College Basketball

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ACC Crystal Ball

By: Kenneth Harrison

TheSouthernSportsEdition.com news services

This is my favorite time of year. Not just because of the holidays, but we have several sports going on simultaneously.

Football, basketball and hockey being played means there’s a game to watch every night. We’re going to preview the ranked ACC basketball teams.

#1 North Carolina: The Tar Heels advanced to the national championship game last season. It was the first season as the head coach for Hubert Davis. They return their best player, senior forward/center Armando Bacot. He leads the team in scoring (22 PPG) and rebounds (7.5 RPG).

Junior guard Caleb Love is second in scoring with 21 PPG, 6 RPG and 3 assists per game.

UNC is the rare blue blood program in this era that relies on upper classmen. Teams like Duke, Kentucky and Kansas rely on one-and-done players.

The schedule has been weak so far, but starting on Thanksgiving the Heels will play the Phil Knight Invitational tournament in Portland. The first game is against Portland. Villanova, #25 UConn, Iowa State, Oregon, Michigan State and Alabama are also in the tournament.

After this they play at Indiana before conference play begins.

I expect UNC to get back to the Final Four.

#7 Duke: The Blue Devils got to the Final Four last season but were beaten by archrival North Carolina. They rely on star freshmen players and this season is no different.

They had the top recruiting class of 2022 with four five-star players and two four-star.

Dereck Lively II is a 7’1 center and No. 1 recruit in the class. Small forward Dariq Whitehead (6’6) is the No. 2 recruit in the class of 2022.

Center Kyle Filipowski (6’11) add depth and length at the position. He was also the No. 4 recruit in the nation. So far, he leads the team in rebounds with 11 per game.

Power forward Mark Mitchell (6’8) rounds out the five-star players. He leads the team in scoring with 15.5 PPG.

Last season was Jon Scheyer’s first as head coach in Durham. It has not slowed down their ability to recruit.

Duke has a blockbuster matchup against #6 Kansas in Indianapolis November 15th. After that they have a couple of easy home games against Delaware and Bellarmine.

This is where we enter parallel universe territory. They also play in a Thanksgiving tournament in Oregon named after Nike’s co-founder. The Phil Knight Legacy tournament begins with a game against Oregon State. Florida, #2 Gonzaga, Purdue, West Virginia and Xavier are also in the tournament.

It’s hard to tell how young players will develop but they have a tough schedule that will answer that question.

#16 Virginia: It is hard to believe the ACC only has three ranked teams. I have to mention the shooting on the UVA recently, where three football players and two students were injured.

The home game November 14 against Northern Iowa was cancelled because of that.

The Cavaliers are scheduled to play in the Continental Tire Main Event tournament in Las Vegas later this week.

They will play #5 Baylor in the first game. They will face #8 UCLA or #19 Illinois in the following game. They play at #20 Michigan to end the month of November in the ACC/Big Ten Challenge.

Senior guard Armaan Franklin leads the team with 14.5 PPG and makes 53% of his shots.

I think Virginia can go deep in the NCAA Tournament.

 

Blue Bloods

By: Kipp Branch

TheSouthernSportsEdition.com news services

Duke vs North Carolina or is it North Carolina vs Duke? Depends on what side you are pulling for.

I call it Carolina/Duke. What we have here folks is the biggest rivalry in all of college basketball.

There is no bigger rivalry in the sport, and you will not hear either fanbase say much nice about the other.

These two bluebloods meet in the final four on Saturday night in New Orleans for the first time ever. Here are the details:

 

Date: Saturday, April 2

Game Time: 8:49 pm

Venue: Caesars Superdome, New Orleans, LA

How To Watch: TBS

 

Records: Duke (2 seed, 32-6)

North Carolina (8 seed, 28-9)

 

A little series history between the two heated rivals:

UNC leads the all-time series, 142-115 (257 meetings).

UNC is third nationally in wins; Duke is fourth nationally.

 

This will be UNC’s 21st Final Four appearance which is most all-time, Duke’s 17th Final Four appearance which ranks third all-time.

 

UNC has won six national titles; Duke has won five national titles.

Combining for eleven national championships in the poll era.

 

Over the past 18 years, one of the two teams has been the Associated Press pre-season #1 ranked team in the country eight times.

 

Since 1977–78, Duke or Carolina has been in the pre-season top three twenty-eight times.

Over this same period, one has been pre-season #1 eighteen times.

One of the two teams has peaked at AP #1 in 32 separate seasons since 1977.

The two campuses are only 7 miles apart.

All five of Duke’s national championships come after 1981. 1981 was the first of Mike Krzyzewski era at Duke University.

 

Before Coach K, Duke had been to two title games, losing to UCLA in 1964 and Kentucky in 1978. Under Coach K, Duke has been to 13 final fours. Under Coach K, Duke has won National Championships in 1991,1992, 2001,2010, and 2015.

 

North Carolina has won National Titles in 1957, 1982, 1993, 2005, 2009, and 2017.

Frank McGuire, Dean Smith, and Roy Williams have all won titles in Chapel Hill.

 

North Carolina has been ranked in the top twenty-five of the AP Poll a record 927 weeks, has beaten AP No. 1 ranked teams a record fourteen times, has the most 25-win seasons with thirty-eight, and has the most consecutive top-three ACC regular season finishes with thirty-seven.

 

North Carolina has ended the season ranked in the top twenty-five of the AP Poll 51 times and in the top twenty-five of the Coaches’ Poll 53 times.

 

The Matchup Saturday Night:

We know now that North Carolina was under-seeded by the committee. Carolina at worst should have been a five seed.

This team turned the season around after a bad loss to Wake Forest in January and has been on a roll ever since.

Carolina has killed opponents on the boards during their NCAA tourney run. Carolina has been shooting three’s very well during this run as well.

Duke is an incredibly good shooting basketball team. The Blue Devils have shot over 50% in 18 games this season. Duke as a two seed was seeded properly by the committee.

Could this be the most watched College Basketball game ever? The 1979 Title game between Michigan State and Indiana State was watched by thirty-five million people.

That contest featured Magic Johnson for MSU and Larry Bird for ISU. Many pundits are saying this match-up could top that. That last title game to top thirty million in viewership was the Arkansas/Duke title game in 1994. Just too many viewing options on TV these days to approach records.

 

Prediction:

Carolina 84

Duke 80

 

Coach K’s storybook ending gets ruined by the hated Tar Heels.

Coach K will always be known as the greatest basketball coach in Duke history. Congratulations on a fantastic career.

New Orleans has been kind to Carolina. The GOAT Michael Jordan hit the game winner in the Superdome in 1982 to beat Georgetown as a first-year student.

And for the record in case someone gets offended from either side, I do not like either of these teams. I am an Indiana Hoosier fan during college basketball season. My Georgia Bulldogs are not particularly good in basketball.

Golden Era To Begin

By: Robert Craft

TheSouthernSportsEdition.com news services

One day after San Francisco’s season ended against Murray State, news broke that Florida was close to hiring Dons coach Todd Golden as head coach.

Golden worked at Auburn under Bruce Pearl for two years, and Pearl weighed in on Florida’s decision to hire him.

Pearl had nothing but good things to say about Golden returning to the SEC. He didn’t initially comment on Friday because it wasn’t official, but the Gators made the announcement later that day. Pearl could share his full thoughts on his former assistant’s big move.

“That’s an absolutely grand slam hire by Florida,” Pearl said. “Todd Golden is in that next generation of brilliant young coaches. I’m so happy for Todd and his family.”

Golden worked under Pearl at Auburn from 2014-16 before heading to San Francisco, first as an assistant from 2017-19 before moving up to the big chair in 2019.

With the Dons, Golden totaled a 57-36 overall record, including a 23-22 mark in West Coast Conference play, and took them to the NCAA Tournament for the first time since 1998 this season.

Murray State defeated San Francisco 92-87 in overtime in the Round of 64. The next day, Florida announced Golden would replace Mike White, who became the new head coach at Georgia.

Golden brings multiple years of SEC experience from 2014 through 2016 under Bruce Pearl. He worked at Columbia as an assistant before then from 2012-2014, then became an assistant at San Francisco from 2017-2019 under current Washington State coach Kyle Smith. Golden moved up to head coach in 2019 after that move.

He led San Francisco to the NCAA Tournament this season with an at-large bid and reports suggest he opened negotiations with Florida early in the week and things moved quickly after his team’s elimination.

After Golden was officially announced as the new basketball coach at Florida, he released a statement on social media.

“I’m energized by the opportunity to lead an elite program at Florida, and I’m ready to get started,” said Golden. “Florida has a championship-level athletic department, university and men’s basketball program, and I embrace the standard of excellence at Florida and the passion of Gator Nation. We couldn’t be more excited about what the future holds in Gainesville.”

In hiring Golden, Florida athletic director Scott Stricklin has acquired yet another coach from the lower levels to lead a high-profile program. In December, Stricklin hired away Louisiana’s Billy Napier to lead its football program.

Sources in recent weeks told CBS Sports that Stricklin wasn’t concerned with bringing in a big name from a power conference; he was focused on hiring the best fit and in fact, Strickland wanted to hire young.

Golden played collegiately at Saint Mary’s College in Moraga, Calif., where he helped the Gaels to two NCAA Tournament appearances.

As a senior point guard, he ranked second in the nation with a 3.68 assists-to-turnovers ratio and led the West Coast Conference with a .574 3-point field goal percentage.

He was also lone captain of Saint Mary’s 2007-08 team. Golden finished his career as the Gaels’ all-time leader in free-throw percentage (.852) and eighth in assists with 269.

Golden also acknowledged that college basketball has drastically changed in recent years, saying he can’t wait to get started recruiting in the transfer portal.

Can Golden get the Gators back to the NCAA Tournament in 2023? We’ll see what his first roster in Gainesville looks like this coming season.

Prowling Panthers

By: Kenneth Harrison

TheSouthernSportsEdition.com news services

The NCAA Tournament starts this week. Everybody loves filling out brackets and watching the upsets take place for March Madness.

We have an unlikely team representing the state of Georgia in the men’s tournament.

Familiar faces like Georgia and Georgia Tech did not make it. Georgia State is the team that made it. The Panthers (18 – 10) won the Sun Belt Conference championship to get there.

Senior Corey Allen led them on this improbable run. He scored 29 points to match his season high for the second straight game in the championship win over Louisiana, 80 – 71 at the Pensacola Bay Center. Allen was named the MVP of the Sun Belt Tournament.

It was the 10th straight win for Georgia State and its 12th win in the last 13 games.

Georgia State won the Sun Belt Tournament for the fourth time and will make its sixth trip to the NCAAs. It also served as redemption for losing to Appalachian State in last year’s title game. This is their first trip to the NCAA Tournament since 2019.

“It’s special because the experience we had last year I think led to these guys’ desire to return,” Georgia State coach Rob Lanier said. “And they were motivated to be here and do this.”

Allen was one of four seniors who decided to return for a COVID season. The others – Eliel Nsoseme, Kane Williams and Justin Roberts – were each big contributors to the championship and enjoyed the enthusiastic postgame celebrations.

“There’s a lot of adjectives we could use, but it’s a special moment and I wouldn’t want to share it with anybody else,” Williams said.

It was a satisfying finish for Lanier, who was able to hold the team together despite losing five games to COVID and enduring an 0-4 start in conference play.

” All that disruption affected our chemistry, our rotation, and we were one of the worst defensive teams in the country on top of our bad offense,” Lanier said. “We really figured it out defensively, and we felt like we could get back to our old selves offensively and put the two together. It happened the last few nights, as simple as that.”

All of the teams have been selected Sunday so we know who GSU will play. They are the No. 16 seed in the West and they play No. 1 Gonzaga Thursday in Portland. Gonzaga finished the season as the top team in the AP Poll.

The Bulldogs lost the National Championship game last season so they are focused on winning it this season.

This is a David vs. Goliath matchup. In the history of the NCAA Tournament a 16 seed has only beaten a 1 seed once. That happened in 2018 when the top overall seed Virginia lost University of Maryland Baltimore County (UMBC), 74 – 54.

Clearly, the odds are stacked against Georgia State and they are expected to be crushed by Gonzaga. They probably will be blown out but it is impressive that they made it to the tournament. As an underdog, they should have several fans cheering for them.

 

Out Of The Swamp

By: Robert Craft

TheSouthernSportsEdition.com news services

The Georgia Bulldogs aren’t leaving the SEC to fill their coaching vacancy. According to Jon Rothstein, Georgia will hire Florida Gators basketball coach Mike White.

Georgia fired Tom Crean on Thursday, March 10. His tenure at Georgia ended after four seasons and a 47-75 record, including a 15-58 conference record. The school owes Crean a $3.2 million buyout, per his contract.

This will be White’s third opportunity to run a program. He got his head coaching break at Louisiana Tech before taking the job at Florida. White also spent time as an assistant coach at Jacksonville State and Ole Miss. Most of White’s career has been spent in the SEC and he’ll stay in the conference with the Bulldogs.

White had received a two-year extension prior to the 2021-22 season. That kept him under contract through 2026-27.

“Though he’s still relatively young by coaching standards, White has already established himself as a successful head coach,” Florida athletic director Scott Stricklin said in a statement on June 1, 2021. “Because of his work ethic, intelligence, and competitiveness his career has such a high ceiling, and it’s going to be fun watching what his Gator teams accomplish for years to come.”

The Gators are the only SEC team (one of nine power Six teams), who have not posted a losing conference record over the past seven seasons. While White’s teams were consistently making the tournament, he wasn’t winning over fans.

In seven years with the Gators, White comprised a 243-128 overall record. His teams were 122-69 in conference play. It’s worth noting that White ranked inside the top-20 in all-time SEC winning percentage during his seven-year tenure.

White’s family had stopped coming to games to avoid vitriol pointed towards White. Leaving to a program like Georgia would lend credence to that information. The Bulldogs are in total rebuild mode. White has been a solid recruiter while at Florida and Georgia is looking for a coach to rebuild a program in shambles.

White had led the Gators to four consecutive NCAA Tournament appearances, the only SEC program to ever do that. However, the Gators hadn’t made it past the second round since their 2016-17 season’s Elite Eight run.

White, who has spent the last seven seasons guiding the Gators to each of the last four NCAA Tournaments prior to Sunday’s 2022 bracket announcement, also expressed his excitement to be headed to Athens.

“I am beyond excited for the opportunity to lead the men’s basketball program at the University of Georgia,” White said. “President Jere W. Morehead and Athletics Director Josh Brooks are united in a strong vision for UGA Basketball which resonated with me deeply. They believe, as I do, in developing our young men as students, athletes and leaders, as well as providing them with the support they need to be successful. I believe in the limitless future of Georgia Basketball.”

White will take over a Georgia team that went 6-26 this past season, the most single season losses in program history. UGA also had more losses than any other SEC program, with a 1-18 in conference record.

One program’s trash is another’s treasure, and there is reason for Georgia fans to be excited. White is a proven recruiter in a high-performance state where recruits are available.

Florida fans can hate him as he goes, and only time will tell if Mike White can raise Georgia’s basketball program from the abyss.

 

Crean Not Rising

By: Kenneth Harrison

TheSouthernSportsEdition.com news services

Georgia is riding high after winning the national championship in 2021.

They had a historically great defense that helped deliver their first football national championship since 1980. The question is can that inspire some of the other teams in the athletic department?

The UGA men’s basketball team needs some help. They currently sit alone in last place in the SEC. Their overall record is 6 – 15 and 1 – 7 in conference play.

The most recent game was an 85 – 77 loss to Vanderbilt (11 – 9), led by Scottie Pippen Jr. The younger Pippen scored 23 points and dished a season-high 9 assists and Vanderbilt snapped a three-game losing streak, leading from the opening tip. This was the first time the Commodores swept an SEC opponent since 2017.

Aaron Cook led four Bulldogs into double-digit scoring, finishing with 18 points. Kario Oquendo and Noah Baumann each scored 15 points and Braelen Bridges contributed 14 points. Baumann led Georgia (6-15, 1-7) with nine rebounds.

Vanderbilt led by as many as 15 points in the second half after a Pippen layup with less than five minutes to play. The Commodores hit 7 of 11 from 3-point range in the first half and knocked down 12 of 23 overall. Vandy shot 63% from the floor in the first half, hitting 28 of 55 (50.9%) for the game.

Last season the Bulldogs were 14 – 12. Not great but at least they were over .500. They had one returning starter from the 2020-21 team, P.J. Horne. The 6’6 forward from Tifton, GA suffered a season ending knee injury in October.

Head coach Tom Crean had to know then that season would be tough.

“This is such a major blow to us because (Horne) was playing so well and showing great leadership as our leading returning player,” Crean said on Twitter. “But more so because he is such a great person and one of the finest people I’ve ever coached. He cares about his teammates deeply.”

In May, 9 players entered the transfer portal. This is happening to every team but to have that many players enter at once is still shocking.

No team has been hit more squarely in the mouth by player free agency than Georgia. They have been picked nearly down to the bone. From a raw numbers’ standpoint, the Bulldogs have lost 83.4% of their scoring (1,680 points), 72.5% of their rebounding (701) and 72.1% of their 3-point field goals made (119).

One of their best players, K.D. Johnson transferred to Auburn. The Tigers are currently the number one team in the nation. The Bulldogs had the 4-star recruit for all of 16 games, with Johnson missing the first 10 because of NCAA academic eligibility issues. He averaged 13.5 points a game, second on the team.

Another notable name to leave was graduate transfer Andrew Garcia, who transferred to Kent State.

The Bulldogs appear to have done reasonably well with the six transfers they’re bringing in, led by sophomore guard Jabri Abdur-Rahim, who’s coming from Virginia.

Crean has been in Georgia for four seasons and last year was his only winning record. He did go 16 – 16 in 2019-20. The finished 10th in the SEC that year which was the best they have done in his tenure. He has a 47 – 64 record in Athens.

It might be a good time to move on from Crean after this season and rebuild.

SEC Hardwood

By: Kenneth Harrison

TheSouthernSportsEdition.com news services

We’re about two weeks into the college basketball season. The SEC is known for football but there are several programs ranked in the top 25 in basketball.

It looks like Kentucky will have some competition after a down 2020-21 season. Let’s examine the ranked teams to see who the real contenders are.

#10 Alabama: The Crimson Tide (4 – 0) have been doing well on the hardwood lately. They advanced to the Sweet Sixteen last season and lost to UCLA in overtime.

They also won the SEC Tournament. Alabama finished last season ranked No. 5 in the final AP Poll and Coaches Poll. Those were the school’s highest season-ending rankings since 1956.

Junior guard Jaden Shackelford leads the team in scoring with 19.5 points per game. Junior Jahvon Quinerly averages 15.5 PPG and senior Keon Ellis averages 14.5 PPG.

Alabama heads to the ESPN Events Invitational this week in Orlando, where it will meet Iona on Thursday at 4 p.m. CT in a rematch of its NCAA tournament opener in March. They will play either Belmont or Drake on Friday, with a chance to meet Kansas on Sunday in the finale. The Jayhawks are No. 4 in the AP poll and No. 3 in the coaches poll this week.

# 10 Kentucky: The Wildcats (3 – 1) lost the third game of the season to No. 5 Duke, 79 -71. Last season they finished 9 – 16, their worst season since 1988-89.

Since head coach John Calipari took over in 2009, he’s built the team with the top one-and-done players every season. Surprisingly, out of the top four scorers on the team only one is a freshman.

Freshman TyTy Washington Jr. and junior forwards Oscar Tshiebwe, Keion Brooks all lead the team with 13 PPG.

The next four games are against Albany, North Florida, Central Michigan and Southern. Those should all be blow out wins. The schedule gets tougher after that with games against Notre Dame and Ohio State.

#13 Arkansas: The Razorbacks (3 – 0) are looking to make the NCAA Tournament for the second consecutive year. In 2020-21 they were 25 -7 and advanced to the Sweet Sixteen.

Senior guard JD Notae leads the team with 21.7 PPG. Fellow senior Chris Lykes averages 15.7 PPG.

They have eight games before conference play begins December 29th and only two of those games are against Power 5 teams. They should be undefeated during this stretch.

#15 Tennessee: The Vols (3 – 1) just played some elite teams over the weekend in the Hall of Fame Tip-Off tournament. They were blown out by No. 5 Villanova 71 – 53 on Friday. They rebounded Saturday and beat No. 18 North Carolina, 89 -72. They have some marquee games against Colorado, Texas Tech, No. 9 Memphis and No. 17 Arizona before SEC play starts.

#19 Auburn: The Tigers (3 – 0) have been doing well the last few seasons since Bruce Pearl took over as head coach in 2014. They advanced to the Final Four in 2019 and would have been in the 2020 NCAA Tournament if it was not cancelled due to the pandemic. Last year they were 13 – 14.

They play UConn in the Battle 4 Atlantis tournament in the Bahamas for their next game. No. 24 Michigan State, No. 6 Baylor and Syracuse are potential opponents in the next round.

#23 Florida: The Gators (3 – 0) play Cal in the Fort Myers Tip-Off this week. They will face No. 21 Seton Hall or Ohio State in the next round.

The best team they have played so far is Florida State and they won 71 – 55.

 

Figuring Out The Ramblin’ Wreck

By: Kenneth Harrison

TheSouthernSportsEdition.com news services

Last season Georgia Tech made their first NCAA Tournament appearance since 2010.

The Yellow Jackets were 17 – 9 and 11 – 6 in the ACC. They finished fourth in the conference. They won the ACC Tournament by beating 15th ranked Florida State in the championship game. It was their first ACC Tournament Championship since 1993.

Georgia Tech lost in the first round of the NCAA Tournament to Loyola (IL), 71 – 60.

Head coach Josh Pastner was hired in 2016. He was named ACC Coach of the Year in 2017 for leading Tech to a 21 – 16 record. He led them to wins against a top 5 North Carolina team and top-10 Florida State.

Last season’s team was led by senior forward Moses Wright, who was the AP ACC Player of the Year. He averaged 18 points per game and 8.1 rebounds per game. Senior guard Jose Alvaredo was another key contributor from last season that has to be replaced.

This season started with an upset loss at home to Miami (Ohio), 72 – 69. Pastner is now 3 – 3 in season openers at Tech. Miami is the third mid-major from the state of Ohio to beat Georgia Tech at McCamish Pavilion in the last five seasons.

Games like this are supposed to be easy wins. They need as many of those as possible before conference play starts. They bounced back to beat Stetson the next game, 77 – 52.

“We were far from perfect, but when we play with great energy, we’re a good basketball team,” coach Josh Pastner said.

The last game was a 75 – 66 win against Lamar. Lamar has a new head coach and they were 10 – 18 last year. The Yellow Jackets led by 22 points in the first half but looked sluggish in the second half.

“We definitely should have played harder,” said Jordan Usher, who finished with 15 points and a team-high eight rebounds but also turned the ball over four times. “I felt like we came out kind of lethargic at halftime and we can’t do that coming down the stretch when we play more skilled teams. But props to Lamar. We just need to be better.”

Tech had 10 turnovers. The announced crowd attendance was only 3,625 people so it was far from a packed house. They are struggling with figuring out roles for returning players and newcomers.

“It doesn’t matter who we’re playing,” Pastner said. “If we’re playing a Division III team, a Division II team, if we’re playing Lamar, if we’re playing North Carolina or we’re playing Gonzaga or we’re playing the Atlanta Hawks – if we don’t have energy, it can be a recipe for disaster.”

Georgia Tech currently has two players that average double digits in scoring. Senior guard Michael Devoe leads the team with 21.5 points per game. Senior forward Jordan Usher averages 13 PPG and 10 RPG. Freshman guard Dallan “Deebo” Coleman is third in scoring with 9 PPG. I think that will increase if he gets more playing time.

The next game is Friday at Georgia. The Bulldogs are 1 – 1 and will play South Carolina State before they play Tech. This is a game Tech needs to win against their archrival because they don’t have a chance in football.

The next two games after that are against Charleston Southern and Georgia Southern, both at home. Then things get tougher December 1st against Wisconsin in the Big Ten/ACC Challenge.

Over the next couple of weeks, we will see if Georgia Tech is a team that can make the NCAA Tournament.

Strategize

By: Jeff Doke

TheSouthernSportsEdition.com news services

As society in general strives to return to some type of normalcy, the sports world does the same.

We’ve finished an NFL season many people never thought would happen (or never hoped would happen if you’re a Jags fan), the MLB season has started (now with non-cardboard fans!), and the return of what was the first major casualty of the 2020 COVID shutdown – the NCAA Tournament.

Yes, March Madness is back (offer may not be valid in parts of Virginia, Florida, and North Carolina, see your respective alumni association for details).

Full disclosure; I don’t really care for college basketball, but I love March Madness.

Like Mike Golic, back when ESPN Radio had a listenable morning show, I fill out one “sheet of integrity” every year. One sheet only, and I do zero research. None whatsoever.

In fact, every year it surprises me when the tournament even begins.

I wait to hear from that one friend. I think we all have that one friend that has always been the basketball guru of your social circle.

Maybe it’s you in yours, but in mine, it’s the father of two softball obsessed girls and current owner of three out of the last four championships in our fantasy football league.

A fraternity brother I shall refer to as “Hola Pablo.” Every year he sends out the invitations to the bracket pool, and every year I make my selections as blind as an ACC referee working an Alabama championship game.

That doesn’t mean I don’t have a strategy. I have several actually, and they all came into play in this year’s brackets.

1.Find a team that’s just fun to say. That’s why I always go a little farther than I should with Gonzaga. Accentuate the middle syllable. Gon-ZAAAAAG-uh. Fun! I picked them to win it all this year.

2.Be a homer, but not too much of a homer. As a Dawg, this one’s tough.

Kind of hard to root for the home team when they’ve only made the tourney 12 times total.

So instead, I went big on SEC teams, having Arkansas, Alabama, and LSU all winning their first round at least.

Not Tennessee, though. Never pick the Vols to win anything. Or Florida for that matter. I have standards.

3.If it reminds you of an ex or makes you nostalgic for the ‘80s, pick ‘em. Kansas? Check. UNC & Georgetown? Well, there’s no Duke this year, so go for it. Oral Roberts? Weird flex, but okay…

4.Remember the Dirty Dozens. I read somewhere years ago that there’s always at least one 12 seed that beats the 5 seed. It’s happened every year since UCLA was still buying championships, so I always go heavy on the 12s. Three out of four this year.

5.If God is on their side, you should be on their side. If there’s a “Saint” or “Holy” or “Christian” in their school name, or if they have an adorable nun that suspiciously knows a little too much about hoops without an assist from the almighty, you best hedge your bets.

Best not to prime yourself for awkward questions from St. Peter.

6.Avoid family squabbles. Yyyyeah, not this year. Remember Hola Pablo? He’s a Wolverine, his wife is a Seminole.

I had them going face to face in the Sweet 16, and I didn’t want to be the one to pick the Noles to make the Final Four…but I did, and hoped he didn’t notice. Which brings us to…

7.For the love of Pete, DON’T TALK SMACK. Unless of course you wind up winning the thing…which occasionally happens, broken clock being right twice a day & all that.

Not often though, so don’t go all big & bad in the comments unless you enjoy backpedaling like a South Georgia high school football coach caught on tape with a booster.

So how did I do this year? Not good. True, I did go 2-2 on the “12s over 5s” rule, I picked Oral Roberts to go just as far as they did & no further, and my national championship pick is still in the running, but I dropped a final four team in each of the first three rounds (Purdue, Illinois, FSU).

I’m in 6th place out of 7, and the best I can do is finish 4th.

Oh well, maybe next year. At least I have the MLB All Star game in Atlanta to look forward to…wait. Nevermind.

Fixed Wreck

By: Kenneth Harrison

TheSouthernSportsEdition.com news services

This has been a surprisingly good season for Georgia Tech. The Yellow Jackets have made the NCAA Tournament for the first time since 2010.

Head coach Josh Pastner has not had much success prior to this season.

He was hired in 2016 and that was his best season. Tech was 21 – 16 in 2016-17 and he was named ACC Men’s Basketball Coach of the Year.

He has had two losing seasons after that. In September 2019 the NCAA banned Tech from postseason play and put them on four years of probation.

The sanctions include a reduction in scholarships, limits on recruiting and a fine of $5,000 plus 2% of the program’s budget.

This was the result of major recruiting violations by Pastner’s former assistant coach and an ex-friend.

The Ramblin’ Wreck were 17 – 14 last season. Because of the global pandemic all postseason tournaments were cancelled.

On the surface the record was not impressive but there was one impressive takeaway. He had his first winning conference record in Atlanta, going 11 – 9 in the ACC.

Based on that we should have seen this season coming. Georgia Tech went 17 – 8, 11 – 6 in conference play. They were the fourth seed in the ACC Tournament.

They beat Miami in their first game. The next opponent was the No. 1 seed Virginia, but that game was cancelled due to a positive COVID-19 test within their program.

The Yellow Jackets advanced to the championship game against No. 2 seed and 15th ranked Florida State. They beat the Seminoles 80 – 75 and won the first ACC title since 1993. They shot 52% in the second half.

“First off, just want to give an incredible shout-out to our young men to get this from where we started, not only how it started this year, how it started five years ago,” Pastner said. “Holy Toledo, goodness gracious. Thank the good Lord. God bless everybody for sticking with us. And these young men, to do what we’ve done, to do this is just darned special, to put Georgia Tech back in the forefront of the ACC.”

Tech has the AP ACC Player of the Year, Moses Wright. The 6’9 senior forward was the only unanimous first-team pick on the AP’s All-ACC teams. He averages 18 points per game and 8.1 rebounds per game. During a six-game winning streak he shot 65.6% and averaged 23.5 ppg and 10 rpg.

Tech is led by upper classmen. Senior guard Jose Alvarado is the second leading scorer with 15.3 ppg and 4.1 assists per game. Junior guard Michael Devoe averages 15.1 ppg, 4.3 rpg and 3.3 apg.

Even after winning the ACC Tournament and clinching an automatic birth to the NCAA Tournament they aren’t getting much respect. The Yellow Jackets are the No. 9 seed in the Midwest region. They play No. 8 Loyola Chicago (24 – 4) Friday March 19th at Hinkle Fieldhouse (Indianapolis, IN) at 4:00.

They should be a higher seed but I think they have a serious chance to make the Sweet Sixteen.

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