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Tuesday, January 21, 2020

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Five teams that could become Cinderella stories in March Madness

The four days between Selection Sunday and the round of 64 games of the NCAA Tournament is one of the most fun periods for sports fans. Brackets are distributed, analyzed and agonized over. Everyone has a common goal: find the Cinderella team.

There are few joys as sweet as predicting an upset, especially when the team you stood up for makes a run past the first weekend.

Finding the teams capable of an upset is certainly easier once the field is set, yet there is some real value to checking in on possible Cinderellas earlier on in the schedule. Let’s take a look at teams with a chance to make waves in March, limiting our search to mid-major teams currently rated no higher than a 11 seed in ESPN’s most recent bracket projection.

5. Duquesne

Before this season, the Dukes would not have figured into a list like this one. The program has been in a nearly permanent downturn, winning more than 20 games in a season just twice in the last 40 years. It came as a surprise then when the Dukes started 10-0, with just three teams left unbeaten when they suffered their first loss on December 22. Duquesne’s early schedule helped. The Dukes played no true road games and didn’t face a KenPom top-100 team in their first 10 games.

Even after losing two games, Duquesne looks like a team to fear in the Atlantic 10. Wins over Davidson and Saint Louis has the Dukes tied atop the conference standings. Defense has been a strong point, as Duquesne leads the nation in block rate. Junior big man Michael Hughes swats 5.2 shots per 40 minutes, and Duquesne only allows a conference-low 60.0 points per game in A-10 play.

The case against Duquesne comes from their competition atop the conference standings. Dayton is a true top-10 team and Final Four contender, meaning Duquesne likely needs to beat the Flyers (or pick up crucial quality wins over Richmond or VCU) or win the A-10 Tournament to reach the Big Dance.

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Damian Lillard joins exclusive list with second 60-point game

Damian Lillard

Damian Lillard went nuts on Monday night leading his Portland Trail Blazers to a 129-124 overtime win over the Golden State Warriors.

Lillard was great from long range and made all his free throws while scoring a franchise record 61 points in the ballgame. This marked Lillard’s second career 60-point game (his first came in November against Brooklyn).

Lillard joins Wilt Chamberlain, Kobe Bryant, Michael Jordan, James Harden and Elgin Baylor as the only players in NBA history with more than one 60-point game.

That’s some exclusive company.

Lillard was 17/37 from the field, 11/20 on threes, and went 16/16 from the line. He entered the game sixth in the league with 27.1 points per game this season.

This particular bucket stood out:

Jaylen Brown appears to take aim at Kyrie Irving’s leadership

Jaylen Brown

Jaylen Brown appeared to take aim at Kyrie Irving’s leadership when speaking on a recent podcast.

Brown was a guest on Monday’s edition of “The Woj Pod” and spent part of his interview talking about Kemba Walker, who was signed by the Boston Celtics over the offseason as a replacement for Irving.

When discussing Walker’s leadership, Brown praised Walker and contrasted it with the style of someone else. It sure sounded like Brown was talking about Irving.

“He didn’t point fingers. He didn’t blame others,” Brown said of Walker. “He said that we’re going to be alright, we’re going to learn from this … he said things that were more uplifting.”

Without naming names, Brown then brought up a different type of response he had seen to adversity.

“Usually what you’re used to seeing, maybe somebody goes into a corner, doesn’t talk to nobody. Instead of starting to hang out with their teammates, they start to hang out with their agent, their friends, their entourage … nothing changed even though the times got more difficult. When things get a little bit difficult, that’s when you get to see somebody’s true makeup and character.”

Brown was upset with Irving last year for criticizing the Celtics’ young players after a January loss to Orlando. Over the summer, Brown seemed to enjoy someone clowning Irving on social media.

The type of behavior he described in the interview — a player going into a corner and not talking with teammates when things got difficult — sounds a lot like Irving. Given how Brown feels about Irving and how well the Celtics having played without Kyrie, it wouldn’t be a surprise if that’s exactly who Brown was talking about.

Report: Vanderbilt hiring Kenechi Udeze away from LSU

Vanderbilt logo

LSU is continuing to lose members of its national championship coaching and support staff.

Kenechi Udeze, who served as an analyst for LSU, is expected to be hired by Vanderbilt as an assistant coach, AL.com’s Matt Zenitz reported on Monday.

Udeze, 36, was a defensive lineman at USC and was a first-round pick by the Vikings in 2004. He retired in 2008 after being diagnosed with acute lymphoblastic leukemia.

Udeze has worked in coaching since 2009 and was a part of USC’s staff from 2015-2018. He was a defensive line coach for three of those seasons and spent this past season with LSU, working under Ed Orgeron, who was his defensive line coach at USC.

LSU has already lost two key coaches from its staff — Dave Aranda went to Baylor, and Joe Brady left for the Carolina Panthers.

Jameer Nelson, Phil Martelli issue statements about Delonte West

Phil Martelli

Jameer Nelson and Phil Martelli sent out statements on Twitter Monday night after seeing the videos involving Delonte West.

West played at Saint Joseph’s with Nelson, under Martelli’s leadership, for three seasons, culminating in their 2003-2004 squad that went 27-0 in the regular season and finished 30-2. West was a junior and Nelson a senior that season.

After seeing videos that circulated on social media of West getting beat up and talking incoherently on a curb, Nelson issued a statement on Twitter about his former college teammate.

“I’m sick today my stomach right now seeing the videos of Delonte. To answer everybody that’s reaching out to me about his situation … all we can do is pray for Him and his family and hope that he seeks the proper help. Mental illness is something that a lot of people deal with and don’t even know it, until sometimes it’s too late. I’m not sure what exactly is going on with Dwest but he knows I’m in his corner and will help him get through this. Yes, I’ve spoken to him Over the past several months, just trying to be there for him as a friend. One thing I do know Is. (sic) if your (sic) having mental, emotional or physical set backs (sic) in life you need to talk to somebody. And when I say talk to somebody. I mean,, like a doctor or doctors. Not you (sic) parents or homeboy, wife, cousins etc. somebody that has credentials in helping people for what your (sic) going through. And please be mindful, when you (sic) posting videos or pictures of somebody. You may think your (sic) helping but you might be hurting them even more. People have kids and their kids don’t deserve to be embarrassed.
Please Pray!” Nelson said in his statement.

Martelli, who coached at Saint Joseph’s from 1995-2019, added thoughts as well. He described West’s situation as “very painful” and said many are looking to help.

Astros to interview former Rangers manager Jeff Banister

Minute Maid Park Houston

The Houston Astros are eyeing a former American League West division rival.

Mark Berman of FOX 26 Houston reported on Monday that the Astros have contacted ex-Texas Rangers manager Jeff Banister, who will interview with team officials next week as they continue to search for a new skipper.

Banister, 56, is currently a special assistant for the Pittsburgh Pirates. Prior to that, he managed the Rangers for four seasons from 2015 to 2018, compiling a record of 325-313 (.503) and leading them to two division titles. Banister was known for some postseason shortcomings however and presided over back-to-back exits in the ALDS after those aforementioned division titles.

While Banister probably wouldn’t be the splashiest hire, he would continue on Houston’s apparent theme of looking to veterans with ample prior experience. They are however thinking more outside of the box with other options as well.

TJ Ford takes aim at Shaka Smart, direction of Texas program after blowout loss

Shaka Smart

Monday night’s blowout loss at Wast Virginia has many fans and also a prominent former player concerned about the state of Texas Basketball.

The Texas Longhorns got destroyed 97-59 at West Virginia and looked like they did not belong on the same floor as the Mountaineers. West Virginia went on a 20-0 run during the first half where Texas didn’t score for a stretch of seven minutes. The Mountaineers led 45-20 at halftime and were up by as many as 43 at various points in the second half.

The defeat was so ugly that legendary former Texas point guard T.J. Ford said the direction of the program was “disappointing and disheartening.”

That’s clearly a criticism of Shaka Smart, under whom the program is 12-6 and 2-4 in conference this season.

West Virginia coach Bob Huggins said the loss wasn’t on Smart.

Smart is in his fifth season at Texas and was an extremely high-profile hire by the Longhorns. They fired Rick Barnes to bring in Smart, who had taken Virginia Commonwealth to the Final Four. But the hire has not worked so far, as Texas seems to have gone downhill since Smart’s first season, when they went 20-13 and 11-7 in conference. They are on their way to making it four straight losing seasons in Big 12 play.

Smart has three years and $10.5 million remaining on his contract with Texas.

Delonte West in videos that are extremely concerning about his physical and mental state

Delonte West

Delonte West appeared in a few videos shared on social media Monday that showed the former NBA player in a very concerning mental state.

West, who had an 8-year playing career in the NBA, was captured in a video getting beat up in the middle of a highway. The video shows that the incident took place in the middle of the 210 highway, which goes from Maryland to Washington D.C.

In the video, people were driving by while West got his head stomped.

Another video shows West sitting on a curb apparently after being beaten up. West is understandably disheveled and not making much sense. He says the person who beat him up approached him with a gun.

West screams “I don’t give a f—” multiple times in the video and does not seem well. This video contains profanity.

For those wondering if the man in the video is West, the tattoos confirm his identity. West also is a Washington D.C. native, so this happened nearby where he is from.

West, who is now 36, has not played in the NBA since the 2011-2012 season. He played in the D League in 2013 and 2015, and had a stint in China in between. He was suspended for having outbursts in his final season with Dallas.

In the years since his career ended, West has been the subject of other stories sharing concern about his state.

In 2016, West was said to be wandering around a fast food restaurant in Texas. West was said to have been hallucinating after receiving the wrong medication prior to that incident.

West has been living with bipolar disorder. His former college coach and college teammate, Phil Martelli and Jameer Nelson, both issued statements about West.

Video: Jaylen Brown dunks on LeBron James, gets technical for taunting

Jaylen Brown LeBron James

Jaylen Brown dunked on LeBron James Monday night, and he picked up a technical foul for hanging on the rim afterwards.

During the third quarter of the Boston Celtics’ game against the Los Angeles Lakers, Brown drove to the basket and jammed over James.

Brown hung on the rim after the dunk and got called for a technical foul for taunting. TNT announcer Chris Webber pointed out how similar Brown looked to Prince hanging on the rim in the famous Dave Chappelle skit:

I definitely see it.

The technical foul gave the Lakers an extra point, but if you ask Brown, he’d probably say it was worthwhile.

Rockies GM: Nolan Arenado trade not happening before spring training

There have been numerous trade rumors surrounding Nolan Arenado this offseason, but the Colorado Rockies’ general manager says the third baseman will begin spring training with the team.

Rockies GM Jeff Bridich said on Monday that nothing came from the trade talks, which is why the team will begin spring training with Arenado.

“With the season coming up and spring training on the horizon, we are going to start focusing on that,” Bridich said, via The Denver Post. “We have listened to teams regarding Nolan and really nothing has come of it. We are going to move forward pretty much as we expected — with Nolan in the purple and black and as our third baseman. So we can put this to bed and collectively look forward to the upcoming season and work toward that.”

The Rockies tested the trade market for Arenado in December, and as of earlier this month, the third baseman was said to be a 50-50 possibility to be traded. The Braves, Nats, Rangers and Cardinals were among the teams that reportedly had trade talks about Arenado, but it appears Colorado did not receive the kind of return they were seeking.

Arenado has a full no-trade clause and $234 million remaining on his deal, which may explain why it’s hard to deal him. Arenado batted .315 with 41 home runs, 118 RBIs and an OPS of .962 last year.