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Winning at All Costs is the Norm

BrucePearl

Today’s news that rocked the college basketball world isn’t surprising to anyone who’s paid attention to the sport for a long period of time. Rumors and innuendos of players getting money under the table have gone on for years.

Assistant coaches from Arizona, USC, Oklahoma St, and Auburn were charged along with a handler, financial advisor, an agent and three employees of Adidas. The basketball programs at Louisville and Miami (Fl) were also possibly indicated in pay-to-pay schemes.

Outside of the obvious initial shock is the fact that four of the six schools have had recent run-ins with the NCAA. Painting a sad picture that winning, at all costs, is the name of the game in big-time college athletics.

Now I’m not here to be the morality police. There’s millions of dollars at stake for winning programs. Basketball coaches are hired to win basketball games. If they don’t, they get fired. Now we have an idea of the lengths some are willing to go to protect their jobs.

Auburn is Bruce Pearl’s first head coaching job after being given a show-cause penalty for lying to NCAA investigators when he was the head coach at Tennessee. To be fair, there has been no indication by the FBI or anyone else that Pearl was involved in the alleged improprieties. His assistant coach, Chuck Person, was very much involved in a scheme to funnel money to players for the purpose of getting those players to particular financial advisors and agents. The fact that his staff didn’t know that people might be watching is hard to believe though.

USC is a place that has famously been embroiled in scandal in the past 15 years in both football and basketball. The basketball program famously came under fire after former Trojan, O.J. Mayo took money from an agent through a runner. It will now certainly be in crosshairs of the NCAA once again as assistant coach Tony Bland allegedly tried to steer players to former agent, Christian Dawkins and financial advisor, Munish Sood. It was also alleged that he arranged payments for players and their families.

The University of Miami’s basketball program was a part of a broader scandal involving the athletic department and booster, Nevin Shapiro. That investigation resulted in the basketball program losing scholarships. While no one was charged from the program in this investigation, it is possible that the school’s recruitment of the highly-touted Nassir Little was implicated. Through a lawyer, current Hurricanes’ head coach Jim Larranaga has already denied involvement.

Then there’s Louisville. Like Miami, no one from Louisville’s staff was explicitly mentioned in the indictment. However, it’s clear that the report alleges that several members of the staff were involved in arrange payments for potential recruits to attend Louisville. One player includes current five-star freshman Brian Bowen, who the FBI alleges was paid $100,000. Rick Pitino famously said of Bowen and his family:

“But they had to come in unofficially, pay for their hotels, pay for their meals. So we spent zero dollars recruiting a five-star athlete who I loved when I saw him play. In my 40-some-odd years of coaching, this is the luckiest I’ve been.”

This is the same Louisville that’s on probation right now for a scandal involving paying strippers to have sex with recruits.

Six schools implicated. Four with recent run-ins with NCAA investigators. At what point does winning trump cheating. One question administrators and the NCAA is going to ask moving forward is did the head coaches at these schools set an expectation of running a clean program or were their assistants empowered to take risks.

There probably will be several more shoes to drop with coaches and programs across the country. Some may be in similar situations as the schools mentioned above. It’s now time for everyone involved in intercollegiate athletics to re-evaluate the importance of winning.

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Virginia Goes Small to Win NCAA Opener

Senior guard London Perrantes scored 24 and junior guard Marial Shayok scored 23 for the No. 5 Virginia Cavaliers (23-10) as they defeated the UNC-Wilmington Seahawks (29-6) 76-71 in a first-round NCAA tournament game in Orlando.

“That’s March Madness,” Virginia head coach Tony Bennett said. “That’s what it is with the way were down and fought back.”

The Cavaliers, a team that averages 66.6 points per game, scored 76 points to win. It was a pace they aren’t accustomed to and it was one that Seahawk head coach Kevin Keatts said he thought would work in his favor.

“I thought we had everything the way we wanted, obviously, when you talk about tempo,” Keatts said. “We wanted those guys to play faster than they normally do.

“The difference in the game was they made a couple plays towards the end and we missed a few chippies,” he continued.

UNC-Wilmington (UNCW) started the game on fire. Hot three-point shooting by senior guards Denzel Ingram and Ambrose Mosley aided the Wilmington into creating an early lead. At the 7:25 mark in the first half, Ingram hit a three-pointer to give the Seahawks their largest lead of the half at 26-11.

Virginia then went small and it changed the complexion of the game. Virginia, led by Shayok’s 11 first-half points, proceeded to go on a 19-3 run to give Virginia a 30-29 lead at the half.

Virginia coach Tony Bennett knew his team was going to have to go small, but even he was a little surprised at having to play a five-guard lineup.

“It was a scramble game,” Bennett said. “I teased our guys, ‘I’m glad we worked on our five-guard lineup all week in practice.’”

The second half was the Perrantes show as he scored 19 of his 24 in that second stanza. He helped Virginia to start fast and stay ahead for much of the half. The Cavaliers were even able to take a 10-point lead with 7:57 left in the half.

UNCW would scratch and claw to stay in the game and got the lead down to two at 73-71 with :53 seconds remaining. Shayok would hit a clutch jumper with :25 seconds left to ice the game.

Perrantes 24 and Shayok’s 23 were the top scoring marks for Virginia. Senior guard Chris Flemmings scored 18 to keep pace with Ingram’s 17 to lead UNCW.

The win was Virginia’s fourth consecutive in the first round. The Cavaliers will play the winner of No. 13 East Tennessee St vs. No. 4 Florida.

Maryland Faces Rejuvenated Xavier Squad

ORLANDO-The No. 6 Maryland Terrapins (24-8) are preparing to face a No. 11 Xavier Musketeer (21-13) squad that appears to have regrouped after a rough February.

“You see a much more confident team,” Maryland head coach Mark Turgeon said about his first-round opponent. They were much more efficient on both ends of the floor, I thought, and their best players played well.”

Xavier was nationally ranked through the better part of the first three months of the regular season. Then its best player, sophomore guard Edmond Sumner, tore his ACL in a Jan. 29 game at St. John’s.

In addition to that, junior guard Trevon Bluiett dealt with a nagging ankle injury and senior guard Myles Davis left the team. A season of high expectations was derailed as were Xavier’s hopes of challenging Villanova for the Big East regular season championship.

Xavier head coach Chris Mack said the injuries and defections not only made difficult to win, but difficult to even practice.

“We didn’t have 12, 13 scholarship players,” he said. “Our walk-ons tried their best, but it’s just a different experience in terms of how we usually, normally practice.”

The Musketeers won two games in the Big East Tournament to save their season and are saying they’re back on track.

“To be able to beat Butler kind of sparked us, gave us a little bit of energy, a little bit of hope because that was a top-20 team,” Bluiett said. We knew when we got them, we were starting to get our mojo back.”

Bluiett, who averages 18.1 points per game, and the rest of the Musketeers will test the Terrapins youth and that’s why Maryland head coach will lean on his leading scorer, junior guard Melo Timble. Turgeon says he needs Trimble to be the steady hand for his team.

“He knows he has to be the leader of this team…,” Turgeon said. “He’s comfortable doing it. He’s much more comfortable doing it.”

Trimble appears to agree. He’s watched the roster turnover over the past three seasons and said he realized he had to go from someone who takes it all in to the leader.

“So it’s different. I’m able to be a leader,” he said. “The way I played this year was the right way, in my opinion. I was able to get my teammates involved this year.”

Maryland and Xavier is scheduled for 6:50 p.m. on Thursday. The winner will play the winner of No. 14 Florida Gulf Coast vs. No. 3 Florida St.

UNCW Coach Kevin Keatts is on the Rise

ORLANDO-When the No. 12 UNC-Wilmington Seahawks face off against the No. 5 Virginia Cavaliers in first round action, the spotlight might be brightest on the Seahawk bench as head coach Kevin Keatts is a rising star in collegiate coaching.

The attention on Keatts stems from how quickly he turned around the program in Wilmington. In the six years before he arrived on campus, the Seahawks were a combined 58-127. Since he took over, they’re 72-27 with three consecutive Colonial Athletic Association regular season titles to go along with two consecutive trips to the Big Dance.

That turnaround is due to a change in attitude according to Seahawk players. That was a welcome departure from the previous regimes.

“Pretty much when he came in he was like, ‘We’re going to win championships so do whatever you got to do to buy in, play hard and work hard for each other,’” senior guard Denzel Ingram said.

While success at Wilmington may seem instant, Keatts road to the coastal North Carolina city hasn’t been.

Keatts began his coaching career as an assistant at Southwestern Michigan College. He moved to his first of two stints at Hargrave Military Academy in Chatham, Va. First as an assistant and then head coach from 1997-2001 and then again as head coach from 2003 until 2011, where he won national prep championships in 2004 and 2008. In between those stints were two years as an assistant at Marshall University in West Virginia.

Keatts said the return to the prep level after the two seasons at Marshall was due to missing having that impact on kids. He enjoyed so much that he thought that would be the end game for him.

“At Fork Union, there’s a legendary coach, Fletcher Arritt, and he just retired four years ago,” Keats said. At one point, I thought I was going to be Fletcher Arritt and that was the best thing in the world because Fletcher stayed there over 40 years.”

However, Keatts received the call of a lifetime from Louisville head coach Rick Pitino. That call resulted in an opportunity to become an assistant coach on Pitino’s staff. It was door Keatts said he had to walk through.

“It’s hard to say no to Rick Pitino…” he said. “Being a Hall-of-Fame coach and all that he’s done for basketball and so many coaches and players he’s mentor. I had to take it.”

Keatts worked under Pitino for three years before being named head coach at UNC-Wilmington on April 1, 2014. Now that the move to Wilmington has worked out for all parties involved, the rest of the college basketball world is taking notice.

BRACKETOLOGY: Sunday March 12, 2017 PM (Welcome Princeton, Rhode Island, Kentucky, Troy, Michigan, SMU)

Last Four In: USC, Xavier, Marquette, Wake Forest

Last Four Out: Syracuse, Illinois St, Cal, Iowa

EAST

1.Villanova(BEast)16.UC Davis(BWest)/Jacksonville St(OVC) Buffalo

8.Dayton9.Miami(Fl)

5.Purdue12.Marquette/USC Indianapolis

4.Iowa St(B12)13.Vermont(AEast)

6.Michigan(B10)11.Vanderbilt Salt Lake City

3.Oregon14.Northern Kentucky(HORIZON)

7.Creighton10.Michigan St Greenville

2.Duke(ACC)15.Texas Southern(SWAC)

SOUTH

1.North Carolina16.Mount St. Mary’s(NEC) Greenville

8.Saint Mary’s9.VCU

5.Virginia12.UNC-Wilmington(CAA) MIlwaukee

4.SMU(AAC)13.East Tennessee St(SoCon)

6.Florida11.Nevada(MWest) Sacramento

3.UCLA14.New Mexico St(WAC)

7.Arkansas10.Middle Tennessee St(CUSA) Tulsa

2.Baylor15.North Dakota(BSky)

MIDWEST

1.Kansas16.New Orleans(Sland)  Tulsa

8.Maryland9.Virginia Tech

5.Butler12.Princeton(Ivy) Orlando

4.Florida St13.Bucknell(Patriot)

6.Wisconsin11.Providence Milwaukee

3.Notre Dame14.Florida Gulf Coast(ASun)

7.Minnesota10.Kansas St Indianapolis

2.Kentucky(SEC)15.North Carolina Central(MEAC)

WEST

1.Gonzaga(WCC)16.Troy(SBelt)/South Dakota St(Summit) Sacramento

8.Northwestern9.Seton Hall

5.Cincinnati12.Wake Forest/Xavier Buffalo

4.West Virginia13.Winthrop(BSouth)

6.Wichita St(MVC)11.Rhode Island(A10) Orlando

3.Louisville14.Iona(MAAC)

7.Oklahoma St10.South Carolina Salt Lake City

2.Arizona(P12)15.Kent St(MAC)

BRACKETOLOGY: Sunday March 12, 2017 AM (Welcome Vermont, North Carolina Central, Texas Southern, Villanova, Nevada, Iowa St, Kent St, New Orleans, Middle Tennessee St, Duke, North Dakota, Arizona, UC Davis, New Mexico St)

Last Four In: Wake Forest, Xavier, Syracuse, Rhode Island

Last Four Out: USC, Illinois St, Cal, Iowa

EAST

1.Villanova(BEast)16.Jacksonville St(OVC)/South Dakota St(Summit) Buffalo

8.Dayton9.Miami(Fl)

5.Purdue12.Xavier/Syracuse Indianapolis

4.Iowa St(B12)13.Vermont(AEast)

6.Michigan11.Vanderbilt Salt Lake City

3.Oregon14.Northern Kentucky(HORIZON)

7.Creighton10.Michigan St Greenville

2.Duke(ACC)15.Texas Southern(SWAC)

SOUTH

1.North Carolina16.Mount St. Mary’s(NEC) Greenville

8.Saint Mary’s9.VCU

5.Virginia12.UNC-Wilmington(CAA) MIlwaukee

4.SMU13.East Tennessee St(SoCon)

6.Florida11.Nevada(MWest) Sacramento

3.UCLA14.New Mexico St(WAC)

7.Arkansas10.Middle Tennessee St(CUSA) Tulsa

2.Baylor15.North Dakota(BSky)

MIDWEST

1.Kansas16.New Orleans(Sland)  Tulsa

8.Maryland9.Virginia Tech

5.Butler12.Princeton Orlando

4.Florida St13.Bucknell(Patriot)

6.Wisconsin11.Providence Milwaukee

3.Notre Dame14.Florida Gulf Coast(ASun)

7.Minnesota10.Kansas St Indianapolis

2.Kentucky15.North Carolina Central(MEAC)

WEST

1.Gonzaga(WCC)16.UC Davis(BWest)/Texas St Sacramento

8.Northwestern9.Seton Hall

5.Cincinnati12.Wake Forest/Rhode Island Buffalo

4.West Virginia13.Winthrop(BSouth)

6.Wichita St(MVC)11.Marquette Orlando

3.Louisville14.Iona(MAAC)

7.Oklahoma St10.South Carolina Salt Lake City

2.Arizona(P12)15.Kent St(MAC)

BRACKETOLOGY: Saturday March 11, 2017

Last Four In: Xavier, Marquette, Syracuse, Rhode Island

Last Four Out: USC, Illinois St, Cal, Iowa

This bracket is good for games through 3/10

EAST

1.Villanova16.North Carolina Central/Jacksonville St(OVC) Buffalo

8.Arkansas9.Virginia Tech

5.Purdue12.UNC-Wilmington(CAA) Orlando

4.Florida St13.Princeton

6.Creighton11.Wake Forest Salt Lake City

3.UCLA14.East Tennessee St(SoCon)

7.Maryland10.South Carolina Tulsa

2.Baylor15.Northern Kentucky(Horizon)

SOUTH

1.North Carolina16.North Dakota Greenville

8.Saint Mary’s9.Middle Tennessee St

5.Florida12.Marquette/Syracuse Orlando

4.SMU13.Akron

6.Virginia11.Providence Buffalo

3.West Virginia14.Florida Gulf Coast(ASun)

7.Northwestern10.VCU Salt Lake City

2.Arizona15.UC-Irvine

WEST

1.Gonzaga(WCC)16.South Dakota St(Summit)  Sacramento

8.Dayton9.Seton Hall

5.Butler12.Nevada Milwaukee

4.Notre Dame13.Winthrop(BSouth)

6.Minnesota11.Vanderbilt Greenville

3.Duke14.Bucknell(Patriot)

7.Michigan10.Kansas St Sacramento

2.Oregon15.Texas Southern

MIDWEST

1.Kansas16.Mount St Mary’s(NEC)/New Orleans Tulsa

8.Wisconsin9.Miami(Fl)

5.Iowa St12.UT-Arlington Milwaukee

4.Cincinnati13.Vermont

6.Wichita St(MVC)11.Xavier/Rhode Island Indianapolis

3.Louisville14.Cal State Bakersfield

7.Oklahoma St10.Michigan St Indianapolis

2.Kentucky15.Iona(MAAC)