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Wednesday, March 20, 2019

College Basketball

John Calipari seemingly responds to report linking him to UCLA

John Calipari

John Calipari took to social media to seemingly respond to a report linking him with the UCLA head coaching job.

A report surfaced on Wednesday that Calipari was showing interest in coaching the UCLA Bruins. Later that day, the Kentucky Wildcats coach took to his Twitter account to say his “plan and desire” is to retire at Kentucky. Calipari then shifted his attention to the Wildcats’ NCAA Tournament game against Abilene Christian.

With the impressive resume Calipari has compiled, it’s not surprising to hear his name linked with one of the storied programs in college basketball. For now, he will be focusing on leading Kentucky to its first Final Four since 2015 and national championship since 2012.

Syracuse G Frank Howard suspended indefinitely

Jim Boeheim

On the eve of the NCAA Tournament, the Syracuse Orange took a significant blow with the loss of a key player.

The school announced Wednesday that guard Frank Howard has been suspended indefinitely for an unspecified violation of athletic department policy.

Howard started 28 games for the Orange this season, averaging 8.9 points per game and averaging nearly 27 minutes on the floor per night. He put up some key performances down the stretch, posting 18 and 28-point games in the ACC Tournament.

Syracuse will be getting standout player Tyus Battle back for the tournament, but they’ll lose Howard at the same time. It’s a big hole and a distraction they don’t need at the wrong time.

Abilene Christian coach will make NCAA Tournament debut with torn pants

Some of the small conference teams that come to the NCAA Tournament bring amazing and hilarious stories with them. Abilene Christian coach Joe Golding certainly has the latter.

Golding ripped his pants celebrating after Abilene Christian clinched their automatic bid to the tournament. Normally, that’s only an embarrassing problem once, but the coach doesn’t have a second suit with him, meaning he’s just going to deal with the hole in his pants while coaching his team against second-seeded Kentucky.

Sometimes, guys get a little excited celebrating their tournament bids, and it can have ramifications into the tournament itself. Golding is only the latest. He’ll probably take the trade-off.

Richard Pitino downplays distraction of facing Louisville

Richard Pitino

A lot of people couldn’t help but laugh when the selection committee paired Richard Pitino’s Minnesota Golden Gophers with the Louisville Cardinals, the team that fired his father Rick over a recruiting scandal, in the first round of the NCAA Tournament.

Richard Pitino, however, says he’s putting any other angle aside other than beating his opponent, and he’s not distracted by the off-court storyline.

“When you see Louisville pop up, you’re more about, ‘What am I going to say to the media? How am I going to lie to the media?'” Pitino said, via Adam Teicher of ESPN.

“From an emotions standpoint, when you play in the Big Ten, there are so many emotional games. I learned that,” the Minnesota coach added. “I’m only 36. That’s a young head coach. But you have to keep your emotions in check. I think I do a pretty decent job of that.

“When I’m watching film and I’m watching Louisville play, it’s about not really what the name on the front of the jersey is, but I’m watching a really good team in Louisville, a really well-prepared and well-coached team with a lot of good talent and how can I put myself in a position to help our team beat them?”

Pitino added that he’d only spoken to his father, who is currently coaching in Greece, once since Selection Sunday, and they discussed the status of Minnesota, not Louisville.

There is no love lost between Rick Pitino and Louisville, and Richard has defended his father. He may not say so, but he’d probably enjoy the victory over Louisville if he can get it.

10 March Madness players who can carry their team to a championship

Zion Williamson

An NCAA Tournament winner oftentimes gets to the promised land because one star player takes over their March run. Sometimes it’s an unlikely candidate — we see you, Donte DiVincenzo — but usually it’s a star player carrying the team.

Every title contender has a player who can, and perhaps needs to, do it for them. Here is a look at ten of those players.

10) Jordan Poole, Michigan

Michigan profiles as a strong defensive team that doesn’t rely on one primary scorer. While they’re not bad offensively, they’re not elite either. When Poole performs, however, they go from a decent offensive team to a very good one. When he’s hitting consistently from deep, the Wolverines are exceptionally difficult to beat, and it opens up the floor for his teammates. Last March, Poole hit one of the most memorable shots of the tournament. If he can hit a few more from deep, Michigan bears watching.


Shaka Smart acknowledges he is on hot seat at Texas

It has been nearly four years since Texas hired Shaka Smart in hopes of returning the program to the level of success it enjoyed early in the Rick Barnes era, but that simply has not happened. With the Longhorns having missed the NCAA Tournament for the second time in three years, Smart seems to understand his days at Texas could be numbered.

While speaking with reporters on Tuesday evening, Smart admitted the seat underneath him feels rather warm these days.

Texas has not won 20 or more games in a season since Smart took over in 2015. He has an overall record of 66-66 with the team and has not advanced past the first round of the NCAA Tournament. Those obviously aren’t the results administrators were hoping for when they hired Smart away from VCU.

Smart’s contract at Texas runs through the 2022-23 season, and it sounds like it would cost the school a lot of money to fire him. He has reportedly turned away interest from other top programs in recent years, but a 16-16 season isn’t going to impress anyone. That includes Smart’s bosses.

Biggest storylines entering the NCAA Tournament

Coach K

During college basketball’s biggest week, sometimes I worry that I’m going out of my mind. The excitement builds and builds to a point where I put any kid on Christmas morning to shame. Just looking at an unfilled, untouched bracket makes my ears perk up and my heart race.

If you’re like me, you don’t need to spell out the storylines we’ll see play out this month. Those ideas are already bouncing around your head like bingo balls.

For those of you who have been more focused on other sports recently or who have not hit peak excitement just yet, there is good news. This bracket, this field of teams, and everything about the next month of basketball we’re about to see is poised to be great.

Here are eight things to keep an eye on:

1. Duke’s sky-high expectations

Even for a top overall seed, Duke’s expectations are as high as any team. This Blue Devils squad is the first since Kentucky’s undefeated team in 2015 to enter the Big Dance with people expecting nothing less than a championship.

With Zion Williamson and Tre Jones healthy and in the lineup, the Blue Devils lost just once. Even with those players out, Duke’s five losses all came to teams in the tournament field and ranked 35th or better in KenPom.

At full strength, this is the best team in the nation. That does not make them a shoo-in to win the title or to even advance to Minneapolis for the Final Four. Duke ranks 338th in 3-point shooting in college basketball, but shot the 63rd most long balls. Every coach poised to face Duke in the next month will know those stats and hope that their team is the one that catches the Blue Devils on a monumentally cold shooting night. If Duke can go six games without an icy cold performance, they’ll cut down the nets.