How the NCAA created and absolved themselves of corruption

Arizona Wildcats F DeAndre Ayton (Photo via Chris Coduto/Getty Images)

This past June, the NBA shattered another draft night record when 16 players who had only played their freshman year, also known as “one-and-dones,” were selected in the first round of the 2017 NBA draft. Much of this is the result of the eligibility rules imposed by the NBA which state that an athlete must be at least 19 years of age during the draft and that any non-international athlete must be at least one year removed from graduating high school.

The recent reports of many college athletes receiving improper benefits surfaced. Most notable was Arizona freshman DeAndre Ayton who was accused of receiving $100,000 to sign with the Wildcats.

With such overt hypocrisy in college basketball, the economics of the industry and nature of its current rules suggest that revising the one-and-done rule is necessary for the salvation of the sport.

The NCAA clearly states that it is a platform for amateurism which promotes the idea that its athletes are students first and athletes second. However, in an October 2017 article, sports economist Daniel Rascher estimates that the college sports industry generates $13 billion dollars a year.

With such high economic stakes, pressure mounts on coaches to win games. This is supported by the fact that of the 351 college basketball coaches 57 percent have been at their current school for fewer than five years. Naturally, the easiest way for basketball coaches to maintain their jobs is to win, which is also much simpler when you have the best players. The highly competitive market for athletic success has resulted in many coaches resorting to bribing top recruits to come to their school.

High School recruiting databases such as Rivals, 247 and Scout.com numerically rank prospects on their talent. Affirmation of their value creates an elastic market for players that eliminates the incentive to settle for the fixed rate salary which many believe to be an effective resolution to the issue.

Overall, it is no surprise that the juxtaposition between the NCAA generating 13 billion dollars of revenue while the agents (players) of their institution receive no compensation is capable of creating an extremely toxic environment.

How the rules under the current system endorse corruption

Under the current rules, no American player can go directly from high school to the NBA. Therefore, they have two options: play a year of college or play internationally and be legally compensated.

NBA Rookie Terrance Ferguson (Photo via Chris Hyde/Getty Images)

NBA rookie Terrance Ferguson, just one of three Americans who ever opted to forego college basketball and play internationally, articulated his rationale in a June 2017 interview with the Charlotte Observer saying, “Most one-and-done players only spend a few months in college. You have to do schoolwork and all this other stuff. At college, the only people making money off you are the coaches.”

Unfortunately, playing internationally robs athletes of the opportunity to compete against the highest level of competition that is not the NBA and can consequently harm an athlete’s draft stock. Of the four major American sports (football, basketball, baseball and hockey), basketball is the only one that allows athletes to leave after just one year.

As a result, any wrongful compensation these athletes receive must be investigated and processed; only after this can athletes finally be punished. However, by the time sanctions are ready to be carried out, most players have already bolted for the NBA. Therefore, because there is very little chance that an athlete will miss any games or face legal consequences, they have little reason to decline money.

To synthesize, corruption is nearly impossible to erase from an institution that has such a wide disparity between what the athletes deserve versus what they receive. However, disallowing one-and-dones can reduce the corruption. If the NBA eliminates the minimum age, then the number of one-and-dones would diminish dramatically, as many more would opt to be paid immediately.

If the NBA stands pat, then the NCAA would be wise to follow College Football’s policy and force athletes to spend three years at their school before leaving for the pros. Such a rule would force athletes to decide whether they are interested in the NCAA’s message of being “student-athletes” with the risk of the NCAA investigating them for receiving wrongful benefits, or they could opt to play internationally until they meet the NBA’s age requirements.

Allowing the existing rules to remain would tell every fan and athlete that the NCAA cares more about the economic benefits of college basketball than the sanctity of the game and its institution.

Trae Young and the making of a celebrity college basketball player

Photo via Rob Ferguson - USA Today Sports

Pompous pull-ups from 30 plus, high-floating layups with improbable angles and perfect touches of English, step-back jumpers over outstretched hands. Swish. I’m not talking about Steph Curry, and this isn’t under the bright lights of the Bay Area. Believe it or not, this is college basketball in the last place you would expect it.

Deep in the heartland of football country, the eyes of the basketball world have descended upon a short, skinny 19-year-old with an unorthodox jump-shot and overt confidence. We’ve seen this story before. And now, everyone wants to be a part of it. These days, it seems like anybody who’s anybody in basketball has something to say about Trae Young.

“Keep going young King!! Don’t stop fam!!” exclaimed the current King of the NBA, Lebron James, on Instagram, laying early claim to a prince that could potentially be primed to one day take the throne.

“He’s unbelievable,” Steph Curry told Bleacher Report, the player Young had so clearly studied meticulously and endlessly. “I call it ‘the flair.’… when I turn on the game, [I’m] just watching him on the floor, where he is at all times.”

“He has early eyes,” repeated ESPN college basketball broadcaster Fran Fraschilla over and over as Young made one miraculous no-look pass after another in Oklahoma’s game against Alabama this past Saturday.

“If you know an NBA scout, he was in Tuscaloosa this past weekend,” declared ESPN announcer Rece Davis, a statement that would have been unfathomable just three months ago.

In the latest tally, 57 NBA scouts traveled to Alabama’s home court to watch Trae Young and fellow top prospect Collin Sexton battle it out this past Saturday afternoon. Both players are projected lottery picks in the next NBA draft, and both possess an undeniable appeal and charisma.

Just like Sexton, Young had turned down offers from perennial powerhouses to stay local. And now, at the same time these titans of industry played their Saturday games, the attention of college basketball was diverted away to a matchup most often associated with football.

Young did not want to be just another product in the basketball prospect machines of Mike Krzyzewski, John Calipari or Bill Self. Here is a player who is confident enough in his ability to take the road less travelled, who did not want to simply fit into a proven formula.

It is refreshing. Young wasn’t going to just be the next guy, he was going to be the guy. In what is a rarity nowadays, the young man is playing his one-and-done season with purpose, his home state proudly displayed on the front of his jersey.

This passion radiates in his style of play. The way Young controls his tight handle, finds the open man with his head turned in a different direction and flicks his shot from his shoulders all seem effortless.

At the same time, Young always looks like the player on the floor who is working the hardest. He jabs at opponents, waves play-calls vigorously and runs around the floor in an endless pursuit of the basketball. When the ball is in his hands, as it so often is, he is a perfectionist who consistently pries and probes for just the smallest space he needs to let it fly.

Unlike many of his fellow top prospects, Young’s presence is always felt on the court. Curry referred to this as his “magnetism.” Despite struggling in the first half of the Alabama game, only scoring five points, Young was still very much in control. On one telling play, Oklahoma freshmen Brady Manek caught the ball at the top of the key. Young ran behind Manek looking for a handoff, and when he was denied, swooped around the right side of the court and then through the paint under the basket, finally concluding his journey in the opposite weakside corner.

In the process, Young had drawn the help of a second defender, leaving big man Khadeem Lattin wide open on the block. Manek tossed an alley-oop to Lattin. Without even touching the basketball, Young’s presence on the court had shifted the entire defense and opened up space necessary for an easy two points.

For any team that goes up against Oklahoma, the game plan has only one simple objective: shut down Young. When a defense forces one of his teammates to take the shot, it is a sigh of relief. Yet despite the double teams and constant ball denial, Young still finds himself responsible for almost 50 percent of his team’s production. This is what happens when one is handed the keys to the offense and is afforded the freedom to take any shot, from any distance, without consequence.

Young is the rare college basketball player that is his very own maker. While top prospects at more historic college programs are limited by detailed, precise offense systems and checked by comparable surrounding talent, Young stands alone in Norman. He always has the ball in his hands and is given the opportunity to make decisions with it. This makes it unsurprising that he is atop college basketball’s leaderboard in points (29.6 ppg) and assists (9.6), and, as a natural consequence, turnovers (5.3).

Yet, most casual basketball fans would not know about Young’s struggles with turnovers, or that his team has already lost 10 games, including the one against Alabama, in which Young was outplayed by Sexton.

Many pundits and analysts have come to label Young’s increasing stardom as the result of the fact that he is the first of the “Steph Curry era,” the first guy whose impressionable years as a player coincided with the rise of Curry’s popularity and style of play.

More profoundly, in my opinion, is that Young is one of the basketball prospects of the “Highlight Era.” Scrolling through Instagram, YouTube, Facebook or Twitter, it’s easy to find short clips of his deep line-drive threes and his no-look passes, or photos of him alongside his improbable stat lines in bold letters. While most know Trae Young, and most have something to say about his game, many less have actually watched one of his games.

Young is a basketball celebrity built by virality. For die-hard followers, internet highlights have accompanied him since high school. He is one of the first players to have grown up alongside his biggest fans. We have watched him develop as a player, each step meticulously documented through recruiting forums and highlight videos.

American culture has a nasty habit of attaching itself to a narrative. It loves to create heroes, and also villains. For skinny basketball players with overt confidence levels and unorthodox jumpshots, it is easy to become enframed in this culture.

Last year, it was Lonzo Ball and his bombastic father who captivated the prospect spotlight. Before that, there was Jimmer Fredette, with his relatable looks and brave three-point pull-ups. To a fault, we are constantly in search to bill someone as the next protege. Trae Young was next in line.
Looking past his profile, it is important to keep in mind that Young is still only 19, and is still developing as a player. He is not yet a superstar, but a prospect. Fredette could not live up his billing and shuffled around the NBA before finally relocating to China’s top league. Although Ball is showing flashes of being a more-than-capable NBA player, he does not look like the future perennial all-star he was once made out to be. Young is immensely talented, and has the perfect resume for NBA stardom. However, we must keep in mind that the alternative is still a possibility.

At the end of the Alabama game, with one minute left and the Crimson Tide up about 10 points (the contest fleeting, but still in reach), Oklahoma coach Lon Kruger made the curious decision to pull Young out. In what was in reality just another meaningless season game, I believe this move was meant as a lesson for Young. It was an opportunity for him to take in his own defeat, and accept the fact that he had been outplayed. It was an opportunity for him to think about how he could get better. For a prospect emerging into a celebrity, this was a sobering moment, an important reminder, one very much needed.

The article can also be found on the Miscellany News!

Historic debate continues: To foul or not to foul

Photo via Colin Mulvany / The Spokesman-Review

For any basketball fan, it’s the type of nail-biting, game-deciding situation that leaves you screaming at your TV. Your favorite team just scored a big basket to put them up by three, 10 seconds left. What should the defense do? Defend the play, and run the risk of a game-tying three? Or should they foul, forcing free throws and a maximum of two points?

These are the age-old questions that have polarized some of basketball’s greatest minds. There’s Team Rihanna and Team Beyonce, Team Edward and Team Jacob and now, there’s Team Defend and Team Foul.

The most prominent display of a defend or foul dilemma (maybe of the last decade) occurred on the basketball’s biggest stage in the Final Four matchup between powerhouse Gonzaga Bulldogs and cinderella South Carolina Gamecocks with the Zags up 75-72.

After the Gamecocks managed to cross the mid-court line, Gonzaga’s Josh Perkins gave the strategic foul with 3.5 seconds left, sending Thornwell to the line for two shots.

Thornwell stepped up and nailed the first free throw. With very little time left on the clock, Thornwell had no choice but to intentionally miss the second, in hopes for a fellow Gamecock to grab the rebound and put it back in for two points to send the game to overtime. However, Gonzaga freshmen center Killian Tillie grabbed the board and was fouled. Tillie would go on to hit two throws, giving Gonzaga a four-point lead, effectively ending the game.

Gonzaga’s defensive sequence was a defend or foul situation executed to perfection.

Perkins picked the right moment to give the foul. There was not enough time left (3.5 seconds) for South Carolina to have a chance to gain another possession and Thornwell was handling the ball about two feet outside the three point line, which made him unlikely to begin a shooting motion and draw a three-shot foul.

However, in the heat of the moment, there was a divide in the Zags huddle about the play call, as many players were uneasy about Gonzaga coach Mark Few’s call to foul. “I was screaming at my teammates to foul because I saw they weren’t fouling,” said Gonzaga starting point guard Nigel Williams-Goss in an interview.

Although Few has been one of very few coaches to be a proponent of fouling, he too was torn by the decision at hand.

Few pointed out, choosing to foul leads a team to run the risk of not obtaining the rebound off the intentionally missed second free throw, giving the opposing team another possession to either tie the game or win the game with a three. This is the nightmare scenario that often scares coaches away from fouling and instead electing to play out the final defensive possession.

However, a player knocking down a clutch three-pointer is much more likely than the team grabbing an offensive board off an intentional miss after a foul.

So is fouling the right move?

“I would pressure the ball and slow them [the offensive team down by three] down and foul after they get over half court,” said Vassar basketball player Steve Palecki. “Limits them from tying the game with a three but necessary to rebound on the free throws for this plan to work.”

One does not have to look at the numbers to recognize that defending often turns sour for the defensive team more often than fouling.

Recall the 2008 NCAA national championship game, where Memphis choose to defend, resulting in Kansas knocking down a clutch three-pointer to tie and send the game to overtime.

Kansas would eventually go on to win. But can anyone recall any game in which fouling under six seconds actually resulted in an overtime?

Evidence goes to show, when in doubt, just foul.


The article can also be found on the Miscellany News!

2017 National Championship Preview: Tarheels to avenge last year’s heart-wrenching loss

Photo via ASSOCIATED PRESS/DAVID J. PHILLIP

NCAA Tournament – National Championship

Monday, 9:20 (ET) on CBS

University of Phoenix Stadium, Glendale, Arizona

No. 1 North Carolina Tarheels vs. No. 1 Gonzaga Bulldogs

After an unpredictable tournament sprinkled with cinderella stories, two number one seeds are playing for the National Championship.

The Gonzaga Bulldogs beat the South Carolina Gamecocks last night 77-73. Gonzaga held a solid lead for most of the game, but allowed South Carolina to go on a late 16-0 run. The Bulldogs then regained control and played solid basketball down the stretch to win.

The North Carolina Tar Heels barely hung on last night against the Oregon Ducks in a 77-76 win. UNC got down early, but came back before halftime and controlled the game for the majority of the second half. They let the Ducks creep back into it late, though. With possession and just over five seconds on the clock, UNC missed four consecutive free throws. Luckily, the best rebounding team in the country corralled two offensive boards on those misses to seal the win.

After two hard fought wins, Gonzaga and UNC will compete Monday night for the National Championship.

What to watch for

Zach Collins vs. USC.jpg
Zach Collins celebrates after his huge night against South Carolina (Mark Humphrey/AP Photo)

Big men (Karnowski vs. Meeks)

Both teams are dominant inside.

When forwards Isaiah Hicks and Tony Bradley were limited by the Ducks last night, Kennedy Meeks exploded for 25 points and 14 rebounds. North Carolina has arguably the most dominant inside presence; they have the best rebounding margin in the country.

Gonzaga is a great rebounding team, too, ranked 11th in the country. Against South Carolina, Gonzaga’s big men took over. Center Przemek Karnowski scored 13 points and had five rebounds, while forward Zach Collins, had 14 points and 13 rebounds off the bench.

Karnowski has the ability to exploit small teams because of his height. He’s not as dominant on the boards as he should be, though, averaging just under six rebounds per game. It wouldn’t surprise me if he struggles against North Carolina’s elite big men.

It’s hard to bet against either teams big men, but I think as long as North Carolina’s can avoid foul trouble, they’ve got the upper-hand.

Slight Advantage: North Carolina

Joel Berry hobbles off against Kentucky (Getty).jpg
Joel Berry II walks off after suffering another ankle injury against Kentucky in the Elite Eight (Getty Images)

Guards

When everyone is healthy, North Carolina has the advantage at the guard spot. Joel Berry II’s playing ability has been hindered, though, due to his recent ankle injuries. He shot 2-14 against Oregon, and after playing 35 minutes on Saturday, his ankle’s not going to be any better.

Gonzaga has a group of solid guards led by Nigel Williams-Goss, who scored 23 points against the Gamecocks, many of which game at crucial points in the game. Their guards are tough and play with sound fundamentals.

Williams-Goss is arguably better than Berry and is playing without any injury concerns. He has also shown the ability to do everything: score, assist without turning the ball over, exude toughness, and perform in clutch moments.

Advantage: Gonzaga

Jackson and Nigel Williams Goss 2017
UNC’s Justin Jackon (left) and Gonzaga’s Nigel Williams-Goss (Getty Images)

Star Power

Stars win games late and win championships.

Williams-Goss has shown himself to be a star, but I expect Berry to play solid defense against him, limiting his scoring.

I don’t see anyone being able to control forward Justin Jackson. He’s been the best player for the Tar Heels this season and down the stretch. His clutch shooting will keep UNC in the game early and help them pull away late.

Prediction

UNC has more star power and size than Gonzaga. Not to mention, UNC has the experience of playing in a National Championship game. Even though they lost on one of the most memorable shots in March Madness history, the experience will help them on Monday.

Championship games are won with experience, so last years game might be the difference for the Heels; their guys have been here before.

North Carolina will win a nail-biter late thanks to a few timely rebounds from Meeks and a few clutch shots from Jackson.

Final Four Preview: Sindarius Thornwell will carry South Carolina past Gonzaga

Photo via Getty Images

No. 1 Gonzaga Bulldogs vs. No. 7 South Carolina Gamecocks 

NCAA Tournament – Final Four

April 1, 6:09 pm (ET) on CBS

University of Phoenix Stadium, Glendale, Arizona

For Gonzaga and South Carolina, this is their first trip to the Final Four. Amazingly, this year was the first time South Carolina even won back-to-back tournament games.

It’s incredible that these two teams are playing each other for the right to go to the National Championship.

Gonzaga has always been a good program, but hasn’t succeeded in the tournament. South Carolina came out of nowhere, guided by star guard Sindarius Thornwell and coach Frank Martin.

Gamecocks keys to victory

 

Thornwell back.jpg
Julio Cortez/ AP Photo

 

Guard Sindarius Thornwell

Thornwell is the reason that the Gamecocks have made it this far. There’s no doubt he’s been the best player in March.

He’s leading the tournament in scoring at 25.7 points per game, shooting lights out, and getting to the line at will (32-39 from the line).

He’s rebounding well for a guard, too, grabbing 7.5 boards per game. Thornwell has played lock down defense as well, guarding the opposing team’s best player each game. In the second round against Duke, he held Luke Kennard to 11 points. Against Baylor, he held junior guard Manu Lecomte to just eight points. Finally, in USC’s win over Florida, he held KeVaugh Allen to 13 points.

Thornwell is a force on offense and consistently locks down good players from the opposition.

Pressure on the wings

In terms of size, South Carolina doesn’t match up well with Gonzaga. However, the Gamecock’s guards are quick and great on defense. They’ll have to put a lot of pressure on the Gonzaga guards, making it difficult to throw the ball inside. Every time Gonzaga gets the ball in the post, it’ll be an easy two points.

South Carolina has the talent to limit Gonzaga’s inside touches, it is just a matter of executing.

Gonzaga keys to victory

 

Gonzaga big man
Photo via James Snook – USA Today Sports

 

 Pound it inside

Gonzaga has a huge advantage inside.

South Carolina will struggle to stop Gonzaga Center Przemek Karnowski, who is over seven feet tall. Karnowski has underperformed in this tournament, but a lack of execution from the Gamecocks will lead to easy buckets and rebounds for Karnowski.

Six foot nine Johnathan Williams will also be tough to stop. He’s played better in the latter stages of the tournament, scoring 13 against West Virginia and 19 against Xavier.

Stop Sindarius Thornwell

This one is obvious. Playing against the best player in the tournament, they’ll need to find a way to stop him. If they can’t, he could easily go for 30 points and take South Carolina to their first ever National Championship appearance.

Don’t Panic

Gonzaga is the better team. They have solid guards who will score double-digits points and big men to wreak havoc. They just need to keep doing what they’ve done all this season and they should knock off South Carolina.

Cinderella teams can make it to the Elite Eight and sometimes the Final Four, but history tells that they rarely go all the way.

Prediction

 

Frank Martin NCAA 2017 USC.jpeg
Photo via Robert Deutsch – USA Today Sports

The Gamecocks will move on. They have just enough size to stop Gonzaga from going off inside, and they have guards that could present a lot of defensive trouble for Gonzaga. Frank Martin is a great coach, too. I loved him during his time at Kansas State and I believe he’ll make the right adjustments to limit Gonzaga’s big men.

Thornwell will be the difference. Expect him to have a big day with a few clutch shots late to move South Carolina past Gonzaga.

 

Final Four Preview: UNC’s size and depth too much for Oregon

Photo via Getty Images

No. 1 North Carolina Tarheels vs. No. 3 Oregon Ducks

NCAA Tournament – Final Four

April 1, 8:49 pm (ET) on CBS

University of Phoenix Stadium, Glendale, Arizona

Last week’s UNC-Kentucky game was the unofficial National Championship. I decided that whichever team came out on top in that nail-biter, I’d pick to win it all.

Predictions in the month of March are erratic, anyone can figure that out by looking at their bracket. Take my prediction with a grain of salt. Here are the keys to victory for both teams.

Oregon’s keys to victory

NCAA Basketball: NCAA Tournament-Midwest Regional-Kansas vs Oregon
No. 5 Tyler Dorsey shushes the crowd (Photo via Denny Medley – USA Today Sports)

Ride the experience of Dorsey and Brooks

Guard Tyler Dorsey and forward Dillon Brooks are averaging more than 14 points per game this season. Dorsey, the point guard and leader, is a gritty player who embraces big moments. He’s been Oregon’s best weapon in the tournament, averaging 24.5 points per game.

Brooks, the 6 foot 7 forward, is clear-cut NBA talent. He hasn’t had a 20 point game in the tournament yet, but has been a solid force for the Ducks, scoring in the mid-teens and rebounding well.

Brooks will have to pick up the slack on offense for the Ducks to win this game.

Take advantage of the ankle

North Carolina’s Joel Berry II won’t be 100 percent on Saturday after rolling his ankle several times over the past few weeks; Dorsey should look to take advantage of his immobility.

For Oregon to have a chance tomorrow, Dorsey will need to score close to 30 points.

Rebound

The emergence of forward Jordan Bell gives Oregon a dynamic new weapon.

The one advantage that UNC has over everyone in the country is size. Bell will have to continue his dominance on the glass if Oregon wants to keep the game close. Bell has averaged almost four more rebounds per game in the tournament (12.5) than his season average (8.6).

Cause foul trouble

With Isaiah Hicks, Kennedy Meeks and Tony Bradley in the UNC front-court, Bell is going to have a tough day. In an effort to mitigate North Carolina’s size, Bell will need to go after Hicks to induce foul trouble.

If Oregon can reduce Hick’s minutes, Meeks and Bradley might struggle to stay in front of Brooks and Bell.

Small ball

To combat UNC’s size, Oregon will have to play small-ball. Oregon only has one quality big man, Bell, while the Tarheels have three. The Ducks need to quicken the pace of play, forcing UNC’s bigs to struggle going up and down the court. Dorsey and Brooks will flourish in an open-court environment.

UNC’s keys to victory

Justin Jackson intros.jpg
No. 44 Justin Jackson is introduced at Chapel Hill (Photo via Inside Carolina)

Justin Jackson

Justin Jackson needs to continue his clutch play. UNC goes through stretches where they struggle to score because they lack shooters. Jackson’s their only star shooter, so he’ll need to hit threes and clutch shots to prevent the Tar Heels from just relying on short range baskets.

Size

UNC has the means to dominate the glass. Oregon only plays one person above six-nine, Bell, while the Tarheels play three. It’s a glaring mismatch, and the number one rebounding team in the country, UNC, needs to take advantage.

Despite UNC’s love for running and gunning, it makes sense for them to slow it down sometimes and throw it into the post. Oregon won’t be able to stop Meeks, Bradley and Hicks down low. Any foul trouble on Bell created by action down low would kill Oregon’s chances, too.

Depth

This is the main reason why I don’t see Oregon winning this game. If Oregon slows the game down, UNC’s size will take over. If Oregon speeds the game up to combat the Tarheel’s size, UNC’s depth will take over.

UNC consistently goes ten guys deep in a game, and those five bench players aren’t inept.

Campus legend, Luke Maye, has been rebounding and hitting shots left and right, including the game-winner against Kentucky.

https://twitter.com/DylansFreshTake/status/846143469307473920

Tony Bradley provides an inside presence that will be hard to stop, and senior guard Nate Britt can provide rest for Berry.

North Carolina’s bench also features guard Stillman White, who played well for Berry in his absence, and guard Seventh Woods, a star in the making.

In their 74-60 win over Kansas, Oregon used just three players off the bench. Two of those three, Keith Smith and Kavell Bigby-Williams, combined for only nine minutes, one point, one assist and one rebound. The other sub, Casey Benson, played 21 minutes, scoring only four points and grabbing two rebounds.

Prediction

 

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No. 3 Kennedy Meeks will present a lot of trouble for Oregon’s (Chuck Liddy/ Raleigh News and Observer)

 

Oregon’s starting five might be great, but they lack size and depth. They’ve gotten away with it up to this point, but UNC boasts the best big men and the deepest team in the country.

Berry also said that his ankle is expected to be close to 100 percent. I doubt it is, but it shouldn’t have a huge impact on his play.

North Carolina may be the best team in the country and they match up well against Oregon. The Ducks could make it close, but the Tar Heels’ depth will ultimately overwhelm the Ducks.

 

Five takeaways from Week 1 of March Madness

Photo via Michael Conroy / Associated Press

1. The ACC is not the best conference

The ACC was unanimously considered the best conference in all of college basketball. Some dare said that this might be the best conference season of all-time.

People were saying the ACC was a shoe-in for ten tournament teams, and it looked like they would be until Syracuse, who probably got gypped, didn’t make the cut. Nine teams made the tournament from the ACC,  still an impressive feat for a conference, making it the premier conference this season.

However, the tournament proved otherwise. After just two rounds, the ACC is down to just one contestant, the University of North Carolina.

Not only did the teams lose, they were embarrassed. The average margin of defeat for the ACC was 13.9 points per game. Most of the games were never even a contest. Florida State lost to an 11 seed by 25, Virginia lost to Florida by 26, and Miami lost to Michigan State by 20. The ACC lost almost every game they were in, and when they lost, they lost by a large margin.

Even UNC  was minutes away from not advancing to the Sweet 16. They should have been eliminated but got lucky with a 12-0 run and a few good calls from the refs to barely beat out Arkansas.

2. The referees have been horrible

The referees have had an impact in too many games this weekend.

Northwestern’s cinderella story was cut short by the refs. A horrible miscall of goaltending cost NU two points, momentum, and a technical foul leading to more points the opposite way.

With 49 seconds left in the North Carolina Arkansas game, Joel Berry, up by one point, was driving and obviously traveled. The refs didn’t blow their whistles and let Berry throw up an errant shot that was then tipped in by center Kennedy Meeks. The lead extended to three and essentially wrapped up the game.

For more bad calls from this past weekend click here.

3. Teams of destiny move on

March Madness is always filled with “teams of destiny”. Teams that lack the talent to be elite, but seem to make an improbable tournament run.

This year, Northwestern, South Carolina and Michigan are making their cases for this year’s team of destiny.

Sadly, Northwestern’s case ended this weekend because of the poor call mentioned above.

However, Michigan and South Carolina are still alive with a ton of momentum and confidence.

South Carolina knocked off no. 2 Duke by scoring 65 points in the second half in an impressive 88-81 win. They are led by underrated coach Frank Martin and have a realistic chance to continue their run of destiny. With the no. 1 seed also knocked out from their region, their road to a Final Four is that much easier.

They take on the no. 3 Baylor on Friday.

Michigan has also continued their improbable run. It all started with an almost plane crash, to winning the Big-10 tournament and now an appearance in the Sweet 16. It is going to get much tougher with no. 3 seed Oregon on Thursday, but with the feeling of destiny attached to this Michigan team, it wouldn’t surprise me if they upset Oregon.

4. Lonzo Ball is no joke

UCLA’s Lonzo Ball is a stud. Ball played 38 minutes, scored 18 points, had 9 assists and 7 rebounds against Cincinnati. He seems to be the closest thing to LeBron James we have seen in a while, minus the once in a generation athleticism.

Lonzo, who is a better shooter than James, has a very similar play style. He isn’t going to will his team to victory by scoring 35 points on 30 shots. Rather, he is going to fill out the stat sheet like he did against Cincinnati. He is a 6-6 point guard, who can also lead his team in rebounds (averages 6.1 per game), can score when he wants (14.7 ppg), but most importantly, sets up his teammates (7.6 assists per game).

No matter where Lonzo goes he wins. He has turned UCLA back into the big-time program they once were with his arrival. As a member of Chino Hills, his high school, he went undefeated with his two younger brothers and won the California Open Division State Championship. He expects to win every time he steps on the court and it is rare that doesn’t happen.

UNC, Kentucky and Butler better watch out. This man is no joke and he is coming for them.

5. Worst first-round of March Madness followed up by best second-round ever

The first two days of March Madness had barely any upsets. The upsets that occurred were upsets based on seeding. If the number next to their name was taken away, no one would be surprised by the results of those so-called “upsets”.

Nevertheless, it has been worth these first two boring days for one of the best weekends in college basketball history.

We saw powerhouses like Duke, Notre Dame, Villanova, Virginia, Louisville and Michigan State go down, while other top-tier programs, UNC, Kentucky, Gonzaga, Baylor and Oregon, hardly survived near-death experiences to advance.

The last two days were amazing to watch with almost every game coming down to the last few minutes with many resulting in major upsets of the most recognizable college basketball programs.

2017 NCAA March Madness: Predictions, Sleepers and Headlines

John Peterson/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

The ACC Regular Season Title is Too Close to Call

Photo via ESPN Images

The ACC regular season only has a few weeks left with the end coming on March 4th. However, the excitement is only going to multiply from here on out. The race for the regular season banner is as tight as any year in recent memory because 5 teams (UNC, Duke, Florida State, Notre Dame, and Louisville), with just about two weeks left in the season, have a realistic shot of winning the title.

North Carolina sits in first place at 11-3 in the conference but has 4 teams right on their tail with 10 wins. Duke and Louisville have the best shot to upend the Tar Heels because they each have one game against the Heels. Louisville plays them tonight at 9 pm (ET) and Duke plays them March 4th in Chapel Hill. A Louisville win tomorrow would catapult them into a tie for first place with UNC. A Duke win over UNC on March 4th, if the records hold true, would give Duke the ACC title because they would own the tiebreaker by beating UNC twice.

Louisville would be in the driver seat with a win over UNC tomorrow because they have the easiest schedule down the stretch. After UNC, they will not have any ranked teams remaining on their schedule.

Duke, on the other hand, has the 2nd easiest schedule (out of the 3) because the only other ranked team they face, in addition to North Carolina, is Florida State.

Xavier-Rathan-Mayes

Senior Guard Xavier Rathan-Mayes Celebrating During 88-72 Win Over Duke (Melina Vastola-USA TODAY Sports)

UNC will have to face Duke and Louisville, who are both top 10 teams, and will have to go on the road to Virginia, who have lost four in a row and were embarrassed last Saturday in Chapel Hill. UNC has no cupcakes left with the one other game being against Pittsburgh, who took them to the wire earlier in the year.

Whoever wins tonight, Louisville or UNC, will become the favorite to win the ACC. However, if UNC wins tomorrow night, it will be far from locked up because they will still need to beat Duke on their home floor in the regular season finale.

The ending to this regular season will be incredible. So many teams have a shot to win and many of those teams have to play each other down the stretch, making almost every one of the remaining ACC games must-watch basketball. Don’t forget, the ACC has been the most competitive conference in all of college basketball, so even if it isn’t one of the six teams ranked in the top 25, a tight game should still be expected. Especially teams like Pittsburgh, Syracuse, Miami and Virginia Tech, who are not ranked, but are a tough out and will probably end up making March Madness anyways (ESPN’s Joe Lunardi projects the ACC to have 10 NCAA Tournament Teams).

I expect UNC to win tomorrow night against Louisville and carry the momentum into the March 4 matchup against Duke, who I expect to also win out going into that game. Therefore, that game will decide the ACC regular season title. I will not pick a winner now but will come out with a preview and a predicted winner the week leading up to the massive showdown.

There is not anything more exciting, maybe in all of basketball, then Duke-UNC playing one game with a title on the line.

Luckily for us college basketball fans, what could easily be a pinnacle (the Duke-UNC showdown), will be nothing more than one moment on the way to a peak. The incredibly competitive and talented ACC teams will have to face off against each other once again in Brooklyn for the ACC tournament.

If the regular season is any indication of how the tournament will play out, then everyone is in for the best four days of college basketball this year, not including March Madness (of course).