Once again, the madness of March is upon us, and as usual, college hoop heads are immersed in every level of speculation, statistical comparison, and expert analysis ahead of what’s expected to be a 68-team dogfight for the right to be known as national champions.
This year, defending national champs Villanova, 2016 runner-up North Carolina, increasingly-dangerous Duke, mighty mid-major Gonzaga, John Calipari’s Kentucky Wildcats, Lonzo Ball-led UCLA and fellow Pac-12 power Arizona have all been labelled as potential champions. But despite earning the Midwest Region’s top seed and carrying only four losses into the festivities, Bill Self’s Kansas Jayhawks haven’t been getting the pre-tournament praise they deserve.
Slated to square-off with 16th-seeded UC Davis on Friday night, the Joshua Jackson-less Jayhawks didn’t really resemble a team that’s more than capable of mounting a charge towards a national championship when TCU knocked them out of the Big 12 Conference Tournament on March 9th. But judging by what we’ve seen so far, Kansas has already proven that it’s just as dangerous as any of the tourney’s top teams with wins over potential post-season big-shots like Duke, Kentucky, and Baylor [twice].
Still, after losing to Kentucky in the 2012 championship game, failing to reach the Final Four each of the last four times that they’ve been blessed with one of the tournament’s top seeds, and falling to eventual champion Villanova in last year’s Elite 8, the Jayhawks have a lot of people anticipating their early-round collapse.
Following a season-opening loss to Indiana, the Jayhawks went on to win 18 straight games before getting crushed 85-69 at West Virginia in late January and suffering an overtime loss in Lawrence to Iowa State three games later. And prior to being upset by TCU, Jackson and company rattled-off another eight straight victories in one of county’s toughest conferences on their way to securing the programs’s 28th straight trip to the NCAA Tournament–the longest streak in NCAA history.
When asked about these Jayhawks compared to other KU success stories of the past following February’s 67-65 win at Baylor, Self had very high praise for this year’s group–a team that also won the program its 13th consecutive Big 12 conference crown.
“As far as a mental toughness team, I would take this team and go to the house and let it ride however it goes.”
While both accomplished and experienced, Jay Wright’s 31-win Wildcats showed us that even they aren’t infallible by losing twice to Butler and once to 10th-seeded Marquette. Along with a pair of losses to Duke, as well as losses to Kentucky, Miami, and Virginia, North Carolina also dropped games to NIT teams such as Indiana and Georgia Tech. And although Gonzaga’s dominance of the West Coast Conference remains unquestioned, we all know that Mark Few’s Bulldogs have yet to truly succeed on the sport’s biggest stage.
However, despite their mid-season slump, the Blue Devils have suddenly become one of the most popular picks to win the tournament, and for some reason, many have now decided that Michigan’s recent runway misfortunes are enough to propel John Beilen’s 11-loss squad past the first few rounds and into a shining moment of their own.
If you’re searching for the sentimental, the fact that this will be Self’s last tournament with his son by his side may make some sort of magical difference. Of course, for a program that’s earned a top-two seed in each of the last eight seasons, motivation is never in short supply. But this season is all that matters now for the Jayhawks, and an impressive resume combined with a relatively experienced roster that includes Jackson and one of the nation’s most well-rounded talents in senior Frank Mason III is more than enough to carry Kansas past the negative nonsense and on to a national championship.
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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