. John's next fall. He could have rejoined the team in December if he passed his summer and fall semester classes, but he opted to turn pro instead. 

"We support Rysheed and wish him well in his professional endeavors," Mullin said. "He has the potential to play at the highest level of our sport."

A former top 50 recruit, Jordan has the potential to get an NBA look someday if he can perform with more consistency than he did at St. John's. He averaged 14.1 points and 3.1 assists to help St. John's reach the NCAA tournament last season, but his off-the-court issues were a constant source of distraction for the Johnnies.

The loss of Jordan makes it all the more important that Mullin was able to land talented freshman point guard Marcus LoVett Jr. earlier this spring. It will be LoVett who will likely inherit a larger-than-expected role as a freshman with Jordan no longer available to serve as a lead guard and primary ball handler.

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Jeff Eisenberg is the editor of The Dagger on Yahoo Sports. Have a tip? Email him at daggerblog@yahoo.com or follow him on Twitter!

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Author: Jeff Eisenberg
Posted: June 5, 2015, 8:51 pm

For a program that hasn't made the NCAA tournament since 2011 and returns only three scholarship players from last season's team, Washington should enter the summer feeling at least somewhat optimistic about its future.

The Huskies will welcome an eight-man recruiting class that could be formidable enough to one day get the program back to competing for Pac-12 titles the way it did at the apex of Lorenzo Romar's tenure.

The latest addition is former Florida signee Noah Dickerson, a 6-foot-8 forward Rivals.com ranks No. 81 in the class of 2015. Dickerson chose Washington over Pac-12 rival Cal on Thursday after reopening his recruitment earlier this spring when Billy Donovan left Florida for the Oklahoma City Thunder.  

I've finally found my home. I'm a Washington Husky 🐺🐺 pic.twitter.com/cqGYVPKQw7

— Noah Dickerson (@NDickerson41) June 5, 2015

For Dickerson, the appeal of Washington surely stemmed from the available playing time in the frontcourt. The Huskies don't return a single frontcourt player from last season, having lost Shawn Kemp Jr. and Gilles Dierickx to graduation, Robert Upshaw to dismissal and Jernard Jerreau via transfer.

Dickerson will join a recruiting class that includes fellow Rivals 150 prospects Dejounte Murray, Matisse Thybulle and Marquese Chriss. The other newcomers eligible next season are guards David Crisp and Dominic Green, forward Devenir Duruisseau and junior-college center Malik Dime.

Enthusiasm for that recruiting class should at temper some of Washington's disappointment over how its once-promising 2014-15 season ended. A Huskies team in contention for an NCAA tournament bid for a while collapsed after dismissing Upshaw and then lost top guard Nigel Williams-Goss via a transfer to in-state rival Gonzaga.

It's unlikely the combination of standout guard Andrew Andrews, returning role players Quevyn Winters and Donaven Dorsey and an eight-man recruiting class will get Washington back to the NCAA tournament next season, but the Huskies can at least build a foundation for future success.

They've endured a rough patch the past few years. Next season could be a new beginning.

For more Washington news, visit The Dawg Report

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Author: Jeff Eisenberg
Posted: June 5, 2015, 4:20 pm

UNC Chancellor Carol Folt addresses the media following meeting in May. (AP)Almost two weeks after it confirmed it had received a Notice of Allegations from the NCAA, the University of North Carolina finally revealed the contents of that 59-page document on Thursday afternoon.

The Notice of Allegations hit the Tar Heels with a lack of institutional control charge and four other potentially serious violations in the wake of the NCAA's lengthy investigation into the academic fraud that took place at the school.

The first two allegations state that North Carolina student-athletes received impermissible benefits unavailable to the rest of the student body when their academic counselors obtained special assistance and privileges for them. The next two allegations target African American Studies department officials Deborah Crowder and Dr. Julius Nyang’oro for their failure to cooperate in the NCAA's investigation.

The final allegation is the most serious one, the charge of lack of institutional control. It asserts that the athletic department failed to properly monitor the actions of members of its academic support staff and cast a blind eye to why so many athletes were enrolled in courses in the African American Studies department.

"Although the general student body also had access to the anomalous AFRI/AFAM courses," the Notice of Allegations reads, "student-athletes received preferential access to these anomalous courses, enrolled in these anomalous courses at a disproportionate rate to that of the general student body and received other impermissible benefits not available to the general student body in connection with these courses."

The Notice of Allegations arrived nearly a year after the NCAA decided to reopen its investigation into sham classes offered at North Carolina in the African American Studies department. Federal prosecutor Kenneth Wanstein subsequently uncovered new information pertaining to the scandal, revealing last October that more than 3,100 students were enrolled in the classes in question over an 18-year period and that student-athletes accounted for nearly half the course enrollments.

North Carolina must respond within 90 days to the Notice of Allegations, which it received May 21. School officials will then meet with the NCAA in Indianapolis and await a ruling on what the penalties will be, a decision that history suggests likely won't come until sometime early next year.

Since the allegations against North Carolina are so broad rather than sport-specific, it's unclear how the school's football and men's basketball programs will be affected. There's no pertinent case for the NCAA's committee on infractions to use as a model as it determines penalties, so it could come down to a gut feeling from members of the committee.

The sport mentioned most frequently in the notice is actually North Carolina's women's basketball program. That's because the notice alleges that women's basketball counselor Jan Boxill committed major violations in the form of improper academic assistance and special arrangements to women’s basketball players.

As part of North Carolina's statement, athletic director Bubba Cunningham and Chancellor Carol L. Folt acknowledged previous mistakes but also noted the efforts of the university to address them. Here's the full statment:

“We take the allegations the NCAA made about past conduct very seriously. This is the next step in a defined process, and we are a long way from reaching a conclusion. We will respond to the notice using facts and evidence to present a full picture of our case. Although we may identify some instances in the NCAA’s notice where we agree and others where we do not, we are committed to continue pursuing a fair and just outcome for Carolina.

“We believe the University has done everything possible to address the academic irregularities that ended in 2011 and prevent them from recurring. We have implemented more than 70 reforms and initiatives to ensure and enhance academic integrity. We will continue to monitor the effectiveness of those measures and, wherever needed, put additional safeguards in place.”

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Author: Jeff Eisenberg
Posted: June 4, 2015, 5:26 pm

The dismissal of Hanner Mosquera-Perea earlier this spring left Indiana scrambling for another big man to play behind highly touted incoming freshman Thomas Bryant.

The Hoosiers solved that problem Tuesday night by adding a player very familiar with the rigors of a Big Ten schedule.

Former Michigan big man Max Bielfeldt committed to Indiana, selecting the Hoosiers over Nebraska and Iowa State. The 6-foot-8 graduate transfer will have one year of eligibility remaining and will be able to play immediately.

A career backup at Michigan, Bielfeldt earned playing time with all-out hustle and solid defense last season, averaging 5.1 points and 3.6 rebounds in 14.5 minutes per game. He chose to transfer when John Beilein could not guarantee him a scholarship for a post-graduate season because the Wolverines were saving it for elite prospect Jaylen Brown or several other potential recruiting targets. 

Transfer haven Iowa State was thought to be a strong contender to land Bielfeldt before coach Fred Hoiberg left for the Chicago Bulls. That left Indiana in the driver's seat as Nebraska could offer more playing time but is not in a position to contend for an upper-tier Big Ten finish next season.

Bielfeldt will likely compete with rising sophomore Emmitt Holt to be the first big man off the bench for the frontcourt-bereft Hoosiers next season. Indiana will undoubtedly start three guards again with perimeter standout Troy Williams seeing a lot of time at power forward.

It will be interesting to see the reaction Bielfeldt receives when Indiana plays at Michigan next season. He gave his all for the Wolverines for four years, but now he'll be wearing rival colors. 

Author: Jeff Eisenberg
Posted: June 3, 2015, 2:08 pm

If saying goodbye to the university where he has become an icon feels at all bittersweet to newly hired Chicago Bulls coach Fred Hoiberg, at least he can take solace in the health of the program he is leaving behind.

Iowa State basketball has grown strong enough under Hoiberg that its golden era doesn't have to end with the departure of its golden boy.

Whoever Iowa State's new coach is will take over a program that has progressed remarkably quickly since 2010 when athletic director Jamie Pollard risked the future of a success-starved program on a beloved alum who had never coached at any level before. Hoiberg transformed the Cyclones into a perennial Big 12 contender, leading them to four NCAA tournament bids and back-to-back conference tournament titles the past two years.

Enough talent returns from last season's 25-win team that Iowa State will begin next year in the top 10 in the polls regardless of who its new coach is. The Cyclones also have strong brand recognition among recruits because of their free-flowing style of play and an enthusiastic fan base that has helped Hilton Coliseum regain its reputation as a house of horrors for opposing teams.

Of the many candidates to succeed Hoiberg, his top assistant T.J. Otzelberger might be the most obvious choice. Otzelberger is a proven recruiter who returned to Iowa State this spring after spending a couple years on Washington coach Lorenzo Romar's staff.

UTEP coach Tim Floyd and Phoenix Suns coach Jeff Hornacek are two other coaches with Iowa State ties who could draw interest from Pollard. He could also make a run at established mid-major coaches like Murray State's Steve Prohm or Stephen F. Austin's Brad Underwood should he decide that a connection to Iowa State is unimportant to him.

The best choice will be a coach who can handle the pressure of following a revered coach, design a scheme to capitalize on the current talent-laden roster and find a way to recruit to a school that traditionally hasn't attracted elite prospects.

The state of Iowa is not an especially fertile recruiting ground, nor do its schools even typically land its best in-state prospects. The last two Iowa-born McDonald's All-Americans, Marcus Paige and Harrison Barnes, both went to North Carolina, while fellow Iowa products Kirk Hinrich, Nick Collison and Raef LaFrenz all starred at Kansas in the late 1990s and early 2000s.

The way in which Hoiberg circumvented that problem was by turning Iowa State into a popular destination for talented transfers in need of a second chance, from Chris Allen, to Royce White, to Will Clyburn, to DeAndre Kane, to Jameel McKay. More recently, Hoiberg also pursued impact recruits out of high school as well because the Cyclones had grown in stature enough to land some of them.

The new coach would be wise to maintain that formula. It has produced one of the best runs in Iowa State basketball history, one that doesn't have to end even with Hoiberg on his way to Chicago.

When Pollard gambled by hiring Hoiberg in 2010, he had only a downtrodden program in search of its first winning season in five years to pitch. Now he can sell prospective coaches on a top 10-caliber roster and program with a proven formula for winning.

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Jeff Eisenberg is the editor of The Dagger on Yahoo Sports. Have a tip? Email him at daggerblog@yahoo.com or follow him on Twitter!

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Author: Jeff Eisenberg
Posted: June 1, 2015, 11:55 pm

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