It’s almost that time again.
We have reached mid-July and the brackets for the preseason non-conference tournaments have been unveiled.
While the conference battles (ACC/Big Ten challenge, SEC/Big 12 challenge) may be the best part of the non-conference portion of the schedule, the preseason tournaments aren’t far beyond. That is especially the case for the premier events like the Battle 4 Atlantis, Preseason NIT, and Maui Invitational.
This is not just a time for teams to boost their RPI or ranking, but it’s a chance for coaches and players to figure out what they need to work on before conference play. In the case of rebuilding teams and young players, it’s an opportunity to boost confidence and learn the nuances/pace of the game against some of the best competition in the country.
It’s also a chance for fans to see some of the top programs in the country take center stage against other high quality squads before conference play begins in December.
So what are the best first round match-ups, or potential showdowns that we could see depending on future results?
Louisville v. Michigan State (potential match-up – Battle 4 Atlantis)
The Cardinals and Spartans are on opposite ends of the Battle 4 Atlantis bracket, which means that if both programs win their first two games, they will move on to play each other in the title game. These are two top-15 programs that have potential to be top-10 clubs at some point during the 2016-17 season.
Tom Izzo possibly has his best recruiting class ever, while Rick Pitino’s Cardinals are loaded in the front court despite losing Chinanu Onuaku.
VCU v Baylor (Battle 4 Atlantis)
Both the Rams and Bears lost key pieces from last year’s NCAA Tournament teams, however, they both should compete at the top of their respective conferences.
Mo Alie-Cox, Jordan Burgess and JeQuan Lewis return for the Rams, while the Bears have a potential breakout player in Johnathan Motley.
Florida State v. West Virginia (potential match-up – Preseason NIT)
The Seminoles have another very athletic and impressive recruiting class headed to Tallahassee. Two of their top three backcourt players from last season, Dwayne Bacon Xavier Rathan-Mayes, will return to give the ‘Noles a spark.
Meanwhile, the Mountaineers could be a top-15 club despite the loss of Devin Williams. West Virginia still has the depth and aggressiveness on defense to be competitive, so this should be a battle between two teams with high NCAA Tournament expectations.
Seton Hall Pirates v. Gonzaga Bulldogs (potential match-up – AdvoCare Invitational)
Before last season, the Pirates last earned a berth in the NCAA Tournament in 2006. In their first game in the field of 64 in 10 years, Kevin Willard’s club was shell shocked and crushed at the hands of the Bulldogs.
Now, the Pirates get another crack at the beast.
This time it will come without point guard Isaiah Whitehead, but Seton Hall does return four of their five starters from last year’s team, plus they add Kansas State transfer Jevon Thomas.
Unfortunately for Seton Hall, Gonzaga should be one of the best teams in the nation. They are talented, experienced and bring in two transfers, Johnthan Williams III and Nigel Williams-Goss, that should make an impact from day one.
Cincinnati v. Rhode Island (Hall of Fame Tip-off Classic)
The final match-up we are watching for is the Rams versus Bearcats. Both programs will be board-line top-25 teams and this showdown could be a crucial resume building win for one team.
URI is attempting to rebound from a injury-riddled season and are looking to clinch their first spot in NCAA Tournament since 1999. They have the experience, depth, talent and athleticism to be great, and oh yea, E.C. Matthews (who could have been drafted this year if he didn’t suffer an injury) is returning from a torn ACL.
Cincy is transitioning to more of an offensive orientated team, and boy do they have the weapons to be successful right away. Jacob Evans, Gary Clark, Kyle Washington and Jarron Cumberland won’t be easy to stop on a nightly basis.
Louisiana Tech Sports Facilities Damaged by Tornado
A deadly tornado, which has been linked to the death of at least 5 people across two states, damaged several sports facilities located on the campus of Louisiana Tech, according to ESPN.
While no injuries have been reported among the students at the school, two people were killed when the storm ripped through Ruston, Louisiana and caused a tree to fall onto their home.
The school is closed on Thursday and Friday, and the following images were shared on Twitter by the Athletic’s Department, showcasing some of the damage.
Our student-athletes and student body are safe, which is our main concern.— LA Tech Sports (@LATechSports) April 25, 2019
We are still in shock over the devastation to our city and our campus.
Thank you to everyone for the thoughts and prayers. We are still assessing the damage our facilities, but we CAN and WILL rebuild. pic.twitter.com/PMzwXqe7dk
National Weather Service hydrologist C. S. Ross said that the deadly tornado cut a track over 130 miles from eastern Texas to near the Louisiana-Arkansas border.
Video Surfaces Showing Agent Christian Dawkins Promoting Connections to Top Coaches
Another layer has unraveled in the college basketball corruption trial on Wednesday when a video recording of a conversation about paying college coaches and athletes was played on Wednesday, according to ESPN’s Paula Lavigne.
In the video dated June 6th 2017, aspiring sports agent Christian Dawkins brags about his connections to top NCAA basketball coaches, including Arizona head coach Seam Miller.
When referring to incoming (at the time) Arizona player Deandre Ayton (who currently plays for the Phoenix Suns) Dawkins says Miller told him, “I’m taking care of everything myself. I wanna bring you in. I’ll turn everything over to you.”
Dawkins is currently on trial for allegedly bribing college coaches.
Marty Blazer, a former financial advisor who was being questioned by prosecutors and who was present for the conversation, said the reference was about Miller “taking care” of payments for Ayton.
“Sean Miller has to know everything that’s going on. I can call Sean and have a conversation … like this is what is needing to be done,” Dawkins said on the video. He said that Miller is, “talking on the phone about stuff he shouldn’t be talking on the phone about.”
Unites States District Court Judge Edgardo Ramos ruled back on Friday that defense attorneys could not subpoena Miller and LSU’s Will Wade to testify during the federal bribery trial.
Rick Barnes Says He Would Have Left Tennessee if UCLA Paid Buyout
Tennessee head coach Rick Barnes could have been the next head coach for UCLA, instead of Mick Cronin, if only the Bruins were willing to open up their wallets.
Barnes says that if UCLA would have promised to pay Barnes’ $5 million buyout, he would have left Tennessee to take the job at UCLA.
“I think I would’ve been the coach at UCLA,” Barnes said (h/t ESPN). “I’ve said that to people before. I really felt at that time that’s what would happen.”
Barnes was honest and open with his decision process during the news conference, saying that he struggled with making a final decision due to financial matters.
Barnes has since agreed to a new deal with Tennessee that will pay him $4 million per year before increasing to a $6 million annual sum by the end of the contract and provide more cash for his assistants.
“I’m supposed to be at Tennessee,” Barnes said. “And it’s really above and beyond the basketball program. I’m in love with this community. I’m in love with this state. I just think we got a lot of great things going on in this town.”
“A lot of praying went into it, I can tell you that,” Barnes said. “There was a lot going on. When you get down to a situation like that, it has to make sense from a financial standpoint. Bottom line is we couldn’t work it out with the buyout.”
Barnes also informed UCLA that he would not depart Knoxville without talking to athletic director Phillip Fulmer and others in the community.
I told them point blank, ‘I’m not going to walk out of here and not meet with my team,'” Barnes said. “‘I’m not going to walk out of here and not meet with people here that have been really good to me.’ … I said, ‘You just can’t say send a plane tomorrow and we’re leaving. I’m going to make sure this is done the right way.'”
“There was one time in my mind I truly felt that’s what would happen,” Barnes said about potentially taking the UCLA offer. “It got to that point where I felt like my prayers had been answered.”
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