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Monday, February 27, 2017

College Basketball

Jim Boeheim rips article questioning his retirement plan

Jim Boeheim

Jim Boeheim had a harsh reaction to an article questioning whether he will stick to his announced retirement plan.

Syracuse announced in March, 2015 that Boeheim would coach for three more seasons before turning the program over to assistant Mike Hopkins. That move was announced seemingly as a way to please the NCAA as the school was being penalized for violations.

In an article published by SI Tuesday, Pete Thamel speculated about the future of Boeheim, Coach K, Roy Williams and Rick Pitino. In his section on Boeheim, Thamel said the longtime coach wants to stop coaching on his terms — not when Syracuse announced in 2015 that he would — which might complicate his exit.

Boeheim ripped the article in a response provided to Syracuse.com’s Bud Poliquin.

“The only thing he got right in that story is the spelling of my name,” Boeheim told Syracuse.com in response. “It’s all speculation. Pure speculation. There’s nothing in that story that is remotely, in any way, true.”

That sure is a way to shoot down some speculation.

Boeheim has previously said that his philosophy is you stop coaching when you stop winning. That would lend to the theory that he’s not planning to adhere to the Mike Hopkins 2018 takeover, despite his denial.

H/T The Spun

5 bubble teams that made a big move this weekend

Jim Larranaga

Believe it or not, Selection Sunday is less than three weeks away. That may have crept up on college basketball fans, but coaches and teams on the bubble know that date is coming quick. The time for statement wins is running out, so any team fighting for a spot in the Big Dance needs to make its move as soon as possible.

We’re headed down the home stretch, and these five teams have their foot on the gas in their attempt to speed past their bubble competitors in the last few days.

1. Marquette

When the Golden Eagles beat Villanova on Jan. 24, conventional wisdom placed them comfortably in the tournament. Toppling the defending champions en route to a 14-6 record looked like the perfect way for Marquette to punch its ticket.

Things changed over the next two weeks. Marquette lost four of five, with its only win coming over lowly DePaul.

Losing to Providence, St. John’s, and Georgetown (all bubble teams or worse) removed any good will Marquette earned with the Villanova win. This weekend, the Golden Eagles got a chance to right the ship, welcoming Xavier to Milwaukee. Xavier is hobbling into March with the injury bug creeping into full-on epidemic territory, but when Selection Sunday rolls around, a win over the Musketeers will still count as a top-50 win. Marquette took advantage and won handily, 83-61.

With four regular season games left, the Golden Eagles likely need a 3-1 finish to feel anything close to safe before heading to Madison Square Garden for the Big East Tournament. Had they lost to Xavier at home, their bubble might have popped this weekend.

2. Pittsburgh

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John Calipari quickly shoots down any talk of him leaving to coach Pelicans

John Calipari

John Calipari has been the subject of so many NBA rumors that he’s going out of his way to try to shut them down before they even get started now.

After two of his former Kentucky players, DeMarcus Cousins and Anthony Davis, were reunited with the New Orleans Pelicans, Calipari responded to a non-serious question about leaving Kentucky to coach New Orleans with a very serious answer.

“Not happening,” Calipari said Monday on the Dan Patrick Show, via Jon Hale of the Courier-Journal.

In fact, Calipari said his former players don’t want to see him in the NBA.

“I’ve held every player I coached back, if you ask them,” Calipari said. “I’d rather be in the situation I’m in to be help, to be a mentor, whatever they need me to be.”

Calipari does think Cousins and Davis can work together, but cautioned that it will probably take some time to come together.

“(Cousins) and Anthony are going to have to figure it out together, and it takes time,” Calipari said. “It’s just not gonna happen in a week. It just doesn’t. … They’re two players that want to win, that like each other.”

Calipari was often linked to Sacramento when Cousins was there. He doesn’t sound very interested in those links continuing.

Lonzo Ball’s father thinks his son is already better than Stephen Curry

We all know there are some parents of young athletes out there who are very bullish on their children’s skills. LaVar Ball goes above and beyond that.

Ball, the father of UCLA freshman sensation Lonzo Ball, told Pac-12 Network that as far as he’s concerned, Lonzo is already better than reigning NBA MVP Stephen Curry.

“I have the upmost confidence in what my boy is doing,” LaVar Ball said, via Andrew Holleran of College Spun. “I’m going to tell you right now, he’s better than Stephen Curry to me. Put Steph Curry on UCLA’s team right now and put my boy on Golden State and watch what happens.”

What would happen, in all likelihood, is UCLA would instantly become the unquestioned best team in college basketball and the Golden State Warriors would suffer mightily as a talented but raw 19-year-old discovers that the NBA is a lot tougher than his father seems to think it is, but we won’t let facts get in the way of a good quote. Lonzo will certainly never be lacking in belief if his confidence is anything like his father’s.

Interestingly, it’s another son of Ball’s whose skills have gained Curry’s attention. We wonder how LaVar thinks his other son would fare in the NBA.

Tom Izzo moves on from spat with Dan Dakich

Tom Izzo

Tom Izzo says that he is moving on from his spat with Dan Dakich.

Prior to broadcasting Tuesday’s Michigan State-Ohio State game for ESPN, Dakich trolled Michigan State students by saying they weren’t good enough to get into Michigan. Spartans fans of course took offense and let Dakich hear it with some chants during the game.

Izzo said he was upset with his students until he was informed about Dakich’s tweets, at which point the Michigan State coach ripped into the ESPN analyst (full comments here).

Dakich defended himself the next day and said he has “unreal respect” for Coach Izzo.

Now Izzo has responded and says the issue is dead and he is moving on.

“There’s no big deal. It’s what it was, and it’s over,” Izzo said after practice Thursday, via the Detroit Free Press’ Chris Solari. “I’m not holding any grudges against him. I just voiced my opinion of what I thought, and he voiced his. … I’m not gonna get into what you guys and what everybody wants us to get into, even though I understand – it’s gotta be an article, it’s gotta be a topic. It’s not for me. It’s not for me, nor will it be.”

Things will be interesting on Saturday, which is when Dakich will be on the call for Michigan State’s game against Purdue. Dakich is lucky that the game will not be at the Breslin Center.

UConn responds to Big East rumors

Kevin Ollie

The University of Connecticut says it has no intention of rejoining the Big East Conference.

On Wednesday, a report from FanRag Sports claimed UConn has been having active discussions with the Big East about joining the conference. The Big East is supposedly willing to take UConn in all sports, though something would need to be done about the Huskies’ football team because the Big East no longer has football.

UConn athletic director David Benedict said in a statement Wednesday evening that all of that is a moot point, because he claims the Huskies have no interest in leaving the American Athletic conference.

The report from FanRag says the Big East wants UConn to join so the conference can move to 20 league games in basketball, which would help improve the resumes of its teams and give them a better shot at earning NCAA Tournament bids over other power-five teams.

It’s hard to tell whether Benedict’s statement is rooted in truth, as UConn probably would not want the AAC to know it was considering leaving in case any potential deal with the Big East fell through. UConn won a national title in men’s basketball in 2014, but they have since struggled and are an incredibly disappointing 12-12 this season after being ranked in the top 25 heading into the year.

We all know one team from UConn every conference would love to have, but that goes without saying. If the Huskies join the Big East and can play against tougher competition, men’s basketball coach Kevin Ollie could see a boost in recruiting this summer.

Seven players capable of carrying their teams to the Final Four

Josh Hart

The NCAA Tournament earns the nickname “March Madness” every single year. With wild finishes and crazy upsets, the tourney never disappoints. Navigating through that “madness” to the Final Four or even a championship is no easy feat. Teams are not accustomed to playing twice in one weekend, especially not with an escalating spotlight and such difficult opponents awaiting at every turn. Coaches do their best to prep for this crazy scenario and every team thinks they have a plan in place, but sometimes things break down.

When push comes to shove, great teams often look to one player to carry the load and lead them to victory. This is endlessly true in March, when great players rise to the occasion.

This season, these seven players stand out as being capable of shouldering their team to the Final Four.

1. Josh Hart, Villanova

On last year’s Villanova team that won the championship, Josh Hart succeeded under the radar. Ryan Arcidiacono was the vocal leader and the face of the team. Daniel Ochefu was a senior and the defensive anchor for the Wildcats, with Jalen Brunson coming as a big name recruit, and Kris Jenkins soaking in the glory of the championship winning buzzer-beater. All the while, Josh Hart was the best player on the team, playing elite perimeter defense, posting ungodly rebounding numbers for a guard, and scoring when he needed to.

This year, with another season under his belt, Hart has been nothing short of extraordinary. The favorite for National Player of the Year, Hart has averaged 18.7 points, 6.6 rebounds, 3.3 assists, and 1.6 steals per game.

He is the absolute lifeblood of the Wildcats, without dominating the ball or hampering any of his teammates. Despite his impeccable numbers, he ranks outside the top 200 nationally in usage rate and only takes 28 percent of his team’s shots when on the floor (176th most in America). He’s as steady as they come, scoring at least 11 points in every game this year. Playing for a Villanova team with a shallow bench, Hart is asked to help in all areas of the game, and he’s shown himself capable of doing so without fail.

2. Nigel Williams-Goss, Gonzaga

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